Monday, June 30, 2008

My day

I guess my day is not as varied or interesting as Tom's. I vacuum the store when I get there. Apparently this is a novel idea and people keep commenting on how they have never seen the place so clean. I guess I picked it up from Daddy vacuuming every morning.

Then I check the money to make sure we have the right amount of cash and all sorts of change, set up the cash registers, straighten up whatever inventory has managed to get moved around, respond to the conductor's radio check and then open up.

From that point on, it is sell tickets, sell stuff, talk to customers, give directions on the telephone, explain a bit of the history of the railway, explain to callers that, no, we do not provide rail service to Florida despite the fact that the Yellow Pages (for unknown reasons) lists us as a passenger and commuter rail service but does not give a listing for Amtrak, although Amtrak does serve Wisconsin Dells. I offer to find the Amtrak listing for them. Soon I will have it by memory.

I explain to callers that, although the GPS system in their rented car wants to send them to some place in Columbus, WI, that is not where we are. Yes, the map that they printed off our web site does show our correct location. How do they get here from where they are? Well, where are they? Passing a farm. Umm, maybe not that helpful. It is, after all, Wisconsin. There are a lot of farms. Somehow we get them on track.

I do a certain amount of babysitting while parents wander around, control the G-scale model train running around the store up near the ceiling to the utter delight of small boys, who stand there moaning, hopping up and down and flapping their hands as if intending to fly up for a closer look. Periodically I go find the missing pieces of the Thomas the Tank Engine train set and put it back together for the next round of kids who run through the door screaming.

I relay messages from the conductor and any work crews out on the line-- or just repeat the messages they send -- via the radio in the store, and (God forbid!) am prepared to call 911 in case the sparks from the steam engine start a fire in the woods. So far, the summer has been so damp there has been little danger.

When trains depart, if I am free to do so, I always go wave goodbye to the children on the train when it passes by the shop. Kids love to wave, and the parents laugh when I encourage them to write when they get to the other end and to send money if they find work. I am starring fleetingly on home videos all over the Midwest, even as we speak. (If I could get copies of all the photos they take of me, I could probably find a decent one for Cynthia.)

In between rushes, I sneak rest room breaks, eat a protein bar and sip some cold coffee for lunch, try to make sure I am keeping the records of the ticket sales up-to-date. After the 5:00 o'clock train departs, I close up, count the money, run the reports for cash and credit cards, sort coupons, put the end results into bags or staple it onto registers and then set up the money bags for the next day. I straighten up the Thomas the Tank Engine train set one last time.

I stay until the final train has returned, in order to man the radio and also in case someone suddenly realizes that they have to go back into the store and buy that engineer's cap they saw. This happens only occasionally, but I have to admit I prefer days when everyone just leaves. By this time I have been at work for eight-and-a-half hours without a real break, trying to be polite, informative and entertaining. I have had five or six kids screaming at the train table while I am trying to talk on the telephone and a model train is rattling over my head, and parents calmly ignore the noise. I have watched parents and grandparents reduced to begging a two-and-a-half year old to please, please, please go with them when it is time to leave. I have (not so patiently) endured long contests between adults and their parents or in-laws over whose credit card I will run through my little machine. I have assured large women that they will fit comfortably into the coaches of the train, and wondered whether some of the large men -- who never seem to wonder themselves -- will manage or not.

Then I get to go home, eat whatever wonderful meal Tom has put on the table, and just relax.

Oh, after petting the cats, of course. First things first.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A day in the life

Tom posted this (below) about his day at the railroad yesterday. I thought you might be interested in how things go out there, and maybe one day I'll post something more detailed about one of my days. They can be very entertaining, although my days don't include chainsaws and such. My main excitement yesterday was trying to sell tickets and merchandise in the dark without any registers. The power outage didn't affect the trains -- they run on steam, after all -- and people still wanted to ride them. We sold over $200 worth of tickets during the hour and a half we lacked power. My big surprise came at the end of the day when both registers came out right.

Oh, and the mosquitoes continue to be a nightmare. DNR traps that this time of year normally collect 50 mosquitoes overnight are getting 3500. That is not a misprint: thirty-five hundred.
Yesterday was a reasonably typical summer weekend day in the life of the railroad.

I headed over about 6:30 am to get the grass trimmed at Hyde Park Station before the visitors started showing up. Our first concern at the railroad is safety, and trimmers and lawnmowers can kick up stones and sticks, tossing them quite a distance.

I trimmed the fences, hills and "triangles" (the areas where Dave can't mow with the Yazoo mower), cleaned up the edges around the turntables and trees, and cut the hills in the area of the main station.
Bernie, meanwhile, arrived at 7 am and started setting up Number 98, the steam engine that would be used during the day to pull the passenger trains.

The railroad's steam engines take about two and a half hours to set up in running condition. The boilers have to be brought into service gently. Bernie starts with newspaper and oak kindling, adds more substantial pieces of oak, and, eventually coal, to bring the boilers into operating condition.

Meanwhile he oils, greases and polishes the engine to a high finish, so that it looks like a jewel. The Sandley engines are generally considered the best 15 inch steam engines ever made in this country, and we want our engines to look it.

At 8 am, Jack showed up. He cleaned the bathrooms, and then we pulled the passenger cars out of the barn to the station.

We decoupled the diesel and went on patrol, stopping to pick up a couple of hoppers off the work siding.

We patrol the tracks every morning to make sure that the tracks are in order and in safe condition. The steam engines afford limited visibility, so we use the diesel to patrol before the steam engine is put into operation.

We look at every switch to make sure that it is clean, in the correct position and properly locked, and we look at every inch of track to make sure that it is clean. At fifteen inch gauge, even a half-inch stick laying across the track can be a problem.

Jack and I dropped a mower and a gallon of gas at the Camp siding, so that I could use it later in the morning to cut the track sides. I dropped Jack and the hoppers off at milepost 13 so that he could load them with brush, and continued the patrol out to Western Springs.

I picked up Jack and the hoppers on the way back, and we dumped the brush for burning in the fall.

We got back about 9 am. While we were out patrolling, Gary had pulled the caboose -- a newly restored car that needs to be fitted with air brakes before we can put it into service -- out onto one of the sidings for the visitors to enjoy.

Michael arrived to set up the gift shop. He vacuums every morning, gets the inventory sorted out from the day before, and sets up the cash registers -- we use two, one for ticket sales and one for inventory sales -- and opens at 9:30 am.

Our visitors started showing up around 9:30 am. The early birds get a special treat, because someone -- yesterday it was me -- will take them into the yard to watch Bernie do the final set up on the steam engine -- checking it over, coaling it and watering it.

If we have kids of the right age whose parents are willing, we'll let the kids help water the engine. The kids don't do much -- we let them, under our supervision and parental supervision, help pull the handle that allows the water to flow from the tank to the engine -- but the kids just love it, and it is quite a photo opportunity for the parents.

Our first train runs at 10 am, and we run on the hour, more or less, after that. Our last train runs at 5 pm, so we run eight trains a day.

I hitched a ride out to the Camp siding on the first train, and spent the rest of the morning trimming the track sides.

Our track runs along the original road bed of the Chicago to Minneapolis line, and it is quite beautiful, with 150-year old fills across deep ravines feeding into the Wisconsin River, and cuts through "dells", the rock formations which give our area its name.

We need to keep the track side clear for a minimum of four feet from the track for safety reasons, and we try keep it trimmed and looking neat all the way, too. Grass, weeds and brush are our enemy, because they detract from the natural beauty of the area.

We have been talking about doing a controlled burn this fall, to try to clear up the brush a bit farther away from the track. I don't know if we will, or not, but if we don't, then we'll do some brush chopping later in the year.

While I was out trimming the track side, Jim got the Iron Horse, our cafeteria, open and ready for business. We've been operating the Iron Horse only on the weekends so far this year, but the family that operates it during the summer arrived yesterday, and so we'll probably be open during on at least some week days from now through Labor Day.

I got back about 12:30 am, and went to lunch with John and his son Matthew, who was helping put price stickers on new inventory in the gift shop.

When we got back about 1:15 pm, a large family was in the picnic area, celebrating a kid's birthday, with a train ride on the two o'clock run. Lots of other families were around, too, and kids were all over the place, as usual on a Saturday.

John asked if I would help do some chain saw work out at milepost 23, where we still have a large tree down and not yet reduced to logs, so we loaded the chainsaw, gas and bar oil into my truck, and headed out to Western Springs.

We parked, unloaded and walked down to the tree.

That's when the fun began.

A small but fierce thunderstorm was headed our way. Michael, who acts as dispatcher as well as gift shop operator, keeps a computer going with the local radar map on screen. He radioed out about the approaching storm, coordinating the two o'clock run so that the train would return to Hyde Park Station before the storm hit.

John and I heard the warning, and groaned. We were all set up and ready to go. We looked at each other, each making a decision between "I'm a guy ..." and "I'd just as soon not get caught out here ...", and both said "This is crazy ...". Common sense, for once, won out over maleness. We picked up and headed back to the truck, and Hyde Park Station.

We got back, as did the train, a few minutes before the storm hit. John helped Bernie get the train under cover in the car barn, and I helped Jim and Jack scoot the visitors into various buildings and out of the way of the storm.

The storm was short but it hit with a fury about 2:30 pm, knocking out the power at the railroad and over much of the area.

At 2:45 pm, it was past, and Jack, John and I loaded the chainsaw into the diesel for a patrol, just to make sure that the track was clear. We found one small tree down out near Western Springs, spent five minutes clearing it, and returned to Hyde Park Station, getting back a few minutes after three o'clock.

Bernie and Jack, by that time, had the Number 98 three o'clock train ready to roll and loaded. The passenger train headed out about 3:10 pm, and things got back to normal, more or less.

The more or less was the power, which kept the dispatcher's radio from operating, so we handled communications via a hand held radio. Michael was busy trying to run the gift shop without power, so I took over the dispatcher role for the run.

The train and the power, both arrived back shortly before 4 pm, and the rest of the day was uneventful.

The four and five o'clock trains ran on schedule. We put the railroad to bed -- Bernie put Number 98 back in the roundhouse, Jack and John put the diesel and the cars in the car barn, Gary and I put away the caboose and locked up the yard buildings, Jim closed up the Iron Horse and the station, and Michael closed the gift shop -- by six o'clock and headed home.

Today looks bright and sunny, with no dire weather forecast. I'll spend a few hours at the railroad, trimming up the hills and the areas around the car barn, but I plan to be home by noon. I've got a lot of grass to cut around here, too, and the storm took down a couple of poplars, which need to be cleaned up.

Friday, June 27, 2008


A visitor told us that when he and his family were out on the wagon tour at Lost Canyon, swatting futilely at all the bugs swarming around them, the driver calmly announced that they should not worry.

"I assure you," he said, "there's not a single mosquito in Wisconsin Dells."

Puzzled and angry looks were exchanged by the itching passengers.

The driver turned back and looked over his shoulder. "They're all married."

"And," our visitor ruefully remarked, "with large families."

Georgia tale

I found the following this morning about Buford Dam and Lake Lanier in Georgia, near where I was born.

Having grown up near the Ohio River, water has always been a part of my life. If we weren't down at the park by the river, we were at one of the many lakes in Kentucky swimming and camping. So when I moved to Georgia 25 years ago one of the first things I did was "find" the Chattahoochee River, and Lake Lanier.


The first time I drove across Buford Dam, looking out on the lake I was hooked. If it's possible to fall in love with a lake then I did. From then on one of my dreams was to retire and live on Lake Lanier. So last year when we bought a house there I was thrilled. Even though we don't have direct access, we are only two miles from a nice park and boat ramp. Every evening after supper Phil and I would drive to the little park and walk or he was up early and fishing in the morning. But all of that was before the drought started.

At first it was no big deal, but then it started not being so funny. By July of 2007 the boat ramps started closing, ours included. Then old roads started showing up that had been closed off in the 50s when the lake was built. Then old towns, buildings and even a race track. All had been under water, and some of it had been forgotten about. One of the oddest "finds" were the car motors, hundreds of them. Our nightly excursions became a drought watch, to see what else would show up, as the water receded.

But the day we drove down the boat ramp and out in the middle of the lake on dry ground I was stunned. Phil had gone out fishing that morning, and came back to the house to get me. Our island by then had become a land bridge to the other side of the lake. By September people began "driving" across the lake on the old roads. We like everyone else would just drive to the ramps and stare in disbelief.

I don't know how to describe the emptiness that you feel inside. Its like feeling a part of your soul dry up and yet you can do nothing about it.

2008 got off to a promising start but this week they have already started the lake alerts. We went last night to launch our boat, at one of the 4 ramps they now have open. You have to drive half way across the lake on extended ramps to reach water deep enough. That is one scary feeling to look out and have water all around you and be so far from shore.

I can only hope that we will get some of the rains that usually blow into Georgia when hurricane season starts. Just the rains not another Katrina, or Rita. I still love "my lake" and I hate to see her looking so forlorn, and empty. Maybe we will get lucky and not spend another year exploring the bottom of the lake, without scuba gear!

With all the flooding up here and throughout much of the midwest, we forget the droughts elsewhere.

But, um, what's the deal with the hundreds of car engines, y'all?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Food in my food

I saw a Peanuts cartoon today that reminded me of Ted:
Charlie Brown to Snoopy: Which do you want, a cookie with nuts in it or a cookie with raisins?

Snoopy: Neither. I don't like food in my food.

Ted (I think) has never cared for foods mixed together. When Mrs. Sowell -- or Miz Sowell, as we said then -- took care of us, she used those plates with little ridged compartments, and we got used to food not leaking over into other food. In Ted's case, this led to a dislike even of casseroles, where the foods come pre-mixed-together.

When I was a freshman at Michigan State, I wrote a paper for English composition in which I discussed the issue of food flowing together, the juice from beans attacking the mashed potatoes and making them inedible. I learned later that the prof used that paper as an example in later classes because he was struck by the image.

Who knew that childhood experiences would have such an impact?

Oh, yeah. I guess that's what therapy is all about.

Beauty in the Dells

This was part of the view at sunset for our cruise on the river with the Stewards Monday night. It gives you an idea of why people come here.

Below is a short video clip someone took as he boated (pretty fast!) through the Dells. It is full of background noise, but it gives you more of an idea of what the river is like. Click on the arrow and enjoy! (And then imagine two and a half hours of this at a more relaxed and quiet pace.)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cruises, turtles and shoes

The owners of the Soma's Cruises are involved with the Stewards group that Tom belongs to, and this evening they treated the Stewards and guests to a sunset cruise on the river. It was two hours, starting at seven, and a lovely evening for it. Their launch site is just a bit down the road from the railway. The weather was warm this afternoon, turning cool but pleasant once we were on the river. It was downright chilly by the time we got back, close to 9:30. Normally their sunset cruise is a dinner cruise, but for this occasion people brought along snacks to share. I made guacamole and bacon wraps, and we stuck them with the flamingo skewers Chris and Linda gave us. I met some new people and had an enjoyable visit with Pat Anderson. I have met her a number of times, and she was one of the people with whom we attended Footloose recently.

Earlier in the afternoon on the way to Kohl's to pay my bill, we saw a snapping turtle crossing Berry Road. He was quite a way down from the pond, but there has been so much rain lately, he could have been paddling around in the ditches for the last two weeks.

On the way back from the library and downtown Dells, we came by way of Trout and Clara Roads, closed until recently by a washout. This is where the big red shoe sits out in the field, or rather sat out in the field. I noticed that it is now on its side. Tom said maybe the water had come up high enough to float it and it just flopped over. Another Lake Delton landmark threatened!

[I posted about the shoe before. Click here to revisit that classic.]

Cassidy and Sundance

Kristin called a little while ago because she suddenly realized that the cats have the same names as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. So she wanted to know if that is who they were named for, as indeed they were. (Of course, she pointed out that the movie was long before her time, so the names were just names to her.)

Helen and Tom had a custom (?) of naming cats for outlaws and dogs for racecar champions. So Buddy the Dog is named for Buddy Lazier, who won the Indy 500 in 1996.

This was not a hard and fast rule, apparently. (So few rules are.) There was also a mutt named Indy, named (in the minds of the adults) for the Indy 500 itself, but mainly because the kids loved Indiana Jones. Who was played, of course, by Harrison Ford. Who was Tom's brother Steve's roommate in college. Seriously.

Which brings us full circle back to the movies.

Rings and things

At work Saturday morning, I noticed that a couple of rings I wear were missing. One is the Hebrew script ring I got when I was in the Carmelites. Since I lost weight, it had become loose and I wore it with another ring -- a simple silver band incised with kokopelli figures (pictured, a reminder of the Indian blood in the Dodd clan) -- that fit more snugly and kept the Hebrew ring safe, a sort of ring guard. From time to time, both rings would slip off my finger, but before I have always noticed and retrieved them. This time I don't know where they went.

I know it happened that morning, and it happened either in the house ( no luck there, even after cleaning), in the car (ditto even after ditto), at the service station where I gassed up (no one had turned anything in), in the shop (ditto after ditto) or between my car and a couple of the buildings at the railway. One of the volunteers has offered to bring her metal detector to look there, but I am not optimistic.

I can order another of the Hebrew ones and I lucked out and found a duplicate of the kokopelli one at a shop in the Dells, although I think this one is stainless steel and the lost one was sterling. I am going to wait before I order the Hebrew, though, just in case Karen's metal detector comes up with something.

This is the second one of the Hebrew rings I have lost. One fell off my finger and down a hole into a door frame on a rented moving van. (Don't even ask!)

Very frustrating!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Feline follies

Love to eat them mousies . . .
Mousies what I love to eat!
Bite they little heads off,
Nibble on they tiny feet!

I remember that ditty from a poster some years ago. I found a mousie tail and liver on the carpet in the living room this morning, probably Cassidy's prey.

Rich is finally back from his work in Oklahoma and Texas, and he and Peggy brought over a signed print by Jeff Leedy as a thank-you gift for us (mainly Tom) helping Peggy during his time away. The caption is "I will always think of you as my can opener."

Well, we don't feed the cats canned food -- although when Helen is here, she sometimes shares a bit of canned tuna with them. So they do run into the kitchen every time they hear a can opener.

Sundance has been using the inside litter box the last couple of days. I'm not sure what that is about. The weather has not been bad and she doesn't seem sick in any way. Also, she just uses it to urinate, and I assume she is doing her other business outside.

Who can fathom the mind of a cat?

On the way home from the railway, I saw my first complete rainbow of the year.

Even better, I saw (I'm pretty sure) a scarlet tanager down by the pond. Beautiful!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Go, Daddy! And Mama!

My parents have always been among the most generous people I know. They set an example I regret I have not been able to match, but it does challenge me to do better.

Cynthia, my lovely sister-in-law (for those few readers who are not Dodds and don't already know this), sent me this story from the Tri-County Leader, and I proudly share it with you.

Volunteer drivers continue to roll despite gas prices

Meals on Wheels driver Byron Dodd says it will take more than high gas prices to keep him from his route.
As gas prices rise with the summer heat, the volunteers at Meals on Wheels in Whitehouse remain driven to help feed those in need.

"I've never had a volunteer say they couldn't drive their route because of the cost of gas," Super visor Carol Arnold said. "I've always had the same volunteers. I guess it shows I work with very loyal people."

Skyrocketing gas costs aren't the only obstacle this summer. As volunteers plan trips and vacations, the others take on more drop-offs.

"Everyone here is always so willing to help out more," Arnold said. "They'll do more so others can take a break."

One of Arnold's most dedicated volunteers, Byron Dodd, ensures all drivers arrive for drop-offs each morning.

"He refuses to leave until everyone shows up," Arnold said. "He's a great volunteer and a joy to have around."

Having worked at Meals on Wheels for six years, 86-yearold Dodd said he never once considered quitting.

"He's sick so he said Meals on Wheels saved his life," wife Roxie Dodd said. "It got him out of the house and involved."

For Dodd, it's a labor of love that could never be triumphed by rising gas prices. Participating in Meals on Wheels is an act of goodwill that fills his soul.

"He loves the people, he loves the work," Roxie said. "He just loves it and couldn't live without it."

Thursday, June 19, 2008


My name tag at work says Michael, and underneath in smaller print, Gift Shop.

Today a boisterous gentleman came in, looked at the name tag and said, "Michael Giftshop. That's an unusual name."

"Well, my father was Slovenian," I told him.

I could tell he wasn't sure what to say to that.

I could have pulled the Welsh card, but Giftshop doesn't sound Welsh.


This morning I was flipping through an old collection of Peanuts cartoons.

Linus and Lucy are sitting on a sofa.

Lucy: Do you think people ever really change?

Linus: Yes. I've changed a lot this past year.

Lucy: I meant for the better.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sightings and drying

Yesterday there was a rabbit kitten (apparently that is what baby rabbits are called, or just kits) at the end of the drive at R&GN. Tom says there are a bunch of them (a kindle) living under one of the woodpiles. This one let me get so close that I thought I was going to be able to open the car door up and grab it, but at the last moment it dashed away.

I put out a fresh orange for the orioles, but I have not seen any for a while. Peggy says she hears them in the trees and assumes they are staying close to their pendulous nests.

There was an indigo bunting by the feeder today, though. Beautiful color!

On the other hand, there are things we don't want to sight. The emerald ash borer is a small (1/2 inch long and 1/8 inch wide) bright green beetle that is native to Asia. It was discovered near Detroit, Michigan in 2002 and has since killed more than 15 million ash trees. Large infestations are concentrated in Michigan and Ontario, but smaller infestations have been found in Ohio, Indiana, Maryland, and Virginia. At the intersection of Berry Road and Birchwood, the DNR has put up one of these purple traps. They are baited to catch the critters so that infestations can be prevented. The DNR assures us that the traps will not attract bugs that are not already there, meaning that the trap won't create a new infestation. The traps are placed around on a grid so that they can find out how many (if any) borers are out there.

We also have a problem with gypsy moths, so bad that last summer they closed some nearby state parks. The DNR sprayed for them this year, and so far no closings. I'm not sure what the weather might have to do with any of that.

All the rain we had is supposed to produce a bumper mosquito crop about two weeks later. The irony is that there was so much flooding, some experts think most of the mosquito eggs will have been washed down to Illinois. I guess it's an even trade. The air pollution from Chicago drifts up the shoreline of Lake Michigan and messes with the air quality in Milwaukee. Now Milwaukee may be getting its revenge.

Meanwhile, today there is only one flood warning for Sauk County, and it is for the Baraboo River in Baraboo, due to fall below flood stage later today.

Drops in the bucket and top hats

Gasoline locally is down to $3.899 for the first time in a month. Good news, that. Now I can afford to fill the tank, get a car wash and an oil change!

Yesterday Tom wound up acting as conductor for the railway when the assigned conductor failed to show. So I bought him a conductor's pin for his cap to go alongside his engineer pin. The guys who normally work as conductors dress the part. Dave, in fact, brings his 10-year-old son dressed in full uniform to act as assistant conductor. I don't know if Tom will bother to get a uniform -- only if they have one for sale for three bucks at Goodwill, I'm guessing -- but we should at least get him a hat.

Meanwhile, I am tempted to dress as Sir Toppham Hat, the fussily dressed fellow in charge of the railroads in Sodor, the island where Thomas and Friends shunt cars and haul freight. I think that is closer to my style, even if I am a bit less portly. If only Ted hadn't lost my gray top hat way back when ...

Actually, although the store is a licensed distributor of Thomas toys and stuff (and there is lots of stuff -- slippers, dishes, kaleidoscopes and so on -- ) we do not have the right to advertise ourselves as a Thomas train. Which we are not. As I point out to visitors, the R&GN was not created to be a tourist attraction in the Dells. It was a working factory where our trains were manufactured. The rides for the public came along on the side, mainly for local kids.

There is a licensed Thomas train in Green Bay, though, if your kids insist. Younger kids often mistake our 98 train for Thomas because it is blue, and there is a square one in the roundhouse that they insist on calling Toby. If you don't know what I am talking about, feel free to find out more about the Rev. W. V. Awdry's creations by clicking on this link to Wikipedia's article.

At any rate, I think I could get a yellow vest at Goodwill and find a top hat somewhere. We sell a Thomas pocket watch and the chain would look perfect draped across my belly.

Happy fiddling

My dear friend, Brother Steve Comeau, is celebrating a birthday and I wanted to wish him a happy one with an appropriate quotation. Steve is assistant to the President of the National Catholic Education Association, so I thought something from a pope would be best.

The older the fiddler, the sweeter the music.
His Holiness Paul VI

Have a great day Steve! Wish I were there to enjoy the music.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


My friends in Iowa report that they are safe from the floods.

My friends in Baghdad may not be safe. As you probably saw on the news, another bombing killed over 50 people today.

The railway offers free rides to the entire family of active military personnel who show us their ID. As word spreads around the local bases, we get quite a few coming through. These men and women are often just a few days away from leaving for Iraq or Afghanistan.

So if you were wondering what to pray for today...

Monday, June 16, 2008

Communications bugs

Mama and I often have communication bugs. Especially when I send an e-card, it gives trouble at her end. The one I sent for Father's Day was typical. When she tried to link to it, it played the music but showed no card. Then today, for no apparent reason, after she sent an e-mail to someone else, there was the card I sent -- without music.

To top it off, she tried to call me to tell me, and when the phone rang, I picked it up and it sent her to the answering machine. So I got the message later...

So much for the information superhighway. Maybe it was like the regular superhighway has been around here for the last couple of days -- re-routed due to flooding.

And it's not just her. Steve Payne couldn't download the cards I sent him for the longest time, until he switched from an African server to Gmail.

I can get e-mail from Michelangelo on my Yahoo account, but he cannot receive anything I send him from that account. Whether I hit the Reply button or try to send one the regular way, it never arrives. And I don't get a Mailer Daemon message letting me know that there was a problem. So he can e-mail me at Yahoo or Hotmail, but I have to respond via Hotmail.

I use the Hotmail account for all my distance learning students and things related to that. Recently I sent messages to three new students, and I got a message back that delivery was being delayed in one case. It told me not to re-send the message -- but then I didn't get any confirmation that it had gone through. So I had to re-send it anyway, to be sure the student gets the information I was sending her.

On the other hand, it was a lovely day here near Lake Deltonbegone.


The railway let fathers ride free this past weekend (mothers ride free on Mother's Day weekend), and many of the guys were quite surprised to find they were being treated to something. I told them it was the only free ride they would get after becoming fathers.

Anyway, one fellow from Chicago was there with his family and three-year-old son. Children three and under ride free all the time anyway. Mason (the little boy) loved the ride so much that it was all he talked about after they left, so Dad brought him back an hour or so later, and the two of them rode again. He offered to pay the second time, but we turned him down. Dads and three-year-olds rode free. After that trip, Mason wanted to go yet again -- as it turns out for the last trip of the day, so Dad could look forward to moving on. When we tried to let him go free the third time, he insisted.

"Everyone else around here has been trying to get my money for a bunch of junk. At least this is genuine," he said. I had suggested he simply leave a donation in the box, but he was strapped for cash and wanted to use a credit card. So we let him buy an adult ticket.

Mason, I understand from Tom, had been promoted to assistant conductor by that time.

Local cooperation

Roads, including the interstate, continue to re-open, and the threatened dams seem to have survived as lake water levels recede. Here is one of the pictures of the flooding in nearby Reedsburg.

Wisconsin Dells and the Town of Delton (where we live) did not have this kind of flooding to contend with, for which we are grateful. The economic impact will be of another kind.

One of the more interesting stories I saw this morning is about a nice bit of local business cooperation. The resorts around Lake Delton, of course, are the ones hit hardest by all this with the disappearance of the lake. Some have reported 85% cancellations following that dramatic event.

Mount Olympus, the largest of the waterpark complexes here, has announced it will give free passes to anyone staying at Lake Delton resorts affected by the loss of the lake. They say people should be able to enjoy themselves anyway, and they make the offer as a neighborly gesture to help out the hurting businesses around Mudflat Delton.

I realize it won't harm Mount Olympus in the long run. They will gain a tremendous amount of goodwill from the vacationers (who will also spend money for food and stuff while they are there) and from the local business people.

Mount Olympus Resort is not always viewed as cooperative by other attractions hereabouts, and it seems destined to absorb the entire strip of motels and parks along the Dells Parkway. They are, however, probably the most inclusive resort here and this outreach should help build bridges to some of their disaffected competitors.

Maybe it will even encourage other area attractions to pitch in to help bring folks back to the Dells this summer.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


This is part of the front sidewalk, beyond where the irises are. It looks a bit like what the English call an herbaceous border or a cottage garden.

Tom took this picture of a section of the wildflower garden that surrounds the deck. You get a sense of how wild it looks, and because they are wildflowers, the plants tend to be leggy. Still it makes for a nice view in the back. Also the tall plants give the cats a place to stalk around hunting for prey.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


They wound up closing the interstate from Mauston (just a bit north of us) all the way to Madison (about an hour south) yesterday, and there were rumors it might remain closed for days. That will not directly affect us in terms of our personal travel, except that it may mean that local roads are overwhelmed by re-routed traffic. Yesterday afternoon Highway 12 through the Dells was bumper to bumper semis. No one was moving very fast -- 25 mile an hour speed limit. South of the Dells, they are asking residents to avoid Highway 16 into Portage so that the interstate traffic can use it. Most of this is one lane each way.

I called Rick in Iowa to see how they were. I didn't get him, but he called back and left a message that they are soggy but high and dry. As bad as things have been in southern Wisconsin, the situation in parts of Iowa is truly grim.

Yesterday was a lovely day, and this morning has begun well. Tom took off early to get some mowing done at the railway. The weather report says we have a 30% chance of more thunderstorms starting mid-afternoon and lasting through tomorrow, and I will take the laptop in again in case we need to keep a closer eye on things.

The laptop also serves as a baby sitter for the eight-year-old son of a couple who volunteer at the railway on the weekends. Matt is actually quite helpful around the place -- he loves to clean up, for example -- but when there is nothing to occupy him, he needs a distraction or he hangs around the counter and interferes with our work. Roberta brought him some cards to play with, but he is of the computerized generation and prefers to play solitaire on the computer. So I set up a separate account for him on the laptop that blocks all internet access and such so that he can play parent-approved games without us worrying that he will wander off to inappropriate places. His parents, John and Judy -- both of whom are certified engineers for the diesel -- , are out working hard on the tracks most of the day, and they seem fine to have him sit at the table in the back on the computer. When one of the other volunteers -- usually Eric -- is working on a project, he will get Matt involved and that is a good thing, too.

Friday, June 13, 2008


View Larger Map
The above map indicates road closings and other "flood events" in the area. Wisconsin Dells is not labeled here, but you can see Baraboo near the center of things where one of the red lines is. We are just a bit above that. The red and purple marks indicate closed roads; the balloon pointers indicate closings where the roads are too small to appear on the map.

This gives just an impression of how many problems there actually are. Lots of side roads (like the ones near us) are closed down, making driving in Sauk County, as the sheriff says, "a bit of a maze."

We are used to being amazing, but not a maze.

Dispatches from the Ark, Part Whatever

Today, Friday, looks like it will be a fine day, but now the area is dealing with flooded roads. Michelangelo was supposed to take off early to return to Chicago, because he has a class to teach tomorrow morning. Then they closed down the interstate here and started re-routing traffic through side roads. Unfortunately, the main road they are using has been under construction and cannot handle any additional traffic. So it is jammed and very slow going.

I'm at work and Tom and Michelangelo are trying to figure out a way around the mess, but the mess is just about everywhere.

I have been bringing the laptop to work so we can track the weather radar during the storms. Today I am using it to locate open roads for people trying to find a way to get here or to get out of the Dells. Much of the interstate traffic is being routed through the Dells, and that is not such a happy option either. Also, the Department of Transportation keeps opening and closing roads as the situation develops, and what may be open right now may be closed in half an hour.

We are still among the fortunate, though, with no serious injuries or loss of life in our county. Lots of damage, though. The first estimate a couple of days ago was $4 million damage to private homes and business. As of this morning, that estimate had jumped to $15 million, and officials say this is only a fraction of what the final count will be. It does not include, for example, any of the areas that are so flooded that they cannot even get in to examine the situation.

There are some funny bits. One of the local attractions in the Dells is a ride on WWII amphibious vehicles ("Wisconsin Ducks") that go through the woods and on the river and (what was) the lake. Yesterday eleven of them were commandeered to help rescue people trapped in their homes in Baraboo.

One of the boats lying in the middle of the muddy remains of Lake Delton is a police boat. It got stuck when they had to go out to warn fisherman who were out on the lake as it was disappearing and didn't have the sense to come in. The lake was draining so fast (it emptied in about two hours) that they apparently were not able to get back by way of water, and I guess they just had a muddy trek to shore.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Birds and more

We had been telling Michelangelo about the birds, and he was particularly interested to hear that we had pileated woodpeckers, a species he had never seen. Sure enough, one obliged by showing up the next morning during breakfast to perch on a nearby tree for a good viewing, returning later to eat at the feeder for closer examination.

Michelangelo's former wife lives in Alabama, and when they were still together down there, he heard the pileated sometimes referred to as the Lord God bird, because it would suddenly fly up in front of people and -- because of its size, color and sudden appearance -- elicit a startled, "Lord God!" from the victim. (I gather that the "real" Lord God bird is the elusive, possibly extinct, ivory-billed woodpecker pictured, similar in appearance to the pileated but even larger.)

This afternoon he and Tom visited the International Crane Foundation for more avian activity. I don't work at the railway on Wednesday, so I graded a couple of papers and took care of some correspondence with my students and the priest who is now in charge of the program for which I teach these classes. I attended a seminar he gave some years ago, and he was a fantastic teacher.

Late afternoon brought some showers, not enough to do any more damage, we hope. Tomorrow we are expecting some serious storms, however, so we are not out of the woods (or clouds) yet.

Meanwhile the wildflowers in the back have popped out more, lots of wild poppies now in pink, red and even orange. There are some beautiful deep blue flowers that I have not been able to identify. They look a bit like asters but the petals are more abundant and shorter. The irises in the front still are doing well, bt the rain and wind have been trying to beat them down. The bleeding hearts are overhanging the sidewalk, and daisies are blooming as well. If the weather ever gets decent, I will try to get another photo posted of the flowers along the front of the house.

Let's hear it for the boy

Well, we went to the see the stage production of Footloose with the Tuesday Club last night. When the musical opened on Broadway back in the late 90s, critics were less than kind, and I can see why. Still the cast had a lot of energy, the dance numbers were pretty good and some of the voices were excellent.

My favorite scene in the 1984 movie is when Ren (Kevin Bacon) is teaching the awkward Willard (Chris Penn) to dance to Let's Hear It for the Boy!. The guy who played Ren in this production didn't impress me -- seemed to shout his lines -- but the guy who was Willard was great and the scene where he learns to dance was very entertaining. He had the best musical number, too, Mama Says, ably backed up by the other guys as a campy chorus line. The woman who played Willard's love interest had a stand-out voice, and the chemistry between the characters was charming and much more fun and credible than that between Ren and Ariel

Michelangelo said he had been told not to go to dinner theater because it was usually a bad dinner and bad theater. We agreed, however, that the meal was quite good and that the evening -- hardly Shakespeare -- was entertaining.

We had been invited by Debbie Kinder to join the Tuesday Club group for the evening. We sat with Debbie, her mother -- I wound up sitting next to Mrs. Reese, as often happens when we are all out together, and I told her that if we kept meeting for dinner like this, people will begin to talk-- and Pat Anderson, another friend who lives just up the road a piece.

The Tuesday Club was founded in the days of yore (Debbie's great-grandmother was a charter member) as a sort of literary club for the ladies of Wisconsin Dells -- only back then it was still Kilbourn City. They meet once a month to listen to a presentation, have tea and cake and so on. Tom says it is one of those outfits where they only consider you for membership if your family has lived here since Adam and Eve stumbled out of the garden. Mrs. Reese has been a member for over fifty years, something of a record. One of my librarian friends is also a member, and lots of people looked familiar. On this occasion, the ladies had brought husbands and invited a few select outsiders.

I would guess the average age of the group was ... mature, and I was surprised at how loudly most of them applauded a very youth-oriented show. Debbie's mother candidly said she didn't care for it, but she liked the food a lot. The meal was served before the show, with dessert (quite good) coming at intermission. Mrs. Reese started asking the (Romanian?) waiter (whose English is still not strong) for dessert before he even had a chance to remove the dinner plates. He explained that it came later, and Debbie asked him to make sure her mother was served first. He very kindly did so, earning a nice gratuity from everyone at the table for his courtesy.

And that was our night at Broadway in the Dells.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Fr. Kieran

I found this story on CNA (Catholic News Service) this morning:
Carmelites honor Father Kavanaugh for life's work as translator

TOLEDO, Ohio (CNS) -- Discalced Carmelite Father Kieran Kavanaugh has reached a milestone as a translator of Carmelite spiritual classics. With this year's publication of the second and final volume of "The Collected Letters of St. Teresa of Avila" by the Washington-based Institute of Carmelite Studies, Father Kavanaugh has now translated all of the works of the Carmelite mystics and spiritual giants St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila for the contemporary English-speaking world. To mark the 50 years of Father Kavanaugh's life's work and the completion of the translation project, his Carmelite confreres at the institute contributed essays to a book honoring the priest-translator. Titled "A Better Wine: Essays Celebrating Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD," the recently released volume was also published by the order's ICS Publications. "A Better Wine" takes its title from the story in John's Gospel of the wedding at Cana, in which, after Jesus changes water into wine, the steward announces to the wedding's host, "You have saved the better wine until now."
I lived with and worked alongside Fr. Kieran for a number of years and on a variety of projects. The volume, A Better Wine, contains an article/translation of mine. Kieran, who turned 80 this year, is widely considered the leading English-speaking expert on Teresa and John in the world. He has produced over 80 articles, tapes and books about Carmelite spirituality over the years.

Sorry, but that was the best picture I could find.

The morning after

This shows Lake Delton (as it was), in the center of the picture. The red arrow points where a 300-foot channel broke through into the Wisconsin River, washing out County Trunk A and draining the lake. You can see how close the lake and the river are at that point. The little red pointer with an A at the bottom points to the Village of Lake Delton.

Our house is just off the map, near the I-94 symbol on the left.

This is what's left.

Local leaders are assuring everyone that this will not have too much impact on the tourist industry except for things right on the lake. They may be whistling in the dark a bit.

It is true, however, that the Dells themselves (the natural phenomenon) are on the river, not on the lake, and that the river is still fine and the boat tours are not affected by this. While the impression the news media gave was that Lake Delton is the main course here, that is certainly not true, although it is an integral part of the area. I was suprised at how even local Madison newspeople spoke as though the Dells was built around Lake Delton, whereas the tourism industry began in the late nineteenth century when Lake Delton did not even exist.

Oh, well.

This morning began with beautiful weather, but we may get another thunderstorm this afternoon. There is only a 30% chance, and we can always hope the bad weather will pass us by.

Meanwhile, Michelangelo, Tom and I will be joining a group of people at a dinner theater tonight for a performance of Footloose. More on that after the fact.
Thanks to Tom for the pictures on this one.

Monday, June 9, 2008

For you Wikipedia fans

When I went to the Wikipedia article on Lake Delton earlier today, looking for a photo of the lake to use in my posts, I noticed that it already contained a paragraph describing the events of this afternoon.
Lake Delton drains into the Wisconsin River

On June 9, 2008, Lake Delton, the approximately 250-acre dammed artificial lake adjacent to the village, overflowed its banks washing away four homes and a portion of Old Newport Road (County Highway "A") while nearly emptying the lake basin into the Wisconsin River following several days of torrential rains. The overflow happened as local authorities ordered evacuations and sandbagging in a number of towns as rivers and lakes rose across the southern portion of the state. Overnight about 100 people had started sandbagging the dam which held, but the contents of the lake began to pour into the river about mid-morning when the highway embankment failed eventually opening a breach of several hundred feet.[4]

Wikipedia may contain errors, but some contributors are fast on their feet.


I thought we could take a break from the weather and talk about wildlife for a few minutes.

Coming home from the railway on Saturday, just before the storm, I saw a red-tailed hawk swoop up from a ditch, clutching a snake that looked to be at least three feet long. Probably just a black snake or something, but it reminded me of the Mexican eagle perched on a cactus with the snake in its claws.

Yesterday I saw what I think were magpie ducks (pictured) out in a flooded field nearby, and a fawn flashed across the railway tracks when we were out to view the damage in the afternoon. A sadder sight was a deer that had been struck by a car, lying up against the curb in the Village of Lake Delton. It is not rare to see deer close to town, but I imagine the weather has disoriented them even more.

I suppose wildlife could include Katya Marlena, Elena Rane and Elliot Odin Sjaastad, but that wouldn't be nice.

Washed away

What a difference a day makes!

Lake Delton was an artificial lake of about 250 acres. When the lake's water began to drain into the Wisconsin River, the water level was falling at a rate of about eight feet an hour. By the time Tom and I drove by there late in the afternoon between errands, it was almost empty -- just a big mudflat surrounded by docks with boats hanging in the air. We saw a helicopter flying the governor overhead to see the mess before setting him down for a news conference.

The economic impact on the area will be big, although there are no reliable estimates yet. The Tommy Bartlett Sky and Water Show, one of the biggest attractions in the Dells area for decades, has to close down because the water is gone. Ironically, their sign today said the show was closed due to flooding. As Tom pointed out, the problem now is not too much water, but too little.

Condominiums, boat rental places and resorts cluster around the lake, but not too many people are going to want to spend their tight gasoline dollars for a week smelling the stench of rotting fish and vegetation. Who knows how many people will be kept away just because of stories about the damage up here. Restaurants and hotels throughout the area are holding their breath, hoping that there will be no problems created by sewage backup. In that case, even lots of places not on the lake itself will have to shut down.

Word at the bank (I have heard) was that business in the Dells area was already down about 30%, due mainly to the price of gasoline presumably and related price hikes in food. Bad weekend weather is always another bad factor for the tourism industry, but we did not expect the bad weather to have this dramatic effect on a major draw.

We were pretty sure 2008 was going to be a lean year. Now it might get downright bony.

One bright note in this tragedy -- not a life was lost, nor were there any serious injuries.

Room with a view

Only joking! At the moment (about 2:00 p.m.) we are perfectly safe. Vince called a little while ago to check on us, and since we are national news, I called Daddy to let him know not to worry when they see the news about Wisconsin Dells washing away. Tom wisely built the house on the highest point on his land, and even though the ground is saturated, we are not likely to have any flooding and we are not at risk from any dams or rivers. The pond down the road did wash out part of the newly repaired Berry Road, and parts of Birchwood Road are gone as well. When I was trying to get home from the library, I couldn't even get to Trout Road -- an alternate route -- because it was closed. If worse comes to worst, we are well supplied with water and food, batteries for the flashlights and radio, books to read and cats to cuddle.

Well, Wisconsin Dells claims to be the Waterpark Capital of the World. (It's even a registered trademark.) This will teach them!


So Monday is one of my days off, and after working this morning to get things in shape for Michelangelo and having some leftover spaghetti for lunch, I flipped on the news. Turns out that Lake Delton was draining into the river ... Below is the report the County.
The lake is just a bit east of us, but we are in no danger. We are making thge national news though. Here is a video clip from MSNBC. This is just a few miles east of here.

A note from the ark

A quick recap of the weekend's adventures:

Satruday morning Tom left for Milwaukee to spend the day with Bob Mitchell, and I went to work. The weather report said possible severe weather later in the day.

About 1:15, the boss called to say the weather radio reported a severe strom headed at us with golfball sized hail. I took off for home to get the car in the garage, turned on the weather channel and started filling pots and pans with water. I got some food and water, the weather radio and extra batteries, books and flashlights and headed for the basement just as the power went out. We stayed under a tornado warning until after 8:00, and I spent much of the afternoon and evening in the basement.

Tom drove back through torrential rain and got home safely about 9:30. Trees were down and the roads were beginning to flood in places. I had lit the oil lamps and was reading by flashlight. Of course, since we have a well, we had no water, but that was why I had filled pots and pans. At least we could flush toilets.

Power came back on about 5:00 a.m.

Sunday ... Well, here is an excerpt from the local paper:

Storms threatening tornados Saturday caused minor damage throughout Sauk County. Trees were down throughout the county, some taking out power lines.

The National Weather Service reported that the Baraboo area had received more than 12 inches of precipitation from Saturday through 7:15 p.m. Sunday.

Rock Springs firefighters who planned to be playing softball and grilling brats all weekend at their annual celebration were instead helping pump residents' basements after flooding that began Saturday evening and continued Sunday.

"We started playing volleyball (Saturday)," said Rock Springs Fire Chief Mark Weihing. "Pretty soon it turned to mud volleyball."

After the second tornado warning halted play, the party was over, Weihing said.

He said numerous basements in the Reedsburg area were flooded Sunday.

A 20-foot section of the Lake Redstone Dam in LaValle was damaged, and the Sauk County Sheriff's Department issued a no wake order on the lake to prevent further damage.

Jelinek said state dam experts were called in for consultation.

"It's an earthen dam and some of it is sloping in, but it's of no concern to the experts at this point," he said.

During Saturday storms, campers from the Baraboo Hills Campground and others were given shelter at the Baraboo Fire Department until the end of the second tornado warning Saturday.

The American Red Cross opened a shelter in Reedsburg at Pine View Elementary School Sunday evening.

Farmers already facing tough conditions this year are expected to be hurt by the heavy rain, as standing water covered sprouting crops in many fields.

"The planting time was already delayed this year on the crops," said Sauk County Farm Bureau President Rodney Seamens. "Most all of us have already got water holes you've got to go around."

Today's forecast calls for heavy rain and a chance of thunderstorms, according to the National Weather Service.

[The photo is of a scene in Baraboo, where more flooding is expected later this week.]

We ran two trains Sunday, one for the staff to go look over the damage along the rails where Tom and the others had spent several hours clearing trees off the tracks. HUGE trees, some uprooted completely. It was beautiful to see all the waterfalls and the streams looking like rivers. Another wave of storms came through, so we shut down and I went home again.

The pond near us had overflowed and washed out part of the road. Birchwood Road was under water in a few places, with the water flowing like a river over the top. The slogan is "Turn around; don't drown." Just a few inches of running water can wash a car into a flooded ditch. So alternate routes was the theme of the day.

John and Liz and the kids had arrived after braving terrible storms to get out of Chicago. The rain was pouring, the kids were restless and it made for a boisterous evening.

This morning the rain has stopped -- for now, at least -- and the Sjaastads have now headed north. Within seconds of the kids leaving, the cats reappeared to reconnoiter.

We are now trying to restore a semblance of order before Michelangelo arrives this afternoon.

PS -- I'm glad Tom got that picture of the irises when he did. They took quite a beating in the storms.

Friday, June 6, 2008


Mama asked recently how the flowers were doing, and Tom just posted this photo of the irises out front. They look even better than the picture, having really come into their own this year.

Other things are coming along, too, and it will be interesting to see how the wildflower bed in the back does. There's lots of foliage at the moment, along with what look like tall daisies, some orange things, yellow things, blue things and a couple of wild poppies.


John, Liz, Katya, Elena and Elliot were here overnight. The kids (5, 3, 1) are cute as can be -- no surprise given their parents -- and adorable. But HIGH ENERGY! Elliot spent all his time crawling around finding everything that could possibly be taken apart and put in his mouth. He even found the mouse tail this morning before anyone else did. At least he didn't find the paw and put that in his mouth, too.

They have gone on to Chicago and will be back Sunday afternoon to stay over and recuperate before finishing up their trip home to Minnesota on Monday.

John Scharbach also headed to Chicago today, to be back at some as-yet-unknown date. He has to get his driver's license and take care of some other things. The job hunt continues.

Monday we expect Michelangelo to arrive for a week, a delightful surprise. He had so many things planned for the summer that we didn't think he would make it up here, but now we will have him to entertain us.

Michelangelo, the kids and John are all dervishes in their own way -- the whirling kind!

Thursday, June 5, 2008


About four this morning I was wakened by thunder and lightning. It remained almost constant for a couple of hours, then quieted down to just a steady but not torrential rainfall.

Nonetheless, part of the county south of us is under a flood watch. We may have more thunderstorms through much of the day, which will pretty much rule out any railway runs. If it is only light rain, they will go out, but an electrical storm is another thing.

The cats were on edge this morning. Well, Sundance was. She kept coming in and poking me, then walking across the bed and jumping off, only to come back and repeat the performance ten minutes later. Needless to say, this did not lend itself to peaceful repose. Cassidy apparently just curled up at the bottom of Tom's bed and ignored the weather.

From the radar, it looks like most of the bad weather is coming from the south and west of us, so John Sjaastad & Co. should have a fairly calm drive down from Minnesota.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Preparation Day

John and Liz Sjaastad are due tomorrow about midday with their kids, and today will be devoted to final efforts to get the house ready. The deck now has slats between the railings to make it impossible (?) for a child to crawl or run through. Small circles have been painted onto the deck door so that the kids will not think it is open and rush through it. Electrical outlets have been covered and the hardward is ready to be installed to keep small hands out of the cabinets.

Since John, Liz and Elliot will have my room, I have to get it and my bathroom cleaned. Since I did a thorough job of this a couple of weeks back when Chris and Linda were here, that shouldn't be too bad.

Tom's office has to be set up as a bedroom for the girls. He has already removed all the painting supplies and such stuff and put out the stuffed toys -- including his monkey collection. There are nineteen of them, the kind with long limbs and velcro on the paws so they can hang from doorknobs or whatever. Other stuffed animals are scattered about, and my room, of course, has its complement of dragons.

Meanwhile, back at the railway ...

Yesterday we had someone from Georgia (not Gainseville), a family from Huntsville, Alabama (a university prof whose brother has a railroad-themed cafe there) and a couple of families from Iowa. I mentioned that I have friends in Davenport, and then last night I got a call from one of them. Rick was checking in to say that he is recuperating from his father's heart surgery -- five bypasses. His dad apparently is doing quite well. Other than that, things seem to be going well in his world, which is always good to hear. Iowa is one of the places saturated by Wisconsin Dells TV ads, so he is reminded of me constantly, plus he reads the blog. So, hey Rick! It was great talking to you.

Part of yesterday was spent helping John Scharbach get a job application ready, tweaking his resume and looking over his writing samples. This particular job would be as a paralegal for a Chicago firm, perfect for someone who is planning to go to law school. It is similar to what I did for the Screnocks, but rather than family law it is mostly labor law.

John seems well-qualified for the position, but I am sure there will be plenty of applicants since the job is in Chicago.

He is heading back down there on Friday so that he can take his driving test next week. He has been driving everywhere he can with me or Tom so that he can get more hours on the road. Although he doesn't have the seamless stopping and so on down yet, I think he will do fine on the test. The smooth stuff will come with time.

And that's what's happening in our world.

(Plus waiting to hear more about Justin and Angie, of course.)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Cris seemed surprised -- well, not surprised -- at my reference to the Cow Chip Festival.

So for more information, click on that link at the end of the last sentence.

Here is the history from that site:

The History of Cow Chip Throwing

The first pioneers that settled in the Plains faced Indians and unfriendly land. The desire to own a home and land to raise a family gave the settlers the determination to brave the difficult conditions. The scarcity of water and timber for fuel and shelter, plus extreme weather conditions, made life hard and lonely. Bitter winters found the settlers desperate for fuel.

Buffalo hunters had found that buffalo chips could be used for fuel. Most of the buffalo were gone by the time the settlers came, so they had to rely on the "cow chip" for furnishing fuel to cook their food and warm their homes.

When dry, the chips were odorless, gave a clean, bright flame and burned with intense heat, without soot. Chips were gathered and stored for the winter as autumn approached. The cow chip was a life-sustaining utility and was often used in trade for food or anything the pioneers needed.

In 1970 tossing cow chips became a sport in the Cimmarron Territory Celebration held each year in Beaver, Oklahoma in remembrance of the rugged courage and individualism of the early pioneer.

In 1975 the Sauk Prairie Jaycees, recognized the Sauk Prairie Area as the Cow Chip Capital of Wisconsin and organized the first State Cow Chip Throw.

In 1989 the Wisconsin State Legislature proclaimed the cow chip the Unofficial State Muffin.

The entire Sauk Prairie Community welcomes you to join the fun.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Fool me twice

A couple of years ago, Michelangelo was visiting from Chicago and Karl was also here for the Wisconsin Cow Chip Festival. (What can I say?) We went to breakfast at a small place in a neighboring community that had been a Scharbach favorite and that Tom liked to take guests to see. We went with high expectations, but the place had changed hands. The service was incredibly slow and bad, and since we had to be somewhere else at noon, we eventually had to give up and leave without ever having been served anything except coffee. I guess we had sat there for forty-five minutes or an hour. Tom said he would never return. Never!

Recently a couple of the folks at the railway mentioned that they had eaten breakfast at this place and really liked it, although they did mention that the service was slow.

Today John, who remembered eating there, suggested we go for lunch. I told him I doubted Tom would be interested, but I was wrong. We went over and John ordered a basic breakfast (eggs, bacon, hash browns, toast), I ordered a sandwich and Tom had a regular hamburger. After a relatively normal wait -- the place was hardly full or overly busy -- the waitress came back and put a plate in front of me.

"There's your Rachel sandwich."

I looked down at scrambled eggs, rye toast, hash browns and slices of bacon.

"I think this is his breakfast, actually," I said, politely, I hope.

She looked at me, looked down at the plate and then realized the mistake. I handed over my plate and she disappeared, returning a few minutes later with my sandwich. It had chips rather than the promised fries, but I figured I'd let that pass.

John and I waited politely for Tom's meal to arrive, but nothing happened. After five minutes or so, he told us to go ahead and eat. About the time we did, his burger arrived. He got his fries, but the burger consisted of a patty and a bun -- no lettuce or tomato or anything else as advertised. Just bread and meat. We shrugged and ate.

Then it took forever to get the bill. Even after mentioning that we wanted the bill, again politely, I hope, the waitress made several trips back and forth, back and forth, back and forth before the bill appeared.

Then Tom went to pay it at the register, and John and I checked out various notices on the bulletin board. After a few minutes, we looked over and Tom was reading the newspaper at the counter while the waitress went about her business, never stopping for thirty seconds to take his money, with him standing there bill in hand right beside her. Again, the place was neither full nor busy, although she was the only one waiting tables.

Well, this time we all laughed about it, but John said it was the slowest service he had ever seen in his life.

I am not sure you could call it slow. Slow does imply some movement through space.

Anyway, I think that place -- which I will leave unnamed lest someone who likes it should stumble upon this review -- has seen us for the last time. Really, the last time.

Mosquito musketry

John arrived safely yesterday about dinnertime and we sat down to Tom's cook-most-of-the-day crockpot spaghetti. While I did the dishes, they began the job hunt online. Later we went out to Culver's for turtle sundaes -- amid much confusion brought on by Tom's connection of this outing with the movie on TV -- The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Then a trip to Wal-Mart for some necessities and home to sleep the sleep of the just.

Tom got up early to go mow at the railway, and I promised to take John around on the job hunt while running other errands -- Monday being one of my days off.

While I was cleaning up the fountain on the deck, John decided to take Tom's rifle out for some target practice. I saw him wander off ino the woods with a target in hand, and a couple of minutes later he had scampered back to find some Off. The mosquitoes were hunting the hunter.

Duly supplied, he braved the forest again and now I hear gunshots. I assume he is aiming at the target and not the bugs.
Did you know that The Great Texas Mosquito Festival will be July 24-26 this summer in Clute? It has been held every year since 1981 or some such thing.