Extraordinary Stories

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

The "Entertainment or Catastrophe" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Just clicked on my icon for Traveltalkonline.com (TTOL) to read about what is happening on the island that Carol and I call our "home away from home."  One of the links was titled Drone video of Steve Jobs yacht at the Bridge  and featured a YouTube video of the immense yacht that belonged to Steve Jobs as it is attempting to maneuver through the Simpson Bay drawbridge.  The yacht is unbelievable and as I watched the video I wondered if it was going to make a successful exit from the lagoon where it had been moored.  Check out the video and you will see what I mean.

Interesting to see how they use the thrusters in the front of the ship to turn it away from the concrete side of the bridge.  Then I wondered how this video could have been taken in the first place, since the Princess Juliana International Airport is only a short distance away from the drawbridge and the departing jets travel close to the location of the bridge.  How can the drone hover over the bridge at the height that it looks like it may be when a plane carrying hundreds of passengers might be taking off at the same time.  How safe can that be?  Seems I wasn't the only one who was wondering the same thing.  The Miami Daily Herald, island edition, received a note from a part-time St. Maarten resident and operator of the website Everythingstmaarten.com questioning how the drone owner and film maker, Brian Muston, can safely make the video.  The letter writer was told by the newspaper's managing director that they will have discussions with the Department of Civil Aviation about the incident.  I enjoyed watching the video, but after realizing how dangerous it could have been for air traffic, I'm glad someone brought it to the attention of someone who will investigate the use of drones near airspace that is needed for flights.  I'll be anxious to read what happens because of the YouTube video.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The "Gettin' Psyched" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Adding another item to the list of things that Carol and I want to do while on vacation in St. Martin this spring.  
The island of Pinel
First of all, we can hardly wait to escape the cold of the northeast and feel the warmth of the Caribbean sun on our skin.  "Won't be long now," we keep saying to each other.  Items on our list include: visit to the butterfly farm, have lunch at the Sunset Bar and Grill while watching and photographing the planes as they land on the nearby runway, have breakfast crepes at Paradise View and an American breakfast at The Sint Maarten Yacht Club, have gelato at the Carousel Gelatorium, visit the Tijon Parfumerie to make our own scented perfume, and spend some time with our new friend Barbara and her gardener who happens to also be her husband.  
Caribbean colors from Paradise View.
Sounds easy enough to do, but more and more we suffer from sand gravity while visiting St. Martin and very little on our list gets accomplished.  Last year we had every intention of visiting the small island of Pinel to swim, watch the iguanas and have lunch, but that never happened.  
Watching the planes land at Sunset Bar and Grill 
We also had a visit on our list to nearby Anguilla to visit the beach at Shoal Bay East, but that never happened.  So, we made our list this year more realistic.  The two at the top of our list are the visit to the Tijon Parfumerie in Grand Case to make our own personal body scent and a visit with Barbara and husband Diedrick to visit their garden and talk about life on the island of St. Martin.  
Breakfast on the island.
If we get no more than those two items accomplished, we will still have had a good time, for you see our main reason for our vacation is to sit in a lounge chair with a book in one hand and at times a drink in the other while listening to the waves lap at the nearby shore.  Oh yeah, we will probably have a beach umbrella closeby in case the sun gets too intense.  Happy hour begins at 2:30 pm at the Perch Beach Bar and the BBCs are always a treat. It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.
The Butterfly Farm
Iguana on Pinel Island
Heaven on Earth!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The "Endangered Tiny Bog Turtle" Story

Area in the US where the Bog Turtle is found.
It was an ordinary day.  "Googling" the bog turtle to find out if what I had just read was really true.  Seems that the Federal Government has just paid a Berks County, PA developer $1.3 million to NOT build 300 homes on a 102-acre area in northern Lancaster County.  The developer is selling a permanent easement for the land so that the tiny turtles can spend their life burrowed into the mud of the damp, grassy fields along the edge of Adamstown and East Cocalico Township.  The turtle, that can live for up to 80 years, was discovered by self-taught botanist and clergyman Gotthilf Heinrich Ernst Muhlenberg who was from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  
Photo of the little Bog Turtle.
Seems he was conducting a survey of the flora of Lancaster County when he discovered the tiny turtle in the 18th century.  In 1801 Johann David Schoepff named Muhlenberg's discovery Testudo muhlengergii.  Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, named after Mr. Muhlenberg, has a bronze turtle statue on campus.  The bog turtle is the smallest North American turtle that measures slightly less than four ounces long when fully grown.  It is listed on the threatened list at the federal level and therefore protected under the United States' Endangered Species Act.  It is considered threatened in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania as of November 4, 1997.  Invasive plants and urban development have eliminated the turtle's habitat.  
Photo by George Gress showing the environment
in northern Lancaster County were the bog turtle
can be found.
The turtle has a low reproduction rate with females laying about three eggs a year.  It has a dark skin color with an orange-red wash on the inside of the legs of some of them.  I read that the bog turtle is what is known as diurnal which means it is active during the day and sleeps at night.  Wakes in early morning, basks in the sun until fully warm, then begins its search for food.  In colder days the turtle will retreat to dense underbrush, underwater or bury in mud.  It has the ability to survive without oxygen.  It hibernates in small groups in dense soil or root systems from late September until late March or early April.  The Berks County developer is more than willing to take the $1.3 million in order to preserve the bog turtle's environment.  Think I might be also. Hey, we are all paying this guy not to build, so I guess we are essentially conservationists. Bravo to all of you!  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.   

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The "Bible-Minded City" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Posted a story a few days ago about Lancaster County being on the "Top 10 List" of nerdiest cities in the country.  Well, today I'll hit you with another fact about Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  
We are #1 in PA on the American Bible Society's "Bible-Minded" list.  Do the two go hand-in-hand?  I doubt it and the story in today's paper didn't try to associate the one with the other.  We're actually #62 in the country which shows you how religious the state of Pennsylvania must be.  But, it was proven that the survey that was conducted wasn't factual.  Why? you may ask.  I assume that if you have been reading my stories or know anything at all about Lancaster County, you know that a sect of the Amish make Lancaster County home as well as plenty of Old Order Mennonites and Anabaptist groups.  And, folks, these people AREN'T reading this story today because the very large majority of these groups don't own phones or have Internet service.  Sure, some of the younger generation of the sects may have a cell phone they keep hidden from their parents, but they more than likely relinquish it when they become a full-blown member of their sect.  Seems there were two questions asked by the Barna Group who administered the survey for the American Bible Society.  
  1. Have you read your Bible outside of church in the last seven days?
  2. Do you strongly believe in the accuracy of the Bible?
The survey is done online or over the phone and naturally does not reach the Amish sect or the 50,000 people who make up the Old Order and conservative Anabaptist's groups in our area.  Wow, think where we might rank if they really could contact those groups.  A professor from Elizabethtown College in nearby Elizabethtown, PA, Donald Kraybill, reported that a large group of conservative Amish and Mennonites has been misrepresented in the sample and since they strongly agree with the accuracy of the Bible and most certainly read their Bible on a regular basis, you can see how the results of the survey are false.  
This is an Amish farm during a Sunday church service.
Buggies come from all the nearby farms to celebrate their
religion on Sunday. It is an all-day celebration with the
service, meal and activities afterward.
Heavens, we have numerous Mennonite elementary and secondary schools in the county as well as the Lancaster Bible College which has six campuses in three counties and these were all established by Bible-minded people.  We also have the Lancaster Theological Seminary in center-city Lancaster.  So what city was picked as the best?  #1 was Birmingham/Anniston/Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  Oh, I get it.  You have to add three areas together to beat out good old Lancaster County.  Not quite fair, is it?  #2 was Chattanooga, Tennessee and #3 was Tri-Cities, Tennessee.  There you go again with three cities needed to beat Lancaster.  And, what about the worst.  #100 was Providence, Rhode Island/New Bedford, Massachusetts.  Well, let me tell you, if there were a Bible Jeopardy show on TV, Lancaster County would win hands down.  No doubt about it.  Heavens, you can't be nerdy and not be reading the Bible all the time.  Right?  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The "Please Excuse My Spelling" Story

It was an ordinary day.  A Spelling "B" day to be exact.  I'm wandering around the Manheim Township Middle School auditorium taking photos of the yearly Spelling "B" that is held yearly to find entrants from Manheim Township for the Lancaster County Spelling "B".  
The auditorium in the Manheim Township Middle School in
Lancaster, PA.  The annual Spelling "B" is taking place on the
school stage with parents and friends in the audience.  I did
not use closeup photos of the participants in case parents did
not care to have their students shown on the internet. 60
students participated in the competition.
Tonight there were 29 students from the Middle School, which is grades 7 and 8, and 31 students from the Landis Run Inter- mediate School vying for a few spots in the Lancaster County "B".  I do the school yearbook for both schools and I plan to use the same group photo I took in both of the books.  Fun evening with the students taking turns trying to spell English language words.  All students assembled on the school stage, sitting in pre-assigned seats, with a very large tag around their neck with a number on it.  When the "B" started, students, one by one, approached one of the two microphones, heard a word given them by the announcer and attempted to spell it.  They were allowed to ask to have it repeated, have a definition or be given what part of speech it may be such as a noun, pronoun, verb, etc.  If they failed to spell it correctly one of the three judges would sound a bell and the student would be out of the competition.  
Some students came in their finest clothes while others
chose their daily school clothes.  Strangely, I counted
three young boys wearing bow ties.
If a student were lucky they would get an easy word such as "trip" or "soup" while an unlucky student may get a word such as "exemplary" or "insti- tution".  As the competition began, I was amazed at a few things: the physical size of the students in the three grades, the stage presence of some of the participants and how the words offered to each student so much seemed to match them.  First, some of the students were clearly at least 12 inches taller than others while some were a good 50 pounds larger than others.  Secondly, some students had no fear of standing in front of a half-full auditorium of parents and friends while others were scared to death.  Thirdly, the same students seemed to get fairly easy words during each round.  I know the words are not assigned to specific students and as the rounds start to eliminate participants, tough words may fall to just about anyone.  
This young girl stood on her toes every time she came
to the microphone to take her next word.
Some words just seemed to fit the student who was going to spell it such as one very tall girl had to spell "stellar" while a short chubby boy got the word "waddle" and as he walked away from the mic you would swear he got the word on purpose.  Then as the "B" started to eliminate students and the mood of the auditorium became tense, some woman's phone played a song that all could hear.  It was only an hour ago that the teacher who was the sponsor of the "B" asked politely that all turn off any sound emitting products they might have with them.  In the end seven students qualified for the next level of competition.  Some students were visibly upset while others enjoyed their evening, win or lose.  I was able to get the photo I needed as well as a few to give to the sponsor for her scrapbook.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The "Fire & Ice Festival" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Sunday afternoon and I'm walking around Lititz Springs Park in Lititz, Pennsylvania taking photos of all the ice sculptures that were part of the "Fire and Ice Festival."  The outdoor temperature is 8 degrees, but with the wind blowing about 25 MPH it feels about -10 degrees.  Actually, after about fifteen minutes of taking photos I can no longer feel my fingers, my nose is dripping like a faucet and my feet are ... I guess they are still down there.  
The small pond directly inside Lititz Springs Park with
a few of the ice sculptures around the rear of the pond.
There is no way the ice sculptures will melt today!  The "Fire and Ice Festival" ran from February 13-16 with a party in Lititz Springs Park Friday evening with ice sculptures, food, games and live entertainment.  Throughout downtown the retailers were open with more ice sculptures along the streets.  Saturday was the "Fire" part of the event with a chili cook-off at the local high school as well as a winter wonderland carnival featuring  games, activities and contests.  
The stream that feeds the small pond is filled with ducks.
The sculptures line either side further down from where
I have taken this photo.  The steam rises from the water.
On Sunday there was a dodgeball tournament at the high school with a community movie night at nearby Linden Hall School for Girls. On President's Day the park was open for all to enjoy the ice sculptures.  The weather certainly cooperated with the temperature never going above the freezing mark thus keeping the ice sculptures in great shape.  This year there were 34 sculptures that were sponsored by local companies and community organizations and members.  The retirement community where my mother and father lived, Moravian Manor, sponsored a huge ice throne while Keller Brothers Ford sponsored a large image of a mustang (horse) since this is the 50th year of the Ford Mustang automobile.  
At the head of the stream pictured above is the spring.
Here you can see a few ice sculptures that fill the water.
The local semi-pro Lancaster Barnstormers baseball team sponsored a smaller sculpture showing a baseball player.  The sculptors were from the DiMartino Ice Co. who carved the sculptures on site starting beginning Thursday and continuing until after dusk on Friday.  They used chainsaws for basic shaping, augers and routers for shaping and hot irons for polishing the sculptures to make them crystal-clear and sparkling in the spotlights at night and the sunlight during the day.  I photographed over a dozen of the sculptures while walking in the park today so you can see the level of artistic talent that the workers of the ice company possess.  Beautiful work done by skilled talent.  I stopped my picture taking when I wasn't sure if my finger was actually pressing the shutter release. Enjoy!  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Stars with tails
Not sure what it is, but it was well done. 
This was one of the larger sculptures that was of the mustang.
Tow truck
Baseball player
Red rose 
Bench sponsored by Moravian Manor Retirement Home.
Dump truck
Another large bench.  This was next to the pond that was at the entrance to the park.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The "Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania: Part III - Visuals" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Adding my third and final edition to the stories about taking my grandson Caden to visit the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg, PA.  We had a great time wandering the platforms and boarding a few of the locomotives and cars that were open for inspection.  He also enjoyed taking photos with his iPod which I downloaded onto my computer when we returned for lunch.  The story today is more a visual journey through the museum as seen through the eyes of two of it's visitors.  If you don't like metal parts and mechanical pieces, you may not be interested in the story, but give it a try and see if you can't see beauty in what is not normally seen by most of the visitors to the museum. It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The "Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania: Part II - The Favorites" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Adding the second of three stories about the trip my grandson Caden and I took to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg, PA.  Not only did we have a good time, we talked about some of our favorite parts of the trip.  We each had a few that matched as well as a few that we favorited ourselves.

As for Caden, he was most impressed with the H. & B.T. 316 red caboose that we visited.  We climbed the stairs to the rear of the caboose and when we entered we saw a small stove that was used to keep the train crew warm in the winter as well used for cooking.  Next to the stove was a place to store coal which was used as fuel for the stove.  In the center of the caboose was a cupola with windows where the crew could sit in order to see both directions when the train was in motion.  The seats were padded and there were wooden shutters on the windows. 
The cupola.
Caden also enjoyed sitting at the desk where a railroad worker would sit that was responsible for sending signals to trains that were operating on the rails.  
Caden changing the signal lights.  It is set to STOP at present
with up and down meaning PROCEED and the three lights on
a diagonal meaning PROCEED WITH CAUTION.
The person sitting at the desk was responsible for sending messages by means of three lights as to whether it was safe to proceed along the line, proceed with caution or stop for approaching trains.  Pretty important job Caden realized.  He sat at the station changing the lights and probably thinking what could happen if he really were in charge of the station and had to make instant decisions as to the safety of the trains running on the rails that he was in charge of at the time.  
Entrance to underneath Engine #1187 was on the other side. 
Caden also enjoyed being able to des- cend down the stairs under one of the engines.  Engine #1187, a Pennsyl- vania Railroad engine made in Altonna, PA in 1888, had a lower deck where we could walk down the stairs and see the underbelly of the engine.  The restoration of all the engines was impressive, but being able to see under this one was even more impressive with the extra restoration that was needed to allow for a visual inspection underneath it.
The belly of #1187

The final thing that Caden told me he enjoyed was being able to board Engine #4465 and talk with a volunteer who actually was a train engineer years ago.  He explained to both of us how the electric locomotive received its power as well as how the braking system worked.  Showed us a pedal on the floor that had to be pushed in at all times or the train would come to a halt.  Necessary in case the engineer became ill and couldn't run the engine.  Facts such as that kept both of us interested in his talk.
Engineer Caden in the 1963 General Electric engine #4465.

A few of my favorite moments at the museum were viewing some of the displays that were interspersed among the engines and cars.  The following photos will show you some of the displays:

How they made repairs to the tracks.
Transporting perishables and cold goods.
This was one of two horse-drawn hearse's that were on display.
Extremely well-restored horse-drawn Dairy wagon. 
This had been restored, but left in the original condition.  The Pioneer Hopper , PY&A #1818, made by Barney and Smith, Dayton, Ohio was made in July 1895 and retired c. 1939.  It weighed 36,000 lbs. and could hold 80,000 lbs.  It was 29' 7" in length and was in remarkable shape considering what must have been hauled over the almost 45 years it was in service.  
There was one engine that stuck out among all the others for me.  It was the E7 #5901 which was built in 1944 by General Motors Electro-Motive Division in LaGrange, Illinois and is the last surviving E7 from any railroad.  The restoration was beautiful and the red color gave the appearance of what a train engine should look like, at least to me.  
The final two engines that I enjoyed were the Baldwin Locomotive Works #20 which was made in Philadelphia and the 1939 replica John Bull engine which was made for the 1940 World's Fair in New York.  The Pennsylvania Railroad constructed the John Bull in the Juniata, PA shops and it also made an appearance at the 1948 Chicago Railroad Fair before finally arrived in Strasburg in 1970 for restoration.  It since then has appeared at rail gatherings from California to British Columbia.  The original John Bull is housed in the Museum of American History in Washington, DC and was last operated 35 years ago.  Both engines remind me of the glory days of railroading in the United States.  Can't you just see either one of them puffing along the tracks in the countryside?  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.
The Baldwin Locomotive Works #20. 
The replica of the John Bull.