First Day of Spring

Spring is the time when evrything starts to bloom, the day length increases and you can start to feel that winter is behind you.  This year it started with a vengeance – Two days off work due to snow! Spring? Really?


Sasha buried in the snow – First day of Spring?


Backyard and Grover in hibination


Flock of very hungry starlings waiting for the bird feeders to be refilled.


View of the village – road is passable, but the weather is getting worse.

It snowed all day and the snow blower got some exercise in the evening as we cleared the driveway. However, it should be warmer this weekend, so maybe spring is finally on the way!


A White House Wedding


White House Wedding Party after the Ceremony

“Phil, where are you?” demanded my beloved on the phone.

“In the car, heading over to see Canyon”.

“Well turn around and go home. We’re going to a wedding!”

“Oh?, Where?”

“The White House”!

The White House is probably one of the most recognized buildings in the world. Unfortunately, it is rather mired in controversy at the moment. However, this is not the place to discuss the various rights or wrongs of politics here. This website is apolitical OK. But back in 2016, in the waning days of the Obama administration before the presidential elections really got going, we got the chance to visit it whilst attending Diane’s cousin’s wedding. It wasn’t a conventional wedding, but was rather fun all the same.

All of this was possible because by chance, Diane’s cousin and his fiancée had discovered that in Washington DC, you can officiate at your own wedding. I.e. you can marry yourself. And you can do it anywhere in the District of Columbia. All you need was a marriage license and a license to officiate and you are good to go. So after obtaining these, the plan here was to get a group together, go visit the White House, which is a national park site and thus open to visitors, find a quiet spot somewhere and have a quick ceremony. No major organization, no negotiations with the custodians, just get it done. And essentially, that is what happened. The only slight glitch was that until that morning, Diane’s cousin had forgotten to tell us that we were included in the plan!

So I hurried home, and soon after Diane got back as well. A quick wash, brushup and change of clothes and we headed off to DC to join the rest of the group. Visits to the White House are scheduled in advance and with me being a foreigner, I made sure that I had plenty of ID with me so that I could get in. (Diane’s cousin had obviously put us on the schedule to attend, but had forgotten to tell us we were going!) Obviously there are security measures to pass through, but these were not actually that draconian and once clear of that, you are essentially free to wander about the open parts of the house at will.


Going In


Garden Terrace


Side Garden

Despite its prominent and active political nature (it IS the Presidents official home after all), you’re free to explore at your own pace. OK, there are a bunch of Secret Service personnel on duty, one in each room, but they were very friendly and courteous.


I Guess they call this one the Green Room



First lady’s Sitting Room

After entering through the East Wing, you pass through the basement and can visit various rooms, including the Library, China Room, etc. These are the rooms that Nixon used to haunt during the last days of his Presidency. Although some of the rooms were roped off to casual visitors, it should be remembered that it is a working house and that after all the visitors have left, the barriers come down and people use these rooms for relaxation and visiting. Indeed, as one of the last groups to enter that day, the custodians were following through taking down the rope barriers, ready for a function that night.


Famous Picture of George Washington – saved from being burnt by the British (I kpe my mouth firmly closed!).


State Dining Room


View of the South Lawn from the Oval Blue Room

One of the suprising things about the main mansion of the White House is just how small it is. As Mansions go, it isn’t that big, though it is part of a complex that includes the west and east wings, which aren’t that visible from the street. From the north (i.e. looking from Pennsylvannia Ave), it really looks quite small, though it looks a bit more imposing from the South Lawn. This is also apparent from inside – the rooms are not that big, even the East State room which is the one where the President gives all his press conferences and holds State functions, etc. And the hallway down which he walks when going to meet the press (that is seen in every interview given) is not that big either (it looks huge on TV). Indeed, everything looks so much bigger than reality on TV and in the movies!


East Room where Wedding ceremony was held, complete with very helpful Secret Service Agent


Famous Picture of JFK

It should be noted that the interior of the White House is not the original. The building was heavily rebuilt in the early 1950’s during the Truman administration, as it was falling down. During the work, the interiors (including the walls) were carefully dismantled and the building stripped back to its outer walls, before new internal framing was installed and the interior rooms reconstructed largely using the original materials. During this time the basement was extended and there is now a deep underground complex that visitors cannot visit.


I wonder who lives here?

Each room has a Secret service agent in it. Mostly, these are as you would expect from the movies, super-polite, built like an outhouse, shades, suit, tie and earpiece. I’m sure they had other items of equipment on hand that we couldn’t see. What I wasn’t expecting was that they were REALLY knowledgable about the history and artifacts of each room. This was genuine knowledge, not reading from a script. Indeed, it was like talking to an expert on “Antiques Roadshow”, as it was obvious that they really knew their stuff. I remarked on this to one of the agents that I was having trouble reconciling this with the public perception of Secret Service agents, i.e. jumping out of helicopters with guns blazing and take one for the President. “Oh yes” he replied. “We do that too!”



In front of that famous hallway. Now where to hold the wedding?

Anyhow, as we all wandered through the east room, there was some discussion amongst our party about where to try and hold the ceremony. This caught the eye of the agent on duty, who asked Diane if there had just been a proposal? “No” she said, “they were hoping to hold a small wedding ceremony somewhere in the building”. “Oh” he replied, “I wish we’d known ahead of time! We could have really set something up for you! How about doing it here”? And with that, he proceeded to take down the barriers, escorted the group into the East Room for the ceremony. After a brief debate about where to do the deed, it was decided to hold it in front of the fireplace. And so that is where it occurred, in full view of all other visitors at the time.


Wedding Ceremony

Indeed, a number of other agents came to watch the proceedings! It only took a few minutes and then it was over and time to move on, especially as the white House staff were eager to start preparing the East Room for a function that night. I wonder if the participants in that event knew that a wedding had occurred there just a few hours earlier? The generosity and willingness of the Secret service agents to accommodate the couple’s wishes was unexpected and extremely generous. Their enthusiastic response helped make the day a memorable occasion and the agents on duty that day were a credit to their service.



And so we were able to pull it off. We got to visit the White House and pulled off a surprise wedding. After we had finished the tour, we took several pictures out in front of the north portico (again courtesy of the Secret Service) and then headed home to Chris and Gina’s new house for a barbeque and party. Oh, and yes, their marriage certificate really does say 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC as their marriage location. Not too many people can say that they have that!


The Happy Couple in front of the North Portico after the ceremony.


North Portico


We have seveal birdfeeders around the house, as we like to see the birds come down and it helps them thrive, particularly in the winter months. Plus, it keeps the cats occupied. Recently, our birdseed consumption has been going up dramatically. At first we thought it was just the sudden increase in birds needing feeding with them all hatching in the late spring. However, this not the case. On Friday, I found the real cuplrit.


This young raccoon has discovered a nice regular source of food for himself. He is just a youngster and this is probabaly his first year on his own. Normally, raccoons can be quite destructive and messy when going after bird seed, but he was quite careful, taking one seed or nut at a time and then eating it before going back for more. Once he was full, he carefully climbed down and went to find some shade under the Land Rover. The cats didn’t like the intruder, but with such good manners, I don’t have the heart to turn him away from the feast. I just hope he doesn’t bring his friends over.

Fox Joins The Party


Canyon checks out the fox who is checking out the horses

One of the nice things about working at Graham Equestrian, is that we get to experience the wildlife that lives there on a regular basis. Being based on  State Park land, we have quite a number of foxes and deer in the vicinity, all of whom are failrly comfortable in the presence of horses and humans. Indeed, it is not unusual for them to come close to us, seemingly quite unconcerned about our presence, espescially if you’re on horseback. It is quite common for the deer to come out of the woods in the evening and line up along the fence watching the proceedings going on in the arena. Indeed, the othernight, I was riding Canyon up in the field and the deer all grouped up on us so that we were riding as a herd.

Anyhow, I snapped this picture a few nights ago of one of the local foxes out with the horse herd in the back pasture. I’d been out to check on Canyon, who has a slight hoof injury (abscess in the coranory band) and just happened to see the fox come trotting along the fence line to pass the herd. Neither the horses or the fox were particularly concerned about  the presence of the others. In the picture above, Canyon (the brown horse behind the darker coloured Midnite) is checking out the fox (on the left), who is watching the horses, but neither was particularly worried. The fox carried on with his business, trotted past the herd and dissapeared into the woods.

Being able to experience things like this close up on a regular occurrence reminds me how lucky I am to be able to experience nature in such a way. Most people never get to see or experience this, yet we see it regularly. And after a bad day at work, it makes the day go better.


Local Fox heading out on his business.

An Industrial Visit


“I need to get out!” said my beloved. She works from home and although that has a lot of advantages, you can get rather house bound.

“OK!” says I. Where shall we go?

“Oh, I don’t know. How about Scranton?

Scranton!?! You don’t hear too many people list that as a weekend away destination! It’s an industrial city in Pennsylvania Coal Country, about three hours away from home, once famously described as the biggest scrap yard in the wold and thus making the Eighth Wonder!. We’ve driven past the outskirts numerous times on the way too and from Canada, but never stopped. The outskirts aren’t much to look at. And the only things I know about Scranton are that 1) it is the setting for the US version of “The Office (which I’ve never seen, but understand to be as cringeworthy as the British original, which I’ve also never seen) and 2) it is the birth place of one Joe Biden, formally US Vice President under Barack Obama and who famously said he’d like to take Donald trump behind a bike shed and thrash him! On the face of it, Scranton seems an odd place as a destination. Yet, infact, downtown is quite attractive, though rather quiet, and has an interesting early 19th Century older style of architecture, simmilar to that seen in American Gangster movies such as The Untouchables. And being that it is an industrial city based on mining and manufacturing , it has an abundance of industrial Museums. And Diane and I like Industrial Museums.

So we threw some overnight things in the car and off we toddled. 3 hrs later on a beautiful, but cold day, we arrived at our first port of call. This was the Lackawanna Mine Tour, where you can visit a reopened anthracite mine. Scranton, and indeed the whole of northeast Pennsylvania, is riddled with deep coal mines. This area of the northeastern US has some of the biggest anthracites deposits in the world and as such was an industrial powerhouse for over a century. People flocked from all over the world to work in the deep mines. Like in the UK, the industry declined in the second half of the 20th Centrury, and the mines closed. This particular mine closed in 1966. However, part of it was reopened in the early 90’s as a museum. It now sits in a landscaped multi-use park, just outside of Scranton.


The mine visit involves going underground. Unlike deep mines in the UK, which are ususally accessed via a cage lowered down a deep vertical shaft, this one is accessed via a sloped shaft down which runs a funicular railway car. To enter the mine, you ride down in the man rider, which is slowly winched down the track. Going underground, you reach a depth of about 300 ft below the surface, where the temperature is a nice steady 52 degrees year round.


Bye Bye World

Once undergrown, a tour of the open part of the mine is given by former mineworkers, who explain about how mines work, what the life was like, procedures, etc. Unlike when the mine was fully working, there is now reasonable lighting. But you still hear and see water dripping through the rocks, it is still dark and you realise you are a long way from the sky above.


Horrible working conditions


Electric mine Loco and Cars


At the coal face

The tour takes about an hour underground and the former miners were extremly proud of their work and knowledgeable. The mine is considered to be an active mine, so has to undergo all the safety rules and regulations that a working mine would. So it is proffesionally run and quite safe to be down there and doesen’t feel claustrophobic. Never-the-less, it was nice to come back to the surface. Even after an hour, you definitly get a feel of what a horrendously difficult, dangerous and dirty life it was working in the mines. It definitely makes one realise that no matter how we may complain about our jobs, the iritations we feel are nothing to the tribulations these miners faced daily.


13000 lb lump of coal

Located next to the mine tour was the Anthracite Mining Museum. This was a self-guided museum dedicated to the role of the Anthracite industry in North Eastern Pennsylvania, the lives of the miners, and how society in the region was affected by mining. One of the first things I saw was a Welsh language bible. Why Welsh? Well, some of the very first immigrants were miners from Wales looking for a better life. This is reflected in that there are many names in Eastern PA that are welsh in origin. Diane was impressed that I could actually read and pronounce the words on the front cover! (I lived in Wales for many years!). Both museums are well worth the visit.

After finishing both museums, we headed for our hotel, which was in the old Lackawanna station. Downtown was rather quiet for a Saturday, espescially as there was a university right next door. I expected carousing students, but no, apart from a couple of (obviously student) bars, all was quiet. We had a meal and then went for a walk around the centre of town. Some of the architecture was fascinating and we found the old (and active) newspaper building, where you can look in off the street and see the printing presses at work. Unfortunately, they wern’t running late on a saturday evening, but it was still fascinating to see the newspaper at the heart of the city.


Printing Presses

We had a good meal out (which for me consisted off the largest hot dog I’ve ever seen – wrapped in bacon and smothered with fried potatoes and a fried egg – oh so healthy, but oh so good!. We then stopped at a coffee shop and headed for the hotel and a good nights sleep. Being in the old railway station, this had advantages for me……


Train of Alco Units Rumbling Past – We would catch up with these again next day.

The folowing morning, after a quick cup of coffee, we said good bye to the hotel and headed down to the railway museum. This is Steamtown, a former derelict locomotive roundhouse and railway yard that has been rehabilitated and opened as a museum administered by the National Parks Service. The first thing we saw as we drove in was this….


Reading Railroad T1 4-8-4 (and Diane)

Parked in the yard were a whole host of Alco diesels (some being former MLW ones, MLW being the Canadian Arm of Alco, and who built some  of Alco’s designs under licence). Some of the loco’s chuntering in the yard were the lashup we’d seen the previous day from the hotel.


4 axle Alco’s – lead unit is Canadian built with wide cab


Alco 630 idling at the depot


Also sitting in the yard was this…..


Big Boy – The biggest of them all

A legendary Union Pacific “BigBoy” 4000 class. This is considered to be the biggest loco to operate successfully on any North American railroads. One is today being returned to service by it’s original owner Union Pacific.

The museum consists of the stalls from the original roundhouse, plus other new buildings ina sympathetic style built to replace those demolished in the 60’s. All are situated around a working turntable. The idea behind the museum is not only to preseve the collection, but to give an idea of what a working railroad depot was like. the original stalls house some of the loco’s in the collection in an authentic setting, whilst the newer buildings house exhibits on the working life of railroad employees. A good deal of stock is available for view and the atmosphere in the working part of the shed (viewable from an above ground walkway really is quite authentic. Unfortunately, the light and space of the working shed does not make for good photography, but here goes….


Sat outside was the last remaining ICRR 2-8-0, basking in the sun.IMG_2781

Whilst pottering around the yard and occaisionally going for a spin on the turntable, was this F3 unit.



The loco was being used to shunt items around ready for the beginning of the main tourist season, and was also being used to train new railroad volunteers. A worker took us to see the companion B unit which was being worked on in the roundhouse. (A B unit is a locomotive with no cab or controls. It is a remotely controlled slave that is controlled from a loco with a cab (An A Unit).

Steam town also has the old backshops, where loco’s were repaired and rebuilt. This is now used as a restoration base, and we were taken to see the facilities back there. Most heritage railwys I know of would kill for these facilities.


Axle Press


B&M Pacific Firebox under repair – note the missing crownsheet.


0-6-0 Switcher finishing winter maintenance

Out in the yard were lines of stock that were awaiting restoration and rapir. I suspect that for some, it will never come. However, there is an active restoration program underway, and many items will be repaired for static display at least.

One of the amazing things to me was that it was allowed (and encouraged) to walk about the yard and explore, even though it was a working yard with moving trains etc. I mean, this is America – Land of lawyers and litigation! A working rail yard, though which freight trains pass, is a hazardowuns area. But its allowed and personally I feel better for it.


So, at the end of the day, we headed home. Scranton may not have the best reputation, but it is infact a suprisingly nice little town. Quiet, a little down at heal, but with some hidden gems for all ages. By no means did we cover them all. But then, I’m certain we’ll be going back one day – afterall, its not too far to go when Diane says “I need to get out of the house”


Just Hanging Out With the Guys

Canyon and Midnite_Small

Nothing special about this picture. Just Diane and I hanging out with Canyon (on the Right) and Midnite (On the left). This was a Saturday morning a few weeks ago and we’d been teaching inner city kids most of the morning, so just went for a short ride for a break. Canyon is our horse (although to all extents and purposes he’s really mine). He turned nine the other day! Midnite is a Morgan horse that Diane borrows (and has fallen in love with!). He’s lovely to ride, but strong willed. Diane is riding English style (despite being American) whilst I’m actually riding without a saddle (though with a Western saddle pad for comfort of both horse and rider). I actually prefer to ride bareback as you have far superior communication with the horse. Alot of the time, when I bring Canyon in from the fields, I’ll just ride him with a bridle and bareback – great fun (and warm on a cold day).

So there we are. Nothing special, just hanging out and having fun.

Windows 3 – An upgrade


Looks fine doesen’t it. This is Libby’s original Passenger Side door window. However, when turned over and looked at from the inside, we see this.



Although difficult to see, it’s totally rotted out, as shown in the close up below.


The drivers side was just as bad.

Series Land Rover Door tops are notorious for doing this. They are of a very old design, being flimsy steel framed sections welded together. There are lots of nooks and cranny’s where water can seep in and accumulate, thus starting rust points. Added to that, the window design is quite old and somewhat crude, with the panes being supported on (and sliding on) felt covered steel channels set into the window frames. These trap water and get damp and then rust through, allowing ingress of more water, thus furthering the problem. The design was probabaly adequeate when Landy’s first came out, but these days is a little antiquated and a bit of a liability.

So what to do?

Very briefly I considered rebuilding them, and then thought better of it. It would take a LOT of work to get these back to anything like good condition, and the experience would probabaly be painful. Most of the steel work within the door top frames was rusted though and I have no welding experience. So I wrote that idea off.

Next, I considerd buying some new, but original design doortops and transfering all the window hardware from the old tops to the new ones. But wait – this is the same design as before and will have the same issues. Maybe in 10 or so years time, I will need to renew the doortops AGAIN!?

In the end, I went with the far more expensive, but I think better option of replacing the door tops with the far more superior after-market door tops from Rocky Mountain Products (P/N RMG010). These are formed from extruded anaodised aluminium sections welded together and incorporate the same design of rubber channel window slides that are found in the window track raplacement kits previously fitted to the rear sliding windows and the center door windows. Although expensive (I got mine from RMP in Canada, though they are also available from their UK agents, Rocky Mountain Spares), they are of superb quality.

The new door tops are much stiffer than the the original Land Rover Steel ones, and so provide a stuffer door with less buffeting in the wind. They are very easy to fit – basically remove the old ones by (hopefully unscrewing the nuts holding the original door tops on) and replace with the new door tops. With Libby, it was slightly more work, as the nuts were so corroded, I couldn’t remove them from the door top studs. The nut splitter failed to work, and in the end, I carefully cut through most of the nuts with an angle grinder and then split the remainder with a cold chisel. This effectivly destroyed the old door top stud, so there was no going back now – the new door tops had to be fitted!.

I actually painted my door tops before installing them on Libby, so they match the rest of the vehicle. The glazing is easily removed from the frame using small stainless steel screws, to make painting much easier. Some people leave them in bare anodised aluminum and there is nothing wrong with this, as it looks very smart. But I painted mine in the same over all colour as Libby (Deep Bronze Green) for uniformity. And very smart she looks too.

Whilst installing the door tops, I also installed new door top rubber seals, as the old ones were hardened and cracked. These can be obtained from Rocky Mountain and are well worth fitting. They come slightly overlong and need cutting to size, but that’s no hardship. Because I don’t take my door tops off, I sealed the strip to the lower door, and the door top to the strip, using some waterproof sealant, to try and improve the weather proofing even further. but this is not essential. I did find I needed to trim the outer lip of the sealing strip where the drain holes are located in the door tops to allow the water to flow out. Installation of the door tops was dead easy. Screw the stainless steel studs into the door top, fit the sealing strip and drop into the door top onto the lower door, using the securing studs to align everything. Add the stainless steel securing nuts and tightn up. Fit the catches to the window panes and job done!



It probabaly took me an hour or so to do both door tops (including cutting the old studs off) so it really wasn’t a big job to do.

I’m thrilled with these. OK, they wern’t cheap, but they are watertight and the door is so much stiffer, with far less vibration from wind buffet or road vibration. there is no shower of rust every time I slam the door or slide the windows open. The windows are easy to slide and both the front and rear windows can be opend (unlike the OEM one’s). The catches mean that you can lock the door from the outside by reaching in, and then slide the window shut to lock them. Whilst this can be useful in some circumstances, of course this means that it is easy to lock your keys in the car. Ask me how I know this…….

One thing that some users have commented on this that the window catches make it impossible to slide the windows all the way forward or all the way back. There may have been an earlier design of catch, but I find that I have no problem sliding both windows to the fullest extent and past each other.

As for the original windows, they stayed on the shelf for a while, but a few weeks ago, I stripped them of all their useful hardware (window catches and window panes) as spares for future use or trade, then they made their last jorney to the metal recyling facility. Ironically, in the back of the Land Rover. If anyone needs some window catches or front window panes, let me know.