Sunday, July 26, 2015

Introducing Fred

Fred starting coming around a few months ago. He seems to think he owns the place, a natural born junk yard dawg. Sometimes he'll bark at cars and trucks coming in, if they offend his sensibilities. He's actually very sweet however, and never threatening to people. He's also somewhat laughable-looking, an almost miniature German Shepard, the right coat and face and ears, but short-legs that came from some other place. He's young, healthy, athletic. Nothing bad has happened to him yet, although he skirts the line mighty close. Couple of weeks back he went chasing full speed down the road behind a truck, and started to get over in the opposite lane for some reason, only spotting an oncoming vehicle at the last moment and getting back in his own lane. He disappeared around the curve close behind the truck. Someone said later on it might have been the man who lets him stay under his porch, just down the road from us. Fred is well-fed and seems clean of ticks. I wish he had a collar and some tags, but that's often not the country way with dogs. People just sorta "let them be." It's rumored that Fred has killed at least one chicken. That's also skirting the very edge. He's fast. It'd be doggy fun to catch and kill twenty of 'em, just like a cat in a mouse run. So I keep waiting for him to run into his fate, but although there'll be a week of no-show, so far he's returned. He was out where I park yesterday, and I gave him a pet and wished I had a biscuit for him. Then I took this picture.

Over by the fence, where the railroad rolls past with its short haul of tankers and grain cars, there's one stalk of corn growing up amongst the rusting wood stoves and a porcelained sheet mangle from the '40s. Prices are dropping bad right now in steel, to the point that it's going to be hardly worth the gas to haul a pickup load to us. For some reason, all metals are getting cheaper right now. I tell people at the window that it's just like gas. Gas, for the moment, has dropped too. It's only "just like gas" in the broad sense that metal prices are commodity prices, just like gas and corn.

Kids walk up and down the railroad track sometimes, looking for stuff to pick up, including discarded iron spikes. They don't know we can't buy any railroad iron. It's a law. The railroad owns all its stuff, whether it's tossed to the side or driven into a tie, forever. A year from now a special train will come past, with a special arm attached, and the arm will reach down and scoop up some rail or whatever, and toss it into the hopper that it rides on. Then the train will roll on, out of sight. I love the opportunity to watch the railroad operations. We used to get long trains of coal hoppers, rolling down to the power plant in Moncure. But coal is dirty, and the utility has closed that plant now. It's only a few tanker cars, and some grain cars these days, and once every few months a hopper full of steel scrap from down in Sanford, at Lee Iron and Metal. We're on the Norfolk and Southern line.

There used to be so many great railroad lines. Last week I taped an hour show on the Rural Network that just followed the Nickel Plate Road back and forth for a year or two, 1959-1960, as the Nickel worked runs from some little town in Indiana over to Chicago. Some of the trains were pulled by the great Berkshires, marvelous steam engines and the last ones they made. Other trains were pulled by diesels, also beautiful, powerful machines. The Nickel line where the film was made featured something you don't see much: actual perpendicular crossings from the New York Central, at grade. That is, intersections! The guy who made the film caught a few crossings of NYC trains. That's a remarkable thing to see.

The fact that the Nickel and the NYC ran so close together was in the end a problem for both companies, in a world where President Eisenhower had initiated the interstate road system. Both passenger and freight hauling were slowly becoming dear. All across the country, railroads that had been thriving businesses were being financially stressed. Eventually, they almost all either merged, or died. The specific stories are sad and sometimes shocking. The Milwaukee Road, which ran from Chicago and Milwaukee to the Pacific northwest, built the best road there was. It was a day faster than its competitors because of better grades and less stops. The Milwaukee electrified too. Yet when it was driven out of business in the '70s, the whole road was scrapped out! That's like jack hammering up Interstate 40, because you can get there on I-10.

When somebody tells you how all we need is to elect some magnate like, say, Donald Trump, because he's already a proven success, keep in mind the railroad story. The big roads were all run by magnates, most of 'em bigger and more successful by many orders of magnitude, than Donald Trump can imagine. He builds golf courses and hotels. Look up James Hill sometime, or the Gould brothers. Donald Trump, like the Koch brothers, actually inherited his set-up. Yes, he kept working it, but he didn't start at the "bottom." All he does is meet to a T the bogus criteria for leadership that have been sold by a propaganda network to an America that is less and less able, apparently, to distinguish the outlines of truth from the blurs of fiction. We can all enjoy Mr. Trump hoist the Republicans on their petards, where they surely belong, a row of heads on pikes stretching over the far horizon. But since they have also toiled hard to rig the vote, we'll see what happens.

The long term goal of Republicans, and the oligarchs who operate the Republican levers behind the scenes, is the utter destruction of meaningful democracy in the United States. This democracy doesn't serve their interests. Or so they imagine. But maybe they're like Fred, chasing that truck and almost catching it, and thinking maybe he can even pass it, wouldn't that be a trick! Power is real. It also vanishes, sometimes, like a spring snow on the Santa Monica mountains.

This Berkshire is actually in a museum. I'm not sure that counts. And by the way, although governments built the highways that to an important degree killed both most rail passenger service and a lot of freight business as well, as our governments, state and federal, drift more and more towards some weakened nadir of taxation that serves only the oligarchs, we may see our once magnificent roads go the way of that marvel of speed and engineering, the Milwaukee Road between Washington State and the Dakotas. According to various reports some 50 percent of our highway infrastructure is in dire need of repair. Start building some bridges and watch the scrap steel prices rise again. Just sayin'.

From American Rails dot com:

The fact that the great railroad is no longer with us is not as disheartening as knowing how and why its end came about. Its loyal and hardworking employees through the end were sadly cheated by upper management, which made a series of dumbfounding decisions beginning in the 1970s that ultimately ended in the railroad being sold to a rival in 1985. Today, what's left of the Milwaukee is cut up among different railroads and the best engineered rail line through the rugged Rockies and Cascades is but weeds and trails, a vital transportation artery no longer available to shippers and the American economy.

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