22 December 2016

Training for Christmas: Santa Train in Fergus Falls

It was a frigid Saturday in early December, but I got the family out of the house for a little under an hour to meet Jolly St. Nick outdoors by the old Great Northern depot in Fergus Falls.

Otter Tail Valley railroad is own by short liner Genesee and Wyoming via their purchase of Rail America back in 2012. You can see the RailAmerica paint on the GP9 diesel.

Caboose OTVR 101 with OTVR 1483
Caboose was posed with the Geep for the Santa Train festivities. The caboose formerly ATSF (aka Santa Fe). The caboose is typically parked nearby the depot or further down the tracks near some maintenance facilities.  
For a cold day there were plenty of youngsters out to meet Santa. In fact there was a line.
GP9 in RailAmerica paint
OTVR 1483 is a GP9 originally ordered by Nickel Plate. Built in 1959 it went through a few different owners prior to coming to the Otter Tail in 1997 including Norfolk and Western and Dakota Minnesota and Eastern.

21 December 2016

Gathered by the child of peace

Went to the ever popular Concordia Christmas concert this weekend. Great music from choirs and orchestra, scriptures interspersed with strange liturgical tomes. I might even be on public TV for ages to come if the cameras swung past my visage.
This year is the 90th year of concerts. I have attended 2 previous to this year. These concerts have the heft of high church tradition and evoke the mystery of the Christmas season- how an Almighty God came to rescue his creation. There are a myriad of facets to that plan. Thematically this year's concert strived to look at community and peace. Very relevant topics considering the recent political cycle in the US.
According to the scriptures, the birth of Jesus brought shepherds and some type of foreign ambassadors (my take on magi) together although not at the same time.
Missing from this assembled "community"- the religious leaders and political ruler of the land. Religious leaders identified the prophecy of the Christ (Micah 5:2-3) but did nothing, probably intending to keep the status quo between them and the government (Herod's authority.) The ruler- Herod- was pretty furious about the notion of a king who may usurp his hold on power. He then set in motion a murderous spree of children in Bethlehem. Fortunately, Jesus' parents were warned beforehand and fled south.
Some well worded context from the 1st  Chapter of the Gospel of John enlighens us:
9The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.    
This "Peace Child" grew in stature and went on to mediate the peace we all need with God through the cross. His birth was like D-Day- the initial beach head to rescue those who were his. So as you wonder about Christmas or celebrate it, may your understanding of its significance grow beyond the gifts,Santa,snowflakes, and egg nog; even beyond the rudimentary stable or shepherds.  May this season point you to Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection which crushed the head of the enemy.

13 December 2016

Lionel Stuff: Coaling Station

In an earlier post I wrote about the a freight platform structure that Lionel produced. Today I will look at a coaling station I re-habbed after finding it in pieces at a train show. 
This coaling station comes from another structure kit that Lionel put out originally during the MPC period (1970-mid 80s.) Those who bought Lionel in 1970 appear to have been hesitant about re-issuing some of the classic coal handling accessories from the post-war period. It was probably a money thing. Plastic kits are much more inexpensive. The coaling station here is a behemoth although not as large as the grain elevator that was released during the same period. There is talk on some O gauge boards that the earliest releases of this structure also had some rudimentary manual coal loading action. Trains can pass underneath the one side of the building and perhaps simulate coal loading from a large mine operation. 

Car can go underneath elevated side

Some assemble required for pre-1990s releases
Recently Lionel has released this coaling station as a pre-built item with a light in a few variations most recently in 2011 catalog. However, I do note they have a newer one too which has not been cataloged as far as I know.
For a more hi-rail look this is the coaling station for you.

09 December 2016

Classic Toys: The Adventure People

Another entry for classic toys. This one is another Fisher Price production.

The Adventure People were a line of action figures and play sets produced by FP from the mid-70s until mid-80s. These 3 inch figures were around prior to the Kenner Star Wars line and had no built in marketing ploy to advance the line further. But that did not deter the kids who got these for birthdays or Christmas combining them into the Star Wars universe like myself. The Adventure People were pioneers in the small action figure market. 
The Adventure People were cool and durable toys. Just look at that commercial. FP wanted kids,boys and GIRLS, to really play with these figures. Quite a few sets produced centered around outdoor recreation- a camping set with jeep and canoe, a van with a dirt bike, a safari set with truck and tent, a kayak set, scuba divers. Midway through their run, there were more sets and figures geared toward space or sci-fi. 
My small assemblage I acquired as a child. Most were 2nd hand. I only received the Rescue Truck and the Northwoods TrailBlazer sets as gifts. I lost most of the additional accessories over time although I think I have all of the Trailblazer items except maybe the motor for the un-pictured canoe. I remember getting the rare TV Action Team at a garage sale with quite a few other pieces from other sets. Even for a Star Wars fan the TV truck was cool. I got it with most of the accessories too- camera, tower, cables, microphone. Alas, now most of those items are lost.
My collection of FP Adventure People

TV Action Team
I was surprised to discover that the earlier sets (pre-1979) had names for the figures. So the TV crew pictured above- Carol is the lady, Kirk is the technician, and Jeff is the man with the tie. A few of the space items that came later also have names like Clawtron the robot from 1982

Northwoods Trailblazer set
Above in the Northwoods set, the figures are named Hawk (white shirt) and Brad (brown shirt on left.)
I would not hesitate to let my kids play with these toys as they are Fisher Price durable and have a somewhat timeless vibe. I can say that because I am not a collector- more of an enthusiast when it comes to these things. Even I would play with them. They also seem to be a bit more diversified than action figures of the same period- more women and minorities represented in the line and even a few children (from Safari set.)
These toys are hard to come by outside of E-Bay. They were mass produced so there are a lot of them out there. Someplace. Maybe.

05 December 2016

Training Elsewhere: Northern Lines Railway

Northern Lines Railway is a little short line out of St. Cloud. While I was at the Granite City Train Show last year at the Armory, I noticed these GP7s parked in the yard out back. I was unaware of who these belonged until now. The paint schemes on 1411 and 1602 are definitely Burlington Northern and possibly the former owner of those engines. The 400 seems like a familiar paint maybe Indiana Harbor Belt or Bessemer Lake Erie. However I have found nothing exactly resembling it. This is all the power which the short line uses over its 25 miles of trackage between St. Cloud and Collegeville to the west and Rockville to the south.
There are a few videos out there of the 1511 and 400 in action.


02 December 2016

Fargo Training: Great Northern Yard

Fargo is a rail town. A rail town with a former commercially navigable river.
Fargo came upon the scene when the Northern Pacific sought out a place to cross that river while forging a northern transcontinental rail link.
I have said elsewhere in the blog that Fargo was served by 3 railroads- Northern Pacific, Great Northern, and Milwaukee Road. It lessened to 2 in 1970 with the merger that created the Burlington Northern. And then just 1 in the 1980s when Milwaukee Road finally gave up the ghost and the abandoned the branch line that went right by my house and workplace. Northern Pacific's and Great Northern's main lines cut through downtown on their way west. The GN's mainline veered northwest as it exited the edge of downtown. They main yard was placed out there a little south and west of NDSU. It is still in use by BNSF, although not quite as busy.
Below are some photos taken from the 12th Avenue bridge back in May as I was returning from a stint volunteering for Fargo Marathon. The bridge provides an excellent view of the yard.
I am going to guess the hoppers below are for maintenance of way work. It is pretty rare these days to see a hopper which is not part of a unit train in Fargo.
Hopper Hang Out
There was a large lash up of diesel power which is either long term storage or potentially en route to other owners. No engine maintenance facilities in Fargo. There is one up in Grand Forks. These engines have been sitting there for quite some time.

Long Line of Power
Finally a indication that there may have been some sort of maintenance in Fargo long ago. To me it appears to be a the footings for a roundhouse. More than likely for steam. I do not recall that there are many buildings around the yard. There are a few small sheds or equipment buildings on the south side.
Building Footprint
Here is a link to a map of the Fargo yard with entrances and exits as it was in 1970. The footprint above indeed is from an engine house.

01 June 2016

Fargo Marathon 2016: A gubernatorial race for ND

North Dakota will be electing a new governor in November and some politicking was going on at the Fargo Marathon this May. It is not all that common for candidates to use an event to elevate their exposure to the electorate. Or just to have a good time. Right now there is a race concerning who will be the Republican candidate.  Both big candidates in this race, Doug Burgum and Wayne Stenehjem, had a presence at the marathon. Presumptive Democratic candidate, Marv Nelson, has been quiet. But he has no challengers inside his party.  
The Burgum for Governor organization took the big step to host an aid station on the marathon route. I think it was the one pictured below with the super hero spectators.
The Burgum Aid Station
Burgum is a big name around Fargo although he has been behind the scenes for while after leaving Microsoft and making the foray into real estate development. So jumping out of the boardroom to the streets, Burgum made the additional effort to run in 2 events:  5K and 10K. However, it appears candidate Burgum strolled through both based on his results. You can see his photos in the previous link.

I speculate candidate Stenehjem was elsewhere during the marathon. His election organization did have a somewhat un-official aid station a few blocks from the Burgum one. He could have been there handing out water or a sport beverage- but I did not see him. Stenehjem has been in the public eye for a while since he is the Attorney General and has been in public service since the 90s.

Stenehjem pop up aid station

30 May 2016

Our debt remains unpayable this Memorial Day

Trillions of dollars of debt there but there is still a whole load owed to those who served our nation during the many conflicts of the last century. Harry Truman's sentiments sum it up:

Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices. 

The quote is inscribed at the World War II Memorial in D.C.

Harry tells it like it is

26 May 2016

Fargo Marathon 2016: The beards are back in town

I do not think I had posted bearded Fargo Marathon participants since before Duck Dynasty arrived on the scene. This year I saw much evidence of the that style of beard which Willie, Jase, Phil, and Si have upon their faces.
But for starters, it appears Hagrid of Harry Potter fame was an entrant in the half marathon.

This marathoner is putting it all on the line at mile 21. This beard resembles Jase's beard. Just put a stocking hat on this guy and some shades and you got Jason Robertson running a marathon- which he will probably never do.

Hanging in

This is probably the best kept beard of the bunch. It almost looks like it was just attached to his face this morning. Not sure how to categorize it. Maybe a little Grizzly Adams a la Dan Haggerty.

Party on Griz

Our final runner knows how to wear the beard in style while running. The headband, the sunglasses, the track top- this all screams "don't mess with me, I'll run circles around you...in the desert." It also has that classic 70s jogging vibe. It is as if Prefontaine still lives.

Olympic style

24 May 2016

Fargo Marathon celebrity sightings

So no Will Ferrell. And no Elvis. I think there has not been an Elvis running Fargo in half a decade.
But let me indulge my celebrity radar.
First let me get the first one off: Dick Beardsley, legendary long distance runner ( and fisherman). There he is in an orange long sleeve telling a participant to take the race by the horns. I met him once in Detroit Lakes. He was at a pasta dinner for his namesake race with Alberto Salazar.
Is that Matt Maher?
Looking closely at the image again I also notice another celebrity of sorts which I totally missed in the foreground- worship artist Matt Maher.
On the course I was surprised to see Jim Gaffigan took time from his busy schedule and decided to run. Perhaps he was doing it to jab Ferrell. I must have missed the hash tag #runfargogaffigan.
Jim Gaffigan takes it easy on the course
And finally, this year I did not miss the Fargo Marathon Maniac. This guy like runs a marathon every week.
Actually he is a classmate of mine who decided to take up running a number of years ago and got hooked on doing marathons and half marathons. He'll be running Grandma's in June.
And as a post-script, an unverified appearance of the Almighty One, King of Kings and Lord of Lords at the Fargo Dome on the morning of the race in the Bison Room.
I believe scripture says that "when 2 or more gather in my name that I am there." That is my paraphrase of Matthew 18:20. Who knows, maybe Matt Maher was there leading worship.

Other stuff along the marathon route

Watching a steady stream of runners push on through to the end of the race can be a bit monotonous. What is good is that at the heart of the Fargo Marathon route is a great big neighborhood party going on. This year those neighborhoods along 9th, 8th, and 7th St S were abuzz with activity. It is a fantastic atmosphere. 
Even the dead were grateful for the good weather for watching runners.

Then there was this interesting item on the boulevard. Appears to be some representation of Dr. Who's TARDIS sending encouragement to runners.
Of course there is lots of music. I think I saw maybe 5 bands within a the mile I strolled. Another thing I should have marked as missing this year was the list of bands and music on the route. The regular reggae band on 9th near the 21st mile seemed to be missing too. However, Elvis was still on 9th south of 13th with about 4 speakers cranked.

Band at the Temple. Not Klez.
Unusual bikes seem to crop up a lot. This one reminds me of the Surly Big Dummy, but appear to have some kind of electric assist in the crank.

23 May 2016

Fargo Marathon Superman

I think I get shots of this guy every year. He is the Fargo Marathon's own Superman.
Patrick Millard dons the full blue suit with the 'S' on his chest with cape and runs the marathon in under 5 hours.
Superman goes by

Superman says "Hi"

Were there other characters running the marathon this year? Yes. SpongeBob. But I think he was running the half.
SpongeBob Squarepants runs by

Fargo Marathon 2016: Wonderfully warm

Possibly the best weather for watching a Fargo Marathon yet although running in the warm weather may have been difficult. My volunteering marathon left me exhausted so I only posted a few things via Twitter while observing the Saturday events.
On Friday night I was tucked into the Fargo Dome helping with bib number look ups and so I missed perhaps the most competitive 5K finish for men. A just graduated Bison trackster, Brendan Skime crossed the finish line 1 second ahead of Jonathan Stoltman. You could have said it was the battle of the Falls as Skime is from Thief River Falls and Jonathan is from Little Falls. 15:31 is a pretty impressive time for a guy who did not even have the race on his radar until a few weeks ago.
In the women's division a 12 year old from Staples took the top honors. So much for experience and wisdom winning.
By the time I exited the dome on Friday most of the competitors had gone home and volunteers were readying the place for the start of the marathon the next day. Johnny Holm and his band were gone.
I wrote that Swanson's was missing from the Expo this year. However, that did not matter there were a lot of freebies to be taken. Minnesota State University Moorhead, appeared to have the most items to give out. I got stickers, shoe laces, fruit snacks, and pennants. Old Dutch, as always, was giving out lots of potato chips. Kenny's was also on hand to give out licorice and popcorn treats. And although Essentia Health were sponsoring the Expo, Sanford Health had a large representation at the event.
Below the speed limit
Come Saturday I was pretty tired but knew I needed to cross town to watch the race and take in the atmosphere. And it was probably the best weather one could want to do that. So I brought my family to the old watching spot on 9th although our friend no longer lived there and we could not have our typical marathon breakfast party. Half marathoners were trickling by as we arrived. We missed the leaders.
Oh, remember that Skime guy from the 5K above. Well I heard he won the 10K too. Incredible! He also broke the course record. Double incredible!  Now that is an impressive weekend for a fellow who missed going to regionals with the Bison track squad.      

20 May 2016

Fargo Marathon 2016: Things missing

Here I am at the Fargo Dome exercising my volunteer muscle doing registrations. It has been somewhat slow but enjoyable nonetheless. It got me thinking what to blog. So I looked to see what was missing. So here is my rundown.

  1. Swanson Health and their goodies.
    Swanson is no longer a sponsor nor an exhibitor at the Expo. I think since the were sold to an outside group the marketing relationship was cut. I miss the vitamins and stuff they gave away. Essentia Health has taken their place and makes the Expo a little different although still good. They have great giveaways like water bottles. Just not gobs of vitamins, health mixes, and soaps.
  2. Pasta/lefse feed
    I am not sure when this met the axe. May have been a few years ago. I guess it may have been a low income generating event. I would need to check if other races still have have a carb load meal. Research, I believe, has nullified the value so close to a race. Local establishment on 19th across from Fargo Dome- Labby's- was having their own pasta feed on Thursday and Friday.
  3. 5k route map
    It is not in the Fargo Marathon magazine and I did not find a poster of it at the dome. I did spy a possible handout at an info table. So 5kers follow the herd or the signs.
  4. Fargo marathon canned announcements at dome
    There was a pre-recorded message welcoming runners to the race or expo. It ran every fifteen or 30 minutes. Now there are a few live announcements during the day. Not sure I miss these
  5. 5k bib numbers for runners running 2 races or GoFar challenge.
    Biggest trouble we had for registrations was no bib number assigned to them for the 5k if the were running a 2nd race. Some were fortunate to get them in email. Others were left in dark only to be sent to the trouble table. I think there has been a bit more registration trouble this year or all the trouble seems to arrive on my shifts.
  6. Signs for 5K registration et al
    The 5k registration signs have been missing for 2 years. Common confusion for those wandering the upper concourse of the Fargo Dome

Not missing this year- Coach GP. Just saw him.

28 April 2016

Fargo Marathon 2016: The improbable half from a 5K

Interesting running related story came out the other day: 12 Year Old Girl Accidentally Runs Half-Marathon. She came ready to run a 5K but instead ran a the half. Quite an achievement for the youngster and also a scare for her parents.  The organizers of the Rochester (NY) Flower City Challenge certainly enjoyed the the free press this story generated nationwide, but for a race day consisting of a little over 3000 runners they also must be scratching their heads. Starting line and starting time confusion generated the mistake.
Perhaps it could have been prevented with better starting line discipline and communication. The half supposedly started 15 minutes prior to the 5K. I can only speculate that there must have been some congestion at the half start which may have impacted the start of the 5K. The 5K appeared to have less entrants- about 1000 for the 5K and little bit over 2000 for the half. I am surprised that the 5K did not have more runners as that has typically been the case in Fargo.
5K has usually attracted the most runners for Fargo Marathon week. Fargo race officials decided to place it on Friday night prior to the marathon which naturally avoids a dilemma like Rochester. There may have been some runners who may have mistakenly ran other races but usually it is runners wanting to run in those races after registration has been closed. There must around 7000 or more entrants amassed at the start on Saturday morn of the race. Fargo's start line is massive but orderly. The courses are clearly marked and stationed with volunteers. If you get lost on the course I am sure there will be someone out there to give directions.
Of course there is the story of Cris Estes who ran the Fargo Marathon course 3 times in 2009. Nobody bothered to tell him to stop. He kept running.
Still plenty of room to sign up for this year's events in Fargo. If you want you can run it 3 times too. There just won't be much spectating or aid stations 6 hours after the race start. 

14 April 2016

Something new and something else for Fargo Marathon

The organizers of the Fargo Marathon as not struggling for ideas on how to expand the brand and participation.
The Furgo Dog Run has been added this year to cater to the growing number of canine runners. Well, maybe it is more for the owners of those canines who like to run with their furry friends. The 1.6 mile race is set for Tuesday of race week, which is really stretching Fargo Marathon's pawprint over the entire week. I cannot say that I know of many pet runs out there but this may definitely be a good move considering the amount of cash that Americans shell out for their pets. The event also has a mascot, MJ, who apparently is training for the event. MJ has been mum on the topic since the end of March.
The 2nd addition to the races this year is the Cyclothon. On Monday May 16 bicyclers will be able to do the marathon course and receive a shirt and medal. However, you need to finish the course in under 2.5 hours. Sounds like a strenuous bike ride. In previous years I have biked a vast majority of the course without it being an race event. It is an interesting venture and perhaps may stir a bit of interest in future bike races or bike-a-thons.
And finally the Fargo Marathon will be a drug free race. Actually it has always been one and open to random drug tests by USA Track and Field. The local paper brought to light that the 2014 men's marathon winner had been associated with a coach who is under investigation for alleged doping of the runners she coached. Race director Mark Knutson and 2008 winner Eric Sondag both doubted that the runner in question, Peter Kemboi, had used performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) to win the race noting that the prize money and the cost of  PEDs did not make financial sense. I believe the top prize for race winners is about $1500.
And on another note, Will Ferrell has still not signed up for the Fargo Marathon. Neither has Mike Farrell of MASH fame.

26 February 2016

A railroad hero for African American History month: John W Blair

John Blair stands 2nd from right
Scanning through titles of train books for children the other day, I came across this title: John Blair and the Great Hinckley Fire by Josephine Nobisso. At first glance does not appear to have anything do with a train. But then a 2nd glace- John Blair? John Insley Blair was a railroad magnate who at one time owned the largest rail mileage in the world. Then a 3rd look and check of Wikipedia proved that this book does not tell the story of the railroad developer but of an African American Porter on the St. Paul and Duluth Railroad. Silly me.
Hinckley after the 1894 blaze tore through town
September 1st 1894 John Blair's train came into Hinckley, MN just as a massive conflagration came busting into town. And this was no ordinary fire. Some have described it like a tornado of flames four and half miles high.
Probably over 200 passengers pressed into the train with hopes for survival in the hands of the train crew. Engineer James Root made the decision to put his engine in reverse and race the cloying inferno to a water hole he recalled seeing approximately 6 miles away. His plan worked but not without much struggle and hardship. The train started aflame during the trip and Root was badly hurt.
John Blair's role in this race with the deadly firestorm is difficult to find primary sources on the internet. The Minnesota History Center has the Charles W Blair papers in their collection and it contains his account of the Great Fire and his actions.
As Porter he no doubt aided all the individuals aboard the train during the terrible ride. I found a few accounts of him helping passengers including children escape the burning coaches and rush to the water hole known as Skunk Lake. Elsewhere there is a statement that he was final one to exit the train before it totally burned up. He did survive as can ascertained from the existence of his account. I suspect I need to read the book since author Nobisso has stated elsewhere on the 'net that researchers were employed in gathering data about Blair.
So there you have a real hero and hopefully I have brought a little more attention to him. Blair is honored at the Hinckley Fire Museum among other railroaders who did their part to help the citizens during this great catastrophe. And that link is the only place on the internet I could find a close up portrait of him.

16 February 2016

Unusual Star Wars foods

This is not about the foods we encounter in the Star Wars universe. Instead it is about Star Wars encountering food in our universe.
Hunting and gathering Star Wars material has been relatively easy these days. Since Disney swooped up the Lucas empire, Star Wars is even more embedded into American culture. I surmise Lucas did not intend to craft a story in which has a Darth Vader like force hold on the public. Turn to left or the right and some Star Wars tie in has been created. And it is now even reaching into the food we consume. Chez Its had it and now Campbell's does too. It would appear that the Empire/First Order folks have found a niche in the food market.

Soup is Star Wars food

Back in the day- the pre-re-release era - Star Wars kept to toys, T-shirts, books and trading cards.
But there was 1 anomaly- C3POs, the cereal.
I recall it murkily. We rarely had cold cereals. My childhood breakfasts included mostly Malt-O-Meal hot cereal or CoCo Wheats. But they were often eaten in an Empire Strikes Back bowl.

Probably one of the more collectible items which were not food but closely connected were the Burger King glasses. All of the original 3 films had a BK set. In later years these glasses have been scrutinized for their high levels of lead in the paint used for the graphics.

As is typical with most food tie-ins to movies, the food is considered unhealthy and targeted at youth. It is a rare thing to see movie marketing geared at eating vegetables or whole grain bread or fruit. In fact it probably does not exist because Hollywood deems those things unhealthy to their profits. But now I am getting into philosophical ideas that feed the dogs. But for the ardent fan Star Wars is sure to come to a table near you.

02 February 2016

GearCamp: The Wool Shirt

Pendleton Wool Shirt
The wool shirt has been with us for a while. Wool for even longer. Back in 1924 Pendleton decided that a little more color in a woolen shirt would sell more shirts. They were right. And today they are still making the same shirts.
Woolens for as sportswear have been out of style for quite a while based on my unscientific research. They are making a comeback. I think hipsters may have increased the popularity of this type of shirt in recent years especially since Portland is in proximity to the Pendleton mill.
I had a few wool shirts growing up. I believe I wore one of them in a yearbook picture my sophomore year in high school. It was a Navy surplus shirt.  I think I borrowed the another one from my father. By college I had rid my wardrobe of these shirts, mostly because they were often scratchy and were dry clean only.
I think the woolen shirt fell out of favor due to the increased availability of tech fabrics like micro-fleece. Nevertheless, The Beach Boys probably still wear wool. I began to re-acquaint myself with the miracle fabric of wool 5 years ago mostly because I noticed it languishing in the 2nd hand market for a few bucks. After buying one I was hooked.
Pendleton woolens are durable and to uniquely breathable. Also, they make great shirt jackets because wool is an excellent outer-layer. On a cool fall day out in the forest I like to wear a Pendleton with a puffy down vest. Makes a great combo.    

28 January 2016

The red University of North Dakota slippers

I know that the University of North Dakota recently approved their new mascot- although much talk surrounds that and I do not intend to enter the fray. However, I do not think that they approved of new school colors. A few weeks ago I was visiting the former coat purveyor now a bizzaro TJ Max clone Burlington and discovered these UND branded slippers in red. Red is not a official school color to my knowledge. But pink is.
So how did these get past the NCAA trademark legal eagles (or fighting hawks)?

Menards and O Scale prices

In the Upper Midwest and a few other outlying places the mention of Menards summons up a banjo ditty with lyric: "Save big money, you save big money, when you shop Menards." The big box home improvement retailer and its spokesperson Ray are responsible for etching those words into my mind and others. Their common sales approach is giving out rebates in the form of merchandise credit checks usable only at their stores. Clever way to induce cyclic patterns of shopping at Menards. And for the last decade or so, most of their outlets have added food stuffs, clothes, books, and a few electronics. Every Christmas they would also have a some Lionel train sets including a Menard's only set.
Then, back just a few years ago (perhaps 2011 or 2012) they began to release their own exclusive line of O scale train freight cars.
First it started with a trickle of flat cars with Menard loads: a Menards trailer, a Menards truck, a Menards racecar. They followed it up with flat cars with truss loads and lumber loads. I think they also added a few buildings too. In 2014 they increased their line to include box cars, basic flatcars, and flat cars with military loads with actual railroad names in addition to about a half dozen bui1dings. Above is a Menard Southern Railroad boxcar I own. Then in 2015 things started to explode with more boxcars, flat cars with different loads, tubular track and more buildings. A whole section of their website is dedicated to the train items. In 2016 they continue to release new items- this month alone they put out tank cars, hoppers, and a commemorative WWII box car set.
The good news is these items are probably the least expensive O scale items around these days. Most of the cars hover around $20. The cars are rather well made with metal trucks and wheels and an air brake. There is a minimal amount of detail but do not expect these to be spot on with a prototype. On the track they run very smoothly although the boxcars do have a little sway.

Above is a comparative image of the Menards box car with a Lionel Post-War 6464 series box car. You cannot tell, but the Menards car is a little bigger than the Lionel one. It is also slightly wider but still semi-scale.
The Menards Goldline buildings are a decent value at between $30 and $100 and most include light effects and figures. I have a corner 2 story store which appears to have been manufactured by Woodland Scenics. Some other interesting ones are Harry's Saurkraut Factory and a fire damaged engine shed.
The tubular track addition was a surprise. But since it appears Lionel has stopped tubular track manufacturing, someone had to come in to fill the void. Menards track is full profile O gauge and comes in quite an assortment of sizes at reasonable prices.
New O gauge cars at Menards

With the demise of K-line and Industrial Rail in the early aughts, there has been a great price gap in the O gauge market. Lionel and MTH have pretty much been producing items for hobbyists with bigger bankrolls. Atlas, Williams by Bachmann,Weaver have been somewhere in between although I am beginning to like Williams more. RMT has done a superb job at producing some fine models at reasonable cost but will be closing soon. So Menards' train line arrives at the right time. One could only wonder if they will ever be releasing engines.

15 January 2016

GearCamp: Coleman 502 Stove

Coleman 502
These posts are dedicated to the hard working gear that I have utilized on my camping expeditions. Might be something simple or vintage or cool.
Our first post for GearCamp features the Coleman 502 Single Burner Camp Stove from the 1970s.
Coleman has been around for over 100 years. They have made some pretty durable camping gear especially stoves and lanterns. I acquired the 502 at thrift shop for 2 bucks and it included a square aluminum pot that doubled as a case. Unfortunately the stove did not work, so it sat around for a while before I was able to tinker around and fire it up. The pump gasket just needed to be lubricated and away it worked. Despite its bulk, this is my go to stove for trips even though I do own a few lighter weight stoves. And the good thing about these stoves is that there are still parts around to keep these guys humming for another 30 years. I think it only burns white gas (aka coleman fuel). I have never tried the gas from the pump.
You have a little control of the flame in intensity so you need to fiddle with out to avoid scorching your food or having you pancake take like forever to cook.
502 in action
Found a scan of the manual here.

14 January 2016

Around the Sioux Hustler Trail: Into the unknown

The following is a continuation of the log from the Sioux Hustler Loop hiking trip I took in October 2012. In this entry  3 Names and I leave the Devil's Cascade campsite and head into the mostly unkept portions of the trail in the north and east of the loop. This post is long over due.

a dry Devil's Cascade
 We awoke to a much brighter day after the damp hike mostly in the dark up to the campsite above Devil's Cascade. It had quite a splendid view into the valley below. The weather appeared to be in our favor. We took breakfast and packed up and continued up the trail until the beaver ponds. That is where we lost the trail in the mishmash of tall marsh grasses. We stopped for lunch at the end of small trail that lead to another pond.
Nothing really amazing about that section. The trail was still plenty worn and looked like your typical BWCA marsh clearings with steep pine tree hills. Pleasant but nothing remarkable. A lot of the BWCA scenery just blurs together for me.
Not much later we cross Heritage Creek. It was a very pleasant place to stop and refill our water. After a short rest we get back up and hike. It is in this area where it gets a little steep and the path is just little bit harder to discern. However, we knew we were on the right track when we made it to the Pageant Lake campsite. We left our packs and hiked down the hill to admire the small campsite on this marvelously still lake.
My memories must have faded because I do not recollect much of the the next segment. All I remember is the path to the Range Lake campsite is quite long, but it is marked- but not sure if it was a cairn or some old scrap metal. I do recall that there were plenty of downed trees to navigate around or under.
Our next landmark was the 3 Sentinels- 3 enormous white pines right in the path. I kept looking and looking for tall trees because I was eager to make camp and get my pack off.  There were many imposters. However, when we do get to the Sentinels, 1 had been topped. Or at least I think it was one of the sentinels.

3 Names standing among the Sentinels
In the photo you can hardly make out 3 Names. But he is there in the bottom middle holding up the map.
The trail improved slightly through this area- or so I imagine it did because I noted nothing about it. But I can assure you there were still plenty of dead or felled trees to circumnavigate. Can't avoid those. 
We made camp on the north side of Emerald Lake and not much of importance happened. The campsite is at the bottom of a steep incline. There are a few mostly flat places to pitch a tent. Closer to the lake there are more small rock outcrops.

A Star Wars Christmas, again

Post Yuletide Greetings or if you are reading this months after it was posted- Hi.
So this year Star Wars made a major move into Christmastide vernacular- or to put it another way there was a whole lot more Merry Star Wars Christmasy stuff going on.
Big movie releases at Christmas and merch centered around kids can do that. The Star Wars space opera permeates the US culture and you do not need me to tell you that. I can count on a single hand the people who have not seen any Star Wars movie.
Star Wars and Christmas- sort of an odd couple. Both have big story lines that combine family, friendship and redemption. Star Wars has lasers and light sabers but Christmas has an actual star. 
Star Wars did get a late jump on Christmas merchandising from the start. Although the movie arrived in theaters in May of 1977 a campy 98 minute Christmas special landed on the small screen in November the following year. It is filled with 1970s variety show cliches with a few Star Wars related stories mixed in. 
By all accounts Lucas was not pleased with this iteration of the Star Wars universe but it did start cementing Star Wars into Christmas. Just not like Charlie Brown or Ruldolph and Frosty. It was not the content of the special instead it was the underlying premise- sell more of those toys. In those ensuing years between the Christmas Special and Jedi- kids' wish lists exploded with every conceivable kind of Star Wars toy. I think I got action figures every year and then that big Darth Vader head to store them inside. My list was ignored.  Everything else was used. Sadly most items are lost and long gone including a nearly complete droid factory.
One of my friends usually got the whole caboodle- Tie-Fighters, Han Solo pistol, Millennium Falcon, AT-AT, Snow Speeders, Ewok Village, Hoth Playset, a Rancor, TanTans. He had a lot. Maybe too much. His parents probably helped fund the prequels with their purchases.  

A new item to add to your Stars Wars holiday decor collection. Might get stolen or shot at if left outside. Nice scarf.

C3PO expresses Christmas greetings in over 6000 languages

Cheezits have joined the 1st Order
And to celebrate these holidays let's get a package of 1st Order Cheezits. Star Wars is a powerful ally. Slap an Artoo or Storm Trooper on something and you probably will sell twice as much as without.

But back to our post-holiday antics. What if another Star Wars special was made? Well, look no further. The folks at Funny or Die have brewed up something akin to a parody of the original Christmas special. At less that 15 minutes, it won't let you down.