Friday, July 22, 2016

Watch, as the Cow Springs, Arizona Trading Post Changes Before your Eyes


The pole sign at the former Cow Springs Trading Post boasts "Standard Oil Products" - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Watch, as the Cow Springs Trading Post Changes Before your Eyes

For over a decade, I have traveled north or south on U.S. Highway 160 in Arizona at least twice each year. Known also as The Rainbow Trail, the highway closely tracks the trail of the Ancients through Navajoland. On that trail, in Tonalea, Arizona is the Navajo settlement of Cow Springs. Although the closest thing to a commercial establishment in Cow Springs today is the Navajo Nation Head Start preschool, there was once a thriving trading post in the area.

Watch as the Navajo Brave is painted over with space aliens and other graffiti. (http://jamesmcgillis.com)When the Arizona Department of Transportation realigned Highway 160 in the 1960s, the new route bypassed the old Begashonto Trading Post. With all of the optimism of that time, the Babbitt Brothers Trading Company moved its previous operation to a knoll beside the new highway. The new building’s construction was robust, with a poured concrete floor and cinder block walls all around. Although similar construction supported the fireplace and chimney, their faces featured Navajo Sandstone. With its large open floorplan, vast wooden trusses supported its roof.

Out front, a sign supported by two thirty-foot poles read, “Cow Springs Trading Post”. Apparently, the name was not much of a draw. Sometime later, the owners painted over the original sign. From then until today, it features a brown background and white lettering. The “new” sign presented the phrase, “Standard Oil Products”. Even the lure of brand name petroleum products was not enough to draw sufficient customers to support the operation. At an
unknown time, probably in the 1970s, the Cow Springs Trading Post closed for good.
Over the years, the front wall of the Cow Springs Trading Post is covered over and over with new images. (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
Because of its existence in the pre-internet era and its brief existence as a place of business, there are no published pictures of the Cow Springs Trading Post while in operation. In fact, there are no published pictures of the building while its roof still sheltered it. If anyone has such images, we hope that they will publish them.

In 2015, Sandi Haugen commented on a previous article I wrote about Cow Springs -
“Jim, how sad these pictures are to me, my parents Charles and Vaughntrebia Kinser were the original traders who were employed by Babbitt Brothers in this trading post - in fact prior to this new trading post being opened they ran the Old Cow Springs Trading Post. We were the first family to live in the house attached to the Trading Post. I still remember when the fireplace was built. It saddens my heart to think about all the good years spent there and to see it now in ruins.”

Already fading by 2012, the Eagle receives several assaults before being covered with cartoon graffiti. (http://jamesmcgillis.com)From the images on this page, it is obvious that the Cow Springs Trading Post is now a ruin. What is not obvious, however, is that the landscape there and the artworks displayed on the few remaining walls continue to change over time. Although I had driven by the ruin for almost a decade, I did not stop and walk through the place until 2012. By that time, a local artist who goes by the moniker “Jetsonorama” had created several generations of wheat paste art on the walls.

Wheat paste is just what it sounds like. In a bygone era, a concoction of wheat and water supported handbills on temporary construction barriers, utility poles and many other smooth surfaces. Today, artists like Jetsonorama use large-scale printers to blow up digital photos, and then piece them back together on walls such as those at Cow Springs. Although these postings appear permanent to the casual observer, the wheat paste melts in the rain and the paper deteriorates over time. While it is visually arresting art, by its very nature it is temporary.

From the Navajo Princess to Lola! the Atomic Sheepdog, this wall at the Cow Springs, Arizona Trading Post morphs through many iterations. (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Although I missed some of Jetsonorama’s most famous pieces, I began documenting what still existed of them in 2012. For the past four years, I have returned to see what is new there. Other than the innovative wheat paste art, many of the recent artistic flourishes are spray-overs of more gentile subject matter. Since much of what endures at Cow Springs is graffiti or spray-painted, I also documented its changes, additions and slow fading of several scenes.

In order to show how much things have changed in the art scene at the Cow Springs Trading Post, I have organized time-lapse imaging into “animated GIFs”. Introduced by CompuServe in 1987, the animated GIF predates, yet is now ubiquitous on the internet. Most of the moving ads you see on webpages are animated GIFs. An animated GIF is a silent slideshow, using “lossless compression” to limit file size, so as not to slow the loading of a webpage.

At the Cow Springs Trading Post, someone takes a broken mirror and creates a reflective Sun. (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In order of their appearance on this page, I have titled the animated GIFs as follows: “The Brave”, “The Front Wall”, “The Eagle”, “The Princess and the Sheepdog” and “The Broken Sun”. In 2016, the Brave is now gone, the Front Wall is painted over and the Feather is all that remains from the front wall of a decade ago. Remember is a recent addition to a short section of wall, while the Prophet has been hammered into smithereens. Graffiti has obliterated the Eagle, while Lola! has endured through several iterations. The mirror reflects the transience of all that still exists at Cow Springs Trading Post.

If you stop and visit, please view the Cow Springs Trading Post in Tonalea, Arizona as sacred ground. Park your vehicle off the highway and away from the adjacent cattle guard, which delineates a roadway often used by local Navajo residents. Wear sturdy shoes and beware of boards with protruding nails. Although I have never seen a snake there, their presence is possible. Touch nothing, add nothing and take nothing but photos. If Native Americans are present, please show your respect for their culture by staying away from the building. Cow Springs is part of Navajoland, not Disneyland.


Monday, July 18, 2016


Spokesmodel Carrie McCoy at the Chatsworth Metrolink Station - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Inadequate Track Maintenance Puts Metrolink Passengers At Risk

On June 24, 2016, I drove to the Metrolink Station in Chatsworth, California. My mission was to drop Carrie McCoy off for her Metrolink ride from Chatsworth to Los Angeles Union Station.

Since early 2016, all of the Metrolink trains that I have observed at the Chatsworth Station have been “double-enders”. By that, I mean there is a locomotive at each and of the train. On this occasion, the train arrived in Chatsworth with a locomotive at the “head end” and a Hyundai-Rotem cabcar at the trailing end.




In late 2015,
as an interim safety measure, Metrolink instituted a second locomotive on each of its trains. The decision resulted from an equipment failure on a Hyundai-Rotem cabcar. In a February 2015 collision in Oxnard, California, the “pilot”, a debris-clearing blade at the front of a Metrolink cabcar, detached. As the pilot disappeared beneath the cabcar, it contributed to the derailment of the cabcar and several other Metrolink coaches. Because of that collision, thirty passengers were injured and Metrolink Senior Engineer Glenn Steele lost his life.

The locomotives that Metrolink leased to ride ahead of the Hyundai-Rotem cabcars are massive Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) freight locomotives.

This Hyundai-Rotem cabcar should not be leading a Metrolink train because of safety issues - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
Such locomotives normally pull heavy freight trains on long hauls. Before the Metrolink lease, nowhere in the country have such locomotives pushed or pulled passenger trains. Because of their size, weight and other factors, Metrolink has struggled to safely deploy their BNSF locomotives. A recent Los Angeles Times report indicated that many trains were still running without a locomotive at each end.

The original locomotive lease from BNSF was for one year. Even at that, Metrolink now operates them on a Federal Railroad Administration temporary waiver, not a permanent operating permit. By leasing the BNSF locomotives, Metrolink made a de facto admission that heading up a train with a Hyundai Rotem cabcar was inherently unsafe. If so, why is Metrolink still running trains headed up by Hyundai-Rotem cabcars?

A broken or detached rail anchor lies near the Metrolink tracks at the Chatsworth Station - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)While at the Chatsworth Station, I walked the platform from south to north. When viewing railroad tracks up close, I like to observe the condition of the infrastructure. Are any of the railroad ties rotten? Are many of the spikes loose? Are palm trees growing up between the rails? At Chatsworth, I found instances of all these deficiencies. Why does any of this matter?

If the Philips 66 Santa Maria Refinery has its way, several oil trains each day could pass through the Chatsworth Station on their way to Santa Barbara County. From the June 3, 2016 oil train derailment and fire near Mosier, Oregon, we now know that failure of even one bolt or rail anchor can lead to a catastrophe.

As I reached the north end of the platform, I stepped up some wooden stairs to better observe the tracks. As I looked down from there, I could see the milepost marker for that location stenciled on the side of the rail. It read “MP 445.4”, with an arrow pointing down to that exact location. In non-technical language, that means that it is 445.4 miles to the northern terminus of the Coast Line in San Francisco. In addition, that spot is where the wheel truck of an outbound Metrolink locomotive comes to rest at the Chatsworth Station.

At Milepost 445.4, at the Metrolink Chatsworth Station a broken or detached rail anchor lies by the side of the tracks (http://jamesmcgillis.com)As I looked more closely, I observed a broken rail anchor lying by the tracks at that exact location. After the Mosier, Oregon derailment, Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) admitted that despite repeated visual inspections, specifically looking for deficiencies, inspectors missed badly corroded and rusted bolts. In the case of Chatsworth, the Southern California Regional Rail Authority (SCRRA), better known as Metrolink, owns and operates the double-track through Chatsworth Station.

Allowing rotten railroad ties, loose spikes and small palm trees to grow between the tracks at the Chatsworth Station is ample evidence that SCRRA is not properly inspecting or maintaining its own rail infrastructure. Allowing a broken or detached rail anchor to lie where a 432,000-pound BNSF locomotive comes to rest several times each day is inexcusable. Rather than relying on redundancy to save us all from its next derailment, SCRRA should inspect and repair its infrastructure in Chatsworth and throughout its railroad network.

Author’s Note: On July 8, 2016, just two days after the publication of this article, Metrolink announced the impending replacement of fifty-six failure-prone pilots on their Hyundai-Rotem cabcars. Although the recent lease of BNSF freight locomotives topped $20 million, Metrolink expects to replace the pilot blades for a mere $1.5 million. That would bring the cost of each replacement to $26,785. If the cost to replace the pilots is so low, why did Metrolink not explore that option from the outset?