Category Archives: Chris Daigle

Special Assignment: Stroke

By Chris Daigle

As a journalist, I’ve been in some unusual situations. I’ve flown with the Blue Angels in a C-130 going straight up, an adventure which earned me the flight name, “Chili Man,” having survived a bowl of chili right before the flight without incident. I’ve traveled at 200 miles an hour on a race track and have been upside down in stunt planes. The greatest story ever assigned to me came without warning, and not over the phone or email.

I’ve had a stroke.

chris in therapy

Chris in Therapy

I didn’t think much of it at first, as I pulled into a now-defunct clinic, thinking I could just get a shot or something to make this go away. As the ambulance took me to the hospital, I was gripped by one thought: this is bad.

I learned about hospitals, doctors and medicines very quickly, and hospital life became a new way of living for me. Thinking about the next examination was the overriding guide for my day. Little did I know that a vast network of friends and family mobilized on my behalf behind the scenes. My employer and his staff came to the hospital. Others worked to help me establish state and federal benefits.

I constantly thought, “What is this all about?” in those first few days, wondering why my left side wouldn’t work. From the beginning, I had to realize that this was really me going through this, and it wouldn’t just go away, like other calamities in my life. My nickname at work is,” M.O.D.,” or Master of Disaster because I’ve had so many close calls over the years.

Apparently, because of the way I was eating, the term, “Master of Donuts” fit also. I was eating all the wrong things, and it caught up with me. Too much Taco Bell; too much Mountain Dew. The stress didn’t help either. I’m like a fire truck for five different departments that need stuff right now. And that’s in addition to planning my evenings, weekends, and finances. It’s a lot, as I’m sure most of you know. Take this piece of advice: When the doctor tells you to bring down your hypertension and blood pressure, do it.

Then I found myself asking, “Why me?” Everybody told me that this is just something that happens in your head. It’s not punishment for anything, and the sooner you get treatment, the better you will be. My response has been that my left side is still there, and if it’s not damaged or missing, it will come back. Indeed, my mentor Catherine Roberts, told me that it took 11 weeks for her faculties to return after the stroke she had.

That’s not to say that other thoughts don’t creep in, even though I try my best to be positive. Now I can’t work, so what about my finances? How am I going to get around once I get home? I spent several weeks in the hospital, and three months in a rehab facility. It was definitely an education. The first cold hard reality was that there are people around me in far worse condition than myself. That made me feel better, with a sense of, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Seeing functioning people moving around me made me jealous until I figured out they were once in worse shape than me, and have gotten better, so now they are a model for my recovery.

One bright ray of light in this whole adventure has been the tremendous support of my girlfriend, Denise. She’s really sick herself with blood problems and so forth, but put her problems aside to care about me. Early on, I said, ”This is terrible!” She came back with a response I’ll always remember. She said, “Terrible is temporary.” That should be written on the walls in this place.

This is such a different lifestyle than before. Once I could go downstairs, take the trash out, do the laundry and a hundred other things with two hands. Now I have to know what to do with one hand. I can’t do my former job, and things like laundry and personal care will now be a challenge.

Living in a wheelchair every day makes you humble. It certainly makes you appreciate what you used to have. This is my first time going through this, so it’s a different world; however, less and less I’m thinking that this is some kind of a dream that I’ll wake up from.

Several lessons came from all this. If the doctor tells you to cut back and be more healthy, do it. Don’t wait for something to happen that will force you to follow this advice. I figured it would never happen to me, but it did.

Don’t take anything for granted. Things don’t have to work out well all the time. Something good may be around the corner. You are not immune to anything and do what it takes to avoid trouble. I didn’t, and it got me here.

I can’t be mad at what happened; it was my fault. What am I going to do? Sue the back of my brain? It’s like a hurricane – you can’t get back at nature.

This will be a cliffhanger, but it showed me the importance of life. You get one mind, one body, and one life. Use it well.

***

Chris Daigle is a Houston historian, photojournalist and a regular contributor to The Grapevine Source. To read more of his articles, click HERE.

Rescue Pets and a Glamorous Crowd: A Princess and the Twins Speak Up for Homeless Pups

By Chris Daigle

Two very special animals, and those who worked to save them, came together on September 7 for the 14th Annual Fierce and Fabulous Soiree at the new Post Oak Hotel in Houston’s Galleria area.

Hosted by Houston Petset, an umbrella organization that provides grants to other animal non-profits in the greater Houston area, it was two rescue dogs from K-9 Angels Rescue that garnered most of the attention at the glam-filled event.

Kourtey Kadrich with Esperanza

Kourtney Kadrich with K-9 Angels Rescue poses with Esperanza, a black and white pit bull hoping for a forever home (Photo: Chris Daigle)

The goal of Houston Petset is to help those who are “in the trenches” on a daily basis, rescuing, spaying, neutering, fostering, adopting and protecting Houston’s animals. Houston Petset believes that the animal homelessness problem in our community has a solution.

There to greet the 400 party goers was Kourtney Kadrich and Esperanza, a young black and white pit bull, adoptable through K-9 Angels in Houston. “She was found on the streets, and K-9 Angels took over her care,’ said Kadrich. “We rescue about 1,000 a year. She was brought back to health, and she needs a forever home. She loves to cuddle and loves to be the center of attention.”

Sherry Sara with K-9 Angels Rescue in the Heights came with a cute fluffball named Einstein, who is about one year old, and available for adoption. Einstein adored all the attention and became friends with every guest in the room.

The program was emceed by KHOU Channel 11 Morning Show host Deborah Duncan. Faces in the crowd included Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and wife Gwen, former Astro Jeff Bagwell and wife Rachel, Sue and Lester Smith, Courtney Hopson, Neal Hamill of Carnan Properties, Joanne King Herring, Courtney and Bill Toomey, Frances Moody, Vivian Wise, and KPRC weathercaster Frank Billingsley.

Idential twins Tama Lindquist and Tena Lindquist Faust

Identical twins Tama Lindquist and Tena Lindquist Faust discuss the mission and accomplishments of Houston Petset (Photo: Chris Daigle)

The high energy gala chairs this year were identical twins Tama Lindquist, and Tena Lindquist Faust. Co-Chairing this year was Princess Tatiana Sierra, whose father, Prince Piotr Galitzine, is from Russian aristocracy, and her mother, Princess Maria-Anna Habsburg, is the Belgian-born granddaughter of Emperor Karl and Empress Zita, the Austrian royal family deposed at the end of World War I.

Few are more dedicated to the welfare of animals that Susan and Dan Boggio, the event’s honorees. Susan is the current Board Chair for UNICEF-USA, and with Dan, were honored for their dedication to alleviate the homelessness and suffering of our community’s animals. They foster many animals at once, and Susan personally goes out on the streets to rescue animals she has seen or heard are in danger. They financially support animal welfare organizations as well. In accepting the award, Susan repeated her heartfelt motto, “There’s nothing more important in the world one can ever do than improve the quality of life and relieve the suffering of others, whether human or animal.”

Tama Lindquist, Tena Lindquist Faust, Susan and Dan Boggio, Princess Tatiana Sierra

The gala’s honorees, Susan and Dan Boggio (center) are congratulated by (L-R): Tena Lindquist Faust, Tama Lindquist, and Princess Tatiana Sierra (Photo: Chris Daigle)

The evening capped off with a live auction, where auctioneer Jeff Smith raised big bucks for the pups, with bids on a winter catamaran trip, a New York City Broadway Experience, a Palmetto Bluff, SC four-night getaway and a Pawve dogtag necklace curated by Itouch Diamonds Jewelers, to raise a total of $500,000 to help even more animals in danger.

Esperanza and Einstein gave the event 8 paws up!

***

Chris Daigle is a Houston historian, photojournalist and a regular contributor to The Grapevine Source. To read more of his articles, click HERE.

THE ASTRODOME SCOREBOARD: MEMORIES OF A MARVEL

By Chris Daigle

If you were born before 1988, it’s fair to say you spent part of your life in the Astrodome if you lived in Houston. It was like our collective living room that could hold 60,000 people at one time, sometimes even more than that. It was our memory factory.

Every sport, except perhaps curling or bobsled racing, was played at the “Dome.” Watching from high above, far removed from the action in its outfield perch above the action, whether it was football, baseball, tennis, boxing, basketball, auto racing or jumping over cars with a motorcycle, was the scoreboard.

This was not just any scoreboard. That never suited Roy Hofheinz as he planned the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” It was to be as grand as the building itself!

The “Home Run Spectacular,” as it was named, lasted 24 seasons in the Astrodome, and like its home, was never duplicated. It was the crowning jewel in a fantasy land; it has been witness to over 1,500 baseball victories; it has made us laugh and probably made some cry, but it always has been part of the lure of what makes the place so entertaining.

An event just wasn’t complete without the pictures and the lights that came on for an Oilers touchdown or an Astros home run. It was the one thing that could make an audience, from peanut vendors to players, stop and stare. It was as big as Texas, befitting a city, a stadium and an organization set on innovation and the future.

On September 5 1988, 40,000 lights shone for the last time at an Astros vs. Reds game to a sellout crowd. Gone, but not forgotten, the 474-foot scoreboard was silenced to make room for 10,000 more seats and boxes for a future that never came.

Okay, okay, no sniveling now. Logic tells us that there is no point in getting all sentimental over a scoreboard. It was nothing but half a mile of wiring, fuses, circuits, bulbs and transistors. Never mind that at 474 feet, it was longer that the football field it presided over. It was just a machine. Of course, millions of us did have a relationship with the Great wall of Houston during the 23-and-a-half years it entertained us.

When the Astrodome opened in April, 1965, the scoreboard was the wildest wonder of them all in the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” It carried the art form of scoring a game to the next level, when we didn’t know there could be another level.

Bill Veeck had introduced the concept of adding fireworks with the ball scores in Chicago, 10 years before. But the Astrodome gave us that much, and more: Electronic cheerleading, cartoons, and a Wild West show. When we referred to the scoreboard, we really meant the Home Run Spectacular. Whenever a member of the home team parked a ball into the seats, bulls snorted, six shooters went off, a cowboy whirled a lariat, stars danced across the cosmos and the Texas flag was raised in tribute.

To compensate for those stretches when the Astros suffered a power shortage, they touched off the board after every home victory. It was the surest way to keep the fans in their seats until the end of the game.

Opposing pitchers hated the animated scoreboard with a passion, as though the antics shown were a personal commentary on their skills. One year, the New York Mets struck back: After a Mets home run, teammates all jumped out of the dugout, each waving a sparkler. Chicago Cubs manager Leo Durocher engaged in a kind of “Tom and Jerry” cartoon with Bill Giles, the original keeper of the switches for the scoreboard. Giles programmed the computer that fed information to the scoreboard. He said, “Every time Leo went to the mound to change pitchers, I’d put a comment on the board about it. Once, Leo got furious and called me every name in the book, then ripped out the dugout phone.”

Later, in one of those ironies so dear to sports, Leo became the manager of the Houston Astros, and suddenly the scoreboard was great.

Another critic of the scoreboard, and its alter ego, was Dick Young, the gray eminence of the New York tabloids, traveling with the Mets in a 24-inning game at the Dome. The game lasted till well past midnight, violating the curfew of many in the crowd. Unfortunately, it was Boy Scout night at the Astrodome. Bill Giles said, “I put on the board the line, ‘Sex Will Never Replace Night Baseball.’”

Giles defended himself for that, saying, “Well, it was around 2 in the morning. But Dick Young wrote that I ought to be barred from baseball, that it was a disgrace, putting up that message in front of those Boy Scouts.”

Bill Giles with scoreboard

Bill Giles, Director of Public Relations for the Houston Astros, sits at the control board of the Astrodome scoreboard in 1969, tapping out messages that delighted fans and angered opposing teams.

Other adventures with the scoreboard involved upsetting umpires who charged that the Astros were using the scoreboard to intimidate umpires after the message, “Kibler did it again” was shown. This was in reference to umpire John Kibler, who had just ejected a Houston player for the second game in a row. When an aging Willie Mays hit his 550th career home run, the message was, “This is your captain speaking, we are passing through some turbulence, fasten your seat belts.” In a 1967 game, when Giants pitcher Ray Sadecki threw to first base nine straight times, the message was, “This is ridiculous!”

And now, in the name of progress, it’s been 30 years since the bull roared and the ball flew, and the stars sparkled, and we all applauded. History was replaced with 10,000 seats to appease Oilers owner Bud Adams, who took the Oilers to Tennessee anyway and named them the Titans. The seats are still there; only we are not. For now, scoreboard watching will be a little less fun for the Boy Scout in each of us.

***

Chris Daigle is a Houston historian, photojournalist and a regular contributor to The Grapevine Source. To read more of his articles, click HERE.

One of Houston’s historic locomotives waits for permanent home

By Chris Daigle

Before Houston had freeways or overpasses or traffic jams, it had railroads. It had so many railroads in fact, that Houston was for many years known as, “The city where 17 railroads meet the sea.” One reminder of that phrase remains today. Southern Pacific 982, a locomotive donated to the City of Houston, was a fixture in Hermann Park for almost 50 years, reminding us of our past, until progress changed its future.

In 1957, changes were being made to America’s trains. Newer, more efficient diesel locomotives were replacing the steam driven, smoke producing, heavier machines that required their own tender to carry coal and water just to run them. These locomotives were essentially a rolling boiler with wheels, a style that had been in use since railroading began in the mid 1800’s.

Southern Pacific 982 was such a machine. It was built in Philadelphia at the Baldwin Train Works, and by 1920, she was running with Southern Pacific to carry freight on the Texas And New Orleans Railroad, making regular stops between Lufkin, East Texas and throughout Louisiana.

The locomotives of the early 20th century were built to survive 40 years of daily use. World War II brought about the greatest use of railroads in America, having to carry war materials and personnel across America, pulling 100 cars at 50 miles per hour. Because there were fewer automobiles in use at that time, nearly anything that was sent anywhere went by rail.

Locomotives that had long been resigned to “dead tracks,” where they could be stripped of their parts, were instead rebuilt and sent back into service. New locomotives could not be purchased because of the war effort. Southern Pacific 982 was fitted with steam lines to heat passenger cars. Because of these different circumstances, trains were now rolling coast to coast instead of on just local routes, as they were designed for originally.

Locomotive 982 saw continuous service until December 28, 1956. Its last movement was documented in a memo: “H.M. Goodson, chief clerk to P.B. Rice phoned at 11:00 AM January 7, 1957, advising engine 982 departed Lafayette, Louisiana at 8 A.M. Handling train 2/243 should reach Houston some time this afternoon.”

Newspaper accounts from the Houston Chronicle and the Houston Post indicate that in the following months, several locomotives, including 982, were on their way to being scrapped. The steam locomotives were being replaced by the greatly more efficient diesel power plants. No more billowing smoke; no more coal, oil or water to carry with them. The Houston Chronicle reported that Mr. Ed Teague, the caretaker of the locomotive for many years, said that he saw the 982 in a scrap line and convinced the man in charge to place “Old 982” at the end of the line. Its career had ended after traveling over 3.5 million miles! Peter Whitney, a train buff, appealed to the City of Houston to save one of the old engines as a icon of Houston history, but was met with a “no funds” response.

The idea of saving SP 982 was presented to the Houston Junior Chamber of Commerce, or Jaycees. This sounded like their kind of project, since they had undertaken things like this before. An estimate of the cost of moving the locomotive was prepared in January, 1957, in the amount of $2,540. Negotiations with Southern Pacific were positive, but talks with the City of Houston proved more difficult. Mayor Oscar Holcombe was against placing the locomotive in any park because it posed a liability problem. The councilmen were generally in favor of the idea, but they couldn’t decide where to put it. Memorial Park and Hermann Park were debated as sites by City Council, and in the press. Eventually, Hermann Park was chosen since it would provide a more secure location. The necessary motions were passed by City Council while Mayor Holcombe was out of town.

Hermann Park locomotive 1957#7In May 1957, it was decided to move the engine and tender into Hermann Park down Fannin Street from the crossing at Blodgett, where the Southwest Freeway (Highway 59) crosses today. Called, “Operation Choo Choo,” sections of track were laid down and the engine was pushed along until the next section of track was in place. The Houston Chronicle reported that it was a hot week in May to move a heavy engine, and the tracks kept sinking into the hot asphalt. It took the efforts of two tractors to keep the engine from falling over. This went on for a week until Southern Pacific 982 finally arrived at Hermann Park.

Hermann Park locomotive 1957#6On June 2, 1957, the old locomotive was dedicated to the City of Houston. The engine was presented by B.S. Sines, Vice President of Southern Pacific Lines, and was accepted by Mayor Pro Tem Louie Welch. The Houston Chronicle reported that seven former engineers came to see her in her new home.

J.R. Glass said, “She used to go 100 miles on a tank of water. I’d get up at 2 A.M. go to the roundhouse, fire her up, and head for New Orleans.” The oldest retired engineer present was W.K. Larkin, 82, who thought Old 982 was once the most modern power plant on the railroad.

Fast forward to the summer of 2005. It was time for Hermann Park to go through some changes. The Hermann Park Conservancy, with the City of Houston, would transform the area near the lake into the Hermann Park Cultural Plaza, with a café, a covered plaza, and public art pieces. The miniature train that had carried kids around Hermann Park since the mid 1950’s would also be upgraded. That meant that SP 982 would have to move. The Houston Jaycees once again stepped up and hired Barnhart Crane and Rigging, a company with 36 years experience moving heavy equipment.

trainliftIn August, 2005, the engine was attached to a giant hydraulic gantry assembled over it to lift a combined weight of 199 tons between the engine and the tender. Slowly, SP 982 was lifted up six feet, and a long 120 wheel trailer rolled in under it. Two days later, the tender and the engine rolled out of Hermann Park on separate trailers.

It’s tricky maneuvering nearly 200 tons of train through Houston streets.

“There’s a lot of different ways we will use tonight to get downtown,” said Richard Davenport of Barnhart. “If it’s a four mile trip the straightest way, we may go 14 or more miles to get it there.”

After crossing a route through the night on 20 different streets in east Houston, on a clear Saturday morning the engine and tender arrive at their new home on Avenida De Las Americas at Capitol, right between Minute Maid Park and the George R. Brown Convention Center.

“Operation Choo Choo II” had arrived. Again, Barnhart had assembled its 800-ton hydraulic gantry over new tracks, and train buffs from the Texas Railroad Preservation Association helped guide the engine and tender down into their new home.

Operation Choo Choo II was a true community effort. Over 100 financial donors and individuals combined to make the preservation a success. The History Channel taped the move of SP 982 for their “Mega Movers” series. Now baseball fans had something new (Minute Maid Park), and something old! Southern Pacific 982 had made a complete circle in 48 years, from Union Station in the 1920’s to Hermann Park, and back near Minute Maid Park, which is where Union Station used to sit.

CoveredNow the once proud Southern Pacific 982 sits all alone, wrapped in white plastic to preserve her new coat of paint, missing her coal tender, which was sold off to the Heber Valley railroad in Utah. Here she waits, along with two turn-of-the-century houses that were original to that area’s “Quality Hill” neighborhood.

In 2015, plans halted for old 982 and the plaza she occupies.

“We’re working with the Houston Jaycees to deed it back to them, and negotiate a permanent home for the locomotive,” said Carolyn Campbell, communications director with Houston First Corporation, which manages the entertainment and convention venues downtown. “One of the old houses has been adopted by Annunciation Church next door. As to the old Cohn house, some options for that and the locomotive are still being worked out.”

Along with the Astrodome, the history of Houston’s historic icons is waiting for progress. It’s sort of a slow replay of “Back To the Future” for Houstonians.

***

Chris Daigle is a contributing editor to The Grapevine Source. He is a Houston historian, specializing in Astrodome history. To contact Chris, email blue69@att.net.