Toy Trains Go Serious

Many men have memories of a toy train set from childhood. Usually, the train was a gift from Santa or maybe even Dad and Mom. The train sets had names like Lionel, American Flyer, and Marx.

My own recollection is one of spending hours of great fun running the train around the Christmas tree imagining trips across country as the engineer. The set I ran was never really mine. It belonged to the family. In our house, Christmas was the only time the train came out. Our parents allowed us to set it up after decorating the tree. The track layout was an oval with an extension forming a second longer oval. Two switches allowed the engineer to take a shortcut across the short oval. We also had a steel-truss bridge, and a crossing gate.

My dad worked for the railroad and he encouraged us to be interested. In my case, the encouragement was minimal since the mere sight of the set coming out of the closet made my juices flow.

Yesterday, Grandma Peggy and I visited the Chicagoland Lionel Railroad Club open house in New Lenox, IL. The size of the layout is amazing. The club claims it is the largest 3-rail O-Gauge layout in the Midwest, and I believe it. I have seen one other layout that I think is more impressive, and it is at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. The museum layout is different, in that the trains use only two rails.

"The Great Train Story" exhibit in t...

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The Chicagoland Lionel Railroad Club formed in the spring of 1994. The membership is over one hundred and fifty. They own a seven thousand square foot industrial condo clubhouse, and use every square foot effectively. Several new projects are in process as the members continue to build their railroad.

We spent two hours inspecting the details of the villages and watching one of the longest container trains I have ever seen give it a realistic experience. The container train was one of four to six trains running on different  rails all around the layout. They even had a short line trolley shuttling between two points. One very obvious omission was a passenger train, even though several vignettes were train stations with people waiting for trains to arrive. The club probably did that on purpose to remind us of the lack of passenger service available in America today.

The mezzanine level contained three traveling layouts which the club takes to  shows away from the clubhouse. These layouts really amused little kids. One was a carnival, with rides, another had a Thomas the Tank Engine train, and the third layout allowed the kids to play with wooden trains.

I got a valuable education in photography during my visit. It shocked me to learn that my point and shoot camera got what seemed like good photos with the available light. Near the end of the visit, I turned on the flash to photograph a very dark scene, and realized a huge difference in color. At home, I realized all the photos taken without the flash are blurry. It never occurred to me that the camera would keep the aperture open longer to gather light; an automatic time exposure. The blur happened because of my shaky one-handed reach toward the vignettes. All of the moving trains blurred because of the speed at which they were moving. I must get over my reluctance to switch to video mode. I’m just too old for video photography, even though I won awards for my home movies a very long time ago.

Follow this link to the Chicagoland Lionel Railroad Club website where they have lots more photos.

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Bicycle Commuting in 1952

BIKE COMMUTING

After the first couple of weeks of riding the streetcar to high school, it was time to ride my bike back and forth.  She was hard to convince, but Mom finally relented and allowed me to do it.

Why it was so important for me to do it, I don’t know.  Maybe it was the adventure of riding a little over three miles from home on streets that were all strange. My paper-route basket was able to carry my books without any trouble.  This was the first school year that I didn’t deliver papers in a long time.

I plotted a route to take Woodlawn Avenue south all the way to the dead-end at 99th Street.  A right turn swung me toward Cottage Grove.  A left turn put me on Cottage Grove Avenue where I followed the streetcar tracks up to 103rd Street.  At 103rd Street I ducked right under and through the  viaduct to Dauphin Avenue. Dauphin runs parallel to the Illinois Central tracks in a southwesterly direction. It is a narrow street with little to no traffic.  I stayed on Dauphin up 109th where it stopped. I zigged west to Eberhart which turns into 110th place, and finally dead ends at South Park Avenue (Martin Luther King Jr. Drive). I rode the sidewalk along the Mendel property fence to the school gate. On a busy day, I might see two cars during the trip. The twenty-five minutes  it took to ride was less than using the streetcar, especially if the cars were running slow.

Bike route from home to Mendel High School

I parked in a very long bicycle shed with room for fifty bikes behind the Rec Center.  It had three walls and a roof.  There, I locked my bike to the rack and walked the path to the building.  The total distance was short, but I felt like I had ridden to the end of the world.

It wasn’t long before the days got shorter and the weather turned nasty and I was back on the streetcar again.

Following A Secret Dream

Presented here is a photo of Soldier Field, Ch...

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FOOTBALL

The football team at Mendel was as young as the school; one year old.  The young team played games, but always against the Freshmen/sophomore teams in the Catholic league.  Football in the Catholic league was a huge sport.  Since most of the Catholic schools were boys only or girls only, the teams meant a lot to a school.  The dominant footballs teams were from Carmel, Leo, Fenwick, Saint Rita, and De LaSalle.  There were others, too, but these schools dominated the league.

I remember reading about “Red” Gleason, the coach from Leo High School. Leo played in the championships often.  Winning the Catholic school championship meant playing at Soldier Field against the public school champions for the All City Title.  My brother Bill went to St. Leo when Red Gleason coached the Leo team to a championship.

I secretly dreamed of joining the football team.  My limited association with the game came from playing “tackle” on the lawn next to the rectory. Tackle games were few because we had to wait for an evening when Father Horvath was out. I didn’t know about shoulder pads, hip pads, padded pants, jerseys, or helmets. None of my friends did either. Most of the time we played “tag” games in the schoolyard, or on the street in front of the house.

One day, during the spring of my first year, an announcement came: “Anyone wishing to try out for the football team should come to the gym at 3:30 to meet Red Gleason the new head coach.”

Wow!  I thought, Red Gleason, a chance to meet ‘the man’ himself. I couldn’t wait for the day to end so I could rush to the gym to sign up.  Finally, the last bell rang and we rushed to our lockers to put away our books.  There was plenty of time to get to the gym, it was only 3 p.m.  I got there early to stand in line with what seemed like  at least two hundred boys. All of them were anxious to try out for football.

At three-thirty, Fr. McNabb walked into the gym with a short dumpy man, rather portly, with thinning reddish hair.  I recognized him from the pictures I had seen in the newspapers. Red Gleason is really here.

Father directed us to line up single file and shoulder to shoulder. The coach and Father McNabb passed by the line for inspection.  Coach stopped in front of each boy and looked him over head to toe.  Sometimes he asked for a name, or some other question, and occasionally, he even shook a boy’s hand.

It took forever but he finally got to me.  He stopped, looked at me hard and asked, “How much do you weigh, boy?”

I really didn’t know my weight so I answered, “about 90 lbs.”

“Be sure to come to tryout in summer.”

I was in heaven.  Red Gleason asked me to try out for the team!

Of course, the largest obstacle I faced was not the team tryout, but it would be talking Mom and Dad into letting me do it.  Neither of them knew much about the game except that you could get hurt.  I had all summer to do it; now I just wanted to celebrate.

Ideas flooded my mind for how to convince them. After a days of deliberation I decided to work hard all summer to earn my tuition so they would have to let me do it.   The summer of 1953 became the longest summer of my life, and  was also the one that changed my course in a way that tested me beyond all of my dreams.

Father-Son Love Story

This book is a refreshing breath of Spring. Michael Reagan has written a stirring account of his father. He does it only  as a loving son can. Michael’s love for his father shows through in an exceptional manner. He shares stories about his dad that we have never heard before. They are tales from his boyhood and about campaigns for governor and president.

Michael also reminds the reader of the principles that his dad lived by. In so doing he presents a formula for how we can remake America into the Ronald Reagan vision of the Shining City on the Hill. (See my cartoon Shining City Upon the Hill)

I was a young man when I voted for Ronald Reagan. I did so because I loved his positive message and vision. Every time I heard Ronald Reagan speak, he made me feel good. It didn’t matter if it was a campaign speech or a State of the Union Speech, he made me feel great about America each time.  I miss that.

Today, all I hear are eloquently worded speeches that tell me how tired, old ideas don’t work. Well, I’m here to tell you that the speaker who laments tired old ideas that don’t work is espousing even more tired old ideas that have been proven repeatedly to not work. Yet in his mind they are the road to utopia.

Michael Reagan also points out some of the evils we are up against; like  left winger George Soros, and Acorn. He explains how they fit in the Obama playbook, and also how his father would deal with these guys.

In his discussion on how Conservatives should deal with Hispanics, Michael taught me about a little known law passed during his fathers presidency. It is the Simpson-Mazzoli Immigration Reform and Control Act (1986). This act was a bi-partisan way for dealing with illegal immigration. It makes total sense today. A new law based on this act  is currently being promoted by Representative Mike Pence of Indiana. If we want a rational policy on how to treat illegals this act is the way. The law had three major portions in it. They called it a three-legged stool. The law failed because one leg of the stool was not adhered to. See if you can guess which one it was.

1. Improve Border Security  to end the flow of illegal entries.

2. Provide migrant workers with temporary work permits that give them legal entry.

3. Provide a path for the temporary worker to acquire legal permanent residency, and to citizenship.

This law is simple and it is beautiful. It can work if the government had the will to do so. The law failed because our government failed to secure the border. Does that sound familiar? That is why we have  the mess we have today. One Cesar Chavez led a program to defeat the migrant worker program. Do you remember him? He organized and led the union for agricultural workers. It bothers me is that this law is still active. It has not been repealed. It represents another example of  our nation making a big deal about  the rule of law. Laws that Uncle chooses too follow, or to ignore dependent on his favor.  Why have a Constitution and laws if that is the case?

I loved this book for several reasons:

1.0)  I am a Conservative and this is a story about a Conservative, and conservative principles

2.0) it is a Father-Son love story , and

3.0) it gave me suggestions for how I can promote the ideas and principles of Ronald Reagan.

TEN STARS

I Love My Nu-Wave

I Love My Nu-Wave Cooker

Cooking is something that eluded me until I was forced into it. Then, I wanted to be Emiril overnight. I began watching cooking shows on TV to learn. Between the Food Channel with Emiril, Rachel, Mario, Bobby, Paula, Julia, Martha (yes I confess I watched Martha), and the memories of watching my mother in the kitchen I learned the basics.

Hunger is the mother of all cooking, and it became necessary to reinvent myself as a chef to satisfy that basic drive.

Over the past ten years, my appreciation for cooking gadgets has become overwhelming. First it was a proper knife and cutting board, then a whisk, a thermometer, a timer, and a salad spinner. I learned to use olive oil to saute (fry). Peggy showed me a vertical rotisserie for roasting meat, and a electric roaster oven.

The challenge was to use them all to cook, not just good, but great meals. The rotisserie was the first adventure with a whole chicken. Man did it turn out juicy. The success with the chicken led me to try a beef roast; it became another juicy success.

Thanksgiving turned into a challenge. We invited the entire family; all twenty-four of us. The volume of items being brought to the house in combination with the turkey and stuffing put a strain on our oven. That’s when we broke out the roaster oven and used it to make the turkey.

Among the best cooking gadgets ever invented is the George Foreman Grill. What a great way to heat meat evenly. Our first Foreman grill is worn out. It still works, but the Teflon is gone. During our winter hiatus to Arizona, we missed the Foreman so much we bought a new one.  We used it daily. The new one has removable plates and is easier to clean.

Two years ago, we visited friends in Georgia. I chronicled the trip in a post called Needed Downtime. Our hosts, Lou and Lori made us a huge breakfast of bacon and eggs. They cooked a pound of bacon to perfection in a record time without a mess.

“How did you do that,” we asked?

“We used our Nu-Wave cooker,” said Lori.

“What is that?”

That started them raving about this really cool gadget. They told story after story of how they use this thing to cook chicken, steaks, and even vegetables. Of course, we got a demonstration on how easy it is to use, and to clean.

“I’ve got to get me one of those,” I told them.

Fast forward one year.

Peggy and I are tourist shopping in Branson, Missouri. I should restate that, Peggy was shopping, I was gawking at the young ladies behind the counter and trying not to look conspicuous. The next thing I see Peggy walking toward me with a huge box.
“I bought you a Nu-Wave.”

My reaction was that of a normal husband, “you did what?”

“I bought you a Nu-Wave cooker.”

“How much was it?”

“Never mind, just take it, this box is heavy.”

So began my love affair with the Nu-Wave. We’ve had it nearly one year, and I have used it to grill steaks, chicken, pork chops, pork roast, turkey breast, sirloin-tip roast, potatoes, and fish. The feature I love best is the cooking card that gives me cooking times for both defrosted and frozen items.

Very often, we make our menu decision on the spur of the moment. We can take rock-hard frozen pork chops and put them on the Nu-Wave. I set the timer for ten minutes, then turn them over for another ten minutes, and wallah, we have tasty tender pork chops. While the chops are grilling, we microwave a couple of small potatoes, and some broccoli.  In twenty minutes, we went from freezer to table and made a meal fit for a king.

Here are some photos of a whole 5.5 pound chicken fully defrosted and the Nu-Wave. The cooking time is 15 minutes per pound. In seventy-five minutes the meat temperature is right on.

My Nu-Wave is now the favored appliance in the kitchen. At Thanksgiving, the turkey is in the roaster oven and a turkey breast is in the Nu-Wave.

We still use the grillerator, but steaks, roasts, and whole chickens are better on the Nu-Wave.

ANALOG Model Nu-Wave Infrared Cooler

 

Fully Defrosted Chicken

Chicken Rubbed in Season Salt and Emiril's Essence

Chicken Rubbed With Season Salt and Emiril's Essence in NuWave

NuWave Cooking Chart

Cook Times for Poultry

Control Panel With the Power Locked on FULL, and the Timer Setting

Fully Roasted Chicken With the Meat Thermometer

Desperately In Search of Green

When is it coming? The green of Spring, when will it arrive? It’s been gone for five months already, will I ever see green again? Oh how I long to see the color green. Soon, it will be Saint Patrick’s Day, then I will see green. That is not the same as green grass and new leaves on trees. That is the green I long to see again.

Chicago river dyed green on St. Patrick's Day,...

Image via Wikipedia

Today, I searched for signs of green. I found  some hints, but the most I found was brown; ugly, tired brown. Most of it is falling to the ground. Brown too, waits patiently for fresh green shoots to poke up between the tired stems of past.

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I look up to see empty trees longing for life to return. Alas! There are some hints I spy in the fragile tips of grey and brown. Tiny little buds swell with the juice of life returning from Mother Earth. Still grey and brown, but soon to be shoots that unfold into beautiful glorious green leaves. Green leaves that will hide the nests of birds among flexible stems teeming with sap.

Oh! How I desperately need to see green.

Burning Gas to See the Sights-Grand Teton

Every once in a while Grandma Peggy and I get the itch to see some stuff. A couple of years ago we took a trip out west. The destination was Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. The plan was to visit the US National Parks that Peggy has not been to, and then to cross the border to see the things I have missed.

We left on Friday morning and  headed toward Grand Teton National Park by crossing Illinois, and Iowa into Nebraska. We wanted to spend our first overnight in Lincoln, but there were no accommodations to be had. Nebraskans take football seriously and the team was playing their homecoming game.

The last time I visited Grand Teton, I was on a bicycle with my friends. Five of us drove to Yellowstone and then unpacked our bikes to spend a week sightseeing  by bicyle,, and finally ending at Jackson Hole. Another time we camped at Jackson Lake campground as a family. The five of us took a boat across Jenny Lake to hike in the mountains hoping to spot some wildlife. My son Michael was only six at the time and newly diabetic. We hiked as a family for as far as we could when Barb stopped and told me to go ahead with the older kids. She would stop and rest with Mike to make sure he didn’t use up all his energy. It was a wise move. She and Mike sat along the path and waited for us to return.  A half hour later we returned to find two of the most excited people on the face of the mountain. While we continued our search for wildlife, a male moose with a rack the size of our car walked down the mountain and stopped to graze within a few feet of Barb, and Mike. They froze until the big guy ambled off down the mountain. We came back within five minutes of the event. We had not even seen a ground squirrel on our venture up the hill. We had a nice hike back to the boat landing and crossed the lake. It was still a short hike back to our campsite when Mike’s insulin kicked in and used up the sugar he had left in his blood. Barbara instantly turned into paramedic. She ran, carrying her son, to the nearest camper to ask for sugar. Luckily, she found some and stuffed it into his mouth to keep him from passing out.

Luckily, this trip was less eventful than our family camping adventure, but the sights were totally different from the last time. Grand Teton mountain was bare. Every photo on every calendar of the Grand Teton is one with a snow cap. The mountain is not as spectacular without snow. Another difference is that we experienced a grey cloud cover with rain. I have been to this park four times and always saw super blue skies with billowy white clouds; rain came in the late afternoon and lasted for only an hour.

Nevertheless, Peggy and I toured as much of the Park as we had the energy for. I wanted to stay at Jackson Lake Lodge, but that is not a place you can book on a short notice. It is such a popular place, tourists book a full year ahead. Getting a room two weeks before you arrive is like winning the lottery. After striking out, we chose the Painted Buffalo Motel, a two star accommodation in downtown Jackson hole. That is another difference from before when I slept in a tent, and in a cheap motel with a bunch of guys.  The Painted Buffalo is older and worn, but super clean. Most importantly, it is affordable and only two short blocks from all the touristy shops, bars, and restaurants in Jackson Hole. Parking in the town is a premium, and we walked everywhere we could to avoid moving the Avalon. (I still called it the Avalon back then because it hadn’t been recalled for runaway acceleration at that time.)

Jackson Hole brags about having thirty frost-free days each year. We experienced a light frost which disappeared rapidly when the sun appeared. It was September, and we wanted to see quaking aspens reflecting into Jenny lake against a snow-capped Grand Teton. We didn’t see the picture i visioned.

Here is some of what we did see:

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