New Emergency Sirens

Kingsway Dr tornado warning siren 11-16-2013We saw a bunch of heavy equipment parked around the fire station up the street, plus a big pole on the ground. When I got back from Perry County the other day after dark, Mother said there was some new kind of gizmo sticking up in the air.

It turned out to be one of the new emergency sirens the city was installing to augment the four it already had. When we went under a tornado warning the other night, we could barely hear a siren off in the distance.

Of course, that might be because Mother is Storm Central. She had the TV blaring, a scanner in the living room talking away and she was holding a portable scanner. From time to time, the weather alert radio in the hallway would add to cacophony.

Ain’t no storm going to sneak up on her.

Bad weather has been in the news

Kingsway Dr tornado warning siren 11-16-2013For about a week, the weather folks have been hyperventilating about a cold front predicted to move through here this weekend. Much to their dismay, it looks like it’s just going to be – as they are fond of saying – just a “wind event.”

… Wind Advisory in effect from 8 am to 8 PM CST Sunday…

 The National Weather Service in Paducah has issued a Wind Advisory… which is in effect from 8 am to 8 PM CST Sunday.

 * Winds will increase and become strong and gusty Sunday ahead of an approaching storm front.

 * Timing: south winds will really pick up during the daytime hours Sunday as a weather front approaches. The strongest winds with the highest gusts will be ongoing through the midday and into the afternoon hours.

 * Winds: south winds will average 20 to 30 mph with gusts to 40 to 50 mph at times. These will be the regular gradient winds occurring without the aid of a thunderstorm.

It’s probably good this isn’t going to be a big deal storm, because the new siren hasn’t been hooked up yet.

This is not a good thing

Kingsway Dr tornado warning siren 11-16-2013“This is not a good thing,” I warned her. “I can write the story right now: ‘A house at the corner of Kurre Lane and Kingsway Drive, just a hundred yards from an inoperative emergency siren, was struck by a tornado that picked the structure up and carried it to parts unknown. Observers reported hearing what they thought sounded like a police scanner getting fainter and fainter as the house was sucked up into the clouds. City work crews will have the siren hooked up Monday evening.'”

Kinda makes me think of Guy Clark singing Tornado Time in Texas:

well, the sky was blacker than a funeral suit

hotter than a depot stove;

hide in the cellar

here comes amarillo

blowin down the road

ya got yer hail stones big as hen eggs, boy,

yer clouds as green as can be

old mother nature’s raisin hell

she parked a pickup in a tree.

tornado time in texas

take the paint right off of your barn

tornado time in texas

blow the tattoo right off of your arm


Coins on the Train Track

I’ve always been fascinated by trains. I remember standing at the Advance train depot with my grandparents to watch the steam engines come puffing in with black smoke boiling from the stacks and a deafening blast of steam when it stopped.

Texas singer and songwriter Guy Clark describes how it was to be six years old in 1947, when the whole town turned out to see a “mad dog, runaway, red-silver streamline train” whiz though for the first time. Up until then, “Trains are big and black and smokin’ – steam screamin’ at the wheels, bigger than anything they is, at least that’s the way she feels…When they finally said ‘train time,’ you’d a-thought that Jesus Christ his-self was rolling down the line. Things got real quiet, momma jerked me back, but not before I’d got the chance to lay a nickel on the track.

Coins on the track

When Bob, Claire, Mother and I visited Wittenberg the other day, a slow freight pulled slowly through the town, then came to a stop. I tuned the scanner in my car to the train frequencies and heard the engineer talking to dispatch about stopping for a signal that shouldn’t have been red. While they were sorting it out, I thought about Clark’s song and dropped a penny, nickel, dime and quarter on the track.

Watch the video to see what happened.

Crawling under trains at 10

I’ve been around trains quite a bit and have a lot of respect for them. When I was about 10, Dad had a road-building job down in the Bootheel and had the gravel for the job delivered by rail. He’d let me crawl under the hopper cars to bang open the door that would spill the rock onto a conveyor belt. He told me to make sure I didn’t come out from under the car until he gave me the all-clear, then he would have a bulldozer push the cars forward until the next one was ready to dump. (Just think how many regulations that would bust today.)

Where did my pennies go?

When we left to go home one Friday, I put a row of pennies on the main line, expecting to find them when we came back on Monday. When I rushed to the tracks to find zip, Dad explained that a fast, heavy train will smash the coins as thin as tin foil, then it’ll weld them onto the passing wheels or onto the track. To get good results, you had to do it on a siding or when the train was just starting out.

 Kindergarten ride to Chaffee

I did the obligatory kindergarten ride to Chaffee from Cape; I rode the train from Cape to Chicago for a photo seminar right after high school; a train delivered me to Philmont Scout Ranch when I was 15; I took passenger trains to and from college in Athens, Ohio.

Over the years, I don’t know how many “last rides” I’ve photographed as passenger trains dwindled to a passing few. I rode the Silver Meteor from Florida to Chicago through a 100-year blizzard with drifts so high that they knocked out the headlight on our engine. I rode in the engine of a freight train along the east coast of Florida (where I learned that I couldn’t handle the stress of seeing so many cars drive around closed crossing gates with our engine bearing down on them.

In Gastonia, N.C., I saw a train hit a car that tried to beat it to the crossing. A 16-year-old kid died in my arms.

So, I don’t encourage you to do what I did. Still, like Guy Clark sings in his song, “Oh, but me, I got a nickel smashed flatter than a dime by a mad dog, runaway red-silver streamline train.”

Maybe I’ll leave a coin for Dad

Maybe I’ll leave one of the coins on Dad’s gravestone to show him that I finally pulled it off.