- Rough day for us baby-boomers. First, Farrah Fawcett loses her battle with anal cancer. This really makes me feel old. I'm old enough to remember her from the days of the original "Charlie's Angels" as well as the iconic red-swimsuit-with-nipples poster--I think that was the all-time best-selling poster of all time, and I'm sure it caused lots of teenage boys to later require eyeglasses as a result of excessive viewage.
- As if to top Farrah in the Celebrity Death of the Day, Michael Jackson went ahead and dropped dead of a heart-attack. Los Angeles police say he was found face-down in an eight-year-old. Wait, that part wasn't true. Amazing how quickly the media had rounded up "experts" in entertainment law, pop culture, etc., to dissect the body before it was even cold. Can you name the other members of the Jackson Five, though? And with Jackson dead, who now is the "King of Pop"? George Michael? Wayne Newton? The world awaits the decision. . .
- And condolences to the family of Ed McMahon, announcer extraordinaire, who kept his house from foreclosure, but, alas, died this week. He was in his 80s. Amazing to me that few folks under the age of 20 have any recollection of him as Johnny Carson's sidekick. Oh, but I sure do. He was the guy who fed Johnny the Carnak questions. He was the prototype for a late-night sidekick before the age of self-loathing, irony, and "Hey Now" Hank Kingsley. Some might have called Ed's schitk syncophantic: question--what makes Ed McMahon laugh at all of Johnny Carson's jokes? Oh, $3 million a year. I'm sure that Jackson's death has bumped McMahon of the cover of next week's "People" magazine, since he was no-doubt barely hanging in there with the "small corner photo" earlier in the morning with the announcement of Fawcett's death.
- Oh, and just to see who reads this blog, I wonder if Chris P. would be as interested in this story once he reads beyond the headline. I know I quickly lost interest. Sounds like the Phillipines is a pretty dangerous place to go MILF-hunting.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
A collage of the great railway logos and emblems we came across. Can you name them all?
The Land of Variety. . .
Not one to keep statistics, but looking back at the photos, we'd seen 33 classes of locomotives (AN, B, BL, CLP, DL, EL, G, GL, GM, MZ, NR, PL, RL, S, T, VL, X, 43, 44, 45, 47, 48, 49, 73, 80, 81, 82, 90, 92, 421, 423, 442, 5000). We'd only missed seeing the CLF, LDP, and 600 class of those regularly found in NSW. These locomotives were found in 24 distinct paint schemes. Try doing that in the US these days!
A B-double petrol tanker in Goulburn. . .
Aussies love their truckkies. No wonder railways are having such a tough time getting a good foothold on freight traffic! The variety of these brawny semi-trucks is amazing; we didn't get far enough out in the bush to encounter the "Road Train" in its 300' glory, but we got plenty of opportunities to view the nearly-as-impressive "B-Doubles", a semi-tractor pulling a fifth-wheel equipped three-axle trailer allowing a second three-axle trailer in tow behind it. These combinations are eating the freight railway's lunch. And almost all the tractors have impressive "'roo guards" up front to slap away creatures (and smaller vehicles) that dare get in their way!
Livestock B-double at Maitland. Love that Roo Bar!
And, they love the Ute!
For a country predominantly rural in its land area, you'd think there'd be more pick-up trucks in Australia. But we sure didn't see a lot of them. US-style pickup trucks are uncommon enough in Australia that Charlie Harris pointed out a Dodge pickup pulling a box-trailer on the Hume Highway near Yass one morning. "Reminds you the states, eh?" he remarked, but it took a minute for his comment to sink in. Big American-style pickup trucks are few and far between in Australia. . .if you need a bed on your vehicle to haul stuff, it's more likely you'll turn to a "Ute."
Sweet-looking Holden in Bathurst. I'd bet these would sell well in the States. . .
In the States, we've had El Caminos and Rancheros (and Subaru gave us a Brat), but these have come and gone without much traction on the buying public. But maybe it's time US Automakers should think about reintroducing the concept here. They'd certainly have better fuel economy, and the utes from Holden and Ford are certainly stylish enough and offer a big variety of rear beds, from a flatbed to a tilting bed to a traditional pickup bed with tonneau cover. Even Mitsubishi offers them, with a crew-cab configuration. What does Detroit have to lose? If a Ford Falcon Ute were offered in the US, I'd certainly consider it! But it's just American culture, I guess, that equates rugged individualism to owning a truck. . that's why Ford sold, for example, over 900,000 F-series trucks in 2006 alone.
Here's a Ford Falcon with a flat bed for hauling. . .
. . and a bright red Holden as well.
Buy Your Gasoline on Tuesday!
The Land of Mel and Nicole
It was fun while it lasted, though. . .
Saturday, June 20, 2009
"I love you, Dad. "
Friday, June 19, 2009
Worth coming home to: The Three Dudes, together again!
Thursday, April 23: The bad thing about flying TO Australia is that you lose a day of your life. The good thing about flying FROM Australia is that you get to live a day over again!
As much fun as we had Down Under, it really was great to get home to our own "reality." And nothing on the trip compared with the feeling of being greeted at the door by Mary and the boys. . .even I. was happy to see me again!
The dudes had worked hard to paint me a Welcome Home sign and greeted me with balloons, hugs, kisses and their big smiles. I did the same! Unpacking could wait--except to dig out the goodies I brought home for them!
I went back to work the following night. Reality set in. Back in the States, back at work. The jet lag was far worse coming back than going. . .it took me a couple of weeks before I'd re-adjusted my already whacked schedule to get my clock back onto a night shift. And then I caught some sort of cold/sinus infection than hung on for a month. There definately was a price to pay.
But it was worth it.
Making dad a welcoming poster. . .
Ready for the reunion. . .
A Quantas 747 departs Sydney: we'll be on the next one home!
Thursday, April 23: We were already packed and ready to go when we pulled out of the Formulae One in Enfield for the last time. Thank God! (I'll post some photos of our various accommodations in an upcoming entry so you can see how tiny this room was.)
Our flight home was scheduled for 130pm, so we had a few hours to kill before submitting ourselves to the check-in process. We didn't want to get too far from the airport, so naturally we opted for the Botany Bay goods line right across the street from the airport entrance. We parked the car in an area visited mostly by aircraft foamers and walked the couple hundred yards down a walking/biking trail along a canal, and under the railway bridge to the east side to wait.
940am: Lots of planes to see, but as yet, no trains. Here's an Atlas Air Freight 747-400F/BCF, one of three operated for Quantas Freight, landing low over the railway bridge. . .
948am: Here comes the first of the parade, the always-reliable T280 P&O Transport Australia shuttle from Yenorra, with the 4477/KL81. . .
. . and a Quantas 757 landing over the top of the train just a minute too late for both to be in the shot, however. . .
. . through the magic of Photoshop, no one's the wiser. . .
1004am: A Pacific National rock train pulled out of the gravel yard at Cooks River, across the bridge, then backed over the bridge on Mascot loop. Though not overly huge locomotives by US standards, that burly 81 class IS an impressive locomotive. We really should be turning the rental in, but we certainly didn't want our last shots in Australia to be of such a common EMD product. So, we waited. . .
1016am: Worth waiting for! The EL from yesterday's T182 has been replaced by CFCLA's 44204 Alco teamed with Southern Shorthaul's GM22. . .
. . Lance (and I) get one final shot, and then it's off to the airport. Farewell, Australia! You've certainly been worth the trip to get to know!
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Nerve Center for Sydney Metro railways: The Rail Management Centre at Sydney Central station.
Wednesday, April 22: Parking was non-existent around Sydney Central, so Lance dropped me off to find a place to park while I went inside to meet Bob Stack. Bob is the guy who assembles the TOC Manual data for CityRail and is an expert draftsman and fine model railroader and has an exceptionally sharp sense of humour as well.
Bob met me at the ARHS bookstore, where I promptly dropped $90 on old modeling magazines, and was threatening to spend even more until Lance showed up. We went outside to wait at a non-descript, unmarked door where we were soon met by the fellow who is the top-dog manager for RailCorp's Rail Management Centre We rode an elevator to the third floor and entered a large conference room where CityRail and RailCorp managers meet to plan "incident recovery" (at BNSF, we'd call it a "war room," but our host reminded us that in Australia, such terminology is not welcomed--yet another fundamental difference between War-loving Americans and Peace-loving Aussies).
The room featured a large display of RailCorp's network and a group of PC monitors that could view any closed circuit camera (there are over 8300 of them) at CityRail stations. We then entered the control centre itself through a large rotating cylindrical security door--just like the ones installed at our BNSF dispatching center following 9/11. Once inside, it was impossible to miss the overview display of the CityRail network that took up an entire wall. Our host informed us that CityRail operates a couple thousand trains a day and handles more than a million passengers. All this is dispatched by only a half-dozen controllers, who each manage several switch towers and signalmen among the many routes in and out of the Metro area--dispatchers who don't control or direct, but don't give any actualy authority to train or maintenance crews!
Right next to the controllers, CityRail security managers dispatched and managed several hundred railway police officers as well as monitored station cameras. The cameras were monitored by the rail control managers as well--one thing Lance and I hadn't considered before is what a different beast a large commuter operation is than a freight railway: it was important for controllers to be able to meter the flow of trains through stations depending upon passenger loads and crowds that could present hazardous situations. It isn't unheard of for passengers on crowded platforms to accidentally fall into the paths of trains; unfortunately, it is not an uncommon event for the folks at CityRail to deal with suicides.
Sandstone clock tower of the 1906 Sydney Central station. At least a couple hundred feet tall, and we were about to climb all the way up. . .
From the RMC, Bob had arranged a very special treat for us: a chance to climb up, up, up inside the clock tower of Central Station. It was our version of the Sydney Harbour Bridge walk, and we didn't have to suit up in special grey and black outfits, wear communications headsets, or pay $180 bucks, either! Through a door, up a small flight of stairs, and then look straight up: there ya go, a narrow stairway around the walls of the tower, 174 steps to where the stairs end. But that wasn't all: through another narrow doorway, and up another small set of stairs. This opened out onto a floor with a view down onto the railway and city below. To the east, the skyscrapers of downtown formed a narrow canyon; to the west, a maze of trackage converged on the station, with a half-dozen trains moving in and out at any one time. Now, up a spiral staircase and through another door; and through one more door and we were at clock level, not much of a view of the city, but a great look at the innerworkings of the four-faced clock millions of commuters glance at as they dash to their trains. Up another set of spiral stairs, and one more open floor with an even better view of the city and trains below. Above that, yet one more set of stairs that open into the top dome (no view here). It was an exhilirating view, and an even moreso exhilirating walk back down. . .around 300 steps back to where we started.
Hot and sweaty in the humid, sometimes rainy air, we returned to the concourse of the station to grab a train one stop west, to Redfern, where we'd detrain and walk a couple of blocks to visit Sydney signal box, which controls movements through Central station. First, a bottle of water, and while I waiting in line at Hungry Jack's near the concourse, I noticed a beautiful, stylish series of murals depicting the New South Wales railways in the 1950s--heroic in scope, with massive Garratts bringing in trainloads of wheat from the countryside to the city silos. I wonder how many passengers through Central pay these any notice?
Inside the Sydney signal box: controlled mayhem. . .
We spent around 45" watching a quartet of signalmen line signals, communicate to trains, other towers, and the controller slipping dozens of trains in and out of several converging lines amazingly complex in their layout. But they made it look easy, and had time to chat with us about our own rail jobs in the states (of highest interest: days off, holidays, and of course, pay). The signal board was a huge slate-grey fronted board much like I'd seen a dozen years ago at the Kansas City Terminal--and it was obsolete then. With a strictly analog display, the signalmen kept track of trains by a day-specific timetable in a three-ring binder before them. As trains departed from adjacent tower districts, the train number would appear on a digital display adjacent to the route it was traveling. For these guys, it was all old-hat; I was confused, though, with the big display of moving lights and "enter-exit" buttons--all manually controlled. Well, some of it manually controlled. Seems a computer is programmed to run some of the routes, but it isn't too reliable, so the signalmen usually put the board in manual.
Change is coming to this box and others in the CityRail system, as a CRT-displayed, mouse-operated replacement is being phased in. By the next time we visit Sydney, the big grey monster in the middle of the room will probably be replaced by a couple of desks with several computer monitors.
The platform flagman prepares to signal a departure from Central. . .
We caught a train back into Central and waited for an express out to Hornsby, on the far northern end of the Suburban Service (CityRail also operates Interurban services as far north as Newcastle). Bob lives a bit beyond Hornsby, at Mount Kuring-Gai, but his wife Deanne was going to meet us at Hornsby for dinner at the RSL club. Bob's position at RailCorp got us into the driver's compartment of our V-set electric train for the one-stop trip to Hornsby.
Freaky: streaking through the night with no headlight, only the station platforms at Rhodes Station light our way as we fly northward towards Hornsby. . .
Bob drove us back to Sydney and Lance retrieved his car from the parking garage. $56 for parking! Fuckin' A! We squeezed back into our tiny Formulae One motel room and took turns using the minimal floor space to pack for the trip home. It was after 1am when we turned in. But we still had another morning of railfanning ahead of us. . .
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Proof we were in Sydney: Lance and Blair in front of the Opera House. A young woman was kind enough to photograph us here; I stood on the ledge above Sydney Harbour and leaped. Lance wasn't quite so free-spirited, though I'm sure the photo might've been better had a gust of wind blown me back into the water. . .
Wednesday, April 22: So, folks back home are asking, you go to Australia and spend two weeks looking at trains and visiting dispatching offices.
Really? How about the tourist shit that you're supposed to do when you travel to the other side of the world?
Okay, here it is. But this is all that there is, so you damn well better enjoy it:
My sister Julie, the world traveler, insisted that I ante up the $189 and climb across the top of the landmark Sydney Harbour Bridge. But: you aren't allowed to bring a camera with you, because you might drop it on a motorist below (and besides, that way they can sell you a photo as well). Not being the type to splurge on such experiences (and being cheap to boot), I stayed on the ground and let other celebrities like Miss Universe, Keith Urban and the Guy from Harry Potter have my place in line. The view IS spectacular, though. . .
So, instead of climbing the bridge, Lance took me to the Lord Nelson Brewery and Hotel in the Rocks district of Sydney, north of the Harbour bridge. The place claims to be the oldest continually licensed hotel in town, dating from 1831, and has some acclaim for its microbrews.
About a block away is this view of Darling Harbour, which 20 years ago was Sydney's main waterfront docks and rail-yard area. Now it's filled with pricey condos and tourist attractions. Too bad the rail yards aren't still there. . .
Anyways, we beat the lunch rush, since they didn't serve before 1115. The Lord Nelson looks like what you'd imagine a Pub should look like, all dark, comforting, polished wood, etc. ..
Lance and his wife Emily visited the Nelson a couple years earlier after seeing it featured on a cable TV food show, highlighting its pub specialty, a blob of mashed potatoes topped with a meat pie and gravy and capped with a scoop of "mushy peas." Well, okay. I like all those elements individually, so armed with a beer to wash it down, I face the specialty of the house. . .
. . which was actually quite tasty. The pie was nice and flakey, and peas had just the right texture. Here's the "bon appetit' photo shoot portrait of the concoction. . .
915am: Just as the day before, and on the same schedule, the P&OTA T280 trip train throttles up as it charges eastward out of Enfield, again with the 4477 and KL81 for power. . .
Wednesday, April 22: After a busy and long previous day, we were right back after it the next morning. This day was going to be even longer: another morning photographing freight trains on the Goods Line, then the obligatory "tourist look-see" on Sydney Harbour, and in the afternoon hooking up with Bob Stack for a tour of the CityRail operations and a trip out to his place in the north suburbs for dinner. A long day, indeed--this day will be split up into three posts.
Our morning vantage point for the procession of freight wasn't too far from the luxury of our Formulae One motel--actually, less than a mile away, on the Burwood Road overpass at the south (east) end of the large Enfield/Chullora yard complex. The Metropolitian Goods Line is a freight-only rail line between Flemington/Sefton on the north and Sydenham on the east. From Campsie, just east of our overpass, to Sydenham, the Goods Line parallels the Cabramatta-Marrickville "Bankstown Passenger Line" (it all makes more sense when you look at a map of the area). It serves as a bypass for freight traffic off the busy passenger rail lines in Sydney, and served as the connection to Sydney's original harbour rail port at Darling Harbour and Rozelle unitl Darling Harbour's freight yards closed in the 1980s and container export traffic expanded through Port Botany, east of Sydenham.
932am: Here comes the Pacific National Manildra-Bombaderry flour train, hauling processed grains from Manildra, near Parkes in the west, down to a Manildra Flour processing plant at Bombaderry, south of Wollongong on the coast. Power is the usual set of twin-81 Class.
1015am: After a bit of a lull, and empty container flat train (we'd call 'em "baretables" in the states) with a PacNational 81 Class, likely bound for Port Botany. . .
1022am: Coming off the South Coast and bound for coal mines north of Lithgow, east of the Blue Mountains is an empty led by an 82 Class and a pair of BL double-ended boxcab EMD's. . .
1033am: Next up, a return IRA service from Port Botany with Helga 1440 on the head end. . .
. . and 1437 on the rear. Skirting the south side of Enfield, this train is likely bound for Minto and will rejoin the Bankstown line at Sefton, proceeding to Cabramatta where it will continue south on the mainline from Granville to Campbelltown to the MIST terminal for unloading.
1035am: T250, IRA's Minto-Botany service, heads east behind HVRT-owned 4461 and. . .
. . .on the rear, LVR 4703 in push-pull.