caryn’s thoughts family
When we think of train robberies, most of us think of the Old West, and bandits on horseback, riding up along side the train, and jumping on. Then, with guns pointed at everyone, they robbed the train, and left the same way they came in. In fact, I think most of us thought that the days of robbing a train were over, and maybe that played to the advantage of the outlaws, because on August 8, 1963, a group of 15 thieves and 2 key informants pulled off one of the most famous heists of all time.
The leader and mastermind behind the heist was Bruce Reynolds, who was a known burglar and armed robber. He was an avid “fan” of the Wild West railroad heists in America, so he decided to see if he could pull something like that off in England. Reynolds and 14 other men wearing ski masks and helmets held up the Royal Mail train heading between Glasgow, Scotland, and London, England. The gang used Land Rover vehicles which had been stolen in central London and marked with identical license plates in order to confuse the police. Unlike the Wild West gangs, this gang used a false red signal to get the train to stop, then hit the driver with an iron bar, seriously injuring him, in order to gain control of the train. The thieves loaded 120 mailbags filled with the equivalent of $7 million in used bank notes into their Land Rovers and sped off to their hideout, which was the Leatherslade Farm in Buckinghamshire, England, to divide their loot. The robbers had cut all the telephone lines in the vicinity, but one of the rail-men left on the train at Sears Crossing caught a passing goods train to Cheddington, where he raised the alarm at around 04:20.
As often happens, the media reports on these things, and before you know it, they are viewed as folk heroes by the public for the audacious nature of their crime and their flight from justice. The first reports of the robbery were broadcast on the VHF police radio within a few minutes and this is where the gang heard the line “A robbery has been committed and you’ll never believe it – they’ve stolen the train!” I’m sure that added to the charm felt by the public, because seriously, who but an eccentric, would steal a train. As always seems to happen, 12 of the 15 robbers were eventually captured. They received a collective 300 years in prison. One of them, a small-time hood named Ronnie Biggs, escaped from prison after just 15 months and underwent plastic surgery to change his appearance. He fled the country and eluded capture for years, finally giving himself up in 2001 when he returned from Brazil voluntarily to serve the 28 years remaining in his sentence…a rather odd thing to do, considering the fact that he had successfully escaped. The two Land Rovers used in the robbery were discovered at the thieves’ hideout. A car enthusiast still owns one of them today, and considers it a collector’s item.
When we think of computers, most of us think of the modern day laptop, or even our smart phones, and when we think of who invented the computer, we think of a man, and that would probably be right, but when NASA thinks of computers, they also have to include the Women of NASA. They were known as “human computers” long before desktop, laptops, or even multi-function calculators existed. Barbara “Barby” Canright joined California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1939. She was the first female “human computer” and her job was to calculate anything from how many rockets were needed to make a plane airborne to what kind of rocket propellants were needed to propel a spacecraft. She did her calculations by hand, with only a pencil and graph paper. It often took more than a week to complete, and her work commonly filled six to eight notebooks with data and formulas. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, her work, along with that of her mostly male teammates, took on a new meaning. There was important work to be done to secure the safety of our nation. The army needed to lift a 14,000 pound bomber into the air, and Barby was responsible for determining the thrust-to-weight ratio and comparing the performance of engines under various conditions, so they could make that happen. Due to the amount of work it was going to take to accomplish this task, more “computers” were hired, including three women Melba Nea, Virginia Prettyman and Macie Roberts.
It was a time when women were mostly homemakers, and in fact, often looked at as probably not able to understand complicated things like math, science, and engineering, but times were changing. We were a nation at war, and many of the men were fighting. Not only did the women step up to the plate, but they showed that they could understand the work they did, as well as, if not better than their male counterparts. In fact, they did their work so well, that their calculations would end up charting the course of many ground breaking missions that would carry United States astronauts to the moon and beyond. These women were an elite team of mathematicians, engineers and scientists, who were tasked with turning numbers into meaningful data at what would later become NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Langley Research Center. They challenged NASA to let them show what they could do, and when NASA did so, they really shined. It was an eye-opening accomplishment, and one that I’m pretty sure many men thought couldn’t be done.
It’s a funny thing, in my mind, that they were called “human computers” though. I suppose the work they did was computing, but the terminology just seems odd. These days, we talk about someone having the mind of a computer, but we don’t call them a computer. I guess that’s because we have computers, and no one would think of a person in that way. The reality is that, while these women were breaking ground in previously uncharted territory, their services would never really become unnecessary. In fact, one of the earliest human computers still works at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Sue Finley is 80 now, and NASA’s longest serving female employee. She was originally hired in 1958 to work on trajectory computations for rocket launches, and is now a software tester and subsystem engineer. She is currently working on NASA’s mission to Jupiter. Her legacy, and that of the other early human computers, is literally written in the stars. What really amazes me is that many people over 70 have no idea how to work a computer, and yet here is this 80 year old woman who is a software tester and subsystem engineer. Amazing!! Totally amazing!!
Recently, I saw an article on an app I have on my phone, called QuakeFeed. It is, of course, an app that tells me when there are earthquakes anywhere in the world, but my settings alert me if they are bigger 5.0. It’s not that earthquakes scare me or even concern me especially, because I don’t live in a really high earthquake area. I’m just naturally curious, and when a quake happens, I go to the map part of the app to see where it was. The app also has stories about the quakes that occur, especially is there was any damage or loss of life. Periodically, I look at the article part of the app, and that was where I saw the article concerning Mount Everest.
The article talked about an anomaly that I had not considered before. Now, maybe anomaly isn’t really the right word, but in my mind, that’s what it is. It mentioned that there was a possibility that due to earthquakes in the area, Mount Everest might have…shrunk. In case you didn’t know, Mount Everest is located in India and is part of the Himalayan mountain range. Mount Everest sports the crown as the world’s highest elevation, at 29,028 feet. The next highest elevation in a mountain is K2 in Pakistan. At 28,251 it is a full 777 feet lower than Mount Everest…at last measurement anyway. On April 25, 2015, a 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal at 11:56am, Nepal Standard Time. Known as the Gorkha earthquake, it killed nearly 9,000 people and injured nearly 22,000. Now, the Smithsonian Magazine is reporting that shortly after that quake, Satellite data was used to determine that large swaths of land in Nepal had risen more than 30 feet, while others had dropped. The school of thought is that the possibility exists that Mount Everest has actually shrunk. As I said, to me that seems like an anomaly, but it’s quite possible that Mount Everest, and all the other mountains of the world, have repeatedly changed in altitude. Somehow, I guess I had it in my head that mountain heights are permanent, but that isn’t even logical. The mountains were created by earthquakes. Their size must be subject to change by an earthquake too. It is the only logical conclusion.
The last time Mount Everest was measured was more than six decades ago, so I guess I wasn’t the only one who thought it wouldn’t change. Nevertheless, now India’s surveyor-general, Dr Swarna Subba Rao has plans to send an expedition to Mount Everest. Their mission is to “re-measure the hulking rock.” They do not expect that Everest has shrunk below 29,000 feet, but the technology has changed on the last 60 years, so it is possible that there might be some discrepancies. These days, scientists will measure Everest’s height using GPS equipment and triangulation techniques. “The observational data would take a month to collect and another 15 days to compute,” said Rao. I for one am excited to hear what their findings are. And, to be honest, I hope that the elevation has changed. To me, that would be like watching history in the making.
Recently, I heard a saying that has really made me think. “We take photos as a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone.” The thing about that thought that struck me the most, was when I considered moments otherwise gone…forever. I have always loved photography. From the time I was a little girl and received my first camera, I was hooked. There were years I wasn’t so good about taking pictures, and mistakes I made, such as not including people in my photos enough, not writing down the names of people and the locations, and the biggest one in my mind, not being in the pictures enough. So many people these day take selfies, and then there are the selfies that are ridiculed because “the person takes too many selfies.” I suppose that can be an issue, but when you think about it, they will always have that moment, and if that selfie made them look and feel especially pretty or handsome, so much the better. It is a moment, frozen in time…a memory that will always be with them.
When I look back at the funerals of my parents and my father-in-law, and the slide shows we did for them, I found myself amazed that I was having trouble locating pictures of me with them…particularly with my dad. It was a strange thing for me to realize that, until I thought about how much time I spent behind the camera and not in front of it. Since that time, I have made sure to take those pictures of my mom and me, my father-in-law, and me, and my mother-in-law and me, because I want to have those return tickets to those precious moments of the past. It’s not just about the slide show either, although that is a permanent memory of their lives, but it’s about the time spent with them. In his last two years, my dad and I spent many hours together, while I was one of his caregivers. I got to enjoy his wonderful sense of humor, as we teased each other every day. In my memory files, I can see him pretending to be asleep when I came in. Then, I would softly flick his hand, and he would accuse me of hitting him, saying, “Oh!! You struck me!” Then we would both laugh about it, because we knew that in a million years, that would never have happened. We pretended to argue, as I dressed his wounds, and helped him get dressed. Then I would step out while he finished the process, and he would come out into the living room. Whenever I am in their house, I can see those moments as vividly as if they were still there. Still, there are many moments that aren’t quite as clear, and a picture would tell the story so well. And now that it is too late to take them, I really wish I had some of those moments in pictures.
There are countless people who tell me how much they hate having their picture taken. I find that really sad, because it isn’t about them. They are denying others the right to have a return ticket to those precious moments. So few people think about it that way…until the day when they really wish they had a picture of them with someone special. That’s when it finally hits them. Pictures aren’t just something silly to post of Facebook. They are memories. They are return tickets to a moment otherwise gone. I think I’ve improved on those return tickets quite a bit, and for that, I am happy.
For a number of years now, Bob and I have made a trip to Thermopolis each year in early March in celebration of our wedding anniversary, which is March 1st. Driving through the Wind River Canyon that many times, I feel like I know the face of those canyon walls pretty well. Since rainy weather has dominated this Spring, many areas of the state of Wyoming and several other states, flooding is a word that we have all gotten used to hearing. Since our state has been in a relative draught for a number of years, the ground has had a hard time absorbing all that water that has been coming in. And then there is the fact that we have had a few fires in key areas around the state. That adds an additional danger to certain areas…one of which is the Wind River Canyon, which was hit with mudslides and rockslides earlier this year.
This morning, Bob and I decided to take a drive up to Thermopolis to see for ourselves, exactly how the canyon face had been changed by the mudslides. Our granddaughter, Shai Royce decided to come along to see it too. We had seen the pictures of it on television and on the internet when it happened, but you really can’t get a clear picture of something like that until you see it up close. So, after breakfast we set out. It was a nice drive up to the Wind River Canyon, and at first, it didn’t look so different, but then we got to the area where the main slides were. It was much different.
I expected it to look different, and it did, but what I didn’t expect was to have it occur to me that I was looking at the changing face of the canyon. I thought about how the canyon had changed over the years of its existence. The river made most of the changes that had taken place, slowly carving out the depth of it with erosion. Soon, its walls were high and filled with the hard rocks that had survived the erosion process. The trees grew along the face of the walls, and in time we all thought it wouldn’t change much, but rock and mudslides can change the face of those canyon walls overnight. I found myself thinking about how easy it was to pick out the slide path of each slide area. The coloring of the upturned earth made it stand out as if it were florescent paint. I was able to see the complete path the mud and rocks took on their way down.
I realized that this was just one event, but it didn’t matter, because I was looking at the changes brought about by time. This was the canyon’s changing face, caused by the effects of weather, water, wind, and fire to bring about an entirely new look to a canyon that had been there so long, looking, or so I thought, always the same. In reality, it was ever changing.
Today, I have been thinking about my cousin, Greg Huhsman a lot. This has been a year of much change, and sadness, for Greg, with a little bit of gladness mixed in. Greg lost his beautiful wife, Dustine on February 18, 2015, and if you have ever lost a loved on, you know that it feels like your whole world just came crashing down on you. Before too long, you are expected to pick yourself up, and get back to your job, but your body wants to go back to bed, and hope that when you wake up again, you will find that all this was just a nightmare. Sadly, it wasn’t, so you move forward, probably a little bit mechanically at first, doing the things you need to do each day, and praying that your heart will stop hurting so badly pretty soon.
I don’t say that anything will ever take Dustine’s place in Greg’s heart, because there is nothing that can do that, but sometimes, like in Greg’s life, something else happens that while it doesn’t stop the pain, it adds a little bit of joy to balance it out a bit. Nine months ago, Greg found out that his daughter was going to have a surprise baby. The baby was not planned, nor was she going to be planned for in the future, but arrive she will, and within the next three days. Her mother, Greg’s daughter, Stephanie, found herself pregnant after a seven year time span. I don’t think Greg had expected to have any more grandchildren. He has two, Kathleen and Michael Willard, but what an exciting thing to find that you are going to be blessed with another, and really just when you need some good things in your life. This baby was due a couple of days ago, and I am still holding out hope that she will arrive on her grandpa’s birthday, but even if she doesn’t, she will be a blessing for the entire family.
Unfortunately, we can’t change the sad moments life hands us, but God is always so good to us. In the midst, of sadness, joy always seems to comes. I know this birthday will be a very different one for Greg…a very lonely one, but I’m just as sure that he knows just how much his entire family loves him. We are all praying for comfort, and the coming reintroduction of joy in his life. Greg has always been such a kind and thoughtful cousin. It breaks my heart to have him go through such loss at such a young age. I know too, though, that his family means the world to him, and this new little granddaughter will bring him great joy. I can’t wait for her arrival, and I know Greg can’t either. Nevertheless, babies come when they are ready, so we will simply have to wait. Today is Greg’s birthday. Happy birthday Greg!! I’m praying that this is your new granddaughter’s birthday too. Have a great day either way!! We love you!!