2015: Your tax dollars at work deep in the heart of west Texas

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MARC Rider

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Here's an epic trip I took for work back in the day. Have patience. There's Amtrak content, if you can believe it.

Chapter 1: South By Southwest

"I can't believe it!" I said, as we drove up to the drop-off area at BWI Airport on Sunday morning, July 12, 2015. It was about 7 in the morning, and I'd never seen the place so busy. The line for the curbside check-in seemed to stretch all the way back to downtown Baltimore, and through the glass doors, it seemed like the check-in area was a mass of humanity, all in line as if it was rush hour at Disneyworld. So much for my idea of leaving on a quiet Sunday morning. It seemed that all of America was on the move in the summer of 2015.

I was heading off for a work trip. We had contracted some testing of 18-wheeler tractor trailers to determine the effect of add-ons like trailer fairings and low rolling resistance tires on the trucks' fuel economy (i.e., greenhouse gas emissions), and periodically we liked to head down and observe the testing so that we understood exactly what the contractor is doing, and, also so that we were confident that the contractor was doing what we told them to do. You can only go so far with weekly conference calls. This particular trip was going to be a little different. Our contractor, Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), usually tested for us on local roads or on a test track in Uvalde, about 70 miles west of San Antonio where SwRI is located. However, they had recently ended their relationship with that particular track and found a new test track, an abandoned BF Goodrich track located about 300 miles away in Pecos. The SwRI staff thought that the most cost-effective way to test there was to get a crew together, pack everything up, do the 6 hour drive, and then stay out there for two weeks. This wasn't just a quick 4-day trip to San Antonio. I had signed up for two weeks out in America's Big Empty.

I might have just flown out there directly by flying to DFW and then getting a puddle jumper to Odessa-Midland, and then a 3 hour drive. Because I have a (fully justified) aversion to flying in puddle jumpers, I worked quickly yo find an excuse to take the extra day and fly down to San Antonio. In fact, I needed to do an inventory of all of the government property (i.e. trailer fairings and test tires) that SwRI was storing for us. On the way back, I arranged an in-person meeting with the head of SwRI contracting to go over the progress of the contract. That convinced my boss to let me fly in and out of San Antonio instead of having to endure the puddle jumpers. I was going to be joined on this trip, for the first week, at least, by an EPA colleague, who I shall call "A". The idea was that we all get to see each other's projects, I guess so that if someone, say, retires prematurely :) , there are people who know enough to be able to fill in quickly. A was going to meet me in San Antonio and drive out with me, but, as he was leaving at the end of the week, he was going to have to fly home from Odessa-Midland.

My idea was to take a morning flight on Sunday from BWI and check out a barbecue joint I had found on the internet for lunch. If it wasn't too hot, maybe I'd take a short hike in one of the local parks. A, who lived in the Washington area, was flying down from National a little later, and we'd meet for dinner. Then Monday morning, we'd be up bright and early, drive over to SwRI, do our inventory, and then hit the road for the 6 hour drive to Ft. Stockton. (We had been advised that the places to stay in Pecos were much inferior to the offerings in Ft. Stockton. That's saying a lot considering what we found in Ft. Stockton.) Naturally, nothing worked as planned, except for getting up early Monday morning, doing the inventory, and taking the 6 hour drive. I guess from the point of view of our work, that made it a success.

Faced with the massive crowds at the airport, there was nothing to do but grit my teeth and get into line. I had followed the Advice given by Southwest Airlines and arrived at the airport an hour and a half before flight time. Given how slowly the lines were moving, I was beginning to think this was a mistake. I don't know why I didn't come earlier. Usually I get to the airport two hours early, breeze through security and spend lots of time twiddling my thumbs waiting.

I had actually checked in the night before. In fact, I had paid an extra $40 for what Southwest calls "Early Bird check-in," so it was done automatically for me. I needed to check a suitcase, so I actually had to endure two sets of lines. Finally, I got to the head of the baggage check line. They took my bag, and gave me a nice little piece of paper that said something to the effect that becuase I had checed my bag so close to flight time, the bag might miss the flight. I looked at my watched and thought, "I might miss the flight." Anyway, it was no big deal, as I was staying at a place near the airport that night, and they could just bring the bag to me. The next phase was the security line. Now I'm starting to sweat. Finally to the security checkpoint -- off with the shoes, empty everything and put it on the belt, and a quick pass through the X-ray machine. Then to collect everything, put on my shoes, who needs to tie them? Fortunately, my gate was pretty close to the security checkpoint. I limped down as quickly as I could with untied shoes, didn't want to trip, and walked up to the gate ...

Just in time to see my plane pushing away.

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OK, so it's 8:30 AM. The agent at the podium rebooked me for the next flight at 12:30. Too bad about my Early Bird Check in, $40 flushed down the toilet. The worst thing though, is that I'm stuck at BWI Airport with a 4 hour wait. Well, first I killed time by going over to the Silver Diner and had a real breakfast. Then I walked through every concourse that was within the security perimeter. I think I even went into the Duty-Free Shop, even though I couldn't buy anything duty free. When I wandered back to Southwest Airlines country, I found there was some confusion as to which gate we were using. Apparently the plane that was coming in that was going to continue to San Antonio had to go out of service for some reason, and they needed to find a new plane for our flight. Fortunately, BWI is a Southwest hub, and fresh planes were in abundance, though the one we boarded seemed a bit long in the tooth on the inside.

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After this, things seemed to go all right. The plane left on time and arrived on time. When I got to the San Antonio baggage area, I didn't even have to wait on the baggage carousel. Unlike me, my suitcase had made the original flight. There it was sitting waiting for me.

The next step was getting my car. In its infinite wisdom, our Agency had decided they could save money by using an off-site car rental agency and forcing us to rent subcompact cars. I called the rental car agency, who shall remain nameless, although, actually, the were perfectly all right, except that I had to wait almost a half hour before someone came by to pick me up. The were nice and gave me a free upgrade to a slightly larger car, which was much appreciated, as we were going to be doing some pretty long drives. Then I drove over to the hotel, right by the airport. It was about 4:30 PM. A should have been there waiting for me. He was not. I later found out that his flight was massively delayed for mechanical problems, and he didn't arrive at the hotel until midnight.

For me, it was time for dinner. I missed my barbecue lunch, but I was not going to miss having Mexican food when in San Antonio. I headed for one of my go-to places when in town, Guajillos. This is off the 410 Loop (the San Antonio Equivalent of the Beltway) at Blanco Road. They have more variety than the usual Tex-Mex place. I had the Ensalata de Nopalitos (cactus salad), and the Albondigas en Salsa Chipotle (Mexican meatballs). They were good, as usual. The crowd was local, and it was a much better value than the tourist places along the Riverwalk.

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Here's the cactus salad.

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And here's the meatballs in chipotle sauce.

After that I thought I'd go downtown and walk off my food. The last few times I've been down to San Antonio, I park up by the Pearl Brewery complex where the parking is free, and you can park under the freeway to keep your car out of the sun. Then I walk down the extended Riverwalk down into the downtown area. It's a good long walk, but nice and scenic. But this evening was not only hot, it was humid, so I paid the big bucks to park in a downtown garage. It started cooling off as the sun set, but not that much.

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Remember the Alamo!

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After a nice walk around the RiverWalk, I went back to my car, too hot and tired to do too much else and went back to the hotel.



--to be continued
 
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MARC Rider

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Chapter 1 -- continued

The next morning, I met A, we had breakfast, and then, off to do work. This was a work trip, remember.





First thing we did after meeting the project manager was to check out the trucks.


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The trucks were 2012 Freightliner Cascadias with Detroit Diesel DD15 engines. We (OK, the guys at SwRI) filled the trailers with concrete blocks to obtain a gross vehicle weight of 29,800 kg. (Hey, when I published the paper, everything had to be in metric units.) The tank at the back is our highly sophisticated fuel consumption measuring system. Under normal operation, the truck uses its regular fuel tanks. When we test, though, a switch is thrown, and the truck runs on this detachable tank. After doing these tests for us off and on over a 10 year period, SwRI finally figured out a clever system to detach and weigh the tanks (which weigh about 200 lbs, I mean 90 kg) without taking an inordinate amount of time. The truck turns so that the trailer is sitting at an angle to the tractor, thus making the tank accessible. They then slide a scale on a wheeled dolly under the tank, detach the tanks, and slowly ease it off on to the scale. After the weight is taken, it's all strapped up, and ready to roll again. They don't have to move the tanks very far, and they can take the measurements at the end of a test very quickly and be back on the road again within 10 minutes. This is useful, because we don't want the tires to cool off, which I found they actually do a bit, even with a 10 minute break.

To measure fuel consumption, we (OK, the SwRI techs) weigh the fuel tank before the test. Then we do the test, which consists of driving around for 50 miles (excuse me, 80 kilometers) or so. Then we weigh the tank again. The difference is the amount of fuel used during the test. If the things we're testing actually improve fuel economy, then the trucks with the stuff being tested should be using less fuel than the control truck, which doesn't have any of the test devices installed. It's a little more complicated than that, but if you're really interested, just google "SAE J1321 test" and you'll find out more than you care to know.

Next stop, time to inventory our collection of fuel saving technologies.

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Here are some of the aerodynamic add-on fairings which are designed to reduce wind drag, and thus fuel consumption.

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We purchased special tires for all of the trucks -- we rented three trucks -- a control truck and two test trucks. Each of these needed a complete set of 18 tires. We had sets of low rolling resistance tires and high rolling resistance tires. Then we got some extra sets to retread so we could test the fuel economy performance of various retread products. You do the math. We had enough tires on hand to start a tire store. Getting rid of all of these after we were done testing was a real pain in the neck, involving mucho government paperwork. I'm certainly glad all of that is behind us.

With the inventory done, it was time to hit the road. A and I did lunch at a Mexican place off the 410 Loop that doesn't appear to be in business any more. It was pretty good, with a fresh salsa bar that had some pretty fiery choices, plus some just plain jalapenos you could chew on, if you were into that. Thus, fortified, we hit the road, and headed west on I-10.

The first stretch of the drive was through the Texas Hill County. While this area appears to be a bit arid to our Eastern way of thinking, it's actually wooded and green. But then, even the desert further west is green. As we passed west of the 100th meridian, though, the trees turned to bushes, and it started looking more and more like a desert. After we passed Junction, the speed limit increased to 80 miles per hour (I mean 130 km/hr). Funny thing, though is that most of the trucks were not going that fast. The trucking companies know that the power required to overcome aerodynamic drag ("wind resistance") increases by the cube of the speed. This is combined with the fact that even with all of the devices we were testing and specially designed cabs, 18-wheeler tractor trailers have the aerodynamic characteristics only a little better than that of a brick. Thus, going fast really messes with fuel economy, which increases cost for the trucking companies. The time benefit from driving 80 rather than 70 is really insignificant, but the extra fuel burned up isn't. Thus, they now have all their drivers tethered to GPS monitoring, and I suspect that they have a word with the speed demons when they return from their runs.

Presently we arrived at Fort Stockton, one of the most remote places I have stayed in the United States outside of a Sierra Club backpacking trip. This fine community is located in what is known as the West Texas Permian Basin, one of America's storied oil fields. They thought it had been pumped dry. Then they discovered fracking. At the time of our trip, the area was in the middle of an oil boom. What this meant for us was that the town was full of oil field workers needing a place to stay and driving up motel prices. Unfortunately, the people who set the US government per-diem lodging allowances hadn't got the word about this oil boom in an obscure part of the southwestern desert. The nicest place in town was a Holiday Inn Express. We couldn't afford it on our per-diem allowance. We had to settle for a La Quinta Inn. While this chain usually has nice places at good prices, this place was more than a little run down. My room was fine, but A had to move rooms twice because he discovered that someone didn't properly clean up after the previous occupants. The self-serve laundry machines were also broken, so I had to use a commercial laundromat in town. At least the hotel manager was apologetic about that and gave me boxes of free laundry detergent. The free breakfast, usually pretty good, was also substandard, and we mostly went over to the nearby Stripes convenience store, which had a really good taco bar, and got our breakfasts there.

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The other thing about Fort Stockton is that it's one of the windiest places I've ever been. Windy and hot. But at least not humid.

After settling in, we met the guys from SwRI over at K-Bob's Steak House, which was one of the better restaurants in town. This place was great, it was a real throwback to a 1970s style steak house. You could get a steak dinner for under $15, though if you wanted a big ribeye, it was going to coast more. We had dinner, and early to bed, because the test track was 50 miles away, and we had to get there right before dawn sow we could do a reasonable amount of testing before temperature hit 100 degrees (sorry, 40 degrees Celsius). The test protocol doesn't allow testing over 100 degrees, the air density decreases to the point that it messes up the results. Anyway, we had to get up early in the morning, so off to bed.

--to be continued
 

MARC Rider

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Chapter 2 -- Testing, 1-2-3

We were testing out at the track from Tuesday, July 14 through Saturday July 18 and from Monday July 20 through Thursday, July 23. A had seen enough by Thursday, and on Friday the 17th, we rose really early in the morning, and I drove up through the desert all the way to the Midland International Air & Space Port (Hey, that's what they call it.). Poor A had to fly a puddle jumper to DFW, and then connect to a real plane flying back to Washington. He later reported that the puddle jumper was delayed, he missed his connection at DFW, and, of course, he didn't get home until near midnight. So let that be a lesson -- Amtrak is not the only transportation carrier that can screw up your trip.

Our typical test day started on the track before dawn. As I said, we couldn't test if the temperature exceeded 100 degrees F, and it was hitting 100 slightly before noon, so we had to start early if we wanted to maximize our daylight test time. It also took a while to get the trucks set up every morning, thus, we arrived before dawn, and were usually done at lunch time. It was about a 50 mile drive from the motel to the test track, and it took about an hour. We usually left at about 5 AM.

The first morning we did this, it was pretty surreal. Actually it was pretty surreal every day. The route involved driving on 2-lane farm roads in the pitch dark and required making some turns, which fortunately, were pretty obvious. The area was scabby former ranch lands with some melon farming where they could sink a well and pump some water. Of course we didn't see any of this until our ride back to the motel. In the dark, all you could see were the oil pumps in places, the bright lights of drilling rigs, and flames for the wells where they were flaring off gas. Even though these were dinky little 2-lane farm roads, the posted speed limit was 75 miles/hr, so we were really moving through the dark. The first day we did this, I'm driving along like what I think is a bat out of hell when all of a sudden -- BAM! -- a roadrunner slams into us and goes flying off our windshield. No damage to us, but I'm not sure about the roadrunner. I guess Wile E. Coyote should just rent a car and drive around in west Texas. He might get what he's looking for. Of course, A took this tale back to the office, and I guess I still haven't lived down my reputation as a "roadrunner killer."

The Pecos RTC ("Road Testing Course" or "Research Testing Center") is something else. It was originally a proving ground for BF Goodrich, the tire company that is now part of Michelin. When they abandoned it, it was bought by Smithers Scientific Services (who we contracted with to test tires), but Smithers got rid of it because of lack of business. They sold it to the Texas Transportation Institute (part of Texas A&M) who found it a white elephant and quickly dumped if off on the Pecos Economic Development Corporation. SwRI decided that the fees to use that track were a lot less than the one they were using in Uvalde, so they decided to switch. It doesn't exactly get a whole lot of business, and when SwRI wasn't out there, they had a client who would set of explosions to make industrial diamond dust. As you'll see from the pictures, the place was a crumbling ruin, but the track was still paved, and the price was right.

The SwRI team commandeered the one intact office area, brought in an air conditioner and set up the command post there. They also managed to get internet access and wifi, so while I was stuck out in the absolute middle of nowhere, I was able to email my boss and read the Washington Post online. My job, aside from observing things and giving directions to the contractor, was to write up a daily report that was a running commentary of what was done that day. I also took pictures of the pencil-and-paper fuel worksheets sheets that were our high-tech data processing system and uploaded those pictures to my laptop to archive the data. Previously to that, they provided the data as paper files, which, for all I know were eventually lost in the same warehouse where Indiana Jones last saw the Ark of the Covenant. At least now, the data are lost in the data files somewhere on an EPA server. As I mentioned, the outside was pleasant at the time we checked in, about 25 degrees C, but it soon started getting hot, and none of us went outside unless we had to.

The track was a circle, about 8 miles in circumference. Once the fuel tanks were weighed, the trucks set out and drove them about 50 (er, 80 km) miles at 62 mi/hr (that’s 100 km/hr). A bit less than an hour after they set out, they came back to base, weighed the tanks, gave us the worksheets, and set off again. Excitement this was not. It was more like watching paint dry, Except, as we got the weights, were were able to analyze the test results and figure out how well the devices we were testing worked. Some worked pretty well, others, not so much.

Naturally, you can’t run a test program 300 miles from base without some drama. We had three test trucks. One of which was a control, which meant that not devices were installed. We installed our test devices on the other two. The idea of using two trucks was that we could test two devices at the same time, thus reducing the number of times we had to haul everything out 300 miles out to this track, and possibly saving money, even thoug, of course, we had to pay rent on three trucks instead of two. (Oh, you thought we owned those trucks? While, in the end, it might have been cheaper to buy three trucks, I shudder to think of what the procurement process would be – and I would be the poor schlub having to to the requisition. Besides, where would we park three 18-wheeler semitrailers in downtown Washington, DC?)

As soon as we started testing, one of the test trucks started acting up. The “check engine” light went on, and the truck’s fan cycled off and on strangely. After some telephone consultation, the contractor decided it needed to go into the shop. Normally, that’s not big deal, but in this case, the shop was 2 and half hours away in Odessa, Texas. So that was that for testing two devices at once. The truck came back repaired early the next week, but we did little more than verify that the truck was working properly.

All in all, I would say that it was a pretty successful trip. Despite the fact that one of the trucks conked out, we did get lots of test data, and we weren’t forced to shut down because of high winds. Plus, I got a chance to see one of the more secluded parts of the country, a place that I would never think of visiting on my own. On my weekend free time, I was even able to see some interesting sights, including an encounter with an Amtrak train.
 

MARC Rider

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Chapter 2 pictures

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It was hot out. I guess that gives one an idea of the location of the Pecos RTC.

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It wasn't so hot when we arrived for work, but when the sun was up for a while, that changed.

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No, the place wasn't shot up. That was from a hailstorm. Fortunately not when we were there.

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Here's a view of the track. It's a little beat up, but there's one lane that's paved pretty well.

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Here's how the fuel was weighed.

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A map of the place when it was functioning.


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Most of the complex was like this. The whole place had a kind of Mad Max post apocalyptic vibe.

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Here's the crew changing one of the aerodynamic fairings on the trailer. As usual in any job like this, there's always someone standing around watching other people work. But don't be too hard on the poor guy. This sort of thing has a long tradition. In fact, I have a book with a 19th century engraving depicting the first transatlantic telegraph message. In the picture, there's at least 10 people standing around watching the one telegraph operator actually sending and receiving the message.

Here's another 19th century drawing of a similar scene with kibitzers watching other people work.

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Willbridge

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My dad spent some time in Texas as a truck driver for the Army Air Corps and the account posted here sounds terribly familiar.

I checked and literally the next Greyhound out of Fort Stockton to Washington, DC has one seat left at a fare of $247. The fastest itinerary is already sold out.
 

MARC Rider

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I should also mention that the access road to the RTC from the nearest highway is called the "Holcomb Rape Ranch Road," or so it's indicated on Google Maps. The map also suggests that the road is paved, but when I drove it, it had potholes large enough to swallow a car whole. I was a little worried that the rental car agency might give me trouble for driving off of an improved road, but I avoided bottoming out, so I had no problems with that.
 

Seaboard92

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I should also mention that the access road to the RTC from the nearest highway is called the "Holcomb Rape Ranch Road," or so it's indicated on Google Maps. The map also suggests that the road is paved, but when I drove it, it had potholes large enough to swallow a car whole. I was a little worried that the rental car agency might give me trouble for driving off of an improved road, but I avoided bottoming out, so I had no problems with that.
Where in South Carolina is that :) That sounds an awful lot like our roads down here. At one point a few years ago one of our potholes was at least six feet across. One of our roads is so bad I look like I'm driving drunk swerving all over the lane as I avoid the massive amount of potholes.
 

MARC Rider

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View attachment 21488

Here's the crew changing one of the aerodynamic fairings on the trailer. As usual in any job like this, there's always someone standing around watching other people work. But don't be too hard on the poor guy. This sort of thing has a long tradition. In fact, I have a book with a 19th century engraving depicting the first transatlantic telegraph message. In the picture, there's at least 10 people standing around watching the one telegraph operator actually sending and receiving the message.

Here's another 19th century drawing of a similar scene with kibitzers watching other people work.
Here's the picture I was talking about. It wasn't an engraving, it was oil on canvas.
Awaiting the Reply by Robert Charles Dudley, ca. 1866
Robert Charles Dudley | Awaiting the Reply | The Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org)


DT318073.jpg
 

MARC Rider

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Where in South Carolina is that :) That sounds an awful lot like our roads down here. At one point a few years ago one of our potholes was at least six feet across. One of our roads is so bad I look like I'm driving drunk swerving all over the lane as I avoid the massive amount of potholes.
Ah, but I'll bet your taxes are low. :)
 

Seaboard92

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Ah, but I'll bet your taxes are low. :)
This is true. But I would rather pay higher taxes than drive on substandard roads with a substandard education. True story I freaked out my elementary school because I had the nasty habit of repeating whatever I had heard. And I told everyone "In South Carolina we have a substandard education that isn't preparing us for the post modern world" that made things quite a lot of fun. I also was reading David Baldacci novels in second grade.
 

MARC Rider

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This is true. But I would rather pay higher taxes than drive on substandard roads with a substandard education. True story I freaked out my elementary school because I had the nasty habit of repeating whatever I had heard. And I told everyone "In South Carolina we have a substandard education that isn't preparing us for the post modern world" that made things quite a lot of fun. I also was reading David Baldacci novels in second grade.
But every time I attended the Clemson Tire Industry Conference in Hilton Head, we'd have some functionary from the state come and tell us how well-prepared the products of the SC education system were for the skilled jobs being generated by the high-tech industrial work the state was chasing after. Of course the real tell was when Nikki Haley came to speak to us, and she made it a point to emphasize to to the assembled crowd how, no way, no-how, would unions ever come to South Carolina. This even amused some of the industry people I knew, as they were perfectly capable of working profitably with unionized factories. (But I suspect the antipathy to unionization is why Michelin and Continental located their US operations in SC rather than, say, Ohio.)
 

MARC Rider

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Chapter 3 -- Fort Stockton

Given that we were off the track by 2 PM, even with a hour drive, we still had plenty of time to explore Fort Stockton. Surprisingly, there were a few things to see, despite the fact that it's a small town in the middle of nowhere. One thing I've found from my travels is that you can find interesting things almost anywhere.

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Ah, A view of the this scenic charming town. :) One does not visit here for its culinary charms. Aside from K-Bobs, there was a decent Mexican place where we ate, another place out by the highway that served a good chicken-fried steak, and the usual array of fast food choices.

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Actually, they have a nice traditional downtown. The only problem is that it's mostly empty, as the locals seem to prefer the highway strip style of urban planning (or lack thereof.) There's a historical museum, and also an old saloon that's a tasting room for a local winery. Yes, they actually grow grapes and make wine out in this desert. The wine wasn't bad, and the vibe at the Grey Mule Saloon is a bit more genteel than the sort of place along the highway that caters to oil field workers.

And, of course, with a name like "Fort Stockton," there has to be a fort. The town was founded as a base for the "Buffalo Soldiers," the African American cavalry troopers who fought the Apaches in this area. The location was selected to due to the presence of natural springs. The springs are all dried up, but some of the fort has been preserved.

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the preserved/reconstructed barracks.

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Typical soldiers' accommodations of the late 1800s.

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Official U.S. Army disciplinary apparatus of the late 19th century.

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This wagon was used in a couple of John Wayne movies. For some reason, the management thought it was worth being displayed here.

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There's a rail line that goes through town. I think it continues on to Alpine and then into Mexico.

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The old train station, now repurposed as a visitors center.


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A display at the local visitor center that highlights the oil-producing heritage of the area.

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That's the world's largest roadrunner. I don't think I'd want to hit that one while driving.
 
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Bob Dylan

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You're right about the Santa Fe Rail line, it ran from San Angelo( their Station is also a Rail Museum now)thru Fort Stockton to Alpine( the line crossed the SP Main on the Western edge of town) and down to Presidio,Tx, crossed the Border to Ojinaga,Mexico where one could board a Train heading South into Mexico.

The Springs were pumped dry by Ranchers in the area by the '40s (and the Oil and Gas Operators) then the terrible 7 year Draught in the '50s turned West Texas into a Dust Bowl.( see the Movie "Giant" filmed in Marfa)

I used to use Ft Stockton for a Gas and Pit Stop when heading East or West, basically you're right about the town, it reminds me of the Dieing Town in " The Last Picture Show".( West Texas is full of towns like this)

One note of Moderization, there is a Wal-Mart in Ft Stockton, and people drive hundreds of miles to Stock up!

Glad you at least ate well while there!😉
 

railiner

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Location
Palm Beach County
I used to use Ft Stockton for a Gas and Pit Stop when heading East or West, basically you're right about the town, it reminds me of the Dieing Town in " The Last Picture Show".( West Texas is full of towns like this)
When I think about "dying towns", I can't help thinking about this classic, optimistic slogan, painted on their old former water tower. The Pioneer, and the SFZ used to go by it on its regular route...:)
Image was found on Flickr....

https://flic.kr/p/bLXYHv
 

MARC Rider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
2,877
Location
Baltimore. MD
Chapter 3 -- Road Trip!! Saturday session

On Saturday, we were done at the track around noon. I really had a lot of time on my hands to hang around in the middle of nowhere. My contractor project manager suggested that I head over to Balmorhea State Park, about a 45 m minute drive away and cool off. I thought that's a bit weird to drive 45 minutes to a swimming pool, but when I got there, I soon found out its appeal. This place is a series of natural springs that were developed by the WPA or CCC back in the Depression. The springs were enlarged, pool decking was placed on the sides, and changing rooms were built. I wonder if some of the local anti-government "rugged individualists" who seemed to be enjoying this place know that it's there because the government spent the equivalent of stimulus money on this back in the 1930s. Even though it looks like the largest swimming pool in the world, it's still a natural spring with fish and such swimming around in it. And it attracted a good crowd. This might be America's Big Empty, but there seem to be a lot of people running about out in the desert.

20150718_155842.jpg

20150718_155906.jpg

Well, that was a refreshing thing to do on a hot day. But I still had time on my hands. I could drive down to Fort Davis, up in the mountains. But I had already been there a few years earlier. They have a National Historic site at the old fort, a Buffalo Soldier cavalry base similar to the one in Fort Stockton, except, being a National Park Service site, it was a lot more restored and had a lot more stuff there. No, I looked at the maps, and decided, what the heck, why not see how Alpine is doing? So off I went.

20150718_164007.jpg

As the altitude increased, more grasslands, less cactus.

20150718_180004.jpg

Finally, in Alpine, what's this? An Amtrak station! (Of course, I knew it was there)

20150718_175823.jpg

The station is unstaffed, but maybe if someone had some magic Hollywood fairy dust, they could sprinkle it about, and the ticket agent could come to life. :)

20150718_180239.jpg

The local folks seem like like wall murals. There are a number of them around town, highlighting the local history and culture.

Alpine is a bit more yuppified than Fort Stockton, given that they have a state university and it's the tourist gateway to Big Bend national Park. There were actually some higher-class places to eat. I ended up having dinner at the Century Bar and Grill at the Holland Hotel. I had stayed at the Holland when I passed through town in 2008. They had a duck breast on the menu, and after a week of K-Bobs, Mexican food, and chicken fried steak, it was nice to get a little variety in the food department.

During dinner, I checked my phone, and it seemed that the eastbound Sunset Limited was coming through that evening, and early enough so that I could hang around and watch it come in, yet still get back to Fort Stockton at a reasonable time.

20150718_175942.jpg
There it is, the old SP southern transcontinental main line, looking east from the station.

20150718_204628.jpg

Here comes the train!

20150718_204940.jpg

Nice new ADA compliant platforms for the coach passengers.


20150718_204950.jpg
Not so much if you're in the sleeping cars. (Though I guess if they had a sleeper passenger with mobility issues, they could double spot the train, so the sleepers would have access to the platform.

Ads the train headed off to the east, it was starting to get dark, so it was time for me to hit the road. I drove on US 90 a few miles out of town, and then turned northeast on US 67 to get myself to Ft. Stockton. Driving out of town (75 mph speed limit), I caught up with the Sunset Ltd., and left it in the dust. The a long drive through a dark desert. I got to kill another roadrunner. Or I should say, the roadrunner had the audacity to put itself right in front of my windshield as I was going 75 mph with no warning to slow down or stop. In any even, soon I was back in bed at my motel, ready to get some sleep for my next day's adventures.
 

Bob Dylan

Conductor
Joined
May 31, 2009
Messages
22,207
Location
Austin Texas
Chapter 3 -- Road Trip!! Saturday session

On Saturday, we were done at the track around noon. I really had a lot of time on my hands to hang around in the middle of nowhere. My contractor project manager suggested that I head over to Balmorhea State Park, about a 45 m minute drive away and cool off. I thought that's a bit weird to drive 45 minutes to a swimming pool, but when I got there, I soon found out its appeal. This place is a series of natural springs that were developed by the WPA or CCC back in the Depression. The springs were enlarged, pool decking was placed on the sides, and changing rooms were built. I wonder if some of the local anti-government "rugged individualists" who seemed to be enjoying this place know that it's there because the government spent the equivalent of stimulus money on this back in the 1930s. Even though it looks like the largest swimming pool in the world, it's still a natural spring with fish and such swimming around in it. And it attracted a good crowd. This might be America's Big Empty, but there seem to be a lot of people running about out in the desert.

View attachment 21611

View attachment 21612

Well, that was a refreshing thing to do on a hot day. But I still had time on my hands. I could drive down to Fort Davis, up in the mountains. But I had already been there a few years earlier. They have a National Historic site at the old fort, a Buffalo Soldier cavalry base similar to the one in Fort Stockton, except, being a National Park Service site, it was a lot more restored and had a lot more stuff there. No, I looked at the maps, and decided, what the heck, why not see how Alpine is doing? So off I went.

View attachment 21613

As the altitude increased, more grasslands, less cactus.

View attachment 21614

Finally, in Alpine, what's this? An Amtrak station! (Of course, I knew it was there)

View attachment 21615

The station is unstaffed, but maybe if someone had some magic Hollywood fairy dust, they could sprinkle it about, and the ticket agent could come to life. :)

View attachment 21616

The local folks seem like like wall murals. There are a number of them around town, highlighting the local history and culture.

Alpine is a bit more yuppified than Fort Stockton, given that they have a state university and it's the tourist gateway to Big Bend national Park. There were actually some higher-class places to eat. I ended up having dinner at the Century Bar and Grill at the Holland Hotel. I had stayed at the Holland when I passed through town in 2008. They had a duck breast on the menu, and after a week of K-Bobs, Mexican food, and chicken fried steak, it was nice to get a little variety in the food department.

During dinner, I checked my phone, and it seemed that the eastbound Sunset Limited was coming through that evening, and early enough so that I could hang around and watch it come in, yet still get back to Fort Stockton at a reasonable time.

View attachment 21617
There it is, the old SP southern transcontinental main line, looking east from the station.

View attachment 21619

Here comes the train!

View attachment 21622

Nice new ADA compliant platforms for the coach passengers.


View attachment 21626
Not so much if you're in the sleeping cars. (Though I guess if they had a sleeper passenger with mobility issues, they could double spot the train, so the sleepers would have access to the platform.

Ads the train headed off to the east, it was starting to get dark, so it was time for me to hit the road. I drove on US 90 a few miles out of town, and then turned northeast on US 67 to get myself to Ft. Stockton. Driving out of town (75 mph speed limit), I caught up with the Sunset Ltd., and left it in the dust. The a long drive through a dark desert. I got to kill another roadrunner. Or I should say, the roadrunner had the audacity to put itself right in front of my windshield as I was going 75 mph with no warning to slow down or stop. In any even, soon I was back in bed at my motel, ready to get some sleep for my next day's adventures.
Really enjoyable, I'll be in Alpine Thursday, doing a turn on #421/#422 this week.( Looking forward to trying a Food Truck called "Cow Dog" that gets rave reviews on line. Close to Amtrak Station and the Holland Hotel)
 

MARC Rider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
2,877
Location
Baltimore. MD
Chapter 4 -- Road Trip -- Sunday Drive

I had all day Sunday free -- in the Big Empty! What to do with my time? B, my contractor project officer said, "A really good trip would be to go see Carlsbad Caverns. It's only a 130 mile drive!"

Well, thought, why not? It's not like I'm ever voluntarily ever going to come to this part of the country again. And then looking at the map, I figured that after seeing the Caverns, I'd make a loop through the Guadalupe Mountains, and return to Fort Stockton via Van Horn and I-10.

20150719_092508.jpg

So it was up early, and then, when I crossed the New Mexico border, it was even earlier, as New Mexico is on Mountain Time, and Texas, even as far west as Pecos and Fort Stockton, is on Central time. Here is a scenic view of the New Mexico part of the great Permian Basin oil field, complete with gas flaring off a well and contributing to global climate change. (Who am I to be preachy? I was driving a car that was also contributing to global climate change.)

20150719_100625.jpg

The Carlsbad Caverns park visitor center is on the top of a hill about 700 feet above the valley below. The caverns are about 700 feet down, or at more or less the same level as the valley. It was 6 days before my 62nd birthday, and so I had to pay the full adult admission. This was the last time I did that, because at my next National Park visit that August, I purchased my lifetime Senior pass, at the old rate of $10. I'm holding on to that one, I can assure you.

There are two ways to get to the caverns. One can ride down in the elevators, or walk down through the "natural entrance."

20150719_103004.jpg

Here is the "Natural entrance." The nice graded paths weren't there when the place was discovered.

20150719_103108.jpg
So long daylight!

20150719_104318.jpg

My last view of the sky for a while. It later occurred to me that it might have been a good idea to have brought along a flashlight, just in case of a power failure. Also, the cave was lit OK, but it was pretty dim, the ground was bare rock, a little damp and a little slick, so you sometimes had to watch where you put your feet. A fleece jacket is also a good idea, as the cave in the depths is a little cool and damp.

20150719_114031.jpg

I finally got to the bottom, and found this notice. The hike really isn't as bad as indicated by these notices, but I didn't want to spend all day there, so I will admit that I cheated and took the elevators back to the surface. :)

Just a few cool views of the main part of the caverns:

20150719_120412.jpg

20150719_120818.jpg

20150719_124400.jpg

And here's what the area looks like at the surface.

20150719_131729.jpg
 

Bob Dylan

Conductor
Joined
May 31, 2009
Messages
22,207
Location
Austin Texas
Chapter 4 -- Road Trip -- Sunday Drive

I had all day Sunday free -- in the Big Empty! What to do with my time? B, my contractor project officer said, "A really good trip would be to go see Carlsbad Caverns. It's only a 130 mile drive!"

Well, thought, why not? It's not like I'm ever voluntarily ever going to come to this part of the country again. And then looking at the map, I figured that after seeing the Caverns, I'd make a loop through the Guadalupe Mountains, and return to Fort Stockton via Van Horn and I-10.

View attachment 21832

So it was up early, and then, when I crossed the New Mexico border, it was even earlier, as New Mexico is on Mountain Time, and Texas, even as far west as Pecos and Fort Stockton, is on Central time. Here is a scenic view of the New Mexico part of the great Permian Basin oil field, complete with gas flaring off a well and contributing to global climate change. (Who am I to be preachy? I was driving a car that was also contributing to global climate change.)

View attachment 21833

The Carlsbad Caverns park visitor center is on the top of a hill about 700 feet above the valley below. The caverns are about 700 feet down, or at more or less the same level as the valley. It was 6 days before my 62nd birthday, and so I had to pay the full adult admission. This was the last time I did that, because at my next National Park visit that August, I purchased my lifetime Senior pass, at the old rate of $10. I'm holding on to that one, I can assure you.

There are two ways to get to the caverns. One can ride down in the elevators, or walk down through the "natural entrance."

View attachment 21834

Here is the "Natural entrance." The nice graded paths weren't there when the place was discovered.

View attachment 21835
So long daylight!

View attachment 21836

My last view of the sky for a while. It later occurred to me that it might have been a good idea to have brought along a flashlight, just in case of a power failure. Also, the cave was lit OK, but it was pretty dim, the ground was bare rock, a little damp and a little slick, so you sometimes had to watch where you put your feet. A fleece jacket is also a good idea, as the cave in the depths is a little cool and damp.

View attachment 21837

I finally got to the bottom, and found this notice. The hike really isn't as bad as indicated by these notices, but I didn't want to spend all day there, so I will admit that I cheated and took the elevators back to the surface. :)

Just a few cool views of the main part of the caverns:

View attachment 21838

View attachment 21839

View attachment 21841

And here's what the area looks like at the surface.

View attachment 21842
When Visitors would come to West Texas when I was a kid, the Caverns were a " Must See!"( and as you discovered, it's a Loooooong Drive to/from the Caverns.)
 
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