Sunday, October 21, 2012

Travel - A trip to the past aboard the WK & S Railroad

     There are photographs taken of me as a kid that draw out belly laughs from family and friends. Whether it's the outfit I'm wearing, a bad haircut or wacky expression, there is no living down these images captured for posterity. I think my parents took these photos as a way to get even with me for all the aggravation I caused as an ornery little kid.

Strick's Pics, left with sister Lisa and brother Gary in '67

     But, I have one photo that I'm very fond of and consider it my favorite taken in my youth. The picture shows my sister Lisa, brother Gary and myself standing in front of steam locomotive 250 in October of 1967. We looked like refugees ready to board the train for a trip off to Siberia. Style wasn't a concern of my parents. Back then I wore pants with the knees covered in patches. If they didn't have holes and were clean, they were dress clothes.
     My sister loved her little mint green jacket and wore it everywhere. Gary never took off his knit cap. He even pulled it down over his head at night to straighten his curly hair. There's nothing fancy about my outfit, but I liked the goofy black sweater with the red diamonds.
     For year's I thought the steam train we rode was at the Strasburg Railroad in Lancaster County. But, with the help of the internet, I was surprised to find out that the home of the train we rode over 40 years ago was the Wanamaker, Kempton & Southern Railroad in Kempton, Pa.
     Seeing where the train was located, I reached out by email to the staff and sent the old photo which they verified was indeed a locomotive that ran on their line. From that point I made plans with my siblings and our spouses to recreate the photograph as we look today after decades of time having ticked by.
     As I've stated in other articles, Deb and I like to take train rides and have been on various steam and diesel passenger trains around the U.S. Whether it's a short ride or one of several hours it's a pleasure to travel back in time aboard the historic railroads. We rarely drive into Philadelphia. When planning a day trip, we will take the Septa R-6 line from Norristown and sit back on the way to the city. We walk around town, do some sightseeing, enjoy lunch, maybe some shopping and then it's back aboard for our return.
     We made a full day of our trip to Kempton on a recent Sunday. Driving on Rt. 73 we stopped at the Creekside Diner in Pleasantville for breakfast of our favorite Johnny Appleseed baked oatmeal. It's a tasty treat in the cozy western-themed rustic diner. Afterwards we traveled up over the mountains on Route 737 arriving at the railroad yard.
     My sister had made a reprint of the photo and we showed it to several of the workers who were running the train. The WK&S, #250 was no longer at the Kempton site and had been sold and moved by rail to New Hampshire in the early 1970s. The locomotive is currently at the Edaville Railroad in Carver, Massachusetts and is no longer in operation.
     We decided to shoot our picture in front of the old steam locomotive #2 that sits on site near the maintenence building and was the first operational engine when the WK&S opened in 1963. The #2 isn't in service but made for a beautiful backdrop for our current snapshot. To give the photograph an authentic look Lisa presented our brother with a gold beanie and he was a good sport wearing it on for the picture. 
As we look today in October 2012.
     On the crisp autumn afternoon and under a clear blue sky my wife Deb took several snaps to record our little piece of history. We could hear the whistle off in the distance so we made our way back to the platform for a ride on the rails. The train was comprised of locomotive #734, three coach cars with comfortable upholstered chairs, an open air car and a caboose that passengers could ride in.
     All of the cars were filled with families and young children taking their first rides just as we had. It was the 'Pumpkin Patch' train weekend and at the halfway point children and parents hopped off and raced around picking out their favorite pumpkins that were part of their day of adventure. The kids brought their prize back with them for the return trip.
     While we were stopped, I talked with engineer Jim Krause who is also the general manager of operations. Jim filled me in on the history of the #250 as he looked at our old photo. He knew the exact spot where it was taken. These little train lines have a unique history and it was nice to learn about the all-volunteer staff who give up many hours of their time to keep the WK&S running.     
     As we chugged along the countryside, the trees were in peak colors of red, yellow and orange just as they were in the fall of '67. Corn fields were a dry golden brown waiting for farmers to harvest. Leaves floated in the slow moving current of the cool Ontelaunee Creek. The hour long ride was a relaxing trip to enjoy.
     With our mission complete we looked around at some of the buildings and equipment. Before heading home, we matched up wooden siding and windows from a different photo as we figured out the angle from where it was taken. 
     I don't remember much from the time we spent as children on our ride in 1967, but I won't forget the fun we had this trip reminiscing with my family while the train rolled along.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Travel - Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

      It's that time of year again as cooler breezes fill the air, leaves begin to change color and I get the bug to travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico. The first Saturday in October is the start of the annual Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.
     The week-long festival is one of the most photographed events in the world. It's no wonder with all the crazy shapes and sizes of balloons, camera buffs are snapping pictures non stop.
     I had waited years to attend and capture some shots of the famous air display. Finally, we were on site at 5 a.m. to beat the traffic jams on the highway leading into Balloon Fiesta Park. The air was cold and we were bundled up in layers as several 'dawn patrol' balloons took off in the early morning darkness. These balloons were fun to watch as they glowed in the sky when the burners were fired to keep them aloft. These early risers gave the other balloonists an idea of wind speed and direction when the mass ascension lifts off later in the morning.
     Deb and I walked around the grass covered field and watched the sun begin to rise. Pilots and crew members unfurled their colorful balloons. Our first day was the special shapes mass ascension. The imagination of the owners had no bounds on their creations. We saw close to ninety of these balloons from old favorites like Smokey the Bear to Star Wars creation Darth Vader.
     One of my favorites is the giant Saguaro cactus which is quite a character. The Creamland balloon is a massive full sized cow named Airabelle.  It took a lot of propane to heat the balloon envelope to get her airborne. The conditions were perfect that day, not a cloud in the sky and light winds pushing the balloons along.
     My wife Deb liked the bees Joey and Lilly. They have since added a little bee named Joelly and the three ascend together with the crowds cheering them on.
     Onlookers have unrestricted access during inflation with pilots answering questions while busily getting ready to launch. Thousands of people attend daily on the early morning and I enjoyed being in the crowds as part of the festivities. I'm shooting photos and suddenly my snapshot camera stopped working.  This wasn't good and realized after taking photos all week from Sedona, Arizona to The Grand Canyon and places in between that I filled up the digital card on the camera.
     What do I do now. I wasn't prepared for this and the special shape balloons were starting to fill up around me. That day would be the only time I'd get to see them. And then I saw a student carrying camera accessories, batteries and camera cards as a school fundraiser. I ran over to him and spent $20.00 on the biggest card he had and was back in business before the balloons took off from the field. I would have paid $100 not to miss shooting the colorful display.
      The sun was peaking from behind the Sandia Mountains and the sky turned a vivid blue. What a backdrop to contrast the array of colors floating in front of me. I put the camera down to watch them puff over my head and enjoy the moment.
      Friends we had met traveling asked if we wanted to go with them on an air balloon flight that same morning. We politely declined the invitation as I've been aboard balloons in the past. Deb and I made the choice to stay and watch from the ground.
     I had flown out of Memorial Park during several 4th of July celebrations. Lifting off with the crowds watching and me waving back is exciting. The feeling of floating quietly across the sky watching the ground below is very peaceful.  Of course, I was shooting photos for the newspaper those days.
    Once the special shapes left the field there was a break in the action, so Deb and I walked along vendors row and purchased a breakfast burrito that looked the size of a small log. When traveling, we like to snack on the local food and weren't disappointed with our choice. The green and red chile wasn't too hot, at least I didn't think so, and combined nicely with the egg, meat, cheese, beans and and other ingredients. What a tasty way to have breakfast before more balloons arrived.
     Hundreds of balloons at the mercy of the wind flew toward the field and the crews participated in a key grab competition. Deb was counting balloons as they went by and gave up at 250. Close to 500 balloons were in the air that day. The balloonists slowly descend toward large poles that are held up at different positions across the show grounds. The area is roped off to the public looking on for safety reasons. As the balloons slowly approach a co-pilot in the basket tries to reach down and grab a key that is fixed atop the pole.  It is harder than it looks. We watched as one person grabbed one only to lose his grip and the key fell to the ground. Prizes are given to those lucky enough to get a key.
    And just like that the last of the balloons floated off into the distance. It was a dizzying morning and I snapped many pictures on that day. It was probably one of the most enjoyable days of shooting photos that I've ever had.
My favorite photograph from the balloon fiesta.
      Deb and I would travel back to Albuquerque every year if we had the chance. But when opening day comes this weekend I will feel like I'm there even though I'm in Pennsylvania. With a live video feed from two of the local television stations I will see the mass ascensions from my computer and participate in the chat room with other folks from around the world who also check in. I may not be on site but it's still nice to be part of this year's 41st annual event.
     And for me, I can watch dressed in pajamas in the warmth of my computer room. Maybe I'll make a breakfast burrito to take it a notch higher. But not too hot on the chile.