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The army's line
An open day at the Longmoor Military Railway, Saturday 28th September 1968. I'd come down from Bristol, changing at Portsmouth. I enjoyed the unfamiliar Southern Region third-rail ambience and the strange, gorse and bracken-smothered country that I had not visited before ...unless you count a boyhood day-trip by coach (Wessex, I think) to Southsea and the New Forest. One detail I recall of the short final leg from Portsmouth to Liss (were the carriages still painted green?) were the letters S. R. fired into the inside of the train's lavatory bowls. BR steam had only finished a month before, and a large crowd of the steam-deprived alighted from the train at Liss. We needed a fix. I seem to remember that you could walk directly from Liss Station onto the platform of the Military Railway, which had a junction with the main line here. The first train that came in was hauled by some kind of diesel locomotive. The diehards among us let it go. Soon after another train appeared, hauled by a steam locomotive running tender first. We piled into the compartments, which were full-width, with no corridor. I counted 17 people in mine. The locomotive had been the WD "Austerity" 2-10-0 no. 600 GORDON. I got out at Longmoor and mooched around the displays of "preserved" locomotives ...not much to my taste... and the sales stands. You could buy tinned steam locomotive smoke, I remember. You were recommended to open the tin and warm it over a low flame. My kind or room fragrance. I decided to return to Liss by walking back along the line. Plenty of other people were wandering over the tracks and nobody seemed to mind. I would take photos of passing trains along the way. A squaddie had handed me a free timetable pamphlet, so I knew when to expect the trains and could get into position in advance. Considering that I benefited from such an advantage, this seems a singularly ill-chosen vantage-point. The photo shows 600 GORDON hauling the 1418 departure from Liss. My camera shot 828 film, which was the same size as 35mm, but without sprocket holes. There was no lever-wind and you had to advance on the roll-film principle, by turning a knurled knob and watching, through a little oval of red glass, for the numbers printed on the film's backing paper. This probably explains the early exposure; I wanted to give myself enough time to wind on and get another shot when the train was closer. In fact I let the train get too close on the second shot, which was spoiled by motion blur. I think this works better anyway.Egge and "El Viento"
Jerry Egge and his young son, Eric, as we sailed Jerry's 32-foot wooden Tahiti ketch "El Viento" ('the wind' in Spanish). Moments after this shot was taken, little Eric was squirreling around in the cockpit and ran right into the lifelines just as a gust of wind hit--Splash!--right into the frigid winter waters of the Columbia River. A "Man Overboard" drill on a sailboat underway can be a complicated maneuver. But Jerry's brother, Sherman, was at the tiller and nonchalantly reached over and snatched Eric back onboard, using the little handle on the lifejacket. The kid wasn't in the water for longer than a few seconds. We all (at least the adults) realized we had dodged a bullet. Sadly, El Viento had a previous drowning in her history, and sailor superstitions cast a long shadow. I've lost track of Jerry and Eric is now in his mid-30s. But I see El Viento everytime I cruise past the little Oregon fishing town of Gobel. She's looking weathered and forlorn, tied to a fisherman's shed boathouse on the downriver edge of a rustic moorage. I keep track of the old boat, because she was the first floating home I enjoyed. In 1980, I couldn't quite find the money to buy her, (she was for sale at a decidedly "retail" price--about $38,500, if I recall, in those hyper-inflated Big-80s dollars). I offered to rent the classic wooden 2-masted boat for the monthly moorage fee ($125, plus the $25 liveaboard fee, and 5 hours of maintenance work each week.) So El Viento gave me my first taste of living on a boat, and I found I enjoyed the life. It didn't even bother me that my sisters said my "signature fragrance" had become "diesel and mildew", I liked the boat life. So it was a melancholy moment this morning when a friend phoned to say El Viento had sunk at her moorings--only the tops of her masts protruding above the river's surface. I heard that a salvage operation might be underway tomorrow--I've got a busy schedule, but for old times, seeing her resurrected might be worth making a special effort. Or, at least, I should make a search for some historic negatives of the old boat--she was a picturesque classic, with belaying pins, ratlines and baggy wrinkle (and if you know those terms, you're officially "salty"). Madman Across the Water
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