Trestle Quest

I’m kind of a fan of trains. Or I at least I was when I was young. I wanted to be an engineer, but that was just as the age of steam locomotives was disappearing. Born too little and too late. A big Union Pacific DD40X diesel-electric just would not do, even if DD and 40 and X all together really should make it sound really big and really appealing. But nope, nothing but iron and steam ever had any appeal for me. I eventually had to give up my dream. (I have to wonder exactly what the UP people were thinking with that designation.) I always go to the U.P with high hopes of witnessing and photographing ominous skies and picturesque, towering thunderclouds, but I’m more likely to encounter clear skies punctuated by drenching downpours and clouds of mosquitoes.

Still, I do enjoy all things railroad even now, albeit on a more casual basis than as a prospective career, esp. since my days of being career-oriented are pretty much over. So it was that last month I found myself in Marquette with a history article and a county map book in my hands, looking for Michigan’s highest railroad trestle, the Lake Superior & Ishpeming (LS&I) Railroad’s Dead River span. At 104 feet in height and 565 feet in length, it has to be very impressive.

Spoiler alert: it does look impressive, but I’ll just have to take their word–and this photo–for it.

The article that pointed me to it said, “Viewable in the woods just north of Eagle Mills…” While that is technically true, it’s misleading. Eagle Mills is south of M28/US41 and the trestle is roughly three miles to the northeast, on the far side of that deadly dangerous, high speed Yooper Autobahn. But first I had to figure that out. Again.

I’d looked up the trestle on google earth, so I had an idea of where it is, but of course I didn’t bother to refresh my memory before trying to come at it from the north via county road 510, which starts south a few miles south of Big Bay, which I had visited first that morning. From there, following county maps, I found myself somehow going northwest on one-lane dirt logging trails. Northwest?!? What the…??? I should have been heading southeast! I had envisioned following 510 more or less straight south toward M28/US41 where I expected I would cross the LS&I tracks and Bob’s yer uncle, I would be able to hike straight to the trestle. I only determined later that what looked like rails on the county map was just a boundary line of some sort. 510 does not cross the LS&I tracks. After backtracking many miles I managed to at least get in the right neighborhood, which is west of Marquette, but then I was also back on 510 again, just at its south end… where I lost the scent.

I did, however, pull into a parking area beside the Dead River and walked a trail that led me across the river on a decommissioned single-lane bridge, but I quickly gave up that attempt after less than a mile or so.

The next day I changed up my approach to cruise around Eagle Mills, looking for railroad tracks– which I found, but which led me even further astray for a while. At least I knew I was on the right track (so to speak) when I found the LS&I RR bridge going north over M28/US41.

Some time later I at least got myself back on the north side of the Dead River again, and wound my way east through a rural community of scattered houses, ranging from hovels to modest estates, until I had the opportunity to stop and ask a local. He and his highly enthusiastic kid directed me to the end of the road, where the tracks are, telling me I could see it by walking the rails for about a three-quarters of a mile (or 10 miles, or maybe a hundred, according to the kid). I suggested that might not be wise, he said, yes, it is illegal, but “we do it all the time.” I won’t say that I gave it try, and, since I didn’t ask which way to go, I definitely will not admit to walking for at least a mile in the (obviously, in retrospect) wrong direction before giving up and turning back. Didn’t happen. I swear to Dog. (However, if someone did want to do that, they’d have to follow the tracks the other way, i.e., south, rather than north, and brave doing it with a radio-connected, commercial-grade critter cam strapped to a tree bearing witness to the crime. I debated long and hard before just giving it up for the day.)

The next day I had a great idea. Toss away the county maps and just google Dead River RR trestle! Google helpfully anticipated what I was looking for, and filled in the name for me faster than I could type it on my phone, probably because it had been following me on my quest, patiently sitting in its holster, stewing in the background, waiting passive-aggressively for me to break down and come to my senses and just ask it pretty please for the damn directions. I will forgive it for that. And hope it forgave me. Though I’m not sure yet.

So google took me to a little residential cul-de-sac where it said I could park my car and hike a short way into the woods. Unfortunately, the little residential cul-de-sac is populated by houses on private property, which was confirmed by a local resident on one such property. (This wasn’t a contentious encounter, I was asking before attempting a trespass. I did not trespass.) This resident suggested a different approach, which was to go back to M28/US41, park in the cemetery there, and…. walk the tracks. Again? Not that I did the first time, right? And once again I investigated, gave it long consideration, and renewed my solemn vow to not get myself caught, cuffed, arrested, hauled before a judge, prosecuted, jailed and fined during my week in Marquette. Railroad bulls can be tough, their bosses unforgiving, the judicial system sternly dedicated and sometimes even very efficient.

As near as I can tell, the easiest legal way to view the trestle would be to float down the Dead River in a boat or kayak or something. I don’t have any of those. (Do you? Can I borrow it?) On the other hand, looking at google earth again just now, I can see other possibilities that might have to try, little service roads and paths through the woods that may or may not be restricted railroad property…. maybe next year.

Fifty Ways to Junk Your Flivver, episode 2

My first car was a 1961 Chevy Impala two-door. Seven years old and worn out, as cars were at that age in those days. It had a 283 c.i. V8 and the infamous PowerGlide automatic transmission. Two speeds, no waiting. Why on earth anyone might need more is a mystery, to say nothing of six, eight, even ten gears. Except for power and gas mileage, and maybe modern driveability. The word “Power” was misleading, if not criminal. Safety features? Zero. Nada. No lap belts, certainly no 3-point harness; no “crumple zone;” the dashboard was a solid steel face-crusher if you should happen to get past the the steering column plunging through your chest. Anti theft systems? Zero. Nada. In fact you didn’t even need a key to start the car– the ignition lock was broken, and besides, there was a big chrome handle to twist sticking out of the dash, no screwdriver required.

I didn’t really ruin this car, but I had my chances. In 1969 I pioneered the current fad of “drifting,” (you’re welcome!) when I drifted around a tight left-hand curve on a gravel road and took down a mailbox with my passenger door. (I never did like that mailbox anyway. I told my folks I swerved to avoid hitting a rabbit. Their advice: next time, hit the rabbit.) By the time the car stopped I was pressed up against the passenger door, grabbing frantically across the width of the bench seat for the steering wheel. Just out of reach. See “No lap belts” above. Crunched the door pretty good.

Funny story. My 75-year-old grandfather took it upon himself to help me find a replacement door. He recruited his 81-year-old neighbor to assist. The first thing they did was pull off the crushed door. Then they jumped in and drove off to check out local junk yards. No worries for Jedson’s safety, riding, as he was, on a slick bench seat in an unsafe-at-any-speed car with no door. They just tied a rope across the big gaping hole where the door used to be. They didn’t find a replacement that day. I did, later on, out in a part of the county we called “Hungry Holler.” I painted it with rattle cans and we were good to go again.

One of my few modifications was a “reverb” unit hanging under the dashboard. This device gave “concert hall sound” to the AM radio– assuming your idea of a concert hall is a massive gymnasium with tin walls and no acoustic design considerations whatsoever. I also added booster springs to lift the back end for the treasured “raked” effect, and to piss off my parents. (That second part was just an unintentional but unavoidable side effect.)

I borked the transmission one day trying to “bark” the tires. They did bark, but the Powerglide suffered the consequences. It was still drivable, despite belts that slipped badly. I did get it repaired before trading it to a guy for a 1966 Mustang fastback.

Now, that Mustang was the first car I truly borked. If it still lives (highly unlikely), I guarantee it is not a collectable, thanks to me. But I’ll save that for next time. It’s a painful memory, and not just for the Mustang.

Fifty Ways to Junk Your Flivver

Episode 1, in no particular order

I’ve been rereading Never Look a Gift Hearse in the Grille and other stories about cars by my friend Frances A. Hogg. I’d recommend it highly. It’s a great memoir of growing up in Michigan in the hippie days. You’d have to search for it on Amazon, but they’ll think you mean Gift Horse. Of course not, who would want one of those?

I’ve been thinking recently of all the vehicles I’ve owned, loved, hated, modded, hot rodded, broken and outright ruined over the past half century. (And if you don’t know what “flivver” means, you haven’t been around for half a century.)  I count only 22 vehicles of all colors and persuasions, one twice, so I had to double up my efforts to ruin a few of them.  A few lucky ones had it fairly easy and got away from me mostly unscathed. Others suffered severely. They probably had PTSD, even begged their new owners to send them to the crusher. Some probably committed suicide long ago, and I just hope no humans were harmed in the process.

An early vehicle that served me well, to the best of its meager abilities, was a 1971 Dodge pickup. Those were the days when cars and trucks were simple, and pickups were work horses, not the soft, expensive, luxury, status-seeking dilettantes they are today. This particular unit reflected its era: an unbreakable slant six, three on the tree, a rigid steering column that would impale you straight through the heart if you ever ran into anything, and a solid steel dashboard to finish off your unlucky passenger. It had an AM radio, and I think it might have had a lapbelt to firmly hold you in place should the gas tank inside the cab, right behind the bench seat, happen to explode. But I wouldn’t bet either way on it. There were certainly no 3-point harnesses or airbags.

It had belonged to a contractor I’d worked for. He died, I bought it from his widow around 1977 or so, used a rattle can to paint over the company logo on the doors, shod it with retreads, and for the next few years I had such low confidence in its durability that I would change the oil by recycling the used oil from my 1978 Buick Regal Sport Coupe into it. (I ran it through a coffee filter first.) But hey, it was good oil—Arco, infused with graphite. It came out of the can so thick and black you’d think it was tar oil. But the Dodge just wouldn’t die. Eventually I started treating it better, and bought it brand new oil, and even a new oil filter… occasionally.

In addition to hauling me and my tools to work every weekday, we used the truck to tow a small sailboat we used to own, and even a parade of popup campers, venturing a couple hundred miles or more Up North… with a good supply of hand tools in the back just in case of inevitable breakdowns. I even treated it to new king pin bushings once. (It had a solid front axle that needed some attention; I went cheap with the brass ones.) But the pickup was almost unstoppable. Bonus: nobody would ever pull out in front of me—one glance at this wreck and they knew I either couldn’t or wouldn’t stop for them; I obviously had nothing to lose. (Well, except my life: see “steering column” and “dashboard” above.)

It did, however, have a very strong inclination to return to its natural element: rust. One day I was driving to work on a country road when I hit the bottom of a significant dip and the steering wheel jumped up a few inches. Strange. Actually, that wasn’t true. The floor beneath the seat had rusted, broken loose and dropped down a few inches. Rust never sleeps. Back at home (a few days later), I cut and drilled a sturdy length of angle iron, raised the floor up with a hydraulic jack and a 2×4, and bolted it all back in place. By that time I needed a raincoat and swampers to drive in wet weather—icy winter salt water spraying up through the floorboards was not pleasant.

Eventually I sold it for a couple hundred bucks at a garage sale, and still saw it tooling around town for the next couple of years. I didn’t ruin it, it just aged out. My only modifications (I hesitate to say “improvements”) were a CB radio (those were the days!) with a 6-foot whip antenna on the passenger side, which would unscrew in the wind and flop down to slap the shins of any unwary pedestrians on the sidewalk; and a front “spoiler” I fashioned out of a 6” steel wall stud and screwed up (so to speak) below the radiator. That was more of an affectation than a functional, aerodynamic, gas-saving appendage.

So all in all, it was a good truck, and I didn’t ruin it too badly.

But there were other vehicles that didn’t fare so well in my so-called care.

Circling the Drain

I’m screwed. Not literally. Well, sort of.

Many years ago, while waiting for an elevator, I looked down and noticed for the first time that while my feet were pointing due south, my head and shoulders were pointing about 16 degrees to the west. Okay, so at least I’m screwed clockwise. You know, like the same way water swirls down the toilet. I’m drawing no conclusions there. At least that’s in the northern hemisphere. I don’t know about the southern hemisphere, I’ve never been there, so YMMV. I choose to blame the earth and its unfortunate Coriolis force.

It took me a few years to discover that this twist is because my right leg is just a bit shorter than my left leg. So at some point in my dim(bulb) past I decided to stick an extra insert into my right boot only, in addition to my usual Dr. Scholl’s knockoffs, to kind of even things out a little. It almost seemed like a miracle when my nose lined up with my toes!

I felt unscrewed!

Fast forward to last week when I suffered a wet sock emergency every time I went out to feed the birds. (I want to claim our wild birds at dependents, which is literally true, they depend on me—and fear and revile me in equal measure—but my tax adviser advises against it.) I discovered a major crack in the sole of my right boot, so I got new boots. So I swapped my inserts from old boots to new. (This came only two weeks after a treasonous shoelace sabotaged me, which led to its immediate firing and replacement.)

And this led to a mortifying discovery.

For several years—I’d bought the old boots at least four or five years ago—I had apparently been wearing a single corrective insert in the left boot. The wrong side. Huh? I’d actually been worsening the situation. Screwing myself. Which, admittedly, in the long run, is pretty typical for me. Fortunately I’ve been retired for a few years and no longer walk six or seven miles a day on hard concrete. Maybe I would have noticed. But on the other hand, I probably should have—back in 2014 when I was getting paid to do that.

No wonder I was so sore and tired every day.

Adventures in Technology

The Good! You can learn to do virtually anything by watching videos on YouTube!

The Bad! You have to endure a YouTube video– or many– to learn it.

So I recently picked up a pristine used Honda Accord coupe for mere money. Lots of technology there, some of which I’m familiar with (touch screens, backup cameras, blind spot detection) and some I’m not (keyless entry and starting).

A friend advised me, based on his unfortunate personal experience, to buy a spare battery for the fob and keep it in the glovebox. His fob had died a premature death. He popped out the hidden key and got into his car, but what then? No place to stick the key. Couldn’t start the car. Hopefully it got him out of the rain, at least.

So what battery, and how do I replace it? YouTube!!! I bring up the first video. It’s three-and-a-half minutes long. Hmm. This must be a difficult job. But no! There’s half a minute of the guy alternately holding the fob in our face and showing us the “Keyless Remote Battery Low” warning on the dashboard. Back and forth and back and forth. Then another 30 seconds showing us the batteries he bought at Dollar Tree. Yup, it’s a CR2032. Got it. I see it. Move on.

The next 45 interminable seconds are spent trying to open the fob with one hand and muttering to himself, while simultaneously swinging the phone around wildly with his other hand until I got nauseous and had to throw up! But seriously. He eventually had to set the phone down to accomplish this two-second, two-handed trick. I mean, was there no time for a quick dress rehearsal? Or even a cold read? Is it against YouTube policy to do retakes? You know, just stop, delete the failed effort and start over? And why would anyone post this on YouTube in the first place for all the world to see, to cringe and laugh at?!?! Just do it the heck over!

There’s also a 27 second video. Yah, I should have gone there first. But it wasn’t nearly as entertaining. But there are also other videos on this same Honda Accord key fob battery replacement task that run beyond 3 minutes. Good grief. I’ve also endured videos on how to do computer stuff, “taught” by a guy who couldn’t type and spent a minute or more trying to figure out why what he was trying to show us how to do wasn’t working– and paying no attention to me yelling at him and tapping the blatant misspelling right there in front of his blind eyes.

Next up on YouTube: How to build a nuclear reactor in your basement! Do I go with the one-minute version and get it done, or pop some popcorn, grab a beer, and go for the Dumb and Dumber high wire circus act?

 

First World Problems

So I’m trying to figure out Android Auto, now that I have a car that supports it. Not going well with my Samsung S7 phone. So the Modern Day Solution? Google it! First YouTube video that pops up promises a solution! So I watch it.

First step: get your Android phone into “Developer Mode.”
Really? And how do I do that?
Open Settings.
Okay.
Click on About Phone.
Okay.
Click on Developer Mode.

I click. Nothing. I click again. Still nothing.
You have to click it four or five times to get into the Developer Mode menu.
Okay. You might have mentioned that–
Now you go to USB Configuration and make sure MTP is on. Sometimes they come up in Charging mode. So you need to turn on MTP. Mine was already in MTP mode so I didn’t have to change it.
Well, mine’s already in MTP mode too. So now what?
Now you back out of that and get back into the Android Auto app.
Okay.
But that still didn’t work for me.
That didn’t work for you??? Okay, so why are you telling me all this?
I found out that using a genuine Samsung USB charging cord fixed the problem. I was using a generic cord. So switching to using a genuine Samsung charging cord in my car worked, and now I can get connected every time.
Well isn’t that nice? I was using a generic cord too. Why didn’t you just save me 5 minutes of my life and tell me in 20 freaking seconds that what worked for you was as simple as using the genuine Samsung USB cable??? Huh???

And here’s another one. Why is hardware and software obsolete in about 3 years, 5 max? Oh, your phone is two years old. It won’t support that software. You need a new phone!

Well, how about this? I had a 2009 Saturn Aura. 11 years old, and I could get it fixed pretty much anywhere in the country at the drop of a hat. Anything breaks or wears out, there are parts available, same day delivery. And Saturn has been out of business for ten freaking years! I have a friend who has a 1917 Ford Model T. It’s 103 years old! He can buy parts and fix it with a screwdriver and a pair of pliers! And I can’t even change the battery in my cell phone??? What is wrong with this picture.

End of rant. Thank you for your support.

 

Here and Now!

As I promised the other day, I finally went to work on a Shameless Commerce Division page yesterday. All my efforts to do direct sales on my website were squashed– I’d have to do some upgrades, spend some money, and probably go to eCommerce school for a few semesters– but I did manage to get my inventory listed on Amazon. You can visit my Amazon site here (or on the Novels page of this website, where you can also  read about each of the books). If you would, kindly click on New for the opportunity to buy directly from Sudden Deathe Press LLC. Thank you.

 

Bats in the Attic

(Editorial note: the incidents exaggerated below happened almost 40 years ago. The author is more enlightened now about the value of bats and other alleged vermin (turkey vultures, Great Eagles,  possums, etc.) to the ecosystem. Squirrels, however, are on their own.)

A friend of mine, Susan, recently asked for advice on getting rid of bats in her attic. Believe it or not, I was too savvy to make any inappropriate remarks, which might have compromised our friendship. Instead I gave her my best advice, based on personal experience: Burn down the house. I probably would have advised her to get her husband and the cat out first, but she doesn’t have a cat, so why go to all that effort? Steve is alert enough to get out on his own, I assume, despite being a chemical engineer.

Many years ago we had a bat in our house, flitting silently through the downstairs while we were trying to watch TV. That didn’t last long– the TV watching, I mean. The bat was fine with whatever. The Wife threw a towel over her head and cowered in the corner. Even the cats dove for cover. Which left me exposed. Our first line of defense was to call the Wife’s Aunt Ruth, who was an experienced and fearless bat fighter. She only lived a few miles away, and probably wasn’t over the age of 85 or so at the time. She asked if we wanted her to come kill it for us. Of course we did! She laughed at us.

Our next thought was to burn down the house.

Eventually the bat flew upstairs. Donning battle gear and arming myself with a broom, I crawled up the stairs on my belly to engage the enemy. In my defense here, the ceiling over the stairs was very low. Understand this thing was as big as a turkey vulture and had the wingspan of a Great Eagle from Lord of the Rings. I think I had a hat on, but still. I finally found it under the bed in the spare bedroom, and beat it to death with the broom (some NSFW language was involved) until it was no bigger than my thumb. I think that qualifies as some kind of miracle in a Biblical sense.

derelict

Not the actual farmhouse

The Wife grew up in an old farmhouse, and many years ago her mother used No Pest Strips to kill… well, pests. These things were potent. They still sell them, but I imagine the lethality of them has been forcibly restricted over the years by the EPA, CDC, WHO and various other international do-gooder health agencies. In those good old days you could hang one of these in an attic and it would kill ‘most anything: bugs, hornets, wasps, mice, bats, probably unwelcome guests if you could get them up close to the ceiling in the spare bedroom, like maybe in an upper bunk. The Wife’s mother used them injudiciously, and she and her husband lived to ripe old ages.

Such is the price of progress. No Pest Strips are probably No Kill Strips by now, the same way that charcoal lighter fluid is about so safe it’s about as flammable as urine and it takes a blowtorch to keep it going. Fortunately, I have a blowtorch. And I don’t need to kill any bats. Right now, anyway.

Neither a Nerd nor a Technophobe Be

I am neither nerd nor technophobe. I used to enjoy tinkering with computers, like installing a “Hardcard,” which was an immense 40 Megabyte(!) hard drive on a PCI card, which plugged into the motherboard of an old PC that came stock from the factory with just two 5-¼” floppy drives. As a neophyte, that seemed a lot easier to me than attempting to install (read: plug in) a hard drive and hope it worked. It worked and I felt invincible. I wrote a novel on that computer.

Just today I “rooted” an old Barnes & Noble NookHD+ and turned it into a basic Android tablet. It worked! I followed a simple “30 minute” process that I found on the Internet. I also found that “30 minute” claim to be a bit ridiculous, but I fumbled through it without the usual roadblocks. Oh no, I had all new roadblocks, rather than getting to step 3 where the instructions say something like “from this dropdown menu, choose FORMAT,” only to find that FORMAT is not an option on my computer or in that particular menu.

This time step 3 was as simple as “Unzip the file to a temporary folder.” Hmmm. Apparently Windows 10 doesn’t come with unzip app. So I was sent back to the Internet to download, install, and figure out how to use a free unzip app. Step 4  was to install the newly unzipped file on a microSD card and make that card bootable. Back to the Internet to find, download, install, and figure out how to use a dedicated app to do those jobs.

“I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.” —Winston Churchill

After two or three hours yesterday, and another two or three hours today, I was booting the old Nook to Android 7, and installing the apps my wife will need to find, download and read some eBooks that she can’t find in hard copy in the library (which we can’t go to during this quarantine anyway). So far so good. I’ll stand by to assist with that process, since this is something I do all the time. I’m not a nerd yet—or anymore—but I’m still marginally capable.

But what irritates me most these days is this: when I think back to my youth, the ’50s and early ’60s, we had only black & white TVs with screens barely larger than a dinner plate. The screen was an electronic tube, and behind that tube were dozens of more tubes, all of which had to warm up for many long seconds before a fuzzy gray picture would appear on the screen. Eventually, years later, it would be a color picture. (An aside: I remember the first time I ever saw a color TV; it very memorable, in part because the primary color was purple; I was impressed, but not bowled over.) How far we have come since those days! How far have we come since those days? Not sure. I turn on a TV today and I have to wait many long seconds for it to boot up before it gives me a picture. No question, it’s a great picture. But it still feels a little like going back in time to a simpler day.

 

 

Practicing Safe Social Distancing

I realize it’s been months since I posted anything here. It’s not like I’ve been too busy. Too lazy, maybe. Yes, definitely.

But first, a word about Safe Social Distancing: I’m packing a tape measure and I’m not afraid to use it.

So rather than just sitting home, watching the endless Covid-19 coverage, with scenes of overworked medical personnel and crowded facilities; endangered seniors and compromised individuals; bickering politicians; and concerned epidemiologists and virologists pushing constant handwashing and strict social distancing, interspersed with upbeat, bouncy, innocent, and typically shrill TV ads imploring me to get on down to Menard’s and Best Buy and FELDMAN CHEVROLET!!! (among the shrillest of annoying ads, and a personal pain in my ears and the mostly-empty space between), to say nothing of the reports of irresponsible Covidiots who are generally-but-not-always young enough to think they know everything, and who also erroneously think they are invulnerable, bulletproof, immune, and don’t care who they might infect (“Let’s party like it’s 1917!”). And everybody hoarding toilet paper, of course.

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