Having been a fireman & machinist for Southern Pacific, our neighbor Severn is incredibly well connected to folks dedicated to railroad preservation, and his skills remain in high demand.
On Saturday we were delighted to accept his invitation to drive up to Napa, where a team of volunteers devote many hours per week to restoring old engines & cars. It was an especially interesting day as the group was firing up their 100-year-old steam engine for the first time in many years.
Severn & the whole team were incredibly generous with their time and knowledge, taking us through their numerous old cars. Highlights include a mail car that had been trapped in an avalanche in the 50’s (causing the passengers to have to rip up & burn its flooring to stay warm) and a beautifully restored Art Deco lounge car featuring an amazing round bar.
The real highlight, though, was Henry getting to fire up a pair of the old diesel locomotives on site! Here’s video of the whole process:
Our friend Severn (owner of his own backyard caboose & railway) has been incredibly supportive of Henry’s interest in trains, and a couple of weeks ago he bestowed upon Hen a couple of amazing gifts. First was a real railroad pocketwatch! As you’d expect & as you can see in some pics, he went completely nuts. 😌
Severn also bestowed upon Hen an HO-scale version of the famous Daylight train on which he’d ridden as a kid. With quarantine restrictions easing, we were able to take it on a spin at Silicon Valley Lines on Thursday, and the two of us teamed up to capture a gallery of photos and videos.
Henry is, as he’d be the first to tell you, one very lucky young engineer—and I’m lucky to get to be his wingman in all of this. 🚂😌
“Life’s as big as you make it,” I’ve often told the boys—so as much as I didn’t want to sign up for 4+ hours of driving on the spur of the moment Saturday, how could I turn down Henry’s suggestion that we do a little father-son Miata road trip to photograph the abandoned nuclear power plant up near Sacramento?
Hen, I should note, has a real fascination with the Chernobyl disaster (the 35th anniversary of which, we didn’t realize until later, was on Monday), up to the point of having watched the gripping HBO miniseries—at least until it got really dark.
Not content to be left out of adventurous blog posts, Finn and I made a Spring Break sojourn up to Seattle. Since Hen and John had their big Route 66 Miata adventure, we figured we should schedule our own trip and have some adventures of our own! Initially Finn had suggested going to Yellowstone NP, but it’s still winter up there in the high country, and many of the roads and attractions are still closed for the season. We decided to go to Seattle instead, and make it a mixture of sightseeing, seeing old friends, and visiting favorite some of my favorite places in the city.
We spent 6 wonderful days up there, in a little apartment we rented for the week. It was perfect – smack in the middle of Capitol Hill (my old neighborhood), surrounded by terrific restaurants, coffee shops, eccentric residents, graffiti, kooky shops and galleries, and street art. It was the perfect crash pad for our adventures and enabled easy coming and going from all parts of town. Best of all, and amazingly, the sun shone brightly the entire week of our visit – literally not a cloud in the sky the entire week. It was crazy, and I told Finn that Seattle was lying to him – it’s never sunny for a week straight in April. We also happened to arrive during the absolute peak of cherry blossom season and were blown away by the gorgeous flowering trees.
I, of course, was thrilled at the prospect of seeing several of my Seattle friends during the week. I really felt a lot of love – I got to see different friends almost every day of the week! Finn lucked out, too, as one of his good friends from middle school, had moved to Olympia during the pandemic – and we were able to find some time for the two of them to hang out. They were both so excited to see each other, and spent the next three or so hours on a long hike outdoors, chatting and joking the whole time. Another friend of his, from preschool and elementary school days, also lives on Bainbridge Island, so we spent an afternoon hanging out with him and his family, eating burritos on the shore and watching otters play.
Here’s a gallery of photos from our week. We covered a lot of ground! From Volunteer Park, to the Pike Market, the Arboretum & Japanese Garden, Bainbridge Island, Seward Park, Mountlake Terrace, Fremont’s troll and Lenin statues, Ballard & Golden Gardens beach, Archie McPhee’s in Wallingford, Red Mill Burger in Phinney Ridge, The Chihuly Glass Garden and the SAM Sculpture Park, and all points in between. Finn was a big fan of all the little restaurants and coffee shops, Top Pot Donuts and Via Tribunale Pizza. He also loved how green everything is, and how Seattle is so multidimensional – the huge hills, canals, lakes and seashore, distant mountains, and city streets. It was so fun for me to show him my “hometown” and take him to so many of my favorite places. We had a terrific time and were sad it came to an end so quickly, but we’ll most certainly be back.
In the morning we were eating at the cool train-based McDonald’s when a train (BNSF) started going by very slowly and quietly. It was either the second or third locomotive that was an old Dash 9 Santa Fe warbonnet.
I attended school from a motel on Route 66, which was a Motel 6, and right next door, there was a “Motel 7.”
We cruised top-down on 66 and turned onto the soon-to-be demolished 100-year-old bridge over the train yard., next to the old Santa Fe Harvey House. We got off the bridge and parked around the outdoor train museum for a while.
From there we drove to Tehachapi, remarking on 20 Mule Team Road, looking at the airplane storage area, and talking about the Carter Administration and Iran.
In Tehachapi we ate at the Burger Spot & got out of there. After Bakersfield, we stopped at a Shell station to try to clean all the melted Rolos off the floor.
After that, the only interesting thing was seeing all the red & white stripey silos in orchards. That concludes our awesome adventure, but our Miata adventures have just begun! 😉
On Sunday Henry & I arose early and braced ourselves for what was to be the longest leg of our trip—just over ten hours in the MZ! I’ll pass the mic to Hen to narrate the whole day:
Albuquerque, NM: In the morning, we cruised over to the train station with our Breaking Bad Lego minifigs (courtesy of cousin Tony) for pics.
Hovering over the skyline were hot air balloons. At the gas station, we bought a very, very cheaply made neck pillow that immediately sprang a leak. We traded it in for another neck pillow, which was a combination monkey-wiener dog!
After a while, we stopped at the Petrified Forest visitor center, where we met some cool Illinoisans.
After that, we stopped at the Painted Desert Trading Post, which had lots of cool old teepees and dinosaurs. This store was on old 66, which was basically cut of road that was next to I-40.
Next, we stopped in Holbrook, AZ, at the Wigwam Motel. (Side note: this was the real-life inspiration for the Cozy Cones in the movie Cars!) Outside the teepees, they had lots of cool old cars such as a rusty old tow truck labeled “Tow Mater’s Grandfather.”
Come take a spin with us!
Later, we stopped by Flagstaff, AZ, to see what we think is the westernmost Culver’s, as well as their cool old locomotive.
When entering Kingman, we were following an intermodal train. Next, we went to Mr. D’z, a wonderful 50’s diner. Next, we went to see their big Santa Fe 4-8-4 steam locomotive, #3759, and some old cars all along Route 66. Across 66 was the visitors center (the ex power plant) and the train lines. It was almost completely dark, so their cool neon sign lit up.
After loading up on milkshakes, we faced down a final three (!) hours of driving. My little “R2 unit” Hen thankfully conked out while I powered us through all the way to California.
Henry was such an energetic scribe/wingman that I get to pass the mic to him for most of this update. 😌 Here’s how he recorded things in our journal (Hen text indented throughout, mine regular):
After Cadillacs we ate an excellent lunch of fried chicken and gravy. While we were there, someone began the challenge of eating the famous 72oz. steak in an hour.
After that we went to the Amarillo Train Museum, which had a model railroad and lots of equipment from the nuclear weapons disassembly plant’s train (three guard cars, electric buffer cars, a car to carry bombs, and a helium car).
You know who’d love to take you on a narrated 15-minute tour inside, outside, and on top of those trains? Why Henry Nack, of course. Take ‘er away, Hen:
In Amarillo we saw a Santa Fe steam engine—the prototype #5000—and five BNSF locos in H1 paint schemes.
After finally getting our fill of the museum & city, we headed west once again, hoping to grab lunch at the Midpoint Cafe in Adrian, TX (population 166). Well, good news/bad news: it’s hard to find a living soul there, much less an open restaurant, but the antique ruins are fun to explore:
We were trying to find the Midpoint Cafe, but instead we found an abandoned Phillips 66 station with an old Coke machine, vintage gas pumps and signs, and most importantly, a very cool Texas farm route sign, which is in the Miata as I write!
All was well until we grabbed that sign. As we were somehow finagling it into the Miata, an ominous white pickup truck started running slow laps on the road in front of the service station—and the afternoon took a turn I can only describe as “Murder-y.”
We hightailed it out of there as fast as the old car would carry us, and I swear for the next hour on the freeway, I kept nervously checking the rear view mirror, honestly expecting a Mad Max-style pickup truck full of hooting, pipe-wielding yokels to speed up on us. 😬 Thankfully that never happened, of course—and Hen and I had a good chat about following one’s gut and not taking things without permission, even if they seem long abandoned.
So, moving right on…
While going to Tucumcari, NM, we were in the endless fields of wind turbines. We found an enormous pile of their blades!
When we arrived, I started to notice all the abandoned gas stations, motels, etc. on Route 66 (acting as the Main Street). But, I also noticed all the cool historical motels and gas stations. We stopped at Teepee Curios and got some cool stuff.
We took the clerk’s advice to eat at a restaurant down the street, which had a fake cow on the sign. In Tucumcari I noticed the sign for the Blue Swallow Motel. You may ask why this is so special, and it is because I saw the sign on one of my many postcards. While leaving we saw another scene from one of my postcards.
And with that, we settled into our final 3-hour (!) drive of the day:
We saw several trains and many mesas. We also saw a huge truck wreck on the median, where there was merchandise thrown everywhere & one of the trailers was mangled. While writing this I had my head down, and dad joked that I was a prairie dog, and I was gonna be served up as “chicken”!
Given how late we’d rolled in the night before, I thought that Hen might want to lag a bit in the morning—but given the prospect of catching sunrise at the famous Cadillac Ranch art installation, he was up and raring to go!
We swung by a Home Depot to grab some spray paint, then booked it to the outskirts of town. Upon our arrival, Henry was so excited that he went running out ahead of me.
Just as you’d guess, he went right to work applying his “HSN 2021” monogram, then inserting a few salty modifications to pro-Trump remarks we found. 😛
After dropping our half-used cans of spray paint (our gift to the next wave of visiting artists), we headed back to the Big Texan for some biscuits & gravy, then off to see atomic trains; next post coming soon!
The crazy thing about trying to recount our trip, I’ve come to realize, is that on each day we packed so much in—as many adventures as could usually fill a whole series of blog posts and galleries—that it’s all a bit overwhelming to gather, recount, and relive. But what the heck, let’s give it a shot. 😌
To start us out, Henry writes,
We stayed the night in Chandler, OK, in the Lincoln Motel, which was right on Route 66. In the morning we visited the “Route 66 Interpretive Center.” We also visited an old Phillips 66 gas station.
After fueling up at a fun 50’s-themed diner & scoring a few Legos at the thrift store in Chandler, we dropped the top for our first real time cruising down Route 66. Check it out!
We stopped off at a neat motorcycle museum in Seaba Station, followed by the famous Round Barn in Arcadia:
Here, join us for an epic spin around the barn! Tap the video below to play:
From there, Hen writes, “We went to Oklahoma City and went to the awesome train museum (with a Frisco F-unit).”
Of course no trip to Oklahoma would be complete without “cooling off” at Braum’s Ice Cream, which Hen & I cheerfully did following our museum visit. Afterwards, Hen writes,
On the way to Amarillo we visited Slug Bug Ranch, which had a handful of VW Beetles dug into the ground next to some abandoned (spray-paint-covered) gas & motel buildings.
We stayed at the Big Texan hotel/restaurant, and we slept in an awesome cowboy/wild-west-themed room.
We like to think that the Miata met its big, longhorn-sporting brother. 🥰
And with that, we fell asleep, as exhausted as you must be reading this & seeing all the photos!
We awoke early in Kansas City to ensure that we could score ourselves a helping of Maria’s infamously delicious Bready Magic, after which she accompanied us to KC’s historic & beautifully restored Union Station.
Much to everyone’s delight, the station is packed not just with historical artifacts, but with enormous model train displays—some of them Lego!
When we’d finally gotten our fill (okay, most like a taste—but time was a factor), we headed to an early lunch. As you’d imagine, Henry enjoyed the one-of-a-kind burger-delivery system at Fritz’s Kansas City! Check it out:
After hugging it out with Maria, we hit the road for Tulsa, eager to arrive in time to check out Buck Atom’s—a “Cosmic Curio” shop right on Route 66 run by Margot’s high school classmate. Loaded with ironic midcentury ephemera & guarded by the enormous Buck, it did not disappoint:
Here’s a draggable 360º view:
Having scored a couple of “Oklahoma Route 66 Passports,” gotten them stamped, and loaded up on fun gifts, we rolled back up 66 for a real treat—getting to see our dear friends the Swiney’s for the first time in 20+ years!
It was amazing to catch up with Mr. & Mrs. Swiney, Quin, Mick, and Mick’s wife Veronika (with whom I swapped tales of being pleasantly traumatized on our first meetings with the full Swiney brood 😛). Afterwards Mrs. S. pronounced Hen “hilarious.”
Our two hours together felt like 20 minutes, but we had to press on in order to maintain our pace. Thus we closed out the day an hour’s drive later in Chandler, OK—setting the stage of the next morning’s exploration.
“The journey of 2,000 miles begins with a single tiny roadster,” I think the old saying goes. 😌 Whatever the case, after getting Miata fully spiffed & packed, Henry and I set out on our epic journey on Wednesday, March 24.
Besides being an excellent wingman, Hen’s also a great documenter of our travels, both via camera & the written word. You can check out the gallery of shots we took together, and as for narrative, I’ll pass the mic to Hen, as captured in the little leather-bound notebook we picked up at our first stop.
“We drove to Le Claire, Iowa, and visited the American Pickers store. We bought some typeform and stickers.
I (Henry) was observing silos on the way to Iowa 80, the world’s largest truck stop. I had an amazing DQ milkshake, with ice cream, brownies, and Oreos, too! Iowa 80 had the absolute coolest truck museum ever!
I saw some interesting truckloads there, such as a trailer carrying four teardrop trailers, two trucks with half-assembled combines, trucks carrying parts of silos, and… TWO HUGE TRUCKS CARRYING WIND TURBINE BLADES! We drove across four states in seven hours.
Also, we ate Kansas City BBQ at Joe’s Gas Station with Maria.
Henry & I kicked off our epic road trip by flying to Chicago, then meeting my folks in Rockford. (The Clock Tower Inn is long gone, but the O’Hare shuttle lives forever. 😌) Hen of course made a beeline to set up Uncle Ted’s old Farm Country, Lionel train, and Matchbox collections, and the two of us enjoyed browsing antique stores and knocking back some Canova’s Classic pizza as well as Grandma Nack’s famous pork chops & rice.
A special highlight was getting to see Uncle Ted & his kids. I accompanied him on the tail end of his morning milk run, getting to help wash down the truck before swinging by Weber’s Meats and scoring some cheese curds. Afterwards he picked up Jenna, Austin, and Morgan so that they join us for some epic train times plus hide-and-seek with Henry. “The cousins are so great,” he says. “They’re a disappearing breed of kid that’s not all about video games!”
After driving 2,000+ miles down Route 66 and beyond in six days—the last of which also included getting onboarded at Adobe!—I’ve only just begun to breathe & go through the titanic number of photos and videos that Henry & I captured. I’ll share more good stuff soon, but in the meantime you might get a kick (heh) out of this little vid, captured as we cruised lengths of the old road in Oklahoma & California:
Amidst all the excitement of changing jobs, flying to Illinois, and more, I’ve been remiss in marking Finn’s thirteenth birthday. Happily we weren’t belated in celebrating the day, as you can see in our photo gallery from his big day.
Highlights included getting a pair of cute dog bookends that have been in Grandpa Liggett’s family for generations; scoring great new mystery stories (and Sherlock Holmes socks!); getting my old Cranium game from Galena; reeling in the big Lego police station that Henry had requested for his own birthday (but graciously deferred to Finn to get); and dining on a choco-tastic cake from Flower Flour—which was about the size & density of a manhole cover!
Happy B-Day, Finnster. We love you so much, and we can’t wait to see what adventures await.
A few weeks ago, a new pedestrian bridge opened up on the trail that occupies the old path of the railroad that once ran through our neighborhood. I noticed that off to one side, a little garden railway was visible. I took a few long-distance pics for Henry, figuring that that’s about as close as we’d get.
This Tuesday, however, both boys joined me on a walk with Seamus, and Henry—visiting this spot for the first time—decided to get a closer look. As luck would have it, a nice lady named Cathy was out walking her dog—and it turned out to be her house!
Minutes later we found ourselves in the back yard, checking out & even riding the train with Severn, a retired machinist who’s been building up the railroad. Even more amazingly, they have a full-sized caboose in the back yard! 🤯
The dogs played happily while we soaked it all in, swapping all kinds of nerdy railroad facts & planning our return visit this Sunday—when we hope to help with the construction of a miniature water tower! It’s like we’ve all died & gone to Henry Heaven. 🥰
Last week’s journey out to Death Valley marks the first time I’ve headed that way without the family or friends. The endless desert drives were made less lonely, however, as I’d reach into my pocket to feel the reassuring jangle of the “Nanonaxx”—little Lego copies of the four of us + Seamy.
Having come into a little Christmas cash, Henry was delighted to find & acquire some Lego “Forestmen” (a Robin Hood-style theme he’d never had). Neighbor kid Nathan shares his interest in Lego photography, so last weekend we trucked over to the Santa Cruz mountains for some hiking & shooting—and Lego versions of Finn, Hen, and Seamy came along for the ride! Here’s our gallery from the day.
When some people watch scary movies, they cover their eyes & peer through their fingers. I’m a little like that with Notre Dame playoff games, so when Henry asked to head to the beach while the Irish battled Alabama, I didn’t push back.
Thus we spent New Year’s Day on the sand in Aptos, south of Santa Cruz. I was delighted that Hen wanted to keep advancing his Lego photography skills & brought along a handful of swarthy buccaneers to pose in the surf. Check out a little gallery of the getaway.
Our story begins when Henry showed us a video of the Lego designer and the architect who created the most colossal Lego set ever, the Roman Colosseum – over 9,000 pieces! Upon seeing the video, I completely flipped out – I had no idea Lego had created a Colosseum set, and I knew right then that’s what I hoped to get for Christmas 2020.
My loyal and big-hearted boy Henry immediately went to work on making some Christmas magic with John, and they secretly set out to find the set (limited edition!) and give it to me.
Within a few days there was an extremely large wrapped box underneath the tree, and Henry worked hard to cover his tracks when I started playing Twenty Questions. He spooled out an elaborate story about a new Japanese store at the mall called “Clown Town,” telling me that he and John had obtained an amazing hat made of shards of glass, and a huge clown wig. I kept my fingers crossed that it was really the Lego set, and not a giant pair of clown shoes!
You can imagine my glee when I opened the set on Christmas day and it really was what I had hoped. I sent out an SOS to borrow a neighbor’s card table so we had a place to build, and soon enough, Henry and I were set up in the master bedroom with task lighting, two chairs, and dozens of bags full of thousands of Lego bricks. Hen was my right-hand man all the way – after I completed the base, we took turns building the Colosseum itself – which is ingeniously designed into vertical slices that snap together with ball and socket joints.
This set really activated all my nerd buttons: archaeology, Roman history, architecture, and Lego! It really is the best set they’ve ever made, and we had a ball putting it together. You can get a sense of the intricate details and overall design in the photo gallery, which also features Henry’s minifig Egyptian archaeological explorers checking out the ruins. (They are from a different set but had to come check out the scene!) We worked for 5 days in a row, reading up on the Colosseum’s history, and the Roman Empire in general, while also enjoying dumb TV game shows in the background, and just chitchatting the afternoons away. Now that it is finished, Hen and I have had a few “appreciation sesh’s” (as he puts it) just to marvel at our accomplishment and the neat details of the set. It is 2 feet in diameter and warranted its own display table (seriously, we had nowhere to put it that was dog-safe or big enough!). Best. Christmas gift. Ever!