Thursday, November 26, 2015

Four Norfolk Southern pushers shove a heavy coal-extra into the tunnel atop Allegheny Mountain. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

—The December 2015 entry of my own calendar is what my brother and I call a “cheat-shot.”
It looks like four Norfolk Southern locomotives are pulling a heavy westbound out of the tunnel atop Allegheny Mountain in Gallitzin (“guh-LIT-zin;” as in “get”), PA.
But actually it’s four Norfolk Southern helper locomotives pushing a heavy eastbound coal-train into the tunnel.
I wonder how many know this? I had it captioned as “pushers.”
It helps to know the 6300-series are helper locomotives.
So I wonder if whoever ripped this picture out of my calendar at my veterinarian knew?
The January picture. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)

Obviously that person loved this picture, but it’s helpers pushing the tail end of the train that’s my January picture — which was taken by my brother.
A pot-shot, sorta. I don’t usually photograph helper locomotives. But sometimes I do. Shut up and shoot! —You never know what you’ll get.
6303 is an SD40-E, an EMD SD-50 the railroad modified and downrated for helper service. The SD-50 was 3,500 horsepower, and somewhat overstressed. The SD40-E is 3,000 horsepower.
Norfolk Southern had been using double-sets of 3,000 horsepower SD40-2s as helpers on Allegheny Mountain for years. The SD40-2s were finally replaced with these SD40-Es.
It was brutally cold when we shot this picture. Gallitzin and its tunnel are atop Allegheny Mountain. It can be windy, and is usually 10-15 degrees colder than down in Altoona.
That’s enough for it to be raining in Altoona, yet snowing up in Gallitzin.
My wife and I came to Gallitzin once years ago, and the snow was 4-5 feet deep. The main drag had been closed so it could be cleared with front-end loaders.

A replica of one of the most famous hotrods of all time. (Photo by Scott Williamson.)

—The December 2015 entry in my Oxman Hotrod Calendar is a replica of one of the most famous hotrods of all time, the “Bell Auto Parts” track-T raced by Grant Lambert.
The car was featured on the cover of one of the first HotRod Magazines in 1948. I have reprints of some of those magazines, but I can’t find the car. I have to go by what the calendar says.
The car is a 1925 Model-T Ford modified for racing; essentially just the T-bucket roadster body, tail-end (turtle-deck), and frame-rails.
It has the classic hot-rodded Ford FlatHead V8, souped up with triple carbs and open exhaust.
The cylinder-heads look like high-compression aluminum.
Note Quick-Change diff under turtle-deck. (Photo by Scott Williamson.)

Note red paint in the dropped front-axle beam, and the foundation of hot-rodding. (Photo by Scott Williamson)
The Ford FlatHead was the foundation of hot-rodding, cheap, available, and easy to soup up.
An entire industry sprang up providing high-compression aluminum cylinder-heads, radically reground camshafts, and multi-carb intake manifolds.
It’s interesting to page through my 1948 HotRod reprints and see all the ads for ways to soup up the FlatHead.
The FlatHead isn’t very sophisticated, a joke compared to now, but many were souped up, most by amateurs in the backyard.
The “Bell Auto Parts” racer was more professional. That front radiator shroud is hand-formed aluminum. As were the belly-pans this car also has.
This replica has a T-10 four-speed transmission, and I wonder about that. The original was built in 1946, and the T-10 wasn’t available then. —The original probably had an “in-and-out” gearbox, a racing application.
The car also appears to have a Quick-Change differential. And note the red detailing in the dropped front axle-beam.
The car is gorgeous enough to run all the calendar-pictures. Like the back and the motor.
I subscribed to HotRod a few years, mainly my final year at high-school and my freshman year of college.
But I discovered an issue of Car & Driver Magazine at the campus laundromat, and decided it was much more interesting = it had writing that was much better.
I still subscribe to Car & Driver. I also subscribed to Road & Track, but gave that up years ago.
Car & Driver is since sometime in 1964.

Yet again, but looks pretty nice. (Photo by Willie Brown.)

—The December 2015 entry of my Norfolk Southern Employees’ Photography-Contest calendar is another Powhatan mine-run shot by Willie Brown.
Brown is a train-engineer, and works this line.
It’s a coal-train from the mine going down to the Ohio River so the coal can be loaded onto barges.
Just about every picture Brown has had in this calendar, and there are quite a few, has been this mine-run.
It’s hard to resist a snowfall. Already my brother is suggesting we go to Altoona in January, since snow pictures can be extraordinary, even if it’s brutally cold.
With any luck we’ll get what Brown got here; wind hasn’t blown the snow off the trees yet.
So hillsides look like a scene from “Doctor Zhivago,” crystalline.
Recently my brother and I were in Gallitzin, and some would-be photographers strayed into our picture. They eventually walked away.
One came back to talk to us.
“How come you guys are way back here?” he asked.
“So that hillside can be our background,” we said.
“Oh yeah,” said the guy, as he set up beside us.
“This is a really great photograph.”
HELLO; surrounding scenery is what makes a great photograph; not just the subject.
6352 is another SD40-E rebuilt and modified by the railroad from an SD-50. At 3,500 horsepower, the SD-50 was overstressed. The SD40-E rebuilds are downrated to 3,000 horsepower.
The mine-run is probably downhill. It could be done with only a single unit.
Getting that heavy train back up the hill would probably take three or four 4,000 horsepower road-units, plus pushers.

IN YER FACE! (Photo by Philip Makanna©.)

—The December 2015 entry of my Ghosts WWII warbirds calendar is the front-end of a P-40 WarHawk.
Tiger-Shark and non Tiger-Shark. (Photo by Philip Makanna©.)
It’s not painted the famous “Tiger-Shark” scheme, although it seems a variation.
The Flying Tigers were a volunteer force of American pilots that fought the Japanese early in the war as part of the Chinese Air Force.
The Tiger-Shark scheme was later applied to many military planes. I’ve even seen it applied to a lowly Piper-Cub.
Many of these later applications look ridiculous.
But it looked perfect on the P-40 with its giant scoop-mouth radiator-intake.
The P-40 is powered by a water-cooled Allison V12. It needed a radiator-intake.
Later airplanes put that radiator someplace else, but the P-40 and P-38 had it right up front.
The plane pictured has another paint-scheme I’ve never seen. It uses that radiator-scoop for inspiration.
I’ve seen P-40s without teeth. The Tiger-shark scheme is excessive, but looks great — much better than later applications.
A Piper-Cub? Fer cryin’ out loud!
No doubt photographer Makanna had a lot of telephoto on this picture.
Yet it looks derring-do.
Makanna is probably in the open back seat of a Texan trainer.
“Now buzz me,” Makanna radios the P-40 pilot.
WHOA! Look out! My take is they almost collided.
Yet out of that Makanna got this dramatic picture.

Westbound on the “Broad Way.” (Photo by Robert F. Collins©.)

—I don’t think this picture is that good, but it’s the cover-shot for my Audio-Visual Designs black-and-white All-Pennsy Calendar.
The December 2015 entry of this calendar is Pennsy Mountain (4-8-2) #4872, pulling a 122-car westbound past Bailey, PA along the Juniata (“June-eee-AT-uh”) River on the Middle Division.
My mother pronounced it “Juanita.”
This was the Pennsy that was. Long freights across PA serving the east-coast megalopolis.
The original Pennsy from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh became a cash-cow.
The Allegheny barrier had been breached at Altoona, opening up the midwest and west.
New York was first with its Erie Canal, and later the New York Central Railroad.
Pennsylvania had Allegheny Mountain blocking trade with the nation’s interior, but Pennsy breached it just west of Altoona. Part was Horseshoe Curve, a long circumnavigation of a valley that made climbing Allegheny Mountain possible without steep grades or switchbacks.
The state tried earlier with an inclined-plane portage railroad tied to its cross-state canal system.
But it was difficult and slow. Plus canals froze in Winter.
Pennsy was private enterprise, not state-sponsored.
It was mainly a response to the fact the state’s combined canal and railroad was cumbersome.
Pennsy was rewarded mightily. It merged feeders to its main at Pittsburgh, and also New York City, Baltimore, and Washington DC.
It became the largest and most powerful railroad on the planet.
Pennsy, of course, is gone. It merged in 1968 with New York Central, and New York, New Haven & Hartford, and quickly went bankrupt.
Other east-coast railroads also became bankrupt. The east-coast railroads had heavy taxes and expensive transit districts. They also had highway competition. and could not do flexible pricing.
That was a reflection to when railroad freight-transit was a monopoly.
Trucking didn’t have that, and furthermore governments were funding and maintaining trucking’s right-of-way, which also made it untaxable.
The Penn-Central bankruptcy precipitated Conrail, at first a government attempt to straighten out the east-coast railroad mess.
Conrail became successful and privatized, and considered selling to CSX Transportation. But Norfolk Southern wanted part, and got it when CSX and NS struck a deal. Conrail broke up and sold in 1999, most of its ex-New York Central lines going to CSX, and the ex-Pennsy line across PA going to Norfolk Southern.
Even now the ex-Pennsy line across PA is quite busy.
I listen to an an Altoona-area railroad-radio feed over the Internet and trains are continuous.
I bet you could shoot this same picture today. Two or three GE diesels would be on the point moving those 122 cars west toward Altoona at 40 mph or more.
And look at that first car. It looks like a wooden hopper-car, probably good for 30-50 tons. The coal-cars in the train look like 70-tonners.
Coal-cars now carry 120 tons; and I remember when 100 tons was revolutionary.
I don’t know as railroads back then would support 120 tons, particularly with jointed-rail. —The rail in that picture is jointed.

Hemi RoadRunner. (Photo by Peter Harholdt©.)

—The December 2015 entry in my Motorbooks Musclecar calendar is a 1971 Hemi RoadRunner (“hem-EEE;” not “he-MEE”).
The Plymouth RoadRunner, introduced in 1968, was one of the most successful marketing-ploys of all time: performance on-the-cheap.
As introduced, RoadRunner wasn’t maximum performance. Money was in the engine and transmission; everything else was dirt-cheap. RoadRunners had bench-seats, essentially the el-cheapo taxicab body with a performance motor and transmission.
The motor wasn’t the expensive maximum motor. It was a 383 four-barrel, strong enough to skonk SmallBlock Chevys in street-races.
The ploy was to market good performance without the expensive trim and bucket-seats of the GTX.
In other words, you didn’t have to get a GTX to skonk early G-T-Os and hot-rodded SmallBlocks.
Plus you weren’t tuning for speed. All you were doing was buying the car.
By 1972 the GTX became a RoadRunner option. A RoadRunner could be fleshed out, and this RoadRunner has the Hemi mega-motor.
The RoadRunner concept was faltering, as was the whole idea of musclecars, pilloried by emission regulations and heavy gas consumption.
But you could still get performance on-the-cheap: a 383 four-barrel with four-on-the-floor.
First generation — a ’69.
Personally, I prefer the early RoadRunners, the el-cheapo taxicabs. It’s still a big car, but early RoadRunners looked pretty good.
I wonder if my friend at college ever had a RoadRunner?
His name was Karl Kuntz, and his last car I remember was a red ’64 Plymouth two-door coupe with 383 four-speed.
It replaced his earlier 413 Chrysler 300 he beat the daylights out of.
He even got it in a ditch once, and tore off the entire exhaust system trying to back it out.
I’ll never forget his flying back into our college unmuffled at 130 mph! What a sound!
He let me drive his ’64 once, and I quickly had it up to 120 on the clock.
It was fun, but it was big.
I bet he follows NASCAR.

Take down your laundry! Call the EPA! (Photo by John Dziobko, Jr.)

—The December 2015 entry in my All-Pennsy color calendar would make a steam-locomotive fireman wince.
It’s a Pennsy Mikado (2-8-2) smoking up Harrisburg’s yard.
Steam-locomotives generally burned soft-coal, which could be sooty.
In northeastern PA, steam-locomotives burned anthracite, a rocky hard coal in the area.
Having few impurities, it burned cleaner than soft-coal, and had a higher carbon content. But it needed a bigger firebox grate, since it didn’t have the heat-content of soft coal.
Such locomotives had “Wooten” fireboxes, much wider and larger than usual.
The Wootens were so large, the locomotive cab had to be put ahead of the firebox, a so-called “Camelback.”
Central of New Jersey Camelback Atlantic (4-4-2) #592. The gigantic Wooten firebox is visible, with the engineer’s cab up ahead. (This locomotive is on display in Baltimore, inoperable.) (Photo by Mitch Goldman©.)
The Fireman was still behind the firebox, shoveling anthracite coal into it, but the engineer was up ahead.
So a soft-coal fired steam-locomotive spewed smoke and soot out the stack — sometimes even burning embers, which could start a fire.
Firemen were on notice to make their fire burn clean = a clean stack. Railfans love billowing smoke, but not railroad management.
And Maudy had a fit if she had her laundry out next to the railroad, and passing trains showered her sheets with soot.
She’d call the railroad, and the suspect fireman got called on-the-carpet.
This was years ago before laundry-dryers. Maudy hung out her laundry to dry.
And supposedly a relative’s roof caught fire next to the railroad.
I’ve ridden behind restored coal-burning steam-locomotives, and I had to wear swim-goggles to keep the cinders out of my eyes.
I rode behind Nickel Plate 765 years ago, and came home looking like a coal-miner.
The Mikado in this picture is the same boiler/firebox used on Pennsy’s famous K-4 Pacific. Pennsy did that: standardization. Both the K-4 and the L-1 Mikado shared the same boiler/firebox.
Pennsy had other examples of standardization. The H-8 through H-10 Consolidations (2-8-0) all use the same firebox/boiler as the E-6 Atlantic (4-4-2) and the G-5 Ten-Wheeler (4-6-0).
The I-1 Decapods (2-10-0) and the K-5 Pacific (4-6-2) have the same boiler/firebox, but only two K-5s were built. There were 598 I-1s.
Not enough weight on the drivers for the K-5; too powerful = too slippery.
The entire Altoona area would fill up with smoke. I’ve seen pictures.
There were so many steam-locomotives chuffing about, the area would fill up with smoke. It was between mountains that acted like a bowl.
I doubt steam-locomotives could exist in times like now. They belch too much visible smoke.
Not too long ago I chased Nickel Plate 765 on excursions from Buffalo to Corning (NY) and back on the old Erie Railroad main.
I could tell where it was due to smoke and the smell of burning coal. And it was burning clean.

Are they kidding?


The December 2015 entry of my Jim LePore muscle-car calendar is just a garden-variety ’61 Chevy Bel Air hardtop.
Well, it is the bubble-top, which looks much better than a sedan.
The most beautiful Detroit car ever made.
But in my humble opinion the best-looking bubble-tops were the ’61 Pontiacs.
I was 17 when the 409 Chevy debuted.
I was smitten. A Detroit car-manufacturer had broken the 400 cubic-inch barrier.
The 409 was the 348 truck-engine bored, stroked, and hot-rodded .
They had to be hand-inspected, since casting-porosity made them leaky, and bored cylinder-walls were thin.
Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins of Jenkins Competition in southeastern PA (I think it was “Grumpy” — it may have been Dave Strickler), raced a ’62 at Cecil County Drag o way, where I hung out summer-nights in 1965.
(Does Cecil County still exist? It’s got a website.)
They nicknamed him “Grumpy” because he was very untalkative, and sullen when talked to.
The actual car.

That 409 was unbeatable until Dodge and Plymouth Hemis started showing up. Jenkins later went on to become a premier drag-racer racing tuned SmallBlock Chevys.
But he had to buy a Hemi of his own to remain competitive at that time.
So it’s impossible for me to think of this plain-jane Bel Air as a musclecar. It needs to be a 409.

Proof of my rule. (Photo by Fred Kurtz.)

—My 2015 Norfolk Southern Employees’ Photography-Contest calendar arrived recently, and it has a December 2015 entry, the above picture.
I include it because it’s an example of my “scenery makes the picture” dictum. The locomotive is not in your face. It’s quite a ways back, so the scenery can be prominent.
The locomotive is the Central of Georgia, Heritage-unit, CofG being one of Norfolk Southern’s predecessors.
The unit is one of 20 brand-new road-diesels painted the the colors of predecessor railroads. They are in regular service.

Friday, November 20, 2015

“Five Minutes”

In about two weeks, Monday, December 7th — “a date that will live in infamy” — Yrs Trly will enter Thompson Hospital in nearby Canandaigua to have his left knee replaced.
It’s finally going to happen, it seems, although I predict a possible postponement.
I been tryin’ to do this over a year, although there were a multitude of hoops to negotiate.
One was removing my prostate.
I’m bone-on-bone, and hobbling. Often I can hear it grinding as I walk.
Hospitalization may be three or four days, then I have a long bit of rehab, maybe a month.
This is not at home, since I’d be returning to an empty house.
Rehab will be at a facility away from my house; perhaps the hospital. That hospital has on-site rehab for knee replacements.
In preparation for being away from home so long, I thought I’d do something about the mail.
At first I was gonna “stop mail,” and hold for pickup by my friend that daycares my dog.
But he suggested forwarding to his grooming-shop.
Good idea. I’ll do it. Just go to and set up a forward. “Done in five minutes.”
I began this process yesterday at 11:45; 11:50 is five minutes.
Finally at 1:15 I felt satisfied I had set up my “forward.”
That’s one and one-half hours. Whither five minutes?
In my humble experience, things always take way longer than predicted.
First was trying to type “” into my browser-bar.
As a stroke-survivor my typing is erratic.
I set up bookmarks, or copy/paste the web-address.
I took at least three tries, about 10 minutes, before I got in.
Then it was make sense of, and nowhere did they have “forward.”
After a half-hour I gave up, and cranked “Post Office Forward” into my Google search-bar.
AHA! A valid link.
Thank goodness for Google, although I’m mad at them for trying to take over the universe.
I clicked the link, and began my stroke-addled typing again.
First it wanted me to “log in.”
FER WHAT!? So the Postal-Service can sell my info to Amazon, Facebook, etc, or shower me with useless drivel?
But I couldn’t set up a “forward” without “logging in;” which seems funny because I don’t need to “log in” to “stop mail.”
It took at least a half-hour to “set up an account,” at least three tries. E-mail addresses that aren’t valid, unmatching passwords, the old post-stroke typing waazoo.
When I finally got around to setting up my forward, my forwarding-address wasn’t valid — they wanted a house-number.
I had to call my doggy-daycare friend to get a house-number they never use, so it’s not on their business-card.
Later that afternoon I decided to sign up for LikeLock®, which I’ve wanted to do for years, but haven’t because it’s an online process.
“Easy as pie,” they claimed. “Only five minutes.”
I decided I’d try their free 30-day trial: “Please enter promo-code.”
Again the post-stroke mistyping.
All-of-a-sudden a chat-window appeared: “Any problems?”
“Not yet,” I answered.
“Thank you for choosing LifeLock®. Have a nice day!”
The chat-window disappeared.
LikeLock® is justifiably hyper. They wanted to verify my e-mail address.
“Send e-mail,” I commanded.
I clicked again.
Again, nothing.
Any way I could bring back that chat-lady.
Not that I could see.
I called their 800-number. “You’re talking to a stroke-survivor,” I said. I have to say that to explain my stony silences, stuttering, and asking them to repeat.
I hate making phonecalls, but had no alternative.
“I can’t verify my e-mail,” I said.
“Look in your spam-folder,” she said.
“Not there,” although I should explain my Internet and e-mail delivery were bog-slow because the gamers were on up-the-street.
We spazzed around, but I fired up my junk-folder again, and there was LifeLock®.
“You have to add LifeLock® to your safe-contacts list,” she said.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said; “since to me my ‘contact-list’ is contacts I e-mail.
But apparently “unjunking” LikeLock® was the equivalent of “adding to my safe contact-list.”
Why is it things need translation or redefinition to make sense?
“Thank you for being tolerant of a 71-year-old stroke-survivor with bog-slow Internet.”
Starting up LifeLock® took at least an hour, and I was afraid I’d hafta spill because it was getting too dark to walk my dog out back.
So how does one set up a Post-Office “Forward,” or LifeLock®, in only five minutes for each?
I think if you designed the website you could do either in five minutes.

• December 7th, 1941, “a date that will live in infamy,” according to President Franklin D. Roosevelt before Congress, is the day Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese.
• I had a stroke October 26th, 1993, and it slightly compromised my speech (difficulty finding and putting words together), and left me with sloppy fingers. I pretty much recovered — I can pass for never having had a stroke.

Labels: ,

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Glowering Intimidator

The other day (last Thursday, November 12th, 2015) I had a medical appointment in nearby Canandaigua at noon.
After setting up my dog inside my house, I aimed my car out the driveway toward State Route 65, the road I live on.
After traffic cleared, only one car, I turned south on 65 toward the center of our little town, what there is of it.
The center of our town is the traffic-light, where 65 ends at its intersection with east/west 5&20.
The road 65 is on continues south as County Road 37.
5&20 is NY State Route 5, and U.S. Route 20, both on the same road.
5&20 used to be the main east/west road across western NY before the Thruway, Interstate-90. It followed an old indian-trail, and separated about 20-30 miles west.
State Route 5 goes up along the lake. I remember driving it back in the ‘70s chasing a restored railroad steam-locomotive, Norfolk & Western #611.
611 chuffs down 17th Street in Erie on the old Nickel Plate. (Photo by BobbaLew.)
We were skirting Lake Erie.
I’m a railfan, and have been since age-2 — I’m 71.
At the traffic-light I would turn left toward Canandaigua.
As I began my turn I noticed a glowering intimidator nipping my bumper, shaking his fist and yelling, and lunging to my right as if trying to pass illegally in the right-turn lane for County Road 37.
That right-turn lane goes away.
Clearly, I wasn’t driving fast enough. I was driving at a reasonable and normal speed, instead of blasting my turn like race-driver Denis Hulme (“hyoom”) rocketing his Big-Block Can-Am McLaren out of the hairpin at Mosport (“moe-SPORT”).

Hulme blasts Moss Hairpin at Mosport about 1970, in his Can-Am McLaren, the greatest racecars I’ve ever seen. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

I wasn’t pedal-to-the-metal!
I drove transit-bus 16&1/2 years for Regional Transit Service (RTS), a public-employer, the supplier of bus-service in Rochester and environs.
In order to drive a bus safely, you had to allow for idiots and wackos.
I still do it! My braking-distances are way more than suggested. I still wanna stop without throwing my passengers outta the seats.
So okay, let the dude pass when we get outta town.
But he fell behind as we drove out of town.
That is, until I slowed for a pickup signaling a left-turn ahead of me.
Another car was between me and the pickup, and I doubt Mr. Glowering Intimidator saw the pickup.
All he saw was me, obstructing his fevered attempt to be a NASCAR racer.
On my bumper again, shaking his fist and yelling.
It became apparent I and my leader were going to have to go around the pickup on the right shoulder.
But I got a raving maniac behind me.
He was already lunging for the right shoulder, so I backed off and let him by.
My leader had already moved to the right shoulder, surprising Mr. Intimidator, who was more obsessed with me than ascertaining the whole picture.
He had to back off; at least he didn’t rear-end my leader.
Drive eight hours a day, and you get madness like this.
“Oh Dora, look, a bus. PULL-OUT! PULL-OUT!”

• The Nickel Plate mainline did street-running through Erie, PA.
• Sports Car Club of America’s Can-Am series, back in the early ‘70s, was the BEST racing I ever saw. Unlimited two-seater fendered sports cars with hot-rodded aluminum Big-Block Chevy motors generating almost 800 horsepower — the ultimate hotrod on twisting road-circuits. One of the road-courses was Mosport near Toronto. The Can-Am waned after Porsche (“poor-sha”) developed a 1,000 horsepower turbocharged Can-Am racer.

Labels: ,

Saturday, November 14, 2015


“Provider notice: Authorization is required for this service and no active authorization is on file. Important member information about this denial: Please refer to the ‘benefit limitations and exclusions and/or coverage limitation’ provisions as described in your summary plan description or plan document.”


“A claim for services you received has been submitted to Value Options on behalf of MVP. This explanation of benefits is being provided to help you understand the amount charged by your provider and the amount of benefits paid by Value Options on behalf of MVP. It also includes any Copayment, Coinsurance, Deductible and any Non-Covered Charges for which you are responsible. The amount shown above may include amounts that you paid to your provider at the time of service. If you received covered services from a participating provider, that provider has agreed to accept the Allowed Amount, minus any Copayment, Coinsurance and Deductible, as payment in full. If you receive services from a non-participating provider you may also be responsible for the difference between the Billed Charges and the Allowed Amount.”

All in the same letter!
(“MVP” is my health-insurance.)
I have a college-degree, earned after cogitating mountains of drivel.
It sounds to me like that first quote is my health-insurance denying coverage.
The second quote talks like my claim will be paid.
As usual I hafta call “the provider” to see what gives.
The provider is “Boike Counseling” (“Boy-key”), and the “psychotherapist“ is Judith Taylor, LCS.
It was suggested I seek counseling after my wife died. I was devastated back then, not much now. That was over three years ago. I wasn’t “referred.”
All of this is interesting since I’ve already seen Judith Taylor 8-10 previous times. And this is the first time I received a letter like this.
My health-insurance also sent previous notifications her claim was paid.
I may have to also call my health-insurance. It wouldn’t be the first time. Not too long ago I got a similar letter saying my health-insurance wouldn’t pay the claim because the service wasn’t “specified.”
That is, “it wasn’t coded,” I was told.
When I ran all this by my health-insurance I was told to not worry. It wasn’t my problem — they would take care of it.
So why the letter? I wouldn’t be surprised to get the same response from Boike.
As if a stroke-survivor can easily parry phonecalls. I usually hafta tell the other party I had a stroke, and may not make sense, or lock up.
At which point some get angry!
What is it with these guys they feel they occasionally hafta jerk your chain?
Weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth caused by legal mumbo-jumbo, all so the bloated fatcats can buy their Mercedes.

• My beloved wife of over 44 years died of cancer April 17th, 2012. I miss her dearly.
• I had a stroke October 26th, 1993, and it slightly compromised my speech. (Difficulty finding and putting words together.)

Saturday, November 07, 2015

The Deed is Done

Amidst all the madness, this was apparently not published. The operation was Wednesday, August 26th.

Right about now my prostate is probably rotting in some medical waste-dump. The maggots are probably already at it.
Anyone who reads this blog knows Yrs Trly had prostate cancer.
I’ve never been really clear about this. I don’t know how bad it was — I guess it wasn’t.
We’ve been monitoring my PSA for years. That’s Prostate-Specific-Antigen in my blood, an indicator of prostate cancer.
It’s always been kind of highish, although certain other things can make it high, like infection or sex.
But a few months ago my PSA came back really high, so we decided to do a biopsy.
Prostate cancer is also indicated by lumps or bumps on the prostate gland, felt by the Doctor poking around in your butt. My prostate was always smooth.
But the biopsy indicated prostate cancer, apparently inside the gland.
Supposedly this is quite common for men my age. I’m 71.
My father had it, which was after I left, so I never knew.
It was treated with radiation — his prostate wasn’t removed — which is what they were doing back then.
In my case, various treatment options were considered, one of which was radiation.
But my Doctor said radiation was good for about 10 years.
I said I expected I might be around longer than that.
So we decided to remove my prostate, and this is much less invasive than it was a few years ago.
The removal and re-plumbing is done through 4-5 small incisions with the Da Vinci robot. The surgeon is driving it through a computer.

The robot is over the operating-table.

I know a guy who had the same surgery, and he’s fine.
It’s still a major surgery. They’re poking around with power-drills, Skil-saws, and pipe-wrenches.
I had to do a “pre-op;” this surgery would involve hospitalization.
Finally the appointed hour came, 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, August 26th.
(I woulda done this earlier, but I’m still pooped.)
I was wheeled into the operating-room. The many tentacled Da Vinci robot was along the wall.
For the umpteenth time I was asked to recite my name and birthday.
“Robert John Hughes, February 5th, 1944, which makes me an old geezer.”
During my hospitalization I must have repeated that hundreds of times.
I was then asked to tell my surgery. “We’re removing my prostate,” I said.
“Is anyone here with you?”
After that, lights out.
I woke up a few hours later in the recovery-room, oxygen in my nose,
Sit quietly and don’t ask questions. You’re in the hospital; their rules apply.
After recovery my hospitalization began.
-Day One: I couldn’t move.
-Day Two: I could get up in bed if someone was pulling me.
They said I was cleared to be discharged after two days, but I said I wasn’t confident. Getting up was still a struggle, and I’d be going home to an empty house.
-Day Three: A Physical-Therapist came and showed me how to get up using my elbow as a prop.
Worked like a charm.
I would be discharged, and no longer to an empty house. My brother-in-law had driven up from Florida.
I still had the catheter, and would have it until the following Thursday (September 3rd).
I had to figure out how to change bags; a leg-bag during the day, a bigger bag at night.
I could recount various travails of hospitalization:
-A bed shaped like a ditch.
-The gentleman next door yelling for help at 1 a.m.
-Lights on: “We’re here to check your vitals, Mr. Hughes” at 2 a.m.
-My intravenous would go wonky, and start quietly beeping — not loud enough to attract a nurse, but it would keep me awake.
-And then there was the telephone in my room that rang at 3 a.m. I finally unplugged it. I was using my cellphone, which I can shut off at bedtime.
The hospital’s rules are inviolate, but vary with each nurse.
Once I thought I’d try walking, but had red hospital socks, an indicator I was unstable.
“I’ll get a walker,” the nurse said.
“I never had no walker before, and I’ve already walked many times.”
“But you have red socks. I’ll get a walker.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “If I hafta use a walker, I ain’t interested in walking. To me that’s not productive.”
I was allowed to walk without a walker and without incident, confident and strong. Seven laps, far more than the average patient.
As seems to be the case with all hospitalizations, your ability to go to the bathroom (“number-two,” they said) triggers your discharge.
So when that finally happened, why did I have to run to the bathroom myself, instead of with a nurse, as required?
A five-to-ten minute wait after the call-button was average, and sometimes it was never answered.
And why was it always me looking out for myself when a nurse forgot a pill or something? “I can’t sleep with that light on.”
A lady came around to take my dinner-order. The primary entré was goulash. “Anything else?” I asked. I chose baked-fish.
Dinner arrived; it was goulash.
So the deed is done, and I don’t regret it.
I’m recovering slowly, I guess, but I need to nap a lot.
I’m told that’s the anesthesia; it takes a long time for it to wear off.
This surgery surprised me.
It’s not invasive, but still a major surgery.
It clobbered me a lot more than expected.
And then there are the Depends. I hadn’t been told to expect that.
I’m pretty much back to normal; all I’m left with is needing naps and Depends.
I made the mistake of telling my surgeon it was “all his fault,” when he visited during Day-Two, which was when I could barely move.
If I regret anything, it’s saying that.
Here I am slamming around as if nothing happened. He extended my life, and saved me from a horrible death.

• “Robert John Hughes” is me, “Bobbalew.”
• RE: “an empty house......” —My beloved wife of over 44 years died of cancer April 17th, 2012. I miss her dearly. My “brother-in-law” is her brother.


The REAL Lana Turner. My friend was prettier in the face, but the hair is similar.
In December of 1957 my family moved from south Jersey to northern Delaware.
I was 13, soon to become 14, and had started eighth grade.
My father had got a better job at a new oil-refinery in northern DE; he had previously worked at a Texaco refinery in south Jersey.
We had to move so my father’s daily commute wasn’t untenable — about 15-20 miles replacing 100+.
He started in 1956, commuting in our ’53 Chevy.
By then the Jersey Turnpike had opened, so he was using that, along with the Delaware Memorial Bridge.
I don’t remember this move being traumatic, but I’m told I was traumatized. Although I think that may be my siblings insisting they knew me better than I know myself.
I don’t think the move itself traumatized me; it was more that I’d have to make new friends.
As if someone totally unsure of himself could do that.
My family moved in early December, but decided I should stay behind to finish 1957 in my old school.
That’s just 1957; a full eighth-grade would finish in June of 1958.
I would live out 1957 with my paternal grandparents in nearby Camden, NJ, and take the bus out to my suburb, where I’d catch the schoolbus to my school.
I have no idea how I got back to my grandparents. What I remember is hanging around my old neighborhood in the predawn darkness hoping my friend Joe would come out so we could walk to our schoolbus stop.
We were in brand-new Delaware Township High-School, since renamed Cherry Hill High-School, as was the township. Later a second high-school was added called “Cherry Hill High-School East,” and Cherry Hill High-School was renamed “Cherry Hill High-School West.”
I think we might have been the first class, proposed to graduate in 1962.
We were the cusp of the oncoming post-war baby-boom. 1944, my birth year, makes me a war-baby, not post-war baby-boom. WWII ended in 1945, but our area was growing. I had to do double-sessions in fifth grade.
Seventh grade was the new high-school, and the school was only partially finished. Only the academic-building, “D” building, the classrooms.
“A” building wasn’t finished yet, nor was “B” (the auditorium), or “C” (the gym and cafeteria). “A” was shop-classes, mechanical drawing, art, and home-ec.
Delaware Township High-School got students from all over the area, not just my little suburb’s elementary-school.
With Delaware Township High-School my pool of possible friends vastly expanded.
Among them was a girl I’ll call “Lana.” I can’t remember her name, but she was extraordinarily beautiful in a “Lana Turner”-like way.
Not a cute sexpot.
She had long shoulder-length blond hair, waving onto her shoulders. She lived alone with her mother, I think a divorcee.
She had a steady boyfriend, a hard-rock greaser.
But she was attracted to me, always singling me out for conversation, the pimply kid.
I was clueless, no idea what to do.
I’m a graduate of the Hilda Q. Walton School of Sexual Relations.
Hilda was Sunday-School Superintendent at my parents’ church, and also my next-door neighbor.
She did her best to convince me I was totally unworthy of female attention; that my attraction to sexpots was disgusting.
The girls she wanted me to like were older, and hardly sexy.
Hilda’s legacy still haunts me, even at age-71.
I of course learned Hilda was wrong. There were plenty of girls interested in me, and many were cute and/or sexy.
And that was despite how screwed-up and unsure of myself I was.
I still have a scribbled note a cute sexpot left in my school-desk inviting me to a dance. It’s in my safe-deposit box.
DANCE! With my father? Utterly inconceivable.
I was dragged away from a school sock-hop I was deejaying when my father pounded on the school-door.
I had been invited to play my saxophone. My friends were dumbfounded when my father dragged me out by the ear.
Shortly after I moved a schoolmate came and invited me to join his circle of friends. He invited me to a dance.
I had to put him off. My father would have gone ballistic and beat me to a pulp.
I visited Hilda in 1992; by then she was in her 80s.
Her husband was gone, but she lived in the same house next to our first house.
By then she was no longer Sunday-School Superintendent, but she took me back to our old church — she still had a key — and then badmouthed all the travesties being visited upon her beloved Sunday-School building by younger pups.
That two-story Sunday-School building, much like a regular school, was her doing, her private preserve. Where she told us children alcohol would rot our brains, and anyone wearing pants, like me for example, was unworthy of female attention.
So I wonder how faire Hilda would react to “Lana;” the fact an extremely beautiful girl was attracted to me.
That didn’t happen. Our family moved, consigning Hilda, and “Lana,” to the filmy past.

• I learned how to drive in that ’53 Chevy, known by me as “the Blue Bomb” (it was navy-blue). It was a pig; PowerGlide-six.
• “Camden, NJ” is the urban extension of the Philadelphia area in south Jersey. My paternal grandparents lived in Camden.


Monday, November 02, 2015

Fall-Foliage attempt

Westbound 23M through autumn splendor. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)

My brother and I went to Altoona (PA) two weekends ago, hopefully to get fall foliage pictures chasing trains.
We both are railfans, me since age-2. My brother is 13 years younger than me. I’m 71 and he’s 58.
The railroad is Norfolk Southern over Allegheny Mountain, the old Pennsylvania Railroad main.
Pennsy no longer exists. It merged with New York Central in 1968, and Penn-Central went bankrupt in two years, the largest corporate bankruptcy at that time.
Both Pennsy and New York Central had been busy conduits of railroad traffic to and from the east-coast megalopolis. Other railroads served that area too, and all also failed.
So when Penn-Central failed, northeast railroading became a mess. The government stepped in and engineered a fix, Conrail, and both the Pennsy and NYC mains became Conrail.
Norfolk Southern is a 1982 merger of Norfolk & Western and Southern Railway. Conrail became successful and privatized. It became interested in selling.
CSX was gonna buy all of it, but Norfolk Southern wanted part. Finally a deal was struck, so Conrail broke up and sold in 1999.
CSX got the old New York Central main across NY, and Norfolk Southern got the old Pennsy main across PA.
Norfolk Southern was successful in selling its railroad service, so the old Pennsy main is still very busy.
The Allegheny Crossing area is very interesting to a railfan like me, with multiple trains letting it all hang out, wide-open climbing, and trying to prevent runaways descending.
There are other places with greater train frequency, but not operating at extremes.
Most of the area is forested with deciduous trees, so turns orange during October.
I publish an annual calendar of our train-pictures, so need photos specific for each month. That is, snow for January, February, December, and maybe March, bare trees for April, November, and maybe even May, Fall-color for October, and greenery the other months.
I should explain chasing trains, since people ask.
My brother and I both have railroad-radio scanners. As a train passes a signal the engineer must call out the signal-aspect: “clear,” “approach” (slow, prepared to stop), or “restricting” (stop). The engineer will say what track he’s on, his train-number, direction, and signal-location — “UN, 21E, west on Two, clear!” (“UN” being the signal location, “21E” the train-number.)
Often the train-engineers are female.
Since I know where the signals are, we’ll know if that train is coming, or if we can beat it to another location.
The railroad also has lineside defect-detectors that broadcast on the railroad-radio. “Norfolk Southern milepost 253.1, Track One, no defects.”
The defect-detectors serve the purpose caboose trainmen once served, to look for train defects: hot wheels, dragging equipment, etc.
Track One is eastbound, and I know where milepost 253.1 is. So that radio broadcast tells me if I’ll see the train, or if I should move.
So we ram all over the area “chasing trains.” The railroad is still quite busy, maybe even busier than years ago. The idea is to photograph the train at a scenic location, grist for my train-calendar.
Trains are frequent; we don’t have to wait long. Although there may be slow times, or trackwork closing a track or two.
There also is a schedule of freight-trains running every day. Plus the railroad runs extra trains, like coal or crude-oil.
We may photograph 20 or more trains while the sun is up. One time we got 30.
Although that was with my railfan friend from Altoona, Phil Faudi (“FOW-dee;” as in “wow”).
I began chasing trains with Phil years ago, while my wife was still alive. He was doing it as a business.
Then he quit the business. He had been doing the driving, and had too many near-accidents.
Then he began helping me chase trains: me driving and he riding shotgun monitoring his railroad-radio scanner to tell me where to go.
Then his wife, who has Multiple Sclerosis, became a worry. He was afraid of her falling without him around if we were out chasing trains.
So now he stays home, but monitoring his railroad scanner, and calls my cellphone while I’m out chasing trains.
This works pretty good, although he can only monitor Altoona and the east slope of The Hill. A bed-and-breakfast for railfans broadcasts the west slope railroad-radio feed on the Internet, and we can get that on our Smartphones.
“Fifty miles of railroad,” my brother will say. In Altoona that’s our scanners, plus our Smartphones getting the west slope Internet feed from the bed-and-breakfast.
We don’t do as well as with Phil, who used to do sudden U-turns to beat a train to a location.
But we do okay. The line is busy enough we don’t have to wait long.
A train might appear and we shoot, then we wait for the engineer to call out a signal so we can identify the train.
With Phil the signal-callout came first, and he might suddenly U-turn to beat that train to a photo-location.
As is commonly the case, my brother drove to Altoona Wednesday, October 21st to chase trains alone Thursday, October 22nd while I drove down.
For him the trip is nine hours; for me it’s five. He’s coming from the Boston area; me from the Rochester (NY) area.
Thursday was cloudy, but he did okay.
Fall foliage was debatable. Phil said it peaked a week earlier, but there was still plenty of orange around.
Up on Tunnel Hill overlook, atop Allegheny Mountain, I have seen total orange over the valley.
But it was still fairly green.

22W east at Brickyard Crossing. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)

26T East from Eighth Street overpass in Altoona. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)

36A, all auto-racks, eastbound at Lower Riggles Gap Road overpass in Pinecroft. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)

67X west, an empty crude-oil train, led by only the barcode-engine, #1111, approaches the Lower Riggles Gap Road overpass. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)

16A east on Track One approaches the Route 53 overpass. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)

35A west on Four approaches the Route 53 overpass. (The two lead locomotives are recent shop overhauls; added in Altoona. That lead unit is not a wide-cab.) (Photo by Jack Hughes.)

My brother shot various locations, Brickyard and Eighth street bridge.
When I arrived he was at Pinecroft, where Lower Riggles Gap Road crosses the tracks on an overpass.
I usually avoid Pinecroft, because the tracks are straight both coming and going. Long straights; I think curves are more photogenic.
But he got the barcode engine, #1111. Look at the locomotive number-board and you’ll see the railroad has accommodated the railfans.
The number is tiny; a barcode.
Norfolk Southern does this — it doesn’t discourage fans. Other railroads might hate having railfans around; they can be unsafe.
Norfolk Southern painted 20 new locomotives in colors of predecessor railroads.
Railfans go crazy following them around. Websites detail the locations of these 20 locomotives, the so-called “Heritage Units.”
The locomotives are used as regular power, so if a train shows up with a Heritage-Unit, there’s usually a railfan contingent.
My brother’s oil-refinery security-detail wonders why so many photographers line the tracks into his refinery. A Heritage-Unit is leading a crude-oil train.
The railfans are even using drones over the refinery’s unloading facility. They get perceived as a terrorist threat.
About the only way to deal with this is for the FBI and the NSA to show up — and bust heads. Take cameras, drones, etc.
Do that and you ruin the railfan experience. Faudi used to always advise playing it safe; no trespassing, and stay off the tracks.
Drone footage was on You-Tube, but that was looking over a derailment in Altoona.
I never knew of the barcode-unit, but it makes sense. And apparently the railroad has played along by installing a non-stock number-board.
Our chase continued Friday; now it was me and him.
We also hit various locations. Alto Tower off 17th Street bridge, the Route 53 bridge over five-tracks, also Pinecroft and Portage.

Train 36A again passes Alto Tower (closed) in Altoona. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)

27N off the 1898 bypass into Portage. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

I3M, bare-tables for double-stacks, passes through Portage (PA). This train originally had another number (23Q), but changed numbers when recrewed in Altoona. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)

12G eastbound on One through Portage. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)

21E, the westbound UPS train, into South Fork. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

67Z westbound, an empty crude-oil train, from the Tunnel-Hill overlook. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)

The sun was out; it was perfect weather, not a cloud in the sky.
But the sun moved quickly; by 4 p.m. we were getting heavy shadows in our pictures as the sun dropped low.
We also went up to Tunnel-Hill overlook near Gallitzin (“guh-LIT-zin;” as in “get”) in hopes the valley below would be ablaze in color.
It wasn’t. And in Winter the railroad is visible across the valley. It wasn’t. It was still blocked by trees.
Finally we tried a location totally new, where the tracks railroad-west of the Route 53 overpass turn toward Cresson (“KRESS-in”).
There the sunlight was perfect, and the trackside foliage was spectacular.
That’s my lede picture, my October calendar-shot.
The October Norfolk Southern Employees’ Photography-Contest calendar picture. (Photo by Don Woods.)
The night before we tried to find the location of the Norfolk Southern Employees’ Photography-Contest calendar October picture railroad-west of Cassandra (“Ka-SANN-druh;” as in the name “Anne”) on the 1898 bypass.
We couldn’t find it, and guessed the photographer being Norfolk Southern management got to the location on a company rail-rider truck.
But I think our shot is better; the color more strident.
Plus all is in sunlight; the contest picture looks like high clouds.
My brother took one final picture, Saturday morning before he drove home.

27N, west on Three, through Altoona. (Photo by Jack Hughes.)

I wonder how long I’m gonna be able to keep doing this. I’m 71, and somewhat unsteady on my feet.
But I can’t stop. Chasing trains is a joy!
I also learned I hafta mount my camera on a tripod, even the small lens.
Only my tripod-shots weren’t blurred.

• My beloved wife of over 44 years died of cancer April 17th, 2012. I miss her dearly.


Saturday, October 31, 2015

Monthly Calendar-Report for November 2015

UPS-train charges up The Hill at Brickyard. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

—The November 2015 entry of my own calendar is the westbound UPS-train — 21E — charging The Hill at Brickyard Crossing.
It’s my November picture, but was actually taken in March of 2014; my so-called “stealth-trip.”
I told no one I was going, neither my brother-in-Boston, nor Phil Faudi (“FOW-dee;” as in “wow”), the Altoona resident and railfan who helps me chase trains.
I was on-my-own; with only my railroad-radio scanner, and what knowledge I gleaned from Faudi.
Brickyard Crossing is actually Porta Road. It’s the only remaining crossing-at-grade of the old Pennsy main through Altoona.
The line is busy, but Porta Road isn’t. There used to be a brickyard adjacent, but no more.
It’s now warehouses and truck-docks.
No matter; the railroad and railfans still call it “Brickyard Crossing.”
Pennsy is of course gone; now operated by Norfolk Southern, a 1982 merger of Norfolk & Western and Southern Railway.
Various companies operated the old Pennsy main. First was Penn-Central, a merger of Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central in 1968 — which went bankrupt after two years.
Then there was Conrail, at first a government attempt to sort out the eastern railroad mess, then later privatized as it became profitable.
Conrail was broken up and sold in 1999. Part went to CSX Transportation, and part went to Norfolk Southern. CSX’s portion is mainly the old New York Central; and Norfolk Southern got the old Pennsy main across PA.
I was doing okay, although not as well as with Phil.
#8102, the Pennsy Heritage-unit, in Gallitzin. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

I managed to snag the Pennsy Heritage-unit leading an eastbound unit coal-train up Track One on the west slope of The Hill.
My scanner made that possible. I had already waited over an hour in Gallitzin (“Guh-LIT-zin;” as in “get”) in the cold. But then I heard the engineer call out a signal.
So I stayed put.
Norfolk Southern’s “Heritage Units” are new locomotives painted in the schemes of predecessor railroads.
There are 20.
The Pennsy Heritage unit is painted Tuscan Red (“TUSS-kin;” not “Tucson,” AZ) with five gold pin-stripes.
They are used like regular locomotives, so are often seen.
I’m sure I went to other places after that Heritage-unit, and one was Brickyard Crossing.
It’s a famous location. Next to the tracks is an embankment, and I’m on it.
Brickyard doesn’t work from that embankment in morning-light; it’s too backlit.
Even afternoon light is challenging. A westbound approaching on Two or Three will have its front lit.
So I’m shooting the wrong direction. An eastbound down One won’t work in afternoon light.
I’m shooting a westbound going away.
Afternoon light illuminates the locomotive-sides, but the cabs are in shadow. It’s called “modeling.”
The UPS-train is special, mostly UPS trailers-on-flatcar, and perhaps some FedEx or Postal Service.
The railroad must deliver the UPS-train on time — I think to Chicago, where another railroad would deliver it to the west coast.
If the UPS-train is late the railroad gets penalized.
The UPS-train gets a lot of reliable power, and in this case has a shared Union Pacific locomotive.
My guess is this photo is a pot-shot: just shoot and see what ya get!

A Stearman trainer. (Photo by Philip Makanna©.)

—I don’t like biplanes. (“BYE-plane;” not “BIP-lane. I only say that because for a long time I was mispronouncing it).
If a biplane was in my Ghosts WWII warbirds calendar I usually ran it last.
Compared to a Mustang they were turkeys.
But photographer Makanna made the old girl look pretty good.
The November 2015 entry of my Ghosts WWII warbirds calendar is a Stearman “Kaydet” trainer made by Boeing.
Boeing purchased Stearman in 1934.
I’ll let my WWII warbirds site weigh in:
“Even though the Army Air Corps needed a new biplane trainer in the mid-‘30s, it moved slowly to acquire one because of the service-wide lack of funding for new airplane purchases.
In 1936, following the Navy’s lead the previous year, the Army tentatively bought 26 airframes from Boeing (the Model 75), which the Army named the PT-13.
With war on the horizon, this trickle of acquisition soon turned into a torrent; 3,519 were delivered in 1940 alone.
Originally built as a private venture by the Stearman Aircraft Company of Wichita, this two-seat biplane was of mixed construction. The wings were wood with fabric covering, while the fuselage had a tough, welded steel framework, also fabric covered.
Either a Lycoming R-680 (PT-13) or Continental R-670 (PT-17) engine powered most models, at a top speed of 124 mph with a 505-mile range. An engine shortage in 1940-41 led to the installation of 225-hp Jacobs R-755 engines on some 150 airframes, and the new designation PT-18.
The Navy’s early aircraft, designated NS-1, eventually evolved into the N2S series, and the Royal Canadian Air Force called their Lend-Lease aircraft PT-27s. (The Canadians were also responsible for the moniker “Kaydet,” a name eventually adopted by air forces around the globe).
The plane was easy to fly, and relatively forgiving of new pilots. It gained a reputation as a rugged airplane and a good teacher. Officially named the Boeing Model 75, the plane was (and still is) persistently known as the “Stearman” by many who flew them.
By whatever name, more than 10,000 were built by the end of 1945 and at least 1,000 are still flying today worldwide.”
When I was a child, late ‘40s, many Stearmans had been sold out of war surplus.
The original Philadelphia Airport, in south Jersey, was near where I lived.
That airport is long-gone. It couldn’t be expanded = runways lengthened to accommodate more modern airliners than the DC-3.
But at that time a banner towing-service flew out of that airport (as did RCA’s Twin Beech).
They were using Stearmans at first.
They’d fly over my neighborhood towing long advertising banners.
“Smoke Lucky-Strike cigarettes,” or “Look for the three-ring sign: Ballantine Beer.”
I always enjoyed watching. Sometimes two would fly at once; they had to make sure they didn’t hit each other.
Probably the first words I wrote (slung) were “Banner Biplane Antics.” I was about 10 or 11, and pretty much had to make it up. I had no idea how things worked.
Eventually the Stearmans were retired, and the service converted to Piper Cubs.
When’s the last time you saw an airplane towing an advertising banner? I only see ‘em at the seashore, advertising a radio-station to beach-goers.

1970 Trans-Am Pontiac.

—Everything from now on is not inspiring; except my Jim LePore muscle-car calendar.
The November 2015 entry is a 1970 Trans-Am Pontiac Firebird, perhaps the greatest ponycar ever made = the one I’d want.
The shape is perfect, one of the best-looking cars of all time.
And unlike Chevrolet’s Z-28 Camaro, it avoids the Ferrari grille.
About the only thing wrong with this car is size: it’s a little too big — and its gigantic sedan doors.
The Trans-Am makes a few styling mistakes, like that vent on the side of the front fenders, and those add-on fiberglass wheel-pants.
Supposedly they had worthwhile function. The Trans-Am had good aero. The hood-scoop faces rearward. It scooped air pressurized by hitting the windshield.
But I don’t know about that fender-vent. I doubt it’s functional. It looks like plastic filigree.
The 1970 Trans-Am had a rip-roaring 400 cubic-inch engine, same as the G-T-O.
345 horsepower, it claimed. And it had the reputation of being a stormer.
Hopefully it wasn’t as heavy as that boat-anchor 455 that came later, although that engine was a stormer too.

All auto-racks. (Photo by Eric Johnson.)

—Time to move on — although I’m not inspired from here on.
The November 2015 entry of my Norfolk Southern Employees’ Photography-Contest calendar is an all auto-rack train passing through Homestead, PA on its way to Newark with new autos from Fostoria, OH.
The auto-racks probably have three decks inside, and are fully enclosed.
At first they weren’t, but miscreants would rock out car-windows and dent sheet-metal.
The photographer used such strong telephoto the track curves are compressed into spaghetti.
Which is what ruins the picture for me.
Ya gotta be careful with telephoto. To me the aim is to see what the eye sees.
Spaghetti-curves are not what the eye sees.
Auto-racks are “high-cars.” I doubt you could run ‘em on Baltimore & Ohio’s “West End,” its original line to the Ohio River.
I’ve seen the “West End;” it’s very difficult, so is no longer a mainline to the Ohio River. The only reason B&O built that way is because Pennsy wouldn’t allow them to Pittsburgh, although that was in the 1800s.
B&O finally attained Pittsburgh, so its main became its line to Pittsburgh.
The “West End” still exists, and was part of B&O’s line to St. Louis. But now it’s mainly heavy coal-trains, and coal-cars aren’t “high cars.”
The “West End” attains Grafton, WV, where many coal-branches fed it, including the original line to the Ohio River.
One wonders if the “West End” will be abandoned if coal becomes a dinosaur. It crosses two mountains on horrible grades.
I remember seeing a highway overpass in Oakland, MD, and it wasn’t the Pennsy main. It was two tracks, but they were close, and clearance through the overpass was tight.
But this line through Homestead looks like a main. It has the clearance to run doublestacks and wide loads.
Studying this picture I see a forested hillside behind. It looks like the train may have just exited a tunnel.
So I fired up Homestead in my Google-maps, and I don’t see a tunnel.
Homestead is near Pittsburgh, so there are railroads galore. Homestead is on the Monongahela River.
I’ve never been there.

The way it was. (Photo courtesy Joe Suo Collection ©.)

—I was gonna run this photo later; but decided I shouldn’t. After all this is the way railroading was when the picture was taken back in 1959.
The November 2015 entry of my Audio-Visual Designs black-and-white All-Pennsy Calendar is the tail end of a northbound train about to tackle infamous Madison grade.
Look at that ’59 Ford, and that ’57 or ’58 Plymouth. The ’57 and ’58 Plymouths are identical except for the taillights in the huge fins. And I can’t remember which was which.
My beloved wife, now gone, learned to drive in a ’57 Plymouth, and she hated it. Big as a barge; and it started to rust almost immediately.
Try to imagine parallel-parking that thing!
Madison grade, at 5.89 %, was the steepest mainline grade in America.
Even Saluda (“Sa-LOO-duh”) in NC, which I’ve seen, is not as steep. Madison is 5.89 feet up for every 100 feet forward.
I’ve seen various percentages for Saluda; from 4.7 % up to 5.1%. Whatever, it looks steep.
I have a hard time imagining a side-rod steam-locomotive holding the rail, not slipping on Madison grade, especially if the rail is wet.
Diesels would do better; constant torque from their electric traction-motors, instead of piston-thrusts.
I also can’t imagine a train not sliding down the hill with its brakes locked — but probably it would hold.
Plus I don’t imagine a train being very long or heavy.
Trains up Saluda had to triple the hill; break the train into three manageable segments.
Saluda is inactive, although the tracks are still there.
I’ve never seen Madison grade, but I did see Saluda. What I remember most is its start at the top of the hill. The tracks suddenly drop like a rollercoaster.
You see that in Gallitzin where Track One begins “The Slide.” Suddenly the tracks drop, but that’s only 2.28%.
And steep grades were just as bad going down. Saluda had at least one runaway track — two at first. And it was routed into the runaway track — a train had to be under control and stop so a brakie could throw the switch.
17-Mile Grade on Baltimore & Ohio’s “West End” also had runaway tracks, but trains weren’t routed into them. The switch to the runaway track only threw if the train exceeded a certain speed descending. 17-Mile-Grade maxes at 2.28%.
I did some poking around with Google, hoping to find Madison grade.
At first I was looking at Madison, OH on Google-maps — wrong state.
I then tried “Madison Grade” in my Google-search, and found it was actually IN.
Some historical artifact was written about “Madison Grade;” it goes back a long way. It was started in 1836, and finished in 1841. It was climbing up out of the Ohio River valley, and had a lot of near-impossible challenges.
At first it was built as an inclined-plane railroad, with stationary steam-engines winching cars up the grade.
An attempt to make an adhesion locomotive that could climb the grade failed, so the grade was converted to rack-and-cog, just like the Mt. Washington Cog Railway.
Eventually a locomotive, the “Reuben Wells,” went into service in 1868 that successfully climbed the grade by adhesion.
Eventually the grade allied with Pennsy, and in the picture we see a PRR train about to attack the grade.
Apparently the grade still exists, used as needed by the Madison Port Authority. But it’s almost grown over.
If I look carefully at my Google-map, I see a railroad out of Madison.
Indianapolis is now the capital of IN, but in the early 1800s it was a mere hole-in-the-wall compared to Madison.
I also note that caboose is wood. Pennsy called ‘em “cabin-cars,” and replaced their wooden cabooses with steel.
But the train will climb Madison Grade with a wooden cabin-car.
I did Mt. Washington Cog Railway back in 1968; and back then it was all-steam.
The rail was very tiny; it didn’t need to support much.
But Mt. Washington Cog Railway has since converted to diesel.

Old-looking. (Photo by Scott Williamson.)

—The November 2015 entry in my Oxman Hotrod Calendar is a 1933 Ford hotrod.
It’s a hotrod, but very old appearing.
It’s those wheels, the fact they are spoked.
And they look rare; the fact they appear to be knockoffs. (A hammer applied to one of those wings takes the wheel off its center-stud; it’s not bolted.)
I’ve never seen such a thing. Apparently they are “Wheelsmith” custom wire wheels. So says the calendar.
The car is based on a ’33 Ford roadster. Not bad, but not as desirable as the ’34. It looks pretty much the same; I thought it a ’34 at first.
This car has what I consider two mistakes:
—First, the motor is a 350 Chevy SmallBlock. I feel it should be a FlatHead Ford V8; those wheels make it appear very old, like ‘40s.
—Second is the two-piece DuVall windshield. I feel like the standard one-piece stock Ford windshield, chopped, looks better.
The tiny Carson top also looks too minimal; a tiny top on a bigger-looking car.
Carson tops were very popular, but in this case too spare. —Something tells me you’re gonna have to remove the top to drive this thing; it’s not a convertible top.
And if you can’t drive it — if it’s only a trailer-queen — what fun is that? As my old friend, since deceased, once said: “If ya can’t drive the bitch, ya can’t enjoy it.”
The car also has a Halibrand Quick-Change differential. A Quick-Change allowed you to quickly change differential-gearing — a racecar application, to allow changing rear-gearing to maximize performance for an individual track.

Three “Sharks” lead westbound coal-train on the Pennsy main across PA. (Photo by Fred Kern.)

—The November 2015 entry in my All-Pennsy color calendar is a westbound coal-train at Perdix on the Pennsy main across PA. It’s November of 1959.
The train is bound for Altoona, and it’s powered by three Baldwin RF-16 “Sharks.”
The Sharks are considered the prettiest cab-units. They were styled by Raymond Loewy, a take-off of his T-1 (4-4-4-4) steam-locomotive for Pennsy.
But even the Shark couldn’t save Baldwin. Other railroads beside Pennsy purchased Sharks, and they were much better-looking than Baldwin’s initial “baby-faces.”
There were even passenger-Sharks, but only Pennsy, 2,000 horsepower.
But Sharks weren’t reliable. EMD’s plain-Jane F-units were more reliable — the locomotive that dieselized the railroads.
If a Shark crippled, it blocked the railroad. You can’t just drive around a cripple. You gotta send out rescue-locomotives to bring in the cripple.
Baldwin was a long-time supplier of steam-locomotives to our nation’s railroads. Pennsy, even though it built its own locomotives, was one of Baldwin’s biggest clients.
But with dieselization Baldwin declared bankruptcy, and went out of business. All that remains of its giant plant in Eddystone, PA is the administration-building.
My guess is that coal-train is empty, but that’s looking at it from today’s viewpoint.
Three locomotives seems like a lot of power to move a empty train, so it may not be empty.
Most westbound coal-trains now are empty, going back to the mines. Two units unassisted can pull 100 or more empty coal-cars over The Hill.
Those RF-16s were 1,600 horsepower. Road-units now average 4,000 horsepower or more per unit.

1968 Mercury Cougar 427 GT-E. (Photo by Peter Harholdt©.)

—The November 2015 entry in my Motorbooks Musclecar calendar is a 1968 Mercury Cougar 427 GT-E.
At least it looks quite a bit different from the Mustang, on which it’s based.
But the roof is Mustang.
I always had a hard time thinking of the Cougar as a ponycar.
It was a little too glitzy.
Later the Cougar was moved up to Ford’s intermediate platform. No longer was it based on Mustang.
But before Bud Moore Engineering started racing their fabulous Boss-302 Mustangs, they raced Cougars in the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) Trans-Am series.
A Bud Moore Cougar.
Moore was an old NASCAR racer. He’d modify his cars per his NASCAR experience — his Boss-302 Mustangs were probably the fastest car.
He also had Parnelli (”par-nell-EEEE”) Jones driving for him. Parnelli won the Indy 500 once.
The most important thing Moore did was firmly locate the car’s rear-axle with a Panhard rod and track-bars. With that the car didn’t boogaloo when drifting.
Putting a 427 mega-motor in a glitz-wagon is a bit of a stretch. And the engine was the notorious 427 side-oiler.
The side-oiler was essentially a NASCAR racing engine. It wasn’t very streetable.
Ford was phasing out the side-oiler in 1968, replacing it with its new 428.
But this car is the side-oiler.
Good luck driving it on the street!