Thirty Years

Today was our annual volunteer day at the Rail Festival, otherwise known as Day Out With Thomas at the Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB). It was an odd day: I only had one shift, and my wife got none; further, walking around the museum I saw fewer and fewer people that I knew. It wasn’t always that way, however….

Walking around the museum, I came to the realization that it had been 30 years since we had joined. 30 years since our first rail festival. In those thirty years we had gone from the youngsters to the old folks. And although I truly appreciate what our friends Thomas and Percy have brought us, I couldn’t help remember the days gone by, and what we had lost.

OERM 1987 RailfestBack in 1987 and into the 1990s and early 2000s, rail festivals were a very different beast. They were run completely by the members of the museum themselves; you would get a volunteer bid sheet and request your assignments — from Loader to Car Attendant to Car Barn Attendant to Street Guard (a very boring assignment). Over the years, you would get to know the members quite well. They would bring their kids as they got older, and they would grow into car attendants in their own right and regularly come to the museum. I remember Maurice and his kids Sondra and Jeff, and quite a few others. In this way, the museum became a family: you knew everyone and they knew you. If your kid ran off, even at a festival, they knew who to direct them back to.

We ran the tracks to capacity — you can see the schedule from 1987 on the right, including two pictures from back then (including DOT 12, which is now OERM 1956 (I think, could be OERM 1975), and my lovely wife after 2 years of marriage). We would trypically run a diesel on the main line, the Key System Unit (which hasn’t run in years) down to Barn 4, a steam engine pulled caboose train, and sometimes the big Red Cars (usually a blimp – such as 418-498) on the main line. We’d also run quite a few cars on the loop line, including the really old Kyoto car from Japan. Back in the early days, we only ran part of the way to downtown Perris — as far as we had electrified the track. I still remember the vines and gourds that grew out there. Later we finally got permission to run to the Perris Depot: we would have three trains alternating, and yet another train in Perris continuing to run North to Neuvo. The first year in Perris we were mobbed — I still remember Ray Ward and I figuring out how to put out the stanchions to control the crowd.

The museum itself was a lot of dirt roads — or perricrete (hard pack Perris dirt). Stanchions were made at the museum of yellow rope, poles, and rail wheels. It was a very informal family thing. We would all gather in Town Hall at the end of each day for Ed Vandeventer to give us the attendance numbers, and then most of us would adjourn to the Sizzler (later Tres Amigos) to get together for dinner.

Family is a good word to describe what the museum was in those days. Even if you got out to Perris infrenquently due to the drive — twice a year for Rail Fest — you knew most folks from the festivals. People were treated with respect.

But times change and things grow. In 2002 a little blue train came to Perris for the first time. It was back in 2003. Since then, it has been back every year, and is now back twice a year. The museum has added Thomas’ friend Percy the last three years, as well as adding the Peanut’s characters to our Pumpkin Patch event. This is all well and good, but has changed so many things.

First, the nature of membership has changed quite a bit. Back in the 80s and 90s, all members were volunteers interested in Rail history: in addition to rail fests, they would come out to work on train restoration, learn how to be operators, and take care of the museum. Since Thomas, membership has (at least to me) expanded to what I could call the parent brigade: parents who join museums for their kids for special admission prices and such. These folks don’t volunteer, they don’t become integrated into the family. It like being a member at the Zoo or the Art Museum. Such members are vital for a success of a museum, but they represent the move into the larger world, and the transition away from the small family. Casualty of growth.

Our little blue friend has also changed the physical plant. The blue friend brings in a green friend that isn’t Percy: one that can be spent on infrastructure improvements. Thomas has brought better signage, significantly more paving, better landscaping, and a whole host of big and little improvements from drainage to bathrooms. Members and donors have also met the challenge: new building such as Grizzley Flats (Barn 6), Four Tracks Out Back (Barn 7), and the Archives Building came from the members, as did more storage land that allowed all the old trains cluttering the interior of the museum to move moved away from visitors. Safer, cleaner, but less character. Infrastructure improvements are a good thing.

The growth of DOWT has changed the festival. The traditional railfest has gone by the wayside. There’s a member event still in the Spring, but it is nothing like what we did during the old railfest with just members as volunteers. In many ways, that’s because many of the older members have gone on to the big depot in the sky (and we miss them) or have moved away (and we miss them). Railfests are primarily DOWT these days, and the volunteers are provided by loads and loads of sharp and capable young men and women from groups like the Civil Air Patrol, Explorers, ROTC, nearby Military Schools — all earning service credit and doing good for the community. It is really wonderful to see these hard-working youngsters — you know there are good kids out there. But it is different than the family that we had.

The festival is now different in terms of events — largely because a festival of diesel, steam, and trolley cars just isn’t the draw it was 30 years ago. Now in addition to Thomas, there are kids areas and Thomas merchandise and photo-ops and food vendors — and it really is a well planned day. Here’s a mom’s eye view of DOWT that was shared this year. It really shows how the event is so so different. It is a celebration of Thomas, not the museum itself.

The museum has grown and added new events, such as the Steampunk Weekend. They’ve added things for the kids, like Daniel Tiger to the Trolley Car night. There has been increased thinking about the museum as a museum and its mission of preservation and interpretation as opposed to simple collecting. [To understand, contrast something like the Valley Relics Museum with the Museum of the San Fernando Valley]

I’m not trying to say that the museum has lost its way, or that Thomas is a cult leader like Sun Myung Moon or L. Ron Hubbard. Far far from that. I think that my buddies Thomas and Percy and their friends Charlie and Daniel has been great for the museum. Instead, I’m just noting the culmulation of incremental change that I’ve seen from 1987 to 2017. I miss the old days, the hard work, and most importantly, the people. But times change, and people pass and move away, and institutions grow and mature. OERM is still instilling a love of trains and travel history in our young, and bringing back memories to the old. But it is different, and festival feels oh so different.

But I still plan to be there next November.

Dining Notes: As we got out of the museum early (around 4pm), we meandered back home. Along the way, we found a great Salvadoran restaurant in Pomona, Hot Cazuelas (FB). We had a wonderful and inexpensive dinner, and talking with the owner later we discovered he used to own Salvadoran restaurants in our neck of the woods (North Hills) that we loved. One he sold and it has become something else, but the other (FB) has the cook from the one we loved and we still frequent them. We plan to go back. Hot Cazuelas is on Holt about 2 blocks W of Route 71, 1395 W. Holt Avenue. I had their Chicken with Grilled Onions and it was great, but their specialty is seafood.


Traveling On Our Stomach

userpic=levysThey say an army travels on its stomach. We’re traveling as well, so are some articles related to what we eat:

  • 24601. In Les Miserables, Jean Val Jean was punished for stealing a loaf of bread. He should have gone to Italy. The Italians have decided that the hungry should not be punished for stealing small amounts of food. Five years ago, Ukrainian national Roman Ostriakov was homeless in Genoa when he was caught stealing cheese and sausage worth less than $5, the Telegraph reports. He was fined $115 and sentenced to six months in jail in 2015, a sentence that he appealed. On Monday, the Italian Supreme Court ruled in his favor. Their opinion: “People should not be punished if, forced by need, they steal small quantities of food in order to meet the basic requirement of feeding themselves.”
  • Care Packages. One of the ways that soldiers in WWII won over the hearts of the populace was through care packages. Care packages were a vital lifeline for thousands of displaced families in post-World War II Europe. May 11 marks the 70th anniversary of the first delivery. The packages were shipped by CARE, a humanitarian group formed by 22 American aid and religious organizations. The first packages sent to Europe were surplus military rations left over from the war. When those ran out, CARE started putting together its own packages. At first, the boxes came furnished with just the basics — rice, beans, powdered eggs and milk. Soon, CARE started customizing packages to suit regional tastes. There were parcels tailored for Asian palates (with beans, miso and soybean oil), a kosher CARE package delivered to Jewish refugees and an Italian package (which came with spaghetti and assorted spices). NPR has a really interesting article about these packages.
  • Have You Met My Friend Harvey. If you were a traveler, however, your best choice for food was the Harvey House, operated by Fred Harvey. Boing Boing has a pointer to a nice article on this railroad dining empire. This caught my eye because OERM just opened a new Harvey House museum. The article itself is very detailed and quite a good read.
  • Salt of the Earth. Here’s an interesting piece about when to use that fancy, pricy, salt, and when not to do it. For me, I don’t fine-finish that many dishes that I think the fancy stuff is useful… but my wife has a different opinion.
  • Alternatives for What You Crave. One of my migraine groups posted this handy chart, about alternatives for those cravings you get when you have a headache. As a PS for those not familiar with migraines, here’s information on the four phases of a migraine.

Saturday Stew: A Little Bit of Everything

Observation StewNote: In case you missed my posts earlier this week, I had one with a collection of articles related to why I decided to support Hillary Clinton; a collection of articles related to food and diet; and a summary of the shows that I’m planning to see at the upcoming Hollywood Fringe Festival. But now it is Saturday, and I’m staring at the list of links I’ve accumulated over the week… and realizing there’s not a coherent theme buried in there.  You know what that means — it is time to make News Chum Stew!



It’s What’s For Dinner: Mixed-Up News Chum Stew

Observation StewFinally, it is time for the main dish: A hearty news chum stew made up of items that I just couldn’t form up into a coherent (or even incoherent) post. I’ll note the first three are roughly science related:

  • Things That Go Bump in the … Ouch. The title is worrisome enough on its own: “How A Simple Bump Can Cause An Insidious Brain Injury“. The concern here is a kind of brain injury that’s very insidious — a subdural hematoma. These don’t occur with falling off a ladder, slipping and bash your head on the ice, or playing football. Basically — and this can be a problem as you get older — you bump your head. You get a small brain bleed, but below the dura that lines the brain. The bleed creates a very low-pressure ribbon of blood that’s layering on top of the surface of the brain. As that blood starts to pool over days or weeks, it irritates the brain cells. And if the pool’s big enough, it presses on the brain and damages it, much like a tumor. Ouch.
  • It’s better than Progenitorivox. Asprin is indeed a miracle drug, when taken daily. Not only can it help your heart, but it can lower your risk of prostate disease. Men with prostate cancer had almost a 40% lower risk of dying of the disease if they were taking aspirin for cardiovascular protection, a large cohort study showed.
  • At Last My Row Is Complete Again. Those of you with real periodic tables of wood, time to get out your engraving router. The last row of the periodic table has been filled: the final four elements are confirmed. Needless to say, you won’t be able to keep the samples for long. That’s how it goes.
  • Clearing Out the Stash. Lots of useful info here for knitters and crocheters. Here is a list of 10 charities looking for yarn projects, and in that list are links to about 15 more. There’s also Operation Gratitude, which is looking for knitted scarfs for soldiers. Now, go forth and clean out that sewing room. Your non-crafting partners will thank you.
  • High Fashion Religious Scarfs. A couple of related items here. First, Dolce & Gabbana have launched a line of high-fashion hijabs and abaysas (Islamic head scarves). This is actually a big deal, as the purchasing power of this market is high, and this is an untapped area of fashion. In a different religious area, H&M has marketed a scarf that looks very much like a tallit.  This is a bit more in bad taste (although I must admit we once did find a fancy tallit in a thrift store — National Council of Jewish Women, in fact — that was labeled as a scarf). It is so problematic that they have pulled it from sale in Israel.  Just imagine the next conversation: Hey, boss: I’ve got this great idea for a new hat for women.
  • Tongue Tied. Moving from the Hebrew to the Yiddish: Here is a set of Yiddish Tongue Twisters. My favorite? “Schmoozing in the shtetl with a schmutzy sheitel is a shande.”
  • Ikea Games. Mental Floss had a neat article on secrets of Ikea. One is that there are multiple quick routes through the store, both for safety reasons and stocking reasons, and they’re open to the public. But they’re not advertised, so you’ll need a keen eye for secret passageways. Often they take the form of unmarked service doors. But they change them fairly frequently because customers get familiar with the shortcuts and know how to zip through. They change the shortcuts to force people to go around the long way again.
  • Getting a Lyft. I’ve been hearing more and more about Lyft and Uber. I’ve never used them. In LA, Lyft has just been authorized to pick up at LAX. Here’s a report on what it is like to use Lyft at LAX.
  • Ride the Red Cars. It is appropriate that I’m wearing an Orange Empire shirt as I type this. Here’s a retrospective on the decline of the Pacific Electric in Los Angeles. Alas, as usual, the comments go off the rail into conspiracy theories and partisan politics (yes, the removal of PE is Obama’s fault. Right.). Further, no one mentions they are still running at OERM.
  • There are Beans, and there are Beans. The inventor of Jelly Bellies is jonesing for a comeback. His next idea: caffeinated coffee jelly beans. Now that his non-compete has passed, the founder and his business partners have launched a Kickstarter campaign seeking $10,000 to launch their Original Coffee House Beans, which will come in flavors such as hot cocoa and peppermint, chai tea, coffee and doughnuts and caffe macchiato. Sounds interesting. Sugar and caffeine in one little pill. Who needs an energy drink.



Mama, mama, forget your pies

userpic=tombstonesIf you can’t figure out why this post is named what it is, you’ll have to read to the end. If you get the connection, I’ve just created an earworm. In any case, this post is a requiem for some things that are nearly or dearly departed:

Oh, right, the title of the post. Take a listen:


Observations on a Festival

userpic=oermWe just got back from this year’s stint volunteering at Orange Empire Railway Museum‘s “Day Out With Thomas” (oh, and if you haven’t gone, and you want to buy tickets… there’s one more weekend, so click here… and buy lots of merch). I thought I would share with you some thoughts that went through my head this festival.

I’ve been doing RailFests since the late 1980s. I’ve seen them be festivals for rail lovers. I’ve seen us run the tracks to capacity. I’ve seen us run into Perris. Since 2001, I’ve seen Thomas and his friends™ join us and pretty much supercede the festivals of yore. In the past, I’ve bemoaned the loss of the old festivals, but this year I realized what the problem is: relationships. I’ve written before with respect to Jewish institutions about the importance these days of building relationships to get an organization to survive. I’ve talked about it with theatres as well: I’ll subscribe to those where I have a relationship with the artistic staff, and feel a relationship to the organization. The RailFests at OERM did that: the people became like family — you supported the organization for the people as well as the mission.

As the museum has grown, it has moved towards the “professional” side. There have been flirtations with professional staff. There have been more policies and procedures visible. There has been less of an outreach and a family nature to the nurturing of the volunteers. This is not a side-effect of Thomas himself — volunteers could have been as easily nurtured under Thomas. I think it is an attitude shift; a professionalization that, while needed, may not have been executed with all the considerations in place.

All is not lost, however. What the museum needs to do is develop some events that will bring back those relationships. My belief would be to bring back the Spring Railfest as it used to be — that is, going to the membership for the volunteers, and not just depending on the local youth (good as they are). Bringing the people back to work together with other members builds those relationships. In the last few years, there have been Spring Railfests, but they’ve been nothing like the old ones — or at least they haven’t had the all out call for volunteers. Further, they haven’t been well publicized to the membership well in advance.

As for Thomas: From what I saw, attendance was lower this year. I don’t know if the popularity of the little blue engine is declining under Mattel ownership, if it is economic clime, or there was just a big lack of publicity to draw people in. Whatever the reason, it needs to be analyzed so that it can be corrected next year. We also need to make sure that we’re not solely depending on Thomas for operations funding — this is where the Spring Railfest comes in. Popularity of children’s icons are limited — where are the Rugrats today — and there needs to be plans for when Thomas is replaced with the next big thing.

There’s also the question of when trains themselves will be passe. They won’t be passe for those who rode them or the generation thereafter … but today’s kids, who have never grown up with the old passenger train. A museum of those evokes no nostalgia. Perhaps there will be museums of the high-speed trains of the future. There needs to be something forward looking — something that will encourage trains as transportation in the future.

One last word: There were a bunch of kids helping today from the California Military Institute in Perris. These young adults were remarkable — polite, eager to work, eager to learn, eager to help. Their instructors and supervisors should be proud of how they are raising these children, and I look forward to good things from them. I spoke to a number of them who were helping me on the cars, and they all of strong educational plans. Well done, CMI.


Life as a Theme Park

userpic=eticketToday’s news chum brings together a collection of stories related by… well, they all struck me as having some connection with a theme park or similar attraction:

Lastly, to continue yesterday’s post about the joke’s just writing themselves… Yesterday, I cited an article with the headline “Why Did The Chicken Lose Its Penis?” because the responses that came from the headline just seemed to write themselves. If you went to the link, the comments gave a lot of them (such as “Because its pecker is on the other end”). Here are three more headlines that caught my eye:

I expect to see most of these showing up on “Wait Wait” in the coming weeks.



“Hey, Come Back!” – Reflections on a Railfest

Those words “Hey, come back!” were yelled by a young visitor this morning as the Thomas Train passed the “A” gate going south to Mapes, before it returned back to the platform to pick up another load of passengers. Those words amused me at the time, but they really reflect quite a bit about this year’s Day Out With Thomas railfest at Orange Empire Railway Museum (don’t worry if you missed it this weekend–you can still get tickets for tomorrow (11/12) or next weekend to visit my best bud Tommy).

  • Hey, Come Back! One thing a Day Out with Tommy makes you realize is how real Thomas the Tank Engine is for really young children. As adults, we forget how real these programs can be, and these kids love these characters. That said, they forget about these characters without exposure, and attendance sure seemed down this weekend from the first years of Thomas. I forget if Thomas the Tank Engine is still on local stations. If it is, I’m wondering if HIT Entertainment is pricing themselves out of the market in this economy.
  • Hey, Come Back! Of course, the best way to cement an image is a child’s mind is marketing, and HIT knows that well. In fact, they know it better than well since they have been bought by Mattel, and are now a division of Fisher Price. Our young patrons were wandering around with loads of Thomas-branded stuff… and I began to wonder what will happen to it all. Will the third-world countries that end up with the Thomas stuff after the kids outgrow and donate it know anything about an imaginary train engine on an English island? Are we just creating more and more stuff to fill landfills… and what message is that teaching our children?
  • Hey, Come Back! As a museum, one thing we hope is that these children… and their parents… come back to the museum. Yet surprisingly the museum gift shop was closed this weekend. I heard two different reasons: one was lack of staff; the other was objections from HIT to selling non-Thomas merch. Irrespective of the reason, there was no place for visitors to pick up material to remind them of their visit to Orange Empire, and to encourage them to come back and visit when Tommy isn’t there. It also upset me because I wanted to pick up my Red Cars/Yellow Cars calendar (which is supposedly available, but doesn’t appear to be anywhere on the Museum website). If we want to get people to come back to OERM, we need to show them that OERM is more than just Thomas.
  • Hey, Come Back! One thing that needs to come back is the family feeling that used to be at Railfest. Thomas is a family event, but it doesn’t strengthen the museum family. The current Thomas event depends on a diverse group of volunteers from museum members to local ROTC and military school students. I’m grateful for them, but I miss the old days. In the old days (pre-Thomas) we had railfests where the collection of the museum was the point of the celebration. We drew in those in the community that loved trains for being trains, not for being entertainment. We also drew in our members to volunteer — year after year. We built community in Town Hall, sharing the numbers, going out to dinner afterwards. Members that are part of a family want to support that family through thick and thin. We’re not building that — and we need to build it. I’m not sure what the answer is–there is a Spring Railfest, but it doesn’t get the advance publicity, it doesn’t draw in the crowds, nor does it depend on the membership to run it. It also isn’t the big affair, with the track running to capacity and then some, with the museum’s trains. Perhaps restoring the Spring Railfest to its former glory might help a lot. Something is needed to get the members coming back.
  • Hey, Come Back–Not! I should note that I’m not asking everything from the past to come back. I understand completely the new business focus of the museum. In order to succeed long term, the museum must have the proper focus, must protect the grounds, and protect itself. It must watch expenditures and ensure efficient and safe operations. However, in doing this, the museum most also preserve what makes it special–and that’s more than just the equipment sitting in the yard. It is the people that make OERM special.

I still treasure the friends I have at the museum, and I come back because of those people. But I want to make new friends, and to have the visit with them make it worth the gas and hotel room to get out there. I encourage everyone to go out to Perris and visit the museum–whether or not Thomas is there. I hope you’ll find it a special place.