Riding the Elevator with Neil Armstrong

July 20, 2012

Forty-three years ago today, a painfully shy fellow from Wapakoneta, Ohio stepped down from a short ladder onto an alien landscape, and into the pages of history…..

When I was barely eighteen years old, I started my freshman year at the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering. I chose the school for several practical reasons and one very emotional one. From a practical standpoint, the school made sense: UC had recently built a huge engineering research center, investing millions of dollars in computer equipment. I had been offered a scholarship in chemical engineering that would cover about 50% of my total costs, and since the school was close to home, my travel back and forth would also be inexpensive. But the one fact about the University of Cincinnati that really got my blood flowing was this: Neil Armstrong had recently accepted a professorship at the college.

This all took place in 1974, only five short years after “one small step.” If you’re much younger than fifty, I doubt you can appreciate the degree to which I wanted to meet the commander of Apollo 11. I’d been a fan of the U.S. manned space program since I could remember, and Neil represented the pinnacle of our achievements in that endeavor. So, of course, I enrolled at UC and awaited my brush with greatness.

It was with great dismay that, upon my arrival at Dabney Hall, the freshman dorm, I found a slip of paper in my mailbox that addressed the very thoughts that had been coursing through my brain. It was a notice to all students that Professor Armstrong, a “very private individual,” had specifically requested not to be approached for any reasons not directly related to classroom work. I was crestfallen! I discussed the note with my newfound friends in the dorm, and we were puzzled, to say the least.  I quickly found that I was only one of many who’d come there with the hope of meeting the first man to walk on the moon. A few of the freshmen were  already placing bets on who’d be the first to speak to him, but the notice had put a damper on this activity.

I simply tried not to think about it, and got serious about preparing for the first day of class.  On Sunday, I walked from the dorm to Rhodes Hall, the site of my 8 am chemistry class. That class would be over at  9 am, after which I had Professor McDonough’s engineering drawing class. Getting there required me to sprint down two floors of stairs, exit Rhodes Hall onto the plaza, cross the plaza, down another flight of stairs, cross underneath the plaza, enter the new engineering complex, and ride the elevator up six floors to my destination. I had ten minutes to accomplish this. Not a problem.  I was ready.

On the first day of class, I sat through Chem 101 with no surprises.  The class was my favorite, and I felt confident about getting a good grade. I had pretty much cleared my mind of any expectations about meeting Neil – after all, he didn’t want to be bothered, and I had important things to think about.

Then, class was over, and I was taking the stairs at top speed, booking across the plaza, down the steps, and into the elevator – and coming to a dead stop.

As I stepped into the elevator, I saw a tall, lanky, well-dressed man facing the wall near the bank of buttons. It was him. As I reached for the panel to push “6”, he turned very briefly to face me.  “Excuse me, sir,” I said as I pressed the button. He responded only with a nod, then turned back to face the wall.

Wednesday was the next day that I had to follow that route to class, and as I rounded the bend into the elevator, there he was again. This time, he looked up, nodded, and remained facing forward. I was afraid to speak. I didn’t want to spook him at this point. He nodded again as I left the elevator.

Friday, as I headed toward that elevator again, I was highly doubtful of seeing Professor Armstrong again. The chances of my timing being that good were just too slim.  But sure enough, there he was, and this time, I spoke. “Good morning, Professor Armstrong.” He looked a little uncomfortable, but then he responded with that voice I’d heard on TV from 240,000 miles away: “Good morning, are you an engineering student here?”  “Yes sir, I’m a freshman in chemical engineering.”  “Well, I guess you won’t be in any of my classes, but I hope you enjoy it here.  All the engineering programs here are well-respected.” “Thank you, sir.”

At that moment, I was about as tongue-tied as Ralphie standing before Santa in “The Christmas Story.” I wanted to tell him how much I believed in the space program, and how much his personal exploits had affected my attitude, fueled my own efforts to be the best student in my class, and helped me to get right where I was at that moment. But I couldn’t. Between his shyness, my shyness and hero-worship, and that damned slip of paper, I never got those words out. So here they are, Neil.  I hope you get a chance to read them, and to appreciate the effect you had on tens of thousands of young engineers in those days.

Interestingly enough, I got to ride the elevator with Neil a lot of times over the following ten weeks.  He never said much after that.  But he always remembered my floor and pressed “6” when I got on.

Eagles in the Crosshairs – of My Telescope

April 16, 2010

Here's one way to get a close-up view - use a telescope!

The C-6 with telextender provides a 3000mm f/20 telephoto

I arrived at the viewing site just after 8 a.m. this morning.  The light was glorious, but a look at the Accuweather website assured me that it wouldn’t last, nor would the perfect weather.  Rain was expected around 9:00, accompanied by high winds and a precipitous drop in temperature.  But for the moment, everything was perfect.  I dragged out my largest Manfrotto tripod, equipped with a fluid head designed for large camcorders, and mounted my Celestron C-6 astronomical telescope.  I attached my Nikon N60 35mm film camera to a T-adapter and screwed it in place on the telescope.  This gave me an f/10 1500mm telephoto lens – lots of magnification, but limited to bright conditions.  I figured on having about 45 minutes of light, if I was lucky.

Just as I got the camera mounted, the female eagle (I think) came flying toward the nest.  I had taken a couple of pictures of the male inside the nest, but only his head was visible.   Over the next 45 seconds, I got a couple of usable shots.  Then it was over.  The female dropped a large stick into the nest, hopped up onto the edge, and flew off.

For the next hour and 15 minutes, I waited for the eagle’s return, expecting the clouds, wind, and rain to descend upon us at any minute.  While waiting, I mounted a 2x telextender between the scope and the camera body, providing a few shots at a 3000mm focal length in which the frame couldn’t hold the entire image of the nest.

These shots aren’t the best, but they do show more detail than any I’ve taken at this site before.  Eventually, the female eagle arrived again, this time with food.  I got a few more shots, and as the rain held off, I was able to stay at the site until nearly 10:00 a.m.  By this time, the clouds were descending, and I got packed up just in time to beat the rain.  Here are a few of the photos:

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Eagle-Watching on Mentor Marsh

April 11, 2010

Mama's taking a rest before embarking on a hunt for food

An eagle’s nest is still a rare thing to see in this day and age, so when we heard that there was a mated pair of eagles nesting in the Mentor Marsh, Sally and I decided to see if we could get a few photos.  We found the location of the nest easily – it’s quite visible from Rt. 44 near Headlands Beach State Park.  The Mentor Marsh is home to numerous wildlife species, but this pair of eagles are recent residents.  They first nested here last year, according to a local photographer that I met today at the site.   Approaching an eagle’s nest is highly illegal, as they are still endangered, so I want to stress that these photos were taken from FAR away.  As a result, the digital shots are pretty low quality – I had to use a digital zoom factor of 48x to get them.

I also took a few film photos with my old Nikon and a 300mm zoom with a 2x telextender, providing an effective focal length of 600mm.  I haven’t got these photos scanned yet, but I’ll add them to this post when I get them.

It’s really quite moving to see our national symbol in the wild.  Let’s hope that bald eagles are around for a long time!

Out and about

Dad is doing much of the babysitting

Here's a closer shot of the female eagle

Preparing for takeoff!

A Winter Photo Gallery

February 28, 2010

Gulls fly over the open water at the power plant discharge

At least once during the dead of each winter, Sally and I take an urban safari: a sojourn into the icy wilderness of the Cleveland  lakeshore.   Lake Erie is always home to a variety of wildlife, and trudging through the snow is a good way to see it in the wintertime.  The gallery below is a small sampling of what we saw.  Click on the thumbnails to see the enlarged photos.

Our trip was quite short, only a few hours in total, but in that short time we encountered several uncommon sights:

The power plant discharge downtown is a great place to watch waterfowl in the wintertime, and this was a great day to watch ducks, gulls, mergansers, scaup, and geese as they competed for the fish swarming about in the warm water.  I’m not very experienced as a birdwatcher, so I couldn’t begin to identify the wide variety of birds we saw.  Only a short distance away from this warm water oasis, the gulls were walking about on the frozen lake.

A short hop away, the Wildwood Marina was a frozen wonderland.  The shoreline was bordered by huge ice dunes, formed by frozen spray blown up on the sand to accumulate in large piles.  These dunes are more commonly found around Presque Isle State Park, near Erie, PA.  I’ve never seen them here before.

A truly strange sight on this winter’s day was a couple of ultralight pilots flying over the marina – I hope they were heavily dressed, because it was pretty cold even at ground level.

Our little jaunt outdoors was a real cure for cabin fever.  Try it sometime, you may be very pleasantly surprised!

How to Turn Your Bike into a Medieval Torture Device – in One Easy Step!

February 13, 2010

Wow, this is way too much like work!!!!

Winter is a rough season for cyclists.  We want to keep riding to stay in shape, but the weather rarely cooperates.  I ride outdoors in winter, but it’s an iffy proposition.  Riding a road bike in the snow is NOT recommended, so one must wait for the snowplow to do its job, then pray for sufficient sun to melt off the road surface before venturing out.  “Sun”, by the way, is a term not recognized by native Clevelanders.  I only know the meaning of the word because I was born far south of here.  As a result of all this, the average cyclist can’t do much outdoor riding in the winter.  Oh, and did I mention that winter starts right after Halloween and ends somewhere around Memorial Day?  Yeah, and spring is a theoretical season that is said to occur during that twenty-four hour period between winter and summer, at which point the temperature and humidity both shoot up to the high 80’s and everyone heads for the beach, only to find that the lake is still frozen.  But I digress….

A couple of years ago, I purchased a bicycle trainer in the hope of keeping in shape over the winter.  This year I set it up in the living room and I’m trying to force myself to use it at least five days a week.   For those of you who don’t have or haven’t seen one of these things, it’s definitely not like riding a bike outdoors.  The trainer is a stand in which you clamp the rear axle of your road bike.  The front wheel sits in a stationary cradle.  The rear wheel drives a roller, which is attached to a resistance unit, which uses either a torque converter of sorts or a pair of magnetic discs to provide adjustable drag on the wheel.  My trainer is a fluid model, which uses a torque converter thingy attached to a five-position shift lever mounted on the handlebars.  You can use both the fluid shift and the gears on your bike to change the amount of work required to pedal the bike.  So there’s a wide range of adjustment possible, but it’s still not easy.  You can’t coast, you must move the pedals continuously.  And, unless you set an electric fan in front of the bike, there’s no airflow, so you sweat at an incredible rate.  Nashbar, Performance, and some other companies sell a sort of “bra” to catch the sweat and keep your bike’s frame from corroding, but  I think the fan is probably the best solution, especially for the comfort factor.   Most cyclists don’t realize how much cooling effect they get from the forward movement of the bike, but a half hour of pedaling in dead air will make you realize how much sweat you’re generating over the course of your ride.

I started on the trainer, as I do most years, shortly after the holidays.  At this point in the year I’m usually about ten pounds heavier than my “normal” weight.  This year it’s closer to twenty; I’ve been spending a lot more time at home,  cooking a lot more than usual, and just plain enjoying myself way too much.  I had to start out wearing my “fat” shorts, pair of Canari padded cycling shorts that won’t even stay up when I’m in shape.   They fit great right now!

Sally’s decided she wants to get ready for riding season as well, so we’ll be swapping bikes on the trainer and taking turns from here on in.  Misery loves company!

Product information and tips:  I use a Travel Trac Century V Fluid+ Trainer with a CycleOps Climbing Block to cradle the front wheel.  Both products are excellent and highly recommended.  A fluid trainer is definitely superior to a magnetic one – smoother, quieter, and more easily adjusted.  And the CycleOps block gives you three height options, plus you can stack multiple blocks to simulate steeper climbs if you wish.  Be sure to put a mat down to cover and protect your floor covering – I use a six-foot length of vehicle carpeting, available in the automotive section of many big box stores for cheap.  When setting up the trainer, you’ll probably need to readjust your saddle height and position.  Make sure the saddle is fairly level, and adjust the front wheel height as needed to balance your weight distribution.  Too much weight on the hands can be really uncomfortable when training indoors (especially when you’re out of shape in the first place).  Don’t forget to wear your cycling socks, gloves, shorts and shoes – the same one’s you would wear on a fitness ride.  Otherwise, you’ll get blisters for sure.  I find that I get a really good, sweaty workout in about 30 minutes.  Good luck with your training!

Christmas Toys for Boys in the 60’s

December 19, 2009

Christmas in the 60’s was a great time for toys.  The “space race” was upon us and toys for little boys were often geared toward military and space exploration themes.  And of course, there were toys based on TV series just as there are today.  So, for you oldsters out there, how many of you lusted after one or more of these great toys:

 Remco Products (see the full list on Wikipedia)

  •  1960 Whirlybird Helicopter
  • 1961 Johnny Reb Cannon
  • 1961 Mighty Matilda Aircraft Carrier
  • 1961 Shark Remote Control Race Car
  • 1963 Barracuda Submarine
  • 1963 USMC Bazooka
  • 1963 Super Car
  • 1964 Hamilton Invaders
  • 1964 Munsters
  • 1966 Batman Wrist Radios
  • 1965 Bulldog Army Tank
  • 1965 Duffy’s Daredevils
  • 1965 Kennedy Airport Air Traffic Control Center
  • 1965 Screaming Mee Mee-e Rifle
  • 1966 Lost in Space Robot
  • 1967 Mighty Mike Motorized Trucks
  • 1967 Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Sub sets

 I had the bazooka and the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea playset.  I also remember the Sgt. Saunders Tommy Gun from the Combat! TV series as a real favorite of mine – many imaginary Nazis bit the dust in our playtime patrols down on Second Street in Greenfield.  

 Three other toys still shine bright in my memory:

 Fireball XL5 – the space ship flown by Steve Zodiac and his ship’s doctor and love interest, Dr. Venus.  His co-pilot was a robot named Robert, and their commander at headquarters was Mike Mercury.  The series ran on TV every Saturday starting in 1962.  The show was produced entirely through puppetry (called Supermarionation) by the husband and wife team of Gerry and   Sylvia Anderson, best remembered for Thunderbirds and Space 1999.   The playset from 1963 featured the ship and all the main characters – I got two of them the on same Christmas! 

One of two XL5 playsets I received for Christmas in 1963

For those of you who remember the series, check out this link for a real hoot! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXGGuqXB8h4&feature=PlayList&p=0B90F3E9064A759E&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=20

And of course, there was the famous Johnny Seven O.M.A. (One Man Army), released in 1964.  The Johnny Seven was a multi-function weapon that worked as a grenade launcher, Anti-tank rocket, Armor-piercing shell/Anti-bunker missile, Repeating rifle, Tommy gun, Automatic pistol, and Bipod-mounted rifle.  This was the toy that Myron the postal worker (played by Sinbad) lamented in the movie Jingle All the Way.  Myron blamed all his problems on the fact that he didn’t get a Johnny Seven O.M.A. for Christmas when he was a child.  Honestly, I remember the toy, but I didn’t know anyone who actually got one for Christmas.  Here’s a link to the TV commercial.

And way back in 1961, there was Jimmy Jet – Although I didn’t own one of these, a friend did, and I remember it well.  A jet cockpit, with steering wheel and lighted control panel, the central screen had a backlighted scrolling landscape with the figure of a jet superimposed.  You steered to move the jet from side to side onscreen as the landscape rolled past.  Actually, it’s easier to show it than to describe it – here’s the commercial.   To kids back then, it was exciting….today, not so much.

 So, when you’re out shopping for your kids, looking at Nintendo DSi’s and iPods, just imagine what it was like in the days when you could bring a child’s Christmas dreams to life for less than ten bucks!  Merry Christmas to all, and I hope Santa brings you that Johnny Seven O.M.A.!!

Gone with the Wind’s Most Controversial Performance

December 16, 2009

Yesterday was the 70th anniversary of the premiere of “Gone with the Wind,” an unforgettable movie based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell.   Having seen the movie many times in my life, I watched it again last night with no expectations whatsoever.  I have become ashamed to enjoy this film, for it is clearly racist in practically every scene and characterization.  And yet, watching the film for the umpteenth time, I became fascinated with a truly moving performance: Hattie McDaniel’s portrayal of the servant Mammy.

Hattie took amazing amounts of flak for accepting the role, both before and after the film’s release.  Chief among her tormentors was the NAACP, whose president urged her to turn the role down while simultaneously lobbying David O. Selznick to hire an African American cultural advisor to the film.   Cast member Butterfly McQueen (Prissy) called her a sellout.  Practically all of Hattie’s roles were maids or servants of some sort.  Her response to criticism: “Hell, I’d rather play a maid than be one.”  At least part of her willingness to play Mammy had to come from the fact that she was paid $450 a week to do so.   That was a lot of money for anyone to earn in 1939.

The role of Mammy was criticised as degrading by many, including the NAACP

And yet, her performance in the role brought a humanity, a depth, a strength to the character that no scriptwriter could have envisioned.  Her character is a very strong woman, despite the fact that, having nowhere to go after the war, she opts to stay with her white “family” in the same capacity she held as a slave.  Her monologue about the death of Bonnie Butler and its aftermath, delivered to Melanie upon the stairs to Rhett’s bedroom, is heart-rending to the extreme.  When I heard it last night, I finally understood why Hattie won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.  When she accepted that award, she became not only the first African American to win an Academy Award; she became the first African American ever to attend the awards banquet.  Perhaps this was some consolation for her having been barred from attending the premiere of the film in Atlanta, where the theatres were segregated.  And yet even then, when Clark Gable announced that if the black actors couldn’t attend the premiere, then neither would he, it was Hattie McDaniel who persuaded him to attend “for the good of the film.” 

Hattie never entirely lived down the criticism that rained down after “Gone with the Wind,” and her movie roles became fewer and further between throughout the 1940’s.  She returned to her radio roots as “Beulah” (the first African American woman in a leading role on a radio show intended for a wide audience) shortly before her death from breast cancer in 1952.

Hattie was protrayed on a postage stamp in 2006 as part of the Black Heritage Series

Think what you will about her acceptance of “degrading” roles, her “selling out” for money over principle, or whatever else her critics have called it.  She was a pioneer, a great actress who not only went where none of her peers had gone before, but who made the rest of us feel joy and pain right along with her.   She blazed the trail for many who came later.

Targus Compact Lap Desk Review

December 2, 2009

One of the aggravations of business travel is the sheer inconvenience of having to place your laptop computer on, um, your lap.  Laptops really don’t lend themselves to being propped up on your thighs while you simultaneously attempt to balance the laptop, type coherently, and avoid knocking over that Starbuck’s cup that’s sitting on the floor between your feet. 

Solutions to this problem abound.  Not good ones, but solutions nonetheless:  laptop stands with telescoping legs that fold up to fit inside your briefcase (barely leaving room for your computer);   hunks of masonite with padding on the bottom that are so bulky they can barely fit into your carry-on luggage; books (too small); clipboards (slippery and too small to boot); and all sorts of other nonsensical and nonfunctional ideas that you can find on any day at any airport in the country.  In addition to being impractical, most of these things have no place to put a mouse, and I’m not that fond of touchpads, even after years of using them.  My little wireless Microsoft mouse needs a place to run!

This little annoyance reared its ugly head again when I began to write this blog.  I generally try to write in the evenings, when I’m comfortably ensconced in my recliner in front of the TV.  I definitely need a lap desk, and it has to be easy to set aside when I leap up during commercials for a quick trip to the loo.   Well, when we returned from our Thanksgiving travels, there was a package sitting in front of the door.   It was from Targus, a company that specializes in bags, computer gadgets and other gear for road warriors.  I’d hate to think how many dollars I’ve spent on their stuff over the years, and with good reason, because it’s useful, sturdy, and worth the price.  The last time I filled out a registration card for a product of theirs, I checked the box to indicate an interest in evaluating future products.  In response, they sent me a Targus Compact Lap Desk for review.  For the last several days, I’ve been using it regularly, so here are my impressions.  The photos below were swiped from the Targus website:

Fig. 1 - Targus Compact Lap Desk

Fig. 2 - The Lap Desk folded for use as a stand


I was admittedly skeptical when I removed the lap desk from its package.  It is extremely light, so light that you might be concerned about its ability to support the weight of a laptop.  The card in the package says, “Fits laptops up to 17”, which would seem to be a tall order given that this thing is folded in the middle.  In fact, it’s quite sturdy and flexes very little in use.  My laptop weighs 5-1/2 pounds, and when centered on the lap desk, is perfectly supported.  It also stays nicely in place, thanks to the eight non-skid rubber pads around the periphery of the desk.  These pads also serve another important purpose: when your mouse is on one of the mouse pad areas to the left or right of the laptop, the rubber pads “trap” the mouse at the top and bottom to keep it from sliding off of the lap desk.  Everything stays in place with little effort.  The corner pads also serve as protection, to keep the rigid platform edges from digging into your wrist as you use the mouse. 

The mouse pad areas are a bit small, but I’ve found them generally adequate for my needs.  One small complaint:  the mouse pad itself is nicely matte finished, but it’s bounded by glossy black, so if you slip past the boundaries of the matte area, your mouse may go haywire as it passes over the glossy surface.  My cursor shot all over the screen when this happened.  But after a couple of occurrences, I became accustomed to staying inside the lines, and it ceased to be a problem.

Folding the lap desk in half allows you to use it as a stand to support your laptop at an angle on a desk or table (Fig. 2).  There is a brace with adjustable stops to set the keyboard angle, and the vent slots improve cooling by promoting air circulation around the computer.  These slots are also helpful when the unit is on your lap in unfolded mode.    When folded flat, the lap desk is less than 5/8” thick, and weighs about nineteen ounces.  It fits easily in a computer bag, and the weight, though not inconsequential, is worth carrying.

All in all, the engineering of this simple device has to be experienced to be appreciated.  I’ve found it to be very useful, with very few quirks.  But one question still comes to mind: is this chunk of plastic worth thirty bucks?   In my opinion, it is.  One issue that has always been raised about Targus products is that they are expensive, and I can’t argue with that.  But as a long-time road warrior myself, I can only say that their products typically don’t break, and that makes them worth more than the flimsy junk with which they compete in the marketplace.  Targus understands that a travel product has to stand up to hard use without failing in service, so they invest extra engineering time and put premium materials in their products.   They earn the extra bucks that they charge, and their success is a result of that effort.

The Targus Compact Lap Desk sells for $29.95.  Check it out at http://www.targus.com/us/product_details.aspx?sku=AWE56US

Deep-Fried Turkey – It’s a “Guy Thing”

November 23, 2009

What activity provides the opportunity to buy dangerous new gear, play with fire, drink beer out-of-doors, and potentially burn down your house?  You guessed it, we’re deep-frying a turkey!

 Actually, I deep-fried my turkey a couple of years ago, and I’ll be doing it again this year, though not for Thanksgiving – we’ll be out of town with family.  When I last had Thanksgiving dinner at my house, I decided to go the deep-fried route.  After all, the method has quite a few advantages over roasting.  The bird takes an hour to cook instead of four or more, the resulting product is very tender and much moister than a comparable roast turkey, and the skin is crispy and tasty beyond belief.  On the other hand, there’s that issue with potentially burning down your house and, worse yet, risking the possibility of third degree burns over your entire body!  Yep, that’s what makes it attractive to guys.  There’s nothing more exciting than risking your life to deliver dinner to the family. 

All levity aside, this is actually an activity you should NOT ENTER INTO LIGHTLY.  I highly recommend that you read up on the safety issues associated with outdoor fryers well before you try this.  Get a good turkey fryer, not a cheap one.  This means sturdy, heavy, and with regard to the burner, powerful but controllable.  Read all instructions.  Then read the accounts of others who’ve done it successfully, i.e., without burning down the house or ending the day in the emergency room. 

The propane hose is wrapped in foil for protection. Note the fire extinguisher under the table.

I strongly suggest that you look at Alton Brown’s recipe at http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/deep-fried-turkey-recipe/index.html.  Alton actually goes overboard on the safety aspects, but I must agree with most of his recommendations, especially the part about having a fire extinguisher handy! 

I followed most of Alton’s instructions, starting with brining the turkey for 16 hours before frying.  This is accomplished by icing down the turkey in a large cooler and immersing it in brine containing ice water, kosher salt, and brown sugar.  This process will keep the turkey moist, improve the browning of the skin, and dramatically enhance the flavor. 

I did NOT build a turkey derrick, as Alton suggests in his video, but otherwise I followed his safety recommendations.  He suggests that you place the turkey into the oil at 250 degrees, then bring the temperature up to 350.  Removing the turkey at an internal temperature of 151 degrees will result in a final internal temperature of 160 or so.  I prefer to go a bit higher than that, so I removed the turkey at 160 and it drifted up to about 172.

The result is shown below.  I think everyone should try this at least once.  Once you do, you may never go back to roasting.  One final suggestion: don’t drink too much beer until the turkey is safely on the platter!

The final product - yum!

The Leaf-Bagging Workout

November 16, 2009

I love my Billy Goat blower - it rocks!

When we returned from Myrtle Beach, we were greeted by the sight of a lawn completely covered in leaves.  Having already removed 14 bags of leaves from the lawn prior to our departure, I was not looking forward to tackling the newly fallen layer.   You see, I live in Mentor, Ohio, an otherwise fairly progressive municipality which nevertheless has an incredibly primitive and backward trait; namely, the total lack of any kind of curbside leaf pick-up.  Warning: ranting & raving begins here: Virtually every other city for miles around has trucks circulating throughout the neighborhood, sucking up vast piles of leaves from treelawns and carrying them off for disposal.  The denizens of these other cities have merely to blow or rake their leaves to the curb, and a day or two later – POOF – they disappear!  Not those of us in Mentor, Ohio (are you reading this, Councilman Micchia?).  We are required to place our leaves in 30 gallon paper bags of a type and size approved by the city, and to transport them to curbside on trash day.  We are limited to setting out no more than 25 bags per week.  HA!!!  I put out 56 bags last week, followed by 69 bags this week, and if the trash guys don’t pick this week’s bags up, they’ll be lookin’ at a stack of a hundred or so by next Thursday!  Fortunately, the guys who pick up the trash are smarter than the guys who wrote the city ordinance in the first place.  End of rant.

Anyway, in an effort to control my blood pressure, I decided to concentrate on the positive aspects of this leaf-removal experience.  I now think of this chore as a customized workout, designed to build up my abs and biceps, improve my stamina, and provide aerobic exercise that I’d otherwise have to pay for by joining a gym.  So here are the components of the Leaf-bagging Workout – give it a try, it’ll help you burn off a few calories!

Blower-pushing Boogie: this exercise is a real workout for the legs.  Build up those glutes and hamstrings as you push that blower around, and around, and around, and around………

Doin' the Boogie!

The Stoop & Scoop: Build up your lats, delts, biceps, and triceps while stretching your back and abs.  Scoop up those leaves!

Stre-e-e-etch those back muscles!

The Power Ram: A great ab and back exercise that also works your shoulders, forearms and wrists.  Packing those leaves down makes room for the next rep of the Stoop & Scoop!


The Funnel Jerk & Flip:  Another arm and shoulder workout – and you’re ready to repeat the whole set!

Oh yeah, I'm really getting too old for this s#%$ !

Ain’t it fun?

Baggin’ Update:   As of 11/16/2009, we have now filled 172 bags, and the leaves are still falling…….

Myrtle Beach Notes, Vol. 2 – Carolina Barbecue

November 3, 2009
Myrtle Beach 102509 087

Paapa's Barbecue has a thin, vinegar-based sauce with smoke and cayenne

A Brief Exploration of Carolina Barbecue

In my previous post, I described Mama Jean’s Home Cooking, which features Paapa’s Hickory Smoked Barbecue. Paapa’s is a typical Carolina barbecue – pork shoulder, smoked in a hickory-rich environment, the temperature low enough to take a long time to cook the meat. The final product is pulled from the bone, mixed with a vinegar, tomato, and pepper-based marinade (which is also the basting sauce used in the smoking process), and chopped. The resulting barbecue may be doused with more sauce, eaten as-is, or piled on a sandwich and covered in coleslaw for consumption. It is delectable, tender, juicy, smoky, and just plain good. But it’s not the only barbecue to be found in the Carolinas.

There’s also a barbecue referred to as East Carolina barbecue, available either pulled, sliced or chopped. This is also a smoked pork shoulder, but it is not typically marinated or basted with a vinegar-based mop sauce. It is often rubbed with a dry mixture of spices, usually secret in nature, smoked slowly at a temperature of 225-275 degrees Fahrenheit, then removed from the smoker and prepared for plating as above, either by pulling the meat from the bone, chopping it coarsely, or slicing as desired. The big difference is in the sauce, which is sweeter than the vinegar-based sauces, and very smoky in its own right, usually containing liquid smoke, molasses, tomato sauce, and a significant dash of chili pepper, either cayenne, chipotle, or similar.

Either of the two barbecues described above is equally applied to pork. However, the East Carolina version is often applied to beef brisket as well as pork, and the sauce is often applied to smoked chicken also.

I had the opportunity to experience East Carolina barbecue at its best on the way out of North Carolina at the aptly named Carolina Barbecue, in Statesville, NC. This restaurant was visited by Charles Kurault a few years back, and he was, to say the least, impressed with their product. A very unassuming little place, Carolina Barbecue has an attentive staff and a well-deserved pride in their primary offering. I should mention that we decided to get take-out and enjoy our meals at the hotel. I decided to try the brisket, while Sally opted for the chopped pork. The side dishes included coleslaw, baked beans, and hushpuppies. I opted for the barbecue slaw, another exclusive of the Carolina region – the slaw dressing contains a significant amount of barbecue sauce, providing a nice segue to the main course. The baked beans were spicy and smoky at the same time, and the hushpuppies were classic in nature – no added corn, jalapenos, or other inclusions, just straight fried cornmeal batter with a delectable brown outer crust giving way to a tender center.


Barbecued brisket, with the sweet East Carolina sauce, baked beans, and barbecue slaw - and boy, were those hushpuppies good!


Sally's pork plate had the same sauce, same sides except for the regular slaw - equally good!

Sally gave the pork five stars – it was tender, sweet, juicy, and very flavorful. As to the brisket, I must say this is the best barbecued brisket I’ve ever had outside of Texas, quite a compliment, given that Carolina cuisine really focuses on pork. Carolina Barbecue is famous for their cobbler, offering apple, cherry, blackberry, and other flavors as well. Several in our party enjoyed the cobbler and rated it very highly. I, however, had little choice but to follow the brisket plate with pecan pie, and I was not disappointed here, either. All in all, a better meal is not to be found in the neighborhood of Statesville, NC, and I recommend that if you are anywhere nearby, you should definitely make a side trip to Carolina Barbecue. Enjoy!


Sally said the peach cobbler was excellent - I wolfed down the pecan pie before I remembered to take a photo. Sorry about that....

Carolina Barbecue is located at 213 Salisbury Road, Statesville, NC 28677

Myrtle Beach Notes, Vol.1

October 26, 2009

 In the course of my job search, I decided to contact a few former business acquaintances and explore the employment opportunities elsewhere.  For various reasons, we elected to visit South Carolina.  A very good friend offered us the use of his condominium in Myrtle Beach, and that made the trip feasible.  So Sally, Andy, Sally’s parents, and I packed up the van and headed south.

 The first day we travelled through Ohio, West Virginia, and into North Carolina, stopping in Winston-Salem.  It rained incessantly throughout the entire journey.  Southern hospitality prevailed at the Holiday Inn Express, where we spent our first night out.  Although the Winston-Salem property is not of the newest design, the staff was courteous and friendly, and their service more than made up for any deficiencies in the facility.

We stopped at the Huddle House for a quick lunch, consisting of a chopped pork barbecue sandwich and onion rings.  I wasn’t expecting much from the BBQ, since Huddle House is a chain, albeit a small regional one. However, I was amazed to find that the chopped pork here is the real thing.  The sauce was sweeter than one would get further south, but very smoky, with a strong hint of spiciness.  The meat was slow-cooked, and the crusty burnt ends were chopped up along with everything else, resulting in a product that most Northerners wouldn’t even recognize as what they call barbecue. 

 We finally got a chance to walk on the beach and pick up a few shells the following morning.  Haven’t found any shark teeth yet, but we did get a chance to photograph some of the plant life, etc.

We had lunch north of Myrtle Beach, at Mama Jean’s Home Cooking, where we got some more barbecue, this time with the more familiar South Carolina vinegar-based sauce.  Again, the meat was sumptuous, and the coleslaw and hushpuppies completed the feast.  Magnificent!

After lunch, we checked out an antique mall and did some shopping. We decided to look for pizza near the condo, and luckily, found the Mellow Mushroom a stone’s throw away. Their pizza is incredible, loaded with toppings on a garlic-parmesan crust I can’t begin to describe. As Yogi Berra used to say, “Don’t miss it if you can.” Or something like that.

Gotta do some business tomorrow, but I’ll be posting more pics as the week progresses!


Sharing My Camera Collection on the Web

October 19, 2009
Kodak Bantam 4.5 c.1938-48

Kodak Bantam 4.5 c.1938-48

Since film cameras are becoming increasingly rare these days, I thought it might be interesting to start posting photos of the cameras in my collection. I’ve been collecting old cameras since I was about 12 years old, so the collection is pretty sizable. It isn’t, however, very valuable, since most of my collection consists of American made cameras. I’m particularly fond of folding cameras and non-folders made of bakelite. Some of these have Art Deco designs that are particularly nice.

Starting today, I’m beginning another blog titled “Old Cameras From My Collection” (link opens in a new window).  I’ll be working my way through the collection, photographing and writing about them, either individually or in groups. I’ll also be adding a brief bit of history on some of them, since the story of camera manufacturing in this country is both fascinating and unsung. Please check out this new blog as I construct it, and PLEASE ADD YOUR COMMENTS. I’d really like to hear from you.

This blog, of course will continue to be about travel, family, local events, and photos of wherever I happen to be at any given time – so don’t stop coming here!

Summer’s Over, Winter’s Rolling in, What Happened to Fall?

October 14, 2009
View to the East from Lakefront Lodge
View to the East from Lakefront Lodge

Sunday, Sally and I stopped at Lakefront Lodge and walked down to the lakeshore to get a look at Lake Erie.  The wind was high, and the air coming off the lake was really cold.  One distinctive thing about Lake Erie’s beaches is their wild look when summer is over and the weather starts to get cold.   The beauty of the scenery is probably an acquired taste, since the sky is sometimes leaden and so is the water.  Nevertheless, I like to get out and walk around at this time of year.  I will, however, be praying for warmer weather – today it never got above 46 degrees!

Looking West toward Willoughby

Looking West toward Willoughby

Yes, the water looks grayer than the sky!

Yes, the water looks grayer than the sky!

A little blue sky really helps, even when it's cold

A little blue sky really helps, even when it's cold

It’s Leaf Season…..Again

October 12, 2009
First day in the back yard yielded 7 bags of debris

First day in the back yard yielded 7 bags of debris

My new Echo blower really puts out the power!

My new Echo blower really puts out the power!









I’ve been living in Northeastern Ohio for the past 13 years, and I’m coming up on fall number 14.  Of the 13 previous seasons, I’ve paid landscapers to clean up the leaves on my property for eight of those years.  I estimate that I’ve spent nearly $10,000, all told, just getting rid of the leaves, twigs, branches, acorns, maple seeds, bark, shavings, and assorted debris that have accumulated on my lawn over this period. 

Over the years, I’ve purchased three leaf vaccum/shredder/blowers, a self-propelled lawn vac/chipper/shredder, a lawn mower that mulches and bags yard waste, a tiller, a chain saw, 400 or 500 feet of electrical cord to drive the electrically powered equipment , and over the five or so years that I actually removed the leaves myself, roughly 400 biodegradable paper yard waste bags at a cost of about 75 cents each. 

This year so far, I’ve filled 12 of those 30 gallon bags, and it’s only the first week.   You see, this year I have two excuses for firing my landscaper (a task which I wisely pawned off on my wife, Sally) and doing the job myself.  First, and most important, I’m unemployed, and I don’t have $800 to $1000 to spend on leaf cleanup.  Secondly, now that I have some time at home, I can actually do the job correctly, which is something that has not happened in the past eight years.   

It’s not that I’m unsympathetic to landscapers, but they all have one recurring problem that makes my life a living hell.  Specifically, every year around November, when all the leaves have finally fallen, and it’s absolutely imperative to get them cleaned up before the first snowfall, the landscapers simply disappear.  Most of the time, they’re getting their equipment ready for snowplowing season, having completely forgotten about  the leaf removal for which they’ve already been paid.   In one instance, my landscaper actually packed up, left town, and took a couple of weeks of vacation, never to be heard from until the following spring.  So, having already paid for the cleanup, I ended up doing it myself.  In other years, I have had landscapers show up every week or so during the fall, only to inform me, as the final deluge came down, that the best they could do was to move them to the back of my lot, to be cleaned up and removed in the spring.   Strangely, when spring arrived, they made the pile bigger rather than smaller. 

In short, I’ve been trying to get leaves and brush removed from my property for years.   I have more compost than I know what to do with, and I still have a pile of leaves 30 feet in diameter and five feet high, left over from last year! 

But this year will be different.  You can bet on it, because I’ll be doing this job, mostly alone, with help from Andy, and believe me, Sally won’t be accepting any excuses like those landscapers gave.  When the snow flies, the ground had better be clear of leaves!

This big plastic funnel simplifies the chore of filling 30 gallon bags

This big plastic funnel simplifies the chore of filling 30 gallon bags

I bought a gas powered blower this year, and I’m planning on gettng a larger wheeled version for the really heavy stuff in a few weeks.  Despite all this, I’ll be spending less than I would have by hiring someone to do the work.  The last time I did this, I filled 105 bags of leaves.  This year could be a record-setter!

I Miss Zantigo Chilitos!

October 9, 2009

LogoOnce upon a time, long,  long ago (actually, it was in the 70’s), in a galaxy (a city really, Norwood in fact), far, far away (250 miles to be specific) there was a Mexican fast food restaurant called Zantigo’s.   The Zantigo chain had a reputation for fresh, fast, simple, flavorful Tex-Mex at low prices.  Without a doubt, the most memorable item on their menu was an item known as the Chilito, a wonderful mixture of chili and cheese wrapped in a flour tortilla.  The Chilito was not merely a wonderful fast food product, but it was, beyond doubt, the perfect eating-while-driving entree.  The chili-cheese ratio was perfectly balanced to insure that after a minute or so of cooling off, the chilito simply would not drip, run, or drop into the lap of the unsuspecting driver.  Three chilitos was the minimum order for a real man (or woman), and to a Zantigo’s aficionado, there was simply no substitute.

Alas, Zantigo’s was a small operation, lacking the gargantuan funding of their primary competitor, Taco Bell (owned by the even more gargantuan PepsiCo), and as time went by, Pepsico took notice of Zantigo’s market penetration.  Eventually, PepsiCo bought Zantigo’s and folded their locations into the Taco Bell chain.  Some of us were aware of the acquisition, and took whatever measures we could to stave off the inevitable.  A friend of mine actually stockpiled Zantigo’s taco sauce packets in his freezer to ward off the day when he would no longer have access to its spicy goodness.  Even I was saddened when he informed me, about two and a half years later, that he had finally run out. 

When Taco Bell absorbed Zantigo’s, the Taco Bell menu took precedence.  Zantigo’s essentially disappeared.  But one small trace remained, a trace that still appears occasionally even today.  It’s called the chili-cheese burrito, and it’s pretty good, although Taco Bell simply can’t seem to get the proportions of chili and cheese right to make it a driving food.  You really don’t want to try eating a chili-cheese burrito in the car without a couple of napkins in your lap.  Nevertheless, it’s the only thing most of us have left by which to remember Zantigo’s (Ha! You thought I was going to end that sentence with a preposition, didn’t you?).

But this story has a (sort of) happy ending.  It seems that two brothers, Don and Kevin (no last names given on their website) have purchased the trademarks, recipes, and franchising rights to the Zantigo restaurants, and now have six locations in operation.  Unfortunately, all the locations are in Minnesota, so for the time being, I’m not likely to get a fix for my Zantigo jones any time soon.

So, today in Elyria, Ohio, I found a Taco Bell that was still serving the chili-cheese burrito, and consumed one reverently with a Diet Pepsi,  all the while silently praying for the success of a couple of fellows named Kevin and Don, somewhere in Minnesota….    http://www.zantigo.com/

Zantigo's menu - almost worth a drive to Minnesota!

Zantigo's menu - almost worth a drive to Minnesota!

Note: the parenthetical comment about ending a sentence with a preposition is inserted in honor of my high school English teacher, Sarah Kensinger, who is often in my thoughts as I compose this blog.

A Long-ago Conversation with “Aunt Hattie”

October 6, 2009

While I was putting the post on Brown and Adams County together, I dredged up some old research material.  This reference was found on a website called Planet Murphy.  It contains a lot of genealogical information on a number of Irish families, including the Ellisons.  This excerpt contains a reference to J.R. Murphy’s encounter with our “Aunt Hattie” (whose real name was Harriet Osman) at the old log house on Vaughn’s Chapel Road, about 47 years ago:

J.R. Murphy, www.planetmurphy.org – revised 1 January 2005a

 The following was found my visit to Adams County about 1962 searching for James Ellison. This visit happened one summer day while in graduate school at the University of Michigan. Communications between Ellison descendents had long ceased and there was little information about Adams County. After reviewing an Adams County history book, it was apparent that there was another Ellison clan, probably related, but not of interest at this time. James Ellison and his family were my targets. I drove east of Dunkinsville searching for a minor cemetery which might have our own Ellisons. At approximately the reported cemetery location, there seemed to be nothing. So I stopped the car at an 1802 farm house and knocked on the door. When the door opened, an elderly lady greeted me, and I asked, “I’m looking for a cemetery with Ellisons and am a descendant of Stewart Ellison.” She replied, “Come on in, I know who Stewart Ellison is and I have all the records.” This was Mrs. Harriet Ellison Osman who lived five miles due east of Dunkinsville.

James Ellison was a member of the royal body-guard of the King of England for 16 years. After having his fifth child he decided to sail to America in 1820, leaving his family until he could raise sufficient money to send for them. On the way to America he was ship-wrecked, losing everything he owned except his bible. The bible was in the possession of Mrs. Osman in 1962. She was a descendant of Andrew Ellison (1811). The bible still showed the water-marks from the ship-wreck. In her possession were the immigration papers of James Ellison, which stated he was from Omaf, Ireland and the name of his father, Andrew Ellison, and his wife’s father, Thaman Stewart. He entered through the Department of Immigration on 2 September 1820. Osman thought that James Ellison lived on Wheat Ridge in the vicinity of Dunkinsville or West Union.

Mrs. Osman reported children and early descendants were buried in the “private” Ellison cemetery next to her 1802 farmhouse.

Mrs. Osman also added that Mary Stewart was also from Omaf, Ireland and had a twin sister, Myra Stewart, who married William McNeilan. So far, “Omaf” cannot be located. Shirley Graham reported on ancestry.com that Myra’s husband was actually Thomas McNeilan, and that one son, William McNeilan (1 May 1808 County Tyrone, Ireland), and a sister, Jane McNeilan, (1817) did immigrate to Adams County Ohio (about 1846-1850 for William). In 1850, William McNeilan was adjacent to Andrew Ellison on the census.

Comment: My biggest regret with this meeting is that an exact handwritten copy wasn’t made of the immigration paper to be sure there can be no other interpretation. Should it again surface (i.e. at the Adams County Library or in someone’s possession), this should be done. Mary Schmertz (descendant of John Ellison + Margaret Thompson) echoed this sentiment: “There are several things that make finding the truth about the Ellisons difficult. …Most of the family history comes from Hattie (Harriet Ellison Osman), who was apparently a stubborn woman who wouldn’t accept even solid evidence that (some of) her information was incorrect (e-mail of 16 October 2004).”

Hattie lies in the Ellison family plot near Dunkinsville

Hattie lies in the Ellison family plot near Dunkinsville

This may be the grave of James Ellison's wife - or not - too many Ellisons and not enough names to go around!

This may be the grave of James Ellison's wife, but it's hard to be sure. Too many Ellisons and not enough names to go around!

I’m not sure about the accuracy of Hattie’s genealogical data, but Mr. Murphy definitely got the “stubborn” part right! 

Cleveland is a More Beautiful City than You Remember

October 1, 2009

As I was reading Sally’s blog about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame candidates for induction, I got a twinge of regret.  Not for myself, but for the people out there who wonder why the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is located in a dirty, dingy, sooty, pollution-ridden, poverty-stricken town like Cleveland.  The answer is simple: it isn’t.  It’s located in a beautiful downtown venue on a truly gorgeous (and clean) lake, surrounded by historically significant, breathtaking architecture.

Not the Cleveland you remember?  OK, I’ll give you the fact that Cleveland had some truly bad years before the cleanup began.  When I was younger, the Cuyahoga River caught fire, the downtown buildings were stained with soot, and Lake Erie fish contained so much mercury that only the truly brave would dare eat them.

But that was then.  When I moved to the Cleveland area, the Rock Hall, Jacobs Field, Gund Arena, the Great Lakes Science Center, and the Flats renovation had just been completed.  Browns Stadium was under construction.  Now Jacobs Field is Progressive Field, the Gund Arena is the “Q” (for Quicken Loans), and the Flats area is undergoing its second resurrection, this time with upscale apartments to bring a sense of community to the area.  Those who bemoaned the failure of the downtown renaissance simply missed the point – it’s a work in progress that will take years to complete, but the city will be better for having made the effort.

The new construction in the downtown area should bring more attention to the beautiful and historic Burnham Mall, planned in 1903 to bring neoclassical (“Beaux-Arts”) architecture to Cleveland.  Its brainchild, Daniel Burnham, was the architect responsible for Chicago’s “White City”, the buildings constructed for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, otherwise known as the Columbian Exposition.  In any case, Cleveland’s Burnham Mall still stands as a landmark that you shouldn’t miss when you visit the city.

A sightseeing tour of downtown Cleveland can be done in two ways: by trolley or by boat.  The trolley tour cruises the downtown and provides close views of the Mall, numerous public buildings including Burnham’s Federal Reserve, the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument on Public Square, and the War Memorial Fountain (also called the Fountain of Eternal Life).   You can obtain information on trolley tours at http://www.lollytrolley.com/ .  I’ve taken the tour and I highly recommend it.

But the trolley can only show the view from the street, and much of Cleveland’s beauty is best seen from the water.  The Goodtime III, Cleveland’s largest excursion ship, operates from the North Coast Inner Harbor at the East 9th Street Pier.   A trip on the Goodtime III includes a winding trip up the Cuyahoga River through the Flats to the industrial area of the old city.  Practically every iron bridge design known to mankind is visible on the cruise: lift gates, knife gates, swing bridges, etc.  The Cuyahoga twists and turns through the old neighborhoods, providing a historic look not otherwise possible.

If you get the chance to spend a few days sightseeing in Cleveland, give it a try – you’ll be amazed at what the city has to offer.  Furthermore, if this has piqued your interest, check out Cleveland on Foot, an excerpt from the book by Patience Hoskins.  The book is an excellent guide to hiking in the Greater Cleveland area.  The excerpt describes the architectural marvels of the downtown area – check it out.

Apple Butter Braised Pork Chops

September 30, 2009

 Sally made apple butter this weekend, (see her blog: North Coast Muse) and we had a nice pork loin in the freezer, so I decided to see what I could do with available ingredients.   I thawed the loin and sliced off four chops about ¾” thick.  Seasoning the chops liberally with salt, fresh ground black pepper and powdered ancho chiles on both sides, I seared them in a large, hot skillet on the stovetop.  Meanwhile, I preheated the oven to 350 degrees F. 

When the chops were brown on both sides, I deglazed the pan with a cheap chardonnay wine (about 1 cup).  Then I added approximately 8 ounces of Sally’s homemade apple butter, spreading it thickly over the top of each chop. 

Pork chops in the skillet after the apple butter was added.

Pork chops in the skillet after the apple butter was added.

Keeping the heat at medium high, I brought the mixture to a boil, reduced heat to a simmer, and placed the lid on the skillet.  I simmered the mixture for about 15 minutes, checked the liquid level (add more wine here if it’s getting too low), and placed the skillet, covered, into the oven.

I left the skillet in the oven for about 45 minutes, checking only once to be sure the sauce wasn’t beginning to burn.  When the skillet comes out of the oven, it may be necessary to reduce the sauce somewhat, but I didn’t need to do so.  Here’s the finished product:
The pork chops are firm but tender, and the sauce is very tasty!

The pork chops are firm but tender, and the sauce is very tasty!

If you have more time you could reduce the oven temperature and braise it a while longer, but this first pass worked pretty well.  Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Bounding through Brown & Adams County in Search of History

September 23, 2009

A couple of weekends ago, Sally, Andy and I visited my mother in Brown County.  We decided to take a jaunt around the area to visit a few of our favorite places, and hopefully, to find a few new points of interest. 

This crypt occupies the summit of the hill, shaded by a large tree

This crypt occupies the summit of the hill, shaded by a large tree

Brown & Adams Cty Sept 3, 2009 009

Georgetown:  A Beautiful Tomb

Our first stop was the Georgetown Cemetery, where we encountered this very interesting and elaborate crypt in a prominent location.  The marble statue at the apex of the roof is still beautiful in spite of (or perhaps because of ) the patina she has acquired over the last 90 years. 

Two women are interred here; their relationship to one another is not evident.  Clearly, the older of the two women purchased the tomb, as it is her name that adorns the lintel over the door.   The names of the occupants and their dates of birth and death are inscribed on tablets beside the steps up to the door.  Who were they?  If you know about Mary Shelton or Mary Cochran, please post a comment and enlighten us.

Mary Shelton

Mary Shelton


Mary Cochran

Mary Cochran

Incidentally,  if you visit Georgetown, you should visit U.S. Grant’s boyhood home and the school he attended as a young man, both of which are open to the public. 


Ripley, Ohio - destination of many fugitive slaves before and during the Civil War

Ripley, Ohio - destination of many fugitive slaves before and during the Civil War

Ripley: Home of Abolitionism in Ohio


After a hearty lunch at the Fireside Restaurant in Georgetown (highly recommended!) we headed down the road to Ripley, Ohio.  Ripley was a very important town in the days prior to and during the Civil War; it was a hotbed of  abolitionist activity, a major stop on the Underground Railroad, and the home of  Rev. John Rankin.  Rev. Rankin and his sons were conductors on the Underground Railroad, providing safe conduct to numerous fugitive slaves on their way to Canada and freedom.   Harriet Beecher Stowe was highly influenced by Rankin’s anti-slavery activities.  Sights not to be missed in Ripley include the Rankin House (check it out at http://ohsweb.ohiohistory.org/places/sw14/index.shtml),  the monument to the first abolitionists in Ohio, and Freedom Landing (right below the monument). 

Witness Tree seen from the riverbank

Witness Tree seen from the riverbankWitness Tree tablet

Freedom Landing

Freedom Landing


Commemorative tablet at Freedom Landing

Commemorative tablet at Freedom Landing

The trip to Ripley is well worth the drive – while you’re there, stop at Rockin’ Robin’s for ice cream – it’s a 50’s style soda fountain with great atmosphere.  Word of warning:  the “single dip” ice cream cone is a LOT larger than you’d think!

Adams County Heritage Center and a Brush with My Ancestors

 I have long known that my maternal grandfather’s ancestors were the first settlers of Adams County, Ohio.  Two  Ellison brothers made the journey down the Ohio River in 1790 along with seventeen other men and their families, all of whom had been offered property in return for settling at Massie’s Station, later called Manchester, Ohio.  Manchester was the first white settlement in the Virginia Military District.     Col. Daniel Collier, listed among the field officers of the 2nd Brigade, Ohio Militia in the War of 1812, was an early settler and leader of the community.  His son-in-law, Andrew Ellison was my great-great-great-great-grandfather (assuming that I’ve correctly calculated the number of greats, that is).   Andrew’s family owned a two-story log house on the ridge road (later called Vaughn’s Chapel Road) in Adam’s County built around 1803.  Why did I tell that story?  Well, for two reasons: first off, as a child, I played in that house, which was still standing on the original site right up until the late 1980’s, when it was sold, disassembled, moved to Loveland, Ohio and reassembled (or so I’m told – please contact me if you have info on this matter).   My Aunt Hattie Osman lived there with a flock of turkeys, ducks, geese, and a few score of cats until her death.  On the hill behind the house was the Ellison family cemetery where Andrew and many others are buried.

Plaque on the Heritage Center Building

Plaque on the Heritage Center Building

The second reason for this rambling account is that I recently paid a visit to the Adams County Heritage Center in West Union, Ohio to get a close look at great(x4)-grandpa Andrew’s rifle.  It’s in a glass case, incorrectly labeled as a cap & ball “musket”.  What it is, in fact, is an Ohio made half-stock hunting rifle (muskets are military firearms) of about .45 caliber with a beautiful curly maple stock and handmade iron furniture.  It is a cap and ball firearm, and that fact is troublesome.  You see, for Daniel Collier to have owned the rifle originally, it would have to have been built before percussion caps existed.  It would have to have been constructed as a flintlock rifle, then converted to percussion at a later date.  I’m not an expert, but such things did happen, so I’m assuming the rifle is authentic as represented.   I hope anyone who has information on these items will contact me – it would be nice get the facts straight and save the information for posterity.  

Andrew Ellison's rifle is the lower one in the photograph

Andrew Ellison's rifle is the lower one in the photograph


The label is inscribed "Cap & Ball Musket, Powder Horns, Circa 1840, Originally owned by Andrew Ellison (1811-1894), Son-in-law of Col. Daniel Collier, Presented by Stanley and Louise Rowe

The label is inscribed "Cap & Ball Musket, Powder Horns, Circa 1840, Originally owned by Andrew Ellison (1811-1894), Son-in-law of Col. Daniel Collier, Presented by Stanley and Louise Rowe









Since I’m also a bit of a fanatic about old bikes, I couldn’t help but notice a “Ben Hur” bicycle, circa 1890, stashed away in the back corner of the museum.  It has pneumatic tires, long since collapsed and hardened, wooden rims, wooden fenders laced onto the frame with cotton cordage, wooden handlebars, and an amazingly intact leather saddle with a relief opening in the center.  The relief opening looks exactly like those on modern “men-specific” saddles of today.  If you like bikes, you should check out this unique example of late 19th century technology.

Headbadge shows the name Ben Hur

Headbadge shows the name Ben Hur


How about those wooden handlebars?

How about those wooden handlebars?


The wooden fenders are laced to the frame with cotton cord, still intact.  Also note the flat tire - pneumatic tires were rare in 1890.

The wooden fenders are laced to the frame with cotton cord, still intact. Also note the flat tire - pneumatic tires were rare in 1890.



Outside the Heritage Center is a public area paved with bricks, some of which are dedicated to people who lived in the area, or have donated on their own behalf.  One of these bricks is inscribed in memory of my grandmother and grandfather on my mother’s side. 

Grandma & Grandpa Ellison's brick

Grandma & Grandpa Ellison's brick

 It ‘s nice to see that so many former residents of Adams County are remembered here.  Adams County Ohio is one of the most impoverished areas in the United States, with a per capita income of around $16,000.  Those of us whose parents were born there would do well to go back once in a while and think about how hard they worked to help us get to where we are today.

An American Roadster, more or less Resurrected!

September 14, 2009
The finished beast in all her 39.5 pound glory!

The finished beast in all her 39.5 pound glory!

After a month and a half of blood, sweat, toil, tears, interruptions, errors, disappointments, misinformation, heartache, and persistence, I am (sort of) finished with the Viking 5 Star American!  This project has been prolonged primarily by my own ignorance, and although I have reached a fairly acceptable result, there remain opportunities to do a better job.  In other words, it’s like every project I undertake – compromises have to be made in order to finish the job. 

Had I been possessed of an unlimited budget, I would have had the handlebars, stem, fenders, crank and chainring re-chromed.  The bike would then have looked approximately as it did when new, although sans decals.

However, I had almost no budget for this job, so those items that couldn’t be de-rusted and shined up were painted, with the hope that some day in the future, I can get around to doing the job more permanently.  I settled for a complete mechanical overhaul, replacement of the brake cables and pads, complete rebuild of the rear wheel, stripping and painting of wheel rims, fenders, and chainguard, repair and refinishing of the original grips, and a teardown, cleaning and polishing of the original saddle.
I was able to replace the handlebars with a new Wald 8095 Touring bar, which resembles the original, but is wider (I really needed the extra width).

Wald 8095 handlebars replaced the originals, which were beyond repair

Wald 8095 handlebars replaced the originals, which were beyond repair

All in all, I’m pretty pleased with the results of this one, and today I took her out for a ride around the block.  The 53-year old Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub and shifter worked perfectly, as did the brakes, so it’s safe to ride, at least. I’m really pleased with overall look of the bike.

Here's the chainguard with the original silkscreen reveal

Here's the chainguard with the original silkscreen reveal

I opted for the English safety white stripe on the rear fender - sort of a nod to Raleigh

I opted for the English safety white on the rear fender - sort of a nod to Raleigh

Everything I replaced is period correct, although the color scheme is a completely imaginary one, and I think the bike will be fun to ride around the neighborhood.    It should keep me in shape, since the gearing is high, and the bike weighs 39 and a half pounds!

Another Bike Project – an American Roadster

September 14, 2009

Note: I wrote this post on July 31 and forgot to post it.  Here it is, followed by today’s post:

I recently came across an unidentified 3-speed roadster style bike at my local thrift store.  I thought it was a 1950 Raleigh Roadster at first glance, then I noticed the very American-style 2-piece crank and the internally mounted kickstand.  It was covered in black paint, except for the fenders and wheels, which were covered in silver paint.  The headbadge said “Viking”.  The saddle was an obvious replacement, but everything else was original, even the handlebar grips, which had a Columbia logo. 

In fact, after querying the bikeforums.com Classic & Vintage board, I was informed that the bike was in fact made by Columbia, in Westfield, MA.  Several guys recognized the crank configuration and the kickstand mount as characteristic of Columbia’s products.  Columbia was the first American bicycle manufacturer, and they became famous for, among other things, some really cool balloon-tired cruisers.  They rated their bikes by a “starred” heirarchy: 3 Star bikes were entry level, 4 Star bikes were mid-grade, and 5 Star bikes were top of the line.

One of the guys suggested I look for the serial number on the frame dropout, and look up the result on the Columbia serial number database online to get the manufacturing date.  The number was in there, and the model year was shown as 1955, with the caveat that some model years ran over into the next calendar year.  This was confirmed when the date code on the 3-speed hub showed January 1956 for its production date.  In short, the bike is nearly as old as I am!

Another collector suggested I try to remove the black paint to reveal any decals that might be underneath.  The normal methods didn’t work too well for the frame, but the chainguard revealed the words: “Columbia built 5 Star American”. 

At this point I decided to try to preserve the bike as much as possible, recognizing that a complete restoration is beyond my capabilities at the moment.   The fenders are chromed, but very rusty, with no way to restore them without a rechrome job.  For the moment, I’m going to prime and paint them, along with the cranks and chainring.  Some day I’ll get the funds and the gumption to have them triple-chrome plated, but for the moment, I want to get the bike ridable and looking presentable.

Here are a few of the pictures taken before and during disassembly, with a few after shots as well:


Viking 5 Star American as found - don't look too close!

Here's the headbadge - the only ID we had to start off with

Here's the headbadge - the only ID we had to start off with

Handlebars wrapped with tape to cover the rust!

Handlebars wrapped with tape to cover the rust!

"Beaked" fenders

"Beaked" fenders Gnarly rusty pitted handlebars...Rusty crank, painted over chrome

Removing the top coat of paint revealed this silk screen on the chainguard.

Removing the top coat of paint revealed this silk screen on the chainguard.

I found out a few interesting things about how to clean up old parts in the process of ressurrecting this beast.  Here are a few of them:
1) Rusty chrome can be shined up really nicely by dipping a ball of aluminum foil in lemon juice and polishing off the rust.  It really is effective.  
2) Oxalic acid dissolves rust – a commercial rust remover containing the stuff can be used to soak old fasteners, brackets, etc. and the rust simply goes away!  Be careful not to get it on aluminum parts.
3) Goof Off is a great product for dissolving the top coat of paint – when a bike has been repainted, you can often reveal the original color and sometimes the decals or silk screen decorations.
I’ll be posting pictures of the final results when I get finished!

The Joy of Empanadas (or, How to Make Leftovers Presentable!)

July 19, 2009

I’m convinced that the first empanadas were made by an enterprising Mexican cook who was faced with unexpected dinner guests and a pile of unappetizing leftovers with which to create a meal.   You can stuff almost anything into an empanada shell, deep fry it, and create something that tastes better than the sum of its parts.  That’s what I call cooking for real men!  Unidentifiable morsels of meat soaked in chiles and sauce, wrapped in a pastry shell, and deep fried in hot grease – heavenly!!

Here’s what I came up with tonight at the spur of the moment.  A sort of Hostess Pig Pie, if you will, created from the remnants of Alton Brown’s Grilled Pork Tenderloin (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/grilled-pork-tenderloin-recipe/index.html), a can of salsa, and 10 Goya Empanada Discs.  Here are the specifics, though you can deviate to the max and still have a good meal:


Leftover Pork Empanadas

3/4 to 1 lb. leftover pork tenderloin (or pulled pork, or whatever’s handy)

1   7-3/4 oz. can El Pato Jalapeno Salsa (or about 1 cup of whatever you like)

1 pkg. Goya Empanada discs

Canola or other high temperature cooking oil

Shred and/or chop the pork.  Pour on the salsa.  Mix.

Use a serving spoon to deliver 1-1/2 to 2 Tbs. of the pork filling to the center of each empanada disc.  Using your finger dipped in icewater, wet the outside edge of the disc where you’ll be crimping the edges together.  Fold the empanada in half, join the two edges and crimp with a small fork.

In a large saucepan, place enough oil to submerge the empanadas, and heat to 360 degrees F.  Use a meat thermometer, and try to keep the oil temperature between 325 and 375 at all times.   Depending on the size of your pan, you may have to fry as few as two empanadas at a time.  When they float to the top, turn once or twice to brown them evenly.  If fully submerged, they will require about 2 minutes total cooking time to become golden brown.  Remove and drain on paper towels.   Serve with your favorite condiments and a side dish of vegetables, or whatever you like.


The nice thing about empanadas is that the filling can be made from almost anything from savory to sweet, from meat to vegetables to fruit.   They make great lunch entrees, dessert items, or appetizers.  Have fun!!



Back on the Bike (and Breathing Hard Again)

July 19, 2009

After 20 miles of easy biking, I decided it was time to start pushing it a bit. Having fought off a serious case of pneumonia this winter, I’ve been working on controlling my asthma for several months now, and it’s working pretty well. But I’m just now getting back onto the bike for real, and it’s pretty obvious that it’s going to take a while to get back to my previous form.

The day before yesterday, I rode 7.6 miles in 32 minutes at an average speed of 14.0 mph. Yesterday, it was 7.25 miles in 30 minutes, avg. speed 14.5 mph. I’m taking today off, then tomorrow I’ll try to improve slightly on those numbers.

I’m concluding that my speed is pretty close to what it used to be, but my endurance is way down. I guess my first goal will be to get up to an hour at my current speed – but that’ll take a few days (or weeks).

In the process of preparing for this, I had to get my bikes back in shape. I own three French road bikes – two tourers and a club racer. All my bikes are Motobecanes, made by the French company of that name (they’re no longer in the bike business, but they continue to exist as a division of Yamaha that builds mopeds. Motobecane means “motor bicycle” in French)

The racer is my fitness bike. It’s a 1982 Motobecane Mirage Sport, a steel-framed 12-speed with racing gearing (meaning hard to pedal most of the time), downtube shifters, and all original components. 27″ x 1″ tires means a fast but rough ride. The plain old low-end 2010 steel frame, however, makes up for a lot in the comfort area. This bike rides sweeter than just about any aluminum-framed carbon-forked over-priced monstrosity you can buy today. It’s the bike I ride around the neighborhood, and it’s equipped for speed. I’ve had it for about five years – my first French bike, and the reason I have two others.
I bought it at a swap meet and had it overhauled at my local bike shop, the cost of which motivated me to learn how to do all my own bike repairs!

The real torture rack - the bike I'm using to get back in shape!

The real torture rack - the bike I'm using to get back in shape!

My 1977 Motobecane Grand Touring bike is definitely the best bike I own. It has a Vitus 172 DB chrome-moly steel main triangle, brazed lugged steel frame, and is completely original in it’s current configuration, right down to the Zefal pump that came mounted to the seat tube. It’s a light day tourer, and it’s great for longer rides that last all day. I got it from a friend at work – it had been hanging in his garage for over ten years. I completely overhauled the bike, but I only had to replace the rubber parts and the bearings, plus a bottom bracket spindle and a few cables. After a lot of leather treatment and mink oil, the Brooks leather saddle is as comfy as a hammock (Sally doesn’t believe it, but it’s true!). This bike was used on a fully-supported tour of Nova Scotia, so the frame is strong enough for heavier loads than I’ll ever carry!

Here's my baby - the lightest frame and the sweetest ride I own!

Here's my baby - the lightest frame and the sweetest ride I own!

The 1982 Motobecane Randonnee is my “heavy” touring bike. Although I’ve never used it for fully loaded touring, it’s capable of handling it. Rack and fender mounts are brazed onto the 2040 steel frame, and the wheels are wider for more load carrying capacity. I use it for trail and path riding. I got it from my neighbor’s trash one night when he wasn’t looking. Sally gave me hell for bringing it into the garage – it was a real rust pile! After stripping the frame, repainting, new decals, a few new components, tires, tubes, cables, new brake levers and hoods, new aluminum bars to replace the rusty chromed steel ones, she looks great! It’s the first bike I’ve built from the frame up – and maybe the last!

Doesn't look like she came from a trashpile now, does she?

Doesn't look like she came from a trashpile now, does she?

I don’t really need three bikes, but I’m not likely to get rid of any of these in the near future – it’ll take quite a nice bike to tempt me to replace one of these three.

I’m Still Alive, Just Too Lazy to Write!

July 7, 2009

I’ve been very lax about catching up here since we returned from vacation.  The Wednesday after I started back to work, I had to fly to North Carolina, where I spent three days making sales calls with one of our distributors.  Normally this would be an opportunity to catch up on my indulgence in southern barbecue, but not this time!  The day before I left, I broke a back molar, which had to be extracted, leaving me on a liquid and jello diet for the entirety of the trip!   So, the hospitality was great, but the food was nonexistent..

 I suggest you look at Sally’s blog for the account of our day in Ashtabula for the Beach Glass Festival.  It was great fun, and the remainder of the day was equally nice.  We rode about ten miles on the bike trail in Austinburg, then had a picnic in the township park nearby.  All in all, just about a perfect day.

No trip to Ashtabula is complete without a trip to the overlook!

No trip to Ashtabula is complete without a trip to the overlook!

This weekend we took in the Mesopotamia Ox Roast, and annual benefit for the volunteer fire department.  It’s an annual affair, and the food and the flea market make the trip worthwhile.  Mesopotamia is in Amish country, so the horses and buggies are everywhere. 

The Hitchin' Post

The Hitchin' Post

It takes a lot of beef to serve up 15,000 sandwiches in three days!

The smell is amazing!!

The smell is amazing!!

The line for the food is very long, but it moves fast, and the conversation can be very amusing.

Great roast beef, but the sauce could use a little more spice!

Great roast beef, but the sauce could use a little more spice!

Hey, this guy's been to Paint Creek Lake

Hey, this guy's been to Paint Creek Lake!

I particularly enjoyed listening to an obvious city-dweller asking an Amish lady how they keep their horses from breaking loose when they’re tied to the hitching post.  She patiently explained that the reins are attached to a neck rope, and they can’t pull back without choking!  

Hey, cutie, whattaya say we bust outta this place and go sow a few wild oats?

Hey, cutie, whattaya say we bust outta this place and go sow a few wild oats?

The flea market had some cool items, including a few vintage bikes (my particular weakness), but nothing really that interesting.

Once again, check out Sally’s blog for more info and photos.  

 We headed out to Middlefield in search of dessert, and unfortunately found ourselves at a very tempting and well-known locale, Mary Yoder’s Amish Kitchen.  We ordered “Homemade pie” and were asked if we wanted ice cream on it.  We both said yes, and neither of us asked either the kind of ice cream or the price.  What we eventually got was a shot of soft-serve vanilla on top of the most obviously commercially-prepared pie I’ve ever eaten.   Then to make matters worse, the price of that ice cream was almost equal to the price of the pie!  I won’t rant any further about this place except to say this:  Don’t waste your time or your money coming here.  Most people coming to an Amish restaurant are expecting a little place where everything is made from scratch, or at least using minimal prepared ingredients.  This place is one step above the school cafeteria! 

On the 4th of July, I finally got back on the bike for another 10-mile jaunt.  This ride was at Headlands Beach, close to home.  The ride was a little more strenuous than the Austinburg trip, and I’m hoping to get back in shape before the summer is over.  More on that subject to come…..

Saguaro National Park – A Forest of Cacti

June 14, 2009

As we entered Tucson on Friday afternoon, we drove through the Saguaro National Park, a unique preserve full of saguaro and 21 other species of cactus. There are numerous types of wildlife, including javelinas, gila monsters, mountain lions (didn’t see any, fortunately), and many others.

The gallery I’m posting shows some of the best photos I got – the overall trip is so overwhelming that it’s difficult to document in a few shots. At the Visitors’ Center, we had a rare chance to see some javelinas that had simply crawled up next to the observation window and fallen asleep! Sighting a baby javelina is a fairly unusual thing, so we were pretty excited.

We couldn’t spend too much time in the park because of our schedule, and besides, the heat was unbelievable. However, we really enjoyed the short trip through the forest. Next time, we hope to come here in May, when the cacti are in bloom!

From Pinos Altos to Tucson, via the Rex Allen Museum

June 14, 2009
Last look at our little home away from home

Last look at our little home away from home

We left Pinos Altos around 11:00 a.m. on Friday to head back to Tucson. Along the way, we stopped for lunch at a randomly selected town that turned out to be Willcox, AZ. Willcox has two claims to fame. On July 6, 1900, Warren Earp, the brother of Wyatt, Morgan, James and Virgil Earp, was shot and killed in the Headquarters Saloon right here.

Warren met his fate right here (er, inside the gift shop)

Warren met his fate right here (er, inside the gift shop)

The saloon burned down in 1940, but there’s a plaque on the street corner to commemorate the occasion. Of course, the plaque now hangs on the outside wall of a craft shop which bears no resemblance whatsoever to the Headquarters Saloon, but you can still “come in and stand where Warren Earp was shot on July 6, 1900”. Yes, there’s a sign in the window of the shop inviting visitors to do exactly that. We didn’t go in.

Sally and Andy on the site of the Headquarters Saloon

Sally and Andy on the site of the Headquarters Saloon

Oh yes, Willcox has another claim to fame, thank goodness. It’s the hometown of Rex Allen, the “last of the silver screen cowboys”, star of many Republic Pictures productions in the 1950’s, and contemporary of Roy Rogers (who was my personal favorite). He was also the star of “Frontier Doctor,” a TV series that ran 39 episodes in 1955 and 1956. There’s a large bronze statue of Rex Allen in a park located in the historic section of Wilcox, directly across the street from the Rex Allen Theater and the Rex Allen Museum.

Rex Allen statue

Rex Allen statue

Rex Allen Theater

Rex Allen Theater

Rex Allen Museum

Rex Allen Museum

The Museum also houses the Arizona Cowboy Hall of Fame, which I got to see for free along with the admission to the Rex Allen Museum (a $5.00 donation per family). The Rex Allen Museum was well worth the 5 bucks, and the AZ Cowboy Hall of Fame was worth what I paid to see it, too.

I was surprised to find that Rex actually grew up on a homestead in the 1920’s and early 30’s , so he was clearly more qualified to be a movie cowboy than my old hero Roy, who came from Ohio. Anyway, the museum contains a lot of memorabilia, including early artifacts from the homestead, costumes, props, recordings, hats, boots, saddles, etc., etc., etc.

Rex's boots & saddle

Rex's boots & saddle

A TV in the back was playing “Colorado Sundown” starring Rex Allen and Slim Pickens.

The movie posters are worth the price of admission

The movie posters are worth the price of admission

Coincidentally, this is the only Rex Allen movie I can ever recall having seen before. Figures.

On the way out, I decided to purchase a numbered bronze commemorative medal struck in Rex’s honor back in the 70’s and still available to visitors. Unfortunately, the guy in charge had no idea “which key fit the lock on the case,” so I had to forgo the pleasure. Apparently those medals aren’t too popular, as he told me no one had ever asked to buy one that he knew of.

In retrospect, the thing I liked best about Willcox was Big Tex’s Barbecue, an actual railroad dining car which now offers some of the best brisket I’ve had outside of Texas. If by some miniscule chance you ever find yourself in Willcox, don’t miss Big Tex’s.

Last Night Under Dark Skies

June 14, 2009

When I titled a previous post “Lugging a 52 Lb. Telescope Across the Country for Nothing, Part 1”, I fully expected that this post would be Part 2 of that story. But this is definitely not the case! The skies were dark and clear, and although the “seeing” was not so good, Sally and I spent several hours stargazing.

My efforts to get webcam shots of Saturn didn’t go well. Thermal convections in the upper atmosphere caused the image to distort, shimmer, float, and otherwise smear all over the place, so I couldn’t get pictures.

I did mount my digital camera on the tripod for this night shot:

Night sky looking toward Silver City

Night sky looking toward Silver City

It’s a little blurred due to the long time exposure, but you can get an idea of what the star-filled sky looks like.

As the night wore on, the visibility got better, and Sally and I used both binoculars and the telescope to explore the constellations, finding a couple of interesting star clusters, the Lagoon Nebula, and a number of other attractions.

Unfortunately, we had to get up early to pack the car and depart for Tucson on Friday, so around midnight we bade farewell to the starry skies and went to bed.

Dark Skies Make a Difference!

June 11, 2009

Last night, I finally got a chance to set up the telescope and view the night sky. The clouds were mostly gone by nightfall, and the temperature was cool but not cold. I was pretty wiped out after yesterday’s trek to the Gila Cliff Dwellings so I only observed for a couple of hours. Since I didn’t set up the webcam, I don’t have any pictures, but I have inserted a couple of Hubble telescope shots of the main things I did see. Unfortunately, my views were not so spectacular as the photos here, since my telescope has only a 6″ aperture, and I’m looking through miles of atmosphere, but you get the idea.

My first impression upon looking at the night sky was amazement at how many stars are visible. After years of living in light-polluted cities where only the brightest stars are visible, the panorama of a truly dark sky reveals a myriad of bright pinpoints of light. Details become visible even in faint deep-sky objects which would be impossible to discern in the city.
Unpacking, setting up the scope, changing the latitude and longitude settings, adjusting the mount alignment, and finally aligning the scope took a lot longer than I expected last night. Tonight will be a lot easier and I should be able to get more done.

I started with Saturn (no photo yet) and was amazed at how sharp it appeared, even at high magnification. I’m hoping to get a webcam exposure of Saturn tonight.

I ran a sky tour to get acclimated to the clearer sky view, and was particularly impressed with these objects:

M81 - Bode's Nebula (NASA Hubble Telescope photo)

M81 - Bode's Nebula (NASA Hubble Telescope photo)

Bode’s Nebula is a spiral galaxy that usually appears as a faint fuzzball in light-polluted skies. Here, I was able to discern the shape of the galaxy and the bright stars around the rim, but I couldn’t make out the spiral arms. With a larger scope, these would have been visible. Increasing the magnification actually made things worse, as it often does with faint objects. However, this is an object I’d be lucky to find from my backyard, much less see any detail.

Sombrero Galaxy - M104 (NASA Hubble Telescope photo)

Sombrero Galaxy - M104 (NASA Hubble Telescope photo)

The Sombrero Galaxy has the shape of, well you get the picture. Through my telescope, the shape was apparent, and using averted vision, I could make out the dark dust lane through the middle of the galaxy. Medium magnification (100X) gave the best view.

Globular Cluster in Canes Venatici - M3 (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Globular Cluster in Canes Venatici - M3 (Wikipedia Commons photo)

This globular cluster consists of a half million stars, most of them too far away and apparently close together to resolve separately. The view of this cluster is the best I’ve ever seen through this telescope. Quite a few of the stars could be discerned separately, and the brightness of the object (compared to what I usually see at home) is amazing.

All in all, last night was a fun start. I only have one more night to observe, so tonight will be a long session. More to come!

Gila Cliff Dwellings, Clear Skies, and Steep Curves

June 10, 2009
Sally on the trail

Sally on the trail


Andy made it all the way to the top of the trail, too!

Andy made it all the way to the top of the trail, too!

Today we journeyed up to the Gila Cliff Dwellings to take a short hike up the mountain and see where the Mogollon people lived between 1270 and 1290 A.D. The dwellings are in the Gila National Forest, a couple hours drive from our cabins at Pinos Altos. Along the way, we passed an old adobe house, which is in disrepair but still intact.

Old Adobe House

Old Adobe House

The visitor’s center has several hummingbird feeders hanging outside, with the largest and most diverse population I’ve ever seen in one place.

Hummingbirds at the Gila Visitor Center

Hummingbirds at the Gila Visitor Center

The Mogollons are believed to have intermarried with the Anasazi to form what are now the Pueblo people. I can’t begin to show everything from the trip, but here are a few pictures from the dwellings themselves. The road up to the dwellings is very steep, with switchbacks and sharp curves. The altitude of the cliffs is about the same as where we are staying, around 5900-6000 feet, but the mountains in between are higher, up to 7400 feet above sea level. The whole thing makes for a bit of huffing and puffing when climbing the hills, but it’s worth it!

View of the cliff dwellings from across the ravine

View of the cliff dwellings from across the ravine

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Inside the cave

Inside the cave

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After leaving the main site, I hiked down another trail to a small single dwelling.

This little dwelling is on the other side of the mountain from the rest

This little dwelling is on the other side of the mountain from the rest

We came back to the cabins to eat and prepare the telescope for tonight’s viewing. The sky looks very clear!

Thunderstorms, Rain, Eventual Clearing and Hummingbirds for Breakfast

June 10, 2009

The weather was rough last night, but the clouds are moving out this morning. It is expected to be clear tonight, so the telescope will finally see first light in New Mexico.

Spooky full moon

Spooky full moon

I took a few time exposures from the deck last night to capture the full moon obscured by clouds.

Blue-throated hummingbird at the feeder

Blue-throated hummingbird at the feeder

Today we will be heading up to the Gila Wilderness to view the cliff dwellings in that area. I’ll be posting those pictures later.

There are several distinct species of hummingbird in the area – we’ve seen two. The black-chinned hummingbird is small and mostly green with a black throat. Sally spotted one this morning. No photos yet. The blue-throated hummingbird is more common. I caught a few shots this morning.

This would be a clearer picture if the window was cleaner

This would be a clearer picture if the window was cleaner

Lugging a 52 Lb. Telescope Across the Country for Nothing, Part 1

June 9, 2009
Split Rainbow over Silver City - NOT a good sign

Split Rainbow over Silver City - NOT a good sign


More intense rainbow - cause it's raining like mad over there!

More intense rainbow - cause it's raining like mad over there!

OK, I’m glad I got that off my chest. The weather sucks at the moment, but it’s supposed to clear off tomorrow evening, so in the meantime we’re checking out the local attractions. We started at the Silver City Municipal Museum – ain’t that a catchy name??

Silver City Mu... something or other

Silver City Mu... something or other

As you can see, it’s located in an old mansion once owned by a local mining company executive. Much of the first floor is dedicated to the owner and his wife. I thought that was boring until I got to the other half, which consisted of a display of old wedding dresses from the turn of the century through World War Two. Most of the dresses were owned by society types, and were accompanied by long descriptions of the social credentials of the bride and groom. The photographs of working people were mostly unidentified. I’d make some social commentary here, but I blacked out from sheer boredom at this point and Andy had to drag me upstairs to recover.

On the second floor, the museum has an interesting display of old mining equipment from the days of the silver mining boom (hence the name Silver City, get it?) and more local history, most of which would bore the whiskers off an insurance actuary.

Be sure to drink your... er, radium

Be sure to drink your... er, radium

However, I did find this really interesting old ad for rocks containing radium, which you could soak in water (to make the water radioactive) and then you could DRINK THE RADIOACTIVE WATER to cure whatever ailed you. Like being alive. Anyway, here’s the ad – sure glad I came to Silver City.

Very fuzzy woodpecker

Very fuzzy woodpecker

This evening, Sally spotted an Acorn Woodpecker (we think) and I took a shot from way off. You can almost tell what it is.

Sure hope the weather clears up tomorrow!

Deadly Nightshade, Blooming Yuccas and Death from Sunstroke at the OK Corral

June 9, 2009
Soaptree Yucca

Soaptree Yucca

Our drive down to Tombstone from Tucson was really beautiful. The change in terrain was particularly interesting, as the saguaro gave way to more yuccas, and in the San Pedro river area, lusher vegetation. Sally identified these as Soaptree yuccas.

Pretty but deadly!

Pretty but deadly!

I was fascinated by a low bush with trumpetlike blooms that, upon further research turned out to be deadly nightshade. I now think of this as a portent of the day to come….

We pulled into Tombstone in high anticipation; the historical characters of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Ike Clanton, and the others who fought at the OK Corral would soon be portrayed by real-life figures in an exciting tableau…………..NOT!!!

1882 Cochise County Courthouse

1882 Cochise County Courthouse

Fortunately, before we descended into the travesty that is Tombstone Historama, we checked out the historical 1882 Cochise County (yes, that Cochise!) Courthouse. The building is now a museum containing lots of artifacts related to the early history of Tombstone and the surrounding county, of which Tombstone was the seat until 1929.

In the walled courtyard a replica gallows stands, with a plaque commemorating the 7 men who were hanged there between 1882 and 1900. Inside are the depictions of a few men who were hanged elsewhere without benefit of due process, not to mention the 1200 “Communist sympathizers and agitators” (read: union miners and organizers) who were legally DEPORTED to New Mexico shortly after the turn of the century. There is no word as to how the citizens of the Territory of New Mexico felt about becoming the recipients of Arizona’s human refuse. But, I digress…

Thirsty passengers arriving at Kate's

Thirsty passengers arriving at Kate's

The next stop, and the one at which we should have spent more time had we known what was coming, was Big-Nosed Kate’s Saloon. Big-Nosed Kate’s is a real saloon (at least to the extent that anything in Tombstone is real) located in the original Grand Hotel building, which was, in the 1880’s, occupied by various notables including the Earps, Doc Holliday, Kate herself, and many others. Today, it is quite changed from its former respectability, and consequently is a lot more fun. Stained glass windows portray Wyatt, Doc, and Kate, looking considerably better than they did in real life. Live music, provided this day by Joe Barr, contributed to the atmosphere. The food (burgers smothered in green chiles, fries, and sarsaparilla in my case) was excellent, and a good time was had by all. If you plan to come to Tombstone, I highly recommend Big-Nosed Kate’s. In fact, if you come here, you probably shouldn’t go any where else. Just have a burger and a beer and head on home.

I forgot the sunscreen!

I forgot the sunscreen!

I didn’t have the advantage of the above advice, so we headed down the street, which is filled with touristy attractions designed to separate you from your money. Here’s what Doc Holliday really looked like!

At Sally’s insistence (gotta make sure she takes the blame for this!), we proceeded to the Tombstone Historama, which is a complex that includes a museum, a theatre with a diorama and movie presentation (narrated by Vincent Price) that has to be seen to be believed.

Truthfully, at this point, I wasn’t too bothered by the experience, since the diorama alone is worth the 9 bucks it costs to get in. The diorama was apparently constructed sometime in the mid-60’s, and it looks as though it has been neither cleaned nor maintained in the intervening 40 years or so. When Morgan Earp gets shot, the legs of his little figure collapse beneath him, but the string that is intended to pull him backwards doesn’t work, so he simply sits down with his knees bent in two different directions. Apparently there were a lot of Morgan Earp fans in the audience, because I was the only one who laughed when he went down….

After the theatre presentation ended, we were herded into the OK Corral. I’m not kidding about that. We were HERDED into the outdoor “museum” consisting of a few buggies and a hearse, plus a single room containing an elaborate tribute to the Michigan lawyer who bought the entire property in the early 60’s and “restored” it to its currently decrepit state. At this point in time, around 1:30 pm, we had 30 minutes to kill before the live-action gunfight took place, and there was absolutely no shade to be found. We stood around in the blazing sun, sand beneath our feet reflecting the UV rays into our faces, as the walled yard slowly filled up with more and more bewildered tourists. The outdoor theatre in which the gunfight was to take place was closed off by two large doors. These doors were to open at 1:45, at which point we would at least be in the shade.

But the doors did not open at 1:45. In fact, the entire crowd stood out in the blazing sun for 30 full minutes before the doors finally opened. Now, 30 minutes in the sun is not usually a big deal, but standing on sand in Tombstone at 1:30 in the afternoon will put a hurt on you in a hurry if you’re not adequately protected. I was not. Many of the others were not either. So a few of us got nice sunburn to go with the show, which I assure you is not worth the 9 bucks admission charge, even without the sunburn.

Wyatt, Doc, Virgil, Morgan and the gang trapped inside a wrought-iron fence

Wyatt, Doc, Virgil, Morgan and the gang trapped inside a wrought-iron fence

While broiling in the midday sun awaiting deliverance, we were treated to an animatronic portrayal of the famous gunfight on the actual site of its occurrence. Six manniquins, dressed in long dusters, wide-brimmed hats, and boots dried out in the sun until their toes pointed skyward, stood on the very spot the fight took place. Unfortunately, the animatronics of 1965 aren’t very impressive. In fact, until I waked right up to them, I didn’t think they were moving at all. But upon closer inspection, and during the fifth or sixth repetition of this engaging display, I noticed that when Wyatt spoke, his head moved slightly. And when the fight took place, the figures’ gun hands moved slo-o-o-o-w-ly into position before the sounds of the shots were heard. Since no one actually fell when shot, it wasn’t very exciting.

But finally the doors opened and we were freed from the glare of the sun. Seated on bleachers beneath the shade of a canopy, we awaited the dramatic real-life portrayal of the event.

Doc recites Shakespeare while drunk

Doc recites Shakespeare while drunk

If your idea of living history is Doc Holliday introducing the scene with a Shakespearean soliloquy, Wyatt and Virgil portrayed as a pair of brutal, uncaring louts, and the whole event viewed as a murderous assault on a family of unassuming cattle ranchers, then you may like this little play.

The Earps mercilessly murder the innocent cowboys

The Earps mercilessly murder the innocent cowboys

However, it’s a bit too politically correct for my taste, and I’m sure most of the 5 to 8 year-olds in the audience had a rough time figuring out why the men wearing the badges were murdering the good guys. At least that’s the way it looked to me.

If I were running a tourist attraction dedicated to the events of 100+ years ago, I think I’d try to at least portray the principal figures in a more sympathetic light. Yes, I know that Wyatt Earp was not lily-white. In fact, he was primarily a professional gambler, and wasn’t really interested in being a lawman in Tombstone. And I’m sure the cowboys had their good points. But this play is just ridiculous, and if I were a descendant of the Earps, I’d be suing for slander.

If you go to Tombstone, try to keep your sense of humor. A couple of beers at Big-Nosed Kate’s definitely wouldn’t hurt. And don’t forget the sunscreen!

Arrival in Tucson

June 9, 2009

Our trip from Cleveland to Tucson being uneventful, we picked up our rented minivan (a severely stripped Dodge Caravan with manual everything, but a bargain at $44.95 a day!) and headed across town to the Holiday Inn Express.  I was a bit wary about the hotel, but my fears were unfounded.  Both the room and the amenities were far beyond my expectations.  The hotel employees were friendly and courteous, and the free breakfast was excellent.  I’m really impressed by this place.  The outdoor hot tub was a great way to loosen up the kinks of full day on the plane!

Headed for the Dark Skies of New Mexico!

June 4, 2009

My newest avocation is amateur astronomy, so when my wife, Sally, suggested we vacation in New Mexico this year, I was overjoyed.  The night skies of New Mexico are some of the clearest and darkest to be found in the United States.  Given the opportunity to spend 7 nights observing under these most coveted conditions, I resolved to be ready to make the most of it.

 I quickly decided that I needed a larger telescope for this trip, since my little 60mm go-to scope simply wouldn’t gather enough light to do the job.  My larger scope, a 5” Newtonian on a Dob mount, was a bit too heavy to transport on an airplane (mostly due to my inept carpentry and a heavy dose of over-engineering), and besides, I wanted a tracking mount for astrophotography.   The ideal scope, I decided, after much research, is the Celestron C-6S Advanced GT, a 6” Schmidt-Cassegrain on an equatorial go-to mount.  For those not familiar with telescopes, this model has a computer that can locate objects in the sky, and then “track” the object, keeping it in the field of view by compensating for the apparent motion caused by the rotation of the earth.  But this telescope was, frankly, beyond the bounds of my meager budget.



 Fortunately, however, I am a bit of a packrat.  Some sympathetic souls would call me a “collector”, but my wife clearly prefers the less respectable term.  I have managed to accumulate a collection of photographic material that dates back to my 13th birthday, a number of coins, knives, firearms, and, as luck would have it, a few toys from my childhood 45 years ago or thereabouts.    One of these toys was a spaceship known as Fireball XL-5 in its original box.   Off to Ebay it went without a moment’s hesitation. 

One of my former interests was scuba.  Unfortunately, I now suffer from asthma, so diving is prohibited.   Off to the auction site went my regulators, bags, dive light, gauges, weights, BC vests, and another full set of equipment that had belonged to Sally, who was quite happy to see it all go (she never cared much for scuba diving)!

 Now there was lots more room in my storage space, but the auction results would determine whether or not I could afford the new Celestron.  As luck would have it, several collectors were very interested in the spaceship, and the scuba gear sold quickly as well.  I ordered the Celestron as soon as the payments cleared the bank.

 After much practice assembling and disassembling the scope, mount, tripod, and controls, I think I’m ready to venture forth.  We’ll be flying out of Cleveland on Sunday morning, connecting in Houston, and arriving in Tucson, AZ on Sunday afternoon.  We’ll spend the night in Tucson and drive out early Monday, with a short stop in Tombstone (who could miss a chance to see the site of the gunfight at the OK Corral?) and thence to Los Pinos Altos, near Silver City, NM. 

 If you are reading this, and you have any suggestions about what to see in the daytime, where to eat (we love southwestern food), or anything else that strikes your fancy, please post!  Also, if you’re experienced with astrophotography or webcam astro-imaging in particular, please post any suggestions you may have.


Dana Kennedy  June 3, 2009  9:44:59 PM

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