Rosenberg RailFest Reprise

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.

One more for the end of the year..

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.

This Day In History 61 years ago

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.

32.76092N; 97.23616W

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.)

To The Moon! (1 of 2+)

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) were 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.

Truck Stop

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.

INFANTry

Was looking through a few more of the 6th Cav shots, and ran across this one. This is Hunter Miertschin, who’s portraying a Navy SeaBee radioman.

We think of the vets from WWII and they’re old men now. Gramps, great-grandpa, “Uncle” George (who’s really dad’s uncle but he hates to be treated like an old man, even when his knees don’t work and his hair’s gone and he shuffles more than walks…)

And here’s Hunter, looking for all the world like a kid caught playing with stuff he found in an old trunk in the back of the attic.

He’s a kid. And just barely a kid, at that. He ought to be curled around a book somewhere dreaming of kings and knights and explorers, or wandering the woods by a stream somewhere with a hook on a string, pestering the fish, or maybe patching a bike tube or tweaking the engine of his goosed-up little Honda. The helmet’s too big, the carbine (which is a little bitty rifle) looks like it’d knock him ass-over-backwards if he had to shoot it.

He’s 18.

Let that sink in. We’ll wait.

He’s exactly the right age. When the old man climbed over the side of a ship in the surf off Normandy, or Tarawa, or some other hell on some other sand, going to put an end to the big war started by the biggest madmen of the age (maybe of all ages) he looked like this. JUST like this.

Think about that. Think HARD.

And then if it happens that you’ve got a grampa or great grampa, or an “Uncle” George, who was there, at Normandy or Anzio or Saipan or Iwo Jima or any of the other hells, and he made it back and he’s still with us, go find him and shake his hand and say thank you… and if he’s willing, let the old man tell his tales again. (And this time take notes and maybe a recorder, if he’ll let you, because these are the guys who did one of the Great Things, and we’re losing their stories WAY too fast. And if we lose the stories, we lose the history… and if we can at the least keep the history, there’s at least some chance we won’t have to send kids like Hunter to do it again.)

Because they’re just kids.