Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Things She Brings Home, or, Our First Pet

Part of living with a teacher is accepting that she's going to bring home stuff. Lots of stuff. There are half-finished lesson plans, stacks of papers that she'll be up late grading, holiday cards from fourth-graders, assorted childhood diseases that come from the germ factories masquerading as our elementary schools (we're going to have fantastic immune systems, if we survive the first year or two anyway), all the various frustrations that come with being a public school teacher...

And crayfish.

The other day M comes through the door with her arms full, as usual. "What have you got there?" I ask, as usual.

"A crayfish!" she says.

Not as usual.

"A what?"

"A crayfish."

"You brought home dinner?"

"No!"

The fourth-grade science project this year was crayfish: their anatomy, biology, physiology, habits, and I don't know what all else, just everything to do with the life and death of crayfish. Mostly death, because these lab-supplied crustaceans were not the hardiest of mudbugs: for days now I had been regaled with stories of how their numbers had been dwindling, the sadness that sometimes accompanied their demise, and the problems of disposal. The girl's bathroom trash can, the entire fourth grade now knows, is not an appropriate resting place for a deceased crawdad.

But there was one survivor, and now it was in my living room.

"What are we going to do with a crayfish?" I asked hopefully. Because I was ready with suggestions, many of them involving butter.

"It's going to be our pet!"

Clearly, butter was not at the forefront of her mind. I temporized. "A pet crayfish?"

"Yes! Since we can't have a dog..."

Now I don't know about you, but when I think of a pet, dogs are pretty much the first thing I think of, followed closely by cats, hamsters, and goldfish. You know - things you can play with, or at least watch moving. Crawfish, well...they tend not to move much at all. They're nocturnal bottom-feeders whose idea of a good time is hiding in the mud at the bottom of a creek waiting for a meal to come their way. All very interesting in a marine biology sort of way, but not what you'd call an ideal pet.

"...and isn't it cute?"

"Well, yes, as aquatic spiders go, I suppose it is. And tasty."

"No! Not tasty!"

"But..."

"Don't eat our pet!"

OK. She wins. I won't eat our pet. It just wouldn't be right, eating the very first small creature she brought into our home, even if it would be awfully good. And besides, any little mudbug that can survive two weeks with a bunch of fourth-graders periodically picking it up and looking at it deserves to go to a better place. Even if I think that better place is in my belly, and she thinks it's on top of the dryer.

But I got the last laugh. I got to name it.

We call it Gumbo.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Postscript to The Rock Train at McNeil

When we left the rock train at McNeil, it was Sunday night. The train sat there until Tuesday morning, because not all that would go wrong for the RNLOL had yet gone wrong.

The Federal Railroad Administration requires that every locomotive be inspected periodically. The prescribed interval for a major inspection is 92 days; these quarterly inspections are fairly thorough and can only be performed at a locomotive shop. There, machinists and electricians will examine every subsystem, checking for defects and making repairs as necessary. Then they top off the fluids, wash the windshield, and release the unit back into service.

The new lead unit set out by the MPBFW, UP 4707, was almost due for its quarterly inspection. We had known that when we decided to use it on the RNLOL. At that time we expected the train to reach its destination in a timely fashion; the engine would probably have to return dead-in-consist to North Little Rock for inspection, but that wouldn't be a problem.

But with the ice and snow continuing to fall, we couldn't get a crew to the train. It was impossible to transport a crew to McNeil by road; we might have taken a crew there by train, but because of the weather, we were having trouble getting enough crews on duty at Pine Bluff to handle other traffic. The rock train at McNeil was not a high priority, and at the stroke of midnight Tuesday morning, the 4707 went FRA dead.

Finally, as the roads began to clear, a crew was called at Pine Bluff to rescue the RNLOL. Another train stopped and picked up the 4707, which would be just so much dead weight on a troubled rock train, while the patch crew took a single locomotive from Pine Bluff to McNeil. There they coupled into the RNLOL and departed for Shreveport without further incident. The delay was approximately 36 hours.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Tales From the Bunker: The Rock Train at McNeil

Ever dug snow and ice out of switches? I have. And tonight they're doing it on the old Cotton Belt in Arkansas.

It was snowing in Omaha when I sat down to work second trick on position 418, which controls the old Cotton Belt single-track main line from Hunter, Ark. through Pine Bluff and down to Maud, Tex., just beyond Texarkana. It was snowing there too, and we weren't sorting trains. Block the switches and run west. Z train behind a rock train? Too bad - without switch heaters, and with only limited maintenance crews to dig 'em out, we weren't going to bend any more switches than we had to.

Too bad, in particular, for one Z train.

West of Stephens, Ark., the RNLOL, 13,000 tons of rock from the Granite Mountain quarry in Little Rock destined for an Olin Corp. plant near Shreveport, was grinding westbound up the seven miles of 1% grade headed for the summit at McNeil, milepost 367 on Union Pacific's Pine Bluff Sub. That doesn't sound like much of a hill, but 13,000 tons is a lot of train for three engines, and as the train neared the top alarm bells started ringing in the lead unit. The No.5 traction motor pinion gear had locked up. The crew cut out the traction motor, but they needed every bit of power they had to get up the hill. On slick rail, with ice and snow falling on the old Cotton Belt, the RNLOL stalled.

They had made it past the east switch at McNeil, but they could go no further. Even if the train could get over the hill at McNeil, they weren't sure if they could make it over the next hill, at Waldo. We discussed our options: we could double the hill and put the RNLOL away in the siding at McNeil and get another engine later, or we could have the next train shove them over the summit and try to get a run at Waldo.

In the wintry conditions to which railroaders in Arkansas are not accustomed, we decided to go with the latter option. A Pine Bluff-Fort Worth manifest, the MPBFW, was ten miles behind the RNLOL. The ZYCHOB - UPS traffic from Chicago to Houston, at that point six hours ahead of schedule - was twenty miles behind him. He'd have to hold at Stephens until this was all over. I told the MPBFW to come up and shove the rock train over the hill - if necessary, he'd shove the rock train over Waldo, too. When we got to Lewisville, milepost 390, where the Lufkin Sub breaks off toward Shreveport, and where we had maintenance crews keeping the switches at this key point operational, we'd have the MPBFW donate one of his four engines to the cause.

So the MPBFW tied his train down on the side of the hill, came up behind the rock train light engine, and leaned into it. With seven engines, those 13,000 tons of rock went right on up with no problems. The MPBFW power cut off and headed back down the hill - and that's when I got the next call.

"Dispatcher, we got another problem...we got continuous wheel slip and a locked axle warning."

The problem with the No.5 traction motor had just gotten a lot more serious. With the traction motor cut out, the axle should be rolling freely, but it wasn't. If the locomotive moved very far, or very fast, the locked axle would inevitably cause a derailment. We'd have to set it out. But without that engine, the RNLOL would never make Waldo, and his second unit couldn't be used as a leader. We'd have to make the engine swap right there at McNeil.

Fortunately, the rock train had stopped between the switches. There's a siding and a small yard there, where UP interchanges with short line Louisiana & North West, but we couldn't put the engine in the yard - the old track there can't handle the weight of a big six-axle engine. We'd have to leave it in the siding. That complicated the move. And then there was the snow.

We got lucky - from my desk in Omaha, I was able to line and lock the west switch at McNeil for the siding. But the east switch wouldn't cooperate, so the crew on the MPBFW (who hadn't gotten back to their train yet) had to excavate it. Fortunately, they had a broom with a pick on one end, and they were able to clear it in good time and head into the siding.

The engine the MPBFW was giving up was third in their consist of four, so they tied down the fourth unit and went through the siding around the rock train. They cut off their third unit and handed it over to the rock train crew; I flagged them back down the main against their train and the MPBFW consist went back through the siding and flagged back against their train. Meanwhile, instead of setting out their bad-order engine immediately, the rock train crew, for whatever reason, decided to pull their whole train up to the west end of McNeil before setting out the engine. Not that it would have made much difference in what came next.

Rock trains, because they are so heavy, especially relative to their length, suffer from severe in-train forces. The strain exerted on couplers is massive, and inevitably the weak points in the draft gear will be found. Casting flaws turn into small cracks. Small cracks turn into big ones. Big cracks turn into breaks. Cold temperatures such as we were experiencing that day make it worse, and even the best engineers occasionally get a knuckle.

Stretched over the crest of the hill at McNeil, the RNLOL engineer started to pull on 'em...and the train promptly went into emergency. The crew called it in. None of us said what we thought it was - we're superstitious that way, we don't want to jinx it - but of course we knew what it had to be. Later they told me it was a knuckle pin with an old crack in it - you can tell by how far into the face of the break it's rusted.

The Hours of Service law limits train crews to a 12-hour work day, and by now the rock train crew had less than three hours left. They'd never make Shreveport, and with no guarantees that they wouldn't get another knuckle in a less convenient location or be able to get into another siding down the line, we decided to leave them right there. The MPBFW went into the siding, stopped to help the rock train crew make repairs, and went on toward Big Sandy. The ZYCHOB, released from Stephens, went through the siding and on toward Shreveport. He'd lost three hours but was still three hours ahead of schedule, and if all went well he'd make it to Houston. After one final blow in this four-hour drama - the rock train was blocking crossings and had to pull down to the west end of McNeil to clear them, making it difficult for a relief crew to reach the train later on - the RNLOL tied down on the main at McNeil. With roads throughout the area impassable, the rock train crew boarded another train bound for Shreveport and settled in for the ride.

The rock train is still at McNeil, ice and snow settling on its 13,000 tons of stone while trains pass through the siding to get around it. Some time in the next day or two, when the roads are passable and the ice melts away from the switches, a relief crew will go get the RNLOL. They may have to walk a mile to reach it, cursing the crew that put it west of the crossings and the dispatcher that let them do it, not knowing what happened on the side of the hill at McNeil - that four trainmen and a dispatcher seven hundred miles away struggled against the snow on the old Cotton Belt for an afternoon and thought themselves lucky, at the end of it, to call it a draw.

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Hunt For Red October, er, Blue and Yellow June

I've been reading Tom Clancy. Sue me.

We are now two weeks into wedding planning and so far I'm amazed at how much Mallory has accomplished. Already she's picked out wedding colors (the aforementioned blue and yellow), a dress (on sale!), and her bridesmaids have picked theirs too. The wedding lineup is more or less set (at officiant, a 6-foot 2-inch minister from Salem, Virginia, number 7, Ben Moore), she knows roughly how she wants to make the invitations, we have a first cut on the guest list, we've started a gift registry, we even have a budget.

All we need now is a date. And for that, we need a venue.

Here's a public service announcement for all those whose friends get engaged. Please do not let the first question you ask be "have you set a date?" And if the answer is "no," your response definitely should NOT be "you need to hurry up and do that, places get reserved pretty early, you know." It stresses the bride-to-be. I present to you my newly-formulated First Law of Wedding Planning:

Do not stress the bride-to-be.

So, no, we haven't set a date, but we're close. Sunday afternoon we visited the Durham Museum in downtown metropolitan Omaha, Nebraska in company with the museum's events person. The Durham is housed in the former Omaha Union Station, a marvelous Art Deco structure completed in 1931, and they do a fair number of weddings there. We decided that we want to have ours there too, so in a day or two we'll pin down the exact date.

Yes, I'm going to be married in a train station.

Yes, I'm aware of the wonderfully multi-faceted ironies accompanying this decision.

No, I do not need you to point them out.

Yes, you may laugh.

(I actually think it's pretty cool - quite independently of all the aforementioned ironies!)

So that's where we are to date. Oh, and one more thing - we have a wedding website up and running. There will be lots of information posted there (and probably here, but there it'll be all centralized and organized) as we gather it. Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Proposal (9/19/10)


Mallory didn't know it was coming.


From time to time she would gently needle me about it. "When are you going to propose?" she'd ask. I'd smile and say "someday," or something equally frustrating.


The night before the proposal we had dinner with her parents. She asked again, and as I shrugged it off I was thinking to myself, "Soon...sooner than you think."


About that time she said, "I bet you don't even have the ring yet!"


Little did she know...


I had the weekend off and we had made plans to go to the Applejack Festival in Nebraska City. It was a bit of a rainy day but we didn't mind. (It actually helped because it made it easier to hide the ring.) As we were leaving, I intentionally left my camera behind so that I would have an excuse to run back inside and slip the ring box into my jacket. Sneaky, no?


So off we went down to Nebraska City, the ring box poking into me the whole time. We started out at the car show downtown - how awesome is it that she likes going to car shows with me? - and it was there that I realized I had forgotten something Very Important.


No, not the ring. Otherwise there wouldn't be any point to this part of the story.


No, what I had forgotten was the battery for my camera. See, part of my plan had been to grab a random person and get them to take a picture of us...and then while they were taking the picture, go into the proposal. Good plan, yes?


Would have been better with the battery, but oh well. I still had the important item - the ring. If there were no pictures of the event, well, so be it.


Having walked the length of the car show, it was back to the truck for a trip over to Arbor Day State Park. We wandered through a craft show in a barn and meandered among all kinds of apples and apple products for sale (we came back with apple pie, caramel apples, apple wine, even a jar of apple cinammon syrup) before heading up the hill toward the Arbor Lodge, where I planned to do the deed.


We had just finished visiting the carriage house - all kinds of neat horse-drawn vehicles from the late 19th and early 20th centuries - when Mallory's phone rang. It was her mother! Knowing we were at the festival, they had decided to come down too. I think Lori suspected what I was up to, but that was okay. Time for Plan B.


While we waited for Lori, Mark, and Adrianne to arrive, Mallory and I decided to go ahead and tour the Lodge. It's a neat old mansion in a setting that reminds me of Virginia - a grand old house, all white with columns and porticos, surrounded by apple orchards and rose gardens. I had already decided that one of the porticos had to be the place, and after walking around I fixed on the south portico, the one overlooking the rose garden, as the perfect spot.


We had just finished walking through the house when her folks walked up. Go time. I asked if they could take a picture of us. They had no cameras, but they had camera phones. They'd do.


We walked around to the south portico and posed for a couple of pictures. Then I reached into my jacket, got down on one knee, and reached for Mallory's hand. She looked confused for a moment and started to give me her right hand. Then she realized what I was doing, said, "Wrong hand!" and gave me her left.


"Mallory," I said, "I love you and I want you to be my wife. Will you marry me?"


When it comes to certain questions, it is very important that you know what the answer will be before you even ask. This is one of them. Through tears she managed to get out a "Yes!" as I slipped the ring on her finger. Adrianne was taking pictures the whole time. Mallory gave me a great big hug and then started bouncing for sheer joy. It was absolutely adorable. There were hugs all around and then the phone calls began.


Finally we started back for home...engaged at last.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Warm breezy days

Eighty-some degrees here today and breezy. Put the top down for a trip to the grocery store, turned the country station up loud, and remembered...

I remember being a child and riding with my dad in the front seat of the old station wagon with the windows down, arm resting on the top of the door with my elbow sticking out, even though I had to reach up there to do it, because that was how he did it. Sometimes I'd stick my arm straight out and let my hand act as a wing, turning it up and down in the slipstream, as though I were an airplane.

I remember being a teenager driving that same old station wagon with the window down and my arm hanging out as I cruised the back roads around home with one hand on the wheel.

I remember being a small child playing with the wing window in another of the old wagons. Whatever happened to wing windows, anyway? My Miatas have them but they're fixed - not that it really matters in a convertible, but still.

I remember sitting in stop-and-go - but mostly stop - traffic on the DC Beltway in my old Thunderbird with the window down because the air conditioner didn't work, sweltering in the 95-degree heat with 95 percent humidity and praying for traffic to move so I could get some breeze, even if it was going to be hot, sticking my hand out to scoop air into the car when traffic did move, sucking down water and tossing the empty bottles onto the floor.

I remember rolling down Braddock Road on my way to one of the county parks, dressed in my umpire's uniform, the window down and a tape playing Alabama's "Cheap Seats" as I psyched myself up for another night of softball.

I remember the way my left arm would be darker than my right arm by the end of the summer because of all the time spent driving with that arm hanging out the window in a car without working a/c.

I remember the sound of plastic grocery bags rustling in the breeze in the back seat.

I remember the summer the cicadas came out in Washington, the alien roar of their wings and their song, and the one that flew into my car at speed and smacked into the back window, but didn't die, and kept buzzing around back there, neither of us able to escape the other's terrifying presence. I do not like buzzing insects. After it was gone I put the window up, preferring the heat to the bugs.

I remember rolling along a thousand roads on a thousand days with the windows down or the top down, the wind in my hair, the sun on my face, and country music on the radio. Country roads, busy city streets, quiet residential neighborhoods. It is past, it is present, it is future. It is spring in Omaha.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Radio Chatter

As an extra board dispatcher, I frequently draw the overnight shift on the North Little Rock terminal job. North Little Rock is the second-largest hump yard on Union Pacific (after North Platte); it's also where four subdivisions converge. With trains going in eight different directions, the terminal dispatcher tends to stay pretty busy.

In the way of things, Amtrak's southbound Texas Eagle tends to arrive at the same time as several northbound trains. There is always a lot of radio chatter around this time, and to keep up with what's going on I tend to monitor the relevant channels rather than wait for someone to call me. What follows isn't specific to any particular night, but it is representative of what goes on during 21's southbound passage through the terminal.

***

"UP detector, milepost three two nine point two, track one."

The Texas Eagle, ten miles north of the yard, has reached the last train defect detector he'll pass between now and his station stop. It won't take long for him to pass over the detector.

"UP detector, milepost three-two-nine point two. No defects. Axle count three-two. Train speed seven-three miles per hour. Temperature five-zero degrees. Detector out."

There's a distinctive squelch from one of the handheld radios the Amtrak conductors use. No other handhelds make that sound. It's his acknowledgement of the detector.

"Highball." Muffled, from the head end. I switch over to the yard channel, as he will in another mile or two.

"QNLPI to the bowl."

"Bowl, over."

"QNLPI, ready to depart."

"Let's go, west departure, I'll call the dispatcher and get you a light."

"Thank you out."

The direct line from Little Rock buzzes. I know it will be the bowl yardmaster.

"Yes sir?"

"Hey, got QNLPI coming at you, west departure."

"Have to be behind Amtrak."

"Where's he at?"

"Past Jax, be here in a few minutes."

"OK."

"Crest, you on here?"

"Yeah, what you got?"

"FWNL's on your doorstep."

"Turn him in, two-oh-five."

"Two-oh-five."

The crest yardmaster lines up his one control point. I do the same. MFWNL will get a signal into the receiving yard, the 200 yard, we call it, after the way the tracks are numbered.

"Crest, MFWNL."

"MFWNL."

"Top side, two-oh-five, power to the house."

"Top side, two-oh-five, power to the house, thank you out."

"Crest out."

"Bowl hostlers to the crest, over."

"Crest, over."

"QNLCH, take 'em ahead five."

"Ahead five, QNLCH."

"Where you want this engine?"

"Crest tie-up track be fine."

"Crest tie-up track, OK."

"Amtrak 21, diverging clear, CP X three-three-nine, out." He's reached the north end of the yard and will be crossing over from main one to main two. That will clear the way for QNLPI to leave.

"Two cars, QNLCH."

"Two."

I hear somebody punching in the code that will produce an alerting tone that registers on my communications console. It's how trainmen and maintainers contact dispatchers.

"UP dispatcher fifty-one, over."

"QNLPI, UP thirty-eight ten, dispatcher, over."

"QNLPI, come on, signal indication, main one, over."

"Signal indication, main one, we are a key train tonight, over."

"Understand you're a key train, y'all have a good trip, dispatcher out."

"UP thirty-eight ten out."

"That'll do, QNLCH."

"Stopping."

"AEGAS to the crest, over."

"Crest, over."

"Ready to go, over."

"Let's make it fifty-five, y'all have a safe trip, out."

"Thank you out."

"QNLCH, switch is lined, derail is off, let's take 'em back twenty cars to a joint."

"Switch is lined, derail is off, backing up twenty to a joint, QNLCH."

"AEGAS to the terminal train dispatcher, over."

"AEGAS, I'm ready for you, signal indication, crossing over at the north end, over."

"Signal indication, crossing over at the north end, any track breach protection, over?"

"No track breach, y'all have a good trip, dispatcher out."

"No track breach, thank you dispatcher, AEGAS out."

"UP six-six-five-seven, dispatcher, over."

"Six-six-five-seven, be holding you at South UD 'til Amtrak clears, over."

"Waiting on Amtrak, thank you dispatcher, UP six-six-five-seven out."

"Dispatcher out."

"QBLNLX to the service track, over."

"Service track, over."

"Got three for you, over."

"Verify that the derail is down, take 'em as far south as you can, over."

"Verify the derail is down, as far south as we can, over."

"That's correct, service track out."

"QBLNLX out."

"Ten cars, QNLCH."

"Ten."

"Five cars, QNLCH."

"Five."

"Let's go to hand signals, MFWNL."

"Hand signals, MFWNL." Too much radio traffic, and it's bad form to talk over somebody when they're trying to make a joint (that is, couple their train together.)

"Two cars, QNLCH."

"Two."

"And that'll do when you get 'em stopped, QNLCH." I hear the crashing sounds of a train coupling up.

"Stopping, QNLCH."

"Stretch 'em, QNLCH."

"Stretch 'em."

"That'll do, QNLCH, red zone."

"Red zone, set and centered, QNLCH." The conductor has verified that they made a good joint - it sounded like one to me - and now he's stepping between the cars to couple up the air hoses.

The crest yardmaster calls. "You going to bring me that coal train?"

"Right after Amtrak leaves."

"OK, I'll have the crew waiting at 13th Street."

"OK. How's your MNLDM coming?"

"Crew's on it, should be pulling on 'em in a minute. You can hang 'em a light if you want to encourage 'em."

"OK."

Back to the yard channel. "Crest, MNLDM."

"MNLDM."

"Ready to go?"

"Yes sir, pulling on 'em now."

"Let's go, back lead, dispatcher's getting you a light."

"Back lead, dispatcher's getting us a light, thank you, MNLDM out."

"Y'all have a safe trip, crest out."

"Dispatcher fifty-one, MNLDM, UP forty-one-oh-six, over."

"MNLDM, UP forty-one-oh-six, over."

"Ready for you, signal indication, meet one at Marché, over."

"Signal indication, meet one at Marché, thank you dispatcher, UP forty-one-oh-six out."

"That's correct, y'all have a good trip, dispatcher out."

"QNLCH, clear red zone."

"Clear red zone, QNLCH."

"Amtrak 21, ready on the rear?" That distinctive squelch again.

"Ready on the rear, Amtrak 21."

"Good marker lights, ready on the rear. Amtrak 21, let's highball Little Rock on signal indication."

"That's a good running air test, Amtrak 21."

"Good running air test, thank you out." Another squelch in acknowledgement and on my CTC board I see Amtrak's track occupancy indicator move through the control point. The Texas Eagle is away - on time - and the freight trains that had paused for his passage are beginning to move again.

It will be more than three hours before my relief arrives and I go home, but the busiest part of my night is over. Tomorrow I (or another dispatcher) will do it all again, just as we do every night, just as we have done every night for generations, just as we will do every night for generations to come - moving the passengers and the freight safely over the Route of the Eagles.

Goals

I don't think I'm having a mid-life crisis. But I am about to turn 30.

When you're in your 20s your goals are big ones: graduate college, get a job, find the person you want to marry. Check. Check. Check.

What happens after you check them off?

Lately I have been feeling a certain sameness in my life, and I think it's because I don't have any big goals. The ones I have seem smaller somehow (get back in shape, do some traveling) or more distant (buy a house, have kids.) Maybe that's a symptom of the transition into adulthood, which by now I've made (kicking and screaming for most of the last decade, but nevertheless made.) Or maybe it's because, having achieved the big ones, none of the rest seem that difficult. There are challenges, sure, but there's something missing.

Maybe I just need to find new big ones. Or more small ones. Or something.

It'll come.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A car for Dad and I

I like small convertibles. My dad likes land yachts. Both of us appreciate powerful motors that make all the right noises. And I think I've finally found a car that would suit both of us.


Several years ago Ford decided that what the world really needed was a badass Grand Marquis. The Panther platform was getting an update for 2003, so they took the revised chassis and suspension, tweaked it some more, and dropped in a DOHC version of their 4.6-liter V8 - good for 302hp and 318lb-ft of torque in this application. They gave it an all-black body and interior and revived an old name for it - Marauder. It was not a sales success, but it was undeniably the coolest Grand Marquis ever.

Running up to the introduction of the Marauder, Ford decided that what the world needed even more than a badass Grand Marquis was a badass Grand Marquis convertible. Of course, it wasn't enough that this be a topless two-door Marauder - no, it needed even more motor. It needed a supercharger. With a blower bolted onto a SOHC version of the 4.6-liter V8, the Marauder convertible concept made 335hp and 355lb-ft of torque.

It was a beautiful concept evocative of the land yacht convertibles of the 1960s and 70s. Big, flashy, and powerful. It never made it into production, but the concept car wound up in private hands, and now it's for sale - asking price a mere $75,000. Well, there's always the spare change under the cushions...

Friday, March 05, 2010

Topless!

Temperature: low 40s. Sun: shining. Snow: melting. Top: down.

Finally! Our long national nightmare Midwestern winter is over. Or very nearly so, at any rate; the snow is disappearing rapidly and even the overnight temperatures are above freezing. The sun is shining and today M and I went for a Miata ride with the top down, the first of the season. I had a silly grin plastered across my face the whole time - sunshine, breeze, the road ahead. And just a touch of power oversteer. Just a touch.

I am not normally at a loss for words, but this time is different. I find it hard to express my excitement at the arrival of spring. It has been such a long cold winter, but it's over now and the top came down and it's going to stay down and spring is here and I am so excited I could hardly even speak on the drive, just laugh for the sheer joy of the whole thing. Topless. Spring. Finally.