Chapter XIX: Variety Pack

Saturday, July 8, Anchorage and Elmendorf AFB.

They say variety is the spice of life.  I took the morning off from trains and instead focused on planes.  Matt McCullor is an avionics technician at Elmendorf Air Force Base and also a big railfan.  You may have even seen his outstanding photos of the Alaska Railroad posted on the Internet railroad newsgroup.  I met him several years ago via this newsgroup and when he heard I was coming to Alaska, offered to show me around the base.

I soon found myself surrounded by metal cases filled with knobs, switches and miniature screens.  Matt's job is to test various C-130 avionics components and troubleshoot as necessary.  He points out that there is a healthy bit of competitiveness between he and his coworkers and the F-15 avionics technicians on the other side of the room.  Another of the room's residents is the LANTIRN program which is responsible for night vision targeting and navigation.

EagleOur next stop was at a new set of outdoor displays featuring various aircraft flown at Elmendorf, a memorial to POWs and MIAs and a memorial to the 24 people killed in an military aircraft crash just outside the base.  In the same location is a large enclosed cage housing three injured eagles.  It fascinated me to view the eagles movements up close, picking at their feathers with their beaks, watching their heads turn 180 degrees and gripping their perch with long sharp talons.

Matt drove around the entire base and told the function of each building.  In addition, Elmendorf has a ski lift, salmon fishing area, outdoor rental equipment facility and a nice train watching area.  Yowza!  We walked into one of the hangers off the flight line and got up close and personal with a C-130.  Matt explained that the purpose of the C-130 was to provide support for U.S. military in Alaska and resupply remote sites.

Hunger pains reminded us it was lunch time so we headed for Gwennies to get hamburgers.  The building housing the restaurant has a long and colorful history including the fact that the third floor was at one time used as a brothel.  One big surprise at Gwennies is the hamburgers are huge and require a big appetite to make it disappear.

LayoutNext, we headed for the Military Society of Model Railroader Engineers which meets in the basement of Matanuska Hall at Elmendorf Air Force Base.  Here we found two huge layouts, one in N scale and the other in HO, in various stages of construction.  Each of these layouts were multi-level and contain large amounts of buildings, locomotives and rolling stock.  Matt and I spent several minutes walking around the layouts and taking pictures.  Just before leaving, we ran into Pete Mejia who took the Alaska Railroad photos for a recent issue of trains magazine.

Matt and I parted ways and I headed to the frame shop to pick up a painting Frank had framed for me.  The painting was of a passenger/freight mix (which the Alaska Railroad used to run) headed up by F7 number 1502 and was created by Jarrett Holderbee.  This indeed was a very cool gift.

I finished the afternoon by again stopping by the Anchorage yard to get a few last minute shots.  The prize photos of the day was an Alaska West tank on a flat car and three caissons on another flat car.  Maybe the Alaska Railroad is considering starting its own army?

Tank cannon Six locos

I spent the remaining part of the day running around town with Frank and packing up for the trip home.  I was able to get everything into two checked bags.  Unfortunately, one of the bags was a 4' x 4' x 6" box which when loaded weighed several tons.  I wrapped it thoroughly in packing tape in hopes it would not burst open after being abused by gorilla baggage handlers.  At 11:00 p.m. I said good-bye to Frank and the city of Anchorage.

At the airport, I checked my bags and discovered my box was considered oversized and I would be charged an additional $100.  The shocked look on my face brought extreme sympathy from the Continental Airlines employee who then forwarded on my box without further comment.  I thanked him profusely and shook his hand.  What a guy!  I returned my rental car and then headed to my departure gate.

Life at a departure gate is normally hectic.  What I encountered was even worse; it was a absolute tidal wave of chaos.  Even though I had arrived almost an hour and 45 minutes early, almost every seat was taken.  There were families venting anger from not being seated together, screaming uncontrolled toddlers, ranting passengers from missed flights trying to get themselves onto an already overbooked flight and a lady who become irate when she was told to look for her lost son in the baggage claim area.  The most distraught person of all was the one who was told he would miss his connecting flight in Seattle due to the plane arriving late in Anchorage.  That person was me.

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