ModelStory: Grade Separation

IMG_3040“You are shtopping? No no no, why are you shtopping?”

“I like ze view here, and I am carrying ze pack so I am a little tired.”

“But I said we are going to ze top! I want to get to ze top!”

“Why ze top? Here you see ze railway, ze river, it’s shady and cooler…”

“But ze top is ze best. From ze top we look down on ze railway, ze river, this, this shady schpott. Ze top. Ze top is always ze best.”

“Why look down on this shady shpott? I am comfortable in my shady schpott. No need to look down.”

“Well I always go to ze top. It is ze best.”

“Well I like it here and maybe I stay where I am.”

“Well maybe I go to ze top on my own.”

“Well.”

“So.”

“Well.”

“So.”

“So maybe we are not talking just about ze hiking.”

(Carved foam insulation and joint compound, hand-painted Model Power figures, Midwest Products Scale Lumber, natural sand from Horseshoe Bend, Page, AZ.)

ModelStory: The Alphabet

???????????????????????????????“You’ve got yourself a whole alphabet there, sir!” sang the cheery desk clerk as Al spelled his last name, checking in to Salvation Point’s luxurious Hotel Delsman. She recited it back to him as she keyed it into the computer, “A-B-D-E-R-K-O-W-I-T-C-S-Z.”

He forced a smile at the pretty blonde, but her comment sent his mind elsewhere. Fifty, sixty, was it seventy years ago?

He sat across the desk from Dr. Pickering at the Brighton School for Troubled Boys. The old shrink thumbed his file, sat forward.

“You’ve got yourself a whole alphabet there, son,” he said. “Maybe we’ll call you that.”

Al “The Alphabet” Abderkowitcsz has resisted the nickname since.

???????????????????????????????Lucky Luciano.

Bugsy Siegel.

Machine Gun Kelly.

Once they gave you a name, it was all over but the shouting. He didn’t stay on the outside, didn’t survive, didn’t play this game well into his eighties by making a name for himself.

He succeeded on anonymity.

Succeeded at what?

“Personal finance,” he would tell you, barely holding back the mischievous grin.

It was the usual stuff, the ABCs of organized crime – protection rackets, bank jobs, running a little booze way back when. He was one of those guys who worked harder keeping his shady schemes straight than he would have at a legitimate job, but the crooked money always spent sweeter.

The money, the power, the life – all sweet. Now, at eighty-seven, a great-grandfather four times over, the sun is setting on Al “The Alphabet” Abderkowitcsz.

???????????????????????????????Surveillance vans in poor disguise are appearing regularly outside his New York City apartment. Wherever he goes – even in Salvation Point – black SUVs whisper to a stop a block behind. The noose is tightening, but so what? It won’t be a grand jury, it won’t be the FBI or the DEA or some ladder-climbing prosecutor bent on putting both their names in the paper that will spell The End of The Alphabet.

They need another year, maybe two to take him down. The tumor on his thyroid will do the job in four months.

But there’s one loose end that needs tying up before he goes. He left an item of immense value high in the hills of Many Lost Ways, a legacy for those four great-grandchildren. He tucked it away when he was a younger man some fifty years ago, and if he can get it back before his time expires his great-grandchildren and their great-grandchildren will never answer to anybody, never lift a finger for their bread.

Of course it will mean the end of Many Lost Ways as we know it; Salvation Point and the FCFL will be changed forever. But he holds no special place in his heart for any of that. Him and his – nuts to anything else.

All he needs is a sturdy back that knows how to stay quiet.

Hey, you look up to it, pal. Whaddya say? Wanna score some quick cash?

(Preiser figures, Design Preservation Models Hilltowne Hotel, Atlas vehicle)

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.

IMG_2484[1]

“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.)

ModelStory: Darn Good Soup (inspired by actual events)

It’s soup season in Many Lost Ways National Park. The nights are cold and the days are gray, and the hearty winter campers are fortified by gallons of sturdy soup – freeze-dried chicken and rice, canned vegetable beef, and one very special batch of frozen, homemade split pea with ham.

It was brought by a young couple who, in a stroke of efficient genius, decided to use it rather than ice to keep their cooler cool. I watched them board the steam train at Salvation Point for a long Valentine’s weekend in the park: Two large backpacks, one tightly rolled tent, one sleeping bag, one large cooler on wheels.

They hefted it all up into the baggage car together, high-fived, stole a kiss.

soup

“They hefted it all up into the baggage car together, high-fived, stole a kiss.”
(Woodland Scenics figures with aftermarket winter clothing added, custom-painted Micro-Trains 40-foot steel boxcar, Play-Doh luggage, scratchbuilt styrene coolers.)

They don’t know it yet but this trip will be their last as a young, carefree couple. Not long after they get home, she’ll find out, then tell him:

“I’m pregnant.”

There will be excitement and fear unlike anything they’ve known before.

They’ll bump along through the not-easy process of growing a family, and they’ll know the immeasurable joy that comes with all that pain.

They’ll never have the time for each other that they do now.

They’ll think back on the life they have now – the seemingly grown-up-enough work of paying the bills and looking after each other – and wonder how they filled the hours.

They’ll have thousands of sunny days. Take dozens of family trips more fun than this one. Eat lots of extraordinarily good soup.

But they’ll never again taste anything like the split pea with ham they brought on that last trip when it was Just The Two Of Them.

4 cups chicken broth

4 cups water

16-oz dried split peas

1 large ham steak, cubed

1 large onion, chopped

6 or 7 carrots, thickly sliced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

2 cinnamon sticks

12 whole cloves

Salt and fresh-cracked black pepper to taste

Combine ingredients in a large pot over high heat until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer on low for 2-3 hours, stirring regularly.

(Love ya, Nik.)

ModelStory: Post-Holiday Buzzkill

travellerfinal

” Jason drew the short straw and had to pick her up at the train station before sunrise the next morning.”

She comes every quarter from Corporate and spends a week rummaging through everybody’s desk and at the end there’s a department meeting where she lists “goal enhancement opportunities” and somebody usually leaves in tears.

It would be fine if she actually understood what they do, but as the Senior VP of Management-Employee Disconnect – or whatever – her visits are unchecked power trips dripping with nonsense.

This quarter she arrived on January 2 which meant an early end to Christmas vacation for everybody.

They all spent the week making colorful graphs and charts from meaningless spreadsheets – someone figured out a long time ago that content isn’t important to her, but if you know how to click “format data series>fill>gradient fill” she’ll pant like a dog.

On New Year’s Day most of the department stayed at the office until past 10 then went out together and got solidly blitzed. Jason drew the short straw and had to pick her up at the train station before sunrise the next morning.

It became apparent early on that her focus this time was something called an “enterprise-wide desiloization initiative.”

“Process compartmentalization challenges our core imperatives,” she announced. “We’re evolving our platform to facilitate cross-mission force integration.”

(She’s enthusiastic about corporate jargon.)

She was armed with stacks of inaccurate, outdated reports and sat at everyone’s desk and asked how they drove internal-external partner engagement with their centers of influence. Frustrating conversations that only served to reveal her utter lack of operational understanding.

She actually said to Michael:

“I see that for December your ratio of source optimization in the departmental space decreased sharply on the 25th. Explain that to me.”

Of course he couldn’t, so the entire department got the assignment to identify the internal and external partners most impacted by process compartmentalization and develop a plan of action for transitioning the paradigm toward desiloed competency achievement. She wanted a spreadsheet with backup data. And graphs.

“And wouldn’t it be cool if we could track which day of the week we are most likely to properly flow-out unit implemenation?” she added. “Let’s build that into the matrix.”

Sixty hours of horse-apple work, due tomorrow.

No one was willing to remind her that a year ago, she declared cross-mission force integration inefficient and formed a committee to proactively mitigate the trans-pollination outreach realm.

Vivian was on that committee. She pulled up the spreadsheet they built for that project and with some deft “find and replace” work had the new document complete. She’ll hold on to it for a little while, change the colors on the graphs.

Meanwhile, they’ll all update their resumes and come to grips with the unhappy realization:

The Holidays are over.

(Custom-painted Model Power figure, Play-Doh luggage (read more), Walther’s Cornerstone Pella Depot, Kato Superliner.)

ModelStory: Attitude Adjustment

“That was the last day I took pride in my job,” Russ Herefeldt says, setting down his coffee. “After that it was just punching a clock.”

A bold disclosure to make to the guy who runs the railroad, but the burly man with the salt-and-pepper beard sits across from me and folds his arms, unapologetic.

I’ll miss that.

He’s retiring after 43 years, and our little breakfast together is a standard parting gift.

(“Gift heck,” he snorts. “I earned it.”)

Indeed.

Russ started with The Five Lakes Railway in 1970, 23 years old and unsure what to do with his bachelor’s of fine arts. He started washing rolling stock, learned to weld and torch, and worked his way up to retire as foreman of the Milwaukee car shop.

The day he lost pride in his job was in 2001.

See, Russ is an artist by calling and a repairer of railcars by necessity. He’s produced a respectable body of work in oils and plans to split retirement between family and canvas.

Not that he didn’t love his job. Russ is the kind of guy who sees the art in a job well done, and can look at something as utilitarian as a boxcar and appreciate it as a thing of beauty.

So it was a big deal for him when, in 2000, management asked him to sit on a committee designing the look of the 80200 series boxcars.

It merged his work with his passion, and should have defined his career.

He worked with the advertising department, produced sketches and life-sized mockups, and even rode the company jet to a meeting with a consultant in Los Angeles. He felt valued and excited to be part of something visible and important for the company.

The pinnacle, he says, was the day the committee presented their recommendation to the board. He wore his only suit and sat in the large, cherry-paneled boardroom.

“We brought beautiful mockups of our design,” he recalls as we leave the restaurant and amble across the yard toward the shop. “It was simple and I think elegant, and after all the meeting and consulting and revisions, looked a lot like my initial vision. It was very satisfying.”

The design – his design – started with a color he mixed up called “Inland Sea.” To the left of the door was the railroad name and tagline, and to the right a blue silhouette of the Great Lakes. A patch of Four Corners blue on the end was a nod to the cooperative arrangement the two roads shared at the time.

inland sea2

“…After all the meeting and consulting and revisions, it looked a lot like my initial vision. It was very satisfying.”

Russ even did two paintings to show the board: a portrait of a single unit, and a landscape showing a railyard with rows and rows of Inland Sea equipment.

He says he almost teared up when they approved the project. It meant his color and his design would become the face of the railroad, seen nationwide.

It was a heady day for a kid who started out washing freight cars.

Now Russ stands by one of his boxcars and shakes his woolly head.

“Four,” he says, holding up calloused fingers. “We managed to get four of them through the shop before they pulled the plug.”

In the shaky times after 9/11, the Four Corners and the Five Lakes decided to solidify their cooperative relationship. Russ admits the merger was the right thing – people kept good jobs, the health insurance was cheaper – but his vision of rows and rows of Inland Sea freight cars was not to be.

“After only the fourth car, they told me to just make them legal,” he laments. “Get reporting marks and data on them and move them out. We had a couple dozen cars in primer, waiting for paint and lettering.”

Coupled to the gorgeous Inland Sea car is another from the 80200 series, it’s drab, mud-colored primer decorated only by those reporting marks and data.

But right of the door, dingy from a decade in the sun, is a silhouette of the Great Lakes.

inland sea

“In forty-three years, that was my one act of insubordination.”

“In forty-three years, that was my one act of insubordination,” Russ smirks. “We used up the vinyl graphics we had in the shop. My last thumb in the eye of change.”

There are a half-dozen boxcars still out there with Russ’ unauthorized artwork on them. He hates seeing them – says they remind him of his powerlessness, of being just another cog in the machine.

Russ always wanted to be recognized as an artist, and that recognition may not be far off. He has some leads on galleries willing to show his paintings. There’s talk of some commission work.

But he won’t let himself get excited.

“I’ve heard things like that before,” he says.

Grand Opening at the Dentist’s Office

The fine folks at the Milwaukee ‘N Southeastern railroad club have been hard at work readying the display layout for Trainfest, November 9-10.

My contribution this year is a dentist’s office in the beautifully modeled downtown section.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have a collection of miniature household items like dishes and toothbrushes from a playset my boys outgrew. During a recent work session I glued two little toothbrushes to one of the downtown buildings, flanking the door on both sides like a whimsical sign for a dental clinic.

Back home, I set to work on this little scene for the sidewalk out front:

dentist

Mascot:

I made the guy dressed up as a giant tooth by applying a glob of Squadron white putty to a Model Power figure. After it dried, I filed and sanded it to tooth shape, then painted it white. I painted the arms and legs and added a small circle of gray for a screen so the guy could see out.

Balloons:

I made the balloons by stripping speaker wire and separating the strands, leaving several very fine pieces of wire. I used a tweezers to make tiny loops at one end of each piece, then dipped them in Testor’s enamel. I hung them upside down from masking tape on the edge of the workbench overnight, then dipped and dried them twice more to build up the teardrops of paint. When they were dry once and for all, I painted the wire silver to mimic ribbon. I used CA to secure them to the hands of the mascot and the poor lad arriving with his mother for a cleaning.

Sign:

The sign was made in Word and printed it on my inkjet printer. I cut it out and sprayed the back with Elmer’s spray adhesive, and pressed it to a thin scrap of styrene. I then cut it out with a sharp utility knife and painted the edges black.

The display layout is currently at the home of a club member 45 minutes away, so I will need to find time to install the figures and sign before Trainfest. I will try to post updated pictures of the completed scene.

I hope to see you at Trainfest, and you better floss!