About dustyg56

Hi. My name is Dusty Garison and I live in Haskell, Texas. I'm a husband, father, brother, friend and neighbor. I enjoy cooking, riding trains, and sipping coffee with friends. I like all kinds of music, especially the Blues. And I enjoy sharing some thoughts here on WordPress. Thanks for stopping by, and God bless.

Celebrating our Ranching Heritage

This won’t come as a galloping shock to anyone who knows me, but I love history, especially Texas history. And particularly, LOCAL Texas history. In other words, I enjoy learning about the history of this area, and the pioneers, settlers, and early day ranchers who came here in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. What follows is a list of some of the books I have especially enjoyed that contain stories of those first settlers.

Any study of Haskell County has to begin with the very fine Haskell County History by Mr. R.E. Sherrill, first published in about 1936 or 37, and reprinted (without updates) in 1965. In the book’s Foreword, Mr. Sherrill states that the book began in response to a request from Prof. C.C. Minatra, who was the Superintendent of Haskell Public Schools from 1918 to 1923. Apparently, the good professor wanted something he could use in helping teach local history to his students. The book went through a number of revisions and reorganizations before finally being published more than a decade later. It includes material on the earliest white settlers to the region, establishment of the first communities, agriculture commodities, the coming of the railroads, local politics, crop yields, and much more. It’s not exactly “light bedtime reading,” but if you want to hear the authentic remembrances of early-day pioneers, this is a great treasure.

Another great resource is Haskell County and Its Pioneers, written by Rex A. Felker and published in 1975. This book begins with a review of the county’s history, early day political officeholders, and stories of interest. It has extensive articles about different businesses and the various churches within the city of Haskell, but the real treasure is the extensive collection of family histories – dozens of names of folks who helped build this community and whose grandchildren and great-grandchildren still live here.

A more recent offering is Haskell County, published in 2010 by the Haskell County Historical and Genealogical Society. This little softcover book is available from Arcadia Publishing as part of their “Images of America” series and is primarily a collection of fascinating black and white photographs, many of which have been shared from private family archives.

Mr. C.H. Underwood of O’Brien has written A History of the Upper Forks of the Brazos River. This little book, recently published, tells the story of how the Salt Fork and Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos come together to form the river that flows across much of Texas. It’s an enjoyable read that I highly recommend.

If you want to learn a little more about cowboy culture and life on the early-day range, I suggest Life on the Texas Range, photographs by Erwin E. Smith, and text by J. Evetts Haley. This book contains about a hundred crisp photos of cowboys and livestock on the range, which were selected to be exhibited during the Texas Centennial of 1936. Many of the pictures are of cowboy life up on the Caprock and in the Panhandle region of Texas but would have been very similar to early day ranch life in and around Haskell County.

The Cowboys, part of “The Old West Series,” published by Time-Life Books, is another book I have enjoyed. You’ve probably seen these books with their imitation leather binding – they’re available in just about every second-hand store everywhere. There are numerous volumes in this series that are entertaining reading, but I think this is one of the best. It includes information on Cowboy and Western history and culture in general, not just this area.

Finally, I think every community in the area has at least one book that tells its history and celebrates the story of those who braved the frontier that I would encourage you to read – and that’s not limited to just Haskell or Jones County, either. Many of those books are available in the Haskell County Library, in the genealogy section. But be advised – because of their extreme rarity, most of them cannot be checked out, but you’re welcome to read them there. And I would encourage you to do so.

It’s a frontier that’s waiting for you.

NOT National BBQ Day

Today – Monday, May 29 – is a national holiday. For some, it’s a chance to head out to the lake and maybe catch some crappie or bass. Some see it as a chance to soak up some sun. For auto racing fans, the weekend means it’s time for what is perhaps the most famous competition in motor sports – the Indianapolis 500. For many communities, it’s a time for patriotic parades, with flags, bands and floats. Some folks see it as a chance to fire up the grill and have family and friends over for a fun time. A lot of retailers have big sales, while others are happy just to have the day off. For many, it’s the unofficial start of summer.

All of those things are fine, and each is appropriate in its place, but Memorial Day wasn’t originally designed for any of those things. And although the exact origins of the day have been lost to history, its intention is clear: to remember and honor those who have given their lives in defense of this country.

“Decoration Day” (as the day was originally known) began during and especially, immediately after, the American Civil War (or the War Between the States, if you prefer). Several communities, in both the North and the South, held ceremonies to decorate the graves of the Union and Confederate soldiers.

In 1868, Union General John A. Logan issued a proclamation establishing “Decoration Day” to be held on May 30, annually and nationwide; Logan was the commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization made up of Union Civil War veterans. Some have claimed the date was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any specific battle, but instead could be universally recognized; others have suggested that it was chosen because it was the best date for flowers to bloom in the north.

There are more than 25 different communities that claim to be the founder of the observance. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed a bill recognizing Waterloo, New York, as the “official” birthplace of the holiday a hundred years earlier, but the evidence for this is sketchy, at best. Rochester, Wisconsin, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and Grafton, West Virginia, all host annual parades that have been continuously running since the 1860s. During the first half of the 20th century, the focus graduated shifted from exclusively honoring those who fell in the Civil War, to remembering all those who had died in our nation’s defense. The name “Memorial Day” was first used in 1882 and gradually became more common, especially after World War II; Congress made that the “official” name in 1967.

Then in 1968, as part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, Congress changed the date from May 30, to the last Monday of May, which we still observe today. In 2000, they passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, asking all Americans to pause at 3:00 pm, local time, and remember the fallen. The National American Legion has chosen to honor those who died by distributing and wearing red silk poppies – a tribute to the poem “In Flanders Fields,” about the flowers that grew over soldiers’ graves in World War I.

However you choose to observe the holiday, let us take a moment, each in our own way, to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice and the families they left behind. Let us pray for our nation and our leaders, and pray that the Lord will bring His peace on earth.

I’ll give the final word to British poet Rudyard Kipling, whose son was killed while fighting with the British army during World War I. In his poem Recessional, Kipling writes

The tumult and the shouting dies –
The captains and the kings depart –
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!

Grayburg Memories

Grayburg: that was the little community where his grandparents lived, and he loved going to visit.

His grandparents lived in a small white house on two lots, with gigantic sycamore trees in the front yard. He loved everything about the place, and he especially loved that during the summer, he could come and stay for a week, and have his grandparents all to himself.

His grandmother’s name was Sallie, but he called her “Sa-Sa,” and the name stuck.

There was lots to love about going to Grayburg. The boy loved walking down to see Sa Sa’s sister, Aunt Bib. Her name was Vivian, but everyone called her Bib. Aunt Bib was cool. She taught him how to play dominoes, and how to do leathercraft. And when he spent the night, she would let him get up in her bed, and they would put the covers up over their heads, and hold flashlights, and she would tell great stories. Her version of “Three Little Pigs” was the best. And there was another sister, too – Aunt Hazel. So Grayburg had lots of family connections.

Sa-Sa was a great cook, and his favorite was her chicken and dumplings. The flavor was amazing, as was the smell going through the entire house. And the hissing and clattering of the pressure cooker while the chicken was cooking.

There was a lady who came and helped Sa-Sa with her cooking and cleaning, an old black lady somewhere between the ages of 60 and 200. Her name was Daisy, and she was wrinkled and thin with wiry gray hair, but she had a smile that could light up a room. Daisy had been Sa-Sa’s friend and helper as far back as the boy could remember. Farther than that – his mother said that Daisy had been a fixture in their home for almost as long as SHE could remember.

Of course, one of his favorite parts about Grayburg was the trains. Sa-Sa’s house was only a block or so away from the Missouri Pacific mainline between Houston and Beaumont. There was a long siding there, where trains would stop and pass each other, and a small yard where pulpwood was loaded onto flat cars. And there was a small station there. It was a sort of creamy yellow-beige color, with dark brown trim. There was a freight deck on one side, and the station had a bay window where the agent could look down and see trains without having to leave his desk.

Inside, the station was painted in a tired ivory color with pews around the walls for seating. There was a potbellied stove for the occasional cold days, and a ticket window with an iron grill. And there was a single small restroom in the corner. Over the restroom door was a small metal sign.

Whites Only.

One time, the boy asked his dad about it. “But, if Daisy were here and needed to go, where would she go?” he asked in all childhood innocence. As it turns out, there was an outhouse out in the weeds and mud at the edge of the railyard. His dad pointed out to the old privy and said, “I guess she would have to go there.” The boy just looked at his dad. He didn’t say anything else. But all he could think about was how unfair that was.

This story took place in about 1961. And it’s a true story, because I was that little boy. And what I remember was how many people seemed content with things as they were and seemed not to notice unfairness.

My point is this – Jim Crow segregation laws are long since a thing of the past, thank God. But unfairness and prejudice are still with us. In society. In our churches. And in our hearts. Jesus told us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come. Surely the first place it must come is to our own hearts and our own lives. And that means being willing to notice unfairness wherever it is. And to work to change it.

No matter how uncomfortable it might make us to admit that it still exists.

All-Time Best Country Songs

What is the best country song ever recorded? That’s a heck of a question. Part of the problem is, how do you define “best”? Best lyrics? Most talented musicians? Catchiest tune? Or does it have to do with how has that song / artist influenced other songs and artists? Different decades and different generations of artists have all produced good songs, so how do you decide on what is “best”?

Personally, I enjoy everything from classical to bluegrass, and from classic rock to gospel, but for many folks, country is all that they listen to or like. My dad used to joke that he only listened to two kinds of music – country, and western. His favorite artists were Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Hank Williams, Sr., Jim Reeves, and Ray Price, and that was what we grew up listening to.

I have been doing a little survey – VERY unscientific – and asking folks whose opinions I respect for their choices for the “All-Time Best Country Songs.” I received a LOT of nominations, but some patterns did emerge. For one thing, I noticed that people tended to prefer songs of whatever decade they grew up in – folks who grew up in the 40s and 50s tended to mention songs from Hank Williams, the Carter Family, and Gene Autry, while folks who grew up in the 70s and 80s talked about George Jones, Merle Haggard, Don Williams, or Charlie Rich.

For this list, I’m looking at a song’s “listenability,” its impact and influence, as well as the overall career and legacy of that artist. Obviously, personal taste is also involved. And while I deeply appreciate all those who shared their thoughts with me, these are my opinions, so if you don’t like this list, I’m the one to blame. So, rushing in where angels fear to tread, here we go.

5. San Antonio Rose. Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys were true pioneers in Western Swing and in translating the Big Band sound of the 30s and 40s into the world of hillbillies and honky-tonks. Wills had major success with this tune and re-recorded several different versions of it – some that were more country sounding, some with more brass and other instruments. And I’m not sure about this, but I think Bob Wills was the first country artist ever to include a drummer in his band. My dad’s favorite of his was “Faded Love,” but for this list, we’ll go with this “song of ol’ San Antone.”

4. I Walk the Line. Johnny Cash was just getting started in the music business when he wrote this song for his first wife, Vivian. It features very sparse instrumentation – in some ways, the opposite of the large band that Bob Wills used. This particular song was Cash’s first number one single. He once said in an interview that the humming that he does at the start of the verses was necessary for him to be on the right pitch – a result of the song’s unusual chord pattern and frequent key changes.

3. Crazy. Patsy Cline was a once-in-a-generation talent with a string of great hits, who was gone much too soon, dying in the crash of a small plane. But this song, written by Willie Nelson, is maybe the best of the best of hers. Recorded in 1961, this song features the Jordanaires singing harmony and Floyd Cramer on the piano – nice backup if you can get it. There’s a legend that says when Willie first wrote the song, the title was “Stupid” – just doesn’t have the same hook.

2. I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry. Hank Williams, Sr. might be the best songwriter in country music history. “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “You Win Again,” “Half as Much,” and “I Can’t Help It If I’m Still in Love with You,” are just a few of the dozens he cranked out, but I think this is his best. Lines like, “the moon just went behind a cloud / to hide his face and cry” absolutely stay with you, long after the song is over.

1. He Stopped Loving Her Today. The stormy relationship between George Jones and Tammy Wynette has been well documented, but this song perfectly captures the sweetness and despair of lost love. The fact that George (also known as “the Possum”) could pour out his heart to us in that song and work through his personal demons to do it, shows us the heart of a true musician and artist.

Comments? Questions? Quibbles? You’re welcome to drop me an email at haskellstarnews@gmail.com, if you want to discuss it further. Meanwhile, I’m going to listen to some more Patsy and Hank.

Called into Community

According to Genesis 1, as God was creating the universe, He would pause from time to time, examine his work and pronounce that it was “good.” After God created our first parents, he surveyed them, along with everything else he had made and pronounced that it was all “very good.” Then we come to Genesis 2, where the story backs up just a bit and gives us more details about how God created the first humans. When he saw the man alone, it was the first time that God said something was “NOT good,” and so the Creator said, “I will make a helper suitable for him.”

It seems we are hard-wired for relationships. God created us that way, and He has called us to live in community.

That shouldn’t come as a big surprise to anyone. God himself exists within a perfect community, a union we understand as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Not three gods, but one, living in perfect community within themselves. In Genesis 1:26, God said, “Let US make humans in our image” – and that “us” is a reference, I believe, to that Divine Community, or if you prefer, to the Trinity. Later, when God gave Israel the “Shema” prayer – “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4) – the word translated “one” is the Hebrew word, ekhad. It’s the same word that describes the “one flesh” of husband and wife. One as a union. One as a community.

When God gave the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), it’s important to note that the first commandment begins with, “I AM the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt; you will have no other gods besides me.” Please notice that the foundation of the entire law was the covenant relationship between God and his people.

God described himself to Moses by saying, “I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” He was defining who he was, at least in part, by the relationships he had. Throughout the days of the prophets, God was constantly calling his people and inviting them into a closer relationship. Sending Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s desire to be in community with his people. That’s why one of the names by which Jesus is known is “Immanuel” – God with us.

According to Luke 4, when Jesus was beginning his public ministry, he read the scripture from Isaiah 61 about proclaiming good news to the poor, binding up the brokenhearted, setting captives free, and rebuilding the ancient ruins – all dealing with restoring broken relationships. In Mark 12, when he was asked about the most important commandment, Jesus said, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength. And the second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The fact is, God has made us so that we need each other. In Romans 14:7, the Apostle Paul says, “For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.” We are called to live in community. Indeed, in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul says that God has “committed to us the ministry of reconciliation.” And what is reconciliation, if not a fancy word for rebuilding relationships?

That community sometimes looks different. We are called the “bear one another’s burdens,” (Gal. 6:2), to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep,” (Rom. 12:15), and to “live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18). In Revelation 21:2, heaven is described as “The New Jerusalem.” A city. Not a suburb. Not a farm. Not a solitary cabin by a lake somewhere. A city. And living in a city implies neighbors close by, and relationships all around us.

Genuine community is risky. Relationships take a lot of work and can sometimes be messy. But God has reached out to us, and desires to be in relationship with us, and that is precisely the way we are called to reach out to one another.

An Evening with Emmylou

As I have said before, I enjoy many different types of music, and Emmylou Harris is one of my very favorite artists. I was first drawn to her music indirectly – in my college days, I was a HUGE fan of Linda Ronstadt (still am, for that matter). One of my favorite albums of Linda’s featured amazing harmony vocals from someone named, “Emmylou Harris.” Frankly, I was not familiar with her at the time. It was a deficiency that I soon corrected.

Emmylou was born to a military family – her father flew Corsairs in World War II and Korea, was shot down, and spent ten months as a POW. She moved to New York in the early 60s and supported herself as a waitress while getting experience as a folk singer and performer. By the early 70s, she was with the country rock band, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and later, toured and sang with Gram Parsons. After his death in 1973, her first solo album was released in 1975. At the time, her music was an eclectic mix of rock, folk, and traditional country.

Over the years, she has been known for boosting the careers of young musicians and songwriters – at one time or another, Rodney Crowell, Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, and Marty Stuart have all been members of her band. She’s currently touring with a five-piece group of very solid musicians known as the “Red Dirt Boys.” And she has transitioned back into very traditional country, known now as “Roots” music, or Americana. She’s been nominated for 48 Grammy awards and won 14.

Meanwhile, the Longhorn Ballroom is one of Big D’s most famous music venues. The club opened in 1950 as the “Bob Wills Ranch House,” and sure enough, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys were the first group to appear. Over the years, it hosted just about everyone who was anyone in country music – but they also often featured a very diverse group of Rock and Blues artists, including Dallas native Stevie Ray Vaughan, Nat King Cole, and B.B. King. The place was renamed the “Longhorn Ballroom” in 1958. For a while, it was leased and operated by infamous Dallas night club owner Jack Ruby. It eventually closed in 2019 but was purchased out of bankruptcy and reopened last month. Appropriately, the first band to perform was the legendary Western Swing band, Asleep at the Wheel.

Kathy and I with Drew and Reid at the recently reopened Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas.

Anyway, our son Drew knows that his mother and I are both big Emmylou fans, so he called us and said that if we could get there on a Sunday evening, that he would treat for the tickets. Who can pass up that deal? So we met him and girlfriend Reid, had supper, then went to the show.

It started promptly at 8:00 pm. The band walked out on stage, then out came Emmylou. She greeted the crowd, strapped on her enormous acoustic guitar, and immediately launched into “Easy From Now On,” followed up by “Two More Bottles of Wine” – both massive hits of hers from the 70s. She joked with the audience about being older now, and noted that for a lot of us, instead of two bottles of wine, we would prefer two more gallons of ice cream. She sang for a solid 90 minutes, a setlist primarily of many of her best-known tunes plus a few that were not as familiar. Her encore consisted of another favorite from the 70s, “From Boulder to Birmingham,” before closing with 1981’s “Born to Run.”

Emmylou Harris on stage at the Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas last weekend.

One of my favorites was “Get Up John,” a song written by Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass, and featuring amazing mandolin work and clear, tight harmonies. At one point, she joked with the crowd about being a performer for over 50 years, and said, “You’re going to have to bring out the hook to get rid of me, folks – as long as you keep showing up, I’ll keep on singing!”

And boy, she sure can.

Sharing a Sip

People will occasionally ask me where I got the title of my column – “Sip with Dusty.” It’s actually pretty simple. I enjoy good conversation and good friends, and sipping on a good cup of coffee is a great way to facilitate that. (Of course, sipping on something stronger in the evenings is good too, but we’ll let that go for now…)

For a long time, I didn’t like coffee. I used to make fun of people who said they couldn’t function in the mornings without it. I congratulated myself on not being addicted to caffeine or a steaming cup o’ Joe.

Now I can’t get enough.

Back when I was a young preacher boy, just learning about the real world, I tried to learn to like coffee, but never did get the taste for it. Many people find the smell of coffee brewing to be very pleasant – somehow I guess I expected it to taste like that delicious aroma smelled, but of course, it didn’t. I tried lightening it up with cream, and sweetening it with sugar, but it was no use. (We used to tease my mom about having a little coffee with her milk and sugar.) So for the next 15 years or so, I didn’t even try. Even staying up nights through graduate school couldn’t make me like it.

But when we were in Johnson City, Tennessee, around 1993-94, I was teaching at Milligan College and managing their campus radio station. The mornings were frequently cold and wet there in the mountains of East Tennessee, and so out of curiosity, I bought some of the “International Cafe” French Vanilla instant mix. It was VERY sweet and VERY flavored – one friend described it as a “cup of coffee with a scoop of vanilla ice cream melted in it” – but I discovered I enjoyed it.

From there, I gradually learned to enjoy more the taste of the coffee and needed less and less sweetener and flavoring. Now, 30 years later, sometimes I will have a coffee-flavored drink as a treat or a dessert in the evening, sometimes with a shot of Irish Cream or amaretto added in, but in the morning, I’ll just take it straight, thank you.

Are you a fan of Lonesome Dove? One of my favorite scenes in that famous story occurs when Gus is talking with Lori. She is disappointed and bitter because her boyfriend Jake, instead of taking her to San Francisco as he had promised, had instead abandoned her in the middle of nowhere. Old Gus is trying to share some wisdom with her and says that “the only way to live, in my opinion, is to learn to enjoy all the little things in life.” When she asks him for examples, he says, “Like a glass of cold buttermilk, or a sip of fine whiskey in the evening.” Then he adds with a smile, “Or the company of a feisty gentleman such as myself.”

Gus mentions buttermilk, but the principle is the same.

So, is there a perfect cup of coffee? Such a question is bound to start a big debate with some folks – three of our grown children have been professional baristas, and I know they have definite opinions on the subject – but for me, I think enjoying coffee has less to do with what’s in the cup, and more to do with who’s at the table.

Some of my favorite cups have been…

  • On a cold morning at a Boy Scout campout near Tuscola, gathered around a warm campfire.
  • Sitting with neighbors, looking at pictures of their grandkids.
  • Having a cup after a church potluck and listening to folks just visit together.
  • Studying the Bible with friends in a good Sunday School class as we sit and sip together.

Coffee is definitely best when shared with good friends, over good conversation. Come by the office sometime and let me pour you a cup.

Training for Family Fun

Longtime readers of these musings know that I am a HUGE “railfan” – that is to say, I LOVE trains! It’s been a hobby – really, more of a passion – of mine since I was a toddler. In fact, my mom used to tease me by telling me that I could say “choo-choo” before I ever learned to say “mama.” My brothers and I used to play with a push-it-along toy train set with snap-together track – kind of an early 60s version of a Brio kid’s playset but made out of plastic by a company called “Child Guidance.”

And of course, a trip to our grandparent’s home in Grayburg, between Beaumont and Houston, was never complete without walking down to the tracks, to watch for trains on the Missouri Pacific and put a penny or two on the rails to be flattened by the passing locomotives as they went thundering by. We would always wave at the crew as they passed, and it was important for the conductor in the caboose to wave back.

All of that to say, I enjoy trains. I like to watch them going by, I like to read about them, and I like to look at pictures of them, especially old, historical photos. And I really like riding trains when I have the chance, which brings us to the point of this week’s column – if you’re making plans for a family trip this summer, you should think about going somewhere to ride a train.

Two of the most famous tourist trains in North America are both remnants of the old Denver & Rio Grande Narrow Gauge Railroad: the Durango & Silverton in Southwestern Colorado, or the Cumbres & Toltec, running from Chama, New Mexico, to Antonito, Colorado. They are both wonderful rides, with lovingly-preserved vintage steam locomotives and passenger coaches, running through some of the most gorgeous scenery imaginable. But Texas has some terrific tourist lines of its own, available much closer to home (and at more reasonable prices!).

The Austin Steam Train Association is a good example. Their Hill Country Flyer, for example, runs from Cedar Park, near Austin, through part of the Hill Country northwest of the capital city, and passes through beautiful, rolling hills and across several creeks, to a leisurely lunch stop Burnet before heading back, while pulled by a vintage diesel locomotive. Their annual “Bluebonnet Festival Flyer” (held this past weekend) is always sold out well in advance, but they have multiple special trains throughout the year. Visit their website at austinsteamtrain.org for more information.

The Grapevine Vintage Railroad runs between Grapevine and the Stockyards, north of Downtown Ft. Worth, along the route of the old Cotton Belt Railroad. They have three rides available, at different prices and with different destinations – the longest runs from the depot in Grapevine for the 90-minute ride to the Stockyards. You then have about two hours to explore the area around historic Exchange Avenue in Ft. Worth before the ride back to Grapevine. The pride of the GVRR is their antique steam locomotive, “Puffy,” built in 1896 and originally operated by the Southern Pacific Railroad. It has been out of service for the last several years for maintenance but is expected to be back pulling trains again sometime this year. Go to gvrr.com to learn more or buy tickets.

Former Texas & Pacific Ten-Wheeler #316 pulls its passenger coaches across the Neches River on the Texas State Railroad, between Rusk and Palestine, in East Texas.
Photo courtesy, Texas Parks & Wildlife.

Of course, the granddaddy of all Texas tourist trains is the Texas State Railroad, running between Palestine and Rusk, in deep East Texas. This line has been carrying folks through dense forests since the late 70s and has a fleet of vintage steam engines as well as early, first-generation diesels – including (for display purposes only) the giant #610, a massive 2-10-4 “Texas” type steamer formerly owned and operated by the Texas & Pacific Railway and built to singlehandedly conquer the steep grade of Baird Hill, east of Abilene, while pulling a mile-long freight train.

Today, the TSRR uses a mixture of steam and diesel locomotives to pull visitors along its route through the Piney Woods. Depending on the time of year, you may see beautiful crimson clover or flowering dogwood trees, and always the towering pines, all while hearing the steady “CHUG-a-chug-a-CHUG-a-chug-a” of the steam engine as it climbs the gentle hills and that lonesome whistle as it echoes through the trees. It is an experience not to be missed! Go to texasstaterailroad.net for tickets and to learn more.

All aboard!

Sunday’s Coming

It’s Monday of Holy Week as I write this. The next few days will be filled with all sorts of special activities, from Easter Egg hunts to special church services – events both secular and sacred. Social media is flooded with all sorts of memes, featuring pictures of a cross, an empty tomb, and more, and lots of Bible quotations. People keep repeating lots of bumper sticker theology, but I wonder how many of us are actually thinking about the truth we say we are professing.

Now, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. Yes, we NEED to talk about Jesus’ suffering. We must teach and understand the atoning work of Christ on the cross. And by all means, we should exult – and exalt – the resurrection. The historical fact of Jesus’ bodily resurrection is the founding principle on which Christianity is based.

But what about those who are still waiting for God to come through for them? They want to believe in God, but they’re not seeing the victories and the good times that others are talking about. Maybe you can relate to:

  • A loved one who died, even in the face of many, many prayers.
  • A marriage that shattered, in spite of your best efforts.
  • A job that didn’t materialize.

The awful moment has passed. You’ve left the hospital, the police station, the cemetery. Now you’re stuck with shattered hopes, broken dreams, and wounded faith. You want to believe that God will come through and make it all okay, but you are afraid to hope too much. Well-meaning friends tell you that God will not put more on you than you can bear, and to just keep praying for the victory. The Friday of your crisis is over, but you haven’t seen the Sunday morning of your renewed hopes yet.

You’re stuck in Saturday.

Saturday is a terrible place to be. It was the attitude of Saturday that left the disciples hiding behind locked doors out of fear (John 20:19). It was the same attitude of despair you can hear in the words of Cleopas, even as they encountered the Stranger on the road to Emmaus – “But we had hoped…” (Luke 24:21).

Surely you have experienced a Saturday. God hasn’t done things in a way that makes sense. Your expectations have been turned completely upside-down. So now what?

While on the cross, Jesus quoted from Psalm 22 – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Like any good Jewish boy, Jesus knew He didn’t have to quote an entire passage, in order to reference that text. And Psalm 22, the crucifixion psalm, also contains some of the most confident outpouring of hope in the entire Old Testament.

Psalm 22 may be the most – human – of any psalm ever written. Who has not felt abandoned by God? Who has not felt forsaken? But I reject the theology that says that God “turned his back” on Jesus here. I think Jesus was experiencing the very human emotion of feeling distant from God. Haven’t you ever felt that way? When you felt alone and abandoned, had God really turned His back on you? Of course not. And I don’t think God did here, either.

Jesus is quoting Psalm 22 to remind Himself of its glorious truth – that God is still God, even when I can’t figure out what’s going on. God is still God, even when I can’t feel Him. In Psalm 22, David pours out his heart to remind himself that even though it’s bad right now, God has always come through before, and He will again. Psalm 22 begins in despair but ends in triumph.

Faith is hard when you’re in a Saturday. It’s easy to feel offended by what God has – or has not – done. The enemy is constantly in your ear, telling you that God is not to be trusted, to cut your losses and move on. Or maybe just lower your expectations, go through the motion of going to church, but don’t risk too much.

Saturdays are long and painful, but there IS hope. Don’t give up on God, and don’t give in to despair. Keep on trusting. Keep on hoping. Keep on praying.

Sunday’s coming.

Pearls of Collected Wisdom

For most of my life, I have been a collector. (Okay – a pack rat. Be gentle with me; it’s something I got from my mother.) But besides coins, books, and other assorted items, I have also enjoyed collecting favorite sayings: you know, little bits of wisdom picked up from here and there.

For example, when I was going off to manage a college radio station in East Tennessee, my dear friend (and KVRP co-owner) Ken Lane told me there were three rules to successful station management:

  • If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  • Never buy any piece of equipment that doesn’t have a 1-800 service number on it.
  • And for sure, never, EVER, use a rolling chair as a stepstool.

Speaking of gathering wise sayings, one of my favorite collections has to be the Biblical Book of Proverbs, put together by King Solomon and others. Some choice morsels:

  • A generous person will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed – 11:25.
  • As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another – 27:17.
  • Those who walk with the wise, grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm – 13:20.

Although I’ve only had two hours of flight instruction, I have learned about the three most useless things in aviation:

  • The length of runway behind you.
  • The amount of sky above you.
  • The level of air in your fuel tank.

It’s also been said that there are old pilots, and there are bold pilots, but there are no OLD, bold pilots.

Are you familiar with Murphy’s Law? These sayings were popular back in the 70s, and still provide a realistic (if somewhat sarcastic) perspective on life.

  • Everything takes longer than expected.
  • Any needed part will cost more than planned.
  • Anything that can go wrong, WILL go wrong, at the worst possible time.

I’ve also heard that Murphy was an optimist.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of working for Rick Perry when he was the State Representative for this area. Some things I learned about Texas politics:

  • If you want to understand anything, follow the money.
  • Never pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel (or owns his own radio station).
  • Don’t make it personal. The legislator who’s opposing you today, may be the guy whose vote you need tomorrow.

Here are some favorite presidential sayings:

  • Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt. (Abraham Lincoln)
  • The only man who makes no mistakes is the man who never does anything. (Theodore Roosevelt)
  • One person can make a difference, and every person should try. (John F. Kennedy)

Let’s talk about baseball:

  • Every team is going to win 54 games. Every team is going to lose 54 games. It’s what you do with the other 54 games that counts.
  • Baseball is the only sport where the defense has the ball.
  • Always remember – the main thing is to get home.

Speaking of baseball, conservative political columnist and baseball fan George Will once said, “The best thing about being a pessimist, is being either constantly proven right, or else being pleasantly surprised.

Here are some more observations that may be cynical but are usually correct:

  • The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.
  • Failure to plan on your part, does not constitute an emergency on my part.
  • Experience and guile will generally defeat youth and enthusiasm.

“Don’t Squat with Your Spurs On” is a collection of homespun wisdom, compiled by Texas Bix Binder. Besides the title, some of the best include:

  • When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is, stop digging.
  • Never ask a barber if he thinks you need a haircut.
  • Never miss a good chance to shut up.

And I think I will.