Posts Tagged ‘railroads’

From Digging to Digitization

October 26, 2018

The history of mankind has consisted of humans pulling stuff out of the ground and reworking it to suit our own survival purposes.

As people became more and civilized, and organized, the underlying survival instinct took a back seat to other motivations—gathering surplus, tribal organizing, development of skills and trades, cooperation and competition. . . eventually industry,  government, education, business, recreation, sports, entertainment.

The progressive developments of all these human activities required something that was necessary and common to all of them:

Resources.

Stuff from the earth itself. Raw material. Basic stuff:

Water, dirt, plants, rocks, ores, animals, hides.

As civilization moved forward, these basics were refined by us— reconstructed, manufactured to fulfill the requirements of human development.

Locomotv copy

The list of basic stuff (above) was revised to include:

Drinks, processed foods, fertilizer, livestock, leather, pets, tools, machines, lumber, metals, trains, cars, planes, appliances, telephones, radios, televisions, computers.

Computers–aha! With these, human development embarked upon a new phase.

Information itself becomes as useful (or at least we think it is as useful. . .) as all the other stuff that we’re using to make the world a more convenient place since the beginnings. Knowledge itself has became a resource. Yeah, though I dare say it—a commodity.

So we notice that over the course of human progress we did move steadily from pulling stuff out of the ground, and reworking it so that we could improve our life, to—

Pulling information out of our data machines.

Like it or not, this is the outcome of human history. We have come to this. Now development is largely about retrieving and using data files to improve life or capitalize upon its developments.

In the same manner as we traditionally removed natural resources from the ground and turned it into our good stuff.

And bad stuff. Let’s not forget that part. Our progressive high-tech life now generates bad stuff. Pollutants, toxins, noxious substances and, of course, shit itself, which still happens every day on a very large scale.

A consequence of our globally massive improvement project is that more and more persons are being driven into knowledge jobs.

Instead of all that plowing, digging, mining, constructing that we did all through history—more and more of us are typing, cataloging, programming, sitting at desks and watching computers do our so-called  work for us. Such activity (relatively, it is inactivity) becomes the order of the day for us as far into the future as many of us can see.

This digitized transformation of human development will bring us to some huge changes. I read an article about it this morning:

  https://www.ips-journal.eu/regions/global/article/show/the-false-hero-called-digitalisation-3050/n

Seeing as how we now have entered the age of information retrieval slowly overtaking natural resources recovery. . . seeing as how we gaze collectively at what seems to be the setting sun of human physical toil, I offer a tribute to the noble enterprise of Human Labor.

RailEngn

This tribute I offer in the form of a song. Gordon Lightfoot wrote it years ago.

It is one of the best songs ever written about the glory of human labor. You may listen to the songwriter’s rendition here:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXzauTuRG78 

I also offer my own rendition of Gordon’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy”, a song that I dearly love to sing.

    Gordon’s Railroad Trilogy

As you listen to both versions, imagine you are watching a sunset—the disappearing brightness of human labor accomplishment, being supplanted by a foggy dawn of. . . whatever is ahead for our collective endeavor.

King of Soul

On the Rails of Old Memory

January 14, 2018

Memories linger mysteriously in our minds, sometimes like precious old photographs, sometimes like skeletons in the closet; they can hang around being stubbornly unpleasant and fearful, or they can shine happy and hopeful like a walk in the park in springtime.

I suppose most memories are intimately personal, but not all of them.

I feel we have collective memories, especially in this modern atmosphere of media saturation, where public events pry deeply into our private imaginations.

My g-generation, the baby boomers—we were the first to grow up with this thing called TV. Now our kids are the first to grow up with this thing called the worldwide web. These media—TV, Internet, radio, cellphones etc. fortify and intensify our memories, especially the collective ones.

Most of us American boomers remember, for instance, where we were and what we were doing on the day that President Kennedy was shot in Dallas.

And we and our children remember, most of us, where we were and what we were doing on that fateful day in 2001—9/11 when the twin towers came down.

These collective memories are potent; they latch on to us; and while they do recede into dark tunnels they can be easily brought to the surface at the mention of those circumstances.

And we have, of course, powerful  personal memories from our own youth. Most vivid perhaps, are those that surround a first love or romance. These vague vestiges of the past are capitalized upon by our songwriters and movie-makers. Here’s an excellent example of a very special song about the mysterious aspect of memories.  It was popular when I was a teenager, Dusty Springfield’s Windmills of Your Mind.

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKV9bK-CBXo

But there is another kind of collective memory that goes back even further than modern pop-music or movies. It is tucked away in the crevices of history itself. And I find that certain settings or objects can serve as talismans through which human memories are passed from generation to generation and possibly from age to age, even from century to century.

You’ve heard of deja vu, haven’t you? That’s the feeling you can suddenly experience sometimes in a situation that you could not have been in because it took place before you were born.

This deja vu, which is French for “already seen”  is a feeling I get whenever I’m near or in an old train.

So yesterday I was uncovering some serious deja vu when I toured the North Carolina Transportation Museum which is located at an old, obsolete railroad service yard in Spencer, NC, near Salisbury.

   http://www.nctrans.org/

RailEngn

There is, for me, something very special about these old trains . . . something that stirs intensely in my soul pertaining to days long ago, in past centuries, when these steaming iron beasts roared across the vast landscapes of that hastily-industrializing age. The feeling that I get has something to do with retrieving past memories that I myself could never have experienced, almost as if the locomotives themselves were mnemonic repositories of 19th-century passengers who embarked to ride in those ancient passenger cars.

In the 2014 novel I wrote, Smoke, I attempted to capture this feeling in the story I was composing at that time. The collective memory, mentioned at the end of the scene described below, is implanted in Philip’s mind when he grabs a brass handrail on a French train passenger car. The scene takes place in 1937, in Paris.  It depicts the beginning of a journey being taken by a young American and an old Frenchman who are about to travel from Paris to Lille, in northern France:

       Half a morning later they were boarding the northbound train. By that time, whatever it was that had brought together this aged Frenchman and  his young, attentive American charge had been uncorked to its full expression.  The old fellow was intermittently pouring out his life’s vintage in a slow trickle of memory;  its balmy flow had begun to endow their embarkation with a kind of therapeutic anointing, the beneficiary of which was neither the young man nor the old, but that Man of the ages whose fermented wisdom percolated through deepened souls of both men.

       Now they were walking beside the train, small luggage in hand. Pausing in mid-stride, Mel managed to recap, in the midst of crowd and bustle, a simple advisement that he had begun last night and had already landed upon this morning. “Half the battle in this life, I think, is deciding what to keep and what to let go. You have got to know when to hold them.”      

       They arrived at the railcar to which they had been billeted. Philip appropriated Mel’s briefcase, collecting it with his own, both in his left hand. Placing his right gently hand on Mel’s lower back for support, he waited patiently as the old fellow carefully climbed  onto the steps to ascend into their coach. As Mel’s bony, spotted hand grasped a vertical brass handrail inside the little stair, it seemed to Philip that the ghosts of ten thousand French souls were lingering there. The rail’s brass patina had been worn to a dullish sheen as ten thousand reaching hands had, in the beginnings of their ten thousand journeys on this train, taken hold of it.

RailBrass2

I felt like I, or somebody, had grabbed this rail before. The worn brass summons up a kind of  old, collective memory from days gone by.

I guess you’d have to be there . . . Maybe I was, in a sense, there, yesterday when I visited the Railroad museum.

Smoke

The Lady is at Work

June 4, 2016

LadyWork

She heard America singing;

through two centuries’ labors they came a-ringing–

the song and the opus of bringing

a newborn project in a newfound world

‘neath a loud stripey flag ‘t’was unfurled.

From ship to wagon to cart to railroads,

sending out them precious mother-lode payloads

over seas and lands and bridges and field rows–

he hauled ’em in, she bailed ’em out

through highways and byways they sent forth the shout.

Up with the work! and down with the grit

she dug and he hammered; she welded; he shipped it.

Turn up the earth, mine and weld and wield it ’til it fit–

a new land, a new time, new way of doin’

rolling on wheels where used to be horsehoin’.

They rolled up on the far edge of our vast continent,

on the heels of a gold rush at the shore of containment.

Along came the Okies, then Hollywood raiment–

not bein’ done yet, we slid into Silicon valley,

so much bigger and brighter than the old yankee alley.

Now what’s up with that and where do we go from here–

let bruthas and sistahs step to the music we hear

enduring the pain, dodging the rain, overcoming the fear,

we gotta discover what to do to pick up the slack

so we do not regress, do not turn back.

Maybe we will and maybe we will not–

forge a way past our lethargy, this entitlement and rot

what it is we got to do I know not what,

might have to grab that destiny from some ogre or grinch.

Let’s get this ship turnin’–hand me that wrench!

Glass half-Full

Chicago

June 21, 2014

I say

America moved, I say, back in the day.

She just came bustin’ out from the East.

She came rolling in on wheels, gliding through ship-tossed spray.

She was blowing past some old dearth, yearning some new feast.

We heard her skimming’ o’er Erie, Michigan, and along the deep blue sky,

plucking plunder low, grabbing gusto high.

And when the dust had settled,

after Illinois mud had dried,

when ore’d been changed to metal,

while papa sweated and mama cried,

the new was born; the old had died.

Where dreamers come and workers go,

‘t’was there arose:

Chicago.

 

Born of rivers and the Lake,

she was cast in iron, forged in steel,

bolted fast as rails n’ timbers quake,

careening then on some big steely Wheel

making here a whippersnappin’ deal,

and there a factory, a pump, a field,

o’er swamp and stump and prairie

tending farm and flock and dairy

in blood and sweat and rust

through boom and blust and bust.

ChigLRust

 

They carved out block, laid brick and stone;

our groundwork for America Midwest they honed

with blade and trowel and and pick and shovel.

They swung hammers through dust as thick as trouble.

ChicDNBldg

 

They dug a canal there that changed

the whole dam world; they arranged

to have goods shipped in, and products go.

Reminds me of Sandburg, and Michelangelo.

ChiTribBldg

Many a man put meat on the table;

many a woman toiled, skillful and able.

Thousands of sites got developed, selected,

while many a factory got planned and erected.

(ChiFinkl1)

ChiFinkl1

Many a Chicagoan had a good run,

caught lots of ball games, had a whole lotta fun,

while working, playing, praying and such

with friends and families, keeping in touch.

ChiBldCh

 

In all that we do, the plans we make,

 

there’s forever more going down than we think is at stake.

 

When people wear out, they sit around and play cards.

 

When widgets wear out, we pile them in scrap yards.

ChicScrap1

 

If we’re lucky, or resourceful, or blessed,

we’ll end up with a little something at the end of our test,

a hole in the wall, or a piece of the pie,

maybe a nice little place, by n’ by.

 ChicagoIvy

While Democrats convened in Chicago in ’68,

antiwar protesters got stopped at the gate.

Mayor Daley sent his men out to poke ’em in the slammer.

‘T’was Chicago style justice: no sickle, just hammer.

DaleyPlaza

Today in downtown, Chicago Mayor Daley’s name is all over the place,

though about those radical protesters you’ll find not a trace.

So what does that tell ya about Chicago, or America, today?

We’re like the Cubs’ in the Series;  that’s all that I’ll say.

Glass half-Full