Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Adventure to North Dakota...not a great trip

On July 15th the cute girl friend and I left for North Dakota. I had left some stuff there and needed to get it and bring it back. I had left an old Lincoln Town Car there in hopes of selling it there. I had one guy that was low balling me on the price so I didn't sell it. In hind sight I should have just taken the offer but I hate people who say they are coming with the money but only bring some small amount, usually close to half and think you will just let them have it and get the deal done.

So we needed to go to North Dakota and pick up this car and the other sundry items I had accumulated in 18 months of living there. Luckily that Lincoln has a huge trunk and back seat so that stuff would fit in it. I like traveling by train and it is more than half price than flying and a little less stressful for me. So I bought the tickets a month a head of time.  We set out with all our luggage for the one mile walk to the Train Station here in our town. I took this pic of the cute girl friend with all the luggage.
I posted on Facebook that I was busy playing Angry Birds or something and made her carry all the luggage. It was a good gag.  I actually carried the 2 back packs and my suit case. Poor cute girl friend. Her foot had been bothering her lately and the fact that her good shoe had just broke and she had new ones on didn't make this walk much I walk too fast! As trains will do, the local Cascades train was 30 min. late, and we sat in the station for a while. Our true launch point was from Vancouver Wa. on the Empire Builder Amtrak train that goes from Portland Or to Chicago IL. It was a little bit of a wait so we tried our hand at getting Dominos Pizza to deliver to the Vancouver train station. The girl on the phone said she had lived here a long time but didn't know where the train station was. This station has to be almost 100 years old.
You know me I like it because it is a Craftsman. So we get a pizza delivered to the station.  We had more waiting of course, because the train from Portland, which is maybe 6 miles away, is 15 min late. We finally load up and our journey has started. The Trip from Vancouver to Minot should take 29 hours. The seats on the train are reasonably comfortable. They are kind of like recliners and you can kind of sleep on them. A train starting off late or thrown off it's schedule is a bad thing. Competing with freight trains for track and your train not where it is suppose to be causes the train schedule to get later and later.

I like this train ride because of the sites you can see as you travel down the tracks. From Vancouver you start heading east and the tracks follow the Columbia River to as far as Kennewick Wa. We were on the last coach car at the back of the car and next to us is a nice lady Conductor.  She was a good humored older African-American woman and we would chat with her as she sat down when she wasn't working. The Car behind us was the sleeper car, those have rooms and beds and some have toilets en suite. Those are rather pricy, but they have some perks. Price includes all your meals, some of them brought to your room by a Steward, they also get to be part of a Wine Tasting during the trip.

In the old days of travel when most of it was by train, and there was a large number of Train Companies instead of just Amtrak, the routes had special names like "The City of San Fransisco", "Meteor", "Hiawatha", "Empire Builder".  Names have come and gone in the railroads long history and when Amtrak was formed in 1971 the Empire Builder stayed as it always has been since 1929.

So we left Vancouver and started east, The route takes us up the Columbia River and through the Columbia River Gorge, where the sites are very beautiful. You pass by several dams and locks. See eagles and tons of ducks. There are several good tunnels you go through if you are into that type of thing. The Gorge is a very interesting place one of my new favorites here in Washington.
This is a picture of the Gorge I took a few months ago. You will notice a prominence to the left, in the distance, that is Beacon Rock.  I hear there is a trail that will take you to the top of that rock. As for the train, they built a tunnel that goes right through Beacon Rock. I took a picture in Sepia to see how it would turn out.
 The train leaves Portland around 5pm,  In the summer up here there is daylight until just past 9pm or later, so we were able to see a lot of scenery heading out of the Gorge.  As you head east you can see where all that Pacific Northwest rain stops falling. Trees turn to grass, and the Gorge turns into Prairie.  There are adventures to be had in the Gorge and someday we will go enjoy them.

The Gorge is also a favorite place for Wind and Para Surfers. The prairie heats up during the day and that air rises and draws cool air up the tight Gorge and you get great conditions for Windsurfing. Sometimes the water is full of hundreds of colorful sails.  The crazy thing is that if the wind is blowing in the Gorge the waves start building up and you can see these windsurfers fly into the air off these waves and eat it wildly.  Wind was calm so no surfers when we past by. I did see a couple of those new boards that you stand up on and paddle.

One last thing on the Gorge and the Columbia River. They have built these huge dams for Hydroelectric Power. Some of them have these huge locks to let boats and barges travel up and down stream.  A lot of grain and wood pulp gets moved up and down this river.  When I get a boat I'm going up through those locks someday.

After a couple of stops at some small towns in the Gorge and a town called Pasco, we started to nod off and sleep on the way to Spokane Wa.  The Empire Builder has two parts to it and at Spokane, depending on which way it is going it is split apart or connected together. One part is for the Portland Area and the other is for the Seattle Area.  It is weird when they do the switch over. You have been sitting on this train for hours with all the track noise and the air conditioning making noise and they shut it all down and there is like this dead silence and only some small lights. This is where the Dinning car is attached because it stays with the Seattle train. The first time I rode the train I wanted breakfast before we arrived in Portland, but when I got to the Observation car I notice the the Locomotive out the door, luckily there is a snack bar in the lower part of the Observation car.

Advice for if you ride on the train, keep your hands on the seat backs or the luggage rack as you walk down the isles.  That train rocks from time to time and can throw you around some. More on that later.

One of the stops is at a place in Idaho called Sandpoint.  I have never seen it in the daylight. Some sort of Resort town, big lake there that I have seen on Google Earth. They serve Adult Beverages in the observation car so I went down to grab a couple of beers. Some people were already down there for fourth or fifths. I didn't find any thing for the cute girlfriend, although later we did get her a small wine and a sprite to make a wine cooler. We got a little sleep between Pasco and Spokane and after putting the two trains together got some more sleep between Spokane and Sandpoint.

It was somewhere before Sandpoint that there was this crash next to us that woke us up. We turn to see these legs up in the air. The nice Lady Conductor was asking if the person that had just fallen onto her and was now laying at her feet, if she were ok. This lady had come to the back of the car looking for the bathroom, boy was she hammered, The train lurched as it does from time to time and there she went ass over tea kettle, as my mom use to say, right into the conductor's lap and then to the floor at the conductors feet.

The conductor was asking her again if she was ok and if she was looking for the restroom. The train car is a two story deal. You enter from the middle of the car on the first floor, where the restrooms are along with some luggage racks, then go up these tight three turn stair cases to the sitting area. The stairs can disorient you even if you are sober. The drunk lady is now on her feet and now at the very back of the car behind us touching the panels that contain some train related storage and air handling machinery and the trash. I think that in her inebriated state she was thinking this train was like an airplane and the restrooms are at the back.

The conductor and I finally convinced the lady that the restrooms were downstairs. Good lord this lady was almost blind drunk. She headed off back towards the middle of the car where the stairs are, pausing and looking in over other passengers spots looking for the stairs. She passed the stairs for a second and noticed them and started down. I was figuring the train would lurch again and she would end up as a pile at the bottom. I guess she figured it out because we didn't see her again.

 Between Sandpoint and Libby you pass over the Idaho Montana border from that point on you will be spending the rest of your day in Montana. You are heading into the Rockies at this point. Somewhere between Libby MT and a town called White Fish MT there is a tunnel.  I saw this also on Google Earth. The train tracks go into this mountain and come back out miles away on the other side. I was awake about 4:30 ish and it was starting to get light out I was starting to make out the river we were traveling next to. I must have woke up the cute girlfriend with all my looking around, she is such a light sleeper, and I told her that I thought we we coming up on this really long tunnel. I looked it up again here as I was writing this because I couldn't remember the name. It is called the Flathead Tunnel, it is in the Flathead Mountains after all.

I was looking this tunnel up online here and in the search there was a Youtube video for this tunnel. It was posted by this guy who hops trains. Boring as hell him just rambling on about how he caught the train.  I had no Idea that there was still hobos around. I thought jumping trains was very illegal, but this knucklehead is posting his exploits online....sheesh. It boring but I will link it here as proof there are still hobos.

So we enter the tunnel and I start counting in my head. I'm at around 75 when the cute girlfriend has to use the restroom. She gets up and I sit there counting in my head she goes downstairs and is down there a few minutes. I made it to about maybe 280 before my ADHD kicked in and was distracted by this light in the tunnel that went by. There was some sort of marker light about every half mile or so. Cute girlfriend comes back from the restroom and we are still in this tunnel. This thing is just short of 7 miles long and is the second longest railroad tunnel in the US.  I guess the longest tunnel is the Cascade Tunnel on the line heading to Seattle. Interesting read on how they pump air into the tunnels on that link.  My ears kept popping as we went through the Flathead tunnel, I thought it was the suction of the train passing through the tunnel but this air pump method they have makes more sense now that I have read about it on that Cascade Tunnel Wiki page.

We arrived in White Fish MT around 8am or so, I talked cute girlfriend into some breakfast in the Dining Car. She is not much of a breakfast person and the seat had not treated her well that night so she was not the happiest camper. The dining car is way forward of the train. You sit communal style. You walk in they put you at a table with another passenger and you eat with them. The guy across from us was not a very talkative person. We order the Omelet and juice and coffee. It is very expensive to eat in the dining car, but I recommend at least one meal there just for the experience. Just like Danny Kay and Bing Crosby sitting in the dining car in the move "White Christmas"...oh great now I have that "Snow" song in my head.

We were in there for a few minutes and had already been seated when and ordered when we first met the Hostess of the Dining Car. We were sitting at the entrance to the car and got to see her in action. The way she talked to people and dealt with them was just a little gruff.  I would describe her as probably a detail oriented person and could coordinate the seating to the car with great skill. Alas like most detail oriented people she was not a people oriented  We called her "Sunshine" for the rest of the trip. She would announce who's tables were ready, and when the car would close down for the change of meal times and breaks, and she came through the cars getting dinner reservations. She seamed to have been doing this job for a long time and was just jaded by it.

So we get our meals and the train starts to roll. We are sitting with our backs towards the forward motion of the train which is unnerving at first. We only roll forward a hundred yards or so and the train reverses. it comes to a stop and then the power is cut. I guess they have to do this when they hook or disconnect cars.
I looked over at one of the conductors that was sitting at the table across from us taking his break and ask him if we are having mechanical issues or something.

He says they are hooking up a Private Coach to the train.  In this day and age you just don't think that there are still private train cars. He tells us a story about a family that rented this private coach and started out in LA and took it up to the coast and then to places like Yellowstone and such and ended up in Florida near Disney World or something. He said it was over a million dollars for this excursion. I got on my phone and looked it up on Google and saw that there were quite a few private train coaches around for hire.

Later on when we made our first stop in North Dakota I got off the train to get some pictures of the private coach.
It is one of the old Dome Cars from the late 50's.
I told the guy at the back of the train to smile. I didn't have much time but I talked to the guy briefly. He and the lady are part of the wait staff for this car. One of them I guess is the chef. To my friend Chef Greg...this maybe your calling...grin.  The name on the side of the car is Sierra Hotel, it really brought back some memories of my youth when we rode the train.  I remember riding up in the dome going through Oregon one time. Check out the Sierra Hotel website, how cool would it be to rent one of these!

Well the train started rolling again and we finished our meal and headed back to our seats. As you walk around the cars you see a wide range of personal entertainment. Most people have their laptops out and a movie or game playing on it.

Behind our seats was this kind of dead space area that you could fit in. Which came in handy when we went through my favorite part of the Empire Builder Route.  Glacier National Park. The tracks follow the Flathead River up in to the park and up and over Marias Pass and beyond out onto the the mid-west prairies. I took some video of the Flathead river.  It had this cool green color to it, tinted train window didn't do any of my pictures any justice.

Glacier National Park has been around since 1910, and the trains have been and integral part of the park, but one of the more famous forms of transportation is the Red Autobuses better known as "Red Jammers''

You may have seen one of these beauties in the Rose Parade. I found this Photo on Nice Craftsman Lodge behind the Red Jammer. I saw one going up the Highway that parallels the tracks but my camera would have never got the shot...sigh.  I guess they call them Jammers because you had to grind the gears trying to clime the hills back in the old days.  The Vistas are wonderful.
I would love to spend a few days seeing the sites here sometime.  As we passed the Summit for the rail line there was an obelisk standing tall next to Hwy 2, the road next to the tracks. This is the Continental Divide and a monument to a couple of people. The place is Called Marias Pass.

The Obelisk is a Monument to Theodore Roosevelt. I like the story how the land was donated for the monument, follow the link. There is also a statue of a gentleman named John Frank Stevens, the principal engineer for the Great Northern Railway that charted the route through Marias Pass. After this we stopped at east Glacier where I got a crappy shot of the Lodge there.
From hear on out it is nothing but Prairie, a rolling land of grass, wheat, and cattle, oh and of late....OIL WELLS!
There is another Obelisk not too much further down the tracks.
This one has to do with these guys.

Camp Disappointment, during the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Capt. Lewis tried to find out if the Missouri Watershed went up to the 50th Parallel to try and get more land for the United States, but at this point found out it didn't hence the Disappointment. I saw this marker when I was heading west on the train back in March and Googled it on the train. I saw it and had thought Wounded Knee, but was reminded that the Knee is in South Dakota.

When I moved up to North Dakota to work I started seeing these signs every where. The Missouri River is just south of Minot and all the Highways paralleling the Missouri seem to have these signs on them. Funny thing is when the Cute Girlfriend and I move lock stock and barrel up here to Washington State I was barraged by more signs. South of Minot there is a man made lake called Sakakawea and here in Longview Wa there is a lake Sacagewea. It is amazing how much land those guys and gals surveyed. Plus the myth and legend that there travels have become.

At one point during our train ride I had to use the restroom and was going down the stairs to the lower section of the car. The stairs are very steep and have blind corners. Well I miss judged one of my steps going for the second landing down and ended up jumping two steps and landed on my feet with a thud. Just starting up the stairs is this poor Mennonite gentleman, startled him and he jumped back thinking I was going to hit him or  Poor guy.  The Mennonites are related to the Amish, so if you have seen the movie Witness with Harrison Ford, a guy dressed like that was who I startled. He said he was in no hurry and I apologized that I had startled him. He and his wife were the only Mennonites in our car, and some others were in a car forward of us. The man came back to the conductor next to us to plead his case for moving up to the next car to be with his brothers and sisters. It is very interesting to see them and watch them interact.

We stopped at Havre MT where I ran to a couple of places to find some tums for the cute girlfriend. She was afraid I was going to miss the train. Found the tums in the train station even though I ran down to the main street of town to what I thought was a mini-mart. I had a couple of minutes left so I grabbed a shot of this steam locomotive that was displayed at the station.
I love this guy in the pic, he looked right at me as I was taking the picture and walked right into it...he is an who is oblivious of what else is going on around Mr Oblivion my revenge is to post your butt on my blog and call you a Knucklehead!...grin
This was the placard on the train...I love info like this.

The test of the trip was pretty boring, look out the window, play Sudoku. When we hit North Dakota I called my friend to tell him the train was very late.  He told me he would leave his car at the train station and where he had hid the keys.

As we got closer to our destination I started pointing stuff out to the cute girlfriend, town names, any cool old houses, and since the train passes my favorite church in ND she got to see that go by. We finally get to Minot and get our butts off the train.  I go looking for my friends car.  Cute girlfriend is thinking my friend brought our Lincoln to the station. I find my friends car and it is backed up against the loading platform for the train and there are knuckleheads leaning against it.  I needed to walk up nonchalantly and retrieve the keys from there hiding place. Cute girlfriend is perplexed about this point and has no idea as to what I was up to.

This Conductor from the train spots me with my luggage and comes over and askes me what my destination is.  At this point I grab the keys from their hiding place and tell the conductor "Minot"...he looks at the list in his hands and I'm sure he has already crossed off Minot. He says "oh my we have a problem here".

I start unlocking the car, now cute girlfriend is totally lost, why am I getting in this little white Aveo and not finding the Lincoln. The conductor is still not getting it and neither is the cute girlfriend.  I had to tell the conductor that I was home and this was Minot and that I just got off the  Poor guy he got it then and moved on.  Then I get this "Kris what are you doing?" I tell her to get her luggage in that this is my friends car...."OHHH!"

We drag our luggage into the house and there are 3 cute kids waiting for us. One of them was very happy to see me. Her nick name is PenGwen, she is so cute.  I had missed her very much and was good to hug her and tell her hello, Her older sister Desi had grown since I last saw her. Then there is the world famous Colin.
I sure do miss those kids, they made my homesickness a lot easier. More on our Road Trip home on another post. Here Colin is stealing the show.



Sunday, July 7, 2013

Another Romancing of Boats

A couple of years ago I Blogged about the Romance of Boats. I focused on a Famous Washington State Ferry, The Kalakala, A 1930's Art Deco streamline ferry that use to ply the waters of the Puget Sound.

We moved up to Washington State in September of 2012 while I was still working up in North Dakota. I took the train to Washington for Christmas to be with the Cute Girlfriend for the Holidays. I will digress here and say that riding the train is a nice way to travel if you are not pressed for time. You can see bits of America as you are traveling. The Train from Minot ND, to Portland OR Goes through Glacier National Park and the Columbia River Gorge all of which are beautiful country. We are taking the train back to Minot here in a week or so and will get to see Glacier during the summer.

So I come back to Washington for the Holidays. Just Before New Years I drove to Tacoma Wa to visit my Aunt  Sue.  Her son Wayne was there, with his son. We had Brunch at a nice little eatery just down the street and then walk in the park that is just across the street from the eatery.  My Aunt ask if I wanted to see something around here in Tacoma. I in returned ask her if she wanted to go on a little adventure. Aunt Sue and Wayne were game and asked what it was.

I told them that I wanted to try to get some pictures of the Kalakala.  If I remember correctly she didn't know it was docked there in Tacoma. I found it's location using Google Earth, the repository of all things seen from a Satellite. So we all loaded up in the truck and headed down to the Tacoma Docks.

The Kalakala has fallen on hard time. The Gentleman that was trying to save her was having trouble getting financial backing to save her. No wonder he had trouble he had this pie in the sky idea to have it run on solar power or wind power....sigh.  You would have to have more solar panels or wind propellers than boat to make something like that move for heaven sake.  It was sitting in Tacoma for a while until it started taking on water and listing horribly.

Image is from
The US Coast Guard got involved then and declared the boat a menace to navigation fearing it would capsize in the narrow channel and blocking it.  The coast guard then said they could not do any restoration work on the water, or any repairs and put the whole project in a stalemate.  The owner then sued the State of Washington in an effort to save the historic vessel from sinking.  The Ferry is on the National Historic Registry. He wanted the state to repair the boat.

I would love to see the boat repaired and put to some use at some wharf but it would cost more that $50 Million to get it done, maybe a lot more. I can picture it with some nice restaurant upstairs and a deck all made out like it use to be when it ferried from Seattle to Bremerton with some nice shops and a Bar and snack bar mixed in. Some nice old cars lined up on the car deck as a museum of sorts.

I don't think the tax paying public should pay for it though. Some entrepreneur needs to come forward and save this baby and try to make some money at the same time. The state could give the guy some tax breaks or something.

Well the guy that owns where the Kalakala is moored had to sue the Kalakala owner for back rent to temporarily save her. Scrapping her would be a losing deal too, hardly any good metal on her. It would cost a good sum to get her sea worthy enough to just tow her out and sink her as an artificial reef.  I can see this won't be a easy fix in any direction

 So we all went down to take a look at her and see if I could get some good pictures. It was kind of a drizzly day, what else is new this is the Pacific Northwest it always rains here, so it wasn't a great day to get out of the truck.  I didn't get any good pictures but I did get these.

This was kind of blurry so I took another picture of her nose peaking around the building.
Here is a better pic.
I can't believe the poor pilot had to drive this thing staring out that cycloptic portal on top.  I really need to get a real camera that can take long distance shots.  I could have got some shots from a bridge to her stern.

We looked at her for a few minutes from the waters edge.  We saw some sea lions in the channel and they came over near us. We hope they would come a shore in front of us but it wasn't going to happen. We had a good time with this short adventure.

What ever the Kalakala's final fate is I'm ready for it. Someone needs to keep the Romance alive and save this boat. Hey Bill Gate's you fine philanthropist, here is a worthy cause!  I have my fingers crossed. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

4th of July in Kelso Washington

Yesterday was the 4th of July, my first here in Washington State.  Well my first in 46 years, I was born in this state. The weather on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, were very hot and muggy, kind of above the norm for this part of the country. I was expecting to be sitting out by our pool all day with all that heat but the day started out kind of cool.  It was a quick weather change.

Last week the Cute Girlfriend had bought a pool for the Grandkids, although I think it was more for her so she could sit in the water....grin.  It is one of those plastic pools with the blow up ring around the top.  The set up in instructions says it needs to sit on flat ground.  The lot we live on slopes down to a river, so level ground is not an option here. There is sort of a berm to the south of the house where the land looks like it is level. Key word is "LOOKS".  I set up the pool in the "level" area and started to fill it. I knew I was in trouble when all the water started pooling all on one side. I dumped out the water and stuck a shovel in the ground to see if I could level it...NOT.  We had a friend come over with his tiller and loosen the soil up some. I raked it all flat the day after and set up the pool and started to fill.  Again there was still a slope.  I had even mounded up the soil, let's call it grass, on the down hill side. The water started pushing the edge down hill up over the mound I had made.  OK put on my engineering hat.  Cute Girlfriend and I went to Home Cheapo and bought some sand and a rebar stake.

I had a straight 2X4 at the house and a torpedo level. I drilled a hole in the 2X4, through the 4 inch side so the stake would go through it and I could spin it in a circle with the level on the board to level the ground. I put the hole in the 2X4 at the 6' mark to make a 12' circle with little tail past the stake in hope to keep the whole area flat. I took to leveling and filling. As I went around something would change and when I would start to get back to the starting point something would be out of wack.  I cut off the tail end of the 2X4 near the stake thinking it was riding up near the stake throwing off my level. I re-level the circle again and had all sides level. I even pulled sand from the middle to make the base kind of cup a little.

Set up pool start refill. The water filled the bottom of the pool evenly but as it got to the top it was still leaning down hill. At that point it was just going to be good enough. At least it was shallow enough so the youngest grandchild could keep her head above water.  I'm not claiming a success on this one but I'm not calling it a fail. The kids all spent the hot days playing in it. My water bill is going to be huge with all that dumping of water to get it level.  Oh well the kids had fun.

Ok so we have the back yard mostly set up for the 4th. Fireworks are legal hear in this part of the state, understandable so, it is so wet here nothing can catch fire. As is normal for this time of year, the week before the 4th the fireworks stands pop up. You can even buy those mortars here in this state and fire off your own sky ward fireworks. This is counter to where I use to live, Southern California, where the sun shinning through a piece of broken glass can make the whole place go up in smoke.

On the 1st the fireworks started to go off. On the 2nd they were even lighting them off during the day, On the 3rd the neighbor hood to the south west of us, he whispers, trailer park, had them going until late in the night.
Cute Girlfriend had got some deals on fireworks on that "Groupon" site and she came home the other day with these boxes, and the usual party pack of fountains and sparklers.

Poor Cute Girlfriend had to work on the 4th, so I kissed her as she went out the door in the morning and set up the house a little and put out the Flag.
You can see the pool back on the left. That Flag is a real one with stitched stars and everything. I believe it is one of those flags you can get that has flown over the US Capitol. I got it from my Grandad.

I set up a launch pad on the dock back by the river. Here is our dock.
We live in a town called Kelso, named after Kelso Scotland, it is on the Cowlitz river, which the river in our back yard drains to. On the west side of the Cowlitz is West Kelso and the City of Longview Washington.  They are kind of the twin cities here in Washington State, well besides Walla Walla, oh man is that an old joke. Longview has a big festival around Lake Sacajawea, a nice park and walking path encircles the lake.
That is where they light off their fireworks from and they have bands and food booths put up by local Churches, Rotary, Swim Team and the like, plus the usual swap meet type booth.

After the Cute Girlfriend got home we loaded up the truck with grandkids and headed down to the lake to see what was going on. They had bands there and all the fun foods like Fried Twinkies, Garlic Fries, Fried Oreos. We got the kids faces painted.  Girlfriend found a nice summer dress with a tag on it that said "FREE" on it, of course the guy at the booth said it was $45. We had a little fun with that one. We saw a guy with a Nimbus 2000 on a table I spotted Harry Potter's Broom first...grin. One of the grand daughters saw some other Harry Potter stuff there and she got a wand, fancy stick with a jewel rock stuck on it, and some potions, one smelled good the the other NOT.

There was this one smiling young man with a booth that had all these color photos he had taken. He was 17 and had a very large portfolio of photos that he had taken. He was very good. Everyone seemed to come by and tell them of some of the pictures they had taken and he kind of just smiled and just semi-engaged in the conversation. I noticed when I started talking about the pictures I had taken in North Dakota he just smiled big and was only 1/4 there with  I asked him more questions about how he got his shots and if he enhanced them and he told me how he took the picture and what filters, that got him a little more talkative. He was definitely the artist type, the good with his photos type, people skills need polishing type. He was young though and had a passion for his work. Cute Girlfriend and I liked the picture he had of an abandoned farm house with the stary Milky Way behind it. It was a long exposure shot with a flash light in the upstairs of the house for effect. We bought it. He talked of his work like it was and addiction so, as I handed him some cash for the picture I told him we were helping fund his habit. The picture of a picture does not do it justice.

A big plus what the story that went with the photo. He said this house was rumored to be haunted. He wanted the light effect in the upstairs of the house so he went up there to put a flashlight in a room. He said as he was going up the stairs he spooked some owl and it scared the crap out of him. He just threw the light in the room and ran out of the house.  I loved that

So we got some Fried Twinkies and Oreos, and my favorite the Garlic Fries and headed back home to start the grill and get ready to light off our fireworks. After dinner we sat a little and watch TV and played on computers.

At dusk I went out and wet down the grass around the dock and also wet the dock down, I had put 4 concrete pavers down to protect the dock and give the fireworks a good base to go off on.  Cute Girlfriend had got some of those "punk stick" lighters, but they were nowhere to be found, darn ghost moving stuff again.

I get everything ready and have a nice butane lighter to get things started. Every time I tried to light a firework it was like something was blowing out the damn lighter.  A slight breeze was blowing and no matter how I blocked it somehow it blew out, darn ghost again!

My good lighter with the flame out on the end of a tube to keep your hands singe free stopped working. none of the other good lighters we had could be found. Ghost?  We dug up some more lighters that were just as problematic, but with some fancy hand positions we got all the fountains lit off.  Cute Girlfriend had got these firework boxes, something I had never seen before, that said "Attitude Adjustment", great a Hank Williams Jr.  I thought they were just more fountains. Being from California you never get something that shoots into the air.

So I put this box on the launch pad. I'm a little dubious, because it has a fuse taped to the outside of it and say "LIGHT HERE" on it.  I still think this is a fountain when I light it and have the hose ready figuring it will burn down the dock as the fountain lights the paper around it.  I'm walking away from it with my back turned until I get away from it. A small boom happens, I spin and follow the sparks up. POW! We have a real fireworks show in a box. It even has a little grand finale. Very cool. Buying more of those next year!

Kind of funny to watch all the personal aerial fireworks displays going off all around you. Rarely saw that in California, very illegal to do it.  Cute Girlfriend said when she lived in Vancouver Wa. she never remembered this much fireworks going off around her house.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

North Dakota Living rebuilding the American Four Square

The American Foursquare home is a staple in the American Mid-West. Realistically easy to build. It was good for large families.  It fit well on a small city lot. It's popularity was helped by the fact that Sears and Roebuck Modern Home Catalog sold, "build yourself" kit home of this type of house.
Sears Model 52
Sears Hamilton
Sears Chelsea

Click on the link and check out the prices.
Another Kit home company called Aladdin Homes had some models

This one is very much like the one I lived in while in North Dakota.  These houses are so prevalent in the mid west they are called "Prairie Boxes".
Homes built in the early 1900's were more of a personal thing. The owner had his or her hands in most of the design and building of it. The designs and look  could be anything from Victorian to Craftsman or a little of both.  Brick, Shingle, Clapboard, or Stucco where used on these simple homes. Depending on the region the looks would vary too.  The Foursquares I have seen up here in the Pacific Northwest since I moved up here have a different look.
Like this one...if you notice how the upstairs front widows are out a little from the house. Image from

The Famous Architect Frank Lloyd Wright even put his mark on the Foursquare.

This is a good example of Wrights Prairie School influence. Image from

Our house in North Dakota had some of these influences too.  She was built in 1913, making her 100 years old this year. Now for my story.

In August of 2011 my friend Kevin convince me to come up to North Dakota to work. He was staying in his 36 foot Fifth Wheel in a makeshift trailer park at this RV store. The first night up there I had to sleep in his bed with him in it too. We agreed there would be no spooning! His son-in-law was sleeping on the floor in the living room of the trailer.  The son-in-law was going to stay at his sisters house until his wife came up and we could all find a house.  We needed to find a place before October because the Trailer park shut down for the winter.

Kevin's wife was back in the trailer a couple of days later. I have known Kevin and his wife since High School. I was even Best man at their wedding. Back in High School Kev's wife and I actually went to Prom together, so we all know each other very well.

So we set up to living and working in lovely North Dakota. From that point on I considered them my Minot Family.  The first week I was there I was training and getting physicals and all so I had not much work to do. Kev's daughter was there a few days after I arrived . She had brought her 3 children with her.  We all set out to find a house to live in.There were several problems though.

The houses that were available for sale were over the top expensive, and all the rentals were taken up by the oil workers.  They put a few offers in on a couple of homes on the market but none were taken. On top of that the City of Minot had just gone through the worst flood in it's existence.

 I saw the aftermath of the flood, it was the most heartbreaking thing I had seen in a long while.  It was the "Perfect Storm". The Fall of 2010 was very wet, winter 2010/2011 was more snow than they had  seen in 60 years. The ground was saturated and could absorb no more water. Canada started releasing waters from it'd dams up stream in the winter they had so much water. The spring melt was much more than the Canadian water system and the Army Corps or Engineers water system could handle. Then it started to rain. By May evacuations of people down by the river was in full effect. They started building dikes to contain what they new was going to be a flood of unseen proportions. The company we worked for sent my friend Kev down with a huge excavator to help build the dikes.  He said it was amazing to watch that much water going by him as shoveled dirt. The flood was something like 10 feet over the last record. Normally if it floods in Minot, the river spills over the berm, floods some basements and leaves some mud in the streets. This flood was almost to the roof line of the single story homes.

This flood displaced hundreds of families in many of the towns along the river. FEMA brought in tons of trailer and built whole trailer parks for the displaced. Some people still live in those trailers today. The waters receded and some people started emptying out the debris that was once there love and joy of a home. Many were upside down on their home as it was because of the economy and they gave the flooded hulks back to the bank. Some of the resilient started posting yellow signs with "We'll Be Back" on them and started work on their homes to get them back to normal. The Nice people my friend bought the house from couldn't see how they could go back to the once lovely home that they had fixed up over the years. Raised a family in, put their love, and time into.  You could see it in their eyes when they showed it to us, the sadness of loss, how hard it was to be in the ruin of their old dream.

I mentioned this before in an earlier blog. We had been looking at houses and place to possibly put the trailer so we could live. The only things that were even in the ball park was a flood home. we rolled down into these areas at dusk a few times and it was eerie to see. Dingy covered in mud, no electricity so there was no sign of life, no animal life around, horrible. We had toured a few homes down in the flood zone.  We were looking at this small home on a corner lot, the house was probably not worth saving, but we could put the trailers on it and hope to stay there for a year maybe two.  Across the street was this American Foursquare with a for sale by owner in the yard. I told my friends that is the house we should get. But the price was too much to get a loan on, especially on a flood damaged home.

Every time we passed by that house I told them that was the house we needed. It was a classic home and would have great resale value if fixed up right. As it got down to the wire at the trailer park some providence came our way. Kev's daughter, my god daughter, had talked to the owner of this Foursquare and he liked her and the fact that her husband was in the military. He agreed to let them make payments to him and not have to go through a bank. It was actually advantageous for both parties on this.  He could sell an almost unsellable house to people he could trust, and we had a place to live.

I get this message from my friends wife or maybe it was the god daughter, I can't remember which, stating that they got "My" house.  It was a teasing "I hope your happy now" message. The owner got the Electricity back on and gas so we could heat and do the final drying out of the house. He had the place treated earlier for mold and we wedged two large Fifth Wheel trailers in the back yard. I mean wedge there was maybe an inch and a half on either side to put these two units in there.

It is a two story home so the upstairs was untouched by the flood.  I temp wired the upstairs into the new breaker box and moved a bed and a heater into one of the rooms of the old house.  I spent the first night in my own room in ND, and reported the next morning that the nice old house was not haunted.  I had to keep all this living in the house on the low key.  The city had not declared it liveable yet.

Here is our lovely Foursquare.
I'm not sure what supported this old lady but, it was scary to look at what held things up. For instance the center of the house on the main floor was held up by a simple 2X4 wall. If you will look at the chimney, although it is a nicely done tapered to the top chimney it was an after thought to this house and someone had just cut a hole in the wall, right through the wall studs and put it in. That is one of the first thing we supported on this house.

 We had to wedge that beam into the studs to get it to work.  They bought a bunch of house jacks and we set to making things level, or rather as level as you can make a 100 year old house that has settled and sagged. During this time we would jack up the center of the house a fraction of an inch in the basement to bring the center of the house up some. We sistered one of the beams in the basement to help support the house better.  We also put up this bubble wrap silver insulation to help hold in the heat for the winter.  Pretty neat stuff, it did a great job and kept the house warm.

Next we supported a wall in the kitchen area. A lot of weight was just hanging over the kitchen windows simple 2X4 frame.
This was the last beam we needed on the outside, it was now time to work more on the middle. Here is some stuff we were up against.
Take a close look at this 2X4. It was actually 2 scraps cut to fit together. This was on the end of the center supporting wall...luckily there is now weight on this so it has lasted for 100 years.
 You can almost see the sag of the floor above the beam.  If you look close enough you can see the difference in lengths of the little supports above the beam.  To the left is one of the house jacks holding up and lifting part of the center of the house. The Plaster upstairs started to crack as we started this process. The top of the stairs felt a lot more solid when we were done lifting.
On the ceiling  of the picture above you can see the start of the plate for the new 2X6 center wall to replace the old one shown.
 Above we are supporting the old wall. the old lath and plaster use to help do this but with that gone the house was a little shaky.  It took us a while to get through with this part. We did have help though from the World Famous Collin.
That little monkey was just starting to walk and he saw us and his dad climbing those ladders and using the tools and he would want to help, and also climb to the top. On the floor next to him is the new beam about to go up.  Collin would grab a screw driver and put it on something and make like he was fixing it, cute as hell.
New beam goes up and is supported.
After getting that center wall built we started to rewire the down stairs and put things to code. We also replace some windows and installed new ones where none were before.  Then re-plumbing the main floor.  We used this stuff called Pex. It is a modular plastic hose and clamp and fitting type of set-up.  The stuff is very good in cold climates and doesn't burst when it freezes.  Then came the drywall. My friends wife is an artist with drywall texture. When she was done the walls looked just like plaster walls. Then came the day to put in a sink and stove in the kitchen.
This was actually a mile stone. Up to this point all the cooking was being done outside in one of the trailers, and we were eating like campers for almost a year.  We all sat down to a home cooked meal at a dinner table we could all sit at.

Just before the winter of 2012 everybody moved into the house and a room was built in the basement for "Uncle Fester", Me, so everyone would have a room.  The one shower made for an interesting time with all those people in the house.

During the first winter there I had bought one of those fake electric fireplaces on sale.  It had a heater in it and would warm a room on the cold nights. I set up my room with a micro fridge and found a floor model flat screen TV for cheap. I was set even in the basement.

I have been told that a lot has been done in my absence so be surprised when I head up there in a couple of weeks.  I think this house was the best thing for all of us up there.  The people that buy this house next will be getting a much better house than when it was built 100 years ago.  I'm going to miss all the debates on engineering and processes and styles, we had while working on this house. She sure is a beautiful old lady.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

North Dakota and a visit from my kids

Early last spring my son and daughter decided to take a road trip up to see me in North Dakota.  I had just been through my first North Dakota winter and it was good to have some visitors.  By early spring I mean, in North Dakota it could snow again at any moment.

I get this call from my son and he asks if I would like them to come up for a visit. He wants to drive up.  From Pasadena Ca. 1667 miles, 25 plus hours straight driving. I say ok and tell them to keep an eye on the weather and stop and even turn around if need be. My son was almost 17 at the time and my daughter was along for the ride she was 23 then so it should go well. I'm always proud of those two, the get along very well for sibling.  If they weren't separated by such age I would say they are twins, they get along so well.

So it was late on like a Wednesday they start their journey.  Thank god this isn't the 70's or this story would have started with something more like....12 pack of beer and 3 bags of potato chip the kids hit the road.  Thank the heavens the kids don't take after their

They hit the road and made it as far as Mesquite NV before stopping for the night. There was some weather brewing over Washington state by the next morning.  Concerned dad that I am, I was checking the weather reports hourly. They got up and played the slots and roulette table for a while then started out again. I love the roulette table. When my daughter reads this she will texting me..."DAD!" So minus the gambling they start out again. It seamed to take for ever for them to get anywhere. They are in a nice running Toyota Camry and it just seams for ever for them to get from town to town. Impatient dad that I am I texted them often demanding progress reports. Of course the text would take a while to find them in BFE Utah and I would worry.

So there is this late spring snow storm. The Satellite pictures and weather man say this storm will close down the passes in Montana.

When I drove this trail to North Dakota I had started out at 3am and couldn't do more than 65 in my poor little Geo Metro and I made it to almost Billings Montana before I had to shut down...god knows what time that was in the morning. My daughter says he drove like grandma.

The way I judged it they would be ahead of the storm if they drove the speed limit, 75 in some parts of Utah.
There is a part where you have to get off I-15 in Idaho and start cross country and pass by Yellowstone to get to Bozeman Montana to get over to I-90.  East of Bozeman is one last high mountain pass before you start on the down hill towards the prairie.

The weatherman is saying the snow is deep in the Rockies and heading east.  I'm coaxing the kids to get over that pass before it starts to snow. It was getting late and they had not texted me in a while. I had texted them to tell them not to go over that pass if it was snowing.  No reply. I went to bed and tried to sleep.
3am I get this text that they are in Billings MT and they will start out later in the morning. I asked if there was any snow. She texted back that not one flake hit the car. Billings is east of the pass so I was relieved and also contemplating beating the weather channel people with an umbrella.  Fricking weathermen, liars!

I go to work the next morning and the kids are texting me as they make each new town. Finally at 3pm on Friday they come and pick me up at my work in Tioga ND. They think they are home now but they don't realize that we are still 80 miles from home still.

All that weather never materialized over ND the whole time they were there.

I took Saturday off and we went and spent some time together. I thought we could go on an adventure. First stop the train trestle outside of Minot.
This Trestle is made of iron, but I think the first one was made of wood but burned down sometime in the past. It is called the Gassman Coulee Trestle, one of those wonders of the rail road world.
Since taking these pictures I have found out that this thing is the cause of the start of the City of Minot.
The kids and I jockeyed around the little valley to get different shots of the trestle.
My Daughter was trying to get some good shots with her camera. My son was just enjoying doing the driving.
Minot ND is called the "Magic City", and as I found out this Trestle or rather this valley is the reason. What I read was that the Great Northern Rail Road was pushing through this area and were having trouble building this bridge when winter started to set in. The rail road workers and the support people set up a tent city where Minot stands today.  It seams that after about 6 months the town reached about 5000 people.  Poof as if by Magic a town pops up out of the prairie.

From there we headed west looking for the mystery town of Tagus ND. This is a town that is listed on a road sign in Berthold ND as 9 miles away, but no sign ever tells you to turn to it. Tagus has some funny history to it when you read about it. The town church was said to be haunted and burned down because of the mischief that rumor caused.  Follow the link.
We found the Cemetery.
And that is the sign post up ahead...welcome to the the twilight zone.
Nothing very photogenic in Tagus so this is the only pictures we took.
The next mission was a total fail. About 2 miles west on the new Highway 2 off the road is two old sun bleached Pullman Coach railroad cars. You can see them from the road but the day we go to see it they had just tore up the road to get to it for a gravel and sand pit. FAIL I'm going to get a picture of those cars when I go up there on the 15th of July
We drove around some looking at what few attractions we could find. We drove over Lake Darling. If you like fishing and hunting water fowl then this is the place for you.
I did find a Craftsman Farm house to take a pic of.
  I love that Sepia Setting.  We drove home after this, they were still tired from their travels.
The next day we set off north again to see if we could find another small North Dakota town. We found and old school along the way so we stopped to take a look at it.
 It was a one room place with a spooky basement. It had been used well into the 60's, it had a drop ceiling in it which was kind of modern. Again we head north, and a little west. We ended up in a place called Niobe ND, it was a nice community but nothing photogenic. Next we zigzagged north until running into the town of Bowbells ND.  I'm assuming that it is pronounced "boe-bells" not like cow bells. I have never heard any one say the name. We decided to go to the Canadian Border and ended up at a town called Northgate ND. Some photogenic stuff there. This looks like a town that gathered grain from Canada to be sold in the US.
These old wood grain bins are a 100 yards or less from the international line.
This shot looked better.  We found what looked like the old Customs station up this old road.
The new fancy customs station was not very photogenic. We also found this old church.
Next we tried to see if we could get a picture of our selves near the welcome to Canada sign but the American Customs guys were kind of stuffy and we didn't have our passports. So we did the next best thing.
We wanted to find a road that dead ended into the international line and spent the next two hours trying to find one. We kept seeing this Black Helicopter a few miles from us so we stopped looking.  Sheesh we just wanted to put our foot on the line and take a picture. We roamed around some and headed back home. They couldn't stay long and had to head back home, another almost 3 day trek. They doubted if they would do drive again. It was and adventure.

Small Town North Dakota, the Ghost Towns

I have posted on this blog many times about adventures in Ghost Towns. We love Bodie Ca and want to return there every once in a while. While in North Dakota I almost never had time to do any exploring or ghost towning. I worked 6 Days a week and was only at home to sleep. The one day off we had was usually laundry and rest day.  Although we did have a large American Four Square to fix up that took up a lot of spare time. I will blog about that soon.

As it happened I drove through several old towns and ghost towns as part of my driving around and took pictures when I could. Many of the small towns revolve around agriculture, so there is a grain elevator that is the center of town. From high points you can see where all the grain elevators are and with that the towns.

Most of the small old towns in North Dakota might best be called Semi-Ghost Towns. Maybe just one family living in an old house in a run down dirt road settlement with all the buildings around them about to fall down. There was a push by some of these towns and the county that they were in to give away land to people that would move there and stay.  Those didn't turn out so well.

Along comes the new Oil Boom. Tons of oil workers looking for places to stay or park their RV start moving into these old towns and with in a matter of days some small town has now doubled it's population.  Hopefully this current boom will last a few decades and not peter out and make these towns die out completely.

The first I heard of the Bakken Oil Boom was from my friend Kevin calling me and texting me that I need to get my ever widening butt up there because there is tons of money to be had.  Before I went on my cross country truck driving thing, Kevin had called me and told me how they couldn't find a real place to park their RV and had it in a make shift trailer park that would close before the first freeze.

I opened Google Earth and started poking around and looking up all these little towns and clicking on the posted pictures It was amazing to see these old towns in the picture.  You could see they were just a shadow of what they once were.  I saw little towns that were next to rail road tracks  Like, Epping, Wheelock, Temple, White Earth, Ross, Palermo ND.  Towns out in the middle of nowhere like McGregor, Wild Rose, Battle Field, Larson, and my favorite name Flickertail.  Actually Flickertail is one of the States Nicknames, but in Stanley ND is a small town Museum named Flickertail.  I guess flicker tail is the name for those abundant ground squirrels that are all over North Dakota.

Kevin told me that all these towns were full up or uninhabitable, and the day I rolled into North Dakota it was evident by all the RV's lined up in the first town I rolled up on as I left Montana.

In my searches I kind of locked in on this town called Temple ND.  On Google Earth there are little blue squares that show pictures that have been linked to an area you are looking at.  I clicked on one of those and up popped an old church. It was several months after arriving that my driving path finally lead me through Temple ND.
The Church was there and what was left of some old homes.  The Church was almost an obsession with me.  I took pictures of it every time I went by it.  I stopped and took naps and ate lunch behind that church.
I think it is the tower that I like best.

I would sit and eat my lunch and look at the blown out window and open front door and it's dangerously sagging floor, and wonder how many weddings happened there, funerals, Baptism.  I could see people walking out its doors and heading for buggies and old model T's after a service.  If there was a chance I would be near Temple I would intentionally drive by to see if I could take a better picture of it.
 I could see the old rusting boiler down in the basement, all the planks popping off, windows missing and saw something that need to be imaged.
I took pictures from all sides.

It was always fun to stop.
I regret never getting a sunrise or sunset picture with my church.

When I found the Sepia setting on my phone I ran out to my Temple Church and snapped a picture.
A guy in Oil Field Garb down in the grass to get a pic like this must have been a funny site.
I was getting more artsy as I took more of these pictures.
The Tower always reminds me of a Rook from a chess set.

I wonder what kind of clock was in the tower, I'm assuming that is what was in the round
I will probably stop by one more time when I travel back up to North Dakota to get a car and some things I left up there.  The Cute Girlfriend and I are taking the train out to Minot and driving back.

Temple ND wasn't just this church. It was a small community next to the Burlington Northern Tracks.  According to Wikipedia, the definitive source for all suspect information, says that Temple was originally called  Haarstad, after the original land owner and post master.

That reminds me of another town up there, actually two, that were named after the town postmaster. Up near the Canadian border is a couple of towns, Columbus, which is still alive and kicking, and the Town of Larson, which is all but a ghost town now, sorry no pictures. I read that these two towns that are about three miles apart are named after the same guy, postmaster for both towns. Columbus Larson, I read it on the internet so it has to be true!

Back to Temple North Dakota I found a picture of the towns old school house on a forum credit for the picture is to the poster Edsel. Great pic.

When I first drove through this town this school house was not there. I read it had been moved somewhere and the rumor was that it was converted into a house. The steeple is still laying behind the foundation.  Nice school I probably would have taken lots of pics of this one
There is the top of the school house.
Whats left of one of the houses of Temple. I took a picture of the Temple Cemetery but I can not find it sadly. Temple is like so many towns in that part of the country. A forgotten dot on a map.  I can see how the rising cost of farming finally ate these towns and small farms became large farms. Children move off the farm and don't continue with the family farming and it just goes to seed.  Change is all there is in the universe I better get use to it. Nostalgia is nice but you can't let it get you down that places like this wither away. I just memorialized it a while longer here on the  Change will make the internet obsolete soon enough.