Category Archives: Caboose Project and Other Trains

“Positive Women” by Sam Kambali


Last week in Kigali, Rwanda, I was one of the TechWomen delegates who bought a painting at the Inema Art Center gallery. Since my mother, Eleanor Dickinson, and son, Paul D. Goodman, are both artists, I have very little free wallspace. However, I very much liked “Positive Women” by Sam Kambali.  The painting is a collage of carefully-selected strips of African cloth forming the bodies of women, many of whom are raising their arms in salute. “Positive Women” seemed appropriate to the subject of our delegation (encouraging women and girls to pursue careers in STEM fields) and to the energy, enthusiasm, and remarkable professional success of the delegation members themselves. Part of its charm is that this painting incorporates the delightful variety and color of cloth we saw everywhere we went in Rwanda.

I had the gallery take the painting off its stretcher bars so I could transport it rolled up. Today, I brought “Positive Women” home from being re-mounted: my new painting is now hanging in WP668 (my office in our backyard caboose in San Jose, California).  Here  I am in Kigali with Sam Kambali, the artist:



Images Copyright 2014 by Katy Dickinson

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Model Train Layout Tours


Yesterday, John and I went to see some of the model train layouts in the San Francisco East Bay as part of the Bay Area Layout Design & Operations Weekend of the Pacific Coast Region-National Model Railroad Association.  As always, there were some hobbyists whose fascination is for precise modeling, others focused on prototypical operations, and a third group who are just having a good time playing with trains.  Some day, we hope that John’s N scale layout in our former garage will be developed enough to be on a operations weekend tour.




Images Copyright 2014 by Katy Dickinson

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We Are Citizen Diplomats


Last month, I attended a reception in San Francisco for IVLP (The International Visitor Leadership Program – the U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program). At that event, I sent this tweet:

State Dept Intl Visitors program since 1940s hosted 200,000 to US (7,000 by @IVLPSF) 330 later were heads of state: We are citizen diplomats
07:04 PM – 20 Nov 13 @katy_dickinson

I was surprised when this tweet was redistributed several times.  After each retweet, I considered what it means to be a citizen diplomat. I learned about IVLP through the TechWomen program and the Institute of International Education (IIE West Coast). I was pleased to be an ILVP event host myself – having a group from the Middle East and North Africa for dinner and a WP668 caboose tour in April 2013.

The phrase citizen diplomat was used by the State Department speaker to describe those who support the IVLP program. The State Department website defines citizen diplomacy as:

Citizen Diplomacy is the concept that the individual has the right to help shape U.S. foreign relations “one handshake at a time.” Citizen diplomats can be students, teachers, athletes, artists, business people, humanitarians, adventurers or tourists. They are motivated by a desire to engage with the rest of the world in a meaningful, mutually beneficial dialogue.

This week, I have been making travel arrangements for my first visit to Sub-Saharan Africa, as part of the TechWomen delegation to Rwanda in February 2014. This will be my third time as a delegation member, having also traveled to Morocco (2011) and Jordan (2013) with the US State Department’s TechWomen program. While it feels presumptuous to call ourselves so, I think the hundreds of remarkable and generous Silicon Valley women professionals who have served as TechWomen mentors since 2010 are indeed citizen diplomats.

When our 78 mentees from the Middle East and Africa were working with us in October 2013 here in California, the US federal government shut down for 16 days. It was an embarrassing but excellent example of both the good and bad sides of the American democratic system. The bad side was watching some of the world’s elite and most powerful leaders squabbling in public. The good side was watching America continue to function pretty well without them. I imagine the other TechWomen mentors got to discuss all of this as often as I did with our international guests. If that isn’t citizen diplomacy, I don’t know what is.



Images Copyright 2013 by Katy Dickinson


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Silicon Valley Lines Holiday Party


John Plocher and I again hosted the Silicon Valley Lines Model Railroad Club holiday party at our home in Willow Glen last weekend. Highlights included visits to John’s N-scale layout (in our former garage), tours of WP668 (our backyard caboose), assembling a G-scale train route in the house, a potluck feast, playing with this year’s Conductor Duck party favor, and other delights of the season.





Images Copyright 2013 by Katy Dickinson

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Caboose Clinic: The Adventures of WP668


I presented a “Caboose Clinic” to the Coast Division of the National Model Railroad Association on 8 December 2013 in San Leandro, California. The title of my talk was “The Adventures of WP668 1916-2013: Buying and Restoring a Western Pacific Caboose”. You can see additional information about the backyard caboose in which I have my office on WP668’s web page: About forty guys and one woman attended my clinic. I was glad that they asked so many questions and seemed to have a good time.

As always, my thanks and appreciation to all who have made WP668’s long adventures possible, especially:

WP668 today:

WP668 in active service, 1971:
Used with permission of Don Marenzi

Images Copyright 1971 by Don Marenzi, and 2013 by Katy Dickinson and John Plocher

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TechWomen’s Last Week in Silicon Valley


This is the last week for the 78 TechWomen mentees visiting the Silicon Valley from Africa and the Middle East. Next week, they move to Washington DC for meetings with the US State Department, the TechWomen program sponsors. Some of us 106 mentors will be going with them! Last weekend, Larissa, Imen, and I and our families rode the annual Ghost Train at the Roaring Camp Railroads in Felton, CA. We also joined the TechWomen farewell potluck picnic at Huddart Park in Woodside.  Imen joined our Shakespeare Reading Group, celebrating Halloween by reading Macbeth.

Today, Imen is giving her final technical presentation at Mozilla, the company which has generously hosted her this month. After our trip to the capitol, we will be sad to see Imen return home to Algeria.









Images Copyright 2013 by Katy Dickinson

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WP668 Caboose Clinic – Questions?


I am signed up to give a “Caboose Clinic” to the Coast Division of the National Model Railroad Association on 8 December 2013 in San Leandro, California. More event details are on the Pacific Coast Region Master Calendar. Check out the website of WP668, our San Jose  backyard caboose for more about our family project.

Last Friday, I joined my husband John Plocher’s model train lunch group to interview the target market for my clinic. Here are the questions the train lunch guys want answered:

  • How did you find WP668?
  • How did you install WP668 in your Willow Glen backyard?
  • How much did the caboose project cost?
  • In restoring WP668, what did you discover that was unexpected or odd?
  • How did you match the paint color?  What went into the original paint? How did you get the original paint off?

They also asked me to show many many pictures and to include the following:

  • Tell the story of getting the city permit submitted and approved.
  • Talk about restoration materials – how you got wood to fit the 1916 old-growth fir tongue-and-groove original boards.

Please add more to this list of questions and topics – and come to the event if you are available.


Images Copyright 2013 by Katy Dickinson

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