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.