Tuesday, May 31, 2016


At about age four, Santa gave my brother and me trains for Christmas.  They were S-gauge Gilbert American Flyers: bigger than HO scale but smaller than the more popular Lionel, and with two rails instead of Lionel’s three, more realistic.

I distinctly remember my train coursing around the Christmas tree: a Union Pacific switcher followed by a brown box car, a flat car with stakes so that it could hold to-scale sections of pipe, and a little red caboose that my tonally challenged mother sang about.

Within a couple of years, we moved north from the LA suburb of Altadena to a five acre “spread” along a creek in Butte County that included a grove of almond trees.  Lost in that transition were some elements of the American Flyer train set including those replica pipes.

My flat car needed new cargo – you know – freight.

In those days, our little farmhouse’s laundry room contained a Kenmore washer, but for drying things, Mom relied on the old fashioned, tried-and-true, solar powered clothesline out back.  On laundry days when it rained or was foggy, she set up a drying rack back porch.  It was made of half-inch dowels and 1x2s and it opened sort of like an accordion. 

But it didn’t rain all that much, so for most of its life, the rack sat on its end collapsed next to the Kenmore.

Just short of the orchard, in a long, narrow structure behind the house, Dad had a shop, a tool shed and a vacant space he converted into a train room for his sons.  A twelve-inch wide shelf skirted the entire interior.  We laid S-gauge track and could spend hours watching our trains chug around the rectangle.  There was one problem, however.

My flat car still needed freight.

One sunny day, while Mom was off to Harvey’s Market, the neighborhood mom ‘n’ pop, or a PTA meeting or something, I had little else to do with my time but watch my train do its circuit with the flat car rolling around and around naked.  It occurred to a seven-year-old me that some half-inch dowels, cut to the correct length would make a dandy load for that empty freight car.  By this age, I could boost myself up onto Dad’s workbench and grab his prized Disston-Porter hand saw, and the drying rack proved not so cumbersome that I couldn’t haul it out to the shop.

Finally, and by my own hand, my flat car had its freight.

About a week-and-a-half later, it rained on laundry day.


Note:  Here’s the locomotive.

And for a view of some of the freight cars supplied by Gilbert for their American Flyer toy trains check out: http://www.thegilbertgallery.org/Freight%20Gallery/freight_gallery.html

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, May 28, 2016


More on shopping locally, thirty-five miles from home

I live in a place where there are no bad roads.  Even the freeway that cuts through town is palatable: north to the redwoods, south toward the bay.  Secondary roads?  A week ago, I ventured to a tiny grove of redwoods – just a dot on the map.  Yesterday, it rained and I rode west to the coast.  Today?  I was running short of the whole bean coffee I grind each morning for my single cup of Joe.

My first experience with a really nice motorcycle involved an ’83 BMW R65.  Perhaps a bit too small for my lanky frame, I enjoyed the occasional commute from one end to the other of Sonora in Tuolumne County for a haircut.  I chose a barbershop that required a good thirty minutes on skinny and entertaining roads for my once-monthly riding delight. Twists. Canyons. Pines. Granite. And then the shears.

Long ago, it became my practice to shop locally as far from home as possible.  My intent yesterday was to buy coffee, but I ended up taking a route that led me in exactly the opposite direction to a nice little chowder house with a view of a churning sea just off the pier in Point Arena.  Not surprisingly, today, I was still short coffee.  Funny how wanderlust can derail even the simplest of agendas.

Sonoma County, California, it is said, has more soil types than all of France.  Perhaps this is why Sonoma’s main agricultural endeavor seems to be wine grapes.

Travelling along the secondary roads, over ridges and into vales, vineyards appear as rolling waves across the undulating landscape.  Real picturesque.  Generally, we find Pinot Noir and Sauv Blanc to the west, Zins and Cabs in the drier regions east.  But pocketed microclimates married to soil regions borne through the combination of tectonic forces and eons of erosion bear blocks of myriad fruit, each with specific characteristics based upon genetics and locale.  If one likes wine, Sonoma County is heaven.

Likewise, if one likes a range of riding experience, Sonoma County does not disappoint.  Today’s excursion traced the edge of the Alexander Valley, crossed the Mayacamas hills and descended into the northern reaches of a Napa Valley that may not quite deserve the vaunting wine reviews it receives; at least that’s what those of us in Sonoma County believe…

To be sure, there is – or was – more going on in the realm of agriculture in this region than simply viticulture: cattle are grazed, fruit and nut orchards dot the landscape and tiny farms, organic and otherwise, checkerboard the area.  But overall, the acres and acres of grapes, which have displaced perhaps too many of the old time farms, provide a beautiful backdrop for the twisting, rise-and-fall pavement that invites a casual throttle and a relaxed pace.

The ride through northern Sonoma County into neighboring Napa County is a rewarding two-wheeled escapade.  The city of Calistoga is a berg of a few thousand situated at the north end of the Napa Valley.  Though there is an a comprehensive John Deere tractor dealer on the east end of the main drag – bring a grandson or daughter and buy ‘em a green ball cap – the community’s agricultural roots are deeply hidden by a burgeoning tourist trade: mud baths, a quaint downtown, tasting rooms monikered with names famous for stuff other than wine.

Allow and hour or so to stroll the street.  A great bookstore awaits.  A classic California café, as well.  And the Calistoga Roastery: it offers the whole bean coffee that, they claim, “wakes up Napa County.” 

I use this independent business as my excuse to do seventy miles of enchanting pavement.  The roastery sells whole bean and blends whose essence, the day after, reminds me of the pleasantry of the journey – smooth, warm and satisfying.  Plus, at the Calistoga Roastery, a pound of coffee still weighs 16 ounces.

What could be better?

I’ll ask myself this question tomorrow morning over a warm and fragrant cup and conclude: “Not much.”

For the ride and the commerce, I’ll be back in about three weeks, unless I should happen across another roaster while exploring a different thirty-five miles of twists, turns and stunning scenery – somewhere else local.


Notes:  Info on Calistoga may be accessed at: http://visitcalistoga.com/

Specifically, the Calistoga Roastery’s website is: http://calistogaroastery.com/


Routes:  Yesterday: north on US 101, west on state route 128; south on state route 1 to Point Arena.  Right on whatever the street is that leads a mile out to the pier.  Chowder house is there.  Try the Manhattan.  Return?  South on state route 1 to Jenner, east tracing the Russian to Monte Rio, Guerneville and Santa Rosa; to 101.

Today:  South on US 101, east on state route 128 at Geyserville to Calistoga.  Left onto the main drag.  Return?  Retrace.

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Sunday, May 22, 2016


A Church of the Open Road Mini-Memoir
(and this one’s a classic)

About a year ago, when we moved into our new-to-us house, and having left the old pair at our previous residence, we found ourselves in the market for a washer and dryer.  Consulting a leading consumer magazine, we fell into the purchase of the first laundry units we’d ever owned not sourced through a US corporation: Korea’s Samsung.  The new set does a marvelous job cleaning our laundry with more lights, buttons and sounds than we’d ever understand.

For example, whether it’s the washer or the dryer, when the immediate cycle is complete, a sweet little tune is chimed in a brisk 4/4.  I hadn’t heard this rif before and figured, since the company is headquartered in Seoul, perhaps it was the Korean national anthem.  I began to salute, out of respect, and long for some spicy Korean barbecue, a taste sensation unavailable in our new town.

With our transition from the Sacramento area, I’ve had to adjust the presets on my Nissan’s radio to new stations. I’ve always liked classical music and, many times tuned into Cap Radio’s KXJZ after a particularly taxing day.  In our new environs, there’s a fine classical outlet that is based in San Francisco.  The selection of music and their informative commentary has made KDFC (88.9) my go-to when travelling anywhere within their signal range.

About a week ago, while heading south on the 101, a familiar tune aired, played by a piano in front of a string quartet.  Suddenly I was consumed by an overwhelming urge to pull to the side of the freeway, fold t-shirts and remove the permanent press from the dryer before it wrinkled. 

My knowledge of Franz Shubert’s catalog has always been limited, but it grew a little that day.  I’d been listening to his Piano Quintet in A major, D. 667, commonly known as  “Trout.”  Here’s a link to a lovely performance of movement 4, the tune our Samsungs sing: http://video.mywapblog.co/watch?v=z24M13BnYjM

Still, a week after this revelation, I’m thinking how odd that the Republic of Korea would choose this melody for their national anthem.

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, May 20, 2016


…the lies I told my students

Early in my teaching career, I came up with the idea of using read-aloud time with students to prepare them for whatever the next social studies unit of instruction might be about.  So, while I was teaching California geography to my fourth graders, I’d be reading Scott O’Dell’s classic Island of the Blue Dolphins to surreptitiously provide a little background knowledge for the upcoming unit on California Indians.

In preparation for my unit on the westward movement, while teaching about California Indians, I read a compelling novel called Oregon At Last! by a Dutch author named A.Rutgers Van Der Loeff.  It tells the remarkable tale of the seven children of the Sager family.  It seems the family, like so many others during the 1840s, decided to leave Illinois and migrate to the fertile prospects of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  Tragically along the way, mother died shortly after giving birth, then a few weeks later, father died.  Alone in a foreign and hostile environment, oldest boy, John, led his brothers and sisters through floods, fires, blizzards and threats of bears and wolves to finally arrive at Marcus and Narcissa Whitman’s outpost on the banks of the Walla Walla River. 

The book was a great read, with the savvy reader – me – learning that if I closed the volume about two sentences before the end of each chapter, just before each crisis was resolved, my students would clamor for me to not stop, sometimes even disturbing the class next door with their protestations.  They loved the book and many were in tears at the end when Narcissa Whitman, clutching the eight-week-old infant declares: “Where did you come from?  I cannot believe that I’ve ever seen a child so beautiful as you.”  Or something to that effect.

We used the themes of the book to write our own stories about bravery, perseverance and luck.  All good stuff.  Except…

Long on my list of things to do has been a visit to the grounds of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman’s outpost near the Columbia River.  The story of their care for the Sager children long drove this desire in me. 

In the 1835, prompted by an evangelical movement known as “the Second Great Awakening,” easterners Reverend Samuel Parker and a young Dr. Marcus Whitman traveled to Oregon country to assess the prospects of establishing Presbyterian Missions in order to save the “heathen natives” who’d long settled in the area. 

Parker remained west while, in 1836, Whitman returned with his new bride, Narcissa – one of the history’s first two white women to venture west of the Rockies – and a group of evangelical volunteers along what was soon to become the Oregon Trail.

Painting of Whitman Mission as imagined by William Henry Jackson based on written descriptions.
The mission was established and relations developed between the Whitmans and native Cayuse.  Whitman taught the native population farming and irrigation techniques – and religion – and ultimately built a gristmill, blacksmith shop and a large adobe house.

With the influx of immigrants, the mission of the mission changed from that of civilizing the Indians to providing aid and rest to the newcomers who’d suffered immeasurable privations on their journey west.  Among these were the seven Sager children.

But the kids hadn’t roughed it alone as Van Der Loeff (and later, Disney: recall the film “Seven Alone”) would have us believe.  The practice of the times was that if a parent died, others within the traveling company would pitch in – and if both parents passed, offspring would be divvied up amongst other families and cared for.  Such was the case with John and his siblings.  Tragic, but not quite so compelling a tale.

National Park Service
In 1847, a measles plague swept through this section of the Columbia Plateau.  Dr. Whitman’s medicine appeared only to work on immigrant children.  The children of Cayuse died, sometimes several per day.  Believing that the Whitmans were responsible, the Cayuse determined that in order to save their people, the white people needed to die. 

A monument is erected atop a nearby hill with a sweeping view of the area the Whitmans hoped to tame.  The plaque thereon lists the names of those killed in the assault including John Sager and a brother, both of whom had stayed at the mission.

The story of the short existence of the Whitman Mission provides fascinating insights into our movement west, our penchant for believing our religion is somehow superior, the tragedies that befell both the whites who first ventured onto the Columbia Plateau and the natives they encountered.  Remains of the outpost include only the foundation locations of some of the original buildings, a restored pond that had provided irrigation water, a resurrected orchard, and a pleasant interpretive center. 

National Park Service
After a visit to this spot, one cannot but be moved by the enormity of what events here precipitated. Citizens moving west established the Oregon Trail, which might not have taken its soon-to-be-established route, had it not been for the mission.  Word of the tragedy prompted Washington to deploy personnel to protect citizens moving west.  Treaties were written, signed and ignored.  And many brave and beautiful cultures were ultimately trodden to dust as one people overtook another.

You may find yourself driving away consumed in reflective silence.



The Whitman Mission is a National Historic Site maintained by the National Park Service.  Details: https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/cultural_diversity/Whitman_Mission_National_Historic_Site.html

The Park Service has provided an excellent video exploring both the Native American’s and the immigrant’s perspective on the Whitman Mission and the tragic events that unfolded.  It is well worth 25 minutes of your time and may be accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFLsOEnKMg0

Related: A fine Oregon Trail Interpretive Center has been established by the Bureau of Land Management in Baker City, Oregon another worthy stop while on the Open Road.  Details: http://www.blm.gov/or/oregontrail/#

For one man’s contemporary view of the Oregon Trail, check out my little review of this recent book, in which, in the end, the author pays his respects to Mrs. Whitman: http://thechurchoftheopenroad.blogspot.com/2016/04/suggested-reading-oregon-trail-new.html

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, May 13, 2016


…a tale of impatience and its resultant stupidity…

The US 101 freeway through Santa Rosa was an afterthought.  The city was built up and a nice, old downtown was bisected by the urge to build a north south four-lane thirty or forty years ago.  The result of this poor, but necessary, plan is streets that dead end and are reborn again, traffic patterns that aren’t really patterns, on and off ramps that send drivers careening into neighborhoods and business districts and a bottleneck of traffic through town during many times of day.

Belatedly, a few years back, a third lane was constructed to be a high occupancy vehicle (HOV) diamond lane.  Diamond lanes are a great idea.  While, years ago, a writer to the Sacramento Bee lamented that Sacramento’s HOV lanes limited one’s “freedom of choice,” in reality, they enhance one’s choice.  You can either choose to commute with a partner and use the lane or you can choose to commute by yourself and be stuck doing about 19 miles per hour in a 65 zone. 

I like diamond lanes and never abuse them.

Well, almost never.  Leaving Santa Rosa in the Subaru Forester after a frustrating forty-five minutes of trying to find an establishment that’d moved from one location to another on the other side of the freeway, at about 4:00 PM, I crept up the on-ramp to a clogged 101.  Once on the slab, I noted a big-rig negotiating a lane change so he could edge off the freeway at the next opportunity.  I flashed the Sube’s lights to give the trucker the traffic break needed.

Someone driving a car that could go much faster than 42 in the number 2 lane filled the semi’s gap and with traffic pulling ahead in front of him, putted along at about 23 miles per hour under the limit.  And he didn’t seem to have the desire to wick things up a notch.  I followed as the truck exited a mile or so on taking note that Johnny Slow didn’t pull to the right to occupy the now open space in the slow lane.  Still, I rested a safe distance behind and puttered along as the next off ramp / on ramp came and went.

Could I have passed this guy on the right?  As a credentialed Drivers Education and Training instructor, I make it a habit never to pass on the right unless the driver in front of me is signaling for and making a left turn.

At a slight rise with a gentle right turn in the freeway, a nice long gap had opened up in the HOV lane to my left.  I’ll just slip in there, goose it, and pull back into the lane, I thought to myself.  And I did.

CHP Officer Terry is a very nice individual.  He conducts his business with a high degree of professionalism and courtesy.  With a radar gun, he’d been standing on the shoulder next to a black and white Ford Explorer when I crested the rise.  In less than a minute, the big Explorer was in my rear-view mirror with its roof lit up like a Fourth of July parade.

“Do you know why I pulled you over?”
“Yep.  Using the diamond lane to pass that guy going about 40.”
“You do know you’re not supposed to do that, right?”

I handed him my license and fumbled for the registration.  Although I should have a very checkered driving career, this would be my first California citation in over 47 years of driving.

“The good news is that there are no points and no traffic school associated with this.”
“I used to teach traffic school,” I said.
“I’ll only be about five minutes and you’ll be on your way.”

I’ve met a number of CHP officers both as a school principal when introducing law enforcement to elementary students with the “Stop On a Dime” program where I got to drive an old Crown Victoria they used to use; and as a customer of the service department at BMW motorcycle dealerships when they were having their bikes serviced.  Nice folks.  Good talkers.  Always interested in whatever civilian they were engaging in the waiting area.  I like ‘em all.

And I like Officer Terry.  He returned my license and registration with a newly minted citation and explained the process.  “They take diamond lanes pretty seriously in Sonoma County.  I think this’ll be about 351 bucks.”
Then he asked if I had any questions.
“Why, yes,” I said.  “I do.”
“What is it?”
“Well, I noticed you’re in an Explorer.  How do you like it compared to the Crown Vics?”
Terry laughed.  “Honestly? I feel like a soccer mom.”
I laughed as he added a few words of lamentation about “not even having Eco-Boost in this unit.  The young guys get the hot rods.” 
Then he said, “Thank you for being so courteous.”
I replied, “You weren’t the one being stupid. I was.”
We shook hands.
“I’ll wait here until you’re safely back in the lane.  Use the shoulder to get up to speed, okay?  Be safe.”
“You too.”


The “bail” including “fees” came to $490.00.  The check was made payable to “Superior Court.”

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press