Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Year in Review

Last year around this time, a fellow blogger posted his 10-favorite images of 2007 and challenged others in Observation Car, a discussion list of railroad art and literature, to do the same. So I did, but have since grown tired of the crabby atmosphere which permeates much of the discussion on that list. But it was a good exercise and I noticed a rather disturing thread in my selection. Seven of the 10 images were made right here in Fullerton, and I thought, "I need to get out more often." I also challenged myself to get more work published.

I'm happy to say that I successfully met those challenges. Here are 10 of my favorites from this year. Well, the first six months of the year. It seems that images 1–9 were all made prior to June 30, 2008! There's a good reason for that…the house! Construction in earnest began June 3, and I pretty much shut down the creative photography efforts for the next five months, shooting only progress images of the house construction, family events and assignments at work. But looking back, I feel pretty good about the images I made from January to the end of June.

Full Eclipse of the Moon, February 20, 2008. It had rained all day, and I had little hope of seeing the moon or its eclipse through the clouds. However, the sky began to clear just as the moon was rising, and I managed to catch the passage of Metrolink 608 approaching the platform in Fullerton right at the beginning of the eclipse's totality.

This image got published alright. As a two page spread in Locomotive 2008! It was used to lead an article on BNSF merchandise trains that run over the San Jacinto Industrial Lead to March Field. Many of those ObsCar guys would write this image off as a "crappy weather" shot, but in my opinion, the early morning low clouds hovering over the University Park area of Riverside, California give this image of the MBARJAC1-23 an edge it wouldn't have otherwise on February 23, 2008

Shot through a chain link fence in crappy weather. Enough to make heads explode on that list. This image hasn't been published, but it did win a Bronze award in the photography contest sponsored by the Center for Railway Photography and Art which was themed "A Sense of Place." I think this image certainly communicates a sense of the place which is the Alondra Blvd. crossing of the BNSF in La Mirada, Calif., on March 1, 2008.

A fan trip on the Sierra Railroad, March 9, 2008, found the California foothills green and the weather more than pleasant. The last photo runby of the day found nearly everyone lined up on a grassy hillside. Looking for something different, I headed for a nearby almond orchard where the backlit blossoms and steam went "electric" for me.

This is another image used in the article published in Locomotive 2008. The MJACBAR1-21 eases around a curve and down the 2.2% grade as it exits Sycamore Canyon in Riverside, Calif., on March 21, 2008.

Union Pacific train MWCDA (West Colton to Dallas Merchandise) rolls along side the Salton Sea on the former Southern Pacific "Sunset Route" on March 28, 2008.

Metrolink trains rest at the San Bernardino station on a Saturday morning, April 12, 2008.

Santa Fe steam locomotive, 3751 pulls a special train along the Pacific Ocean, under the historic Highway 101 overpass in Del Mar, Calif., on June 1, 2008. This turned out to be the very first image I had published in Trains magazine.

Ryan Humphrey and his son Max enjoy the passing of a BNSF freight as it rolls through Fullerton, Calif., on June 27, 2008.

My wife Amy and I relax inside our newly remodeled home on December 19, 2008. I can start thinking about doing photography again!

Halloween, Etc.

Editor's note: I wrote this post shortly after Halloween, but for some reason (which escapes me now), I didn't publish it. Hint: the "Etc." probably refers to my unfinished business, but again, for the life of me, I don't recall what that was. So four days before Christmas, here it is. I'll have a new post (or two) up soon.

It's not my favorite "holiday" to be sure, but with kids and grandkids about, ignoring Halloween completely is an unthinkable proposition. Fortunately, we were able to offload the task of handing out candy onto Emily (who was grounded due to some bad behavior last Halloween) and her friend Emily (who wasn't grounded) while John and his buddy Nick hit a few houses and called it a night. They did, however, put a fair amount of creative energy into their pumpkins, as can be seen in Amy's pictures.

Emily turned the lid into a jaunty beret.

John's barfing pumpkin reprised a holiday classic.

Of course the grandsons had a great time. I'll just steal a couple of images from Melissa's blog and put them up here. I'd have stayed home to give these kids some candy.



Monday, November 17, 2008


I'm not much of a movie watcher. I should be, but I'm just not. When I do get off my butt and take Amy out to dinner and a movie, I nearly always enjoy myself, but going to the theatre was not something that I was encouraged or even allowed to do as a kid, and I never really developed the habit when I got older. Even the prospect of watching DVD's on our HDTV doesn't often excite me.

Last night, Amy borrowed a DVD from her sister Leslie and seemed determined that the whole family should sit down together at watch it. I'm glad we did. Young@Heart is a documentary style film about the Young@Heart Chorus a group that puts its own indelible stamp on popular music. Watching it last night, I found myself laughing at times through tears. Songs ranging from "Forever Young" to "I Want to be Sedated" take on a whole new layer of relevance through the ragged voices of these 80 and 90 year old folks.

You can spend half a day going through all the online videos and web sites devoted to this marvelous group and film, but do yourself a favor and just rent it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Get Your Kicks Here

Elrond signing books
My friend Elrond Lawrence can certainly relate to the birthing process I've experienced this year. He wrote and photographed a book entitled Route 66 Railway which is the story of Route 66 and the Santa Fe Railway in the American Southwest. Just as our house project was wrapping up, he was seeing the first copies of his book. Having worked on a book myself in a previous life, I can completely relate to the elation and relief which he is feeling.

Sunday, El's in-laws hosted an autograph party at their beautiful hillside home in Redlands. His wife Laura and daughter Kathryn were on hand, having contributed to the book themselves. It was a lovely event and I couldn't be happier for them and their superb achievement.

Kathryn, Laura and Elrond

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Grace and Insanity


We moved into our house last Saturday, October 18. Most people my age (at least the saner ones) hire professionals to do the packing, lifting, and hauling. Since I have been declared insane by any number of people, I've chosen (or been forced into) a different path. So armed with a rental truck and an army of friends and family (including both sons-in-law) we cleared out the apartment and most of the storage unit and filled the house with boxes and furniture that looks much too shabby for the walls that now surround it. Reinforcements arrived around noon and the early birds headed off to salvage what was left of their weekend.
By sundown, I was whupped! I really am too old for this…

A friend from church brought dinner over to the house that evening. So there we were, gathered around the dinner table that we'd retrieved from storage, holding hands, ready to say grace and it hit me--we were home. An entirely overwhelming sense of gratitude swept over me with the effect that my prayer of thanksgiving sounded like the voice of an alien from my thick throat. But if I were asked to select the 10 best moments in my life, this would be near the top of the list.

I think my next move will be posthumous (just strap me to the appliance dolly and try not to scratch that corner in the hallway).

But wait, there's more. Sunday, October 19 was Amy's birthday. Her 50th. Wouldn't you think that by spending a quarter mil on her present that I'd done enough? Perhaps, but you forget…I'm insane. So two weeks ago when we were able to pin down the moving date, I started planning a surprise birthday party for her…at the house! A few hastily composed invitations passed out at church and a few emails to her co-workers did the trick. I made people fully aware of the situation, summed up with the statement, "It'll be chaos, but it'll be fun."

It was chaos. It was fun.

How often does something come off almost exactly the way it was envisioned? This sure did, thanks to a lot of help from Amy's sister Luanne, my Mom and lot of friends and family who brought refreshments and gifts. In all, about 70 people came! To be honest, I didn't expect half that many, but I was too busy to count the RSVPs. My top ten list of moments was now as crowded as the house.

We found out several things at that point.

1. The house can handle a party.

2. As good it looked up to that point, the house looked even better full of people.

3. I sometimes forget to take pictures at important events.

I suspect that many women would have been appalled at the prospect of having so many people over to the house with packing boxes all over the place and nothing but dirt in the yard.

But that's one of the things I love about Amy.

She is as insane as I am!

Amy's sister Leslie, Amy, my Mom, Amy's sister Luanne.

Amy and her Mom

Blowing out the candles


Insanity squared

John, Emily (are those my glasses?), Amy and I catch a breath after the party.

Thanks to Jacqueline Shirley who once worked at Hughes Aircraft with Amy and now works with me at Santa Ana College for the photographs.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Kitchen

Despite all appearances, Amy and I are both frugal folks. Yet given the opportunity to have, or create something nice for a reasonable price, we'll go for it. 

While designing the kitchen for the remodeling project, we decided to make sure that the kitchen was a nice place to work and hang out, and so were a bit more extravagant here than normal. No, we didn't get carried away buying appliances, in fact the 7 year old oven was reused from our old kitchen, and thus dictated that all of our other kitchen appliances would be white. Our 10 year old refrigerator still doing its job in our temporary apartment will also lend its touch of familiarity to our new cooking space.

We went top drawer with the cabinets and countertops (Kraftmaid and Silestone respectively) and made a last minute change by replacing the vent hood over the cooktop with a microwave/vent hood for only an additional $100. We saved some valuable countertop real estate in the process.

Today, the appliances and plumbing fixtures should be installed and we'll cook our first meal there tonight or tomorrow, before we've moved in. 

After that, I'm sure Amy and I will be arguing over who gets to do the cooking!

The Old Kitchen

The New Kitchen

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Details, Details, Details

We will be moving back into our house this coming Saturday! Seems like there are a million details left to handle, but some of them can wait until a lazy Saturday morning when we wake up in our new bedrooms, make coffee and breakfast, read the paper and pull out the to-do list. I actually look forward to working on the place at such a pace.

Meanwhile, the things that I was responsible to do are largely finished. That I survived the process of laying 1,000 sq. ft. of narrow plank laminate flooring is a testament to good knee pads, ibuprofen, … and family and friends who have been praying for us and our project! Most professional floor installers my age are retired, and in terms of my career as a floor layer, I am too, but I wouldn't trade the experience and satisfaction of having done it myself (with help of course) for anything.

I'm looking forward to hanging artwork on the walls, beginning the landscaping work, hosting back yard barbecues and living room Bible studies, and having the grandkids over to spend the night.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Finishing the Job

Living Room, looking into the den/office

Our long ordeal/adventure is nearly done. There is still plenty of finishing work to complete. I seriously underestimated the amount of time necessary to lay down 1200 square feet of laminate flooring. I had planned to do the entire job in 3 days last weekend, but instead got a small hallway and the master bedroom (about 20% of the total) done. I've arranged for a 4 day weekend coming up and using our experience and hard-earned skills, hope to finish that job by the end of next Monday.

Bedroom with floor installed

We're still awaiting the installation of the kitchen countertops. Meanwhile the bathroom vanities will be installed tomorrow (Friday, 10/3) along with door hardware, etc. Exterior concrete work, installation of heating/air conditioning, stair handrails are also on the contractor's list.

Dawn, October 2, 2008

The hoped-for move in date is the weekend beginning Friday, 10/17…Amy's birthday is Sunday 10/19 and she says we'll wake up in the house that morning, if we have to use sleeping bags!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Almost Home

A lot has happened since I last posted, this has been a very busy month. When we first drew up the contract for the house remodel project, we intentionally left a few things out in the event that some cost overruns might put the total project over our budget. So we left out the kitchen cabinets, interior painting and flooring. We figured if the money was still there when it came time to do these things, we'd hire someone, otherwise, we'd do it ourselves.

Having to pay four months of extra apartment rent at the beginning of the project due to the zoning delay along with losing $10,ooo to a crooked contractor last year before we fired him, it's been apparent for some time that the final month of the project would involve a lot of labor on my part. As it turns out, the project has gone very smoothly otherwise and those two items totaling $17,000 were virtually the only two unexpected expenses that we faced. In terms of actual construction, we've had only two change orders adding up to less than $2,000.

Tuesday, September 16, was the day interior painting was to begin, so I arranged for vacation time from my job for the remainder of the week. The job would involve spray painting 6,000 square feet of freshly textured drywall and 2,000 sq. ft. of ceilings in one day (spray painting ceilings is not a fun job). However the drywall texturing was delayed until Tuesday, meaning that painting couldn't start until Wednesday.

Does this bunny suit make me look fat?

Kitchen cabinets were scheduled for installation on Thursday and Friday, so that area had to be painted on Wednesday as well. As the week progressed, we managed to keep everything on schedule and by the end of Friday, 80% of the interior painting was finished and the kitchen cabinets were in and looking good. This involved a lot of help! Amy held up her end painting and answering questions, my brother-in-law Tom laid ceramic tile floors in both bathrooms, rented a second spray unit and jumped into the painting panic. He, along with another fellow parishioner – Dirk McCuen – installed a whole kitchen full of Kraftmaid cabinets. My Dad, 81, painted his brains out and helped keep the place straightened out while boxes, ladders, brushes and paint buckets were flying about. Another friend from church, Carol Henke, lent her professional expertise helping Amy pick a gorgeous palette of colors, made excellent recommendations on paint brands and grades and with her husband Bill pitched in with the actual painting and brought us a meal. Amy's sisters Leslie and Luanne helped paint the upstairs on Saturday. Luanne also brought lunch over from Brea's Best Burgers and Pepe's on Thursday and Friday. David Curlee not only provided some much needed painting help, but loaned us some ladders and critical lighting equipment as well. Our pastor, Darrell McGowan took time out of a very busy week to pick up a brush and roller for the cause. 

All told, it was perhaps the closest thing to an Amish barnraising that you'll see in Orange County, outside of a Habitat for Humanity project. 

Late yesterday, I took on the task of installing a ceramic floor in the entry way. It was the first time that I had attempted such a thing on my own, and will perhaps be my last. Amy stood steadfastly by as I mixed thinset adhesive, cussed, groaned and finally completed the job at 9:00 p.m. with the help of the Curlee lighting system. To say that I was thoroughly "whupped" when I got back to the apartment would be an understatement. I ate some leftovers out of the fridge, took three ibuprofen along with a prescription pain reliever left over from a tooth extraction a couple months ago and was in bed by 10:00.

Why I'm wide awake at 4:00 a.m. the next morning, sleepless, and writing this, I can't explain.

After church today, Tom and I intend to grout the downstairs tile, and I may paint the door frames as well. I'll meet an installer at the house on Monday so he measure and template the countertops in the kitchen.

Otherwise, the pros take over again on Monday. The finish electrical will be installed Monday and Tuesday, the stucco color coat goes on Tuesday, interior doors, floor molding and door casings go in on Wednesday and Thursday before I start installing the floors on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

I may be ready for one more of those pills next Sunday night, but if we continue to stay on this schedule, we'll be moved back into the house three weeks from now.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Handcuffs All Around

I returned home last night from seeing the Angels lose to the Yankees 7-1 (what a waste of 6 dozen baseballs that was) to find a letter from Countrywide Home Loans on my desk with a mild expletive scrawled across the top by Amy. It said that our data, along with that of two million other customers, had been stolen by one of the company's senior analysts. The stolen information includes our Social Security numbers, credit history, etc. The letter stated that the company was offering two years of free credit monitoring services. (Insert expletive here)!

Reading the LA Times this morning, the article about this incident stated that Rene Rebollo of Pasadena, Calif., has been fired, arrested (in that order?), pleaded not guilty and is free on bail pending trial Oct. 7. I hope that was worth it Rene.

Countrywide is one of the prime culprits in the whole subprime lending mess that has rattled our economy. I would have never intentionally done business with them, but when we refinanced our house for the remodeling project, the ink was barely dry on the papers we'd signed when we were informed that Countrywide had bought our loan.

Ironically, directly below the Countrywide story is an article concerning the intense security of KFC's efforts to protect the secret blend of 11 herbs and spices in Kentucky Fried Chicken. The yellowing sheet of paper handwritten by the Colonel himself" was placed in a lockbox that was handcuffed to security expert Bo Dietl, who climbed aboard an armored car that was whisked away with an escort from off-duty police officers."

Apparently, our financial secrets don't rate the same security measures as a fried chicken recipe.

By the way, the house is moving along great these days. We passed drywall and exterior lath inspections yesterday, they'll finish the roof and start the scratch coat stucco today, and I'll be installing ceramic tile floors in both bathrooms over the weekend.

New Photo Album

Less than five weeks until moving day!

Thursday, September 4, 2008


Obviously, the house project is the foremost thing on my mind these days. However, I have tried to put a "spacer" post in between each one about the house. With about six weeks to go before we move in to the "new" house, it will be difficult to maintain that rhythm, because finishing the project is going to the only thing on my mind in the foreseeable future.

But there are other things going on to be sure. Saturday, Amy and I were returning from a Santa Ana College art gallery opening, exiting the SR91 freeway at State College Blvd. She said "look at all those balls!" "Huh?" I said. "There's a whole bunch of Union 76 balls on top of that building, haven't you ever seen them?" Honestly, in the hundreds of times I've taken that off ramp, I've never looked 90ยบ to the right, I've been more concerned about the cars stopped at the end of the ramp.

Donco & Sons, Inc.

So we drove over to have a look. Sure enough, in the extreme southeast corner of Fullerton, is Donco & Sons, Inc., a signage and lighting company that was apparently the keeper of the Union Oil Company's classic orange ball signs which were all removed a few years ago, when Conoco/Phillips/Union Oil were all merged into a single entity that is now about to get out of the retail gasoline business itself. I kinda wish old man Donco had sent one of his sons up on the roof to rotate some of the signs into a more photogenic pattern, but it's still pretty cool.

Then this morning, I'm driving to work, listening to the aftermath of Sarah Palin's VP acceptance speech, my blood beginning to boil, hearing a bunch of right wing pundits try to tell me that running a state for a year-and-a-half that has one fourth the population of Orange County, constitutes the necessary experience to take over the helm of our entire country, if indeed John McCain who'd be the oldest man ever elected to a first term in office would do what comes naturally to many men that age. And I'm sorry to bring this up, but when did teenage pregnancy become fashionable amongst the Christian right wing? I know we're supposed to leave Mrs. Palin's family out of this, but perhaps she should keep her family out of the limelight for a while. Perhaps she could use her shtick to audition for the reunion episode of the Northern Exposure TV show.

But I digress. Let's try that again.

Then this morning, I'm driving to work, turn the radio down and pass under a freight train slowing for a stop at Fullerton Jct. It's 6:15 am. I know that Metrolink train 701 (Riverside to Los Angeles) is due at 6:18 and that train 700 (Los Angeles to Riverside) is due at 6:19. Might be worth parking the car and taking the camera over to the platform. One of the aspects of digital photography that I've come to appreciate is its ability to work well in the low levels of pre-dawn and evening twilight. Things like street lights, locomotive number boards and signals stand out, and for the first time in my experience it's possible to capture the real feeling of those moments.

BNSF 7510 West and Metrolink train 701 pushing away from the station.

Metrolink 700 pulls into Fullerton.

Metrolink 700 crossing from Main 3 to Main 1 at Fullerton Jct.

Meanwhile, back at the house, they start doing the roof today, and the drywall starts tomorrow. I've updated the the Construction Slideshow with a new finale. There will be a lot happening real soon, and I'll try to keep you posted.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

More Progress

The project hit a bit of a snag recently, when the city's engineering department raised an issue with the prefabricated roof trusses that had been used. As I understand it, the trusses were manufactured to the version of the California State Uniform Building Code which took effect on January 1, 2008, while the city expected them to be built to the previously used code which was in effect when the project was designed and approved. This resulted in a three week delay while the project's engineer of record, the truss manufacturer's engineers and the city's engineers went back and forth just to be sure that the place wouldn't come down on our heads during the next great earthquake. The guy who was installing the air conditioning ductwork in the attic when a 5.4 maginitude quake struck on July 29, could have settled the matter by telling them what he told me, "It was quite a ride, but this place moved as a solid unit, no creaking, rattling…nothing!" That's good enough for me. The entire matter is close to resolution though. The project's engineer has certified that the truss calculations are good, and submitted a letter which has been forwarded to the city's engineering department. Perhaps simply sending an envelope full of $100 bills would have been more efficient!

With that issue out of the way now, insulation, roofing, drywalling and stuccoing can commence. The kitchen cabinets are on hand, volunteers have been lined up to help with the painting, the floor material has been purchased and things are ready to move at a brisk pace shortly.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Engineer Bill

Bill Stulla passed away on Tuesday, August 12, 2008 at the age of 97. He was better known as "Engineer Bill" to kids who grew up in the Los Angeles area during the 50s and early 60s. He hosted an afternoon cartoon show on KHJ channel 9 seated with two young guests behind an American Flyer train layout. This Los Angeles Times obit tells the story quite well.

This video recalls the experience of watching the show precisely.

My appearance on the Engineer Bill show, 1959.

I watched this show religiously…until I was on it. The train layout that was so impressive on TV didn't even measure up to the one I had in my bedroom. I had asked for a refrigerator car in my letter, but instead was sent a Maine Central boxcar that was lettered on only one side. When we played Red Light, Green Light I kicked that little girl's butt, yet they gave her the same prizes that I had "won" moments earlier. Didn't seem fair to me. After being on the show, I never watched it again.

Forgive me Bill.

They sure don't make kids' shows like that anymore.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Gratuitous Grandson & Train Photography

These are eventful days around the Styffe household with house construction, weddings, birthdays, etc. The temptation, of course is just keep throwing up pictures of the construction, since that project has most of our attention these days. But I can resist temptation. Usually.

Still, life goes on. Quite nicely. We had a lovely dinner with friends, the Strapacs and Lustigs, hosted by Ted and Liz Benson in Newport Beach recently. It had been a number of years since the two older Styffe daughters had been with the young Benson ladies. Having bonded at an early age over their fathers' unusual shared avocation, they have each blossomed into lovely young women. Dads and Moms couldn't be prouder.

A week later came grandson Finn's first birthday and the ceremonial smooshing of the birthday cake. Finn did not disappoint in this endeavor. More Photos

Finally, just to keep myself centered, I brought my camera trackside this past weekend even though nothing particularly unusual was going on. But as often happens under such circumstances a nice image resulted, this one of commuters going off to work early on a Monday morning. More Photos

By the way, the house is still coming along well. The outside lath is nearly complete, the rough plumbing and electrical are signed off, and the drywall will start going up soon. 

Even from our lofty perch these days, things are looking up.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Extreme Makeover -- Sane Edition!

With the upstairs portion of the house in place, Amy and I can really envision how it's going to look. Needless to say, we are stoked!

Considering how badly this project started, things are now progressing at an amazing pace these days. As I write this, Mario and his framing crew are nearly finished with that phase of the construction. A framing inspection has been requested for this coming Monday or Tuesday. The rough electrical is well along, and the plumbers will be out to get started this Monday too.

Talking with our contractor this morning, I got news that the project won't be done in early November like I had expected. He's aiming for a final inspection at the end of August! That's going to mean some hustle and heavy lifting on my part, since the kitchen cabinet work and interior painting were left out of the contract and are my responsibility.

The TV show referenced in the title of this post features insane people building insane projects at an insane pace! If we'd the good fortune to experience a tragedy so profound as to qualify for one of those TV home makeovers, they have made it twice this big in the course of one week's time. No thanks.

So "Move That Bus!"

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Wedding

The moment one sees his baby girl in the cradle, a dad is aware that the essence of that relationship will be short lived. The fact that this is as it should be makes the whole scenario not all that painful.

From the moment that we met Ben, it seemed apparent that this event would unfold in its good time. So happily Ben joined our family just as Jenn joined his and the world keeps on turning just as it should.

I am not a wedding photographer, I don't even play one on TV, so these photos are just a few images that I took while being the father of the bride. We hired my friend Damion to do the essential and creative photography of the event.

Normally, I don't do weddings, which is also as it should be.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Progress in Plywood

Now that the project is moving along nicely, I look forward to making the right turn from Raymond Ave. onto Grove Place and driving directly toward the house. It's beginning to look dramatically different on a daily basis.

The framers have been busy this week and have finished the basic ground floor framing and have now started on the second floor. Two walls of the boy's bedroom went up today.

It seemed like a good time to update the slide show and close the "Demolition" phase. I've also put up a photo album of the project.

Can't wait for tomorrow's trip down Grove.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sunday Detour

It didn't take long for my friend Ted Benson to convince me to join him for a Sunday drive to see Amtrak's Coast Starlight detouring over the Tehachapi Mountains while the Union Pacific did some bridge work in Santa Barbara on June 22.

Ted and I have had many memorable railroad photography trips together, but opportunities to do so in recent years have been elusive. Hundred degree temperatures and $4.75 gasoline weren't even going to get in the way this time. Naturally, we connected somewhat by accident early evening near Tunnel 2 while setting up to shoot the same train. After the day's light ran out, we rolled over to Antonio's in Tehachapi for a great meal and Cadillac margeritas and a chance to compare the joys of grandfatherhood.

The former Southern Pacific (now Union Pacific) route through the Tehachapis is one of this world's greatest places to photograph trains. Much of the line is accessible with a little effort, and the line's frequent change of direction makes it possible to get suitable lighting nearly any time of the day.

However there has not been passenger service on the route since Amtrak took over the nation's passenger service in 1971. Since then there have been only a handful of opportunities to see or ride a passenger train on the route. This day was extra special since there would be a train running in each direction. Although it wasn't the highest priority, I did quietly hope to get both trains passing each other, and that opportunity presented itself at Caliente.

I was one sunburnt, worn out, old man when I drove up to the apartment at 8:45 Sunday evening. But the time, gas money and skin cells were well-spent.

View the photographs.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Growing Up…or Not

Inevitably, time marches on and we witnessed two events which underscored that fact.

The boy started kindergarten at Raymond School just a block down the street from our house just a couple of months before Amy and I were married in 2001. It's the only school he's ever attended, but last Thursday we attended his promotion where he was ceremonially flung into the wide world of junior high school.

Speaking of junior high school, the girl finished her two years at Ladera Vista Junior High with a graduation ceremony held outdoors on a sweltering June morning last Friday. She sang in the school's advanced choir for one last time during the ceremony.

Of course this meant that we had to subject ourselves to modern graduation behavior. At one time these were dignified ceremonies, the band played Pomp and Circumstance while the graduates processed to their seats. Everyone applauded after all of the graduates had received their diplomas.

Now days, each student has his/her own cheering section which erupts into a mighty roar when their child's niece/nephew/cousin/whatever has their name announced. This loud cheerleading woman's overexposed back grabbed my camera's autofocus sensor as I was attempting to record Emily's return to her seat.

I resisted the urge to ask the woman if she wanted a print.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Assess This!

Finally, exactly four months past the original date to start demolition/construction, our builder was finally able to pick up the building permits last Tuesday and things have been moving along smartly ever since. In order to support a second floor, about ten large openings have been made in the concrete slab at key points to make pads to support the additional structure. Our contractor, RVM Construction, plans to be pouring concrete this coming Wednesday. After that, the roof will come off, the walls will be stripped to the studs, or replaced entirely in rebuilding process.

Several readers have noted the lack of updates to The Movie: Demolition after its original posting. Frankly, for the past few months there was nothing to add. In the meantime, I've reconsidered the method of presentation, and decided to replace it with The Slide Show: Demolition a Flash slide show with much better resolution. This will be easier to update as well. As the project proceeds, I'll post slide shows on the framing, stuccoing, window washing, etc.

The other day, I received a joke email about property taxes. The most noteworthy aspect for me was the remarkable resemblance of the fourth image (as seen by your appraiser) to the current condition of our house.