My Mast Hoop

There is always something new to learn.

Yesterday I attended half of a workshop on making mast hoops at the Hudson River Historic Boat Restoration and Sailing Society in Hudson, New York.  We built a steam box, cut the jigs, sliced and planed the strips for the hoops, placed them in the box and broke for lunch.

Is this called a J spike?

Is this called a J spike?

I stayed to help sweep up the sawdust and listen to the director of the group speak with the press, and then left.  As we crossed paths at the door Casson Kennedy, the workshop leader and chief builder on the Eleanor restoration project said:  “Oh, the best is yet to come,” and I’m sure he was right.  It would have been a hoot to actually curl one of the strips round the jib, clamp it, and take it home to dry. The hoop would settle into its proper place among my other prized possessions, maybe next to my J spike.   Perhaps I should keep my J spike a secret. Two men in Natick, MA were arrested for gathering railroad debris.

But I had tons of things to do yesterday, one of which was to write about my mast hoop experience while I was still excited about it and before it melted into the blur of all the other stories I compose in my head on the spot but never make it to paper.

The original mast hoops

There was a group of volunteers helping to make the hoops, most of them regulars who work on restoring the Eleanor — woodworkers, carpenters, sailors, and some of them, like me, the curious.  There was one school age boy getting great hands-on experience with power tools and the power of collaboration.

I mentioned the workshop to Don, one of my neighbors who is always building something – bookshelves, shoji screens, stone walks, steps and walls, other interesting projects that Adrienne conceptualizes.  He was at the table saw when I arrived.  We spoke during a down time and he told me has fantasized about building a small motored boat that would fit under the railroad trestle that separates a tidal cove from the Hudson behind his house.  This may have been the little push he needed to do just that.  And Louise may have a new member and volunteer to help rebuild the Eleanor.   I hope so.

Louise Bliss is the head of this group.  She is a competent and energetic dynamo.  She has the necessary ingredients to get people enthused to donate time or money.  She makes everyone vital to the project.  Some of us do not suffer fools.  Louise knows no fools.  She discovers talents in the people around her and encourages them to make use of them.  Everyone benefits.  Everyone is happy.

Louise’s new initiative is to try to organize a wine and cheese of all the organizations that rent space at Grossinger Management Building 1, where the restoration work is taking place.  It’s a large drab warehouse – a former furniture factory.  There is a lot going on inside though.  The boat that takes passengers from Hudson to the Athens Lighthouse spends the winter next to Eleanor.  Nearby is the shop of a reclaimed wood furniture maker.  Louise thinks other tenants include a welder and a gym. Whenever I’ve been to the cavernous space, it is dark and and does not invite exploring.

The night before the workshop I eavesdropped on a business meeting of 12526.com, which functions as Germantown’s unofficial chamber of commerce.  It was nice to learn what’s going on in my town and what is available locally.  It would also be nice to know who shares Eleanor’s home and hear their stories.

When I lived in New Hampshire I used to run out to the barn to use the table saw to cut up scrap wood for kindling in order to get the stove going before the sun went down.  Occasionally I would cut a piece for some emergency repair.  I missed my saw terribly when I moved to my small house in the Hudson Valley and had to leave most of the barn treasures behind.  The saw and the tractor made me feel very independent.  Now, with my addition going up there are saws and power tools of all kinds lying around but I have been hesitant to use them.  I Eleanorhave no real need first of all, but also there are too many projects in progress that I could mess up, and there are too many people around to watch me do things in my own clumsy way.

Before the workshop I fretted about about my lack of carpentry skills. In spite of my lack of confidence  people at the workshop encouraged me to lend a hand.  I am so thankful.  Because of them, in the future when the Eleanor sails past, I will be able to claim some ownership.  Louise said she would try to make an extra hoop for me, but this morning’s article in the Register-Star doesn’t give me faith that she could do that.   I’ll have to get the full story.

Living on the Tracks

If you’ve ever taken the train from New York City to Montreal you’ve passed a small cluster of houses midway between Rhinecliff and Hudson stations.  No one living there actually likes being on the tracks, yet no one would leave because of them.  Of course, having the Hudson River on the other side of the tracks does help.

Twice an hour most of the day, a train will go by, heralded by two long, one short, one long blasts of an air horn operated by a pushbutton or floor pedal.  The horn is hard to handle if you aren’t feeling well or have a headache, but otherwise, just a small interruption in a conversation.   Most residents report that they really don’t hear it most of the time.

Legislation passed in 1994 mandating soundings at public grade crossings.  There is a crossing to a small boat landing and picnic area across the tracks from this hamlet and hence the horn.  There is a crossing gate, the view both north and south is clear so that you can see the headlight of the train approaching, and there are only a handful of people who cross those tracks by car or foot every day, and most of them are regulars very aware of the danger.  It seems to me highly probable that the tracks are more dangerous up or down the track where people fish, walk their dogs, swim, or just seek privacy, and there is no gate for warning.  But there are no horns up and down the tracks.

Several years ago a group of residents of the hamlet initiated a movement to have the horn silenced — which has been done in numerous communities following a process initiated by the Federal Railroad Administration in 2005.  This FRA regulation states that certain intersections do not necessitate the sounding of horns.  Residents who lived inland from the trains did not agree – the sound of train whistles in the distance has a charm not appreciated by those who live less than 500 feet from the train.  The town voted to keep the whistle.

Nighttime brings a few freight trains, and they rumble along with no lights.  They do shake the house a little, but that can be comforting and after a bit of time they don’t interrupt sleep.  A newcomer to the area or an overnight guest might be rudely jolted from a dream.  It is important not to curse, and not to worry about falling back to sleep, and not to wait for the next one to come by.

The train has become a big part of both my real and fantasy life.  I imagine living in a model train landscape, in one of the little houses perched on a hill. At one end of the table are farms, at the other a few factories, in the middle a small town with a post office, school, and houses of all sizes and shapes. A little child comes and turns on the train and makes sure everything is in place and working. The trains go round and round.  I imagine walking down the steps of my house to the tracks and flagging down the train to go to go for a coffee up in Hudson. I think about the lonely late night passenger train and how it passes by at 12:37 even if there are no passengers on board.  I guess what is in those freight cars. It’s a great escape during those moments when the real world gets too scary, or it’s a picture book in process.

I fantasize about the engineer, pulling that cord, with his head looking out the window, and the steam pouring out of the whistle.  I make up a story — perhaps the short happy toot is a signal to a friend who lives in town, or a thank you to the couple that used to moon the trains from their hot tub.  Perhaps the longer shrill blasts of reality are a retaliatory response to a hamlet that sought to silence it.

Hurricane Irene and the rising of the river silenced the trains for a few days last year.  It re-confirmed the serenity of living close to and in touch with the Hudson.  Horn be damned.  I will enjoy what I have without complaining about the noise or worrying about what a high speed train corridor might mean.

Thank you to all who have posted information on trains and whistles on-line.  I hope I have used your sites in a way that pleases you.