Sunday, August 30, 2015

Building and riding the rails

HH is a gem at going along with anything I want to do. He is unique among anyone I've ever known in that he is never, ever bored. Ever. And everything interests him. Granted, some things interest him more than others, but I've never encountered a topic that he won't engage in a discussion about. It's an impressive attribute, and he keeps me hopping.

The first photo I saw of him was with a group of fellow photographers. It was a casual gathering - those in the front row were lounging around in chairs, smokes in their hands, laughing and chatting. The rest of the group was standing behind. HH was at the far end of the back row and his expression of what I thought was bemused detachment I later understood to be what is now familiar: he was thinking. He doesn't remember that particular day, but agrees that there was some thing he was figuring out how to solve or build or move. He does love all things mechanical, from farm equipment to trains.

He most agreeably went with me to the Haggin Museum in Stockton several weekends ago. A docent there told us that the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento was worth going to, and I decided I could do that if he could suffer through an art museum for me. Come to think of it, though, there wasn't a lot of suffering going on because half of the Haggin is art but the other half is history, with lots of farm equipment on exhibit.

The railroad museum is in the Old Town section of Sacramento. It was a gorgeous day and there were swarms of people on the streets and in the museum.

Once inside, we split up and HH went to look at machinery and I took in the archival and museum material, occasionally getting back together when one of us would hunt the other down to say, You have to see this.

Like many museums, this one is kept dark and I could shoot handheld only, so just like at San Juan Bautista, nothing is as sharp as I'd like it to be.

I've often said I don't know how I got along without the internet. When I got my first smart phone I couldn't imagine any other use for its internet connection than to research prices of children's books (which I collected) when I was at an antique store or book sale. That narrow focus didn't last long, and thank goodness for unlimited data use then. I don't have unlimited data anymore, but then I'm not usually in a place where I can actually get data. This little discussion of changing technology segues me into the telegram below and its subtle boasting about the "new multiplex automatic system" and eight telegrams being printed automatically. I'm sure there was no less awe at this marvelous method of communication than there was when I realized what utility that first smartphone would eventually offer me.

If there's one thing they do really well at this museum, it's dioramas. They're so skillfully executed that I stood in front of this one for a while, systematically looking at the wall section by section until I could see where the 3-D snow shed left off and where the mural began. The reflection in the mirrored wall on the right added to the illusion.

The Central Pacific's first locomotive was a classic American type, and was purchased in 1862 from a factory on the east coast. After traveling around the tip of South America, it arrived in Sacramento and was named the Gov. Stanford after Central Pacific's president and the governor of California (at the same time?). It was donated to the Leland Stanford Jr. University in 1895 and, while this photo doesn't show its fine condition, it still looks nearly new after 30 years' service.
A giant poster on one wall capitalizes on the romance of California, the Golden State.

For the first time, thanks to an exhibit label, I understand what's meant by railroad gauge. It's the distance between the inside edges of the rails. In the US and much of the world, Standard Gauge is 56 1/2 inches. When track was first being laid in this country, what some called "English Gauge" was used, but because it varied between 56 and 57 inches it wouldn't have been useful nationwide.

Subsequent railroads in different parts of the US proceeded to use a half-dozen different, and of course incompatible, gauges. This meant that passengers and freight had to unloaded and reloaded whenever a different gauge track occurred at a junction.

In 1862 Lincoln set what was to become the national standard of 56 1/2 inches for the Transcontinental Railroad. On Memorial Day, 1886 the remaining odd gauge tracks were re-spiked to the "new" standard. The only other common gauge left is 36-inch narrow gauge.

No one knows how the 56 1/2-inch gauge originated. It may have been related to the wheel spacing of ancient Roman carts, and the early English tramways from which the railways evolved just adopted that spacing as well.

In addition to having a standard gauge for railroad conformity nationwide, railroads created Standard Time and time zones to bring safety and uniformity to train operation. The concept of clock time was still new to the US when the first trains began running. What was the importance of clock time to an agrarian society? If the sun was just coming up, go feed the cows. If the sun was directly overhead, it was lunchtime. For every 13 miles one moved east or west, Sun Time changed by a minute. But as railroads grew longer, coordinating accurate time became difficult; the Union Pacific used six different times on its route between Omaha and Salt Lake City. It took 50 years of being confused until the railroads agreed on a uniform, nationwide system of time.

November 18, 1883 was "The Day of Two Noons." At the prescribed hour, every railroader in the US and Canada awaited countdown to the new Standard Time when each railroad timepiece was set to the new Noon. Railroad time became America's standard time.

The monthly Official Guide was the standard reference for passenger train schedules in the United States and Canada.

Railroad torpedos were new to me and, surprisingly, to HH. A fellow museum-goer who heard us puzzling over them explained: when work was being done on a rail line, someone would go some distance up track and fasten the soft metal of the clips around the track. Then, when a train came chugging in the workers' direction and rolled over a torpedo, the small explosion it made could be heard in the engine car as a signal to come to a stop. Brilliant, really, and so simple.

Religious tracts were distributed to railroad workers in an effort to save their souls via the hell and damnation route. You have to admire the creative writing.

How realistic are these figures? This diorama demonstrates the tight conditions of a typical galley. Chefs could turn out four-star meals three times a day from spaces no larger than this.

A different view into the same galley as above.

This is one of three chandeliers that hung in the Oakland train station from 1912-1989. It is believed that the glass was produced at the Kokomo Opalescent Glass Company. The Botti Studio of Architectural Arts in Evanston, Illinois has records from the early 1900s that show an order for "chandeliers for the railroad depot," leading museum staff to believe that that is where the three were designed and built.

A small exhibit label shows a photo of two of the globes in place in the train station:

Another realistic diorama shows workers swinging a pick and levering a pry bar while maintaining a rail line outside a small station building. There is no shortage of work: a mile of track may have over 3,000 cross ties, 1,000 bolts, and 15,000 ties.

The mail car was interesting because a former worker was there, telling the story of his years running the rails. This form of picking up, sorting, and delivering mail was discontinued in 1977. More photos of this particular car and a history of the railway post office can be found on Wikipedia.

A refrigerated car exhibited old fruit crate labels, a lost art form. The addition of the twitter icon on the peach box from Costco that serves as my fruit and vegetable bowl just isn't the same.

The long drive to Sacramento proved to be worth every mile. We found a nice restaurant for lunch, and on HH's suggestion, I bought three wooden train whistles to mail to my grands. Paybacks are bliss.


On a completely different topic, I forgot to add a photo of a rainbow that we saw as we left the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in July. It was spectacular, so much so that the highway came to resemble a parking lot as people pulled to the side to photograph it.


Thought of the day:

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.
Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And here is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart runaway in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill, and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone forever!

              - Robert Louis Stevenson, From a Railway Carriage 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Diggin' PEFO

I wrote some time ago about the fledgling Petrified Forest Field Institute at Petrified Forest National Park (PEFO) and the class offerings that were due to start this month. When I got an email from PFFI a couple of days ago, I realized that here we are with August almost done, and I'd lost track of the goings-on in northeast Arizona. I don't know about the other courses, but they've had amazing success with a paleontology dig that took place early in the month. This is from the email I received:
When park paleontologist Dr. Bill Parker’s group took off the morning of August 8th, they all had high hopes for finding fossils. After all, they had all signed up for his “Dig Fossils for a Day” class with the Petrified Forest Field Institute (PFFI), a new program in its inaugural year. But even the most optimistic participant could not have anticipated an exciting discovery that could rewrite the scientific journals!

SaurichthysOne student found the jaw of a long-snouted fish that had previously been thought to be extinct in North America during the Late Triassic, about 220 million years ago. Prior to her find, the fish, which is closely related to the genus Saurichthys, is from a group of fish known globally in the Early Triassic but up to this point had only been found in China in the Late Triassic.

The class made other finds that were exciting as well. They included vertebrae of a very long necked lizard (Tanystropheus) first found in the park only last year and teeth of the large carnivore Poposaurus, both considered rare in the park fossil record.

There aren't any more of these one-day digs until next year, but in late September there's a five-day, camp-in-the-desert paleontology outing. I wish I could go, but because I can't, the next best thing will be seeing what that one turns up.


Thought of the day:

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny...' - Isaac Asimov

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Changed my mind

OK, I give. I started putting these photos on Flickr and realized it's much more work than I remembered it being when I used Flickr a lot in years past. I still have to do the research, still have to try to write something intelligent about each one, and of course they still all need processing. So I take back what I said about suspending cruisingat60. If the work is the same, or nearly so, then this space is a much better chronicle of my journeys to places near and far.

We've pretty much scraped the closer-by areas clean of things to see, and are having to go farther afield. A few weeks ago we went to Stockton to a very nice art museum there, The Haggin Museum, and to Sacramento, to the California State Railroad Museum. We've about reached our limit for day trips: four to five hours one way makes for a very long day.

A while back I saw a Spanish mission on the map and asked HH if he wanted to go; it's on the outer limits of day-trip miles. True to form, he said, Why not? and off we went a couple of weekends ago. Following Alta California's Spanish mission trail, El Camino Real (The Royal Road, or The King's Road) is a bucket list item for me as well as following the mission trails through Mexico and Arizona. I'd hoped to follow it sequentially but hit-or-miss is all right, too.

San Juan Bautista is in the town of the same name, northeast of Salinas. Founded in 1797, it is the 15th Spanish mission established by Franciscan Father President Francisco de Laseún. The church's brochure says it's the largest of the mission churches, but I don't know if it means just those in Alta California or all of them. It sits astride the eastern edge of the Pacific Plate and San Andreas Fault and has suffered earthquake damage over the years. In fact, there's a warning sign outside the complex about the buildings not being earthquake-proof. The remains of El Camino Real can be seen from the fault line. El Camino Real connected a 600-mile circuit of California missions, presidios, and pueblos of the day.

Here is the entrance to the museum, gift shop, garden courtyard, and church.

In the museum that precedes the visit to the church is this Himnario, maybe two feet tall.

Vestments on display in the museum. Some are from China, Russia, and Venice, and were used here until the 1930s.

One of the entrances to the church from the garden. The church was secularized in 1835 when the Mexican government seized much of the Mission property. In 1859, the present mission buildings and 55 acres were given back to the Church by US federal decree.

One of many doors that once led to the Padre's living quarters and workrooms for Native people. The space is now used for the Museum and Archives.

San Juan Bautista was the setting for Alfred Hitchcock's 1957 movie, Vertigo. The 1865 Victorian-era bell tower seen in the movie no longer exists and didn't even exist when the movie was filmed. The original tower was demolished in 1949 due to dry rot and structural damage, so Hitchcock used Hollywood magic to recreate it for the film. We tried to stream the movie on Netflix the other night but it's not available. I do not understand licensing. This three-bell campanario, or "bell wall," located by the church entrance, was fully restored in 2010.

The pulpit is reached via a stairway on the other side of the wall. Stations of the Cross in this church are in the form of paintings, but I'd say not the originals because of the painted curlicues that can be seen peeking out behind them. 

A cat door in the bottom of the people door allowed cats access to the church at all times for mouse-catching duties.

In 1997, the site of the original chapel was restored and dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. This is the altar used for daily Mass.

Front and center, below, is the candle I lit in front of the altar, along with buying a statue of St. Joseph from Amazon to be buried in my yard, in an effort to direct cosmic energy toward the sale of the house Voldemort and I still own. When I told the volunteer in the gift shop why I was buying the candle, she said, "Sometimes it's good to ask mom for help."

Two days later, after the house had sat stagnant on the market for four months and before the candle had time to burn down or St. Joe got planted, we had an offer on the house. We're losing money by the bucketful but it will soon be gone and I won't have to listen to him about that topic any more.

This is the main door at the back of the church. That's another Station of the Cross to the left, number VII.

The baptistry features the original fonts. 

A holy water niche at one of the doors.

I shot everything handheld because I was too lazy and it was too hot to go back to the truck for the tripod. None of these is as sharp as I'd like, but you get the idea.

Every December 21st, the light of the midwinter solstice illuminates the main altar tabernacle. I would like to see that.

The sanctuary and reredos were painted by Boston sailor Thomas Doak in 1818 in exchange for room and board (and maybe sanctuary?) after he jumped ship in Monterey.

There's another mission near Carmel, which we intended to stop at on our way home, but traffic was a nightmare. Instead of battling it and getting mad, I elected to come on home. It will have to wait for another day when we can get on the road early.

Thought of the day:

If you never change your mind, why have one? - Edward de Bono

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Say goodnight, Gracie

I have decided to suspend cruisingat60 for a while, indefinitely. There isn't enough time in my day, and rather than do a mediocre job at everything, I have to pick and choose. I will get back to tossing some photos up on my Flickr page, which has been neglected since I started cruisingat60. They will be the same photos that I would show here but will take much less time to post.

This has been an interesting journey. If I can find more hours in the day, I may be back. Thank you for reading along.


Thought of the day:

You can have it all. Just not all at once. - Oprah Winfrey

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Yes, we wanted rain....

For the past two days, we've had buckets of rain for relatively short periods of time. It's amazing to watch on radar as the cells move in and out. Yesterday's rain came in two cells separated by less than half an hour. The first was unusually heavy; it was a pounding that made me very glad I was inside.

This morning I was at my desk, fortunately looking somewhat busy when my boss walked in. She works in the Valley, a good 30 minutes away, and I don't see her often. It turns out that she can't get to work via her regular route today or for the undefined future because Highway 140 between where I live and the park entrance is under a rockslide.

Last October, as the story was told to me, an RV was traveling 140 in this area and scraped its roof against a rock overhang that extends over half of the road. HH and I eye that overhang when we drive that road, and speculate whether or not the trailer could pass underneath, because there is no sign indicating clearance. When the RV connected with the rock, sparks flew and started a fire up the mountainside. The fire grew to at least 200 acres, and an airplane pilot died while flying over to drop retardant.

The fire left the mountainside bare of vegetation, and the past couple days' rain brought it down. I got this photo from the grapevine. I don't know the photographer's name, but she was driving along the road when the slide occurred. No one was hurt but lots of people had to do some walking to get out of the area because their cars were trapped in the debris.

My guess is it's not a matter of shoveling the rocks and mud off the road; the slope will have to be stabilized and the road itself repaired. There are other entrances to the park, of course, but they're all spaced far apart. What a mess to be faced with at the height of the tourist season.


Thought of the day:

Behind every cloud is another cloud. - Judy Garland

Friday, July 17, 2015

Fresno's not bad at all

We often head in the direction of Fresno when we set out to explore on the weekends. People in the office speak disparagingly of the city but I don't understand why. Voldemort (the ex-husband) also made jokes about it, but he also said Flagstaff, which I love, was a dump, so that should have told me something. Maybe because HH and I usually live so far away from "civilization" that any decent shopping sends us into ecstasy, but we think there's a lot to like about Fresno, other than the summer heat.

A couple weekends ago we went to tour the Forestiere Underground Gardens, and to follow a driving tour of National Register buildings. I took several photos of the gardens but none of them turned out to be worth keeping, so I'll jump right in to the driving tour. Unless you like architecture, you should bail now.

The building below isn't on the National Register but we passed it on the way to one that was, and I walked back to get a better look. Our first sight of it was from the right side of the building, which reveals its triangular shape designed for a triangular lot. If not for its shape, I probably wouldn't have looked twice. It was built to be a fire alarm station in 1917 and is now a 911 call center.

This is the building we were driving to when I saw the fire alarm station. It was the home of Herman and Helen Brix, completed in 1911. Brix tried his hand at farming but gave it up to go to Alaska, where he made some money in gold. Meanwhile, oil was booming in California and when Brix returned he invested in oil properties and made his fortune, adding to it with investments in Fresno property. The historic Fresno website describes the house he commissioned as "a brilliant example of a period-inspired Italian Villa, the only residence in Fresno built in this lavishly-embellished style." Brix's home is now home to a law firm. It's so good to see a building as lovely as this being maintained.

Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church was the first church built in the tradition of Armenian church architecture in the United States, and the first designed by Fresno's first Armenian architect, Lawrence Karekin Cone (Condrajian). It's the dome that sets this church apart as Armenian. It wasn't open and no one was around, so I couldn't get in.

Most of this description of the Kearney Mansion was taken directly from the Historic Fresno website: Martin Kearney (1842-1906) was a substantial contributor to the agricultural development of both Fresno County and the state of California. He devised a subdivision system whereby fencing and irrigation for all the lots in the colony were provided cooperatively. This enabled middle-class purchasers to start farming without the tremendous financial outlay otherwise necessary. 

Rudolph Ulrich, a landscape architect from New York, laid out the design for this park and the boulevard leading to it. Over the next fourteen years, Kearney turned a flat, barren landscape into what The San Francisco Chronicle called the "most beautiful park on the West Coast." At the turn of the century the park may have contained more species of trees, vines, shrubs and roses than any equal area in the United States. The eleven-mile boulevard leading from downtown Fresno to the park was lined with alternating eucalyptus and palms, interspersed with 18,000 white and pink oleanders.

The house is a basic rectangular form with walls of two-foot-thick unstabilized adobe brick, covered with a thin coat of plaster for waterproofing. Between the thick walls and the covered porch on all sides, the house would have stayed quite cool.

The Meux Home was built in 1889 by Dr. Thomas Meux (1838-1929). During the Civil War he enlisted as a private in the Ninth Tennessee Volunteer Regiment of the Confederate Army. After four years he left the service as an assistant surgeon with the rank of Captain. The Meux family moved to Fresno in 1887; the house was built in 1888. Meux established his medical practice the following year and served as a physician from his office and home the rest of his life. The home was continuously occupied by the Meux family for eighty years. It was later acquired by the city of Fresno and is presently open to the public as the Meux Home Museum.

The old Fresno water tower 
is is my favorite building on the driving tour. It made me think, Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.

This may be the first time I've seen one of these markers. It was near the door - An American Water Landmark, significant in the history of public water supply. There was probably one on Boulder Dam but if so, I missed it.

The water tower was built in 1894, replacing two wooden tanks. It stands 100 feet tall and holds 250,000 gallons. The second and third floors were designated for the Fresno city library. I'm no civil engineer, but I am a librarian, and two floors of books with 250,000 gallons of water just waiting to cascade onto them doesn't sound like a good idea.

Across the street from the water tower is this fire call box. I remember versions of these from when I was a kid, and was surprised to read on Wikipedia that they're still in use - apparently not this one, though.

Above the Gamewell name you can see the fist holding lightning bolts, the company's trademark. Amazingly enough, the company is still in business. A little history of the Gamewell boxes from Wikipedia:
The first practical fire alarm system utilizing the telegraph system was developed by Dr. William Channing and Moses G. Farmer in Boston, Massachusetts in 1852. In 1855, John Gamewell of South Carolina purchased regional rights to market the fire alarm telegraph, obtaining the patents and full rights to the system in 1859. John F. Kennard bought the patents from the government after they were seized after the Civil War, returned them to Gamewell, and formed a partnership, Kennard and Co., in 1867 to manufacture the alarm systems. The Gamewell Fire Alarm Telegraph Co. was formed in 1879. Gamewell systems were installed in 250 cities by 1886 and 500 cities in 1890. By 1910, Gamewell had gained a 95% market share.

There were many more buildings on the tour, but to HH and me these were the most interesting. 

Getting to Fresno takes a couple of hours of driving through some of the most intensively farmed land I've ever seen. There are oranges, almonds, olives, and grapes to the horizon in all directions. It's easy to see how devastating the ongoing drought - there's a 26-inch rain deficit so far - could be to the area's economy and the country's food supply. Keep your fingers crossed for the strong El Niño that's predicted for this winter. 


Thought of the day:

How will we know it's us, without our past? - John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

Monday, July 13, 2015

Listening to the ancients

While a GPS can talk you to an unknown destination, there's nothing like a good map to give you ideas about where to go in the first place. I like unfolding one onto the table or opening the atlas and scanning the route ahead, looking for red-lettered names of attractions of one kind or another. I compare it to browsing the shelves at the library or paging through a newspaper as opposed to hoping a title online will leap off the page and shout, Read me!

So it was with the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest near - kind of - Bishop, California. Just about a year ago I went to Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah and saw some bristlecones there. They're the oldest living thing on the planet, as much as 5,000 or so years old, and while I don't know the statistics, I can't imagine they're thick on the ground anywhere. So when I saw the forest's red letters on the map and we were going in that direction anyway, we decided to make the drive about 20 miles off the highway on a road designed to induce carsickness. 

As gross physical specimens, bristlecone pines aren't strong in the beauty department. One of their methods of adaptation to harsh growing conditions is allowing parts of themselves to die off in order to conserve energy for the plant as a whole. The result is a motley collection of dead and living wood. 

Even the living parts can't be described as robust.

Where their beauty comes into focus is in the details.
Every year the trees add growth just under the bark. When it's dry the rings are narrow, while adequate rain is indicated by wider rings. Even so, their slow growth means that some trees have one hundred years of growth compacted into a one inch space of rings.

The key to their longevity is cold, high-elevation growing conditions. The trees at Cedar Breaks thrive at 11,500 feet; these trees are at about 8,000 feet. Under those conditions, insects aren't much of a pest and the slow growth means they produce tiny amounts of resinous, hard wood. I remember a ranger from Cedar Breaks saying that a three-foot sapling is probably 200 years old. More water and warmer temperatures could result in taller, larger pines, but they wouldn't be as hardy.

The oldest trees are in the mountains of eastern California, but there are widely scattered groves throughout the high mountain areas of Nevada and Utah. This wood is what's left of a 3,200 year old tree that died in about 1676. 
Bristlecone needles are in a distinctive five-needle cluster.

I walked a short trail to the area with the oldest trees. In 1953, the man who discovered them was taking core samples nearby when he wandered to this spot. He took a sample from one of them and went back to camp for the night, where he started counting rings. He counted back to beyond 2046 BC, making the tree he had just found more than 4,000 years old. There is one in the White Mountains of California, the Methuselah tree, that is over 5,000 years old. Its location is kept secret.

Here is one last living sculpture from the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.

When I started on the trail it was overcast and spitting rain, but on my way back the sun broke through.

And this is why they're called bristlecones.

I can only imagine the extent of the excitement and wonder at the discovery in 1953, but am sure I felt some part of it while I was on that trail and laid my hand against the ancient tree next to me. I closed my eyes, breathed, and listened, thinking of the ages it had lived through and the storms it had weathered. It was an uncommon, unexpected physical connection with time.


Thought of the day:

Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations