The Rail Philatelist January 1999 Newsletter
Volume 3 . Number 8 January 1, 1999Dear Fellow Rail Philatelist:
Happy New Year! I am looking forward to another good year and I hope you are too. 1998 mail order sales held up well, thanks to all of you, but show sales fell off significantly so I am doing fewer shows and will spend more time on my mail order and Internet sales in 1999.
NEW DISCOUNT/REFUND POLICY: Effective JANUARY 1, 1999
1. A 10% discount will apply to all mail orders over $28.00 from the monthly alphabet lists but not for the SPECIALS (RUNNING EXTRA) and NEW ISSUES (ARRIVAL TRACK) lists which are already discounted.
2. Refunds under $5.00 will be made with US postage or a CREDIT SLIP usable on a future order - you specify which you prefer. Refunds over $5.00 will be made with a check or a CREDIT SLIP - again,your choice. (Some customers return their refund checks as partial payment on their next order anyway). If you are concerned about misplacing your credit slips, I will maintain a record of the credits due you ( I already do this for a few customers). A sample $1.00 credit slip is enclosed for your use on your next order.
BANKS: From your responses to my survey I gather that many of your have "Free checking" - consider yourself fortunate and be alert to protect that privilege. Up until last August I also had free checking through my credit union. Then the long time President retired and they brought in a high priced banker to run the show and he instituted fee structures on all accounts. I think he did a take off on the old story about Willie Sutton, the bank robber, who when asked why he robbed banks replied "Because that's where the money is!". Well, this guy figures that since businesses are the ones who really make the money, they should pay for everything. So now instead of free checking with interest, my business account incurs a charge of $0.15 for each check written and each check deposited, a $0.25 fee for each deposit, an additional $0.10 fee for each $100.00 cash deposited (or fraction thereof) and an $8.00 monthly fee if the minimum balance falls below $2500. This all added up to about $15 in charges in November - haven't seen the December statement yet! As a result, I have made the rounds of all the banks within reasonable driving distance. Unfortunately, they all have similar fee structures for business accounts even though a couple still advertise "Free checking". I know $15 a month doesn't seem like much but when you operate on a shoestring with small markups, paying almost $200 a year for what used to be "FREE" is irritating to say the least! Now that I have that off my chest, I won't mention it again. Thanks for listening.
30 vs 36?: By now most of you have heard about the controversy among dealers, the APS and the Postal Service regarding the height of counters at national shows. The high counters and no stools at Pacific 97 were definitely a problem but high counters with stools didn't seem to be too much of an inconvenience at Orlando, Milwaukee and Santa Clara (then again no one came to Orlando or Milwaukee!). But since APS has given me a one time irrevocable choice, I have chosen the lower 30 inch counters for future APS shows. Actually, I would prefer 30 inch tables as a much cheaper and more utilitarian alternative but the APS/Postal Service hierarchy won't allow low budget options. They still don't realize that "high cost" doesn't always mean "high class".
EBAY.COM: My first experiences with ebay.com were less than satisfactory but I learned a few things and will try again soon. I listed eight former "Specials" that had not sold, four each in the first two weeks of December but only two of the items sold, both at the minimum bid and I am still waiting for a check from one of the buyers! Not a very good batting average. Worse, I tried relisting two of the unsold items using the ebay web page but the system failed - in 5 attempts, not only was I knocked off the web but my computer system bombed as well so I had to use the emergency restart to reboot! Evidently ebay was having some software problems but it makes me leery about trying again until they have the problems fixed and I have more time. My plan was to offer four unsold former "Specials" each week or two to test the market. I feel I owe it to my loyal customers to offer my limited quantity and unusual items to you as "Specials" first. Then any that don't sell will be offered on ebay. I did buy one nice Utah postcard folder at the minimum bid thru ebay but haven't had time to go back again. And the one collector who bid and paid promptly sold me the Rhodesia Railroad parcel stamps that are included in this months "R list" so the ebay experiences weren't all negative! There is always next time. Hope springs eternal!
COMPUTERS AGAIN! The screen on my laptop started acting up - it shrinks to the left, color bars appear and then the words start smearing and become unreadable making it difficult to do anything with. The first couple times it happened I was able to click some keys and it straightened out but on Tues. Dec. 15 it went into a trance that I couldn't get it out of so off I went to COMPUSA. At first the technician refused to help me because I didn't have my original sales slip with me. It turns out that they don't keep a computer record of your service agreement - once you pay the bill they dump the record - only the original sales slip will save you. I told the young man I would bring the paper work in later and asked to see the manager. The young man came back and said he would take the computer and filled out the service order but told me to take my power adapter and cord home because "We have all that." Later that evening I took the original sales slip to them after a bunch of searching thru my less than organized files - I had put it in a safe place two years ago but it was a struggle to recall where that safe place was, especially after having moved most of my files to my new workplace! 48 hours after I took the computer in I got a call saying the battery was running low and they needed the power adapter. It's a two hour battery so they had obviously just started looking at it. At least this gave me a change to talk with the repair technician but my confidence was quickly shattered as I described the symptoms and his eyes told me he had never seen this problem before and didn't have the foggiest notion what to do. After calling a couple times to check on progress I learned that the technician hadn't been able to reproduce the problem. When he asked for my AOL user name and password I decided I had better just get my computer back ASAP! On the 22nd I picked up the computer and took it home but didn't have time to fool with it. When it acted up again on the 23rd, I took it back to COMPUSA to show them the problem real time but since the Apple technician wouldn't be in until the next day I took the computer back home hoping I can get this newsletter and the pricelists done before it goes South on me again. One of my most useful Christmas gifts was a QUIKNET Value Pack containing three connectors to create a local area network (LAN) among my laptop, my printer, Sue's desktop computer and my scanner (which you may recall won't work on my laptop but works fine on Sue's computer). This network will allow me to share files directly between the two computers without having to swap disks, etc. Fortunately, the gift also came with techincal support from my son Jeffrey and his wife during their holiday visit. Now if I only had a computer I could rely on!
DECEMBER TRAVEL: I much prefer the summer travel season, even with all the construction, over the winter season. Not because of the bad weather and roads, but because the days are too short - I lose a lot of prime train watching time during my winter travels. Lightning does strike twice. While climbing Raton Pass on my way to San Diego, my scanner picked up "Mile Post 640, No Defects, 96 axles, 1150 AM" and around the next bend was AMTRAK #3 "The Southwest Chief" again in the same spot as on the Orlando trip. So I pulled over again and had my snack as I waited 17 minutes for it to come down the other side: Genesis Locos #48,15,50 &14 elephant style, a baggage car, 9 Superliners, 7 express boxcars and 4 Roadrailers. It was stopped at the Raton station with two freights waiting to climb the pass as I drove thru and headed South for Albuquerque (I headed East from Raton on the Orlando trip). Further down the road I noticed a headlight approaching in my rear view mirror - #3 passed me 15 minutes south of Raton even though I was doing 70 mph. The race to see who would get to Flagstaff, AZ first was on! I continued at 70 and because of the straighter highway we were again neck & neck leaving Springer,NM. But #3 again pulled ahead so I increased to the 75 mph speed limit even tho the Previa really sucks gas at that speed but still couldn't keep pace - I lost sight of her just north of Wagon Mound, NM and didn't see her again until we were both leaving Las Vegas, NM after my gas stop/her station stop at 2PM. I put the cruise control on 70 again, hoping she would catch me near Glorieta Pass but I watched my rear view mirror in vain - evidently the track speeds are slower in the hill country. The "race" made a usually boring stretch of highway interesting. There was no action on the Santa Fe (now BNSF) main line until just at dark (5:20PM) when I finally saw two Eastbound Intermodals near Gallup,NM (where I made a dinner stop at the newly opened Cracker Barrel). Three more EB passed by in the dark before my arrival in Flagstaff at 9:15 PM where the Motel 6 room map noted the railroad track location with "60 trains a day. They do blow their horns!" Thankfully, they do with just enough warning to get to the window. I saw five while updating my daily expenses with Quicken and typing this - including #3 which arrived at 11:00 PM (about an hour late). It looked like a couple express baggage cars may have been added and the Roadrailers and an express boxcar or two removed in Albuquerque. I heard/saw at least 16 more during the night - I must have been sleeping light since I don't recall being awakened so often on previous stays. As I approached Kingman, AZ the next morning my scanner picked up a message to a work crew giving them the train line-up for the next 2 hours - a "priority", a couple of "Z"s, a couple of "H"s, a local and a couple of work extras. I think "Z"s are stackpacks and "H"s are TOFC but I'm not sure - any Santa Fe experts out there to enlighten me? I did see a couple of those EB trains just west of Kingman but didn't see too much else even though I took old route 66 instead of I-40 for part of the way. I was a little frustrated with the lack of rail activity when my scanner picked up a dispatcher polling trains for their locations, then a frustrated voice (I think it was the dispatcher or an engineer) said "It isn't good practice to have trains climbing the hill with no where to go!". A few miles further on, just east of Ludlow, CA I saw a small work crew at a grade crossing and then 5 EB freights waiting to get thru. It is taking forever to renovate the beautiful former Santa Fe station in Barstow which now serves only as a bus stop. I did finally find a good place to see the Barstow yards - I climbed a small hill behind the Toyota dealership and had the whole yard laid out before me. Unfortunately, it was about noon and there was no activity - 3 sets of CF-7 + slugs sat idle near the yard office while a couple stackpacks waited for clearance EB. Then I got my Carls Jr's burger to-go in Victorville and ate my lunch on Cajon Pass in the pull-off just below the truck weigh station. This is a great spot because you can see a long train climb back over itself twice as it snakes up the hill. Saw 5 BNSF and UP trains including one with helpers during my hour and a half there but no activity on the old SP line - I usually see one or two on it also. The BNSF seems to have fully integrated their locomotive fleets - I saw as many green BN units and orange "Heritage" units as I did SF blue and yellow and "Warbonnets" - in fact one train near Needles, CA had one of each! The only paint scheme I didn't see was the dark green and cream scheme used on the 70 MACS in coal service thru Colorado. I wanted to stay on Cajon longer but figured hitting the LA traffic at 3 PM on a Friday would be bad enough - later would be worse. Sure enough, just before the I-215/I-10 interchange it became stop and go. After a few miles of that, I had resigned myself to stop and go the whole way to San Diego but, just about Riverside, I passed an accident in the Northbound lanes and then it was clear sailing into San Diego. One of the AMTRAK "Coasters" went by as I unloaded my stuff at the Del Mar Fair in the dark. The show itself was only so-so as far as sales and half of them were from a good mail-order customer who drove down from LA. Sunday night on my way to Yuma, AZ all the scanner traffic was in Spanish but on Monday it was in English as I drove along the old SP Sunset Route on my way to Phoenix. A two hour delay and detour on I-10 near Chandler, AZ because of a 41 car pile-up in the fog cut my visit to Molnar's Stamp & Coin Shop in Scottsdale a little short. It is always a pleasure to visit there with Joe, Helena, Gary and Harry because of the friendly atmosphere and because Joe has the biggest worldwide stamp stock I've ever seen. In the five hours I spent there, I made it thru all of the 10 souvenir sheet boxes but only about 30 of the 300 red stamp boxes. I found a few hundred dollars worth of items for my inventory but nothing that got my heart pounding. Got to the motel in Flagstaff in time to see AMTRAK #3 arrive only 3 minutes behind schedule plus a couple other stackpacks before I got a good nights sleep (No train horns awakened me although I am sure there were several!). About 20% of the WB stackpack trains I saw on the UP/SP and BNSF from Yuma to Albuquerque were strings of empty cars (no containers) - I think that means we are importing at least 20% more from the Orient than we are exporting! No wonder there is a trade deficit. I'm not sure that this is just the "Asian Flu" but I don't recall seeing complete trains of empties a few years ago. As I approached my Flying J gas stop just west of Albuquerque, I heard "Train 4 ready to depart" on the scanner so I rushed to see if I could catch the EB AMTRAK. I saw it stopped just north of Belen, NM but couldn't see it very well so I decided to pull off at Lamy ( the Santa Fe, NM AMTRAK stop). On the way I heard both #3 and #4 talking to the dispatcher. It turns out that both trains are scheduled to stop at the quaint little Lamy station within 3 minutes of each other (2:36 and 2:39 PM). Unfortunately, #3 was on time so I missed it by about 30 minutes but I did get to see #4. It may have been one of the longest AMTRAK trains ever run: Genesis locos #17,41,81,& 84, a baggage car, a transition sleeper, 3 Superliner coaches, a sightseer lounge, a dining car, 2 sleeping cars, 2 express mail cars, 8 express boxcars and 6 Road Railers! Incidentally, train #3 had the same locomotives as the previous Thursday which leads me to conclude that AMTRAK uses 5 sets of equipment for the "Southwest Chief's" 4 day round trips. (#3 leaves Chicago at 3:45PM and #4 arrives at 4 PM so they have about 24 hours to clean and refurbish the equipment between runs). I saw #4 again as we both climbed Glorieta Pass and saw its headlight in my rear-view mirror just north of Wagon Mound but this time I wasn't overtaken by the time I reached Raton - I think it caught a red signal. Since it was dark anyway I drove on to Trinidad, CO and stopped at the Pizza Hut next to the station for dinner hoping to see #4 come thru. I saw a freight train come thru but AMTRAK #4 still wasn't due for another half hour after I slowly finished my personal pan pizza so I just headed on home mildly disappointed at missing her but satisfied overall with another great train watching trip.
STAMP OF THE MONTH:As we were going through his collection during my visit last fall, Norman Wright (of Handbook #130 fame!) pointed out that Falklands Island Scott #419 with a steam loco named the "Falkland Island Express" is his favorite train stamp "because of the elegance of the simple design and tasteful use of monochromatic color". It is also a very interesting little railroad. Brian Hollingsworth's Atlas of the World's Railways reports "It is not known exactly when the Falkland Islands opened its 2ft gauge railroad which ran three miles from Port Stanley to the radio signal station. There was one small steam locomotive, which monopolized the provision of motive power in one direction. In the other, which coincided with the prevailing winds, an informal but more frequent service was provided by sail-driven rail cars. The railroad has since been abandoned." The four stamp set shows three different small steam locos and one of the sail cars. All four stamps are inscribed "Camber Railway 1915-1927" which gives us the dates Hollingsworth couldn't provide but what is a "Camber Railway"? Any suggestions or guesses? Most plausible explanation receives 5 pictorial cancels on covers. Also, tell me about your favorite train stamp so I can highlight it in a future newsletter.
RAIL THOUGHT OF THE MONTH: T-shirt worn by child at a recent train show: "My daddy (steam loco in heart) and me!". As much as I love trains, I sure hope that child comes first in his daddy's heart!
Best wishes for a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year,
JAN 9-10 GREAT AMERICAN TRAIN SHOW BROWN CONVENTION CENTER HOUSTON,TX JAN 23-4 GREAT AMERICAN TRAIN SHOW SANTA BARBARA SHOWGROUNDS SANTA BARBARA,CA JAN 30-1 GREAT AMERICAN TRAIN SHOW COW PALACE DALY CITY,CA FEB 6-7 GREAT AMERICAN TRAIN SHOW CONVENTION CENTER ALBUQUERQUE,NM
JAN 9-10 GREAT AMERICAN TRAIN SHOW BROWN CONVENTION CENTER HOUSTON,TX
JAN 23-4 GREAT AMERICAN TRAIN SHOW SANTA BARBARA SHOWGROUNDS SANTA BARBARA,CA
JAN 30-1 GREAT AMERICAN TRAIN SHOW COW PALACE DALY CITY,CA
FEB 6-7 GREAT AMERICAN TRAIN SHOW CONVENTION CENTER ALBUQUERQUE,NM