Our man Hen wasted zero time co-founding—with his new buddy & fellow train nut Peter—the Bellarmine Railroad Club. The boys first met a few months ago at the freshman welcome BBQ when Hen spotted Peter rocking a shirt from the Nevada Northern Railroad where we had our winter photo workshop. The meeting was meant to be, and ever since then, the guys have been planning to inaugurate the club.
Today they hung their shingle at club day and got sixteen sign-ups! Check out a little gallery of the event.
We’re so happy that as of today, we have a pair of Bellarmine Bells in our midst. Henry started his first day of high school while Finn kicked off his sophomore year. Check out a couple shots of our handsome scholars:
Our man Hen reported for duty at San Jose’s annual “Spirit of ’45” tribute to WWII vets and their service. This year he got to run the dog tag creation machine, braving six hours of midday heat while punching out dozens of shiny souvenirs for guests. Having his friend Mandy in attendance was a special treat, and you can see a gallery from the event here.
Greetings from our usual perch at 10,200 ft. in Leadville, where we took in today’s Fourth of July parade before heading over to the airport for some tasty free burgers. Here’s a quick donkey-rich gallery I’m posting before we enjoy some of Uncle James’s BBQ brisket.
It’s also fun to go back through fifteen years’ worth of July Fourth posts (!!) here, covering everything from our first visit with Grandma Nack up through Seamus’s inaugural visit. Seeing the dudes morph in size is quite the trip. 😌
It’s true—the Notorious H.S.N. has emerged victorious from Hoover Middle School & is on his way to high school!
The night before Hen’s ceremony at the SAP Center (aka the Shark Tank), we went out to our favorite Italian restaurant, Palermo, to honor the occasion as well as Margot’s birthday & the successful conclusion of Finn’s first year at Bellarmine.
The next day—Margot’s actual birthday—Hen gathered with his class & walked up to receive his certificate, a lei made of candy, and some congratulatory fist-bumps from pals. And from there it was immediate “wheels up,” as Hen, Seamus, and I departed for the first leg of our summer road trip (more on that as it unfolds!).
After fifteen (!) solid years of updating this blog (1,600+ posts and counting!), we took the last six or so months off. Between work, school, and home, things got too nutty, and we’ve neglected to chronicle everything from birthdays to graduations to epic photo trips.
We’ll work back to fill in the gaps, starting at the present and working back. So, without further ado, I’ll pass the keyboard to Henry to describe our Friday night adventure in Utah!
For some months, I had been looking forward to hunting insulators on my road trip to the national show in Logan, Utah. I had seen a Facebook post from someone hunting on the Utah salt flats, and I figured it would be a very good place to try our new 24-foot extending picker pole.
The first passenger train on the line we hunted departed Salt Lake City heading east on August 20, 1910. We can assume that the pole line was built at a similar time. Insulators were changed out over time, leading to a mix of older and more modern insulators. The Western Pacific merged into the Union Pacific in 1982. The line is currently in U.P. hands. The pole line is now abandoned, with cut and dangling wires.
Ever since we began our trip in California, I had been watching the pole lines on the Union Pacific railroad. We stopped at a few exits along the way, but we did not hunt because the spots were too exposed. It was so tempting, as the poles were so low, but we had to err on the side of caution.
On Friday east of Wendover, just as the sun was starting to set, we saw a pole line on the U.P. from the road and took the exit for Knolls (an uninhabited area for off-roading). We turned onto an unmaintained frontage road which took us right to the tracks and the poles.
We took out our picker stick (a 24-foot painter’s pole with an aluminum V on top wrapped in duct tape) and started down the line.
The sun was setting, so we didn’t have much time. I would say we went about seven poles down the line. We could have hunted for hours! All the insulators had tie wires on still, which made it very easy to spin them, and we took home three.
Henry continues successfully defending his crown as potentially The Luckiest Kid Ever™ 😌.
First, he was invited to visit Fresno to survey & sample from the huge collection of Lou Hall. Lou is the former president of the national insulator club & has been collecting for half a century! He and his lovely wife hosted us for four+ hours, setting up Hen with a great variety of interesting pieces. Thinking of Margot, they even gave us a cute painted snowman made from an insulator!
Afterwards we camped near Exeter, CA (roughly an hour south), where the hosts had previously given Hen some insulators. This time Big Henry (the host) came through with some even bigger glass, plus some hundred-year-old magazines that our Henry saved from being used as kindling (!).
The next day we drove into Exeter for breakfast with collector Dave Brown, who likewise entertained us with his impressive collection (even including insulators embedded underwater in his pool!) and generously provisioned Hen with as many items as our now-sagging Westy could carry. Here’s a gallery from our visits.
Following our return, the ongoing storms continued to wreak havoc on our area, and strong winds toppled a eucalyptus tree that in turn felled a giant electrical tower—narrowly missing our neighbor Severn’s yard! Noticing that repair crews were working around the clock to replace it, Henry & I drove over with our big camera lens. He of course proceeded to chat up the linemen—and they of course were happy to provision him with a bunch of insulators! 🤪
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…” So it’s said of the Postal Service, and so it could be said of this year’s Christmas trip.
Grandpa Liggett had been due to join us in SJ the day after Christmas, but weather & Southwest Airlines had other plans. Happily, he was able to reschedule for a week later, and we made the most of it by using Margot’s new AirBnB credits to book a lovely little place near Monterey, just half a block from the ocean.
Although rain & wind whipped the whole coast during our visit, we were able to get out to favorite sites like the Monterey Bay Aquarium, taking in sights of everything from adorable otters to scary giant Japanese crabs.
The weather made for some spectacular waves, and my photo assistant Henry nervously & vocally deterred me from heading too close to any danger. “Just don’t let my dad get taken by a sneaker wave!” added Margot.
Continuing our theme of sharing tasty holiday leftovers, I’ve gathered up a couple of fun memories from the last month or so.
Towards the end of November, we were delighted to visit nearby History Park & join in the ceremonial relighting of the Stephen’s Meat Products sign. That may not sound like a big deal, and it probably wouldn’t be in most Henry-less households, but our guy loves vintage signage & has long been a fan of the San Jose Signs Project. Until the sign was recently removed to make was for the new Google campus, it cheerfully lit up the sky near our neighborhood. Now it’s been relocated to History Park, and we loved joining the mayor and hundreds of area residents to celebrate the work of local sign- and printmaking artisans—then see “Stephen” dance again!
Then, right before Christmas, our neighbor Severn hosted a lovely backyard party & enlisted Hen to be his sole engineer! Our guy delighted his numerous passengers—including the Sugar Plum Fairy!—until they’d finally run the engine’s battery down to zero. Check out a small gallery plus some video from the event:
Following our lovely Thanksgiving feast, on Friday we loaded up the Westy & set sail for San Luis Obispo & points beyond. SLO is a great little college town we’ve visited a few times (e.g. four years ago at Thanksgiving, and again the next year with “Farmer Seamus“). This year we had a ball fanning out to explore great little shops like Junk Girls before settling in for chow at the irresistibly named Finney’s Pub!
After spending the night in a cabin in nearby Arroyo Grande, we gobbled up some Old West Cinnamon Rolls, then tooled around the charming beachside town of Cayucos, where Hen & I attended an insulator show back in May.
From there we were off to—as Bob Newhart would put it in Elf—”the Show, or The Big Dance”: riding four-wheelers around the dunes of Pismo Beach. Four years ago the four of us hit the beach, and this year Henry, Maria, and I hit the sand while Margot & Finn kept an eye on Seamy.
We capped our evening with a walking tour of the beautiful holiday lights at the SLO Botanical Garden.
Finally, on Sunday, we scored some delicious breakfast, dropped by a historic train depot & railcar diner, and then headed north. Check out our gallery to see the whole excursion.
While the weather is conspiring to keep Grandpa Liggett away from SJ for a few more days than planned, it’s a good time to catch up on some of the many photo memories we neglected to post during our busy last few months. And, of course, leftovers are often the most delicious part of Thanksgiving, so let’s dive in.
This year, like last, our pal Maria flew out from Kansas City to join us. Unlikelast year, happily, the festivities didn’t involve Seamus rubbing himself on a barnacle-encrusted log & then sharing his nauseating scent with us on a long, twisty van ride. 🤪
Instead, we kicked things off by making a whole range of treats—popping corn from Maria’s garden, whipping up deviled eggs & key lime pie, and even sampling weird tree fruit in the neighborhood. Finn & Maria took the Miata out for a spin to Santa Cruz (during which she duly mortified him by brandishing some faux gang signs!), and Hen of course provided copious tours of his latest collections (insulators, Legos, and beyond).
On Thanksgiving itself we took Seamus (who was sporting a shirt while his skin healed up from surgery) over to Los Gatos for a beautiful walk.
Afterwards we chowed down on a terrific feast, and we finally finished things off with a rousing round of Telestrations.
We’ve kept things quite & close to home these last few days—heading over to Vasona Park for our annual tour of the lights, then visiting the little Stone Church for Christmas Eve services, and then staying home on Christmas Day.
Seamus eagerly assisted in the unwrapping (and, unfortunately, in the bacon consumption!), and we felt just as lucky as ever to be able to give & receive so many delightful gifts. Margot & the boys whipped up some delicious breakfast rolls, cheesecake, and finally dinner. It wouldn’t be Christmas around here without some Legos, and everyone pitched in on Mom-O’s Lego botanicals & Hen’s new Galaxy Explorer.
Check out our gallery from the last few days, and stay tuned for more after Grandpa Liggett arrives mañana!
Perhaps needless to say, I’m always thrilled when Finn suggests that we hang out, particularly when that gives us a chance to put the Miata to its best use—squealing tires as we carve up mountain roads en route to Alice’s Restaurant.
Last Wednesday we headed up the hill, glimpsing a truly staggering sunset—an ocean of glowing clouds stretching out to the sea—along the way. Check out my handsome co-pilot (and pilot soon enough!):
After night fell, we kept the top down & recorded a trippy little timelapse en route home. Here’s a 5-second sample:
And if you somehow want the extended version, well, here’s that, too:
San Francisco recently welcome thousands of naval personnel to town for Fleet Week, and I was glad to sneak away from work a bit with Margot & Henry to check out the action.
While they headed over to the de Young’s new Egyptian exhibit, I walked the shoreline, praying for the fog to part. Happily it did, and the city was treated to a thrilling performance from the Blue Angels! Here’s Lego Henry saluting the team in formation, and the full set of pics lives in our gallery
Then on Sunday, Hen & I headed down to Salinas, where we’d enjoyed some airshows in the past. This year featured an aerobatic performance by the incredible F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter:
Hen & I took turns using my big cam, and he caught some beautiful shots of several vintage P-51 fighters flying in formation. Check out our gallery for the whole show.
For the last several months, Henry had last Saturday circled on his calendar, as it was the year’s last scheduled gathering of insulator collectors in our region. That, of course, was not to be missed.
Thus we headed out in the Westy after school, trucking out all the way past Fresno. We camped in dairy country at the ranch of a lovely couple named Frances and Henry, who kindly gave our Hen three insulators from his collection:
Afterwards we grabbed breakfast at a railway cafe that featured cute model trains running around the ceiling. From there we were off to the event, where Hen scored some great deals & got to visit with his old friends. Check out our gallery from the outing.
Oh, and here’s a little draggable 360º pano I captured at dawn with my drone:
After having had the date circled on the calendar for the better part of a year, last week Finn & I finally got to trek to San Francisco to see his favorite band—Gorillaz—perform live on stage at the Chase Center.
The band (comprised of a lead singer, a rotating cast of guest musicians, and four cartoon avatars who perform on the big screen) has been around for 20 or so years, giving Old Man (and Woman) Nack a chance to have enjoyed them before the Finnster was even on this planet. It was fun to move across time & space, connecting with (and over) them now.
Given that the show took place mainly in the dark, we don’t have many photos, but here’s a little gallery of clips in case you want a taste of the copious energy & showmanship.
After rolling into Denver on the Mountaineer, we were delighted to reunite with Margot & Finn (who’d driven down from Leadville), then rest up at our cool hotel just across from the Rockies’ baseball stadium.
From there we were off to Denver’s famous Brown Palace Hotel, an 1892 icon, to celebrate my folks’ 50th anniversary 🎉.
Though the hotel was founded by a Brown unrelated to Leadville’s famous Unsinkable Molly Brown, she did stay there just a week after escaping the Titanic (!). We were happy to add our names to the illustrious guest list, alongside everyone from the Beatles to Bill Clinton.
Dinner was exquisite, as you can see in the gallery. Thank goodness the chocolate truffles are exclusive to the location, as otherwise we’d all be equally round in no time. 😅
Following our great morning in Arches, the big show finally arrived: we boarded the Rocky Mountaineer train in Moab! The train itself (about which Henry could of course provide excessive amounts of detail 😛) was really lovely (clean, spacious, featuring overhead windows), as were all the staff.
Hen of course did his Hen thing, charming the crew by sharing his love of railroad minutiae & insulators:
The ends of the train cars featured neat covered vestibules that let us get some fresh air while shooting photos. I’ll always be grateful that Henry’s quick thinking (and keen observation of telephone poles suddenly disappearing) alerted me to an oncoming tunnel, thereby saving me from smashing Adobe’s new 360º camera into a wall! Here’s the slightly scary footage:
Happily the rest of the two-day excursion was far less dicey, as we wound our way from high desert through gorgeous river valleys:
After a quick overnight in beautiful Glenwood Springs, we arose for Day 2, kicking things off with Henry meeting the train crew & getting their printout of the previous day’s operating instructions:
Honestly it couldn’t have been more perfect, and if you’re ever tempted to make the trip, consider it highly recommended!
We were of course a bit sad that the journey, like all good things, had to come to an end, but it was great to roll into Denver & reunite with Margot and Finn for a great 50th anniversary celebration dinner with my folks. More on that next time!