USA - SEPTEMBER 2002
Right - so now we've got over the landing and sorted ourselves out a car, off we set. I have a whole weekend before me before my course starts, and there isn't any question at all of where I'm going to go. "I'm getting rather tired of Southern Comfort - of things that take the appetite from life" sang Richard Barnes. So, "Go North" I did. North from here are places that I'd read about and seen in all the cowboy adventures - all the places that I've been wanting to get to for as long as I can remember.
I headed towards Denver and turned onto the I-25, through the rush-hour traffic and the inevitable road accidents. And my first question - does anyone know WHY American motorcyclists don't filter through the traffic lanes and queues like they do throughout the rest of the world?. There's not much point in having a motorcycle if you aren't going to take advantage of its advantages. E- if you know the answer to this.
While I was pondering that question, I crossed over the border into Wyoming.
So, here's Cheyenne - or rather, the railway station. It was an impressive building, as you can see if you peer closely at the photo just here. However, it wasn't going to do anyone any good as it was closed to passengers. The line along here is goods only and has been for nearly 20 years so they say. All passengers go by air these days - there aren't even any buses, so it seems.
Surprisingly, Cheyenne was actually open in the evening. Everyone who has read anything that I've ever written about North America will know that my eternal gripe is that North America closes at about 9 o'clock in evening. For those of us who have just come over from Europe, that is 2 o'clock in the afternoon. And for me with my late eating habits, it means that just as I start to get peckish, the restaurants close down.
But not Cheyenne. There were still plenty of people thronging the streets as it got later and later. It's nice to walk around places at night in North America and see people for a change.
And it's not just people you see at night either. It didn't take me long to get a car photograph in, as you can see.
Actually, in what is a shameful admission coming up I muddled up my tapes and dictated over the first one in error, so I couldn't recall what the car is. But never mind. Brad Busque of the AMC Rambler Club came to the rescue and confirmed my thoughts that this is an AMC Rambler. He went much better than that, saying "It's a 1962 Rambler Classic two door sedan to exact. Quite a rare find, not many two door classics produced in 62.".
Here on the right is one of the cheapest motels in Cheyenne. All $29.95 a night of it. And well worth the money too. It wasn't the cheapest motel in the city - that was the next motel along. But you always find this just after you've booked in somewhere else. Nevertheless, here there was free coffee next morning thrown in (well, not literally, of course). I'd settle for that.
Excuse the sun on the photograph, but I didn't have the time to hang around until the afternoon for the sun to go down and there was nowhere else to get in order to get a sun-free photo in.
So if it was so good, why didn't I get a moment's sleep?
No. It wasn't for that reason (shame!).
This ear railway line behind the motel is why. And there was another railway line right behind where I was standing, and one down the road to my left. It seems that in the dark last night, I'd somehow managed to book myself into a motel in the middle of a sguare the four sides of which were railway line. And there was a train every ten minutes. And it took nine minutes fifty-nine seconds to pass. And with all the level crossings, they were obliged of course to blow their sirens as they pass.
Now, the siren of an American diesel train is a very evocative and emotional sound for someone who comes from Europe and who has never really heard a live one before. It certainly did it for me. At least, the first few times. By the time 03:00 came round, I was thoroughly cheesed off. That'll teach me to check into a motel in the dark!
Interestingly, the motel owner told me that after Amtrak sold the station they continued to run passenger services for a short while, and passengers had to clamber out of the trains around here somewhere. Blimey!
So what do you do when you have a nice long lie-in until it's midday, then because you're in the Mountain States of the USA you find out it's really only 5 o'clock in the morning?
Well, you do what I did. You have a shower, find some coffee, drink same, find an all-night garage to get some food, take photos around your motel, then go off sightseeing.
BIG BOY 4004
Here's one of the type of steam locomotive that's claimed to be the largest in the world.
It's a 4-8-8-4 type articulated engine - one of the 25 that were built by ALCO - the famous American Locomotive Company in Schenectady, New York in the early 1940s to take the heavy freight trains over the Rockies between here and Ogden, Utah at something like a respectable speed.
They are claimed to be "Mallet" type engines, but someone told me that the significance of the "Mallet" design is that the locomotives are articulated and that they are "compound" engines - that is that they use both high pressure and low pressure steam to drive them. The Big Boys are certainly articulated but use only single pressure expansion, so it is alleged that they are not true "Mallet" types.
Well - they say that it's the largest in the world - but this all depends on what exactly you mean. There are engines that are heavier, and there are certainly engines that are more powerful. It seems to mean that the actual locomotive, without its tender, is longer than any other locomotive, and because of the loading gauges along the line, its tender can be so loaded with fuel that its overall weight with tender is the highest claimed by any locomotive. ALCO claimed that it weighed in at just over 535 tons, and that it produced a good 7,000 horsepower.
I suppose there will be someone along shortly to dispute that as well.
It all looks quite impressive - from a distance. Doesn't it just? But I hate static monuments and this is all this will ever be. It'll certainly never ever run again and that is a crying shame.
Having had a pretty good poke around it (not in the literal sense of course) it seemed to me that the American idea of preservation is to slap layers of paint over all of the rust to hide the blemishes. That's what I reckoned anyway.
At least, that was what I thought back in 2002. Surfing the web in the spring of 2007 I came across this photograph which showed that 4004 didn't look much better when it was in full working order.
And probably the only reason that it's still here is because with it consisting mainly of iron oxide (or "rust" for the non-technically-minded) they'd get nothing for it if they weighed it in.
These engines (or locomotives, seeing as we are in the USA) were quickly overtaken by more modern and more efficient forms of propulsion such as diesels and didn't last long in service. This one had a working life of only 15 years, and none of the others remained in service much later than 1961.
But Shawn Miller from Cheyenne mailed me to say his father worked for the Union Pacific between 1953 and 1994, and he has his father's log books. And from what he's seen in them, he tells me not to pay too much attention to the sign just here. The date of withdrawal of 4004 from service is shown as 21st December 1956, but the log books show that his father was still working on it as late as July 1957.
Of the 25 that were built, 8 of them remain in existence today. But for how long? They were laid up just as modern preservation techniques started to become commonplace, but my opinion from what I had seen in corporate USA is that no-one seems to be interested in using them. Not a single one of these eight is in working order. It's hard for a European such as myself to understand that there doesn't seem to be anyone in the USA interested in rescuing what remains of its heritage.
Well - that was what I said at the time. Just wait until we get to Chama.
Wes Barris told me that in 2005, 4004 had undergone some work. And the nature of that work? You've guessed it. A new coat of paint. PTAH! Something else they did was to replace the cab windows.
Yes, I'm having another Lancaster bomber moment, aren't I? And don't get me started on this shameful and disgraceful affair otherwise I'll be here all night.
Mentioning Wes Barris and Shawn Miller has reminded me. If you want to comment on anything that you see on my site - whether to correct something, give me some background local knowledge, or simply have a chat, please . I love to interact with my audience.
So after all of that, it's still only 7 o'clock. And it goes without saying that there's still nowhere open, so I'm still wandering around Cheyenne sightseeing.
By now I've arrived somewhere on the north side of the city, and I've managed to turn up yet another old car (he said fudging, desperately wishing he hadn't overwritten his notes) An old Chevrolet Corvette, I reckon, and one of the early C1 types from the 1950s and early 1960s. The claim to fame that these cars had inter alia was that they were built at Flint, Michigan.
Don't take my word for the identity of this car, though. If anyone would care to confirm it for definite, then and I'll be pleased to put up the correct details. You'll also get to see your name in lights.
You can see in this image how the sun is interfering with the pic. It's still 7 o'clock, and it's not far off being the middle of September either. And it's flaming scorching! This is auguring well for my stay here. I can see that I'm going to enjoy this.
So, what else was there to see in Cheyenne? Ah, yes, a Xeriscape (from the Greek for "dry land") project.
The aim of this type of gardening is to grow as much as possible with the minimum of water. Try it yourself at home by putting porous porcelain and bark chips in the bottom of some porcelain plant pots. Then fill them with soil and plants, and give them a good soaking. I can go away for over a month and when I come back, my interior plants don't look too bad, and always recover.
The USA is currenty drying up at an alarming rate and the water table is sinking rapidly. In certain parts of the USA the water table has sunk by over 6 feet in 20 years. Consequently it's going to be very appropriate to find more ways of conserving water and to make as much use of it as possible. Otherwise, you lot over there could well descend into more water wars like there were in the 1870s and which were depicted in films such as El Dorado.
Why do you think that the Zionists occupied the Golan in Palestine and refuse to evacuate? Is it for the view, the prestige and the security, or is it for control of the two rivers that flow out of it?
THE OLDEST TRAIN IN WYOMING
And what else is there to see in the Cheyenne Botanical Gardens? Ah, yes. The oldest train in Wyoming.
And as you might have guessed, this is another "slap on the paint to cover up the rust and hope no-one notices" job. This is really sad, the way that many Americans seem to be content to let their national heritage just descend into a pile of painted rust and gently evaporate into thin air.
You would think that someone would have realised this by now and be doing something to safeguard all these open-air museum pieces whilst there's still the remotest chance of doing something to save them. Look at how the Province of Nova Scotia is treating the oldest steam locomotive in Canada
Or am I a minority of one in this respect?
"No you aren't. Garret McTavish e-mailed you to say "I'm totally with you on the preservation thing. I love old trains. P.S. I'm obsessed with vehicles." so there's hope for the USA yet" ... ed
If you have a close look at the fence, you will see that there are all kinds of artefacts woven into it. The story behind this in fact is that Floyd Young, the last driver of "Old Sadie", as the engine became known, retired from the Union Pacific in 1970. He went to live down the road in Laramie and spent his retirement collecting relics of the Union Pacific railroad. When he collected enough, he built a fence out of them.
Upon his death, his family donated the fence to the Botanical Gardens, and it was erected around the locomotive.
The locomotive was based in Encampment, Wyoming, and covered the 25 miles of route from there to Walcott. This was quite a whimsical line, because when it was built in 1908, it directly replaced a stagecoach service that had previously covered the route.
This locomotive was built in 1890, a fact that makes it one of the oldest extant locomotives of the Union Pacific. It was sent to Encampment in 1921 and worked the Walcott line until 1954. When it was retired from service, the railway company donated it to the city of Wyoming. But I don't know why.
I'm still on my hobby-horse about this American preservation thing though. I'm sure it can't be wilful though, or negligent. I get the impression that someone thinks that something should be done with an object because it's "old" or "historic" - but they don't know what to do, or even what the significance of "old" or "historic" is.
Like those buildings in Atlanta - some of the half dozen or so still remaining from before the great fire - that were demolished without even a whimper to make additional car parking for the 1996 Olympic Games.
It's something I suppose to do with children or the MTV generation, where everyone suffers from truncated memory span, and "something is absolutely ancient if it's more than six months old, that no-one can see the relevance, and in any case there's probably someone else doing something about it somewhere else".
Another thing of course is that in a country where there isn't any established history or tradition, and where a high proportion of its citizens have always been born outside its borders, then the relevance of any kind of historical artefact such as a steam locomotive or a historic building is completely lost.
It's the same kind of thing in American museums - I make the point here and there on my travels that they aren't museums to the historical event, they are museums to the Disney film of the historical event. Most Americans seem to have no idea of what history is all about.
If anyone thinks by the way that I am unfairly singling out the State of Wyoming or the USA in general, let me say that this is not the case at all. As I said elesewhere on the page, a short while later on this voyage I stumbled across the town of Chama.
That isn't the best of it either. A couple of years after writing the above, I find myself dealing with another preservation (or scandalous lack thereof) issue right on my own back doorstep and I'm equally as scathing about that as I was about these two locomotives here.
Yes, as someone once said to me
"There's not an ounce of prejudice in you at all, Eric. You hate everyone with an equal amount of venom."
CHEYENNE AIR BASE
After a further bit of driving around, I stumbled across the Wyoming National Guard Airbase in Cheyenne. Now the first question about this is why on earth does the American National Guard need an Air Force?
According to the National Guard's own website "the Army National Guard's state mission is perhaps the most visible and well known. Nearly everyone has seen or heard of Guard units responding to battle fires or helping communities deal with floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, snowstorms or other emergency situations. In times of civil unrest, the citizens of a state can rest assured that the Guard will be ready to respond, if needed."
I'm not at all sure the kind of "civil unrest" onto which the National Guard would wish to unleash an air force - but then again, given recent events in Iraq and Afghanistan, maybe I do. And it's too horrible to contemplate. I certainly don't recall them parachuting food supplies in to the starving poor in New Orleans
There were a couple of old aeroplanes parked outside the gate. That's always a good-enough excuse for me to stop.
Bearing in mind that this was just 4 days before September 11 2002, and what with all the current American paranoia about non-existent security preventing non-existent terror attacks on non-existent targets, I thought it was probably a good idea to ask before taking photographs outside an American Air Base. I've already been arrested more than enough times on this holiday without actually asking for it again. Who knows where I might wake up this time?
I might also get to find out exactly what aeroplanes they were. American military stuff has never been my forté, so it's no use asking me.
Surprise surprise. The guy on the gate didn't know what aeroplanes they were so he called his sergeant - who looked like he'd been there since the Wright Brothers first flew. And he didn't know, either.
So by the simple expedient of reading the plaques underneath the aircraft (obviously none of the military staff working here on the base were able to read, or they'd all be doing real jobs), I was able to identify them as an F-85 and an F-86 - a Sabre - respectively. But don't ask me which is which because having taped over my tape, I've forgotten. If you know, please
In actual fact, a bit of research when I was back home suggests that it's the first two photos that are of the F86 Sabre.
If you have a look at the photograph on the left, you'll see the sprinkler in action. It had just started up when I took this photograph. Now if I hadn't stopped to take the picture I reckon I would just have been walking over the sprinkler when it started up. So what happened that my luck suddenly changed? This is most unusual.
In any case, who'd have thought it? Me being authorised to take photographs outside an American military installation. If only they knew. And if you think that that's impressive, how about in 2005 when I was authorised to take photographs INSIDE an American military installation?
Before long, it was 9 o'clock. "Only 9 o'clock?" asked Liz Ayers "I've worn myself out just reading this far" And 9 o'clock is breakfast time. Just up the road a short distance from the Air Base is the Country Buffet. It seemed like a good idea to head there.
And a good idea it was too. One fixed payment only, and all the coffee you can drink. So I had a nice big healthy salad for breakfast, with coffee. And coffee. And coffee. And coffee. They also had ice cream. But fat-free ice cream with no added sugar. So I had to have ice cream for breakfast as well. If you messed about with the controls you could get the ice cream to come out in willy shapes, which was quite amusing for someone with a small brain like mine.
But I still want to know how Americans can eat all this fried food for breakfast. It made me sick just looking at it. Mind you, I suppose they were wondering how I could eat salad and ice cream for breakfast too.
The members of staff at the Country Buffet were nice and friendly, and the cashier was a beautiful kid. She gave me such a lovely smile when I told her I'd just been drinking the best coffee I've ever drunk in the whole of North America. And that was no lie either. Some of the stuff that I've been served up as coffee in North America ... back in Europe I wouldn't wash the van windscreen with it
There is a shopping mall right by the Country Buffet, and it was here in some of the shops that I started to have a serious look at American 110 volt fittings. My farm in France runs on 12-volt power from wind turbines and solar panels, and the way I plug in appliances is with car cigarette-lighter plugs and sockets. And I hate them.
I'd been on the lookout for some kind of common lightweight 2-pin plug and socket system that I could use. Looking at these 110 volt fittings and looking at the price, I could be onto something here.
"So why are there no photos of the mall, Eric?"
"What? When there's a Ford F350 flatbed outside?
I have a limit of about 425 photographs on this journey. I have to be selective."
I mean - what would you rather photograph? A Shopping Mall or an old Ford F350 flat bed? And in any case, if you look carefully, you can make out the Shopping Mall in the background.
Seriously if you want to know what to buy me for Christmas, or if any of you Septics or Canucks have one like this to sell that you can export to Europe, let me know. As long as it's reasonably complete, has a straight 6 diesel engine, and the body is at least 11 feet long, then you know where to send it.
I'll even PAY for it!
NORTH FROM CHEYENNE
After the mall, I drove out of Cheyenne northwards on the old highway. I didn't take the interstate - for two reasons really. Firstly, I wasn't struggling for time (now isn't that a rarity?), and secondly, there is so much more to see on the old roads.
Here's a new housing estate about 10 miles north of Cheyenne - I had to stop to photograph it as the setting was so impressive and the lots were so large. Not like in the UK, where they have enormous houses set in tiny plots of land.
But then this got me thinking (now that can be dangerous). Why isn't there ever any low-cost housing being built in the States? I've been having a quiet look-out and I've never seen any, at least at a price I could afford. It means that a normal ordinary human being must either live in a trailer or buy something way out of his means in order to live in any kind of comfort. People struggle to make the repayments, and if they lose their job or the bank rate goes up, then quite often they can't keep up. They then have no option but to give up the ghost and quit their house.
Mind you, here I am wittering on about the lack of low cost housing in the USA. I was in the UK in August 2004 and I couldn't find any low-cost housing being built there either
This on the left is highway I25, north of Cheyenne. It just stretches away in one great straight line into the distance, and even though it's Saturday mid morning there are just 3 motor vehicles in sight. It wouldn't be like this on a British motorway, I can tell you. It can't have been too different from this 160 years ago before the white man came disturbing the peace up here - except for the great concrete highway of course.
Dunno why I came this way though. Admittedly this is the shortest way from where I've been to where I'm going but that's never been any good reason in the past. In fact, it's usually quite the reverse. "I didn't have a good map with me at the time" is the best excuse that I can offer. I soon remedied that though, and quickly realised I could have gone east from Cheyenne on I80 into Nebraska and then up Highway 71 to Scotts Bluff, and then along Highway 26 to Guernsey. I should have gone that way too. I never did make it to Nebraska.
Incidentally, did you know that in the USA the "odd" numbered highways go north-to-south and the "even" numbered ones go east-to-west? I didn't. It was apparently so decided by one E. W. James of the Joint Board on Interstate Highways following a meeting of the Board on April 20th, 1925.
"As you know, the U.S. is about twice as wide as it is from North to South, and with this I saw a complete pattern of just what I wished. It stares one in the face, it is so simple and so adjustable. With north-south roads numbered odd from east to west, and east-west roads numbered even from north to south, you at once start a simple, systematic, complete, expansible pattern for a long time development".
"Numbered on the 10's; 10, 20, 30, etc., to 90 would provide nine principal east-west routes. Numbered on the 11's and 5's; 1, 5, 11, 15, etc., to 101 on the Pacific Coast, you would provide the 20 base routes for the north-south pattern" quoth he in a letter he wrote in 1965.
" But why do you want to go to Guernsey, Eric"
"Read on - you'll find out"
Despite what I said above, though, I'm glad I came this way. At least I discovered the town of Chugwater, Wyoming. It wasn't so much the town that interested me really, but the old cars that were here. As you might have expected by now.
This place looks like one of these old railway towns with the typical old buildings on the typical old off-route. There was no-one was about at all, and it was pointless going off looking for anyone. In fact, it bore all the appearance of a dying rural town. And dying it was, too. The population of the city in 1980 was 280 and that of the county 11,974. In 2000, the figures were 244 and 8,807 respectively.
Someone once wrote about Chugwater "This small community is long on history, but short on people. Stagecoaches stopped here...why don't you?" Well, I know the answer to this question and it's in two parts. Stagecoaches no longer stop here because there's no-one still alive here for it to stop for. And I stopped here for the old cars - and if it hadn't been for them I wouldn't have stopped here either because there certainly wasn't anything else worth stopping for.
Its name comes, apparently, from a habit that the native American inhabitants round here had, long before the white man came. They used to hunt the buffalo, and herd them up to the edge of the nearby cliffs. Then they would drive them over the edge to kill them. And chug was the noise that the animals made as they crashed into the water below.
Now, I don't know about you, but I find that astonishing. Yes - the fact that long before the white man made it to this part of the world, the name given by the native American inhabitants to that liquid stuff that you find in rivers so closely resembled the name by which we know it today and which came from 5000 miles away across an ocean. Remarkable!
Out of politeness and courtesy, I went into the garage to ask if I could look around and take some photos but there was no-one at home. But whoever had been here had left the garage doors wide open. And there were tools and spare parts left lying around all over the place.
Try leaving things like that lying around in the UK these days and the time they would have taken to "walk away" would be measured in milliseconds. Here it looked like nothing had moved in 20 years. This is one of the things that appeals to me about rural USA. All this courtesy and respect that no longer exists in the UK.
I left Chugwater and continued my northward drive in the general directionof Guernsey. I was coming out of the plains and beginning to climb into the hilly country. I had to stop and take some pictures of a couple of nice buttes that I encountered along the way. "Beauts", I hear you say, and you could well be right.
These buttes were formed in areas where there had previously been a considerable amount of geological activity. Narrow bands of different types and layers of rock have been deposited one on top of another. The different types of strata are shown by the different colours of the layers of rock in the buttes.
Then ice, water and later wind erosion has eaten away at each layer of rock at a different rate, leaving these weird-shaped outcrops of more durable types of rock.
Yes, I have to say that these were real beauts of buttes. At least for an absolute beginner like me. But by the time I'd finished my tour around the USA, I'd seen beauts of buttes to end all buttes.
So, photographs having been duly taken, I climbed back into the Pontiac and drove up the road to Guernsey.
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