Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Light from the edge



The light leaked out into the eastern edge of the sky, slowly at first, and then with greater urgency and resolve. It was always like this, but unique every time, too.
Light helped. It relieved the weight of the world he felt, continuous pressure, little things and big, — a weight like someone standing on him with one foot in the middle of his back. He could carry it, but surely, it gets old after a while.
But there it was. Bright, glorious, colorful light — and shadow, revealing the terrain in all it features, texture, intensity, bumps, rises, peaks and valleys.
With camera in hand, he had raced the sunrise all his life. Likewise, he, at times, had lain in waiting, for the sunset. 
In the middle of the day, he tried to work with it, sometimes successfully, but it was just that, work. But around the edges of the day, the light, threads from heaven, worked with him, rather than against.
In the old days of the dark room, as he rolled the grey plastic in a non-touching spiral, emulsion side down, on the wire rolls, and dropped them into the stainless steel canisters, absence of light was important too.  There was power and purpose in the darkness.
Sometimes he missed those simpler times when everything was black and white, or at least only about 256 shades of grey. Then, the light went through a screen that was sucked down over the paper on the vacuum board. In those days, the most pressing requirements were being sure to keep the right side up, or down, or in between. That, and constant metallic feel and taste of D-76 in the back of the throat. Or remembering if it was necessary to push film, shot in available light from basketball game two stops or one, and is it going to be ready in time, or does it need use of the Japan dryer to hit deadline?
There was no need for help, then. His was a solitary existence at times but he never asked for any help and didn’t ever think he would need it. Like the rest of the family, he would never admit he didn’t know something, which was OK for the longest time because, then he could remember things that others could not, like whether or not to push two stops or one, with film shot in available light in a specific gym.
Memory is eventually treacherous, however.
With time, it is susceptible to double-cross. It is shaky ground upon which we are prone to build upon anyway, but can fall away — leaving no foundation underneath. Photos and other important products of the light, like truth and sunshine, seemed more stable.
What’s the answer? A guess maybe, it is to build like a spider instead, sending out strands past furthest ramparts of security, past the comfort zones, into the woods, and sky, and even into the light.
As he probably always suspected, there was comfort, grace, solace — and perhaps even life itself, in the light.
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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink.




A wall of water, described by some as nearly 16-feet high crashed and roared down the debris-strewn South Platte River steam bed on the evening on June 16, 1965. Reports had it taking out, or at least damaging, every bridge along that watershed, all the way the Kansas border and beyond.
Saturated by previous rains, the normally sparse steam flow of East and West Plum Creek, south of Castle Rock, became a raging torrent with microburst rainfall, tornados, and a ripping and roaring water drop, near the Palmer Lake area.
The Weather and Climate Assessment Science Program evaluation estimates, “The rains began to fall on the eastern foothills of Colorado on June 13. During June 13-16, weak frontal systems were present in the Colorado region. Warm, moist air flowed into the state from the south, producing convective storms. Many of these storms were severe and produced large hail and funnel clouds. The storms on June 14-15 occurred in the Greeley-Sterling area, in the Bijou Creek basin southwest of Deer Trail, and in the Colorado Springs area. The rains were generally heavy with reports of damaging hail in some areas, especially around Colorado Springs, on June 14. An unofficial report of 12 inches fell during the night of June 14-15 at a ranch near Rockport, about 36 miles northeast of Fort Collins. A cold front settled into the region and became a stationary front by the morning of June 15.
“By June 16 rainfall amounts increased immensely over much of eastern and southeastern Colorado and the storms turned more violent. The orographic effects of the divide between Colorado Springs and Limon and the divide extending from a point between Trinidad and Raton, New Mexico, generally eastward to the Panhandle of Oklahoma were quite pronounced during the storms of June 16 and 17. Unofficial rain amounts for June 16 in the South Platte basin were unprecedented. Heavy rains, unofficially 5” to 10”, also occurred to the south near Trinidad and a reported 3” to 7” fell in the vicinity of Cripple Creek. The torrential rains continued late into June 17. Rainfall amounts of over 5 inches for the 24-hour period ending in the late afternoon of June 17 were common in the storm area.”Residents of Littleton and metropolitan Denver had little reason to anticipate a flood on Monday afternoon, June 16. Although a rare tornado and severe thunderstorms had hit Loveland a couple of days before, the forecast was for scattered thundershowers typical for a summer afternoon. In fact, it was not even local precipitation which fueled the flood, but a violent cloudburst many miles south near Castle Rock,” according to the Colorado Division of Emergency Management in “Historical Colorado Events.” 
“Police were able to give people in Littleton several hours warning, so they could be evacuated. The first local casualty was the Columbine Country Club southwest of town, whose golf course and luxury homes were devastated. Overland Park golf course north of town suffered a similar fate. In between, Centennial Race Track, which was within days of opening its racing season, had most of its track and stable areas inundated. A massive rescue operation by owners, trainers and jockeys saved some 140 horses. The City's water supply, which consisted mainly of a series of wells along the river, was nearly destroyed. A network of fire hoses run from the nearest Denver outlets provided emergency water for months.”
The Division of Emergency Management describes the toll taken. 
“All told, it was estimated that the damage came to some $540 million, plus 28 persons lost their lives. The state could count itself fortunate that so few citizens were killed in one of Colorado's worst natural disasters because it began in broad daylight and few people were caught without some notice. On the positive side, much of the eastern plains received relief from a three-year drought and farmers made the most of the situation. Plans were quickly finalized and construction began on the Chatfield Dam, being completed in 1972. And with a massive cleanup required all along the South Platte, municipalities began to turn the valley into a beautiful greenbelt which today belies its garbage dump past. The river finally got its respect.” 
According to the City of Littleton’s web site, “As the flood continued north, it was more than just water bashing the countryside -- it now included all the old cars and refrigerators and both old and new debris. This battering ram carried away or destroyed 26 bridges, including every one from Littleton north to the Colfax viaduct. Both Public Service Company power plants along the river were shut down, and emergency circuits became waterlogged and shorted out. As the flood continued north, other tributaries added their weight, Sand Creek and Clear Creek, and further north the Bijou and Little Beaver and the Poudre River. The communities of Sterling, Fort Morgan and Brush became isolated as the waters spread out over a quarter-million acres of farmland.”

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Riding yesterday's 'train of tomorrow' in style



For 21 years and two days, the California Zephyr moved passengers from San Francisco to Chicago in “the train of tomorrow.”

My co-worker at Colorado Press, Laura Higashi and her husband Tom, recall their ride on a just a piece of the Zephyr, the Silver Solarium, as “truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

“When the Silver Solarium, one of the old California Zephyr railcars, left Denver’s Union Station for Glenwood Springs on August 1, 1987, and we were on it,” wrote Higashi. “The railcar’s owners, Nav and Snick Fosse, are the parents of our close friends, hence the invitation to ride."

On the invitation from Fosse for a wine and cheese party on the railcar the day before, it said “For twenty-one years, ending March 1970, this unforgettable stainless steel ‘cruise ship’ ran between Chicago and San Francisco. Owned and operated by three railroads, the Burlington, Rio Grande and Western Pacific, this greatest Zephyr was designed and scheduled for comfort and superb scenery, crossing Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and descending Feather River Canyon in California by daylight. One of the famous tailend cars has now been fully restored to better than new condition by Nav and Snick Fosse of Nashua, Iowa. The Silver Solarium is mechanically compatible to Amtrak’s latest equipment, yet it retains the charm of her famous days in California Zephyr service.”

Born from the Exposition Flyer idea back in late 1930s, and trussed up with the Burlington road’s new revolution in streamlined, diesel-powered passenger trains, came the Burlington's Zephyrs, which the CZ was but one of many. Created from a Partnership between the WP, D&RGW and the Burlington, and the initial orders were placed with Budd Manufacturing Company.

The special train took another leap forward when “C. R. Osborn, General Manager of GM's Electro-Motive Division, riding through Colorado's Glenwood Canyon on Independence Day, 1944, in one of his Company's new diesels, was struck by how dramatic the scenery appeared from his perch in the cab of his F-unit. When a man in his position gets an idea, it gets accomplished, and thus the Vista-Dome car was born. The first was rebuilt from a standard Budd chair car, and was an instant success. GM's Train of Tomorrow touted several of the gleaming beauties on its tour of the country, and soon they became a hallmark of the Burlington's Zephyr fleet,” according to “A History of the California Zephyr,” by John Wilson and Alan Radecki. 


Commonly called “the Silver Lady,” the first train was christened in San Francisco by Eleanor Parker while California Lieutenant Governor Goodwin Knight, Mayor of San Francisco Elmer Robinson, and Western Pacific President Harry A. Mitchell looked on. For the inaugural run in 1949, every female passenger on the train was given a corsage of "silver" and orange orchids that were specially flown in from Hilo, Hawaii. The women who worked as car hostesses on this train were known as "Zephyrettes."

Built in 1948, Silver Solarium ran in service for the original California Zephyr for 20 years until that train was discontinued in 1970. Amtrak purchased the Vista-dome in 1971 and used it for long-distance service until 1980, when it was retired by the arrival of the Superliners. The first private owner purchased the car from Amtrak in 1985. During its lifetime of regular service, Silver Solarium has traveled well over 7 million miles.

Silver Solarium was one of six Dome Sleeper Observation cars originally built for the California Zephyr. These cars were the 'Last Word' in passenger comfort and accommodation, and included a drawing room with shower, a glass-walled cocktail lounge under the dome, an observation lounge in the elegant round end, and of course the Vista-Dome which seated 24 sleeping car passengers, according to CalZephyrRailcar.com.

Literature from the company that now operates railcar charters of the Silver Solarium says, “When Silver Solarium was purchased from Amtrak, it contained neither dome windows nor the observation end windows. Mushrooms and trees were growing inside the car. Many years were spent refurbishing it to the condition you see today.

Silver Solarium received all new mechanical systems, and the Amtrak-mandated overhaul of its trucks, as well as installation of a new electrical system, which operates on power supplied by the locomotive, rather than power stored in batteries.

Silver Solarium is built of stainless steel, including most structural members. Silver Solarium features a depressed floor under the dome. This meant traditional car-building techniques were not feasible. Consequently, major structural loads are cantilevered through the dome structure to make up for the loss of a center sill. The soundness of this design was proven by the manufacturer, when the car was hydraulically squeezed, without deformation, to 1,800,000 pounds of force.”

Silver Solarium is over 85 feet long, 10 feet wide and 15 feet, 10 inches tall above the rails. It carries 500 gallons of water. The car weighs approximately 155,000 pounds. It seats up to 24 passengers at lounge tables in the vista-dome, 11 people in the observation lounge, and has beds for 11. Silver Solarium is home-ported in Oakland, California when not on charter.”

“Because of its historical significance, many photographers were seen on the route as we made our way out of Denver to Glenwood Springs. Mr. Fosse even offered a total stranger, a rail car buff, to join us on the ride to Glenwood Springs. Needless to say, that stranger also had the ride of his life,” says Laura Higashi.

“The curved bar area had a beautiful linoleum sculpture by French artist Pierre Bourdelle, a beautiful baby blue background with white birds adorning it. Every car had a different sculpture around the bar. When Mr. Fosse bought the railcar, the bar picture was covered with carpeting. Imagine the surprise when the carpet was removed and there was the original Bourdelle sculpture!," says Higashi.



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Photos courtesy of Laura Higashi, from 1987 train ride.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Animal awakens on Fridays in November


Outside, even in grade school, I remember marveling at the curved, laminated-wood beams that arched over the guts of the building like a rib cage. It reminded me of an animal, sleeping mostly, on its back, awaiting the buzzer on Friday that would awaken it on a cold, dark, winter night.
Inside then, every five or ten years it seemed, they would tear up the hard wood floor and replace it with a new one. With the periodic tear-up, it amazed me to see the sump pumps that secretly ran below the surface there, silently protecting and endlessly fighting the longest war of seeping dampness. Unchecked, the dreary muck, and primordial ooze, would certainly have crept back in. Built in a swamp, I was told, or the river ran through it. The high school gym was fixture in the town, and its personality was reflected.
It was like Jean Giraudoux’s invisible garment woven around us from our earliest years. It was made of the way we eat, and the way we walk, and the way we greet people. Woven of the tastes, and colors, sounds and perfumes that our senses sported on though childhood.
Sure, the gym was home to difficult afternoons when Bill Estes would maniacally line us up and give all that missed a layup, light swats, for instructional purposes. Violence lived in the running head shots of killer dodgeball games in P.E. classes of the day. And back and forth “suicides” were no fun to anyone.
Ah, but the Friday nights in November, spent in its brightly lit, and unashamedly loud compactness; when the whole town turned out to jam themselves in next to their neighbor on the hard, varnished, bench seats and shuffle their feet though the sticky spots on cement-floor aisles.
They would funnel through one of the double doors early in the evening, along the edge of the steel rails, back toward the plywood ticket shack inside on the edge. Down the cement steps they would lumber, past the door opening to a long narrow hall to concession stand “dungeon,” and file on past the wooden stage, up the steps and on to the other side.
After the JV game, the dungeon would fill with coffee-swilling parent clusters, and teachers, and pixie-stick-crazed younger brothers and sisters would crowd to the front of the opening in the back wall.
“Give me candy, hot dogs, hot cocoa, popcorn, Coke.”
And fulfilled -- they would saunter away carrying precariously, red-and-white, wax-covered, logo-emblazened cups full of the flat, black liquid to spill on the way back to their seats.
Then, as varsity players hit the hardwood for pregame, all would once again funnel back into the belly of the beast, and take our respective positions under the black and white banners of champions past.
At the jump, the gymnasium became a living, breathing thing.
And as the night wore on, and the building warms to the crowd…
Stomp, stomp, stomp —Stomp, stomp, stomp.
In a small voice, tentatively at first:
“I've paid my dues. Time after time. I've done my sentence. But committed no crime…” Eventually working our way into:
We are the Champions. We are the Champions. No time for losers.”
It was enough to make visitors timid and fearful — to cower the whole town of Mancos.
And the show… zebras with whistles, the band, pom-poms, cheerleaders and of course … warriors of the court.
I was never much of a basketball player, but man, that gymnasium was it.
At a very young age, Lynn and James and I, would angle for the opportunity to run the big, six-foot mops over the wood surface at half times. After the games, we would stay late into evenings to help James’ grandfather, Lee Squires, clean the joint — a labor of love.
Later, when I couldn’t stand the thought of missing one of the Friday night worship services, I would volunteer to keep stats, just to be a part.
And I recall the great players through the years, the ball hogs and the hustlers. Coaches that you cussed, losses that would break your heart. Close calls. Near misses. Teams on to state, and rebuilding years. Times when folks silently filed out, orderly, quietly, with hangdog dejectedness, and their heads down all the way to their cars, which were still half in snow banks along the front.
Other times, when the crowds barely able to contain themselves, burst out at the crash bars on the double doors, on to the slick sidewalks and into yard and parking lot, yelling — no screaming, just to keep the place from exploding.
But nothing felt quite like the uneven breath and the restless heart beat of that gymnasium on a Friday night in November.
“When the Dolores Bears fall into line, we’re going win this game …”




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Friday, November 4, 2011

Looking back at history through the viewfinder

History can be cold and sterile or it can offer warmth and understanding. It can be very personal at times. A few years ago, I attended a very interesting program introducing a new book about Estemere Mansion, by my friend Dan Edwards and the owner of the house, Roger Ward. 
Edwards and Ward had a book signing when they finished the book a few years ago at Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts in Palmer Lake for “A Victorian Mansion in the Colorado Rockies: The Estemere Estate at Palmer Lake.” These two take history personally, and I recommend the book and DVD, just from that perspective. 
Though my thought today developed from that presentation, it is not necessarily about the mansion.
In that context, Ward described, in great detail how they relied on a photograph taken in 1893 of Estemere to restore the property during the past decade. The photo revealed mysteries about lions at the steps of the house, the stained glass in the windows, even the light on the porch, and lightning rods on the gables.
The photo was taken by one H.S. (Horace Swartley) Poley.
As some of you know, or have guessed, I have great love for old photos. And in cases, I feel like I have come to know a few of these old shutterbugs from a hundred years ago, or at least their style and work. It is a fascinating bit of time travel for me. I have, of course, seen Poley's stuff before.
He has a famous and exhaustive set of photos of the bull fights in Gillett in 1895. He completed fabulous work in his decades of documenting Southwestern archeology and Native American culture. His train and railroad photography rivals giants of the period, such as William Henry Jackson, Robert Richardson, and Otto Perry.
But who is this character?
I can only give you what I know today. Perhaps, as is the way with digging in the history pile,  I will know more tomorrow. 
"Horace Swartley Poley created a major collection of photographic images of Native Americans in the southwestern United States. Born in Norristown, Pennsylvania in 1864, Poley moved to Colorado in the 1880s and was a resident of Colorado Springs for sixty-two years. Poley started a commercial photo studio in 1892 and remained an active photographer until 1935. In addition to his photographic work, Poley served as head of the U.S. Postal registry department in Colorado Springs. During summer vacations, Poley served as photographer with archaeological expeditions in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and southwest Colorado. He recorded landscapes, cityscapes, and events in the Pikes Peak region of Colorado. Poley was noted for his travelogue lectures employing his images in "magic lantern" shows," from Genealogy.com.
The Denver Public Library obtained the Poley collection in 1937.
But how about a photo of the photographer? What was he like? And his family? Let's try to personalize this.
Well, I got lucky and found the above photo with the following information.
Studio bust portrait of the Poley family. Margret Ferguson Poley has short bangs and wears a pince nez, a blouse and jacket with puffed sleeves and ruffled lace collar with a flower or heart charm. Frank Ferguson Poley has short hair and wears a shirt with probably a wide starched collar, Horace Swartley Poley has a mustache and wears a bow tie and jacket over a shirt with a straight, starched collar. Elizabeth Poley Schrader has short bangs and wears a dress with puffed sleeves and wide laced collar.
Margret Ferguson Poley, Frank Ferguson Poley, Horace Swartley Poley, Eliszabeth Schader and "about 1893" inked on verso. 
I feel like I know the fellow a little better, even though it has been more than 100 years. 
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