“Hey Dad, Can We Build a New Layout?”

IMG_3065A syrupy Tuesday in July – a blank square on the calendar except for the “Dad Home” jotted in the corner indicating it was my week to stay home with the boys and stay in our pajamas the entire time.

When I was a kid, days like this meant Legos and model trains all day. For the Conductor and the Superintendent, as I have lamented before, it means baseball in different media: Playstation, ESPN, Cards and finally, you know … baseball.

Mid-morning front yard baseball in your pajamas on a weekday is an exquisite privilege. But when it ran its course we lost our momentum and found ourselves face-to-face with a powerful stuff called Boredom.

On days like this 11:15 a.m. can last six hours.

Boredom comes in two forms, and I hate the one and love the other.

There’s the boredom of the cubicle, the assembly line, the math worksheet – a painful boredom without which Work would not be the punishment God intended.

Then there’s idle boredom, when there is really nothing to do.

This is useful stuff and frankly if we had more of it we might not be so far behind the Chinese in math and science. Necessity is the mother of invention but its father is boredom.

It was idle boredom that led the Superintendent to wander aimlessly into my workshop, where he happened upon a box of leftover roadbed and track from the construction of the Flagstaff Subdivision.

“Hey Dad, can we build a new layout?”

Oh heck yeah.

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Five-Year Gas Station Build

IMG_3046Something like five years ago I obtained (I think it was a Christmas gift?) Walther’s “Al’s Victory Service” kit. I remember putting the walls together and then cutting the whole thing apart to rearrange it before putting it back together the way it was originally, then doing some very basic weathering before getting distracted.

The unfinished structure bounced around the workbench and the layout for the last half decade and – uncharacteristically for me – the rest of the pieces remained safely in the box and tucked away in a spot I actually remembered.

Recently I had some downtime and finally finished this little project. I am particularly proud of my little “live bait” and soft drink signs, the mechanic rolling out a set of tires, and the yuppie with the Porsche cleaning his windshield.

Don’t give up on your unfinished projects – like good wine they are more satisfying with age!

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A Folk History of Many Lost Ways and Salvation Point

The National Park Service explains the phenomenon of Many Lost Ways with some blah blah blah about topography and watersheds and how people who can’t find their way instinctively follow water downhill, and so for 10,000 years those who are lost have been turning up here.

It makes sense – the hills above the Benjamin-Henry River do form something of a giant natural funnel – but that’s overly simple for what happens here. It doesn’t explain the spiritual wayfinding that gives the park its name.

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“Young lovers who found each other along the river.”

The Native lore is rich with tales of great chiefs who found direction in these cliffs, young lovers who found each other along the river, fathers and sons who found understanding under these starry skies.

Many lost ways.

There’s something here – call it a True North of the Soul – that helps them get found.

It’s still happening today.

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“Drag him around Many Lost Ways for a week and you’ll know.”

Not sure if you should marry him? Drag him around Many Lost Ways for a week and you’ll know.

Not sure what to do with your life? Come to Many Lost Ways and the answer will go home with you.

Year after year, new stories of people who arrived with a vexing problem and left with clarity and peace. The locals talk it up with the tourists:

“Did you hear about this couple?”

“Did you hear about that guy?”

“Did you hear about the family?”

Many lost ways. Found.

Of course the most famous lost people to get found here are Lieutenants Benjamin and Henry. They deserted John Wesley Powell just before he fell 1,800 feet down the Colorado River and landed fortuitously in the Grand Canyon. Had they stuck with him they might have survived to experience that glorious discovery, but instead they wandered around the Colorado Plateau for some weeks before instinctively following water downhill into what is now Many Lost Ways National Park.

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“A fertile little valley on a navigable river.”

They washed up starving, broken and in despair on the bank of the river that now bears their names. They were taken in by the indigenous people and after a good meal and some rest realized they’d discovered a fertile little valley on a navigable river.

Stick that in your rapids and raft it, Powell.

The FCFL still follows the lucrative trade route they opened, anchored by Salvation Point.

Speaking of Salvation Point, no one’s sure if it was Benjamin or Henry who put quill to parchment, but the line from their log is famous here:

“We need not return as condemned deserters. We need not return as failed expeditioners. Today we have redeemed ourselves. Today we have reached our salvation point.”

So the name doesn’t have a particularly religious provenance, and that’s disappointing to some visitors. There are more bars than churches here.

Now you know.

On Consuming the Outdoors – Take a Hike!

The little SUV is fine I guess, for a rental, but he wishes it was bigger, more lumbering, more … omnipotent.IMG_3031

He doesn’t feel like he owns the road. He’s not consuming it and that’s what he does after all, isn’t it? Consume?

You should see the mighty vehicles in his garage outside Chicago. Three-story jet black behemoths you can really lean against while comparing the rest of your stuff with the neighbors. (“Go Cubbies” stickers in the rear windows? You bet.)

Passionate consumers like him don’t do well in places like Many Lost Ways National Park.

You encounter dozens of them on your way to the trailhead. They roar up, park haphazardly, and leap out – leaving the doors open so you wonder if they might be paramedics – but no, there’s Alpha Male with the camera stretched out in front of him directing the entourage into the frame. Two, maybe three clicks and back they go into the A/C and on down the road, tailgating at 25 mph to the next brown sign.

Consuming the place. Or trying to.

That was Chicago’s plan: Snap photos of the boys at all the scenic overlooks and when he got home he was going to have the guys over for beers and casually pass around the digital vacation.

“Oh is this the new iPad Air?”

“Yep.”

“I didn’t think it was supposed to be out until next month.”

“It’s not.”

They’d be scrambling for weeks to catch up to that one.

But Chicago’s frustrated with his pictures. The colors look bland on the screen. The kids look bored. He frowns to himself – geez, his trophy wife isn’t such a trophy anymore.

What poor service, he thinks, to buy a park pass and not get what he paid for!

He needs to take a lesson from the Europeans.

I don’t like seeing men in capri pants any more than the next guy, but you have to hand it to them when it comes to enjoying our National Parks. Descend the South Kaibab Trail into the Grand Canyon much farther than Ooh Ahh Point and you realize English is no longer the primary language.

These people understand that to get the full benefit of a place like Glacier or Bryce Canyon or Many Lost Ways, you have to let it consume you.

When your socks are full of exotic-colored sand and the switchbacks zigzag up, up, up, painfully beyond where you can see, and you remember they weren’t kidding, all the signs about plenty of water – you lean against the rocks and close your eyes and melt into the place.

The sun is real on your face, the stone is real beneath your fingertips, the gravity is real under your feet. You feel infinitely small but also that you may be standing on the very hand of God. The trees, the bugs, the quiet, the Earth. There you are consumed by it, and that’s when it becomes yours.

Take a hike, Chicago.

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Flagstaff Field Work (With a Six-Year-Old)

The Superintendent and I were on location last week in preparation for the scenery phase of the Flagstaff Subdivision.

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I’m a freelance modeler, so all I really want to do is make the Flagstaff portion of the layout kinda feel like the real thing. I’m not worried about duplicating trackwork or buildings down to the finest detail.

Which is good, because when you’re traveling with a six-year-old there’s little exploring and no measuring going on. I got about 45 minutes to take pictures and scoop up some dirt before I was reminded that the real reason we were there was to go to Bearizona just up the road.

But I figured this much out:

Depot

I want to model the depot.

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It’s an attractive building that will look good with the Many Lost Ways steam shuttle docked out front. I hope I can find a kit to approximate it. Otherwise I’ll build a placeholder while I scratchbuild one, which I will get around to never.

Giant Mass of Road Signs

About a block away from the depot was this giant collage of road signs. I don’t have much room on the Flagstaff Sub for roads, but this thing is situated on the opposite side of the sidewalk from the road.

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I think I’ll model the sidewalk and curb against the edge of the layout and put the signs between that and the track. That will clearly convey the intended geography to viewers.

Color and Foliage

As I noted above, the Superintendent and I collected about three quarts of dirt in various colors from several locations near the BNSF mainline that runs through Flagstaff. I’ll sift it on the layout for ground cover and secure it with diluted white glue. That, along with referencing pictures of the topography and foliage, should help me give the scene a realistic “Flagstaff feel.”

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Okay? Now let’s go look at some bear cubs before you pee your pants.

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