Take A Good Look

I just need to put my two cents in somewhere regarding the outcome of this election. First off I would hope we could all agree that both of the major party candidates were horrible. One is a morally bankrupt businessman who's ego would appear to make him incapable of being a good and diplomatic leader. The other, while probably being no more corrupt than any other politician in Washington, has clearly time and again sold her principles and self respect to grovel before said corrupt culture of corrupt politicians in what would appear to be the interest of furthering her own career. Even if we give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that her course over the past 30 years was motivated by an interest in being able to affect change for the great good can you reasonably expect someone to have the moral fiber to affect a corrupt culture for positive change when they have had to spend 30 years selling their moral capital to become part of the system.

Quit telling me to go vote, I already did. 
That being said, with Hillary we pretty much know what we would have gotten. She was the safe choice here for maintaining the status quo. We're familiar with that system that she has played so well and been a part of all these years. We don't like it, but we know it pretty well. Now with Trump we really have no idea what to expect. Our cultural norm of choosing candidates where good public servants gain wider and wider public support and advance from local and state offices to federal office was completely circumvented here. Whatever conclusions you would like to draw about why Trump was elected or who it was that elected him I think it is safe to say that a large part of the country is fed up with the normal culture of self serving, back room dealing, re-election focused, career politicians. They are tired of politicians without enough backbone to affect needed change. Even Ronald Regan when he was at the height of his public support right after the attempted assassination, when he could of spent some of that political capital for - oh I don't know - what would have been severely painful but severely needed government spending reform just couldn't do that. He had a legacy to protect and other republicans to pave the way to election wins for. While I find over generalizations about who voted for Trump to be angry and short sighted I would say that some of the people who voted for him are hoping that this loose cannon will shake some of that up. Unfortunately there would appear to be another group of Trump voters who have taken his victory as a sign of legitimacy to their bigoted and xenophobic beliefs.

I suspect the guy did this at the ward chili cook-off so that no one would touch his chili and he could take it back home. It worked. 
So there you are. The American people have put all their hopes and dreams and in this one basket, that basket being the office of President of the United States. They are expecting this person to fix their legal status, return their country to a time which didn't exist (expect in reruns of the Andy Griffith Show), lower their taxes, revive the middle class, abolish congress, fix the healthcare system, cure global warming, abolish the EPA, get them a job, etc...       But here's the thing, even though our president can be a good leader and can push for change and do a lot for good (or bad as the case may be) in our country as a whole we have not elected a dictator and who ever is in office - while they do have quite a lot of power - they don't have the power to just go out and do most of what's promised on the campaign trail. Just like that kid in elementary school promising to put chocolate milk in all the drinking fountains. The executive branch has no power to levy or abolish taxes. The EPA was established by act of congress (with the suggestion and support of Richard Nixon,.... a Republican no less) and can only be repealed by an act of congress. - Just to point out a few examples. So no, Amercia, the president whoever he or she is is not going to be able to fix most or even very many of your personal problems. (the president also doesn't control the economy but we're hoping that their positive leadership will lead to confidence in the markets and a robust economy. Big emphasis on hope there)

Furthermore, the system is not broken. The electoral college is an ingenious system that provides for safety from election fraud and ensures that presidential candidates don't only have to have the support of major metropolitan areas on the east and west coast to win an election they have to win country wide support. Our government system as whole is very good, one of the best. I feel confident that our system keeps us from being overrun by any would be dictator or unhinged person who happens to get elected and also protects us from the tyranny of the majority. American is largely a safe and prosperous place for a very diverse spectrum of people. If you don't believe that then clearly you haven't seen the rest of the world.

So then what is the problem and what is to be done? Everyone keeps reference the huge rift in our nation, the "us and them" feeling. We've seen riots and protest over the last few days. We've seen people afraid of the future. Most troubling is we've seen people just afraid of each other. These problems also cannot be fixed by whoever is in office. We've made political affiliations and blaming the other party such a large part of our culture I think that it has trickled down and now we're afraid or just unwilling to reach across the street and affiliate with our neighbors. We're afraid (or just to apathetic) to reach out in our community and serve and affect positive change where we live. When Hilary says to keep fighting for what is right I hope that people take that as a call to be more involved in their community and not as a battle cry for the presidential election in 2020. The kind of change people really want to see (but probably don't know it) is change that will take place on the local level. Strong communities make for strong states and a strong country. I might add that if people were more involved in their local government and finding and advancing good candidates there then I think we would see an improvement of the quality of candidates for national office. It's time to be better neighbors. It's very hard to hate your neighbor when they are a good neighbor. It's time to quit spending all our energy loudly voicing our displeasure at things we can't change (or worrying about things that have not happened yet and may never happen regardless if someone has said them) and time to make ourselves a little uncomfortable and go across the street and be a good neighbor to whoever lives over there (and nobody really needs that advice more then myself).

Just keep looking.


Read it

I didn't manage to finish by Halloween but it was so good all the same. Forget what you know about the Hollywood version of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, this is a great story.


And Just What Do You Call That?

Ok, so granted it has been nearly six months since my last post here and I could go back through all the usual excuses that I've used in the past about summer months being super busy and what not and blah, blah, blah, but I'll spare you all that.

A lot has gone on since April. Thinking back I'm not really sure how I got all that stuff in there quite honestly. At any rate:

Construction season seemed to start pretty early this year. We had (and still have) more projects at the paving company then we will probably be able to complete before the snow flies. The crew is tired and I think we are all secretly looking for snow. Projects at the paving company this summer have ranged form railroad tunnels to airport runways to the usual highway jobs (just A LOT of them this year). We've done work out at the national park. Helped move buildings. I'm not sure how key I really was in most of this but I certainly pushed a lot of paper and spent a fair amount of time on the road for this and that which lead to a lot of this:
and this - 
It probably wasn't as bad as all that, but it was definitely a busy summer at the paving company and it isn't quite over yet. At the railroad after about 7 years of work from me (and more then that from someone before me) we had a large 7 figure pot of funding come in from the federal government for track upgrades that started in May. The project went as well as I could have hoped for, but it was still a pretty big undertaking. Not to mention the fact that the contractor we hired then turned around and subcontracted some of the work out to the Paving company I work for. Made for some interesting coordination meetings. I was literally sitting in a meeting where I was asking for some paperwork from the general contractor who then called the paving company for the paperwork who then called my phone to see when I could get that paperwork done. They all had a good laugh about it.
This is the executive director of the railroad talking with the owner of the paving company I work for. Clearly they are plotting some way to further upset me. 
The project really did go well. We had a great contractor on board (the subcontractor wasn't too shabby either if I do say so myself).

Also this summer I fulfilled what I realize has been at least a decade or more of tire kicking and bought a 2001 Ur Audi Allroad. I've been pining for one of these things since they came out,.... in 2001. I mean when a car manufacturer somehow manages to produce a car that ticks so many of your boxes and it's German how can you not sit up and take notice. So I finally found one that had all the features that I wanted (manual transmission) and in a color I liked (not green) and bought it against my better judgement. My brother Seth was nice enough to drive me out to pick it up in California.
I only had to keep him filled with gas station convenience store food, and I think that ended up being more then the cost of gas.
The car has a mountain of previous maintenance and repair receipts. As previously stated it came with the uber rare 6-speed manual transmission. Also, the cold and warm weather package (a unique combo). And what German car doesn't look good in silver?
Not the best pic but you get the point. 

I,.... love,..... this,..... car. However, it is plotting it's own destruction every minute of every day. These cars had so many odd features and were so complicated. Repairs by me to date have included a front axle replacement, a transmission output shaft seal, tires, a new roof top antenna, and an oil change. Luckily I've been doing my own work, but parts for this thing have not been cheap. Just waiting for the two turbos that it has to implode. That will cost about the same as a used Honda Civic in just parts to repair. Still, I had to have it. Just had to. Couldn't be helped. The Audi V8 I purchased last fall found a home somewhere else. Actually I sold it pretty quick. The 5/8 of a black Suzuki Samurai that my friend Marc got me for Christmas also found a new home this spring. I was surprised how fast that sold. So winter projects should consist of the Jeep and possibly re-homing the red wagon. We'll see what happens there.
The home renovation is reaching so very near the end (I think). Probably a lot farther then I really realize, but with the slow down at work I'm hoping that can get wrapped up here soon. My new front door came in this week and I'm really excited about it.
In addition to all that (and I'm sure some things that I'm forgetting) I also managed to have a fairly significant (significant for me anyway) relationship since my last post here. (Maybe that had something to do with the radio silence on the blog here, who can really tell?) I use the past tense for a reason, because the relationship ended. This relationship was significant for me in the sense that I was probably more invested here then in previous relationships and I think I really learned some things. I was and still am pretty shocked at how much of myself I was willing to give up at this point in my life for a relationship. I'm not sure if the extent to which I went in this particular relationship was healthy or not, but in reality at this point in my life where I've filled my time up with work, community involvement, family, hobbies, interests and whatever else I would need to let some things go to make room for someone. Probably a lot of things. Being faced with how that would actually look was helpful for me and I think going forward I'm going to start re-arranging things in my life (namely getting this house done and rearranging work some). Quite frankly I feel pretty pleased with myself that given the option of a relationship or hanging on tenaciously to the life I've built as a 30-something single (a life I rather enjoy) I could honestly say that I feel I could choose a relationship and let that life go. Not that it would be easy or all kittens and rainbow (ugh, who likes cats anyway, right?), but I think I've finally seen and experienced the benefit of one over the other. Breaking up was - and still is - pretty upsetting, but compared to past relationships where I felt like I would never do that again (and by some accounts I quite nearly didn't) I feel like I will definitely try that again. One of the other things I learned was that most of the preconceived notions I've harbored about how someone would need to look or things they would have to find interesting or habits or traits they would have to have don't matter as much as I thought they did. The other person just has to like me and I them. If a person is honest and genuine and likes me for reasons they can't really explain and vice versa everything else seems rather immaterial. I was pretty shocked by that one too. Of course it doesn't hurt to have some things in common and a shared or similar background certainly helps things go smoother I think. But some honest attraction and respect followed by some commitment really is what's mainly important,... for me anyway......I think. (clearly I am a wise expert now) At any rate, even given the unpleasant task of dealing with a break-up, I'm glad the relationship happened. Hopefully I really did learn something about myself and we'll see what comes next. Now on to the holidays! (or winter hibernation, whichever comes first)


In the Land of the Setting Sun

Mostly thanks to my big mouth and only partly due to some of my professional abilities I serve on a city committee for the restoration of our historic City Hall.
Part of what the committee does is search and apply for grant funds for the building's renovation. Most of my work at the railroad doing restorations is grant funded, but I'm rarely or ever involved in the grant getting process. I'll supply supporting technical info and budgets for the grants, but my primary job is just spending the money. Not this time. In the State of Nevada the Commission on Cultural Affairs hands out money to historic preservation projects within the state every year or so and part of the application is going to Carson City to defend your application in front of the commission. It was a fun process and I got to go see Carson City again which I haven't honestly done in probably 15-20 years. (for all of those interested my presentation went well and we were awarded our grant)

As I prepared for this presentation and as I wandered around the state capitol and participated in the meetings I was able to solidify a thought that's been bumping around my head for a while regarding the culture of my state. Nevada is not a community minded state. Nevadans are friendly enough but we aren't hear to join your HOA or participate in your community whatever. We want to do our thing and be left alone. You can do you're thing as longs it isn't in my face or bothering my thing and we'll be just fine.  For example, I was sitting in a room where a board was handing out $1,000,000 in grant funds for historic preservation project. There were only about only about 10 applicants from around the state. Sure, they did receive more applications than they had money and it's a WONDERFUL program , but given what some state spend on historic preservation this wasn't a huge showing from the application side. I wandered around Carson City and it is such a quaint, typical Nevada town. I love it. Our state capitol building is small, simple (elegant, but simple), not really like anything else you'll find in another state across the country, and we've been a state longer than most western states. No one was really interested in building a huge, domed state capitol up on a prominent hill somewhere.
The governor's mansion sits on a very normal street with very ordinary homes and no HOA.
One part of my presentation pointed out the fact that in all of Nevada there are less than 20 incorporated cities. (to contrast, Wyoming has 99) Our largest county, which is bigger than a good number of states, does not have one single incorporated city in it despite having at least one community with a population near 40,000. My parents have lived in the same house since 1992 and would be hard pressed to pick most of their neighbors out of a line up. Not that they aren't friendly to their neighbors or vise versa, but waving in our neighborhoods is rarely a thing. The point made for my presentation that with so few organized cities in the state and fewer still that managed to get together and construct a substantial city hall that is still in use today the Ely City Hall is a pretty rare building within our state.

I feel like this has become a little rambling: My point being that while I can appreciate these cultural tendencies in my state as well as myself, as I've worked for some community building and public works project that require community buy-in and involvement I've realized that this intrinsically Nevada mentality does have it's drawbacks.
I think this mindset is one of the core things that make Nevada what it is. While I don't think it should be changed I think it could be tempered a bit for the sake of getting a thing or two accomplished. Maybe that would ruin everything, or maybe I'm off my rocker on my whole theory. Any thoughts?


As Far From Germany As I Can Get

When I was pretty young we would make what I recall to be fairly regular visits to Blanding, Utah to visit my great grandparents who lived there. The Four Corners region is an interesting enough place by itself, but my great grandparents made it even better. They lived in an old house on a rise there in town. You could see Ship Rock in New Mexico from their kitchen window. Grandma was a great cook and always had something to eat and more often then not a dessert. She was always anxious to spend time with you and hear what you had to say and then beat you in a game of checkers (she pulled no punches there). Grandpa had a pretty savvy mechanical mind and was always tinkering with something and being the person I am I loved following him around. Grandpa was also an explorer. He always had a Jeep and would take us on adventures to all sorts of places that vehicles shouldn't be able to get to and as a pretty young kid rides with him would terrify me, but I kept going back for more. The Jeep he had when I showed up on the scene was a light tan and brown CJ7.
                                                                 Me and my brother and the Jeep.

I loved that thing. I'd sit in the driver seat and beg to be taken somewhere. Even after grandpa died I would beg my dad to go and ask grandma for the keys so he could take my brother and I out in it. It wasn't too many years after that when my mom's cousins bought the Jeep from grandma (who didn't drive it at all) and that's the last I saw of it. Fast forward a decade or two (let's not count how many) and I hear that my mom's cousins have quit driving the Jeep due to some mechanical problems and that it was sitting under a carport at my Aunt's house in Salt Lake. I discussed the idea of getting the Jeep with my uncle and we drove up to do some reconnaissance on the situation. The Jeep had been lifted, backed into a thing or two by the looks of it, and had some extensive rust starting to take hold.

Now my mom's cousins family has a gene that seems to make them hold onto things. They just don't tend to part with stuff especially family relevant items. Knowing that and looking at the work it would take to make the Jeep whole I hummed and hawed a awhile and finally about 2 years ago I worked up the courage to call my mom's cousins and ask about grandpa's Jeep. They hummed and hawed and said they'd think about it and get back to me. A few week ago they finally called back and said if I wanted the Jeep that I could come and get it provided that I grant them 24 hours of visitation each year. I asked how much they wanted for it and they responded with a sentimental,"we think grandpa would like you to have the Jeep." (I think they were slightly suspicious that they might not get much for it anyway.) At any rate it was a nice thing to say and a nice thing to offer so before they could change their minds I found a weekend and rounded up a borrowed truck and trailer and went and got it.

Is it German? No. In fact it is an American Motors product. At least it's not a Chrysler, right? It was purchased from a dealership called Key American in Albuquerque New Mexico and aside from that has spent it's whole existence in Utah. It has the 258ci Inline 6 cylinder engine and the 5 speed gear box. No other features were ticked on the cardex except for the high back front seats from the Laredo package and the steal doors and hard top. No radio. No A/C. The Salt Lake winters (where they apparently coat the road in more salt than is humanly imaginable) were not kind to this Jeep from the dry South West. The familial pressure is going to be a little more than I bargained for I think. I mean this Jeep is on my grandpa's tomb stone for crying out loud. It's in a surprising amount of the family artwork too. Am I Jeep person? I apparently am now. My garage mate who is a decidedly staunch Land Cruiser devotee has agreed to tolerate it's presence in our work space. I am apparently going to have to go and find what few standard wrenches that I had and quit using when I got rid of the Blazer. I'm not a generally sentimental person at this point in my life, but there is something about this Jeep. As my garage mate will attest I am also pretty dead set against the naming of vehicles, but for this one I'm going to make an exception. In honor of grandpa this one will be called Lynn.
Welcome to Nevada Lynn.


Magic Moment

I think we can all agree that for the most part life day-to-day can be pretty monotonous. Work, eat, sleep, etc.. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing. I like routine, and if every moment of my day was something new and exciting that would, by definition, become monotonous and commonplace. Thankfully, things are they way the are and life as it is provides for moments that are special and mark themselves in our conscious to the effect that when we look back our minds more keenly recall the magic moments rather than the monotony of the daily routine.

This time of year for me tends to produce some of these moments as nature begins its slow slog out of winter's grip. Every year about this time the railroad museum where I work has what they call a photo shoot weekend. This is where they get out all the equipment, fired it up and photographers come to take pictures of the equipment and yard in various situations and arrangements.
This is one of my favorite things we do at the railroad. Most of the year work for me at the railroad consists of construction and repair projects that are forever linked to low grade emergencies incident to dealing with aging buildings and infrastructure and never enough funds. While the museum is a great place and the projects are always interesting, I probably let it be more commonplace than it should be. (I mean who else gets to try to take a phone call over the sound of a steam whistle?) During the photo shoots I get to see the complex in a completely different light. That obscure building that we spent months restoring gets lit up in the dark and the place comes to life. That rotary snow plow we spent the summer having repaired and repainted is put on the front of a 100 year old steam locomotive, the headlight is lit and it is sent out into the snowy night and the effect is captivating. The new water main and water column we put in one spring is watering tenders of steam locomotives and the scene you see as you look across the yard is no different than one you would see in 1922. I have little to do with the train operations or the photo shoots themselves, but I always make a point to go down during these weekends and watch for bit, because for me the experience is re-energizing and gets me excited about the coming year of projects.

After what seems like months of relentless cold and snow we've had several days of warm (read above 32 degrees) weather. The sun is nice, but we are rarely shorted on that here in the high desert. What I can't wait too see and experience each year is a warm and dry spot of dirt. Thanks to the warmer days as I was walking into the engine house at the man door on the south side I noticed it.
I'm not really sure what it about the first spot of dry earth, I mean I'm not Noah looking for a place to park the ark or anything, but it's just so heartening after shoveling snow for weeks and looking at the feet of snow in the back yard, and the glacial snow piles in my parking lot that you know it will all eventually melt away. I must of stood there for at least 30 minutes.

So in short: The work you do is worthwhile and spring is coming.


Warm Winter Wishes

As happens most Januaries as of late (yes, there is a plural form for months) I head to Arizona for a weekend to flee the cold and snow and soak in the sunshine (the car auction that I attend while I'm there is a big reason for going too).

This car auction generally offers around 120 rare, exotic, and/or historically significant cars each year at their event in Scottsdale. Among the lots this year were several Ferrari's from the Tony Shooshani collection, a lot of vintage Porsche that sold for less than usual, and some things from Jerry Seinfeld's garage that I may or may not have touched. So, as you can imagine the population at this shin-dig is mainly comprised of an unreasonable amount of people wearing salmon pants who seem to have more money than sense and then there's me. I'm just there for the fun of it (and austensible to do "market research" [happy to report that the market for Jags is still good but prices for Land Cruisers look a bit soft]). Usually there are one or two vintage Volkswagens that go for an eye-popping amount, but this year there wasn't.

At any rate, one thing I have noticed about the cars at this particular auction is that by-in-large these cars are "restored" and traded like commodities or pieces of art. They aren't really expected to do anything, just sit there and appreciate. I'm not really an expert in any sense regarding most of the types of cars they sell, but I do fell like I know my around a vintage VW or Porsche. And as prices for those cars has skyrocketed over the past few years I've noticed a troubling trend (not on the level of world hunger or anything, just at the level of a personal annoyance so get ready). Let's take an early Porsche 911, say like this one:
Due to the astronomical prices these things command it is now financially feasible to pay someone to restore this car to within an inch of its life. They will obsess about everything from the correct grain and texture of the fake leather on the seats to the proper finish and orientation of the screws that hold the grill trim in place. The paint will,.. be,.... immaculate! However, because the car is now worth anywhere between $100,000 and $300,000 (depending on what you have) it isn't expected to leave the garage. Consequently, they don't spend much time sorting out the worn bushings in the shift linkage. The seats, while clad in the correct material, will have sagging springs and worn foam. The carpet won't be installed quite right to the effect that if you were using the car you'd be annoyed at how it keeps lifting and getting bunched up under the pedals. In short, while the car looks amazing, everything that would make it truly enjoyable to drive after you've spent some $60,000 on a restoration hasn't really been tended to. Furthermore, German cars do not weather well in storage. To be kept running properly and reliably they need to be driven regularly. The only thing worse than a German car that hasn't been maintained is one that has done nothing but sit. So these beautiful cars (now portfolio diversification ventures) get bought up by the next owner wearing salmon pants and if they're lucky get started to drive on and off the transport truck and into another garage somewhere until it's time for them to change hands again. Meanwhile, I cannot afford to save one. I can't get behind that.

On a happier note, due to the horrific storm that was raging back in Nevada, rather than come home on Sunday I took a nap on a lounge chair in the 70 degree sunshine and proceeded to nap until Tuesday when the roads and skies were finally clear enough to make the trip. I did eventually have to come home to this though:
Still digging things out, but at least the sun is shining! Thanks winter......