March 31, 2011

I Got a Bird Dog

Since Tuesday afternoon, we've been at my parent's place in Tennessee, and enjoying every minute of it! The first true feelings of coming "home" start when we round Moccasin Bend, a curve of the Tennessee River, and see the city of Chattanooga peaking at us above the trees.
There are so many things to do when we're here for a visit. And so many people we want to visit and see. Not only is my entire family here (except for a small handful), but Malcolm's aunt and uncle live here as well. We never manage to get to visit with as many as we'd like, but we try.

But even with all that I like to do while here, one of my favorite things is just relaxing at my parent's house. Its just one of those homes where you walk in and know you can be yourself and be comfortable. Its one of those homes that is magazine pretty, and at the same time your not afraid to put your feet up on the ottoman or sit on the couch. Do you know what I mean?

So me and the girls have been lounging around here, helping my mom get some things done for this weekend, and basically just enjoying our time in Tennessee.

One thing I enjoy during my time at Mom and Dad's home is bird watching. They have all sorts of songbirds that visit their feeders, and I love to take a peak out the window once in a while to see who is there.
Ella also enjoys watching the songbirds come to visit.
I like to take a walk down to my parent's chicken yard and visit with her hens and roosters. Ella has some energy to burn off so I let her come with me.
I was hardly out of the garage before Ella was on her way. Apparently she knew where we were going.

After a couple of fly-bys that left the flock a little baffled...
 ...she stopped to have a closer look. Unfortunately her speedy approaches, all 5 of them, had made the hens a little nervous. so they weren't interested in sticking around to visit.
Ella likes the chickens.

Since she had put an end to the chicken watching, I thought I'd wonder over to the garden. Ella headed to the front hard where another large collection of bird feeders reside. These were hidden by bushes but from my vantage point, I could clearly see that she was enjoying herself. Evidence was a rather large flock of songbirds scattering in all directions. After she'd cleared the feeders, she headed back my direction to see what was next on the agenda.
Yes, Ella is quite fond of the songbirds and the chickens, but by far her favorite is...

Ella is totally intrigued with having birds in the house. Every time she heads into the kitchen she rounds the corner as fast as she can, rushing up on their cage and then stands there and watches.
She is absolutely fascinated. I think she'd happily watch them all day if I'd let her. But she also gets a little too interested for my comfort. During this visit, she actually went so far as to start to paw the cage a bit, gently just to make them move, but I didn't think it was a good idea. I had to get a picture, but after that it became a "no no."
To her utter and complete delight, today was cage cleaning day. I'm not sure the lovebirds were as happy about it as she was. But when Mom cleans the bottom of the cage, the birds reside on the kitchen table for a while...
...enabling Ella to watch them from all different angles.

Mom's lovebirds have been spending an awful lot of time at the very top of their cage this week. Ella loves birds. But I'm not sure the feelings are mutual.

We have noticed tendencies in Ella to indicate she likes birds. She'll see one out the truck window and become very alert and still. She loves to chase the flocks of Jay's out of our yard at home. And now her actions at my parent's house have confirmed my suspicions.

Two and a half years ago I thought I purchased a third Chinese Crested. I think instead that I got a Bird Dog.

March 28, 2011

My Civil War Quilt: Month Three

The Battle of Shiloh

The Battle of Shiloh is another batttle known by two names. Some know it as the Battle of Shiloh. Others refer to it as the Battle of Pittsburg Landing. Regardless of how you call it, it was two days of blood letting that left both sides shocked at the carnage. It was the bloodiest battle in American History up to that point.

The Battle of Shiloh is considered to be one of the four most important battles of the American Civil War. The reason being that it was a strategic location. Union troops were attempting to reach northern Mississippi and make their way to the Mississippi river. With control of the river, they would have the Confederacy seriously disabled. During the Battle of Shiloh, Confederate troops attempted to turn the Union away from their objective.

In April of 1862, Union troops, lead by Ulysses S. Grant, had moved deep into Tennessee and camped on the western bank of the Tennessee River at Pittsburg Landing. Nearby was a log church, Shiloh Methodist, that would be caught in the midst of the struggle, witnessing human savagery and serving as a hospital for wounded.
replica reconstructed on the sight of the original building
Union troops were caught off guard by a surprise attack at dawn on April 6. Led by Johnston and Beauregard, the Confederate objective was to block the Union from advancing into northern Mississippi and thus reaching the Mississippi River. Confederate troops were able to drive Union forces back during the start of the battle, but confusion among Confederate lines resulted in the Union troops being pushed to the northeast back towards Pittsburg Landing, instead of into the swamps to the west as was intended. Union troops were able to entrench in a sunken road, later referred to as the "Hornet's Nest" because of the intense fighting that took place there. Their entrenchment provided enough time for Union troops to pull up reinforcements during the night.
the sunken road

During the second day of battle, the tide was turned when Union troops launched a counter attack. Realizing they were low on ammunition and food, and had already suffered over 10,000 casualties, Confederate leaders ordered a retreat.

Two short days of battle left both sides decimated. Union casualties were listed at 13,047 with 1,754 killed, 8,408 wounded, and 2,885 missing. Confederates had not faired much better listing their casualties at 10, 699 with 1,728 killed, 8,012 wounded, and 959 missing. In the aftermath, Ulysses S. Grant was accused by the press of being drunk during battle, leading to accusations of poor performance and responsibility for not being prepared for the attack. His career suffered for a time as a result. Though he was a heavy drinker, the reports of his drunkenness during battle are believed to be false. With time his popularity returned due to his successful leadership. He would later become the leader of the Union army and after the war would be elected the 18th president of the United States

Shiloh National Military Park, though in Tennessee and relatively close to where I grew up, is one of the battlefields I have never visited. I have always wanted to and still have hope to do so one day in the future.
There are always spots at each battle field that became famous for various reasons, such as the Hornet's Nest. One of the more well known spots for this battle is Sarah Bell's Peach Orchard. It was a location of intense fighting near the Hornet's Nest where Confederate General Johnston was killed and where the bodies of the fallen were covered in the soft pink petals of the peach blossoms.

Every time I do one of these posts, I read about the battle on other sights. I know the names, but there are so many details to learn! And every time I research a battle I am overwhelmed by the casualties. How did they manage? What did they do with more than 3,500 dead? How did they tend 16,000 wounded men? How would they even begin to cope, especially in a relatively rural area such as western Tennessee? How did the locals manage with that many soldiers present needing food and medical attention, and so much more? I can't even begin to imagine.

For more reading on The Battle of Shiloh:

For a pictorial tour:

I'm letting you know ahead of time that the next months of my quilt and posts are going to be delayed. I've not had time to put together my quilt squares and it looks like my next home time is already booked with packing and getting things moved to the ranch. So this will be my last installment on my Sesquicentennial blog posts for a time. We may very well have to finish our Civil War posts after the anniversary year is over. But I will finish, I promise myself and you!

Big happenings this weekend! I'm so excited and will share all about it early next week!

March 25, 2011

Roads and Rails

Tuesday afternoon in Kansas, we were loaded up and heading to Wyoming with fertilizer. People say that the mid-west states, the prairie states, are flat. No they aren't! In fact, most are far from flat! But Kansas! Kanas is absolutely flat as a board. OK, maybe a warped board. There are hills and dips here and there. But overall, its F.L.A.T! Which makes the gigantic elevators even more impressive looking!

And Kansas has lots of gigantic elevators. Even the dried up, boarded up little towns have large operating elevators.
We had loaded in Emit, Oklahoma, and en-route, for a few moments, we were in very close proximity to a brush fire. Emergency response crews were trying to shew spectators away, but fortunately traffic hadn't been stopped yet, so we were able to make it past and be on our way.

The smoke! Oh the smoke! It filled the air for miles and miles, as far as you can see! And you can see a LONG way out here!

On Wednesday morning, after driving all night, we were nearing our destination. Central Wyoming...not flat, but very dry!
6% is considered a pretty steep grade. This particular hill was a 9% grade! Kind of impressive!

We delivered just north of the hill in Riverton, WY. And then we had a 650 mile empty bounce to get done by morning for the next load. Just north of Riverton it seemed we were driving into a rock wall.

But what we were actually entering was the amazing 14 miles of the Wind River Canyon!

I found myself craning my neck to see the sky, as the canyon walls were so high.

We pulled off the highway to check on the trailer, and while Malcolm was doing some maintenance, me and the girls climbed over the guard rail and walked over to the edge to look down...
...on Wind River.

The breeze was a bit chilly, but the sun warmed me up. I found a soft spot of dried grass to sit on and soaked in the sound of the river, the wind, and the lack of traffic. The girls did their usual energetic snooping, occasionally straying just close enough to the edge to make me nervous.

The entire canyon is really narrow, forcing the river, the rails, and the road to share a small space. Looking north from our perch...
and looking south.
Can you see the train rails on one side and the roadway hanging over the river on the other?

Speaking of rails...

...that brings us to our destination in Montana. By 8:00 Thursday morning we were sitting in Pinnacle, MT. We had driven 650 miles empty, a long bounce for us, for a very important and very high paying load. Let me get off track here for a second to share that...

Recently the railroad has been conducting an advertising campaign trying to convince the public that if more businesses would ship by rail, there wouldn't be as many trucks crowding the road. Needless to say we were offended and feel that they are seriously misleading the public. I explained in this post

What does that have to do with loading in Montana? I'll tell you! We loaded in Pinnacle, MT, just on the southern edge of Glacier National Park, where 2 weeks ago a train derailed.(the previous link has a great shop ot the wreck from the air) Yep, a train, the 3rd to derail in Montana in a three day span if I understand correctly, derailed and dumped lumber, paper, grain, frozen turkeys and plastic pellets all over the ground in the national forest! And they called in the trucks to clean up their mess!

They also called in this company to man the work with their personnel and equipment, and I was really surprised to discover that apparently train derailments are common enough, that there is an entire company whose specialty is cleaning up derailments! Well, they also build track, BUT their other job is cleaning up, and they have a lot of expensive equipment to do the job, so it must happen frequently to justify their expenses!
I was trying to be discreet in my picture taking. Didn't want to tick off the BNSF reps, and didn't figure they'd want me taking pictures of their mistake. But I couldn't resist at least getting a few shots.
The cars had been drug down the track about a mile from the derailment, I guess so that track could be repaired and so that the product was more easily off loaded from the train cars to the truck.
We were getting a load of the plastic pellets. One cars cargo of plastic pellets was valued at $100,000. And one train car held about 4 truck trailers worth of product. They were using a gigantic vacuum to suck the pellets out of the train car and then dump them into our trailer.
this car was hauling some kind of sand, and there were sand and rock trucks from Havre waiting to load it.

The entire process took about 6 hours, and the entire time we were parked next to the track, a little too close for my comfort, as trains were still traveling through the area, at least 5 passing through while we were there loading.
It was a long 6 hours for us. I spent part of it catching up on sleep. But there wasn't any cell phone signal out there, so we were completely cut off. I hadn't realized how dependant we were on the phone and internet for entertainment when we're waiting.

I did get a chance to try out my new toy, a hot water heater that plugs into the cigarette lighter. I was skeptical, as I always am of these things, but pleasantly surprised when I actually got some pretty hot water out of it! We'll see how long it will hold up.
And so part of the time we were waiting, we enjoyed a cup of hot tea...
...and did a little bird watching.
a Stellers Jay. I know they are a jay, but I think they are so pretty!

Finally loaded, we hit the road for home, where we get to hang out till Sunday morning. The plastic pellets have to be in Illinois Monday morning. Originally surgical quality, the entire load of plastic pellets was downgraded to just animal grade plastic and will be melted down to make things like dog bowls or such items as would be used for animal care.

So...that's that. And I'm not going to get on my soap box, but I can't resist pointing out that...

...the trains can carry 250 trucks worth of product, but when a truck rolls over in the ditch, we only spill one trucks worth of product! So take that you deceiving railroad advertisers! And they may have told the newspaper that it was due to a snowslide, but the cleanup crew manager told Malcolm it was operator error! So you can't say you were not to blame!

As a last note: I have been playing with technology, something I fear I'll never master. But I'm learning and in the process, I've made a facebook page for my blog. If you look to the right, below the "Followers" section, there's a place to "like" me on facebook! Feel free to "like" me. I like being "liked!"

March 21, 2011

Springtime? Really?

The first day of Spring! So many of us have longed for this day, looking for its coming with great anticipation!
 We woke to springtime in Kingman, AZ. It was overcast, cool, and breezy. Not the typical Kingman weather.
Did I say breezy? Maybe I meant quite windy.
 For the past number of years, US93 over Hoover Dam has been closed to trucks for security reasons. And the whole time I kept wondering, isn't a car just as capable of hauling explosives for a terrorist? But apparently trucks are more threatening, so we were required to take the long way around. Until a few months ago, when they finally finished the new bridge and reopened the route for trucks! We had never been on this section of US93, as it was closed before I started trucking. So I was eager to hit the road and see new terrain.
 The skies stayed overcast and it was actually quite hazy. A disappointment since the air is usually rather clear. I was hoping for some exceptional photographs of the geography, but as it was, most of the landscape is hard to appreciate in the pictures I got.
 Still, you get the idea. Dirt, desert plants, and lots of big rocks. Not exactly the kind of place I would want to live, but it is enjoyable to drive through it and sight see.
 Finally, after about 60 miles or so, we approached an area of deep canyons cut through the ground and caught glimpses of the Colorado River. It appears the the camera enhances the haziness. Unfortunately, because even with the haze in the air, it was still quite beautiful. However, the pictures do not really produce the same sensation.
 The river was not the only thing peaking at us around the rocks. The road was also disappearing and then re-emerging across the dips and swells of the landscape.
 This is one of the newer attempts being made in certain areas of the country to protect wildlife from traffic. There were several of these "overpasses" along this stretch of US93. It is not a road. High fences line the roadway in both directions, guiding animals wishing to cross the road to this overpass. They are able to cross safely without risk of injury to animal or motorist. Expensive, but brilliant...and its about time something like this was done. I hate it when I hit a deer or other critter!
 Not for animals, but for motorists. When a bridge appeared, we knew we were fast approaching the highlight of the trail.
 And there it is. In the anticipation of seeing Hoover Dam for the first time, I completely forgot to change back to my short range lens, and by the time I realized my mistake it was too late. As suspected, no facilities are provided for truck driving tourists like us, so I had to click the camera button fast and see what I could as Malcolm drove across the bridge as slowly as he dared.

 And on the other side of the bridge we entered the great state of Nevada.
 Once we got past the hills there behind the sign, we were able to look back and see Lake Mead.
 And shortly after that we crossed the intersection where the old detour re-connects with US93 and we were back on old turf. I had never before realized just how close Hoover Dam is to Las Vegas. They are not far apart at all.
 And also we took a chance and stayed on US95 through Las Vegas instead of taking the 215 around the south side. US95 has been under construction where it reconnects to I-15 and its was a mess. We've avoided it for over a year now. But, to our delight, it was worth the risk. The project was finished and we were able to breeze right through without any hangups. We were staying on US95 all the way north to I-80.

This is a pretty drive through the Nevada back country. It kind of meanders along, running somewhat parallel to the CA/NV border, passing through a handful of old mining towns that are hanging on to life by a thread. Though the haziness had lifted, the weather was far from Spring-like.
 And it wasn't long before I ran into this...
 Know, you don't need eye drops. That, my dear friends, is a brief but rather intense snow storm, with high winds to boot. I found myself laughing (not the "haha" kind but the "near mental breakdown" type). I had  planned a beautiful drive through sunny Nevada, stopping along the way to let the girls out to play. Instead it was 33 degrees and falling, with thick heavy wet snow plastering my truck.

The snow lasted about 25 miles. After that the temperature shot up to about 42 and the sky almost cleared. My hope was renewed. But then...
 ...the wind hadn't let up any at all, and since it hadn't snowed here, the dirt was flying!
 For about 150 miles!

Needless to say, Malcolm, the girls, and I spent the first day of Spring tucked into the truck, with the windows up and the air circulator turned on in an attempt to keep the dirt out. Even with these measures taken, I still felt gritty. Probably in my head, but still unpleasant.

Last night, as we neared our destination we passed some truck stops with GOBS of trucks parked all over the place. Our initial reactions was "what on earth!!!" And then Malcolm had a thought, called 511 and sure enough...I-80 was closed over Donner's Pass due to snow. Good grief! Fortunately we weren't going that far. We got to stop near Reno and deliver. While we were dumping the product out, which took about an hour and a half, it started to snow again, though it didn't have the nerve to stick to the ground.

We finished unloading and traveled back east about 15 miles and went to bed.

This morning...
 Sometime during the night, the sky had the nerve to dump about 4 inches of very wet heavy snow on the ground. I was offended, though it did make for some pretty pictures of Nevada's mountains. It seems mostly its just truckers and crows who have the gumption to get out and about today.

It did not make for pretty driving, for about 50 miles. But then things cleaned up. We're sitting here in Winnemucca now waiting to load. Its 37 degrees and spitting snow. So far the second day of Spring has been about as disappointing as the first, weather wise.
We're heading to Dodge City, Kansas. I have high hopes that Kansas won't let me down!

PS: By the way, I guess its obvious by now that we got out of the shop in Dallas. It was something with the radiator. They replaced a part, taking till Friday morning to finish. And it cost more than they said of course, about $3000. But we made it back on the road in time to grab a weekend load. Strangely, this morning when we turned the truck on to warm up, the low antifreeze alarm went off again. Hmm....