Rail Renaissance

Richard has another really good piece in today’s Florida Times-UnionThis time it’s about the nation’s freight rail carriers and their “rail renaissance” — which in this case means their increasing profitability.

DSC04102One of the great things about this story is that it goes behind the upward trend in railroad profits, and stock prices, to try to figure out what forces are at play that produced the “rail renaissance.”  It turns out that there are a lot of them:  industry consolidation that has dramatically reduced the number of carriers over the past 70 years and thereby reduced rate competition, investments by the railroads that allow them to carry ever more freight, decreasing number of employees, with the decline in associated costs, and an infrastructure advantage over the nation’s highway system.

Now that I think of it, I’ve had several recent experiences driving through rural areas only to be stopped by a train that was stacked high with containers and seemed to go on forever.  For the railroads, those incredibly long container trains are engines of prosperity.

It makes you wonder:  if rail carriers have made a comeback, is there any chance that the passenger rail industry might similarly have its own “rail renaissance”?

Somebody Else’s Basement

We’ll be moving into our new place in a few days.  In the intervening days, we’ve got some project to tackle — like cleaning the basement, which was my assignment today.

IMG_4744Basements are weird.  They’re dark, dusty and cobwebby, full of machines that make odd noises.  German Village basements are even weirder because the houses are older.  Our new house has a stone foundation, a brick fireplace that extends down to the cement and brick basement floor, and support beams designed for a time when people were shorter.  As I worked there today I bumped my head repeatedly.  It’s going to take a while to get used to the various nooks and crannies.

This place still feels like somebody else’s basement — and that feeling is accentuated by the fact that the prior owners left a bunch of random stuff down there.  The abandoned items include boots, a lawnmower, yard care items, stray clothing, tools, a Shop-Vac, and home improvement knick-knacks.  It’s as if they left hurriedly, under cover of darkness.

So part of the effort today was trying to figure out exactly what was down there and make an initial cut on whether to keep it or not.  It felt, though, like I was intruding on someone else’s space.  Hmm . . . guess the people who used to live here really liked to garden.  Why would they have saved this incredibly rusty padlock?  Well, at least the Shop-Vac seems to work pretty well.  What do you suppose this machine is supposed to do?  And I swept up decades of dust and bagged up junk and pulled down cobwebs.

By the time I was done, my forehead jarred and my glasses coated with dust, the basement felt a little bit more like ours.

Candy Care Package

IMG_4740Today Kish is going to travel north for a short visit with Russell, and she’s bringing along a care package of sorts:  a box filled with some vintage candies and a bag of peanut-butter-and-chocolate buckeyes.  It’s the kind of gift that helps to warm a cold winter’s day.

Our rental is located near the Schmidt’s Fudge Haus, which not only offers fresh handmade fudge but also has a ridiculous selection of vintage candies that you probably haven’t seen recently:  Necco Wafers, Bonamo’s Turkish Taffy, Mary Janes, Chuckles, candy cigarettes, yellow gum cigars, Teaberry gum . . . the list goes on and on.  As you walk down the aisle of goodies, looking at candies you haven’t thought of in years, it calls back fresh memories of childhood and strong recollections of precisely how those candies felt and tasted.  Who doesn’t remember the dusty, chalky feel of candy cigarettes and their brittle, sugary crunchiness?  (Not that I am suggesting that you’d want to give them to a young child these days, but things were different back in my smoke-filled childhood.)

I’m guessing that Russell will enjoy dipping into this candy care package.