Plush Kokopelli - The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth
In September 2007, for the first time, Spokesmodel Carrie McCoy and I visited Moab, Utah together. While flying back to Casa Carrie in Simi Valley, California, Carrie stopped at Phoenix International Airport. There, in a cavernous airline terminal she saw a retail cart that was selling Arizona souvenirs. Among the various items there, she found a multicolored beanbag toy small enough to fit into her carry-on luggage.
A week later, when I arrived home, Carrie presented “Plush Kokopelli” to me, as a gift. From that moment on, nothing was the same. Standing only twelve inches tall, in his plush stocking feet, I never expected that little character to change my life, but he has.
Later in our mutual story, Plush Kokopelli would meet Coney the Traffic Cone, Moabbey the Coyote and Silver Girl. Together they would form a band of superheroes that would change history, as we know it. Perhaps they only changed history as I know it, but that is good enough for me. Later, Plush Kokopelli and Coney would found their own credit union, in Moab, Utah
As a character in my online novel, “Walking through Time”, Plush Kokopelli has enjoyed many adventures. First, he met Coney and Moabbey, but soon thereafter, he and his friends welcomed Silver Girl to their troupe. Before they set out on their quest, Plush Kokopelli and the other superheroes first went on vacation to the Cozy Cone Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. Soon, they were to take the High Southwest and even the Low Southwest (Arizona) by storm. Righting wrongs and protecting the desert environment, the superheroes began their long and winding road to recognition and respectability.
Before they knew it, the superheroes were involved in an international art mystery, seeking the identity of the mid-twentieth century artist, C.Proietto. With aplomb, Plush Kokopelli, Silver Girl and Coney solved the art mystery. During a European tour, they discovered that the artist was none other than Costantino Proietto (1910 – 1979). Originally, from Randazzo, Sicily, Tino Proietto became the “Master of Impasto” and later lived as artist in residence in Stuttgart, Germany.
In 2012, then Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona arrested Plush Kokopelli on suspicion of being an illegal alien. Incarcerated in Maricopa County Jail, Sheriff Joe personally dressed Plush Kokopelli in pink jail clothing. With his multicolored coat hidden beneath the pink jail garb, Plush Kokopelli lost all of his magical powers. Soon, it was the shy and retiring Coney the Traffic Cone’s turn to save the day and to save Plush Kokopelli too.
After Coney freed Plush Kokopelli from jail in Phoenix, Arizona, the little flute playing character hopped a jet to Moab, Utah. There, he was seen around town and was photographed on the wing of the jet airplane on which he had arrived. Neither Sheriff Joe nor Governor Jan Brewer had the power to extradite the multidimensional, fugitive plush-toy back to Arizona.
Once free from incarceration, Plush Kokopelli headed directly to Burning Man at Black Rock, in the Nevada desert. There, he communed with a giant Kokopelli, which was soon to burn during the 2012 festival. By then, Plush Kokopelli was gaining traction in various social circles. Just before the company went bankrupt, Hostess Twinkies offered Plush Kokopelli a spokesmodel gig. Soon after making his first TV commercial for Twinkies, Hostess ceased doing business and stiffed him on his royalty check.
Undeterred, Plush Kokopelli went to the Atlantis Casino in Reno, Nevada and won big on the slot machines and at the blackjack tables. Not that he needed the money; but his winnings meant that Plush Kokopelli instantly became the ninth richest plush toy in the world. Still, he knew that there was more to his fifth dimensional life than money alone.
Although he is mute, Plush Kokopelli has an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time. Recently, when the Colorado River ran dry, he was there with the other superheroes to help orchestrate a spectacular, yet environmentally sensitive demise for the coal-fired power plant known as the Navajo Generating Station. In the end, the destruction at Navajo was just part of a movie script. Still, Plush Kokopelli played a pivotal role in getting that script pitched to the executives at Atlantis Pictures in Hollywood, California.
When Atlantis Pictures refused to green light the superheroes’ disaster movie script, Plush Kokopelli and the other superheroes turned their attention to another mystery. This time it was the “Great Burro Crane Mystery”. In 2014, the Moab Burro disappeared from Seven Mile, near Moab, Utah. Fearing that nuclear waste from the Train of Pain had contaminated the Moab Burro, Coney the Traffic Cone and Plush Kokopelli set out to find and save the errant Burro Crane. To read the full story, please go to MoabBurro.com.
Since Plush Kokopelli operates in five dimensions, rather than our mundane three-dimensional time-space reality (3DTSR), it is easy for him to play inter-dimensional tricks on those around him. One day, Plush Kokopelli spontaneously grew to twenty-six inches in height and multiplied himself by twenty times. All of this, he did in secret at Denny’s Wigwam & Trading Post in Kanab, Utah. When I visited the trading post in the spring of 2015, Plush Kokopelli was planning a quantum leap in energy. At the time, he planned to multiply himself like a plague of locust in the Great American Desert.
Luckily, Plush Kokopelli was only able to multiply himself twenty times before I found him at the trading post. I then purchased all twenty 26” RGU Group “Zoona” Plush Kokopelli still in original condition. Showing great attention to detail, Plush Kokopelli had even produced his original descriptive tags, which remain intact. Only these twenty remaining original 26” Plush Kokopelli feature authentic, multicolored (rainbow?) plush coats.
Now, upon his unspoken request, Plush Kokopelli would like the last twenty of his reincarnated selves to go to good homes… and at a good price. Plush Kokopelli is now available at MoabJim.com for only $99.00, plus shipping & handling. But wait, if you buy two 26” original RGU Group Plush Kokopelli, they are only $79.00 each. Just pay separate shipping and handling.
Plush Kokopelli as about the size of a small dog or a two-year-old child. He never barks, bites, cries or wets himself. In fact, he is mute. As such, Plush Kokopelli makes a perfect traveling companion. His beanbag bottom helps him sit up straight on an automobile seat.
If you search long enough, you may find a 12”, 16” or even a tired old 26” RGU Group Plush Kokopelli on eBay or some other auction website. Only when purchasing from MoabJim.com will you receive new, never-been-hugged, 26” Plush Kokopelli bean bag soft toys. With his tie-dyed, multicolored (rainbow?) plush fabric now out of production, when this final batch of Plush Kokopelli are gone, they will be gone forever.
Picture yourself meeting Plush Kokopelli at the Visitors Center at Arches National Park. That could be the thrill of a lifetime. Maybe you and Plush Kokopelli could drive along the highways and the byways of the High Southwest. Lean back, slow down and enjoy the scenery while Plush Kokopelli "rides shotgun" in your car or truck. He is a great photographic model and is now famous among the cognoscenti. If you want to commune with among the last of the original Plush Kokopelli, now is the time to act.
at 12:17 AM |
Personal Articles | Comments
(0) | Link
Moab's "Empty Garden"
- I found an empty garden among the flagstones there
- Who lived here
- He must have been a gardener that cared a lot
- Who weeded out the tears and grew a good crop
- And now it all looks strange
- It's funny how one insect can damage so much grain
(A song by Elton John)
In March 2012, Grand County, Utah received funding from the National Park Service "Connect Trails to Parks" program for projects to enhance the Moab Lions Park Transit and Trail Hub. Over the previous four years, individuals from Grand County, Moab City, NPS, BLM, the Lions Club, Trail Mix, and the Moab Trails Alliance had collaborated to develop Lions Park as a trail and transportation hub. The various groups worked with a consultant hired using the NPS grant monies. The ground breaking for the Transit Hub was in September 2012. As planned, the hub would include interpretive and trail signs, all to be installed during 2014.
Starting with new energy applied by the Moab Lions Club in the 1970s and 1980s, public, private and nonprofit agencies and individuals poured countless hours into planning “Lions Park: Gateway to Moab”. By April 2015, the new Lions Transit Hub was in operation just across State Route 128 from the old Lions Club Park. Decades of planning and construction around the old park were almost complete. Careful redevelopment of the quaint but aging Moab Lions Park was all that remained undone.
Unfortunately, a successful outcome for Lions Park was not to be. Before lunchtime on March 31, 2015, an ill informed demolition crew erased one hundred sixty years of history at the birthplace of Moab, Utah. Working from faulty plans, uninformed contractors used mechanized equipment to bulldoze every visible remnant of what once was Lions Park.
Gone from the site were the stately Fremont Cottonwood trees whose ancestors once shaded the 1855 Elk Mountain Mission, and later shaded twentieth century picnickers. Gone were the familiar parking lot, walkways, picnic areas and water fountains. Gone was any trace of Moab Lions Club work performed over most of the late twentieth century. Gone from the southern terminus of State Route 128 were the classic wooden highway signs that once pointed the way to Arches National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park.
“Even after all that effort, it just went amok,” Community Development Director Dave Olsen said. According to Olsen's estimates, some of the eight trees were 80 to 100 years old, and perhaps even older. It is possible that several of those eight trees shaded the 1855 Elk Mountain Mission during their first days in Moab.
The Utah Division of Facilities Construction and Management, The Archiplex Group and Advance Solutions Group accepted responsibility for the mistake and plan to make up for it, Utah Department of Administrative Services Public Information Officer Marilee Richins said. “Everybody is joining together,” she said. “We just want to make it right. It's just an unfortunate situation.”
Acting Moab City Engineer Eric Johanson said, “We don't want to be blamed unjustifiably.”
Both Olsen and Johanson said that the demolition plans were missing a “tree-protection layer”. “We were shocked, because for years, we've been meeting with the architects and engineers”, Johanson said. “Everyone is very aggrieved,” he added. “It saddens everyone.”
“Ultimately, we thought that given the complexity, it should have at least elicited a phone call to the architect or the city before they started cutting everything down,” Johanson said. “It is a park, after all.”
“The damage was done before we could stop it,” said Olsen, who also serves as the city's arborist.
Almost immediately, Olsen switched gears and denigrated the recently removed trees. “Although stately Fremont cottonwoods are native to Utah and much of the West,” Olsen said, “they aren't the best choice for the site. To me, Fremonts are rickety". Their loose limbs also pose potential hazards in recreational park settings, he said; especially if they are situated above benches, picnic tables, playground areas and other “targets.”
Did arborist Olsen ever consider providing drip irrigation, pest control or tree pruning at Lions Park? The United States Congress established Zion as a National Park in Utah on November 19, 1919. Many Fremont Cottonwoods standing throughout Zion Canyon predate the 1925 establishment of Zion National Park Lodge. In Abraham Lincoln's parlance, that would have been "four score and ten years ago".
After inspecting the collection of dehydrating cottonwood stumps, Olsen continued his assault on the concept of replanting native trees at Lions Park. Almost immediately, Olsen found signs of decay, including hollowed-out trunks. “They have a substantial amount of rot,” he said. “Termites and carpenter ants have been doing their job to decompose them over time.”
Drought and neglect had taken their toll as well, yet the majestic Fremont Cottonwoods shook off decay, hosting carpenter ants and termites in a symbiotic relationship that lasted more than four score and seven years.
Turning the whole episode into a lesson in public safety, Olsen told the press that it would have been just a matter of time before he made a recommendation to remove the trees. Then, resorting to bureaucratic “double speak”, Olsen said that he would not have given permission to remove the trees now, within three months of the park's grand reopening.
Despite the danger that the old Fremont Cottonwood trees might pose to the public, Olsen would allow park visitors to picnic beneath them for an indefinite time into the future. As Moab's arborist, it was Olsen's duty to inspect and determine any future risk that the existing trees might represent. Only in post mortem did he fulfill that task.
Continuing with his anti-native tree theme, Olsen said that he would like to replant the new Lions Park with a combination of Bur oaks and Austrian pines. At the park, which by then looked like an extension of the nearby Moab Pile, Olsen said, “We wanted to make sure that it looked like a park, and not a barren desert".
“When we have our grand opening, we're probably going to roast in the sun like bacon,” Olsen remarked.
Once upon a time, people thought that Tamarisk (salt cedar) trees would make a nice frontage to the Colorado River in Moab. For the past twenty-five years,
volunteers and government organizations have struggled to eliminate that ubiquitous and invasive tree species. Before any Lions Park taskforce approves replanting with non-native species, I hope that the powers that be in Moab will pause long enough to complete their due diligence.
I pose the question, "What is the potential for Bur Oaks and Austrian Pines to become invasive species downstream, along the Colorado River? In the future, will Bur Oaks propagate and dominate the tree hierarchy in the soon to be re-exposed Glen Canyon?
Replanting Lions Park with Fremont Cottonwood trees and then nurturing them in perpetuity is the right thing to do. By replanting with Fremont Cottonwood trees, future generations will have the benefit of watching Lions Park once again become what it once was. In the year 2102, four score and seven years hence, Lions Park may well be back to where it was before its 2015 destruction. I am sorry to say that unless I live to be 154 years old, I will not be present there in person to celebrate. I will, however, be there in spirit.
In 2008, when the new Riverway Bridge opened nearby, I visited Lions Park and photographed a few historical features around the site. Most interesting to me was a masonry and wooden sign that faced out toward the intersection of U.S. Highway 191 and State Route 128. Lovingly hewn from Navajo Sandstone, its masonry structure was built to last for eons. Against its dark brown background, the word “MOAB” stood out proudly in white block letters. Below, the fading text told the story of Moab, from prehistory right up to the 1980s. This original Moab sign's first internet appearance was on MoabJim.com, as a photographic print for sale. Later, I included the Moab sign in one of my blog articles.
Each year, from 2008 to 2015, I revisited the site and photographed what I dubbed the “MOAB Sign”. As with most signs that face south in the desert, the white lettering weathered and flaked off a bit more each year. Behind the sign, trucks, trailers, paving equipment and cranes that serviced bridge, road and facilities construction came and went. Since 2008, there had been nonstop construction within a quarter mile of the MOAB Sign. By 2011, the historical text on the MOAB Sign was flaking away. So too was the physical history of the old Lions Club Park. In late 2014, the flaking word “MOAB” still clung to the upper face of the sign.
While on a photographic mission to Lions Park in August 2013, I discovered that something was missing from the area. As it turned out, all of the historical highway signs that once stood at the corner of State Route 128 and U.S. Highway 191 North were gone. Searching around the construction area, I found some grim remains.
With complete disregard for Moab history, all of the old highway directional signs had been ripped out of the ground and dropped like so much scrap metal and plywood. As a preview of what might someday happen, that scrap pile was partially hidden behind the original “MOAB Sign”. Perhaps the myriad consulting companies involved at Lions Park should have provided a "Sign Protection Layer" on their plans.
In April 2015, I visited the Lions Park and Transit Hub. Construction equipment and supplies still covered the historical birthplace of Moab. The equipment blocked my view of the old park, which was at a lower elevation, near the riverbank. Not until I read later news reports did I realize that Lions Club Park was already gone.
To have bulldozed and scraped away every concrete block and tree from the old park was not enough. As their last act of publically sanctioned vandalism, the destroyers of old Lions Club Park surreptitiously toppled and removed the original “MOAB Sign”.
As the old monument crumbled to the ground, Moab closed one hundred sixty years of current-era history at the "Jumping off Place". To future visitors of the Moab Transit Hub, interpretive signs and faded photos will be their only link to a shady oasis that once flourished in Moab, by the bank of the Colorado River.
As of this writing, Google Street View still shows a 2012 view of the intersection at State Route 128 and U.S. Highway 191 North. If you look closely at the linked image, you will see the original MOAB Sign. In the future, a Google camera-car will autonomously drive through that intersection, uploading digital images as it goes.
Someday, Google will replace their old images with the new ones. On that date uncertain, the original MOAB Sign and historical Lions Club Park will exit three dimensional time-space reality (3DTSR), henceforth living only in memory.
This is Part 2 of a two-part article. To read Part 1, click HERE.
at 03:36 PM |
(0) | Link
Current-Era History in Moab, Utah Began at the "Jumping Off Place"
On Sunday, June 10, 1855, members of the Mormon Elk Mountain Mission crossed the Grand River at a place near Moab, Utah. After crossing that torrent, their likely first camp was at a place that we now call the Moab “Lions Park Transit Hub”.
In the 1850s, there was no graceful concrete highway bridge or steel-truss pedestrian bridge at the site. Instead, the settlers found a “jumping off place”, which was a perpendicular ledge standing twenty-five feet above the river. In order to make the crossing, the men of the Elk Mountain Mission were obliged to “take their wagons to pieces” and lower them down by ropes. After ferrying their wagons and supplies across the river, the settlers made their first camp. Soon after, they built a stone and wooden fort in what is now the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve.
During their spring and summer in Moab, misunderstandings between the Elk Mountain Mission and local Paiute or Southern Ute Indians escalated into a shooting war. Before the beginning of winter 1855, the Mormons lost several of their members to Indian bullets, clubs or arrows. With looming crop failure, unexpected flooding and a plague of mosquitoes along the river bend, the remaining members of the mission abandoned the area and high-tailed it back to Green River and then on to Salt Lake City before year's end.
In the 1880s, the commencement of ferryboat operations across the Colorado River at Moab enhanced the riverside location’s status as a “transit hub” for the humble settlement. Operating near the site of the present U.S. Highway 191 Bridge, the original, oar-powered ferryboat was only twenty-eight feet long. To prevent capsize, wagons were dismantled at the riverbank, ferried across and then reconstructed on the far side. Perhaps this is why early travelers called Moab "The Far Place". Until the early twentieth century, ferrying, fording or paddling remained the only modes of transport across the Colorado River at Moab.
Ironically, the Moab survey map dated 1880 appears to show a bridge across the Colorado River almost exactly where the current double-span highway bridge now stands. According to conventional Moab history, it would be thirty-two more years before the 1912 highway bridge spanned the river near the "jumping off place".
In 1912, "slightly radioactive Vanadium" (having a half-life of >3.9×1017 years) was discovered in nearby Cisco, Utah. Also that year, the Utah state legislature authorized funding for a triple-span steel bridge across the Colorado River at Moab. With a length of 620-feet, that first highway bridge opened up commerce from Moab to the north. The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad siding at Brendel, thirty miles to the north became a transit point for agricultural and manufactured goods. By the time refrigerated rail cars became available, Spanish Valley peaches, many larger than a softball, became famous in Eastern cities.
Although accurate flow measurements of the Colorado River were not available in 1912, locals knew from previous floods that the highway bridge should stand high above the river. As a testament to their prudent planning, a sandstone bridge abutment still stands on the north bank, as high and strong as the day it was finished, over one hundred years ago. On the south bank, the 1912 highway bridge terminated near the same spot where the current Riverway pedestrian bridge begins its own 620-foot span of the river.
Previously known to all as the Grand River, in 1921 Congress bowed to political pressure and erroneously renamed the currently recognized river as the "The Colorado River". Although it is a longer and stronger tributary to what we now call the Upper Colorado Basin, the Green River received no credit in the history books. Instead, the Colorado River became the politically correct source of the mighty river well-known for its creation of the Grand Canyon. Red, green; if you plan to recreate history on your own terms, what is the difference?
According to Moab native Mrs. Verlyn Westwood (1936-2009), there was once a guard shack on the north bank, across from what later would become Lions Club Park. During World War II, two men took turns guarding the old Colorado River highway bridge. With little vehicular traffic crossing the bridge at Moab, nighttime guard duty was lonely and quiet. On a night uncertain, a large boulder came loose from the canyon rim above. Without warning, the errant boulder crashed down upon the guard shack, crushing to death Mr. Otto Ellis, who was standing guard that night. Decades later, some local residents suggested the erection of a memorial plaque at that site.
If you research “Lions Club Park, Moab, Utah”, there are few historical references to the place. For decades, a masonry and wooden historical sign stood at the park. The sign stood at a diagonal, facing the intersection of U.S. Highway 191 and Utah State Route 128. From its fading and flaking text, we know that the Lions were still adding improvements to the park well into the 1980s.
Sometime after its inception in 1940, the Lions Club of Moab adopted and named the park. With tacit blessings from the City of Moab and Grand County, the Lions Club installed pit toilets and built a kitchen building. From a paved parking lot, concrete walkways led to picnic tables, shaded by immense Fremont Cottonwood trees. With a natural water source nearby, the club created Lions Park Spring, which was lesser known than “Matrimony Spring”, just across State Highway 128. With its shady glen, lush trees and access to the Colorado River, it is easy to imagine many a local marriage celebrated at the park.
On Saturday, Sept. 24, 2005, from 1 to 3 PM, the Moab Lions Club celebrated its 75th anniversary at Lions Park. By then, the word “Club” had disappeared from the official name of the park. On that fall day in 2005, former members and Lions from neighboring communities joined local Lions for lunch and a program.
In 2007, the Moab Lions Club was active in the area. News reports indicate that Moab Lions members conducted a highway clean up in both the spring and fall, picking up trash along the highway between Lin Ottinger's Rock Shop and the Colorado River Bridge. In addition, the Moab Lions Club worked to clean up the Lions Park area, removing weeds and trash.
Planning for reconfiguration of the area around Lions Park had been underway since 2001. In 2003, Utah State University produced concept drawings of the area. In 2007, Grand County created a task force to develop recommendations for the project area. With help from the National Park Service, the task force became the Lions Park Planning Group (LPPG). The LPPG included Moab City, Grand County, National Park Service (NPS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Sovereign Lands, Trail Mix, Moab Trail Alliance and the Lions Club.
In May 2010, Moab Happenings published an article about the upgrading and expansion of Lions Park. Soon it would extend beyond its tiny niche on the east side of the highway bridge. The long-term goals got a boost with the opening of the Colorado Riverway Bridge in 2008. That 620-foot bicycle and pedestrian bridge took nine years of work, from concept to completion.
“Moab is about to lead the way in designing a ‘sustainable’ Lions Park at the Colorado River bridge,” Lions Park project leader Sharen Hauri, told a crowd. The reconstructed park was envisioned as an “oasis and gateway” to Moab. “We want to make this a world-class project that nobody will ever forget.”
Downstream from the Riverway Bridge, a new Colorado River highway bridge opened in 2011. That event added urgency to the redevelopment of the triangle of land known historically as Lions Club Park. The LPPG looked forward to trails, interpretive signs and facilities that would complete the central site, “It’s all going to be a showpiece,” Kim Schappert said. The project is referred to as “Lions Park: Gateway to Moab.”
“We want to allow people to connect to the Southwest and Moab in a way that is memorable forever,” said Reci Peterson, an interpretive planner and consultant for Psomas Design of Salt Lake.
The Grand County Historical Preservation Commission (HPC) proposed that the area be designated a historic district. HPC members argued for recognition of numerous cultural and archaeological resources and sites near the park. Included on their list were Matrimony Spring, the Moab Panel (Indian rock art), and the World War II bridge-guard station. Members of the HPC wanted recognition of a colorful history of river crossings by such parties as the Spanish conquistadors, early Native American traders, Anglo trappers, the 1855 Elk Mountain Mission and outlaws such as Butch Cassidy.
Presenters said that the Lions Park transit-trailhead hub would have as its focal point a “signature building” with a plaza full of interpretive stories and other information. Other features would include picnic tables by the river, grassy and shady areas for play and relaxation, sand and volleyball courts, plus water features using nearby natural springs. Plans included several pavilions for group events, and a gigantic “walk-over” map that park visitors could traverse to see where they are in relation to the river, mountains and geography of Southwest.
“This keeps getting better as time goes along,” Community Development Director Dave Olsen said.
This is Part 1 of a two-part article. To read Part 2, click HERE.
at 01:46 PM |
(0) | Link
Railroad vs. Motorist Collisions - An Escalating Disaster in Southern California
Early in the morning of February 24, 2015, Jose Sanchez-Ramirez, 54, mistakenly turned his Ford F-450 work truck and utility trailer onto the Union Pacific Cost Line railroad tracks near the intersection of Rice Ave. and Fifth St. in Oxnard, California. Soon after Sanchez-Ramirez abandoned his rig, Metrolink passenger train No. 102 struck his disabled work truck at a place eighty feet west of Rice Ave. A week later, Senior Metrolink Engineer Glenn Steele succumbed to injuries suffered in the collision. During the derailment of the five-car Metrolink train, twenty-nine other people onboard suffered moderate to severe injuries.
After firefighters extinguished the resulting fire, a work crew soon removed the coaches and made emergency repairs to the damaged railroad infrastructure. Almost two weeks later, when I surveyed the scene, all looked well at the Rice Ave. grade crossing. To the casual observer, there were few signs that a major rail collision had so recently occurred. Looking closer, I soon found many deficiencies in the hasty cleanup and repairs that had so recently concluded.
Along the northern border of the crash scene, the tail end of cab-control car No. 645 had whipped into a cinder block and wrought iron wall. After the cleanup, a gaping hole measuring almost one hundred feet remained where that substantial fence once stood. Immediately east of Rice Ave., a misalignment of the north-side rail was obvious to the naked eye. East of the grade crossing, where steel railroad wheels had bent the north-side rail and sliced into the roadbed, workers had reused damaged railroad ties during repairs. Despite the addition of many reinforcing clamps to that damaged rail, train traffic in the interim had loosened many of the railroad spikes intended to stabilize the roadbed. Two weeks after the accident and the completion of emergency repairs, the whole scene appeared to be less safe than it was prior to the wreck of Train No. 102.
In the Southern California press, many articles have discussed the overall safety of the Metrolink system and the Rice Ave. grade crossing in particular. Transportation studies have concluded that a $30-35 million grade separation is the only way to make the crossing safe. That would require a complex roadway overpass spanning both Fifth St. and the Union Pacific Coast Line. Like a freeway, the overpass would require ramps to transition from Fifth St. to the elevated portion of Rice Ave.
To date, voters in nineteen of fifty-eight California counties have approved additional, transportation-focused sales taxes. In 2004, the electorate in Ventura County defeated a levy of one-half percent. Despite the highway and rail carnage of the past decade, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors has steadfastly refused to allow or promote a new popular vote on a sales tax dedicated to transportation projects. Safety concerns at the Oxnard Plains rail crossings alone should be enough to engender a county ballot measure. I find myself asking, “When we need leadership, where are our leaders?”
As a result, there is insufficient funding to complete the design of a Rice Ave. grade separation, let alone building the $30-35 million project itself. Neither state nor federal transportation agencies tend to support projects unless the affected county defrays at least some of the cost. Unless voters approve an additional county sales tax levy, it may be a decade or more before construction can alleviate the menace of the Rice Ave. grade crossing to both rail passengers and vehicular traffic.
Rice Avenue is not the only dangerous rail grade crossing in Ventura County. Less than two weeks after engineer Glenn Steele lost his life on the Coast Line in Ventura County, there was a non-fatal collision of an Amtrak train and a passenger vehicle. This collision was on a rainy night at the nearby Pleasant Valley Road and Fifth St. grade crossing. Confused, the driver of a green sedan somehow came to a stop upon the diagonally crossing train track. Prior to the collision, which destroyed the sedan, the driver and a passenger were able to exit the vehicle without injury. Imagine getting stuck on the tracks in the rain and darkness. After a hurried departure from your vehicle, you and your passenger watch as an Amtrak locomotive crushes your vehicle into a mass of twisted metal. That could be scary.
On April 23, 2015, exactly two months after the collision of Train No. 102 at the Rice Ave. crossing, yet another fatal train/auto collision occurred on the Oxnard Plain. That morning, an unnamed 35-year-old male driver attempted to cross the tracks at South Las Posas Rd. and Fifth St. Remarkably similar in configuration to the Rice Ave. and Fifth St. grade crossing, the SUV driver’s southbound journey ended abruptly on the Coast Line tracks. There, an eastbound Union Pacific freight train struck the side of the SUV, rolling it multiple times along the tracks and into a dirt ditch. After using special equipment to remove the driver from the crumpled vehicle, first-responders declared him dead at the scene.
Remarkably, this latest deadly incident barely made news in Los Angeles. Both the Ventura County Star and the Los Angeles Times published online accounts that day. The following day, the Star headlined the story on its front page. Television coverage by Los Angeles TV stations was limited to news crawlers at the bottom of the screen. Was this latest deadly accident a suicide? Alternatively, was it one more distracted driver speeding south along the road that morning? In either event, the dismal state of rail-crossing safety in Ventura County requires an immediate and comprehensive review.
Phillips 66, which operates an oil refinery at Nipomo, in San Luis Obispo County, California has plans to build a railroad spur from the Union Pacific Coast Line to their facility. If San Luis Obispo County approves the Phillips 66 plan, “rolling bomb” trains of eighty-cars each will begin their journey by traversing the Los Angeles basin five times each week.
Phillips 66, which operates an oil refinery at Nipomo, in San Luis Obispo County, California has plans to build a railroad spur from the Union Pacific Coast Line to their facility. If San Luis Obispo County approves the Phillips 66 plan, five “rolling bomb” trains of eighty-cars each will begin their journey by traversing the Los Angeles basin every week. After exiting a train tunnel under Santa Susana Pass, each northbound oil train will encounter multiple grade crossings in the suburbs and fields of Ventura County. In Simi Valley alone, there are ten grade crossings. In Moorpark and neighboring Somis, there are twelve more. Between Camarillo and Oxnard, there are an additional thirteen grade crossings. Each train will carry 52,000 barrels of flammable, highly toxic Bakken crude oil in single-wall tank cars of dubious integrity and crashworthiness.
Explosions of Bakken crude oil trains have recently become an ongoing hazard to anyone nearby. Even with a new federal mandate to upgrade tank cars to double-walled, insulated designs, it will be 2020 before all 43,000 obsolete tank cars are retired from service. If nothing else, the February 23, 2015 Metrolink collision in Oxnard proved that if even one obsolete or deficient car is included in a train, it can compromise the integrity of the entire train. As seen in numerous crashes and explosions of oil trains in the past few years, derailment and decoupling of the older tank cars can wreak havoc on nearby towns.
There are thirty-five grade crossings between Simi Valley and Oxnard. If the oil trains run, there will be more than one hundred seventy-five opportunities for an oil train collision in Ventura County each week. Not counting the return trips made by empty oil trains, the Phillips 66 plan will present a minimum of 9,100 opportunities for an oil train collision in Ventura County each year. Annually, 13,520,000 barrels of oil will move past the makeshift memorial still standing at the Rice Ave. and Fifth St. in Oxnard. That is as much oil as the U.S. consumed on a daily basis within the past twenty years.
Whether any future train collision is the result of driver inattention, excessive speed, domestic terrorism or "suicide by train" is immaterial. Despite slower speeds now required of oil trains in populated areas, eventually a “rolling bomb” oil train will collide with a motor vehicle in Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo Counties. If that happens, the ensuing fire and explosions could raise the casualty count exponentially.
After successfully negotiating the now decrepit and dysfunctional grade crossing at Fifth St. and Rice Ave., each proposed oil train will roll north, through the cities of Ventura and Santa Barbara. Only with incredibly good luck will all of those trains reach the Phillips 66 refinery in Nipomo. If only one more Ford F-450 high-centers on the tracks at Rice Ave., a $30-35 million grade separation there will look like a bargain. With both the county supervisors and electorate in Ventura County contemplating their own potential death in a flaming train wreck, I wish good luck to all in the path of this impending rail disaster.
This is Part 2 of a two-part article. To read Part 1, Click Here.
at 09:52 PM |
Current Events | Comments
(0) | Link
Earlier Stories >>