Friday, September 07, 2007

Preview of coming attractions

Friend Bart Thurber has already contributed substantially to my Oakland Harbor Belt layout. He's researched the locale and railroads that served it during many dusty hours in the Oakland Library's archives, joined me for study jaunts to see what's left of the prototype railroads in the area, and been a strong supporter of the concept.

But now he's really gone above and beyond … building his own version of a key element of the OHB. Alice Street Yard was the Santa Fe's outpost on Oakland's inner harbor, a pocket yard served only by car float from Richmond. (For more on Alice Street, refer to W.W. Childer's fine article in The Santa Fe Railway Historical & Modeling Society's Warbonnet, Third Quarter 2001.)

Bart's done a great job of squeezing an HO representation of Alice Street into a spare-bedroom-sized space. He was kind enough to invite me over to operate (or was it that I was there and invited myself to operate …). The layout is still in its early phases and Bart has yet to apply any of his fine modeling skills to the structures. Most of the industries are still mock-ups, but I had a very enjoyable time working the yard, team tracks, freight house and associated industries in response to the arrival of a couple of car floats (actually cars Bart interchanged by hand from storage drawers beneath the benchwork).

For a nearly-new layout, things ran well and we had only a couple of very minor hiccups. It was terrific fun actually operating for a change while Bart busied himself with the "hands-on" interchange and working the nearby SP tracks with another throttle. He's taken the time to add a coat of earth-colored paint and sprinkle a bit of ground cover. That, along with the industry mock-ups, was more than enough to put me in a fun railroadin' frame of mind.

Even better, I was essentially "test driving" a section of my own layout years before I will get to that phase of construction. During my planning, I've wondered if switching on my own depiction of the Alice Street Yard would be varied enough to hold an operator's interest. After this preview of coming attractions, I think it's going to be great. But, Bart, I might need to do some additional research … umm … maybe I'd better come by and operate some more …

Gavin DeGraw's 2003 album Chariot is a well-produced pop package. That description might put some people off, but I have enjoyed listening to it lately. Crisp but unpretentious guitar work by Michael Ward (Ben Harper, Shelby Lynne, Wallflowers) sets off DeGraw's vocals and keyboards while adding just a touch of Keith Richards-style bluesy greasiness to "Chemical Party" and a driving southern rock feel to "I Don't Want to Be". DeGraw's voice flows easily from a slightly gritty Black Crowes-esque vibe on the latter to a soulful strut on "(Nice to Meet You) Anyway". Yeah, the teens swooned for the "Chariot" video and know DeGraw from One Tree Hill, but I don't hold that against him.