Given the degree to which these days are beginning to resemble the 1930s, it is tempting to take a look back in time. As a railfan (train enthusiast), I tend to filter my view of the past thru the history of the railroads, particularly those of my area...the Pennsy, the Reading, and the Baltimore & Ohio. In the era of stiff competition for lucrative freight routes, market supremacy, technological advancement, and prestige, the Pennsy was dominant...earning it the moniker "Standard Railroad of the World". Of course, the Pennsy didn't have all the firsts (the B&O beat them to electrification, and had the first air-conditioned passenger train) and they didn't always play fair (buying out the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad to hinder the B&O's access to Philadelphia, and by extension, to New Jersey and New York).
Questionable ethics aside, the Pennsy managed to build one of the most impressive railroad networks in the United States, with a system that reached from New York to St. Louis, and from the Great Lakes to the Delmarva Peninsula. Over its history, the Pennsy also rostered some of the most interesting and innovative equipment ever to ride the rails. From steam workhorses like the K4 (a fast passenger hauler) and behemoths like the T1 (featuring two sets of drive wheels) to sleek diesels like the Baldwin Shark and trademark electrics like the long-lived GG1.
So it's not too surprising that 40 years after the Pennsy merged with the New York Central to form the doomed Penn Central, many reminders of the Pennsy's power and influence remain. I am fortunate enough to live in the heart of Pennsy territory, and have been able to capture a wide array of photos that stand in tribute to what was once the Standard Railroad of the World.
I hope you like the pictures that follow.
A pair of restored E8 passenger locomotives leads an excursion consist of Amtrak coaches across the Pennsy-built High Line in Philadelphia.
An aging Septa Silverliner II still wears its Pennsy letterboards in 2008. Seen on Pennsy rails in Narberth PA.
A Pennsy GP9 now shuttles tourists on the Cape May Seashore Lines, once the route to the Jersey shore shared by the Pennsy and the Reading.
A marvel of engineering, Horseshoe Curve (near Altoona PA) still sees brisk freight traffic.
Although most switch towers are automated, Alto in Altoona PA still has a crew.
Suburban Station in Philadelphia still shows its Pennsy heritage.
The station at Lansdowne PA has been restored in detail, right down to its Pennsy keystone.
Afternoons, when the baby naps, I like to go for a drive. This usually entails me grabbing my scanner and camera and taking off in search of some suitably grubby industrial setting in which to photograph trains. Today, however, I found it nearly impossible to get out of my town. The main north-south road has been choked by some sort of infrastructure repair (read as: trumped-up nonsense to keep union contractors busy). So by the time I reached the town limit, 20 minutes had passed, but I headed north anyway.
Then something odd happened. I got as far as the graveyard where my father is buried--a place I pass at least twice a week without giving it a thought--but instead of going straight, I turned right and parked. Although I've only visited the marker a few times since dad's death in 1979, I can always go straight to it without hesitation. It had grown over a bit around the edges, obscuring the "C" in Charles and the "1" in his birth year. At the top left corner of the marker, a tiny yellow flower no larger than a baby's thumbnail stubbornly flung its color into the chilly breeze. The place is nearly unchanged in 30 years. The church and surrounding houses are the same. No malls have burdened the horizon. A faint whisper issues from the few American flags placed lovingly on the graves of veterans.
I knelt in silence, not knowing really why I was there. An atheist staring at a piece of granite. But there was a time, early in my recovery, when I talked to my dad, or his spirit, a lot. It seemed to make more sense than praying. And it was a lot more personal. So that's what I did. Like that stubborn yellow flower flinging its color to anyone who cared to catch it, I released my words into the breeze. There are things I won't share here. But most importantly, I told him how much he'd love his baby granddaughter. And that not a day goes by that I don't miss him. Though if there is someplace after this, he didn't need me to tell him that.
I thought about the impending anniversary of the loss of our boys. Where to put that. How it fits. And wondered how I can ever love autumn, once my favorite season, again.
Then it was time to go. Back to the car. The traffic. The petty insanities of daily life. I pushed the button on the CD player, and Bunny Berigan's trumpet blared back at me.
As a group, Americans are probably among the greediest, both in the contemporary world and throughout the human timeline (with the possible exception of the ancient Romans). What the average American sees as scrimping is a double portion with extra gravy to everyone else in the world. Who else could've come up with the Hummer? And we tend to measure our success as humans in material terms: cars, big-screen TVs, designer labels, club memberships.
But even given that we're the greediest mofo's on the planet, some of the old songs get pretty threadbare. Here are just a few of my favorites... 1. "I shouldn't be penalized (i.e., taxed) for being successful."
Yes, yes you should. Who're we going to tax, the failures? It's called social responsibility. I assume that you don't drive your trash to the landfill yourself. Or if your house is on fire, you don't plan on forming your own bucket brigade. Or if you are robbed, that you don't intend on catching, jailing, and trying the perp yourself. And when you get too old to work, you might like some help with your medical bills. I don't like taxes any more than the next guy, but this idea that we can keep every dime we earn and simultaneously expect a wide range of public services and protections is just silly. Iraq is the first war not financed by a tax increase. It's being financed by a half trillion dollars from the Chinese. And they just might want us to pay that back, with interest. 2. "God wants me to be rich."
There's apparently even a book by this name. Here's what I call it: "spiritualizing our greed." This idea that any possible entity in the sky, whose chief duties are hurling huge clouds of protoplasm through the void, would care if some douchebag in Toledo gets a Beemer is just beyond silly. But it has taken a sad turn in this mortgage crisis. I read an article recently that claimed there is actually a significant demographic in America that believes "God blinded my mortgage lender to my bad credit because He wants me to have this house." I wish I were joking. 3. "If we tax big business, big business will stop taking care of us."
If the ultra-rich were truly the stewards of our economy, most of us would have been living in tarpaper shacks for the last century. Fortunately, they are not. And this idea that they will simply stop investing or building or hiring if they are faced with a few extra percentage points in tax is silly. The rich will do what it takes to make money. And staying out of the game, ensconced in some seaside mansion counting their coins, is NOT hjte most efficient use of their time or assets. Squeezing a few drops of social responsibility from them will not bleed them dry.
As the reality of this recession/depression sinks in, we'll all be cutting back. Fewer entertainment expenses, more supermarket bargains, less recereational driving, more deferred maintenance. It is my sincere hope that in this process we regain or perspective. That we learn to tell the difference between what we earn, what we have by good fortune, what we must sacrifice to be part of a thriving community. The sooner we stop asking "what's in it for me?" and start asking "how can I help?" the sooner we'll get through these hard times.
There are many things to love about the 1930s... the music, the Marx Brothers, Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers, FDR, Joe Louis, Babe Ruth, W.C. Fields, Mae West, newsboy caps, nickel coffee. And then of course there are the not-so-endearing aspects... the poverty, the violence, the racism, strike-breakers, Hoovervilles. Lately, the news headlines have really started to resemble those of the Great Depression. Bank failures, bailouts, government takeovers of financial institutions. The one "silver lining" seems to be that people are too broke to do any recreational driving, so the price of gas at the pump has dropped below $3/gallon.
As in the 30s, people are beginning to turn away from Conservative politicians and are looking to the Left to restore some sense of fairness. And as the Right becomes more desperate, it's attacks on Senator Obama become more reckless, deceptive, and hateful. I will not post links to some of the racist attacks against Senator Obama that I've seen on the net...no need directing any more traffic their way...but I will say that they have crossed the bounds of polite political chiding, smashed the standards of satire, and have descended into the kind of hate-mongering that should make even the thick-skinned political cynic cringe.
I keep thinking of Jackie Robinson in the 1940s, and the sharply focused hate that was directed at him for no reason other than his race. Or of Hank Aaron in the 70s, as he prepared to pass Babe Ruth's home run record. Aaron received thousands of letters a week...many cheering him on, but many containing messages of hate, even death threats. Death threats. If it were not such a horrific comment on the American character, it would be laughable. Aaron, of course, handled the situation with grace. And then laid the Babe's record to rest.
It is this grace that I see in Senator Obama as he presses forward, gaining enthusiastic support in every swing state. Whether Obama can fill the shoes of an FDR remains to be seen. But he offers us the same hope, compassion, commitment, and common sense that have seen us through hard times before.
________________________________________________________________ Slang of the day Iron man: a silver dollar
Well, the Philadelphia Flyers hockey club has apparently been searching for the ultimate hockey mom, and to coincide with the announcement of the contest winner, owner Ed Snider has asked none other than Gov Sarah Palin to drop the puck at the season opener on Oct 11th.
I won't be there but I hope Palin wears a helmet.
This is Philly, after all. Our fans have been known to throw full beers at the opposing coach, and that's when we WIN. With the McCain-Palin ticket trailing by more than 10 percentage points in Pennsylvania (and probably by more than 25 in Philly), this might not be the most welcoming crowd for Palin.
Yo. I'm just sayin'.
Edited to add: Well, all went smoothly. Helped that Palin was never alone out there. Credit to Philly fans tho, no thrown beers. Sadly the Rangers are leading 3-0 in the 1st period.
ELEPHANT #1: With both parties tossing the word "freedom" around like confetti, why is neither talking about a repeal of the Patriot Act? All this freedom talk rings a bit hollow with the Federal Govt listening to our phone calls and noting what books we borrow from our local libraries. I can only hope that if Sen. Obama wins, the Patriot Act will be quietly taken out behind the barn.
ELEPHANT #2: If I hear one more word about the "surge working", I'm going to take the gas pipe. The surge isn't working. What is working is paying Sunni warlords and militias to quietly exterminate the Shia.Not that I have any great sympathy for the Shia. But I do object to Johnny Mac and Caribou Barbie claiming some credit for the decreased street violence in Iraq without telling the truth about the way in which it was achieved.