Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Day On the Highlands Trail

Created from what once was the Western Maryland Railway, the Allegheny Highlands Trail beckons cyclists from far and wide and from all walks of life. The scenery is fantastic, the climb from Cumberland to Deal will give your legs and heart a workout, and the streams, small towns, and wildlife just add to the idyllic setting.
Along the way there are 3 tunnels a number of small bridges, and several massive ones to cross, so make sure you take your camera. Imagine what it must have been like 50 years ago to ride the Western Maryland. With that last thought in mind I open this post with a photo of #6573...the last Western Maryland Railway locomotive in regular main line service to fly the colors.

Here we are, at Meyersdale, ready to head out...The Filthy Beast and Goody Two Shoes. Bonus points if you can guess what movie those nicknames came from. I'll give you a hint, it was a Cary Grant movie. Ahead of us are 31.5 miles...of fog, mist and rain, but no sunshine. I wanted to talk to the manager about all this...I mean I had called ahead and specifically requested a sunny day. The manager said he was temporarily out of sunshine and we could either come back later when the sun was out, or quit our whining and make the best of the situation since we were already here. We took option #2.

'Bridge to Nowhere.' At Glade City...the only detour on the Highlands Trail. This 'Bollman' truss bridge is to be installed sometime this year...

...until then you have to walk around. The detour is less than a quarter mile. Here comes Goody Two Shoes walking her bike through the detour. 30 miles to go!

Here's one of those massive bridges I talked about earlier. This is the Keystone Viaduct, located between Meyersdale and Sand Patch. The viaduct carried the Western Maryland over the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, a creek and a county road. Here comes old Goody Two Shoes just coasting along. 29 miles to go!

CSX freight at Sandpatch...on the old B&O. Here the B&O and the WM were so close they shared a water tank in the early days of steam. 28 miles to go!

A mile east of Sand Patch you come to this farm. When I biked this area last fall I photographed a doe in this field. This time around I shot this horse. We'll call him George, since we were never formally introduced. As you can see, the business end was pointed at me. I had to whistle to get him to look around. I don't think he was too happy at having his breakfast interrupted. 27 miles to go!

Approaching Deal...the crest of the grade. I found this old barn very interesting. 24.5 miles to go!

Goody Two Shoes in the underpass at Deal. It's all downhill from here. 24 miles to go!

Split photo of the two of us at the Eastern Continental Divide sign at Deal. Still 24 miles to go.

The Filthy Beast exiting Big Savage tunnel. Nearly 3,300 feet least the tunnel is lit. But boy is it ever cold in there...any time of year.

And here comes Goody Two Shoes. Only 20 miles to go!

Here we are, crossing back into the Old Line State. 19 1/2 miles to go!

At Frostburg. Just in case you get confused about which way to go.

Us at Frostburg...okay, it's a split shot. We're 16 miles from home and we're cold, wet and our butts are losing feeling. I stopped taking photos after this point and we just concentrated on finishing our trek. We made it, but here's the interesting part. We rode 31.5 miles in 6.5 hours. It took 3 hours to go the first 7 miles, and 3.5 hours to go the last 24. Newton was right, gravity works.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

My Favorite Photo

Every once and a while you just get lucky. We were at a family reunion when 5 year old Skippy grabbed a volleyball and began to hit it around by himself. From my vantage the bottom of the yard, sitting in the shade of maple tree with 1 year old Dimples...I just happend to look up and recognized a golden Kodak moment. Telling Dimples to watch her brother, I rolled over on my stomach, grabbed my Pentax K-1000, zoomed in on Skippy and fired. I only took one picture, but it turned out: feet off the ground, arms extended...almost like he was flying.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Camera Totin Idiot Learns a Lesson

Several years ago a wise old friend of mine once told me that the secret of taking a great picture was having your camera with you at all times. Over the years I took that advice to heart.

Jump forward to this past Saturday. Goody Two Shoes and myself were off to ride our bicycles on the Allegheny Highlands Trail. Crossing the railroad tracks below our home...the CSX main line to Pittsburg...I look up the tracks and see a helper engine tying on to the rear of its train. At the same time, on the next track over, here comes an eastbound train. Realizing I was about to have a pair of trains side by side...sort of a dream come true, since this doesn't happen often when I'm out with my camera. I pull over, jump out with my Canon EOS Rebel X and a 80-300mm zoom lense and run to the grade crossing.

I had about 5 second to compose my shot, so I turned the camera on...a very important step, pulled the camera up and savored the moment as everything lined up and calmly pushed the shutter. To my horror nothing happened. I tried again...again, nothing. I looked the camera over...the batteries were okay, and the camera was on. By this time the trains were by each other and my dream shot was ruined.

Then as the lead engine on the eastbound train passed by I noticed the problem. My camera had no film. There I said it! Go have your laugh and leave me alone. Mistakes happen to everyone. To my amazement, Goody Two Shoes said nothing about this embarassing moment...but she did giggle the rest of the morning.

Friday, April 20, 2007

What I'm Listening to at the Moment

I love music and I love Itunes and my Ipod. My tastes in music are varied: bluegrass, classical, gospel, rock...and my favorite, country. These days I listen, mostly, to country, but when I was younger and my hair was longer I was heavily into Rock 'n Roll. I listened to the Beatles, Bob Seger, Eric Clapton, Blackfoot, .38 Special, Boston, Skynyrd, and the Eagles...and that's just scratching the surface. But as I got older I started leaning more and more back towards country music.

See, I grew up in a home where I heard songs like Your Cheating Heart, Tennessee Waltz, Bonaparte's Retreat, Ring of Fire, & Crazy on a regular basis. Mom also loved the Ames Brothers...I can't name any of their songs, but oh well.

Country music, for the most part, is open and honest, the message is straightforward, and there's usually something for everyone. If you were to stick your head in my front door you'd most likely find me listening to one of these 12 tunes. In fact, as I'm writing this I'm listening to #9 on my list.

#1 Some Things I Know
From: Some Things I Know by Lee Ann Womack

#2 Corina, Corina
From: Tribute to the Music of Bob Wells by Asleep at the Wheel

#3 Help Me Make it Through the Night
From: Timeless by Martina McBride

#4 Wabash Cannonball/Morning Dew/Father Kelly's Reels
From: Another Country by the Chieftans & Ricky Skaggs

#5 All You Ever Do is Bring Me Down
From: The Difinitive Collection by the Mavericks

#6 That's Love
From: Mud on the Tires by Brad Paisley

#7 Simple Life
From: Live at the Charleston Music Hall by Ricky Skaggs

#8 When Where I Get Where I'm Going
From: Time Well Wasted by Brad Paisley

#9 This Train Keeps Rolling Along
From: Acoustic by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

#10 (Hell) On a Woman's Heart
From: America Will Always Stand by Lee Ann Womack

#11 Choices
From" Cold Hard Truth by George Jones

#12 I Knew the Bride
From: The Rose of England by Nick Lowe

Me, and Goody Two Shoes at the Lee Ann Womack concert at Nemacolin Woodlands in September of 2005. I'm in the circle on the far right, Little Woman is next to me, followed by our friends Tim and Jeanette.

Skippy, Dimples and myself at the Mother Church of Country Music...The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville in July of 2006.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Heros of my Youth

Living in western Maryland I had little choice but to become a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Steelers. And growing up in the 70's was a great time to be a fan of both teams. The Pirates won two World Series titles in 1971 and 1979...both against the Orioles. I have a friend who is an Orioles fan, and to this day he can't stand to hear Sister Sledge's We Are Family.

The Pirates may have gone back to the World Series in 1972 if not for a 9th inning wild pitch that gave Cincinnati the win. The Pirates also played for the right to go the World Series in 1974 and 1975, losing to the L.A. Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds respectively. Still, though they had a heck of a ride through the 70's, and I was there for it all. I saw them play at 3-Rivers Stadium several times and I was fortunate to see 'The Great One' Roberto Clemente play in his final season.

But for as good as Clemente was...and he was the best ever to play the hero was Willie Stargell. I jumped and hollered when I opened a pack of Topps ball cards one day and there was Willie. He was my hero and I was in love with number 8. He was a giant...albeit a gentle one...and his bat looked like a tree trunk. I used to immitate his trademark 'winding up' of his bat before the pitcher threw the ball.

I never missed a Pirates game on the tube...okay, homework and chores came first. And many was the night I went to sleep listening to Pirate games on the radio. Bob Prince...the outlandish voice of the Pirates brought all the action home. And there were a lot of times that the Buccos would be down and Prince would calmly state that they were coming back. Many times they did, and it was usually Willie that led the comeback.

In 21 years, Willie had 2,232 hits, batted .282 for his career, and hit 475 homeruns. Some one once said Willie's 475...laid end to end...stretched further than Hank Aaron's 755. But what drew me to Willie was that he was a gentle man and a good human being, first...a ball player second.

If he ever griped about not making enough money it wasn't in public, he never whined to be traded or any of that other nonsense that many of today's high-priced players do with regularity, and there was never anything bad said about him in the arrests, no fights outside a bar, no nothing.

Willie carried himself with class and dignity. He played for the same team for 21 years and earned his spot in Cooperstown. I cried the day Willie died. I was 41 at the time.

I can't end this post without giving a shout out to my other boys...the Pittsburgh Steelers...and my favorite Steeler of all...Jack Lambert. I first started rooting for the Steelers in 1969...when they couldn't fight their way out of an outhouse. But I stuck around and they rewarded my loyality by going on a 10-year rampage through the NFL from 1972-1982. Along the way they won their division more times than I can count and won 4...count 'em 4 Super Bowls. Super Bowl IX, X, XIII, and XIV.

It didn't take long for me to pick my favorite Steeler. in 1974 they drafted this skinny kid out of Kent State and made him their middle linebacker. Most said Lambert was too small to play the position. How wrong they were...Lambert not only played the position he embodied it...bloodied, screaming, snarling, feet pumping. He was @#$! on wheels and he hit like a runaway freight train. Only fools tried to run at number 58, the rest tried to run away from him, but he simply ran them down. And don't ever make the mistake of talking smack around him...ask Cliff Harris of the Dallas Cowboys. Harris made the mistake of taunting Steelers kicker Roy Gerela after a missed field goal attempt in Super Bowl X and Lambert tossed him to the turf like a rag doll.

Every Sunday I'd flop on the couch and pray for the offense to score quick so I could watch Lambert, Mean Joe Greene and the rest of the Steel Curtain pound another opponent into the turf...especially if that opponent was the Cleveland Browns. Lambert and the Steelers are hated in Cleveland. Don't believe me? Go to Cleveland...any busy street corner will do and yell 'Go Steelers,' or yell Lambert's name. I'll come visit you in the Intensive Care Ward afterwards.

All good things must come to an end and so it was with the Steelers of my youth. The wins didn't come quite as often, and as the years passed the greats like: Bradshaw, Greene, Blount, Harris, Webster, Bleier, Russell...and Lambert retired,leaving me with a treasure trove of memories.

Today, the Pittsburgh Steelers are a championship team again, winning Super Bowl XL. While I'm proud...beyond words...and while I wish them continued success, I'll always look back to an earlier my boys...the Steelers of my youth, and the player I admired more than the rest: DA MAN, #58.

Sitting on my Lambert Jersey is my autographed mini-helmet and a photo of Jack signing my helmet.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Me 'n my Pappy

Me n' Pappy in 1967. He's holding the pony still so Mom can take my picture. (Love those little red boots...and the buzz cut!)

I wasn't fortunate enough to grow up on a farm...I probably would have turned out a lot better if I had...oh well. Anyway, my maternal grandparents had a farm in Wellersburg, Pennsylvania. 167 acres of lush, green rolling hills that was fed by 7 underground springs. To a 6 or 7 year old kid, that farm was a little slice of Heaven on earth.

So when I got the urge for a little adventure I went to Pappy and Grandma's place. We didn't live all that far away, and all I had to do to get Mom to take me up to the farm for the weekend was to sign a piece of my own blood...saying that I would do my chores, behave for the next 50 years, eat my veggies, and stop running off to play with those rotten kids down the street (they weren't really that bad, but my parents thought so.)

Having signed my life away, Mom would toss me in the old family car...a Rambler sedan, and off we'd go. Upon arriving at the farm, Grandma would stuff me til I was ready to this day no one, not Mom, or Goody Two Shoes, can make mashed potatos that can even come close to Grandma's. After supper it was out to the barn with Pappy, where I was his shadow til it was time to come in. I don't recall working much, but then again I was little. But I did ask a lot of questions.

Saturdays it was out to the barn with Pappy to feed the cows, while Grandma raided the chicken coop for eggs. After the cows were fed it was up on the tractor to spread manure and fix fences and move the cows from one pasture or another. Funny, I don't recall manure smelling as funky back then as it does today. There was also hay to make. Since I was little I was never asked to help, but I got to ride on the tractor while Pappy or my cousin Billy drove.

Once I even got to drive the tractor. Okay, so I steered, while Pappy worked the pedals and the gear shift. That was a big thrill!

Me and my cousin Billy up on the old Allis Chalmers in 1963.

The afternoons were my own. I'd play with Laddie, who was a cross between a Collie and a Clydsdale. I mean, this dog was big. I remember seeing Laddie knock Pappy down once or twice. But the old mutt was gentle as a lamb and loved to play. I also spent a great deal of time playing with the cats...all 17 of them! Yep you read it right, 17! I played in the tree out front, picked apples from the trees on the upper side of the farmhouse, rode the pony, and rummaged through the barn. Another favorite pastime was playing in Grandma's sewing room...actually, I stared out the window at the barn and the lower pasture and the road and watched the world go by.

Evenings were quiet time. Sitting on the porch and watching the deer or sitting in the living room watching a little television. How can T.V. be considered quiet time? Easy, it was 1967, they didn't have cable and only got 2 or 3 channels. So watching the boob tube was a big deal.

Sunday morning we went to church, then it was back to the farm to make dinner and wait for Mom and Dad to pick me up. I miss those days.

Today, the farm is still in the family, but I don't go there much anymore...the reasons for going now are gone now...Pappy died in 1968, and Grandma in 1979.

More on the farm later.

My Pappy in 1965.

'In all the years he walked this earth, I swear all he did was work.'
From Help Somebody by Van Zant.

'I'm gonna walk with my Granddaddy, and he'll match me step for
step. And I'll tell him how I missed him every minute since he left.
The I'll hug his neck.'
From When I Get Where I'm Going by Brad Paisly

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Camping Follies #1. Summer, 1988

While camping with my family in the summer of 1988 at New Germany State Park we had an encounter with a skunk, which explains the picture of the skunk at the top of this little story. So why then do I have a picture of a possum as well? I'll tell you.

Up until Saturday evening we had had a wonderful time. Skippy was 6, Dimples was 2 and was enjoying her first camping trip. We fished, we swam, we cooked over a fire...okay we toasted marshmallows. Got a Coleman stove for cooking. Skippy had caught several bluegills earlier in the day and Dimples had caught her first fish, a sunfish. Although at the time she wasn't in a celabratory mood. It was mid-afternoon and she wanted her 'binky' and a nap.

After supper we took a walk around the camping area and stopped at the swings so the kids could burn off a little energy and maybe go to sleep on time, leaving me and the Little Woman to have a little peace and quiet. After the sun went down, we gathered around the fire and toasted masrshmallows and laughed as Skippy entertained us...being 6 and goofy it was easy for him. After several char-broilled marshmallows, Dimples crawls up in her mother's lap and announces she's tired. Great! Skippy is slowing down too. There is a God and he loves me...I thought. I'm also thinking that as soon as Skippy loses altitude it's time to crawl into Goody Two Shoes Sleeping bag...while she's in it as well. You get the idea. But it wasn't to be.

'Hon,' I hear Goody Two Shoes say. "Hon,' she says again, this time a little more urgently. 'There's something moving under that tree over there.' There was a row of pine trees running along the back edge of our campsite. Goody Two Shoes was sitting in a folding lawn chair next to the fire ring about 20 feet from the tree line when her eyes caught something moving under one of the trees.

Following her eyes, I looked and (I SWEAR) I saw a white(ish) critter poking its way along, not bothering anyone. 'It's just a possum,' I said. A minute later I found out how wrong I was. The critter slowly ambled out into the flickering light and we saw it wasn't a possum. 'It's a skunk,' Goody Two Shoes keenly observed.
No crap, it's a skunk. I can see that now...I said this to myself. I'm already in trouble for this, no sense in ending up in divorce court.

'What do we do?' she whispered. 'Stay perfectly still,' I said as I motioned for Skippy to come to me. Picking up our son I moved a few paces to my left and quietly opened the door of my Jeep Wagoneer and set him in the front seat. 'Can we keep it, Dad?' he asks. 'Are you our of your...never mind,' I said, closing the door. Turning back around I stood helplessly and watched as Stinky walked around the fire ring, under the chair my wife and daughter were sitting in, and the whole time I'm praying that Dimples doesn't wake up, see our guest and yell 'KITTY.' If she had I would have been in divorce court faster than the speed of light. Next, Stinky goes over to the picnic table and had a good sniff, then headed for our tent. 'Great balls of fire, I left the flap open,' I said as I motioned for Goody Two Shoes to come to me. Taking Dimples, I set her in the Jeep with her brother. 'No pushing or kicking,' I said, before closing the door.

Standing next to my wife, we watched as our guest checked out our sleeping quarters. 'Where do me and the kids sleep if he sprays in there?'she asked. 'In the Jeep with me,' I answered. 'Wanna bet, Tarzan?; she says, 'that skunk sprays in our tent and you're on the picnic table. Honestly, how could you mistake a skunk for a possum? I thought you were a Boy Scout?' 'That was a long time ago,' I said, defending myself.

Fortunately, Stinky moved on and we slept in our tent and my marriage was saved. However, Skippy was mad cause I wouldn't let him keep Stinky, Dimples was mad because she couldn't kick her brother, and Goody Two this day...hasn't let me forget that night. However all isn't lost. I learned that female skunks have a wider white stripe on their backs than their male counterparts. I also learned...for future camping trips...that if you see a little critter walking under anything at any time, day or night, assume it's a skunk and run like mad.

Monday, April 16, 2007

I smile because they're my children. I laugh because there's nothing they can do about it!

To be honest, I love my children, even though I tend to sound more like a grumpy old bear whenever any two of them are in the room at the same time. Hey, they started it...right? Over the years I've endured loud music...if that screeching can be called music...clothes trickling down the hallway, and an endless stream of name calling, pushing and shoving, chasing each other around the house and other sinister forms of sibling rivalry too horrible to mention. And even though I've lost my sanity, thanks to my children, they've never ceased to amaze me or put a smile on my face...usually when I need it the most. I'm still paying them back for the gray hairs though.

And now a word about sibling rivalry. Wikipedia says that 82% of people in the western world have at least 1 sibling. I fall into the 18% who don't which is why I get excited and scream like a lunatic when 5 year old Skippy shoves 1 year old Dimples down and she retaliates by kicking him in the shins. Just before calling the nut farm to come get me, Goody Two Shoes takes me by the arm and tells me in a calm voice that this is normal. Normal...the very word started me on a colorful tirade...directed at her. When I was finished, she pointed out that I was an only child and therefore had no concept of sibling rivalry. She closed by restating that what had set me off in the first place was normal, and that I had better get used to it. I got my first gray hairs that day.

Skippy at age 1. He started wearing his mother's hats right after he took a nose-dive out of his crib. Go figure. We finally broke him of this habit last year...when he was 24.

Dimples at about 2 1/2. She's cute and she knows it. Look at her, she's already thinking about her first car, giving dad a few more gray hairs, boys, and all the hearts she's gonna break.

And last, but not least...the Wild Child. Need I say more? I took this photo on a second grade field trip to the Carnegie Science Center. I was trying to finish a roll of film and innocently said, 'hey, look at dad a minute.'
I wanted a puppy, but oh no, Goody Two Shoes felt the need to be fruitful and multiply...for a third time. Who am I to argue...besides it was...never mind.

What is a Camera Totin' Idiot, and what does he do?

He stands in a damp, dark tunnel with a 5,000 ton freight train bearing down on him.

He stands in a caboose in the Virginia Transportation Musem for half an hour, waiting for the tourists to get out of his way so he can get his shot.

Sometimes he just gets lucky.

Sometimes he has to be patient. I shot this barn a dozen times before I got the picture I wanted.

Did I mention a little luck is involved? The people who own this art studio were selling Christmas trees. While Goody Two Shoes was paying for the tree and getting the grand tour of the studio I braved the cold for this shot.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Greetings and Halucinations

Greetings from western Maryland, where the men are men and the women pray we finally evolve some day. It's also a place where the skunks know when it's garbage night. Here life moves at a slower pace when compared with Baltimore, Washington or Pittsburgh. Where I live you can drive across town in 5 minutes, if the lights are with you...a day and a half if they aren't. I swear we have the longest traffic lights in the world in my neck of the woods.

Me and Goody Two Shoes are city dwellers...not by choice. We were both raised up out in the country. (You know the country; where you don't lock your back door at night, the air is cleaner, your neighbors know all your bad habits and don't hold it against you.) For some inexplicable reason our parents decided to move us to the big city at about the same time, and we met at the local community college not long afterwards. Yes, we're college sweethearts.

Do we have a plan for getting back out to the country? You bet we do, but it's on hold till the youngest is out of the house. After that the possibilitles are endless. Since our son lives 45 minutes from Nashville, we've thought about moving close to where he is...but not right next door. Another plan...okay, to move to Wyoming...or anyplace with horses, wide open spaces and sunsets that will blow you away. Goody Two Shoes has never ridden a horse. I have, but it's been a while. Another plan/fantasy...or to buy a little patch of ground about 5 miles from town and build a cabin.

Life really is a beach.

Can you believe this little dish... (luv the big glasses)

Married Mr. Leisure Suit... (look at the gigantic collar. Eat your heart out, Herb Tarlec)

And they had these three little bundles of joy? Me neither. They are, (from top to bottom) Skippy, hatched in 1982...Dimples, hatched in 1986...and the Wild Child, hatched in 1990.

Pity it all turned me gray before my time. At least I don't color my hair like...never mind, I hate sleeping on the couch. Oh well, it's been fun so far.