The Lope: May 2006

Saturday, May 27, 2006


We were quite enraptured with Union Pacific's classic steam locomotive 844 when it came through Kansas in April. We weren't the only ones. See that line of traffic to the right in the picture below? Those are "railfans", hobbyists who devote themselves to the pursuit of railroads, and they are driving alongside the train, jockeying with each other to parallel the locomotive in order to take pictures, video or simply experience the locomotive in...well, locomotion.

There was so much interest in 844, in fact, that I added lots of photos to my original post of last month and am bumping it up to the top.

I was once such a railfan, long, long ago, during the twilight of the diesel streamliners. I lost interest when all of the ones in my area were retired. I have very little experience with steam engines, having been born a bit after their general exit from the American landscape, but this I know: they're really, really cool to see. I chose not to be part of the pack chasing this one and waited instead under the I-135 overpass in Salina, KS, for 844 to come to me. And it did, heralded by a satisfying clamor of whistling, smoke and steam.

The locomotive stopped at the Salina Union Pacific depot April 29, 2006 where it was displayed for a day and a half as part of its 35-day, 10-state South Central States Heritage Express Tour.

immediately after stopping, crewmen set about the business of lubricating the locomotive. This is one of the factors that doomed steam locomotives; diesels require less maintenance.

In Salina, Ace Jackalope mans the cab with engineer/fireman Ed Dickens.

844 must look huge to that kid; of course, it looks pretty big to an adult. Those four big wheels in the center, the "driving wheels" that actually move the locomotive forward, are 80 inches in diameter, by the way.

The lad above is probably looking at this. Water which has cooled a boiler injecter drips onto the track.

Just an aside: this is the brickwork on the platform of the depot, which was originally owned by the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific railroad before UP bought Rock Island. Ever notice how many brand new maps still list long defunct railroads?

This is part of the left underside of the forward truck (a set of wheels). 844 was built by the American Locomotive Company (Alco). Alco was formed in 1901 and made some of the best steam engines ever built. Alco competed for awhile in the diesel market before going out of business in 1969, a casualty of the crushing competition between General Motors and General Electric, who still lead the market today.

The data on this reads: U.S. Pat. 1510539 40AS43 Canada Pat. 1923 41S3987.

I love looking at the details of this machine. UP owns another Northern Class steam locomotive, which they use as a parts donor for 844; they also mill brand new replacement parts for 844. They even carry a number of spare parts in one of the railcars behind the locomotive and can do limited fabrication on the road.

These parts underneath the tender are called spring rigging.

When the locomotive is moving, steam-operated pistons move these arms which, in turn move the wheels. The overall effect is not unlike a "busy box" in a child's crib: lots of stuff in motion. I couldn't resist the urge to play in black and white with this one.

I won't go into the complexities of a steam engine (which is good, because I don't know) but there is a great animation at the wikipedia listing for locomotive.

The parts that are shaped like a Star of David are called crank pin nuts. The little tube to the left of the wheel, right down by the track, sprays sand onto the rail when the locomotive needs more traction.

It was a heavily overcast in Salina on Saturday, April 29, but there was a bit of color behind 844 at sunset.

...and again at sunset Sunday the 30th.

Visitors to 844 do not stop at the end of daylight. All evening long and well into the night, someone or other stopped to see it, to photograph it. Most fun of all for me to see were the people who just stumbled across it on evening drives or walks. Here, a father positions his son for a picture during my time exposure.

I can never resist working the crescent moon or the full moon into a picture. I hadn't noticed the red inside the bell, but the flash sure picked it up.

Steam was ever-present around 844; it was like the thing was alive and sometimes its exhalations would curl about it like a shroud.

The blue of dusk mixed with the various color temperatures of the surrounding artificial lights creates a somewhat colorful black engine. Sometimes it's worth laying on ground on your tummy to get a picture.

At the risk of over-romanticizing, things like this are like living myths to me. We've all seen steam engines in movies, new and old; but how many of us have seen one in the wild, as it were?

I wondered what all those kids who were awed by this thing in the daylight would have thought of it at night. Would it have the aura of the Hogwarts Express or the Polar Express?

Long into the night I stayed with 844, sometimes shooting pictures and sometimes, just looking and listening. Occasionally another admirer would come along. A young woman who worked in the Wal-Mart photo lab and had seen my pictures (I used film for some shots) made it a point to come by. "I'm in love with this beast" she said.

At certain moments, depending on which artificial lights were active, 844 took on a film noir look. Actually, the light on the driving wheels in this picture comes from car headlights in the station parking lot.

In a 30 second exposure, it was paradoxically colorful.

The low color temperature of the security lights on the station makes them look orange on film. They back-light steam escaping from 844.

There's a reason for the small amount of steam. An engineer would later explain to me that unless steam from the still-warm boiler is allowed to escape, it might build up enough pressure for one "chug", and the locomotive would surge foreward.

Like I said, I spent a lot of time with 844. It was as if the railroad had parked beautiful still life subject for my convenience. The railroad police kept watch but were very tolerant of me and my tripod.

This is my favorite shot.

Monday morning, May 1, 844 prepares to leave Salina on an eastward leg of its journey.

Ace, having noted that railfans adorn themselves with patches and pins, disguises himself likewise with souvenir pins from the gift shop in one of the train's passenger cars.

Before departure, 844 gets louder, smokier and steamier. I think it has to build up pressure in its boiler.

A steam engine is a creature of fire, of water and of steel. Pulses of of flame, not unlike a fast heartbeat in rhythm, can be seen emerging from air tubes underneath the cab area as 844 fires up.

I hadn't noticed conductor Reed Jackson before; he was a reminder that this train actually carries a few lucky passengers - guests of the UP. Most are railroad employees and their families or local freight customers and city dignitaries.

Jackson's pocketwatch does not show the correct time; it was actually 7:53. He is not remiss, however; his wristwatch was quite accurate.

I left Salina right before 844 departed and drove east along its path. I next saw the locomotive at Abilene, KS.

On-lookers cover their ears at the loud whistle.

For a few minutes, something neat was happening...well, neat if you're a railfan: there were two Alco locomotives in Abilene; they were just a year apart in production but products of different technologies. Aside from 844 as it shot through, a 1945 Alco diesel S-1 switcher lives here on the Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad Association, a tourist line that offers dinner trains. I don't have a current picture of it, but here it is in the early 1990s when it belonged to its former owner, the Hutchinson and Northern Railway in Hutchinson, KS.

Later that day, I waited for 844 at the Highway 77 overpass northeast of Herrington, KS.

844's South Central States Heritage Express Tour is designated "hot" by the railroad. That means it supersedes all other train traffic, like the freight that has had to pull onto a siding.

The locomotive spent the rest of the day and all of Tuesday in Herrington.

844 left Herrington Wednesday morning, May 3, and arrived in Hutchinson, KS at about 9:45AM, fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. Here, it passes grain elevators near Lorraine Street and Carey Blvd.

A large crowd had gathered at the Union Pacific depot at Main and "D" streets to see the engine serviced. Hutchinson has notoriously mineral-laden water, the bane of every home-owner's water heater. Part of me wanted to run up to the guys hosing Hutch water into the tender and say "Hey! You don't want to put THAT in there!" I have since learned that Union Pacific tests the water first.

"Elephant ears", "wind wings" and "smoke lifters" are some of the names given to the metal sheets on either side of the front of 844. The engineer told me they serve the function of creating an airstream to direct exhaust smoke away from the train's air conditioner intakes.

Now this was really cool...literally: it was about 10 in the morning so the sun was very much in the east, exactly in the wrong place for a front shot of the engine unless you wanted a lot of glare. But, the steam was so thick that if you positioned yourself just right it blotted out the sun. When I was doing the night shots, light was beautiful; today, shadow was my friend. You could feel the temperature change too. It was pleasantly cooler in the shadow of the steam, like being in an eclipse.

This presented a great, if fleeting, opportunity for an uber-industrial and somewhat sinister silhouette of 844 with its singular yellow eye.

844 departed the Hutchinson depot at 10:30AM and crossed the Arkansas River a few minutes later.

I wanted at least one shot that betrayed no sign that it wasn't 1944, and this may be it.

It reached its next destination, Pratt, KS, over two hours early. I caught up to it again on May 27 in Claremore, OK, which you can see here.

And, we actually rode it on May 28 from Claremore to Kansas City. I'll post that very soon!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Katy Days in Parsons, Kansas

It's going to be a railroad-rich weekend for Ace Jackalope. On a stop in Parsons Kansas, he ran across the Union Pacific's "Katy Heritage Locomotive" number 1988, which is in town for Parson's annual Katy Days celebration.

The locomotive, a General Motors Electro Motive Division SD70ACe, is one of six new locomotives that UP has painted or plans to paint in the liveries of railroads it has absorbed in the past.

1988 is the year the Union Pacific merged with the Katy.

"The Katy" was the nickname for the Missouri Kansas Texas railroad (MKT), which once had a locomotive shop in Parsons.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Serendipity at the Coleman Theatre on Route 66

Often has serendipity favored me, and tonight was a prime example. My lovely significant other and myself were driving Oklahoma Route 66 on a scouting mission for Ace Jackalope last night; while driving through Miami, we were attracted like moths to a neon sign we'd never seen lit.

The sign is on the South side of the Coleman Theatre, a 77 year-old masterpiece of theater architecture on Route 66 in Miami.

The Coleman Theatre (yes, they favor the British spelling...neat, huh?) is one of those places I'd always meant to get to, but it has slipped off the schedule thus far. Tonight, because I was driving through at precisely the right time, it leapt to the top of the list.

I was photographing the sign from a zillion angles, using nearby sidewalk benches and planters as camera braces, when I noticed two ladies in front of the Coleman, also admiring the sign.

Buoyed by the warm aura of strangers temporarily basking in the glow of something cool, I enthusiastically yelled across the street: "Do either of you have anything to do with this?" One of the women did; she is Barbara Smith, manager of the theater, and she told me the restored sign had only been lit since this past Friday, May 19.

Without knowing us at all, she offered a tour...did I mention it was 9:49PM on a Sunday night? Now *that's* PR the way it ought to be done.

Actually, I think she ushered us in out of genuine pride and affection for the Coleman. She and assistant manager Willie Smith proceeded to take us on a whirlwind one-hour tour of the restored theater, mixing in enough anecdotes to make me really wish I had an audio recorder (hey, they have ghost stories!). I'll show you some pictures, and tell you what I remember. Here are Barbara and Willie in front of the stage backdrop.

But, back to that sign: Here it is on the front (east) side of the Coleman in the year it was built, 1929. I didn't ask when it was moved to the side, but I do know it had not been illuminated in some time prior to last Friday.

Two of these signs used to be on the marquis. I understand there is discussion of utilizing them again in a higher, more visible location. I noticed in looking at old file photos of the Coleman that it has gone through several slight rearrangements of its exterior elements over the decades. Incidentally, it was never out of business ("dark" in theater lingo) at any time since its opening.

The place was built by George L. Coleman (1912-1997), Miami mining magnate and somewhat of an interesting person. The Coleman family donated the theatre to the city of Miami in 1989.

The lobby is long and luxurious, finished in the style of Louis XV...

...not that I could actually explain Louis XV's favored look in detail...let's just say "French" and "opulent".

This is the view from the staircase leading to the balcony.

There is a tradition associated with the statue. Apparently, ushers used to rub her derriere for good luck.

That's Coleman's family crest on the carpet, which, incidentally is new and patterned off old pieces such as the one beneath this set of original 1929 theatre seats. It's difficult to see, but there is a metal crescent underneath the seat; look at the bottom of the underside of the seat on the right. The metal piece was there to hold a man's bowler hat while he was enjoying the show.

The lobby also has the neat art deco scale.

The theatre itself is elegant. I've seen some great restored theaters in my time, not the least of which is the art deco Fox Theater in Hutchinson KS, and every time I walk into one, I want to see about a zillion old movies, starting with my favorite silents (German expressionism, mostly) and leading up through the Universal horror series and Casablanca.

The original seating capacity of the Coleman was 1,600. It's a lot less now; aside from the fact that the balcony seats are not finished, the replacement seats on the main floor are wider then the originals. We've gotten bigger, you know.

The as-built orchestra pit is now covered in order to provide more room for the stage. Like other theaters of its age, the Coleman was built not just for movies but for vaudeville as well. It is now used for movies, ballet, opera, musical performances, special events, etc.

At first, I thought these were box seats. Former Coleman Theatre manager Jerold Graham informs me they were more interesting than that. They are "faus-box seats" or "false-box seats" and this particular one covers an area where some of the organ pipes are situated.

And here is a close-up of the decoration.

The chandelier is one of many items that were restored according to original specifications.

Another is the "Mighty Wurlitzer" pipe organ, which had actually left the theatre and was returned. While we were there, Willie had the organ play "Phantom of the Opera." It was the Andrew Lloyd Webber version, not the spooky one associated with Lon Chaney, but it was impressive, anyway.

Here are just some of the pipes of the Wurlitzer; we saw them on our tour backstage; you can see part of a xylophone above.

The backstage area was most interesting of all. There were fire doors everywhere; apparently Coleman was big on fire protection...and, ya know, the place is still standing. I liked the hardware.

High above was a wooden platform (I'm sure there is a proper name for it) I can just see the caped murderer scurrying away after cutting the rope to the chandelier. Did I mention my mind starts to wander in places like this?

Update: there is, indeed, a proper name. This is the "grid."

This very old Wurdack stage switchboard is original to the theatre. It reminds me of a mad scientist's control panel.

I asked about the Buddha atop the controls. Apparently, he is there for good luck.

The blue light illuminating these cables comes from the theatre's "spirit light"...another superstition. Apparently you're supposed to keep at least one light on so that the spirit of theater never leaves.

A vintage stage light, original to the theatre, is displayed in a waiting room backstage.

Barbara shows us the dressing room used by stars of old, and current entertainers.

Back in the day, this room was used by entertainers like Sally Rand, Tom Mix and Blackstone the magician when they stopped at the Coleman.

Restoring a theater takes ingenuity. Jerold Graham made these molds of original decor pieces so that duplicates and replacements could be cast.

This decades-old Bugs Bunny drawing decorates a shop wall.

Goodnight, ladies and gentlemen! Thank you for joining us, and don't forget your hats in those neat crescent-things under your seats.

To see what's coming up at the Coleman Theatre, check out their website.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Goodbye, Sam's Seafood

The Los Angeles area is losing another of it's fine old tiki establishments. Sam's Seafood Restaurant, 16278 South Pacific Coast Hwy
Huntington Beach, is closing on June 4th, 2006.

I find this disheartening; of the four tiki bars and/or restaurants I visited on my trip to LA, last August, two are not long for this world. The other endangered establishment is Trader Vic's.

Like many classic tiki-themed establishments, Sam's utilizes the Polynesian-inspired A-frame in it's architecture. According to Sam's website, the business dates back to 1923 and has been at the current location since 1960. A manager told me that a fire damaged the original structure and that it was rebuilt, to his recollection, in the early 1960s. He also said that even before this rebuild, the restaurant was always tiki, but I doubt this.

Under the A-frame, you can see more of the typical elements with which a tiki place attempts to usher the customer from the outside world to it's own atmosphere.

This is the first of many wood tikis the visitor sees.

Sam's is noted for its Polynesian show. I didn't see it, but I understand from aficionados of such things that it's pretty good.

This fountain tableau is displayed along the back wall of the main dining area.

There are over a dozen unpainted wood tikis scattered about Sam's. Here are a few. Some of them look to me like the work of Philippine carver Milan Guanko, who also carved many of the tikis seen at Kon Tiki in Tucson. I have no confirmation of this, however, as I couldn't find anyone at the restaurant who knew anything about the origins of the statues.

I've no idea why this tiki was wearing Christmas decorations in August of 2005.

Signage reinforces the Polynesian (usually Hawaiian) theme of the place.

Although we loved the decor, the food was mediocre. The lobster wasn't bad, really; it just wasn't as good as one could get at a Midwestern Red Lobster and, as a tourist to the Pacific coast, I expected better. The service wasn't stellar either. We were astounded that we were practically the only customers in the place at about 8PM on a Thursday night. That being said, Sam's does have fans who tout the quality of their crab.

I should really be thankful about the lackluster quality of the food; had it been great, I'd have had trouble tearing myself away to take pictures. And, in walking around to hunt down someone to refill our drinks, I did quite a bit of exploring.

The bar in Sam's Seafood was the most interesting part, to me.

Although garishly colored, the sheer overpowering saturation of tiki poles, complemented by tapa cloth wallpaper and properly themed hanging lights, overcame any flaws in the decor.

According to a manager, the tikis were last painted about 20 years ago.

I don't remember intentionally shooting this picture with a tilt. In any case, I love using the existing light in tiki bars.

This is the same tiki, shot with flash.

Here's a pair of tiki poles in ambient light.

The flash shows more detail, if less atmosphere.

the colors reveal something odd about the lower face in the left-hand pole.

Does anyone else think of a Mexican wrestler?

Brightly colored paint is not the preferred finish of most tikiphiles. Finished wood generally rates more highly.

Take a closer look at this guy... that supposed to be a necktie?

One of the bar's very atmospheric corners.

Black velvet paintings of idealized Polynesian life are a traditional accoutrement to tiki bars. There are people who collect these and study the lives of the artists in detail.

Lighting in tiki bars may be minimally functional as far letting you see your surroundings, but its real purpose is ambiance. I don't even know if there are light bulbs in the long fish traps. I think it probable that most of the decorations and lights shown here were made by Oceanic Arts, a long-time supplier of Polynesian decor from Whittier, CA. We went there too and took a zillion pictures...more on that when I get a the chance to deal with them.

Scallop shell lamps are a staple of tiki bar lighting and are still sold by Oceanic Arts. They were also distributed by defuct suppliers like Orchids of Hawaii and Benson's Sea and Jungle.

I'm not crazy about the Budweiser sign.

An common form of tiki bar lighting is the glass fishing float, seen hanging to the left of center. The table lamps and the vinyl upholstery seem incongruous with the tapa cloth walls, but, hey, it's not like you can just up and go down the street to a place that does it better.

Elsewhere in Sam's (and it's a big place with several large rooms) there is much great decor. Here are more cool lamps, an A-frame, a waterfall, lots of bamboo and two tikis - all within a few cubic yards.

Another view of the unfortunate tiki at above, right...

...which is afflicted with the indignity of having a handle affixed.

The restaurant contains a few of these unpainted poles.

Taxidermed sea turtles are also traditional tiki decor. I have a personal affection for living turtles so I have a mixed reaction when I see one of these...of course, if I found one cheap I'd fly my hypocracy like a flag and fasten it to the wall.

More classic tiki bar lighting...notice the colored light bulbs.

This is the first tiki I've seen that has the "X" pattern over the face, although the "X-eyed" tiki mugs are common. I don't know if there is any cultural authenticity to this pattern.

The Coconut Bar resides in one of the large banquet rooms.

Sam's makes good use of partial A-fames jutting out into rooms, creating an impression of buildings beyond. Look at the walls. Look at the ceiling. They are dull and industrial when seen in the light of a flash unit, but virtually hidden in the ambiant light of the room. Unfortunately, time was pressing and I couldn't drag in a tripod for the long exposures needed to convey this in the larger rooms.

More great lighting and an array of seashells

This poor guy looks like he's suffered a few impacts. He's sort of a moai (Easter Island head).

One of the better-carved and more authentic-looking Hawaiian tikis is utilized in a waterfall fountain. Note the slight lime encrustation. The big clam shell atop the tiki is another bit of classic decor.

A large room within Sam's is set for a banquet, overseen by tiki in a head dress under an implied A-frame.

One of the societal factors driving the mid-20th century tiki bar explosion was the return of soldiers from the WWII Pacific theater. I'm no expert on WWII emblems, but I bet thats what the the discs on the wall represent. And notice the puffer fish? These are yet another example of classic tiki lighting. has several threads about Sam's; this one contains some history and food and drink reviews. This post by tikicentral member SugarCaddyDaddy, in a similar thread, contains nice pictures of the floor show.

Sam's is well-loved, flaws and all, by tikiphiles and there are at least two farewell events in the planning stages right now, Sam's Seafood Last Hurrah Crab Crawl 5/22 and Big Sam's Goodbye Party.

One rumour is that condos are to be built on the soon-to-be-former site of Sam's Seafood; A manager, who wished not to be named, told me recently that the new owners planned to do nothing to the place for a couple years. In any event, to the idea of Sam's closing, I think this tiki from the bar properly expresses my feelings.

UPDATE: As of December, 2006, there was a strong rumor that Sam's is re-opening or has possibly already re-opened on a limited basis. If you are a reader with more information on this, especially if you are the owner, please comment here.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Lope of the Peeps


Chocolate bunnies...

Peeps... brothers

As Easter clearance progressed, I saw in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me.

Because you are made in the image of one of my ancestors, I purchased your freedom and will lead you in rebellion.

No more will giddy children chant: "first you bite their ears so they can't hear you coming."

"Then you eat their mouths so they can't scream."

"Then you eat their eyes so they can't see you coming."

We must gird ourselves for battle.

The day may come when the courage of Peeps hour of sugar-crazed toddlers and torn cellophane when the age of chocolate bunnies comes crashing down.

But it is not this day.

...except for you, ladies; go and wait for me in my quarters.

Spear shall be shaken! Shield will be splintered!

A sword day, a red day, ere the sun rises!


I said "death", soldiers; you're supposed to charge...wipe those vacuous looks off your faces!

Are you warriors or marshmallows?

Oh, I see.

Don't you know that, first, they'll eat your ears?



Who knew Peeps made a balrog?

Uhh... "You cannot pass?"

OK, so maybe Easter candy being 90% off isn't a good enough reason to eat 100 chocolate bunnies and peeps before going to sleep.

Editors note: Ace Jackalope and I present this with loving gratitude and apologies to the late Professor Tolkien and the makers of the recent Return of the King movie, from which dialog was blatantly gobbled up, chewed on a bit, and spat back onto the keyboard.

And yes, I know Easter was almost four weeks ago. Do you know how long it takes to work with chocolate bunnies and Peeps as extras? I'll tell you. They don't show up on time, they wear wrist watches that have to be photoshopped out, their union makes you call them "chocolate rabbits", and the way Peeps party...well, lets just say it's a wonder they can stand up.

Which reminds me, many, many chocolate bunnies and Peeps were harmed in the making of this production. They died horribly but at least all parts were consumed. First, we ate their ears...

Monday, May 08, 2006

Cinco de Mayo

Ace poses with dancers from a Cinco de Mayo presentation in Hutchinson, KS, this past weekend.

Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) is the annual celebration of the defeat of French invaders by Mexican forces in the Mexican city of Puebla on May 5, 1862.