Scott Sparling

Hallucinations, a blog about writing, trains, and Wire to Wire

Viewing Entries From: February 2011

Climbing Rex Hill

Posted on Feb 21st, 2011

The last time I took a freight trip with Iron Legs Burk was in 1989. I cut out of work early and met him on the railroad bridge that crosses the Willamette River south of Portland. We figured the train would slow for the bridge – enough, we hoped, to let us jump it.

By ’89, freights were running without cabooses. Instead of a cab, there was a flatcar with a dinky red light at the end of the train. The set-up was tragic and pathetic – the noble caboose discarded. But it made catching a ride somewhat easier. We just let the whole train pass, then chased down the flatcar.

Jesse, aka Iron Legs, climbed on first, then I grabbed the short rear ladder. I’d lost a step, maybe, and my momentum didn’t quite carry me all the way up, so Jesse put out a hand and gave a pull. That was the first and only time I ever needed help hopping a freight, and maybe a good signal that it was time to hang it up.

When we got to McMinnville, we hopped out, walked through town, and hit a bar, and eventually called my girlfriend for a ride back to Portland. It’s possible I’d forgotten to tell her about our freight plans, because she was not happy about having to drop everything and come pick us up. But she did. We’re still together and it remains on the list of bad things I’ve done.

It was a beautiful ride, though. A crisp August day through great country. That’s me in what we used to call a deep-dish gondola. If you look closely, you can see the trestle we’re crossing. Iron Legs Burk says this photo was taken climbing Rex Hill near Newberg, Oregon, and I believe him.

Photo by D.C. Jesse Burkhardt


Summer, freights, bars, girlfriends: "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry."

Posted in Trains

Bad Advice for Writers

Posted on Feb 19th, 2011

Writing a novel? First, you’ll need one of these. The Kaypro II. It comes with 64 KB of RAM and two double-sided, double-density drives for your 5 ¼ inch floppy disks. Encased in aluminum, and at just 29 pounds, it’s completely portable. Mine set me back about $1,800, but the price may have come down since 1983.

Sure, you could go cheap and try to write your masterpiece on a typewriter, but that’s gonna take forever. With the Kaypro, you can cut your novel-writing time to under three decades, tops. Sounds unbelievable, but I did it, and you can too.



Here’s what makes the Kaypro such a time-saver. Let’s say you’ve written the following paragraph as a first draft.

“Dexter Company had the school photo business from all over the state; Slater’s job was to develop rolls of photo paper. He ran a machine called the Silva, twenty-five feet of tanks and drums and torque, and he worked in the dark, listening to the hum and talking to the machine, his eight hours of competence and solitude, his rap and discourse in the dark. The whine of the rollers sometimes reminded him of freight trains crossing the Rockies, metal grinding against metal like the sound of violins being played under water. After he was fired, he imagined the Silva on the hot desert land outside Dexter Company, decaying, fulgent, a strange tribute to the gods or some fantastic drum set of the industrial age, after everyone got tired of the music.”

The first thing you’re going to want to cut is that line about violins being played under water. No one knows what that sounds like, with the possible exception of Lloyd Bridges. Who, sadly, is no longer with us.

On your old Selectric, you’d have to retype the whole thing just to lose that one phrase. Not so with the Kaypro. Simply mark the beginning of the phrase with ^KB. Then hit ^F repeatedly until you come to the end of the phrase. Mark it with ^KK and then enter ^KY. Magically, the offending phrase disappears. Or you could move the phrase somewhere else with just another 13 keystrokes.

Next you’ll want to change Slater’s name to Stryker, and then to Trager, and then to Stone, and then back to Slater. You’ll want to get rid of that part about “fulgent,” too. Also that whole section about “rap and discourse in the dark.” That’s a little weird. Take that out. Then put it back in. Then out. See how easy the Kaypro makes everything? Suddenly you have a zillion choices for every single line.

Later you may realize that it’s not Slater who works in the photo lab, but some other character, and it’s not in the desert, but Northern Michigan. You may decide to cut the passage entirely. No worries. The Kaypro runs on the reliable CP/M operating system. However, depending on how much time has passed, your floppy disks will need to be converted to Apple’s operating system before you can make any changes to your novel, or work on it in any way, including simply reading it. And while computer science has not yet invented a way to convert CP/M to Apple, you can get some mail-order software from Ohio that will convert everything to MS/DOS, supposedly, if you can find an old Dell or something. Then you could convert that into Apple…or you could just retype the whole damn thing. 

If you still have that Selectric.



Bonus bad advice: To get a Kaypro II of your own, build a time machine, travel to 1983 and bring one back "Duty Free."

Posted in Writing

Happy Birthday, Segerfile

Posted on Feb 11th, 2011

Thirteen years ago, I needed to take a break from working on my novel. It was 1997. The web existed, but barely -- there was no Google, no Facebook, no LOLCats. The Internet was empty, compared to today. To get my mind off Wire to Wire, I did what any born-in-Michigan, proud-of-the-Motor-City writer might do: I decided to start a website about Bob Seger. 

It wasn't meant to be a big deal. I figured I'd spend about six months on the site. Today, turns thirteen years old. 

I was lucky in a couple of crucial ways. First of all, no one else was writing about Seger online at the time. I had a monopoly. I'd go to the public library here in Portland, search out old Seger articles on microfilm, copy them down, come home and post them on my site. That was the 1997 version of Google Alerts.

Even luckier, though, was the fact that Seger was staying completely out of sight at the time. He wasn't touring. He wasn't releasing new material. Mostly, he was being a dad, raising his kids. 

The absence of real Seger news, which at first seemed frustrating, turned into a good thing. It forced me to become an essayist, rather than a reporter. The writing took on personality, became humorous, even sarcastic. The people who returned to the site came back, I think, not because there was news, but because it was fun to read. At least, that's how it seemed to me. 

The focus of this site,, is Wire to Wire. But for one night only, join me as The Segerfile celebrates 13 years online by sampling a few of my favorite posts. And remember to do this

The Seger vs. Springsteen Complexo-Meter World Exclusive(TM)

Are there folks out there who really like Bruce's music, but just wish it was, well, a little less confusing? Does "Born to Run" leave you scratching your head? No problem! Just buy one of Bob's CD's. You'll find it in the "Rock Music for Dummies" section…more

I've Got Tonight

What a party! All my celebrity friends showed up, plus quite a few people I probably ought to recognize, but don't. After about ten hours, though, things went a little sour. I was happily playing foosball with Sheena Easton, when I must have blacked out…more

Listen All Night to the Wind

The trees are swaying tonight, which means the floor is moving a little, too. It's late and I'm in my treehouse, and there's music coming in on the wind. The party that I hear is 2,500 miles away at the Waldorf-Astoria, where Seger is being inducted into the Hall of Fame…more

Fortunate Son

The traffic clears and we get going again, and this is what I hope for: That my son will grow up and have his own kids and his own music, and one day, out of pure love and enthusiasm, he'll punch up the volume, turn to his kids and say "Listen"…more


Harp jumps a freight in Wire to Wire and calls it his Crosscut hop. Call him Lucifer, if you think you should.

Posted in Music