The Iron Horse

For folks accustomed to Percherons and Clydesdales pulling heavy loads, steam-powered locomotives were the “Iron Horse.”  Draft teams did not shoot black smoke from their ears nor steam from under hoof, but for those who experienced both, the metaphor worked.

Maybe once a year, Mama and Daddy squeezed little sister Judy and me onto a blanket covered wooden box behind the seat of a forty-one Chevy coupe.  After battling the serpentine, rutted, mud-holed “road” up Indian Canyon, over Daniel’s Summit, and down to Price, Daddy delivered his brood to Grandma’s house in Ferron.

On one jarring dusty adventure, I first experience a massive, black, steel stallion with black smoke blasting straight up, dark pony-tail trailing over a chain of cars, steam jets shrouding its great steel wheels, and the relentless, chug-chug-chug of steel pistons forcing steels rims over steel rails: my first Iron Horse!  We waved at the seeming out-of-place man, his arm resting on the sill of a tiny window, who reigned and braked the great metal animal.  He waved back, once grasping his hands overhead.  Daddy said, seeing human life along those lonesome tracks snaking from Duchesne to Helper, the man in the little window feel happy.

Fact was, he was not alone.  A Fireman stoked coal into the furnace.  And far back at the end the Iron Horse pulled a cabin on wheels, a caboose with a crows nest where a brakeman kept an eye on things from behind.  Think on being a brakeman, in winter, Topeka to Denver say, back there all alone all night.  Not much to  see, even in daylight.  A small, wood burning stove to keep warm.  No TV, no cell, no telephone.  No space to jog or walk.  Did he read or just sit and gaze at the prairie, wait six hours to hop down, set the brakes and wave his red lantern?  If each of us spent half-an-hour a day like a brakeman alone his little cabin, humankind would be better off.

Decades later, our Wasilla house was across the highway from the railroad.  On hearing that sound, baby Marty’s first words were, “Chu, chu.”  Karen would pick her up to wave at the man in the little window.  He’d wave back.

My first train ride was a nineteen-fifties analogue of First Class air, a “Streamliner,” the California Zephyr!  Teenagers, Stewart, Howard, Kent and I, boarded in Price before daylight.  With subdued lighting, etched-glass panels at each end of each car, plush seats, little water fountains with little paper cups, the Zephyr’s opulence remained unimagined across the poor, parched farm country of Emery County.

The passengers were sleeping.  Only the conductor was awake.  Conductors never slept.  Rumor had it Streamliner Conductors were not born.  They were assembled in railroad shops, complete with a black, pill-box cap, silver “Denver and Rio Grande” or “Santa Fe” above its short beak, back or dark-blue uniform, ticket-puncher in a leather case on their belt and the steely-eyed authority a Marine Drill Sergeant, a Conductor was shipped with each twenty-five passenger coaches.

The California Zephyr Conductor tolerated adolescent boys on his train with the forbearance of an Orkin Man finding under-the-sink roaches.

In ten minutes we stopped in Helper.  A rail junction at the mouth of Price Canyon, Helper was distinguished for its whorehouse and “helper” engines to pull coal laden gondolas to Soldier Summit where they coasted the hundred miles to U.S. Steel’s plant on Utah Lake.  A rhythmic click-a-click, click-a-click, click-a-click and whisper of steel wheels on steel rails under foot, we started up Price Canyon.   Swaying side-to-side, holding onto seat-back in a carnival-like ride, dodging the Conductor, we made uncalled-for trips through the cars to the water cooler and tiny restroom.  Then it was down Spanish Fork Canyon and on to equally exotic adventures in Salt Lake City.

Karen and I took Amtrak from Portland, Oregon, to the Gulf and New England.  For extra bucks, a tiny “sleeper” affords comfort.  Amtrak feels safe and stress-free.  In our sleeper, the dining or lounge car, day and night, we sat and watched America’s forest, fields, mountains, meadows, shacks, homes and downtowns pass.

Freeway traffic and mobs in airline terminals worry me.  What’s the rush?  Battling traffic Karen famously said, “Why are we in such a hurry?  We’re all going to the same place, and we’ll all get there.”  Life would better if more of us traveled by Amtrak.  The world would be better if, instead of cutting its funding, President Trump took a four-day Amtrak ride across his country.  I’d pay for a sleeper.

At the gym I met Walter, a retired locomotive engineer.  What a privilege!  Are they still called “Engineers”?  I’ll ask.  I guess anyone who operates an engine an engineer.  Walter tells me today’s freight trains, even the really long ones with engines in the middle or pushing behind, are operated by one little man—or maybe woman.  It’s odd how little different from the lonesome little man in the window of an Iron Horse over half-a-century back, except now no fireman, no brakeman.

We waved at the man at the little window of an Iron Horse.  Today I don’t.  I’d like to but today’s streamliners have a tinted engineer’s window high up front.  I can’t to see anyone inside.

With self-driving cars and trucks, self-driving locomotives must be slated.  Maybe they already are.  Will Walter’s gang follow Percheron and Clydesdale hostlers into the abyss of history?

Will it end there?  We have drone aircraft.  Self-flying airliners?  Would you fly Continental of Delta without a pilot?  Machines don’t have a “self,” which for me, means a mind, not necessarily a brain, but something making decisions based in human feelings, values and judgment.  I don’t trust “self-driving” anything.

We lost something important when we scrapped the Iron Horse for six-lane freeways, grid-lock and jumbo jets.   Engineers at their little windows, firemen and brakeman signified something hard to put in words.  When the last one retired or was canned, humankind lost something significant.

When we scrapped the last Iron Horse we scarped something important.  There was something good about rocking and swaying up Price canyon before daylight in the California Zephyr, the click-a-click, click-a-click, the whisper of steel wheels under foot, the robotic Conductor, the trees, utility poles, farms, homes and towns darting past windows.  As I’ve written before, now age eighty-two, I see what it was.


Vaping is a Machiavellian assault on public health.  For me, it is impossible grasp the rationalization of non-sociopaths, inventing and marketing products intended to force toxic chemicals into human lungs.  A seeming absence of moral and ethical concern in those who aggressively markets such devices defies comprehension.

Of course, as always in the for-profit marketplace, it goes to the  “the bottom line,” the sine qua non, the sole goal of Capitalism: financial profit!  Anyone who denies this does not understand Capitalism, does not believe in Capitalism, or lies.  “Business ethics,” a definitive oxymoron: pointedly foolish.

Drugs—“dregs” from the bottom of the barrel—were here from the get-go.  Neanderthals had ‘em.  After tasting the odd leaf, berry or bug, if a caveman didn’t double up with cramps, puke or drop dead, it might became food or medicine.  Finding that certain organics and minerals alleviate physical pain and sometimes induce transcendent mental states, humankind tested and tweaked innumerable concoctions with scant concern for undesirable consequence.

As unfortunate and tragic outcomes became apparent, concerns for individual and communal health lead to monitoring, regulating and sometimes banning the use of certain products.  Today, science studies, tests and certifies “safe and effective” medicines.  The Federal Food and Drug Administration monitors and regulates what we eat, drink and ingest.  Medications are “prescribed” and dispensed by qualified professionals.

It doesn’t stop with food and drugs.  For the “common good,” from oil tankers to insecticides, air pollution to baby powder, canned corn to jet fuel we monitor and regulate.  We’re licensed to drive a vehicle or pilot an airplane.  We obey speed limits, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and stop signs.  The Occupational Health and Safety Administration protects workers from “on the job” injury or death.  The FAA assures aircraft don’t crash into mountains or each other.

Because we care about health and life we don’t build platforms on bridges and high-rise buildings to facilitate suicide! Knife makers don’t market “Wrist Slashers.” Restaurants don’t feature poisonous mushrooms.  And yet some entrepreneurs are free to create and market products potentially as destructive or lethal.

The vaping industry holds that using steam to introduce nicotine and other chemical into human lungs dodges the destructive impacts of tobacco smoke.  Trade hot toxic smoke for hot toxic vapor?  Now that’s progress!  With the burgeoning numbers of hospitalizations and deaths related to vaping, they argue that bootleg THC is the culprit.  No!  THC, no THC, it doesn’t matter.  It’s hot, toxic gasses in human lungs stupid!

Vaping is a game changer.  In our quest for food and potions, humankind groped through a dark forest, rarely guessing what waited around the next turn.  A Fairy Garden?  A Fire Belching Dragon?  Vaping followed a straight, paved, well-lit path to a door with a neon sign, “DANGER – Don’t go here!” above.  They went in, finding ER’s, hospital beds and funeral chapels.

The Madness of King Donald

From a rational mind it would be hyperbole.  Tragically, it’s neither!

Following are a few more florid instances from Donald Trump‘s containing barrage of delusion and bald-faced lies.  Too lazy to look up precise quotes, most are close enough.

Regarding delusions and lies: I view President Trump’s lies as made-up-on-the-spot, shoot-from-the-hip, fire-ready-aim assertions his poor handlers are compelled quickly to “walk back.”  His delusions are calculated pronouncements revealing a fundamental failure to grasp reality.  His lies can be maddening; his delusions are alarming!

Sorting The Donald’s delusions and lies is a challenge.  Many of his verbal ramblings appear as, often are, what I call delusion/lie hybrids.

  1. Obama tapped my phone.
  2. Despite even Republican failing to find facts to support his claim, Hillary’s crimes are “worse than Watergate.”
  3. Attendance at my inauguration was one of the largest ever.  Photos reveal a different reality.
  4. Mexico will pay for the wall.
  5. I am a stable genius.
  6. Donald’s dad, Fred, was born in a “very wonderful place in Germany.” Trump senior first drew breath in the Bronx.
  7. Despite irrefutable scientific proof it’s real, in cahoots with Big Energy Trump still  insists global warning is a hoax.
  8. America’s military has not had a pay raise in ten years. It has, every year.
  9. Evolving, conflicting, muddled explanations for why he fired FBI Director James Comey.
  10. President Obama’s administration “begged for a meeting” with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.  No one, inside or outside Barrack’s administration, ever heard of this.
  11. Proposing to buy Greenland—apparently from Denmark—a self-governing island not for sale.
  12. I am “King of Israel . .  .  the chosen one.”
  13. Thinking of giving himself a Medal of Honor: “awarded to recognize U.S. military service members who have distinguished themselves by acts of valor”* (my emphasis) Narcissism on steroids!
  14. He has as an “absolute right” to order American companies out of China. Kings do Donald.  Despite the delusion, you don’t.

And the beat goes on, and the beat goes on.  Will it never end?


Something Light

Karen said, “Write something light.”

At a class reunion Pete Jones shared this.  I take minimal license in the retelling.

Harry was in hospital with a fractured skull.

Pal Ben came to visit.  “Hey buddy!  Cracked the ol’ bean?  What happened?”

“Well Benny,” the patient hesitated, “it’s kinda fuzzy.  I went to church like always.”

Ben nodded.

“The pews was all took up.  So Usher Jim told me go sit up front with Pastor Mike and Deacons,” Harry looked up, “Like when they ain’t enough seats?”

A second nod.

“I was right behind the pulpit,” his head shifted slowly side-to-side, “with that big Bible?”

“The big Bible!”

“After the prayer,” the patient hesitated, “Miss Philips stood up, right in front of me, to lead the hymn.”

Ben saluted, “Colonel Broad Bottom.”

Harry went on.  “She was .  .  .  a arms-length away.  And I seen where her skirt was, you know  .  .  .  tucked in?  She had this little wedgie.”

His friend’s expression shifted from amused to concerned. “Okay?”

The man in the bed looked up.  “Well  .  .  .  it looked .  .  .  you know, uncomfortable!  Pastor Mike and the Deacons seein’ it.  So I just,” his hand raised, “reached  .  .  .”

Ben’s gaze shot to the ceiling.  “No!”

“And pulled ‘er out.  Well Miss Philips looked around,” appearing astonished, “Benny, on the farm, three years in the Army, ain’t nobody ever look at me like that!”

Ben shook his head.

Harry continued.  “By the second verse a that hymn I got to thinkin’.  Maybe it’s supposed to be like that; maybe it’s the style,” his hand raised.

A more emphatic, “No!”

“So I just, you know, tucked ‘er back in?”  The patient looked up.  “Last I seen Benny, is that big ol’ Bible comin’ at my head.”

Out of Fear

I’m puzzled and troubled by President Trump’s calling Congressman Elijah Cumming’s Baltimore district a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”  Looking to shoot the President down, I Googled topics like violent crime, poverty and homelessness in Trump’s home town and Baltimore.  All those numbers made my head hurt—Why The Donald doesn’t bother with facts?  It appears, like New York, Chicago and L.A., Baltimore experiences it’s fair share of headaches and heartaches, sometimes more, sometimes less.

So what triggered this latest in Trump’s litany of insult and slander?  Of course, his egregious, un-called-for attack on Baltimore is not about rats or livability.  The Donald’s most recent temper tantrum arose from the taproot of anger, fear!

Perceived threat triggers the “flight or fight” response in our reptilian brain.  We run or attack.  Our back to the wall, we strike with any and all means available. When “civil” protocol precludes physical assault we insult, besmirch, and castigate; we attack our antagonizer’s character, appearance, home-town, whatever. Those most deranged or desperate shoot up synagogues, mosques, and shopping malls.

Without a “racist bone in (his) body,” despite attacks on one uppity black politician and four smart-assed, non-Caucasian Congresswomen—three native-born, one naturalized, told, “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came”—Donald’s vitriol can’t be rooted in xenophobia.  With a third, glamorous young wife—requisite Rich-Old-Man’s “Arm Candy”—and numerous alleged and paid-off dalliances not misogyny either.

The truth is Elijah Cummings, Ilhan Omar, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Presley harbinger the exponentially growing fact that non-Caucasians and women are high-jacking Trump’s Good-Old-White-Boy’s Power Structure!

But why Congressman Cummings, why now?  As Chairperson of its Committee on Oversight and Reform, “one of the most influential and powerful panels in the House (Congressman Cummings) is one of only three in the House with the authority to issue subpoenas without a committee vote or consultation with the ranking member.”*  As sentiment for impeachment gains traction, Trump is terrified!

The Donald’s not alone.  Sensing their loss of power, a third of white Americans are desperate.  In The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump a white woman is succinct, “I want my country back!”—So would the folks who greeted Columbus sweetheart.

The Fundamentalist’s/Nationalist’s greatest fear is Change.  But it’s here folks.  Change!  Right here in River City!

World History is the history of change, of those holding power losing it: China, Attila the Hun, Ghengis Kahn, the Holy Roman Empire, the British Empire, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution.  Power never lasts!  Never!

If we think white male America can dodge the bullet look to our history.  In 1870, with the abolition of slavery, the Fifteenth Amendment codified “the right of citizens of the United States to vote .  .  .  (without regard to) race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”  Ironically it took fifty years, exactly one century ago, before the Nineteenth Amendment prohibited “denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex.”  Today there’s the real possibility a non-Caucasian woman could become President of the United States of America.  Something the Founding Fathers, bless ‘em, never imagined.

The impetus for Donald Trump’s scurrilous, as usual ill-thought-out and curiously-framed attacks on Baltimore, its black Congressman, blacks as a whole, and non-Caucasian Congresswomen in particular is clear.  Driven by fear, ignoring protocols of civil discourse essential to civil pluralistic government, sensing his back to the wall, a frightened Sixth Grade Bully beats up on and insults individuals and millions down in the trenches, slugging it out day-to-day, doing their best to earn an honest living, raise decent kids, make a better life, city and America.

With burgeoning signs the Old-White-Male establishment is loosing its grip, Donald and cohort are scared, very scared.  Clinging to the greased pole of bigotry, desperately they call out to white racists, Neo-Nazis, and anti-Semitics.  But they can’t hold on, not for long, and not-so-deep inside, they know it.


Googling this I stumbled on Jimmy Fremgen’s, Aug. 1 USA Today Opinion: “Dear President Donald Trump, let me tell you about my ex-boss Elijah Cummings.”  Fremgen experienced the Maryland Congressman as a hard driving, intelligent, honest, ethical, kind man expending every ounce of his strength and strategy to keep his America great.

With rapid-fire firings and resignations, “Acting” bureau and department chiefs—few rational persons want to work for Trump—with reported confusion and chaos in the Oval Office, with bizarre Tweets catching staffers flat-footed, scrambling to cover the Boss’s ass, I wonder who on Donald’s team—beside poor, adoring Kellyann—would describe their President in as laudatory terms?


Border Control

Mexico doesn’t appreciate its power over America.  If Mexico’s government ordered its citizens in America to come home and posted troops on the northern border to keep them there, it could guarantee that within weeks, if not days, the United States would be on its knees, pleading for fruit pickers, poultry and meat plant workers, gardeners, ditch diggers, dishwashers, and hotel maids to work at fair wages, with decent working conditions and health care, doing the essential tasks eighty percent of Americans can’t or won’t do.

I know little of world history.  Somewhere I picked up the impression that Rome’s downfall was triggered in part by lazy citizens relying on slave labor.  If I’m mistaken please correct me.  With Mexicans performing a significant part of the labor in our country and companies exporting jobs to sweatshops in China, Mexico and India, are we following in Rome’s footprints?

NRA . . . Again

On viewing the National Rifle Association’s stubborn opposition to reasonable firearms control—which seventy percent of Americans want—as a significant factor behind the now-weekly church and shopping mall massacres, could some frightened, angry citizen grab his AK47, charge into NRA headquarters, and blaze away?

Happily it can’t happen because individuals who would perpetrate such carnage are gun totin’ folks who, even oblivious to the NRA, tacitly support and facilitate its beliefs.