Friday, November 30, 2007

Cowboys, Itunes, freeway philosophy

The road to the Super Bowl goes through Dallas
NOC Thursday night cheering section.

Some of us had to work Thursday night and didn't get to enjoy the Cowboys' victory over Green Bay. That's ok; if things work out like most of the analysts are predicting, I'll be enjoying Cowboys football well into January, and possibly even a Super Bowl showdown with the hated Patriots. I still don't think Dallas is good enough to beat New England, but I think I'll like the Cowboys' chances against them in February better than I did in October.

Hopefully, the Dallas coaching staff was paying attention during the New England - Philly game a couple Sundays ago, because Philly had actually figured out how to move the ball against them. I don't think the Dallas "D" can stop the Patriots' Brady and Moss and Welker, but the Cowboys might be able to keep pace if they throw a lot of passes up the middle to Jason Witten.

instant gratification

Do you like itunes as much as I do? Ive really been impressed with how easy it is to organize my music with Itunes -- and I'm working with a catalog of thousands of songs. I can set up no end of playlists, not only to install on my ipod but to burn to cd's. And then there's the itunes store, where I can purchase and download music for around 99 cents per song. Beats the hell out of plunking down 18 bucks for the new Foo Fighters cd just to get the one or two decent songs I really want to listen to. And their music selection is nothing short of amazing. I've found songs there that I couldn't find anywhere else. Think of a song -- any song -- and chances are, you can find and download it from itunes.

On Wednesday something prompted me to recall some songs I heard on KTCU, our local college station, a few years ago. One was a cover of the Beastie Boys' "Fight for your right (to party)" performed in a "jazz / lounge music" style... the other was a version of the Oasis song "Wonderwall", covered in similar fashion. (Yes, I'm a big fan of the cheesy cover, whether it's the Dead Kennedys taking on Johnny Paycheck's "Take this job and shove it" or Siouxsie and the Banshees handling "Helter Skelter" by the Beatles. The more overdone and outrageous, the better. ) The thing was, I didn't know who performed them. No problem... a quick search, first on Google, then in the itunes catalog, turned up exactly what I was looking for: "Fight for your right" by lounge-cover guru (ahem) "Richard Cheese", and "Wonderwall" by the Mike Flowers Pops. Ironically, I hated the Oasis version of "Wonderwall" (along with everything else Oasis ever did), but the Mike Flowers cover is kind of catchy and hip -- they make it sound as if it was written to be played in "lounge" style. I just wish I could get their video to this song out of my head... I never should have watched this on youtube, and you shouldn't either....

As far as the Richard Cheese stuff, how in the world did this guy escape my attention all these years? His name is certainly reflective of his work; it's hard to get more "cheesy" (or ridiculous) than his cover of, say... "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix-a-Lot. Check out a few samples on itunes and you'll see what I mean -- if you don't laugh yourself silly. His lounge covers run the gamut from "Like a Virgin" (Madonna) to "Creep" (Radiohead) to "Enter Sandman" (originally by Metallica, with the background harmony from the 1950s classic "Mr. Sandman" added as a twist) -- all of which I'm proud to say are now installed on my itunes.

Anyway, even though it took me a few years to get around to trying to find these songs, when I finally got the ball rolling, the actual process -- from initial search to sound samples to downloads to listening to the complete songs on my own computer -- took no more than about five minutes. If only everything in life were that simple.

Still, and somewhat inexplicably, Itunes doesn't always have everything I'm looking for. But if I can't find a song on itunes, I'm usually lucky enough to find it on ebay. I've been trying to bulk up my collection of early-1990's college / alternative tunes, the stuff I remember hearing during my freshman year of college on KDGE when they actually played stuff more "cutting edge" than Blink 182 . A couple of songs, "Number One Dominator" by Top, and "Here at the home" by Tribe, were unavailable on itunes, but I found both of them on ebay (conveniently with "buy it now" options). A couple of clicks, a payment to Paypal, and three or four days later the cd's were in my mailbox. Not exactly instant gratification, but easier than driving to a half a dozen specialty music stores trying to find the right cd's. How did we ever get by without the internet?

philosophy at 75 mph

Heading back to Massachussetts? Northbound on I-35W...
How do others perceive north Texas? I was pondering that one day a couple weeks ago when a van with Massachussetts plates passed me heading north on I-35W. I was on my way home from lunch; they might have been on their way home, too -- a dozen states away. And I wondered -- does north Texas (its landscape, its people, its roadside scenery) seem as different and strange and wonderful to them as Boston or Wyoming or southern California seemed to me?
np: Reel Big Fish - cover of Duran Duran's "Hungry like the wolf"
nr: John Steinbeck - East of Eden

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ghost signs - Denton, TX

Scenes from a visit to Denton on Tuesday, November 27...

Evers Hardware Co.


"Happy Motoring" lettering above a service station garage. How long has it been since Exxon used this slogan?

Not a ghost sign, but interesting nonetheless. Can you spot a railroad reference?

Texas & Pacific lettering on railroad bridge over US-377.

A closer look. I'd love to see someone touch up the lettering and diamond logo...

four levels of construction workers

NFC 10-1 showdown
Tonight's the big night... the 10-1 Cowboys vs. the 10-1 Packers. Someone will be going home with a second loss. I think the Cowboys can win, IF Romo doesn't make too many mistakes. And it would be nice if Roy Williams could actually provide some pass coverage to keep Brett Favre from throwing for 400 yards. Go Cowboys...
np: the Gourds - cover of Snoop Dogg's "Gin & Juice"
nr: John Steinbeck - East of Eden

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

trackside in Denton County

On Tuesday morning, I spent some time along the UP Choctaw Sub between Roanoke and Denton. I had planned on going all the way to Whitesboro, but I got distracted in Denton working on vegetation control and looking for ghost signs during a break in the train activity. Whitesboro will have to wait. I'll post the ghost signs in my next entry. Meanwhile, here are some train pics...

Crossing signal and empty coal train

UP 7331 leads coal loads south out of Denton, with the landmark "Morrison Corn Kits" sign in the background. (A "corn-kit" is a box of corn muffin mix.)

This Western Pacific boxcar still looked pretty good...

UP 8029 leads a grain train south of Argyle.

M-K-T hopper with lettering still visible

former Rock Island hopper stencilled for another fallen flag (C&NW)

Grand Trunk logo on a boxcar at Roanoke

a buZ blurr drawing

Illinois Central Gulf boxcar at Roanoke
That's all for today... stay tuned for a few shots of Denton's ghost signs.
WSC, postponing Christmas shopping as long as possible
np: Lynyrd Skynyrd - "Sweet home Alabama"
nr: John Steinbeck - East of Eden

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Friday, November 23, 2007

back to the grind

Things are pretty much back to normal now that I'm caught up on all my vacation photos. So it's back to the local stuff... I've been out shooting a couple times during the past few weeks, including a "ghost sign" mission to a few nearby towns a week ago... here are a few highlights.
Holmes Auto Supply - Decatur, TX

Watkins Automobile Repair - Bridgeport, TX

Purina Chows - Jacksboro, TX

Shamburger Building Center - Jacksboro, TX

"Service you can trust" - Springtown, TX

Thursday, November 15 - a crew member rides a "shoving platform" through the transfer track in Saginaw.

A KCS SD70ACe leads a southbound through Saginaw on Thursday November 15.

Well, let's see what the kids have been up to...

They've got the whole week off from school; here are a few shots from a visit to the park earlier in the week...

L - just hangin' around

M found the fence more entertaining than the playground...

Thanksgiving thoughts
Certain current events (the cyclone in Bangladesh, oppression in Myanmar, economic turmoil in Zimbabwe) often cause me to stop and think about how lucky I am to live in a free country in the civilized world, and how fortunate I am to be blessed with the resources to provide for myself and my family. In our hectic lives, it is easy to take things for granted and lose perspective of how blessed we truly are. As we plunge into the holiday season, let's not lose sight of what's really important. Here are a few things I am thankful for this year.

* my kids
* my wife
* my parents and extended family
* my health - and that of my family
* being an American
* having enough to eat
* my home
* my job
* my truck
* my bike
* being able to travel
* music
* being a Texan
* Dallas Cowboys 10-1 season so far
nr: John Steinbeck - East of Eden
np: Everclear - "Heartspark Dollarsign"

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Escape to Rich Mountain

An hour after landing at D-FW Airport from my California trip, I was on the highway headed toward Rich Mountain (in the Ouachita Mountains on the Oklahoma-Arkansas state line). I had photographed KCS trains on Rich Mountain a few times -- but not since 1997! I was looking forward to getting back there. I'd have plenty of company; several railfan friends from out of town would be in the area for an informal get-together on Saturday and Sunday.
Here are the photos from the Rich Mountain area on Sunday, October 28.
All the motels in Mena, Heavener, and Poteau were full. I ended up having to stay 45 miles west of Heavener in Wilburton; I drove the rest of the way to Heavener on Sunday morning. This sight of a KCS train working in the early-morning fog greeted me when I arrived in Heavener.

Crowds of "foamers" (railfans) were the order of the day. A small group congregates north of Heavener as a southbound coal train waits for a clear track in the yard.

Not what I came here to see... a UP AC4400 leads a coal load up the steep grade toward the Rich Mountain summit.

That's more like it... KCS 6607 leads a southbound freight approaching Mena.

Stephen performs a close-up rollby inspection on a northbound...

HLCX junkers power a southbound rock train at Wickes, Ar.

Stephen and James take to their roofs in Wickes.

northbound grain empties in Vandervoort.

Could a church sign represent the state of "Arkinsaw" more perfectly than this?

I left Heavener around 6 pm and arrived back home around 11:30, capping off 8 1/2 days of travel and some very memorable days by the tracks in three states. It would take me a couple of weeks to process all the photos and get back to my normal routine around the house.

I've been out shooting a few times during the past week; I'll have some new photos of local stuff to share soon. Until then...
nr: John Steinbeck - East of Eden
np: Mark Davis and Hal Jay - WBAP morning show

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

from one trip to another

How much damage do you think I could inflict on a Toyota RAV-4 during 6 days and 1,200 miles of chasing trains around California?

Before / after photos of my rental from Hertz

Actually, it wasn't quite that bad, but the vehicle I rented in San Jose (with 721 miles on the odometer) was definitely quite a bit more "broken in" when I handed it off in Ontario. It held up pretty well, though, and didn't give me any problems. I enjoyed driving it, and I didn't even miss my truck as much as I thought I would.
It was cool to spend a week driving a car with a GPS system. Even though I was well equipped with DeLorme atlases, the GPS saved me from getting lost a few times, and proved especially useful when I was trying to locate an In-N-Out Burger. All I had to do was punch in the address, and the GPS guided me there, hassle-free, every time.
the flight home
I had a window seat on the left side of the plane for the flight home from Ontario. It was cloudy over most of southern California and part of Arizona. By the time I recognized where we were, we were just south of Belen, NM, on about the same flight path we took when we flew home from Phoenix in March. By watching the railroads, highways, and other landmarks like rivers and lakes, I monitored our progress from Belen all the way back to D-FW. We had clear skies the entire way... a great flight.

looking down on Friona, Texas (in the Texas panhandle southwest of Amarillo)

Over Lake Grapevine. The plane below us had just taken off from D-FW as we assumed our landing pattern. I don't know if this would constitute a "close call", but it seemed a little close to me...

We got a great view of the new Dallas Cowboys stadium when we turned over Arlington.
During my week in California, I had spoken with my friend Stephen several times about his plans to spend the weekend with some other railfans on Rich Mountain (Arkansas-Oklahoma state line near Heavener, OK). So what did I do upon landing at D-FW? I collected my suitcase at baggage claim, picked up my truck, and without even stopping by the house first, I headed immediately for the Ouachita Mountains near Heavener. (K and the kids had gone to Kansas City to see K's grandparents, so no one was waiting for me at home). I hadn't been to Rich Mountain since 1997 and had been wanting to get back there, especially since the new KCS locomotives began showing up. And now I was on my way...
nr: John Steinbeck - East of Eden
np: Beastie Boys - "Hey Ladies"

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Monday, November 12, 2007

the In-N-Out Experience

Would you believe I ate at In-N-Out Burger five times during my recent California trip? Monday - for lunch in Modesto. Tuesday - lunch in Salinas. Wednesday and Thursday - dinner in Bakersfield (once in each of the town's two locations). Friday - dinner in Ontario. In-N-Out has locations in just three states that I don't frequently visit (California, Arizona, and Nevada), so I figured I'd better get my fill while I had the chance.

In-N-Out is well known for the high quality of its food.... burgers made from never-frozen ground beef, fries made from fresh-sliced potatoes, shakes made from real ice cream. The menu is simple, but what they do, they do well. The crowd inside any of their restaurants and the line of cars at each drive through should be testimony to that.

Where the magic happens.

A simple menu. No chicken, no salads, no kids meals... just great burgers.

The legendary double-double.

Watch for hidden messages under the cups... (be careful not to spill your drink)

Most of the In-N-Outs seem to have similar floor plans and dining rooms, but this location in Ontario with a double drive-thru (and no dining room) was an interesting exception. It was Friday night and that place was "hoppin'"...
In-N-Out does have its share of critics, but I think it's safe to say that the quality of their food is light years ahead of anything the "big boys" (McDonalds, BK) are serving up.

Now, the money question for my Texas bretheren: Is In-N-Out better than Whataburger? Hard to say. Most Californians would probably say so; In-N-Out enjoys quite a cult following on the left coast. But Texans (and other burger proponents) might disagree. Obviously, this calls for a side-by-side comparison -- which unfortunately is no easy task since I know of just one market where the two coexist -- Phoenix. The next time I visit the Valley of the Sun, I'll attempt to do just that. Until then, the jury is still out.
nr: John Steinbeck - East of Eden
np: KTCK Sports radio - analysis of the Cowboys' 31-20 win over the Giants; ESPN SportsCenter

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Cajon smokeout!

Friday, October 26 - The wildfires hadn't really affected me until today. I left Tehachapi before sunrise and drove east and south through Mojave and Palmdale toward Cajon Pass. The sun rose as I drove through Palmdale, and about every 15 miles the sky seemed to take on another layer of smoke and haze.

My first train on Cajon -- an eastbound on Main 1 east of Sullivan's Curve.
This would be my second visit to Cajon Pass -- and my first since 1989. I was still in high school the last time I was there! I had been to the areas around Silverwood and Summit during my '89 visit, so I wanted to check out some new locations this time around, especially Sullivan's Curve. Construction of the new BNSF main was under way, but most of the crews seemed to be taking the day off -- with the exception of a ballast train unloading near Silverwood.

A BNSF westbound on Main 1 passes a UP train stopped at Canyon.

Fortunately, a strong breeze blew off some of the smoke early in the day. From mid-morning to mid-afternoon, the air quality didn't bother me too much. It got bad again in the late afternoon, though, and I was pretty well done shooting before 5 pm.

Southbound UP freight approaching Canyon. I had seen this same train at Bealville (north of Tehachapi) on Thursday.

side-by-side: An eastbound Z-train on BNSF Main 1 passes a work train unloading ballast on the new main. To the left, BNSF Main 2 (soon to be re-designated Main 3?) plunges down the pass on a steeper grade. The Silverwood connection (connection with UP's former SP Palmdale cutoff) can be seen to the right.

Four deuces! A quartet of SD40-2s powers a ballast train working on the new BNSF main at Silverwood.
With Interstate 15 little more than a stone's throw from the tracks, it was hard to enjoy much peace and quiet between trains. Then again, it was kind of nice to find a few gas stations and other amenities (even a motel! I guess I'll know where to stay next time...) conveniently located near the tracks at Cajon Jct.

eastbound stack train at Sullivan's Curve on Main 1
It was cool to come back to Cajon for my first visit since 1989. Even with all the smoke, and I-15 traffic whizzing by all day long, Cajon is still an impressive stage for big-time railroading. And the train traffic just keeps getting busier. I'd like to go back in a few years to see the new main in service.
I stuck around Summit until dusk, and then headed for San Bernardino. I had booked a room in Ontario for the night, and I'd be flying back to Texas from the Ontario Airport the next morning. My trip was almost over. Coming next: a California wrap-up, including a look at my vacation dining experiences, my rental car, and the flight home. Stay tuned...
nr: John Steinbeck - East of Eden
np: Doug Sahm - "Beautiful Texas Sunshine"

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