Monthly Archives: October 2019

It’s a big, big boy

Railroads & Trains logo

I have been tracking the historic Union Pacific Big Boy #4014 steam locomotive since it returned to the rails in May after being a static museum piece at the RailGiants Museum in Pomona, California, for 53 years.

I visited Ogden and Promontory Point, Utah, for the 150th anniversary celebration of the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. More on that trip in my blog post here: Historic trains in Ogden, Utah.

After Big Boy finished in Utah, it returned home to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where it is housed at the Union Pacific steam shops. There it stayed for a few weeks before it embarked on a 2019 tour of Union Pacific territory but only on tracks owned by Union Pacific or tracks over which it has trackage rights. First it went to the mid-west, including Chicago. Then home to Cheyenne for a break.

On September 27, it headed to California, arriving on October 11. That’s when I sprang into action, hopping in my car and chasing it throughout Southern California—Bloomington, Victorville, Barstow, Yermo, Colton, Beaumont, Indio, and Niland.

I only have 31,415,926 pictures and videos which will take the rest of my life to process, but following are some of my better ones so far.

The picture and video below is of Big Boy 4014 going north through Cajon Pass on October 12, heading to Victorville from Bloomington. Big Boy 4014 was built in November 1941, and this is only the second time it has been through Cajon Pass under its own power, and the first time going north, which means it was climbing a 2.2% grade, quite steep for trains. Cajon Pass handles about 150 trains each and every day, going north and south, for both Union Pacific and BNSF.

Union Pacific Big Boy 4014 in Cajon Pass on 10/12/19

Once it climbed out of Cajon Pass, it made a pit stop in Victorville before heading to Barstow. It took me quite a while to get out of the Cajon Pass because of the crowds….Big Boy train watchers in Cajon Pass on 10/12/19

….so I did not stop in Victorville. Just drove by the station to have a look-see. I headed to Barstow, a historic station with a historic Harvey House depot still standing….

Harvey House in Barstow, California

….so I knew there would be crowds there. Indeed there were.

Crowd watching Big Boy in Barstow on 10/12/19

Interestingly, Big Boy spent 2½ hours just south of the Barstow railyard turning around so it could back into the Amtrak station. That didn’t make any sense to me, or any of the other people crowded at the north end of the station because Big Boy would leave and continue going twelve miles north to Yermo, where it would spend the night.

Once the crowd realized that it was backing into the station, thousands of people started running from the north end of the station to the south. I mean, who wants pictures and videos of the rear of the train? It’s Big Boy leading the way that we all wanted. Fortunately, I had been train-watching in Barstow in July 2018. I wanted a picture of Big Boy under the long bridge over the rail yard, and I knew where I had to be in order to get that picture. Thus, I was already at the south end when people started rushing towards me! Unfortunately, the Big Boy consist of over 25 cars was too long for the station, so I didn’t quite get the picture I wanted, but the following three come close.

In the first picture, Big Boy has backed into the station and is at a stop, unloading about 500 passengers way back there who had paid $5,000 (coach) or $10,000 (dome) for a 3-hour ride from Bloomington to Barstow. A little out of my price range…. A BNSF freight train is passing on the track to the right.

Crowds watching Big Boy in Barstow on 10/12/19

In this next picture, Big Boy is moving out of the station. This might be my favorite picture from Barstow—train, people, bridge, people on the bridge, and good smoke!

Crowd watching Big Boy at Barstow on 10/12/19

This last picture most closely captures the type of picture that I was trying to get.

Big Boy at Barstow on 10/12/19

As one who was chasing Big Boy from here to there, I was caught completely off guard when, just a few minutes after leaving the Barstow Amtrak station, it comes back through the rail yard. Backwards! Not only that, but it traveled backwards for the twelve miles from Barstow to Yermo. I got to Yermo just before it did and got a video of it going backwards. This is my first video of a train going backwards.

Big Boy’s overnight stay in Yermo was at the Union Pacific railyard there. It is a private, secured facility, active with lots of trains, and dangerous. There were hundreds of us who could not comprehend the NO TRESPASSING and PRIVATE PROPERTY signs.

Big Boy in Yermo on 10/12/19

Neither the Union Pacific Police nor the County Sheriffs made any attempt to stop us, keep us out, direct us out, escort us out, or arrest us, so I guess all is well that ends well, as my wise old grandmother would say.

In the early days of railroads, competing companies would build rails that crossed each other, creating bottlenecks and, sometimes, accidents. One of the last bottlenecks for railroad traffic was in Colton, California, where BNSF, Metrolink, and Amtrak ‘Southwest Chief’ used the north/south tracks, and Union Pacific and Amtrak ‘Sunset Limited’ used the east/west tracks. There were up to 110 trains daily, all at a ground level on criss-crossing tracks. Union Pacific built the Colton Flyover to relieve congestion. Both directions are double-tracked, so it is possible to find up to four trains concurrently using the Colton Flyover crossing. It was opened in August 2013, so it’s still new and a pleasure to watch train action there.

Here’s my video of 6:35 of action at the Colton Flyover on 10/15/19. Union Pacific starts off the video with a westbound train on the upper tracks. It stops, waiting for Big Boy to come through eastbound. BNSF enters the scene with a northbound train at the 2:04 mark, a 5-engine, 118-car consist on the lower tracks. Big Boy #4014 enters at 5:28 on the upper tracks. Video ends with Big Boy giving a few blasts on its awesome horn.

I took videos with my hand-held Canon video camera. My Canon 760D was on a tripod and set to take time lapse photographs every 5 seconds. Here is one of the time lapse pictures of Big Boy on the Colton Flyover.

Union Pacific Big Boy 4014 on the Colton Flyover, 10/15/19

I knew crowds would be huge in the deserts in southeastern California, and the roads are one-lane with sandy shoulders, so parking would be a problem. However, I also knew where the most popular spots would be, and I knew some secret spots of my own. The following picture is from one of my secret spots south of Indio. Trains often idle here waiting for their green light, so I was 99.9% sure I could get a picture of old meeting new.

Old, meet new. New, old.

Big Boy meets an SD70ACe

There are three people in the picture at center left, and there was one guy behind me. We had the place to ourselves!

As I said earlier, Big Boy was built in November 1941. Diesel engine #8625 is an SD70AC3 locomotive built in June 2008. Big Boy has 4 cylinders producing 6,290 horsepower while #8625 has 16 cylinders producing 4,290 horsepower. I got asked on Facebook how 4 cylinders could produce more horsepower than 16 cylinders. It’s done with cylinder size and pressure. Think about our cars. We have 8 cylinders producing anywhere from 160 horsepower to 708 horsepower, all done with the size of the cylinders (is the engine 160 cubic inches or 500 cubic inches?) and the pressure under which the cylinders are pushed.

The crowd in Beaumont was huge! I suspect it had something to do with Big Boy stopping at the shopping mall there. I felt sorry for the businesses because I think all their customers were out gawking at Big Boy.

Crowd watching Big Boy in Beaumont CA on 10/15/19

Big Boy stopped in Niland, California, for a maintenance check before heading out into the Arizona deserts. Here are the worker ants serving their queen:

Big Boy maintenance check at Niland CA on 10/15/19

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Follow-up to my 2019 Honda Insight review

I live in my own little world

2019 Honda InsightMy original review was published in my blog on October 16. You can read it here: 2019 Honda Insight—A 5,000-mile review.

I got so frustrated with my car that I took it in again on October 18 and complained about the problems and inconsistencies. I had two pages of documentation to show them, having added three more items to the list that I had in my previous blog post. I asked them to do a factory reset. Again, they claimed they did. It didn’t help.

They also claimed that they took a “similar car” out for a test drive and everything was fine. Pardon my French, but that’s just stupid. Why not take my car out for a test drive?

I drove it for another two days and made more notes:

Computer reset, 10/18/19, 5895 miles

    1. 10/18/19 — Auto light setting did not work. I had to turn the headlights on manually. I got stopped in Santee at 10:40 p.m. because a police officer saw me repeatedly turning my headlights on and off over the course of a mile on Mission Gorge Road trying to get the Auto setting to work. The Auto setting also controls bright lights, something that is quite useful living out in Winter Gardens. I explained to the officer what was going on and he gave me a choice of taking a roadside sobriety test or going to jail. Since I had not been drinking, I took the roadside sobriety test and passed.
    2. 10/19/19 — Braking, such as coming to a traffic signal or stop sign, causes the vehicle to cancel EV mode. One can immediately re-engage EV mode, but why cancel to begin with?
    3. 10/19/19 — EV mode sometimes gets cancelled for no reason whatsoever. Trying to switch back to EV model provides an “EV MODE NOT AVAILABLE” message, even when the battery charge gauge is 50% or higher. A most useless message.
    4. 10/19/19 — EV mode was not available because ENGINE TOO COLD. After driving 3.9 miles, about 2 miles more than is usual for warming the engine, EV mode was available. After another few miles of driving in EV mode, EV mode was canceled. Attempting to re-engage EV mode provided the message, ENGINE TOO COLD. Makes no sense whatsoever.
    5. 10/20/19 — EV MODE NOT AVAILABLE for 6.9 miles of city driving. Battery charge was 50% to 100%. EV light indicating that EV mode was available, was on.
    6. 10/20/19 — With battery charge at 80%, EV light flashed quickly on and off for 1.2 miles during city driving.
    7. 10/20/19 — Car continues to cancel EV MODE during braking, especially hard or semi-hard braking as is done when coming to a stop at a traffic signal or stop sign.
    8. 10/20/19 — EV MODE CANCELED while turning. Battery charge at 50%.

It turns out that there are two different kinds of computer resets, a factory reset and a hard reset. A factory reset is when the factory resets the computer. However, when they do that, they use what is called smart memory, which keeps all the user settings. I was 99.999999999% sure that I had changed a custom setting on 8/19/19 which was causing problems, so I did not want a factory reset. What I wanted was a hard reset, which is what the computer would be like when it comes from the factory. Confusing….

The hard reset worked! My car drives like it did for those first 2,300 miles. When it drives like this, I’ll give it a 9 out of 10… 4½ stars… 4½ diamonds.

My only complaint when it drives like this is that the computer is smart enough to disengage EV mode when certain conditions are not met but is not smart enough to re-engage when conditions are met. As far as I have been able to determine, those conditions include:

    1. Battery charge too low (needs at least 3 bars on the battery charge gauge).
    2. Hard acceleration requested (Anything above the second long dash on the power required gauge).
    3. Speed too high (above 75 mph).
    4. Speed too low (below 20 mph).
    5. Cabin being heated (heating & cooling set at 71°F or higher).

FYI, the things I like most about the 2019 Honda Insight:

    1. It’s a hybrid. I love electric mode but I also need the range that gas provides me since I do a lot of driving out in the California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah deserts. I don’t have time to sit around at a charging station waiting for the car to charge. A hybrid car charges its battery while one is driving.
    2. I have more leg room on the driver’s side than any car I ever have owned, and that’s saying a lot since I have owned several land yachts.
    3. I have plenty of room to carry all my camera equipment in the trunk where it can’t be seen and tempt someone.Cover picture for 2020 cactus & succulent calendar
    4. I have plenty of room to carry a whole lot of cacti & succulents to plant shows, such as the Palomar Cactus & Succulent Society show coming up this weekend.
    5. The stereo system is the best stereo system I ever have had in a car, and that includes the $10,000 custom stereo system I had put in my 1989 Saleen Mustang GT.
    6. The stereo system reads USB flash drives, so I have all my non-classical music on a 2 TB external USB drive, allowing me to never have to listen to an AM/FM radio and their commercials never ever again in my life…. never ever again in my life…. never ever again in my life….

I refuse to look at you!

Cats

Once Little Queen Olivia is certain she is going to get fed, this is the position she takes.

Little Queen Olivia

She won’t look at me and won’t look at the spot where her food dish soon will be, full of food.

She just sits there and stares straight ahead until I put her food dish down.

Cats.

Whaddaya gonna do….

2019 Honda Insight—A 5,000-mile review

I live in my own little world

Jim and I traded in our 2017 cars (Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla) in July. He got a 2019 Honda Civic in cosmic blue (an awesome color) and I got a 2019 Honda Insight hybrid in black.

I have been out in the desert chasing trains for the last week, which means putting mileage on the car to get where the trains are. I passed the 5,000-mile mark on the Insight, so I thought it would be time for a review.

On a scale of 1 to 10, this car gets a 5.

On a scale of 5 stars, this car gets 2½ stars.

On a scale of 5 diamonds, 2½ diamonds.

2019 Honda Insight

This car has potential. I can see that, but Honda has some work to do. In my wise and unmatched wisdom, a car should not be this difficult to drive. It’s so difficult that it is almost dangerous.

In it’s defense, I believe something happened to the computer and/or software somewhere around the 2,300-mile mark. At 3,000 miles, I took it in for servicing, told them about the weird problems that had been occurring since 2,300 miles, and asked them to do a factory reset on the computer.

They claimed they did.

I don’t think so.

I have been working in and on computers since 1976, and never have I seen a factory reset that kept the customer’s custom settings. None of my custom settings were changed, which means that it was not a factory reset.

The first 2,300 miles were a pleasure to drive, even though I had some adjusting to do to understand how a hybrid works and how to drive it most efficiently.

EPA gas mileage rating is 55 in the city, 49 on the highway. At first that seemed weird since highway mileage always is more than city mileage since one is not wasting gas sitting at traffic lights. However, in the case of the hybrid, one can sit at traffic lights while in electric vehicle (EV) mode, so no gas is being used. Ergo, higher gas mileage in the city.

Once I understood that, it was very easy to get 50+ mileage in the city and 47+ on the highway. The best I ever did was 53.8 in the city and 49.1 on the highway. That was before the 2,300-mile mark (B2300).

Since then, I have never gotten better than 48.3 mpg in the city and 45.7 on the highway. Here are some other things that seem to have changed at the 2,300-mile mark (A2300):

    1. I live at the top of a hill. B2300, I could coast the mile down the hill in EV mode. A2300, it’s rare that I can back out of the garage in EV mode, much less coast down the hill, even if the battery charge is 50% or more.
    2. EV mode B2300 was always available with 3 bars on the battery charge gauge. A2300, it’s a 50/50 chance of being able to use EV mode with 3 bars on the battery charge gauge.
    3. The car B2300 was great at telling me when I could switch to EV mode, and it was consistent. A2300, it’s just plain weird. B2300, if I parked the car with 3 bars on the charge gauge, I would always be in EV mode when I started the car and started moving. A2300, hit or miss. No rhyme or reason. I hate inconsistency.
    4. B2300, I could always coast down a hill in EV mode. A2300, hit or miss again, even if the charge gauge says I have a full charge!
    5. Coasting down a hill B2300 always charged the battery. A2300, maybe yes, maybe no.
    6. B2300, I could not be in EV mode if hard acceleration requested. I grew up in the Muscle Car generation. I know what hard acceleration is, and Insight confirmed that B2300. A2300, I’m being kicked out of EV mode while coasting down a hill due to hard acceleration requested. Uh, no.
    7. B2300, I could not be in EV mode if engine too cold. A2300, I can have driven 500 miles, parked the car for a minute in EV mode while I reset Google Maps for my next destination, have a 50% charge on the battery, but can’t enter EV mode due to engine too cold. I don’t think so.
    8. B2300, I could not be in EV mode if cabin being heated. I was able to easily determine that cabin being heated was defined as turning the heat up to 71°F. Everything was fine at 70°F or lower. A2300, I have been able to be in EV mode with the heat set at 83°F. That’s cool, so to speak. However, A2300, I also have been kicked out of EV model due to cabin being heated but the heat was set at 66°F. Drat.
    9. B2300, I sometimes got the message EV mode not available. A most useless message. A2300, it got worse. I get the message while in cruise control, while coasting, while sitting at a traffic signal. Makes no sense whatsoever.
    10. B2300, I had great confidence in the computer’s estimate of mileage range. A2300, not so much. See #18 below.
    11. B2300, I had great confidence in the mileage. A2300, not so much. See #18 below.
    12. B2300, I had great confidence in the speed. A2300, not so much. See #18 below.
    13. B2300, I had great confidence in the miles per gallon. A2300, not so much. See #18 below.
    14. B2300, I could use EV mode while in cruise control. A2300, not necessarily.
    15. B2300, I has able to determine that EV mode was not available at speeds higher than 76 mph. A2300, I have used EV mode at 87 mph (this is California highway driving!) but at another time, at 43 mph, I was informed that EV model not available. Speed too high. WTF?
    16. B2300, hard braking, or even semi-hard braking, would recharge the battery, even if I was braking in EV mode. A2300, 90% of the time any kind of hard braking will cancel EV mode. Consequently, it’s more difficult to keep the battery charged when driving around the city, and much more difficult to get that 55 mpg EPA estimate!
    17. B2300, I had great confidence in the gas gauge. A2300, not so much. See #18 and #19 below.
    18. At 4,382 miles, the computer system crashed.
      I was driving home on the freeway, and even in stop-and-go rush-hour traffic, which is where EV mode really is useful on the highway, the speedometer always said I was doing 70 mph. I could not use EV mode in that stop-and-go traffic, which is where it’s really useful, even though I had about a 75% charge on the battery. Thus, I was using gas, but the range was stuck at 481 miles, even though I drove about 160 miles. I drove through my neighborhood at 5-10 mph but the speedometer still said I was doing 70 mph. I parked in the garage at 70 mph. Not sure how I got the car to stop in 450 feet at that speed….
      During this trip, the mpg was stuck on 43.1 mpg. Even if true, that’s poor mpg for a car rated at 49/55, and believe me, I’m a very conservative driver at my age, not like even 20 years ago when I had a 1998 Pontiac Trans Am with 308 HP.
      I was so angry at the vehicle that I simply put it in park, turned it off, and went inside. Didn’t even unload all my camera equipment and such. The next morning when I needed to go to the grocery store, everything seemed to be working again, at least in the A2300 mode. Still couldn’t coast down the hill like I did B2300.
    19. B2300, I found the range estimate to be quite accurate. A2300, not so much. The car holds at least 10.66 gallons of gas. I like to run my cars until there is very little gas left in the tank. That was difficult to do in the ’70s, and I did run out of gas a few times. Always had 5 gallons in the trunk, though. In today’s world, with computers telling us the mpg and the estimated range remaining, it’s pretty easy. In one instance I had 8 miles range left. That was the time that I put 10.66 gallons of gas in the car. Recently, A2300, I had 7 miles range left. I was only able to put 8.791 gallons of gas in the car. Hmmmm. Something’s not right.

I have to take my eyes off the road way too often and too much to check to see if I can switch to EV mode. If I can’t, I have to read the message to see what I am doing wrong. The EV mode button is in the middle console, next to the Economy mode button and the Sport mode button.

However, the positioning of the three buttons is all wrong. The button that one uses the most should be the closest to the driver. In this case, it’s Economy button, Sport button, and EV button. The Economy button needs to be pushed only once to be in Economy mode all the time. The Sport button needs to be pushed only once to be in Sport mode.

If one enters Sport mode, one has to push the Sport button again to exit Sport mode and then has to push the Economy button to get back in Economy mode. I can handle that, since I’m rarely out of Economy mode and rarely in Sport mode. The EV button, however, needs to be pushed so many times during a simple 5-mile trip that it should be closest to me, perhaps even with a button on the steering wheel instead of some of the other non-needed controls located there.

I find it interesting that the car B2300 was so smart that it could tell me everything about itself and was super duper at disengaging from EV mode when things weren’t right. Since I’m somewhat conversant in computers and computer software—I know what can be done, especially since we’re on the verge of artificial intelligence—it seems to me that this car would be much safer if the software engineers would program the car to be smart enough to switch to EV mode whenever possible, leaving me to pay attention to what’s happening on the highways and streets….

I don’t know if other hybrids have these idiosyncracies, but the next time Honda sends me a letter telling me WE NEED YOUR USED CAR! I think I’m going to take them up on it and at least check out the newest version of the Insight.

Meanwhile, though, I am quite addicted to the hybrid lifestyle, notwithstanding all the inconsistencies and problems, that I think I shall check out other companies’ hybrids and see what they are like.

If you have an insight (pun intended) into other hybrids, please let me know in a comment. As an aside, I definitely am not interested in an electric vehicle at this point. Since I do a lot of driving out in the southwestern deserts, I need the 550-mile range that this Insight gives me without needing to plug it in somewhere.

Take that, rats!

Picture of the Moment

One of my favorite bushes/trees is Iochroma cyaneum. It’s flowers look like this:

Iochroma cyanea

With regular watering, it pretty much blooms all year. Sadly, though, when it is blooming, the big gigantic really really huge East San Diego County boondocks rats eat the flowers.

I have seen the rats jump from the fence and other trees into the Iochroma cyaneum to eat the flowers.

Early this morning I noticed that the leaves were looking a little sad. Sad? Ha! There are no leaves. It has been completely stripped by five of these alien creatures.

Big fat caterpillar

I give up. Sometime this week the remnants of this tree shall be removed and a tall cactus or succulent shall be planted in its place. Take that, rats!

An uncle’s brotherly love

Snippets

O.M.G.

With all this stuff I’m finding out about my family (note that I have been estranged from both sides of the family for 25 years), I just saw a picture on Facebook of my older brother. He’s 66. He looks exactly like my uncle, the one I suspect of being my biological father. Nothing like our supposed dad.

Both he and I were born while my supposed dad was in the Air Force for four years, and during those four years, my mom lived with my paternal grandparents. During that time, my uncle was still in high school and living at home.

Previous to my genealogical research a few years ago, I had always been led to believe that supposed dad was born in 1930 and mom in 1931. That’s not true. Mom was born in 1935. That makes her closer in age to my uncle than my supposed dad, so….

I’m now thinking that my uncle helped console my mom for all four years while supposed dad was in the Air Force, and at least two children resulted from my uncle’s brotherly love….

October is breast cancer awareness month, and not just for women

Did you know?

I bought a huge bottle of Sutter Home white zinfandel yesterday and opened it last night.

The cork was pink and had HOPE on it.

HOPE cork from Sutter Home wine bottle

The sides of the cork reminded me that October is breast cancer awareness month.

Sutter Home wins my heart.

Male breast cancer awarenessWe learned in Health 101 (men’s class) my first semester at Texas A&M University that men can get breast cancer, too. According to Wikipedia,

About one percent of breast cancer develops in males. It is estimated that about 2,140 new cases are diagnosed annually in the United States. The number of annual deaths in the US is about 440. The tumor can occur over a wide age range but typically appears in males in their sixties and seventies. 

In Health 101, we learned self-examination of our testes and our breasts. The teacher’s assistant told us to remember it as B&B—Boobs and Balls.

As an aside, one of the advantages of living in a dorm for one’s first year at college is that it is easy to make friends. I had Health 101 with one of my new dorm friends. By Christmas time, he was dead. He discovered a lump in his breast when we were learning how to do breast self-examination in class. He had it checked out, was told that he had breast cancer and that it had metastasized already. He was only 18. That was my first experience with the death of a close family member or friend.