Friday, March 30, 2007

Party time

Last weekend, my friends Matt and Stephen were both in town for a visit. On Saturday the 24th, we caught Dale Watson at Dan's in Denton. Dale kind of has a "Jerry Reed" sound, and his repertoire includes more than a few truckin' songs. Dale was backed by a full band (bass, drums, fiddle, and pedal steel), and seemed to clown around on stage as much as he played. But it was nice to hear him include covers of songs by Merle Haggard and Hank Williams -- and even Jerry Reed. And the abundance of attractive ladies in the crowd kept the dance floor full; Matt and Stephen both swore to move back to Texas as soon as they could.

Dale Watson at Dan's in Denton

Matt and Stephen salute the "Ameri-CAN flag" at Dan's

On Sunday the 25th, we had M's 6th birthday party at the Little Gym in Keller. Including M, we had about 15 kids (relatives, neighbors, and friends from school) in attendance. The staff of Little Gym did a great job of organizing the party and keeping the kids entertained. Thanks, y'all!

Looks like M was late to his own party...

a new generation of dodgeball players

Replenishing the kids' sugar supply

Are you ready for some (bad Rangers) baseball?

Check out this AP re-cap of one of the Rangers' final spring training games, a 24-7 loss to San Diego:
"Texas' pitching might need some work. Starter Kevin Millwood gave up 12 hits and nine earned runs in 4 1-3 innings. Reliever Eric Gagne allowed four runs and five hits in a 20-pitch inning. Left-handed reliever Ron Mahay got just one out while being touched up for seven runs. "
Looks like it could be another long season in Arlington.
On the road (barely)

I don't know if it's the weather we've been having (cool, windy and cloudy) or the medications I'm on, but I've been having trouble getting motivated to get out much on my bike. I usually ride in the mornings while the kids are at school, but this spring, I just haven't been in the mood to get out much. It has been a struggle just summoning the will to leave the house, and by the time I do finally get rolling, I don't have time to cover much more than 10 or 15 miles. I'm signed up to ride 40 miles at Aledo's "Ride for Heroes" tomorrow. And I'm looking at doing 30 miles in the "Tour Dallas" on Saturday, April 7. Maybe those will help rejuvinate me and get me more interested in riding this year.

np: Wayne Hancock - "Big City Good-time Gal"

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Live music & big days

Fred Eaglesmith at Dan's

On Monday, March 19, Fred Eaglesmith played at Dan's Silverleaf in Denton. It was billed as an early show (8 pm start), so I was lucky that it happened to be scheduled for one of my days off from work.

The music began around 8 pm with an opening act, Tucker Finn, a folk singer from Eaglesmith's home province of Ontario. She played about 6 or 7 songs and then Eaglesmith and his band, "the Flying Squirrels" took the stage.

Over the past few years, I've become familiar with many of Eaglesmith's songs through local radio stations KNON (the "Texas Renegade Radio" show) and KHYI. I have three of their cd's, including "Ralph's Last Show", a double-live album which gives listeners a pretty good idea of what to expect when they hear Eaglesmith perform live.

the landmark "silver leaf" southeast of downtown Denton

Eaglesmith was just one of several good shows scheduled for this week.

A good-sized crowd for a Monday night...

Eaglesmith's band consisted of: Kori Heppner on drums (Kori also sold Eaglesmith's cd's and t-shirts before and after the show), Luke Stackhouse on upright bass, and the legendary Willie P. Bennett on harmonica and mandolin. Typical of his vocal style, Fred half-sang, half-growled through the lyrics of his up-tempo songs, employing a southern "twang" that would bring most self-respecting Canadians to tears. He sure doesn't SOUND Canadian, eh? Fred and his band played several songs I recognized from the albums I have, including:

18 wheels
Cumberland County
49 tons
I like trains
Freight train
Time to get a gun
You're spookin the horses
I shot your dog (very up tempo version)
White trash
Good enough

Fred Eaglesmith & the Flying Squirrels

Fred Eaglesmith at Dan's Silverleaf in Denton

Willie P. Bennett on harmonica and mandolin

I was slightly disappointed that they didn't play "the Rocket", "Wilder than her", or "Lucille". But the ones that they did play sounded great, especially "Carmelita" with the extended intro. Fred by himself would be quite a draw, and I'd gladly pay money to see him perform a solo acoustic set. But it is the talents of Willie Bennett that really makes the live performance a memorable experience. Bennett ground on his electric mandolin, sometimes using a slide, as if he were Eddie Van Halen, and frequently belted out backing lyrics in a tenor harmony on some songs, and blew on his harmonica during others. I love the sound of a well-played mandolin, but I've never heard one played like that. Spectacular!

Between songs, Eaglesmith embarked on a few lengthy monologues, addressing topics as varied as: songs about dogs; animal rights activism and Paul McCartney; the Weather Channel (Fred says that he's from the place where, when you're watching the Weather Channel, the weather "stops"); audience members paying a $20 cover and then talking during the songs (Fred said that usually happens in towns where there aren't any gay bars... those people come to his shows instead); and a discussion of how the movie "Brokeback Mountain" has made western attire less fashionable among mainstream Canadians (he described a recent trip to Alberta where he and the band bought up all the "ass-less chaps" and took them back to Toronto to sell!) Needless to say, most members of the audience -- except those talking during the songs -- had smiles on their faces .

I was glad to finally get a chance to see Fred in concert. I bought a t-shirt and a cd (which Fred autographed). If he comes to your town, be sure to go see him.

I also bought a bumper sticker with this amusing slogan...

M turns 6...

M had his 6th birthday a few days ago. The day arrived with relatively little fanfare, but he did open a present (a box of "Toobers & Zots") before heading off to school. Not to worry... there's plenty more where that came from; we have a party scheduled for this Sunday.

6 years young! M celebrates his birthday...

Another big day

Yesterday, K and I celebrated a significant wedding anniversary. It's hard to believe we've been married that long. We went to lunch together, but we'll be celebrating the occasion in style when we take a special trip together next month.


np: Johnny Cash & Joe Strummer - cover of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" - on KHYI 95.3 FM "the Range"

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Fun in the sun - part 3

Trains in the sun

On Wednesday the 14th, M joined me for a day trip to see some of southern Arizona's railroad operations. We began our day on the Copper Basin Railway. Located in the mountains east of Phoenix and north of Tucson, the Copper Basin operates an ore shuttle between the open pit copper mine at Ray, and the town of Hayden.

Copper Basin loaded ore train at Ray Jct., just out of Ray Mine

Copper Basin ore loads arriving in Hayden

The conductor gave us a friendly wave ...

Part of CBRY's public relations effort... an adjoining section of the highway is assigned to CBRY boss Jake Jacobson

This is where all that copper ore comes from...

Later in the day we checked out the Union Pacific "Sunset Route" between Casa Grande and Gila Bend. I had never been that far west on the Sunset Route before. We found some nice scenery about 20 miles west of Maricopa, between Estrella and Shawmut.

Union Pacific westbound approaching Shawmut, AZ

Eastbound approaching Maricopa, AZ at sunset.

On Friday the 16th, it was time to return to Texas. We could have stayed an extra day, but the round trip tickets would have been about $200 more, per person! It was an enjoyable week, and we look forward to our next visit to the Grand Canyon State for more spring training baseball, more trains, and more fun in the sun.

Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport

Our flight home provided us with a nice view of the BNSF transcon east of Belen, NM -- including this view of the western end of Abo Canyon
What's next?
Check back in a couple days for more ... on Monday, I caught Fred Eaglesmith at Dan's in Denton, and I'll be posting a review and a few photos soon.
np: Jim Lauderdale - "Honky Tonk Mood Again" on KHYI 95.3 FM "the Range"

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Fun in the sun - part 2

Cactus League baseball

It must have been about 1981 when I went with my parents for the first time to see spring training baseball in Arizona. The "Cactus League" consisted of only a handful of teams back then -- the California teams, the Seattle Mariners, the Cleveland Indians, and the Chicago Cubs. The rest of the major league teams still had their spring training camps in Florida. Things have evened out over the years, with the Colorado Rockies replacing the Indians in Tucson, and the Milwaukee Brewers, the Texas Rangers, the Chicago White Sox, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Kansas City Royals arriving on the Arizona scene. I returned to Arizona several times with Mom and Dad from grade school through college, and K and I took the kids with us for the first time in 2002. This year's vacation would be our second.

We've always enjoyed Spring training baseball because it offers us a chance to get a closer look at the players than we often can during the regular season. There are numerous opportunities to meet players and get autographs, and it's always interesting to see the unknown rookies mixing it up with a few washed-up has-beens. And of course we get to experience it all for a fraction of the cost of a regular season big-league game.

First look at the Rangers

On Tuesday, March 13, we went to see the Texas Rangers take on the Chicago White Sox at Surprise Stadium, a facility the Rangers share with the Royals in Surprise, Arizona. The Rangers aren't that big of a draw; there were probably as many White Sox fans there that day as there were Rangers fans.

On our way out to Surprise, we stopped at an In-N-Out Burger for lunch. I didn't know In-N-Out had arrived in the Phoenix market! Their burgers were good -- some of the better fast food burgers I've had -- but don't get too full of yourselves, Californians, I wouldn't say they were any better than the offerings at Whataburger!

In-N-Out at the corner of Cactus and Tatum in north Phoenix
Texas representin'! Whiskey and kids at Surprise Stadium
A highlight of the Rangers game was getting to see Sammy Sosa. He didn't launch any monster home runs, but he did have a couple of hits.

Sammy Sosa at bat in Surprise

Sosa on 3rd

A Rangers catcher gets some practice in the bullpen

Surprise Stadium has a carousel to help keep the kids entertained. M enjoyed his ride...

... but not as much as L enjoyed hers
Cubs-Mariners sellout
On Thursday the 15th, we attended the Cubs-Mariners game at HoHoKam Stadium in Mesa. the Cubs are a big attraction; they drew over 12,000 fans, which certainly looked like a sellout. Even the outfield lawn seating was close to being full. I'm not sure how we managed to score such good seats -- I ordered our tickets just a few weeks ago over the internet -- but we ended up sitting in the upper section right behind home plate! If you're gonna go, get there early -- we had to sit in traffic for at least 30 minutes just to get to the parking lot. But it was worth it; we had a great time.

our view of the Cubs-Mariners game

K and M enjoy some cotton candy at the Cubs game
That's all for now; tune in tomorrow or Thursday for part 3.
np: Fred Eaglesmith - "Carmelita" from "the Official Bootleg Series Volume 2"

Monday, March 19, 2007

Fun in the sun - part 1

Spring Break in Arizona

From March 11 to 16, the Whiskey family was on vacation in southern Arizona. During the 1980s and '90s, I visited Phoenix and Tucson several times with Mom and Dad to check out the baseball spring training camps and enjoy the warm and sunny weather. When K and I were dating, she came out a couple of times to spend a week with us. But we had only taken the kids out there once (2002). This would be our second time. A couple things have changed since the last time we visited... the Phoenix metro area continues to expand in textbook "urban sprawl" fashion, and the Rangers and Royals had established training camps in the northwestern 'burb of Surprise, relocating from Florida to Arizona.

Our trip wasn't just about baseball (we attended just two games), and it certainly wasn't about trains, although Matthew and I did get out for a day of rail photography. It was mainly about spending time together as a family, relaxing, and having a fun in a bright and sunny environment. The kids got plenty of time at the hotel pool, and K and I enjoyed complimentary drinks at the nightly poolside "happy hour", courtesy of our hotel.

The weather cooperated beautifully.
One very noticeable thing about the Phoenix area is how artificial everything looks. Here you are, smack in the middle of the Sonoran desert, and everywhere you look there are palm trees and lush, green golf courses. It takes a phenomenal amount of water to keep everything that green. To experience the true desert, you have to get out of the city. That's not to say that all the greenery isn't nice to look at...
View of a golf course from our 5th floor balcony

The balcony also featured a nice poolside view.

The kids went swimming once or twice a day during our visit.

Palm trees at our hotel

One of our planned activities was a round of miniature golf at Golfland in Mesa, a place we've been going for over 20 years (I believe it was originally called Golf & Stuff). Their courses feature some of the most elaborate castles and other golf "obstacles" I've seen anywhere. Whiskey narrowly escaped with a victory: W-53, K-54, L-76, M-82. I also joined the kids in a round of laser tag, which proved to be a lot more fun than the round of golf!

L prepares to putt at Golfland

Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 of my trip report. Part 2 will cover the baseball games we attended, and Part 3 will cover the day that M and I spent watching trains. Meanwhile, here are a couple more photos...

Mailboxes imitate life in the desert near Kelvin, AZ

Gavin Rail Services switch engine near El Mirage, AZ
In other news...
Just before we left on our trip, KHYI ("the Range") dj Dave Avery passed away, quite unexpectedly. He had been working the morning slot (6 to 10 am) since January, and I had still been getting used to listening to his show. I wouldn't say he was my favorite on-air personality, but I did admire his enthusiasm for Texas music, and appreciated his appeals to listeners to go out and see more live performances.
It has been approximately one year since Bruce Kidder left the airwaves, and to say that KHYI has struggled in filling the morning slot would be an understatement! Let's take a look at how Bruce's replacements have fared...
1) Natalie and Nadine - crashed and burned like the Hindenburg!
2) Dallas Wayne - banished to late-night obscurity
3) Dave Avery - deceased
I'm sure potential replacements are just tripping over themselves to be next. Dallas Wayne is currently filling in; I haven't heard whether the arrangement will be permanent or if they're looking for someone new.
And that's not all...
WBAP is reporting this morning that longtime Dallas Cowboys mascot "Crazy Ray" has passed away from congestive heart failure. I remember seeing Crazy Ray when I was about 5 or 6 years old, galloping around the Texas Stadium turf on a broomstick horse. Ray had fallen on hard times during the past few years, afflicted by various medical conditions as well as financial trouble. But anyone who remembers Ray's performances during the Cowboys "glory days" will remember him fondly. I know I will.
Stay tuned...
I'll try to get Parts 2 and 3 of the Arizona trip posted during the next few days. Time is short... K and I will be leaving on another trip in just a few weeks to celebrate our anniversary.
np: Jimmie Dale Gilmore - "Dallas" on KHYI 95.3 FM "the Range"

Thursday, March 08, 2007

No time for the blog... (3)

... Just the pictures.

Oklahoma leftovers...
M checks out stored baretable flats south of Altus, Oklahoma. Feb 25, 2007.

Grainbelt 4079 was on hand at Altus on 02/25
February 26 in Saginaw....
BNSF 6480 leads the southbound 110 job into Saginaw. 02/26

Gensets in Roanoke

UP has a pair of the new Genset switchers stationed in Roanoke.
photographed March 3, 2007.

a clever slogan
BNSF south of Cleburne
Last Sunday, M and I caught a few trains south of Cleburne.
Here's a southbound grain train at Rio Vista on Sunday, March 4.

Southbound between Blum and Kopperl

That's all for now. The next report will cover an out-of-town trip.
nr: John Steinbeck - Sweet Thursday
np: Wayne "the Train" Hancock - Swing Time

Friday, March 02, 2007

Texas Independence Day

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that today was Texas Independence Day, the day that Texas declared its independence from Mexico in 1836. If you're a Texan, today is your day to be PROUD to be a Texan. And if you're not a Texan, well... come pay us a visit sometime and experience some of that Texas mystique.
M made this flag in his kindergarten class.
God bless the youth of Texas!
It may surprise some of you to learn that I am not a native Texan. My parents were both born and raised in Ohio, and I was born in Pennsylvania when my dad was in the Army. But he and my mom had lived in San Antonio during the '60s, and they liked Texas enough to move back there. We moved to Temple when I was about 9 months old. So, as the saying goes, "I wasn't born in Texas, but I got here as quick as I could." Both of my kids, however, ARE native Texans, and I couldn't be more proud. I'm not saying Texas is without its problems, but all things considered, there are few places I'd rather live and raise a family.

If you're a music fan like I am, then you might enjoy a few of my favorite Texas-themed musical selections to help you celebrate Texas Independence Day in style. Pop open a cold Shiner Bock -- or hell, even a Lone Star -- and enjoy!

Guy Clark - "Texas, 1947"
Terry Allen - "Amarillo Highway"
Jimmie Dale Gilmore - "Dallas"
Pat Green - "I Like Texas"
Austin Lounge Lizards - "Stupid Texas Song"
nr: John Steinbeck - Sweet Thursday
np: Kevin Fowler - "100 percent Texan" (on KHYI 95.3 FM)

A different kind of railfanning

On Sunday the 25th, M joined me for a day of driving around southwestern Oklahoma, listening to Hank Williams and Bob Wills cd's, and scouting out the area shortlines. We had a few specific missions in mind -- checking out the unsignalled diamond crossings at Altus (which has 3 such crossings), Snyder, and Frederick.

Along the way, we found several shortline locomotives, all tied down since it was a Sunday and harvest season is still a few months away. We pretty much ignored the BNSF trains we saw on the Wichita Falls / Red River Valley Subs... those weren't our objective for this trip. It was definitely a different kind of railfanning day, as we concentrated mostly on the trackage arrangements of shortlines and branchlines, rather than on the trains themselves. Those small Oklahoma towns sure are quiet on a Sunday afternoon... just the kind of places I could get used to spending more time around. Anyway, on with the show...

Our first stop was Wichita Falls, to photograph a few Wichita Tillman & Jackson GP7s

Farmrail - Hollis & Eastern diamond crossing in Altus, OK

This gate protects the BNSF - WT&J crossing in Altus

Stillwater Central - Grainbelt crossing in Snyder, OK

Grainbelt - WT&J crossing in Frederick, OK

K&O GP38 1152 was on hand near the Stillwater Central's office in Lawton.

Nature was reclaiming the former Rock Island south of Lawton ...
While in Altus, we followed a friend's recommendation and had lunch at the Altus McDonald's. The interior is decorated in a railroad theme, with display cases, framed art, and a coin-operated LGB train that runs around a long loop of track just below the ceiling through a large portion of the dining area. For 50 cents, the train will make several loops, and the "operator" can press buttons on a control panel to activate whistles, bells, and various other sound effects. The "moo-ing" cow sound probably made customers wonder if something suspicous was happening back in the kitchen.

Don't bother me, dammit! I'm railroading...

tracks along the ceiling... McDonald's in Altus, OK

Check back in a few days for more... I'll probably add a second section of photos.
nr: John Steinbeck - Sweet Thursday
np: Max Stalling - The Pila Song (on KHYI 95.3 FM)