Friday, May 27, 2022

Life in the 'Front Pew'

Something on which I have been reflecting lately is the incredible variety of activities that fill the vast majority of time in my life.  I am fortunate for health and for the ability to contribute in so many ways.  Memorial Day fills me with the deepest of gratitude for our way of life, and the spiritual debt that we all owe to members of the services that have paid the ultimate sacrifice.  In my own small way, I hope to honor what they and their families have given.

Longtime readers will remember what a wild and trying few years I had as I entered my 40th year of life, between the passing of family elders and my father, new birth and my own surgery (at nearly the same time), regular and growing articles and authoring a book, navigating major changes at work, leading a department through crises at work, all while being a husband and father and friend and creator.   

And while railroading, professionally and as a hobby, in both full-size trains and models, has always been a central calling in my heart, the debt of gratitude for my family is unparalleled.  

Sharing the passion for railroading is one of the best things about it, and Teddy (and Pete!) have caught the spirit of it in their own lives.  They offer help, their insatiable wonder, their smiles, and enthusiastic companionship - what more could a dad ask?

Susie is developing a love for live music, and having the ability to share that passion of mine with her is a true pleasure, too.  Music is a soundtrack for life and Susie is right there to embrace it!

Pete, our youngest and most rambunctious, is a big personality who loves with a big heart, and is developing an incredible ability to remember things.  We explore new things together and he's always up for adventure.  Here we found a nice, new Norfolk Southern RR 'Gradall' machine at a local favorite spot.  Pete was thrilled!

 Learning more and more about life and about railroading with dad is a pastime for each of the kids and I think helps them see more of the world around them.  

Central to all three children is Kristen, whom also entered her 40's this spring and who is the most important person in my world.  She's the one that keeps the learning on track, both at school and at home - she's a well of nearly endless patience and compassion.  Here's mama with her cubs on a woods walk near our home on Mother's Day 2022, with spring in bloom, cool wet air allowing the detail of the woods to come to life.  

These are all the sorts of family things we do, and in my 40s I have found myself squarely in the front pew of life.  My parents and many elders have passed away, mentors have moved on.  Others remain but the direct line to the top now is my responsibility on which to deliver.  When a hobby can be woven through all the fabric of life like railroading and music are for me, all of those things ebb and flow, and each of them works to balance out others.  

As we enjoy a holiday weekend, let's be grateful for all that is good in our lives, and thankful for those that have paid the ultimate price in defending it.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Some Time in Chicagoland

 Traveling to see new model railroads is always a fun experience, especially when in the company of other modelers.  When you add operating on those model railroads to the experience, the time becomes something to look forward to - as it was this year for a weekend around the greater Chicago area.

There are a number of great operating layouts around Chicago, and it was the home for one of the first organized operating groups for model railroading.  Some of that stemmed from the early clubs in the midwest including the Purdue University club and the Batavia club, home for the Midwest Model Railroaders layout.  That tradition continues today with the Chicago 'Rail Group' sessions, which this year is celebrating 50 years of operations and hosted ProRail 2022 to commemorate that anniversary.

As is typical of the bigger operating weekends, invitees choose layouts based on their desires and hosts then assign layouts across the group - you get some of the choices you wanted, and a few others that you didn't ask for but which are in their own rights amazing creations.  My first choice on this trip was Lou Steenwyk's railroad that models a group of fictional but prototypical ore railroads around Superior WI and Duluth MN.  It really captures the flavor of the branchline-to-port feel of that region, and was a pleasure to operate with the group.  

Another top choice for me, conveniently placed nearby, was John Bauer's Rio Grande Southern, which is modeled in Sn3 and is an early work of art with all handlaid track, scratchbuilt bridges, and beautiful brass locomotives.  The scenery is just starting but the operation is wonderful - time table train order, but on a well-built, slow-speed main line.  It again captures the feel and is a real pleasure to run.  

At John's I found a new product on the shelf - a new, conductive waxy oil that cleans and leaves a conductive (but not slippery) finish on the rails.  I will be ordering this and trying it myself on the OC, a railroad whose heavy traffic and signal-equipped main line requires a lot of track cleaning!  Learning new techniques by spending time with the masters of the art is a great reason to travel to see other's railroads.  

You never know who you'll see out and about!  Eric White, Kalmbach Senior Editor and a friend of mine, was there - wearing an Onondaga Cutoff shirt!  What a thrill!  

Other railroads on which I operated included John Goodhart's Lake Erie, Cincinnati and Southern, as well as Bob Hanmer's DM&IR/GN, both great fun railroads.  I especially enjoyed seeing another adaptation of Centralized Traffic Control on John's railroad, and of all the sessions the whole weekend Bob Hanmer's really was a great and smooth experience.  His railroad is another that captures TT&TO very well, and I do have a soft spot for the ore roads, which he models in earnest.  

It was a great weekend!  It's always refreshing to see a different region, and while I always miss my family when traveling with friends I came back refreshed and excited to be home - while carrying all the memories of a great weekend with a growing group of friends.   It's the best of both worlds, and I am just happy to be able to participate!