Winter Dreams: Coasts and Shores

January, the most useless month. I wish I could sleep through it and wake up when the crocuses are finally nosing up through the grass. Here in Bethesda, the foot of snow that fell just over a week ago is mostly gone. The temperature bottomed out at 10 degrees the other night and is rising back into the 50s tomorrow, bringing with it more rain of course. It’s January all right. The midwinter blahs have set in.

Smithsonian museums and national parks are still closed, thanks to our ungovern-ment, so I haven’t been volunteering. In the meantime, I knead dough into rolls that will warm the kitchen and make the house smell good. I make plans to remodel my workbench and to build an armchair from the pieces of an old wooden couch, once it’s warm enough to haul my circular saw outside. I sort through drawers and folders and reorganize stuff, my go-to activity when I’m bored. I check out book after book from the local public libraries. I plan trips, some of which I’ll never take, but I can dream.

On my computer desktop, a full-screen image I’ve taken of a coast or shore over the last dozen years transports me to somewhere else. I have at least 90 images loaded into a slideshow that washes a new view across the screen every few hours. For the sake of something new to do over the past couple of days, I gathered a few of them here. After all, it’s January, a time for dreaming.

The Mid-Atlantic

The Southeast and Florida

The Pacific

David Romanowski, 2019

Posted in California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Musings and More, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pacific Coast, Vermont, Virginia, Washington | 3 Comments

Brookside Gardens’ Model Train Display Recalls the 1960s

Brookside Gardens near Wheaton, Maryland, is one of our favorite local gardens. During the holiday season, it is renowned for its nightly Garden of Lights display. But day or night, there’s another holiday attraction worth visiting here: the Winter Train Display, located in one of the two adjoining conservatories.

Members of the Washington, Virginia, & Maryland Garden Railway Society install, maintain, and staff the train display. The live plantings that adorn the main layout like a miniature forest are provided and maintained by Brookside Gardens staff.

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The main layout contains a model of the conservatory complex (foreground) in which this train display resides. A tiny version of the train display is inside the conservatory on the left!

The display consists of two separate G-Scale (large-scale) layouts: a large two-train/two-track layout occupying the center of the room, and a linear layout representing the Cabin John Trolley Line, which ran from Georgetown in Northwest Washington to Glen Echo Park, a popular amusement park in suburban Maryland. Both layouts contain scale models of iconic local structures and represent the time period of the 1960s.

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In the foreground is model of the handsome Kensington Train Station, one of several iconic local buildings, past and present, recreated in the train display. The station still serves Kensington, Maryland.

The photos below depict the Cabin John Line display. It includes several structures from the heyday of Glen Echo Park plus some others that could once be seen on a trolley ride along the Potomac River from the city into the countryside.

And don’t overlook the rest of the 50-acre gardens, part of Montgomery County’s Wheaton Regional Park. Brookside Gardens is worth revisiting throughout the year.

David Romanowski, 2018

Posted in Local, Maryland, Musings and More | Tagged | Leave a comment

October at the Shore

Wild ponies have the right of way on Assateague Island.

Taking advantage of a week of favorable weather, Sue and I rendezvoused with New York friends Tad and Lea in mid-October to introduce them to some of our favorite cycling spots along the Delmarva Shore. Over five days, we biked in Ocean City and Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia, and Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware.

We started out at Ocean City on a glorious day that reached 78°. The 2¼-mile-long boardwalk and the beach, jammed shoulder to shoulder in season, were almost empty. We stayed at the Dunes Manor Hotel in ocean-front rooms with balconies for an almost sinfully low price. The first and only other time Sue and I stayed here was 31 years ago, when the hotel was brand new. They still gave us a return-guest discount!

Since Sue and I had visited Assateague, Chincoteague, and Cape Henlopen several times before, I took few photos there. The one below is from the spectacular Gordons Pond Trail in Cape Henlopen State Park. The two towers in the distance on the beach are observation towers from World War II.

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As usual, we greatly enjoyed spending time with Tad and Lea and showing them around the Mid-Atlantic shore. A great way to roll into fall.

David Romanowski, 2018

Posted in Bicycling, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia | Tagged | Leave a comment

Summer Sojourns, 2018

As summer nears its end, I am somewhat surprised to find that I have spent a total of 47 days—almost 7 weeks—traveling this year so far. I’ve already written about three of these trips. Here are just a few images from some of the others.

My most recent trip was a 10-day, 1,750-mile drive to explore some coastal areas of New England I wanted to get to know better. I passed through Williamstown in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts; spent a couple days visiting Bristol and Providence, Rhode Island; and went on to visit several towns along the south coast of Massachusetts, Sandwich on Cape Cod, Rockport north of Boston, and various towns on the South Shore below Boston. I also took side trips to eastern New York and Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.

Along the way I reconnected with quite a few people: my oldest friend (from orientation in college) and his wife (a friend from my Michigan days), two of my newest friends (whom I met through my bicycling trips), two good friends I’ve known since my early working years at the Boston Museum of Science, another friend from the Science Museum I hadn’t seen in 35 years, and a friend from the National Air and Space Museum and his wife, who have retired to New Hampshire. These people span almost every period of my adult life.

The weather cooperated beautifully, Siri’s wayfinding proved invaluable, SiriusXM satellite radio relaxed me on the long interstate drives, and I had a great time.

David Romanowski, 2018

Posted in Driving, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Planely Overwhelmed at the U.S. Air Force Museum

When I worked at the National Air and Space Museum, I liked to take guests into the Early Flight gallery to show them a certain historic airplane. Often overlooked by visitors, it hung overhead, dimly lit, its wooden frame painted silver to look like metal, its muslin wings stained with oil. The unrestored biplane looked every bit of its century-plus age.

A19120001000cp04 smThe Wright brothers built the airplane and flew it at nearby Fort Myer, Virginia, to demonstrate its capabilities to the U.S. Army. Purchased by the Army, the 1909 Wright Military Flyer became the world’s first military airplane.

Aviation technology soon advanced in leaps and bounds. Within just a few years, armies across the world were using airplanes for observation and reconnaissance, to shoot down other planes, and to drop hand-held bombs. Aircraft would play decisive roles in World War II, and today air power is a preeminent part of our national defense.

Merely 80 years separate the 1909 Wright Military Flyer from the B-2 Stealth Bomber, a matte-black flying wing that is nearly invisible to radar and can deliver up to 20 tons of precision weaponry on a single globe-spanning mission.

That full range of aviation history is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, it is the oldest and largest military aviation museum in the world. It houses some 400 aerospace vehicles and missiles, along with thousands of other aviation artifacts, and draws over a million visitors a year. I visited recently with my brother and sister-in-law, who (lucky for them) live not far away.

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The museum consists mainly of a row of four huge interconnected hangars. Each is nearly the size of the aircraft hangar at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Northern Virginia. If you visit the Air Force Museum, be sure to wear comfortable shoes; it has over 22 acres of indoor exhibit space to explore.

The main exhibition areas are arranged chronologically. The exhibits in Building 1 cover the early years of military aviation through World War II. Building 2 displays aircraft from the Korean and Vietnam wars. Building 3 covers the Cold War era. Beyond that you enter a round gallery displaying a ring of tall missiles. Finally you enter Building 4, the newest hangar, which opened in 2016. It features sections on space, research and development (including stealth aircraft), airlift and other missions, and the museum’s historic collection of presidential aircraft.

The Presidential Gallery in particular is worth the long trek through the first three hangars. It features 10 aircraft used by presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton. You can walk through four of the aircraft.

The oldest of the four, a Douglas Skymaster named Sacred Cow, was the first aircraft designed for presidential use. It transported Roosevelt (the first president to fly while in office) and Harry Truman. It has an elevator in the rear that allowed Roosevelt to board easily using his wheelchair. Truman also flew on The Independence, a modified version of a Douglas DC-6 airliner. Dwight Eisenhower traveled on the Columbine III, a modified Lockheed Super Constellation. You can walk through both of these airplanes as well.

The fourth airplane you can board, a modified Boeing 707 airliner, was the first jet aircraft built for presidential use. When the president was on board, it was designated Air Force One. This aircraft carried all eight presidents from John Kennedy to Bill Clinton and is the most poignant to visit. You can stand in the aisle at the exact spot where Vice President Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office to become president while flying back to Washington, D.C., from Dallas, Texas, after Kennedy was assassinated. A few rows back is where seats were removed to accommodate the casket containing Kennedy’s body.

My favorite section of the museum was the World War II Gallery. Here, the history of this museum and the Smithsonian intersect. After the war, the Army Air Forces set aside a huge collection of Allied and captured Axis aircraft for preservation and exhibition. Much of the cream of that collection was transferred to the Smithsonian to be displayed in a future National Air Museum. President Truman signed the law creating that museum in 1946, and it finally opened as the National Air and Space Museum in 1976.

Meanwhile, the Air Force added the remaining World War II aircraft to its own collection, which dates back to 1923. That collection became the core of the Air Force Museum, which opened at its current location with a single large hangar in 1971. Since then, the museum has more than quadrupled in size.

World War II was my parents’ war, and the war I know most about. It involved the aircraft I’m most familiar with. Here I found examples of airplanes I remember assembling from plastic model kits when I was a kid—a B-24 Liberator, a B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-29 Superfortress—and many more I recognized. Also here is the museum’s newest major exhibition, which opened this past May. It features the famous B-17F Memphis Belle, the first heavy bomber to complete 25 missions and return stateside. I could have spent hours in this gallery alone.

But there was so much more: cool airplanes to see, cargo planes to board, a B-29 fuselage to duck through. We didn’t even bother with the inevitable flight simulators and IMAX theater, or enter the full-size mockup of a space shuttle. We only glanced at many exhibits over which I did not have the time and mental energy to linger.

I can now empathize with all those visitors to Washington, D.C., who want to take in the entire Smithsonian in a day. It can’t be done. Nor can you experience in one visit all that the National Museum of the United States Air Force has to offer. But if one visit is all you have, it’s worth a gallant try.

David Romanowski, 2018

Posted in Ohio, Walking | Tagged | 2 Comments