humanitarian or scoundrel – cycling history

We did a bit of urban cycling the other day, down the CALsag trail in it’s newly paved beauty along the canal, and then through Blue Isle ( not sure how a landlocked town gets that name ) and through Roseland to Pullman. Roseland is the hard hit neighborhood where many of the stores are boarded up or converted to Churches or Mosques or bars. When the jobs have left a place, then people look to find hope in one place or another. Just beyond is Pullman, a town of historical contradictions.

Of the Pullman factory – the engine of opportunity where luxury rail-road cars were made little remains.

Pullman cars became popular after one was used in the train that took the body of assassinated President Lincoln across the country

Pullman cars became popular after one was used in the train that took the body of assassinated President Lincoln across the country

Factories need people, and George W. Pullman envisioned a city for his workers, designed by architects with clean air, good schools manned by trained teachers, and indoor plumbing in every house. It was his idea of Utopia. In 1870, he was a visionary humanitarian – and his city was considered the finest in the world. Today, you can ride past the grand hotel, or magnificent church and the row houses and boarding houses in which his workers lived and worshiped.

Housing still used almost 200 years later

Housing still used almost 200 years later

The company maintained every building, and the workers paid rent. The workers shopped at the company store, banked at the company bank – and even the ministers rented the church for services provided their sermon’s aligned with the Pullman beliefs.

The "company" church

The “company” church

In 1874 there was a recession, and Pullman cut the worker’s wages by 30% but refused to reduce the rents. The factory workers struck, and Pullman crushed the strike. Then railroad workers across the country refused to work any passenger train that had a Pullman car on it. The Pullman name was reviled, and his utopia called un-American and despicable in every way. The Federal Government then broke the rail strike.

Pullman died shortly after the strike of a heart-attack. The scoundrel had tons of cement poured over his grave so that no-one could desecrate his body, and the humanitarian left a bequeath to fund a million dollar endowment to educate the children of the workers at his factory.

As we rode back to wrap up our 50 mile ride I pondered this complex man, and his vision while words of John Goodman’s ‘City of New Orleans’ played in my mind…

And the sons of Pullman porters
And the sons of engineers
Ride their fathers’ magic carpet made of steel

PS – if you ever played the video game Bioshock – with it’s visionary madman and failed utopia – it has to be modeled after this time and place


fossils – travel

We had the day to cut across Nebraska toward South Dakota and the Black Hills. We headed off the highway along Route 20, stopping a few times when something caught our fancy. Somethings exceed your expectations, and some not. I recall Pizza Hut as better, but it was fun to watch the local town kids go through the pizza buffet like locusts across the plains.

We detoured a bit to Ashfall Fossil Beds in Nebraska. Aside from pirate treasure, what could be more fun than to discover a bed of rhino’s, camels, giant tortoises from long ago.

a waterhole, a volcanic eruption - and amazement so long after

a waterhole, a volcanic eruption – and amazement so long after

You can walk by, and see the fossils in situ, as the college students gently work and scrape around them.

Then it’s on to South Dakota and the Mammoth Site called us…

two well preserved specimens....

Which is older….

Mammoth Site is a private place, and though we skipped the tour and just hopped through since we had miles to go before we slept… we gleaned that this was a sink hole, where these large fellows tumbled down to be trapped forevermore. This site too showed the bones as they were found…

A mammoth fossil exactly as found

A mammoth fossil exactly as found

I recall reading of the early settlers hearing tales of the Indians hunting these beasts. All I know is that these bones show they were here once. We gazed at the bones in wonder, and then it was time to head to Edgemont South Dakota to find a glass or two of craft beer and supper.

spring – the time of love and new cars

It’s spring, when thoughts turn to love and cars. Fondly I recall my first new car, a 1974 Toyota Corolla. I was so green I didn’t know you could negotiate the cost so I paid the full sticker price. I went in to pick it up tried to haggle with the salesman and he said, “You can’t do that.”

“Oh, OK” What did I know about the world?

Imagine $4,300.00 for a new car. It thrilled to drive it off the lot and if I lurched about trying to learn to drive a stick, that excited too.

It was the perfect car to drive about the Midwest for rugby matches, including the Ohio Under 23 select side match against Michigan. I drove with “Moose” and we won the game, on the
way home my mileage was way down and I was sure my car new car was failing. Imagine my relief when I discovered Moose’s bulk cost me six miles per gallon.

Now I dream of a Toyota Land Cruiser and a Corvette, but somehow I don’t think they’ll thrill like a Grey Toyota with a motor smaller than Harley Hog.

I’d love to hear about your first car.

We had such good comments, that I invite you to share a picture if you have it…

First car love from Diana at

First car love from Diana

lunch and heroes

My team had a good bye lunch for one of the fellows who’s rolling off. Eventually the talk turned to everyone’s favorite meals growing up. Since some of the guys are quiet, I try to draw them out a bit.

We had Irish, Slovak, Hispanic and Indian ideas offered up.

“What’s your favorite family meal?” I asked J.

“We just ate whatever there was, there usually wasn’t much.”

Silence from the rest of the team.

J continued, “It was the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and my parents were taken from the university and placed on a farm to be laborers. In fact, I had developed a fever that wouldn’t subside and my family took me to the hospital, but there were no doctors. As they left to return home one of the janitors followed them out of the building. He told them that their baby was very sick, and he would die if he did not receive medicine. It turns out the janitor was a doctor who had been reassigned, and by speaking to J’s parents the doctor was risking his life.”

J’s parents got the medicine and herbs the doctor advised and the little boy was saved.

We all sat for a minute, and I felt how precious life is, and how fragile it can be. I am often reminded that when the world looks bleakest, that heroes and goodness remain.

Here’s to everyday heroes who do good, you chance might be right around the corner.

of yogurt and wars and legends – Northern France

Today we started the morning with sheep milk yogurt, it was very rich and instead of fruit in the bottom it was flavored with a chestnut paste. Instead of plastic, the yogurt comes in a small glass pot. I think it tastes better in glass – one little item in the world where quality matters to someone.

Sheep milk yogurt with chestnut flavoring

Sheep milk yogurt with chestnut flavoring

The land is rich here but not prosperous. The farms don’t have that finely kept look of Austria or parts of Wisconsin. The Romans took the towns here, but never subdued the Celts that lived in the deep dark forest. It was foreign to the way the Roman armies fought and they were content with roads and cities.

Before the potato came from the new world, chestnuts were crucial to survive the winter for the poor. They made bread from chestnuts to tide themselves through. One of the armies that came through stripped the bark from all the chestnut trees and that winter the villagers starved.

Some of the old stone houses may have had their cornerstones laid four hundred years ago. When you visit, you might find a “hobbit hole” where an original door makes a grown man or woman stoop to enter it.

An abandoned stone building near the village fountain

An abandoned stone building near the village fountain, it might have housed a community oven

Nearby is the “Plank of the Beautiful Girls” – where in the thirty year war some young girls jumped to their death before being ravaged by plundering Swedish mercenaries. One of the girls was very beautiful and the leader of the band tried to save her. He emerged with her lifeless body and above her grave carved a plank to honor her.

The mountains and valleys have seen much war and strife

The mountains and valleys have seen much war and strife

After war and pestilence and martyrs, spring rains always and the cows graze in the meadows and the larks still sing in Northern France.

A D-day thought

On the seventieth anniversary of D-day I thought I’d share a war story.

My dad was on Normandy beach so long ago. He rarely spoke about it, but I remember him telling that the waves crested pink with blood. In his Higgins boat of the 49 soldiers he was the only one to reach shore alive.

But the story I have is one about sugar and cake. Just before the invasion, my dad was stationed in Torquay. Just 19 years of age, he and his fellow soldiers in a strange country were a confused mixture of amazed and homesick. England at that time was under harsh rationing, and the Americans had money and access to supplies that were rarely seen.

One day my dad is leaving the base when a Brit approaches him saying “sailor, sailor, have you got your ration ?”

Dad warily replied he had when the fellow offered “If you’ve got sugar, we have the rest. If you just come home with me my wife can make us a cake.”

I don’t know if they were young or old, but I recall Dad telling us how excited they were, and how she mixed things up and soon that had a cake to share.

This is one of my favorite war stories, where in the shadow of a great darkness people find comfort in a shared piece of cake.

Some day I think I’ll take a trip to Torquay and maybe have a piece of cake.

Hidden Treasure I&M canal mile 58-83

Farther from the city the canal trail is not so well maintained. One of the aqueducts has collapsed leaving the canal a “tadpole puddle”. Some places it’s full of sediment, and trees 30 feet high grow there or people mow the grass in the canal behind their homes like it’s a play-ground for their kids.

Some places just a tadpole puddle.

Some places just a tadpole puddle.

It’s hot, over 90 degrees ( 32 c ) and the trees give shade, but the large waterfowl are gone. We hear birds singing around us, but they are deep in the trees. At one section, the sticks ahead of us suddenly wriggle away, turns out they are snakes sunning.

This is like where I grew up, small town America – wave at everyone, don’t have to lock your doors. Kids smile and wave at us, and one family is playing with their pet goat. We meet a guy who has ridden many trails, over a thousand miles all with his two buds.

Two little guys for company, they've logged over a thousand miles in their milk crate

Two little guys for company, they’ve logged over a thousand miles in their milk crate

We pass Seneca, a little town where a brick making company is still going strong after starting in 1835. They sit right on the canal and I wonder how many of Chicago’s fine brick homes were build on bricks fired there. During the potato famine in Ireland over two million people died or left the country in a great diaspora. Many found their fortunes here, and many their ruin, for malaria and dysentery claimed a toll. The workers believed that whiskey would prevent malaria, and so held out to ensure that their weekly pay included a ration of whiskey.

It’s too hot for snow, but the cotton-wood seeds drift down like snow and later we pass a golden meadow.

cottonwood seeds are like snow in June

cottonwood seeds are like snow in June

the golden treasure given to those who travel

the golden treasure given to those who travel

We ended at mile 83 in Ottawa, the Indian word for trade, at the conflux of three rivers the French had been trading for furs since the 1600’s. Ottawa hosted one of the Lincoln presidential debates, but now is just a quiet place. When Illinois was nearly broke in the 1840’s they had to borrow 1.6 million from investors to finish the canal. What’s was a dollar worth in those days? The workers digging by the canal by hand received one dollar a week and their whiskey ration.

We were left to turn around and head back the 25 miles, once more moving through time and we returned to the car. One more ride ahead of us to get us to mile 96 and the end of the I&M canal.

putting out the Christmas tree

I put the Christmas tree out. It stands at attention in the snow bank on the tree lawn. It was a good tree, had served us well. To leave it on it’s side, forlorn seemed unworthy disrespect.

I remember going out with my father to pick a tree. We would drive out to the country were a farmer would let us go across his land for a few dollars paid.

We would always find one that had a flaw, not the prettiest, but something that made it special. Maybe a bald spot, or a branch bending the wrong way.

I would cut only a full pulls before my child arms tired, and my father would finish and I would help him drag it back in the snow to home.

My sisters would complain that we never got the right tree, but they never understood, it was just the right one.

So I guess in so many words I am saying that in your poem is the power to bring forth old memories.


I read with sadness that a six foot five inch tall three-hundred and twenty-five pound professional football player was bullied. It got so bad that he just left the team. Of all men offensive linemen are powerful almost indestructible. Maybe he just wanted to belong, be part of the group, but the cost was too high.

Sifu Mohr used to tell us that when martial artists cross hands the consequences will be severe, even to death. What happens when these giants of men do so? The player in question walked away, maybe from the game forever.

Long ago I worked with one of the meanest SOB’s I have ever known. I was young, he some years older than me. His cubicle sat right next to mine. He rode me hard, unmercifully criticizing and demeaning me. One day he said something that crossed the line. I walked away.

I composed myself then walked over to the HR director, stuck my head inside the door and said: “You can handle this however you like, but if he ever speaks to me like that again, we are going to duke it out until only one of us gets up.” She never said anything to me, but the next day they moved our cubicles and I got a window view.

Soon after that, I left and became a consultant. One day years later I heard that the SOB had been fired for stealing from the company. I laughed out loud.

Let’s hope this football player laughs last too.

first blood – yars

In the US, we would go out to a field, stick up some goal posts, paint some lines and play. Not to say we didn’t have fit and talented guys, but it was the spontaneous Americans against the formal English here. On tour in in England, the teams had clubhouses with manicured grounds and locker rooms. Instead of stretching and then kicking off, we warmed up running in place inside the locker room, counting as our spikes sung against the concrete floor. In the other locker room we could hear them doing the same so we chanted louder, poured out onto the field ran to position and the match began.

The first play Paulie, who looked like a terrorist and played just as ferociously, slammed down their runner. They tried to sneak in their fullback in the line to have an overload and I caught him from behind punched the ball out, wrapped my arms around him, arched my back and rode him like a body board face first into the ground. They weren’t going to run on us.

But rugby is two games, the grinding, mauling, smashing of the scrum, and the slashing long runs, cutting and chasing of the backs. This match settled into they kicking the ball down-field until close where their scrum tried to smash it over for a try ( touchdown ) and us attacking every time we had the ball, ripping up long runs.

I was a back, this was great fun – we had the lead with ten minutes left in the match and I glanced into the scrum. Kenny P_ the farm-boy prop-forward with shoulders as wide as two men had tape wrapped crookedly over his forehead, he looked like a pirate sliced him with a cutlass. Jerry D_ ( of the yard of beer ), bled from a cut under his eye and every scrum player of ours was bleeding.

It was a fierce last ten minutes. When the whistle blew, we led by a single point and victory on foreign soil was ours. No matter what happened the tour was a success.

After the game, rugby players form a line, and walk through and shake hands with every other player, and I still take pleasure in how stunned they were to lose after they had mocked us before the match.

The Moral: Take every opponent seriously, anything else just adds fuel to the fire

YARS – yet another rugby story