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!

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

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!


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

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!

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!

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