Just Another Reason You Support Republicans?

What happens in Louisiana Stays in Louisiana

What happens in Louisiana Stays in Louisiana

Sally, Don't Take Your Guns To Town

Sally, Don't Take Your Guns To Town

Tapping Dancing in the John

Tap Dancing in the John

Foley Takes Care of the Interns

Foley Takes Care of the Interns

And now who’s all up for the 100 Years War?
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VW Bug and a Summer Railroad Job, Chapter One

Not Mine But Similar

Not Mine But Similar

I think most guys will remember each and every car that they have owned. I know I do. My first five cars were VW Beetles. I’m not quite sure why I got a VW Bug for my first car; maybe it was because it was during the 60s, and they were a popular symbol of the culture of the time–hippies, psychodelic images, and all that. I know it wasn’t anything about the price of gas.

I just don’t recall exactly when I got that car–somewhere around the time of my sophomore year in college. I know I didn’t have a car my first year at Fort Hays State. I had worked for my sister and her husband at their freight business the summer after graduating from high school and the next summer after my freshman year in college, and I had scholarships my first two years of college, so I had saved up some money. My dad took me over to Great Bend to Marmie Motors–I think that was the name. I don’t know how much we tried it out, but I bought this used 1963 VW for $1200 or $1300 and drove it home. I’m pretty sure the original paint was light green in color. (Because of having owned different ones, a few of the colors have blended together in my head.)

The summers after my sophomore and junior years, I worked for Union Pacific Railroad as a temporary depot agent–I’m sure the official title of the job was telegrapher or clerk or something like that. However, I never learned to use the telegraph; by that time the railroad had its own phone lines to give out train orders and other messages. I spent two months of each of those summers at the depot in Sylvan Grove, Kansas. It was close enough that I drove from my folks’ farm, and a pretty drive at that, because each day I got to pass by (in my VW) Wilson Lake two times.

The depot situation at Sylvan was an unusual one. Sylvan Grove was on the Lincoln Branch Line of the UP, which went from Salina to Plainville. Before those days, even the tiniest little town had had its own depot and depot agent, but by the 60s, the railroad had closed down a lot of the very small stations and were in the process of closing down a great many of the others. (Since then, they’ve even pulled up the tracks on quite a few of the branch lines, but with the price of gasoline, that may have been a very big mistake.) Anyway, the UP had already shut down the Sylvan station sometime during the previous year, but in doing so, they had made an agreement with the town that they would open it up for two months during the summer so that it would be open during harvest.

So for those two summers for two months, I was the Sylvan Grove depot agent. On the first day, I would go to the Lincoln Center (Lincoln, Kansas) depot, which was still a regular station at that time, pick up the key and a desk chair, which I somehow managed to squeeze into the back seat of my VW, and head the 10 or so miles over to Sylvan and open up the depot.

It was a big old musty building, the standard small town, wooden-type, painted green and white. They didn’t even turn the electricity on for those two months, but there were enough windows in the waiting room and the main office room to get pretty good light. I had to keep them opened up to get some air in, especially since June and July are hot months. About one-half of the depot building was a big freight room, which was dark and pretty dirty. It had a big sliding, barn-type door, which I could open up just to take a look around or release the built-up heat. When they had closed up the depot, they had taken everything; there was no desk, no waiting room benches, no freight carts. There was, however, the built-in telegrapher’s desk in the bay window (I know it’s not called that in depot architecture, but it’s all I can think of now) that stuck out so that you could see the tracks and the trains coming, the railroad phone, and the chair I had brought with me. There was still the telegraph, and the depot agent from Lincoln would use it sometimes–I think just to gossip on with some of the other guys who still knew how to use it–but for regular railroad communication, everyone used the phone.

Not that the phone rang much.

There was just one train that ran on that line. Every other day, it headed out from Salina and went up to Plainville. The next day it came by going the other direction. It didn’t even stop unless it was dropping off empty grain cars or picking loaded ones up. Basically, that was mostly what that train did–bring out grain cars and hoppers for all the elevators on the line and pick up the filled ones. On a rare occasion, it might have brought in a load of farm equipment for Plainville. Also there is a rock quarry at Lincoln, but even in those days, I think most of the rock was taken out of there by truck.

Every so often, the sectionmen for the entire branch–3 or 4 of them–would come through and stop. They were the ones who kept the tracks and railbed up on this line. They would come in and hang around for awhile–kind of smelly guys, from working out there in the sun and heat. They had this little electric car they’d ride up on, and I’d have to let them know if the train was coming so that could move their car onto a side track if it was.

If the elevator had filled wheat cars to be picked up, the elevator guys told me, and I made up the bill of lading, recorded the seal number, and went and put the seal on the car. Then when the train came, I’d give the bills to the trainmen. They never picked up more than a few cars in Sylvan–maybe like 5 or 6 at most, even in harvest time.

That was why having me there to open the depot for two months was pretty laughable. Because when I wasn’t there, the elevator guys just made out the bills of lading, put the seals on the cars, and gave the bills to the trainmen. But the town had made the agreement to keep the depot open for those two months, so there I was. It was a great-paying job for a college kid like me. The railroad workers had a really strong union in those days, and because of that, I got the same pay as the agent who had worked there when the place was open regularly. He had probably had a lot of seniority when they closed the depot, so the pay rate was really good. Also Saturday was not a work day for me, but because the train headed back to Salina from Plainville on Saturday, if there were cars to be picked up, I would have to go over there and I would get time-and-a-half for that. I also had to work one 4th of July, and I got double-time-and-a-half for that! Basically, just to make up the bills and give them to the trainmen. But I sure didn’t mind.

I had a battery-operated cassette player–yes, that was after 8-tracks–and I would take it in the depot and play Simon and Garfunkle’s Bridge Over Troubled Water and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. I know that I just had a few cassettes that I played over and over. Although the depot sat at the far end of Main Street, there had to have been a few people who heard my music through the open windows, even if it was only the elevators guys. I don’t think I thought much of it then, but now I kind of wonder what those townspeople thought of this 19 or 20-year-old kid coming in to open up the depot. I know I probably looked a lot younger than my age. I always got my ID checked even a long time after that. (Back then you could buy beer when you were 18.) Even though I was a kid and out there at that depot all alone with not much but time on my hands, I made it to work on time and closed the depot at the set time. I took my hour lunch time too.

Sylvan Grove probably had a little bigger population than the 300-400 it has today, and it had a cafe, so I suppose I ate my lunch there. (Weird–I have very little recollection of what I ate, when I ate, or how much I ate when I was on my own, for about 20 or 25 years. I know I shopped for groceries, cooked, and also ate out–but for all that time, I guess it wasn’t that important–must change with age.) But I don’t remember going to the cafe every day, nor do I remember taking my lunch with me. I didn’t have much interactions with too many people except for the elevator and train guys.

What I do remember is taking out in my VW and exploring the countryside during my lunch hour. I’ve always been a nut about geography and where towns are and how big they are–all that stuff. So even though, Lincoln County is not that far from where I grew up, I didn’t know it very well. Some lunchtimes, I’d take out and head to Vesper, Denmark, or Hunter, just to look around the town or even look at the cemeteries. It was a great way to bring dots on the map into reality.

The next year I graduated from college, but I didn’t work since I knew I was going into the Air Force in August. I don’t know how many summers they kept the Sylvan depot open after my two summers, not too many more years, I think.

Having that first car gave me a lot of freedom, I suppose. Getting it though was just a matter of course that I didn’t think about in those days–just what I did because I was the youngest and the others had done similar things–so going to college, working in the summer, going off to the military–even getting that first car was part of it all.

Not so long ago I drove through Sylvan Grove, and the depot is still standing in its same place, but I think they might have been using it as a horse barn.

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If you liked this one, you may want to read “VW Bug and a Summer Job, Chapter Two”.

In Those Days, You Couldn’t Just Tear It Up . . .

"Mystery Man"

"Mystery Man"

I have had this old tin-type photo among my possessions for a long time. Most all of the old pictures are some family member or relative of some type. Almost all of them have identifying names on the back either in my hand or someone else’s, but this young guy has always been a mystery. All through the years whenever I took out my old pictures, I had thought this was just a single man in the photo, and, thus, created all sorts of little stories in my head about him.

Then a couple of days ago, I scanned this tin-type as I want to send a file of my old pictures to my sister. There, to my surprise, I see that this young man hadn’t been alone in the photo; the other person had been scratched out–obliterated for time.

Now a new mystery unfolds. Did this young man scratch out the other person in the photo? Did some later love interest get ahold of the photo and do the scratching out? I think this mystery even the “Cold Case Detectives” couldn’t figure out, because I doubt whether I’ll have any way to know the identity of this man.

Not Original but Worth Repeating

I saw this on the Blue Collar Scientist’s site, and it is just too good not to re-post here. On another day, I’ll be more creative.

For some years there has been a top ten list circulating in e-mail of items that handily debunk the silly claims of the anti-gay marriage crowd. I reproduce it for you here. Anti-gay folks have to do a lot better than their current load of baloney if they are to show they are any better than the Klan of the mid-20th century.

  1. Being gay is not natural. Real Americans always reject unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester, and air conditioning.
  2. Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall.
  3. Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior. People may even wish to marry their pets because a dog has legal standing and can sign a marriage contract.
  4. Straight marriage has been around a long time and hasn’t changed at all; women are still property, blacks still can’t marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.
  5. Straight marriage will be less meaningful if gay marriage were allowed; the sanctity of Britany Spears’ 55-hour just-for-fun marriage would be destroyed.
  6. Straight marriages are valid because they produce children. Gay couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn’t be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren’t full yet, and the world needs more children.
  7. Obviously, gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children.
  8. Gay marriage is not supported by religion. In a theocracy like ours, the values of one religion are imposed on the entire country. That’s why we have only one religion in America.
  9. Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That’s why we as a society expressly forbid single parents to raise children.
  10. Gay marriage will change the foundation of society; we could never adapt to new social norms. Just like we haven’t adapted to cars, the service-sector economy, or longer life spans.

Hidden Blossoms

Pretty Pink Flowers

Pretty Pink Flowers

I spied this cluster of flowers from one of my angel wing begonias this morning. They were hidden among by the leaves of some of the other plants, so I hadn’t seen them before.

My Time in the 6916th Security Squadron at Athenai Air Base

RC-135 and 6916th Sec.Sq. Crew--Circa 1975After graduating from Fort Hays State College (now University) back in 1971, I went into the Air Force. I spent almost 11 months, starting in September of 1973, in Washington, D.C. at the Defense Language Institute (Anacostia Annex) studying Arabic and Middle Eastern culture. I also had a lot of other special training before I went to Athens, Greece, where I was stationed at Athenai Air Base for a little more than two years. I still hold those days in my heart as being probably the most interesting and intriguing of my life. I saw the tanks parked down the street near Astir Beach, when the American-backed dictator Papadopolous was thrown out by the generals in the coup. I remember even then a terrorist attack at the main terminal of Athens (Hellinikon) Airport, which was just across the runways that were shared with coming to and leaving from our base. I remember how the Turks invaded Cypress, and the U.S. did nothing and the Greeks would spit when we walked down the street and our cars got fire-bombed in the neighborhood where a lot of us lived.

Athenai Air Base (1973)--taken from atop one of the barracks towards the flight line with the sun setting behind some of the Aegean Islands and a U.S. Navy ship (maybe one of the carriers) on the right

Athenai Air Base (1973)–taken from atop one of the barracks towards the flight line with the sun setting behind some of the Aegean Islands and a U.S. Navy ship (maybe one of the carriers) on the right

I also remember the scent of the orange and lemon trees that grew close to my apartment on Metaxa Street in Glyfada and the strange movie theater a couple of blocks away, where in the summer you watched the first half of a movie inside, and then after intermission, everyone went up on the rooftop, and you could watch the second half of the movie shown on a white-washed wall and sit and enjoy the refreshing Mediterranean air. Likewise, I remember a time during my last few months in Greece and the Air Force, when I took several days of leave, hitched my backpack and pup tent over my shoulders, took the ferry to Mykonos for the nude beaches of Paradise, Hell, and even the notorious Super Hell, which I finally trekked over the hills to one day, only to find a nearly deserted beach and a little taverna. I opened the door to that little non-descript place, which sat there on the almost desolate beach and entered a gay bar for the first time in my life. It was probably something that I had been hoping in the back of my mind to find, but when it happened, I was so scared, that all I could do was order a beer, take a swig, put the bottle back on the counter, and head out the door.

This picture shows one of the planes I flew on, an RC-135. Our missions over the Mediterranean Sea could sometimes last 8 or 9 hours, and that didn’t count the pre- and post-briefings on base. During the first year, I was at Athenai AFB, we flew on the RC-130B’s (tail numbers 524, 531, 532, and 535 were used, according to my flight records, which I still have). They were big, lumbering 4-prop planes, which are still used a lot for transport and other duties these days. On my 16th flight, we had to abort because 3 of the 4 engines had stopped, but those old planes are “go-ers”; we made it back to base with that one remaining engine still purring. In June of 1974, SAC (Strategic Air Command out of Offut AF Base at Omaha, NE) started flying us in the RC-135’s (tail numbers 131, 132, 139, and 842, during my time at Athenai AB) . My last flight on the 130 was on June 8th and my first on the 135 was the 16th. (There’s a great site dedicated to the RC-135’s here, with photos and a lot more.)

We had a 6-day-on/3-day-off work schedule. The six days of work could be grueling because the days flying were long, and sometimes I flew two or three days in a row, even though the idea was to fly one day and work on the ground the next during the cycle. The three days off were great–time to catch up on sleep, take advantage of the beach, or soak up the Greek life and sights. My first flight was on the 2nd of September, 1973, just for the ride (as I remember it now) with my trainer; however, working at my own position came soon enough–and often enough. I’m lacking a couple of months of flight records in my folder, as from what I see now they were processed in Germany–but based on the records I received when I got out and calculating for the missing months, I flew on approximately 150 flights between that September and the 31st of July, 1975, when I got out of the Air Force, right there in Athens. However, even with all that time spent flying, I never really overcame my fear of flying at high altitudes, especially over water. I had always told myself if the plane were to go down, I would be going down with it. Even with the special training we had had at Homestead AFB in Florida, practicing all the bail-out procedures , jumping out high over the Mediterranean Sea was not something I could have imagined myself doing.

(Updated and edited the above and added the photo below, July 13, 2015) Sometimes an inadvertent discovery can bring back some of the memories and perhaps a bit of history.  I took hundreds, maybe even into the thousands of photos developed into slides during my time in Greece, including many of trips outside of Greece.  I still have some of them, but due to a stupid choice “back in the day,” the majority are gone.  So it was a delight to find one lone box of slides among some of my nieces possessions.  Actually, at one time might have been just a box of discarded slides, not worth keeping with those more likely to be looked at.  But now some 40 years later, the mix of slides inside took me down a trip down memory lane.  Though some were out of focus, and others of poor color, they took me back to a trip to northern Greece, a month spent in Great Britain, including the Lake District and Edinburg, Scotland, Christmas displays in Piraeus, my Siamese cat of French lineage that made the flight back with me to the U.S. and that later was adopted in a friendly takeover by my mom and dad.  Among these odds and ends of images was this nice one of the base.  That blue bus takes me back to all those god-awful early, pre-flight briefings and the ride down to plane on flight line.

This shows the main road that went from the main gate down to the flight line.  The larger building on the right is the base movie theater.  I think this may have been taken from near the tennis courts, but I'm not sure of that or what the other buildings were.

This shows the main road that went from the main gate down to the flight line. The larger building on the right is the base movie theater. I think this may have been taken from near the tennis courts, but I’m not sure of that or what the other buildings were.

A Couple of My Quilts

Quilt on My Wall

Quilt on My Wall

Quilt I Made for my Sister-in-Law

Quilt I Made for my Sister-in-Law

Dog? Quilt? Dog? Quilt? Since I got Annie, my quilting has basically been on hiatus. Dropped pins and pieces of fabric on the floor just don’t work very well with a small puppy. Now that she is older, she doesn’t really bother with much except for her own toys and chewies, so I need to start back. Maybe the creative juices will reappear soon. The bright one hangs on the wall behind me in my computer slash music slash sewing room. I’ve always liked to work with the brigher greens and reds. The other was a gift for my sister-in-law’s birthday. She had given me some fat quarters for Christmas, and I rushed to get it done for her birthday in January, and I made it, mailed it, and she had it for her birthday. It’s a take on the Drunkard’s Path pattern. Actually the bright one is a bit smaller than the other–it’s about 22″X26″ and the other is around 30″x30″. Both of them are hand-quilted; I’m not bad when I get into the rhythm of it.  I think a quilt that is hand-quilted has a nicer feel to it, but a very light batting is really the only way to go!

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If you’re interested, here’s another of my quilts, my favorite, actually.