Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Jack and Red - Part XIII: Billy

This is the thirteenth in a series of blogs chronicling an expedition into 'space' with Jack Pynesapp and his granddaughter Red. To read the entire story (with notes) please see the JackPynesapp web site: [ click here ]

Part XIII: Billy

[Note: Does Billy show up? For the past three chapters I have been assuming he does not.  This has caused me many sleepless nights. A teenage boy disappears 'into thin air'. What questions will be asked of Jack and JJ once this is discovered. Suddenly it turns into a murder mystery - or at very least a disappearance -- a run-away? an abduction? How would Red NOT have heard about this before now. The grieving family? The interviews with police. The suspicions of foul play. All that baggage when all I want to talk about is the fascination Red and Jack have with thinking a little outside the box.

Spoiler Alert!!!

Then today, while biking home, the answer hit me. The answer is 'YES'; Billy does turn up in Oakwood. Brilliant! Suddenly the story switches from a federal case to a case of urban legend. Perfect fit for Jimmy, Red, the distrust for the 'train tracks' by Red's Mom; Gwen. It all suddenly everything works - everything fits. I love it.

Okay here we go.....   ]

"I could use some coffee." Jack said as he slouched down into the driver's seat.

"I saw a gas station back at the highway. I could use a soda." JJ hinted.

"I hate to leave here in case Billy shows up."

They'd been waiting in the car and watching the old RR crossing for about 20 minutes.

"How long are we gonna wait?" JJ asked. "Mom might start to worry, you know."

"Mmm, I suppose she will." Jack admitted.  "Tell you what, why don't you stay here and I'll drive over to that gas station and call your mother. I can get some drinks while I'm there."

"What are you gonna tell Mom?"

"I don't know." Jack sighed. "I'll think of something."

"What are we gonna tell anybody?" JJ whined.

"Let's hope Billy shows up so we don't have to deal with that."

"Nobody's gonna believe the train." JJ says quietly.

"I know that. But that's what really happened and that's what we have to say. We have to tell the truth."

"I suppose." JJ agreed reluctantly. Then he lifted up the milk can lid from the floorboards and said brightly; "And we've got proof."

"I guess we do." Jack said. But then he considered for a moment and added; "But it wouldn't be that hard to find one of those if you wanted to make up a story like this."

"But we didn't make it up." JJ insisted. "We're NOT making it up."

"I know that, JJ. But how do we convince everybody else?"

"I don't know."

"No, let's not worry about that yet. Like I said. Now get out and wait here. I'll go call your Mother."

"Okay." JJ mumbled as he got out of the car. "Hurry up. Okay".

Jack turned around in the lady's driveway and headed back the way they had come. JJ watched him drive away and then started wandering up the tracks towards downtown Oakwood - such as it was. As he walked, he studied the ground around the tracks for any sign of either a train or of Billy. He walked a couple hundred yards and then turned back. He hadn't seen anything out of the ordinary - the tracks looked like they hadn't been used in years. Normal

When he got back to the crossing Jack had just arrived and was getting out of the car with two cups - one coffee and one soda.

"You had me worried a bit." Jack called out; "I didn't see you and I thought maybe you'd disappeared too."

"You thought I'd caught another train?" JJ laughed. "No Dad, I was just checking the other way."

"Good idea. Let's walk for a ways back toward Mayville. We were in a hurry before and maybe we missed something."

They sipped on their drinks as they walked. JJ tried to balance on the rail like a tightrope walker but walking, sipping, and balancing were too many things to do at once so he gave up and settled for trying to walk on the ties - which wasn't that easy either.

"What'd you tell Mom?" JJ asked finally.

"I told her the truth." Jack said; "I told her that we had been out walking the tracks and Billy took off running and said he'd beat us to Oakwood."

"That's close, Dad." JJ laughed.  

"I know it's not the whole truth. But I don't want to worry her - yet."

"So you told her that we were too lazy to chase after him on foot and we came back to get the car?"

"Yeah, that's pretty much what I said."

"And she knows Billy enough to believe it?"

"Yes, this sounds like something Billy would do, don't you think?"

"Really!" JJ smiled. "And it was exactly what Billy did do."

"Well, almost."

"Close enough, Dad."

They walked a hundred yards or so to where the old landing must have been.  There was still a definite break in the trees that lined the tracks where the wagons of milk would pull up by the train. But that was the only sign they could find that there was a stop here. As they walked back to the crossing, JJ found an old RR spike laying in the rock ballast but there was nothing else to find.

When they got to the crossing they saw that an Oakwood Police car had pulled up behind their car and the officer had gotten out and was walking around the car. When he saw JJ and Jack approaching he waived and smiled and said; "Hello there. How are you folks?"

"Just fine, officer." Jack said. "Is anything wrong?"

"No sir. We just had a call from a concerned citizen saying there were a couple men acting strangely and I'm here to check it out. That's all."

Both Jack and JJ looked at the house. The lady was gone and they couldn't see anybody in the yard but they were both thinking the same thing. She was probably the 'concerned citizen'. 

"You mean us?" JJ asked - looking back at the officer; "We're just sitting here - not doing anything wrong."

"Nobody says you are, Son. ", the officer explained. "I'm just here to check - is all."

Jack gave JJ a quick 'Shut up' look and then smiled at the officer; "That's no problem, officer. How can we help?"

"I'll need to see some ID, if you don't mind."

"Not at all." Jack said as he dug out his billfold. The officer took out his notepad and pen.

"Here you go." Jack handed over his drivers license and the officer inspected it and copied some things into his notes and then handed it back.

"This your Son?" He asked; looking at JJ.

"Yes," JJ inserted.



"That's it?" The officer asked; "JJ?"

"Yeah." JJ said.

"It stands for Jack Junior." Jack explained. "His name is Jack Pynesapp Junior" He gave JJ another stern look while the officer was making more notes in his book.

JJ shrugged and mouthed; "What?"

"So what are you doing here?" The officer continued.

"We're just waiting for a friend of mine. " JJ explained; "He's walking the tracks from Mayville and we're supposed to meet him here but he hasn't shown up yet."

"I see, " the officer said, "and what is this boy's name."

"Billy Thompson."

"Also from Mayville?"


"Why is he walking the tracks from Mayville? " The officer said suspiciously.

" We were out walking on the tracks by our house this morning - we like to do that - and Billy took off running and bet us that he could beat us to Oakwood." Jack explained.

"Walking?" The officer asked.

"Running." JJ said. "Billy's like that. He's always doing crazy stuff like this."


"Yes," Jack said, "he's quite a character."

"Must be. "  The officer said while writing some more. "So, this Billy took off running and you decided not to run with him?"

"We could never keep up." JJ admitted. "At least, not Dad. Billy's like a cross country track star at school. He can run forever."

"Hmm." The officer smiled.

"Yes," Jack said, "we knew we could never keep up so we went back to the house and got the car."

"You think that was fair?" The officer asked.

Jack explained; "You know, sometimes you just get tired of all the bragging and we thought this might teach him a lesson."

"Yeah," JJ added,  "he bet he could beat us but he didn't say we had to run."

"So," the officer said,  "you don't really know if Billy kept going or whether he turned around at some point and went back; maybe wondering why you weren't following."

"I guess that could've happened." JJ admitted. "But I don't see why he would've done that. Billy would try to get here as fast as he could just so he could tell us how long he'd waited for us to catch up."

"Yeah, " Jack chipped in, "He's like that."

"So, what time was this when you last saw Billy."

"About 9:00, I suppose." Jack ventured.

"It's about five miles from Mayville, along the tracks, I suppose. How long would it take a good runner to make that trip?" The officer asked JJ.

JJ thought for a moment and then said "A little less than an hour, I'd guess." 

"Well it's 10:30 now. He should've made it by now, don't you think?"

"I'd think so." Jack said. "If he ran all the way, I guess."

"Hmm." the officer wrote some more.

"Now, " The officer continued, "the 'citizen' mentioned that you were asking about a train."

Ah-ha! Jack and JJ looked at each other. It was the lady in the house.

Jack fought off a temptation to panic and said; "We did ask the lady in that house to see if she'd seen anyone walking on the tracks."

"Yeah, " JJ added, "but she was the one who brought up the train."

"Oh yeah?" The officer asked. 

"Yes," Jack explained,  "she said something about hearing a truck go by that seemed to be going so slow, and it was so loud that it almost sounded like a train."

"Yeah," JJ laughed - maybe a little too nervously, "it was her that brought up the train. Not us. "

"I see." The officer wrote some more.

"Yes," Jack continued, "we thought that was kind of silly - there are no trains on these tracks anymore. Maybe sounds like that trigger old memories, you know."

"Yeah, that's probably it." The officer agreed.

The officer was satisfied and he closed his notebook and put it in his pocket.

"Well I hope you find this Billy. Maybe you should call his house and see if he didn't just give up and go home."

"We'll do that." Jack said; "I'm sure that's probably what happened."

"And if he doesn't show up you make sure to call us and we'll put out a missing persons report."

"Oh, I'm sure that won't be necessary." Jack said.

"Yeah," JJ said, "he's probably home waiting for us to call so he can laugh at us. "

"Big joke." The officer said as he climbed into his car. "You folks have a nice day." He closed the door and drove away across the tracks and out of sight.

"Whew." sighed Jack.

"No crap." JJ laughed. "That was close."

"I guess we'd better get outta hear before that lady calls the cops." Jack laughed.

"Too late Dad."

"Oh yeah. But maybe she'll think of some other excuse if we stay around here."

"Let's go and call Billy's Mom. Maybe he did just go home."

"We both know better." Jack said as they got in the car and headed back to Mayville. There was no  reason to wait here any longer.

"So when we call Billy's Mom?"  JJ asked; "And what do we tell her?"

"If he's there - nothing." Jack sighed.

And they drove away; neither of them sure if that was the best thing to do. 

Chapter XII: Oakwood

This is the twelveth in a series of blogs chronicling an expedition into 'space' with Jack Pynesapp and his granddaughter Red. To read the entire story (with notes) please see the JackPynesapp web site: [ click here ]

Part XII: Oakwood

Oakwood is the next town up the tracks from Mayville on the old railroad line (and now on the snowmobile trail.) It is one of those bedroom communities that sprang up after they built the freeway. It's all houses and apartment buildings,  a couple churches, a quickie-mart, a video store, etc. It all started when the Morgan's retired from farming and sold off their land to developers who sub-divided it into lots and built houses. The original farm house still stands on Morgan Avenue just before the snowmobile crossing. This is where Jack parked the car and he and JJ got out and started walking up the trail.

"Okay, here we are." Jack said; "Now where's Billy?"

"Hey Billy!"; JJ called out; "Billy!"

"Do you think that will help."; Jack asked.

"I d'no. What do you suggest?"

"I don't know either." Jack admitted.

"Do you think the train's already been here?"

"What train?" Jack asked.

"I know - it's impossible - there aren't even any tracks."

They had walked up the trail a few hundred feet by now and they were both looking back and forth for any sign of tracks. There were none. 

"So where's Billy?" JJ asked frantically.

"I don't know, JJ."

"Do you think we should ask somebody if they've seen a train go by?"

They started walking back to the road.

"I don't think that would be a good idea, JJ." Jack said.

"But we've got to do something."

"Maybe we could just ask if they've seen or heard anything strange. How about that?"

"Good idea. Who do we ask?"

"See that lady in the yard of the old house. Let's ask her."

They walked over to the yard. There was no fence so they crossed the sidewalk, waved at the lady and called to her; "Hello! " Jack called out as they approached.  "Nice day for a little gardening."

The lady straightened up and called back; "Yes, it's a beautiful day. Are you folks out for a drive?"

"Yes, sort of." Jack and JJ had arrived at the edge of the garden by now and Jack continued; "We're looking for a friend of my Son's and we think he may have come this way."

"Was he walking?" She asked.

"Yes, " JJ said, and then he added, "Well, yes, he probably would be."

"Probably? Don't you know?" She asked.

"We were walking down the snowmobile trail and we got seperated." Jack said sheepishly.

"How did you get separated in broad daylight on an open trail?" She was getting a little suspicious of these two strangers.

"Well, he likes to play tricks and do practical jokes on people and we think he may be doing that - is all." JJ piped in.

"Where did you last see him?"

"A little this side of Mayville. We were out walking and were just about to old rail trellis when he took off this way."

"That's a long hike. Are you sure he came all this way?"

"No, we're not sure of anything but we need to find him and this was the next place we thought to look." Jack said.

"Well, I haven't seen anyone walking around here this morning - until I saw you, that is."

"Have you seen or heard anything strange or out of the ordinary this morning?" JJ asked.

"Not until I heard this story you're telling me." She smiled and then added; "No nothing unusual."

"Okay thanks." Jack said; "Well, if you do see someone - like 15 years old, short black hair, and about JJ here's height and build - can you give me a call?" Jack wrote his name and number on an old business card and handed it to her.

"Well, sure." She said while she took the card and tucked it into a pocket. "What's his name?"


"Just Billy?"

"Billy Thompson." JJ said.

"Okay, " She said, "If I see Billy Thompson, I'll have him call you."

"Thank you, that'd be great. " Jack said as he and JJ started walking back towards the car.

She stood there and watched them walk away - a little relieved that they were leaving - and she thought over what they'd said. What if they weren't crackpots? What if this Billy Thompson is really missing? And only sixteen years old.

They were about half way across the yard when they heard her call to them; "Wait - guys. I just thought of something."

They turned around and walked back to the garden.

"What is it? Jack asked hopefully.

She said; "Well, it's probably nothing but - there was one thing. When I was getting ready to come out to the garden. I was in the house, you know,  and I heard this big truck drive by on the road."

"A big truck. Why is that unusual?"

"I don't know. It just struck me as strange since we don't get much traffic out here and certainly no big trucks. Where would they be going?"

"I don't know. Did you see it?"

"No, it had passed by the time I got outside. But it was very loud and seemed to be traveling very slowly."


"Yes, you know now that I think of it," She laughed,  "if I didn't know better I would have thought it was a train." She laughed again, nervously. "But that would be silly wouldn't it?"

"Well, I don't know." Jack looked at JJ.

JJ smiled at his dad and then asked the lady; "Did you hear a whistle?"

"A what?"

"A whistle - you know - a train whistle?" Jack asked.

"Oh, don't be silly." She laughed; "I was only kidding about the train. That would be impossible."

"I know. " JJ insisted. "But did you hear a whistle?"

"Is this a joke?" She was serious now. "Are you guys pulling some sort of prank?"

"No, " Jack assured, "Forget it. We were just curious - since you said it sounded like a train. You know. "

"I shouldn't even have brought it up. I'm sorry -  of course it was just a truck." She insisted.

"Okay, thanks. " Jack said. "We'd better get going. Thank you for your time."

"No problem." She said cautiously. "I hope you find your friend." She acted like she was anxious to get back to her gardening.

Jack took the hint and said; "Thanks. Please call me if you see Billy." And he and JJ turned and walked back to the car.

"Or a train." JJ said under his breath as they walked away.

"Shhh" Jack whispered. "She's already freaked enough."

"But she heard the train." JJ insisted.

They were back in the car, JJ turned to his dad and said; "She did hear a train, Dad! She said she heard it go by."

"Maybe she did." Jack said calmly, "and maybe it was only a truck."

"If it was a train it would have blown it's whistle at the crossing."

"She didn't say that she didn't hear the whistle, Dad."

"No she didn't. But she didn't say that she did hear one either, did she. And what if she did? What does that mean?"

"Well, maybe the train was here and maybe it did stop at the old stop and - and - maybe Billy got off like he said he would."

"Well, where is he, then? If he got off, where is he?"

"He should be here." JJ insisted. "He has to be somewhere. Where else could he be?"

"I don't know JJ. " Jack said quietly. "Let's wait here for a while and see if he shows up. It's all we can do, I think - for now, at least."

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Happy Birthday # 65

"Hey Stuart, that's nothing to be doing on your birthday." Yelled a neighbor from her car window as she passed me as I was picking up sticks in another neighbor's yard. (Isn't Facebook great. She was the third well-wisher to drive by and remind me that I was another year older.) I thanked her and told her that I couldn't think of a better thing to do on a beautiful September morning.

The Maple tree in front of my neighbor's house has been dying slowly for years. Each year he removed another dead branch or two and gave me the wood (I burn wood to heat our house. ) The other day my wife heard some saws running and said "Henry's having that tree taken down." I went out to see and he called me over.  We watched as the crew sawed up the branches and trunk and loaded the brush onto a trailer to haul away. He said; "You want the wood don't you?" I said; "You know I do." "Good, because I told them not to worry about taking the wood and they gave me a better price."

The whole center top of the tree had died this year and when the tree hit the ground the dead wood shattered into a pile of twigs and branches. The crew foreman asked me if I wanted that for kindling.

"You're hoping I'll say yes so you won't have to clean that up, aren't you." I laughed.

He smiled and nodded.

I thought about it for a minute (not long enough) and said; "What the hell, I'll clean that up. You get all the stuff with leaves and I'll take care of the rest." He didn't wait for me to change my mind. I'd made him and his crew very happy.

So there I was on my birthday, picking up sticks, bundling them with string, and hauling them across the street to my back yard. I felt very third-world-ish; scrounging sticks for heating or cooking to survive. I thought about how this job would be given to the women and old men of the tribe and I felt a certain brotherhood with most of the rest of the world.

I could have been embarrassed, I guess. Normally, all this would be raked up and left at the curb for the city to pick up. No sane person does this in our society. I thought about this every time a gas-guzzling SUV drove past and the driver looked out at me. But I wasn't embarrassed at all.

After I picked up and bundled the sticks, I raked up the rest of the debris and wheeled it back to my compost pile. I left nothing for the city and that felt good.

Chapter XI: The Chase.

This is the eleventh in a series of blogs chronicling an expedition into 'space' with Jack Pynesapp and his granddaughter Red. You may want to read these in the proper order by skipping to episode 1: [ click here ]

 [I don't know if I'm up to this reality shit. But here goes...]

Chapter XI: The Chase.

Jack and JJ stood watching the train chug across the old trestle and disappear around the bend. The sound of the locomotive soon faded and the sounds of the wind in the leaves and the birds chirping in the trees soon took over. The sound of the train whistle in the distance jostled Jack and JJ out of their daze and JJ asked; "What do we do now?"

"I guess we'd better head for Oakwood," Jack answered, "and see what Billy finds out."

JJ looked around and saw the lid from one of the milk cans that must have fallen from the wagon as it drove away. "Dad," he said, "maybe we should follow the wagon back to the farm and ask those folks what's going on."

Jack thought for a bit and said; "I guess that wouldn't hurt. It will take the train a while to get to the Oakwood since there are a few more farms between here and there."

So JJ picked up the lid and they started following the path to the farm.

It was a field road - which was more like a path, worn in the grass by the daily passing of the wagon from the farm to the tracks. It wound through a small wooded area, up a small hill and then down into a broad valley where the farmstead was located. When Jack and JJ came over the hill the grass in the trail became longer and soon the tracks disappeared entirely into an thicket of prickly ash and honeysuckle. They looked all around for a sign of where it had been but couldn't find one.

"This is weird." Jack said.

"Ya think?" JJ agreed.

"We're not going to get through this stuff. We'd better go get the car and head for Oakwood."


They started backtracking and found that the trail they had just followed had grown up into grass and weeds, leaving no sign of the trail. They had to make their way back to the tracks fighting their way through ragweed, quack grass, wild raspberry, and chicory.

"What's going on, Dad?"

"You tell me."

"Are you scared?"

"I don't know, this is pretty freaky."

"Do you think we dreamed all that?"

"You've got that lid." Jack assured.

"Yeah, there is that."

By now they had fought their way to the tracks and started walking back towards the house.

"Dad, look at the tracks." JJ said. "They're all rusty again. All that shine is gone."

"Hmm." Jack said. "We'd better beat it to Oakwood."

"No kidding."

Both Jack and JJ broke into a trot. It is hard to run on the railroad ties because you can't get into any kind of a stride. The ties are unevenly spaced so every step has to be measured. But they made it as fast as they could and within 5 minutes they were scrambling down the embankment to the street and then it was easier going for the quarter mile to the house.

On the road

They jumped into the car and Jack backed out of the driveway and onto the road. They didn't even stop to tell JJ's Mom where they were going. They knew she would be angry but then again, what would they tell her? What could they tell her?  How would they ever explain this. They needed to know what Billy had found out before they could possibly explain any of this. They desperately needed to find Billy - period.

"Dad, what's going on?"

"I don't know JJ"

"What if Billy's not in Oakwood?"

"I don't know JJ"

"Was Oakwood even there when they ran the trains ran?"

"No. But there was a farm there and they had a milk stop."

"Will Billy know enough that?"

"I hope so."

"Would he have enough sense to get off even if he did?"

"We can only hope."

"And where do we look for him? Where was the milk stop anyway?"

"That's all gone now of course. But the old farmhouse is still standing so I would assume it was near that. "

"Can we beat the train?"

"That's possible, I guess. There were a lot of farms along that line and they will probably stop for every one."

"What if there's no train?"

"We saw the train, JJ. There was a train and Billy got on the train and rode away on the train. There was a train. There has to be a train."

JJ was quiet for a while as he looked out the window at the farm fields.  Then he continued; "And Billy said he'd call us from Oakwood. How can he call us if there's no Oakwood? Did they even have phones back then?"

"Yes they had phones, JJ. " Jack assured,

"What if Billy's not in Oakwood?"

"JJ, I don't know. Okay? You keep asking questions that I don't know the answer to."

"I know, Dad, I'm sorry. I just feel like I"m going crazy and talking helps."

"That's alright JJ, I understand. I feel the same way."

"And," Jack continued,  "Billy will be in Oakwood." 
"My stomach hurts." JJ moaned.

"Mine too."

"Dad, you're going too fast."

"Oops." Jack hadn't noticed that he was going 20 over the limit.

"We don't need to get picked up."

"I know, right? What would we say to the cop?"

"Yeah, try explaining this." JJ laughed uneasily.

"Yeah." Jack answered.

They were quiet for a while as the enormity of their situation hit them. How would they explain this; to anybody.

"Dad, " JJ Said finally, "I hope we find Billy." .

"Yeah, me too, JJ. " Jack sighed. "Me too."

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Chapter X: The Tracks

This is the tenth in a series of blogs chronicling an expedition into 'space' with Jack Pynesapp and his granddaughter Red. You may want to read these in the proper order by skipping to episode 1: [ click here ]

[This will probably be the toughest one so far... but it's the one we've been waiting for. Right?]

Chapter X: The Tracks

"Uh, NO!", Red said, "Daddy, what is he talking about? Grandpa?"

Jack and JJ looked at each other and then they both looked at James. James just smiled back, innocently and said; "I can't believe you haven't told Red about the train." And then to Red he said;"Everybody knows about the train, Red. With all the weird stuff you talk about with your Grandpa I'm surprised this hasn't come up."

Red was nearly beside herself now. Perhaps it was because she hadn't been included in this deep dark secret - she thought that at least her Grandpa would have told her - with all they talk about, and all. Or, more likely she was upset that Jimmy knew the secret and she didn't. Either way she said; "Would somebody like to tell me what this is all about? Now!"

Jack begins the story

Jack puts the brush and bucket down and he sits on a saw horse that holds one of the scaffolding boards. JJ leans on the (unpainted) corner of the shed. He nods towards Jack and sighs.

"JJ was about your age, Red." Jack begins. "He and I used to like to take walks; you know we'd just take off walking and see where the path leads. Our favorite walk was along the old railroad tracks that used to be where the snowmobile trail is now. There's something about railroad tracks that attracts kids - of all ages. Maybe it's the link to other places or the connection to legends of travel and adventure with hobo's and carpetbaggers. Or maybe it's the sense of being around something so massive and powerful as a locomotive."

"Or maybe", JJ interrupted, " just that it's walk on the rail like a tightrope or the challenge of walking on the railroad ties, which is almost harder than balancing on the rails because they're randomly spaced and you are constantly changing the length of your step. "

"Well, for whatever reason," Jack continued, "it was our favorite place to walk. And we'd find ourselves climbing the bank to that trestle up the road there, every couple days during the summer (or winter; it didn't matter). Sometimes we'd walk into town and sometimes we'd head off the other direction towards the river and sit on the old bridge and watch for fish."

"That sounds pretty dangerous, Jack." Jimmy said. "Weren't you afraid of getting trapped on the bridge by a train? I saw the movie 'Stand by Me' and a kid got killed on a train bridge."

"No, James," Jack said, "by then those tracks were abandoned. There were no more trains running around here any more."

"I don't ever remember seeing a train on those tracks. " JJ said.

"No, the local railroad went out of business years before you were even born."

"Then why were the tracks still there?" Asked Red.

"I guess it didn't pay to take them out.  And who would do it? The railroad was out of business. The tracks were probably owned by some larger railroad that bought out the foreclosure" Jack said.

JJ said; "And it wasn't until years later when someone got the idea for the government to buy up the right-of-way and put in a public snowmobile trail - I think it was after I graduated."

"Okay guys, we get it. " Jimmy interrupted, "The tracks were abandoned." And then aside to Red; " I still think it was stupid to sit on a rotten old bridge."

Red gave him a disgusted look and Jimmy shrugged and continued to Jack; "So what does this have to do with the story, Jack?"

"I'm getting to that James," Jack continued, "Besides, I thought you already knew the whole story. "

"I do. "Assured Jimmy, "I just can't wait to hear the spin you guys put on it."

"Hmm, " Jack nodded knowingly, "I see. Anyway, one day JJ had a friend over and they both  wanted to go 'walk the tracks'. So off we went."

"It was Billy Thompson." JJ added. "He was my best friend in Jr High and he almost lived over there during the summer."

"Yes, Billy Thompson. " Jack smiled. "He was a very nice kid. So polite." Jack was looking at Jimmy when he said 'polite'. "

"Dad, he wasn't really that nice." JJ said." He just put on that act for adults. He was really kind of a trouble-maker, you know. Some of his stunts he came up with got us into a lot of trouble - or, I should say they got me into a lot of trouble. "

"Well I guess that's true. But you were never in real trouble." Jack laughed. "It was mostly just harmless fun and you know, 'boys will be boys' sorts of things."

"But you were still close friends, even if he kept getting you in trouble? " Red asked.

"Yeah, we were. He wasn't mean or anything like that and, like Grandpa said, he was fun to be around. It's just that he had no fear. You know? No fear at all."

"And he loved that old railroad trestle over the river." Jack continued. "He would climb up on those beams and swing around like a monkey. Scared me to death sometimes."

Jack thought for a moment as he remembered. He shook his head to clear the memory and then he continued; "And that's where we were headed that day. I was telling the kids about how the trains used to run on these tracks when I was a kid."

[Here we disolve into Jack, JJ and Billy walking on the tracks and Jack continues.]

"You know, Billy, when I was your age the train passed here twice a day. It carried passengers and freight from the Tri Cities to Williamston. It stopped in our town and in all the towns along the way. It was how people traveled. It was how we got our mail and packages. For many people it was how they got to and from work, or school or how they went shopping, or to the doctor or just how they went from one place to the next. It went one way in the morning and back at night. Seven days a week, every day of the year. "

"Wow, Mr. P. , " Billy said as he walked on one of the rails; balancing like a tightrope walker, " That's amazing. But wasn't it inconvenient for people to have to wait for the train. I mean they'd be stuck wherever they went for the whole day."

"They'd have to plan ahead - that's for sure" Said JJ as he balanced on the other rail trying to see who could stay on the longest - Billy or him.

"For many people it was the only way they could travel. " Jack continued. "Most people didn't have cars back then."

"Your kidding. " Billy said with wonder - perhaps a little too much 'wonder'. But Jack didn't seem to notice.

"No, " Jack continued, "the only alternative was for people to walk. Or ride horseback or carriage. The train was a wonderful convenience in it's time. You know, if you were walking and the train came along you could flag it down and it would stop and pick you up."

"Was it free, Mr P.?" Billy smiled; a little proud of himself for the rhyme.

"Not free, but it only cost a few cents to ride to the next town." 

"Dad said that the trains used to pick up milk at the farms along the way." JJ said to Billy as he lost his balance and stepped off the track.

"That was before my time, " Jack said. " but yes, many farmers sent their milk to the creamery via the train. But that was usually a separate train from the passenger/freight train that ran every day. It was a local service run by the creameries." 

"They even called these trains 'Milk Trains'." J.J.  added as he stepped back up onto the rail with his hands outstretched for balance and his eyes riveted on the rail in front of him. Billy had not fallen yet and JJ was determined to stay on the rail from here to the bridge.

"It's hard to believe that they were the center of everything for so many years before cars, trucks and good roads."

"Dad?" JJ said quietly after he slipped off the rail he was balancing on. "


"Uh, look at these rails. Should they be shinny?"

[and here we go....]

Jack looked down at the tracks sure enough the rails were polished to a mirror-like finish. These steel rails are not painted and they dull quickly in the weather. When the train goes over the rails the steel wheels wear against the steel track and both wheel and track rub against each other under tons of pressure and wear the track smooth. And after 20 years of exposure to the weather and with no train wheels to polish them, they had gotten a thick coating of rust. JJ and Jack had noticed this many times because the rust made them easier to balance on without slipping off.

But now these tracks were definitely shiny.  Jack squatted down and rubbed the rail with his fingers to make sure he wasn't seeing things. Sure enough it was smooth as glass. 

Suddenly there was a rumbling and then an ear-piercing roar of a train whistle. Jack yelled; "Billy! Get off the track! Jump!" as he grabbed JJ by the arm and pulled him into the ditch. They barely made it before a huge black iron locomotive rumbled past them in a cloud of steam and smoke.  As they watched in wonder, the coal car rolled past followed by a mail car, a freight car,  and then two passenger cars. People were sitting in the seats or standing by the doors. Some waved at them as they passed.

Jack and JJ were too stunned to smile - much less wave back. They sat there in the ditch with mouths open and eyes wide. They must have been quite a sight to those folks on the train - whoever (or whatever) they were.  The train wasn't moving fast but soon the caboose passed and Jack yelled; " Billy, are you okay?"

Billy yelled back; "I'm fine Mr. P. But what the hell is that?"

"Billy!" Jack called. "Language."

"Sorry Mr. P." Billy said as he climbed up out of the far ditch.

JJ and Jack were climbing up their side of the ditch. They were watching the train as it went on down the track.

JJ said; "Dad, this isn't possible - is it?"

"No, I don't see how it could be." Jack answered.

They stood and watched for a while. They stayed well away from the tracks for fear that there might be another train.

"It's stopping up there." Billy said, "Let's go see."

"Yeah, maybe somebody on the train can tell us what's going on." JJ added. "But why is it stopping?"

Jack said; "That's the old Nelson farm. I wonder if they're loading milk."

"Cool!" Billy cried as he took off running towards the train.

It had come to a stop about 300 yards up the track and JJ started running after Billy - never one to be left behind. Jack followed in a trot but he wasn't sure it was a good idea. None of this made any sense at all. But there the train was and who could argue that it was something worth investigating. Certainly not Jack.

"Wait up guys!" Jack called. But the kids had already covered half the distance. As Jack ran to catch up, he had a nagging idea that the train would probably disappear before they got to it anyway. But he ran faster - just in case - he didn't want the kids to get to it without him.

It didn't disappear. The kids were walking past the caboose as Jack caught up. It's always an awesome sight to stand next to a train - even in a museum. But an operating train takes on a life of it's own. It seems to have such power and mass even when it's standing still. And the sounds of the steam engine - even 6 cars away - with hissing of the steam and the creaking and groaning of hot metal as it builds pressure in preparation for the next pull. The clanking of milk cans as the men transfer them from a wagon, parked next to the train, onto the freight car; exchanging empty cans for full ones. And the voices if the people calling out salutations and exchanging news of previous day. All in all the train was a life force passing through a quiet countryside.  A monstrous, but yet friendly giant.

Everyone was so intent on their business and conversation that they didn't seem to notice Jack and the boys as they called out their questions; "What train is this?" "Where are you from?" "Where are you going?" "What year is this?"

All fair questions to which there didn't seem to be an answer. Or ,at least, not one that anyone felt like giving. Perhaps the questions seemed so bizarre to these people that they thought these folks were addled or something.

The train whistle blew and the wagon started back towards the farm. With a loud rush of steam the engine strained against the load and the train began moving.  Billy shouted; "Let's get on and see where it's going." As he grabbed the hand rail on the back of the front passenger car and swung up onto the steps.

Jack yelled; "Billy get down right now! We don't know anything about this thing." And he grabbed JJ's arm before he could follow Billy. "Don't even think about it." Jack said sternly.

Billy laughed and waved as the train picked up speed. "It's okay Mr. P," He yelled, "I'll find out what's going on and call you from Oakwood."

[Okay, now I've done it.]

[To be continued....]

Monday, September 1, 2014

Problems in 'Pinedom'

The Adventures of Jack and Red - a pause to reflect and regroup (and repair?). 

The Breaks

I began writing the Jack and Red story over two years ago as a serialized blog-based saga. Most of this writing has been done in coffee shops while taking a break on bike rides. I have tried to take these rides on a regular basis but not all rides take me to a coffee shop. Recently, most of my rides have taken me to work. This led a break in the story telling. I have since re-retired and am now able to stop at coffee shops again. 

After the break, I dove back into the tale with some new ideas and new characters. After finishing three chapters I went back to read the first and was immediately struck by a problem. Over the break I had changed the voice of the story from 1st person to 3d person.  I'm not an expert but I believe this is a no-no in writing. I have to think about this for a bit and perhaps seek professional help. 

Do I go back and change the voice of the first 9 chapters?
Or do I change the voice in the last three?
Or neither? 

I like Jack telling the story in the first part but I also like the bit with Jimmy and his Mom and Jack isn't there so he can't be telling that part in 1st person.  Mostly I hate to get bogged down on this when there's a story to tell. It just seems like a waste of time.

Which medium is which.

Shortly after starting the blog on Jack Pynesapp, I decided to buy the domain name I have liked this name since I created it 40 years ago and I believe it's worth it's own 'dot' identity. At the same time I bought the name, I created a web site and I have been using it as sort of an annotated copy of the entries I have made on the blog.

After thinking about this I realize that this is backwards. The web site should be the refined work and the blog should be - well it should be a blog. A place to log thoughts and ideas (in a rough form?). Granted this concept has been somewhat subverted by Facebook, but since I don't use Facebook a whole lot I should probably get my mediums straight. 

Once again, fixing the form will interfere with the function (of telling the story). So, for this at least, I won't to go back and change the past but from now on I will try to adopt this new strategy.