ModelStory: The Last Time

???????????????????????????????Big Roger thinks about the Last Time a lot since they moved him to the home.

The Last Time he used his table saw.

The Last Time he fired a rifle.

The Last Time he shuffled out to his own mailbox.

The Last Time with Mae.

The Last Time with Mae – gosh, when was that?

He’s not sure when the Last Time was for any of those things, he just knows they don’t happen anymore.

He remembers the Last Time he drove that pickup, though. It was in the ‘70s and his two oldest were canoeing and he set out to pick them up. He was cutting overland along the railroad tracks toward the river (people did that in those days, though the Last Time was awhile ago) and POW! – a ball joint let go and she went down on one knee like a wounded mule.

The truck was surplus by then, a Saturday beater he never much cared for anyway, so other priorities got in the way of retrieving it. The Last Time he seriously considered it was a weekend that same summer, when his brother offered to drive down from Kanab with his wrecker, but then there was a pileup on 89 and oh, brother made a bundle on the cleanup instead.

So the truck is there and he is here and he wonders, “When was the Last Time I could have gone down there and turned it over?”

The Ford wouldn’t have gone anywhere on its crippled suspension anyway. But he’s the same – a good motor in a ruined chassis – so the wondering is good for his mind:

When was the moment? The Last Time the bearings and gaskets and plugs were all still just good enough, it would’ve cranked and maybe sputtered but the old straight six would have caught, and then the next moment – just a moment’s more corrosion on the points maybe – it wouldn’t have?

That’s the funny thing about the Last Time, he thinks. You hardly ever know it.

When does a disabled truck become a derelict?

When does bread become toast?

When does a man become an old man and then become – well, what sort is he now?

Big Roger remembers when they were young Mae would run her fingers through his hair when she rode with him in that pickup. He loved that, but parenthood doesn’t leave much room for scooting over on the bench seat, so there was a Last Time for that, too, but he’s not sure when it was.

He thinks about a routine he had with the kids at bedtime. Sometimes he would carry them by the ankles and swing them upside down before sliding them under the covers and then one day – who knows when? – the littlest got too big. A giggling child curled up liking how Daddy did that, but it was the Last Time and no one knew it.

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(Modified and weathered Classic Metal Works 1954 Ford F-350, JTT trees, Woodland Scenics field grass.)

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ModelStory: A River Deep and Wide

At first the thing that bothered him most about the whole idea was that they might fall.

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“At first the thing that bothered him most about the whole idea was that they might fall.”

As a dad, falls are a major concern. Traffic and roadway hazards are a close second, followed by choking and other ingestion-related dangers. Dads tend to worry about the things that cause immediate trauma.

Moms fret over the hazards of repeated exposure like dressing properly for the weather and adequate nutrition.

Dads worry about falls.

So the notion that his daughter and her cousin would embark – unchaperoned – on a three-hour river raft trip caused him some heartburn.

(It had to be a three-hour tour? The universal code for nautical tragedy?)

“They’re fourteen years old, Ted,” said Marcia. “As long as you’re there to pick them up on time, how much trouble can they get into? Frankly I was looking forward to some time alone during this vacation. Just me and the Discover Card and those cute shops in Salvation Point.”

That didn’t make him feel any better, but he realized he was licked and agreed to drop them at the dock.

And now he stands here all alone experiencing one of those unforgettable moments of immense transition:

She WON’T fall.

She’s fourteen and a pretty good swimmer and smart enough to stay seated.

She’s not the little girl who couldn’t help but skip everywhere she went, the one who fell out of bed and fell off the jungle gym and fell off her bike and needed him to fix her up and remind her to pay attention.

She hasn’t needed any of that in a long time. She’s done some growing up, and he wishes he’d been paying closer attention.

Because there’s this boy, sitting right across from her, and they’re not fifty feet from the dock and already talking to each other.

She’s going to have different kinds of falls now, harder ones to recover from.

He’s not sure he’s ready.

*   *   *

At first the thing that bothered her most about the whole idea was that she might fall.

As a kid, falls were a major concern. Falls out of bed and falls off the jungle gym and falls off her bike – and Dad was always there to fix her up and remind her to pay attention.

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“At first the thing that bothered her most about the whole idea was that she might fall.”

So the notion that she would embark with her cousin on a three-hour river raft trip without him had her freaking out a little.

(Dad kept singing some stupid song about a three-hour-tour, a THREE-HOUR TOUR, like that meant something.)

“We’re fourteen years old,” said Brittney. “As long as he’s there to pick us up on time, how much trouble can we get into? Besides, it’s better than hanging out with your mom in town.”

She didn’t entirely agree with that, but she realized she was licked and agreed to be dropped at the dock.

And now she sits here experiencing one of those unforgettable moments of immense transition:

She WON’T fall.

She’s fourteen and a pretty good swimmer and smart enough to stay seated.

She hasn’t needed to worry about falling or choking or getting hit by a car in a long time. She wishes she’d paid more attention to the growing up she was doing.

Because instead of Dad – well, hello cute boy across from me!

The falls are about to get harder.

She’s not sure she’s ready.

(Scratchbuilt river raft, factory-painted Preiser and custom-painted Model Power figures, EnviroTex Lite water with clear silicone caulk effects.)

Grade Crossing and Block Signaling 101

Last week I wrote about the grade crossing with working lights The Superintendent and I added.

Electronics are not my thing. Ohm’s law? Amps versus volts? I don’t know what’s watt.

Thankfully the FCFL’s signals chief, AKA my Dad, is an electrical engineer. Here’s Dad on how we made the grade crossing lights work, with a bonus on an occupancy detector for a hidden stretch of track:

FCFL Railway signaling

The FCFL Four Corners Division traverses sparsely populated areas of the Southwest. Given the long distances between stations with few crossings and relatively little vehicular traffic most of the division operates “dark,” that is without centralized traffic control or automatic block signals. Most of the rural grade crossings are protected by stop signs warning road traffic to watch out for trains.

Grade Crossing Signals

signs and grade crosssing 037There are two ways to detect trains and actuate grade crossing signals. One is to detect the locomotive current. The other is to use photocells that detect the light change when the train passes over them.

Detecting locomotive current is simpler and doesn’t depend on room lighting for operation. However, the signal operation isn’t prototypical in that a long train may still be in the crossing when the locomotive exits the block and turns off the signals.

The photocell system provides more prototypical operation by starting the signals flashing before the train reaches the crossing and turning them off once the train is clear of the crossing.

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Photocells are mounted between the rails and flush with the ties. When a train passes over the photocells, the grade crossing signals are triggered.

The Logic Rail Technologies Grade Crossing Pro was chosen for this application. The Grade Crossing Pro module uses four photocells, two on each side of the crossing to detect the train, and has outputs to drive the flashing lights as well as an output to drive a switch machine to actuate gates, although gates weren’t installed for this crossing.

One complication with this crossing is that there are two tracks and trains can be on either or both tracks at the same time and be moving in either direction.

The way to handle this situation is to use two Grade Crossing Pros.  One acts as a slave unit that only detects the train on it’s track and sends a signal to the master one to actuate the lights.

A DC power supply is needed for these units.  A Radio Shack 110 Volt AC to 12 Volt DC “wall wart” power supply was used to power the grade crossing electronics.

The signals work well, even when the crossing is the site of a meet between two trains:

Occupancy Detector for Hidden Track

Between Herbst Junction and the Flagstaff staging area there is a 25-foot stretch of track where the train isn’t visible.

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This headhouse is the eastern end of a 25-foot tunnel. A block detector was installed to alert operators when a train occupies the unseen trackage.

Automatic block signals were installed in this section to provide an indication that the block is occupied.

A Circuitron BD-2 Block Occupancy Detector was used to detect the train and drive the signal heads at each end of the block.  This is a self-contained unit for one block. It detects the train by sensing the current drawn by the locomotive when it is in the block and has outputs to drive the Occupied/Clear signal aspects.

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A westbound train enters the tunnel, and the signal head indicates the block is occupied.

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Twenty-five feet to the west, the train exits the hidden trackage, and the signals show all clear.

Beyond the block occupancy detector module, the signal heads, and about 50 scale miles of wire, the only requirement is the Radio Shack 12 volt supply used for the grade crossing signals.

There is a small voltage drop in the track power going through the occupancy detector.  To compensate, back to back diodes are connected in the power supply to the rest of the layout so there isn’t a sudden change in voltage as the locomotive enters or exits the block.

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Mission Accomplished: Happy Kid.

Signature

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Mom died in May. It was unexpected, a heart attack I guess, and it came on the heels of a couple rough years that included knee and ankle surgeries that left her immobile for many months. But she was getting better, walking without a cane finally and driving herself to the Y and then for coffee and a $1 McDouble with her buddies. She was sixty-seven, and Dad had retired just three weeks earlier – timing that was terrifically cruel to him, in my opinion.

Anyway, Mom knew me better than just about anybody else. We shared our joys and sorrows in a way only a Mom and son can. She understood from her own occasional darkness the melancholy with which I am sometimes tinted, and knew when to offer encouragement and when to shut up and let me be gloomy.

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She also embraced silliness. Reveled in it. She loved musicals – especially Fiddler on the Roof – and one night last winter I had “Sunrise, Sunset” in my head but couldn’t remember all the words. My sons and I got Grandma on the speakerphone and we worked through it until all four of us were belting it out in harmony: “I don’t remember growing older, wheeeennnn diiiiiiid theyyyyyyyy?” Then we said, “Love you Grandma” and hung up. She was always up for that kind of goofing off, and I’m smiling now remembering the laughter in her voice that night.

A few weeks before she died, I was out and about for work and had a little time between appointments, not far from her and Dad’s house. Dad was off somewhere so we ate lunch together, watched Days Of Our Lives, laughed. I don’t remember much of what we talked about. It doesn’t matter. We just enjoyed being together, and that turned out to be the last time we had each other to ourselves.

During that visit I told her I was thinking about naming a restaurant in Salvation Point after her. We talked about what it would be called, and what the sign might look like. Before I left that day, I had her write her name and some of the restaurant names we’d played with on a scrap of paper. That scrap sat on my workbench for a few weeks.

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The night before her funeral, unable to sleep, I went down to the workshop in the wee hours of the morning and got to work.

I took some thin copper wire – 22-gauge maybe? – and “traced” her handwriting by bending the wire with a fine needlenose pliers. Where the letters made angles too sharp to bend, I soldered pieces together (the “n,” the “i,” a few other spots). I also made solder joints where the wire crossed, like in the double Ls, to give the thing some stability. I then bent the whole assembly into a gentle curve and sprayed it turquoise – Mom’s favorite color.

The rest of the sign (“Clean Plate Club”) was just printed from a Word document. The plate was scavenged from a miniature playset of one kind or another that my boys outgrew. (I have a collection of similar tiny plates, spoons, coffee cups, toothbrushes and a very small scissors that I or a modeling friend will someday put to good use.)

The plate and signature I glued to the Design Preservation Models building with CA (super glue).

It’s not a good enough tribute to my Mom, but she would have gotten a kick out of it.

Janibelle Clean Plate Club serves Chicken Paprikash, Chicken Cacciatore, Beef Stroganoff, and darn good chocolate chip cookies – all just like Mom used to make.* It’s the only place I can get the stuff anymore.sign

*In fairness, the secret to Mom’s chocolate chip cookies has been revealed – Dad made them.

ModelStory: Maybe We Should All Shut Down

The teenaged girl – thirteen, fourteen maybe – is good to her little brother. He’s about four and has been sitting on the train for too many hours and all he wants to do is run. She thumbs the screen of her phone with her left hand, squinting to see the display against the sunshine. Her right hand is extended casually to her right side, where the brother grabs the pinky with his fist and runs across in front of her. He lets go when he gets to her left hip and while he runs behind her she absently extends the hand to her right again, where he grabs it and the cycle repeats.

A small kindness, playing this game with him while she texts or posts or tweets. Dad is looking after the bags while Mom is tying the shoe of another brother, six or seven, and Baby is starting to squirm in the holder on Mom’s chest.

IMG_3044The platform at the Salvation Point depot is my favorite place to eat a cheese Danish and watch the people. There’s trouble today, though – the Federal Government is shut down and with it Many Lost Ways National Park.

Eighteen hours on the train and I bet Mom made Dad promise:

“No electronics,” she said. “We are on this trip to be together and I don’t want you looking at your phone every three minutes.”

He nodded, looked up from his iPad, and sheepishly shut it off.

“Work will be there when you get back you don’t need to check your e-mail during our family vacation you know what the doctor said about your stress level.” She said it all in one unpunctuated burst.

So he promised, and enjoyed the train ride – they got the sleeping car with the nice accommodations – and now they are here and he doesn’t know yet about the shutdown.

The daughter, she knows, there was something Aunt Kate posted on Facebook about liberals or GOPs or something but at thirteen you don’t connect that to your family vacation.

And here Dad comes with the bags, grim-faced. He murmurs something to Mom and her shoulders sink, arms go up in surrender.

Salvation Point is a town that supports The Park. It fills little holes of time – a movie theater for when it rains, shops and some nice restaurants, a pool at the hotel – but if The Park is closed indefinitely and you have a large number of what look like demanding children? I’m with you lady. Surrender now.

I don’t have a point to make about The Affordable Care Act or right or left wings or whether the Federal Government should shut down or if it’s such a bad thing if it does. “A pox on all their houses” as my Dad would say.

I look at this family and I consider everything they had to do to get here – spring the kids from school, use up a good chunk of Mom and Dad’s PTO, plan and save and pack – and my heart breaks for them. I can tell by looking that they are Involved. Sports, music, dance, scouts, work, work, work. Not necessarily bad stuff, but these people clearly have forgotten how to take it easy. A week without the Things the Brochures Told Them To Do could kill them. They will have to talk to each other and ad lib and sit on the floor and play matchbox cars and maybe put a couple puzzles together.

Come to think of it, this could be the best trip of their lives. I hope they figure it out.

For My Dad and Dads-In-Law: Have fun, fellas.

Southbound to Salvation Point, if you make it past Milepost 138 without being put in the hole, it means you sleep in your own bed tonight. How many afternoons – early mornings, black midnights – did he roll down this hill toward that sign, fingers crossed, wondering what she’d have on the stove, what homework he’d help with, what might need fixing before he set off again?

Today, no matter what the dispatcher says, he’s going home.

Retirement.

People don’t hold the same job – hell, people don’t work in the same industry their whole career anymore. He started as a conductor on this section in 1969. He got up in the morning, or whenever they called, did what they asked him to do.

Still does.

He remembers all the wonders he wondered, all the worries he worried, rolling past MP 138. There have been answers, but he still has questions.

She married him, thank God, and stuck around.

The railroad taught him to be an engineer.

He rolled past MP 138.

They bought a house, had a couple kids.

He rolled past MP 138.

The kids got older. Her dad died.

The railroad got new equipment. New rules.

He rolled past MP 138.

The kids started driving. Her hair showed a little gray. So did his.

The railroad started using e-mail, onboard computers.

He rolled past MP 138.

The kids moved out, went to college. He paid for it and was thankful he could.

The railroad became FCFL Transportation. Suits from out east started showing up.

He rolled past MP 138.

She got cancer.

She got better.

He rolled past MP 138.

Four grandkids. All boys.

He had a TIA – a “ministroke.” They said he was OK but it scared him.

He rolled past MP 138.

A full life, lived between shifts and during a few weeks of vacation, financed by work he liked and got to do alongside good people. Faces and names he’d learned over four decades. Some of them still around, some gone from the railroad now. Some of them just gone.

“It’s just a job,” he tells his kids. “Do it the best you can but don’t worry too much about it.”

After today, he won’t worry about it at all. Maybe not as sweet as it sounds, but maybe not so bad either. He’s not sure.

The signal’s green.

He rolled past MP 138.