Monthly Archives: November 2017

I think most people love trains. The fascination of stepping onboard, and arriving at a totally different place without driving or flying is an alluring thought, not to mention a little romantic. Over the years, trains have been given names, almost as if they were alive and had personalities. In England, one of the most loved trains was The Flying Scotsman, so named in 1924, after the train had been in operation since 1862. The train was an express train, and was clocked at 100 mph on a special test run in 1934. It officially the first locomotive in the United Kingdom to have reached that speed. In those days, that was a phenomenal achievement…unheard of really.

The Flying Scotsman ran between Edinburgh and London, the capitals of Scotland and England, via the East Coast Main Line. It is currently operated by Virgin Trains East Coast. The East Coast Main Line over which the Flying Scotsman runs, was built in the 19th century by many small railway companies, but mergers and acquisitions led to only three companies controlling the route…the North British Railway (NBR), the North Eastern Railway (NER) and the Great Northern Railway (GNR). In 1860 the three companies established the East Coast Joint Stock for through services using common vehicles, and it is from this agreement that The Flying Scotsman came about.

The original journey took 10½ hours, including a half-hour stop at York for lunch. However, increasing competition and improvements in railway technology saw this time reduced to 8½ hours by the time of the Race to the North in 1888. From 1896, the train was modernized with such features as corridors between carriages, heating, and dining cars. The York stop was reduced to 15 minutes, as passengers could now have lunch on the train, but the end-to-end journey time remained 8½ hours.

It was the British Empire Exhibition made Flying Scotsman famous. Soon, it was featured at many more publicity events for the LNER. In 1928, it was given a new type of coal-car with a corridor, which meant that a new crew could take over without stopping the train. This allowed it to haul the first ever non-stop London to Edinburgh service on May 1, reducing the journey time to eight hours. The Flying Scotsman name has been maintained by the operators of the InterCity East Coast franchise since privatization of British Rail. The former Great North Eastern Railway even subtitled itself The Route of the Flying Scotsman, as a way of cashing in on of the train’s popularity. The Flying Scotsman was operated by GNER from April 1996 until November 2007, then by National Express East Coast until November 2009, East Coast until April 2015 and since by Virgin Trains East Coast.

On May 23, 2011 the Flying Scotsman brand was re-launched for a special daily fast service operated by East Coast departing Edinburgh at 05:40 and reaching London exactly four hours later, calling only at Newcastle. It is operated by an InterCity 225 Mallard set. Driving Van Trailer 82205 and 91 class locomotive 91101 were turned out in a special maroon livery for the launch of the service. East Coast claimed that this was part of a policy to bring back named trains to restore “a touch of glamour and romance”. However, for the first time in its history, it ran in one direction only. There is no northbound equivalent service. This schedule is still maintained today. Northbound, the fastest timetabled London to Edinburgh service now takes 4 hours 20 minutes. In October 2015, 91101 and 82205 were give a facelift of new vinyl in a new Flying Scotsman livery. The Flying Scotsman is the only passenger service to run non-stop through Darlington and York.

During the years of growing pains for the United States, it was not considered a nation with any power, or in fact, a nation at all. The British wanted to keep he American Colonies under its power for tax purposes, and for the power that comes when a nation owns large areas of land around the globe. The young country…still under the bonds of British rule, was rebelling against what they considered tyranny, however, they would not get very far without military help coming from somewhere. So, on November 29, 1775, the Second Continental Congress, met in Philadelphia, to establish a Committee of Secret Correspondence. The committee’s goal was to provide European nations with a Patriot interpretation of events in Britain’s North American colonies, in the hope of soliciting aid for the American war effort. The committee consisted of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Harrison, John Dickinson, John Hay, and Robert Morris. Following the meeting, the committee instructed Silas Deane to meet with French Foreign Minister Charles Gravier, Count de Vergennes, to stress America’s need for military stores and assure the French that the colonies were moving toward “total separation” from Great Britain. Covert French aid began filtering into the colonies soon after the outbreak of hostilities in 1775, but it was not enough. The Americans had to figure out a way to get more aid.

Deane, a Connecticut delegate to the Continental Congress, left for France on the secret mission on March 3, 1776. He managed to negotiate for unofficial assistance from France, in the form of ships containing military supplies, and recruited Gilbert du Motier, the marquis de Lafayette to share his military expertise with the Continental Army’s officer corps. The aid helped some, but America needed a real commitment from France. That was not so easy to obtain, until after the arrival of the charming Benjamin Franklin in France in December 1776. Then, after the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777, the French became convinced that it was worth backing the Americans in a formal treaty. On February 6, 1778, the Treaties of Amity and Commerce and Alliance were signed, and in May 1778 the Continental Congress ratified them.

One month later, war between Britain and France formally began when a British squadron fired on two French ships. During the American Revolution, French naval fleets proved critical in the defeat of the British, which was assured after the Battle of Yorktown in October 1781. In reality, this was a spy thriller right out of the likes of James Bond, in that every step of this maneuver was critical to the survival of the United States of America, and everything pretty much went exactly as planned.

My niece, Machelle Moore is a sweet, sometimes quiet girl who spends her life surrounded by boys. She is married to the oldest boy, Steve Moore, and together, they have sons Weston and Easton. For someone who only had sisters, and I can relate, because I was the same way, being a part of a family of men is…a culture shock. Moms of boys who came from a house full of girls should maybe belong to a big club of other girls just like them. Boys are…different from girls in every possible way, and they don’t care if what they are doing is polite or not. It’s a guy thing, and their mom will just have to deal with it, because those boys will never change. In reality, I think it is the moms/grandmas who went from an all girl family to an all boy family, who do all the changing. Once the initial shock wears off, you realize that while this little man can be…embarrassing at times, he can also be a great joy, and after a while, it just doesn’t phase you anymore. They do something you find embarrassing, and you just roll your eyes, because that is just how boys are, and nothing you do is going to change them one bit.

It’s a good thing that Machelle loves the outdoors, because with three boys in the house, there will be things like camping, and in the case of her husband, Steve, rock hunting. That is always fun in my opinion, but then I grew up hearing all about going rock hunting, and have collected plenty of them in my day. Not all girls like that sort of thing though. Of course, when your man turns them into beautiful things, like Machelle’s husband does, it’s hard not to get enthusiastic about the rocks you find. They take the boys camping too, and I’m sure that when they were little, they brought home the usual menagerie of frogs, toads, snakes, and bugs that every mom of boys finds herself oohing and aahing over while trying not to eeewww too much, because lets face it, those little boys would know an eeewww over an aah in a minute, but then most of them know that you don’t much like snakes, bugs. or frogs.

Being the only girl in a house full of boys is interesting…to say the least, as with a house full of girls, it is also very rewarding too. Your kids are always a blessing, and while they can be gross and embarrassing at times, they make up for it completely every time they give you a big kiss or a hug. That sort of thing just melts your heart, and those boys know just how to make their mom feel loved and special. That’s because moms are big softies when it comes to their kids, and Machelle is no different. We love our kids…boys or girls, and they know just hoe to wiggle their way into our hearts. Today is Machelle’s birthday. I’m sure her house full of boys will make it very special. Happy birthday Machelle!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Sometimes, when a war plane is in danger of being captured by the enemy, the pilot might take measures to destroy it, so that the technological secrets don’t end up in enemy hands. In fact, I believe that these days, anytime a plane goes down in enemy territory, the pilots are told to destroy them, but I’m not sure on that.

Strange as that may seem to most of us, on November 27, 1942, something even more strange happened, but I’m getting ahead of myself. In June of 1940, after the German invasion of France and the establishment of an unoccupied zone in the southeast, which was led by General Philippe Petain, Admiral Jean Darlan was committed to keeping the French fleet out of German control. At the same time, as a minister in the government that had signed an armistice with the Germans, one that promised a relative “autonomy” to Vichy France, Darlan was prohibited from sailing that fleet to British or neutral waters. It put him in a rather precarious position, to say the least.

The British were as concerned as the French. A German-commandeered fleet in southern France, so close to British-controlled regions in North Africa, could prove disastrous to the British, who decided to take matters into their own hands by launching Operation Catapult…the attempt by a British naval force to persuade the French naval commander at Oran to either break the armistice and sail the French fleet out of the Germans’ grasp…or to scuttle it. And if the French wouldn’t, the Brits would. If you’ve ever heard the expression, “between a rock and a hard place,” you can picture this situation. And the British tried to push their way in it. In a five-minute missile bombardment, they managed to sink one French cruiser and two old battleships. They also killed 1,250 French sailors. This would be the source of much bad blood between France and England throughout the war. General Petain broke off diplomatic relations with Great Britain.

Two years later, the situation had worsened, with the Germans now in Vichy and the armistice already violated. Admiral Jean de Laborde finished the job the British had started. Just as the Germans launched Operation Lila…the attempt to commandeer the French fleet, at Toulon harbor, off the southern coast of France, Laborde ordered the sinking of 2 battle cruisers, 4 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers, 1 aircraft transport, 30 destroyers, and 16 submarines. Three French subs managed to escape the Germans and make it to Algiers, Allied territory. Only one sub fell into German hands. The marine equivalent of a scorched-earth policy had succeeded.

When a vicious killer is caught, sometimes the townspeople lose control of their emotions and take matters into their own hands. While it is a little less common these days, people would sometimes storm the jail to execute the prisoners themselves. Often it was thought that justice would not be served in the court system. People fear the possibility that the killer might get off and be back out in society again. These days, it is pretty hard to storm a jail, but jails weren’t as secure then, as they are now.

On November 9, 1933, Brooke Hart was abducted by two men in his own Studebaker. His family received a $40,000 ransom demand and, soon after, Hart’s wallet was found on a tanker ship in a nearby bay. The investigative trail led to John Holmes and Thomas Thurmond, who implicated each other in separate confessions. Both acknowledged, that Hart had been pistol-whipped and then thrown off the San Mateo Bridge. After Hart’s body washed ashore on November 25, a vigilante mob began to form. Newspapers reported the possibility of a lynching and local radio stations broadcast the plan. Not only did Governor James Rolph reject the National Guard’s offer to send assistance, he reportedly said he would pardon those involved in the lynching. Now, when you have a governor who is on the side on the lynch mob, you have a volatile situation.

On November 26, 1933, thousands of people in San Jose, California, stormed the jail where Thomas Thurmond and John Holmes were being held. The angry mob converged at the jail and beat the guards, using a battering ram to break into the cells. Then, Thurmond and Holmes were dragged out and hanged from large trees in a nearby park. Contrary to the way most of us think, when our emotions aren’t raw, the public seemed to welcome the gruesome act of vigilante violence. After the incident, pieces of the lynching ropes were sold to the public. Though the San Jose News declined to publish pictures of the lynching, it condoned the act in an editorial. Seventeen-year-old Anthony Cataldi bragged that he had been the leader of the mob but he was not held accountable for his participation. At Stanford University, a professor asked his students to stand and applaud the lynching. Perhaps most disturbing, Governor Rolph publicly praised the mob. “The best lesson ever given the country,” said Governor Rolph. “I would like to parole all kidnappers in San Quentin to the fine, patriotic citizens of San Jose.” I understand the anger, but not the method. While the two killers might have deserved the death penalty for their crimes, this was not the way it should have happened. Nevertheless, I guess justice was served…even if it was vigilante justice.

November 25, 1941, while not the date that would live in infamy, is a date that, in some ways, lives in infamy too. It was on this day that Admiral Harold R. Stark, United States Chief of Naval Operations, told Admiral Husband E. Kimmell, commander of the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, that both President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull thought that a Japanese surprise attack is a distinct possibility. It was their thought that the attack might possibly happen on the following Monday, because the Japanese were notorious for attacking without warning, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had informed his Cabinet. “We must all prepare for trouble, possibly soon,” he telegraphed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Kimmel’s command was at the mid-Pacific base at Oahu, which included, Pearl Harbor. At the time he received the “warning” from Stark, he was negotiating with Army Lieutenant General Walter C. Short, commander of all United States forces at Pearl Harbor, about sending United States warships out from Pearl Harbor in order to reinforce Wake and Midway Islands, along with the Philippines, which were considered possible Japanese targets. But the Army had no anti aircraft artillery to spare. War worries struck due to an intercepted Japanese diplomatic message, which gave November 25 as a deadline of sorts. If Japanese diplomacy had failed to convince the Americans to revoke the economic sanctions against Japan, “things will automatically begin to happen,” the message related. Those “things” were becoming obvious, in the form of Japanese troop movements off Formosa (Taiwan), toward Malaya. In reality, they were headed for Pearl Harbor, as was the Japanese First Air Fleet, but no one had guessed that was the intended target.

Despite the fact that so many in positions of command anticipated a Japanese attack, they had all failed to figure out that Hawaii was the target. When the attack came, they were all taken by complete and deadly surprise. Maybe they should have known, especially given the failure of diplomacy, when Japan refused United States demands to withdraw from both the Axis pact and occupied territories in China and Indochina, but no one guessed Pearl Harbor was the target. Unfortunately they assumed Midway or Wake islands, because they seemed to be more strategic targets, and they expected that Japan would need those locations to have a chance at victory. I don’t know why the Japanese decided on Pearl Harbor, but perhaps it was a way of attacking in the heart of the United States…or as much as they felt they could. Whatever the case may be, the United States came back with a vengeance, and the Japanese would regret their attack on Pearl Harbor, because they would lose the war, date that would live in infamy…or not.

Airplane hijacking isn’t a new thing in our day and age, and usually the hijacker is extremely dangerous and often has plans to crash the plane, but there have been, in times past, some hijackings that weren’t “so bad” in the grand scheme of airplane hijacking, anyway. Sometimes the hijacker really just wanted to use the plane to get them where they wanted to go, planning to release the hostages upon arrival. Of course, hijacking isn’t really a good way to get to your vacation destination, or any other reason for your travel, because you are likely to get shot or arrested for your seemingly innocent attempts.

Nevertheless, on November 24, 1971, a hijacker calling himself D.B. Cooper commandeered a Northwest Orient Airlines 727 shortly after takeoff. He showed a flight attendant something that looked like a bomb, and informed the crew that he wanted $200,000, four parachutes, and “no funny stuff.” The plane landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where authorities met Cooper’s demands, which was common back then, and evacuated most of the passengers. Cooper then demanded that the plane fly toward Mexico at a low altitude and ordered the remaining crew members into the cockpit. At 8:13 pm, as the plane flew over the Lewis River in southwest Washington, Cooper parachuted from the plane. The airplane’s pressure gauge recorded the jump. Wearing only wrap-around sunglasses, a thin suit, and a raincoat, Cooper parachuted into a thunderstorm, with winds in excess of 100 mph and temperatures well below zero at the 10,000 foot altitude where he began his fall. The storm prevented an immediate capture, and most authorities assumed he was killed during what they deemed a suicidal jump. No trace of Cooper has ever been found, despite a massive search of the area, and FBI posters, with age analysis.

In 1980, an eight year old boy uncovered a stack of nearly $5,880 of the ransom money in the sands along the north bank of the Columbia River, five miles from Vancouver, Washington. There was no trace of Cooper’s remains in the area. The money was given back to the boy, and he sold some of the bills as souvenirs. No more of the money has ever been found, on the ground or in circulation. More than four decades later, three amateur scientists working for a group called Citizen Sleuths, think they may have found evidence that would narrow down Cooper’s identity. They believe that he had to be an aerospace engineer or a manager. The scientists said they have been analyzing particles found on a clip-on necktie that Cooper left on his seat…number 18E…before jumping out of the plane. To the naked eye, the piece of fabric was a nondescript black tie from J.C. Penney. But, to the modern-day scientists, the tie was an “incredibly fortunate” piece of evidence in the investigation, because ties are not washed often, so DNA could remain on the tie, and with modern DNA testing, maybe they will be able to figure out who D.B. Cooper really was.

All of my life, Thanksgiving was a time to spend the day with family, overeat Thanksgiving dinner, and relish the fact that I had the perfect family life. In my young years, everyone in my family was alive and well. The family was growing in one way or another, but until my grandfather, George Byer passed away in 1980, when I was 24 years old, I had never faced death in any way…never lost a loved one. I think it was then that I realized that things were never going to be the same again. Life would go forward, but there was no guarantee that each new year would find us celebrating with the same loved ones every year. Changes are inevitable, and loved ones going to heaven…it’s all a part of what is known as the circle of life. Still, it leaves me feeling more than a little bit lonely as the holidays, and life in general embark upon irreversible changes time after time.

The first years without your parents are always among the hardest. I never considered the possibility that I could one day be an orphan, and yet, I am. An orphan is, after all, someone whose parents have passed away. We usually think of an orphan as a child, but in reality, most people will become orphaned at some point in their lifetime…unless their parents outlive them. Anyway, I found myself an orphan, and the holidays…every day, in fact…have never been the same. The holiday gatherings are much smaller affairs, as my sisters and I have redefined our holidays around our own families, as opposed to a large gathering of six families. While that is ok, and as it should be, there is still a small feeling of loneliness, because we don’t always see each other on the holidays now. Yes, we try to get together at least once before Christmas and a yearly picnic, just like my mom’s family has done, but the other holidays seem to have drifted into the category of small family gatherings, rather that large family gatherings. And, I have learned that in this life, you have no guarantee that your holidays will be the same from year to year, even if there is no loss in the family, because people also move away, and that changes the face of the holidays.

Still, Thanksgiving is a day to reflect on the things we have to be thankful for, and for me there are many. My daughters and their families are happy and well, and like my parents families did in the past, mine is growing, as my grandson, Chris Petersen and his fiancé, Karen Cruickshank are starting their own little family. We have wonderful friends, my daughter Corrie Petersen’s in-laws, Becky and Duane Skelton, who have graciously included Bob and me into their Thanksgiving holiday, and we can go to my daughter, Amy Royce’s house for gatherings too, or they can come here, so the core of my perfect family is still in there, it’s just different now. While the years have changed the face of our family gatherings, I still have a great family life, and while I can’t call it the perfect family life anymore, because my parents are in Heaven, I can still call it a very blessed family life, and for that I am very thankful.

My niece, Kelli Schulenberg is a lot like me when it comes to Winter’s cold…we don’t like it. It interferes with a lot of the things we want to do, like hiking, long beautiful nights, green trees and grass, and most of all…warmth. Winter is hard for a Summer girl. It’s almost like an invasion of privacy…blasting into your life, seemingly overnight, and while we usually have some warning…it really needs to be about ten years longer!!

Kelli is the type of person who really doesn’t like to have situations, circumstances, or seasons to interfere with her plans. I think we can all relate to that. Hiking is difficult to do in the winter, so my plans get waylaid in the winter, but Kelli and her husband, Barry go snowshoeing, so I guess her plans aren’t quite as waylaid as mine. Nevertheless, things like icy roads are a huge nuisance. They make it hard to travel and everything takes longer. I think she and I would both just stay home in front of a fireplace with a nice cup of hot cocoa…if we could.

Kelli loves music and concerts…Country music, of course…although she might like some of the other genres too. She and Barry often travel to go to different concerts, which is nice, because it lets them see the sights along the way too. Their concert tours have taken them to lots of great places, and with the concerts, they had something fun to do during the trip.

Kelli and Barry have hiked in a number of places, including Casper Mountain, of course. Kelli’s mom, Mary Wages runs a campground in Colorado, so they go see her and get some hiking in there too, but wherever Kelli and Barry travel, they try to find a trail to hike on. Hiking is such a great pastime, because you get to see places that you just can’t see from a car. You are out in nature and the fresh air, and sometimes you even get to see some amazing wildlife…when they aren’t hiding from you that is. Today is Kelli’s birthday Happy birthday Kelli!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Every November 22nd brings unimaginable sadness to members of the Spethman family, as well as the rest of our family, as we remember the baby most of us never got to meet. Laila Elizabeth Spethman was just 18 days old when she went to Heaven, leaving behind her a family wishing that things could have been different. There are never any easy answers for why a child dies, only questions. The biggest question is, “Why did this happen to us?” Of course, there is no answer. Things like the loss of a child don’t go after certain families. Death is not vindictive…it’s just painful. It just leaves us feeling empty…just horribly, and irreversibly empty.

That’s what Laila left behind, when she went to Heaven…emptiness. There is an empty spot in the family, where she should be…six years between her big brother, Isaac and her little sister, Aleesia. And empty chair at the table that Laila never got to sit in. And empty spot in the first grade, where she should be learning. There is an empty spot for Aleesia, who will never have a sister, and empty spot for Xander, Zack, and Isaac because they knew her for those days, knew that they were supposed to have a little sister named Laila, and then they didn’t. And there is an empty spot for her parents, Jenny and Steve, who have had the feeling of empty arms since that awful day…they have a daughter named Laila, but they can’t hold her, raise her, or know her. But all they have in emptiness where Laila is concerned. It is an emptiness we all feel.

Yes, Jenny and Steve have four beautiful, happy children, but that can never fill the emptiness that the lost one left. That’s because each child is their own person. They are not interchangeable. One cannot replace another. While each of their children is a joy in their own right, they are never going to be able to fill that one empty spot…the one Laila left behind. We will always love and miss you Laila Elizabeth Spethman, and we will see you again someday in Heaven.

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