Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mueller Tunnel

Last weekend we were in Los Angeles. I had a plan to hike Mt. Lowe and see whatever there was to see of the Mt. Lowe Railway ruins. Long story short: things happened, plans changed, but we did hike a little on Mt. Lowe Road. To get there we drove up the Angeles Crest Highway - a small adventure in and of itself - and then along the Mount Wilson Road in the San Gabriel Mountains. The Mueller Tunnel in the opening picture is on the Mt. Lowe Road. Although it's called a road, it's only hike-able. The cliffs are more or less vertical at the tunnel, and it seemed that one false step on the loose road bed and you'd fall into Eaton Canyon on the left and never be heard from again - sounds like a premise of a murder mystery :-) The altitude at the tunnel entrance is around 5,200 ft, and that day the entire road was enveloped in dense cloud. The next day saw us back at sea-level in Huntington Beach. No clouds, just the sun that the Los Angeles area is famous for. I'll give the Mt. Lowe trails another try next year. Hopefully I'll be smarter and have more time.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Dusting off the T'rantula

Tom Daniel's T'rantula dragster - a Monogram model - was the first model kit I built as a kid. I think my parents bought it for me. As the years went on it was cannibalized to make other custom car models. Whatever was left was eventually tossed out, or given to my cousin in order to clear things out prior to a move. 

I bought a re-release of the kit a couple of years ago and started to build it last summer. Ok, "started to build it" is a bit of a stretch. I bought some Colors by Boyd Lime Pearl to spray it with, glued a few engine components together, and then pushed it to the back of the workbench as I started on some other projects. A few weeks ago I dusted it off and started again. It's about half done, so it's likely to get finished. Soon I hope :-)
Those are the engine parts from the truncated first round of building last summer. They're quite well molded. This is one of the few projects where I didn't start by immediately stripping off all the chrome plating.
That's the body all glued up and drying in the dish rack after a little washing with soap and water. The tricky part was figuring out what to do about the interior and roof. After much head scratching, I built-up and painted the interior, then installed it and covered it with masking tape. The roof was then glued on and the roof-body seam was sanded out until smooth.
I used a bent coat-hanger as a paint stand and sprayed the body in the backyard on a nice day. Wrapping the interior with masking tape worked well and kept the interior from being coated with green paint. However, I had to be extra careful in pealing off the tape to make sure the steering wheel, shifter and pedals didn't get broken.

William Zinsser and Writing to Learn

Last week I heard that the great writer and teacher William Zinsser died recently. Years ago I bought a copy of his book Writing to Learn. I hadn't looked at it in a long time, so I pulled it off the shelf and thumbed through it. As well as realizing that I have a lot to learn, I came across this passage,

Also notice what a pleasure it is to be in the company of a writer with enthusiasm for his subject. It doesn't matter what the subject is; I want an ichthyologist to be as committed to fish as Mayor is to prints - to make me think there's nothing more important to him. This is the personal connection that every reader wants to make with a writer; if we care about the writer we'll follow him into subjects that we could have sworn we never wanted to know about. The blind attachment of a hobbyist to his hobby is as interesting a life force as the hobby itself.

As I've been reading through everything I can find written by E. L. Moore, George Allen, Raymond Frankenberger, and Bart Crosby it's clear its the enthusiasm that comes through and keeps me turning pages. Writing to Learn is worthing getting, and I'm likely to be re-reading it through the summer.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Sarsaparilla, 1 p Per Glass

I’ve known about this photo of my Great-aunt Sarah – known to all as Cissy; her middle name was Cecila – for quite awhile. She’s the woman on the left, and was likely around 16 when the photo was taken, I’ve always been impressed by the massiveness of this Lancashire building were the family herbalist shop was housed. Big blocks. Chunky window frames. This photo was probably taken in 1906 shortly before it was closed. Soon thereafter her brothers immigrated to North Carolina; she, her sister and parents immigrated to Rochester, NY in 1906.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Gone to the country

When we last saw Ed Bryce he was standing on a subway platform in New Toronto contemplating how to turn in the mastermind of the Light Ray Blues affair when a speeding train resolved the problem with grim finality. Time has passed. The city has been traded for the country. At least temporarily. 

It was a dark and stormy night - in my soul.

Outside it was sunny. Bright. Warm. Green grass. Gentle breezes. Tall trees. Blue skies. Bug-free. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Bambi prancing in the meadow behind the shed.

I was away from the city in the wilds of the Hasting Highlands. Nothing but me and trees and fields and one old trolley shed.

My grandma left me her trolley shed in her will along with the postage stamp sized piece of land it was on. In the two years it’d been officially mine it just stood out here locked up; silently looking abandoned; waiting. With the divorce and everything going on at the agency I never got out here to have a look. I was 17 the last time I saw it. A lifetime ago. Back then I thought I was too cool for trolleys. I’d grown out of that kid stuff. But now I was glad she saw through all that and left it to me.

I guess there isn’t anything particularly special about it: four walls and a peaked roof. Double doors on the front and a little shuttered window at the back. A handcar shed on steroids. Rails going in the doors and running out to the backcountry trail mainline complete with its own overhead power line. A nice touch so I didn’t have to push the trolley out to the mainline. 

Grand-dad built it at the time when people were getting rid of their handcars as the backcountry rail-trails were being electrified for personal trolleys. Before electrification all that handcar pumping meant the typical person you stumbled across along the rails had biceps the size of country-hams Today most look like it’d be a strain to lift a latte to their lips. But, with an electrified line, you can take the coffee machine with you, so there’s an upside.

The shed was looking a little rough. The paint was more or less worn away and it needed a new roof, but with any luck the little trolley was still inside wrapped in an old tarp. Trolley is kind of a fancy word for this thing. The one in there is a small flat car equipped with an electric four-wheel truck with a big pole sticking up through the middle of the floor with the trolling arm on top. Oh, and there’s an accelerator and brake. That’s it. It’s barely legal to run on the inter-track.

After I arrived I spent the morning hacking back the overgrowth to get the doors open and some of the track clear. I’d packed in enough supplies to see me through a few days out here. If I could start up the trolley, I’d go into town, get some building materials, stock up on food, and then spend a week or so sprucing up the place and wandering around the bush. There used to be an abandoned observatory and blimp hanger back there. I thought I still knew the switching pattern to get there. I’d see if my memory is any good.

I’ll say one thing for grand-dad, he built the most bullet-proof trolley shed imaginable. It looked like kids had tried to kick the door open. I could see some boot prints in the door sheathing, but the hinges and locks were intact. Not bent. Not nothing. That door didn’t budge. But, after I had the undergrowth cleared back, and the keys were turned in the locks, the doors swung open as  smoothly as the day he hung them. 

There was years of dust covering everything inside, but all the equipment and knick-knacks they used over the years to enjoy the summers were neatly arranged like they had just closed up for winter in anticipation of an early and easy opening the following spring. The opening that never came. Grand-dad died after a massive heart attack a few days after Christmas. Grandma never came up here again. She followed him a couple of years later. This was the first time this place had been opened after their last summer here. I hope I could remember all their procedures for getting things up and running. Well, grandma didn’t trust her memory or anyone else’s, so she always pinned a list of things to do to get set up - let’s see - ah, here it is, right above the switch box for the power and phone service just as always.

In her neat little script was step one: turn on the power and phone.

Two more keys: one blue, one red. I flipped the cover back on the switch box, inserted and turned the blue key to turn on the power. Waiting. Waiting. Ah, the little blue light came on, meaning the good folks at hydro-fusion were good to send me some electrons. 

Now for the phone. I inserted the red key in the phone slot and turned. I crossed my fingers. Bingo. The red light for the phone popped on. I had power and I had phone. And I had an outhouse out back. It looked like I was staying for awhile.

At least that’s what I thought at the time.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Specialist

I’d like to thank Lou Keister for tipping me off to the vaudevillian Charles 'Chic' Sale and his book The Specialist about a fellow named Lem Putt, whose specialty is building outhouses. This work appears to be the inspiration for E. L. Moore’s outhouse builds. I need to buy a copy of the book, but in the meantime have a look at this charming – and very well preserved - 1966 film based on the book made by Heald-Sampson and starring Bernard Miles as Lem.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Metropolis II

Metropolis II isn’t a layout in the traditional model railroad sense, but it does capture the frenetic energy and insanity of our modern urban world. No doubt about that. I was saddened to hear that its maker, the pioneering performance artist, Chris Burden, died over the weekend. Metropolis II was but one piece in a long and successful artistic career. You can get a sense of his life and work at these articles in the LA Times  and NY Times.
{post updated on 12 May 2015.}
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