Joe Sherlock car blog

Friday October 31, 2008

sherlock automobile bloggingCar Sightings from our October trip to Pennsylvania and New Jersey: The ratio of American vehicles to Asian vehicles is much higher than in the Pacific Northwest. For instance, I saw a surprising number of new/nearly new Mercuries. I rarely see Mercs in this area, except for aging Grand Marquis sedans piloted by geezers.

Spotted a sleek white Bentley Continental GT coupe with chrome wheels parked at Michael's Diner in Bensalem, PA. I wondered if it belonged to the owner, who operates eight or so diners in the area (including the Mayfair, Country Club, Tiffany and Melrose) - a veritable diner magnate.

I also got a good, long look at a new 2009 Jaguar XF on the road; it was the first example I've seen in the sheet metal. Many people have stated that the Jag looks much better in person than in the photos. I disagree. The rear end looks disappointing in person and the front looks remarkably like a Hyundai. Popular Mechanics thinks it's "Jaguar's best sedan ever." Ummmmm .... no.

Last week, I spotted my second XF in Battle Ground - a white Jag with a chrome leaper hood ornament. Given the short, sloping hood, the leaper looked superfluous and completely out of place.

Joe Sherlock car blog"Dancin' To The Jailhouse Rock ..." Wednesday was probably the last gorgeous day of the year - sunny, blue skies, temperatures in the 60s at 11:00 am. So I jumped in the '39 Plymouth for what was probably the last ride of the season. The Fall colors are now past peak but still there. On the way home, Elvis was emanating from the speakers so I rolled down the windows, cranked up the volume knob and treated the neighborhood to a fine mixture of 'Jailhouse Rock' and Glasspack burbles.

According to the various weather reports, rain is forecast. Oooops. It's already started. It only rains once a year in the Pacific Northwest - from October 30th to May 3rd.

Why I Love To Read Mr. Berko's Columns: Malcolm calls 'em as he sees 'em. A reader wrote, "My 2003 SUV needs lots of body and repair work, so I need new wheels. I did some looking and found a great Chevy Tahoe for $42,000 but the dealer won't finance it, even if I give him $500 cash and my trade-in. About three months ago, the dealer was willing to take my trade-in and almost did it but my wife lost her job and I thought the payments would have been too tight. Now I'm back to the same dealer and he tells me he can't do it. What's wrong with this picture? If people like me can't get financing to buy the things we need, business will go to hell in a handbasket. Banks are willing to lend money to people who don't need it, but guys like me who don't have enough money after taxes to make ends meet or start an independent retirement account get shafted."

Malcolm acidly replied, "I'm relieved that you can't get credit to buy a new SUV for $42,000. Where is it written that you have the right to own expensive transportation, give the dealer a piece of junk for a trade-in plus $500 in cash and expect a five-year, 60-payment financing agreement from the bank?

Why don't you buy cheaper transportation, increase your down payment and finance it over three years? If you can't afford that, then repair your old car. Don't be a bloody slob. Learn to take care of the property you own. I'll bet your house looks like your car. Credit is a privilege, not a right, as you seem to believe."

The Tanking Economy: I'm weary of reading economic forecasts and explanations from 'experts'. Like local TV weather people, their batting average is no better than the Average Joe. Therefore, I'm providing my own predictions; my past track record in advising business clients on the economy has been pretty good.

Let's start with ... (more >>>)

Happy Halloween! In the spirit of the season, my son has posted photos from his 1977 'Monster Party', his 10th birthday bash. Every attendee was required to wear a monster costume of some kind. The birthday cake was coffin-shaped with skeletal remains atop it. I'm particularly proud of Harry's Brain Salad.

You'll find photos of me - as Frankenstein - in some of the pix. I also served as waiter, pouring 'blood' from a glass carafe into the kids' glasses. (No extra charge for refills and transfusions.)

joe sherlock blog
In 1980, my daughter went trick or treating as a Rolo bar while my son dressed as a lizard-faced alien.

He also posted a photo of the Rolo costume I made for my daughter in 1980. It was cylindrical, made of cardboard and wood and painted to resemble a giant Rolo candy bar. She reminds me - every Halloween - that it was awkward and uncomfortable to wear. (Hey, I was never a professional costumer - just an amateur dad.)

Tech Headline Of The Week is from The Onion: 'Microsoft Ad Campaign Crashing Nation's Televisions.' Many television owners were left with no other option than to manually restart their devices by unplugging and then plugging them back in.

Quote Of The Day is from Sippican Cottage on petting zoos: "They've got animals in pens. You pat yourself down like you're arresting yourself, looking for a quarter to buy a handful of food pellets from a vending machine to feed to the goats and such. I realized how remote that we've become from anything animal. We need to have regular barnyard animals displayed in a Potemkin farm because everyone joins the Sierra Club but have never been outdoors."


Wednesday October 29, 2008

Bailout Bucks: General Motors wants $10 billion from Uncle Sam (that's us), so it can buy Chrysler.

Hey, give me the money instead. I've got my own plan to save Chrysler.

Amazing Headline: 'VW: Largest Market Cap In The World'. The market cap of Volkswagen has now passed Exxon to move it into first place worldwide among publicly-traded stocks. Now VW can buy Toyota and have equity left over to pick up Ford and GM to boot.

Civic Duty: My wife and I voted over the weekend. We read the Washington State Voters' Guide, filled out the ballots at our leisure and mailed them back.

I lean Republican but always vote for the person, not the party. In fact, I voted for at least two Democrats on a state/local level. But, for President, I voted for John McCain and Sarah Palin. McCain's ACU (American Conservative Union) ratings are good and his ADA (Americans For Democratic Action) and ACLU scores are terrible - pretty much the opposite Obama's scores. I am impressed with Sarah Palin's credentials and public demeanor.

My vote for McCain is also a vote against Obama. Barry O. (the one Louis Farrakhan calls "the Messiah") is a phony machine politician who would be too easy with my money and not tough enough on terrorists and those nations that support them. He claims to be an American black but his resume says Kenyan and white with some Indonesian Muslim education thrown in. He is the son of an absent African father and a mother who relied on government-issued food stamps to feed her children. Not exactly 'the guy down the street'.

For 20 years, Obama regularly attended a "Christian" church which sounds like no "church" I've ever heard of. (It seems to be a photo-negative of one of those white supremacist "Christian churches.") Obama also pals around with crooks and unrepentant Weather Underground bombers. As well as the equally-despicable ACORN and the New Party. And, perhaps most important of all, he can't seem to take a little ribbing - the mark of a thin-skinned individual. History shows that thin-skinned men make lousy presidents.

The wannabe Democrat Overlords have vowed to 1) Tax, 2) Spend, 3) Cut Defense and 4) Spread The Wealth, which means taking away my hard-earned money (and yours) and using it for whatever suits their fancy. That's four more reasons to vote Republican.

If you are interested in some in depth analysis, read the last six months of this blog and click on the links to some exceptional writing by others.

That's my two cents. In a democracy, good men can disagree. Think carefully. Vote for the candidate you believe in - but make sure you do vote.

Just Because ... good men can disagree, doesn't mean that I think those despicable, vile loud-mouthed liberal jerks - so vocal during Campaign 2008 - are "good men." They're assholes. As are all those left-leaning mainstream media "reporters" ...

Is The Press In The Tank For Obama? Of course. How could you not notice? In an article titled 'Would the Last Honest Reporter Please Turn On the Lights?', Orson Scott Card wrote, "This housing crisis didn't come out of nowhere. It was not a vague emanation of the evil Bush administration.

It was a direct result of the political decision, back in the late 1990s, to loosen the rules of lending so that home loans would be more accessible to poor people. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were authorized to approve risky loans. ... This was completely foreseeable and in fact many people did foresee it. One political party, in Congress and in the executive branch, tried repeatedly to tighten up the rules. The other party blocked every such attempt and tried to loosen them. ... Yet when Nancy Pelosi accused the Bush administration and Republican deregulation of causing the crisis, you in the press did not hold her to account for her lie. Instead, you criticized Republicans who took offense at this lie and refused to vote for the bailout! And after Franklin Raines, the CEO of Fannie Mae who made $90 million while running it into the ground, was fired for his incompetence, one presidential candidate's campaign actually consulted him for advice on housing.

If that presidential candidate had been John McCain, you would have called it a major scandal and we would be getting stories in your paper every day about how incompetent and corrupt he was. ...

You might want to remember the way the National Organization of Women (NOW) threw away their integrity by supporting Bill Clinton despite his well-known pattern of sexual exploitation of powerless women. Who listens to NOW anymore? We know they stand for nothing; they have no principles.

That's where you are right now. ...

If you do not tell the truth about the Democrats - including Barack Obama - and do so with the same energy you would use if the miscreants were Republicans - then you are not journalists by any standard.

You're just the public relations machine of the Democratic Party, and it's time you were all fired and real journalists brought in, so that we can actually have a news paper in our city."

Mr. Card's article is worth a read in its entirety. I would offer the following additional observations:

1) The alleged "unbiased" media makes big noises about the $150,000 worth of high-end clothes the Republican National Committee bought Sarah Palin and her family for public appearances, while not a one of them mentions the $5.3 million Temple of Obama complete with faux-Greek columns which the DNC commissioned.

2) I have heard that Obama-advisor Franklin Raines frequently used a private jet - paid for by Fannie Mae - to ferry himself and his friends to weekend getaways in Bermuda. (In 2002, Fannie Mae spent over $196,000 on private jet services for Raines.) Why has the mainstream media not reported this? What ever happened to investigative journalism? Oh, right. It's all been allocated to digging up (or making up dirt) on Republicans.

Philly News: I'm pleased to learn that The Philadelphia Bulletin has endorsed John McCain. However, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a column offering the position, "White people shouldn't be allowed to vote", declaring, "It's for the good of the country and for those who're bitter for a reason and armed because they're scared."

This is soooo typical of the Loud and Obnoxious Left. John Hinderaker of Powerline has written, "I don't think there is any precedent in our history for the shameful manner in which the Left has treated Sarah Palin. ... The vileness of much of what passes for political "argument" on the Left has to be seen to be believed. The worst impulses of human nature have been not just unleashed, but rewarded. If you haven't looked at web sites like Democratic Underground, Daily Kos, the Huffington Post and Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, you have no idea what the phrase "gutter politics" really means.

Nowhere has the vileness of the Left been more sickening than in its treatment of Governor Palin. ... I think this represents, in part, a conscious effort to drive decent people out of politics. How many Republican women, observing the vicious treatment to which Sarah Palin has been subjected, will decide to steer clear of public life? More than a few, I suspect. Barack Obama can't be blamed for all of his followers' vile actions, but, like it or not, he trails in his wake a howling mob of barbarians. If he is elected, these bottom-feeders will have achieved their goal, and some of them, at least, will be rewarded for doing their leader's dirty work. This is not, folks, your father's Democratic Party."

How true. The Democratic Party of old - a centrist group - typified by Jack Kennedy, Scoop Jackson, Harry Truman, etc. is mostly gone - hijacked by the McGovernite Left, now a bunch of aging hippies and arthritic anarchists.

The many comments by Leftoids chastising Ms. Palin for failing to abort her baby, Trig, represent just a one example of the repulsive braying of wacko ultra-liberals. Many of the insults thrown at Sarah are simply too disgusting to mention.

Analysts at the Culture and Media Institute found that ABC, CBS and NBC are airing 18 negative stories for every positive story on Sarah Palin.

Who Ordered That Investigation Of Joe The Plumber? Answer:

Public employee (taxpayer-supported) - check
Black - check
Maximum donor to Obama campaign - check

Are you surprised?

And remember, the only thing Joe is "guilty of" is asking Obama a simple question. What would be next in an Obama presidency? Thought crimes?

The Unbearable Lightness Of Bailouts: Art Laffler writes, "Every $100 billion in bailout requires at least $130 billion in taxes, where the $30 billion extra is the cost of getting government involved.

If you don't believe me, just watch how Congress and Barney Frank run the banks. If you thought they did a bad job running the post office, Amtrak, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the military, just wait till you see what they'll do with Wall Street."

Comment Of The Day is from a poster on Sytnthstuff: "We have raised a generation, maybe two generations, of selfish, whining crybabies – both in and out of Government – whose primary business is trying to take money from others without providing any meaningful long term service to society. They need to be brought to their knees and shown the facts of life."

Why does the phrase "community organizer" come to mind?

Thought For Today: When you go into court, you are putting yourself in the hands of twelve people who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty.


Monday October 27, 2008

Death Rattle: General Motors is "suspending company matching of its 401(k) program as of November 1." Appropriately, following day is All Souls Day, also known as The Day of the Dead.

Meanwhile, Chrysler is cutting 25% of its salaried, white collar workforce.

Voted Off The Island: Consumer Reports subscribers have dubbed the Chrysler Sebring convertible The Pits, giving it a reliability score of 283% worse than average. "Almost two-thirds of Chrysler's products rate below average for reliability. The redesigned 2008 Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan minivans earned low scores, as did the Chrysler Sebring V6 and Dodge Avenger sedans and the Jeep Liberty SUV."

Good news for Ford: "Ford's three brands - Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury - continue to pull away from the rest of the Detroit automakers. Almost all Ford models are now average or better, with the exception of some that are truck-based. Excluding those, Ford's reliability is now on par with good Japanese automakers."

Drive Time: On Friday morning, I fired up the Plymouth and drove to town. I bought some StaBil which I added to the Plymouth's tank in the store parking lot, in preparation for the car's Winter nap. Then I went for a nice drive to mix it all up. The fall colors are at peak here and are stunning, although it was a little foggy in spots during my mini leaf tour. It was a chilly ride though. When I arrived home at 11:00 am, temperatures were still in the 40s.

'Obama No Merci Beaucoup': Courtesy of Gateway Pundit - a short Zydego video by Poor James and the Swamp Crows here.

I Never Thought Of This Before. Thanks to Tom McMahon for making the connection.

Restaurant Reviews - Fall 2008 Edition: During our trip to PA and NJ, we ate a lot of restaurant food. I've made the appropriate additions to the 2008 Restaurant Review List here.

Sticky Buns: The East Coast (N.E. and mid-Atlantic states) is still the best place to get sticky buns. And, if you think that sticky buns are something that is made in a Cinnabon store, I have pity on your soul.

In Pennsylvania, I recommend Mr. Sticky of Williamsport, Fritz's Bakery of Langhorne and Rilling's Bakery in Northeast Philadelphia. Rilling's has great pound cake and butter cake, too.

Sh*t List: Based on our recent trip, here are some places to avoid:

Bugaboo Creek Steak House, Philadelphia (mediocre food, tired decor, uncaring service)

Pizzeria Uno Chicago Grill, Franklin Mills, Philadelphia (worst waitpeople ever)

Sleep Inn, Ronks PA (noisy, shopworn & tired, breakfast area too small and crowded)

The McDonald's at 1240 Bristol Pike in Bensalem, PA totally screwed up our simple order - got every single item incorrect - and didn't want to admit it. The counter person wanted to argue. The manager finally fixed things but grudgingly. Worst McDonald's ever - that's sad because McDs are usually pretty decent.

The McDonald's in nearby Franklin Mills was much better and employed the hardest-working Downs guy I've ever met. I wish all retail employees were so industrious. And courteous.

Headline Of The Week ... so far ... is from The Onion: '900-Pound Giant Squid Joins Cast Of The View'. "We feel that the squid brings a fresh new point of view to the program," said View executive producer and host Barbara Walters. "We looked at hundreds of potential candidates, but in the end, this rare and exotic creature from the darkest depths of the sea truly stood out."

"And as far as we can tell, it is a female," Walters added.

Bad Pun Of The Day: A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. "But why?" they asked, as they moved off. "Because," he said, "I can't stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer."


Friday October 24, 2008

Rental Car Road Test: During our recent trip, we put over 1,800 miles on a 2008 Mazda6. I was impressed. Despite an odometer reading of 13,000+ miles, the car was free of squeaks/rattles and the upholstery still looked good. Interior quality/materials seemed typical of similar import brands in this price class. Everything worked and controls were easy to find/use. The front seats were comfortable and supportive. The rear seats were somewhat cramped though.

Our metallic silver example was good-looking, too.

The 156 horsepower four-banger was peppy, if a bit thirsty. We averaged 23-24 mpg during our travels. The five-speed auto always engaged first gear from rest and I found myself burning rubber accelerating away from the many PA/NJ toll booths if I wasn't careful. Handling was exceptional; the steering was responsive and torque steer seemed minimal. Ride on the highway was smooth; visibility was good. The trunk was decent - big enough for all our stuff.

The Mazda6 is considered a full-size car by rental companies. It was much, much better than the last full size car we rented - a Chevy Impala.

Beware - rental car prices have jumped 25% in the past two years. The 'quoted daily rate' may not have changed much but, when you add in all the mandatory extras - Domestic Security Fee, Airport Access Fee, sales tax, etc., the real world daily cost has increased by double digits. This does not take into account higher fuel costs.

The Mazda6 was one of the best cars we've rented in years. If I were in the market for such a vehicle, I'd giving Mazda a closer look. Especially since we had a very good experience with the Mazda3 we rented in January. (permalink)

Dear Uncle, Send Money ... Quick! Holman Jenkins Jr. of the Wall Street Journal has written about the possible GM-Chrysler merger. Excerpt: "The talk is of synergies and cost-cutting, of tapping new lodes of cash to ride out the storm. Don't believe it. These negotiations are about one thing: creating a political last stand of American auto making that a Democratic Congress and president won't be able to resist bailing out."

In Other News While I Was Out of Town: The Columbian, Vancouver's newspaper, is moving out of its brand spankin' new six-story 118,000-square-foot $30 million downtown structure back to its former and more modest offices a few blocks away. The company must either sell the building, negotiate a new loan with its lender or file Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

An unexpected ... (more >>>)

Yo Mama: Here's a selection of current events-based Yo Mama jokes:

Yo mama's so fat, she authorized a $700 billion bailout of Dairy Queen.

Yo mama's so fat, she thinks the G8 is a Value Meal.

Yo mama's so fat, she thinks sub-prime is a steak cut.

Yo mama's so fat, Sizzler commercials end with "I'm yo mama, and I approve this message."

Quote Of The Day is from Jim Treacher: "If I were a congressman, I'd introduce the Sufferin' Succotash bill just so Barney Frank would have to say it."

Jim adds, "Palin dubs Obama: 'Barack the Wealth Spender'. But fine, I'll say it, for Google purposes: Barack the Pickpocket. Hey, if they're going to call you a racist no matter what, why not tell the truth?"


Wednesday October 22, 2008

Hybridized Luxury: The latest issue of Lexus magazine has confirmed that the company will introduce the new hybrid-only Lexus at the Detroit Auto Show in January 2009, presumably based on the next-generation Prius.

Two Words ... Penn Central: An article in USA Today states that Chrysler and GM seek to merge in part because they figure a company that big will not be allowed to fail.

The merger of the Pennsylvania and New York Central Railroads resulted in the one of the largest bankruptcies of the 20th Century.

Political Story: During recent stay the Philadelphia area, we visited a couple whom we've known for over 40 years. We've never discussed politics with them before.

We were talking generally about life in the Pacific Northwest, when - out of nowhere - the wife suddenly exclaimed, "I hate Sarah Palin." I was taken aback. Then I told her that I supported Sarah, pointing out that Palin represents the best of Pacific NW politicians - folks who are less party-centric and more focused on can-do politics. She then lavishly praised Obama, saying that he will "change everything." I replied that Obama is very inexperienced and seems to offer platitudes rather than workable solutions. "Well ... Lincoln didn't have much experience either," she retorted. (This woman is a college graduate and former teacher. Her daughter is a history major.)

At this point I was wondering what alternate universe she was from. Abraham Lincoln began his political career in 1832 - 28 years before he became president. He served four successive terms in the Illinois House of Representatives. Lincoln was also a successful practicing attorney and earned a reputation as a formidable adversary during cross-examinations and in his closing arguments. He was involved in more than 5,000 cases in Illinois alone during his 23-year legal career. Lincoln and his partners appeared before the Illinois State Supreme Court more than 400 times.

sherlock autoblogOut of arguments, the woman concluded, "People just need to give Obama a chance." Ummmm ... this is not how we elect presidents - picking people off the street and giving them "a chance." Fill in any other name - Howdy Doody, O.J., Mortimer Snerd, Pol Pot, Dracula, Paris Hilton, Groundskeeper Willie, Idi Amin, Madonna, Stewie Griffin - and it's obvious how silly her statement is.

Example: "People just need to give Adolph Hitler a chance."

She's apparently been drinking the Obama Kool-Aid. Or maybe it's something they're putting in the Philadelphia water system.

For the rest of our trip, whenever we witnessed something strange or appalling, my wife would exclaim, "But ... people just need to give _____ a chance."

Maybe I should forward the woman a copy of 'The Comprehensive Argument Against Barack Obama'. Nah ... she'd never give it a chance.

Garrison Keillor Putdown of the Week is from James Lileks: Keillor wrote, "I let other people carry the conversational ball when it comes to religion, or politics, these days. I've known enough old bores to not want to be one of them."

Lileks replied, "Well, in fairness, most typewriters don't come with a mirror."

sherlock auto blogDrop-Dead Gorgeous: Fashion critic Mr. Blackwell has died in Los Angeles. His passing was described as "quiet but tasteful."

At the time of his death, he was clad in simple yet elegant silk burgundy pajamas with gray piping. (permalink)

Headline Of The Week is from The Onion: 'Southern Sheriff Pulls Over Obama Campaign Bus For Broken Taillight.'

Despite obeying the posted speed limit and having all inspection, registration, and insurance documentation up to date, Senator Barack Obama's campaign bus was stopped for nearly four hours by Marion County deputy sheriff Dewey Clutter while en route to a Jackson, MS speech. Addressing him as "Barry," the sheriff told Obama that "someone 'bout his height, 'bout his skin color knocked out a Piggly Wiggly a coupla hours ago."

Clutter then turned to Obama's wife, Michelle, looked her up and down, and wiped his mouth with a handkerchief.

Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "It is usually futile to try to talk facts and analysis to people who are enjoying a sense of moral superiority in their ignorance."


Monday October 20, 2008

Sherlock car bloggingWhat's The Matter With You People?! Jeeeez, I take a few weeks off and the world financial markets collapse, the Dow drops faster than Lindsay Lohan's undies after an evening of binge drinking, new car sales fall to levels not seen since the days of the notorious GM X-cars and Supertramp, General Motors and Chrysler start holding merger talks (What?! How's that gonna work? They're both broke, so what will they use to buy each other? Space-saver spare tires? Chrome door pulls? Windshield wipers?) and Edie Adams dies.

And who the hell is this Joe the Plumber guy anyway?

Meanwhile, locally-owned Pacific Lifestyle Homes - one of the largest home builders in the region - has filed for Chapter 11, owing $56 million in combined debt owed to several banks, 50-plus subcontractors, etc. Earlier this year, three Portland builders - Marnella Homes, Legend Homes and Renaissance Homes - went bankrupt. Pacific overbuilt big homes on very small lots; the houses almost touched each other. Sales fell by 50% this year - no surprise. The housing shakeout continues.

Nationally, home construction fell to the lowest level in 17 years in September and signs point to further decline in the fourth quarter. Housing starts decreased 6.3% to a seasonally adjusted 817,000 annual rate, the U.S. Commerce Department said.

At some point in the future, I will take another break from blogging. Start building fallout shelters and printing militia money now.

sherlock car trip blogTrip Report: We have returned from a whirlwind tour of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

We put over 1,800 miles on our rental car, visiting lots of old friends and making some new ones too. We experienced wonderful weather throughout the trip; we never opened an umbrella and only wore sweaters two days. Indian summer. Or is it now called Native American Summer? Or Indigenous People Summer?

I am pleased to report that Hershey Pennsylvania still has that wondrous chocolate smell wafting across the town. We had a delightful visit to Hershey Gardens - 23 acres of flowers and shrubs as well as a butterfly house full of active butterflies.

The gardens and arboretum are located on a hill overlooking the Hersheypark amusement park which was closed during our midweek visit. We visited Hershey's Chocolate World and rode the chocolate-themed ride, narrated by the saucy singing cows, Gabby, Harmony and Olympia.

While in Hershey, we visited the AACA (Antique Automobile Club of America) Antique Auto Museum. The facility displayed over 90 historic automobiles and buses in period settings.

AACA also exhibited the three General Motors' Firebird turbine cars from the 1950s. A selection of vehicle photos can be seen here.

Then we traveled to Scranton, PA - home of the giant Steamtown USA, a combination museum and operating exhibit, showcasing steam locomotives. We watched a Canadian Pacific steam loco fire up and traverse the turntable in preparation for an excursion tour. We waited until it had coupled up to a passenger consist and took off, leaving behind an impressive cloud of steam and faint odor of burning anthracite.

The Electric City Trolley Museum is part of the Steamtown complex celebrates the electric railway history of eastern Pennsylvania. We took a scenic one-hour trolley tour on a restored Philadelphia Suburban Red Arrow trolley. Most of the trolleys on exhibit were from the Philadelphia area including a former P&W Brill Bullet and a Route 23 PTC Nearside (in green and cream).

In Williamsport, we visited the Little League Museum and the Lycoming County Historical Museum which had an operating 3-loop O-gauge layout and separate 3-loop HO gauge layout. The museum also contained the extensive and impressive Shempp toy train collection. All were located in the basement, below the art gallery found on the first floor. Head downstairs first.

English's Model Railroad Supply in Montoursville is a hobby shop with very nice model railroad layouts - a 10' x 20' operating display, 3 loops of O-gauge and a loop of S-gauge. There was a separate large 3-loop G scale set up as well as an operating HO layout. The same English folks own Bowser Manufacturing Co., maker of O-gauge trolleys, including the Brill PTC example on my layout.

The Railroaders Museum in Altoona, PA was a bit disappointing. The rolling stock and locos were parked outside exposed to the elements and decaying away, even the legendary flat-ended Broadway Limited observation car.

For more than a century Altoona was one of the most important rail facilities in the United States - home to the Pennsylvania Railroad's repair and maintenance shops, its locomotive construction facility and test department.

By the 1920s, the Altoona Works employed 15,000 workers, and by 1945 the PRR's facilities had become the world's largest rail shop complex. Everything is gone now and the town has never recovered.

Nearby was the Horseshoe Curve National Historic Landmark. I've traveled by rail over the Horseshoe Curve at least twice - once on the PRR Aerotrain - and had never seen the curve from the ground before. There is a funicular railway - painted in Pennsy colors - to save you the trouble of climbing thousands of steps from ground level to the top.

I took lots of rail photos during our trip; they are posted here.

We made a special stop in Strasburg, PA to visit the National Toy Train Museum. There were lots of static displays of trains - many rare - and some neat operating layouts but everything was presented without context and no history was presented. Too bad - the story of toy trains is fascinating and worth telling.

Later, we took the QVC studio tour in West Chester. It was amazing and well worth the time and travel. QVC sells $15 million in merchandise on an average day - $10 mm by phone; $5 mm via internet. Its record day-to-date: $80 million in sales.

We spent a week in Philadelphia visiting friends, relatives and old places - cemeteries as well as neighborhoods where we once lived. Our first apartment which we rented for $92.50 per month is now available for $1,060.00 per month.

Our wanderings reminded us of how far Philly has fallen. It is still a city full of lovely parks with fingers extending in every direction so that a verdant setting with shade from leafy trees can be found in the most unexpected places. Like a car with terminal rust, there are still some shiny spots - revivals of some neighborhoods and other communities which have always been kept up. But they are islands in a large sea of corrosive decline.

Unfortunately, as a whole, the city is decaying badly and on the verge of becoming a giant ghetto. Many industrial buildings are now empty. Businesses have moved elsewhere, driven away by high taxes and lousy services. Fewer employment opportunities mean increased poverty and, of course, more crime. (But Obama will fix all this. Yeah, right.)

The area left me with many unanswered questions. Here's one: "If you claim to be "All-American", why is your sign in Cyrillic?" The establishment was located not far from Forest Hills Cemetery which is in pretty sad shape due to vandals and perhaps an indifferent management.

During our visit two years ago, I reported that the 66 transit line, which runs along Frankford Avenue, was served by buses rather than trackless trolleys (the Philly term for trolley buses). Trolley buses had been discontinued in 2004. Well, the trackless trolleys have now returned to N.E. Philadelphia like the proverbial swallows to Capistrano except with trolley poles instead of feathered wings. I spotted new, modern, slightly less boxy trolleybuses running on routes 66 and 75.

The Philadelphia Casino parking lot in Bensalem had the crappiest cars I've ever seen in any gambling establishment parking facility, indicating that Pennsylvania has found a new way to separate the poor and near-poor from their money. It seemed like the first twenty rows of the lot were handicapped spaces and there were walkers, canes and other cripplephernalia throughout the casino itself. There were no human dealers - all card games and roulette wheels were electronic with plasma screen robot dealers plying the tables - think Max Headroom with large breasts wearing a black lace bustier.

On a more cheerful note, just down the street was St. Ephram Catholic Church. The Sunday Mass was pleasantly and efficiently conducted. At the end, as I was leaving, Father Rudy shook my hand, looked me right in the eye and said, "Thank you for coming. God bless you and please buy some sticky buns." The youth group was selling Fritz's Sticky Buns in the back of church. Never ones to disobey a priest, we purchased two boxes and they were both Sacred and Delicious.

Then we were off to The Shore. First stop - Atlantic City.

the view through the windshield

The place has changed so much that I didn't recognize it. One can no longer see the ocean from the boardwalk because of high sand berms and sawgrass. All of the little shops are gone - replaced by flashy casinos and pricey designer boutiques. The James salt water taffy still tastes good, though. Over in Margate, Lucy the elephant looks better than ever after a recent restoration.

Brigantine, NJ - where I spent my summers as a teenager - is also nearly unrecognizable as well. The Brigantine Country Club's flagship edifice - a stately, two-story clubhouse built next to the bay in 1927 has now been demolished. Twelve "luxury homes" will be built on its site. I once painted that clubhouse and worked many summers on the golf course, piloting a Ferguson tractor along the fairways. The Island Diner - where many a Turkey Platter was consumed by yours truly during his formative teenage years - is now closed. And the pier at 14th Street North (later known as Brigantine Castle Pier) is gone as well. It burned down in 1987.

Later, we headed down the Garden State Parkway to Cape May. My wife and I had never been to Cape May before; we had a delightful time. The weather was gorgeous and we spent our time relaxing and inhaling sea breezes. I even saw dolphins cavorting about 50 feet offshore early one morning.

Additional trip photos can be found here.

Quote Of The Day is from Henny Youngman: "My hotel room is so small, the mice are hunchbacked."


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