2013 – A Train Review

So, I was going through my archives and came across some pictures I had taken back in 2013, the only time I really took train pics until after I got my current camera.

There were only two instances of trains that year, but they were special ones.

I’d like to share these pics with you, as a way for you to relive those memories with me. 🙂

Windsor, VA: March 23, 2013
As part of the inaugural year of Norfolk Southern’s 21st Century Steam program, Southern Railway steam engine 630, on loan from the Tennessee Valley Railway Museum, lead an excursion from Norfolk, VA to Petersburg, VA and back.
My father and I headed to Windsor to catch her as she headed toward Petersburg. It was a crisp morning, with a mid-level cloud deck present, perfect for pictures.
A bit after 9am, we hear her lovely steamboat whistle break the silence. Camera at the ready, this is what I caught.

Southern 630 approaches Windsor.

Southern 630 approaches Windsor

The trees are filled with her steam.

The trees are filled with her steam.

630, looking marvelous

630, looking marvelous

My father, who, back in the late 70s/ early 80s, served as a fireman on this engine for steam excursions, watches as 630 puts on a wonderful show.

My father, who, back in the late 70s/ early 80s, served as a fireman on this engine for steam excursions, watches as 630 puts on a wonderful show.

Pelham, NC: August 10, 2013
A visit to my family in Danville, VA for my birthday was made even more special by getting to share my hobby with my young nephew Caleb. Bright and early on a lovely Saturday morning, we loaded up in my car and headed to Pelham, just south of Danville, to catch some action on Norfolk Southern’s busy Danville District.

My nephew, on my brother's shoulders, reacts to the loud northbound manifest about to pass us. The engineer gave him a small show with his horns.

My nephew, on my brother’s shoulders, reacts to the loud northbound manifest about to pass us. The engineer gave him a small show with his horns.

A southbound intermodal train approaches Control Point Swann with a special unit in the consist

A southbound intermodal train approaches Control Point Swann with a special unit in the consist

The intermodal takes the signal at Swann, with Norfolk Southern's Nickel Plate heritage unit looking good.

The intermodal takes the signal at Swann, with Norfolk Southern’s Nickel Plate heritage unit looking good.

A pacing shot of NS 8100.

A pacing shot of NS 8100.

Crossing Law Rd

Crossing Law Rd

I hope you’ve enjoyed these pictures. I welcome your comments.
Have a great day! 🙂

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Highball on the Main!

Hello there! I’m Gavin!

I’m the resident train expert, though I will concede I have a lot to learn.

I currently live in Christainsburg, VA, a lovely small town in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with my beautiful bride, Kathy.

Kathy and I with N&W 611 in April, 2016.

I’ve had a life-long love affair with trains, thanks in large part to my father. Before I was born, and even a bit afterwords, he was active with the Atlanta chapter of the US Railway Historical Society, helping run steam specials, to include being a fireman and engineer, on the Southern Railway in the mid-1970s. Going back a bit further, there is family heritage in the railroads, as his grandfather was a conductor on the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Over the years, I have learned and studied the industry, from my father, my own observations, and Trains Magazine (a highly-recommended publication if you have a love of trains).

Last year, my lovely wife bought me a very nice Canon Rebel T5, that began in earnest my sub-hobby of railroad photography, which I am constantly honing my skills at. I even started an Instagram account especially for my train pictures (which you can find here if you’re interested). I’ve been known to roam up toward and into Roanoke for a good train picture, and even a bit south, toward Radford.

I hope to share pictures from my many train watching trips (a bonus to living so close to Norfolk Southern’s Christiansburg District), along with my thoughts on the industry, and, a train trip report or two.

All aboard!

611 B&W

Norfolk and Western 611 dirties up the sky in Christiansburg, VA on May 8, 2016.

A trio of Norfolk Southern heavy locomotives lug a mixed manifest up the Christiansburg Grade just south of Shawsville, VA on July 14, 2016.

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Not One Darn Fish! (But I Had a Great Time)

Hot Creek's setting is a picture-perfect mix of meadow and mountain. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Hot Creek’s setting is a picture-perfect mix of meadow and mountain. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

MAMMOTH LAKES, California (July 2016) – Labeling a totally unproductive fishing trip a good experience conjures up memories of Michigan State football coach Duffy Daugherty, who said, “A tie is like kissing your sister.”

It’s totally counterintuitive, but that’s still my assessment of three days on Hot Creek and the upper stretches of the Owens River just outside the resort village of Mammoth Lakes, California, the community that’s the capital of a massive, multi-sport outdoor recreational area in the Eastern Sierra.

This is mountain, canyon, meadow, stream, and lake territory. People come to ski, ride mountain bikes, photograph birds and wildflowers, hike, snowshoe, and fish.

The scenery alone was enough to stop me in my tracks, but I wanted to meet a trout.

And no wading, either, in Hot Creek. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

And no wading, either, in Hot Creek. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

There was promise at the start standing beside Hot Creek. Good stream flow, an excellent trout guide, blue sky. I was with two others. One of them – a total novice – hooked a hefty brown trout while our guide was giving her the most basic fly rod instruction. Of course, she didn’t know how to play the fish and didn’t land it, but that episode was within minutes of arrival.

“This is going to be great,” I declared out loud, but that was not to be.

Three days and hundreds, maybe thousands, of casts later, the scorecard showed a big, fat zero, and I had no images of a 20-inch rainbow or brown trout to show off back home in Tennessee. Zero, zilch, nada, nothing, strikeout, goose egg.

It’s usually a sad situation when all you can say is that you got a couple of half-hearted strikes.

This, however, was far from sad. The setting in the Eastern Sierra was so stunning, and so absolutely alien to me, that I wasn’t totally bummed out by not catching any trout. It was easy to paraphrase Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” by saying, “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Tennessee anymore.”

Hot Creek and the Owens River are modestly sized streams that in places flow through sprawling meadows that collide with snow-capped mountains. In one direction are the Glass Mountains, and in another other are the Eastern Sierra.

Mammoth Mountain in the Eastern Sierra tops out at 11,053 feet, and the streams are at about 7,000 feet. It’s almost a challenge to pay attention to the water when the landscape is so beautiful.

Hot Creek adds some extra visuals by sliding into a narrow canyon. It’s a serious downhill hike to get to the supposedly trout-laden water.

When Hot Creek drops into a canyon, it's a steep walk to the water. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

When Hot Creek drops into a canyon, it’s a steep walk to the water. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

I really don’t doubt trout guide Scott Flint, who said stream surveys indicate 7,200 fish per mile of Hot Creek. Flint leads the guide service at the Troutfitter in Mammoth Lakes and has been fishing Hot Creek, the Owens River and other area streams and alpine lakes since 1990, so he knows his stuff.

Trout guide Scott Flint coaches a fisherman on the upper Owens River. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Trout guide Scott Flint coaches a fisherman on the upper Owens River. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

He kept my expectations low from the start, although he was confident my friends and I would catch fish.

“Realize this,” he said. “This the most sophisticated fishing in the world. These fish are wary. The saying here is that the fish have PhDs.”

I recited another fisherman’s saying to him as we parted:  “That’s why they call it ‘fishing,’ not ‘catching.’”


Information about all the calorie-burning activities in the area is available from VisitMammoth.com. Mammoth Lakes is south of Yosemite National Park and about three hours from Reno, Nevada, and five hours from Los Angeles.


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Where Mucking Is a Competitive Sport


The sign that makes you look twice upon entering Tonopah, Nevada. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

TONOPAH, Nevada – A chance conversation led to my meeting a mucking champion, and that’s no typo. It happened in the desert town of Tonopah, Nevada, which is in the middle of nowhere between Las Vegas and Reno.

Me: “I saw a sign up the street that says ‘Tonopah, Home of the Muckers.’ Is that the nickname of the high school sports teams?”

She: “Absolutely. Want to know what a mucker is? I can tell you because I held the state record for female mucking for 22 years.”

Who could say “No” to a question like that?

My local lingo teacher was Donna Otteson, manager of the Mizpah Hotel and owner with her husband of Otteson’s World Famous Turquoise, a tourist-oriented mining business.

Donna Otteson: 22-year Nevada female mucking champion. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Donna Otteson: 22-year Nevada female mucking champion. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Donna was behind the hotel front desk, and the only possible improvement on our conversation would have been if I had met Donna at the hotel bar. She had a two-beer story.

Tonopah was – and is to a certain extent even today – big mining country. Settler Jim Butler got people stirred up in 1900 with a silver ore discovery, and by 1901, there were enough mines in the area to produce $750,000 worth of gold and silver, according Tonopah’s online history.

Muckers, she explained, were the guys in the old days of underground mines who loaded ore (muck) into ore cars so it could be rolled to the surface and processed.

Muck is a mix of silver (very little by volume), rock and dirt. Shoveling loads of muck was backbreaking, uninspiring work.

Backbreaking and uninspiring though it may be, mucking can get exciting if you introduce competition to the shoveling, and that’s what happens every Memorial Day week during Jim Butler Days. Donna described the festival competition this way:

“See that pile of muck? Shovel it into the ore car as fast as you can. That’s it,” she said rather matter-of-factly.

Men shovel one ton; women shovel half a ton. There also are team mucking events and events for youngsters. The first age category is 3-6. The kids in Tonopah must be tough little critters.

In 1992, Donna flew through her half-ton of muck in a time of 2:04. That’s two minutes and four seconds, not two hours and four minutes. It was a record that stood for 22 years when someone shaved three second off her time.

“I come from a very competitive family,” she deadpanned, offering only that to explain her success. She acknowledged that leg strength is more important than back strength, but the very thought of shoveling a half-ton of anything in two minutes makes me hurt all over.

Did she have a magic shovel, or even a special one?

“Nope. I used a regular rounded shovel, not a square one. You sometimes hit rock, and the round edge is better when that happens,” she explained.

So there you have it. My mucking curiosity led to a great conversation and an encounter with a champion. Discovering silver out in the desert would have been a bigger thrill, but meeting a champion was still a treat.

Tonopah information is at TonopahNevada.com, and Jim Butler Days information is at JimButlerDays.TonopahNevada.com. Because Tonopah is so far from big-city lights, it is considered one of the best places in America for stargazing.

Tonopah is known for mucking . . . and dark night skies. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Tonopah is known for mucking . . . and dark night skies. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)




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Montreal, A Beautiful City With So Much To Offer.

Are you looking for a fabulous vacation spot that offers history, music, world class dining, festivals etc…? Then Montreal, Quebec is just the spot for you!

Montreal is a beautiful city with so much to offer. They hold the largest number of festivalsmontreal(1) each year, than any other city. From the Just for Laughs comedy festival to the Jazz music festival and so much more. The calendar of events is always full and no matter what time of year that you visit, you are bound to find something exciting and fun to suit your interests.

History surrounds you when you visit Montreal, in 2017, the city will be celebrating its 375th anniversary! What a perfect time to visit and take a stroll around the Old Port, or maybe even a calèche (horse and buggy) ride.

victoria-express-entryThe dining experience in Montreal can be considered second to none. Restaurants and bistros offer choices from all over the world, and of course, local Quebec cuisine! You must of course give the smoked meat and poutine a try! You will not be disappointed!

While the Canadian dollar is on the lower end recently, Montreal makes for a very affordable trip for those American travelers looking for something new to see and do. You can also find many great deals for travel, lodging and dining.

Treat yourself, visit one of the most beautiful cities in North America. Enjoy the food, the Old_montreal_street_sceneculture and the history. You will love every minute of it!

We absolutely love Montreal.

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Swim With the Dolphins With Neptune Charlie’s!

Are you looking for the adventure of a lifetime? Will you be visiting the Big Island of Hawaii? Do you want to have an experience that you will NEVER forget??? Then you MUST plan and book a trip with Neptune Charlie’s Ocean Safaris!

See how close the dolphins swam up to Willem!

See how close the dolphins swam up to Willem!

We were lucky enough to be hosted by this fantastic company again, on our most recent visit to the Big Island. They never fail to deliver on a wonderful time.

Everyone involved with this business is fantastic. From the owners to the office staff to the crew!

We had the best time. Our day trip consisted of swimming with pods of wild dolphins. We saw even more on this trip than on our last. These dolphins are not shy and swim right up to you! Time on board the boat is filled with laughter and information. The folks who work with Neptune Charlie’s Ocean Safaris are truly fabulous. So personable and so well informed!


We also took a trip out for the manta ray swim one evening, but the weather wasn’t the most cooperative. We did see a few, but the water was murky this time around. We still had the best time! The sunset from on board, before the swim was beautiful, the conversation with the other guests and the crew was beyond enjoyable. And we laughed at too many bad jokes!DSC_0423

Neptune Charlie’s Ocean Safaris offers a variety of different trips. From swimming with the dolphins, to the manta ray dive, to whale watching. There is something for everyone. ScubDSC_0330a and snorkeling is offered. You can of course, bring your own equipment, but they are well equipped for everyone. They offer refreshments on board too.


I promise you, if you are making the trip to the Big Island, you must contact Neptune Charlie’s Ocean Safaris and book at least one trip with them while you are there. You will NOT be disappointed!

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Big Mouse, Little Mouse in Southern California

SANTA ANA, California – There’s more than one mouse to visit when you go to Southern California. The internationally recognized Big Mouse, of course, is named Mickey, and he’s in Anaheim. The not-nearly-as-well-known Little Mouse is in Santa Ana and definitely is worth finding, too.

The Big Mouse has Cinderella’s Castle and an encounter with Pirates of the Caribbean, while the Little Mouse has baguettes, macaroons in a dozen flavors, colorful fruit tarts, and croissants that would make you slap your French mama.

A rainbow of macaroons and fruit tarts brighten the pastry case. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

A rainbow of macaroons and fruit tarts brighten the pastry case. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

La Petite Sourie (the Little Mouse) is a tiny French bakery that’s an anomaly at one end of a collection of strip mall fast food establishments. It’s off W. MacArthur Blvd. near South Coast Plaza.

Without being tipped off, you’d not even notice La Petite Sourie, located as it is next to Pick Up Stix for Asian food, Wing-Stop for chicken wings, Subway for sandwiches, and Philly’s Best for cheesesteaks. In a world of ubiquitous fast food, there stands a genuine French bakery.

Make a croissant the first course at breakfast. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Make a croissant the first course at breakfast. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

It’s the domain of baker Christian Chereau, a slim man with sparkling eyes and a big smile. Reading his bio on the bakery’s website is an exercise in French awards and world geography. Chereau has worked in and owned bakeries throughout France and in Morocco and Vietnam. In 2012, he packed his spatula and headed for California.

He fills a spacious display case at La Petit Sourie every day with carefully crafted fruit tarts and a rainbow of macaroons, offers crusty baguettes ($1 and $2), and somehow manages to prepare omelets, soups, quiches, and salads, too. Then, in the middle of the night, he starts all over again.

It seems an inordinate amount of work, but he explains it all with a shrug, a smile and this comment: “It’s small, it’s busy, it’s fun.”

It’s also worth all the calories you can consume.

La Petite Sourie is the lone independent in a strip of franchise restaurants. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

La Petite Sourie is the lone independent in a strip of franchise restaurants. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)



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Touches of Disney Magic on a Dreary Day

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Even if you arrive at the Disneyland Resort on a chilly, drizzly afternoon, it’s easy to encounter magic touches that brighten the day.

When the bellman at the Grand Californian Hotel detected my anxiety about his putting my computer case in storage, he quickly put a “FRAGILE/Handle With Care” sticker on it.


After hours on my feet, it was a treat to find an unusual bathroom amenity – a tube of mint foot rub. “Cooling mint and marine extracts instantly soothe tired feet and rapidly smooth away dryness,” says the label.


Who wouldn’t brighten up a bit when the pianist at the grand piano in the hotel lobby elicits memories of “The Sound of Music” with a cheery rendition of “My Favorite Things”?


You don’t need sorcerer’s apprentice to cast a spell to feel better when you pull an easy chair near a crackling fire, enjoy some quiet conversation and nurse a nice cocktail.

DSCN5140(All photos by Tom Adkinson)




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A Heavenly Gastronomic Experience: Roy’s Waikoloa.

Once again we were treated like royalty at the wonderful Roy’s Waikoloa.

You seriously will have a hard time trying to beat the quality of the food that is served here, as well as the awesome service.

From assistants, up to the general manager, you will be hard pressed to find a more professional team in food service.

The food itself is exquisite and flavourful. Prepared with such care and talent. A feast for both the eyes and the palate.

roys1We were served wonderful appetizers, seasoned edamame, grilled Szechuan spiced baby back ribs and bacon Caesar Brussel sprouts. These on their own could have very well been dinner. Each was fantastic. Accompanied by one of their famous mai tais, roys2they all made for the perfect beginning of a glorious evening.

For my main course, I chose one of the newer items on the menu; a dish of seared diver scallops served with thyme butter quinoa and macadamia vinaigrette. I must say this addition to the menu will have any seafood lover coming back for more. The scallops roys3were tender and delicious and the quinoa was beautifully prepared.

Willem’s main course consisted of an 8oz Hawaii rancher’s filet roys4Mignon with smoked onion puree … medium rare, tender, juicy and would definitely be a repeat order.

As we were chatting and discussing this amazing meal, I had a chocolate soufflé placed on the table in front of me. The best way to describe this dessert is sinful! Oh my, it was still hot, served roys5with French vanilla ice cream, you cut into it with your fork and a hot, rich chocolate sauce spills out. This was by far the best way to top off the meal.

Roy’s Waikoloa is one of my favourite stops when we are lucky enough to visit the Big Island of Hawaii….

Awesome food, first class service and great atmosphere. You really need to add them to your bucket list and pay them a visit. You will NOT be sorry.

The sinful chocolate soufflé .... I still dream about it!

The sinful chocolate soufflé …. I still dream about it!

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To Market, to Market in Sacramento

SACRAMENTO, California – In a state known for celebrities, food is the real celebrity in the capital city, Sacramento – especially on Sunday mornings and despite the fact movie star governors aren’t unusual.

Your choices are limited only by what's in season. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Your choices are limited only by what’s in season. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

The reason is the Sacramento Certified Farmers’ Market, the official name of what most locals call the Sunday Farmers’ Market Under the Freeway. The casual name comes because all of the cantaloupe fondling and tomato pinching happens underneath an elevated portion of U.S. 80 at 8th and W Street. After awhile, you don’t even notice the rumble of the cars and trucks overhead.

It’s quite the spectacle. As many as 110 farmers, plus four bakeries and two fish sellers, artfully arrange tables of guaranteed-fresh California produce and try to entice some of the wandering thousands of shoppers to take their food home. The four-hour event (8 a.m. until noon) can attract 12,000 people.

Dan Best. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Farmers’ market coordinator Dan Best. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

“This is direct from the farm, direct from the field, with cash straight to the farmers’ pockets,” said market coordinator Dan Best, who declared he’d probably be a volunteer helper if his paying job with the Certified Farmers’ Markets of Sacramento County didn’t exist.

Some of America’s most fertile cropland is right here in California’s Central Valley, producing 230 crops that get shipped all over the country and internationally. (Trivia: California exports more sushi rice to Japan than Japan grows for itself.)

Imagine how much fresher and better the produce is at the Sunday Farmers’ Market Under the Freeway than at your local supermarket.

Produce often comes with good conversation. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Produce often comes with good conversation. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Those brilliantly orange carrots, those firm bell peppers and those tempting tomatoes probably spent no more than an hour or two in the beds of their growers’ pickup trucks before going on display. Know, too, that the farmers can bring delicate items to the market, ones never meant for packaging and shipment nationwide.

“Our purpose is saving the small-acreage farm. We put a face on people’s food,” Best said.

Not all broccoli is created equal. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Not all broccoli is created equal. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Indeed, talking with the farmers is one of the treats of visiting the market. Learn about Romanesco broccoli (that peculiar-looking vegetable was new to me), ask about the flavor of the honey or get coached about which avocado to buy.

You might think that the farmers’ market is strictly for locals, but think again. Even if you have a plane to catch the next day, you can load up a picnic basket with whatever fruits are in season, a loaf of fresh bread, a jar of honey, a bag of pistachios and other treasures and head for a picnic table at Old Sacramento, where Sacramento’s boom town days are recalled, or a bench in a city park. Some items make great gifts for the folks back home, too.

The Sunday Farmers’ Market Under the Freeway operates every Sunday of the year and is the largest in California. It has sister markets scattered around Sacramento County other days of the week. Some are open year-round, while others are seasonal.

Honey is a year-round good choice for a traveler's "souvenir" from the farmers' market. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Honey is a year-round good choice for a traveler’s “souvenir” from the farmers’ market. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Sacramento cultivates the nickname of America’s “Farm to Fork Capital,” a reputation that restaurants such as Mulvaney’s B&L, Grange, Blackbird Kitchen Beer Gallery, Kru and Ella Dining Room and Bar verify to visitors every day.

However, you can get even one step closer to the farm with a visit to the Sunday Farmers’ Market Under the Freeway.

Tips for a good farmers’ market experience in Sacramento

  • Bring cash in small denominations. Don’t expect farmers to take your American Express card.
  • Explore before you start buying. The farmers are competing, so you may find a better price for an item in the second place you look.
  • Trying to bargain for small items isn’t well received.
  • If the farmer isn’t too busy, enjoy some conversation about his farm and livelihood.
  • Keep track of your car keys. Market officials say keys are the No. 1 lost-and-found item. (Shoppers often find them in a produce bag, dropped there inadvertently after buying some of those beautiful veggies and fruits.)

Go to VisitSacramento.com for farmers’ market details, farm-to-fork suggestions and other ideas for exploring California’s capital city.


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