Seriously Grateful

Blog and Photos by Dale Parsons

I followed the WordPress Discovery Prompts for 30 days. The last prompt was the word grateful. Rather than writing something serious, I chose to make it light and goofy. For example, saying I’m grateful my name isn’t Sigmund. Sigmund isn’t a bad name, I’m just grateful it’s not mine. I should have taken more time and expressed serious gratitude for so many things, and people. I’m doing that now.

Grateful means one thing to me. Family. It isn’t possible to put everything family means in a post like this. Or a book. Or a series of books. People spend lifetimes putting together scrapbooks of black and white photos, then Polaroid color photos, then color photos developed by Kodak, then printed digital photos, and now they’re viewed on a tiny screen, thousands of them, stored in a little flat box not much bigger than a business card you carry in your pocket. Not only that, but you talk to people with your camera now, and you can watch TV, listen to the radio, and look up all kinds of things. The one great thing about it is that instead of your family photos being stuffed in large books on a shelf at home, you carry everything with you all the time.

I don’t know if we ever dreamed we would have eight (at this point) grandchildren, but we do. We have reached the point where getting everyone together in one place is difficult. They’re all so busy with their families and work. Life recycles. When we were younger we had to travel to see my family and my wife’s family. Now it’s happening again. We’re the ones who often travel to see everyone. We love it.

These guys are our closest buddies, just a few miles from where we live. The photo is a few years old. The one in the middle is now taller than I am, and I’m 6’3”. At least I used to be.

This is what always happens to me at some point or other. I didn’t find out until years later the little guy on the left was copying me. He’s not really sleeping!

The little one I’m holding just celebrated her 1st birthday. Our son’s family lives in the Chicago area where he is an adjunct professor of Philosophy.

This young man will carry on the tradition of model railroading. We passed the family Lionel trains to him.

The little man in my wife’s arms is the youngest of our grandchildren. He lives with his family in the Nashville area where his mom and dad are on staff at a great church.

This is so cute!!

We are so grateful for an amazing son-in-law, and three beautiful daughters-in-law. They are all incredible, talented people. We are so blessed they are all part of our family.

Stories don’t make it. Photos only try. Just one word.

Grateful.

Foam Risers or Not? Cork Roadbed or Not?

Photos and Blog by Dale Parsons


My first layout was a learning experience, as I guess they all are. There was a lot of “what not to do.” I planned carefully, and even had trains running on sub-roadbed and track that was tacked temporarily. It was not until after the track was permanent that I realized some important mistakes.

The most costly mistake I made on my first layout was that my inclines were too steep. I created them by estimating the space I had and how quickly I wanted the train to return to ground level. That’s fine if you have a ton of space, but it will mean steep inclines, as it did for me, if your space is limited. My layout was a “L” shaped reverse dog bone design. I like watching trains going over and under each other. My steep inclines meant my engines could only pull a small handful of cars.

That layout was never completed because we moved. I completely dismantled it. The only parts I kept were the track, buildings, and trees.

My second layout was single-level. No climbing or descending. No hills or tunnels. No inclines to worry about. It was basically a switching layout with a full loop so I could run trains constantly, which I prefer.

When I dismantled that layout because we were moving again, it was a much easier task. Virtually everything was salvageable. Even though I glued and nailed the track down, it came up very easily. I kept all of the pieces.

The track has been through the mill. When I took the first layout apart, we moved to a house where there was no room for any railroading. All of my track was in a box in our barn. After a few years, I took it out. Most of it was covered with everything mice leave behind. I considered tossing it, but then I thought about how much nickel-silver track costs. I bought a couple of track cleaning blocks and started scrubbing. I’m still using that same track with no problems.

We moved to the house where we presently live. Hopefully, the last time we will move. 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.

My first big decision was whether or not to use Woodland Scenics risers. As you can see, I did, and I am so happy I chose to use the 2% incline/decline. 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 comes 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.

My next question was how to attach the styrofoam risers to the extruded foam base. I chose 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 with anything I could find. 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.

The next question was whether or not to use cork roadbed, and as you can see I chose the cork. I didn’t use it on my last shelf layout. I ballasted the track without cork and it turned out alright. I’m glad I chose to use cork this time as it looks more realistic to me.

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 didn’t buy turnout foam, instead choosing to cut the cork to fit the turnouts. I might regret that, we’ll see.

My next task was making a curvy 4 inch riser to meet the ends of the two 2% inclines on either end of the layout. I chose to make my own rather than buy an additional package of risers from the hobby shop. It was a lot of work but I’m confident it will work 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.

I need more coffee.

Join the Team! Discovery Prompts Day 27.

My earliest introduction to team sports was Little League Baseball in fourth grade. I didn’t own a baseball glove until our next door neighbor gave me one. He was a lefty, too.

He was a fantastic baseball player. He had seven no-hitters in high school, won championships in college, and went on to play professional baseball in the Milwaukee Brewers system. He hurt his arm and had to quit playing. He has a very successful coaching career and was elected to the Michigan High School Coaches Hall of Fame. I’m very proud to have played street baseball with him, but hitting a tennis ball in the street was the limit of my ability.

I really loved the game, that wasn’t the problem at all. I just couldn’t play it. I really liked the uniform, wearing cleats, and being on the team. I didn’t like batting, didn’t want to try bunting, and was not good at catching the ball. The coach discovered my talents early and put me in right field where no one ever hit the ball.

I knew nothing about strategies, where to throw the ball if it actually did come my way, or when to run. I knew what a walk was, and that became my goal in every game. Don’t get hit by the ball, and wait until the umpire says, “Take your base.” Most of the time he said, “You’re out.”

I was happy when my first season of Little League was over. I didn’t play the next year.

In the off season I told my dad I wanted to be a pitcher. He borrowed a catcher’s mit and a plywood home plate from the neighbor. Soon I was winding up, throwing as hard as I could, and actually hitting the mit. Sometimes. I improved with a lot of practice and I was sure I could pitch like our next door neighbor.

When baseball season arrived after sixth grade, I went to the tryouts. I told the coaches I was a pitcher and I was soon showing them what I could do. A boy trying out as a catcher said, “Hey! Don’t throw so hard! This is just a tryout!” I threw harder.

I pitched my first game on my birthday. We won 6-0. I actually hit the ball that day but the second baseman caught it. Out, as usual. I was so proud of my pitching performance I hung around at the baseball fields all day. When I went back to the concession stand later in the day the lady said, “Are you still here?”

My second venture into team sports was in eighth grade. I was tall, so obviously I was a basketball player. I wasn’t concerned about understanding the game, which I didn’t, I just knew I had to throw the ball through the hoop. Which never happened.

I was part of the 30 second squad. The coach put me in the game the last thirty seconds as long as we were ahead by forty points. It was a great season. I still have my 8th grade basketball photo.

Another foray into team sports was football in 9th grade. This story is not as long as my baseball adventures. I discovered the crab crawl, and got hit by a giant when I stood straight up with the ball and I knew I had made a terrible mistake. I was a two-day football star.

After 10th grade I decided to try baseball again. I didn’t understand the game any better than I did years before, even though I had played church-league softball for a few years. I was really no better in softball, and that should have been a sign.

I hit some of my best foul balls that summer. I never saw where they went but I knew by the reaction of the crowd I had hit them a long way. If I had been able to actually stay in the batter’s box until the ball came, I might have been able to get a hit.

I remember people yelling, “Watch the ball hit the bat!” I watched but the ball never hit the bat. I couldn’t understand it. I heard the other day that kids now have their own bats that cost two or three hundred dollars. Two or three hundred!! A bat that costs that much should come with hits attached! The only bats I ever saw came with the coach in a big green canvass bag. Some were long, some were short. None of them got hits for me.

The sports gene missed me completely. I wish someone would have taken me aside and said, “Listen. You really stink at this, so maybe you should try something else.”

Oh well, it didn’t hurt me. In fact, when I think about all the time I haven’t wasted going to pitching tryouts, I really have saved a great amount of time and grief. I still love watching baseball. I watch the pitchers carefully, and somewhere, way down inside, I still hear this voice that says, “I could do that.”

One thing I do really well is drink coffee.