|Posted by thegutterdude on February 11, 2010 at 1:55 AM|
Trains, Ducks and Rain Gutters:
Being one with a mind for and love of useless trivia that might be interesting to pass along one day, I find that the Los Angeles area is a bottomless well of interesting people.
A few years after I’d started out on my own, I sold a job to a retired gentleman in the Cheviot Hills area. His job took about three days to complete, during which time I had many opportunities to talk.
At first we were just two native-born Californians waxing nostalgic about the good-ol-days of life in Southern California when it was a beautiful, uncrowded paradise (a topic of conversation that I’m sure has been re-hashed since the last ice age.); before all the “other” people moved in. I was going on about the old farms and ranches that I saw fall under the dozers in the ‘60s and the days when Dana Point was just a cow pasture leading up to some rocks, but he trumped me with his story about duck hunting as a child no more than a mile from where he now lived.
‘Hard to imagine the Playboy mansion, and adjacent multi-million dollar properties being a swamp only a few of generations ago, but according to him, the wetlands that are now restricted to the stretch between Marina Del Rey and Playa Del Rey, extended up that far, crowded with waterfowl from the Pacific Flyway.
The old fellow had spent his working days as an aeronautical engineer in the days when Los Angeles was business friendly and Boeing, Lockheed and Hughes Aircraft, sat on land that the Real Estate lobby could then, afford to ignore. He invited me in for a cup of coffee, and showed me the schematics for a hydraulic valve he’d invented which is still in use today. He was clearly proud to be part the Clarence “Kelly” Johnson days of aviation pioneering and proud of the small part he played in it.
“Do you like trains?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Sure”. “I guess so”.
He went on to tell me that he was part of a group of old steam locomotive buffs that had events and gatherings around the country. Occasionally they manage to talk the railroads in to letting them take a run with old locomotives that they restore.
He showed me a video he had taken of one of the last pre-diesel era engines that the Southern Pacific had allowed to take a nostalgia trip all the way down the coast to Southern California where it was retired to a museum never to roll again. The video was taken from a chase car that paralleled the tracks through the central valley.
As he played the video and described the engine I was seeing, he became as animated as any sports fan calling a game. He looked at that engine with reverence and I have to admit, it was a thing of beauty. The height of steam powered engineering; grand in scale and cleverly designed, it could haul anything that modern-day engines could, but do it with a beauty and style which they could never match. It was made in the days when pride of craftsmanship mattered as much as function and efficiency, and it was a proud beast indeed.
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