Life is a (Small Town) Carnival

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Like any kid growing up in the snowbelt otherwise known as Blasdell, I looked forward to three things each summer. The beginning of summer would signal going to IMG_0016_Mendon_Carnival_Twilight_300Fantasy Island to celebrate a good report card, ride the steamboat and watch the live shootouts. The end of summer meant going to the Erie County Fair to see the vast array of other-worldly side shows on the Midway, the acrid smell of burnt oil and rubber at the demolition derby and the taste of my grandfather’s sumptuous pizza. Sandwiched in between, both chronologically and geographically was the Big Tree Fireman’s Carnival. I think it was actually called the Big Tree Firemen’s Annual Field Days. But for kids (and headline writers short on space) it was the Big Tree Carnival.

Here’s the real difference between Fantasy Island, the Erie County Fair and the Big Tree Continue Reading “Life is a (Small Town) Carnival”

A Bridge Too Quiet

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I never understood the lure of trains. Don’t get me wrong. I love trains. I just can’t figure out why. I mean, I was born at the dawn of the Space Age, watched Star Trek when it was still on the air and followed NASA’s lunar program with diligent pride. Heck, I even majored in physics and astronomy, served on the Strasenburgh Planetarium’s 40th Anniversary Task Force and created an official astronomy outreach project (AstronomyTop100.com) that received the official endorsement of the United Nations during the International Year of Astronomy in 2009.

Many were the times when I thought I was finally done with trains. But, like the mob to Continue Reading “A Bridge Too Quiet”

Postcard Perfect, In Any Season

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On July 4th, 1928, nearly three years after the opening of the Erie Canal, Charles Carroll, 91 years old and the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, turned over the first shovel of dirt, marking the beginning of construction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, America’s first railroad.1 With this single action, the Erie Canal’s death notice had been signed. Even before the B&O was created, the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad was incorporated in New York on April 17th, 1826, less than six months after Governor Dewitt Clinton dedicated the grand opening of his “ditch.”2 Ironically, the purpose of the Mohawk and Hudson was to compete with the Erie Canal. When New York’s railroad finally managed to finance itself, (delayed financing allowed the B&O to be constructed first), it could be built. Completed a year later in August, 1831,3 it took less than an hour to travel the 17-mile rail line compared to the all-day meandering 40-mile segment of the Erie Canal it replaced.4 The name of the steam locomotive to make this first run: none other than Continue Reading “Postcard Perfect, In Any Season”

The Magician Reveals His Real Trick

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One by one the hockey heroes skate up towards the camera from the far blue line, stop with a spray of ice just missing the lens, then announce their name and team. Finally, the last professional pumps his legs forward with the smooth motion of the others and stops in the same controlled fashion. But when he announces his name, I’m shocked to discover he’s no hockey player.

“Bill Shatner. Loblaws,” states the confident former Captain Kirk.

For those not familiar, Loblaws is a Canadian grocery chain. In the 1960’s and early 1970’s they had stores in Buffalo (primarily) and Rochester (maybe just one, but I lived next to it). It was an era before Wegmans went on supermarket steroids and totally dominated the market. Loblaws was Canada’s pride but eventually sold out to Bells Markets.

In 1975 Loblaws was a player – at least in my neighborhood – and no more so because Continue Reading “The Magician Reveals His Real Trick”

Size Doesn’t Matter

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It may have been my father’s greatest embarrassment, but it was my greatest loss, a loss erased only by 25 years and a chance plumbing mishap.

How my family sees my long lost 1970 trophy.

It all started on a day which lives in “famy” (as opposed to“infamy”). No, I’m not exaggerating. It really was a famous day. On Saturday, March 7, 1970, I found myself bowling three games at Leisure Lanes in Hamburg, New York, among several dozen participants in the first Bowling Tournament my Cub Scout Pack ever had. The rest of the Northern Hemisphere spent the bulk of that sunny midday experiencing the greatest total eclipse of the sun our corner of the Earth will have until April 8, 2024.

I had won the Cub Scout Pack Bowling Tournament that day. My father, the Pack’s Cubmaster, bought a nice bowling trophy and a brass plate to etch the name of the winner. He didn’t expect Continue Reading “Size Doesn’t Matter”

Ode to Curt’s Stop-In: An Era Ends

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Like a scene from The Wonder Years, I remember the feeling of youthful exuberance when, in the dark of evening, we crossed the six lanes of hectic highway as only Buffalo, NYreckless eight-year olds could. The thrice daily shift change left Route 5 abuzz with a cornucopia of cars – from speeding muscular sportsters to equally vigorous family sedans. I wasn’t looking at the traffic, though. Instead, my eyes fixed on the heavens above as I followed the path of a faintly glowing satellite arc through the starry sky blanketing us. I pointed it out to my friend, who also had a thing for astronomy. It was the early summer of 1968 and I was about to experience something I would never forget.

We survived the treacherous crossing and made a bee-line to a place I had never Continue Reading “Ode to Curt’s Stop-In: An Era Ends”

Chasing the Iron Ghosts of Blasdell Junction

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A different year. A different time. A different era. A different culture.

Dry cinder and billowy steam painted the surroundings. The clanking and grinding of metal against metal pierced the air. The steady distant drone of heavy industry Blasdell Junction - RR Sign Amidst Nature_300provided background color for the audio pallet.

Within less than one square mile of reshaped earth lay more than twenty-two linear miles of railroad. Stacked one above another, the tracks featured motive power from five Class 1 railroads and one industrial switcher.

Squeezed within a quarter mile wide swath of land included: two junction tracks (formerly the Terminal Railroad that bypassed the busy railroad yards of the City of Continue Reading “Chasing the Iron Ghosts of Blasdell Junction”