Thursday, May 28, 2009

New King of the Road for Assholes!

The boobs aren't the only thing here that are fake. . .

I make no bones about my contempt for the American Asshole. It's the American Asshole who is the Poster Boy for everything that is going wrong in this world. Greedy. Self-centered. "Fuck You" to the rest of the world. The kind of guy who is all attitude and stunted maturity.

Really. Who actually NEEDS a Hummer? Besides the military, that is (and if could be argued that the Willy's Jeep was actually a far more cost-effective, durable machine). And they really only need that when they're off on overseas adventures, either preserving our freedom or taking away someone else's.

It's not just the Hummer driver who embodies the American Asshole. I also lump the Mid-Life-Crisis Corvette owners, guys who put those ridiculous big wheel/thin tires on their four-door sedans, and the Chrysler 300 Hemi owners as well. And anyone who thinks a "pissing Calvin" sticker on the rear window is radical, man.

Yeh, American Asshole. We get the idea. You're an American. You can do whatever the hell you want. No matter the consequences. Fuck the rest of us. You'll pollute us with your CO2, you'll burn up far more fossil fuel than one person should deserve to, you'll force us to listen to your loud (chrome-plated) exhausts--and your stereo. Your girlfriends have fake tits, your resumes have fake achievements, and your favorite athletes are steroid cheaters.

I'm sure you'd all love to show us your penises, but I'm guessing the size of the truck means you're overcompensating about your inadequacies in that department.

These Assholes: I'm tired of 'em. I'd go kick their asses if I wasn't afraid they'd shoot me with their concealed-weapon-permitted handgun.

But we're in a new era here in America. The Hummer has been villified as one of the money-losers for GM. . .and it's become passe. What will take its place? Not a foreign vehicle, I can assure you.

Meet the Ford F650. An Asshole Mobile for a new generation!

This thing is really more small semi-truck than pickup. But don't let that stop folks with money from customizing it into something overly flashy and highly offensive to all sense of propriety.
It's powered by a 325hp 6.7 litre Cummins diesel. And tricked-out, it'll cost you at least $100K.

And who has that kind of money anymore, but athletes or rap artists. You can pick up a nice used one--nothing fancy, just a King cab with a pick-up bed) for around $45K. That's about reasonable. The perfect machine to fly your rebel flag off the back of.

Check out the linked website for some amazing ways to spend good money on a flashy, blingy toy. Stuff like this used to make us the envy of the world. Now I'm thinking it's making us the laughing stock.

Me? I'm keeping my 1997 Honda CR-V with 130,000 miles on it. It'll fit in my garage, and for now at least, I can afford the gasoline. And most folks don't think I'm much of a self-centered asswipe when I drive it, either.

This about sums it up: God, the Flag, an obscenely huge pickup truck. All that's missing is the gun in the glovebox to scare homosexuals with.

I'd never heard of Simona Halep before visiting Deadspin today, and I don't follow tennis, so I'd have no idea she won her match in the second round of the French open. Let's hope her operation makes her a better tennis player (and doesn't take away too many commercial sponsorship offers). And leave it to the Brits to put a Page Six spin (complete with video) on the story. . .

Meanwhile, the predominant male 18-45 demographic is letting out a collective "Noooooo!!!"

Monday, May 25, 2009


Got this in the mail last night:

Men Are Just Happier People-- What do you expect from such simple creatures?
Your last name stays put.
The garage is all yours.
Wedding plans take care of themselves.
Chocolate is just another snack.
You can be President.
You can never be pregnant.
You can wear a white T-shirt to a water park.
You can wear NO shirt to a water park.
Car mechanics tell you the truth.
The world is your urinal.
You never have to drive to another gas station restroom because this one is just too icky.
You don't have to stop and think of which way to turn a nut on a bolt.
Same work, more pay.
Wrinkles add character.
Wedding dress $5000. Tux rental-$100.
People never stare at your chest when you're talking to them.
New shoes don't cut, blister, or mangle your feet.
One mood all the time.
Phone conversations are over in 30 seconds flat.
You know stuff about tanks.
A five-day vacation requires only one suitcase.
You can open all your own jars.
You get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness.
If someone forgets to invite you, he or she can still be your friend.
Your underwear is $8.95 for a three-pack..
Three pairs of shoes are more than enough.
You almost never have strap problems in public.
You are unable to see wrinkles in your clothes.
Everything on your face stays its original color.
The same hairstyle lasts for years, maybe decades.
You only have to shave your face and neck.

You can play with toys all your life.
One wallet and one pair of shoes -- one color for all seasons.
You can wear shorts no matter how your legs look.
You can "do" your nails with a pocket knife.
You have freedom of choice concerning growing a mustache.
You can do Christmas shopping for 25 relatives on December 24 in 25 minutes..

No wonder men are happier.

Friday, May 22, 2009

OZ Day 10: Once more on the Main South; rugby on a rainy night in Sydney. . .

The sunlight barely held on for the shot at Oolong. . .
Monday, April 20: So, we'll give this Main South thing one more try. Skunked the day before from getting not only the QR National train with CL's up front (they finally passed through Gunning westbound around 5am!), but the weather sucked, too.

So, this morning it's nice and clear, and we have two eastbound coming our way out of Cootamundra. Granted, they're the usual, garden-variety chunder-inducing Pacific National container and steel trains, meaning they'll be powered by the most-stupefyingly dull power you can find in Australia, a pair of NR class (this would be like going to the Union Pacific in the mid-1980s and finding--gasp!--SD40-2's). But, at least we'll have some trains headed our way into the sun.

The first train we set up for just west of Gunning at Oolong, where the railroad negotiates a tight horseshoe curve and comes under an overbridge. We set up, the sun looks good. Train arrives--with the expected dull-ass NR's up front in bleached-out National Rail paint--and sun dips behind a cloud just as he gets in range.

Not to miss: The Naughty sign near Yass. . .

We retire to the Merino Cafe for brekkie--I had an early lunch, actually, and got into the spirit of the area with lamb on pita bread--and then head west to Yass Jct. for the second train. But first things first: we stop to take a shot of the delightfully-naughty (for pervos like us) Macca's sign declaring "MYass, Open 24 hours". Then we wait for the eastbound, a PacNational steel train bound for Port Kembla behind. . .a pair of NR's! At least the trailing one is in Indian-Pacific paint. We follow this train east, shooting it coming past the blades at Jerrawa, at Gunning, and at a pair of locations climbing over the Cullerin Range. It's really just an exercise in "we were there" rather than inspired rail photography. The sun comes and goes, it spits a bit of rain, and then goes into the clouds to stay; we decide to head east for an appointment in Wollongong.

Eastbound steel train leaves Yass Junction: two NR's. Ho-hum. . .

. . .and again at Jerrawa, past more semaphores. . .

. . an climbing towards the summit near Cullerin. . .
Charlie and Paul will be returning home after a week with Lance and I. We've been invited to visit Andreas Keller's place in Wollongong, see his model railway, and then Lance will head out with Charlie and Paul and bring them home. I'll go into Sydney with Rick Schoenfelder where we'll somehow get to Leichhardt Oval, a classic old rugby field on the northwest side of downtown near Rozelle, where we'll catch the evening National Rugby League match between Wests Tigers and the Melbourne Storm.

First, we must get to Wollongong, and we head out of Moss Vale on a narrow 2-lane highway that at times is hairpin-upon-hairpin. How commercial trucks can meet on this grade is beyond me: some curves are restriced to 15km/h! It reminds me of that popular Powerpoint show of the outrageously narrow and dangerous highway across the Andes mountains--the kind where big rocks are used as guardrails! It isn't quite that narrow, but it IS impressive, and precipitous. The road widens halfway down--a point the highway department is proud to declare with roadsigns. It's a beautiful ride if you don't have to drive. Thankfully, Lance did little rubbernecking.

One of the faster curves: that 25km/h, NOT mph. . .
We meet up with John Wilson, Andreas and Rick, and head to Andreas' place, where he shows off his fine-looking and smooth-operating HO layout: three 2' X 15' or so decks stacked atop each other, connected by a double helix in a crawlspace behind the garage. He's also kind enough to show off several of his exquisite models, several of which were entirely scratchbuilt from resin parts cast from his masters. The guy is a monster when it comes to modelling.

Just a small portion of Andreas' layout. Here's more

And Andreas' helix. For some reason, he says, folks like to look at the helix as much as the "front" of the layout! Having built a helix, I know I do!

The stadium at the end of the street: sorta like Fenway. . .
A Rugby Match!
Lance and Paul and Charlie took off for the big city, and Rick and I caught a train from "the Gong" into Sydney, up the spectacular route along the Tasman sea. Amazing piece of railway! Tunnels, curves, coal mines, views of crashing surf. Then suburban stations, multiple mainlines, flying junctions, commuter trains three-abreast pacing each other into Sydney Central. We arrived at rush hour, hastily leaving Central and walked across the street to catch a bus to the Leichhardt neighborhood--we hoped. Several folks were wearing Wests Tigers jerseys and such, so we figured if we'd follow them we'd somehow get there. Rick just happened to have a large purple Melbourne Storm banner with him, probably something you don't travel all the way from Newman with unless you think you'll be going to a Storm match.

Leichhardt is a classic old downdown stadium, set down in a working-class neighborhood. I kind of equate it to a Wrigley Field without the Yuppies or Fenway Park without a green monster. A new grandstand replaced an older wood structure that was torn down after termites devoured much of it. We walk from the bus several blocks past houses in an older neighborhood. The crowd is excited for their teams, boisterous, but tolerant as well. One group of fans I photograph turn out to be from Corvallis, Oregon. Fancy that.

We purchase bleacher seating for $25/seat. It's general admission, sold from a trailer. The stadium is old and has lots of character. The men's bathrooms are in a tunnel reached from the end zone area. Those without seats in the fancy new grandstand sit on old wooden benches (how old? We saw several of them collapse under a guy who weighed considerably less than I do)ringing the other 3/4 of the field; above the dozen or so rows of benches is a large grassy area where others stand or sit on blankets. A temporary JumboTron is set up. There's one scoreboard, and it's manually operated. From a Major U.S. Sports perspective, the place reminds one of what the NFL must've been like in the 1930s--or what urban high school football is like in many places today. The atmosphere was similar: dimly lit, with cheerleaders, a loud, makeshift PA system, and players who enter the field bursting through a big banner. One interesting aspect of Australian sport: bookies are allowed to take bets right on the ground, from a booth set up inside the entrance. Try THAT, NFL!

Leichhardt has the feeling of a hardscrabble urban high school football stadium. . .

Being this close to the action is part of the place's appeal. . .
Leichhardt isn't Wests Tigers primary stadium; they play only three games a year here, the rest in suburban Campbelltown. Ten years ago, the Balmain Tigers called this place home, but slumping economics in National Rugby League--despite its "national" name, its teams primarily play in New South Wales--forced Balmain to merge with rival Western Sydney Magpies, creating the Wests Tigers. But Leichhardt is still near and dear to rugby fans, who are closer to the action here than in any other field in the league. It is definately not a fancy place to play. It's down and dirty and honest, which you can't say about many football fields in the U.S. anymore.
The single Jumbotron is brought in for the game; most of the 12,000 spectators sat on a grassy hill.

None of those NFL pussies playing here!
I was only vaguely familiar with rugby, my limited exposure to it largely coming from watching club games in college, where rugby was largely an athletic competition used as an excuse to party after the game. (For a full discussion of NRL and how their game differs from other forms of rugby, go here.) Suffice it to say, though, that Rick was right about pro rugby: it makes the NFL look like a bunch of effite, panty-waist, overpaid pampered wussies. NRL is played all-out for the full game, end to end, and apart from a half-time, non-stop. There's no blocking--it's you and the ball and a wall of guys in front of you wanting to mash your face into the turf.

This evening, it was wet turf. It began sprinkling, and then, for a bit, pouring. Rick brought an umbrella, thankfully. We ate foot-long hotdogs (only $4AU) and drank cokes ($3AU)--prices like these, no wonder the league is teetering on financial ruin: where are the $7 beers and $5 puny hotdogs we're used to in the States? The game ended with Wests leading 16-9. We were soaked, but had a blast. We caught a bus back to Central where Lance met us. Rick took a train back to the Gong (he had a flight out of SYD in the morning, and he was about to have a very short night of it), and we headed towards Enfield to bed down in our spacious and oh-so-luxurious accomodation on the third floor of the Formulae One Motel. No elevators. And 70 lb. suitcases.
Lance sure missed a good one.

The lone scoreboard: manual, of course. Nothing fancy.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

OZ Day 9: Giant Concrete Sheep Testicles, Rain, Few Trains on the Main South. . .

John, Paul, Charlie, Lance and Blair at Goulburn's favorite photo stop. . .

Sunday, April 19: This truly was the most disappointing day of the trip so far. We started with two strikes against us: cloudy skies when we woke up, and no trains. A check of Charlie's Magic Box before leaving the motel in Gunning didn't offer us much in the way of hope for the day's trains. Nothing out of Albury, several hours to the west, and it looked like the first two westbound were several hours away. So we all had a great breakfast at the Merino Cafe, the sort of place you really wouldn't expect in rural, tiny Gunning: a funky, hip atmosphere, a higher-level of menu sophistication than the usual small-down diner. After the French Toast was put away, we headed east to Goulburn, one-time terminal on the double-track main south between Sydney and Melbourne.

These days, Goulburn is familiar to travelers on the Hume Highway for the giant Merino ram statue on the west side of town. Australia has had a long history of erecting giant "things" alongside their highways, from apples to axes, guitars to bananas, cheese, cherries, and chook. And now this ram, honoring the area's wool growing heritage (New South Wales, the saying goes, was carried on the back of sheep). The 45-foot-tall concrete ram has an illuminated "evil eye" you can see from the traffic circle out front, but what really gets the tourist's attention--and gives them a knowing smirk--is the, um, anatomically correct backside. Specifically, the humongeous set of balls this ram has that must be 6 feet in diameter. Kids to adults to grandparents: they all can't supress a smile and a second glance while walking by. And which end of the ram do you think most people pose in front of? It ain't the front! And we weren't immune, either, posing for a group shot before heading into the gift shop to pick up some Aussie trinkets.

The Giant Merino: Impressive from the front. . .

. . and even moreso from the back!

The skies looked dark and wet to the east; Lance, Paul and Charlie headed off to the downtown station to pass time, John and I visited the Goulburn Rail Heritage Centre at the old loco depot, which has a pretty good-sized collection of preserved--some, even restored--railway equipment. There's the bus-like pay car that carried Queen Elizabeth; several steel passenger carriages; a few freight wagons, guard vans and commuter cars from Sydney as well. Two NSWGR diesel locomotives are also part of the collection, 421 class Bulldog 42101, in worn candy paint and under slow restoration, and beautifully restored Alco 4821 in glossy Indian Red paint. John and I checked out the tiny cab of the loco, complete with dual control stands and a hot plate for the billy. It was clear that most railroaders who worked on these were a bit more trim than myself, as I had to squeeze through the narrow doorway before John could get a photo of me at the controls. Also at the roundhouse were two other bulldog GM's, ex-Australian National GM 19, and former Victorian Railways S312, privately owned by an individual restoring them for lease service under the name "Rail Power." The S appears to be about ready for service, in shiny black and yellow paint; the GM19 has a ways to go.

Candy-painted bulldog 42101 inside the Goulburn roundhouse. . .

Blair and John pose in nicely-restored Alco 4821. . .

42101 undergoes slow restoration . . .

. . while privately-owned GM19 and S312 await their return to service.
Reunited with the others, we watched an eastbound Explorer come and go at the station, then headed in the direction of Sydney. A Pacific National intermodal train was headed our way, and hopefully behind him would by the 7BM7 QRNational train, supposedly with a CL-class bulldog leading. It rained off and on the further east we went. The QRN train was falling further and further behing schedule. We drove into Exeter, a small country town with photogenic station and signal tower (now closed) and watched another Explorer blast through town at speed, literally clearing the high-level platforms by inches. It was looking bleak for any trains today on this the "transcon"of Australia. John bid us adieu, with appointments to keep in Canberra, and the rest of us headed into Bundanoon and photographed the westbound PN train behind "Southern Spirit" painted NR 85 in bleak, bleak light--thanks to the capabilities of digital, making a good action shot in these conditions is possible.

Sydney-bound Griffith "Exploder" departs Goulburn. . .

Canberra Explorer flies through Exeter on the Up main. . .

Pissing rain at Bundanoon for westbound PacNat container train. . .
Ever hopeful that our QR train would depart the Sydney area AND we'd suddenly be honored with an amazing break of the clouds and a perfectly-timed shaft of light, we waited a bit more in the murk and rain at Burradoo. . . and had no such luck. Sunset--in theory, at least--was just moments away, and we drove back to Gunning for yet another fine Chinese dinner and put an end to a day with very little to show for our efforts. After dinner, we took several star-streak shots in beautiful downtown Gunning, photographing upper-quadrant semaphores and the goods crane against a stunning sky before the clouds which had been with us all day once again exerted their dominance over the sky.

Waiting, and waiting, and waiting. And you KNOW the light will only get better!

Semaphore and stars at Gunning. . .

and the unused goods crane as well. . .

Thursday, May 14, 2009

You Gotta Have Faith!

A HUGE Panorama of the Ballpark. . . click on it for the "being there" experience!

I'm sure it's no Revelation (no pun intended) that many think of Baseball as a form of religion. Certainly, popular media hasn't been shy in drawing parallels between this perfect game and one's belief in a higher being. No less a theologian than Annie Savoy in the movie "Bull Durham" opined that:

"I believe in the church of baseball. I've tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I've worshiped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic's rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn't work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there's no guilt in baseball. And it's never boring .... It's a long season, and you gotta trust it. I've tried 'em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the church of baseball."

And so eldest son E. and I were among the faithful Thursday afternoon at the Temple in Arlington, saying prayers to the Gods of Baseball from Section 35, Row 14, Seats 6 and 7, joined by 24,000 close friends and parishoners as our Texas Rangers once more sought divine intervention in a ninth-inning comeback to beat the Seattle Mariners.

Diggin' a great spring day at the ballpark. Playing hooky from school, too!

Getting an autograph from Marlon Byrd--E. got Brandon McCarthy too. . .

And whether or not you believe in a God or not, you've got to believe in the Rangers, as for the second game in a row, our local boys snatched victory from the arm of Seattle closer Jeff Morrow and scored a walk-off victory. Wednesday night, it was a two-run 11th inning double by Hank Blalock that brought the Rangers victory, 6-5; Thursday, the all-or-nothing hitting of First Baseman Chris Davis did the job, knocking a two-run homerun over the fence for the 3-2 win. And the crowd went wild.
It's been fashionable the past ten years or so to poo-pooh Texas pitching. And, granted, it's still early in the season to pronounce the AL West-leading Rangers favorites to win their division. But one needs faith--and the Rangers' prayers are being answered with a strong starting rotation (don't let the team ERA fool you; the Ranger pitchers have been red-hot the past few weeks) actually led by bottom-of-the-rotation guys Scooter Feldman, Brandon McCarthy, and Thursday's winner Matt Harrison, who went over 100 pitches pitching a complete game. Harrison had gone 22 scoreless innings before Seattle scored twice in the fourth. It's been Rangers' president Nolan Ryan's goal all year to toughen-up his pitchers, to get them to work later in the game to lessen the workload on the bullpen. With the number of quality starts already from the starting five, Ryan's plan is bearing fruit. Whether it will hold up through the long, hot days of summer will be worth watching.

Bottom of the ninth, one out, runner at second, Rangers down 2-1. Chris Davis connects. . .

BALLGAME! Rangers win! Second day in a row for ninth-inning theatrics. Davis leaps into the arms of his teammates at home plate. . .

. .this one would've been superb--with Davis' smiling face and the dejected form of Mariner reliever Morrow walking off the field--if an errant arm hadn't ventured into the frame. . .

And E. goes crazy!
Thursday's game was well pitched by both sides: Seattle Ace Felix Hernandez was scoreless in his seven innings. Life must suck for Morrow, just back from injuries and having given up the game late two days in a row.

If anything is disquieting about the Rangers this past week, it's been their offensive production. But keen pitching and being able to hit in the clutch has won games for them and put them atop the division. We'll see how they match up against the Anaheim Angeles of Los Angeles when they come to town this weekend for a series that could well set the tone for the next quarter of the season leading to the All-Star break. But you've gotta have faith. . . .

16-year-veteran umpire Wally Bell: right out of Central Casting.


E. was wondering during Thursday's game my unusual interest in the umpires--how they ate sunflower seeds (the field umpires, anyway) during the game, how they moved about the field unobtrusively to be in position to make calls, their mechanics in their calls, etc. It's not like I'm thinking about a mid-life career change, but I'd just finished Bruce Weber's excellent book "As They See 'Em", a fascinating look at the little-explored baseball sub-culture of officiating. Few umpires really go out of their way to call attention to themselves--the best ones work so under the radar that you'd hardly notice that four big men roam the field amid the fleet of foot ballplayers. Weber became interested in umpires when he attended an umpire school in Florida on assignment for New York Times. This further piqued his interest, and he spent the next two years umpiring high school and amateur adult games and following minor league and major league umpires around.

What emerged is a portrait of men (on the major league level, it is entirely male; nearly so in the minors) who are if not hated, then disrespected by players, owners, and the officialdom of professional baseball alike. The calling to umpiredom takes a special breed, a sort of old-west sherrif-type who must make calls because morally, it's the right call to make, and say the hell with the ramifications or reactions for all effected. Only a very few ever make it even to triple-A, let alone the major leagues; most are let go after several years if they don't advance into the higher echelons of the profession. Until one reaches the major leagues, the pay is horrible, the travel even worse, and gorumet eating on the road would consist of a Denny's Grand Slam. Once you make it to the bigs, Umpires shouldn't expect any more support or respect from MLB mangement than they got working in some backwater minor-league: umpires, one memorable passage declares, are seen not as human beings by management, but as a necessary evil, an item--like a base. But unlike bases, they have emotions, they miss calls--they're imperfect.
Like priests, I suppose. Which brings me right back to the religious analogy.

E. and I got good seats for the Thursday game--that is, not the cheap ones we usually sit in as a family, but right along first base just past the dugout. It was my way of rewarding him in a little way for the hard work he's done so far this year in Second Grade--he's a straight-A student, with grades in all his subjects all year long consistenly about the 95% level. I'm very proud of E.--and of I. as well--but sometimes get worried that he might descend into some sort of baseball statistics geekdom. I guess I'm an enabler, as I bought the Rangers Media Guide for him, several hundred pages of records, statistics and general trivia about major league baseball (he's already discovered that in 2007 the best ERA for Rangers starting pitchers was Kevin Millwood at a bit over 5 runs-per-game. Contrast that with the early 1970s, when team leaders routinely pitched for the season below 3!)


E. is just a couple of games away from completing his final spring league session in Coach Pitch Little League. It's been a struggle, the transition from hitting off a t-ball stand to stepping up and using a bit more hand-eye coordination to put the ball in play. But E. this spring has done an exceptional job, striking out only a couple of times in the past half-dozen games. Perhaps his motivation is financial? To sweeten the pot for him, I told him each time he hit safely I'd contribute $5 to his piggybank to spend later this summer when we head to Chicago to take in a Cubs game. Since then, he's been on fire. But I might have created a monster. After an evening game Thursday night, E. emerged from the dugout and made a bee-line right to Mr. Moneybags: "Dad, that's $35 now!" Much more of this, and I'd expect Scott Boras to start accompanying him to arbitrate for more money.

E. in a little pre-game warm-up action. . .
. . and all serious getting a hit in a game. . .

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

OZ Day 8: Chasing 1871 on the Main West. . .

Today's target: Patrick PortLink #1871, grandly departing Lithgow a few hours late behind a matched set of ex-National Rail DL class. Sweet!
Saturday, April 18: We were up and on the road a little later (7am) than we'd originally planned (5am). Charlie was up early, and had been in touch with an engineer friend who was taking the Patrick PortLink train #1871 west from Sydney. This was the train we were set up to chase today, normally figured into Bathurst around sunrise en route to Dubbo. Charlie's friend was still in Sydney. . obviously this train was going to be late. The 1871 being a bit late wouldn't be a problem--today, it seems, it would traverse a very scenic stretch of railroad from Lithgow to Bathurst in daylight. We'd been over this piece of railroad the previous Monday when we chased the RTM special from Orange. Daylight rail traffic on the Main West from Lithgow to Orange and on to Dubbo has been scarce in recent years. Previously the route for most transcontinental trains avoiding the more southern route thru Melbourne and Adelaide, the cross country freight services operated by Pacific National now divert at Parkes to join the Main South for the trip into Sydney at Cootamundra. All that's left on the Main West, for the most part, are the Dubbo trains (one a day each way), trains to and from a welded rail plant at Bathurst, and a couple of local schedules. A daily XPT passenger train runs to and from Dubbo; the fabled Indian-Pacific, now more a cruise train than an actualy passenger conveyance, operates just one day a week between Sydney and Perth.

No deer here: Beware "Skippy" and "the rock with feet). . .
From Mudgee, we took the Castlereagh Highway through more scenic country. At one point, we were high on a ledge above the Wolgan Valley looking into the Gardens of Stone National Park, an area Charlie said was the world's second-longest deep river canyon (after the Grand Canyon). A rail line from Wallerawang was visible at times in and out of the trees; a couple of coal mines near Cullen Bullen and cement traffic from Kandos generate traffic which goes west over the Blue Mountains to Sydney at Lithgow. At times, the road is narrow, and as always, there are warning signs for Kangaroo and Wombat.

Saturday-only eastbound IP on Farmer's Creek viaducts. . .

. . classic stainless steel consist. . .

and an auto rack on the rear. Can anyone identify those stylish automobiles?

Driving into Lithgow to begin our intercept of #1871, skies were partly cloudy, the onshore flow socking in Sydney threatening to spill out into the Central Highlands. We noted a few gunzels along the right of way coming into Lithgow; we guessed that they were out to photograph the eastbound Indian Pacific, so we set up for a shot of the train crossing the Farmers Creek arched viaduct at Bowenfels on the outskirts of Lithgow. We didn't have to wait too long before Indian Pacific painted NR28 and DL48 still in Australian National paint led the stainless steel streamliner into town, trailed by a single bi-level autorack filled with some pretty fancy looking automobiles.
Charlie was back in contact with the driver on 1871: they were on their way out of Sydney and were being recrewed east of us. We had time for breakfast at Maccas and setup for a shot off the highway just west of the Farmer Creek bridges. We were joined by respected Australian rail photographer and author Peter Attenborough; he was out chasing 1871 as well.
For the past few months, the 1871 had been the "photo train" for fans in the Sydney area, as it had begun running with sets of DL class Clyde/EMD's--the first time, really, that the DL class had led trains regularly in New South Wales. A few had been repainted into Pacific National paint, but the majority were running around in ratty versions of the Australian National green and yellow or the National Rail charcoal and marigold paint. These were 710-series powered locomotives delivered in the mid-1980s and featured an odd (from a North American standpoint) shovel nose design on an F45-like carbody. They were a later manifestation of the mansard-carbody locomotives delivered for Commonwealth Railways/Australian National (Western Australia standard-gauge) like the bulldog-nosed CL class and boxcab AL and BL versions. They hadn't been used in the leading position in New South Wales due to lack of Countrylink radios, but PacNat had transferred most of the fleet of XX into NSW and were outfitting them accordingly. They were, one fan put it, the "flavor of the week" for photographers.

Descending through the Sodwalls horseshoe. This section of the Main West was once double-tracked. . .

And 1871 leaves Bathurst, crossing the ancient MacQuarie River Bridge. . .

Climbing legendary Tumulla Bank. . .

. . and passing the old station at Newbridge. . .

#1871 showed up around 1100 with a nice National Rail-painted set of DL47/DL49 , and the chase was on. We highballed to Sodwalls next to photograph the train winding around the green hills, and, with Lance expertly handling the twisting, narrow backroads, photographed him in three more locations before reaching Bathurst, where the train set out local cars. We photographed 1871 next tiptoeing at 10kph across the ancient iron bridge over the MacQuarie river, scheduled for eventualy replacement, and headed up into the highlands and photographed him six more times climbing over Tumulla Bank. Charlie's knowledge of the area netted us the best single chase on the trip in terms of photographs.
We broke off the chase at Blayney and headed towards the Main South line via Cowra, paralleling the mothballed railway between these points through some beautiful country of rolling hills, golden grasses, and large gum trees. The vegetation had become noticably drier, the result of an ongoing drought that hadn't appeared to be effecting the North-West as badly.


Obligatory backlit semaphore shot at Jerrrawa. . .
We were en route to Gunning to meet up with several friends who had gotten together for a day of railfanning; we jogged from Cowra southeast to Bowning, where we met up with the Main South. Charlie checked the "magic box", and it appeared an eastbound perway train was right in our area, if not a little ahead of us, behind 8171 for lead unit. We blasted east on the Great Western Highway and north to the tracks at Jerrawa, where the setting sun was bathing everything in a golden glow.
Apparently, the color light signal replacement program hadn't gotten to Jerrawa, as a half-dozen upper-quadrant semaphores protected the manual crossovers at each end of town. We shot the obligatory "setting sun behind semaphore blade" shots and set up for a killer glinter of the 8171 leading another 81 class an a green X class EMD. We done good.

My Favorite shot of the day (and maybe the trip): eastbound empty sleeper train at Jerrawa. . .

Driving into Gunning on the back road, we spooked up our first herd of "skippies" near Oolong. At arrived at Gunning's station just after sunset, where John Gillies, from Canberra, John Wilson and Andreas Keller, from Wollongong, and Rick Schoenfelder of Newman were all hanging out. We shot the bull with them for a bit before John W., Andreas and Rick headed back to the 'Gong. John Gillies was going to overnight with us and spend the next day gunzeling on the main south. We got our nice rooms at the Gunning Motel and headed over to the Chinese Restaurant for beers and a great dinner, made all the more memorable by the "robo waitress" who was unflappable, unemotional, and uncommunicative in her service. It was a riot!

Our only Skippy encounter, near Oolong. . .