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Storing Memories


(Click on pictures for larger images)

I’m storing my electric trains. Actually, I suppose I’m “re-storing” them; they have been in my attic for 45 years.  Perhaps I should explain.

I received my first set of electric trains for Christmas in 1947, when I was two years old.  Back then, electric trains were the quintessential Christmas gift for little boys.

As a little kid, I was awestruck by the trains. Minitature detailed trains, moving around the track, blowing their whistles as smoke puffed from their smokestacks.  In those days, an electric train set was a kid’s version of “awesomeness”.

Over the years, my parents added to the set, always as Christmas presents.  The collection grew from one to three complete sets, and the platform leayout expanded as well.  My father was very gifted, and created increasingly-complicated layouts with bridges and tunnels and little towns. To this day, I am impressed with his skills.

The trains were Lionel, the premiere toy train manufacturer of the day. Lionel had been making trains since 1900, and my trains were the first of the post World War II series (the company stopped making trains during the war, instead working as a defense contractor).

The trains were sturdy, to say the least.  Manufactured at a plant in New Jersey that employed more than 2000 workers, Lionel Trains were works of art.  Cast almost entirely in metal, the trains were heavy and could readily withstand crashes and falls to the floor off a raised platform.


The trains went up every Christmas until about 1955 or so.  By then, I was getting older, and the little kid in me was fading.  About that point, the trains went up in the attic and stayed there…until around 1970.

By then I had a son of my own, so after about fifteen years in storage, the train platform went up once again at Christmas.

We only had a small area for a platform, so I could only set up a small portion of the set.  I did that for about three years, and then once again, the trains returned to the attic.

For forty-five years.

The trains just came down from the attic.  I know they were up there for forty-five years because the newspapers they were wrapped in were dated 1972.

My thought was that seventy year old Lionel trains might be pretty valuable as collector items.  I knew they are still collected, so I thought I was sitting on a little gold mine  — not so much.

It turns out that many of the collectors of Lionel trains are old; like me. Not as many around anymore. There are other factors too; younger people who do collect trains look for the newer models; often made from plastic, but they have more detail, and are usually smaller scale.

I had a friend of mine who knows such things appraise my set.  The retail value was less than I thought, and selling them to a wholesaler would net me far less than that.  Of course I could put individual  cars on Ebay and try that, but I’m not so disposed.

I pondered this for awhile, and finally realized it wasn’t about the money, not at all.


Those trains are almost all I have left from my childhood.  Everything else is long gone.  As I unpacked them, even after not laying eyes on them for over 45 years, there were instant memories.

From the time I was two years old, the trains meant Christmas.  That’s when they came out for a few weeks each year.  At first, under the tree, but then on to larger and more elaborate platforms with small towns and mountains and bridges.  I can still hear the sound of their whistles and smell the somewhat acrid smell of the “smoke” that came out of the steam engines.

Times were simple then; not like today — not at all like today.  Electric trains held a certain kind of “magic” for a little kid.  Average people didn’t fly in airplanes back then; the railroad was still king of long distance transportation.  When you got on a train, you were going somewhere not around the corner.  Trains inspired thoughts of travel to far away places.  They criss-crossed the country; everything traveled by rail.  There were two rail lines near my home; we saw trains almost every day, mostly pulling freight cars, dozens of them.  There were box cars of every description and color, tank cars, hopper cars, gondola cars. Every passing train evoked the fantasy of hopping aboard an empty boxcar and “riding the rails”.  Actually we did that sometimes.  We often would walk the railroad tracks to a nearby town that had an amusement park. More than once, we jumped into a boxcar on a slow-moving freight for a ride.  Not many twelve year olds do that today, I suppose.


Back then, I never really rode as a passenger on a train, except for those brief freight car hops.  My first time as a legitimate passenger was on a train from Norfolk Virginia, to Providence Rhode Island.  I was in the Marine Corps, and being transported to the aircraft carrier where I’d been assigned.

That trip was almost mystical to me.  There were seven of us making the journey, and we had to change trains in Washington, DC.  We had a wait of several hours between trains, so we explored the Capitol. I remember it was April, and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom.  It was beautiful.  In the train station (Union Station) they had a most amazing device; a machine that played video recordings of songs.  I think it was expensive to play, maybe a dollar, and we stood around watching a video of the Four Seasons singing “Sherry”.  We had no idea we were looking at one of the very first music videos.

Union_Station_Washington_DCUnion Station, Washington DC

From Washington, we traveled to New York City; another stop and change of trains.  This time, we walked to Times Square, another place we knew about but had never been.  It was like nothing we’d ever seen before

times square vintageTimes Square

Ultimately the train took us to our destination, but that first train ride confirmed for me that riding the train was a magical experience.

Over the years, I rode the train many times; most often the Philadephia – Washington DC Metroliner.  I still liked it, but times had changed, and the magic was gone.


The trains are all boxed now, stored away for someone else.  As I cleaned them and wrapped them, and boxed them up, I realized you can store more than metal toys — you can store memories.


Lionel Corporation


Memorial Day, Barbecues, and Monin Marine


Memorial Day is coming soon, and it is the oddest of holidays. The observance began just after the Civil War, and was originally called Decoration Day. It was not officially declared a national holiday until 1971.

The day has one purpose, and one purpose only; to honor those who have fallen in battle. The “decoration” terminology refers to the earliest traditions of “decorating” the graves of the fallen with an American Flag and sometimes flowers. It is the most solemn of holidays.

It is also the most ignored. Memorial Day has become the unofficial “first day of summer”,  even though summer does not really start until June 21st. Stores have “Memorial Day” sales, resort areas open in high gear, and barbecues abound. There are Memorial Day services, to be sure, and they are held all around the country. But they are often sparsely attended, mostly by veterans or those who have lost someone in war. The somber day has been co-opted into a glitzy Memorial-Day-Sale-go-to-the-beach-have-a-barbecue-day.

I used to get angry at the way Memorial Day had become perverted. To make it worse, they moved the traditional May 30th date of the holiday to one of those floating Monday holidays, making a long weekend and giving people a day off.  Ironically, the people in the armed forces don’t get off.

I’ve been thinking about it a bit lately, and have asked myself “What would Monin think?”.


Francis George Monin was a friend of mine, a very good friend. We served together in the Marines, two years aboard the aircraft carrier USS Essex. He was in my wedding.  He was killed on July 5, 1967, twenty-nine days after arriving in Vietnam. He was 20 years old when he died.

Monin was from Buffalo, New York. I met him at the Marine Corps Sea School in Portsmouth Va. We trained together there for eventual assignment to one of the ships in the Navy fleet. In those days, large ships, carriers, cruisers, battleships carried a detachment of Marines, usually about 60. This was a tradition going back to the Revolutionary War.  We trained together, and spent the next two years aboard ship. In April 1967, our tour was up. I went home to get married, and on to Camp Lejeune. Monin went to Vietnam.

Wedding 1967 #5


We heard about Monin getting killed, and decided to name our first child, if it was boy, after Monin. My son was born on March 28, 1968, ironically while I was in Vietnam. His name is Francis, but everyone calls him Frank.

We never called Monin “Francis” or “Frank” or anything like that. He was always just “Monin”. That moniker later evolved into “Monin Marine”. He got that nickname because Monin was a true Marine. It was all he ever wanted to be; a John Wayne Marine. He was solid, and steady and completely dependable. You could count on Monin for anything. He was one of the true patriots.

He also liked to have fun. Monin was a beer drinker, and we drank a lot of beer during those years. When we were in port, Monin and I would frequently go into Boston’s notorious “combat zone” to drink on off-duty nights. The combat zone was the area in Boston where the sailors and Marines hung out. There used to be an area like that in many cities, places the civilians generally avoided and the military people partied.

And drink we did. We usually got something to eat, sometimes took in a movie, and then hit the bars. We would stagger back to the ship in the wee small hours, always stopping at a local greasy spoon for a 3am breakfast before going to the ship for a few hours sleep. Monin insisted that eating breakfast then would prevent a hangover. It didn’t work, but we did it anyway.

We had good times; lots of them. Monin loved to tell jokes. He wasn’t real good at it, but he told them to anyone who would listen. He liked to have fun. He was always in for any adventure. He was always up; I never saw him down.

Monin would like barbecues, especially if there was beer. He would like a get-together with friends where he could tell his jokes. He enjoyed life, and enjoyed being with his fellow Marines. He wouldn’t want people grieving over him.

I think if I were having a Memorial Day barbecue, Monin would be one of the first I would invite. He would come and have a good time.

So yeah, Memorial Day has a purpose; maybe more than one. Remember those who have fallen to keep you free. Plant a flag, say a prayer. Then go out and have fun.

That’s what Monin would do.

Francis G. Monin

American flag blowing, close-up





The USS Zumwalt (DD1000) was launched just the other day. It’s odd design is representative of the new stealth techology of Navy ships. The Zumwalt currently is the most sophisticated ship in the US Navy.

And so, you might reasonably ask, what? Why is this here? It’s here for one reason only. I knew Admiral Elmo (Bud) Zumwalt, for whom this ship is named.


Elmo Zumwalt, a four star admiral, was the youngest man to ever serve as Chief of Naval Operations. During Vietnam, he was Commander of Naval Forces, which included the Marine Corps, which included me.

Zumwalt authorized the ground use of the herbicide Agent Orange in Vietnam. His son served in the river patrol forces there, and later died at the age of 42. His grandson had profound birth defects.

While Admiral Zumwalt defended the use of the herbicide, he was nonethelsss personally effected by the possible effects on his son and grandson. He became an advocate for research into the effects of Agent Orange, and formed a working group to lobby and investigate the issue. I was honored to be a part of that group, which was how I met Bud Zumwalt.

“Call me Bud,” was the way he introduced himself as I shook hands with him for the first time. Generally speaking, former Marine sergeants don’t call Four-Star Navy Admirals by their first name, but he insisted. When people mentioned his career in the Navy, he always said, “I was just a sailor.”

He was easy to work with, and was a genuinely kind and caring man. Once, I missed a quarterly meeting at his office in Washington because I’d had my gall bladder out. When he learned this, he sent me a personal hand-written note wishing me a speedy recovery.

When I heard he died in 2000, I had been out of the Agent Orange business for over four years, but I went to his funeral. It was held in the chapel at the Navy Academy in Annapolis. President Bill Clinton gave the eulogy. It was quite a send off.

Over the years, I’ve had the occasion to meet a number of famous people.  Bud Zumwalt was one I’ll remember fondly.



Things That Changed My Life

I’m sixty-eight years old. I’ve come to learn that as you age, you tend to look backward as much as forward, perhaps more.  Right now I’m thinking about the things that changed my life; those events that put me on a different path than the one I was on. To be sure, many events change our lives, but most are subtle, we hardly notice them. This first one, however, was dramatic and changed everything that came later.

I was thirteen. It was a warm evening in late spring 1959. I’m guessing it was about 7pm, and a friend and I were out riding our bikes. Then we heard something….music.

It sounded like a marching band. I heard drums and (later I would learn) bugles. It wasn’t coming from far away, so we got on our bikes and rode toward the sound.

About a half mile away, on a ballfield, a drum and bugle corps was practicing. I’d never seen anything quite like it: teenagers marching around the field in military precision. There were both boys and girls, and the girls…they were beautiful. I was in the early throws of puberty, so”beautiful” was fairly generic for me, but that is how I remember it.

They had come to the field in buses. On the side of the buses was Vagabonds Junior Drum and Bugle Corps – Haddon Heights, NJ.

I was hooked. I wanted to be a part of that, but had no idea how to do so. I was too shy to go up to anyone and ask them. I went home and told my mother about it. She suggested I write them a letter. I told her it was probably only for kids from Haddon Heights, but she leaned on me to write the letter anyway, so I did. With no idea of an address, I simply wrote “Vagabonds, C/O Postmaster, Haddon Heights”. Little did I know that letter would change my life.

Several evenings later the phone rang. It was the wife of the director of the corps who told me that if I was interested in joining, I could come to their practice the following Tuesday.

My father drove me up, and I joined. As simple as that. In those days, all you had to do was want to join. It was terribly expensive; dues were ten cents a week. I told them I wanted to be a drummer and came home with a pair of drumsticks.

My abilities were not in the field of drumming, so I changed over to playing a bugle. I was a “rookie”, but week by week I learned. I made new friends and began the adventure of a lifetime.


 Okay, so I said this changed my life. But how did it change it?

First of all I made all new friends. I was never the most popular kid in school, actually I was a bit of a geek. I was the “smart” kid, a bit of an ass kisser.  No one ever picked on me, but  I wasn’t Mr. Popularity. Thinking back on it, I was mostly a tight-assed goodie-two shoes. I was type-cast if you will, and I think it was not terribly satisfying.

 Drum corps was different. First of all, no one knew me, so I could re-create myself. It turned out that the kids in corps were mainly hard-scrabble blue collar kids. They weren’t “band” kids, they were the kids who beat up the band kids. Drum corps was not a band, not in the wildest stretch.

I learned to curse, profusely, I learned to smoke. I was now hanging out with “real” kids, and I liked it – a lot.

Drum corps taught discipline. We learned to march. We learned to play an instrument, and we learned to do both at the same time. It was about parades, but mostly competitions. We competed against other corps in the region, and for the first time in my life,  I got to travel.


We traveled all over the Mid Atlantic region. During the summer, we had parades and contests in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York. I saw places I’d never seen, and met new people all the time – drum corps people, a type of person that even to this day I cannot explain to anyone who doesn’t know what I mean.

Vagabonds - June 1962

In 1961 we got to travel to Miami, Florida for a national competition. Here I was, a kid fifteen years old, who had hardly been out of New Jersey before drum corps, taking the longest trip of my life.


So, from 1959 to 1964 I had the time of my life – a great adventure for me and one I’ll never forget. But how was this “life changing”? The answer to this is the photo below:


Eileen Warner was also in drum corps. I met her through drum corps and without being in corps, we never would have met. I met her, I married her, and everything in my life today is a result of that. My life would not be the same, my children would not exist, my grandchildren would not exist,  nothing would be as it is today.

Wedding #1a

There are many events in our lives. Some of them are major, and we don’t even know it at the time. That evening in 1959 changed everything.




Cars I’ve Owned

I’ve been thinking that the cars we own are milestones of our personal history. Over the years I’ve owned many cars, and most have a story. Here goes:

1956 Ford Fairlane – My first car. I got it at the end of the summer in 1963, just as I was going into senior year in high school. I worked all summer to save the money for a car. It cost $125. I actually wanted another car on the lot, a Pontiac, but it was too expensive at $200. I drove this car for a year, until I went into the Marine Corps in 1964 and sold it to a friend.  It was a bit of a clunker. Two things I remember most about it is that the radio only worked when it wanted to. There must have been a short in the wiring, because sometimes when I’d hit a bump the radio would go on. I’d hit another bump, the radio would go off. The radio had a mind of it’s own. The other thing I remember was at one point the driver’s side door stopped working. I couldn’t afford to get it fixed, so I tied it shut with a rope and either went in and out through the passenger door or through the window. I was eighteen, and that’s how we rolled back then.

56 Ford Fairlane


1965 Chevrolet Malibu – This was our first “real” car. We got married in 1967, and bought this car shortly thereafter.  I forget how much it cost, maybe around $1500, but my father had to co-sign the loan with me, as I did not have enough credit.

We took this car to Camp Lejeune when we moved there in April, 1967. I really liked this car, and actually took pretty good care of it. I washed it and polished it, and even added tape red “pin stripes” to it. All was good until the accident.

We were going to visit friends one evening. I was stopped, making a left hand turn, waiting for oncoming traffic to pass. All of a sudden “BAM” we got ass-ended.  The guy driving the other car wasn’t paying attention, and plowed into us. The whole rear of my car was smashed in. Insurance paid for repairs, but I learned later that the frame was bent and not repaired. The car never drove the same again.

65 Chevy Malibu

1967 Pontiac Firebird – This was possibly the coolest car I’ve ever owned. I bought it when I came home from Vietnam in 1968. The Malibu was about shot, and I was flush with all that Vietnam intensity and a little mustering out cash, so in came the Firebird. I wasn’t a very practical car, it was small, and by then Frank was born, so getting the Baby seat in and out of the car was a hassle. It wasn’t air conditioned, and the ride was pretty bumpy, but it was a cool car. Kept it for a year or two, and then calmed down and became an adult.

67 Pontiac Firebird

1962 Chevrolet Bellaire – This was our first “2nd.” car. I bought it from a neighbor who was going into the Coast Guard for $75. I was working in Camden at the time, so I used this car for work. I did little to nothing to maintain this car. I called it my “crash” car, in that I really did not care so much what happened to it. I drove it for two years and then sold it for $65, so the car cost me $10 for two years of rides. Not a bad deal.

62 Chevy Bellaire

1969 Buick Skylark – As part of becoming a responsible citizen, it was time to get rid of the Firebird and get a “real” car. We bought the Skylark for one primary reason — it had air conditioning. When we got into the car for the test drive at the dealer, Eileen declared she “loved it”. With the salesman sitting the the back seat, the deal was sealed.  This was actually a pretty good car. We had it for about six years, passed it on to my father-in-law who eventually passed it on, etc. Ten years after we got it, the car was still on the road.

 69 Buick Skylark

1963 Chevrolet Stationwagon – Another “2nd” car. Bought it from a co-worker who took good care of his cars. I liked this big buggy, and the kids loved riding all the way in the back. Ahhh…the days without seatbelts!

63 Chevy Station Wagon

1968 Oldsmobile Delta 88 – Bought this “2nd” car from the same guy who sold me the Chevy wagon. Another good car. Huge engine gas hog, but this car could fly!

68 Olds Delta 88

1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme – Our first brand new car. This car cost $5200, which was major money back then. We loved this car. As much as I liked this car, I really wanted a Chrysler Cordoba, but it was too expensive at around $6000. Eight hundred bucks was a lot of difference in those days.

76 Olds Cutlass Supreme

Company Cars — During the 1980’s I drove a series of company cars: 1976 Malibu, 1982 Chevy Celebrity, 1985 Olds Delta 88, and a 1987 Olds Delta 88, which I bought when I left the company. The Olds was a pretty good car, and we kept it for a number of years. It got banged up a bit in a few fender benders, and I hit a deer with it, but I was sad to see it being towed down the street when I gave it to the Salvation Army.

87 Olds Delta 88

 The Lincoln: (Actual picture) -1991 Lincoln Continental. I loved this car! Total luxury! Power everything, and it rode like floating on a cloud! Without a doubt my favorite car of all time.  It had more than it’s share of mechanical problems and costly repairs, but I drove this car until it wouldn’t drive any more. I almost cried when the tow truck took it up the street for the last time.

1991 Lincoln

Etc, etc, etc — There have been more cars since then; a pair of twin 1998 Buick Centurys, a 2003 Century, a 2009 Impala, a Chrysler Voyager. None of them has been more than just a car. I think the Lincoln did me in. I knew I’d never afford another one, and nothing could compare to it.  So while there have been cars since, and probably will be more, I stopped caring about cars. Maybe that’s just what getting old is about.

Things That Interest Me

I’ve never really gotten into the idea of blogging. I tried it once or twice, but didn’t take to the notion of constantly posting new things. Since this site is free, I’ve decided to give it another shot. I’ll post things that interest me with no schedule, no plan and no idea when I will post again. There. That works for me.