Friday, December 31, 2021

As the Year Draws to its Close

 Good evening!  Once again we're coming to a new year, and after the last few years we all know that we have a tremendous amount to be grateful for.  While loss and darkness always exist, light and hope balance these things, and keep us driving forward, whether we think we can, or not.

And so on this New Years Eve 2021, let's look mindfully at an image I made more than a decade ago.  

The story for you:  A perfect storm came together atop the Allegheny Mountains in 2010, and the resulting blizzard slammed operations on the former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline.  Snow was piling up amidst howling winds and by good fortune, we had been holed up ahead of the storm at The Station Inn in Cresson, PA, a few hundred feet from the main line.  Traffic died down even on this critical piece of railroad as the storm grew in intensity.

Hours later the scanner suddenly came alive over the din of late-light beverages and the clanking of steam-heat radiators in the 150-year-old building, and a few of us scrambled to suit up and grab our rigs, rushing out to the fury of a mountaintop storm.  We waded through snow to reach the embankment to record NS 6317 cutting west through the height of the blizzard after midnight on February 7, 2010. I decided on the old school pan shot - Hand-Held, F5.6, ISO 1000, 1/10th of a second...

And for us here on the eve of 2022, I will argue there is a lot to see.  Darkness and uncertainty ahead, but deliberate progress in a forward direction.  Light from its own source, not depending on outside help.  Movement, dynamic change guided by steel rails that are hidden from plain sight.  I find this hopeful, and I hope that you too will find a way forward into the new year, and that the best may still be yet to come.  

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 17, 2021

An Operating Session Visit - With Retired Conrail Dispatcher Bill Moll

Imagine playing a game of backyard football and the quarterback from your favorite pro team stops by to play the position.   Or, maybe you're in a cover band at a local tavern, and your favorite pro musician comes by to sit in.  

Well, when you hold operating sessions - really, a railroad role-playing game - on your prototype-based model railroad, and a retired dispatcher that worked that territory is willing to sit in and enjoy the session, it's about the same feeling!   

Bill Moll is a railroad name around Central New York.  He was an intern at NJ DOT in the early 1980's, and eventually worked for the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railway (NYS&W) at their dispatcher's offices in Cooperstown, NY, in the later 1980's.  By 1992 he was at Conrail, based in the Selkirk NY offices to dispatch Conrail's Albany Division including the Chicago Line, the most important main line in New York and one of the most important in the United States.  He worked through the change to CSX, and retired several years ago but has stayed active volunteering at local tourist railroads as well as historical societies.  After the Covid pandemic hit, Bill ended up finding the Onondaga Cutoff on Facebook - but knew the railroad culturally and operationally from his experience on the prototype! 

The Onondaga Cutoff has been grateful for the visits of a variety of people both in the industry of railroading and that of modeling railroading, and having a retired Mohawk Dispatcher visit is right there as a highlight in the top of the list.  

After a run around the railroad, Bill was ready to give it a spin.  Under the steady guide of Chris Lee, one of the regular dispatchers on the OC, Bill was quickly qualified on the territory and proceeded to dispatch the rest of the session.  It was a natural seat for him and a real pleasure to watch the railroad perform in top form, under the hand and direction of a professional.

As railroading has grown more automated, with more and more track controlled by dispatchers and centralized or computer traffic control, the role of the dispatcher has grown in importance.  As a kid trackside through the 80's and '90's, the voice of the dispatcher on the radio was almost like a 'god' in the sky: someone that saw the whole picture and reached out to guide movement across the system.  

The session was great, and we will be excited to host Bill and his friend Brett again soon.  After the session was an even better surprise when Bill showed us an actual dispatcher's sheet from the Mohawk Desk from 1996, as well as something I'd hoped to add to my collection of railroad items for my whole life:  an actual 'station sign' from an interlocking on the Chicago Line in the Syracuse area, where I grew up watching trains.  

This was a total surprise, and a generous gift from a retired railroader to a current railroader and model layout owner like me.  I am deeply grateful for the visit and it is commemorated by the generous gift of the nameplate from CP 278, in Kirkville, NY, which was removed during the upgrades in about 2014.  

This is an evening I won't forget for many years to come.  Thanks, Bill, and Brett!  

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

A Return to November Interchange

Among the most disappointing losses of organized activities in the COVID era was to learn that the DC-NJ 'November Interchange' in 2020 had been postponed indefinitely.  That weekend, which has been around for more than 7 years now, became a focus of every fall for me and for the 'wisdom keepers' on the Onondaga Cutoff.  

After that hiatus, it is exciting to report that Interchange returned in 2021, arriving in New Jersey to make up for the lost year.  About 22 'boomers' made the trip to operate on any three of 7 available layouts of which the Onondaga Cutoff was one.  The OC hosted 11 guests, who were shown the ropes by 6 of the regulars. 

Here we have noted model railroad author and operator Steve King, one of the founders of the 'ProRail' organization in the 1980's, on a visit to the Onondaga Cutoff once again.  He's the hogger on today's NYS&W interchange move SY-1, a Syracuse-based job that will take freight from Conrail interchnage down to Binghamton, NY.

Meanwhile, one of the most enthusiastic and consistent supporters of the 'OC' is Wayland Moore, a kindred soul from Virginia who has made fast friends with all of us on the OC.  Rich Wisneski as always is a great mentor and guide for the guys as they get their feet on the ground, and wheels rolling.

One of the great parts of Interchange is that a group of guys that haven't seen the railroad much get to work it, and there is a learning curve. But. with operators of this caliber, they come on quickly - and by the halfway point the session is rolling.  Here's Bob Rodriguez of The Nickel City Line hamming it up while Jack and Don work with Jerry Dziedzic to move trains across the main line.  

Another thing about Interchange is the support of all the families to allow it to happen, especially a lot to ask in a COVID recovery year.  Kristen and the kids all dressed the part and were wonderful hosts and helpers, and the session really went off without a major hitch.  

Thanksgiving is here, and I am especially grateful for you as a reader of the blog and for the hobby, for my family and career and good fortune.  I wish you and your family a healthy and happy thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Value of Visits: Inspiration & Community

 I was honored in the Autumn of 2021 to have invitations to two trips that I'd hoped for years to be able to do:  the deserts of Utah with Mark Hemphill and the operating model railroads of southern Michigan with the local modelers long part of the 'Great Lakes Getaway' invitational meet.  Thanks to the grace and patience of my family, both were able to happen.  We looked at some of the images from the desert last time, so today we will focus on the layouts.

To say that Mike Burgett's fabulous C&O layout is an inspiration to me would be an understatement.  His work is second to none, and the atmosphere is top-grade:

Meeting Mike was a pleasure - his centralized traffic control (CTC) has always set a high bar for layouts.  And seeing my friend David Patch, Mike's Chief Dispatcher, was an added bonus!  Here's a photo of the three of us in Mike's incredible dispatching office.

Sitting with David Patch to learn the CTC machine and help dispatch the railroad was incredible.  Here's David at the controls:

In the afternoon after lunch, I elected to join the fray in the field and run a few trains.  I ended up with time freight #95 going west across the subdivision.  

It is rare to see a layout with scenery this good that is fully operational and this near full completion.  Wow!

Check out the code lines on the telegraph poles in the photo above. Incredible detail on an incredible layout.

For me, there was another much-anticipated layout: Doug Tagsold's fabulous Colorado & Southern, including the narrow gauge railroad's run from Denver west up to the Georgetown Loop and beyond to the mines in the Front Range.  Here my mine run steps across the Georgetown Loop.

Doug Tagsold has long been an inspiration to me through the pages of Model Railroader with his Denver, Front Range & Western layout in the 1980's as well as his Toledo Terminal layout in the later 1990's.  As my two favorite prototypes, they were well represented in Doug's modeling, and helped add to the aura of fascination I had with modeling in my youth.  These layouts were exciting!  They jumped off the pages and cover of Model Railroader to me.

I met Doug for the first time in 2018 at the Rio Grande Convention in Denver, CO, and was able to speak with him and offer my appreciation for his efforts.  Then for this trip to be able to visit his layout and operate - well, that was just incredible!  

November in the Rockies is much like winter in most other places and Doug has a beautiful snow scene along a rushing mountain stream.  My ore turn is making time on its trip with loaded ore gondolas enroute to Denver to the Arco Smelter.

The town scenes are fantastic too, custom buildings and roads with photo backdrops yield a seamless experience for operations.  I also enjoyed the sight lines around the open running, as seen below here.

Visiting layouts of this caliber shows what the hobby can do, and how much we can learn from people that are truly masters of the art of model railroading.  Someday I'd love to host both of these owners on the Onondaga Cutoff, too, and complete the circle.  I have a long way to go with scenery to match their work!  Still, that is how we build the community of modelers: sharing our work and operations with others, and appreciating the inspiration provided by the masters.  

Thanks to Doug for organizing the meet and to Mike and all the hosts for a job well done!

Friday, October 29, 2021

Reconnecting with The Desert

On a whim, this past summer I was discussing with my wife how much I missed traveling the west after seeing the recent photography of Mark W. Hemphill, former editor of Trains Magazine and a longtime western railroad author and photographer.  Mark and I have become friends over the last few years, which is a privilege for me since I look up to his writing and photography so much.  Kristen surprised me by giving me the early Christmas present of making the trip to Utah to spend time with Mark in our favorite desert - a gift of experience, while she held down the home front with the kids.  Leaving the family for days at a time to pursue photography projects is a hard decision for me, and Kristen's support makes it possible.  

The results were spectacular.  

In just a few days we had dozens of near-perfect opportunities.  Mark guided us to some locations with just the right timing and light; situations where we were able to take advantage of incredible scenes and the trains that ran.  

The experience as a whole was transcendental for me, given that it was Mark's writing and photography in the 1980's that originally inspired my awe of the American West, and that took trains and made them more than just fascinating.  Railroading became magical, magnificent, inspiring - the magic of railroad crystalized for me thanks to his vision.  So, to spend time with him in the 'desert that did it' for me was a full-circle, religious experience.  

I will be adding photos with captions to the Flickr page, over at

Dreams are out there, and with some effort and sacrifice providing necessary balance, dreams are attainable.  Keep pushing!  

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Pushing through the Fall

October was a month on paper that I knew would push the limits.  

As the world reopens from this pandemic, more opportunities to interact are available, and with the kids getting older there are more than we've handled in the past. All of these take time. So far we've been able to schedule most of it without conflict, but in doing so each weekend and most nights are occupied with some sort of planned activity.  

And the best-laid plans will change with the passing of a mentor.  Tom Davis, Proprietor and Innkeeper of The Station Inn Bed & Breakfast in Cresson, PA, passed away on October 5, 2021 at the age of 90.  His life was a full one: full of experience, of pushing limits while maintaining civility, of quiet reflection while welcoming guests.  Tom was a character - warm but wise, fun-loving yet refined, a man of intelligence with a dry, quick wit.  

In 1994, a handful of teenagers made a reservation to stay at this former railroad hotel next to the Conrail main line across Pennsylvania.  I was 17, and my brother just 15; our parents let us and three of our close friends make a 250-mile drive from New Jersey to stay at this inn and watch trains for the weekend.  Different times!  But my dad had his hands full with my sick mother and disabled sister, and in the chaos we were allowed a few days adventure.  

Well, ten years later, we were still at it, with Tom as a guide and authority figure we all respected.  

'Original Five' at the 10-year anniversary

Each year was a similar pattern.  We'd reserve 3 nights, round up a bunch of train friends, drive to Cresson and spend the whole weekend watching trains at areas near the Inn or from the porch, eat too much pizza and wings, drink too much beer, and go home mentally refreshed and physically exhausted. 

Over the years, the Inn was a constant when so much else changed.  Conrail was merged into NS and CSX, with NS taking over the operations past the Inn.  Shortline RJ Corman reopened coal branches while we watched and rode along, a handshake arrangement thanks to Tom.  Some of us went to college, all got jobs, some changed jobs.  Most are married, some with kids.  And many of us dealt with the death of parents.  Many moved, some far away.  But we all made time each year for this trip, and it had become a bit of a retreat.  

Tom's health in recent years had some slips and setbacks, but most years he would find a way to spend time with us, sharing stories and wisdom, giving us laughs.  We all knew he was strong but still, the sense of change was close.  This year, though, he was looking forward to our visit and indeed was more himself than any time in the last 4 years.  

This year, he was out with us on the porch for hours.  He ate meals with us, and talked almost like the 'same old Tom' which was a joy.  Incredibly, too, he asked to come down to the old tavern in the basement of his Inn each night with us, where we had a private party set up like usual.  For the first time in years we looked at photos and he drank beer with us late into the night.  Note the time - that's 12:21 AM, by the way!  

And on Friday night, word spread amongst the 28 attendees that Tom would be down the bar again with us and sure enough we got a photo or two with most of the crowd in the middle of the party.  

This is how I will remember Tom Davis:  with a beer in hand, smiling, enjoying life despite all the usual trials and tribulations he'd survived.  Known and respected by guests like us, as well as peers from around the world, Tom led a life full of railroading, travel, and learning.  Tom was a man of many backgrounds: an intellectual, a steam locomotive engineer and fireman, and innkeeper, and he shared all of those with whomever showed interest.  

Godspeed Tom!  Thank you, for everything.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Building Momentum

This the time of the year that the days get a bit shorter, and a familiar and welcome chill is present in the air overnight.  I have always found autumn full of promise and splendor, a recalibration from summertime and it's interesting to see how that changes as a parent and manager at work. In the wake of the pandemic most activities have resumed and the schedule is full, very full, of nearly all good things.  Momentum is building for the month of October which is one of the busiest on the calendar in years. 

I used some of that energy to focus on smaller, achievable projects on the layout, squeezed into a few hours here and there leading up to a guest operating session back on September 17.  In contrast to the bridge deck earlier this month, these were smaller scenes but added a lot of visual improvement.  

The first one was one the kids wanted to help with over at Island Yard - just some ballast and some foreground static grass, but a huge change to the brown paint that was there for the last few years.  

One of the best parts of this one is it's a small area, but a neat new place to take photos.

Another quick hit was needed up on the M&E at the Crucible Chemical switch.  That siding was in place for years with just a few tacks holding it down while I waited to decide how it should look.  With the deadline approaching for the session, I made a few decisions, and to my eye it came out nicely.

I even added a working derail to the siding from the Alexander Models kit, which worked better than I thought it would and adds a neat aspect to switching for the M&E jobs.  Ballast and weeds finished the job.

Also, given the remnants of Hurricane Ida as well as three other storms that in total dumped nearly a foot of rain in August and early September, I have been dealing with more water in the basement than usual.  It is designed to drain out and we had no floods per se, but three separate times I had to pull up the floor tiles and set up fans to dry things out.  

All in all, though, we are in great shape.  The layout is poised for some serious improvement over the next few months - lots as always to look forward to and be excited about.  And so the other thing that is building momentum is my gratitude for my wife and kids, whose patience allows so much of this to become reality and whose support makes it all fun!

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Finishing Touches: Woodchuck Hill Road overpass

 It's always nice to 'finish' a scene on the layout.  Any modeler will tell you that no model is ever really finished, per se; while a scene can appear complete, there is always room for more weathering whether subtle or harsh, for more detail, and for more depth.  Many scenes are good enough for now but over time may present opportunities for change.  

Still, to bring a scene to a state of completion is satisfying and compelling.  Such is the case with Woodchuck Hill Road, which was completed recently in time for a guest operating weekend on the Onondaga Cutoff.

There is nothing like a good deadline to force my hand for progress.  I learned early in life that I am not smart or driven enough to procrastinate - if I have an idea or a vision, it requires immediate action to ensure sufficient time to finish.  So, a deadline looms on my brain from its announcement until it is past, and the announcement itself is enough to keep me pushing.  

We had finished the roadway itself in the last update, now it was time to mount it on the layout!  The deck and sidewalk were glued in place with canopy glue, after a few test fits on the layout.  I used Sculptamold to fill the area below the styrene roadway on both sides of the bridge, seen above, smoothing it to shape with a putty knife and blending it into the surrounding areas.  While that cured, I went back to the workbench to finish the scratchbuilding of the New York State DOT 'box rail' guardrails that will further help tie the scene to the locale.  

Making the railings required lots of careful measuring and selecting a scale 6"x6" cross-section strip, which was available from Evergreen Styrene.

Once cured up, I painted the whole thing silver and then gave it an overcoat of dullcoat which yields a nice silver-gray look that reminds me of the galvanized finish on the railings.  

Before setting the railings, though, I had to blend in the fresh Sculptamold with the surrounding turf.  So, I painted it mud brown mixed with black, and went over the fresh wet paint immediately with a blend of static grass, which nicely blended the two together.  

I touched up the gray fascia area as well, then added the railings carefully with canopy glue - and the result really is a big upgrade.

There is a clear CNY lineage to this bridge, now, even more than before.  I am thrilled with how it turned out and excited for the upgrade.  All we need now is a few railfans on that sidewalk waiting for westbound trains - I guess a scene really never is 'finished', right? 

Friday, September 3, 2021

Highs, and Lows - All Part of the Experience

 Life in my 40's really is a remarkable collection of emotions and energy.  From amazing highs to some very challenging lows, it does swing back and forth quite a bit and offer a lot of opportunity for perspective and for contrast.  

On the heels of hosting US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigeig, on August 31 we were given notice that the Governor of the State of New Jersey wanted a personal tour of progress at Newark Penn Station, my most important station at my 'day job.'  A lot of prep work went in to buttoning up the construction progress there and sure enough, I would be relied upon to give a tour of the history and progress of the station to date, with others handling the larger construction plans.  

Governor Phil Murphy arrived and we gave him the full tour, captured here in photos by Gevon Servo at NJ TRANSIT.  We walked through the main concourse, after reviewing progress on the benches in the main waiting room:

The Governor was focused and interested, and gave clear direction how important this work is to his vision for Newark and for the traveling public.  Some of the press releases are as well as

It is exciting to be part of such a high-profile initiative and I am grateful that this station is starting to get the capital attention it needs to remain so busy for so many years to come.  When the spotlight turns on, we better be dancing, and my team did a fantastic job with that at Newark Penn Station!

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Placeholder to Permanent: Scratchbuilding a Bridge Deck

One of the side projects this summer has been building and adding a roadway deck to the overhead bridge just east of CP 280.   While this green bridge has been featured in a number of videos and photos, its high elevation creates a side view that helps hide the fact it was incomplete.  That will no longer be the case after this project!

I began by purchasing thick styrene stock from Evergreen from the local hobby shop - I used 0.080" thick stock, and could have gone more thick as well.  Still, since it would be cut with an X-acto knife, keeping it on the thin side helped in construction.  I measured the dimensions of the bridge I had kitbashed from a Walthers double-track through truss bridge ( as well as and cutting it to fit.

Note the notches - these are needed to fit the deck around the angle braces on the bridge that help keep the prototype structure (and the model structure) square.  These needed to be carefully measured to ensure proper fit.  

I added strips of 0.080" styrene cut to a scale 18" wide as curbing to the deck with Testors Plastic Cement, and joined the additional longitudinal sections with bracing and more glue.  Panels as well as patch outlines, which on concrete decks tend to be located near joints, were scribed in by backdragging the blade with a straightedge at each floor beam per the prototype.  Several test fits also helped ensure all was lining up correctly on the layout and on the bridge itself.  

I put aside the whole deck to cure and suddenly it was three months later.  I'm finding time in my forties can get away with things.  With some time over the last few days, though, each evening I headed down for more progress.  Paint came first, and I used several different sprays with colors I had on hand.  

Aircraft gray primer from Testors was used for the worn asphalt approaches. For the deck, which is modeled to resemble poured concrete, I took a tip from the military aircraft modelers who do a wonderful job with 'marbled' weathering by layering sprayed paints, starting with dark on all the seams and overcoating with several light coats of different grays.  This way the seams have a dark depth that they don't otherwise have.  I also added a layer of Rust-Oleum textured rust paint to give the surface some grit.  I also did the same process for the sidewalks with a different seam pattern per most prototype concrete sidewalks we see.   The result was a nice varied surface that resembled old concrete.  

Another military modeling tip was to use Pledge Future Shine instead of glosscoat ahead of decals.  I gave that a shot, too.

Brushed on per the instructions, the product flattened right out and created a high-gloss finish that was nice and thick.  (Normally I'd have sprayed it through the airbrush, but given the application I wanted it thicker anyway.)  On the curved section, I left the Future coat off, since I am painting those curved lines.

I used a large aluminum 'Brooklyn Brewery' wall sign as a template for my curves - it matched perfectly and gave me a constant curve for the cuts.  Cuts were made with masking tape on glass and carefully reapplied to the road.  A quick airbrush spray with an old bottle of C&O yellow from Floquil gave me good results, and the only paint bleed over was fixed with more hand-mixed gray along the yellow line.  

The remainder of the striping is decals from Summit Custom, and they worked very well.  Over several nights I installed them, again measuring carefully to keep all in line.

The gloss helps you see the nice texture added by the Rust Oleum which, while the particles are a bit large for HO scale, will give a nice 'not-perfect' feel once finished.   

Once the decals cured, I sprayed the whole deck with two coats of Testors Dullcoat and one of Tamiya Flat, to ensure no shine remained.  It covered perfectly and I moved on to weathering.  Roads get most dirty not where the tires roll but where the oil drips from engines and chassis build up over time - the middle of each lane.  I also added a few patches with gray paint mixed to appear like worn asphalt.

To my eye the decals really make it pop!  The weathering helps too, and the deck is coming together well now.  Last night I used canopy glue to cover the floor beams on the truss, where I used files and heavy small objects to hold the deck flush while the glue cures.

Once this cures up, the final step on the workbench will be to scratchbuild the New York State DOT guardrails and install them behind the curbing, and then for the final install on the layout.  That's my next project for the next month!

Each structure and detail takes time and I believe it's better to install items in stages rather than have them sit on the workbench for years.  This bridge is a favorite of several OC regular operators as well as Railroad Model Craftsman editor Otto Vondrak, and has been featured in RMC and MR photographs.  That's proof positive that there are times when it's better to work in stages on big projects like this one - the permanent scenic element can be the placeholder as well!

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

The Day Job is Cool, Too

 Now and again there are snapshots in life that make you realize how cool your actual job is.  We that work for the railroad fill roles necessary to the operation of the company so that front line men and women can move trains.  My role is to set up employees with the people and resources they need to maintain stations, and so when elected or appointed officials come to see stations, my crews are front and center.

On Monday August 9, we prepared to host the US Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, at Somerville Station on the Raritan Valley Line.  Really!  It happened.  :-)

One of the snapshots online shows the crowd with some odd duck tagging along behind.  

Joking aside, I was able to meet him, shake his hand, and thank him for all he's done to push infrastructure investment with a transportation focus.  I offered use of our office space and sure enough, after his security detail inspected it, he used it for about two hours - a bit of fame for our little group!

Here's hoping we played a role in having commuter operations be front and center in his mind.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Surprise! Here's your History...

There are still some wonderful surprises in life!

The summertime is usually one where family and household activities take priority over layout time, and so it is this year.  With some capital improvements around the house it's an exciting (albeit exhausting) time.   We're finally doing a patio outside and a long-overdue kitchen spruce up with painting, new lights, cabinet repairs, floor polishing etc.  

In doing some moving to accommodate the work, I found an old collage from my mom's house, dropped off when Dad's new wife was doing some archiving of old family photos.  Seeing it was a landslide of distant memories!  Christmastime 1977 was held at my grandparent's home in Marcellus, NY, close to where mom grew up and a place of powerful memories for me - after all, this was the destination of many childhood trips, and functionally too the home from which I discovered the Chicago Line for the first time.  The old photos were labeled in some cases with the date and who was whom, but memory served for the latter.  Of course December 1977 found me just week short of one year old, so these aren't my memories; instead they are those of my parents - in some ways, more valuable to me than my own.

Here's my mom, seated, pregnant with my younger sister.  Standing at left is Sally, mom's older sibling, with their mother Rosemary Grimmelsman Dean, and with sister-in-law Colleen Dean at the right.  This is the kitchen of grandma's house on South Street in Marcellus, NY, a place I stayed many times in my youth, and from this place we'd ride in the cars of my uncles to see the trains at Dewitt, NY.

Also in the basement was my grandfather Bill Dean's small Lionel setup, with which I was always fascinated.  Here a few of my older cousins watch intently as Grandpa instructs.

I was too young to remember this gathering, as this photo shows - still learning to walk and almost one year old.  And yet my heart moves with viewing these images because so much of what was to come feels in my memory like these photos of their memories.  So much of my life was looking forward to these trips.  Quite a bit of the the energy around the Onondaga Cutoff is affected by trips to Central New York to see family.  

No family Christmas Eve is complete without a whole-family photo with a timer.  And so I bring you the Dean Family Christmas Eve, 1977, from the warm old colonial home of Bill and Rosemary Dean on South Street in Marcellus, NY.   The baby (me) is asleep but the cheer is alive and cousins are electric with excitement.  All 8 Dean kids are here:  Sally, Susie, Bill, Bob, Tom, John, Peter, and Carol.  

Sort of strange on a summer evening to be reminiscing of Christmastime but in any case I wanted to share these photos as part of the discussion of the true roots of the Onondaga Cutoff.  Yes, it's all about Conrail in Central New York, but that railroad and locale for me are tied up in the wonder and camaraderie of a big family, endless nights of fun, trials and tribulations and subsequent triumphs, and also the balance of loss and darkness that gives it all such a sense of light.  

The Abeles side was more local growing up, and the photos above bring me to want to share one from that side too.  Here's my great-grandfather's butcher shop on Ferry Street in Newark, NJ, in the 'down neck' section of town close to the Ironbound.  That's him on the left; with his son Richard (my grandfather) in Sunday-best clothes for the photo and his wife Ida frowning upon the scene.  

When we say 'down neck' in Newark, this is what we are talking about; north of the CNJ tracks and up to the bank of the Passaic River.  South of the CNJ tracks seen below would be considered 'Ironbound' as it was a triangle bounded by the PRR main line to the west, the CNJ to the north, and the PRR freight main (the Passaic and Harrimus Line) to the south.  

I'm grateful for memories and a sense of place, the notion of belonging to something without conditions, and with the idea that such a series of gifts is a foundation on which to build something for others to be part of.  

Mom's birthday is August 12, and that's a day I always fondly remember each year.  This year we get to be in Skaneateles for part of that. 

Big ideas, nearly limitless thoughts and dreams about life related to a model railroad and refreshed with re-discovery of a few old photos in the attic.  

Enjoy your summertime - more great OC news coming soon!