Things We Miss and Why We Miss Them

•January 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I’ve always been a sentimental guy—there are songs I still can’t hear without getting emotional thinking about my grandpa, who died in 1989. Until recently, I’d never put any serious thought into why certain things captivate me so completely. One such anomaly is my unfettered passion for giant stripping shovels.

My first memory of a working shovel is from 1987. I couldn’t have known it was the last time my biological father would ever come get me for a weekend, so I was full of normal kid-like enthusiasm. He took me to see the GEM of Egypt, which spent its entire life within twenty minutes of my hometown of Holloway, Ohio, and even crossed state route 331 right outside our corporation limits in the 1970s. It was early in the morning when we went, barely daylight, and foggy. I remember feeling a sense of extreme wonder at the sight of the lights on the boom. The majesty of the machine was like nothing I’d ever beheld before, and I couldn’t look away. I loved playing in the dirt, and seeing those mammoth scoops of earth carved out of the high wall and gently discarded a couple hundred feet away dropped my jaw like a magician cutting a woman in half. I remember thinking I’d love to climb that spoil pile. I don’t remember much of my dad, and I truly don’t care to, but I’ll never forget seeing those bits of rock and dirt roll down the spoil. There’s really nothing like watching the earth remade before your eyes.

In 1991, after the boom had been dropped, my step-dad (who I just call “dad” these days) took me to see the GEM. We drove right up to it and walked underneath the gargantuan machine. Even without a boom and mostly gutted, it was still breathtakingly enormous. The crawlers were unreal. I’m sure my dad reminded me about the time my grandpa had taken me to see The Mountaineer getting scrapped before he died, and just like now, I probably didn’t remember much of that. Someone in a hardhat driving a CONSOL truck screamed up to us, jumped out of his vehicle, and shouted that we weren’t allowed to be there. My dad, quick-thinking just as I’ve come to expect from him over all these years, said he was just there to inquire about any job openings for scrappers. In retrospect, I doubt the guy was buying the excuse, but at the time I was 10 and it seemed brilliant to me. I couldn’t wait to tell my mom how clever he was!

For years after, I would see the Silver Spade from time to time along various roads in Harrison County. Rarely was I afforded the opportunity to stop and watch it—that is, until I got my driver’s license and could go see it on my own. By that time, in the late 1990s, liability concerns made it increasingly difficult to get as close as I had gotten as a young kid. I would pull over and watch it work from a distance, wishing I could get closer. Over the years, I’d visit the old girl whenever I had a chance, and at some point in the 2000s, the Spade was idled while waiting for permits, so I would go see it at night and get pretty close. Even idled, the boom lights could be seen for miles. I started dating a girl (with whom I would later have my daughter) who appreciated my enthusiasm for the shovel, and we would go see it together. Eventually the Spade would cross state route 519, and we were able to go see the shovel numerous times after that, sitting and talking together.

It’s not lost on me how fortunate I am to have seen some of these giants up close at all, and especially that I was able to enjoy The Silver Spade all the way up to its demise in 2007. Some folks had their favorite local behemoth cut down fifteen or twenty years earlier, and would’ve killed for one more day taking in the spectacles in their neighborhood cuts. Others never had a chance to see these marvels at all. It’s bittersweet though, because the heartbreak of having the twinkle of hope for saving the shovel extinguished in 2007 hurt so much more than it would have if I had never gotten so close to it.

My daughter was born in 2005, and is now 11. I’ve taken her to see the Big Muskie bucket many times, as it’s only about 40 minutes from me. I’ve also taken her to see the cab and bucket from The Silver Spade at its current resting place near New Athens, Ohio. She knows how enthusiastic I am about this stuff, but she doesn’t quite understand why. Recently while she was at school I came across some footage of the Spade working in the cut, with close-up shots of the operator in his cab, and I couldn’t wait to show her when she got home. I wanted to give her a better perspective on exactly how big the shovel was, and a better grasp on the proportion of the bucket and cab she had seen in person. When I showed her, she wasn’t jumping out of her skin with excitement the way I was. Taken aback, I realized that every memory of my life relating to these shovels had built a huge fire in me, but that she will never feel what I feel for them because she’ll never see one in person. She’ll never see one getting scrapped. She’ll never sit with her significant other on the hood of a car and just listen to the twang of the cables and the powerful bang of the bucket biting into the overburden.

I apologized for making her watch the video, and even at 11, she could tell I was disappointed. She told me she thought it was cool and thanked me for showing her (everyone thinks the world of their own kids, but I’ve never known a child as young as mine who is as thoughtful and caring about whether people around her are happy). Her thoughtfulness struck a nerve in me and I fought to hold back tears. She asked, “Why do you like to look at stuff that makes you sad?” I started to explain, “Someday you will remember a time when things were different, whether it’s a store you used to shop in that will go out of business, a school you used to attend that eventually crumbles in on itself…” As my train of thought continued, my words did not.

I get emotional about these things because of the way they have tied me to people. The GEM tied me to my father who hasn’t bothered to be a part of my life for 29 years but whose last memory I have was of seeing the GEM, and that same shovel ties me to a great memory of the early part of a lifelong respect and adoration for my step-dad who is just “dad” now. The entire stripped landscape of Belmont and Harrison counties where I grew up tie me to my grandpa and all the places he would take me fishing and off-roading. The Spade sparks memories of all kinds, from riding past it in my mom’s car to seeing it later when first driving my own car, to those times I shared with Lily’s mom—with whom I spent almost 6 years, filled with some great memories.

The common thread with all of them is the link they provide to a different time in my life. When I first saw the GEM, I had never lost anyone. I was innocent and pure and unharmed by the world. Now, I’ve lost so many people. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and even my younger brother are gone now. But when I see those old shovels, it’s like I’m taken into another era where they’re all still here.

My daughter doesn’t need to be burdened with that kind of sadness. She still sees the world as almost pure joy. Rather than explaining to her that someday she’ll look back to a time when people she loved were still here, I decided she should just go back to playing and let me carry the heartache for now. Someday there might be something she’s fascinated by and she’ll want to share that with children of her own. But I can’t make my memories her memories; only time will tell what nostalgia brings for her.

Thanks to Facebook, I’ve been very lucky to find a whole group of people who share my passion for the history of stripping machines, and reading their memories and viewing their photos is like a kind of catharsis for me. The Historical Stripping Shovel Archive is as much a support group as it is a gathering of enthusiasts. To everyone with whom I’ve connected, and to the group’s creator James Stine: Sincerely, thank you.


Jambo Country – An Unpopular Perspective

•December 6, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Since 1977, every July in the Ohio Valley has meant one thing: Jamboree In The Hills.  “The Superbowl of Country Music” as it has been touted over the years, has boasted a who’s who of country legends including Johnny Cash, Alabama, Reba McEntire, George Jones, The Judds, Willie Nelson, and Garth Brooks (the list really goes on), and has hosted several million patrons in its 40-year run.

While most other concerts (especially in the time of its inception) have been single-evening affairs, “Jambo”, as it is affectionately shortened, has grown into a 4-day mega conclave. Campers and tents begin filling up the neighboring acreage as early as two weeks before the first wristband is checked, with motorhomes streaming down the I-70 off ramps in what can only be described as a pilgrimage. Many patrons reserve vacations each year in order to experience the event, which attracts a wide range of ages and personalities from around the globe.

In addition to the overall magnitude of the situation, Jambo has had a few other trademarks that have set it apart from other concerts. One unique aspect is known to veterans of the ceremony as the “Redneck Run”, where eager concert-goers begin by lining up before the gates open for a black-Friday style mad dash to secure a prime spot in the natural amphitheater. This televised all-out bedlam has been quite the spectacle over the decades, especially during particularly rainy mornings (more than a few Jambos have included mudslides as attractions within the gates).

Maybe most cherished by fans is the long tradition of bringing their own beverages. While most venues are selling $12 beers and $8 waters, Jamboree In The Hills has probably seen a hundred thousand coolers or more in its lifetime, with many notable examples over the decades, including containers decorated to look like treasure chests, coffins, tractors, and cars, many with creative paint jobs; at least a couple motorized coolers have cruised around the grounds as well.

Rumors fly every year about drastic changes to the experience. “They’re going to ban coolers!” “They’re going to shorten the show!” “They’re going to move Jamboree In The Hills to another location!” Each year, these worries come and go; people lose their minds leading up to the next year’s ticket pre-sales where the fears are always shown to be unfounded.

Until this year.

Recently, the same old rumors crept across social media like hot tar on a trailer roof, and like every year before, I laughed. “People say this stuff every year! It’s nonsense,” I said. Unfortunately, the fears weren’t baseless this time around: Starting in 2017, the event will be renamed “Jambo Country”, no coolers will be permitted, and the festival will shrink to three days instead of four. The long-standing tradition of Neal McCoy closing out Sunday evenings will come to an end after years of watching Neal turn light poles and speaker towers into monkey bars—which caused concern to promoters and organizers almost annually—and the fans couldn’t get enough.

The news has stirred deep emotions of betrayal in fans around the world, and the backlash has been swift and fierce. Longtime devotees and even folks who never have and never would attend Jamboree In The Hills (or likely any other country music concert) have flooded the business’s Facebook page with 1-star reviews and comments tantamount to hate mail. Promises to never return to the venue are rolling off tongues like New Year’s Resolutions.

The entire community is in an uproar, and I get it. The news of the changes have come like a sword in the back, cold and uncaring. Jamboree In The Hills is a part of the fabric of the local economy and its elements are part of the atmosphere. But I must propose a question to the masses of hurt, angry people confused and bewildered by this new reality: Can’t we at least agree this is better than losing the event altogether?

As previously mentioned, the perennial rumors have often included anxious murmurs of Jamboree In The Hills moving to another venue entirely, possibly to a place like New York. Are we in the Ohio Valley dedicated to an unchanged Jamboree In The Hills in a far off state? Would we rather see an intact event moved or an amended festival remain in Belmont County?

The rumor mill hasn’t been the only annual trend. For those of us who grew up a stone’s throw from the grounds, something else has been evident—the yearly influx of visitors to the site has dwindled slightly each year for the past decade or more. In the 1980s, the two-week period leading up to Jambo was a nightmare for traffic. Local road travel was absolutely brutal, with vendors lining both sides of National Road for miles in either direction at least 10 days before the show, and even Interstate 70 would be backed up for a mile or more both ways. In the 1990s and 2000s, the lines got shorter and more manageable, and vendors were popping up each year in fewer numbers and setting up later than before. By the time the 2010s rolled around, the traffic had become essentially a non-issue, and vendors were limited to a handful outside the main gates of the venue. Whispers of a hemorrhage of money circulated. Alas, the event is not the juggernaut it used to be.

Live Nation Entertainment, who currently owns the rights to the event, is no stranger to controversy, but is also no newcomer to successful music ventures. A common reaction to the recent changes to Jamboree In The Hills has been to accuse Live Nation of “killing” the event by throwing traditions like coolers out the window. As anyone who has ever worked behind the scenes in a business knows, traditions can hamstring an enterprise as effectively as someone stealing money right out of a cash register.

With a number of traditions failing to generate the kinds of revenue that keeps events like these going, changes must be made. Whatever alterations are being undertaken, I’m certain they’re not being made to spite anyone, and surely not to “kill” the event. If Live Nation can’t keep the event both where it is and how it is, wouldn’t you prefer they at least keep the location? A different version of something is a lot better than nothing, right?

If getting together with friends to drink canned beer out of a cooler is your only reason to attend Jamboree In The Hills, couldn’t you get together with your friends in your garage and do it? Sure, but Jambo is so much more than that. It’s a release—the music is loud, the sun is hot, the beer is cold, the company is fun, and if you have blood in your veins, you will find no shortage of eye candy at the event in every shape and size. No one goes just for the music. No one goes just for the beer. No one goes just for the name “Jamboree In The Hills”.  Jambo is larger than the sum of its parts. People go because people go. It’s a great party, and if you’re thinking about skipping next year’s event, I hope you reconsider. Even though you’re hurt and you want to strike back, there’s nothing like those electric crowds in the rolling hills of Belmont County the third week of July, and you know it.

– Jacob H Moore

Triggered? Please.

•April 27, 2016 • Leave a Comment

When we’re young, most of us are taught the following principles, and as adults, we don’t always remember them as vividly as we should: Don’t bully anyone and don’t pick on people. They’re as reasonable as any lesson a human can learn. The Political Correctness, or PC, movement, wedges these ideas into every discussion, whether they fit or not.

The problem is that these principles were never taught to us in our youth on their own—with them came these vital pieces of the same puzzle: Don’t be a cry baby and don’t be a tattletale. While some, especially in the PC movement, want to eschew or demonize these principles as if they would be misused to silence victims of rape or assault, the reality is that these ideas are just as important to keep in mind as the first two I mentioned.

The purpose of telling a child not to be a cry baby is not to suppress his or her voice but to foster an understanding that people will often tune out a constant complainer, and that even the most caring listener may have his or her compassion dulled by the exhaustingly squeaky wheel of a perpetual victim. When someone who never bellyaches suddenly has a grievance, those around him or her typically stop what they’re doing to listen and offer support; conversely, the response of the masses to the never-endingly dissatisfied person is a lot of eye-rolling and dismissal.

In addition, the intention in teaching a kid not to be a tattletale is to encourage them to pick their battles—if one cries foul about every little thing as if it’s absolutely critical to their survival, they significantly compromise their ability to convey the gravity of a legitimate grumble. Much like the lesson in The Boy Who Cried Wolf, too much finger-pointing and victim-playing will wear down those hearing one’s lamentations and eventually even dire pleas will fall on deaf ears.

While it’s commendable to want everyone to be nice and treat people with respect, it’s irrational to be hyper-sensitive to unwanted behaviors and ideologies. It’s also unreasonable to try to force people to act the way one wants them to act. The best way to encourage polite, considerate behavior in others is to be polite and considerate and hope others emulate that. It’s likely no one has ever felt compelled to change their mind by someone standing in their path waving signs in their face, or being yelled at in protest. In fact, these activities can many times have the opposite effect, causing the target to reinforce the unwanted behavior out of spite.

Be good to one another. Eventually, it will catch on.


Response to “Father Outraged at TSA for Pat-Down of 10-Year-Old Daughter”

•January 12, 2016 • Leave a Comment

The first time I flew was a magical experience.  I was five years old in the summer of 1987, and my aunt had recently moved to the edge of Lake Mead near Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam.  The feeling of being in the air was breathtaking, and I’ve loved flying ever since.  I have so many vivid memories of that trip.

My Shirt Tales Raccoon backpack was filled with die-cast cars and trucks, and it beeped as it ran through the metal detector.  The attendant smiled at me and asked sweetly, “You have some toys in there for your trip?”  I don’t know why I’ve always remembered that.  At the time, it was innocent enough.  Today, that scenario would replay with a screen clearly showing the contents of my bag, but in the eighties, it was simply a metal detector, and she didn’t even look in my pack.  In hindsight, that’s a bit scary.  It could’ve been a gun.  It could’ve been a grenade.  A knife.  A bomb.  It could’ve been anything.  But there was no paranoia then, and no legitimate threat either.  Terrorism wasn’t a part of life; it was a plot device for bad television movies.

Recently, a story hit my news feed of a father who was up in arms because a TSA agent frisked his 10-year-old daughter.  I don’t know all the particulars about the incident, and I don’t care.  All that’s important here is that an agent whose job it is to help ensure the safety of air travel did said job.  If a precedent is set that frisking or detaining a child is off limits, it will shine like a glimmering beacon to would-be terrorists, and you’ll see the next attack involve a bomb-toting pre-teen who whisked through security untouched. That’s not okay.

Let’s be clear here: No one is forced to fly.  Everyone who chooses that method of travel is free to choose a train, a boat, or a car to reach their destination instead. Flying is convenient and fast, which is why it’s popular.  But there are concessions one must make in order to fly:  Your seat will be cramped, and so too will be your leg room.  Your air will be dry, causing your nasal passages discomfort.  The restroom is a nightmare.  The elevation changes can hurt your ears, or cause nausea.  And yes, you will have to pass security checkpoints.  None of these conditions of air travel is negotiable (with the exception of first class upgrades for physical comfort).

If you don’t want your children to be frisked, don’t fly.  If you don’t want to take your shoes off, don’t fly.  If you want to be able to carry your gun, don’t fly.  I don’t care about whatever it is that caused you to whine.  I want to be safe when I fly, and so does everyone else.

Comply. Or you could walk.


The Frustrations Of Helping Someone Who Won’t Help Himself

•November 14, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Several months ago, a phenomenal photographer I know had mentioned on Facebook that he wished he could afford a particular lens, but that he just wasn’t making enough money at his everyday job. As a sucker for artistic visionaries, I sent him $50 through PayPal with no strings attached. I told him I hoped it could help him buy his lens, but that I didn’t care what he did with the money. I just wanted him to know that his art was important enough to someone to support it.

As I paid attention to his posts for a while, it seemed silly. He was always talking about being broke and wishing he could afford this or that, but was also constantly posting about (expensive) concerts he was attending and wild (expensive) nights at the bar. (Red Flag #1?) But who am I to judge? Maybe he was going through something and trying to figure it out in his own way.

Time went by and he was posting about being in a tough spot with his house, asking people on Facebook if they had any odd jobs he could do for money because he was broke. I saw an obvious opportunity to help him make some money and help myself and my band get some killer photos.

I hired him to shoot one of our shows, but he cancelled because he had double booked the date. (Red Flag #2?) So I offered him another show a different day, which he accepted. His fee was $75, but I gave him $100, because he seemed to need the extra money more than I did at the time. I also bought him drinks at the venue and bought him food after the show. I wanted him to see that he could benefit from being our guy, and that he didn’t have to be broke and miserable all the time. I told him I had a couple more shows I wanted to hire him for, and that I needed some personal photos for my music endorsement relationships as well. I looked forward to working with him, and the relationship would’ve earned him some steady business, not only from us, but from other acts I wanted to recommend him to.

Some time went by and he finally sent us some shots from our show. He had filled up a memory card with photos, but he only sent us eight pictures. They looked great. He said he was still editing the rest of the shots, and that he’d get them to us soon. A week or two went by, and he had posted a heap of photos he had shot at another show that same weekend, but hadn’t sent us any additional images from our performance. (Red Flag #3?) I asked him how they were coming along, and he said he was having trouble editing them because he didn’t have a computer or the Internet. (Red Flag #4?) He said he’d get our photos edited as soon as possible. A few weeks later, I asked him again if he was making any progress, and he made an excuse that he just didn’t get the shots he wanted to get at our show, and that he “was going to offer to shoot another show for free,” even though he never made such an offer, before or since. (Red Flag #5?)

Again, I felt bad for him and valued his time, so I booked him for another paid assignment. The show neared, and once again, he cancelled. (Red Flag #6?)

He never made another attempt to book a show with us, never followed up about the personal shoot I mentioned to him, and never tried to make up for the failure to provide us with more than eight photos from our original booking. I finally gave up. No sense wasting another minute of my time trying to help someone who so diligently snatches failure from the jaws of success.

For $100, I received eight photos and insight into what kind of person I was dealing with. For $12.50 per photo, I’m sure I could hire a much more professional photographer.

It’s been 6 months, and I still need photos.

– J

Long Overdue Update – New Band, New Home

•October 31, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I didn’t mean to stop writing, but life got in the way. Here’s an abridged update:

Musician Again
Shortly after my last entry, I was offered an opportunity to try out for an up-and-coming modern country band called Zane Run, and though at first glance it didn’t seem like a great fit for me, I was intrigued. While practicing songs for the audition, I really fell in love with the music and got my hopes up about the band. Luckily, I wasn’t let down; the trial rehearsal was a great experience, and I was offered the position that same night.

Zane Run

Since I joined the group, we have played for thousands of people over the past several months across 3 states, spent time in the recording studio, released 2 new singles with accompanying music videos, been played on numerous radio stations, were featured on Root Sports Pittsburgh’s Friday Night Rocks editions of Pittsburgh Pirates baseball games, and have garnered an array of sponsors and endorsement deals with Mesa Boogie/Mesa Engineering amplification, Warwick basses, Mapex drums, Levy’s Leathers, Joyo Electronics, Dr. J Pedals, JH Audio, Yeti Coolers, Gongshow Apparel, Valley Harley-Davidson, and Numbers Brewing Co.

Zane Run is on a roll and I’m having an absolute blast. The band is run like a business, and everyone is in a professional mindset. This is the first band I’ve ever been a part of where each and every member was 100% reliable and on board with the vision of the band, and also where everyone is gainfully employed, which is so refreshing. No headaches, no drama, just focused dedication to making music.

Big Life News
Not as a result of the new musical journey, but definitely magnified by it, I realized months ago that our home wasn’t big enough for our family. Patricia and I each like our space, and we each have hobbies that require more real estate than a corner of a bedroom. The kids aren’t getting any smaller, and as both of them become more mature, their privacy and sense of personal space is becoming more important by the day.

In 2012, we added a bedroom, walk-in closet, and a small music room on to our home, and that was a nice relief from the issue, but temporary. So, with a deep breath I set the ball rolling on a pre-approval for a loan, and with approval in hand, the grueling process began. and Zillow were valuable resources, and with the aid of a realtor, I viewed numerous homes. When all the dust had settled and countless homes had been viewed, I landed on a nicely remodeled and expanded home in Cambridge, Ohio.

I thought about removing this bush/tree until fall came and it really started to shine.

Open floor plan between living room and kitchen.

I absolutely love a bright kitchen.

Hardwood floors in the bedrooms and living room.

I’ve always wanted a man cave! I love it!

Plenty of room for my musical instruments.

I have way more gear than I need, but before, I had to put some in storage.

I really couldn’t be happier, and I think the whole family is thrilled with our new home. The kids have their space, Patty has her own separate living room and dressing room, I have my basement man cave, and we have three bathrooms so no one has to wait in line. Patty is also making use of the garage, so no more scraping snow and ice for her on cold winter mornings.

Now that it’s getting cold and things are slowing down a bit for the band and for work, I should have more time to write. We’ll see!

– J

Children Have Capable Minds – Don’t Underestimate Them

•February 6, 2015 • 1 Comment

Recently I asked Lily what she’d been learning in science class, and she told me that they had been learning about mammals. I asked if she knew of anything that made mammals different from other types of animals and like the little sponge she is, she named off a list of characteristics. When we got to the idea that mammals are warm-blooded, she knew that, but did not know what “warm-blooded” meant.

I’m sure a lot goes into being a teacher, and I don’t pretend I’m qualified to do that job, but it seems obvious if you’re going to teach a concept to a small child, you have to teach more than just what it’s called. There were a ton of things I learned growing up in school but never knew what they meant until much later, and I think having that knowledge earlier might have been beneficial. I think sometimes adults feel that concepts are over a child’s head, so they don’t bother. It’s amazing, though, what kids are capable of understanding.

I think it is better to over-explain things to a child rather than under-explain them. Even if she doesn’t understand the explanation at that very moment, hearing that same information six months, a year, or five years down the line might jog a memory, which might lead to easier comprehension. When I was young, any time I was reminded of something that I had already been taught, it made me somehow feel smarter than when I would learn something completely new.

Being made to feel smart is an enormous motivator for a child, while being made to feel stupid is the most caustic form of demoralization. Dejected children become frustrated teenagers, who ultimately become disenfranchised, pessimistic, hopeless adults. This brutal cycle can unfortunately lead to criminal activity, unemployment, depression, or other negative outcomes.

Foster a sense of wonder for learning in your children and they will be more likely to succeed. Discourage them, and they will be more likely to fail. There will inevitably be times when a child doesn’t grasp a concept—it’s imperative, though, that her lack of understanding cannot be attributed to a parent never trying to help her learn.


Basket Cases: No Need For A Stigma

•January 25, 2015 • Leave a Comment

“You want to come see if it’ll fire up?” I had no idea how my life would change.

A couple weeks before my dad had posed that seemingly mundane question, he had brought home several boxes he had bought from a friend of his. They were filled with junk as far as my mom was concerned, and to most people, her point of view would be completely reasonable. But it wasn’t junk. The boxes were a jigsaw puzzle, and my dad’s ability to work the pieces like a seasoned professional was fascinating to me—it still is.

A welder and machinist by trade, my father was no stranger to making something out of nothing. For over thirty years I have been witness to countless ingenious fabrications, repairs, corrections, and work-arounds for job and home. Although I’m impressed at every turn, I don’t recall a moment more awe-inspiring than the evening he brought me out to that little shed in the backyard and started that motorcycle.

Not exactly a state-of-the-art facility.

I would come to learn these projects are known as “basket cases”—a double entendre perfectly suited to the scenario. The parts are in boxes, or “baskets”, sure, but in addition to the literal meaning of the phrase, it’s also slang for the psychological state of someone who is overly stressed or anxious. Taking hundreds of old, grungy, chewed up parts and tackling the job of assembling them is surely a stressful endeavor! Are all the parts there? Are they even the right parts? What kinds of issues led to this machine being torn apart in the first place? After all, no right-minded person would reduce a perfectly functioning motorcycle to a collection of unlabeled bits and pieces for someone to stumble upon years later.

“You want to come see if it’ll fire up?”

I was twelve. I eagerly followed my dad outside and my eyes lit up when I saw that 1963 Triumph 6T Thunderbird 650. It was dirty and dusty and grimy, but alas, it wasn’t wheeled into that shed! It didn’t exist when its components were carried into that makeshift workshop. The phrase “greater than the sum of its parts” is a perfect understanding of that motorcycle. Was every part on it perfect? No. Was everything original? Probably not. But it was glorious nonetheless.

The one that started it all.  TLC needed.

He turned the key on the headlamp nacelle and “tickled” the carburetor. His eyes were as wide as mine, and in hindsight, I didn’t have the awareness then to acknowledge the gravity of this moment for him. He threw his leg over the bike, and kicked it over slowly, looking for a good place to begin. I admit I don’t remember if it started on the first or second kick, but I will absolutely never forget the sound of that exhaust, and I will never forget my dad’s smile, ear to ear.

I just had to stop writing for a moment to cry a little, thinking about how much I will miss moments like those someday when my dad is gone, and how unfortunate it will be for the world when the inevitable becomes reality, hopefully decades from now.

That Triumph is the one that started it all for me. For my dad, his moment had happened in his youth. No, this formative discovery was for me. This event ignited a spark in my soul that grew over the years, culminating in my first street bike. The very first mile I put on a licensed motorcycle was on my 1970 Triumph TR6R 650. My dad had done some work on the bike for the owner, and shortly after, he phoned to ask if my dad or anyone he knew was interested in purchasing it. It had the most impractical handlebars I have ever seen before or since, a cheesy king-and-queen seat, and no mufflers. Luckily, my dad had some stock-style bars in his shop, the previous owner had given him the original seat, and I was able to find some old Thunderbird exhausts in a junk pile at a swap meet.

My first road bike. 1970 TR6R

I had never been more proud to own anything in my life, and my love for motorcycles immediately went from struck match to blazing inferno. I’ve since owned a number of bikes, and I have enjoyed working in the motorcycle and powersports industry for more than six years now. A vast majority of my friends have been made through my job, and I can trace it all back to that moment in that shed.

“You want to come see if it’ll fire up?”

My dad, Mark Foster, on a ’71 Bonneville basket case he put together.

My dad started more than a motorcycle that evening.

Some people see an assembled basket case only for its mismatched numbers, its missing badges, its bastard front end from some other donor bike, its incorrect seat or tank, or its questionable paint job. I see a revelation. I see a box of parts someone else cast aside like garbage. I see an engine that everyone thought had taken its last sip of gasoline. I see a twelve year old boy’s eyes glimmering with anticipation in the glow of a Coleman lantern in a dirt-floored shed. I see a moment that boy shared with his dad that will reshape their entire relationship forever, for the better.

I bet I’m not the only one who can see these things. What do you see?


Trying to get our daughter interested.

Trying to get our son interested.

331 isn’t a very busy road.  😉

Piedmont Lake

Playing around with Photoshop.

71 Triumph Trailblazer that took a road trip with a friend to get.

75 DT250 Yamaha at Cables Campground in Toronto, Ohio

05 Yamaha FJR1300 at the Big Muskie bucket, near McConnellsville, Ohio

An Open Letter To People Boycotting Businesses For Opening on Holidays

•November 9, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The pies are baked. The turkey is tender. The homemade noodles are thickening up. Your aunts and uncles have brought their families from afar and the house is raucous with old stories of adventure from childhoods spent together. There is a magic in the air, and your favorite family holiday is a sacred gathering of epic proportions.

That’s truly wonderful. I’m happy for you, but not everyone has a fairytale story when the holidays grow near. Not everyone’s family is close, geographically or emotionally. Not everyone holds Thanksgiving as dear as others. And not everyone is disgusted that the world continues to turn even while your family tries to put life on hold for one Thursday each November.

If you’re from a fairytale family (don’t take that as a slam against you! I’m from one of these families myself), you may not realize that others are less fortunate. You may not notice the co-worker who isn’t gushing about seeing his or her family for a big dinner. You may laugh off the friend who doesn’t eat turkey. You may scoff at the people who look forward to shopping on a day when most people stay home, free to get good deals and good parking spots while avoiding the crazy rush of Black Friday.

The reality is that being offended on someone else’s behalf is an epidemic in America. You think it’s wrong for employees to be at work while you’re at home enjoying food, family, and relaxation. But you don’t get to speak for me. You don’t get to speak for everyone.

Around my house, it’s always been a tradition to have Thanksgiving dinner early. By 2 o’clock, everyone’s ready to burst from my mom’s legendary mashed potatoes, the pumpkin pie, and the turkey my uncle Dave carved up. By three or four, people are gone to other dinners. Hardly anyone in my family only has one place to be for Thanksgiving; it’s not the romantic one-location affair it may have been in years past.

When I was younger, I worked at a few retail stores, and each time the holidays came around, I looked forward to working. Thanksgiving at Walmart, for instance, was worked by volunteers only, and paid more than the average day. It was a chance to bank some money for the holidays when I would need money the most. The management would always make sure it was an enjoyable shift, and not some sort of slave-drive. We had pies and food and everyone was in good spirits, including the customers (a rarity!). We all worked with cheer in our hearts, and we really appreciated those days. Very few work shifts in a year are as thoroughly fun as Thanksgiving and Christmas. For the families who had early dinners, we were able to volunteer for evening shift, and for those who had dinners later in the day, they could volunteer to work early. No one was ever forced to work a shift on Thanksgiving.

Some customers would come in and comment that it was a shame we had to work on Thanksgiving. It was always a chance (and a chore) to educate the general public that we weren’t there against our will. They would make faces as if they could see someone with a whip standing behind us, but their impressions of the situation were dead wrong, and so are yours.

I’m sure somewhere someone is being told they have to work the holidays, and that’s unfortunate. But I’ve seen the list of businesses that you’re calling to boycott, and while I’m not privy to the practices of all of them, I’m familiar enough with a few of them to know you’re off base. One huge thing you need to know about huge corporations is that they don’t do anything unless they can make money. With regard to opening on the holidays, they did market research and determined by an overwhelming response that they would have plenty of people wanting to shop on those days. Based on the willingness of people to go shopping, it’s reasonable to assume that not everyone wants Thanksgiving to be the way you want it to be.

If you don’t want to shop on Thanksgiving, you don’t have to. No one is going to make you feel bad because you don’t want to leave the house. No one will smack the stuffing out of your mouth and demand that you go spend money. But for those who want to shop, who do you think you are to tell them they can’t? And who are you to tell a business they can’t accept a willing shopper’s money?

This all boils down to your not seeing eye to eye with a business about the hours they wish to operate. How much sense does that make? Do you boycott your bank for closing at 5 each day? (Don’t you hate that?! It’s so inconvenient!) Law enforcement and emergency personnel have to work on Thanksgiving, despite the fact they have families who likely eat Thanksgiving dinner too. I don’t believe if your kitchen goes up in flames because you tried to deep-fry a frozen turkey you’re going to stop and say “No, don’t call 911 because they shouldn’t have to work today.”

Your feelings or values or opinions don’t determine what happens in the world. You don’t get to decide who should or shouldn’t have to work on a holiday. If you own a business, you can choose not to be open, but you don’t get to tell me that my business must be closed. It’s mean-spirited to try to convince others they should boycott a business just because you don’t like them being open on a particular day. To celebrate Thanksgiving, how about being thankful we live in a nation where a business owner has the freedom to open whenever he or she wishes?


A Run-In With A Fellow Coal Power Shovel Enthusiast

•August 25, 2014 • 1 Comment

As some may recall, I’ve previously written about my affinity for old things, including my enthusiasm for vintage motorcycles and mining machines of a bygone era. No less frequently than once a year, I visit McConnellsville, Ohio to stand in awe of the bucket of the Bucyrus-Erie model 4250-W dragline “Big Muskie.”

Muskie bucket being transported to its preservation park
Big Muskie’s bucket being transported to its preservation park.
Photo: Dingey Movers

Its size is legendary, and for those who never saw the machine to which the bucket was once attached, no imagination is sufficient to capture the colossal size of the excavating marvel. It was the largest dragline ever built in the world. I appreciate history, and respect its preservation and remembrance. I also respect property, and try not to trespass.

Yesterday, after a lovely lunch with my mother, my fiancé and I took some back roads out of St. Clairsville hoping to run into a few opportunities for some nice photographs, as we often try to do. I had never been to the Harrison Coal & Reclamation Historical Park, but in anticipation of the annual Stumptown festival September 6th and 7th, I decided to stop and see the bucket of a mammoth called The Silver Spade that had been scrapped in 2007.

Spade compared to a football field
Spade compared to a football field.

Before I get too far into that part of my story, let me start from the beginning…

I grew up at the edge of Belmont County, bordering Harrison County, which was quintessential “coal country.” My childhood was filled with visits to various strip mining shovels and draglines, bulldozers, dump trucks, and equipment junkyards. One of my fondest memories is from going to see the Bucyrus-Erie 1950B “GEM of Egypt” (GEM stood for Giant Earth Mover or Giant Excavating Machine, depending on which knowledgeable authority you ask) working in the cut. Another vivid recollection is of my grandfather driving me out an old haul road for what felt like forever until we came upon the Marion 5760 shovel “Mountaineer” being dismantled. Built in 1956, it had been the first of the giant power shovels.

Mountaineer posed with a steam engine for a Life Magazine photo shoot!
Mountaineer posed with a steam engine for a Life Magazine photo shoot.
Photo: Does anyone know who took this photo?  Please e-mail me.

Throughout the 1980s, the landscape was dotted with excavators weighing thousands of tons, and I was captivated by their majesty. By the early 1990s, however, strip mining had fallen out of favor, and most of the 60s-era behemoths were cut up for scrap, buried (yes, REALLY!), or left to rot. When the GEM of Egypt was scrapped in 1991, my dad took me to see what was left of it; the boom had been dropped and taken away, the bucket was gone, and the inner workings of this once-breathtaking monument to engineering had been heartlessly ripped from her.

This is the state I last saw her in.
This is the state I last saw her in.
Photo: Dale Davis via

Despite signs that passively prohibited our entrance, we drove right alongside the GEM and saw her carcass from beneath the shell. I was 9, and it was the most amazing thing I’d seen up close since before my grandpa passed away in 1989. We weren’t on site long before a worker in a Consolidated Coal (now Consol Energy) truck drove up and chased us off. We weren’t there to cause any trouble, and the risk was worth it, as I’ll never forget that day along that flat section of Ohio SR-9 between Fairpoint and New Athens. Whenever I travel that road to this day, I can never stop looking over at where the GEM once stood.

The GEM working in the cut
The GEM working in the cut.
Photo: Historical Stripping Shovel Archives via Facebook

In the early 2000s, after various shutdowns due to low coal prices and mechanical failures, the sister shovel to the GEM, the “Silver Spade”, another BE 1950B (albeit with a slightly longer boom and a slightly smaller bucket) was fully refurbished and working again along SR-519 outside New Athens. It was my childhood all over again. I would often drive out to its work area and daydream that I was operating the shovel. I would take photos and post on reclamation-themed message boards about my experiences. I would read various stories about attempts to preserve the Spade as a museum after its work was done, and I was heartbroken each time I heard the news that another proposal had failed. As work continued stripping back the layers of Ohio’s surface, its future grew more and more uncertain. Finally, with more costly breakdowns and more competitive mining methods taking hold in the area, the Spade’s last bite of earth was no longer a near future, but a memory.

Unfortunately for all of us who passionately hoped the machine could be driven the few short miles to the proposed reclamation park, the breakdown had occurred in the cut—that is, it was down below a high wall, which rendered the dream of its preservation hopeless. In 2007, with little hullabaloo, onlookers sighed as the charges were detonated, the cables gave way, and the massive boom slammed into the ground, a mangled, twisted wreck. It wouldn’t be long before the Spade found itself in the same condition I had seen the GEM all those years before. Thankfully, Consol saved a few things for the Harrison Coal & Reclamation Historical Park. One bucket, a length of cable, a gear, a cable pulley, and the operator’s cab are preserved at the park, just west of New Athens on SR-519.

Bucket and cab
Bucket and Cab

Now back to my story from today…

I was eager to see the bucket of the Spade up close, and to investigate whatever else might be sitting at the park for posterity to see. When we arrived, there was a slack cable drawn across two posts to prevent anyone driving into the reclamation park. There were no signs with hours of operation, and no notice about trespassing. When the park for the Muskie bucket is closed, visitors are welcome to park outside the gate and walk up to see the historic piece. Assuming a similar policy, I parked my car and we walked in to see the equipment. A mid-sized scraper sat to the right, along with several dozers, dump trucks, cranes, and some other pieces in the back. But the jewel I’d come to see was front and center. The bucket of the Silver Spade is in rough condition, by any standard, but its size is undeniable.

Silver Spade bucket and me
Silver Spade bucket and me.

We took a few pictures, and just as I was looking and hoping there was a way to get a closer look at the operator’s cab, an older gentleman in a silver pickup truck pulled up to the entrance. I continued to marvel at the remnants of the Spade when it appeared the guy in the truck had unlocked the cable at the entrance. With this being a reclamation park, which to the best of my knowledge was established at least in part by donations, and for the enjoyment of generations to come, I assumed he was going to come say hello, maybe give me some knowledge, perhaps remind me that “Stumptown” was right around the corner, or otherwise just check things out.

A mural featuring the Mountaineer, GEM of Egypt, and The Silver Spade had been painted on the blade of an old dozer, and as I framed up a photo on my iPhone, this guy’s truck pulled right up into the shot. If I had stepped the wrong way, he probably would’ve run me over.

Mural... note the truck, which had barreled up to me... in this shot, it wasn't even stopped yet.
Note the truck, which had barreled up to me. In this shot, it wasn’t even stopped yet!

He angrily asked, “Who are you with?”

I was taken aback by his tone, and startled a touch from his storming up on us. I have a theory about attitudes rubbing off on people. I asked for clarification, “What do you mean who am I with?”

He repeated his question with a rude tone, and feeling demonized for no reason, I got an attitude as well (I shouldn’t have). I told him I wasn’t there with anyone, and that I was just taking pictures. He told me I was trespassing and that he was going to call the cops. I told him I wasn’t opposed to his calling the cops because I wasn’t a criminal and was doing nothing wrong. He told me not to get smart with him, despite the fact he had set just such a tone for the engagement. I took off my sunglasses, apologized and told him that I was from an hour away and I wanted to take a few photos. He again told me he was going to call the cops, and drove off toward the back of the park, where he sat in his truck and watched as I took a few more photos. “I’m already here, I might as well,” I thought.

Gear and chain from Silver Spade
Gear and chain from Silver Spade.

Much older boom and bucket
A much older boom and bucket.

An older shovel
An older shovel.

Strip mining truck
A strip mining truck.

I explained to Patty how the boom and bucket work on a stripping shovel (leaving out the explanation of the knee-action crowd that made the GEM and Spade special), along with what made them different from draglines. Again, the guy drove back up to where I was. “Hey!”

As I turned around, he took a picture of me. He then told me that they had been vandalized and someone had taken $3500 worth of radiators from the machines that were sitting in the park, and that he thought it was probably me. I told him I was sorry that had happened, that I appreciated his concern, that I come from a family of honest workers who hate thieves as much as he did, and that I wasn’t trying to cause any trouble.

By now, I was much more calm and collected, and was as nice as I could be to this guy. He then told me he had my license plate number and in a sort of prideful tone said “We’ll see what the prosecutor thinks of you.”

I reassured him that I wasn’t there to cause anyone any harm, and that I was an appreciator of all the relics at the site. I asked him, “Isn’t this park here so people can remember this stuff?”

He shook his head and quipped, “How would you like it if someone just walked in your house?”

I replied with disbelief, “I wouldn’t like that, because it’s a privately owned domicile, but this isn’t a private home; you don’t own all this stuff so your analogy is off.”

He about blew a gasket. “The hell I don’t! That yellow shovel back there is mine!” he stressed with a raised voice.

I acknowledged his machine and thanked him for donating it. He said his was one of the machines that had been vandalized. Again, I told him I was sorry someone had done that.

He squawked, “You people always say you’re just here to look, but then you come back and take whatever you can get!”

It’s the worst when someone steals from you. You feel completely violated and helpless. I said “Sir, I feel for you, and I can understand that you don’t want strangers taking your things, but I promise you I’m not the guy who did that.” I then extended my hand to his truck window to offer a handshake and I told him my name. I told him I live in Byesville, that I’m from Holloway, and again that I didn’t mean him any harm.

He shooed my hand away. Again, he told me the park was closed and that I was trespassing, that he was calling the cops and the prosecutor, and that I needed to “get the hell out.” He then informed me he was recording our conversation.

I told him that was perfectly fine by me. I again told him my name and once more tried to shake his hand, but again he shooed me away like a child.

I asked him when the park would be open and he said “Sept 6th and 7th!”

I asked, incredulously, “All this stuff is here and it’s only available to look at two days? When else is it opened in the year?”

He shook his head and again told me to get the hell out, adding, “It’s open once a year during Stumptown!”

I was shocked, honestly. Without a bit of attitude, I asked him if he thought that was the best way to have all this history remembered, but he just shooed me again and told me I better leave before the cops got there. I asked him if he thought I should just wait and talk to the cops, since I felt I had done nothing wrong, but he rolled his window up and drove back to the other end of the park again. I just shook my head and slowly made my way to my car, taking a few extra pictures on my walk—not to be a jerk, but because I couldn’t resist the history.

Small dragline bucket
Small dragline bucket.

I took a couple pictures of the small dragline bucket that sits outside the park, and made sure to get photos of the cable he had unlocked, which had no signs of any kind, just to hopefully cover my rear in case this guy wants to press the issue with the police. I hope to see him at Stumptown in two weeks and formally introduce myself, at which time I plan to offer him a donation to help with his stolen radiator. I don’t know the gentleman’s name, but I plan to try to find out and also contact the reclamation park to see how I can help preserve this old stuff. I’d love to get involved somehow.