The Zinger Trip 

I had waited and waited all spring for this plant to bloom. (i had not seen it in flower since 2005. ) this is what it was supposed to look like.


this year i was hopeful. nice spring rain, lots of leaves.

saturday i was really hopeful. it was TIME. it was not time. things were crispi-fying. zip. zilch. nada.

5393_muilla coronata_2

left that site, headed for another rare plant location, but decided i needed a zinger break. stopped in kramer junction, where two highways meet 32 miles from home. i figured get the zingers, head back into the great unknown. i tried to start the car and it made this huge awful screeching noise. well that was not good. didn’t sound like a dead battery, it sounded like a wounded owl.

eat a zinger.

5432_zinger trip

called AAA – good news they had a guy close by. maybe 15 minutes. so about 15 minutes he calls and says he is almost there. cool.

eat a zinger watch train.

5454_zinger trip

after 25 minutes he calls and says he can’t find me. he found the station, drove through the station but didn’t see me.

zinger time.

5455_zinger trip

“where are you?”“

“on 395 approaching boron.”

“395 does not go to boron”

“oh maaan,”

“ok, did you go through kramer junction?”


“where exactly are you?”

after a few minutes of this, after explicit and clear directions on how to get to kramer junction i hung up knowing all was well, right? i waited. called him back. he didn’t answer.

finally called AAA again. i was miffed.

eat the zinger i was saving for the next day.

maybe two. now i feel sick. well duh.

no driver. i was ticked off.

stomped on the last zinger.

5461_zinger trip

i guess he finally got turned around, he had gone to the wrong arco station he said..ok.

he gets the car loaded and looked at me.

5465_zinger trip

“head for barstow i said.”

he continued to look at me.

“32 miles that way – east.”

he had to call in to his dispatcher to let them know where into the great mojave desert he was going, away from civilization. to barstow.

to make this all shorter, got to barstow tire and brake, they said it was a dead battery, charged it up enough to start, i started to drive out of the lot, it died. they were closing.

my head hurt.

had to have car towed to auto zone for new battery to even run the tests to see if i had a bad alternator or some other obscure electrical problem.

5477_zinger trip

$200 later all systems go.

while loading the car i discovered a slash in the sidewall of one of my rear tires. it could have been worse.

if i hadn’t stopped for zingers, my car would be dead in the middle of the desert and AAA doesn’t do dirt.

i need a new tire, which means two new tires.

zingers saved me from having to set the spare tire on fire to attract attention where there was no cell service.



Western America Rail Museum

WARM: More Than Just a Museum

She sits a little behind the rest of the rolling stock at the Western America Railroad Museum, welcoming visitors in her fading red-and-silver Warbonnet, a sparkle in her 47-year-old eyes.

Despite being beat up by weather, time and blowing desert sand, the grand dame of the Western America Railroad Museum, Santa Fe 95, stands regal on a spur near the museum. The 47-year-old beauty still attracts the attention and admiration from visitors from all over the globe.

The old cowboy band Riders in the Sky got it right when they sang,

…watch her fly, here comes the Santa Fe.
She’s thundering loud, she’s roaring haughty and proud at the break of day.”

There’s nothing like a train. Whether rumbling through a crossing — horn shrieking, gate bells clamoring or sitting peacefully on a track at the local railroad museum, a train can quicken the pulse or simply bring back memories. It doesn’t matter if it is Union Pacific or BNSF.

Maybe a grandfather worked for a railway, or a great-grandfather before then, inspiring a love for the railroad. Often WARM visitors are retired railroad men and women, studying the artifacts, remembering the glory days of railroading — the last years of steam or passenger trains. Many of them retired from the Santa Fe in Barstow.

Perhaps they are members of family trying to find a bit of history — when Dad or Mom worked for the railroad and what they did.

Lawrence Dale, president of the board of the Western America Railroad Museum said, “You know, people come in and ask about relatives who used to work for railroad. We have rosters that go back to 1923. We can tell you when they worked here and their craft.”

If they can give us a name, we can run them down.”

WARM is about memories, exploration and research. A library is available by appointment for those on fact-finding missions or delving into the past.

BNSF donated a locomotive simulator control stand designed to be exactly what engineers will experience on the road. You can sit in the engineer’s chair in the booth and run through the control modes just like a real locomotive — apply the brakes, determine how fast to go and see what signals and crossings are coming up.

Western America Railroad Museum President Lawrence Dale operates the controls at the console of a locomotive simulator at the museum. At this spot on the road the virtual train is approaching Goffs, Calif. on Route 66.

A video display shows the track ahead. Want to go to Needles? Have a seat. Or Bakersfield? Be prepared for a long haul; it’s slow going up the Tehachapi Pass.

From stop to full-ahead power, as the train picks up speed, the simulation display changes accordingly.

The simulator runs in real time — no jumping ahead to the interesting locations. You just have to sit there and watch the empty desert roll by. This what an engineer in the Mojave sees. “It’s pretty boring,” Lawrence said, but still he sat in the booth enjoying the controls.

In addition to what you can see from the cab, you can watch a ES44 GE locomotive and its train blow by from the virtual trackside. If someone from the museum who knows how to work the simulator is on hand, visitors can pretend to be engineers for a while. The horn works!

The only thing you miss is leaning out the cab window, the wind thrashing your hair and the thrum of the powerful engine under your feet.

Ed Squires and wife Marlene talked with Lawrence about the days Ed worked in the Santa Fe diesel shops. Ed, who grew up in Barstow enjoys remembering those days. He recounts how creepy it was in the basement below the shop.

Ed Squires and his wife Marlene share stories and memories while making a visit to WARM.

The couple lives in Apple Valley now but Ed remembers the waiting room in the Harvey House when he was little, with its curved benches and ticket window and coming to the station to pick up people. After 48 years, he recalls how that felt, “The museum sure brings back a lot of memories.”

A mannequin dressed in the uniform of a Harvey House girl catches Marlene’s attention. She reads how young women would come west to work in Fred Harvey’s chain of restaurants and hotels along the rail line; bringing meals for famished passengers and a touch of class and civilization in places where the Old West still lived.

One case displays precious, often pristine pieces of china used on trains and in the Harvey House restaurants. Other cases have examples of old locks and keys, tools, artwork, timetables.

Watching little trains wend their way through the Dog Tooth Mountain Railroad’s complicated layout, is a captivating sight. The model train was built by Richard Vye of Santa Monica in his living room. Dale Lawrence said they had to wrestly the layout out of a second story window.

Occupying almost the entire east end of the museum is the model Dog Tooth Mountain Railroad layout built by Richard Vye of Santa Monica. Started in 1988, he finished the complex structure in 2002 — with a four-year break due to the 1994 earthquake in Los Angeles. Gold mines, pine forests, and an urban section with switchyard, machine and blacksmith shops invite rail fans and just plain folks to explore the 1930s steam era.

When WARM acquired the layout they had to wrestle it out of Mr. Vie’s second-story window, Lawrence said.

Before having a permanent home, WARM members met in various places but the goal was always to have a physical museum to display railroad artifacts, most of which once belonged to retired railroad employees from the area or their families.

Lawrence has three cases of items he collected while working for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, known around town simply as “the Santa Fe.”

Past board president Hank Graham has a case of model and miniature trains, detailed down to handrails and bells.

One of the rarest items in the museum is the largest collection of date nails on display anywhere, Dale said. They were collected by a machinist named Al Gustafon.

Date nails are for sale in the museum gift shop.

On Jeff’s Date Nail web page it states, “Briefly, a date nail is a nail with the date stamped in its head. For example, a nail with a “41” is from 1941. Date nails were driven into railroad ties, bridge timbers, utility poles, mine props, and other wooden structures for record keeping purposes.”

Date nails are a way for those fascinated with the railroad to own a piece of history. As the old ties are pulled out and replaced with new ones, the date nails go with them unless they are rescued by collectors. Even if they can be found, pulling date nails out of a track is an unsafe and illegal practice. The museum offers them for sale.

WARM’s rolling stock is impressive. Its equipment includes a vintage ATSF horse car, an ATSF caboose, Santa Fe locomotive 1460 “The Beep,” a vintage business car from the Arizona & California Railroad and Union Pacific locomotive #9950 and more. The business car, red caboose and #95 will be open to the public for the museum’s Railfest in October.

Climb aboard, pretend.

Santa Fe WARM Sign

Western American Railroad Museum

Free Admission

11th Annual Rail and Craft Fest
October 11th & 12th at the Barstow Harvey House
All you want to know about date nails —

Dog Tooth Mountain Railroad


Time Traveler

Take a trip down Route 66 for good eats and good times

You can sit at a counter, a table or in a red vinyl booth. Most likely the waitress will call you “Hon” as she hands you the menu — unless you are at the Village Cafe in Barstow. Owner Henry Wong does not call anyone “hon.”

Finding good food while getting your kicks on Route 66 is not a problem. Choices run the gamut from American Diner to Chinese. There are many eateries on the Mother Road, but I chose five nearby to explore.



Dianne DuVall, a waitress at the Summit Inn asks, ‘What can I get you hon?’ as she seats customers.
Dianne DuVall, a waitress at the Summit Inn asks, ‘What can I get you hon?’ as she seats customers.

I started my multi-day culinary expedition at the Route 66 landmark, the Summit Inn, located at the top of the Cajon Pass in Oak Hills. This ’50s cafe is owned by Apple Valley resident C.A. Stevens. He is only the second owner of this cafe (where Elvis was rumored to have visited) and has preserved its vintage American feel.

The coin-operated fortune-telling napkin holders still work — ask them a “yes” or “no” question to get a look at your future. The restaurant acts as the “local country club because there is nothing else here,” says Terry Kostak who lives nearby. “Without this place we would all go nuts.” Locals like math teacher Phil Kimmel appreciate the cafe for its good food and quiet atmosphere. “At Chili’s, it’s so noisy,” he said. “It is more laid back here, homey. It reminds me of restaurants in the Midwest.” Kostak says, “It would be a shame if anything ever happened to this place. The owner has turned down offers from Denny’s and other big name chains.”

[Read more…]


The Bunker


you can drive interstate 15 between los angeles and las vegas and never suspect just a short distance from the winding asphalt, bodies have been found.

“If there were to be a cross everywhere someone dumped a body, the desert would look like forest lawn [cemetery],” said a former san bernardino county sheriff’s deputy chief.

mine shafts open to nowhere, soft sands offer a quick burial; just ask the gangbangers from los angeles. or the gangsters before them. even a serial killer made the california and arizona deserts his killing grounds.

then there were the particularly heinous murders at the abandoned hawes radio tower facility near Highway 58 — as close to the middle of nowhere you could get and still be home by morning.

known as “the bunker” it was a party spot for local teens, somewhere vagrants could shelter and shoot up, a place you could go plinking at targets.

left over from world war II, hawes auxiliary field was repurposed as a low frequency communication system capable of relaying orders before, during and after a nuclear attack. it was permanently deactivated in 1986 as the cold war came to a close.

i first saw the ruins from a distance and thought “what’s that?” what that was turned out to be a solid mound covering a maze of hardened underground bunkers hiding disassembled generators, blast doors and odd machinery. broken whiskey and beer bottles partially submerged in ugly, oily water made walking treacherous.

above ground, silhouetted ruins looked like a modern day graffiti-covered stonehenge.

a concrete tunnel led below and it was as dark as anywhere i have ever been. i turned off the flashlight and the darkness was smothering. i didn’t leave it off for very long.

it was also eery in some undefinable way. like a spider crawling on your pillow. the murders hadn’t yet happened but creepy graffiti etched into fire-blackened walls spoke of previous visitors; motorcycle thugs, vandals and those just trying to keep warm.

if people who interact with a space leave some of their molecular energy behind, bound with the inanimate objects that surrounded them, the bunkers at hawes were crawling with zappy little electrical charges. not ghosts. not from dead people. just hissing echos of the living.

there was nobody around when i was exploring. i could see the stark horizon in an unending blue sky from the top of the mound and no dust announced that a car was headed my way down the dirt track. but that scritchy feeling at the back of my neck was telling me to not linger long. if i was not paying attention, it would have been easy for someone to sneak up behind me in one of the dark narrow halls while i was prowling about.

a year or so later i brought a new reporter who was from back east, out to show her one of the oddities of the mojave. she agreed it was indeed creepy but interesting. i felt safer with someone else along.

it wasn’t until January 2008 when most parents and adults became aware of the hawes bunker — when Collin Lee McGlaughlin and two others executed teenagers Bodhi Sherzer-Potter and her boyfriend, Christopher Cody Thompson. a night of innocent partying had turned deadly for two regular kids hanging out with friends — and three strangers.

a quote from McGlaughlin’s mySpace blog showed how disturbed, even evil, he was. “i feel that if a person really needs it they should be able to walk down the street with a .357 killing people at random.”


under his dec. 2, 2013 plea agreement, McGlaughlin will spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance of parole.

the bureau of land management and the air force razed the bunker in April-May 2008.

all that is left are the eroding remains of the auxiliary airfield’s aged runways.


Emily’s favorite tune


Emily's favorite tune

emily’s favorite tune on the diner’s jukebox was “i am calling you” from the cult movie “bagdad cafe.”

“A desert road from vegas to nowhere

some place better than where you’ve been

A coffee machine that needs some fixing

In a little cafe just around the bend

I am calling you

Can’t you hear me

I am calling you”

she was worn; the desert wind and hard living having taken their toll on her skin. the summer wind is like a blowtorch; dry, searing heat that leaves browned hands and elbows desicated, thirsting for moisture.

emily was more than thin. it looked as if drugs had played a sad, starring role in the movie of her life leaving her gaunt and malnourished. her jeans were worn and the t-shirt under the voluminous bagdad cafe shirt she had on was soiled at the neck.

she is one of the many lost ones who find their way to the desert.

 bagdad cafe owner andree mitchell had given her a job waiting tables and cleaning up around the place. i think andree is always giving people a helping hand out there on route 66, perhaps a life-sustaining job even if only for a short while.

 i don’t know how long emily stuck around working at the cafe. the next time i visited she was gone.

 emily was following the song only she could hear. 

 i am learning how few good images i really take. i used to say “i only need one” from a shooting trip. now i say “gosh i hope one of these is a keeper.” the number of keepers gets smaller the older i get.

“You know how few of the pictures you take turn out to be any good.”

–Diane Arbus