Halloween Fun

Witch holding crystal ball, very scary.

That is one creepy whatever it is. I have always liked Halloween. It’s a gateway to fall fun and crispy cold weather. Even though the actual day is October 31, stores decorate for Halloween in August so we have plenty of time to enjoy the excitement.

Past Tense Country Store in Lapeer, Michigan has one of the best indoor Halloween displays I’ve ever seen. It sure isn’t for folks who are terrified by boney fingers, stringy hair, sharp teeth, talking skeletons, and spiders. The entire upper floor of the store is filled with everything the worst nightmares are made of.

Paste Tense Store with home decor, Halloween and Christmas decorations.

Are you kidding me? I’m not afraid of clowns, as some people are, but a clown holding a cage with a mini creepy clown, that is just scary. If the big one doesn’t get you, the little one will.

The white haired old man holding the little skull is probably the scariest thing of all.

When I was a kid we used pillow cases to collect our candy. We went home, dumped it all on the floor, and sorted through the good stuff and shared the rest. Now, with all the “trunk and treat” sites for trick-or-treaters to go to, I think kids are probably getting enough candy to last until next Halloween.

What would fall be without cider and donuts? Even if you don’t like apple cider, and never eat donuts, people buy them to make the fall colors brighter. It’s like when you see an accident and turn down the radio so you can see better.

Photo of big red barn, Past Tense Cider Mill.

The Past Tense Cider Mill has terrific cider and donuts. Delicious! Apple cider is a treat whether purchased at a mill or an intersection from people raising community project funds.

Whether you get into Halloween or not, enjoy seeing scary things or avoid them, it’s still a fun time for kids and lots of adults alike. Here’s hoping you get more than a “bag full of rocks” in your trick-or-treat bag!

Bill Knapp’s

Bill Knapp’s was a favorite restaurant of ours for more than forty years. I first went to Bill Knapp’s with my grandparents in the ‘60s.

The Early American design of Bill Knapp’s restaurants elicited a kind of nostalgia that everyone welcomes at least once in a while. The interior décor continued the exterior with white complimented by deep green upholstery.

I don’t know if Bill Knapp’s was motivated by a desire to please elderly people, but they were experts at doing just that. It’s not a negative thing, especially now. I wish we could still go to Bill Knapp’s. It was a comfortable place to go for dinner. The food was always predictably good.

Fried chicken, au gratin potatoes, cheeseburger in a basket, fish basket, and amazing biscuits. I remember my grandpa breaking open a delicious warm biscuit, covering it with honey, and giving it to me.

Knapp’s was a favorite spot for my paternal grandmother and my aunt. If they took us out for dinner, Bill Knapp’s was a common destination. They enjoyed the food so much they never visited without taking plastic storage bags. At the end of dinner, they scraped the plates into the bags in their purses. Waist not, want not, I guess.

My grandmother had a long history of saving food. When I was a kid she put plate scrapings in jars to bring to us for our dogs.

When our own children came along, we continued to enjoy Bill Knapp’s. Sunday after church was a great time for a delightful meal at Knapp’s with all the other church people from miles around. I could tell everyone came from church because all the men wore suits.

It was on a Sunday, having traveled to Bill Knapp’s from church, that one of our two-year-old boys decided to shout for joy at the top of his lungs. Sitting in his high chair, waiting for his grilled cheese to be served, he suddenly threw up his hands and screamed, “Praise the Lord!! Praise the Lord!!”

Everyone knows toddlers make a mess when they eat. Three toddlers make three times the mess. A Bill Knapp’s customer walked by our table, looked at the floor, and said, “This place looks like a disaster.” I pushed my chair back, crawled under the table in my suit, and began picking up bits of food, in full view of the ornery patron.

Another Sunday at Bill Knapp’s ended with car trouble. We had a great dinner any mother would be proud of. We left the restaurant, strapped our little ones in their car seats, got in the car, turned the key, and nothing happened. We had a 1969 green, Ford LTD four door my grandmother gave to us.

I tried the key again with the same results. I grumbled something un-church-ish, got out of the car, retrieved the tire iron from the trunk, and began beating on the starter in my pin-striped three piece navy blue suit, certain that every eye in Bill Knapp’s was on me as people left their food on the table and crowded in front of the windows to watch me. I got back in the car, turned the key, started the engine, and we drove home.

With a daughter and triplet sons whose birthdays are within one week of each other, we always took advantage of Bill Knapp’s generosity. Free chocolate cakes were provided for anyone having a birthday. We could only eat one, so we left the restaurant with three birthday cakes.

Thanks for the memories, Bill Knapp’s. We’ll never forget you.

(Bill Knapp’s photo by Lansing State Journal.)

Murder and Fugue in G Flat Minor

The sound reached a fevered pitch and the shroud of the great hall quivered. Oppressive chandeliers swayed. Resident rodents halted their scampering.

“Stop!! Stop!!”, Maestro screamed. “This disaster cannot go on!! Do you impostors, I will not call you musicians! Do you impostors know anything about the tools you hold in your hands?!”

Silence like the grave.

“Have you ever played an instrument before this moment?! Do you have any idea what you’ve done?! The ears of the universe are offended! Flowers are wilting! The air is saturated with disgust! The dead roll in their crypts!”

Heavy moist darkness filled each soul.

Maestro Inor Breschein is well known for his hatred of anything deemed less than himself, which is everything and everyone. The greatest unknown is how music penned by anyone other than Breschein could ever be considered worthy of his time. Oddly enough, he is not a composer.

“Get out of my sight!! Leave me now!! Don’t take the music!! You are not worthy of it!! Get out!!” he howled until the veins of his face longed to burst.

Inor Breschein stood on the podium with his eyes pinched until the concert hall was completely empty. The door closed for the last time with a loud snap!! The maestro slowly opened his eyes, waiting for them to respond to the light.

He was startled by a dark figure in the wing.

“What are you doing? Get out! I told you to get out!” Breschein screamed.

The shadow did not move.

Maestro stepped from the podium toward it and immediately he was fully alone. He walked behind the curtain and found nothing. Withstanding the uneasy feeling dancing near his mind, he retrieved his coat and walked for the door.

Sensing someone walking behind him, Breschein turned quickly, but saw nothing. He heard laughter coming from the stage.

“Who’s there?!!” he shouted. “Who is there?!!”


Finally reaching the door he found it chained and locked. He shook the chain. “Who did this?!!” he shouted in frustration, trying to fend off fingers of fear reaching for his heart. Breschein ran to another set of doors and found them locked tight.

From inside the auditorium he heard a loud crack and blackness swallowed him. “Turn the lights back on!! I’m still in the building!!” he screamed.

Distant laughter.

Shaking the door chains frantically, he pleaded for help.


Through the glass he saw someone walking along the street. He picked up a folding chair and threw it at the window. Neither the glass nor the passerby reacted to the deafening crash.

Hysterical laughter behind him!

The concert master arrives first at rehearsal. She found the concert hall open, the lights off but for a single spotlight focused brightly on the stage.

Maestro Inor Breschein lay supine on the podium, baton in hand, eyes frozen wide in terror.

A single sheet of music lay across his chest with scribbled words, Murder and Fugue in G Flat Minor.

8th grade boys playing instruments.

The Tijuana Brass – Junior High Style

Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass first hit American radio in 1962 with the single, “The Lonely Bull” on A&M Records. (Fascinating fact, according to Wikipedia, Herb Alpert recorded The Lonely Bull by himself, overdubbing his trumpet, with a few studio musicians. It wasn’t until the release of “Whipped Cream & Other Delights” in 1965, which outsold “The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, and The Rolling Stones – that Alpert had to turn the Tijuana Brass into an actual touring ensemble rather than a studio band.” (Herb Alpert – Wikipedia)

In 1966, three 7th graders at Mackinaw Middle School in Saginaw, Michigan, decided to form a band to play Tijuana Brass music. David Vasey played lead trumpet, Ken Spicer played 2nd trumpet, I think our first trombone player was an 8th grader named Randy, our first drummer was another 8th grader, named Mike. I played the piano.

Our band teacher, Harry Wallerstein, encouraged us every step of the way. In junior high band we were already playing popular songs like “Ticket to Ride” by the Beatles, and “Spanish Flea” by Herb Alpert, so we were already familiar with the style of music.

We didn’t know if ensemble arrangements were available for Tijuana Brass music but were excited to find the entire original scores at a local music store. We each took our parts home and started practicing. We all played together for the first time at our house in the small den where the piano was. When we started playing we couldn’t stop laughing because it sounded so good! I even called my grandmother and made her listen over the phone (the kitchen phone hanging on the wall).

Naturally, we named our band “The Lonely Bull”. That first year we played at ladies’ auxiliaries, and 8th grade graduation. We even played in the back of a pick-up truck in the Little League parade along State Street in Saginaw Township.

8th grade boys playing instruments.

At the start of eighth grade two new members joined our group. Mark Breithaupt played trombone, Mike Hamlin was our new drummer. Tim Apsey joined as our manager and played percussion.

Mr. Wallerstein continued to support our efforts, and our other teachers, remarkably, allowed us to go to the bandroom to practice almost any time we wanted to. (I did forge Mr. Wallerstein’s “H.B.W.” a few times.)

Trumpet player David Vasey playing a song.
Dave Vasey was a great trumpet player. I hope he continued to play as the years passed.

A highlight of our 8th grade year was winning the all-school talent contest. It was an important event at Mackinaw and student participation was high and enthusiastic.

We took our band to Solo & Ensemble Competition, which every band student knows is an exciting experience. We played to a large crowd and the response was loud and lively. Unfortunately, the judges wouldn’t give us a score because they said the music was outside routine competition music, and we didn’t have music scores for them. I also played a memorized piano solo but didn’t receive a score. Piano wasn’t recognized as a Solo & Ensemble Competition instrument at that time.

I don’t remember how we were contacted by The Saginaw Township Times. A reporter came to our school in May, 1967, to take pictures and interview us. We were all dressed up and playing our music in the gym after lunch. A big crowd of students surrounded us as the Times reporter listened.

“The Lonely Bull” was a junior high school band of 6 boys.
The reporter didn’t expect much from a bunch of junior highers, but he was pleasantly surprised when he walked into the gym at Mackinaw Middle School.
8th grade boy, Dale Parsons, playing the piano.
I can tell by looking at my fingers, we were playing “Spanish Flea” when this photo was taken.

The end of 8th grade was also the end of “The Lonely Bull”. When our freshmen year of high school rolled around many things had changed, as they always do. I continued playing the music on the piano just for fun. If it were possible, it would be a blast to get all these guys together again and play Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass music.

Front page of Saginaw Township Times, May 24, 1967.
Three flags and propeller-driven passenger plane.

I lost my mother and father to cancer forty-three and thirty-three years ago, respectively. This Saginaw Township Times paper from May, 1967, survived. I carefully unfolded the crumbling pages to find this story, still very fresh in my mind.

– Dale Parsons, piano player for “The Lonely Bull”.

Adding People to the Maple Valley Model Railroad

I ordered a package of one hundred HO scale people. Having never purchased so many figures at the same time before, I didn’t realize there would be so many duplicates. No worries, I just made sure I didn’t place a bunch of the same ones in a small area.

The second mistake I made was gluing a small piece of clear plastic to each of the figures so I could stand them temporarily. I inadvertantly created a whole bunch more work for myself because when I decided it was time to place the people permanently, I had to remove the pedestals. I was lucky they came off pretty easily.

I still have a lot of scenery detailing to do, so I have probably created even more work for myself by gluing the figures in place. So far, I think the crowd scenes look pretty good.

Several workers together near interlocking tower.

Work on a watermain is underway after a break near the Newark interlocking tower. In the process of digging up the pipes, the workers discovered something surprising. Discussions continue about next steps that should be taken.

Delivering the mail is an important job in Maple Valley. Frank Kirtsalvy has been walking the route, providing mail service to the happy residents of Maple Valley for twenty-nine years. Frank walks alone on First Street toward Main. Nearing the end of his day, he always tops it off with coffee at the Ya’ll Sit Cafe, and the good folks at the cafe are always glad to see him.

Mailman walking in front of houses, cars on the street.

Maple Valley River is a beautiful place for swimming, fishing, and canoeing. Today, the clear water is disturbed only by a couple of water craft while several swimmers watch from the shore. The Maple Valley Trestle moorings provide a great place for fish to hide from those skilled in fishing.

Main Street is always busy with shoppers and visitors to Maple Valley. Shorty and Hannah Cloverton at the Ya’ll Sit Cafe are constantly serving customers with terrific food and hospitality. Pete Terkinberry does a great job keeping Maple Valley a safe community for visitors and residents. Quintin O’Dillmotte, the man in the blue suit walking behind Pete, is on his way to another funeral.

Small shed, workers, control tower near tracks.

There is always a lot of work to do, keeping a railroad in safe operating condition. These men are working together near an important turnout on the mainline to Maple Valley.

Ballasting on the Maple Valley Model Railroad is almost complete. I still have some work to do around turnouts, but most of the layout ballast is ready for gluing. I plan to use the tried and true method of applying wet-water made with dish soap, and diluted white glue solution, applied with a squeeze bottle.

Several buildings on street along track, people working, cars.

I love this scene along the mainline to Maple Valley. Visitors to the village ride The Old General from Newark.

In the weeks and months ahead I plan to add more trees, telephone poles with wire, and operating street and building lights. I will begin working on signal operations soon.

The Maple Valley Model Railroad is looking good!

Harvest Festival

Last Saturday, October 8, was the annual North Branch Harvest Festival. What a great celebration to kick off this beautiful fall season! Even though the cold wind sent chills to our bones, it appeared that everyone was having a great time.

We prepared our Up North Flannels for weeks leading up to the Harvest Festival. We planned to arrive at the site by 7:00 a.m. to allow plenty of set-up time without rushing. At 6:38, we jumped out of bed like that crazy scene in “Home Alone” – “We slept in!!” and scrambled to get out the door.

I looked at the weather app Friday night, so I knew it was going to get windy later in the morning. I just didn’t anticipate that kind of wind! Some canopies didn’t survive, but I had heavy weights tied to each leg of our tent, so we made it through without too much trouble. I also underestimated how cold the wind would feel. To finally get comfortable, I ended up with a t-shirt, long-sleeve t-shirt, my Up North Flannel, a hooded sweatshirt, a down vest, and my heavy winter coat. Ahhh, finally snug as a bug in a rug. Oh, and a big thermos of hot chocolate helped.

This was our first experience as a vendor at the Harvest Festival. Those responsible for organizing the event did an incredible job. There were many activities throughout the village. The vendor fair was designed perfectly with each spot mapped and numbered for easy reference.

Of all the successes of the North Branch Harvest Festival, I think I am most excited about Katie M’s Community Coffee Company truck! I know she and her dad, Jack, have been working hard to make her dream a reality, and Saturday it came to life. (I wish I had taken a picture of it!) For the author of a blog called “A Coffee State of Mind”, being excited about Katie’s Community Coffee Company is only natural.

There was another food vendor who sold tiny donuts and they were warm and delicious. We didn’t try the french fries from the next vendor but we saw lots of people carrying trays of fries and they looked good.

Midway through the afternoon, a small music combo began setting up their gear right behind us. I’l be honest, my first thought was, “Oh great, this is gonna be awful.” Wow, was I stupid! These three guys were amazing! They covered songs from the Beatles, to Bob Seger, to Roy Orbison, and lots of others in between. It was probably my imagination from knowing so many of the songs, but with each one, the lead singer’s voice sounded just like the original!

Sorry for the close-up of my face!

We had a great time at our North Branch Harvest Festival! Thank you, and congratulations to everyone involved in bringing together such a terrific event in our community. It was nice seeing everyone having fun on such a beautiful fall day.

Display with skeletons and scary witch.

The Golden Arm

To soften his anger at the loss of his limb,
A man chose a replacement most precious to him.
Instead of metal to tarnish and mold,
He chose an arm that was made of pure gold.

As bad luck would have it,
His health was soon gone,
A sad painful death
Just a taste of the wrong.

Soon after the grave had swallowed it’s prey,
His sleep interrupted by light of the day.
Robbers came to do the man harm,
By taking from him his dead golden arm.

“What good will it do him? He’s deader than dead!”
They both would regret the things that they said.
From that moment on the two heard a strange sound,
Sometimes it was faint, sometimes it was loud.

In the dead of the night or the light of midday,
“I’m going to find you, you can’t get away.
You stole my golden arm, I know it was you.
You sealed your fate, here’s what I will do.”

“I’ll take from you what you took from me,
You won’t know the day or the time it will be.”
And so it is told ‘til the time they were old,
The two men feared the arm made of gold.

While working alone, miles away from his friend,
Each man lost an arm and was brought to his end.
By the two there was found near the place where they lay,
A note that was signed, “I told you. G.A.”

Miss Steverman’s 2nd Grade Class

1960. Weiss Elementary School, Saginaw, Michigan. The school was directly across the street from the subdivision where I lived. Miss Cheiswahl was our principal, Mrs. Scheisberger was the secretary. Mr. Kerkey was the custodian and also the crossing guard who helped us cross Weiss Street safely.

Those were the days when we ate in our classroom if we brought our lunch. A carton of milk was two cents. Hot lunch was thirty-five cents. We were also allowed to go home for lunch, which I did many times.

Our teacher, Miss Steverman, was very kind and smiled most of the time. I remember the names of almost everyone in our class. I am first in the top row. Gretchen Baumgartner is next. Gretchen was the inspiration for one of the main characters in my middle grade novel, “Smivey Stepward in Love and Other Misery”.

Next is Miss Steverman, followed by Billy Salbenblatt and Tom Schultz. Tom once sang, “Yankee Doodle went to town, riding on a pony, hit a bump and skinned his rump and landed in the teacher’s arms.”

The first girl in the second row has a name, I just don’t remember it. Chuck Malenfant is next. He was drawing an army tank one time and instead of drawing four or five large wheels, he filled the track with little circles like marbles. Maybe he was on to something. Next is Karen Temper and Bobby Preston.

Denny Nickles is first in the third row. Denny had a supernatural gift of skipping. He could skip faster than any kid could run. No one on the playground could catch Denny Nickles if he was skipping. I don’t remember the girl next to Denny.

Harry Johns is next. He was a funny guy and once wore pajamas under his pants for long underwear. I remember the girl next to Harry, but can’t recall her name. John Adams is next. John once took his ballpoint pen apart, pulled back on the cartridge and let it go. The projectile stuck in the ceiling. I don’t remember how or if he got it down. Mary Rappa is next.

First in the fourth row is Ricky Jehu. Ricky lived on Cheyenne Place, one street over from mine. We spent a lot of time together. As most of us kids played army in those days, Ricky could make incredible weapon sound effects I could never duplicate. Joan Schallhorn is next to Ricky.

The next student is Dennis Crocker. Dennis and I started taking piano lessons from Mr. Gortner at the same time. I don’t know if he continued playing the piano, but I do know he has a beautiful voice. At boys’ camp when we were nine years old, he sang, “Dare to Be a Daniel”, and “Jewels” out of the hymn book all by himself. Dennis went on to become the Chair of Fine Arts at a university.

The next student is Debbie Smith, then Ronnie Reder, Barbara Blackney, and Cheryl Everett.

I would have eventually graduated from high school with my second grade classmates, but we moved from Saginaw before my sophomore year.

A few days ago, I posted this picture on Facebook with the names of my classmates. I immediately received a comment that read, “The teacher is my mom and I am literally having dinner out with her as I post. She remembers you all.”

This made my day! I literally got to say “Hello” to my second grade teacher, Miss Steverman!

How to Install Foam Risers on Your HO Scale Model Railroad

My new layout is basic, no clever design schemes, just two mainlines for simultaneous train operation and some sidings. There is a long branch line that runs from one end of the layout to the other. The destination is Maple Valley. The train running the line will be a vintage model engine like “The General” and a few cars. Passengers will board the train at “Little Town” on the opposite end of the layout for the ride to Maple Valley.

I decided to use Woodland Scenics 2% risers. A 2% incline means I need 16 feet of space for the track to be lifted four inches. In the middle of the photo, you can see where the incline and decline come together with about two feet to spare. It’s just enough room for turnouts from both directions so I can choose to move trains to or from the longer outside mainline.

To secure the risers to the extruded foam base, I used undiluted white glue which I bought in a gallon jug. I pinned the riser where I wanted it and drew a line on either side of the riser with a black marker. I removed the pins and the riser. I brushed white glue on the foam base the length of the first riser. I then replaced the riser, pinned it in place, and weighted it down. I left it overnight to dry.

I have seen some videos where modelers put masking tape over the riser before installing the final roadbed. I started to do the same but removed it because I was afraid if the tape came loose the roadbed would be loose as well.

I used undiluted white glue to attach the roadbed, using the same method I used with the foam risers. I first drew my track plan directly on the pink foam using exact radius templates for the curves, and a yard-stick for the mostly-straight areas. I lined the inside of the cork against the track line mark and made another mark on the outside of the cork, and also marked the end of the cork piece. I removed the cork and applied glue to the foam. I pinned the cork down with 1-1/2 inch “T-pins” on the bevel. Once I had both sides in place, I weighted the cork. I laid as much cork at one time as I had weights for. I then left it overnight.

I chose to make my own 4″ riser rather than buy an additional package of risers from the hobby shop. It was a lot of work but I’m confident it will be fine. Since I took this photo, I have cut two tunnels through my homemade riser.

The riser is two pieces of 1-1/2 inch foam plus a 1 inch piece between. I drew the design on a large piece of paper, cut it out 2 inches wide. I placed my paper template on the foam and cut it with a razor utility knife. I then glued the three pieces of foam together with white glue, weighting them heavily.

When I was happy with the way the risers turned out, I glued them to the foam surface and pinned them in place. I weighted them and left it for a couple of days.

I have about ten or fifteen more feet of cork to apply, then I will be ready to start laying track. I have to decide where my blocks are going to be and plan my wiring lines accordingly.

Model railroading is a fantastic hobby. It is especially fun to take photos and videos as steps are taken so it’s easy to see how much progress is being made. I’m learning that slow and steady is best. Now that I’m retired, slow has taken on a whole new meaning.

Witch holding crystal ball, very scary.

All The Money

“Finally! I have all the money I ever wanted. All of it! I’ll never be able to spend it all. I’ll try, for sure, but I will still have a lot left over when I’m tired of spending.

No one will ever look at me the same way again. Now they’ll want me around, and I’ll tell them I’m busy. I’ll say I’m packing for a trip and don’t have time for them. It won’t be true, but I’ll say it anyway. Or maybe it will be true. I can travel anywhere I want, any time I want. First class. Or maybe first class plus, if there is such a thing. Maybe I’ll buy out the whole first class so I can be alone.”

He stared into the oppressive darkness saturating his bones. That’s the way he liked it. He often told friends about his room. He worked hard to make it completely black when the lights were turned off. He succeeded.

Loads of money is something new to him. He worked hard for years and got nowhere, but all of a sudden, it changed. Everything. Night was day. Winter was summer. Storms were blue sky.

A fluke. Not a mistake. The money is really his. All of it. Every last dime belongs to him alone. There is no one else, but he doesn’t care. He’ll do with the money exactly as he decides without asking anyone their opinion about anything. Ever.

An idea. His whole career is ideas. Most are worthless. Then a thought crashed his brain and made his world. He wrote it down, drew a sketch, showed the right people. Here he is. Crazy rich. Ridiculous rich.

“Maybe I’ll move. Switzerland. Spain. No! France! I’ll move to France. I’ll walk the streets of Paris and eat every meal at a different place. First I’ll get a new car. I think I might buy a new car every month,” he thought.

He lay there for a moment, trying not to think. Then he noticed it. Silence. He didn’t hear the clock ticking. He didn’t hear the refrigerator.

“Why does my pillow feel so flat? I must be dreaming. Wake up!”

He tried to sit up and hit his head. Surrounded. Enclosed. Alone. Silence.