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The weather forecast for this last weekend messed up several half-formed plans, but early on Sunday Morning I noticed that it was Museum Discovery Day at the Rosenberg Railroad Museum. Perfect. I like Rosenberg, it’s “out of town” but not that far (20 miles, give or take), I haven’t been to the Railroad Museum Festival in a few years, and there’s a lot of indoor and covered space if the weather goes squirrelly. And, of course, it’s a museum. With train cars. And model trains.

You’ve probably realized that my inner child is still a little boy, at least sometimes; he likes ships and boats, cars and trains and planes and fire trucks and even farm machinery – and he doesn’t draw many lines between models and full-sized toys. (He’s also not always real bright or aware that we’re actually a middle-aged man getting towards older-than-that…) He got to try scuba diving and race driving and flying an airplane for a few minutes, as well as several other dumb things. I think he’d try skydiving if I’d let him…

Anyway it’s Sunday, Andromeda II is full of gas, I’ve got charged batteries and plenty of camera chips, a freshly inked pen, notebooks, and a shoulder bag with Clif bars and full water bottles – and cabin fever. It’s about time to twist the key and go.

The predicted rain hits about halfway between here and there, but it’s light and we’re on an adventure, so it’s “Press On Regardless,” and, sure enough as we go over the Brazos River at Richmond it lets up, and by the time we get to the Museum the ground is more or less dry…

First stop is the new G-Gauge Garden Rail layout…. which, due to the weather and the threat of worse coming, is shut down. Maybe later, I hear, if the storm goes the other way. (It looks good; the yardmaster and I compare radar maps (Yay for Weather Underground!) and conclude that it’s likely that the storm’s gone past us and is still going.) So when the track and the electrical things dry out a bit, there will be model trains to play with.

Until then… it’s around the building and off to the big shed for stop 2: The Quebec.

This is one of the prides of the museum – an 1879 “Quebec” executive coach built by the Northern Railway of Canada. It’s got an interesting history – abandoned and almost lost (a matter of hours, perhaps). The details are on the Museum’s website, here.

It’s a thing of beauty.

Okay, this one’s been burning holes in the HD for almost a month now, so I guess it’s time to throw it up here.

Last post I mentioned that I was in the FW/D Metroplex for family reasons (a thing which will probably become more common for the next I-don’t-know-how-long). On the way back I swung east a bit to Mission Tejas State Historical Park. Mission Tejas has been on my “go see” list for a couple of years now, so I finally went to see it.

Mission Tejas is an homage to the early Spanish Missions of East Texas. The current log cabin structure was built by the CCC “boys” back in 1934-35 and dedicated, along with the park itself, in 1936. There’s some interesting history here; few Texans outside of serious history buffs are even aware that the Spanish attempted to create missions in the East Texas Piney Woods. They weren’t particularly successful, in part because they never found a way to make the Piney Woods missions self-sustaining the way the south Texas missions were, and in part because sending supplies or reinforcements to those missions required a long trek from Spanish Mexico to East Texas through hostile territory over bad or non-existent roads. And, too, the Spanish appear to have just had some abysmally bad luck into the bargain. In any case the missions failed, quickly. So it’s a largely unknown bit of history, which means I’m researching it with the intent of learning enough to make it an interesting tale just for you guys. Okay, it’s a lot of fun for me, too, but I was always weird like that.

Meantime we have these two shots, outside and inside …. because the day I was there I was the only person there, and it was cold, misty, and grey, which doesn’t encourage lots of landscape photography. But that said, it’s a nice little state park, and in addition to the mission “replica” there’s camping, some wildlife watching, nature hikes and fishing.

A section of El Camino Real, the original road from East Texas down to Spanish Mexico, wanders by about half a mile down the hill from where I stood to shoot these. (It’s now a National Historic Trail with its own nonprofit foundation, which means there’s actual maintenance and preservation being done. Yay!)

Come Spring I’m going to set up Home Sweet Nylon Taffeta Home in the park, lace up my boots, sling a camera bag, and my staff and I are going to trace a few of the 700 or so miles from here to San Antonio…

Of course this means that it will be necessary to post something, either here or over at The Other Texas. (Note: If you’d like to receive an email when I post the story, or any others, please go back to the front page, find the “send me email” link, and join the mailing list. It’s an automatic feature – you won’t be sold and you won’t be spammed. My word on that, because I HATE having that done to me…)

Happy Trails, in any case….

Getting there: The park is 21 miles northeast of Crockett on SH21, near Weches. You’ll need a car, or good boots and a walking staff, because there’s no public transport or bus lines this far out. The site offers, as said, camping, hiking, fishing, picnicking, and history. Plus flush toilets and hot showers – which matter more than you might think on cold winter mornings.

A few years ago I was in San Antonio for a festival and, as I usually do, I set up my tent at the KOA on the east side and caught the bus into town. (I got into the habit of riding Via when I was in college there; it’s still one of my personal touchpoints for what a public transit system ought to be.)

And I noticed something, and as I pulled out my camera thinking it was a special bus, the other passengers and the driver all told me that no, this is standard – the front row left seat of all the Via buses have this.

61 years ago today… and although it definitely feels as though we’re moving backwards, we’re still not quite at this level again. Yet.

61 years ago.

Says right here in Blogging for Dummies that I need to post regularly, certainly more often than every couple of months. Of course it also says that when you’ve been blogging for several years and your regular audience is in the mid single-digits you should probably admit defeat and go live in a cave somewhere a long way from everyone, too, so there’s that.

(Don’t think it doesn’t cross my mind just about every few seconds these days, but with this election thing going on, the rent on caves… well, it’s through the roof. Soon enough, though.)

Anyway. So much for that.

I haven’t actually been totally goofing off.

The guy on the left there, looking like maybe he’s had saner days, is Robert Revilla, Jr. Today he’s being Pancho Villa. Some other day he may be Santa Anna or a pretty fair jackleg carpenter. (I’ve yet to see Santa Anna but can attest to the carpentry…)

Next to him is Larry Callies, who’s your basic all-around Western dude. Zydeco musician, champion rodeo cowboy, saddlemaker, leatherworker… and he’s now trying to ramrod a black cowboy museum in Rosenberg (It’s why I was there; this is a fundraiser event with a bunch of miscellaneous strange folk – how could I miss?)

If I can make it happen I’d like to wander down to his shop when he’s working; I’ve gotten to watch all sorts of handwork and frontier-type skills, but I’ve never seen a saddle being built and it sounds like it would be worth seeing and maybe shooting. Details as they develop….

Leaning on the car at right, there – that’s Ol’ Doc Parker, who’s been known to hide out as Cowboy Shootist Keith Bollom.

Behind him is the lovelier-than-lovely Yellow Rose Of Texas, who shall remain otherwise unknown on the theory that dreams should be allowed to remain undisturbed by reality.

*****

The Other Texas has another story in the works, of course… You should click on over there and take a look…

And even though it’s pushing a hundred out there, I think I’m gonna go look for something interesting to photograph. Just because.

On the way to Goliad as soon as I log off here, to see Los Pastorales – a reproduction of an old play/performance the monks at Mission Espiritu Santo and the other early Spanish Missions used to teach the Christmas Story to the Mission Indians. Supposedly it goes from the viewpoint of the Shepherds. Should be interesting, though it’s done in Spanish and that might make it interesting. Words and a gallery to follow.

And there are several hundred pix from MECA’s Las Posadas last week, just waiting to be edited down and have words attached. That’ll have to wait until I get back, though.

That’s all gonna be happening over at The Other Texas, though.

Just for checking, in, though… here’s the first clean photo from MECA:



(Joseph and Mary, having wandered the streets of Bethlehem (with the Old Sixth Ward standing in for the little town) looking for a place to stay, eventually wind up back at MECA, where it’s about to be Party Time.)

Running a little late here on the posting….

Back in early October I ran back up to Fort Worth to do Mom Stuff again. While I was there I got the chance to duck out and see a couple of things, including a convoy of Vintage Military Vehicles driving through Fort Worth, retracing the first coast-to-coast military convoy along the Bankhead Highway*.

I was hoping the convoy pix would become part of my larger Bankhead story-in-progress, but unfortunately, for whatever reason, the relevant authorities opted to bring the convoy in along the old DFW turnpike and avoid the Bankhead route entirely.

Buggeration.

But still… I like history, and I like old machines, and this was both, so I went out and found a good spot on the side of the road, where I could shoot as the convoy passed.

(Yup. That’s the front of the convoy. By now you should know that the rest of the convoy is behind it, right?)

After they’d gone by and some of the traffic had cleared, I jumped in the truck and followed the convoy over to Farrington Field for their rest-and-maintenance day. Learned some interesting stuff there… This trip was 3000+ miles at 30 mph, and on a haul like that the old machines require a fair bit of wrenching. Also, it turns out there are several thousand people involved in this particular flavor of historical preservation. The umbrella group is the Military Vehicle Preservation Association. They do long-haul convoys for public education and such about every year or so, they LOVE it when you ask questions, and yes, they DO take new members. If I needed a new hobby and had the money…. It’s probably lucky I’m ALREADY broke, since otherwise I’d go broke chasing all the interesting things I run into.

Later in the week I caught the train over to the State Fair. That post is coming soon.

In the meantime, enjoy the pictures, and charge up the batteries because the weather’s cooling off and there are more things to shoot.


*You will probably hear more about the Bankhead, and other old Texas highways, if you sign up for the mailing list at The Other Texas. (Yes. That is a Hint. It’s also a link. You should click and sign up. Please. It’s safe; I’m probably the one person you know who hates spam and spammers more than you do.)

I started to notice murals on my first major trip south – they’ve been a big part of the political and artistic landscape in Latin America for centuries, from the earliest civilizations we know of right up to now.

(Simon Bolivar, somewhere in a park…)

(The Hermit, Key IX of the Rider-Waite Tarot, beside the door of the Hard Rock Cafe’ in Cuenca.)

The last time I was in Ecuador I saw more straight-out graffiti than actual murals, which was disappointing, but they’re still to be found, everything from public art to portraits of political figures to advertising to political commentary for those who don’t own the newspapers….

Anyway, last Thursday afternoon I managed to beat the traffic down to Rosenberg for a Chronicle gig, so I spent some time roaming around and spotted this train-in-progress blowing through a side wall on 3d street. As you can see, it’s not small.

But, at the time, there was no one around, so I kept on wandering. I haven’t done enough small-town walkabout lately, so it was pleasant to get back to it. Checked out several antique shops and a couple of street scenes….

And about an hour or so later, I came back up the street, and met the muralist, Paul Sanchez. Nice guy, Paul. Puts up with all sorts of strange characters who come up and ask questions and stick cameras in his face and whatnot.

He says he’s done the entire mural with those little tiny airbrushes with the half-ounce paint cup, which I notice he has to refill about every ten seconds. He says he’ll be finished here in three or four days.

I’m going to have to go back next week and get the whole thing minus the scaffolding. It’s going to be grand.

(Mr. Sanchez has a website over HERE with some nice galleries, too. Take a look…)

It’s important to remember that while we (the Good Guys) were sticking tin cans on top of missiles, and stuffing brave young men into those tin cans, and launching them out into the big fat middle of nowhere, we were NOT alone. The Soviet Union (also known as the Evil Commie Bastards) was attaching little hollow balls to the top of their big heavy rockets and stuffing some of THEIR brave young men into those little hollow balls, and launching them out into the big fat middle of nowhere TOO.

And, in fact, that was a big part of our reason for doing it… because when the Evil Commie Bastards put Sputnik into orbit while we were still fiddling around with Cold War missile systems, it occurred to the brightest minds here, as it doubtless did to the brightest minds THERE, that where there was a beeping little satellite there could almost as easily be a bleeping big BOMB, and our geniuses and political leaders (the distinction matters) decided that if there was the possibility of death and destruction being rained down from on high, it should absolutely be US doing the raining down, since being the rained ON was not going to be particularly popular.

So we went full-bore into the “To The Moon!” effort… and having proven that we could blast men into orbit and bring them back home still functional, the next step involved building vessels capable of controlled flight. See, though most of us didn’t really realize this, the Mercury capsules were mostly ballistic. The astronauts had some attitude and pitch controls, but orbital trajectory was largely fixed at launch. Getting to the moon would require much more sophisticated equipment.

Thus Mercury Mk II (better known as Gemini.)

The focus was on building systems that could actually serve as working platforms, rather than simply experimental curiosities. Immediate goals were maneuverability, rendezvous and docking capabilities, better life-support, power supply, and long-term living arrangements. (There were conceptual plans for Mercury and Gemini-based orbital stations, though nothing ever seems to have come of them…)

And, of course… spacewalks. Which meant spacesuits.

There are a couple of panels in the Astronaut Gallery at Space Center dedicated to the rocket science involved in space suit building, because they’re essentially unpowered mini-ships and quite complicated to design and build. Rocket Science really IS more complex than most of us tend to think.

This is an exhibit suit described as “identical to the one Ed White wore when he performed the first U.S. Spacewalk.” It had to provide thermal protection, a pressurized atmosphere, maneuverability, and protection from micrometeorites… turns out space vacuum comes complete with lots and lots of itty-bitty flying rocks zipping around at a good clip. So the engineers came up with this version, which is basically an upgrade to the standard Gemini suit. It’s 10 lbs heavier (it weighs 34 lbs) and 22 layers thick PLUS a heavy felt layer for rock padding. The waist pack provides attachment points for the tether and umbilical package which kept White breathing and tied to the Gemini capsule while he was floating around. They put an emergency oxygen supply in the chest pack, just in case something went wrong.

For maneuverability, he had this gadget

which is basically a handheld spray jet with two nozzles about a foot or so apart (you can’t really see the one in back, but it’s there…) and a modified 35mm Nikon F camera on top. (As a strong proponent of “never go out without a camera because you just never know,” I heartily approve. Even if it IS a Nikon.)

And, over in the museum is White’s actual Gemini IV capsule hanging from the ceiling with another of the training suits used before the mission.

I love museum exhibits like this. To me, they give a better feel for what it might have felt like to do the “floating among the stars” thing. White floated in space for about 20 minutes, during which he also set some sort of record for the fastest coast-to-coast flight in history. While he was floating around (and what a trip that had to have been….) he told the pilot, James McDivitt, “I’m not coming in… this is fun.”

At the end of the programmed walk, when he was scheduled to climb back into the capsule, he radioed back to Mission Control (in Houston, for the first time) that it was “the saddest moment of my life.”

But he DID crawl back inside, came back to Earth, and finished the mission.

Which means I DO get to learn (and write) more of this.

******

Incidental note: I’m a member of a facebook group – “You Know You’re a Writer When…” and my latest contribution was “You know you’re a writer when you do crazy stuff just so you can write about what it’s like to do crazy stuff.” That much is autobiography.

Last time I was down at NASA I did the crazy stuff. Got into a spinning chair and let the guy turn my inner ears inside out, (surprisingly not too unpleasant until I tried to stand up afterwards and the floor just would not cooperate). Took a fast bouncy walk in 38% gravity (not too bad this time but I really like my feet to stay where I put them). Actually climbed to the top of a 9-meter (that’s a little less than 30 feet for you Old School USians…) scaffold, let somebody hook me to a cable that was supposed to reduce my “felt weight” to roughly 80 lbs, and yes, in a moment of total batshit insanity, actually jumped off the top of the tower. Honestly that was probably not the single craziest thing I’ve ever done, but at that particular moment my subconscious was really not interested in comparison shopping.

It was an interesting experience. I think.

The part of my brain that analyses and discusses these things is still mad as hell at me for shoving him into a closet long enough for me to tell my legs “Jump. NOW.”. He’s not really speaking to me at the moment. (Either that or he was just so freaked that I actually DID it that he really missed the event.)

The half-a-second of freefall before the cable caught me was simply wordless – not really long enough to have any emotional context at all, except to observe that a big part of my subconscious does NOT like freefall even a little bit. Then the cable caught, the winch screamed, and I kept falling just about as fast as before (None of this “float down like a ball of thistle” stuff for ME). About that time, the ground person looked up and said “bend your knees!” I did, and about that time my feet hit the ground and stopped falling. Unfortunately the REST of me kept on falling for another couple of seconds. When your feet stop and the rest of you doesn’t, it’s awkward. It left me half-sprawled on my butt at the bottom of the tower. I assured the ground crew folks that I was okay, then climbed right back up (Easier than you might think when you weigh a third of normal) with nothing broken but my dignity, and carried on.

I’m still not sure how I feel about having done this, but I have a new buff and polish job on my “crazy writer” credentials.

For whatever that’s worth.

Little-known and totally useless aviation factoid: I have a great liking for the old Douglas DC-3, the “Gooney Bird.” (I actually have a great liking for almost ANY old machine that just keeps going and going and going, year in and year out, far past any reasonable life expectancy. But even in that class, the old Douglas masterpieces stand out.) So when I read that the Bluebonnet Belle, a gorgeously restored and maintained 1944-vintage C-47 which belongs to the Highland Lakes Squadron of the CAF, was scheduled to make an appearance at the 1940 Air Terminal Museum down at Hobby Airport, I ditched my previous plan, “drink coffee and catch up on reading,” and headed down to see her. As with the majority of Gooneys, the Belle is designated “C-47” because she was built for the military. The “DC-3” (Douglas Commercial) is the civilian version (of which only a few were built before production was switched over to the war effort); it’s the same plane with a different badge.

Couple years ago the museum had offered a “quick hop in a C47” (which was actually a C-49, a slightly later variant) as a promotional deal at one of their monthly Wings & Wheels events, and I went for that like a cat on a mouse. Sadly, when I got to the airport it turned out that the weather between D-FW, where the plane was based, and Houston, where the riders were, was bad (hail and funnel clouds) and they’d had to cancel – the turbulence was making the CREW queasy and hail and tornadoes aren’t really good for vintage aircraft. So I was hoping they’d offer a similar deal yesterday, which I could have (barely) afforded. But that plane wasn’t the Belle and yesterday wasn’t a promo deal – the price for rides was up where it needs to be, and my inner adult said “you don’t have it to spare today.” (Meanwhile, of course, the inner child was screaming, turning blue, and banging his head on the floor, but believe it or not he doesn’t always win.)

Understand, I have no problem with a $200 fee, any more than I do with the price of a Leica. I simply can’t spare the money. Old aircraft are terrifically expensive to fly and maintain, and the CAF folks are mostly “ordinary folks” with ordinary incomes, many of them retired and with virtually NO incomes. And officially, the Belle costs almost $600 an hour to fly, just in gas and oil. Tires, other consumables, maintenance, and all the thousands of other things are extra.

These old radials shove a lot of oil out the exhaust in a hurry when you start them up. (They also have “new engines someday” on the “gotta do” list – at 180 grand for the pair. Ouch.)

So I settled for the ground tour, courtesy of John Long, who knows his C47s AND the Belle.

The Belle, in her current role as an educator, is fitted out in a unique pattern to show four of the major roles filled by the C-47 during the war. There’s a cargo section (bare floor with lots of tiedown points), a passenger section (coach class or less), a patient transport section (stretchers hung on the walls), and a paratroop section (hard metal seats along the sides).


(Patient Transport Configuration)

The Gooney Bird was basically the Swiss Army Knife of aircraft – does anything, anywhere, anytime. There was even an early fork off the predecessor DC-2 design which became the B-18 “Bolo” medium bomber. Those were used primarily as trainers, though some were used for offshore patrol and one is credited with sinking a German U-boat in the Caribbean during the early days of the war. (The things I learn doing this…)

C-47s were also used heavily for towing gliders and ferrying troops and cargo (including jeeps and field artillery!). Over in the Pacific, they were the backbone of the India-China route, the fabled “Burma Hump,” where they kept the war effort in China alive, and paid for it as they and their crews died by the hundreds.

Aside from learning historical stuff, the best part of the tour was being able to climb (yeah, there’s quite a bit of slant to the floor when she’s on the ground – old taildraggers are like that…) right up to the cockpit. Not quite so complex as the Space Shuttle, no, but there’s a family resemblance.

As fascinating as the wartime history of the DC-3 is, for me it’s much simpler: This is what an airplane should look like.

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Happy 70th, Beautiful Belle.

So I mentioned the car show in the last episode, and while I was processing the pictures I decided I liked a few more and wanted to share them, and since I shot them for the fun of it on nobody’s dime but my own, I get to do that…

So…


we’ve done this before, you know the drill.

Clik the pik.

Me, I think it was worth stopping for.