Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things


Roger Puta in the control cab of a Canadian train.

Roger Puta in the control cab of a Canadian train.

Looking for illustrations for my rail-related articles this week, I ran across something great: a trove of train photos by a photographer named Roger Puta. I didn’t have time to learn anything more about him on Wednesday, I just snaffled up those lovely photos of a CN engine in the station in Moncton and got back to work.

But afterward, I went back to see what I could discover about Puta and it turns out that he was a “prolific photographer who specialized in photos of trains, mass transit, railroad infrastructure (especially signal systems) and general architecture.”

An American of Czech descent, he was born in a suburb of Chicago in 1944. He earned a masters in transportation at Northwestern University and served with the US Navy in Vietnam before returning to Chicago and a job with the Sante Fe Railroad. Later, he worked for the Western Pacific in San Francisco. According to Wikipedia, the jobs “provided him the opportunity to travel, and to continue his avid hobby of taking train and transit photos.”

Puta died young — in 1990 in his mid-40s — and his collection of colored slides, numbering in the thousands, went to his childhood friend Mel Finzer, who decided to place them in the public domain. Another friend, Marty Bernard, has been digitizing them and making them available on Flickr, which is how I ran across them.

Here’s Bernard in 2016, on a “trainfan” blog called The Trolley Dodger, answering the question: Who was Roger Puta?

Roger and I went to High School together. He was a good friend and railfan buddy. We grew up in nearby towns along the CB&Q [Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad] in the Chicago western suburbs. We railfanned together through college, often with our railfan friends from the Chicago area. He worked for the Santa Fe and Western Pacific and lived in the Washington DC area and San Francisco in the 1970s and 80s. He was a rare mileage freak, a prolific and darn good train photographer, and focused considerable attention on passenger trains. He traveled widely in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to meet those interests. If it ran on rails, or was related to something that ran on rails, he photographed it. Thus his collection of thousands of slides includes many of streetcars, depots, and railroad graphics. He was known for his slides shows, some of which were at Winter Rail. In 1990 he caught a train to the Pearly Gates.

I highly recommend the Flickr collection but fair warning: you may lose a lot of time once you start exploring Puta’s slides. There’s just something about trains:

Canadian National 6218 (4-8-4) on GTW Ilinois Railroad Club fantrip at NYC-GTW Union Station in South Bwend, IN on Nov 20, 1966

Canadian National 6218 (4-8-4) on GTW Ilinois Railroad Club fantrip at NYC-GTW Union Station in South Bwend, IN on Nov 20, 1966


Story Time

There’s so much in the documents I’ve received as a result of my 2015 access to information request to the CBRM that I’ll never be able to report it all (which is why, as I’ve promised, I will eventually get it all scanned and let you have at it.)

Barry Sheehy (Source: YouTube)

Barry Sheehy (Source: YouTube)

But I really want to tell you about the article Barry Sheehy was itching to write about us. From the beginning of his tenure as port promoter, he was envisioning how he would tell the world about what a smashing job he and Barbusci and Clarke had done. He references the idea a number of times, but I think the most detailed glimpse into just what he had planned is found in this 17 August 2014 email he sent to Mike Moore, Cecil Clarke and Albert Barbusci:

If we can bring even some of the projects and opportunities before us to fruition and to the point of “beginning”…

Sorry, I have to butt in here — does he mean bring projects to “fruition” or “to the point of beginning?” Because those are two rather different concepts.

…there is a big story to be told. I have in mind an article in the National Post or perhaps Maclean’s Magazine entitled “Turning Cape Breton Around”…The story I have in mind would focus on these themes:

  1. The Maritimes were the “richest” part of Canada at the time of Confederation, what went wrong.
  2. Cape Breton’s particular story today, as a microcosm of the Maritimes, with old industries dead, talent and youth moving west.
  3. We could leverage many of the insights in the Ivany Report and not be afraid to talk about our home grown pathologies that hinder growth.

“Our” homegrown pathologies? How long had he been a part-time resident of Cape Breton at this point? Ten minutes?

…(this could serve as a catharses [sic] and call for some straight talk from the Mayor. You can’t be create [sic] jobs if you are distrustful of job creators and you grind them down with Canada’s highest taxes, you can’t attract new ideas and new talent if you distrust immigrants and continue to refer to new [sic] as being from “away”…You can’t benefit from development if you are inherently suspicious of every development, every pipeline, every new oil and gas initiative. Cape [sic] can certainly be turned in a new direction but it will take new thinking and leadership that takes us in new directions.

4. Enter CBRM’s new Mayor and his bold views on rebranding Cape Breton as “open for business.” His deep belief that only private sector investment can really turn things around. government can help but the private sector must lead. Talk about his open, inclusive leadership style. It’s not easy being a free market conservative in a region that has grown accustomed to living off government largess [sic]. Even as this pool of largess [sic] steadily shrinks, old habits and thinking die hard.

Never mind that the CBRM’s bold, free market conservative mayor was a career politician who had never held a private-sector job. Or that all the studies and reports Sheehy and Barbusci were busy ordering up were being paid for by municipal “largess,” out of public monies left over from the harbor dredge — a project also funded by government “largess.” Forget that Sheehy himself is, elsewhere in these pages, calling for the government to rehabilitate the rail line. Forget all that — it’s free market or bust, baby!

There’s more in this vein, but you get the idea.

Here’s the real kicker, though — coming from men who claim to be with us and of us and to care about nothing so much as our best interests:

(Albert said that Sydney has only two saleable assets, its port and its mayor.)

Funny story: I put Albert up for sale on Kijiji months ago and have yet to get an offer.

I suspect it’s the mileage.


Talking TV

The West Wing ThingMy podcast listening these days has taken a turn for what I have to admit is the perverse: I’m listening to podcasts about television shows I don’t watch.

No, wait, it’s actually even worse: I’m listening to podcasts about television shows I don’t even want to watch.

It started with The West Wing Thing, a podcast devoted to the much-loved Aaron Sorkin political drama The West Wing, which I missed when it first aired (from 1999 to 2006) because I was living in the Czech Republic.

I started listening to The West Wing Thing when I began to realize how much Sorkin’s show had influenced centrist political thinking in the real world, a condition the podcast hosts, screenwriters Dave Anthony and Josh Olson, call “West Wing Brain.” (If you’ve ever thought a political difference could be settled by a high-blown, long-winded monologue by a beloved president, you may be suffering from West Wing Brain.)

To be clear: this podcast doesn’t make me want to watch The West Wing, quite the opposite, but I find the episode-by-episode analysis of the series by Anthony, Olson and their guests fascinating (and rudely hilarious).

Even more perversely, though, I’m listening to a podcast about the fifth season of Bones, a crime drama about a crack forensic anthropology team led by Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan. Bones aired from 2005 to 2017, so I have no excuse for not watching the last seven seasons other than that I didn’t want to.

Again, the podcast I’m listening to doesn’t make me want to watch the fifth (or any other) season of Bones, but the plots and characters and dialogue are so outlandish that listening to two funny people discuss them is very entertaining.

It’s kind of like when I try to describe the Sydney container port project to someone from outside the CBRM.

Maybe I should start my own podcast.