Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 21, 2017

Box of Ironies

Quite a few years ago, my original line of work gave out, I went back to school and changed careers. I had a general idea about what job I’d pursue, which turned out to be almost entirely mistaken, but it’s worked out okay.

Being back at the university as a graduate assistant after an 11-year absence, everything was different from my undergraduate days.

Then, I lived in the old world, typing papers on a manual typewriter, researching in the library using the card catalog, and I called home (rarely) on the pay phone down the hall. Little of that era remains, and the contemporary world was coming into existence in the mid-80s during my second stint at school.

This week, I encountered a relic from that watershed era.

I was in an art supply store The Counselor and I hadn’t been in for several years. It’s a cavernous place in a warehouse, and they use some of their extra space for a wacky mix of side businesses, including “e-waste recycling.” The dim, dusty back of the warehouse had shelves full of obsolete electronics: analog stereo receivers and oscilloscopes, outdated computer monitors with pitiful screen resolution, and other castoffs.

I poked around there while The Counselor was examining the art supplies. In the furthest corner, on a low shelf, I encountered a duplicate of a machine that revolutionized the way I work, and everything to do with the career I’ve had since, working for technology companies: writing, directing and producing various forms of media and events. I was startled to see it.

Apple IIe Brad Nixon (584x640)

That’s an Apple IIe computer lurking in the gloom, introduced in 1984, more or less identical to the one my department acquired that same year, as I was finishing my master’s degree.

It’s ironic that the department bought it for their administrator to use for typing and record-keeping, when, in fact, it and a kazillion other computers were about to revolutionize the entire business the department was in, which was the instructional application of media technology. Every technology I was learning in my program and teaching to future educators — photography, 35mm slides, projection transparencies, sound recording and playback, film and video — was due to be either utterly transformed or made redundant by digital computers.

I was lucky, because I figured out what it signified — at least in part — and stole as much time as I could using that primitive machine (and its two 5-1/4″ floppy disk drives you see on top). Within 6 months I was working at a longtime business machines company that soon introduced its own (doomed) line of personal computers. I spent the next 30 years at technology companies, using a succession of descendants of that little IIe. Now, here we are, relating over something called the World Wide Web.

I have no idea if that model on the shelf worked. Probably not. I’m not so nostalgic that I’d want to slide a floppy into the drive and boot it up, anyway.

The final irony is that I took a picture of it with my phone, something that would’ve been inconceivable in 1984. The phone I used is made by the same company that built the IIe. Taking a digital photo is mundane now, , but in those first months I sat at the keyboard of the IIe, I was teaching undergraduates the techniques for effective classroom presentations with overhead transparencies and how to thread 16mm film into a projector. Sometimes the circle turns, and sometimes it turns inside-out.

© Brad Nixon 2017


Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 19, 2017

24 Years Under Western Skies; Poor Immigrant

I pity the poor immigrant

Who wishes he would’ve stayed home.

—— Bob Dylan

It’s a day to celebrate. 24 years ago today, I was an immigrant, and arrived in Los Angeles, a city full of fellow immigrants. I didn’t change countries, I simply moved from another part of the United States.

No, I don’t wish I’d stayed home. I am home.  I’ll get to Nobel Laureate Dylan’s lines later.

I remember the date of my arrival not because I changed locations, but because it was the start of my full-time association with the person regular readers know as The Counselor, already an L.A. resident when I arrived. In the ensuing years, she’s been with me on the majority of the travels I describe in Under Western Skies. As here, in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon:

MV Chaco Canyon Brad Nixon 2963 (640x480)

She gets the credit for steering us to Chaco, and a lot of other iconic places.

It’s a truism here in the U.S. that “We’re all immigrants.” That’s almost universally true, excepting the surviving Native American population, just under 1% of U.S. citizens. The rest of us came from somewhere else, or have ancestors who did. The Counselor and I both knew grandparents who emigrated from other countries.

Traveling the American west for these 24 years has helped me understand more fully how nearly every village, town and city is an immigrant town. Here in the more recently settled portion of the country, some towns were established — or really began thriving — not long before my grandparents were born. Today, cities of the western United States are booming, spreading up the mountainsides and into the forests like Denver is, or, like Phoenix, sprawling across the desert, filling with immigrants from near and far.

More illustrative of the perils of the immigrant experience, though are the many towns that had only a brief existence, and are empty and crumbling now — ghost towns — like Bodie, California.

Bodie boomed with gold mining in the 1870s, briefly swelling to hold as many as 7,000 people. Today, none remain.

All those individuals were immigrants. Many left established homes elsewhere in the U.S., others were newly arrived from an uncountable number of countries. Gold meant money, and the gold was in the west: Go West. When the gold or silver or timber gave out, they moved again, looking for the next chance.

Some towns have thrived. The oldest city in the U.S., Santa Fe, was founded by immigrants … from Spain. Here in Los Angeles, another onetime Spanish town, I’ve met people whose families settled here five and even six generations ago, but they came from somewhere else, too. Cities around the world are magnets for people, steadily swelling them for the promise of jobs and opportunity. Every city is taxed with providing housing, water, transportation and schools for them as their numbers grow. Yes, Los Angeles is crowded.

IMG_8498 LA traffic Brad Nixon (640x480)

There’s something inherently human about resenting new arrivals and the stress they place on traffic, prices, competition for jobs. But it’s a mistake to resent them; we are, indeed, nearly all immigrants, whether we arrived a year ago or our ancestors settled in Santa Fe or Savannah, Georgia in the 17th Century. I have Dutch ancestors who settled in New Amsterdam in the 1600s, before it became New York.

The place was not originally ours.

I think that’s part of what Dylan meant about “poor” immigrant: being shunned initially, and then resenting the next wave of newcomers who threaten whatever we think of as “ours.”

I’m happy to be an immigrant, and think of a young English woman who got off a boat in New York City with five little children, knowing no one in the entire United States except her husband,who was off working in an Illinois coal mine, hundreds of miles away. How would she fare?

I grew up to know that young woman — my grandmother — and those five kids, my aunts and uncles. Six of the tens of millions of people who’ve come here. Many of them headed west and kept going, to Nebraska or Oregon or Arizona or here in California: wherever there seemed to be an opportunity.

More are coming, many of them here in the golden west. Many of them are, indeed, poor, with little money. It’s essential to remember that’s how we do things here — and how all but a handful of us got here, ourselves. I hope they can be as lucky as I, and feel that they’ve found their home, as I have.

It’s a joyful anniversary, despite the somber tone of what I’ve just written, and I’m happy to be here, a successful immigrant.

Thanks, Counselor, for the great idea: Move west! Best thing I ever did. Let’s keep going.

De-Na-Zin Marcy Vincent 4332 (504x640)

© Brad Nixon 2017. Bodie, California photo © Willard Nixon 2017, photo of me in the De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico © Marcy Vincent 2017, both used by kind permission. “Poor Immigrant” © Bob Dylan.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 17, 2017

Frequentative! My Language Continues to Confound Me.

One shows up in the world and, given the right opportunities, learns to understand words in a language, then speak that language and — if truly blessed — to write a few words in it, too.

Here I am, decades into my comfort zone with the English language. I understand the rudiments of forming sentences, I can make nouns agree with verbs, and I generally get the pronouns correct, too. I had help, learning about noun cases from Miss Corwin in Latin class. Beginning French taught me more about verb tenses and moods than I ever wanted to know. All that information applied to English in one way or another as I got farther into the business of using it.

I’ve been pretty happy, particularly when I consider that I didn’t have to grow up learning Hungarian with its 18 different noun cases, or Serbian, a rare example of a digraphic language, in which everyone pretty much has to read and write using both Cyrillic and Latin alphabets. If I had to write in a logosyllabic language like Chinese, I probably wouldn’t be writing a blog. It’s a mystery to me.

Everything was fine. I thought I had this language stuff pretty much surrounded and bottled up in its pen.

Until last week.

It all started with “catch.” I won’t explain why I was looking up its derivation; that’s not important here. The dictionary told me we already had catch in Middle English as caccen — derived from Old French catchen, which originated in Latin captare, the frequentative form of capere, “to seize.”

I stopped there. “Frequentatitive?” What the HECK?”

We’re not answerable for what those Romans did in their language. They conquered the world (more or less), and could do as they pleased. We did borrow a lot of their language, although we English speakers have been clever enough to get rid of a lot of the tedious parts, while adding inventive little touches of our own, like articles, which the Romans, for all their winning ways, never came up with. And commas, colons and semicolons: How did they get by without them?

Since I’d never encountered it, I assume the frequentative form was another of those dusty old Latin conventions we’ve cast aside.

But, no, it turns out it is my problem, because there are survivals of frequentative verbs in English: quite a few of them, in fact.

This was news to me. So I’m doing what I do best: Sharing the news.

In English, a frequentative is something that happens more than once, continuing over time, ongoing. If we have colds, we don’t just sniff or snuff, we sniffle and snuffle. When I bother you repeatedly with obscure bits of language, I don’t just bat you with it, I batter you. The -er and -le suffixes are common English frequentative forms. They turn the one-time “prate” into “prattle,” and “gleam” into “glimmer.”

More fun are some noun forms that combine two forms of verbs: teeter-totter, fiddle-faddle and pitter-patter. “Chitchat” is ongoing “chat:” frequentative.

Here’s a sentence I composed from a list of English frequentatives, with their root words in parenthenses:

I decided to dabble (dab) around with frequentatives, but scuffled (scuff) with my editor when my sentence turned into a muddle (mud) and had to slither (slide) away.

Those of you from Finland, Greece, Hungary (of course!), Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Turkey have frequentative forms, too, although the exact rules for forming and using them varies. Apparently you thought it up without help from the Romans, which is to your credit. I think.

For a list of frequentatives in English, plus more about them in other languages, the Wikipedia entry at this link is useful.

I won’t blabber (blab) any more. Good words to you.

I invite more knowledgeable English language scholars to correct or clarify anything I have wrong, and I’d be pleased to hear from you speakers of Finnish, Greek, Hungarian (especially!), Lithuanian, Polish, Russian and Turkish about the joys of frequentatives in the Finno-Ugric, Balto-Slavic and Turkic language families. Leave a comment.

© Brad Nixon 2017

Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 15, 2017

A Visit with Abe

When I feel beset, burdened with unease that things aren’t going well, I seek out reassurance and support.

There’s no doubt; lately, reading the news, I feel beset.

I feel the need for a guiding hand … a big one.

Lincoln Memorial Brad Nixon 2546 (640x480)

I turn to the man who held a position of enormous responsibility in what were — beyond any reasonable doubt — the most trying circumstances for my country since its founding, or at any time since. At a critical moment in a war with rebellious states that had withdrawn from the Republic rather than adhere to fundamental principles of human liberty included in the Constitution, he said, in opposing them, that the nation was “Conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

He described those times as “Testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

To tell you the truth, I feel that we’re being tested again in a similar way.

It was time to visit Mr. Lincoln: Abe.

Lincoln Memorial Brad Nixon 2536 (640x480)

The thing about visiting Mr. Lincoln is that you don’t get much in the way of direct discourse. He’s done all his talking and writing he’ll do. He has a different task now: He’s watching. The implication is that he suggests we keep our eyes open, too.

Lincoln Memorial Brad Nixon 2537 (640x480)

That intense gaze is fixed in a specific direction. Here’s what he sees:

Lincoln Memorial view Brad Nixon 2534 (640x414)

The tall spire is the George Washington Monument, and beyond it is the United States Capitol building. Just to left (within Abe’s view from his high seat) is the White House.

He looks steadily in that direction every day: throughout the night, at sunrise, or as here, when the sun sets over Washington D.C.

“Abe,” I said, “The country right now seems full of nincompoops who believe whatever they’re told, even if what they hear is lies from knuckleheads that make no sense and are controverted by verifiable facts.”

He, of course, didn’t have to say a word. He’d already said it, long ago:

“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time….”

He went on to say that all of the people were never fooled all of the time. That gives me hope. Perhaps it’s still true.

In that horrendous time when it was his fate to lead, he adamantly maintained that the principles of the Constitution would not be violated, even at the cost of a dreadful war and the lives of nearly a million soldiers and civilians. Nothing so dire has happened since.

As I stood there looking up at him, plenty of Abe’s trenchant wisdom came to mind.

On either side of him in that hall are engraved the words of his second inaugural address for the benefit of those of us who haven’t committed the speech to memory (though it would behoove us to do so).

In grimly stirring language he stated his resolve to continue the war and “Strive on to finish the work we are in ….”

He pointed to the impossibility of  yielding the Constitution’s principles in order to allow what the rebellious states claimed was divine justification of slavery, saying with characteristic irony, “It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces ….”

One month after speaking those words he was dead, on the very eve of the war’s end.

I took heart. Mr. Lincoln believed that the Republic would endure, labored to preserve it. It does still, so let us hope he was also right when he vowed, “You cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

As I always do, I walked around to Abe’s right. Everyone envisions him enthroned in that impossibly tall chair: rigid, stoic — regarding the passing years.

Lincoln Memorial Brad Nixon 2535 (640x579)

But from the side, you see a fascinating thing:

Lincoln Memorial Brad Nixon 2547 (640x480)

He’s inclined forward, attentively waiting for what’s next.

I could swear I heard him then. A whisper on the wind, faint echo from an era almost too terrible to imagine.

“I see what is happening. So do you. Are you fooled?”

These photographs are of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The statue was designed in 1920 by Daniel Chester French and occupies an elevated position above the Washington Mall in a rectangular building styled as a Doric temple. The statue’s 19 feet tall, carved in white marble.

If you’ve never been there, I hope you’ll have an opportunity to visit Mr. Lincoln. For me, it’s one of the most powerful American monuments. The monument is administered by the National Park Service, which the current U.S. administration is attempting to reduce in size, scope and efficacy, for reasons no one can explain in rational terms … as if they’re trying to fool someone.

© Brad Nixon 2017

Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 13, 2017

Carnegie Buildings, No Longer Libraries; What Now?

All things end. Scholars, students and fans of architecture know it as well as anyone. Palaces, temples, cities and entire civilizations have come and gone, sometimes leaving magnificent ruins, but just as often only grass-covered mounds or bare stone walls.

Chaco Canyon Pueblo Bonito Brad Nixon 4188 (640x429)

Buildings have life cycles, though, and don’t necessarily fulfill their original purpose, then cease to be. As I pursue my hobby of visiting libraries, it’s common to encounter former Carnegie Library buildings that have changed roles. They may be converted to anything from community centers, commercial offices or storage space, or simply derelict.

No matter how attractive or historically or culturally significant, an old building presents problems after a certain age. Making them compliant with fire, earthquake and safety standards, accessibility requirements, or updating the plumbing, heating and electrical systems are all problematic, let alone the expense of maintaining old structures. Sometimes, they simply have to go.

Of 1,689 Carnegie libraries constructed in the U.S., a 1992 survey found that 1,554 buildings still stood, 911 of them still in use as libraries. There are, then, more than 600 buildings otherwise employed … or not in use.

I visited 7 Carnegie buildings on a recent trip from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon. Here are a couple that fit into the “other”category.

Portland, Oregon

The Multnomah County Library System serves most of the Portland metro area and its 2 million people. I’ve written about several Portland Carnegies, one an active part of the Multnomah system, another serving as Multnomah County’s outlet for used books, the Title Wave Book Store, and the former East Portland branch, now an office building.

In 1909, Portland received a Carnegie grant to build 5 libraries. One of them was in the Arleta neighborhood, in the city’s Southeast district. Today, it’s easy to drive past the unimposing building without noticing it.

Arleta Portland Carnegie Brad Nixon 7670 (480x640)

That colonial revival exterior is a rather odd choice for the fast-growing, rough-and-ready northwest logging and shipping center Portland had become in its day. It lacks the imposing, classical styles a preponderance of the Carnegies sported.

Carnegie Library Portland OR Arleta Brad Nixon 7671 (480x640)

After Multnomah relocated its Arleta branch, the building became a recording studio, now defunct. Although I tried, there’s not much of the interior to see through the doorlights. A rear portion of the building houses a retail music instrument and equipment store.

For Arleta, good news/bad news: The Carnegie’s underutilized, but the neighborhood’s still served by a thriving library system at a different location.

You can find the former Arleta branch at 4420 SE 64th Ave., Portland, Oregon.

Eureka, California

The northwestern California port town of Eureka is a treasure trove of Victorian era architecture, the most spectacular example being the Carson Mansion.

Eureka CA Carson Mansion horiz Brad Nixon 7351 (640x472)

Eureka boomed in the 19th Century when throngs of would-be gold prospectors found the gold not worth pursuing, and turned instead to the timber business. The town exploded in scale with the demand for the Coast Redwoods that were clear-cut and shipped to markets worldwide. As I’ve written, only 3% of the original redwood forest remains, most of it in national and state parks and preserves.

Redwood National Park Brad Nixon 7396 (640x480)

Today, Eureka’s a rarity: a town of wooden houses that never suffered a disastrous fire, still standing in large numbers because the town never experienced another boom and the sort of urban renewal that has replaced much of the original architecture in thousands of American towns.

As the city prospered, the citizens of Eureka also built a library, which opened in 1904, with a grant from the Carnegie Foundation.

Carnegie Library Eureka CA Brad Nixon 7295 (640x475)

The exterior says it all: imposing, grandiose, solid, established: a town to be reckoned with, with a population focused on the future.

Carnegie Library Eureka CA Brad Nixon 7318 (640x471)

Things change, grow old, and are replaced, The Humboldt County Library opened a new Eureka branch in the 1970s, relegating the original building to a variety of administrative roles. In time, though, the structure had outlived its usefulness in the system.

Finding a purpose for a large, old expensive-to-maintain structure in a town of modest size is a considerable challenge. Seven decades after establishing their library, though, the citizens of Eureka (and Humboldt County) proved to have the drive and ambition to do it. After extensive renovation, the building reopened in 2000 as the Morris Graves Museum of Art.

They had assistance from Graves himself (1910-2001), American expressionist painter, a central figure in what’s known as the Northwestern School of art. He lived the last 35 years of his life living near Eureka and endowed the with his personal art collection and a number of his major paintings.

I wasn’t familiar with Mr. Graves’ work until this trip to northern California and Oregon. Visiting the Portland Art Museum, I saw my first-ever Graves painting, among the works included at this link to the museum’s collection.

I regret don’t have interior photos of the building. I was there on a Sunday morning before the museum opened. Here’s a look through the front door, with a glimpse of the intriguing second floor mezzanine.

Eureka libe int Brad Nixon 7307 (640x484)

We’ll see more of Eureka in a later post.

The Morris Graves Museum is at 636 F St., Eureka, CA 95501.

Leave me a comment if you’re familiar with the museum, or let me know if you visit.

I have another repurposed Carnegie Library from the trip through California and Oregon to report on. Stay tuned.

Most of the photographs in this post and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available on CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2017

It’s nearly time. More than half a million employees at an enterprise are bracing for the crunch. Work schedules are being set, with lots of long hours looming. The world’s largest civilian vehicle fleet is being prepared to drive some untold thousands or perhaps millions of miles.

It’s the holiday mailing season, and the United States Postal Service will be inundated with greeting cards and packages. The impact will be felt in gigantic distribution centers and local post offices alike. Perhaps the crush won’t be too enormous at the post office in McCoy, Colorado, population 24:

McCoy PO Brad Nixon 9513 (640x480)

It’ll be more intense in large city post offices, like this one:

SP PO ext full Brad Nixon 8601 (800x616)

No, this article isn’t about the volume of mail distributed between now and the end of the year. It’s about that building above, representative of a large number of other public structures built across the U.S. during and just after the Great Depression, in the 1930s and ’40s. Here’s the entrance of the structure, the San Pedro, California U.S. Post Office and Customs Building, from 1935:

SP PO door Brad Nixon 8598 (640x469)

As you can see, it’s a large-scale expression of the Art Deco/Beaux-Arts/Streamline Moderne styles current in its day. At that time, with banks shuttered, unemployment rampant and millions living on the edge of starvation, there were no jobs, tens of thousands of closed businesses, and no funds in the private sector to generate any new jobs or cash. The federal government established an ambitious series of programs to undertake thousands of building projects that would provide labor constructing roads, bridges and public works, including a large number of post offices.

Whenever you see a bank, school, bridge or dam — large or small — built under the program, you’ll find they almost invariably share an aesthetic similarity. It’s commonly referred to as PWA Moderne after the Public Works Administration, responsible for many of the projects.

Clearly, there was some period zeitgeist at work, but almost certainly the supervising designers and architects in Washington, D.C. had a bent for the moderne mode.

The interior of the San Pedro building is just as imposing as the outside…

SP PO int R Brad Nixon 8586 (800x600)

… as are the details, like this writing desk in the lobby, one of several originals still in place, complete with bronze lamp:

SP PO desk Brad Nixon 8585 (458x640)

Also intact are the banks of bronze and glass letter boxes, familiar to Americans in hundreds or perhaps thousands of post offices…

SP PO boxes Brad Nixon 8581 (640x493)

… and I like the style of the lettering above the service windows, mounted on dark granite or marble (click either image to enlarge).

Although the bulk of the employment on projects went to the people laboring with shovels, hammers and tools of nearly every trade, there was also an artistic aspect.

A large number of the public buildings featured murals, stonework and other decoration commissioned for the sites. The San Pedro building has a 74-foot long mural depicting — what else? — mail delivery, featuring hardworking people delivering mail on foot, bicycle and via rail, ship and airplane in a distinctive period (Social Realist?) style:

SP PO Mural R5 Brad Nixon 8575 (640x356)

SP PO Mural dock Brad Nixon 8577 (504x640)

The artist was Fletcher Martin, also credited with some of the building design.

The building also accommodated the operations of the U.S. Customs office serving the Port of Los Angeles. It’s situated on the eastern edge of San Pedro on a bluff overlooking the main channel of the harbor, which today is part of the country’s busiest container shipping port.

SP PO ext vert Brad Nixon 8599 (640x526)

The window air conditioning units spoil its full impact, but the building is an impressive example of PWA Moderne (I suspect that the monolithic mass of the very large structure hasn’t lent itself to a modern HVAC system … or maybe it’s a budget issue).

The Post Office and Customs Building is located at 839 South Beacon St. San Pedro, approximately 25 miles due south of downtown L.A., on the western side of the Port of Los Angeles.

There are PWA Moderne projects all across the U.S. Have a favorite in your town? Please leave a comment.

Most of the photographs in this post and select images from Under Western Skies are available on CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2017

Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 8, 2017

Little Known Los Angeles: Lomita Railroad Museum

Travel requires choosing not only what to see, but what to omit. My city, Los Angeles, is an excellent example, but the fact applies everywhere, in cities and towns and out in the countryside, worldwide. We make our decisions, see as much as possible, taste the local food, take photos, but there’s always another historic site, intriguing museum or natural wonder that must go unseen.

We all have filters we use to select what we see. A city the size of LA requires a lot of filtering, depending on a traveler’s interests: beaches, theme parks, museums, mountains, performing arts, the film business (Hollywood!) and so on.

Railroads aren’t a passion for me, but I do have a passing interest in them, particularly historic ones, as regular readers know. I’ll go out of my way to see an old station or depot, and occasionally visit a museum, like the one in Durango, Colorado, where The Counselor photographed me waving from the cab of a steam locomotive:

Durango locomotive Marcy Vincent 002 LR (640x446)

Here in LA, we have our share of old stations from the glory days of passenger travel, and railroad buffs can roam around the metropolis chasing them down, including not-to-be-missed Union Station downtown, or the historic Southern Pacific station in Glendale.

Glendale SP track Brad Nixon 2362 cr (640x480)

Somehow, we humans are programmed to be more attracted to distant places than those close to home. The Durango museum is 800 miles away, and I’ve been there twice. But there’s a railroad museum 4.5 miles from my front door, and although I’ve lived within 5 miles of it for more than 20 years, I’d never seen it until recently.

Lomita RR ext Brad Nixon 9815 (640x446)

It’s tucked away on a suburban street: the Lomita Railroad Museum.

Lomita is 20 miles south of downtown, a few miles inland from the beach, one of scores of cities ensconced within LA. Primarily a residential area, Lomita has a population of about 20,000.

The museum has all the requisite appurtenances: charming, vintage station structure, big old steam locomotive, water tower, semaphore signal, and a few other pieces of rolling stock, including two cabooses, one from 1910:

Lomita RR UP caboose Brad Nixon 9791 (640x480)

I assumed that when I went there I’d learn something about the museum’s history as a former station on the Union Pacific; Southern Pacific or Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad (all of which have served LA).

No. There has never been a railroad station in Lomita, California, nor has a railroad line ever run through any portion of the town.

The museum is the creation of an avid train enthusiast, inserted into a suburb with no history of rail travel.

In the 1940s, Irene and Martin Lewis ran a business named Little Engines on that spot, manufacturing detailed working scale models of steam locomotives. Here’s one in the museum:

Little Engines locomotive Brad Nixon 8426 (640x480)

That is not just an impressively detailed scale model. It is an actual operating steam engine with a coal-fired boiler (the scale is 1 inch to 1 foot). They sold them all over the world.

After Martin’s death, Irene devoted herself to creating the museum. The station building is modeled after a late 19th Century structure on the Boston and Maine line in Wakefield, Massachusetts, and opened in 1967. The water tower is a replica, too, constructed in 2001.

Lomita RR tower vert Brad Nixon 9805 (479x640)

But Irene didn’t just stock the museum building with railroadiana. She set about acquiring a steam locomotive and several pieces of rolling stock.

Lomita RR loco Brad Nixon 9813 (640x480)

For train nerds, that’s Southern Pacific Locomotive #1765, a class M-6 Mogul 2-6-0, built in 1902 in Philadelphia. It operated until 1960, when it was set aside for scrap before the museum claimed and restored it. #1765 had been converted from coal to oil-fueled before it was retired, and it has the attached oil tender. (The museum was decorated for Halloween, hence the big webs.)

Yes, you can climb into the cab and study the gauges, valve handles and other gear.

Lomita RR controls Brad Nixon 9789 (480x640)

For my money, there’s no more impressive hardware than big ol’ locomotive wheels sitting on the rails.

Lomita RR loco wheel Brad Nixon 9831 (640x484)

Other cars on display include the Union Pacific caboose pictured above and a 1949 AT&SF caboose, once a common sight on American trains, now relegated to museums.

Lomita RR ATSF caboose Brad Nixon 9810 (640x480)

Both cabooses are open for viewing, too.

One of my favorite displays was an 1881 velocipede, a version of the hand car.

Lomita velocipede Brad Nixon 9795 (640x480)

Riders sat and propelled the vehicle by both pumping the handle and pedaling with their feet.

Here’s The Thing You’re Wondering About

If there’s no rail line to Lomita, how did they get those mammoth vehicles there, including an 85-ton locomotive? That, after all, is why train museums are typically located in train yards or along rail lines: They roll right in, but not into a suburban neighborhood with no track.

The cabooses, along with a vintage boxcar and an old tank car on display across the street were brought via rail to the Port of Los Angeles, then rolled up onto trucks for transport to the site.

The locomotive was a different matter altogether. No conventional road vehicle could carry such a load. In 1967, the museum crew constructed a custom built transporter, assembling steel girders and beams on a series of house moving dollies, 64 rubber-tired wheels in all. Once the locomotive was set on it, it required 10 hours to move it from the trainyard to the museum. The museum’s website has a detailed description with photos at this link.

The museum may not reach your must-see list for L.A. unless you’re a railroad fan, but if you know someone who lives in the South Bay area, you can give them a tip about a local attraction they may have overlooked.

Getting There

The Lomita Railroad Museum is at 2137 West 250th Street, Lomita, CA 90717. Admission is $4 for those over 13, $2 for children over 2. Check the website here for operating hours. There’s a free parking lot.

All aboard.

Lomita RR loco tower vert Brad Nixon 9799 (495x640)

Many of the photographs in this post and select images from Under Western Skies are available on CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky image portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2017. Durango museum photo © Marcy Vincent 2017, used by kind permission.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 6, 2017

North Portland Library, Oregon. 104 Years in Classic Style

I have a number of highlights still remaining to cover from last summer’s trip to Oregon, both natural and man-made points of interest.

I’ll start with a favorite architectural theme.

As autumn weather moves us to spend more time indoors, we need books to occupy us, so it’s off to the library. If you live in Portland, Oregon, your local is probably one of 19 branches of the Multnomah County Library. If you live in Northeast, near the trendy Alberta district, you’re headed to the North Portland branch at 512 North Killingsworth St.

Carnegie Library North Portland OR exterior Brad Nixon 7769 cr (640x538)

The official term for that architectural style is “Jacobethan,” a Renaissance revival conflation of Jacobean and Elizabethan.

A look at the east end shows some of the details that make it Jacobethan in brick, stone and window moldings.

N Portland Carnegie Brad Nixon 7745 cr (480x640)

This building was on my radar for a visit because it’s a historic Carnegie Library, opened in 1913, still serving the city, busy on the Friday morning I was there, and in excellent condition (I went out of my way to exclude patrons from my photos as much as possible).

Carnegie Library North Portland OR interior Brad Nixon 7756 cr (640x480)

The place is large and thriving, with an impressive interior, especially the ceilings, as in the picture above in the main room, as well as below in the wing that extends toward the rear of the building:

N Portland Carnegie int Brad Nixon 7758 cr (640x480)

The light fixtures and furniture are not original, but the architects who supervised a thorough renovation in 1999 did a creditable job of complementing the style. Kudos to the citizens of Portland, who voted for the $28 million project. Well done.

Here’s another look at the main room, looking toward the front northwest corner from behind the main desk.

N Portland Carnegie int Brad Nixon 7757 cr (640x480)

A look from that rear wing toward the front entrance gives you a sense of the scale of the building.

N Portland Carnegie int Brad Nixon 7760 cr (480x640)

The second floor includes a large meeting area finished in the same grandiose style. That morning, a local musical group was setting up for a performance.

N Portland Carnegie up Brad Nixon 7762 cr (640x480)

A library building, now over 100 years old, that looks ready to adapt to whatever functions libraries of the 22nd Century will provide. The local rallying cry may be “Keep Portland weird,” but they’re also keeping their libraries in great shape. That’s not so weird.

Stock up on reading; winter’s on its way, and I know there are still some books on that 2017 “must read” list. Thank your librarian while you’re there.

My appreciation to the librarians at North Portland who made time to chat with me as they started operations for the day.

Some of the photographs in this post and select images from Under Western Skies are available on CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky image portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2017

Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 5, 2017

Eight Years

Today is the 8th anniversary of Under Western Skies.

It’s too big a task to look back over nearly 650 posts and well over half a million words from the entire run. Focusing on year 8, though, it’s been good, and I’ve enjoyed covering a lot of territory with you.

Nature and wild places have been an important part of this blog since the beginning. This year I realized a longtime desire to see the Big Trees: the Coast Redwoods in northwestern California’s Redwood National Park.

Redwood National Park Brad Nixon 7396 (640x480)

In April, the wettest winter in recorded history turned southern California’s landscape a lush green, carpeted with tall grass and flowers, as in this shot made at Santiago Oaks Regional Park in Orange County, 30 miles east and inland from my house.

Santiago Oaks Brad Nixon 6547 (640x470)

I also wrote about the spring bloom from Joshua Tree National Park, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and right here along the Los Angeles coast. Here’s Anza-Borrego.

Anza Borrego Brad Nixon 6636 (640x480)

What I haven’t written about is that 6 months later, after a summer of sun, heat and no rain, those same places were brown and crackling dry. The very spot in the photo of Santiago Canyon became an inferno of flame that devastated the canyon and more than 9,000 acres of Orange County, destroying 15 houses. I haven’t been back to see it, but it will be charred black, awaiting whatever rain comes to begin the cycle again.

Nature is both bounteous and relentlessly fierce.

I also wrote about cities, towns and villages, new and old architecture, trains and highways, libraries, museums and art. At one point, it occurred to me I’d never written about one of California’s most iconic structures, and dug into the photo archive to write about the engineering that holds the Golden Gate Bridge in that spectacular fashion:

Golden Gate Brad Nixon 4349 (640x484)

The variety and abundance of interesting things in the world will never fail, so long as our curiosity to pursue it persists.

One reason I started this blog in 2009 was to write about my experience as I began reading one of the “big books” (both literally and figuratively): In Search of Lost Time. I’m reading this year’s big book — long, but not so long as Proust’s  — right now. I’ll tell you in the year-end reading wrap-up how it went, along with other highlights from the 2017 reading list.

The most important portion of each anniversary observance is to thank you. Thanks for reading, clicking, following, liking and commenting. It’s a pleasure to know that I have fellow travelers, fellow readers, fellow fans of art and the life of the world, whether out on a trail, in the middle of a city or sitting in a chair with the latest book on the reading list. The connection with you has been the greatest pleasure I’ve gotten from 8 years of writing.

Connections are particularly important right now: especially between people who live in other places, come from unfamiliar cultures or have backgrounds different from our own. There are always those — even here in in my nation of immigrants — who would exclude “the others.”

You’re welcome here. They haven’t closed all the doors and windows yet.

I’ll keep exploring, looking, reading, wondering, and I hope you’ll come with me.

As always, along with “thank you,” there is one more thing to say.

What’s next? Let’s go!

Some of the photographs in this post and select images from Under Western Skies are available on CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky image portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2017

Posted by: Brad Nixon | September 11, 2017

I Simply Have to Write About This: A Sentence Diagramming App

This is too perfect to pass up; it’s just too Much. I’ve had it. This is the living end.

Some of you may have learned to diagram sentences. It’s a graphical way to analyze the structure (grammar) of sentence. It is a teaching tool. Like this:

Sentence diagram Brad Nixon 8055 (640x370)

(Note: this diagram is incorrect. The line separateing “is” and “tool” should be diagonal, because a verb of “being” requires it, not a vertical line. I’ll post a corrected version soon. Thanks to reader Godlovesalcohol for pointing it out.)

That diagram demonstrates the basic form: the subject on the left, separated by a vertical line from the verb, then another line above the horizontal line for the object, with two modifying words: the article and and an adjective.

For today, class, whether or not you know how to diagram, ever did know or intend to do it in the future, doesn’t matter. I had to do it, and so did some millions of other students, at least here in the U.S.

Diagramming has its uses. For example, if one is reading particularly complex sentences, diagramming can assist in sorting out dependent from independent clauses, compound subjects or parallel actions, intermediating phrases, and so forth. I occasionally resorted to it when I was reading Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu.

When I started thinking about diagramming as the subject for a blog post, it occurred to me that there must be apps that robotically parse and diagram sentences now.

Sure enough, an online search revealed plenty of diagramming apps. I checked a couple of them out. The first app that popped up (promoted by an ad, natch), had a website so poorly constructed and unreadable that I bailed out in 30 seconds. That company paid Google to promote it, but they should’ve paid someone to write their web copy for them.

Then the second one: readable — at least if you’re accustomed to reading technical documentation composed by non-native speakers of English — but barely.

Here are the features of the app, as represented on the website. I quote:

Sentence a grammatical unit of several words, and provides a narrative, question, comment, etc. It begins with a capital letter and ends with proper punctuation. 

  • Sentence diagram intend for illustrating of sentence parts.
  • The diagram has best value for visual organizers and satisfy all needs for analysis.
  • A grammar study will help students see more clearly of how concrete sentence is organized.
  • Sentence diagrams are clear to everyone graphic material for sharing projects.

The mind reels.

If you were looking for a language tool in which you’d place confidence, would you trust the developers of this app to diagram your English language sentence?

It seems to me that some familiarity with basic English sentences, however rudimentary, should be in evidence. You know, those boring old things: Sentences require both a verb and and a noun, verbs and nouns should agree regarding number, that sort of thing.

Not those dudes.

That’s all for today. I simply had to share.

Were you taught sentence diagramming in school, in any language? I’d genuinely love to hear from you, especially from you many readers not in the United States, or who command languages other than English. Leave a comment. Thank you.

© Brad Nixon 2017

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