Thursday, December 12, 2013

Toyland Heaven

Toyland Heaven
memoir by Greg Larson
            The 1962 Fall edition of the Sears and Roebuck catalog seemed to weigh a ton. I held it close to my chest, then threw it down in front of me on the sleek sofa, spread out my legs behind me, and began flipping the pages, one by one. The tinsel on the Christmas tree in front of the big picture window glistened in the sunshine. It was my afternoon ritual, part daydream journey into fantasy Christmas mornings and part mission to select important things to put on my list for Santa. Wasn’t the meaning of Christmas to seek out the favorite toys to get on Christmas morning, and then blissfully play hour after hour without thinking about school?

In the electric train section I looked at all the sepia-toned images of every train imaginable, from giant locomotives roaring across trestle bridges in the forest, to stubby-looking switch engines working the freight yards of big cities. The Great Northern Railway locomotive was my favorite, hauling Mesabi iron ore through tunnels in the birch forests. I closed my eyes and pictured small towns with wooden train stations and goose-necked lamps along the platform, with the countryside full of mirror-surfaced lakes and snow-capped mountains beyond.

The anticipation of Christmas was almost unbearable, but Christmas Eve finally came and we all gathered around the tree to take turns reading parts of the real Christmas story from the Bible. After our fill of sugar cookies and hot chocolate, we grabbed a flashlight and a wristwatch to keep under the bed covers. Mom had a rule: nobody gets up before 6:00 AM. The night went on forever. My brothers and I tossed and turned, checking the watch every ten minutes.
Christmas Eve 1962 - Brothers Tim, Dan, & Greg

At 5:50 AM we rousted our parents. Dad had to get up and position himself with the 8mm movie camera and floodlights before we ran down the hall and into the living room. The blinding light and the buzzing camera motor were the signal to see what Santa had brought during the night. Everything in the room was flooded with silver light, creating a surreal atmosphere. I thought it must be something like heaven, all silvery with shiny toys spread about the room.

There it was! Low-hanging tinsel fluttered as a Lionel train rolled on a track set up in front of the tree. Wow! New train cars; a Sunoco tank car, a double-decker car full of automobiles, and a boxcar with a Baby Ruth trademark on it. The camera lights, the train whirring along the track, and our yelps as we explored the room made for a heady experience and a great Christmas memory. Santa (aka Dad) was a smart cookie. He had not disappointed us.

Immediately, Dad began to talk of a project for the rec-room he had built in the garage. He wanted to build us a train table that would fold up into the wall. My older brother started planning a track layout that would fill a four-foot by eight-foot table top.

Over the next few days we watched Dad assemble the plywood table. At times, he allowed us to hold a piece of lumber when he ran it through the power table saw, or sweep the sawdust and pick up the wood scraps. He installed a big piano hinge along the table edge and wall box, and added folding legs for the outer corners of the table.

Brother Dan installing track

After a lot of discussion between my Dad and brother, they began to attach the trestle pylons and pieces of track to the table. My brother consulted with his friend across the street to determine how to maximize the track. Only one piece of track had to be cut and spliced.

In no time at all we had our Katy switch engine pulling train cars along the track. On our nearby blackboard, I created lists of train cars, and we spent hours rearranging the cars, using the sidetracks to create new trains to pull. We took turns controlling the train from the transformer, which became warm to the touch. Occasionally, we were able to run two trains at the same time, but that put our small transformer to its limit. On the busy days with the train, the room became warm and the engines emitted the fragrance of ionized electrons and three-in-one oil.

Before the end of the Christmas holiday, we had daily visits from our friends bringing their favorite Lionel engines and cars to run on the tracks. My friend Mike brought his silver Santa Fe engine and we had two trains running at full speed. I remember thinking it was the best Christmas ever for an eleven-year-old boy in Kansas.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Getty Museum: Legacy of the World's Richest Man

The Getty Museum - Brentwood, California
public domain photo

The Getty Museum: Legacy of the World’s Richest Man
by Gregory E. Larson, AIA

At the hilltop entrance plaza to the Getty Museum in Southern California, I listened to the soft hum and flow of vehicles on the 405 freeway, some 800 feet below. My eyes scanned the adjacent hillsides of Bel Air and Brentwood where modern mansions perched on the edges and tops of the Santa Monica Mountains. Farther out, the skylines of Hollywood and L.A., and the Pacific Coastline congealed with the haze on the horizon. My first impressions of the museum were its size, the modern design, and the unusual location. The complexities of the museum’s history, its bigger-than-life benefactor J. Paul Getty, and the massive campus designed by renowned architect Richard Meier, all seemed to melt away in the warm sunlight and the cool breeze.
J. Paul Getty’s life (1892-1976) had many phases and facets. Through cultivating his skills in the Oklahoma oil patch, he became a millionaire at the age of twenty-three. He briefly tried retirement, lived in Southern California and partied with the Hollywood set, becoming a womanizer and a bored bachelor. Eventually, he turned his focus back to the oil business in Southern California, where he began acquiring other oil companies. Unfortunately, his business acumen didn’t translate well to his family life. He married and divorced five times from 1923 to 1958. His focus was on the growing network of oil companies, as well as chasing women, and he had little time for his ex-wives and his children.
View looking south from the entry plaza
photo by Gregory E. Larson, AIA

The three-quarter-mile-long funicular/tram ride from the valley removed me from the mundane burdens of the work-a-day world below and delivered me into the heart of the unusual campus. The building elements of canopies, stairways and overhangs created interplay of sunlight and shadows. I sensed this was a place of genuine cultural enlightenment, and quite possibly, a mecca for modern architecture. As I walked up the steps of the plaza to the main entrance, I felt I had been transported to a 21st century version of one of the ancient hilltops of Rome.
Entry to The Getty Museum
photo by Gregory E. Larson, AIA

Getty’s interest in art began as a method to shelter his growing wealth from taxes. It was a simple business solution – not a deep love for the art. He acquired European antiquities of pottery, furniture and tapestries. The thrill was to find quality items for a bargain price using the same principles he used in growing the oil business.

The wealthier he became, the more time and interest he gave to the purchase of art. He surrounded himself with art critics, brokers and dealers, and absorbed as much information as he could about the world of art. In his autobiography As I See It, he admits that he became an art addict:

“My use of drugs doesn’t go beyond the aspirin and antibiotic level. Yet, I am an apparently incurable art-collecting addict. The habitual narcotics user is said to have a monkey on his back. I sometimes feel as though I had several dozen gorillas riding on mine.”

A journey to the Getty Museum is best described by the joy and energy seen on the faces of the visitors. Many come to see the collections of art, but quickly become enthralled with the experience of walking around the buildings, gardens, sculptures and fountains. The visit is transformed into a restful walk and the museum campus appeared as one giant piece of art. Couples and families picnic on the grassy hillside and school children laugh and play on the grassy slopes of the garden. 

Visitors relax and stroll at The Getty Museum
photo by Gregory E. Larson, AIA

In his later years, Getty was shamed by the movers and shakers of the art world to spend sizeable amounts of money on significant works. Although Getty had become an expatriate U.S. citizen, living in various places about Europe, he facilitated tours of his art collection at his Malibu estate, which is a different location than the current Getty Museum.

In 1958, Fortune magazine listed him as the richest man in the world, and he realized it was necessary to find a permanent home in Europe which would provide a secure location and a place to display some of the additional art he had acquired. In 1959, he purchased the estate of The Duke of Sutherland, Sutton Place, in Surrey, England. Other than brief travels in England and continental Europe, he stayed in Sutton Place for the remainder of his life.

In the late 1960s, with growing demand that he display more of his art collection, he bucked the art world and executed his own idea for a museum, a recreation of a Roman Villa, built adjacent to his former home in Malibu. The $17 million museum was the repository for art and artifacts worth over $200 million ($1 billion in 2013 dollars). A $55 million charitable trust supported the operation. The reviews of the controversial museum, which opened in 1974, were mixed, making Getty feel that he had not yet been embraced by the art world. He never made the trip from his English estate to see his pet project first-hand.
The Getty Villa in Malibu, California
photo by Gregory E. Larson, AIA

Upon his death in June of 1976, the wills of his personal fortune and the Sarah Getty Trust (named for his mother) were read. The art world was rocked with the revelation that J. Paul Getty had bequeathed the bulk of his personal estate, over $660 million, to the Getty Museum. Overnight, the museum had become the wealthiest art institution in the world.  The intent of the $1.2 billion Sarah Getty Trust was to provide for future generations of the family, but both wills were contested and tied in litigation for years, due to the complex business interests and the abstract family tree created by Getty and his wives.

The visit began in the morning with an architectural walking tour led by one of the docents. I shared that I was an architect, which caused her to add to the end of her comments at each stop, “Does the architect have anything to add?” Each time I tried to respond with something that sounded halfway intelligent.

Impressionist gallery at The Getty Museum
photo by Gregory E. Larson, AIA
After lunch at the restaurant with a view of the adjacent hillside neighborhoods, I visited the temporary exhibit “Overdrive,” which presented the Los Angeles architecture and urban design of the 20th century. I wandered the fountain plaza between museum buildings on the way to view the Van Gogh “Irises” painting and the other impressionist works. The building shapes and textures revealed themselves while I walked slowly outside. It was a veritable candy land of modern architecture.

The Getty Museum Courtyard
photo by Gregory E. Larson, AIA

Once the litigation involving the Getty Trust was complete in 1982, the board members of the trust determined that a larger, new museum was necessary to support the collection and the ongoing acquisitions.

The facts surrounding the design and construction of the $1.3 billion Getty Center are staggering. It has been called the “project of the century” and a project “bigger than life.” The 742 acre site in the Santa Monica Mountains in Brentwood was purchased in 1983 for $25 million, and the board began a year-long process to select a design architect. A beginning list of 110 architects was eventually pared to three: Richard Meier, James Sterling, and Fumahiko Maki. Richard Meier, a modernist architect who had gained international recognition was the final selection. It was the commission of a lifetime, and it demanded the majority of Meier’s attention for the next thirteen years.

After a thorough investigation of the site, Meier decided to place the buildings on two intersecting ridges, one of which paralleled the freeway below. According to Meier, his buildings embraced the abstract and became forms in light, playing with volume and surface. He believes good design must have a timeless look and feel. Meier is a true modernist. His favorite architect was Le Corbusier, considered one of the fathers of modern architecture.

As I walked the plazas, balconies and stairs, many planned and unplanned vistas and nodes came into view around the corners and spaces between the campus buildings. At the extreme south end of the complex, I viewed a large, circular cactus garden, a symbolic exclamation point where the ocean breeze was stiff and the panoramic view displayed the freeway, the L.A. basin, and the ocean beyond.
South promontory - Cactus Garden
photo by Gregory E. Larson, AIA

Two of the biggest design challenges to the museum design came from the community of Brentwood. Residents of the toney neighborhood had extreme concerns about the height and color of the proposed museum. No building was allowed to be 64 feet higher than the hilltop, and the nearby residents complained they did not want the color to be the stark white used by Meier on most of his projects. Meier’s solution was to use both travertine marble and enamel-coated aluminum panels of travertine color for the building surfaces. When the campus design was unveiled, Meier’s solution launched him to “rock star” status among the design world.

Construction began in 1989 and continued beyond the grand opening in December of 1997. For years the daily commuters on the freeway below watched the slow building progress. The mountaintop location was formidable, and created havoc with the construction due to the limited access. Steel, concrete, marble, and glass; all had to be transported up the narrow road on the steep mountainside.

Over 16,000 tons of travertine marble were quarried in Bagni di Tivoli, Italy, the same quarry used for the Coliseum in Rome and for the Colonnade at St. Peter’s at the Vatican. The marble was sliced and cut into 30” square panels, then shipped to California.

View of The Getty Museum looking northwest from south promontory
photo by Gregory E. Larson, AIA

I touched both the rough and smooth travertine surfaces of the buildings, inspecting the layers of sea floor created over millions of years. It was a peek into the past, unlocked by the stone cutter. This was permanence – somewhat different than the temporal feel of  L.A.’s urban landscape.

Meier’s design ego has caused him to disagree with some decisions made by the museum board, most notably their decision to hire Robert Irwin to design a garden/park for the south end of the complex. Although Meier does not approve of the park design, he believes the total museum experience is a success, creating “order out of chaos.”
The Getty Museum Central Garden and Azalea Pool
photo by Gregory E. Larson, AIA

The walk through the garden was a fitting way to end the day at the museum. I sat under the metal-sculptured trees, which were individual trellises for the crepe myrtle. There were smiles on the faces of young and old as they passed. Most had a peaceful, happy look, as if they knew this was a time of respite and a place to forget about the daily world below, a place to appreciate art and nature on the same day.

Robert Irwin, a modern artist, had accomplished very few gardens when asked to design the garden space at the Getty Center. The controversial garden, which included a pool with a maze of azaleas has become a favorite spot for museum visitors. The stream begins with a fountain at the edge of the entry plaza, and takes advantage of the natural south slope of the space between the Getty Research Institute and the Getty Museum buildings. The London Plane trees which line the stream create a micro-climate through which the public passes several times on the path to the azalea pool.

As I walked the plaza steps to board the funicular/tram and exited the museum, I realized that J. Paul Getty, a legendary tightwad and the world’s richest man, had finally opened up his money bags one last time. The giving gesture at his death was, in some way, a final attempt to be accepted by the art world. The campus and museum, an enclave of enlightenment and a space free to the public, is proof that his legacy will continue on much longer than his life.


Getty, J. Paul, autobiography, As I See It, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall, 1976.
Lenzner, Robert, The Great Getty – The Life and Loves of J. PAUL GETTY – Richest Man in the World, New York, NY, Crown Publishers, 1985.

Panich, Paula, The California Garden – Robert Irwin still marvels at Getty Gardens 10 years later, Los Angeles Times, style section, July 24, 2008.

Video, Building the Getty Center, The Getty Museum, February 2, 2012:
Video, Richard Meier, The Getty Center, Web of Stories, December 23, 2008:
The Getty Museum – Architecture Tour, June 19, 2013.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Out of This World

Internet Image of Hubble Telescope Repair

Out of This World
by Greg Larson

          Ethereal beauty surrounded me in such an inhospitable place. Everything seemed in focus as I floated 250 miles above the earth. The extreme quiet, extreme heat and cold, extreme light and darkness; it was all encompassing. Menacing storms on the ocean below floated past as we continued in orbit. The light and shadows slowly changed with the constant movement.
          I gave undivided attention to my duties during the spacewalk as my partner carried out her task to repair the Hubble telescope. I ducked when I saw a large wrench spinning towards me, but she quickly grabbed it just in time.
          Woah! You need to be more careful with that thing.

          Mission Control interrupted our work and informed us that a field of debris was coming towards us. We needed to return to the cockpit of the space shuttle and prepare for our return to earth. Damn! I’d done a lot of preplanning to get my ticket to be here. I didn’t want the mission to end now.
          In the dark cockpit, I was on the edge of my ergonomic seat, pressing buttons and communicating with those who served me. I decided to do as I was told if I wanted the mission to be successful. The space was comfortable and the view was one I won’t forget. Special lenses on my optical device enhanced my ability to view and focus far and near.
          It was inevitable. The debris field began to hit us before we were able to drop out of orbit. First, it was pea-sized particles racing at the speed of bullets, piercing the telescope’s solar panels, and then larger pieces ripped off the shuttle’s robotic arm. The life-support systems were in jeopardy. Would we survive? My partner returned to the cabin. She climbed out of her overheated space suit, gasping for oxygen.

         I dipped my battered fish into the special sauce, took a big bite, then sipped on the straw in my coke. Yuck!         

I turned to my wife. “This is a diet root beer. I ordered coke.” I turned back to the giant theater screen and adjusted my 3-D glasses. I didn’t want to miss anything.
          Sandra Bullock filled the screen. She looked pretty good in space underwear. One more hour . . . I think I’ll survive.   

Thursday, October 3, 2013

It's a Dog's Life


by Greg Larson           

Thirteen-year-old Douglas, our cairn terrier, has no problem with self-image. He goes about his day as if he owns the world. He’ll lie down in the middle of the hall or a doorway, expecting respect for his position. Sometimes, this requires us to ask him to move, which triggers a look from him that says, “Yeah, right,” as he remains in his selected spot.
I’ve learned to carry a flashlight and walk with care when getting up in the night. Once I think he has developed a routine, he’ll move to a new and unusual location which is usually in my path. He gets really cranky if my feet get too close or if I surprise him. The snarling and show of teeth is annoying in the middle of the night.
When I first met Douglas, he was one year old and full of energy. He was Gretta’s dog. Although I didn’t know it at the time, Gretta would become my wife and Douglas would be our faithful pet. I’d sit on the couch and watch him circle the room. In one quick maneuver, he’d leap to the couch and bound over me and the end table. I guess it was his way of bonding. He didn’t come and beg to be loved. At first, I thought this meant he didn’t like me, but Gretta explained that cairn terriers already know they’re top dog.
He’s a big dog in a small package and he truly believes he is the alpha dog of the world. The positive side is that he rarely barks at anything. The mailman will walk right up to the front door where Douglas is positioned, and there is not a peep. Douglas knows the mail has arrived, and there is no significant reason to get excited. The biggest response is usually a sigh and a repositioning of his head on the floor.
Douglas watches out the front door at the parade of dogs and owners passing by on the sidewalk. On rare occasions he offers a short bark or raises his ears and his tail. If he sees one of his friends, he gets up to let us know he wants to go in the backyard, which is adjacent to a path in the park behind our house. He knows which dogs will be coming by the fence to greet him.
Once outside, he strategically waits for the parade to come. He’ll tag the bottom of the chain-link fence with a quick shot of urine and wait for all of his buddies – Max, Sanford, Twitter, and others. Eventually, I learned most of the dogs’ names. Everyone knows Douglas, but most don’t have a clue as to who I am.
Douglas' domain
The physical size of his friends has no meaning to him. He’ll sniff at them with a nonchalant attitude, whether they are a German shepherd or a poodle. If he doesn’t know the dog at the fence, he gives them a stone-cold stare or he’ll turn and walk away, as if he’s not impressed. Some of the dogs will bark and jump towards him. Douglas doesn’t flinch. It’s as if nothing happened. It’s his way of letting the other dog know that he’s the boss and he’ll decide when he wants to get excited.
There is only one dog that causes Douglas to go berserk. She’s a golden retriever/mix and her name is Maggie. Every evening at 8:20 a distant neighbor brings a pack of dogs, including Maggie, to the park to exercise them off-leash. Maggie rushes to the fence and stares at Douglas. At first, he doesn’t move. With her eyes drilling holes and her tongue hanging out, Maggie bounds towards the fence and taunts at Douglas. In a flash, he’s rushing across the lawn, his blond hair flowing as he accelerates . . . and Armageddon begins. Paws kick up dirt as they race back and forth along the fence, looking like an arcade game as they change directions several times. Instinct latches hold of both dogs with a show of teeth, and garbled noises of shrieks, growls and barks. At break-neck speed they chase each other, oblivious to the world around them.  As quickly as it starts, Douglas turns from the fence and trots back to the patio, acting like it’s just another usual day. If the other dogs are with Maggie, it becomes Armageddon to the fourth power. Douglas takes the lead in the chase along the fence, with the big dogs tripping on each other while they try to get their snarling faces in front of him. When this ritual first began, the neighbors turned on their lights in their backyards, just to see what caused the commotion.
I’ve never understood why Maggie causes Douglas to flip the switch and turn into a raging maniac. I thought the alpha dog issue was between males only. What causes him to respond to Maggie, a female? I could speculate, but that is entering dangerous territory where any remark could be construed as sexist. Besides, a dog’s world is very different, with Technicolor smells, radar hearing, and primal thinking. Surely, Douglas isn’t having fun with Maggie . . . or is he? It just seems that all the rules get thrown out when Maggie comes around.
Douglas doesn’t give it much thought.  He lives for the moment. On his walk this morning, a cicada began to buzz on the sidewalk in front of us. He stretched the leash and stabbed his nose at the buzzing bug. As far as Douglas is concerned, the cicadas are “mini-rodents” and keeping their population in check is his reason for living. I thought I’d pulled him away in time to save the cicada, but then I heard the buzzing coming from Douglas’s mouth as we walked.  I looked down and watched him savor the catch . . . crunch, crunch . . . gulp. For Douglas, it was a delicious moment. 
Ah, it must be great to live a dog’s life.

Monday, September 9, 2013

John and His 1952 Murray Strato-Line Bicycle: A Rare Combination

John and the restored bicycle
A rare piece of nostalgia, the restored 1952 Murray Strato-Line bicycle gleamed before my eyes in the diffuse sunlight on a recent spring day in Overland Park, Kansas.  The showroom-quality icon was a mixture of chrome, rubber, white sidewalls, and rich hues of glossy red and blue paint, a limousine-of-a-bike that would have been every boy’s dream in the mid-twentieth century. I glimpsed an owner’s proud smile on the face of my friend, John Davis, while I inspected the bike.
“That’s quite a headlight,” I commented as I rubbed the housing mounted on top of the front fender.
Delta Ray Rocket Headlight
“That’s not just any headlight,” replied John, “It’s a Delta-Ray Rocket headlight. You want to see something else that is rare as chicken lips?” He walked to the rear of the bike and pointed to the rack above the rear wheel. “It’s almost impossible to find a decent carrier. They hardly exist.”
Rear Carrier
           Since 1952, John and his bicycle have traveled a long and winding road, but now they are inseparable. The relationship with the Murray Strato-Line began when he received the shiny new bicycle for Christmas in 1952.  Prior to the Murray, he had learned to ride on a resurrected junkyard model, spray-painted silver, tires and all. The rides on the neighborhood sidewalks gave John a new perspective of the world around him.
          His memories with the Murray bike paint a Norman Rockwell image of a boy who discovered a glorious freedom as he rode through the neighborhood with his dog on a leash at his side. The larger bike allowed John to extend his range and his time from home, especially when he strapped onto the carrier a brown paper bag stuffed with lunch: a sandwich, a cookie, and a re-used mayonnaise jar full of water and ice cubes. His destinations were many: a park, the grocery store, a hobby shop or friend’s house. He also remembered a time when a neighborhood friend, Lee Ann, rode side-saddle on the frame and tank in front of him.
John rolled his eyes and chuckled, “Lee Ann is another story.”
          In his spare time as a boy, John cleaned the new bike. He wiped the frame and spokes, and waxed the bike from tip to tail. To personalize his mode of transportation, he removed the light and installed a hood ornament, a chrome swan on the front fender. It was the nicest bike in the neighborhood, and John stored it inside the house to prevent it from being stolen.

As with any true relationship, John and his bike went through some tough times. A pedal broke, and there was no money to replace it.  Out of necessity, he rode the bike with just one good pedal. The most vivid bad memory was the time he went to the store and bought two bottles of Pepsi to take home. On the return, he had a problem of simultaneously steering the bike and holding the bottles. He crashed down onto the pavement, where the bottles broke and the glass embedded into the skin on his arms.
After four years with the big Murray bike, he outgrew it and passed it on to a cousin. Years passed. Then in the early ’60s he decided to look for the bike and ride it again. He discovered a rusting, vine-covered frame outside the barn at the grandparent’s farm. The handlebars were nearby, as was one of the wheels. John collected the parts and went to his grandparent’s house, where he found the bent front fork. With some work and care, he put the bike back together and actually rode it in 1965.
More years passed. John married Theresa. The bike and its parts were hauled wherever they moved. The usual place of safekeeping was in the corner of the basement. John always held out hope that when he was retired he would be able to restore it. Finally, in 2011, he began a mission to rebuild the bike, piece by piece.
To understand the care and quality of the restoration process, one has to understand John. He’s a bit of a renaissance man. How many people do you know with a multitude of talents . . . poet, novelist, craftsman, mechanic, creative thinker, business consultant, day trader, artist, piano player, and a good, all-around caring individual . . . these talents and qualities are all part of John. He’s proudly restored a 1960 MG convertible and a 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air coupe. He attributes a lot of his mechanical ability to the fact that his dad was a car mechanic.  John also enrolled in as many industrial shop classes as possible, from fifth grade through high-school, working with wood, plastic, metal and other materials.
A bike might seem to be a small-potato project for John, but he shared otherwise. “It was as tough as a car restoration,” he said, “mainly because the parts were so scarce.”
         The restoration process included many journeys onto eBay to purchase things as varied as a skip-tooth chain, the Delta-Ray Rocket headlight, a wheel rim, and a 60-year-old Murray decal. John also purchased another used 1952 Murray Strato-Line bike, one that was scavenged for parts.

Skip-tooth chain ring
Sixty-year-old Murray decal

“I needed the second bike mainly for the tank portion of the frame and the Troxel seat,” he said, “And I had to reupholster the seat.”
John had to use some muscle to bend and re-shape the fork and front spring mechanism. The long process of refurbishing included sending out many rusted parts for re-chroming. “Finding a good chromer these days is not easy,” he added.

John discovered and purchased an original 1952 Murray wheel rim that had never been used. “I had to build the wheel, spoke by spoke,” said John. “I got it right the fifth time.”
  From another old Murray bike, he was able to scavenge an original Musselman rear hub and coaster brake.
              His attention to detail was meticulous. On the underside of the old frame, he found the un-faded paint colors of the original bike. He showed me the tiny rivet head on the headlight housing which he masked with a piece of tape to prevent it from being painted.  From an internet picture, he matched the paint scheme and pin striping.

Fine details in mint condition
 We took turns riding the bike up and down the street. The ride was sweet and cushy. It brought back some of my ’50s childhood memories of riding in the wind with a pack of bikes through neighborhoods in the spring and summer, the classrooms being only a distant thought.
With the 1952 Murray Strato-Line now in mint condition, John figures it is a rare bird.  “I’ve only seen one other complete bike of this model.  It was in Minneapolis, and it was in used condition.”
There’s no doubt the bike is rare. John is rare, too, with all his talents.  The two of them, now inseparable, make a great combination.
            As I prepared to leave John’s place, I noticed a small boy riding a bicycle along the sidewalk.  His bike had training wheels, and the boy was exerting as much energy as possible to keep the pedals going. But at that moment I could see the look of determination and a smile on his little face, with the road of a lifetime of possibilities and freedom ahead.

Sweet Ride

Retail Price: $85.00
Frame: 18 ½” hydrogen brazed. All joints reinforced for double strength.
Fork: Drop forged with twin spring assembly.
Fenders: Murray deep section Crescent design.
Crank: One piece drop forged with 7” throw.
Rims: All steel hook-type, bright plated.
Coaster Brake: Musselman, hard chrome brake shoe.
Pedals: Murray heavy non-skid tread.
Grips: Red plastic.
Tires: U.S. Royal or Goodyear White sidewalls 26” x 2.125” balloon with inner tube.
Saddle: Troxel tan vinyl waterproof plastic, scuff plates, compound plated springs.
Handlebars: Torrington S.B. 26 x 8.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Detour


Some of you are aware that Gretta was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer, but many of you are learning this for the first time. Currently, I am giving full focus to her recovery from surgery and to assist her during chemotherapy. The prognosis is good. We are thankful to have found one of the best surgeons and cancer clinics in the country, right here in Kansas City at KU Med Center.

          My blog postings may be sporadic for the remainder of the year as I give full attention to Gretta and her recovery, but I wanted to share where we’ve been to date.

The Detour
by Greg Larson

          I stood in the lobby of the cancer clinic and looked out the window on the sunny, summer afternoon. We’d passed by here numerous times on the bikes, so it was hard to believe Gretta and I were inside, going through the system. The street seemed so far away. The last few weeks had been a blur of doctors, surgeons, nutritionists, physical therapists, clinics and hospitals (with a quick vacation to California thrown in for good measure before Gretta’s surgery).

Gretta at the Eagle Inn, Santa Barbara, California - June 21, 2013

          It seems like we’ve reached a milestone with Gretta’s major surgery behind us and with the completion of her first chemotherapy session. I’ve pinched myself more than once and asked, “What the hell just happened?”

          Rest assured, Gretta is on track to have the scourge eradicated, but we have eighteen weeks to go before the treatments are complete. She believes she has been sidetracked for the time being, given a temporary diversion. The clinic gave her a big binder titled Oncology Journey. “I don’t like how they used the word journey,” she said, “This is just a detour.”

          Much has been written about cancer and how to cope with it . . . so much to the point that it is easy to get inundated with too much information. Many of you have dealt with cancer or known someone who has fought it, and experienced it first-hand . . . but I thought I’d share some observations.

          It’s been a roller coaster ride since June 5, 2013, when Gretta’s physician discovered a pelvic mass during a routine exam. Emotions have run the gamut from fear of the unknown to the euphoria we experienced while napping in the sea breeze on the beach at Santa Barbara.

 Gretta was angry at the beginning. “I’ve eaten the right foods, and I’ve exercised all my life . . . so why did I get this?” Some days she feels just fine, some days she sleeps. After the initial shock, her attitude has been amazing. The day of surgery, she smiled and chatted as they rolled her into six hours of surgery and four hours of recovery. When I saw her on the way to the hospital room, she smiled again. She has been a model patient for the doctor and nurses.

          My thoughts and emotions have been on a rocky road. One of the most difficult times was after her surgery. The surgeon came into a conference room and explained the surgery to me and some family members. It was hard for me to hear what they had done to Gretta. I could only imagine the pain she would endure once she came out of recovery. The only thing I could do was go outside with my brother and walk for a bit of fresh air and push back the tears.

The things that used to seem mundane have taken on major importance, and what used to seem important now has little significance. My dreams have been more unusual. Some, I wish had lasted longer, and others I don’t want to remember. I’ve slept well, mainly from being exhausted at the end of the day. I’m fortunate to have the time to be the caregiver, and I’m slowly learning to be housekeeper, kitchen coordinator, calorie counter and temporary master for Douglas, our dog.

          When Gretta is alert and awake, we play cards or drive through the park. If she has the energy, we walk to exercise the pinched nerve in her right leg (an unexpected outcome of the surgery).

          We’ve had a few laughs, too. Before the surgery, the nurses told her that she would need a pillow for her abdomen, due to the soreness. Gretta said, “Greg, when you had your heart surgery, the Shawnee Mission Hospital gave you a heart-shaped pillow to take home. Do you think KU Med Center will give me a big pillow shaped like a uterus?”

          Christmas comes at the end of this long detour, so that is our goal for now. We just take one day at a time and truly appreciate the better days when she has some energy. Come Spring, it will be a real hoot to ride the tandem bike to Gretta’s wellness check-up. Until then, the detour continues.

Gretta and Greg, Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy - 2010

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Nature's Way

Nature’s Way
by Gregory E. Larson

Summer came on Sunday

Warm gusts whisked spring clouds away

I carried a weight on Monday

And sat outside to ease the burden

My concerns but a small blip on the cosmic radar

Overwhelmed me

The breeze was almost imperceptible

At midday I leaned back in my chair

And peered up into a universe unknown

Soft tufts floating ever so slowly

As far as the eye could see

Hundreds of feet . . . no, thousands of feet above

Multitudes of weightless puffs

Ripped from their mothers arms in yesterday’s gale

From the ladies on the banks of heartland rivers

The Ninescah, the Arkansas, the Neosho and the Cottonwood

From woody stands along ruddy creeks where the cattle wallow

White tufts arose in the airy yeast of yesterday

To ride free on an invisible river

Only to recede towards earth on Monday

Nature’s rhythm repeated for eons

My weight still there, lessened a bit

And when I listened to the wind,

 I could hear my Creator’s soft whisper,

I am who I am