Old Curiosity Shop
By Bob Davis dnry122@yahoo.com

We’re now almost one-fifth of the way through to 21st century and I haven’t run out of things to write; indeed, there are some stories that I have left in the “to be continued” status because, as W. C. Fields said in one or more of his movies, “Things happened.”  When our editor, Michelle (also known as Naughty Mickie and Nocturra) mentioned that this issue marks the 20th anniversary of DaBelly, I thought it would be interesting to revisit that first column and see, to quote from my favorite Grateful Dead song, “What a long strange trip it’s been.”

This is how I introduced my first Old Curiosity Shop in Feb 2010. 

Hi!  I’m Bob Davis, the new, yet old addition to dabelly.com.  There’s a birthday card that shows a rather puzzled fellow on the outside, and he’s saying, “I’m trying to get a feeling for how old you are.” (then, on the inside) “Like, were you really sad when all the dinosaurs disappeared?”  Well, even woolly mammoths are a bit before my time, but I was really sad when the Pacific Electric Red Cars disappeared from Monrovia.  My musical memories go back to the “big band” era, and the first records in my collection feature the musical mayhem of Spike Jones.  On the other hand, when I worked for the Edison Co. Telecomm Dept., I went into one of our communication rooms and found three of our younger technicians waiting for another crew to set up a test.  They were talking about a hip-hop group, and couldn’t quite come up with the name.  I chimed in and said, “Oh, you mean the Wu Tang Clan!”  There were some startled looks, implying “Where did this old guy learn about the Clan??”

I’m now retired from SCE, and when people ask what I do, I reply, “Among other things, amateur streetcar mechanic and honorary roadie for Adam Marsland’s Chaos Band Featuring Evie Sands.”  As a long time member of Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris, and a card carrying railway enthusiast, I’m often riding or photographing trains old and new.  Recently I’ve been joining the efforts of IWILLRIDE.org in bringing electric railway service back to Monrovia and nearby towns.  FOLLOWUP:

To backtrack a bit:  I’m a native of the San Gabriel Valley and remember when the location of the Monrovia Home Depot was an airport.  There were orange groves along Huntington Drive  (which was US Route 66 in those days) and the site of the Target store in East Pasadena was a cow pasture.

We’ll open the Shop with an upcoming show by the above-mentioned Chaos Band.  They’ll be at the Buccaneer in Sierra Madre on Feb. 6 for one of their Fifty Songs in One Night sessions.  The playlist will include some of Adam’s new songs, some tunes from his Cockeyed Ghost days, and a wide assortment of covers.  This band can do everything from the Ramones to Fleetwood Mac to the Beach Boys to Belle & Sebastian to Shonen Knife (and this is just a sample).  Highlights of the show for your reporter are songs by Evie Sands.  She usually does I Can’t Let Go, which she originally recorded in the 60’s and which she updated in 2006 with the Chaos Band.  Adam usually introduces it with a comment about how with any other band it would be a cover, but Evie is the original!  

Another song that’s special for me is Don’t Look Back (Don’t Look Down).   One night the band was playing at Molly Malone’s on Fairfax in LA north of Wilshire.  Adam spotted me before the show and said, “Bob, I’m glad you’re here.  Evie’s going to do one of your favorite songs tonight.”  Partway through the show, Adam asks “Is there a '70s soul singer in the house?” (spotlight shines on Evie) “Why, it’s Ms. Evie Sands!  Tell me Evie, do you have a song for Bob?”  and Evie says “I sure do!” and segues into Don’t Look Back.   At a previous Buccaneer night, my wife and I invited friends from Monrovia to join us, and they were quite impressed when the band dedicated Don’t Look Back to me.  For a long time record collector and music fan to be recognized by an internationally known artist (Evie is considered an icon by the English “Northern Soul” fans) is a wonderful experience.

After starting off 2010 in Sierra Madre, we went further afield, taking our motorhome RV Piscatawa River to the Bay Area and the “family town”, Davis, for UC Davis Picnic Day, which is a big celebration usually done on the 3rd Saturday in April. 

Next big event was the official groundbreaking for the LA Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension.  After watching anxiously for the election results of Measure R in 2008, and attending LACMTA board meetings in support of the project, we were finally ready to bring electric railway service back to Monrovia.

Our editor, with some relics of the ancient times—destination signs from the Pacific Electric
Monrovia-Glendora Line.


2011  was a big year for travel, with Bob going to Arkansas for a family gathering and wedding, with side trips to Memphis and Clarksdale, Mississippi Then we took the motor home east for Pat’s high school reunion, with stops along the way for Bob to ride the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railway, finally riding a narrow gauge train powered by a coal-burning steam locomotive, and spending two days at the Henry Ford complex in Dearborn, Mich.  Then we visited Niagara Falls and check that off our “life lists”.

Over 50 years after buying my first SUN record, I make the pilgrimage. 

At Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village, one of the historical exhibits is Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory and workshop.  Ford’s workers gathered what was left of this facility and restored it in Dearborn, Michigan One of the working exhibits is an 1879 cylinder phonograph that one of the staff members demonstrates.

The long ago predecessor of Sun Studio, “RCA and all the others.”

2012 saw us closer to home, going up to San Francisco on Amtrak for two excursions on Municipal Railway streetcars, and a visit to Davis on the way home.  The year included several Adam Marsland’s Chaos Band shows in various places, first rides on the LA Metro Expo line to Culver City, start of construction of the Gold Line Foothill Extension to Azusa, an automotive trip to Northern California including visits to the Western Railway Museum near Fairfield and the Western Pacific Railroad Museum in Portola, which is in such a remote corner that Reno, Nevada is the nearest major city.  The year wrapped up with the dedication of the new bridge over the 210 Freeway on the west side of Arcadia, which in a few years would be carrying electric trains on their way to LA and Azusa. 

No, they wouldn’t let me run it, but I do know how to operate old-school control systems as seen
on SF Muni Car 1, the very first streetcar to run on the Muni system on 28 Dec 1912.  This was
on the Apr. 14 excursion; I would ride it again on Muni Centennial Day at the end of the year.


Adam Marsland’s Chaos Band featuring Evie Sands at Brennan’s Pub in Marina Del Rey.


Dedication of the Gold Line Bridge 15 Dec. 2012.  The young ladies in the plaid jackets are the
Tournament of Roses Queen and Princesses.

2013    Construction of the Gold Line Foothill Extension started in earnest, and I spent many days as a “sidewalk superintendent”.  I used the new Expo Line to visit the Space Shuttle Endeavor in Exposition Park, remembering the family connection of my brother’s design team that engineered the hydraulic system for the landing gear.  I went to Baldwin Park to see restored Santa Fe steam locomotive 3751 coming through on the former Pacific Electric route now used by Metrolink, and met some kitties while waiting for the train. 

 July was the big travel month, as I flew back to Chicago for a big weekend at Illinois Railway Museum, finding some Blues Brothers sites, and taking the Amtrak Wolverine to Dearborn Michigan for two days at the Henry Ford.  For lodging there, I stayed at The Dearborn Inn, where my three nights cost nearly as much as one of my cross country trips back in the old days. 

 Back in Chicago, I took a day trip on the South Shore electric railway to its new terminal at the South Bend airport, where there’s a meeting space called the Studebaker Room, even though the last “Studie” was built in 1966. 

 For the trip home, I used Southwest Airlines, which meant taking the CTA to Midway Airport.  To get there from Evanston meant boarding a train at Davis St. transferring three times to get on the relatively new line to Midway.  And once you get off at the CTA station, it’s still a bit of a hike to the airline terminal.  After arriving at LAX, I used the Flyaway bus to reach LA Union Station, where I boarded the Gold Line for a ride to East Pasadena, where Pat would pick me up.  But I had to let two trains go by before there was one with enough floor space for both my feet and my baggage.  Sometime after this adventure, Metro started running three car trains on the Gold Line.  The rest of the year featured more Chaos Band shows and other musical events, and “cheering on the navvies” as the Kiewit crews were going “hammer and tongs” getting the railway built to Azusa.

During my second visit to Greenfield Village, I asked one of the staff members if they had any cats around the place.  I was told that most of them stayed out of sight during the day, but there might be one near the railroad track.  Sure enough, this kitty came over to visit.  When I shared photos with family, my younger daughter said, “Of course it’s black—it’s a Ford cat.” (when Henry Ford took production of the Model T to the next level in 1915, he reportedly said, “You can have it in any color you want as long as it’s black”) 


2014  The Gold Line extension was starting to look like a railroad, with track in place and the yard starting to take shape, indeed, the majority of my photos for this year are progress pictures of the Foothill Extension.  At the Railway Museum, we had a Steampunk Weekend, the Antique Truck Show, Rods & Rails, and (in November) Day out with Thomas the Tank Engine.

The Ford Motor Co. was well represented at the Antique Truck gathering.

Here’s a sample from the Feb. 2014 OCS.  The subject was Ladies of Song, Part 2, and the last entry was: 

Rock & Roll Voodoo Queen by Jennifer Gibbons/FunkyJenn.  Here’s a new addition to the collection.  Jenn Gibbons is a local singer/songwriter whom I first encountered when she sat in on one of Adam Marsland’s “'70s Sessions”.  I think the first song I heard her sing was one of my favorite Elton John numbers, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”.  She has been in several other AMCB shows, and in 2013, released her own six-song CD Rock and Roll Voodoo Queen.

Loyal subjects of the Rock & Roll Voodoo Queen (including Bobby Boy) gathered at the Mint
in Los Angeles for her CD release party on Oct. 24, 2013.  With her band “The Fringe Benefits”
she rocked the house with her own songs plus smokin’ covers of “Only You Know and I
Know” and “Honky Tonk Women”.

But the big news for that year (as far as I was concerned) was progress on the Gold Line Foothill Extension.  Finally, in December 2014, a Gold Line car made it onto the new tracks, doing clearance testing with the help of a large diesel truck.  

We’ll resume our “Reeling in the Years” session next month.  Until then stay safe as we remember a big hit for Diana Ross in 1969: “Some Day We’ll Be Together”.

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