This is long, but it's a sample of my life these days. The railroad company downtown finally was able to buy a steam locomotive that was on display in a park. It's their second steam restoration project, and an immense effort. The thing was made in 1895, and has been sitting outside in the rain for many years. You can't just call Acme steam locomotive parts company to get what you need.
The work was very near completion, but there was a push to finalize it by this July 4th weekend. Most of what remained was paint and lettering. I bid the job weeks ago, but was told I'd be informed as to when I should come out. The call came, and because of the schedule, I was asked to come in the evening, after the mechanics were done.
I arrived at 11:30 pm, thereabouts, and was surprised to find that the painters came in after the mechanics, but were not finished yet. I live 30 minutes from the job, so decided to wait in my truck till they were through. I worked the rest of the night. There were a couple of small words I didn't finish, and numbers on the sand dome, which couldn't be done because of the fresh paint there. I wanted to stop, not only since I was tired, but because the mechanics would be back to fire the boiler. I figured maybe they would let the little stuff go till later, but that was unrealistic of me. A huge restoration, finished at last, photo ops and all, and I was hoping they would skip the little lettering? Sleep depravity has a way on the mind, I guess.
On the way home, an ongoing problem on my truck went all the way out. For a long time, I could pull over, move the wiring bracket at the back of my alternator a little, and it would be good for another 30 miles, or whatever. This morning, I couldn't go 10 feet before losing charging. I made it home, but rested, and forgot about the alternator problem.
In the middle of the day, I got a call asking if I could finish the lettering. Well sure, let me get some stuff ready. I got everything ready, and had the truck packed at about 4:30 pm. Then I remembered the charging problem. I had to fix it, as I would finish after dark, and the headlights would require extra power. So I spent hours doing that. Then I ate supper. Then I rested, a little. When I got up, I didn't feel so great, but finally, at about midnight, I talked myself into going back.
I arrived at the repair place, to find it closed up. I wondered if they moved the locomotive downtown. It wasn't in the shop. I walked outside, and saw only a line of freight cars parked on the track. I decided to look behind the cars, and there it was. The other workers had rolled down the big shop doors, but left extension cords going out, and lights on. It was strange. Sitting there, firebox stoked, steam coming out of a valve, very fresh and glossy black paint, lit up in the night, new flags adorning the front; but no people around. It was alive...and quiet...over there behind the other equipment, waiting the final lettering.
This being my second all nighter, I didn't feel smashing, besides, I've had a lot of other stuff to deal with lately. As I started to work, I started realizing how unique this moment was, probably God helping see things as they are. Here I am, the last man to work on this really neat restoration, one that is special to me. When I was a kid, I was a RR buff. Had model trains all over my room. Took pictures of real ones, but the RR police wouldn't let me too close. Here I was climbing around one of the few working steam engines around, on the night before it's first use in many years.
It was outside, the night air was not the slightest warm or cold, not the slightest. The steam made a very soft sound, occasionally I could smell the burning coal. Here I was, doing the ancient trade I entered by choice, on this beautiful, functional, and expensive locomotive. When I was in high school, I carried calligraphy pens around with me, because I liked the lettering so much. Here I was, 30 plus years later, painting lettering on this project. What is it now, 5 billion people in the world, and I was probably the only one lettering a steam locomotive this night.
The freeway noise had completely died, there was a night bird a little ways in the distance. The coal smell reminded me of when in my youth, we were overseas, in a country where they were still using steam to pull freight. We pretended the thick smoke was poisonous, and lied on the grass of the playground, till the cloud rolled past us. I love the smell of burning coal, to this day. All this came together this night, and I knew I was in a better way than many. The night air was so peaceful, that there was no sensation of being in time as we usually know it. It was so easy to feel as though I were slipping into a dream, or other dimension. I had the digital camera with me, and tried to catch the feel. The light shining into the steam, which was curling up around the new American flag; that's what I wanted to show people, but the steam didn't show very well in the picture.
Morning came, and I realized that I was in a unique position to get some picture shots that would never be available again, till it was repainted. The black paint was incredible. The morning light on the fresh paint, lettering, and brass hardware was stunning. I took about 50 pictures, haven't counted. I'll show them to the owners; there's a pretty good chance that they'll be interested in putting them in a pictorial book. I thought about royalties, maybe acclaim as a great photographer, a new career direction, and wow...As I said before, sleep depravity has a way on me.
Maybe too much of a way, or should I say, it can go two ways. I got home, rested a little, probably not enough. Got up, remembered how difficult things have been. The utility companies calling about past due bills, stuff breaking around the house, and having to wait to get money for parts, the awful mess that the country is in. Independence Day holiday being celebrated by people clueless as to what the founder's intentions were, or how far removed we are from them. The Christian Church as a whole being so self indulgent and compliant with a sinful world around them.
I try to live with no debt or government assistance, which in my case means a very frugal life. The children are turning out alright, much of it having to do with the physical austerity that I impose on the whole family. I really can't see another way to get the results I want, and am seeing. But aw man, it sure would be nice if the austerity was totally by choice. So many days I feel as though I've cheated my wife. Her folks never had big money, but they insisted on living with class and dignity. I would go to their house, and man, these gals looked like movie stars from the 1940's. Seriously. And now look, married to ex druggie sign painter that struggles to pay the bills.
I could go on, add many pages to this folder, but just trust me, it can be heavy at times.
So I started thinking, man, what good is it to have the occasional good time, if it just distracts me from the reality that I want to change? If I'm making other peoples' lives difficult, how can I have enjoyment? Surely akin to the mugger that has pleasure in what he does. Why should I keep doing art experiments? Isn't that hugely selfish?
I felt that way for a couple days, didn't snap out of it. I thought this is it, I've come fully to grips with reality, I don't deserve to have fun.
Maybe you have to get way down, before the only way to look is up. Maybe God lets you get to a point where the emotions of the thing make you remember the lesson. I hope I remember. Today I realized a few things. I realized that my art experiments help my commercial work in a big way. The things I learn let me offer trick moves at the regular price. I realized that my art isn't in a gallery; it's on Main Street, it's my truck, it's a wall or mural, it's out there for the whole town to see. I'm not the only one with highs and lows. It's my calling to show people that you don't need a multi million dollar movie production to celebrate beauty; you don't need to live in a mansion to make your area more attractive. Why pick up trash on the lawn, or scrape and re-do the flaking paint on the trim? Because we're not animals, and our lives are better when our living spaces are attractive. So much of what passes as art and entertainment is about violence, death and selfishness. I should use art to celebrate life, creation, peace, and ultimately, to point people to the final peace, that is found in eternity with Jesus Christ.