Remembering My Friend Mike

I first met Mike when we were sophomores in high school. I played cornet in the school band, Mike played the sousaphone. Although we didn’t become close friends until our senior year, Mike was hard to miss. Tall, dark hair, rosy cheeks, well-equipped to carry a tuba, and Mike had an infectious laugh that made everyone smile.

Our paths crossed, in a life-changing way, in January, 1971. Our high school drama department announced the spring musical, “Annie Get Your Gun”. I loved going to the plays, but had never been in one myself. I had no desire to act or get involved. In Drama class, however, I became acquainted with a lot of students I hadn’t known before, and got a tiny bit of exposure to the stage.

I don’t remember how I got roped into playing the piano for the auditions. It was so unlike me. Hiding was more in line with my inner self. I thought I was better on the piano than I actually was, and sight-reading was not my forte. I remember trying to play “Eleanor Ribgy”, for a girl attempting to impress the the directors. When I plastered the song I had never heard of, she said, “You’re terrible!”

When the auditions were over and almost everyone was gone, the music director said to me, “Are you going to sing something?” I said, “No.” He said, “Come on, just try it.”

I literally felt like I had a finger stuck in my back, pushing me. I gave in. The director handed me “Climb Every Mountain.” As I sang, he walked to the back of the choir room and listened. As I finished, “….’til you find your dream!”, one of the student directors said, “Sounds like Frank Butler to me!” I didn’t know who that was.

The next night I went to the acting tryouts. I knew I didn’t have a chance, I was just following the encouragement of the director. I read lines as I was paired with various other students several times.

The day came when the characters for the musical were announced. I walked into the Drama classroom after school. Several students were gathered around the bulletin board and a girl named Mary, said, “You got it!” I knew who she was, I saw her in several other plays. I didn’t think she knew who I was.

I looked at the actors’ list and read, “Frank Butler – Dale Parsons. Dolly Tate – Mary Wagner. Sitting Bull – Mike Lynch,” and many other names of those who would quickly become friends.

Mike and I soon began spending time together. He said, “I knew I was going to be ‘Sitting Bull!’ There was a part in the musical when Frank Butler joins the wild west show headlined by Annie Oakley. Mike was supposed to walk up to me in all of his chiefly attire, face to face, and gruffly say, “You in show too?” We busted out laughing every time he did it.

I treasured the time I spent with Mike, as we had a great deal in common. He and I both believed we were called to ministry. He planned to become a priest in the Catholic Church, I planned to become a minister in the Protestant Church. We often read Scripture and prayed together after play practice.

Before meeting Mike, my repertoire of music enjoyment was all churchy. Our car radio was glued to a local religious station owned by the church I attended. That’s not a bad thing, I just rarely listened to secular music. Mike introduced me to “Chicago.” Oh my gosh! I loved it! What a sound! “25 or 6 to 4!”

The topic of girls came up in many of our conversations. As rehearsals for the musical continued, there were two girls I was thinking about asking for a date. One was in the play, one was not.

One night after play practice, Mike and I talked about the two girls and he said I should draw straws to decide which girl to ask, so I did. One straw for Marcia, one straw for Mary. I pulled out Marcia’s. I said, “I’m gonna ask Mary out.”

Mary and I went on our first date on Friday, March 5th. We will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary next year.

“Annie Get Your Gun” was an incredible success. Three nights of performances, standing ovations, surrounded by new friends, and in the final scene standing next to “Dolly Tate”. We’re still standing together after all these years.

During the summer of ’71, Mike and I continued our friendship. He actually came over and helped me work on painting our old barn, a job I never finished. We talked, laughed, cried, and dreamed.

Sadly, after Mike and I went to college, we lost touch. I didn’t write as often as I should have and the communication finally stopped.

Last Sunday night was our oldest grandson’s baccalaureate in preparation for high school graduation. As we sat waiting for the ceremony to begin, my wife noticed the name of the first guest speaker, “Pete Lynch, Catholic Deacon Saints Peter & Paul Catholic Church.” She said, “I think that’s Mike’s brother!” I didn’t think it was possible.

As Pete was sharing his inspiring message of faith in Christ, he said, “I remember when I graduated from high school in 1975. My brother gave me a Bible.” Mary said, “I think that’s him! You have to talk to him!” Pete said it wasn’t until years later he began reading the Bible and followed God’s plan for his life.

After the ceremony, I walked up to Pete and said, “Did you graduate from Lapeer High School?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Did Mike give you that Bible?” His eyes widened and he said, “Yes! Who are you?” I said, “Dale Parsons.”

We laughed and hugged. I introduced him, again, to my wife, Mary. He remembered us. In fact, he said, “My sister and I were just talking about you a few months ago.” Pete has that same bright smile and laugh I remember in his big brother.

I asked about Mike. He said, “Mike passed away with cancer six years ago. He had several bad bouts with cancer.” I told Pete I hadn’t heard, and was sorry to hear that he was gone.

Deacon Pete and I exchanged phone numbers. We’ll get together for coffee and talk about life, family, and ministry. We’ll also talk about Mike.

I’m sorry I didn’t continue writing to Mike. I last saw him fifty-one years ago. I’ll always be thankful for him. I can see his face and I hear his laugh. I see the straws in his hand, and I see the one I pulled out. I’m so thankful I broke the rules.

I’ll see Mike again some day. We’ll get reacquainted. I know what he’ll say when he sees me.

“You in show too?”

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 23

Sheriff Pete walked into the Ya’ll Sit Cafe on Monday morning, just like he does every week. Something felt different. He didn’t know what it was, but he had the eerie sense he should sit by the door instead of taking his usual seat at the counter.

“Good morning, Hannah!” he said.

Hannah Cloverton looked up but said nothing.

Pete noticed a few people turned to look at him. He knew them and nodded. Nothing.

He picked up a copy of the Maple Valleyan and was surprised to see his name on the front page. “Questions Swirl Around Sheriff Terkinberry” the headline read in bold letters. “What is this?!” he almost said outloud.

Hannah startled him and Pete dropped the paper face down. “Do you want to order, Sheriff Terkinberry?” Hannah asked.

Pete saw a stranger in his friend’s eyes. “Hannah, you haven’t ever called me ‘Sheriff Terkinberry’. What’s going on?”

“Would you like to order now?” she asked.

“Yes, Hannah, I’ll have the same thing I’ve had every Monday morning since the first time I came in for breakfast twelve years ago.”

“What would that be, Sheriff?” Hannah Cloverton asked.

“Hannah, what is going on? Are you okay? Is something wrong?” Pete asked.

“No, sir, why do you ask?”

“Why do I ask? Are you kidding me? You just called me ‘Sir’!”

“Sheriff Terkinberry, would you like something to eat, or not?”

“Yes. I’ll have two scrambled eggs with onion, bacon, hashbrowns, toast, and coffee. Please,” Pete said, perturbed.

Hannah wrote the order down as if she hadn’t heard it a hundred times before and might forget. She left without saying anything more and returned to the kitchen.

Pete picked up the paper once again and started reading.

“Questions regarding the behavior of Sheriff Pete Terkinberry have residents of Maple Valley concerned. A confidential source told this reporter, ‘Sheriff Pete Terkinberry allows people to see him in his boxer shorts.’ This reporter asked, point blank, ‘How confident are you that Terkinberry wears boxers? Could you be mistaken?’ My source responded, ‘I don’t make mistakes like this.’

“Outrage has swept across this town. With tourist season just a few weeks away, shock, dismay, and horror are words that have been spoken in the wake of this devastating news.

“Questions roar in everyone’s mind. Will Sheriff Pete Terkinberry resign? Will he be removed from office? Will the town council act quickly enough to repair the tattered remains of this battered community.

“This reporter has been on the front lines of news for several months. I can tell you, without equivocation, this has shaken Maple Valley to its core.

“I’m on the scene for you. Derk Quimberz, reporter, The Maple Valleyan.”

Someone grabbed Pete Terkinberry’s shoulder and shook him. “Pete!! Pete!!”

Pete opened his eyes and was surprised to see his own bedroom, with Alvin Thrashborn standing over him.

“Are you alright?! You were yelling about someone named Derk Quimberz! Who is that?!” Alvin asked.

“What are you doing here?!” Pete yelled.

“Don’t you remember? We were supposed to go fishing this morning. I banged on the door but you didn’t answer, then I heard you yelling, so I came in. Your door was unlocked.” Alvin said.

“It’s always unlocked.” Pete said, sitting on the edge of his bed, trying to find his way through the fog.

“Get up, we have an appointment with several big bass,” Alvin said, walking out of the room.

“Who is Derk Quimberz?!” Alvin yelled from the kitchen.

“I don’t know! Some reporter who doesn’t like boxer shorts!”

A Coffee State of Sixty-Nine

I was absolutely sure Jesus would come back before 1969. Everything I learned from my classmates of all sixty-nine meant assured the return of Christ before humanity had to endure the shame of entering that awful year on the calendar.

I am twenty years older than my mother was when she died of cancer. I am seven years older than my father was when he died of cancer.

I don’t feel old. Sometimes.

I look in the mirror and the one I see is different than me. That guy has wrinkles. Lots of wrinkles. His ears are almost flappy. Two people left their skin under his chin. He has a few strands of white on top, more on the sides. There’s a scar on his head. Skin cancer removed. One eye is more squinty than the other. Now a drooping eyelid makes it smaller.

His eyebrows have taken on a life of their own. “Reach for the stars!” is their motto.

The hair that was once on his head now lives in his ears.

A broad chest now rests on his belt.

He looks different, but I feel the same. Mostly.

Hello 69.

How I Created My Own Backdrop Factory

Backdrop Factory pieces leaning against the wall

I started working on my backdrop factory two years ago. I don’t have enough space on my layout to use the factory as a free-standing kit. I started by cutting the pieces down so they could be glued together side-by-side. I have four inches of space between the wall and the rail siding.

I was not satisfied with making the factory a totally flat backdrop, so I brought the center portion out three inches for depth and so I could put lights inside the building. Gluing the pieces together was the easy part, especially because of the terrific industrial backdrop painting I purchased to go behind the factory.

Building the backdrop factory included a lot of starts and stops. I stood the pieces up against the wall so I could imagine how the factory should look. The most obvious feature of the factory is windows. I decided to block many of them.

Collection of 6v and 12v lights

I finally decided to tackle the backdrop factory job once and for all. I glued the remaining pieces together, leaving the factory at a whopping fifty inches long. My decision to include an array of lights meant I had to figure out how to display them from various windows offering separate views. I didn’t want to just put a light bulb behind the facade and hope for the best.

I have lots of wires and lights from my previous layout. I first had to refresh my understanding of wiring lights in series or parallel. I have a few bulbs that are 6v, most are 12v. My accessory power supply is 12v, so I wired 6v bulbs in a series of two, dividing the voltage in half. All the other bulbs are wired parallel.

Here’s an over-simplified explanation. Light fixtures have a positive and negative lead. In series, the fixtures are wired lead to lead, the beginning wire and the last wire are connected to negative and positive leads from the power source. Every light bulb drops the power feed by the voltage of the bulb, saving 6v bulbs from being burned out by a 12v feed.

In parallel, all negative and positive leads from each bulb are connected to the negative and positive feeds from the power source. Hint: That doesn’t mean if you have twelve bulbs you have twenty-four feeds going to the power source. The negative wires can be connected together, and the positive, then connected by two feeds to the power source. This is still parallel wiring. When wired parallel, each of the 12v bulbs will receive the same power from the source.

I love foam board! I pondered ways to make the light sources appear different so the windows don’t all look the same. I decided to make small boxes out of foam board and glue them to the back of the factory backdrop.

I still was not satisfied with just putting lights in different size white boxes. I thought about painting the inside with varying colors. Nope, not good enough. I decided to print color pictures of factory and workshop interiors and glue them to the inside of the boxes. So, the entire box interior is colorful.

It wasn’t until after I glued the boxes in place that I realized I blocked too many of the windows and it was almost impossible to see the beautiful interiors of the lighted boxes. So, I cut open the boxes from the back and took out some of the material covering the windows.

After taping light fixtures and wiring in place on the back of the factory boxes, it was time to test the lights for the first time. I was pleased to see every bulb working perfectly. I stood the backdrop factory up and looked in the windows. Beautiful! Granted, the windows have small panes, and the backdrop factory will stand against the wall on the back of the layout, so it will be difficult to see detail, but I know it’s there.

I securely taped all the wiring connections and also connected two long leads to the positive and negative feeds to the lighting system. I fed the two leads through the layout bench surface to be connected to the power source below.

One area of the factory backdrop has a blank brick wall that needed something. I printed some 1:87 scale signs. I rubbed the color print with sand paper to “weather” the signs. I cut several of them out and glued them to the wall.

The top of the boxes glued to the back of the facade provided nice support for the foam board roof that I made for the backdrop factory. I mixed some light gray and black acrylic paint with some matte medium and painted the rooftop. It was now time to permanently place the backdrop factory on the layout.

The Maple Valley Short Line Railroad is coming together. I still have a long way to go, but when I look back at all the photos from the beginning, it’s amazing how good the layout looks. The addition of the backdrop factory is an important accomplishment.

Tuesday Teacher: Mrs. Yalmauer’s English Class

The following excerpt is fiction. There is no Mrs. Yalmauer, at least not that I know of. If there is a Mrs. Yalmauer, somewhere, it is totally by coincidence that I picked her name out of thin air, assigned her to an English class in Amshover, Missouri, and placed Smivey Stepward in her 7th grade class. Amshover, Missouri doesn’t exist either. I checked. Smivey Stepward does exist. He’s very real. I can see his face, and I know his voice.

“Smivey Stepward in Love and Other Misery” by Dale Parsons, all rights reserved.

“Class, I trust all of you are prepared to give your demonstration speech today” Mrs. Yalmauer said. “This is an important grade during this marking period, I hope you have spent sufficient time preparing. You should have practiced your speech at home for your family so you are not nervous about getting up in front of the class today. You should have brought some props to help you with your demonstration. If, however, you are demonstrating something for which it was not possible to bring a prop, it is acceptable for you to use pantomime. Who can give me a definition of pantomime, class?” Mrs. Yalmauer asked. 

No one responded as quickly as she desired, so Mrs. Yalmauer answered her own question, which she does quite often. The class found out a long time ago that if they just keep quiet, she does most of the talking and seemed not to care that they didn’t answer her questions.  

“Okay, pantomime is acting out something without any visual aids or props. You act as though, for example, you are holding a jar and taking the lid off even though you don’t actually have one.” And as she talks she acts like she’s holding a jar and unscrews the lid, pulls it away and lays it on the desk. Her motions remind Smivey of Gretchen Kirtz getting ready to play the piano. “Does everyone understand?” No one said anything. “Good. All right, then. Let’s begin.” 

“I have placed all of your names in this basket, and I will draw them out one at a time” Mrs. Yalmauer said. “Sylvia Weitzel, you will go first please.”  

Smivey breathed a sigh of relief as the girl who sat right behind him walked to the front of the class. She was carrying what looked like a baby wrapped in a blanket and a zipper bag. She laid the bundle and the bag on the desk and then she began. 

“Mrs. Yalmauer and fifth hour English class, good afternoon to all of you. Today I am going to demonstrate how to change a diaper on a baby.”  

There were a few giggles in the class but when Mrs. Yalmauer cleared her throat they stopped.  

“This doll will represent a baby who is four months old. First, you should determine if the baby is wet or dirty. Sometimes it is easy to tell just by the odor.”  

“Pew!” someone said.  

“Boys!” Mrs. Yalmauer scolds.  

“If there is no odor but the baby is fussy, he may just be wet. The easiest way to tell is to hold the baby and stick a finger down the back of the diaper to see if it’s wet.” 

“Eeewww” came responses from the class.  

“Class?” Mrs. Yalmauer said.  

Sylvia continued. “If the baby is wet, first lay him down on a blanket. Next, unsnap the baby’s sleeper. Carefully pull his legs out of the sleeper so you can take off the diaper. Pull the adhesive strips off the front of the diaper and fold the front down onto the bottom. If the baby is a boy, it is a good idea to place a towel or cloth over the area or you may get squirted.”  

Snickers again from the class. 

“After cleaning the area with a warm damp cloth, put the new diaper on the baby. Some people prefer to use baby cream or baby powder before replacing the diaper. Now, if the baby is dirty, there is more to do.”  

“I’ll say” someone said from the back of the class.  

“Boys, that is enough” Mrs. Yalmauer said. 

“When the baby is dirty, the diaper should be folded down as before, but this time use it to wipe away as much waste as possible.”  

“You mean poop” someone muttered thinking no one would hear it but several students started laughing loudly.  

“Stephen Linkler! You go out in the hall!” Mrs. Yalmauer said.  

“Oh come on, everybody was thinking it!” he said.  

“Instead, go to the office and explain to Mr. Pommer what you said. Now! Go!”  

“I’m going” Stephen said as he shuffled out of the room closing the door loudly.  

“Okay, Miss Weitzel, you may continue.” 

Sylvia Weitzel finished her demonstration and the class gave her polite applause.  

“Okay, Sylvia, very well done. Now all of you should be able to change a baby’s diaper,” Mrs. Yalmauer said. As she was drawing another name from the basket she said, “Next we have Smivey Stepward. Okay, Smivey, would you come to the front, please?” 

Smivey acted as though he was completely prepared. As he walked to the front he still had no idea what he was going to do. As a bead of sweat formed on his upper lip he turned to face the class and a thought hit him like his finger touched a light socket. 

“Today I am going to demonstrate how to play the piano. The piano is a large instrument made of wood. It has a big box with metal strings on the inside. On the front it has white and black keys that are pushed down to make the sounds. To play the piano you sit on a bench in front of the keys.”  

He pretended to pull a bench out in front of the piano and posed in a difficult sitting position.  

“Then, you play.” And using both hands, Smivey pretended to push on the keys with no particular rhythm or grace. He then stood up straight and bowed to the class as they clapped. 

“Mr. Stepward, that was a good start, but tell us about the music you are playing. First of all, how many keys are there on the piano?” Mrs. Yalmauer asked.  

“Sixty-seven” he said confidently, not having any idea how many there really are.  

“How do you know which keys to push?” the teacher asked.  

“Uh, well, first you have to know the music you are playing. There are lines on it and lots of notes,” he said, trying to remember his clarinet music. “There are notes on the top and notes on the bottom.”  

“The bottom of what?” Mrs. Yalmauer asked.  

“The bottom of the music,” he answers.  

“Okay, what are the notes?”  

“Well, uh, there’s a way to remember them, and it’s, uh, Every Cow Ate Fudge, and then the lines are, uh, Flies Don’t Bother Going East, or something like that I think.”  

Several students were laughing as sweat drops fully formed on his forehead. 

Mrs. Yalmauer, knowing that Smivey was not as prepared as he tried to make himself appear, said, “Well, I play the piano as well, and in the first place there are eighty-eight keys, not sixty-seven. And you’re almost right about the notes except you have them upside down. The acronym is F-A-C-E for the spaces, and Every Good Boy Does Fine for the lines in the treble clef. Do you know what the notes are in the bass clef?” she asked.  

“The what?” Smivey asked.  

“The bass clef, which you would normally play with your left hand,” she answered. “No” he answered softly, becoming more embarrassed by the minute.  

“The spaces acronym is All Cows Eat Grass, not “every cow ate fudge”. The lines are Girls Boys Do Fine Always,” she continued. “How long have you played the piano, Smivey?” she asked.  

“I don’t, but I might start,” he answered as the class laughed again.  

“Well, next time you do a demonstration speech, let’s make it about something you know” Mrs. Yalmauer said. 

Copyright 2022 by Dale Parsons

Our Insatiable Obsession with Balls – 1

Balls are everywhere. Balls of different sizes. Some are soft, some hard. Some bounce, some refuse. Whatever the reason, it seems no one wants balls to be near them, because they are always, and in various ways, trying to either throw or hit the balls as far away from them as they possibly can.

Picture, if you will, someone instructing another on the fine skill of hitting a little ball with a big stick. Let’s listen in on the first lesson.

“Here is the little ball you will use,” instructor Erv Hammelmink said, handing a little white ball to his student.

“Why do I have to use such a little ball?” Alword Frinst asked.

“Well, as they say, big things often come in little packages. You will find this little ball holds the power to fly great distances when you hit it with this big stick,” Erv said.

“I see,” said Alword.

“First, you will place the little ball on a little stick, then you will hit it with a big stick. Watch me, I’ll show you how to do it,” Erv said as he placed the little ball on the little stick. He stepped up to the little ball on the little stick with a big stick. He stood there silently, staring at the little ball on the little stick, holding the big stick next to the little ball, threatening it. He slowly brought the big stick back a few feet, then slowly brought the big stick back to the little ball, threatening it yet again. Then, Alword watched as Erv brought the big stick back, way back behind his head as if he were trying to twist himself completely around, then quickly untwisted, bringing the big stick down and hitting the little ball on the little stick with a loud smack! Alword watched as the little ball flew straight away, almost out of sight.

“Wow!” Alword said.

“Yes, that was good,” said Erv. “Now it’s your turn.”

“Ok, but why are we doing this?” Alword asked.

“It’s a game. We’re going to hit the little ball with the big stick, then we’re going to search for the little ball we just hit with the big stick, and we’ll hit the little ball with the big stick again,” Erv explained.

“If we already have the little ball, why would we hit it with a big stick just to go find it again? Why don’t we just keep the little ball?” Alword asked.

“That’s not how the game is played! We hit the little ball with the big stick, go find the little ball, then hit the little ball with the big stick again, then go find it, and hit it again,” Erv said with frustration in his voice. “Now get up there and give it a try,” the instructor said.

Alword carefully placed the little ball on the little stick. He stepped up to the little ball on the little stick with the big stick Erv had given him. He stood next to the little ball on the little stick with the big stick and stared at the little ball, just as he had seen Erv do. He threatened as long as he thought proper, then brought the big stick way back behind his head until he thought he would tip over. He quickly untwisted himself, bringing the stick down with great speed and heard a loud thud. He watched as huge clumps of grass and dirt sprayed in every direction. The little ball remained on the little stick, having withstood the threat.

“That was a good swing, Alword,” Erv said. “This time, try keeping your eyes on the little ball while you bring the big stick back. Try not swinging quite so hard. The important thing is to actually hit the little ball on the little stick with the big stick.”

Alword tried, tried, and tried again, until he had to pick up the triumphant little ball still proudly standing on the little stick while escaping the violence nearby, and move the little ball on the little stick to another spot without a deep moat around it.

Finally, after patiently watching his student’s innumerable attempts, Erv picked up the little ball still standing on the little stick unscathed, and threw it as far as he could in the direction his own little ball had flown.

Erv and Alword slowly walked and searched for the two little balls.

“After we’re done hitting the little balls with the big stick, what happens?” Alword asked.

“We will hit them into a hole,” Erv answered.

“Why?”

“That’s the point,” Erv said. “We hit the little ball on the little stick with a big stick until it falls into the hole.”

“What do we do then?” Alword asked.

“We take the little ball to another spot, put it on the little stick, and hit the little ball on the little stick with a big stick again until it falls into the hole again,” Erv said.

“Why would we do that?” Alword asked.

Erv stared at him for several minutes. “Maybe you should take up gardening.”

-Dale Parsons

Sunday Song: King of Kings

King of Kings 
Lyrics by Dale Parsons, all rights reserved 

In the pit of hell, the devil mocked as the King was entombed. 
“We have done it! King Jesus is through!” 
But the third day, the heavens rang as the King was set free. 
He rose triumphant, for the whole world to see. 

King of kings, and Lord of lords 
King Jesus, the Reigning Lamb, 
In pow’r and glory, He stands by His throne, 
He is coming to claim His own. 

She stands now in beauty, His praises she sings 
Triumphant, waiting for her king. 
In clouds of glory with His arms open wide, 
He is coming to claim His bride. 

King of kings, and Lord of lords 
King Jesus, the Reigning Lamb, 
In pow’r and glory, He stands by His throne, 
He is coming to claim His own. 

Copyright 1979 

Model Railroading from Start to Not Finished

Model railroading starts with a fascination with trains. I guess that’s obvious. But why trains? What are trains? Aren’t they just huge semi-trucks with steel wheels instead of rubber, rolling on rails instead of roads? There are one, two, maybe five or six or more incredibly large engines, pulling anywhere from ten to one hundred and more huge cars loaded with items bound for destinations around the world.

Why not model semi-trucks? Does anyone have a “layout” made of winding roads full of trucks pulling trailers? I don’t think so, or maybe. But millions of model railroaders build layouts, large and small, with tracks carrying scale engines pulling scale trains. G scale, O scale, S, HO, N, and tiny Z scale provide a very wide range of opportunities for enthusiasts to live in their fascination with trains.

A model railroad is a work of art that begins with a blank canvass. The canvass may be a room measuring twenty-one feet by seven feet, like my own train room where I am building a shelf-style model railroad. It may be a larger room with only enough space for a four by eight feet layout. The important thing is the canvass is anywhere you choose, and will hold any dream you build.

Building a model railroad is identical to writing a novel, only different. Some people begin writing a novel with an idea but the characters are born and develop as the story is created. Other writers know their characters inside and out before the first word is penned. Still others begin with a blank sheet of paper and the story and characters create themselves. Sometimes characters do things the writer didn’t expect. Main characters become belligerent and demand freedom to change story lines on their own. Model railroads do that, too.

My Maple Valley Short Line demanded benchwork that would be strong enough to carry my own weight. I’m not a small man, so that was no easy task. The wall brackets were fastened to the cement blocks with three-inch masonry screws, after I drilled pilot holes in the wall. The drill bits in my impact driver had to be changed after drilling just three holes.

I attached the brackets to the wall leaving no more than twenty-four inches of space between them, which increased the strength of the bench. These brackets were used on a previous layout which was only twenty-four inches deep at the center. This layout is thirty-six inches deep at the middle, so the bracket arms had to be lengthened. I chose to attach a 1 x 3 inch board to each side of the arms, making sure the boards were tight against the wall, increasing arm stability. To provide even more stength, I attached a 2 x 2 inch support between each bracket, making sure each was level with the top of the bracket arm.

A good novel has layers of subplots adding suspense and apprehension about what the resolution might bring. Model railroads do the same. A layer of 3/8 inch plywood was added and attached to the bracket arms as the base of the layout. A layer of 1 1/2 inch extruded foam became the visible base. This is the same kind of insulating foam builders use in new house construction. Foam is a popular base as it makes attaching additional layers easy. I attached the foam pieces to the plywood with Liquid Nails.

When the base layer of foam was securely fastened in place, the obvious next step in the story was to build a bridge. Ahh, the first subplot. Who could have known the Maple Valley Short Line included mountains and a river when only a flat pink surface was visible? Every artist sees far beyond the simple strokes with which a masterpiece begins.

After completing a perfectly wonderful bridge, the next logical step was to build a larger trestle-style bridge, and then another. At this point in the story, characters begin to ask questions of the writer who created them. They start conversations with each other without asking permission.

In a novel plot there is a rise in the action. Trains will have to rise four inches to the height of the bridge decks. The solution to the problem of taking trains from the surface of the layout to the deck of a bridge is styrofoam risers. Grade percentage is an important consideration when choosing a riser. I wanted my locomotives to be able to pull many cars to four inches without difficulty. The result is sixteen feet of 2% grade. However, reaching the bridge height is not the only problem. Bringing the trains back down to the surface is also necessary, requiring another sixteen feet of 2% grade. Problem solved.

The next task was digging a river in the foam so the trestle-bridge would look terrific spanning it. Having never done it before, I decided the best way to create a river was to just start hacking away at the foam with a utility blade. I scraped, sliced, pealed, scratched, dug, and gouged until I was somewhat satisfied with the appearance of my foam riverbed.

I had to be careful to dig out a convincing river without exposing the plywood, so I only had 1 1/2 inches to use. I then used plaster-saturated paper towel to line and shape the riverbed, making sure the plaster material was thick enough to seal the surface and prevent epoxy from seeping through.

For a couple of months, I battled with how best to secure the trestle-bridge to the riverbed. I tried to avoid cutting down to the plywood, but ultimately for fool-proof stability, I did just that. I held the trestle in place and marked where the posts touched the riverbed. I then cut a rectangle a quarter inch wide, and just longer than the width of the posts. I glued basswood pieces, one at a time, in each of the gaps until they were the exact height needed to support the trestle. I was pleased to find the trestle rested securely on the footings. I glued the trestle permanently in place.

At this point in the novel, the characters were behaving themselves predictably. They stood back and let me do the work. The risers were finished, the trestle was rock solid. All eyes were on the process of laying cork roadbed on the track lines. I am suspicious when characters are quiet. Sometimes I don’t trust them, but please, don’t tell anyone I said that. Every writer and model railroader knows the thin line we walk between working a plan and a plan working us.

I avoid things I’m worried about. I’ll put them off until I can’t go on without dealing with the problems first. I don’t like being backed into a corner. When my plot included rise and fall, which all good plots do, I was trapped by the need for realistic gradual fall-away from the top of the risers to the surface. This is the point where I started listening closely to ideas from the characters. Some of them were stupid. Others caught my attention. Finally, a solution was found.

I cut strips of cardboard twelve to fourteen inches long. To determine the height of the strips, I measured the height of the riser from the point where cardboard would be attached, to the point it would end. On the cardboard, I marked the shorter measurement on one end, and marked the longer measurement on the other. I drew a line between the two points. I cut the carboard one inch beyond but parallel to the line. The extra inch creates a gradual, more realistic, fall-away from the top of the riser.

I placed the strip on the floor, then using the corner of a piece of 2 x 2 to hold it tight, I pulled the length of the strip under the corner edge of the wood to crush the cardboard cells. This makes the cardboard more flexible, especially helpful on curves. I then folded the the carboard on the line.

On straight sections of track, using masking tape, I secured the straight edge to the top of the riser. I taped the angled edge to the foam surface. If I was not happy with the angle, I repeated the process, but increased the height measurement until the fall-away angle met my approval.

On curves, there are a couple more steps. On the straight edge of the cardboard, I make a cut one quarter each deep, every half inch, the length of the cardboard strip. On the angled edge, I cut an inverted “V” about an inch and one half deep. This allows the cardboard to follow the curve and still maintain the same fall-away angle from the top of the riser.

When the cardboard was secured, it was now time for huge sloppy messes. Lots and lots of them. But that is a story for another day.

“I want to talk about it now,” Bertrand said.

“No, I’m done writing, I’ll write more later.”

“When?”

“When I want to.”

“Who put you in charge?”

“I created you, didn’t I?”

“Ok, I’ll stop now,” Bertrand said.

“Good idea.”

Tuesday Teacher: Mr. Gorschanski

This is an excerpt from Chapter Five of my middle grade novel, “Smivey Stepward in Love and Other Misery.” Author: Dale Parsons, all rights reserved.

This is the day of the week Smivey dreads. Fourth hour Band is replaced by Gym class. He would rather play his clarinet all day long, which he never wants to do, compared to playing dodge ball, which is what Mr. Gorschanski said they were going to play today.  

“Let’s go! Let’s go!” Mr. Gorschanski shouts as the boys hurry into the locker room. “Get dressed and get out on the floor! Let’s go, men!”  

Mr. Gorschanski is a tall man with lots of muscles. His short sleeves are tight on his arms and his chest muscles stick out. Someone said he can make his chest muscles bounce up and down but no one has seen him do it. It’s probably a lie. His short haircut makes him look mean. He is the varsity football coach at the high school and he treats all of the junior high boys like his players.  

“Fulkins, don’t you leave this locker room without tying those shoes!” Mr. G, as most students call him, yells in a booming voice. 

The boys all have to wear identical white shorts and t-shirts with the name of the school printed on them in red letters. The shorts and t-shirts wouldn’t be bad if the gym wasn’t freezing cold.  

“All right, men, get warmed up! Jumping jacks first! Ready, set, one, two, one, two…” Mr. G’s voice thunders through the gym. “Fifteen squat-thrusts! Let’s go! Let’s go!” he shouts.  

“I hate doing these” Larry said to Smivey.  

“Me too” he answered, trying not to say it too loudly.  

“Fifteen push-ups, let’s go! Down! Down! All the way down!” Mr. G orders as he walks through the rows of boys. 

“Okay, men, three laps around the gym! Get going!” “Murfin and Stepward! You two get moving or you’ll be doing laps for the rest of the hour!”  

The two boys pick up the pace, not realizing they are almost a lap behind the rest of the class.  

“I don’t know why we have to have gym class anyway,” Smivey said as he and Larry trotted along together.  

“Great job, men! It’s time for dodge ball. Today it’s every man for himself. If you get hit, you’re out. Last one standing is the winner,” Mr. G commanded.  

After the boys were lined up against the wall, Mr. G put all the volleyballs in the center of the gym.  

“Okay, men, when I count to three, the battle begins. One, two, three!”  

Instead of running to the center of the gym, screaming wildly like the rest of the boys, Larry and Smivey ran to the opposite end, trying to avoid becoming targets. Volleyballs started shooting through the air, followed by dull thuds and howls as many of them hit kids. Soon classmates discovered Smivey and Larry trying to stay out of the fight. Volleyballs started flying at them from every direction as the boys attempted to avoid being hit. Running, jumping and ducking they were successful for a few seconds but soon both of them were out. 

A ball rolled near Smivey’s feet and with a burst electrifying energy he grabbed the ball and threw it as hard as he could at one of the other boys. The ball sailed high and instead of hitting the intended target, hit Mr. Gorschanski in the back of the head, knocking his glasses off which broke in several pieces when they hit the floor. 

Smivey instantly felt as if a bucket of cold water had been dumped over him as the blood drained from his face.  

“Who threw that ball!” Mr. G howled in a monstrous voice.  

It was instantly silent in the gym and every boy stopped dead in his tracks.  

“I said, who threw that ball!” he shouted threateningly.  

Smivey slowly walked forward, looking down at the floor.  

“I-I threw it, Mr. G. I-I didn’t mean to hit you, I was throwing it at…”  

“Stepward! It was you?!”  

“Yes, sir” he answered softly, terrified of what might happen next.  

“Are you sure it was you?!” Mr. G hollered even louder. 

“Yes, sir.”  

“Do you play football, Stepward?!”  

“No, sir.”  

“Baseball?!”  

“No, sir.”  

“Why not?! That ball had a ton of mustard on it! You should be playing ball!” Mr. G shouted. 

Mr. Gorschanski continued, “Gentlemen! I want each of you to learn a lesson from Mr. Stepward today! It took a lot of guts to step up and claim responsibility for hitting me in the head! He could have kept quiet, or blamed it on you. But he stepped right up like a man, ready to take the punishment!”  

Then looking at Smivey whose knees were shaking said, “Stepward! Are you sorry?!”  

“Yes, sir” Smivey said quietly.  

“Good job. Okay men, hit the showers!” 

As the class ran for the locker room, Smivey turned to join them. Mr. G, who had begun picking up what was left of his glasses said, “Stepward, come over here.”  

Smivey was suddenly terrified again, feeling a rush of fear charge through his body. “Yes, sir?”  

“You grew a foot today, son. Don’t you ever forget this.”  

“I won’t, Mr. G.”  

“Okay, shower and get to class.” 

When Smivey reached the locker room someone yelled,  

“Stepward, you are so lucky, I can’t believe you didn’t get in trouble.”  

“I know it” he answered.  

Larry was waiting for him, “I thought you were dead Smiv.”  

“So did I. I think Mr. G is going to be my favorite teacher from now on.” 

As the two boys put their gym clothes away and dressed for class they heard a loud commotion. Knowing that Mr. G usually went to the office to get a cup of coffee after class, several boys were trying to pull Jimmy Silvers out into the hall totally naked. Two had his hands and two held his feet as he screamed and tried to kick himself free from their grasp. They got him just outside the door when they all heard the familiar voice that shook the building.  

“What are you clowns doing?!!”  

They dropped Silvers on his butt who quickly scrambled back into the locker room trying to cover himself as he went.  

“Crimmel! Vickers! Froberson! Beltzer! You numbskulls have pulled your last stunt! Get your butts to the office this instant!” Mr. G screamed loud enough that the entire school probably heard him.  

The four boys who by this time looked sickly pale headed for the office. 

“Wow, I think those guys will probably get a lot worse because of everything that already happened in class” Smivey said to Larry as they walked away from the gym. 

Copyright 2022 by Dale Parsons

Sunday Song: In the Spirit of Praise

I wrote this song forty-two years ago. We have sung it many times.

In the Spirit of Praise
Lyrics by Dale Parsons, all rights reserved

Gently, the Spirit of the Lord speaks to me, 
Sweetly, and soft as the rain, 
Causing the trials and temptations to flee, 
That is why I will remain. 

In the Spirit of praise 
I will make my residence. 
In the Spirit of praise 
I will dwell in God’s presence. 
With my hands lifted up 
And my mouth filled with psalm 
I will rest in the glory of the Lord, 
In the Spirit of praise, 
In the Spirit of praise. 

Rest for the weary and peace for the soul, 
Hearts in bondage the Spirit sets free. 
He brings comfort in sorrow and healing for pain, 
The strength of the Lord comes to me. 

In the Spirit of praise 
I will make my residence. 
In the Spirit of praise 
I will dwell in God’s presence. 
With my hands lifted up 
And my mouth filled with psalm 
I will rest in the glory of the Lord, 
In the Spirit of praise, 
In the Spirit of praise. 

Copyright 2022 by Dale Parsons