Friday, December 28, 2007

Best of 2007 - non-railroad photos

A selection of a few of my favorite non-railroad photos from 2007. I took each of these with my Fuji Finepix "point & shoot" autofocus digital camera. It's perfect for taking quick, spur-of-the-moment snapshots, which are esentially what all of these photos are.

Self-portrait with bike: my reflection in the wheel of a fire truck in Keller

In May, I rode the 50 mile course in the Cross Timbers Classic, a bike ride which started at Texas Motor Speedway and included a lap around the race track. Here we are entering Turn 1...

Warning signs along the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii. April 2007

Windblown tree. Island of Oahu, Hawaii. April 2007.

Driving Chain of Craters Rd., Pacific Ocean in background. Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. April 2007.

Barrel races, Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo. January 2007.

Texas flag. Fort Worth Stockyards. September 2007.

Hotel Texas. Fort Worth Stockyards. September 2007.

Dr. Pepper fading ad and fire escape shadow. Fort Worth Stockyards. September 2007.
np: Discovery Channel - Man Vs. Wild
nr: John Steinbeck - Grapes of Wrath

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Best of 2007 - railroad photos

Following BEK's lead ( Under the Weather ), I present a small selection of my favorite railroad and train photos from the past year.

My son M (5 years old at the time) explores a rustic stretch of former Rock Island track in Lawton, Oklahoma. February 2007.

Copper Basin ore train near Ray, Arizona. March 2007.

Grain harvest season in Altus, Oklahoma. Hollis & Eastern 8170 crosses the Farmrail diamond while a Farmrail crew spots cars at the grain elevator. June 2007.

BNSF 7627 leads a northbound vehicle train at Sandcut, California, on the UP Mojave Subdivision between Tehachapi and Bakersfield. October 2007.

Moonrise behind the signal bridge at Sandcut, California. October 2007.

Adding to the thick smoke from the October wildfires, a BNSF Z-train climbs east toward Cajon Jct on Main 1 over Cajon Pass north of San Bernardino, CA. October 2007.

My friend Stephen enjoys a close look at an empty grain train on the KCS south of Mena, Arkansas. October 2007.

Fort Worth & Denver depot in Abilene, TX. December 2007. That "Q" logo seems a bit out of place in this part of west Texas!

... and one from closer to home: KCS 4020 leads southbound grain loads through Saginaw, TX. November, 2007.
Stay tuned; in a day or two I'll post a selection of my favorite non-railroad photos from 2007.

np: Corb Lund Band - "Time to switch to whiskey"
nr: John Steinbeck - Grapes of Wrath


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Texas Seven Christmas

In mid-December of 2000, seven inmates escaped from the Connally unit ofthe Texas state prison in Kenedy, Texas. After a couple weeks on the run, they robbed an Oshman's sporting goods store in Irving, Texas on Christmas Eve, killing Irving police officer Aubrey Hawkins in the process before they fled to Colorado.

It was late January before authorities caught up with the "Texas Seven", five of them at a trailer park near Colorado Springs and the others at a nearby motel. Due in no small part to the Christmas Eve killing, their story had made national news, appearing on such high-profile outlets as "America's Most Wanted."Phone calls poured in on the tip hotlines, and soon the escapees could no longer avoid the spotlight. As the police closed in, one of the convicts committed suicide; the other six were apprehended and taken back into custody. All are currently awaiting their executions onTexas' Death Row.

I've thought about it many times -- how evil do you have to be to murder someone -- someone's father, someone's husband -- on Christmas Eve, the most pure and holiest of nights?

I've also wondered something else. I was at work the next day, Christmas Day, dispatching the Amarillo desk which included the former Ft. Worth & Denver line from Amarillo through Dalhart to Texline. We had a busy day going, with six westbound trains out of Amarillo heading toward Texline. However, no Trinidad crews were in position to handle the trains once they got to Texline. The Trinidad crews had all been home for the holiday, and a heavy snowstorm descended on southern Colorado and northwest Texas before the railroad could get the Trinidad crews in position. When the trains started arriving in Texline, all I could tell the crews was to tie 'em down and go to the motel. We parked one on #1 track, one on #2, and two trains nose to tail on the main. Somewhere along the way,we also parked two trains in the sidings at Guy and Perico, and since no crew limos were running, the last train en route to Texline picked up those crews.
Later, when I found out the Texas Seven had fled to Colorado, I imagined them driving northwest on US 87 through that snowstorm between Dalhart and Texline. Had they noticed the parade of trains as they drove slowly along in their stolen car, one of the few vehicles on the road during that Christmas Day whiteout? Maybe they heard a train whistle during a stop at a Dalhart convenience store for gas and coffee? Hell, they might have driven within a mile or two of MY HOUSE as they departed the D-FW area; I might even have passed them on the freeway on my way home from work on Christmas Eve. Sometimes -- even at Christmas -- evil lurks closer than we think.
I can't begin to imagine the level of grief the Hawkins family must have gone through during that Christmas of 2000. For my family, it was just another holiday. K's sisters were in town and her parents drove up from Arlington to join us for dinner like they do every year. Maybe my parents joined us for dinner as well, or maybe we went to their house for dinner a day or two earlier. Eight years down the road, I honestly can't remember. What I do remember is the Hawkins case serving as a sobering reminder of the preciousness and uncertainty of life, of the importance of never taking the people we love for granted, and the thanks and gratitude we owe officers like Aubrey Hawkins for putting their lives on the line -- 365 days a year -- to keep us and our families safe.
np: Throwing Muses - "Not too soon"
nr: John Steinbeck - Grapes of Wrath

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

holiday wishes, etc.

It's that time again....

K's family has begun arriving from out of town, so any of us who weren't already in the Christmas spirit had better damned well get there pretty quick. On Friday, I could begin to feel the excitement -- the calendar read "December 21" (t-minus 4 days), the North Freeway was jammed well before the traditional rush hour with folks trying to get a jump start on their holiday travels, and I got a highly-coveted covered parking spot in our office parking garage at 2 in the afternoon (the 8-to-5-ers were already starting to jump ship for the long weekend). Trays of candy canes and home-baked cookies are appearing on desks throughout the office, and the kids are done with school for the year.

So, Merry Christmas (or Happy Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, or Festivus, or alternate winter solstice holiday...) and Happy New Year from the Whiskey family to yours. Hope there's something nice under the tree with your name on it. And I hope you get a chance to enjoy the company of family and friends, maybe watch some football if that's your thing, or even just one of your favorite Christmas movies.

Stay tuned in 2008 for a new blog re-capping the 18th year of my life. I'll turn 36 in January, so I thought a look back at the age of 18 (half my lifetime ago) would be appropriate. It will debut on or about January 1st.

Doing some last minute shopping?

A page from the Duluth Trading Co. catalog. One of the more interesting catalog items that crossed my desk this holiday season...

Frank Gohlke exhibit at Amon Carter

I got a chance to check out the Frank Gohlke exhibit at Fort Worth's Amon Carter Museum a few days ago. Gohlke is a landscape photographer from Wichita Falls. The exhibit features mostly black and white photography, emphasizing North America's landscape and humanity's interaction with it. Subject material includes landscapes from Wichita Falls and various other western locations, destruction caused by the volcano at Mt. St. Helens, and documentation (in color) of the Sudbury River in Massachussetts. If you live in Fort Worth or are just passing through, it's well worth a visit. But hurry, because it's almost over. The exhibit runs through January 6.

np: Hank Williams - Lovesick Blues
nr: John Steinbeck - Grapes of Wrath

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

movie review, moniker spotlight

No Country for Old Men - Whiskey's review

I caught a showing of "No Country for Old Men" a couple nights ago. This is the first Coen Brothers film that I've actually seen in a theater. I had just finished reading the book (by Cormac McCarthy) a couple days earlier, so I wanted to catch the movie while the book was still fresh in my mind.

I'll watch anything that the Coen Brothers direct, but I was especially interested in "No Country" because the story is set in west Texas. If the landscapes featured in Texas-themed movies like "Giant", "Fandango", "Dancer Texas, Pop. 81", "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" or "Streets of Laredo" turn you on, you'll enjoy "No Country" simply for its spectacular panoramic views of west Texas (filmed near Marfa) early in the film.

Imagine if the movie "Fargo" were set in west Texas, and the briefcase contained drug money instead of a kidnapping ransom. In a nutshell, that's "No Country for Old Men".

While hunting antelope near Sanderson, Llewelyn Moss stumbles across the shootout scene of a drug deal gone bad ("a colossal goatf*ck", in the words of one cast member). He discovers the errant briefcase full of hundred dollar bills, and decides to take the money and run. Throughout the remainder of the film, Moss and his wife Carla Jean are pursued by Anton Chigurh, an associate of the drug runners who seek to reclaim their money. Moss compels Carla Jean to flee to Odessa and then El Paso, while he attempts to elude Chigurh in Del Rio, Eagle Pass, and later Piedras Negras.

Along the way, we learn more about the botched drug deal and some of its participants. We also discover just how vicious, ruthless, and resourceful Moss's primary pursuer really is. The film's body count is high, with plenty of blood and gore (not really any great surprise considering these are the same directors who brought us the "wood chipper scene" in "Fargo".) All the while, Sheriff Bell is on the killer's trail, but he's plagued by self-doubt regarding his own capabilities as an aging peacekeeper, and is always a couple of moves behind.

The film stays fairly true to the book, with some minor alterations to allow for a smoother-flowing screenplay. The one change I'd like to have seen would have been for the film to include more narrative personal accounts from Sheriff Bell, like maybe one before every scene that featured him or someone from his department. Each chapter of the book begins with a
Bell narrative, but the movie only featured one, during the opening title sequence. This would have aided greatly in character development, which some critics (among the reviews I've read) felt was lacking.

I did have some issues with the casting. First, the good news -- Woody Harrelson was great as a Carson Wells, a sleazeball quasi-businessman and former associate of Anton Chigurh. Tommy Lee Jones was outstanding as Sheriff Bell. As I read the book, it seemed to me that McCarthy had written Bell's dialogue specifically with Tommy Lee Jones in mind. You just gotta have a Texan actor to play a Texas sheriff. Barry Corbin gave a brilliant performance as Sheriff Bell's Uncle Ellis (even though he only appears in one scene). Javier Bardem was very good as Anton Chigurh -- stoic, cold, unemotional, and unstoppable -- like the Terminator... not somebody you'd want to have trying to hunt you down.

Beyond that, I wasn't quite as impressed. The actors who played Bell's deputies did not strike me as gen-u-wine west Texans. They reminded me more of east Texans or Oklahomans. Ditto for the driver of the chicken truck from Alpine. (Aside: who the hell raises chickens in Alpine?) I didn't care a whole lot for Kelly MacDonald as Carla Jean -- too hick-ish. I thought they could have done better. Beth Grant's performance as Carla Jean's mom (her grandmother, actually) was really just a bit too much... WAY too hillbilly. I was thankful for her small amount of screen time; she would have been more at home on the set of "Hee Haw". This brings me to an interesting question: would someone other than a west Texan even realize how some of the Coens' sterotypes of "typical" west Texans kind of miss the mark? Moreover, do they miss the mark more than the Coens' stereotypes of typical Minnesotans in "Fargo", i.e., the Brainerd girls? (I must confess that the performances in "Fargo" matched MY preconceived notions of Minnesotans perfectly! But then, I ain't from Minnesota...)

Also, I had a minor complaint about some of the filming locations. Although much of the story was set in Sanderson, almost none of the scenes that supposedly took place there looked much like Sanderson; most of them appeared to be filmed about a hundred miles to the west, near Marfa. Not that I mind the scenery around Marfa -- it's one of the most beautiful areas of Texas -- but if you're gonna say it's Sanderson, then film it in Sanderson. Sanderson sits in the bottom of a canyon surrounded by steep limestone hillsides; it has a very unique look that you just can't duplicate anywhere else. Oh yeah, they must have filmed the Odessa scenes somewhere other than Odessa. HAD to have been. That town wasn't nearly ugly enough in the film.

I did enjoy the film, especially those west Texas scenes (regardless of where they were filmed). The screenplay was well-written, and I was certainly never bored. Even though I was disappointed with certain parts, I'll still give it a "Four shot glasses" rating out of a possible five. I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys Coen Brothers films, Tommy Lee Jones, or west Texas.

Spotlight: freight car monikers

Look what turned up in the January 2008 issue of Texas Highways magazine, part of a feature entitled "Maverick Mystery Tour", featuring a few of the more unusual and eccentric personalities our state has known during the past 170 years or so.

Bozo Texino drawings from a new generation (an obvious tribute to McKinley) can still be seen on the occasional freight car.

I'd be just as interested in hearing the story behind the freight car artist known as "the Rambler", whose monikers (featuring a glass of bubbly champagne) graced the sides of thousands of freight cars (mostly Santa Fe grain hoppers) during the late 1980s and early '90s. Rumor has it that he worked for a switching contractor at the port of Beaumont, but I've never seen or heard anything to substantiate that. Maybe someone at Texas Highways can track him down...

BEK's top 10 of 2007

I had considered posting a small group of my favorite photos from 2007. Looks like my friend BEK beat me to it by posting his...

Nice work, BEK... I like the B&W Transcon shot and the U-haul trailers shot the best.

I still might post a few of my own faves from 2007, but readers have already seen most of them here. And they're not as AF as BEK's... not that there's anything wrong with AF...


np: "The Last Picture Show" dvd
nr: J.D. Salinger - Catcher in the Rye

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Barnhart turn - Part 2

During our Barnhart turn, Brian and I caught up to an interesting move on the Texas Pacifico (former South Orient) line near San Angelo -- a unit train of flatcars loaded with windmill tower column sections heading to a wind farm construction site near Fort Stockton. What a sight, seeing a 7,000-foot train rolling through my hometown and across the west Texas prairie at 10 mph. It definitely made the trip worthwhile... I just wish they'd paint up their locomotives in a nicer scheme.

westbound windmill train on Texas Pacifico near Harriett, TX

A crew member looks back over his train.

Two crew members escorted the train as it rolled through San Angelo.

crossing the Concho River in San Angelo

passing the restored KCM&O depot in San Angelo

windmill tower section in San Angelo

"high wide" placard on one of the flat cars

west of San Angelo

After securing their train for the night near Barnhart, the crew poses for a quick portrait.

Whiskey at the movies
I saw "No Country for Old Men" last night... highly recommended for anyone who likes Coen Brothers films, Tommy Lee Jones, and especially west Texas... there were some beautiful shots filmed near Marfa. I'll post a full review soon.


np: Webb Pierce - Cowtown
nr: J.D. Salinger - Catcher in the Rye

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Barnhart turn - Part 1

Photos from a recent day trip to the west Texas town of Barnhart, accompanied by my friend Brian. Brian shares my interests in trains, photography, ghost signs, Texas music, etc and we got along great.

Steam-era water tower on the former Kansas City, Mexico & Orient line - Barnhart TX


The only thing missing was the "Barn". Brian poses by the Barnhart station sign.

the view along US Hwy 67 near Mertzon

Barnhart Tourist Courts - Barnhart TX

abandoned storefront in Barnhart

Trainer Feed Company - Mertzon, TX

West Texas Wool & Mohair - Mertzon, TX

Sherwood courthouse - Sherwood, TX
np: Hank Williams - "I saw the light"

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Friday, December 14, 2007

December trains in Fort Worth

Sometimes I neglect Fort Worth in favor of places like Saginaw or Haslet. There's still plenty of interesting stuff to see and shoot here in the city. Here's a small selection of recent shots...

Eastbound Trinity Railway Express crosses the Trinity River on December 3

The hole in the building -- TRE westbound from Dallas passes through the Tindall Storage building as it enters downtown Fort Worth

Skirting the southeast corner of downtown Fort Worth between the T&P station and the Intermodal Transit Center

Southbound rock train waits to get past Tower 55

Gensets at Ney Yard

Northbound freight meets a switch job at the south end of Ney Yard

Closer to home - southbound freight on the Choctaw Sub passes the Watauga water tower


np: Mark Davis - WBAP morning show
nr: Cormac McCarthy - No Country for Old Men

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