Max the Second

I’m only here because of a Fruity Chicken.

The esteemed author of the Fruity Chicken

The esteemed author of the Fruity Chicken

My brother Max started a blog about raising chickens and fruit trees in the arid desert of our native Las Vegas about a year ago. It’s a sweet, funny, and sometimes technical look at what it takes to make things grow in that hostile environment. I followed him via email until he migrated to WordPress and opened an account to make commenting here easier. Of course I was clueless about WordPress and accidentally started a blog and didn’t write anything. Max started leaving me snide remarks about the amazing content of my empty blog that sound startlingly like the stuff the spam bots send us with great regularity. After enough pushing I finally started a blog aimed squarely at sharing my photos with one person on the planet – Max.

Me and Max

Me and my “little” brother Max

I’m the oldest of my three siblings – Max came second. Max was named after our beloved Grandfather – Max the first. He has always worn the “II” in his name like a badge of honor.

I was thrilled at the idea of having a little brother, but Max has never been content in the role of the younger sibling. At about 14 he passed me by in stature, and his demeanor became that of an older brother. Sometimes teasing, sometimes bossing, sometimes protecting.

Snickering Siblings

Snickering Siblings

Max and I had lots of adventures growing up. He was my first playmate. We explored every inch of Isabelle Avenue on our bikes, we played cowboys and indians, and he and our neighbor Paul did their best to blow a few things up. When I was in high school I started working for the Stagehand’s Union – Max was right behind me.

Stylin' in the 80's

Stylin’ in the 80’s – backstage at the MGM

When our Union was locked out in 1984 he and I manned a food bank for union members and cruised the picket lines making sure everyone was OK – he had a hopped-up Ford Bronco that we zipped up and down the strip in checking on our brothers and sisters.

This is a drawing I did of Max using the stamps at the Stagehand's Union offices.

This is a drawing I did of Max using the stamps at the Stagehand’s Union offices.

As he grew into a man I saw in him the best parts of my mom and my Grandpa – loyalty, responsibility, wisdom, compassion, humor – he worked to make a stable home and family that was very different that the one we grew up in. My grandfather used to marvel at how hard he worked and what a good father he had become. I have always admired his earnestness and commitment to make a good life for his wife and his boys. They have all grown to be the kind of men any father could be proud of.

One of my favorite things to do with Max is to go out into the desert in a Jeep – there is no one I trust more behind the wheel. We have made a couple of trips to the northern Nevada site of a mining claim my grandparents worked in the 60s and 70s. The “Diggins” is located about 60 miles from the nearest paved road. I made this video for him after a trip we took with my nephew Brian summer before last. We both had a tough time after my father passed away, but this trip brought us back together in a very healing way. We listened to this song about a hundred times on the trip so it seemed the natural background for our experiences. I only wish I had been brave enough to record during the really deep water crossings. I loved the adventure, but I loved my camera just a little too much to risk it.

I call this “The best tank of gas ever” and it was. It was a blast to just be together in the wilds of the land we grew up in. We never got to the Diggins – the late spring snows in that year made it impossible, but we had an amazing trip. The song makes me laugh because we are only “southern” in the sense that we grew up in southern Nevada.

Me and Max

Me and Max

All this reminiscing to say that today is Max’s birthday. No one’s known me longer or better.

Thanks for pushing me into this blogging thing, thanks for always being there for me. You’re the best man I know – I love you.

Happy Birthday!

Arkansas & Missouri Railroad Adventure


Back in July my neighbor, Mary Jane, turned 99. Her friends and neighbors pondered about what to give her. Last year we bought her an air conditioner, the year before a new TV, the year before that a digital antenna. She lives simply in a country cottage on dozens of acres with just the basics – electricity, TV, her cats, and some pet raccoons – and at this date she still lives without running water. Typically we buy her something that will make her life easier. The air conditioner was a tough one to get her to accept, but during this years drought she has fessed up to appreciating it more that she had imagined she would.

This year we decided to send Mary Jane on an adventure. We pooled our funds and decided to buy her an all-day train trip. Mary Jane’s father was a telegrapher at the local train depot at the turn of the 20th century and her stories of childhood are filled with tales of train rides and the adventures that comes with them.

Twice a year the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad makes an all-day run from Seligman, Missouri to Van Buren, Arkansas. You meet at dawn in Seligman, which is nothing more that a few business and civic buildings.

They don’t have a depot there anymore so you board at the end of a path through the woods…

Our conductor met us at the edge of the woods.

There was no hiding his excitement about the Hogs’ chances later in the day!

This is the Dining Car – there are a few options but we decided to go first class! This car dates from the 1940s. There are Coach and Club cars that are about 100 years old. If you want to have a more authentic train man’s experience the Caboose is available too – it’s a restored B&O caboose with no heat or air conditioning included.

Roomy and nicely appointed.

We settled in and the Conductor and his crew gave us hot coffee and danish. Mary Jane had a cup of coffee before as we pulled out of Seligman.

Our party consisted of myself, Mary Jane, Barbara, and Sondra – both of whom are long time friends. They have known Mary Jane for years.


I first met Sondra at Mary Jane’s 90th birthday, she does historical drama – she studies a woman from history and creates a script to convey history in a very believable way. That night she was dressed as Mary Jane’s aunt Meg – I remember she never broke character and I got a better sense of Meg hearing the stories in the first person.


We had barely started down the tracks when Mary Jane rotated her chair away from us – her plan was to watch every bit of the trip facing forward – up on the East side, back on the West.


We picked up the caboose at Springdale Arkansas. The neat thing about this excursion is that they hitch and unhitched cars. You get to see first hand the process and shuffling it takes to run the line. The dining car started on the back of the train. Before it was over we would be on the front. Here the family who has booked the caboose waits with anticipation to move into their new digs.


The conductor turned off the parlor lights as we approached the Winslow Tunnel – the kids in the car squealed as the tunnel lights wizzed by in the windows.


Next the conductor let us know that he would be able to take a few of us out onto the platform as we crossed the tressels. I jumped at the chance, knowing that this is a view Mary Jane could not get from inside the car.

As I stepped towards the door I spotted the car brake – these details were really everywhere in the car.

I got out on the platform and leaned over the side to shoot ahead – I grabbed a bit of color and prepared for the tressel coming up.

You can see the drop off in this shot.

Here’s a shot of the tressel and the hollow below.

Those are treetops below us!

Another angle…

Looking through the rails below us.

The caboose has a cupola on top….

Makes a great platform for photography opportunities.

I moved to the other side of the platform as I felt the train curving to the left.

Again I hung out over the side of the platform to get a shot of the entire train.

As I stepped back into the dining car I stopped to capture one if those lovely details…

The brass hardware on the outside of the car.

After a gorgeous trip through the Boston Mountains we arrived in Van Buren, Arkansas. We had lunch, pie, and wandered through a street fair. I set out to shoot a few of the railroad’s details as we relaxed and waited for the train to return to take us home.


Van Buren reflected in the crossing light.

Station signal

Loose nail (as tempting as this one was, I did not pick it up. No nails from this RR in my collection – I swear)

The switch

While I continued shooting Barbara and Mary Jane looked at my photos on my iPad.


Mary Jane is actually pretty adroit at working the iPad. She found a few she liked.

I thought this fella was pretty charming. Even at his age he was playing “engineer” for the day.

If I was being honest I’d have to confess to carrying a pocket watch and wearing Union Pacific earrings. I almost put on my striped overalls that morning – good for him, he had the nerve to go there:)

We heard the train whistle in the distance…

Mary Jane was ready to roll!

Our trained had departed after dropping us off at the station and returned to Springdale to for another run while we enjoyed the afternoon in Van Buren. The trained pulled into the station, dropped off the passengers, dropped the caboose, transferred it to the opposite side, and shifted the engine back to the front.

Here we get a view of the engine operating as a switch engine.

The light had begun to change…

Here’s a view of the dining car ceiling fans in the afternoon light.

Barbara settled back in for the return trip.

Mary Jane found a seat…

She explained how the switching process worked…

And turned her gaze forward to take in all the sites on the voyage home.

On the trip home some passengers in our car had a birthday celebration for a family member complete with cake. The children insisted on singing to Mary Jane too…

The conductor joined in…

The whole car sang along…

And Mary Jane ate cake.

She called me first thing this morning to reminisce about her favorite parts of the day. The weather, the cake, beans and cornbread for lunch, friends, photos, the whole day. She said it was just perfect.

…and many more


Today is Mary Jane’s 99th birthday. She’s one of my closest friends, someone who has taught me a great deal about life. I consider her a mentor and love spending time with her. She’s a year older than my Grandma would have been, and she was raised only 30 miles from my Great-grandfather’s homestead, so I suppose that she has some mannerisms that feel familiar to me. Like my Grandma, she is an excellent story teller.

I connected with Mary Jane the first time I met her. I live in the house her father built in the early 1920’s. I called her one winter day not long after I moved and introduced myself. I had been told that she was close to 90 and could tell me a lot about the my place. She had some difficulty hearing, but we had a nice enough conversation.

The next morning she was at my door – she had driven her convertible K-car through the snow and up my 100- yard-long driveway through the woods. When I first saw her, I assumed she was her 70 year old daughter. She was agile, sharp as a tack, and excited like a kid in a candy store to show me around my own house. We climbed up in the attic and down in the cellar. She told me my front door was actually the side door, that the strange molding in the attic was the missing plate rail from the dining room wall, and lots of other structural details. When she got to the porch she saw that I had re-hung some screen doors that I found out in the shop over the french doors. She got a little choked up as she told me that she had helped her father make them as a child.

We sat down in the living room and she told the story of her mother reading Better Homes and Gardens and seeing an article on the “California Bungalow of the Year” home plan. She fell in love with it so they ordered the plan for $25 and built it themselves from the rocks cleared from the land that they farmed. She even showed me a pile of surplus stone in the woods near the house.


Over the following weeks Mary Jane would pop in to visit and tell me more about the house. One day the following spring she called to ask if I would like to go for a “walk” – I agreed and we took off down what looked like an abandoned driveway off the dirt road we both live on. She took me down into the hollow and across the bench (her term for the limestone formation where springs form) to the spring several hundred feet below my house. She shared how they had used a hand crank to bring water up to the house from this spring. Next we went back down the bench in the opposite direction until we came to an amazing pivot rock formation – this is an old photo shot on that first hike with a cell phone – I hadn’t imagine we were going to see so much on a “walk”.


That day we did about 3 miles up and down and I learned one of Mary Jane’s secrets to health, not only is she a “walker” but she loves being out in nature. She knows about plants and herbs. She has an almost childlike love of wildlife. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of wildflower varieties. She told me the other day that her favorite thing in life is to “walk the earth”.

Over the years we have walked hundreds of miles together and she continues to amaze me. Here’s a shot of her at about 93 years old, “bushwacking” through the woods to find an old trail.


Something I have noticed about Mary Jane – when we get out into the woods she has no problem finding a place to sit and take a break. It’s almost like she is “one with the woods” – its truly her favorite place.





I’ve also noticed that she typically walks with a pole or stick – she has several at her front door. For her 95th birthday I gave her along one with a large top – when she carries it she looks like the queen of the forest.


This one is my monopod – high tech, low tech – no matter to Mary Jane, a broom handle will do.


Mary Jane had mentioned to me that she wanted to see Crystal Bridges – its an amazing new museum of America Art located in Bentonville, Arkansas. It’s nestled into a hollow over an active spring and was built with a eye to disturbing as little of the natural site as possible. It’s surrounded by gorgeous trails and hiking paths. Last month I took Mary Jane to see it, not sure if we were going to look at art or go for a walk. Once we parked she told me that she was much more interested in the outside than in the inside – so off we went.

She had never seen a tulip tree – you can see the wonder in her eyes as she sees her first.


She lights up when she is in the woods.


We took a break when we spotted a kitten in the woods.



We finished two trails, about a mile and a half. We came to a courtyard with gorgeous flowers that she had never seen before and discovered that they are called Mary Janes:)



At the end of our walk she told me we need to go back in the fall – she can only imagine how beautiful these trails will be in the fall.

I think that attitude sums up what makes Mary Jane the vibrant person that she is – she’s 99 and still has a sense of wonder and discovery, she still looks forward, and she still loves to walk the earth.

Happy Birthday, my friend.