Old Curiosity Shop
By Bob Davis dnry122@yahoo.com

Bobby Boy Livin’ (and Travelin’) in the USA

A fellow Adam Marsland Chaos Band fan from Sacramento posted a list of states she had been to on Facebook.  This inspired me to do the same, along with memories of various visits and journeys.  There’s an old Country & Western song, “I’ve Been Everywhere” which was written by Geoff Mack, an Australian, with place names from Down Under, but is probably best known in the US for recordings by Hank Snow and/or Johnny Cash.  I sometimes call it the ZIP code directory set to music.  There’s a recent video of this song featuring Ms Kacey Musgraves, wearing an outfit that would probably have some of the Grand Ole Opry old timers turning over in their graves. 


So, let’s get out our Auto Club and Rand McNally maps (after all this is the OLD Curiosity Shop) and hit the road.  Time to get Eastbound and Down or even Take Off to the Great White North.  And always remembering to keep the shiny side up and the dirty side down, and that safety is of first importance.

Alabama:  Sweet Home Alabama is not one of the top states on my priority list.

Alaska:  We finally went North to Alaska in 2017, taking a Holland American cruise ship from Vancouver BC to Seward, then a tour bus to Denali and an Alaska RR train to Anchorage.  Didn’t see as many critters as we had hoped, but I got a ride on the White Pass and Yukon narrow gauge railroad.  I visited Ketchikan, where at one shop, tourists were told that wild-caught Alaskan salmon is the only kind to eat, and that “Friends don’t let friends buy farm-raised salmon!”

Arkansas:  We became Arkansas Travelers by going through the northwest corner of the state in 2007 so I could ride (and run a streetcar) at the Fort Smith Trolley Museum.  Then in 2011, I flew to Little Rock for a family event north of the capital, combining this with a visit to Tennessee.  As I headed back across the Mississippi River, I remembered the line from Ray Charles’ What’d I Say:  “Tell your mama, tell your pa, I’m going back to Arkansaw…” In Little Rock, I visited the Bill Clinton Presidential Library and rode the local heritage streetcar line.

Arizona: I passed through the Grand Canyon State in 1951 on a family train trip to New England. My next visit was in 1969, when I had to take a spare part to rescue Rosemary’s Toyota from the Grand Canyon garage and drive it home.  Next trip was in 1971, when I took Amtrak’s version of Santa Fe’s El Capitan to Chicago and got photos in Winslow before the Eagles made it famous.  For musical accompaniment: Arizona (take off your rainbow shades) by Mark Lindsay or Grand Canyon Suite by Ferde Grofe’.  Back in 2004, my wife’s cousin and his wife came out west, and we gave them a tour that included segments of Route 66, Las Vegas and Hoover Dam.  In Arizona, we saw the Grand Canyon, stayed overnight in Winslow (and stood on the corner) and Red Rock Canyon.  One of our first motorhome adventures was to the Phoenix area, where we camped with a party of Lazy Daze owners, saw the light rail construction downtown, and visited the stadium in Glendale where the field can be rolled out into the sunshine and then back indoors on game day, using what is probably the widest-gauge railway in the world.

California:  Since I was born here and have lived nearly all of my life in the San Gabriel Valley, I could write a whole article on my adventures here in my native state.  I’ve traveled many of the highways and back roads, and visited cities, towns and hamlets from border to border and from the seacoast to the mountains and deserts.  My favorite song about my home state is California (“on my way to sunny Cali-for-ni-ay”) by the Beach Boys, written by Al Jardine.

Colorado:  I’ve gone through the Mile-High State a few times, but never really explored extensively.  I’ve gone through Denver on Amtrak a couple of times, but really want to spend a few days studying their local electric passenger railway operation.  Then a few dozen miles north is Fort Collins and its Birney streetcar heritage line.  My first time in Colorado was going to Chicago on Amtrak 18 (the former Santa Fe Super Chief/El Capitan) in Sept. 1971. I got off the train at La Junta just after sunset, and could see the Rocky Mountains in the west and the Great Plains stretching into the darkness to the east. Now it was more or less downhill all the way to Chi-Town.  On the return trip, I decided to go home via San Francisco, and took the Denver Zephyr and Train 101 from Chicago to Oakland.  At Denver, the locomotives were taken off the front of the train, and Union Pacific units were coupled to what had been the rear and we were hauled backwards to Cheyenne (see the Wyoming entry for that part of the adventure).  One thing I learned when I stepped off the train to get some photos was that Denver is chilly in September, and I went back aboard to fetch some warmer garments.  

Next time I was in Denver it was on the San Francisco Zephyr-Desert Wind coming back from my “No Scene Twice Seen” trip to the East Coast.  This time the train didn’t swap ends, and things didn’t get interesting until it got to Ogden, Utah, where it split into three sections, and one had to be on the right car to reach the planned destination.  In 1990, we covered much of the flatter part of the state coming home on the Fight Fiercely Tour.  We came in from Nebraska at Julesburg, which was supposed to be one of the wildest towns in the Wild West when the Union Pacific Railroad was built through here, but it’s very quiet now. From there we went to Limon, which was on the old Rock Island Railroad.  Coming into town from the north, we noticed some twisted corrugated metal near the roadside, and at first thought it was someone’s weird “modern art” project. Then we got into downtown Limon and found the awful truth-- a tornado had ripped through the town while we were back in the Boston area and severely damaged many buildings.  The local newspaper was out of commission, so they borrowed printing facilities from the next big town and got the paper out-- just like the San Francisco papers used a plant in Oakland to publish the news after the great earthquake and fire in 1906.  The motel where we spent the night just had minor damage, and it also had a friendly orange cat.  Next day we visited the old railroad station and then headed south to our next stop in Albuquerque.  Our most recent trip through the Centennial State was in 2011, when we roughly followed the Santa Fe Railway from Trinidad to Lamar.  At Lamar we parked at an RV park that had corrals for those traveling with their hayburners.  On the other side of the park was a cow pasture, with a very serious-looking bull that made me glad to have a zoom lens on my camera.  Heading eastward the next day, I found a preserved Santa Fe steam locomotive in downtown Lamar.

Connecticut: My first encounter with the Nutmeg State was in 1951, during the family excursion to New England.  After riding the Santa Fe to Chicago, the New York Central Lake Shore took us to Grand Central Terminal in New York City.  After overnight in a big-city hotel, we boarded a New York, New Haven & Hartford train to Boston. I remember the heavy duty overhead for the electric trains between NY and New Haven, and how much more elaborate it was than the plain trolley wire that went by our house in Monrovia.  The one sight I remember from New Haven was the A. C. Gilbert building, home of Erector Sets and American Flyer model trains. (on the homeward trip, we rode the New England States train, which went directly from Boston to Albany and then on to Chicago).  My next visit to Connecticut was in 1977, on the homeward segment of the Dog Tired Tour.  I stopped here to visit what was then the Branford Trolley Museum.  I showed my Orange Empire member card, and one of the volunteers said, “We don’t have any PE Red Cars; would a North Shore interurban (large trolley car that ran between Chicago and Milwaukee) do?”  It sure would, so they brought out the big green car and we rode up and down their main line, which is a former Connecticut Co. streetcar line.  Next day I was off to New Jersey and wouldn’t see CT for another 13 years.  This time it was just passin’ through, as Pat and I drove the 1988 Dodge Aries that she had inherited from Newton, Mass to Media PA.  Native Californians like me sometimes find it hard to remember that “back east” one can go through half a dozen states in less time than it takes to go from LA to San Francisco.  My next visit was when we went to visit Pat’s relatives in New England in 1994, and I did a day trip to visit Branford and the other trolley museum near Hartford (which is difficult to reach without a car.)  This was the day when I heard “I Just Wanna Have Fun (until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard)” by Sheryl Crow, and a few days later bought a copy of the CD at a record shop in Boston’s North Station.

Delaware: Haven’t spent that much time in the second-smallest US State.  During the Fight Fiercely Tour, we visited Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square PA, and took a side trip on US 202 so I could “set foot” in Delaware.  In 1994, we did our Mid-Atlantic Tour, visiting Colonial Williamsburg, Washington DC, the Wilmington DE area, Baltimore and Philadelphia.  Pat visited the Winterthur Museum, Gallery and Gardens, while I visited the Eleutherian Mills historic preservation site, which has special buildings for manufacturing gunpowder, an old-time machine shop and a narrow gauge railway.  I even got to watch one of the staff members fire up a stationary steam engine.

District of Columbia: Our nation’s Capital was also part of the Mid Atlantic Tour.  Pat had been there before, since her first husband’s family lived in a DC suburb, but this was my first (and so far only) visit to Washington.  We stayed at the New Hampshire Suites Hotel, which was located near a Metro station, and also across the street from an area where off-duty taxi cabs would park.  Many of the drivers were from Ethiopia, and they would sit under a big old tree waiting for calls or fares to show up.  The national origin of the drivers was reflected in names like “Red Sea Taxi” and “Addis Ababa Cab Co.”  It looked like something from the National Geographic, but it was quite handy if we needed a cab.  We added a new (actually very old) form of transport to our travel experience, riding the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal boat along the preserved canal, with a pair of mules for motive power. (I’ve mentioned my dad’s Uncle Steve and his work as a muleskinner in earlier columns). We found an old Capital Traction carbarn in Georgetown and took a night-time tour of the city, including a stop at the Lincoln Memorial. 

Next day, Pat visited the National Portrait Gallery while I made a short visit to the Capitol Building.  In the street nearby, I found some remnants of the old conduit-style streetcar track that was in service until 1962. (I’ll have more on this when we get to Maryland).  At the Smithsonian, I touched a moon rock, and saw examples of railway, marine and aeronautical transportation.  “Uncle Sam’s Attic”  is one of those places where one could spend several days.  A branch of the Smithsonian is the National Postal Museum, which is next to Union Station.  Considering my family heritage with the Post Office, this was a must-see attraction.  I was deeply impressed by the history in their exhibits, especially the Model A Ford postal delivery truck—like the ones I used to see in Monrovia as a wee lad.

I also visited the Capitol Building, but didn’t have time for the guided tour.  I did get a look at a real “corridor of power” and was glad to at least be inside this iconic edifice.  Several years later I would see the Victoria Parliament building in Melbourne Australia and ponder the fact that most buildings of this type have large staircases leading to the main entrance.  Not only do these staircases look very impressive, they give the “powers that be” the “high ground” and an advantage in dealing with unruly mobs.

Florida:  The song that comes to mind when I think of the Sunshine State is See Ya Later Alligator by Bobby Charles.  Although there are vintage streetcars running in Tampa, rapid transit in Miami and polydactylous cats in Key West, I have no current plans to visit there.

Georgia:  Is Georgia on My Mind?  Not really, although Atlanta does have a rapid transit system and there are historic sites around the state.

Hawaii:  Both Bing Crosby and Elvis Presley sang of Blue Hawaii, but it’s a long airplane ride to get there, and I missed my chance to visit the Islands when I had relatives on the Big Island.

We’ll get back to states where we’ve “been there and done that” in a month or two.  Meanwhile we encourage everyone who can to get out and explore the USA.  General Motors used to have an ad campaign that said, “See the USA in you Chevrolet.”  But even if you don’t have a Chevy, and prefer to travel the rails of America where Amtrak runs, or take to the skies, there’s a lot to see and experience.  If you’re going to be on the road, “Keep the shiny side up and the dirty side down, and don’t feed the bears.”

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