Monday, December 28, 2009

Still Kicking

Well, I'm still alive...even after downing at Cardiac Arrest Burger. Ever since seeing them on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, I've wanted to take one on. With Seth home over Christmas, I had a willing partner and chef, so it was on! Here's the blueprint:

The Bun: Two complete toasted ham and cheese sandwiches w/ Jack Daniels Bar-b-q sauce. Make sure the bread is liberally buttered on all sides before toasting and there is plenty of cheese.

The Burger: In the initial run we settled on a 1/3lb patty, with an egg and dash of oatmeal to hold it together, along with a dash more of Jack's.

The Condiments: These include 6 pieces of fried bacon, a fried egg (fried in more butter), onions, (caramelized in the left over bacon grease), 1000 isle dressing, ketchup, mustard, pickles, etc to taste.

I ate mine in under 10 minutes in as much as once you pick it up, there's no way you can put it back down.

We think we can improve on this original. Being health conscious, we cooked the bun using 4 slices of whole wheat. This proved to be too flimsy. The next time around I'm thinking four slices of thick sour dough or some such. Also, I think the next time we'll top off the burger/fried egg/onions with a handful of french fries.

Still it was good business as the photographic proof below indicates:

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Gift of Railroad Art

When you are the kind of guy that can hide his own Easter eggs, surprising me at Christmas really isn’t much of a challenge. Rendering me speechless, well, that is a little more difficult. Janice did both this year.

Off and on since about Thanksgiving, Janice would mention that not only she, but the staff at the Burlington Library couldn’t wait for my reaction to the gift she got me. Nice, all this while she would give me absolutely no help in trying to come up with something I could give her. Not too much pressure. (Hey, I came through in the clutch, however, thanks to a little help from new daughter-in-law, Bubbly Little Claire….silver cross necklace.)


So fast forward to yesterday morning. Tucked in behind the tree was a gift wrapped in brown butcher paper in the obvious shape of something that was mounted and framed. Now, I’m somewhat clueless about most of what goes on around the house. Alright, totally clueless, but even I had an idea or two at this point. Traditionally, Janice has done things with the covers of my books. We have two examples hanging in our living room right now, as a matter of fact. So yes, the thought crossed my mind that again, she did “something” with the cover of “Vis” to mark its publication.

Considering she did some of the design work for the cover, it wouldn’t have been hard for her to use some of the scans she had to fix-up a little something. We even had a spare cover or two floating around here that she could have incorporated, who knows?

So, Jr. F-up (Seth) is being “Santa” this year and hands me this large flat gift. Now I should set the scene a little. I’m in an overstuffed chair on one end of the room. To my immediate right is the couch occupied by #2 son Grant, and A #1 daughter-in-law, Bubbly Little Claire (BLC). To my right sits Janice and Jr. F-up is standing in front of me. You also have to remember, when the boys and I get together, our mentality drops from a mean of 39 to about 14.

Given that, being now 14 years old, I open it backwards…on purpose, just to be an idiot. I succeeded.

“Wow!” I exclaimed. “Just what I always wanted, a blank back of a picture frame and all the shit I need to hang it!”

Now, as I am looking at the blank back, everyone else in the room is looking at what it actually is. My first tip-off that this was something out of the ordinary came from BLC’s reaction; a slight gasp and a “Oh, that’s beautiful!” Next was Jr. F-up…”Ah, Dad, you might want to quit being a moron and look at what you got there…’frickin’ Old Man.”

I turned it around, and that’s when the mind and vocal chords went blank. I was staring at one of the most (to steal BLC’s adjective) beautiful works of railroad art I have ever seen. Janice commissioned a local artist to make a painting the photo used for the cover of “Vis Major.” What is amazing is how he did it. It is in sepia/brown tones such that it looks like the black and white/aged original photograph given to me by the Meath family. It is double matted with a narrow brown surrounding the painting, and a larger light yellow finishing the work. The frame is a simple design in a light colored hardwood. On the bottom is a gold colored metallic plaque that is engraved with “Wellington circa 1910.” It is a fairly large piece, the painting measures 9” x 15”, frame and all is 18” x 24”.

The artist, Bob Williams did a masterful job of turning the photo into a painting. It is not a bolt for bolt attempt at making it a clone of the photo, and yet it is realistic to the point I would not go so far as to say it is a stylized representation. Bob does railroad paintings and so threading that narrow line is something he does, and does well. He is not quite as detailed as Fogg or Danneman, but maybe little more so than the water colors of Rose.

What is truly amazing is how he worked the grey and brown tones to maintain the look of an aged black and white photo. I truly believe had he done it as a color painting, it would have been much easier. To even add brown tones to the steam and snow must have taken some real effort.

Well folks, I was speechless. I just stared at it for a couple of minutes. I finally looked at Janice and asked her, “How’d you come up with this idea?”

“Well, when you gave away that photo to the museum, I just thought you should have a copy for yourself.”

There is a little more to the story. Bob had a display of his railroad art at the library this past fall and I took time to go look at the paintings. Some I had seen, and as I wandered from canvas to canvas, I remember telling Janice how much I liked his style, realistic enough to please the eye of a railfan/photographer, and yet still maintaining the look of the medium of paint, not film. It was shortly after that, she put Bob to work. Sadly, he doesn’t have a website, otherwise I’d give him a major plug.

We’re still not 100% certain where to hang the painting; somewhere in the living room for sure. I’ll get Janice to pull out her little point-and-shoot digi and take a few shots of it and post them somewhere...probably Facebook so other folks can enjoy the work as well.

The gift of railroad art: it will certainly go down as one of my all-time favorites.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Moving a Mountain

The Montana Rail Link is a regional line that tends to think big. Maybe it's the big skies of the Big Sky State. When you are having issues with a tunnel what do you do? Remove part of the tunnel, of course!

It's a long story, I am far from knowing all of the details. Essentially, the narrow smokey hole through the Great Divide west of Helena, known as the Mullan Tunnel needed an upgrade. With the arrival of the newer hi-tech locomotive, the SD 70 ACe to be exact, the narrow confines, high heat and thick carbon laden exhaust was more than the computers and circuitry of the new engines could handle. Unit after unit, the engines assigned to help trains over Mullan Pass were falling victim to the harsh interior of the tunnel.

The solution? Remove 400' of the west end of the tunnel and bore the remainder out to a larger size to allow better air flow. Implied in that is removing 400' of mountain! The project began as soon as the weather allowed in the Spring of 2009 with construction halted for the winter.

This past September I visited the site, and thanks to the good folks at the MRL was able to document some of the work being done. Here are a few of the photos taken.

Morning brings the daily crew meeting. Workers who are drilling and reinforcing the tunnel interior get orders for the day.

While the men get their orders, the real excitement is down at what is left of the west portal. With a 10 second countdown, the popping of blasting caps, and the low thud of the major concussion, a section of the south wall of the old tunnel is blown apart.

Time to go to work. Contractor Andy Weaver takes a last slurp of coffee before climbing on his track-hoe to clear away the tunnel wall rubble.

While Andy works the excavator, filling his off-road dump trucks, a large front-end loader has passed through the tunnel and attacks the pile from the east side.

Looking like some type of prehistoric dinosaur, the car mounted drill and grout rigs make ready for another day of work in the tunnel, while out on the main the helpers of a westbound grain heavy pass by.

Hi ho! Hi ho! Off to work we go!

While contractor crews work in and out of the tunnel, MRL railroaders Dave Cook and Fred Fessenden tend to the details of keeping the project "on track."

Moving a mountain implies taking it somewhere else. The tailings pile from the removal of 400' of tunnel stretches west for nearly 1/2 mile from the construction site.

Track and time up for the day, the last of the equipment exits the tunnel while inside the section house, tunnel crew foreman Nick Laviolette talks things over with project manager Dave Cook.

The reason for the need is illustrated by a westbound grain heavy slipping through the narrow confines of the daylighted portion of the tunnel. Improvements have already been made to for the mid-train manned helpers, while unmanned DPU still take the full brunt of the Mullan Tuunel smoke show!

I'll go back next summer to take a look at the project as it nears completion...more to come.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


On the cover material for "Vis Major" the publisher refers to me as an "historian." Can you believe that? Look at this photo of yours truly proudly holding his first hardbound and first softbound editions of "Vis." Historian? They've lost their minds.

Would a real historian have a chunk missing from his left thumb and losing the nail on his right thumb, not to mention ground in grime under the nails of all ten digits? Obviously this "historian" digs up his facts the old fashioned way, grubbing in the dirt.

Then there's that gray fast going to white hair. Looks to me like this "historian" is writing from memory not research.

Now, in the background is "Vis Major" command central. (BTW...notice how many times I'm working the title "Vis Major" into this little essay. Product branding, folks...ef the art, it's all about the sales units from here on out.) Anyways, what you see is where the book was written. Looking close, you'll even see a couple of the binders holding the hard copy of one of the many rewrites. See that stain on the thicker of the two? That's evaporated milk spilled on the manuscript by none other than "White Cascade" author, Gary Krist. Gary read that very manuscript while doing the research for his book.

No folks, I'm no historian. If I honestly thought being one would sell more books, I'd be sitting in a a lot fancier chair, I'd have one those tweed sport coats with the big leather patches on the elbows and a close cropped goatee. No, "Vis" is a blue collar story, told about a bunch of blue collar boys. Historians just wouldn't get it.

Oh, and no, I don't "love" to sew.......

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

We're Official!

Well, I got an interesting e-mail from a Facebook friend today. He had ordered two copies of "Vis Major" off of!

Huh? Today the publisher, iUniverse sent me my two printer's copies of the book for my final "oaky." I will probably receive them early next week. Once I give them the thumbs-up, then full production will begin. Still, I guess they aren't wasting any time. The title is listed and a little surfing around on the Amazon listing will reveal iUniverse's little promotional blurb on the book. Me, a historian? They gotta be joking!

And speaking of not wasting anytime. Amazon is already listing 2 "Used" copies of "Vis." Now whoever has those must be a serious speed reader. I mean, I haven't even SEEN the damned things yet!

Take a quick buzz over to Amazon and do a search for "Vis Major." Who knows? Maybe you can score one of those cheap "Used" copies.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Little Teaser

Well, here it is, folks...the cover for "Vis Major!" And yes, I'm pretty damned excited. There's been a small hold-up...the publisher is less than stellar in their communication skills and thus we're having "issues" getting the maps embedded in the text, but even at that, I'm still thinking the book will be in production my mid to late September. iUniverse is the publisher, they are a "print on demand" press. The title will eventually be listed on Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, and I believe Boarders as well, but you probably won't see it in your local independent bookstore anytime soon, unless it really takes off. Whether that happens is actually up to your folks.

Anyways...along with a glimpse of the cover, here's a little taste of the story itself.

Enjoy and put "Vis" on you Christmas wish list!

Dougherty’s nose and ears had grown numb, but he scarcely noticed. He sat on the roof of the plow, peering through the blizzard. The excitement he felt just prior to leaving Cascade Tunnel Station now consumed his mind and body. Lantern in hand, he knew it, he felt it, he truly believed it—all of the Great Northern Railway was depending on him at that moment.

Just clear of Snow Shed 2, his eyes squinting against the attacking snowflakes, Dougherty picked up a shadow of something large on the tracks. His heart leapt to his throat.

“Slide! Half a car length!” he hollered into the cab below.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

THEE Weddin'

Well, its been over a month since THEE weddin' between youngest son Grant and Bubbly Little Claire. They got hitched good and tight, so I'm thinking it's gonna stick. It was on helluva party, about 4 days worth. Just off the hook enough everyone took home some good stories, but not so bad the cops had to return. Certainly the highlight was the power going out before the ceremony, but coming on the instant Grant was serenading his bride during the service, and singing, very loudly, "Don't worry everything is gonna be alright." Aaah if only marriage was that easy.

Anyways, rather than bore you with written details, here, thanks to the photographs of wedding photog Steve Horn, is my take on the whole affair.

That's me, all dressed up and thanking God Grant is no longer my problem.

Eldest son Seth and my bride of 35 years, (our anniversary is 2 days after Grant and Claire's), anyways, that's Janice asking Seth why HE can't find a nice girl like Claire to marry.

The two showing off the fresh coat of mink grease on his stompin' boots.

Father-in-law giving his daughter-in-law some last minute advice..."Don't you dare back out on me."

Great day for a wedding if you don't mind no electricity, wind, rain, and yes, snow.

Well Claire, you're a Burwash now, and all that comes with that name.

A tearful, last minute break-up between groom Grant and "close friend" Thee Drew Dahlstedt. "Drew, I don't know how to say this, but I've found another..."

Magoo being Magoo.

Brotherly love...their parents must be so proud.

Enough of this bullshit...time to get your ass to the church...Jesse "Jocko" Jenks does the honors.

Grant's singing, "Everything is going to be alright," but I'm not sure Claire is buying it.

So Claire, you hear the one about when Ole and Lina got married, and Lars....

Okay, all afternoon with the "Pimp Daddy" wing-tips, time to put on the stompin' boots.

Here I am convincing my older sister that all I've had is 5 beers.

Let the stompin' begin. Doing a little dosey-doe with Grant...

..and Seth

So Claire, I don't know about you, but I've had about enough of these idiots, what say we get the hell outta here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Countdown to "W" Day

Grant and Claire the day she said, "Sure, I'll take you off your folks' hands."

Well, the countdown has begun. Tomorrow wife Janice goes to the airport to pick-up eldest son, Seth. Friday, I'm taking the whole day off to prepare, load the rig, and get on the noon ferry for Orcas Island. Friday night, Janice and I are hosting the rehearsal dinner. Saturday is "W" Day..our youngest son Grant and his bride, Bubbly Little Claire will exchange vows and begin their life's adventures. (Well, actually, CONTINUE their life's adventures.) Sunday will be kind of a wind down day as guests leave with each ferry.

Janice and I will be staying an extra night, however. Saturday will be Grant and Claire's first day of marriage, Monday will mark me and Janice's 35th year. So what am I going to tell the young couple on Friday night when I ask the gathered guests to raise their glasses? I'm not 100% sure. Still, I think I'll ask all who have been married awhile to consider whether or not they have enjoyed an easy life with their spouse....and then ask if they are having a GOOD life with their spouse. That's the key. Life's not easy, but with a the right partner, it sure as hell can be good.

To Grant and Claire!

The Happy Family L to R: My bride of 35 years, Janice, Eldest son Seth, the Happy Couple, the Old Farmer in the back.

Monday, March 2, 2009


I stopped by the Evergreen Cemetery in Everett today, like I do every year at this time. I was actually a day late. 99 years ago yesterday the boys gathered on the knoll on the north end took their last mortal breaths. First I cleaned off the marker I bought for Benny Jarnigan and then moved on to check on the others. Will Raycroft, Sid Jones, Frank Martin, Johnny Parzybok, Joe Pettit, Lewis Walker and Earl Longcoy were all paid a visit. On my way out I stopped over in the "new" section and paid my respects of "the Snow King" himself, Bill Harrington, resting with a shared headstone next to his beloved Lillian.

The mood wasn't all that somber. In fact, there was definitely a sense of anticipation. 99 years is a long time to be kept silent. I came away with a definite feeling the boys want me to knuckle down and get on with it. They definitely think it's time their story is told.

I promised them the next time I stopped by, sometime this summer, I'd have "Vis Major" in hand.

"Be patient," I told them. "A guy only has one shot at a deal like this. It's gotta be done right."

Anticipation; they feel it.

So do I.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Back At It....Already

I did a little tractor work yesterday. It sure seems early.

We are going to do some early weed control in the berries. In order for Wilbur Ellis to spray, I needed to fill in most the surface ditches I all but killed myself digging 6 weeks ago.

I definitely have a few reservations concerning this whole process. Wilbur did the same thing last winter and succeeded only in rutting up the field. I can absolutely say in complete honesty they did not kill a single weed, but did kill a number of young strawberry plants because the un-trained ape they had running the spray rig kept running down the rows trampling in the berries with the wheels. I wasn't impressed. Still, my partner is buddies with the guy that oversees Wilbur's spraying operations, so I'm currently out voted when it comes to getting someone who will do a good job for us.

Beyond my suspicion that Wilbur Ellis doesn't know their asses from a hole in the ground, I'm not convinced this winter's bad weather is behind us. They are due to spray on Tuesday. I think next week-end I'll be back out in the field, putting the ditches back in. step forward, two steps back.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Things I'll Do...

The things I'll do to get attention. With the debut of "Vis Major" not that far off...(I hope), I've gone all out when it comes to firing up the ol' I'm now on BOTH Face Book and My Space. Sad but true.

So far, I've found the Face Book to be the easiest to get established, although the My Space page has some fun applications. (The biggest issue with My Space is I had somehow listed myself as "Single". It took some serious surfing to get THAT changed.) Anyways..on My Space I set up a neat little slide show of what remains of the wreck in the canyon below Wellinigton as well as the Meath snow plow photo. You can take a gander at:

"Vis Major" was already taken as a URL.. so I had to add the word "novel" It works.

Now over on Face Book I haven't really fired up the Vis Major whoring machine, but my home page is at:

There is a rail/farm photo gallery set up there and I think anyone can view it without signing up for Face Book.

It's the world of the net and networking is how the world seems to now to speak.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Winter Stroll

A few weeks back I made what has become an annual winter trip to Stevens Pass. If you look back in the posts on this fine blog you will see the results of last year's treks through the snows of Stevens. This year the pass had a very different look. Not near the snowfall, I traveled over to the east side and hiked from the East Portal of the Cascade Tunnel down to the old station of Gaynor..about a 7 mile round trip. Coming and going I photographed the trains running across the pass that day and a few other sites, like this avalanche run on Rocky Ridge. It brings home why the Great Northern ended up drilling an 8-mile tunnel.

The first train that I saw was actually a westbound container train. When it arrived at the East Portal, I was still enjoying my last cup of coffee before embarking in the 16 degree F fog, so I just let her go on by. The first train I photographed was the westbound Empire Builder, stopped by a red light thanks to the fore mentioned stack train still occupying the tunnel.

My favorite spot along the siding at Berne is this little knoll that overlooks a set of "S-curves". A westbound trailer train works up the siding for a meet with an eastbound. I lucked out. The westbound stopped just far enough up the siding to give this view of the eastbound dropping downgrade. What looks like snow on the trees is actually a thick layer of frost generated by a week of freezing fog.

A long walk, and even longer wait in the cold produced this image of eastbound double stacked containers slipping through the "hole in the wall" near the old station of Gaynor.

As usual, as soon as I shot the train down at Gaynor, it was time to turn around and start the uphill hike to the car up at the tunnel. On the way I stopped off near the East Berne signal bridge to shoot as eastbound grain empty. The conductor was an old friend, Andy VanWagnen. Seconds after the first shot was taken, Andy was out on the locomotive's side catwalk waving.

Thanks to bits and pieces of scanner chatter that I picked up as well as a hunch on my part, I decided to hang tough at East Berne and set up for a possible westbound. For once I was actually right! A westbound freight came up the hill with a helper set assisting mid-train.

A good way to end a long day. Not the spectacular snow shots produced by last year's efforts, but far from a waste of time. Besides, nothing is better for the mind and soul than a little winter stroll down the tracks.