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.

Just a quick update

And not actually a joke, never mind the date.

With a little help from the folks at Auto Anything, Rommie actually got herself hitched, more or less.

Still a couple of minor bugs to work out – the wiring connector has to be “relocated” because where it sits now it can’t even open, let alone take a plug. That may involve some wiring work and a bit of mount fabricating, but it’s ultimately minor.

The bigger issue is that, somehow, using just a simple 16″ breaker bar, yours truly managed to break loose one of the hitch-securing nuts welded into the frame, so THAT has to be dealt with. I’m calling this a bad weld on the nut – there was still about half an inch of slack in the bolt, and the breaker bar isn’t that long. I sure as heck didn’t Hulk out… my shoulder is still feeling the strain.

I gather from folks on a couple of trailering groups I’m in that this is a pretty common issue with blind welds made by a machine, and I’m glad I learned it now instead of with a trailer on the back.

The good news is that Anthony at my faithful mechanic shop has ideas and a couple of really good thoughts on how this might be fixed with a minimum of effort and confusion, so when I get ready to actually put a trailer on, we’ll deal. For the moment 7 of 8 bolts are fine so I’m okay with putting a hitch rack on it to carry water and the tent/tarp box if I need the extra space. I don’t even know what kind of camping trailer I want, yet, far less where/when/how to pay for it, so there’s no huge rush. I have tents and mattresses and all the paraphernalia of a tent-camper, and worse case the driver’s seat is entirely comfortable to sleep in.

So as soon as a couple of other strange things and insane people are dealt with, we’ll be back Out There. It’s looking like there may be shenanigans to be had soon.

(Obligatory marketing teaser: Look for the tales of our adventures here, over at The Other Texas, and on Instagram, where we’re @rcmwandering (using hashtags #AndromedaII, #howtostopatruck, and #attheendofthepavedroad) and also @theothertexas. I’ll toss links, snark, and occasional raging liberal political comments on Twitter sometimes, too – @rcmwandering and @theothertexas (no politics here, if that matters.)

(Obligatory commercial note: If you haven’t already, please use the link on the front page and sign up for the mailing list. It’s a way to keep in touch and I promise personally that you will never be sold or spammed, because I get all sorts of raving and rantish when that’s done to me, too…)

That completes the latest AndromedaUpdate. We now return you to your regularly scheduled lives….

Well, this year is off to a GREAT start….

Those of you who follow my Instagram (@rcmwandering) or Facebook feeds might be aware that the current north-bound trip to Fort Worth to do Mom-related stuff went South rather abruptly. The first part of the trip went well enough, but as I got to Waxahachie, about 50 miles southeast of Fort Worth, my faithful 4Runner, Andromeda, traveling companion and best wandering friend of the last 11 years, coughed once and died. We got over to the shoulder safely, but things kind of went to hell from there. (Who knew Waxahachie, Texas was a hellmouth?)

Happily I was in an area with good cell service and was able to contact a couple of my adopted brothers for advice and assistance, since the last time I lived in this area was before college and all the mechanics I knew here are long out of business. (As it happened Mom has arranged things such that I’ve actually got several siblings from other mothers up here, which is turning out to be surprisingly pleasant as well as quite useful – I’ve never really been part of a non-dysfunctional family before. A guy could get used to this.)

(Thanks, Mom.)

After a few phone calls and a short wait, the nice AAA lady came along with her big truck and took Rommie and me up to Brother M’s driveway, where M and I set to with wrenches and prybars and implements of destruction and swapped out the fuel pump, then stared at each other blankly when that didn’t fix the problem. (We were SO sure…) Out came the Haynes manuals, and after prowling through them for a bit we decided that the SECOND most probable cause was beyond what we felt comfortable tackling under a tree in the rain. Out came the trusty cell phone again. The shop my OTHER brother, G, recommended was actually nearby and had a tow service THEY recommended. So Rommie got to make another trip on the back of another big truck, and Brother M and I piled into his picking-up truck and followed.

We wound up at Callaway’s Automotive on Davis Boulevard, where Bruce McLeod, the General Manager, (and isn’t that a fine Scots name?) assured me that his techs would take a look and let me know how bad it was….

On the theory that a wanderer can never EVER have too many contacts or emergency backups, I’m going to throw in a very serious plug for Callaway’s. [5832 Davis Blvd, North Richland Hills, Texas, 76180. 817/485-8189. Bruce McLeod, General Manager] I came from nowhere with no appointment or advance notice and a truck in what turned out to be mortal distress. They were polite, professional, helpful, and went WAY above and beyond to save my happy ass. I could not have asked, and would not have dared hope, for better people to work with. If you’re in the DFW area and need mechanics, these are your folks. They don’t come any better.

Then off to Mom’s for dinner, a shower, and a couple of stiff drinks. Been THAT kind of day… two of them, actually.

About a day later the phone rang… Bruce. Long story short, Rommie threw her timing belt and probably swallowed a valve or several. Beyond economical repair, as the saying has it. It’d cost close to a grand just to find out how much it was likely to cost to fix, with a top end in the middle thousands. Yowtch. And, as Mom pointed out several times, even if I put in a rebuilt engine the REST of the truck would still be 24 years old and starting to fail on a depressingly regular basis – and I no longer live in a house with a well-equipped shop and several other cars with which to fetch parts as needed. And, too, if Rommie had gone on strike or suicided outside of, say, Presidio or Comstock or some other backside of beyond cosmic garden spot of the sort I frequent, I’d have been several different kinds of up to my whatnots in whatevers. (Moms worry about their kids wandering the universe in old shaky fragile machines, it’s kind of their job…)

Plus there’s this whole thing about having to make a living and boost my writing and photographing career and all that terribly practical stuff. (My mother, in case you haven’t caught this already, is one of the Divine’s personal instructors in Practicality, Responsibility, and Dealing With It.)

Now in a perfect world I’d have a place to store Rommie until the time and money and facilities came together and I could drop a new engine in, but in this world… was NOT going to happen.

So, like it or NOT, it was time to actually look for another truck.

Back to the phone. Fortunately sister A had a friend of a friend with a cousin who knew a neighbor whose fourth cousin once spoke with a cook whose doctor had a miscellaneous relative of some flavor who worked at an Auto Nation dealership in the area. (The chain of links was a bit vague, but it worked out something like that, anyway.)

I haven’t paid attention to the used car market for over a decade now – up until a few days ago I had a perfectly serviceable truck. I wasn’t aware that there are now used-car CHAINS with branded dealerships, so when I found a vehicle that looked promising at Auto Nation, well… Auto Nation is Auto Nation, right? I kept hunting and found there were several prospects at Auto Nation, plus several other prospects within a few miles.

Mom and I accordingly drafted Brother M (“Bare is the back without a brother.” – MZB; we bribed him with good Mexican coffee.) as driver and expert (HE had a working truck, and it turns out he’s even better at this stuff than I am, and I’m no slouch.) and went truck shopping. Our first stop was the Auto Nation Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram (etc etc etc) dealership, which is not the one where sister A’s contact worked, but again I didn’t know the difference, and it WAS where my #1A prospect was parked, so…

25blackspacer

Long years ago, I needed a vehicle post-haste, so I walked onto a lot and the first guy I saw sold me the first truck I looked at, which turned out to have been waiting there for me to find her. And THAT was Andromeda I. The magic held… it happened again.

Despite warnings from Mom, Brother M, and my inner paranoiac that sales listings are never accurate, it took us all about an hour to conclude that, once a couple of minor glitches (light bulbs, in this case) were dealt with, the first truck I looked at was just what I needed… a nicely set-up 2007 4Runner with a 4-liter engine, a 5-speed automagic transmission, all sorts of luxury goodies and a ride… well, I’ve driven bumpier Cadillacs. She came with just over 100k on the clock (which counts as barely broken in for a Toyota), a good price, and another very helpful salesman. This time it was a gent named Alex Ajraz, who is, it turns out, both Chilean and a very talented hand with a camera himself. Inevitably, we hit it off. (Another recommendation here – contact me and I’ll put you in touch. Another Above and Beyond sort of place.)

So far the only thing I’ve found missing (aside from the sunroof, which is a nice but utterly nonessential thing) is that for some reason Rommie II came from the factory with a 7-wire trailer wiring harness – but no trailer hitch. One of the things that’ll eventually make sense, maybe. I’m an old JC Whitney customer anyway; I’ll have a hitch bolted up in there in no time as soon as I (and my bank account) recover from the shock of buying her in the first place. New trucks are EXPENSIVE, even when they’re only new to me.

So as of now we’re back on the road with a new and improved body for Andromeda/Rommie and a bunch of new adventures waiting. She’s not quite as well set-up for true off-road adventures as Rommie I was, but the new JC Whitney catalog is on the way… You Just Never Know. Time to rock.

(Obligatory marketing teaser: Look for the tales of our adventures here, over at The Other Texas, and on Instagram, where we’re @rcmwandering using hashtags #AndromedaII, #howtostopatruck, and #attheendofthepavedroad. I’ll toss links, snark, and occasional raging liberal political comments on Twitter sometimes, too – @rcmwandering)

(Obligatory commercial note: If you haven’t already, please use the link on the front page and sign up for the mailing list. It’s a way to keep in touch and I promise personally that you will never be sold or spammed, because I get all sorts of raving and rantish when that’s done to me, too…)

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.

Willkommen – Christkindl Market

The calendar said I was going to the Tomball German Christmas Market this weekend. Unfortunately, as for many of us, the calendar failed to take account of the reality of life with aging parents, so instead I wound up at the Christkindl Market, which is the ARLINGTON German Christmas Market.

It’s a small festival, only a few years old, and so far it’s still a fairly standard small local arts & artisans festival. It may become more thematic as it grows, but for now the merchandise is nice and a great deal more varied than most small festivals I’ve been to. In no particular order, I found displays of Andean Textiles; Nepalese masks and statuary; Turkish lamps and Senegalese baskets; Alpaca textiles; wooden drinking mugs, bowls, and other stuff; works from a local artists’ alliance; nice prints from a couple of landscape and travel photographers; a selection of German lace, woodcarvings, and miniature cuckoo clocks; and Bavarian ornaments, decor, and kitsch. Also presenting displays and, in a couple of cases, demonstrations, were a lapidary shop (with a geode cracker and a selection of 11-30 million year old surprise packages!); a lady trading in African clothing, art, and beadwork; a couple who turn out very colorful dichroic glass jewelry; a filigree maker from North Carolina; and a Persian artist who turns out some truly magnificent wooden inlay work. Oh… and a wonderful little chocolatier whose shop was giving out free samples. Yes. Free Gourmet Chocolate. My job is an unutterable horror.

Take a look. (There’s a bigger version of the collage behind the thumbnail copy, but the aforementioned aging parent still has the world’s slowest remaining dialup connection and gets timed out whenever I post big stuff, so I try to keep the front page here fairly tight. Those of you whose parents still live in the neolithic will understand; those of you whose parents haven’t gotten that far back will understand someday, probably sooner than you’d like. Be patient…)

Go. Enjoy. Lots of fun stuff you won’t find at the mall or the Big Box.

GETTING THERE: The market is on a closed stretch of Road To Six Flags on the north side of Globe Life Park (the Rangers’ Stadium, for the old-school contingent) between Ballpark Way and Nolan Ryan Expressway, just East of Collins in Arlington. It runs from now until 23 December… Website with directions, hours, and lots of other stuff, some useful and some not, is HERE.