Pieces of the Past

As I have often mentioned, I love trains.  It’s something that has been in my blood since I was a kid, watching trains go by my grandparent’s home in Grayburg, Texas – near Beaumont on the Missouri Pacific main line between New Orleans and Houston.

I’ve known several men who worked for various railroads, and many of them don’t understand the attraction for railfans.  To them, it’s a job – period.  But to me, and other lovers of all things rail-related, it’s a passion.

t&p logomopac logoSo it should come as no surprise that part of the hobby I enjoy is collecting railroad memorabilia, or as it is sometimes called, railroadiana.  Like any form of collecting, there are different ways to enjoy this hobby.  Some collectors get all they can of certain items, from whatever railroad – dining car china, for example, or timetables.  Others collect items from certain railroads, and that’s where I fall into this obsession.  My chosen lines are the Texas & Pacific and its corporate big brother, the Missouri Pacific.

I mean, if I can’t own the railroad, I can at least own a few pieces of it, right?  So here are a few things that I have gathered over the years.  And in case you’re wondering, no, none of them are terribly valuable – otherwise, I would never have been able to acquire them in the first place!

T&P_TT_1943Timetables are a fairly common collectible.  They’re not large or bulky, and relatively easy to store.  And, they were produced in such large quantities, that even decades later, you can still find them at reasonable prices, unless you’re trying to find some really obscure ones or something.  This is one of my favorite T&P timetables – it’s from 1943.  Notice the big “V” for victory – also the three dots and a dash – Morse Code for the letter “v.”  Three shorts and a long – it’s why the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was used by the BBC during the war, as theme music for their newscasts.

mp_timetableHere’s another favorite.  This timetable was given to me many years ago by Mrs. Mildred Green, a member of the Christian Church in Haskell where I was pastoring. mp_timetable_inside Her late husband had worked for the Roscoe, Snyder and Pacific Railroad (you gotta love the ambition of that name!), and he received this timetable from the Missouri Pacific because of those connections – his name was even printed right there on the cover. The inside cover is also shown.

Here is another T&P timetable, this one from 1960. tp_1960timetable_cover tp_1960timetable_insideI like the graphic of the man taking off his cowboy hat as he is talking with the lady – definitely from a time in the past!  I also have another version of this same timetable printed in black and purple, instead of the black and orange colors that this one has.  Of course, every timetable had listings of that road’s passenger trains, the cities they served, and their scheduled days and times of service.  (Click HERE for a link to Amtrak’s current list of timetables showing their routes – opens in another window.)

Some of the most popular railroad items to collect come from the dining and lounge cars.  Eating a meal on the train has always been one of the great treats of rail travel – still is today, for that matter.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABack in the so-called “Golden Age” of passenger travel – the 1920s – the elite train on the Missouri Pacific system was the “Sunshine Special,” which traveled from St. Louis to the Southwest, with connections all throughout Texas and even reaching to Mexico City.  When you ate in the dining car on one of those MP trains, you would find a beautiful charger plate at each place setting.  These plates were adorned with a very nice painting of a steam engine in the center, and the state flowers of the states served by MoPac trains, with Missouri’s flower at the top, “12 o’clock,” position.  EXCEPT, that is, on dining car service in Texas.  When you were eating in the diner on the Texas & Pacific, or on one of the MP trains elsewhere in Texas, there was a different version of the charger plate, with the Texas bluebonnet at the “12 o’clock” position, like the one shown here.


Another favorite piece of mine is this linen damask napkin.  It measures about 15″ x 22″ and has a gorgeous tone-on-tone view of the T&P logo in the center and very ornate corner designs.  Imagine sitting down at a table with these at every place, and the heavy Reed & Barton T&P silverware, like this fork, with the T&P logo in the handle.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

milk_bottleDo you remember when milk came in a little glass bottle instead of the waxed cardboard cartons they use now?  If you ordered milk in the dining car, this is how it came – all the way from Sunnymede Farm of Bismarck, Missouri.

Of course, if you were traveling first class in the Pullman car, you might want something a little stronger than milk, especially to help you sleep in the evening.  If so, the porter might bring you one of these little bottles of bourbon.Pullman_OF_bourbon_01 Pullman_OF_bourbon_02 It held 1/10th of a pint of 100 proof whiskey  – roughly equivalent to the 50mL “shooter” bottles you get nowadays.  You can still buy Old Forester bourbon today, but I bet it was never finer than when enjoyed to the “rocking of gentle beat” of your private Pullman compartment.  I just love this little brown bottle – it’s about 2 1/2 inches wide by 3 1/2 inches tall.

cuspidorOne final piece to show you – it’s a cuspidor – AKA a spittoon – that has been in my family for generations.  SaSaMy grandmother Sallie McMillan gave it to me.  Here’s the story as she told it.  Her uncle – so that’s my great-GREAT-uncle – was a brakeman for the MP in East Texas.  When he retired in the 1920s, as he was leaving the caboose for the last time, he announced, “This railroad has taken a lot from me over the years; now I’m going to take a piece of it!”  He reached down and picked up the cuspidor, and headed home.  It doesn’t have any markings on it to prove that it came from the RR, or out of a caboose, but that’s the story.

Thanks for sharing this look at some of my collection.  Any other collectors of RR stuff out there? I’d love to hear from you.

Visiting Israel

(Okay, nothing controversial today, I promise!)

For the last week, I have been remembering a wonderful trip I took, exactly four years ago, to Israel.  It was truly, to use an overworked phrase, a life-changing experience.

I almost didn’t get to go.

Early in the summer of 2008, there was an announcement at Beltway, the church where we attend, about a trip to Israel in February, 2009. The cost would be about $3000.  I didn’t have the $3000 – at the time, I didn’t even have the $100 I needed for the deposit, but I began praying, and asking God if I was supposed to go on this trip, and if so, how was I going to pay for it?

By the time I got my trip deposit together a couple of weeks later, I was told that the trip was full, but that a dozen or so reservations were probably going to be cancelled, so my name was first on the list of “alternates.”  I talked with the trip secretary again a few days later, and she told me that a spot had opened up for me to go.  I gave Pastor David my deposit check the following Sunday at church, and he said he would get me signed up.

The next morning, he sent me an e-mail.  Yes, he said, I was confirmed for the trip.  And what is more, he said, was that “an anonymous friend” had come forward and wanted to pay the cost of the trip – the entire $3000.  To say I was stunned would be a gross understatement.

DSC02433For the next several months, I read the pre-trip material and attended the team meetings.  Finally, the day came for us to load up.  A bus ride to DFW, a flight to Atlanta, a flight to Tel Aviv, and there we were – I was in Israel!

Our first stop was in Akko, on the coast in the far northwest corner of the country.  Akko is a very ancient city, referenced in the Hebrew text of Job 38:11.  In NT times, it was known by the name of Ptolemais – Paul went through it towards the end of his 3rd missionary journey, heading towards Jerusalem – Acts 21:7.  The city was a major port for the Crusaders, conquered by the English King Richard the Lionheart, retaken by the Muslims, and later the site of one of the few defeats ever suffered by Napoleon.

All that to say, it’s kinda historic.

While we were there in that region, we visited several Messianic synagogues where we have friends.  What a blessing to get to meet these precious brothers and sisters and pray with them!  It was a time of wonderful fellowship and mutual encouragement, with worship services sometimes held in three different languages.  Besides Akko, we also visited Haifa and Nazareth.

During some free time one evening, with our bus driver’s help, I was able to get to a train station and ride a passenger train a few miles down the coast, then take another train back.  (You knew part of this story would involve a train ride, right?)

Next we went down the coast to Caesarea, the man-made port city constructed by Herod the Great, then on to Mt. Carmel, to the area where Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest (I Kings 18), then across the country through the Jezreel Valley to Megiddo, and on to our hotel on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

IMG_2465February 10 was my favorite day in Israel.  We started out driving up to the top of the traditional site where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount.  It was very cloud and misting rain that day, but this picture shows the side of the mountain sloping down to the Sea of Galilee below.  Then it was on to the coastline itself, to the area where it’s believed that Jesus cooked breakfast for the disciples after His resurrection  (John 21), and then He and Peter went for a walk along the beach – “Feed my sheep.”

IMG_2520We went to Jesus’ adopted hometown of Capernaum next.  Words cannot really describe how special this part of the trip was for me.  We know about more miracles per square foot that took place there, than any other place In Israel.  The synagogue leader’s daughter, and the woman with the issue of blood.  The centurion’s servant, and the paralyzed man whose friends lowered him down through the roof.  Peter’s mother-in-law, and a miraculous catch of fish.  And on, and on, and on – yet most of the people did not believe.  (This picture shows David leading us in our morning devo, in a little park just outside the ruins of the synagogue there.)

Something very special and personal happened to me while we were there.  I began to think about all that Jesus did there, and all the stories from the Gospels – inviting Peter and the others to become “fishers of men,” visiting Matthew’s tax collecting booth, teaching in the synagogue, and more.  Capernaum is not a very big place – the entire village would easily fit on the campus of ACU – and all the spots where these things happened were just yards from where I was standing.  Here’s the weird part: it was almost as if I could see the faces of all the Sunday School teachers that I had when I was a kid, and I could almost hearing them telling me those stories again.  And here I was, standing in the midst of where all those things happened.

I had never felt the Spirit of Jesus more keenly than I did in that moment.

communionWe were in Israel for almost two weeks.  We also visited the Jewish fortress of Masada, the oasis at En Gedi (one of King David’s favorite places!), and the Dead Sea.  Of course, we toured Jerusalem, prayed over Holy City from the ancient ramparts, went to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane, and walked the Via Dolorosa.  We saw the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Gordon’s Calvary, and shared communion outside the Garden Tomb.

It was a great trip, and I’m ready to go back.  There’s some places I want to see again, and lots more places that I want to visit.  For those who say, “Oh, I’d never go – it’s much too dangerous” – not so.  The most dangerous part of the trip was the bus ride on I-20!  If you stay out of the West Bank and Gaza, stay with your tour group, you’ll be fine.

I believe every Christian should go to Israel at least once, if possible.  It will make the Bible come alive in ways you never imagined.  And maybe it will renew your faith to a deeper level than you ever thought possible.

Looking for Balance

There’s an old story that a president, many years ago, told his aides that what he really wanted was a one-armed economist.  “Because,” said the president, “every economic adviser tells me, ‘On the one hand this, but on the other hand that.’ Decisions would be much easier if they only had one hand!”

I don’t know if that story is true or not, but it does illustrate an important truth: there are rarely simple answers when it comes to public policy.  As a fictional president once observed, “There are very few days with an absolute right, or an absolute wrong, and those days almost always involve body counts.”

This principle of complicated public policy may be no where as true, as it is when it comes to gun control.  So, rushing in where angels fear to tread, let me offer a few thoughts, which are probably worth about what you’re paying to read them.

First of all, let me begin by stressing – absolutely – that I support the Second Amendment.  Period.  That’s non-negotiable.  As I and others have observed, it’s only because of the Second Amendment that the Third, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth and Tenth Amendments have any teeth.

I grew up with guns.  I respect guns, but I don’t fear them.  I also don’t love them.  As far as I’m concerned, guns are tools, no more, no less.  Like any tool, if you’re going to own one, common sense dictates that you know how to use it, safely and prudently.  Like any tool, people who haven’t been around one, are likely to be dangerously fascinated by it, and likely to do stupid things with it.  And like any tool, if you need one, you need one.  Probably right then.

A hammer makes a lousy screwdriver.

All of that to say, I am not a gun-hater.  But neither would I call myself a gun nut, whatever that means.  (I kind of suspect that a gun nut could be defined as, “someone who owns one more weapon that me.”)

The fact is, good intentions to the contrary, gun laws almost never work.  This was given tragic and sad proof just last week when Chicago teenager Hadiya Pendleton, 15, was murdered after school.  She was standing under a shelter in a park during a rainstorm when a gunman came in and shot her dead.  Young Miss Pendleton was an honor student and a majorette, and just the previous week had taken part in the inaugural parade.  Police think it may have been a case of mistaken identity, but they don’t know.

She was Chicago’s 42nd murder victim of 2013; there have been more since.  Last year, there were 506 murders in Chicago, many – although certainly not all – involving a firearm.

This is tragic – of that, there can be no doubt.  But I would point out that Chicago already has some of, if not THE, most restrictive and severe anti-gun laws on the books, and those laws did NOTHING to prevent this killing.  Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel said, “We have a responsibility to see a stop to this.  And all of us are responsible.”

Sorry, your honor, I gotta call bullshit on that.  Yes, we live in a violent culture.  Yes, there are lots of guns in the hands of lots of criminals.  But the responsibility does NOT lie with the even-more millions of law-abiding citizens who freely exercise their Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms.”  The responsibility lies with the gunman who pulled the trigger and ended a young and promising life.

I can remember when the assassinations of President and Senator Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s led to significant gun control legislation.  That legislation was driven then by the same thing driving the voices call for gun control now – raw emotion.  Passing legislation based on emotion is heady wine; it makes you feel really good for a while, but it leaves you with a terrible hangover the next morning.

Again, I ask – how many laws did the shooter in Newtown break?  Killing one’s own mother, at the top of the list.  I understand the emotion that wants to “do something” about these types of senseless crimes.  But making criminals out of legal gun-owners is not the answer.

On the other hand…

The NRA is so full of crap their logo ought to be brown.

There was a time when the NRA was a reasonable organization, dedicated to serving its members and educating the public on gun safety and gun ownership issues.  In my opinion, this is no longer the case.  Now, it’s about getting more and more people to sign up.

Back when I was in professional politics, there was one rule that I learned: If you want to understand something – anything – in politics, follow the money.

Am I the only one who’s figured out that the more the NRA can scare you, the more memberships it can sell?  The more they hype the hatred against President Obama, Rep. Pelosi or Sen. Feinstein, and scare people by talking about legislation that they KNOW is not going to pass, the more they can move people from annual to lifetime memberships.

People, do yourselves a favor – quit listening to the NRA, turn off Fox News, go outside, get a breath of fresh air.  You’ll thank me later.

First of all, nobody – NOBODY – is seriously proposing any type of national gun registration or gun confiscation.  The “horror” stories you hear about ATF agents busting in on some supposedly law-abiding citizen in the middle of the night usually have another side to them – like the guy was selling fully automatic weapons to gang-bangers or something.

Secondly, I remember back in the 90s when Congress did pass a ten year ban on assault-style weapons and high-capacity clips (for all the good that did).  The Republic still stands, and the Second Amendment survives.  And similar legislation now under consideration does not stand a snowball’s chance in Houston of passing.  So all of you reposting that stupid meme that says, “When they come to get my guns, I’ll give them the bullets,” post pictures of your grandkids instead.

The only people enjoying this debate, other than the new member division at the NRA, are gun dealers and ammo manufacturers.  They can’t keep up with the demand, and they are jacking up the price to exorbitant levels, because people are panicking.  Follow the money.  The more scared you get, the more money they get.

If I were someone who did a lot of target shooting as a hobby – which I enjoy, by the way – but if I did a lot of it, I’d be really annoyed at the idiots who are buying up ammo by the case, and tripling the price.

Here’s another thing: the current fascination with “assault weapons” really bothers me.  I may be wrong, but it seems to me that many of the people owning these rifles have watched too many violent movies.  Have the integrity to ask yourself this question: why do you want that particular weapon?  Its styling and accessories reveal that it has one purpose, and one purpose only.  Not hunting.  Not target shooting.  Not looking cool on a wall.  Its function is simply to kill people.  Personally, I wouldn’t mind if they banned the damn things, but I know that’s not going to happen.

Sometimes I think they honestly see themselves as a Rambo or John McCain figure.  Or they’ve seen “Red Dawn” a few too many times.  Too many violent, first-person shooter games, where you can blow away as many bad guys as you want. pause the action while you go get a Coke and microwave some Hot Pockets, then come back to the mayhem.  Shooting without thinking.  Killing without consequences.  It’s no wonder we’ve go so many mass shootings in this country – we’ve raised at least two entire generations of gun-toting children who think it’s a game.

Okay, this column is already longer than I meant for it to be.  If I didn’t offend you, I will try again some other time.  Meanwhile, please consider this: In my opinion, we don’t have a gun problem in this society, as much as we have a relationship problem.  What I mean is, when we see violence as the answer to any problem, when we lose our empathy for others, when we place our personal gratification ahead of loving our neighbor – then we have lost our sense of being in relationship with others, and they become only targets.

And that does scare me.