Sunday, February 1, 2015

February 1, 2015; Curb Appeal

These days I find I watch almost as much "House and Garden TV" as I do ESPN, Root Sports, or even History Channel.  In particular I tend towards the make over shows. In some couples are either shopping specially for a fixer-upper that is magically transformed into their dream home, or the evil real estate agent tries to lure them away from their beloved, but run-down home all the while the hapless but never the less good looking renovation expert is frantically remodeling in a effort to make them want to stay.  In all cases, curb appeal and making a house "warm and inviting" are high on everyone's list.

Curb appeal.....  Does it look "warm and inviting?"  Whenever I hear those phrases my mind goes back to my grandparent's barn in Ohop Valley.  On a cold, cloudy winter evening, as darkness begins to fall, what could be more warm and inviting than a dairy barn?  The barn lights are on, Grandpa, the Old Man, my little sister, all are inside busy with evening chores. Years earlier it was just me and Grandpa in there working.  Even from a distance you can hear the steady drone of the vacuum pump, the rattling of buckets, the static filled music coming from the barn radio.

Warm and inviting?  Even on the coldest nights or frigid mornings, the heat from the cows greeted your face when you walked through the door.  The hay mow above not only served as an all winter playground for us kids, but was a thick layer of insulation trapping the warmth coming from the cows.  Of course it helped that you were working.  Cleaning the gutter before and after milking, and of course milking the cows kept all of us busy enough the outside cold was seldom noticed.

There were the other chores as well.  Feeding hay, bedding down the cows if they were to stay in all night, and feeding the calves.  It could be well below freezing outside, but Grandpa would have his coat off, and the sleeves of his sweater rolled up while he mixed a bucket of powered calf milk.  (A quick aside, any farm kid will tell you, one of the best games was to dip your fingers into a bag of powered calf milk, and let the calf suck it off your fingers.  Then it was your turn.  You dipped your slobbery fingers back into the bag and licked the tasty paste off your own fingers.  You repeated that until Grandpa gave you that sideway glance telling you, "You've wasted enough powdered milk for one day.")

You want to talk curb appeal?  You want to talk about warm and inviting?  I would argue any real estate agent or renovation expert would be hard pressed to match, let alone top a barn full of dairy cows.

Just as I would argue their is nothing colder than the same barn standing forever more empty.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

January 25, 2015: Summer Mornings

I was one of those lucky kids that grew up in the city, but my grandparents had a farm.  It was located close enough to where we lived we regularly visited on week-ends.  As I grew older, I spent my entire summer vacation there, working.  It was a small dairy, so milking the cows and cleaning the barn were my regular chores.  There was also haying season where I bucked bales on our farm, as well as earning extra money haying for others.  It was a playground, a way to earn money for school clothes and a classroom where responsibility and work ethic was taught, all in one.
 The morning ritual was always the same.  I’d usually be awake by 5:30 or so, (“half past 5” in Grandpa’s time keeping lingo), but there was an unwritten rule, Grandpa got up first.  I’d hear him stir in their bedroom down the hall in the big old farmhouse.  He’d get on his clothes and then down the hall he would come, his ill-fitting slippers going “ker-flap, ker-flap” with each step.  Still in bed, thanks to his footwear, I followed his progress, descending the stairs, with a “ka-thump, ka-thump” added to the “ker-flap, ker-flap.”  Across the main floor he’d go, pausing briefly where I could hear a not so subtle three sharp taps.  He was checking the barometer that hung in the kitchen.  Not until the house shook with the slamming of the kitchen door and screen door did I jump from bed and begin my day.

I’d be right behind Grandpa.  Often he was just headed down the hill towards the barn when, with barn boots on, I’d bound off the back porch.  The sun was usually just cresting the eastern edge of the valley, it’s warm summer rays already chasing away the fresh early morning chill.  The night pasture would be in full light, the cows already up and taking a few mouthfuls of grass. 

Grandpa would go right for the barn and start measuring out the grain for each cow.  I would busy myself in the milk house, assembling the milking machines.  About the time I’d have the two bucket units ready for the barn, I’d hear Grandpa calling the cows.

“Come boss! Come boss!”
It was a sing-song call, with the two words slurred together.  More like “Caah-boss!  Caah-boss!”

The cows would lift their heads and perk their ears.  Knowing the routine, knowing their place, they would wait for the boss cow to begin walking towards the barn before they would then fall into line.

For so many years growing up, that’s how my summer mornings began.  Looking back now, I realize what a good life it was.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

January 18, 2015: The Last Train

It was the summer of 1976.  Janice and I had spent a week-end photographing trains crossing both the Milwaukee Road line across Snoqualmie Pass as well as the rival Burlington Northern's Cascade crossing, Stampede Pass.  The sun was high and we were on our way home.  As it turned out there was one more Milwaukee Road train coming westbound.  I had never photographed the Humpback snow shed on the west slope, so that became the goal for the last set of photos of the trip.

We made the hike up the hill with little time to spare.  Within a few minutes of setting up at the west end of the shed, we could hear the train dropping down the hill.

It turned out to be a trailer train "hotshot."  Unfortunately, even in 1976, few used the term "hotshot" and Milwaukee Road in the same sentence.  The evidence was there.  Ties were set on dirt more than ballast.  There were more slow orders due to bad track than clear running.  Earlier that day, while photographing a train at Hyak, a section man told me I should title the photo, "Where's this one going off?"  Yes, even in 1976 the Milwaukee Road in the west was on the downward slide.

Even as the trailers and caboose inched past, even with the evidence there, it never occurred to me all of this would disappear.  Railroads don't just cease to exist.  They merge then reappear in a different form, but a transcontinental doesn't just pull up stakes and leave.  Mainlines are revamped under new ownership, different colored engines roll across the routes, just like what happened to the Northern Pacific and Great Northern.  That was my point of reference in 1976.

I took the obligatory shot of the caboose rounding the bend.  Janice and I returned to the car and headed for home.  On that summer afternoon in 1976 that this was the final Milwaukee Road train I would ever photograph was the farthest thing from my mind.  A year later, we were starting our own farm causing me to enter a nearly 10 year moratorium on photography.  When time and circumstances allowed me to once again take up my camera a resume railfanning, the Milwaukee Road was gone forever.