Monday, September 4, 2017

Working on the Railroad

Ceremony for the driving of the golden spike at Promontory Summit on May 10, 1869
Photo by Andrew J. Russell
"What was it the Engines said,
Pilots touching,--head to head
Facing on the single track,
Half a world behind each back?"
~ Bret Harte, from the poem What The Engines Said

Tim and I are making a beeline back to the farm where corn harvest has already begun.  We're supposed to be part of the fall harvest crew, but I’d promised my railroad fan father we’d visit the Golden Spike National Historic Site when we passed through Brigham City, UT on our way home.  

That’s the place (marked in the photo below by the commemorative plank) where the final stake was hammered home to complete the Transcontinental Railroad, a monumental work of labor.  

Of course, the real golden spike resides at the Cantor Arts Center on the campus of Stanford University founded by none other than Leland Stanford, president of the Central Pacific Railroad.  

By mid-1868, Central Pacific Railroad crews had crossed from Sacramento through the Sierra Mountains.  Meanwhile, the Union Pacific had laid over 700 miles of railroad tracks across the plains from its terminus in Omaha, Nebraska.  The two railroad companies were destined to meet at Promontory Summit, Utah.

There at the Golden Spike National Historic Site, I'd hoped we'd see the replica steam locomotives of the Central Pacific's Jupiter and Union Pacific's No. 119 re-enact that historic meeting (a daily event during the summer months), but due to track maintenance, they were only on view in the Engine House.  Still, I found it worth our time to see this place where the two locomotives had inched forward to meet almost nose to nose for that 1869 historic celebration.  Luckily, the park wasn't too far out of our way home.

There was another celebration awaiting us in Denver.  Our friends Mike and Leslie whom we'd known since our days in Tucson, Arizona, were hosting a house warming for their new home.  Seeing where they now live and meeting their friends was a memorable occasion we won't forget.

By the time Tim and I return to the farm on Monday, we will have traveled over 4,000 miles on this summer’s vacation that began July 5th.  It’s been a memorable trip, punctuated with historic milestones, stunning vistas and opportunities to make new friends as well as visit old.  We’ve played a lot during these past two months so perhaps it’s fitting that we’ll get back to the farm on Labor Day.  I’m sure that with fall harvest in full swing there will be plenty of work awaiting us.

"Last week a premature blast went off, 
And a mile in the sky went big Jim Goff.
Now when next pay day come around,
Jim Goff a dollar short was found.
He asked the reason; came this reply,
You were docked for the time
You were up in the sky."
~ song sung by Irish immigrant workers of the Union Pacific Railroad

I hope our pay's not docked because we're late!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Enchanting Sisters

In yesterday's blog, I described how Tim and I, along with a great group of Habitat Care-A-Vanners, labored under less than ideal circumstances during the Milli wildfire to complete the exterior of a house in Sisters, Oregon.  If you read that post, you might conclude that the job was horrendous, not to mention, hazardous.  But it wasn't all work and no play.  The local Habitat affiliate in Sisters unrolled the welcome mat for us and showed us why their town is an enchanting tourist destination.

First of all, there's the magical downtown with its art galleries, antique stores and handicraft shops.  My favorite was the Stitchin' Post, a quilt shop where I lost myself in ideas for future projects.  Too bad we weren't here the second Saturday in July for the Sisters Quilt Show, the largest outdoor quilt show and sale in the world.  Over 10,000 people from across the United States as well as 27 foreign countries flocked to the town to attend workshops taught by master quilters and to view the hundreds of quilts on display.

Next, the town fed us!  Beginning with a potluck picnic on our very first night at Creekside Campground, the Habitat affiliate wrecked havoc with my diet.

There was a community cookout that segued into an awards ceremony for local Habitat volunteers before ending with a band concert on the Village Green.

Almost daily, the local ladies brought tasty home-cooked lunches to the job site.

On the day of the total eclipse, a brunch at the hillside home of Darleene, our construction manager, began with the distribution of safety glasses for viewing the spectacle.  As the moon passed before the sun, the sky grew darker and darker until at last there was a mesmerizing 34-second period of total darkness.

In addition, we had happy hours back at the campground until smoke from the Milli wildfire forced us to cancel these gatherings.

Finally, we went out to dinner both Friday nights we were there and sampled two of Sisters' top-rated restaurants.

Oh, my!  You'd think we would need larger sizes of clothing after all this wining and dining, but we worked it off on the job site.

And most importantly, we made great friends, friends that we hope to see again!  

So I guess you could say our stay in Sisters was spellbinding!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Wildfire Threatens HFH Build

In mid-August, the Milli wildfire, rated the number one priority of all wildfires in the nation, threatened the tourist town of Sisters, scene of the most recent Habitat for Humanity construction build in which Tim and I participated.

Street lampposts before and during the fire

The wildfire nine miles west of the town originated when lightning struck in the Deschutes National Forest on Friday, August 11th.  

Habitat home

Eight days later, subdivisions in the outlying areas of the town were evacuated.  

Over 670 fire-fighting personnel rallied to try to contain the blaze by building backfires on the ground and dropping fire retardant from the sky.  However, they could do nothing about the smoke.  The community's air quality index climbed to the upper 500s, the highest AQI level and labeled hazardous.

Under the threat of immediate evacuation, Habitat volunteers, including eight participating in the organization's Care-A-Vanners, a program that recruits anyone who travels by recreational vehicle, labored to complete the house for homeowner Sharyn by this fall. 

Bottom: Cindy, Larry, Margot, Darleene (construction manager), Fred
Top:  Tim, Kamella, Joyce, Bryan

Local volunteers installed cabinets and baseboard inside the house while the Care-A-Vanners, including Tim and I, donned respirators and air-filtered face masks to paint its exterior. 

Our Care-A-Vanner crew included:
Larry & Margot Durham from Goleta, CA

Fred & Joyce DiManno from Boulder City, NV

Bryan & Kamella Modrall from Depoe Bay, OR

During the first week of the our two-week build, the air quality was just rated "Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups," so it was still possible for us to repaint the Habitat Thrift Store before we moved to Sharyn's house. 

However, as the wildfire spread to engulf more than 18,000 acres, the smoke laden with ash drifted over the town, making it more and more difficult to breathe.  Still, a little determination can go a long way.  Our goal was to complete the exterior of Sharyn's house and here's how we did it.

By the end of the week when we gathered on the front porch, Sharyn's house was no longer primer white but a tasteful bluish gray.  

Our objective was achieved.  Now, if only the firefighters could contain Milli!