It must be the sun becoming warmer (or shining for a change) that has had me doing some cleaning.  It could be the fact that the cobwebs have taken over the house and clearing them out always involves moving everything in a room.  Let’s call it spring  cleaning, that sounds more hopeful when it’s still mid winter.

The truth is that things have been weighing on me of late – big things, huge things.  When my father died he left a collection of some of the biggest machines any ordinary man could own.  A couple of them I always saw as hobbies but there was a point where it crossed over into obsession.  The time has come for us to dismantle it.  There is a huge building that houses 2 large stationary steam engines and all that goes with it including a steam turbine generator and a sawmill run by diesel and steam.  Equipment so large that a rigger will have to be hired to get it out and moved.

It’s fairly easy to ignore that building with everything in it.  Walking into it is a time capsule of sorts but it weighs on you.  We are not getting any younger and the idea of leaving that to my kids is not appealing.

Every year about this time we make lists of the things that need to be done, sorted in order of importance.  This list begins by realizing that your kitchen is so cold and could be fixed in an hour or two with very little effort.  You just have to wait until Spring to do it.  This is the list that extends through the year consisting of all the maintenance and repairs that every homeowner has.

There is another list and that concerns the cleaning out of the property.  It’s the death cleaning or döstädning as the Swedish call it.  This has taken some time to embrace, probably because it’s my childhood home – there are memories I’m not ready to let go of and it causes me to hang on to things that no one would understand.  In talking about it Bill very astutely said “These were your father’s dreams not ours”.  That one comment changed my perspective on a lot of things.  I’ve gotten to the point in life where my list of long term dreams is beginning to be whittled away.  The sawmill is an example.  Ten years ago we thought we would use it.  There are always people who want lumber cut and it could also be useful to us in the repair of our buildings.  Last year we realized we were probably never going to use it and said it out loud.  We found it a home with someone who will use it and take care of it and be part of his dream.

The steam equipment is another story.

The out buildings are the bigger problem but there are things in the house that present similar challenges.  There’s the piano.  A huge, rosewood Chickering square grand – built about 1870.  It needs a full restoration.  No one plays, no one ever played it (well my mother hacked out a couple of tunes and my uncle would play something wildly out of tune when he visited – all vivid childhood memories).  It is large, heavy and no one wants it.  I’ve contacted museums, previous owners, piano restorers, craigslist, social media offering to give it away if  someone will move  it.  Nothing.  That leaves taking it apart and getting it out of here.  I’ve been saying I was going to do it for two years but haven’t, probably hoping something magical will happen.  It’s got to go, now it’s come down to what pieces I will keep. (Yes, more junk in storage – baby steps).

I realize that I’m entering into old age (although I will always be 27 years old in my head) and in the paring down of dreams comes the need to get rid of  stuff so no one else has to do it.  Döstädning, death cleaning, not a sad thing at all but really done with an eye to the future.


Throw Back Thursday – Tracks and Wrecks

We have a couple of friends who work for the railroad, they are or were engineers for both Amtrak and freight.  They are interesting people to talk to.  I had a conversation one afternoon with one of them about the amount of time I had spent as a kid doing things related to trains or tracks or train wrecks.  I decided to dig through the archives and post just a few of the shots taken in the 60’s and early 70’s of us spending time on tracks.

630701 Trolly Mus Arundel ME (2)On every vacation we would have to stop at something that had to do with tracks – while this wasn’t a train it was a trolley at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Arundel, ME.  It seemed like no matter where we were going on vacation we could always make a stop at a place like this.

640715 Steamtown (3)Of course there was Steamtown, USA located in Bellows Falls, VT which was just close enough so we would go fairly often. It opened in 1963 and these photographs were taken in 1964.

640715 Steamtown (5)We would stand to have our picture taken, but most of the time we would watch my Dad climb all over and sit in the engineers seat on the various engines that were there.

640715 Steamtown (6)In 1984 Steamtown was moved to Scranton, PA and my father and mother made a trip to see it in its new incarnation.  He always knew where those locomotives were or were headed.

670215 Train Wreck (1)Then there were the train wrecks.  These were truly family events for us as kids.  Very rarely would we go with our Dad anywhere except on our once a year vacation.  If there was a wreck within a reasonable driving distance we went.  Often we would go on consecutive nights to see how the clean up was coming along.

670215 Train Wreck (2)This wreck was in Charlemont in the winter of 1967.  This was an exciting time for us.

670215 Train Wreck (3)This was also before the days of lawsuits and liability issues so when there was a wreck it took on a carnival atmosphere (maybe it was because I was a kid that it seemed that way).  People would walk around the wreckage – help clean out box cars taking home whatever they could (they would be called looters now – it was a different time).  We would go at night and watch them work under huge lights, part of a gallery of locals where this was about as much excitement as you could ask for on a February night.

710628 Clark's Trading Post (2)This last photograph was taken at Clark’s Trading Post in Lincoln, NH.  We went there a number of times on vacation but it was only in recent years that I realized it wasn’t because my parents loved Franconia Notch, it was more about going to Clark’s and seeing the locomotive that they had there.  We always had to take a ride on it and I’m sure Dad talked the ear off of the engineer.  While there we would also have to go to Mt. Washington and watch the locomotives for the Cog Railway come and go.  At the time they were steam and pushed the cars up the mountain.

In later years my father bought a 1923 Erie Steam Shovel (like the one in the children’s book  Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel).  He complete restored the multiple engines on it, had the boiler re-manufactured and would fire it up occasionally to delight and entertain family and guests.  He would contact the owners of Clark’s and talk with them about it because Clark’s was the only other place that had one that ran.  He sold it a few years ago to a man that wanted to finish the restoration, he didn’t want someone to scrap it.

There are still two large steam power plants on the property – one was used to power the sawmill.  The other was a steam generator he took out of a factory in Vermont.

Steam has been an all encompassing passion of my father’s his entire life.  He had always talked about putting tracks around the property so he could run a locomotive around it.  I always thought that was more to get a rise out of my mother but have come to understand that it was probably a sincere dream of his.  We may have been bored out of our minds on some of those trips to Steamtown but at the same time there is nothing I have found that gives me chills like a steam engine chugging it’s way along the tracks.