John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: May, 2015

Season’s Opener: 2015

Marlow, NH: Each year brings its own set of challenges when it comes time to awaken the New Hampshire house from its winter snooze. There are easy openings and hard openings and 2015 was leaning towards the hard side. At our first arrival in April we tackled immediate problems as expeditiously as possible. Power, water and communications are top priorities in that order.


We knew the dishwasher was broken when we left in December so we ordered a new one to be delivered and installed when we returned for the Memorial Day weekend. DirecTV was also out so we arranged a visit by their technician. A toilet was out of kilter needing the plumber but that could be done while we’re not here. Prior to this season’s opener, I ordered a new cutting blade and a tune-up kit from the D.R. Trimmer Company for my field and brush mower. A local fellow who advertises “small engine repairs” serviced this machine and a conventional gas-powered lawn mower. He finished servicing them before we arrived. When I called to find out what I owed him he said, “I had to get a new battery for the field and brush mover and I used the new parts you left but I couldn’t get the lawn mower to work until I got the shit out of the carburetor.”


We came up on Wednesday and two guys from Sears arrived on Thursday to install a new dishwasher and take away the old one. All went well until they began to pull the old one out of the kitchen. “Hey, bud,” the leader said. “We have a problem. This thing is hard-wired, not plugged in and we’re not licensed to work on it. You need an electrician.”


That wasn’t good news. Mary Ann looked at him and said, “How do we find one who’ll work on it before the weekend?”


“Oh, you should call the Sears store where you bought it. This happens all the time.”


With that they left right after we signed a receipt that they delivered the new one. Mary Ann called Sears and spoke to a woman in the store. Yes, she could try to get us an electrician to install it tomorrow but before he would come, we’d have to pay $190. She asked, “Do you have a Sear’s card?”


When Mary Ann answered, “No,” she said, “Well, you’ll have to come into the store to use another card before we can dispatch him.”


She said she’d call back but she didn’t. Instead a licensed installer called us. “If my wife takes the kids to school, I can be there by 8 AM tomorrow. If not, I have a job in Walpole at 10 and I’ll be there after 11.” His name was Jason. He told Mary Ann the cost was $175 and he’d take a check; go figure?


The DirecTV tech came a little after four and solved the problem fairly quickly. The dish had become misaligned which was why it wasn’t receiving a signal. But then he got into a conversation with Mary Ann about upgrading to a wireless system that would allow us to watch TV on our I Pads or on televisions anywhere in the house. When she spoke to an agent at DirecTV the cost kept going up and up until she finally said, “Never mind.”


That night in bed as black thoughts crossed my mind, a new one snuck in, “When was the last time we had the septic system drained?”  I kept my own counsel until morning then checked my records. The system was last serviced in June of 2012 and was due for servicing June of 2015. Ahead of the curve on that near-miss, I made an appointment to have it drained on June 2.


Jason arrived as promised a little past 8 AM. He disconnected the old unit, installed the new one and put on the power. One problem; no water. Then, opening valves to find out why, unbeknownst to us, he drained all of the hot water. This happened just as Mary Ann was about to take a shower. When she told us there was no hot water, I was ready to panic. No dishwasher and now no hot water for the holiday weekend, not good, not good at all.


Jason remained calm. He realized the loss of hot water was temporary and he re-connected the dishwasher. “Give it an hour for the water to get hot and put the dishwasher on. It should work. If not call me and I’ll come back this afternoon.”


He was right and that problem was solved.


So much for this year’s opening day dramas. Tom, Beth and Cace arrived for opening day chores later on Friday. Their daughter, Marlowe, was already with us. On Saturday, they went to Marlow’s Memorial Day service before we started working. They felt the ceremony was touching, a simple mix of the National Anthem, God Bless America, Amazing Grace and Taps.


Chores commenced. I made a couple of runs to the garbage transfer station to rid ourselves of junk left over from Christmas, Tom went to work on the lawn, Cace cut down seedlings, we power-washed the deck, prepped the septic tank by clearing the dirt that covered it, cleaned outdoor furniture, etc.


The summer season of 2015 was underway.


Bypassed America

American maritime paintings that depict scenes from the mid Nineteenth Century and the early Twentieth Century are popular because they are special. They interpret a black and white era in brilliant colors inviting our eyes to observe a newly industrialized America flexing its muscle, expanding its dominance over the land, the rivers and the oceans.


Artists like John Stoddard and Michael Blaser depict a multitude of steamboats of all sizes and description serving river cities and towns on the Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi rivers. They portray daily river life from sunrise to sunset and even at night time.


Famous steamboats fill their portfolios, Belle Memphis, Bayou Sara, J.M. White, Belle Amour, Dean Adams and The Island Queen. Their portraits present a world of commerce on these rivers, the commerce of an America propelled by determination, prosperity, and confidence.


Sailing upriver on board the modern steamboat, American Queen, passengers can re-live this era by examining its many paintings that line the boat’s passageways, lounges and public rooms. But the land and the towns that line the Mississippi tell a different story, a story of change and not for the better, of being bypassed, made redundant and abandoned to exist in nostalgia that once was their glory.


I first witnessed the state of Mississippi River towns in 2010 during a baseball trip that took my mates and me from St. Paul to St. Louis. Here is how I described our journey as we drove south in Iowa along the Mississippi River:


We drive back into Davenport to see the place during daylight and discover that this is the first of several “ghost towns” we will drive through. It seems that only the poor and disconnected live in these towns any longer while retail business has fled to suburban malls. Downtown: empty storefronts look back at us and many abandoned housing units dot the nearby, once-upon-a-time, residential neighborhoods within this once prosperous city. We witness this same phenomenon in Burlington, Fort Madison and Keokuk, Iowa.


Late in April, 2015, Mary Ann and I traveled on board the American Queen upriver from New Orleans to Memphis. The trip took seven days, the massive 40-ton paddle wheel behind the stern pushing the steamboat against the current at five miles an hour against the “Big Muddy” or the “Father of All Waters.” Along the way we stopped at by-passed towns, in Mississippi and Arkansas; Natchez, Helena-West Helena and Clarksdale.


What took us seven days could be covered by automobile in about six and a half hours on Interstate-55, but the point of making this trip was to experience this part of our country. The American Queen was the only passenger boat on the river in regular service.


But commerce remained strong on this great inland river though it has minimum contact with the land especially in the Delta between Vicksburg and Memphis. Great fleets of barges tied together into groups of 12 to 20 called “tows” are maneuvered up and down the river pushed along by powerful towboats. The barges carry cargo in bulk, coal, grain; soy, wheat, oats, corn or any other bulk commodity including sand and stone. Downriver for exports, upriver for imports- the tows never stop at the towns. They move from one fleeting area to another, where they tie off at landings away from human traffic. Full barges are brought along side floating cranes which lift their cargoes in huge buckets up into the holds of ocean-going ships. Likewise they load empty barges with imported bulk cargoes to be taken upriver to inland ports.


The river towns prospered during the time of king cotton when this industry dominated the land, the people and their life-style. Cultivating, harvesting, cleaning, inspecting, warehousing and shipping cotton ruled the land and those who lived there. Starting during the First World War, the put-upon lowly black field workers and sharecroppers began to quit the land taking their families north up the center of the country to cities like Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, etc. seeking a new life. The Great Depression slowed this migration to a crawl, but the need for workers serve in the plants of our “Arsenal for Democracy, as World War II arrived turned this trickle into a flood as masses of black field workers left the land. Cotton doe forced to automate eliminating field jobs forever. After the war, interstates by-passed the river towns, railroad traffic gave way to the airlines while malls and big-box stores starved local mom and pop merchants. One by one downtown retail stores gave up the ghost as did the hotels and restaurants.


What remains today is nostalgia, heritage and the Delta Blues. Natchez has a black-tie Festival of Music each May, a Mississippi River Race in October and Christmas in Natchez, a festival of lights. Helena has the King Biscuit Blues Festival each October that attracts 100,000 fans or more and the Wild Hog Music Festival and Motor Cycle in April. (Damn, we must have just missed that one by a week.) We also missed the Juke Joint Festival held in April in Clarksdale.


Nostalgia, heritage and the Delta Blues, that’s what they hope to sell. Despite these towns’ being down and out, here’s the message I heard their folks screaming out, “We are not going to disappear.”


B.B. King just passed. A boy born on a Mississippi plantation who had his first paid gig in Clarksdale. Like Muddy Waters or Bessie Smith, he came into this world when cotton was king and now their memory and the music they invented help to keep these towns alive and I believe sustain their future; nostalgia, heritage and the Delta Blues.

Steam Engines and the Tornado



The following is an excerpt from my journal: “Up River: Steamin on the Big Muddy.” If you are interested in reading the complete journal please contact me at:



Having made my way to the engine room bar to enjoy a Jameson’s on the rocks I decided to let it breathe while I made a visit the engine room. Mark, the Chief Engineer was sitting at his desk when I arrived. A young man in his thirties, he was eager to talk about his charges, twin horizontal steam engines that power the paddle wheel. He explained that they came off of an Army Corp of Engineers dredge built in 1932. The engines were re-built and dropped into the hull of the American Queen during construction.


I observe the two huge pistons leading from the engines to the wheel assembly, their forward and retreating motions forcing the paddle wheel to turn repeatedly at just the same rotation pushing the boat up the river. Simple and reliable.


His engine room was spotless filled with panels of electronic gauges and lights. I asked, “Do you control the steam engines from here and how do you receive orders from the pilot house?”


He pointed to a board of lights and explained what engine settings each light meant. “If they want a change in setting, a strobe light goes on and an alarm sounds. Then I acknowledge the command by pressing the return button before I change the settings.”

”How do you change the settings?”


He pointed to four wrought-iron levers that dropped from the overhead, “Using those.”


“Wow,” I thought, “this young man is a real engineer who controls the massive paddle wheel the same way locomotive engineers once controlled the driver wheels on their steam engines. What a job!”


He did point out that the automatic pitch propellers and thrusters were controlled directly in the pilot house but, in my mind that changed nothing. “Was it difficult learning how to manipulate those handles?”


“A bit, if I don’t move them smoothly it can cause serious vibrations to occur.”


I am clearly impressed as I take my leave to return to my waiting Irish.


The Tornado: St Francisville, LA


Each cabin is equipped with HD television that received all of the networks and most news stations. For some reason that was never explained to me; the ABC, CBS and NBC broadcasts originated from their New York stations including local news.


Having returned from my morning coffee run, I entered the cabin to hear Al Roker’s voice of doom warning that severe weather including tornados was approaching central Louisiana. Less than an hour later the sky turned black as ominous low-flying clouds descended on the boat. Lightning lit the sky with boomers echoing a squall’s approach. Satellite TV went out as the storm zeroed in. Simultaneously, my IPhone flashed a tornado alert for the next half-hour warning me to seek shelter immediately.


I was dressed and ready to go but Mary Ann had just finished her shower and was absolutely unprepared and unwilling to leave the cabin without putting on makeup and blowing her hair. I kissed her goodbye, “Let me remember you just as you are.”


She replied, “Don’t forget to bring me cereal and milk.” (It appears some people don’t show proper respect for Armageddon!)


I was seated in the dining room on the main deck with five other people already engaged in lively conversation also seemingly oblivious to our doom. I chose to “shut up, eat up and get up.” The boat’s entertainment m/c now acting in the guise of safety director warned us over the P/A to remain inside in the same light, sing-song voice he used for various activities. He didn’t quite project an air of confident, competent command especially when he ended his announcement with “…and have a super day.” (Accent on the SUP.) Personally I’d have preferred a voice like George C. Scott playing Patton or Charlton Heston as Moses to reassure me.


Mary Ann rang my cell phone to tell me not to return to the cabin. “The rain is coming down sideways and the deck is flooded.”


I agreed to wait until it slackened as our cabin didn’t have access to a central internal corridor and only opened to the outside deck. Later, when we called Helen and Don to let them know what they missed, Helen laughed, “You should have banged on the adjoining door to the inside cabin and announced, ‘Make yourself decent, we’re coming through.”


Mister happy followed–up with another announcement that the fleet of hop-on, hop-off buses was out of action blocked by a fallen tree across the two lane road leading to and from the landing. “A tree is down from the storm and the town has to get someone to clear it.” Fortunately they did, the rain stopped for a while. The worst was over. Mary Ann asked, “Did you really think we were in danger?”


“No, I really didn’t fear for our safety. But I was concerned that the boat could have been damaged by a tornado and our cruise ended just like that. I saw us put on buses for Baton Rouge and being sent home with a $1,000 voucher for a future cruise.”


When Mary Ann spoke to Michael she noted, “It was amazing, even with all of that wind, the boat didn’t rock one bit,” forcing me to explain that was because it was resting on the mud bottom which is what they do to stabilize the boat when using a landing.




Special Post: NYPD Brian Moore’s Funeral

Congressman Pete King’s Reflections on NYPD Officer Brian Moore’s Funeral

All along the roads of Seaford and Massapequa leading to St James Catholic Church there were bright blue ribbons adorning light posts, telephone poles, garden gates and the front doors of neatly maintained homes. Approaching the church for Brian Moore’s funeral mass, traffic was backed up endlessly. Cars were parked miles away. Police buses filled with cops parked in parking lots of friendly local businesses. On the sidewalks people held hand drawn signs and well painted posters honoring Brian Moore. Streets for block after block around were overflowing with cops from across America and Canada.

Waiting outside the church for the hearse to arrive, I spoke to Commissioner Bill Bratton who has had to speak at too many cops’ funerals and Deputy Commissioner Larry Byrne whose brother NYPD Officer Eddie Byrne was assassinated 26 years ago. In a cruel irony Brian Moore grew up and lived on the same block in Massapequa as Larry and Eddie Byrne.

The hearse’s arrival was preceded by more than 100 motorcycles and the muffled drums of the NYPD Pipe Band. The flag draped coffin was lifted from the hearse by the NYPD Honor Guard and carried up the church steps followed by grief stricken family
members led by Brian’s father, mother and sister.

The church was crammed tight with cops. Seated next to me were the officers from Brian’s 105 Precinct, their strong faces contorted in sorrow. NYPD Chaplain Msgr Romano celebrated the mass and delivered a poignant eulogy, as did Mayor Diblasio who on this day connected with the men and women in Blue. Bill Bratton was extraordinary. His voice cracking with emotion, the Commissioner hailed the dedication of this young hero cop who had more than 150 arrests and was part of the elite anti-crime unit before he was 25. Bill Bratton concluded by promoting Brian Moore posthumously to the rank of Detective First Grade and all in the Church rose as one in a loud, prolonged ovation.

The funeral mass over, the coffin was carried from the church. The family stood sobbing on the steps. The bugler played taps. And the Pipe Band rendered the stirring strains of America the Beautiful. Nine helicopters flew overhead in final tribute and salute. The band marched slowly forward, its muffled drums echoing solemnly through the church yard as the hearse carrying Brian Moore began its journey to his final resting place.

Det First Grade Brian Moore R.I.P.

NYC’s Billion Dollar Boondoggle

Boondoggle: To waste money or time on unnecessary or questionable projects.


Early in the Twentieth Century one of the first additions of New York City’s original subway was to extend the tunnels and tracks to South Ferry at the southern tip of Manhattan providing commuters access to Staten Island and Brooklyn ferries. Two loops were constructed allowing trains to turn around and return uptown without switches. The inner loop directed trains to the East Side and the outer to the West Side.



Old joke. Question: “Why is Lower Manhattan so bright?”

Answer:   “Because it’s closer to the Battery.”



Over time, these 1905 unique tunnels proved inadequate for modern service because of the tight turning radius. The inner loop could only accommodate four cars and was removed from revenue service in 1977. The outer loop was improved as well as could be expected including retractable platform extensions that eliminated gaps once trains were positioned. Yet the configuration of these platforms led to delays and, as the length of trains increased, South Ferry Station became a bottleneck as it could only accommodate the first five cars of a ten-car train.


“No good deed goes unpunished.” When a national catastrophe strikes, Uncle will respond with a massive influx of money. Entrenched state bureaucracies are well-prepared to divert as many of these dollars as possible to their own ends. Witness the so-called “Shovel-Ready Initiatives” funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. A whole bunch of that money was used by state governments to offset the loss of revenue from their normal tax flow due to the recession. Admittedly, funding schools, police, and fire protection for a year or two is a good thing; but maintaining essential services was not the intended use of re-build America funds.


After the tragedy of September 11, 2001 Bush 43 and Congress eagerly stepped up to the plate to fund the massive recovery effort to re-build the World Trade Center and replace lost infrastructure. When the towers came down, their wreckage penetrated into the subway line that ran under Greenwich Street severing the West Side connection from Chambers Street to South Ferry. It was essential the line be restored but included in the MTA’s plan for re-construction was a proposal to build a new South Street Station. The plan envisioned a two-track, single-island platform stub that could accommodate all ten cars. It would be equipped with state-of-the-art electronics, seven escalators, two ADA  compliant elevators and all of the bells and whistles that money could buy.


Uncle contributed $420 of the $530 million it took to build the new tunnel and station  and when it opened in 2009, the Governor, New York’s two US Senators, two congressmen, two borough presidents, state and city representatives, US secretary of transportation and MTA big shots all gathered together to praise this vital addition to Lower Manhattan.


Unfortunately, only three years later Superstorm Sandy flooded a large swath of Lower Manhattan.  The storm overwhelmed the make-shift sandbag and plywood barriers erected to protect the station…“flooding the station – floor to ceiling – with 15 million gallons of seawater, sewage and debris…effectively destroying the station and its critical equipment.”


In 2013, the MTA noted: “The rebuilding effort will take an estimated $600 million and as long as three years.” Fortunately, the old loop, taken out of service when the new South Ferry station opened, didn’t suffer the same fate and within six months of this disaster, it reopened after $2 million in needed restoration work.


Work on rebuilding the new station is finally making progress. So far, flood-proofing has been completed and in December of 2014, the MTA awarded a 31-month, $194 million contract to replace track, mechanical and electrical equipment and rebuild the station making the total spent or awarded to date equal $326 Million.


If that figure holds, total cost for the original construction and the reconstruction will equal $856 million. A few more million here and a few more million there and pretty soon that billion dollar mark will be in range. “A billion here and a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking real money.”

(Everett Dirksen)


We’ll have to wait until July of 2017 at the earliest to discover just how much this boondoggle finally cost the tax payers.


Oh, I’m sure its value will be celebrated by the new gaggle of VIPs who attend the future re-opening. But may I just offer one cautionary thought to project into the future. As the high and mighty pontificate about all the benefits of this magnificent reincarnation, please don’t seal off the old loop; just in case.