You only turn twelve once, so the dudes & I said YOLO and rang in Hen’s milestone by flying over Leadville at the Top of the Rockies zipline tour. As you can see in our gallery and in the vids below, we had a blast zooming over the railroad tracks and on down the mountain. Check it out!
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:
Check out our rather epic gallery for many more shots.
Finally, after some restorative beer & potato chips (the former for me, the latter for Hen 🙃), we cruised back over the foggy Golden Gate Bridge, then south to San Jose:
“This car is awesome!!” yelled Finn as we zoomed through fog banks & bursts of sunshine en route to Alice’s Restaurant up in the mountains on Saturday. Check out the Miata’s latest topless adventure:
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.
If you haven’t already, please check out the day’s photo gallery before you go. And tune in next time for the conclusion of our epic journey. 😌
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”!
Happily, Hen was not served up as chicken. 😌
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!
Hello, California—we made it!! 🚗💨
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:
Oh man, I cannot believe our luck!
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. 🥰
Check out our photo gallery plus this quick video:
To be continued! 🚂
Continuing our efforts to bring the party to the people, we keep driving the blinged-out Westy around San Jose & points beyond. Last night was no exception as we headed over to Los Gatos to take in their Fantasy of Lights—one of our favorite Christmas traditions. Like last week & last year, my co-pilot Hen hung himself out the window to get the best look, but this time he was content to put down his camera & just enjoy the moments.
Check out our rather trippy video from the event:
2020 is, of course, all about adaptation & flexibility, so San Jose has converted its traditional Christmas in the Park into a driving tour for this year. The five of us (Seamus included!) piled into the car on Friday evening, and after a long wait in line we were rewarded with a gorgeous & festive spectacle. Braving the (relative) cold, Henry hung out the window & captured a nice gallery of images while I made this fun little time-lapse video. Check it out!
Our neighborhood auteurs Henry & Nathan have been back at it, creating some delightful Lego hijinks. Check out how they’ve used my childhood red boat to show how oil tankers & shark-infested waters just don’t mix. 😌🦈
I always used to joke that half the reason I wanted to have kids was so that I could go to the Lego store without feeling like quite such an old weirdo. 😌 Happily, the boys provided many years of Legonic enjoyment.
During the pandemic Hen has really applied himself to the task of “restoring your childhood,” as he puts it. In addition to reconstructing some of my old train & boat sets, he’s lately turned to one of my all-time favorite sets, the King’s Castle from circa 1984. I have such strong, fond memories of asking for it at Christmas, thinking (based on box size as the pile of presents was dwindling) that I hadn’t gotten it, and then GOING OUT OF MY MIND upon realizing that it was to be mine after all.
Check out this set of photos that Henry captured on his own, especially to show off to our cousin Tony (for whom he also narrated a private tour).
In recent days, Hen & our neighbor Nathan have also discovered a shared love of Legos & making stop-motion films. Check out how they put the new-old castle & knights to use this weekend:
Figuring we’d make it three-for-three on aquatic fun, the guys and I (minus Mom & Seamus) headed to Buena Vista with the Wiggii to take on our old favorite rafting spot, Brown’s Canyon (see semi-infamous 2016 outing 😛). While the moms biked on their own & the dogs held down their respective forts, the rest of us plowed right down the rapids, to everyone’s delight—and we even had a guide named Margo! (We’ll forgive the lack of “t.”)
Check out our gallery (featuring clips of Finn & Cyrus plunging off the raft into the not-so-icy waves) plus the video below:
As noted in a previous post, our second day on the road provided Henry with one of his best “railfanning” experiences ever as we encountered an enormous train chugging its way up and over the Tehachapi Loop. Here’s the video he shot that day, showing the train as first we trailed it, then watched it from a scenic overlook, trailed it again from the highway, and finally saw it up close coming through the town of Tehachapi. Enjoy!
One of my favorite childhood memories is that of taking the Amtrak out to Santa Fe, NM, with my parents & cousin Andy Stegman, and a particular highlight was visiting the cliffside dwellings of the indigenous people who’d dwelled in the area. Heading through the Southwest this year, we knew we’d like to introduce the boys to this culture if we could. Happily, Margot knew about Mesa Verde in Colorado.
In this year of Covid & quarantine, it’s not possible to enter the buildings, but we still loved taking in the park’s beauty as we drove among various overlooks from which we could view cliffside dwellings & poke into various excavated pits.
Check out a gallery from our visit.
And, because I can’t resist such things, here’s a crazy little fly-around I did showing Hen & me overlooking the dwellings:
One of Henry’s final assignments for the year was his 5th Grade State Report – which included research, a written report, and a very small “parade float” showcasing the information he learned about the state. Of course, our man chose his favorite state, Utah, meeting point of the Transcontinental Railroad. And, because he is in the bilingual program, all of his material was written and delivered in Spanish.
You’ll see that he included a railroad car and tracks on top of his float, commemorating the link up of the Transcontinental Railroad, as well things like the state flag, seal, and information about wildlife and interesting Utah natives (including Butch Cassidy!).
Here’s the video we recorded and turned in along with the written report.
As we crossed the Golden Gate en route to Petaluma last weekend, my copilot Finn was game to stick my 360º camera out the window of the Westy. I inadvertently set the cam to time-lapse mode, but as luck would have it the results loop perfectly. Check it out!
Much like his big bro did a year earlier, Henry has been dutifully chugging along towards getting his 5th Grade Seal Of Biliteracy. Sadly, with all the quarantine-induced chaos this year, it seemed that that the program would be cancelled. Not to worry, though: Mom-O stepped right up and made Hen a great certificate to enjoy—and later the school reversed itself & said that the’d be giving out the awards after all!
Check out our hijo bilingue showing off his skills!
Talk about being in the right places at the right times: Henry’s recently reaped a double windfall of great train gear needing a good home. First our fellow train club member Les (who’s moving to Wisconsin) provided Hen with a great set of buildings that he added to his existing layout:
And then, when we were attending a club meeting, a gentleman named Mack called in from Gilroy saying that his family was moving & they needed to find a new home for their giant (8’ x 4’!) old train table. After Hen & I drove down to take a look, we rented a U-Haul and spent an entire evening getting it home. Mack & his family could not have been more gracious, and we’re thrilled to give the layout a place of honor in our garage. Check out our photo album plus this quick tour from Hen:
On Saturday Hen & I checked out the Great Train Show in San Jose—something of an annual tradition for us. He’d been saving his money for months & months, and he was delighted to make some great buys of vintage cars & buildings. Here’s a taste he put together for his YouTube channel:
For a fun throwback, check out the tour Hen presented following the show three years ago: