Tag Archives: california

Out & About—Slab City, California, public library

Out & About

One of the nice things about libraries here in California is that almost all of them have a “Friends of the Library” association, taking in book donations and selling them to make money for the library. I have bought many books from Friends.

Here is the public library at Slab City, California:

Slab City, California, public library

Here is their Friends of the Libary:

Friends of the Library at Slab City, California

Dolphins killed Jesus

Out & About

One of the “neighborhoods” of Slab City, California, is East Jesus.

Its complementary neighborhood is West Satan.

East Jesus and West Satan don’t get along. No surprise there, but since the leader of our photographic expedition was wearing an East Jesus shirt, we decided to skip West Satan. Consequently, all I have to offer you today is pictures of the East Jesus sculpture garden, obviously Slab City’s “tourist trap.”

For your visual entertainment:

East Jesus sculpture garden

East Jesus sculpture garden

East Jesus sculpture garden

East Jesus sculpture garden

East Jesus sculpture garden

East Jesus sculpture garden

East Jesus sculpture garden

East Jesus sculpture garden

East Jesus sculpture garden

East Jesus sculpture garden

East Jesus sculpture garden

East Jesus sculpture garden

East Jesus sculpture garden

East Jesus sculpture garden

East Jesus sculpture garden

East Jesus sculpture garden

East Jesus sculpture garden

East Jesus sculpture garden

East Jesus sculpture garden

East Jesus sculpture garden

East Jesus sculpture garden

East Jesus sculpture garden

East Jesus sculpture garden

East Jesus sculpture garden

A Smith Corona Coronamatic.
This was my first electric typewriter.
I would have kept mine if I had known
that some day it would be a museum piece.
East Jesus sculpture garden

Much safer reading than the old manual way

Snow day in the Cuyamaca Mountains, San Diego County, 11/30/2019Snow Day in the Cuyamaca Mountains,
East San Diego County, 11/30/2019

When I was young, I used to carry around with me a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records. That was what I read when I had to wait, usually in some sort of line, like at the grocery store or post office. It was my emergency reading material.

The Golden Ratio by Mario LivioDare I say that I still do that?

My current emergency reading material is
The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, The World’s Most Astonishing Number, written by
Mario Livio (b. 1945) and published in 2002.

(Interestingly, as with my own book, it has an ISBN on the back cover and one on the copyright page. They are supposed to be the same. They are not. Ooopsy. Someone goofed.)

It has to do with my book Nature’s Geometry: Succulents and my 1-hour presentation on the same topic.

I’m 99% certain that I’m on the Speaker’s Circuit for cactus & succulent clubs now, but, as my wise old grandmother said in 1966: Don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched.

(Yes, we had a farm/ranch, and yes, I was counting the number of eggs so I would know how many chickens I would have….)

Two cactus & succulent clubs in the Los Angeles area have me tentatively scheduled for February 9 and February 13.

I did a presentation in June 2019 for the Palomar Cactus & Succulent Society in Escondido, California, a club to which I belong. However, that presentation is now six months old, so I’m updating it using material from my book which was published in October 2019 and with information garnered from my current emergency reading list.

Dare I say that I also read while sitting in stop & go traffic? It’s a skill I learned in 1977-1983 while actually working in an office 8 to 5 (something I rarely have done) and sitting in rush hour traffic in Houston, Texas. I drive with my left hand and hold my reading material at dashboard level with my right hand. The key to doing this successfully, though—with successfully being defined as “without having an accident”—is to only read when the car is at a complete stop. I don’t do it if the car is moving irregardless (one of my favorite non-words) of how slowly that movement might be.

My 2019 Honda Insight has “Brake Hold,” which is the Honda’s way of saying, Here, Russel. We’ve made it easier for you to read while you drive.

2019 Honda Insight

Brake Hold in the 2019 Honda Insight

Brake Hold only takes effect if the car is completely motionless, and it won’t release unless I press on the gas pedal. Much safer reading than the old manual way.

When I went to Julian, California, on November 30, 2019, to play in the snow, I do believe the whole city of San Diego (population 1.3 million) had gotten there before me. There is a high-traffic intersection coming out of the mountains and into downtown Julian. Traffic often backs up for 20 or 30 cars, and it can take 10-15 minutes to go one-tenth of a mile. Traffic on snow day was backed up 1.2 miles, and it took me 1 hour and 34 minutes to go that 1.2 miles. I got a lot of stop & go reading done!

Snow day in the Cuyamaca Mountains, San Diego County, 11/30/2019

No need to wait for the weather to change

Lake Cuyamaca, CaliforniaLake Cuyamaca, California

I have been retired three times in my life: 1983, 1993, and 2017. None of them have stuck.

In 1983 I was living in Houston, Texas, and playing the “Keep up with the Joneses” game. Suddenly, though, everyone started getting engaged, getting married, and having children. None of those were for me. I knew quite well that I was gay and that getting engaged and married to someone of the same gender probably wasn’t going to happen in my lifetime. And children! Ha! I was one of Utah’s greatest juvenile delinquents. I was pretty sure that if I had children, one of them would be the next great serial killer…. You know, karma.

So I moved out of Houston, 90 miles northwest to College Station, a place with which I was familiar since it was the home to Texas A&M University, my alma mater. I wanted something different, but not too different.

I stayed out of the work force from April 1, 1983, to February 29, 1984. On March 1, 1984, I took a job as a life insurance sales rep with Fidelity Union Life Insurance. I enjoyed it, even earning Sales Rep of the Month for three of the six months I was there. I quit because there were no benefits…. no health insurance, no sick days, no vacation days, no pension, not even any life insurance!

I went to work for Texas A&M University in the Department of Chemistry, the College of Science, the University Press, and the TAMU NMR Newsletter. Each entity paid 25% of my salary, and since none of them had to absorb a full salary, I was rolling in money. Had any one of them been required to pay a full salary, I probably would have made about 25% of what I was making. And the benefits! Mama Mia! That was when I understood why people wanted to work for the government.

Sadly, the person who had hired me and put me in those four positions took early retirement and moved to Palo Alo, California, where he was a Distinguished Professor at Stanford University. He gave me the same positions at Stanford, and I worked there from June 1, 1986, to September 30, 1986. I got homesick for Texas.

I had a side business in College Station—Just Your Type—that I had been running since 1973 when I was a freshman at Texas A&M. My wise old grandmother had helped me start it in 1966. I decided to go full-time with it and turned it into a thriving typing, word processing, desktop publishing, and editing business. Over the years, I had several customers who now are quite well-known: Chuck Knoblauch, Robert Earl Keen, and Lyle Lovett come immediately to mind.

One of my weekly customers was on the 7-year plan, and when he finally graduated, his dad set him up in a competing business on the north side of College Station whereas I was on the south side. Each year he would come by and offer to buy my company. Each year I declined his offer.

Finally, on April 15, 1993, he and I were standing in line together at the Bank of A&M and talking. He asked me if this would be the year I would sell to him. I told him to come by and we’d talk about it. He was impressed with my (anal) record keeping and accepted my selling price.

I took off.

Unfortunately, I didn’t tell anyone that I was taking off. I just left. I actually left with the intent of committing suicide. I was tired of living life as a closeted gay man but didn’t know what else to do. That suicide journey was a failure, and I wound up in San Diego. Again I retired, and succeeded at staying out of the work force for 11 months. I got bored doing nothing each day.

On February 14, 1994, Valentine’s Day, I was at Ocean Beach with friends. We were swimming, sailing, and surfing. Suddenly, one guy asked if we wanted to go skiing. Sure! It starts with an S, too, so no problem. Turns out that he was talking about snow skiing, not water skiing.

Everyone went home, changed into snow clothes, got their skis and such, and we headed to Big Bear, California, about 90 miles northeast of San Diego. That was when I understood why so many people want to live in California, especially California. One can go to the beach in the morning on a warm Valentine’s Day, eat lunch, and then go snow skiing in the afternoon just 90 miles away. What more could one want in life?

I’m a fan of snow as long as I can go play in it and then come home to my non-white winter landscaping. Every time it snows in the mountains, I head to Julian to take snow pictures. Such was the case the last two days in November this year when it snowed heavily in Julian. I went to document the event.

Lake Cuyamaca in the picture at the top of this post is a great rest stop after getting through the first half of the winding mountain roads. Here are some other pictures from November 30:

Crowds were out in force, most from the city, just like me.
Lake Cuyamaca State Park, California

Lake Cuyamaca State Park, California

I had never seen so many snow people!
Lake Cuyamaca State Park, California

On the western side of the mountains, where the snow had melted, I found a flock of wild turkeys celebrating their success at surviving another Thanksgiving.
Turkeys in Julian, California

In Southern California, there’s no need to wait for the weather to change.

Probably not as comfortable as Amtrak

Railroads & Trains logo

A Southern Pacific Railroad wooden passenger coach car built around 1875 in Sacramento, California.

Southern Pacific Railroad wooden passenger coach car

It was converted to a railroad maintenance car in 1913 and used until 1938 when it was abandoned on tracks near Yuma, Arizona.

After deteriorating for 53 years, Don Trigg of Yuma acquired it in 1991 and donated it to the Yuma Crossing State Historic Park where it resides.

I visited on August 21, 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