Tuesday, June 21, 2016

14G in emergency

“14G to Pittsburgh-East.”
Yrs trly is listening to the railroad radio down near Altoona, PA over the Internet.
I’m a railfan, and have been since age-2.
14G is mixed freight eastbound. Pittsburgh-East is the railroad’s dispatcher in Pittsburgh. He dispatches the railroad from Pittsburgh to Altoona. The railroad is the old Pennsy main, now owned and operated by Norfolk Southern.
“I’m stopped in emergency at about 240,” the engineer reported.
Milepost 240 is 240 miles from Pennsy’s original terminal in Philadelphia, Broad St. Terminal, long gone.
The mileposts are about a mile apart, but often not exactly.
The railroad straightened curves, which affected the mile distance. Miles were frequently shortened, or in some cases extended.
“Emergency” means all the train-brakes are fully set. Each freightcar has brakes, which can be mechanically set by chain-wheel on each car, or engaged by a train-length air-line from the locomotive.
That’s Westinghouse’s great air-brake invention, which made train operation much safer.
Prior to air-brakes, brakemen had to walk the car tops to set the chain-wheels, difficult in bad weather, and unsafe.
There was a chance the brakie might slip and fall — and be run over and killed by the train.
In the early 1800s, the main impediment to trade with the nation’s interior was the Appalachians, particularly Allegheny Mountain.
The Appalachians didn’t go as far north as central NY, so NY was able to dig a cross-state canal, the “Erie,” Albany to Buffalo.
South of Albany, canal-packets could use the Hudson River. Thanks to that canal, New York City became this nation’s premier east coast port.
With the Erie, Philadelphia and Baltimore worried. They wanted to be premier ports too, but faced the Appalachians.
Baltimore capitalists founded the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, our nation’s first common-carrier railroad. “Common-carrier” meaning it carried whatever freight showed up. It wasn’t a dedicated operation owned by a coal or lumber company.
B&O got over to the Potomac River valley, then followed it inland paralleling the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal to Cumberland, MD.
After Cumberland it continued west over what is now called “The West End” to Grafton, WV, then north to the Ohio River.
The C&O canal never got past Cumberland.
The railroad, still used, is especially challenging; it has two summits.
An easier routing to the Ohio River came later, to Pittsburgh. But at first B&O wasn’t allowed to Pittsburgh.
Philadelphians engaged the state to build a combination canal and railroad, the “Public Works System.”
It used already built railroad from Philadelphia to the Susquehanna River, then canal to the foot of Allegheny Mountain.
Allegheny Mountain couldn’t be canaled, so a railroad was built to portage canal-packets over the mountain.
Horses were used at first.
The railroad had 10 inclined planes, since grading at that time was very rudimentary. Stationary steam-engines winched the cars up the planes.
Once over the mountain, Public Works returned to canal from Johnstown, PA to Pittsburgh.
But since -a) Public Works was so slow and cumbersome, and -b) railroad technology had advanced, Philadelphia capitalists decided to bypass the state, and build their own common-carrier railroad, from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh.
This was the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad, soon to become the largest railroad in the world — mainly because it merged so many western lines to feed its main stem at Pittsburgh, plus outlets east of Philadelphia.
Like before, that railroad had Allegheny Mountain to conquer. So the developers brought in John Edgar Thomson to engineer an easy climb over the mountain.
Thomson’s alignment is still used, and includes Horseshoe Curve, his trick to ease the climb.
His climb up the east slope of the mountain is not impossible, but required helper locomotives.
It only averages 1.8 feet up for every 100 feet forward, 1.8%; not steep enough for Granny to consider it a hill.
But it’s a grade. Trains climbing are assaulting the heavens!
Climbing is dramatic, but harder is coming safely down.
Not properly braked, a train might run away.
Boom through Altoona at 70-80 mph, unless it derails and crashes somewhere.
“I rounded Horseshoe Curve, and my train took off,” 14G’s engineer told Pittsburgh-East.
“So you dumped it yourself,” Pittsburgh-East said.
Usually a train goes into emergency only if the train-line breaks.
“Dumped” means letting all the air out of the train-line, thereby setting all the train-brakes.
It was either that or 70-80 mph through Altoona, trackside ditches waiting, locomotives exploding in flames (sorry, that’s a movie), 14G’s cars continuing on momentum until they derail and pile into each other.
So what did I hear?
Fortunately it wasn’t a movie. Them train-guys take their job very seriously.
I think I heard 14G’s engineer save Altoona from a runaway.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Not everyone wants to socialize with a slop-hound

“He’s wet!” a lady squealed.
“She,” I corrected.
At least it wasn’t swamp water. My dog had just drank from her water-dish. Clean water = toxic.
We were at the weekly Wegmans “Cruze-night” car show.
Wegmans is one of my supermarkets. Its head-honcho is Danny Wegman, a car-guy.
He used to street-race a 454 Chevelle. Now he owns Ferraris.
Cruze-night attracts many hotrods and performance cars.
My widower friend Jim LePore (“luh-POOR”) shows his recent Camaro SS.
The Canandaigua (“cannon-DAY-gwuh”) Wegmans is on swampland at the north end of Canandaigua lake.
The part Wegmans is on has been dried out, but lagoons and ponds are around.
“How come you keep dragging me over to this pond?” I asked my dog.
Into the mire, hunting for frogs.
Part of the land surrounding the pond was covered by netting of some sort, and I fell in a hidden pothole.
I almost tumbled into the pond. A guy helped me up while I held the dog’s leash.
That’s all I need, a runaway dog in the bullrushes.
By now my dog was covered with swamp water.
“She’s been swimming!” people said.
The usual’55-’57 Chevys were there, and Big-Block crate-motors in everything.
Near the pond I found a yellow ’38 Buick taxi powered by a souped-up Chevy SmallBlock.
It’s license-plate surround said “Ass, gas or grass; nobody rides free.” I used to say that driving bus: “Ass, gas, grass or pass; nobody rides free.”
We found an actual 1964 4-4-2 Oldsmobile, the first 4-4-2; almost dainty.
Also a hot-rodded ’39 Ford five-window coupe, one of the prettiest cars ever made.
“And Ford didn’t have a styling section,” I said.
A bone-stock ’51 Chevy two-door sedan drove in.
“’51,” I said. The owner smiled and agreed.
No doubt most of those in attendance were post ’51.
I’m a 1944 model.
“There goes Louie,” said the aging owner of a ’57 Fuelly. He said his car was no longer fuel-injection — he had to give up — but it still had “fuel-injection” on the fenders.
“Guess we should go home,” he said to his wife.
We left not long after that; had been there perhaps an hour.
I remembered the dog’s water-dish this time, but not many wanted to greet the big slop-hound.

• My current dog is “Scarlett” (two “Ts,” as in Scarlett O’Hara), a rescue Irish-Setter. She’s twelve, and is my sixth Irish-Setter, a high-energy dog. (A “rescue Irish Setter” is an Irish Setter rescued from a bad home; e.g. abusive or a puppy-mill. [Scarlett was from a failed backyard breeder.] By getting a rescue-dog, we avoid puppydom, but the dog is often messed up. —Scarlett isn't bad. She’s my fourth rescue.)
• For 16&1/2 years (1977-1993) I drove transit bus for Regional Transit Service (RTS) in Rochester, NY, a public employer, the transit-bus operator in Rochester and environs. My stroke October 26th, 1993 ended that. I retired on medical-disability. I recovered fairly well.

Friday, June 17, 2016

At long last.......

“Time for the old geezer to see if I can still do this,” I said to Michelle Andrews, blasting away next to me on the AMT I was planning to try.
A Precor AMT-835.
“AMT” stands for Adaptive-Motion Trainer. It’s made by Precor; the Canandaigua YMCA exercise-gym has five.
It’s a combination elliptical and step-machine. You can vary your stride-length, much like running. It’s aerobic.
Michelle is the morning coach in the exercise-gym. She works until noon.
After that she works out herself. She’s in excellent shape.
I already warned Julie, the exercise-coach who replaces Michelle.
“Ya may hafta call an ambulance,” I told her.
It’s been at least nine months since I did aerobic exercise, maybe even a year.
I had a knee-replacement. The pain was so bad I had to give up the AMTs.
The AMTs aren’t the treadmills. I gave up on them long ago. They caused back-pain.
But the AMTs get my pulse up. Maximum for my age (72) is 148 beats per minute; go beyond that and ya explode.
I tried to top out at about 140.
I started blasting away. Michelle and I took the resistance to lowest; “I’ll see if I can do 10 minutes,” I said.
“Doin’ okay?” Julie asked.
“The challenge is not my knee,” I said. “It’s aerobic.”
“Yeah, it’s been months since you did this,” Michelle said.
The AMTs have pulse monitors. Mine read 100 beats per minute. “First time it’s been that high in months,” I cried. “On the bicycles I get 80.”
“One more minute!” I said.
“I could go beyond that, but I probably shouldn’t.”
“Well, I woulda advised five,” Michelle said; “but ya seem fine.”

•This was over a week ago. I tried again today, June 17th, 2016, doubling the resistance. Still 10 minutes. Pulse about 110. Wore me out.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


“They must be hurtin’ for sales,” I said to myself as I extracted my August issue of Classic Car magazine out of my mailbox.
On the cover was a Tri-Five Chevy, a gorgeous red-and-white ’56 Bel Air four-door hardtop.
Car-magazines do that. To increase newsstand sales they put a Corvette on the cover.
The Tri-Five Chevrolets, particularly the ’57, are the most collectible classic cars of all time.
A ’57 convertible in excellent shape commands over $100,000.
Auto gurus make the mistake of saying the early Mustangs are the most important cars of all time.
Not to this kid!
The ’55-’57 Chevys aren’t much beyond the early ‘50s turkeys.
But there is that motor, Chevrolet’s phenomenal V8 engine, introduced in the 1955 model-year, later to become known as the SmallBlock.
After the war, Americans wanted more exciting cars. That meant overhead-valve V8 engines. Cadillac and Oldsmobile did so for 1949, as did Buick for 1953. Even Ford with its “Y-block” V8 for 1954.
The 1955 SmallBlock, 265 cubic-inches.
Chevrolet, despite its economy heritage, needed a V8, so set about designing one in the early ‘50s.
But it was a stone. General Motors brought in Ed Cole, who pushed through the overhead-valve 1949 Caddy V8, to design a V8 for Chevrolet.
His motor was revolutionary. It managed a single block-casting instead of many. But the main thing was the lightweight valve-gear.
It allowed it to rev to the moon.
The motor was so successful it suddenly put Ford’s FlatHead V8, the foundation of hot-rodding, out to pasture.
Hot-rodder Zora Arkus-Duntov was so impressed he convinced GM to make him head-honcho of Corvette.
The first ‘Vettes used the hoary old Stovebolt from 1937, an inline-six not meant for performance.
Duntov’s first move was to convince Chevrolet to put its new V8 in the ‘Vette.
He thereafter began trying to make the Corvette a true sportscar. He didn’t succeed until 1963, the Sting-Ray, the first ‘Vette with independent rear suspension.
“Wait just one cotton-pickin’ minute,” I exclaimed. “I don’t see the ‘V’ on the hood.
All I see is the Chevy medallion; it’s probably the six.”
Indeed it was. Stovebolt rising; heavier than the new V8.
My parents had two ‘57s that replaced our ’53 Chevy.
Both were Bel Airs.
One was a four-door sedan; the other a four-door stationwagon.
The sedan was a pig; it had the Stovebolt with PowerGlide.
The wagon had the 283 PowerPak V8, four-barrel carb with dual exhausts.
It too was PowerGlide, but revved to the moon! 85 mph in PowerGlide Lo; our old ’53 got 60.
I tested ‘em both. I used to wanna secretly drag-race the wagon.
At age-14, shortly after our family moved to northern DE, I pedaled my ancient Rollfast balloon-tire bicycle up to the parking-lot of a nearby shopping-center.
I found three Corvettes parked in front of the bowling-alley: two black ‘57s, and one green and silver ’56. One ’57 was fuel-injection.
Suddenly four dudes burst from the bowling-alley, swaggering into the ‘Vettes.
I immediately pedaled my bicycle up to the parking-lot exit onto the main highway. I knew I was about to witness an event.
Sure enough, each ‘Vette peeled onto the highway, revved to the moon, tire-smoke city.
That goes to my grave. I will never forget it!
For the next 40 years I was enslaved to Chevy’s SmallBlock.
Lust for a ’55 Two-Ten hardtop, like pictured below. SmallBlock with four-on-the-floor.

The lust-machine (283, four-on-the-floor). (Photo by BobbaLew.)

(There was a similar navy-blue hardtop at my high-school; also 283, four-on-the-floor.)
The Mustang was nice, but it wasn’t the SmallBlock.
Our wagon. (Photo by BobbaLew.)
The closest I ever got was our family’s ’57 283 PowerPak wagon.
An impromptu quarter-mile drag strip was laid out on a road now surrounded by suburbia. At that time it was undeveloped = very rural.
I’d take off the air-cleaner, and wind the car out in PowerGlide Lo. A little over 80 in the quarter, which utterly skonked the ’53 I learned to drive in.
Maybe 20 years ago a red-and-white ’55 Bel Air hardtop appeared in the local swap-sheet. Four-on-the-floor, ’79 Monte-Carlo 400 SmallBlock.
“I gotta at least go look at it,” I told my wife, now gone. “It’s what I always wanted.”
It was junk, in need of full frame-off restoration, perhaps $35,000 at that time.
Throw $35,000 at it, and ya still end up with an antique. Put a killer motor in it, and you’ll bend the frame.
I remember the door-locks were the same el-cheapo wire things on our wagon that bent and became dysfunctional. The lock-buttons fell off, and were replaced by unthreaded chrome-plastic caps from an auto-parts store.
The car was noisy and blowzy. It had been the project of a husband who died.
What a relief it was to get back in our humble ’89 Honda wagon; slower than the ’55, but more friendly.
No matter. The Tri-Five Chevys are the most collectible cars of all time.
It was that new V8.

It’s F.I. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

• The Chevrolet overhead-valve inline “Stovebolt-six” was introduced in the 1929 model-year at 194+ cubic inches. It continued production for years, upgraded to four main bearings (from three) for the 1937 model-year. In 1950 the Stovebolt was upsized to 235.5 cubic inches (from 216), and later upgrades included full-pressure lubrication and hydraulic (as opposed to mechanical) valve-tappets. The Stovebolt was produced clear through the 1963 model-year, but replaced with a new seven main-bearing inline-six engine in the 1964 model-year. The Stovebolt was also known as “the cast-iron wonder;” called the “Stovebolt” because various bolts could be replaced by stuff from the corner hardware.
• My beloved wife of over 44 years died of cancer April 17th, 2012. I miss her immensely. Best friend I ever had, and after my childhood I sure needed one.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

“Every time I come here it’s different."

“No charge,” said the teenybopper behind the counter at Q-Dental.
I just had my teeth cleaned, a prophylaxis.
“You hafta be kidding,” I said. “There’s always a copay.”
“Nope; you have unlimited cleaning coverage.”
“Not that I know of,” I said. “Twice a year, and I do four times a year.”
They called my insurance, MVP.
“$240 per year, and after that Blue Cross.”
“My Blue Cross dental insurance is a pittance. I always pay the difference.”
Why argue with know-it-all teenyboppers?
I walked out, uttering “Every time I come here it’s different. What will it be next time?”
I switched to Q-Dental after my Transit retirees group, an arm of Amalgamated Transit Union, negotiated reduced pricing for dental work at Q-Dental.
I had been using a private dentist for eons. He was nearing retirement, so refused to modernize. No way was he investing in digital X-ray equipment.
It was the first time I heard a typewriter in years; DING! His secretary was typing ledger-cards for billing.
NO WAY was he computerizing his office. Their copier was the only technology they had.
This was the guy who extracted my wisdom-teeth long ago. At least he’d kept up with recent dental equipment, like drills.
But our retiree group negotiated reduced pricing with Q-Dental.
I had to tell them, after which they dragged out their giant fee-book to figure my copay.
At that branch I was probably their only Transit retiree customer.
It seemed like their retiree pricing eventually was forgotten. Like Q-Dental introduced even lower pricing for everyone.
I had no idea what was going on, but apparently I switched to senior pricing.
Mention Transit retiree pricing and the teenyboppers become befuddled.
You have to remember one thing about teenyboppers: they say anything just to get you outta their office — so they can go back to their donuts.
Every time I’ve gone to Q-Dental, different teenyboppers were behind the counter.
Try to explain anything and they go blank.
The only person I continually see at Q-Dental is my actual dentist, although four years ago it was someone else.
Even my hygienist changed. Over the past 10 years I’ve had at least four.
Yesterday was a new hygienist, but she was really good. She even liked my sick jokes: e.g. “there is no plaque in the Dental Hall of Fame.”
I hope I get her again next time, but how much will it be?
I bet there’s a copay, plus a tortured attempt to get me out of their office.

• “Transit” equals Regional Transit Service, the public transit-bus operator in Rochester, NY, where I drove transit-bus for 16&1/2 years (1977-1993). My stroke October 26th, 1993 ended that. I retired on medical-disability. I recovered fairly well.
• The “Amalgamated Transit Union” is a nationwide union for transit employees.

Monday, June 13, 2016

“Ya gonna eat that?”

Model-Ts. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

“Obviously I need to take my dog to more of these car-shows,” I thought to myself. “She’s a people-dog. She loves socializing with people.”
“Oh, what a pretty dog. Can I pet her?”
I took my dog to Fun-days in nearby Bristol, NY; very rural.
It had a small car-show that attracted maybe 30-40 cars.
It attracted my friend Jim LePore (“luh-POOR”), a widower like me, who I share dinner with once per week.
LePore’s Camaro.
LePore, like me, is a car-guy. He bought a newish SuperSport Camaro to show.
He doesn’t drive it much; just to shows. He named it after his late wife.
“An Irish-Setter,” said a woman wrapped in a plaid blanket sitting next to her husband’s MG-TD.
“Ya don’t see Irish-Setters much any more.”
“I know. We had an awful time finding this one.”
That was nine years ago, and my wife has since died.
“This dog is a rescue from Ohio,” I added.
“SCHLURP!” The dog gave the lady a big kiss.
“Oh, what a well-behaved dog. I wish I could still have one, but I can’t.”
“Well-behaved if she thinks she’ll get food.”
“I especially love chicken-barbecues. Lots of drippings to hoover out of the grass!”
“All I have is candy,” she said.
“Nope. That’ll make her sick. Been there, done that.”
We continued walking around.
“I see your dog is taking you for a walk,” a guy said.
A 350-pound Harley-momma in short-shorts zeroed in on us, flabby thighs bigger than my torso.
“Get hold of yourself; she wants to fondle your dog.”
“I had an Irish-Setter once.”
She cuddled the dog.
Watch the dog, not the girl — particularly the legs.
We passed a Pontiac Tempest, ’63 I think. It had the 421 Pontiac motor.
The 421 Pontiac was once the scourge of NASCAR. Race-cars built by Smokey Yunick, driven by Fireball Roberts.
A 421 in such a small car?
In 1963, the Tempest was still tiny, not much bigger than a Corvair. I had forgotten the 421 Tempest.
Not far away was a tiny Chevrolet Chevette with with a SmallBlock wedged in. I don’t think Chevrolet made such a car — it was probably a backyard special.
Maybe the 421 Tempest was too.
A row of Model-T Fords fronted the show — the only picture I took (above).
Fiddling a camera and a lunging dog at the same time is near impossible.
My dog found a guy cooking hamburgers and hotdogs on a grill. “Would your dog like a hotdog?”
“Sure, she’ll eat it.”
He cut a charred hotdog in half with his spatula.
CHOMPF! Gone in a second!
“How about the other half?”
CHOMPF, again!
“How old is your dog?”
“12,” I said; “but still a handful.”
I purchased a hamburger, and hiked back to LePore.
We put the leash-retractor in his Camaro’s trunk so I could eat my hamburger.
I was followed and watched continuously.
“Ya gonna eat that? Ya gonna eat that? I could eat that!”
BOINK! She almost snagged it.
Finally down to one small tidbit, I gave her the rest.
CHOMPF! Gone in a second!
“That dog gets more attention than my car,” Jim said.
“My uncle was born in ’66,” a girl said. “He’ll be 50 this year, a 1966 model.”
“1966 was the year I graduated college,” I interjected.
“Didja hear that? 1966 was the year I graduated college.
I’m a 1944 model; not postwar baby-boom, for which I’ve been loudly excoriated, because in 1944 the war was still on.”
“Well I’m a ’76 model,” she said; “a Bicentennial baby!”
Poor girl; she missed Detroit’s postwar turkeys and Elvis, etc.
“I hafta leave,” I told LePore. I’d been there probably an hour. Can’t say I wanted to, but I forgot the dog’s water-dish.
I remembered her jug of water, but nothing to drink from.
We hiked back to my car, the dog pulling the whole way.
“Oh what a beautiful dog!”
An older lady got tangled in her leash and became angry.

Scarlett at four — now she’s gray in the face. (Photo by Linda Hughes.)


Saturday, June 11, 2016


New motor. (Photo by BobbaLew.)

“I planned to do this in a year or two,” I said to my mower-man as I handed over my credit-card.
My 48-inch zero-turn lawnmower has a new motor. The old motor failed yet again. The spring activating an automatic compression-release broke a third time, making it very hard to start.
I had to jump it with my car.
Throw enough amps at it, and it would crank past the compression-stroke.
Repair woulda cost 400 smackaroos. Briggs & Stratton had identical motors on sale; $200 off = $616 instead of $800 or more.
The old motor was beginning to use oil. Not excessive, but I had to keep adding a little to top it up.
The old motor had also been abused. I hear it sometimes hammering its rod-bearing.
So we decided to swap the motor. That new motor has a two-year warranty.
My mower itself is built like a tank. “Like a GG-1,” I said to my mower-man, who like me is also a railfan.
The frame of Pennsy’s GG-1 railroad-locomotive is a gigantic bridge-truss.
Smack a bulldozer and it’s sent flying.
This actually happened years ago. A GG-1 passenger-express, doing 90 mph or so, didn’t derail, and was hardly damaged at all.
The ‘dozer was toast!
My new motor has “19” on it. I suppose that’s horsepower. My old motor said “20.”
19 horses on a 48-inch zero-turn ain’t much. I coulda switched to a gigantic mega-horsepower V-twin.
I’m not commercial. All I’m doing is mowing my lawn, maybe 3.1 acres. I don’t just charge into tall grass.
I had to farm out my mowing last week while my mower was in the shop.
I had a friend mow with his V-twin Ferris zero-turn. Took him four hours.
I don’t do the entire lawn in a single mow. About two hours per time; perhaps half the lawn.
People say I mow too much, but I enjoy it.
Mastering that zero-turn took a couple months before I no longer clobbered trees, or mowed flowers.
Now it’s fun.
And I no longer hafta jump it with my car, or add oil.
$811.57 socks my credit-card. But I will pay in full.
So far my monthly retirement income has been enough.

• A “zero-turn” lawnmower is a special design with separate drives to each drive-wheel, so can be spun on a dime. “Zero-turns” are becoming the norm, because they cut mowing time compared to a lawn-tractor, which has to be set up for each mowing-pass.
• “Pennsy” is the Pennsylvania Railroad, now gone. It was once the largest railroad in the world. It’s electrified line from Washington DC to New York City, previously the preserve of the mighty GG-1s, is now part of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.