UtahRails.net

(This page printed from UtahRails.net, Copyright 2000-2016 Don Strack)

Who Am I?

Index For This Page

This page was last updated on June 13, 2015.

My name is Don Strack. I have been interested in railroading and Union Pacific since my early teens, when I would ride my bicycle from my parent's suburban home, many, many miles to either Union Pacific's North Yard, or to Rio Grande's Roper Yard, both in Salt Lake City. My interest in Union Pacific started early and was nurtured by two uncles who worked for Union Pacific, one as a locomotive fireman and the other as a ticket agent. My specific interest in UP's diesel locomotives developed while employed for almost ten years (1969-1979) by Union Pacific as a journeyman mechanic in their Salt Lake Shops.

My interest in Utah's railroads and their history dates back to 1978, when at Ralph Gochnour's suggestion, I read Leonard Arrington's "Great Basin Kingdom," which is a business history of Utah from the earliest days of the Mormon pioneers. The value of this book was reinforced in 1980 by "Rocky" Rockwell and John Bromley, UP's public relations staff in Salt Lake City, as they both went out of their way to get me started in the study of UP history. Along with "Great Basin Kingdom", in 1978 Ralph Gochnour also suggested that I read Clarence Reeder's dissertation. Very soon I started comparing Reeder's work with David Johnson's earlier dissertation. My interest really took off in early 1979, when during a period of unemployment, I began spending time in the State of Utah's corporate records vault in the state capital, researching the various railroad companies incorporated in Utah.

(Read a digital version of David Johnson's dissertation from 1947)

(Read a digital version of Clarence Reeder's dissertation from 1970)

My first chance at being published came in 1982 when I furnished a brief history of railroads in the Tintic mining district for Phillip Notarianni's "Faith, Hope, and Prosperity, the Tintic Mining District." Most of my publishing efforts later focused on Union Pacific's fleet of diesel locomotives, and I have authored and co-authored numerous books and magazine articles, all about UP's diesel locomotives. My first publication about Utah's railroading history came in 1997 with "Ogden Rails, a history of railroads in Ogden, Utah, from 1869 to today." I have also given four lectures on these same subjects. In 2002 I completed a book about Union Pacific's cabooses, and in 2005 a much improved and expanded second edition of "Ogden Rails" was published.

In 2010, after first being approached by Arcadia Publishing a couple years before, I pulled together almost 200 photos from my collection and put together "Bingham Canyon Railroads" to summarize in photos and a few words, the story of railroads and mining in Bingahm Canyon. The book was published in August 2011.

(View a list of my books and magazine articles.)

Future projects include publications that will present complete histories of Utah's coal mining and railroads, and Utah's copper mining and railroads, and an examination of the relationship between Brigham Young and the Utah's pioneer railroads. An on-going effort is to continue expanding the coverage provided by this web site.

Between November 1998 and October 2003, I was the owner of an e-mail discussion group about railroad diesel locomotives called LocoNotes, with well over 1,000 subscribers. I started it as a forum for rail fans and locomotive fans to share information. In the fast moving world of computers and the internet, the LocoNotes discussion group from the time I started it in November 1998, resided first on OneList (itself created in August 1997), then it migrated to eGroups in November 1999, then in June 2000 to YahooGroups. In October 2003, I passed the ownership of LocoNotes to other persons. Although no longer involved with keeping track of the current locomotive scene, I continue to participate in other discussion groups about railroads in Utah and Union Pacific.

What's a Web Site Without Computers

I discovered computers at age 35, in late 1986, when my Dad gave me his old Zenith 100 which he had built from a kit. It had a 12-inch amber screen and ran CP/M as an operating system, and used a DOS emulator. In November 1988 I bought an 8088 machine that had a 12mHz processor and 512k RAM, and a 12-inch amber monitor.

The journey continued in June 1991 with a new 286 machine, with GeoWorks as the OS, with 2MB of RAM, a 10meg hard drive, and a color monitor. I bought Windows as an aftermarket OS for that machine. I replaced the 286 in April 1995 with a Pentium I, 75mHz machine. That one was replaced with a Pentium III, 800mHz machine in October 1999, running Windows 98, and was equipped with my first CD-ROM drive, along with an external hard drive and an external Zip drive for daily backups. The next upgrade came in January 2003 when I purchased a Dell Pentium 4, 2gHz machine, running XP Home. The Dell crashed in late 2006, and was replaced by an Apple iMac.

More changes came in mid 2008 after struggling with the limitations of the iMac, and a new homebuilt PC replaced the iMac as my primary computer (see below: PC To Mac, and Back Again). The new PC, running Windows Vista, had plenty of expansion space and computing power, along with plenty of storage capacity. I was again able to use programs I was familiar with, and I'm able to tweak and twiddle as I see fit. The iMac only lasted another year before its hard drive failed, and was replaced in June 2009 by a Dell, which, like the iMac in its last nine months, was also used solely for music and video. (see below: Mac And Me, It's Over)

2008 -- PC To Mac, And Back Again

(First published to the UtahRails.net blog at Wordpress.com on August 9, 2008; in June 2009 the iMac was completely replaced by a second PC)

After 18 months of being a Mac guy, the limitations became too much. While still occupying a space on my desktop, it shares that space with a new PC that was placed in service on May 30.

The 20 inch Intel iMac has been relegated to being what is essentially a music server, being the central location for me to manage my 8000+ files of music and audio. I find that iTunes works better on a Mac, plus the fact that there is no longer a simple way to capture audio on a PC. The combination of Rogue Amoeba's Audio Hijack and Fission make audio a joy to work with on a Mac. I use audio capture to grab dialogue from DVDs and from web sites, and I edit various audio files to get rid of bits and bytes that I dislike in particular songs and sound files. This used to be easy on a PC a couple years ago with CoolEdit and Total Recorder. But Total Recorder is now much too dependent on hardware and driver configuration. I tried the entire Replay suite, and DAK's collection, but none of the three work with my particular combination of PC hardware and software. So the iMac stays for the tunes, connected to a set of Bose Companion 5 speakers.

One severe limitation for the iMac was that I have several PC-only programs that I use regularly, including the NoteTab text editor (BBEdit isn't even close), and IrfanView as an image viewer/converter (again, no Mac equivalent). I tried Parallels right from the iMac's first day, but dumped it when VM Fusion became available seven months later. Fusion is a lot better than Parallels, but I grew weary of the back-and-forth program usage.

Although I upgraded the iMac's performance with more memory, the final straw came when I outgrew the 250GB internal hard drive. All scanning projects came to a halt until a solution could be found. I gave much thought and consideration to keeping some files solely on external hard drives, but previous experience with hard drive failure points to the need for all files to be on the computer's internal hard drive, with backups being simple mirrors of everything on the internal drive. SyncBackSE works great as a centralized backup solution. Having all files immediately available is a big plus. Everything gets backed up every night to at least two external drives, via either Firewire 800 or eSATA connections. The lack of these high-speed connections was another iMac limitation.

As for the new PC, it's an Intel processor on an Asus motherboard, with 4GB of RAM, all inside an Antec P182 case, and running Vista Business. Lots of expansion space, and lots of cooling capacity, the two biggest limitations of the iMac. The cost was definitely not low, but was also half of what a comparable Mac Pro would have cost.

After running both programs on the iMac, Dreamweaver and Photoshop both run faster on the PC. All the scanners have PC drivers, and all is working well. All, that is, except that the iMac couldn't talk to the PC over the wired network, or vice versa. I gave up briefly and used a USB drive to transfer the few files that I need to. A very successful solution came with the discovery of a program called Network Magic, which fixed the iMac to PC problem, and a separate problem of an XP box talking to two Vista boxes. [More about Network Magic: As I continue to use the program, I am more and more impressed. Various updates from Cisco have improved Network Magic, and it now sees all of the various bits of hardware connected to the network, both wired and wireless.]

2009 -- Mac And Me, It's Over

(First published to the UtahRails.net blog at Wordpress.com on June 26, 2009)

The iMac has died. -- I was out of town for a couple days in late May, for which I turned off power to the computers while I was away. Upon my return, and when I turned power back on to the iMac, all I got was a folder icon, with a question mark. A quick call to Applecare followed, and with their help we determined that the internal hard drive had died. As I have previously written about, all that was on the iMac was my music and sound collection, and I was doing a daily backup to two external hard drives, so I haven't lost anything.

Any sane person simply cannot be without music in their lives, so I purchased a Dell PC at my local Costco. I have previously owned a Dell, and this one is a nice rig. But there is still that nagging hesitation concerning the crappy, heavy accented tech support, and all the bloat that they add to their machines. This Dell rig has Windows Vista 64 bit Home Premium, with a 24-inch monitor.

Right off the top, within a couple hours of new, one of the cooling fans on the Dell kicked into high gear and tried to imitate a helicopter. Dell tech support was pretty unresponsive, as expected. A couple days later, FedEx delivered a box with two new fans and a new power supply. No note in the box, and still no email. There have been a couple phone messages, in which some guy mumbles something about Dell and what I think is his cell phone number, so I think the two might be related. Still no email, or easily understood phone call, so the new stuff sits on the floor, awaiting an uncertain fate. By the way, a review of the forums suggests that the random high speed cooling fan problem is common to several different Dell motherboards and firmware versions, and is easily fixed by a power-off/power-on cycle; so far, only twice in the one month of ownership, and only after the occasional warm boot. [Update: The high speed fan problem continues to come up after the occasional warm reboot, but a cold boot takes care of this annoyance. As for the new stuff in the box that Dell sent. It all made for some good paper weights because I refuse to use the same crap that failed brand-new in the first place. I didn't ask for it and I won't use it, even if it was free.]

Why another PC instead of simply fixing the iMac?

Simple answer: I like to tweak, and I have a pretty good idea of what I'm doing when I do it. I really, really don't like it that with the iMac I cannot simply open the case, unplug the hard drive and plug in a new one. Ten minutes to a fix, tops. I have always felt that the iMac ran a bit hot, with nothing more that vents on the bottom, and a long slot across the top, and no cooling fan. My own gut feeling is that since I never turned it off, and seldom rebooted, the poor hard drive simply cooked itself, and it died when it cooled down from the power being off.

Because music is such a large part of my life, the next task was how to get the music files from one of the Mac-formatted backups to the new Dell PC. The externals were hooked to the iMac by way of a couple Firewire 400 connections, which the Dell also has. A quick on-line search found MacDrive, a PC program that allows a PC to read a Mac-formatted drive. And it works great. I copied all the music files to the PC without a hitch.

Before loading iTunes, I took the opportunity to reorganize the Music folder to get them off and away from the iTunes folder. The scheme I now use is C:/Users/[me]/Music/Library. I lost about 30 bits of album art that I had previously let iTunes get for me, but I either found them elsewhere on the 'net, or rescanned them myself with Photoshop. To keep Apple's "helpful" fingers out of my stuff, especially that silly "Compilations" folder, when I loaded iTunes I unchecked the "Keep iTunes music folder organized". I have also decided that I'll keep the WAV and other source files separate and away from the iTunes library, using only MP3s for that purpose, which allows adding album art to the file itself.

For an editor, I reloaded CoolEdit, but Vista is a bit too fast for that nine-year-old program. So I tried the open source Audacity, and the intrusive NCH suite. I really liked CoolEdit 2000, so after some consideration, and a trial period, I purchased Adobe Audition 3, which retains all the features of the old CoolEdit, plus some other bits. I especially like the ability to record a vinyl album as a single file, then use Audition's marker labels to split and save the different tracks into separate files.

As for fixing the iMac, since it was still on the original 3-year Applecare warranty, I let them replace the hard drive free of charge. I have since passed it on to a family member who really, really needed the tunes to help him get through his day.

2011 -- New PCs

By mid 2011, the siren call of Windows 7 was becoming too strong. At about the same time, my local Costco had deal that I could not pass up. I was able to buy a computer that is the fastest and most powerful computer I've ever owned, and the least expensive at just $799 after a $200 instant rebate. In fact, the price was so good, a second computer was purchased with funds gained by selling the old homebuilt machine and the Dell for their parts to a coworker who collected old tech. Included in the deal were all the various spare parts and older computer bits and pieces that had been kept over the years, "just in case." It was quite a pile, and filled several boxes. The second machine is used solely for music and video, and is connected to a set of Bose Companion 5 speakers.

Backups

For backups there are two external hard drives: a set of two Other World Computing (OWC MacSales, Inc.) 500GB Mercury Elite-AL Pro "Quad Interface" drives that allow any of the current connections (USB, FW400, FW800, eSATA) between the externals and the Dell PC. Although preformatted as Mac, they work just fine on a PC after being reformatted.

To use the two eSATA connections for the external hard drives, I bought an SATA extension add-on that has two external eSATA ports connected direct to two empty SATA ports on the motherboard. Now, with USB 3 on the horizon, this whole eSATA and SATA thing for external drives may soon become a non-issue.

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