Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Saturday, 30 September 2006

Spook Lights

South Hero, Vermont - 30 September, 2006

It'a 3:30 AM. Mrs. Phred kicks me out of bed to go out and turn off the Toyota headlights again. They turn themselves on in the very early morning and drain the battery, but not every night.

The dealerships have done nothing about the problem because "we can't reproduce it". We bought the new car in late June. The battery has drained eight times now.

This time it's very starry out again and again heavy dew has formed on the windows. Turning the light switch off and on did not extinguish the lights this time. Therefore the problem is getting worse. Finally I put the light assembly lever in the high-beam position and the lights finally go off. I suspect a short in the light assembly that is activated by morning dew or a lazy gremlin.

We've been driving in Vermont's Green Mountains looking for fall foliage, graveyards, covered bridges and dairy cows to photograph. Some sources say the peak colors are yet to come, others say they've passed. I'm really tempted to buy some postcards and scan them in to save on gas.

Today we plan to go to Montreal in Quebec and look at the underground city. It's only about an hour north, so it should be a fun day trip.

Vermont is unusual. It has the only state capital without a Macdonald's hamburger palace. It was the last state to receive a Wal-mart, the first to abolish slavery and the first to eliminate property ownership as a condition for voting. They drew "first blood" in the Revolutionary War. It's known for beautiful fall foliage, maple syrup, skiing and dairy cows. It is the most "blue" state.

There are many anti-Bush bumper stickers here:
- Somewhere in Texas a village is missing it's idiot
- No one died when Clinton lied
- Trust him twice: shame on us
- If you can read this, you're not the president

Sunday, 24 September 2006

Wooden Boats

Thousand Islands, New York

We go to the Classic Wooden Boats Museum on the banks of the Saint Lawrence without great expectations. I’m immediately excited as we enter the World Cup building and see one of Gar Wood’s speedboats from the 1920s.

The ultimate Gar Woods' “Miss America X” in 1932 had a quad-pack of huge Packard marine engines developing a combined 7,600 horsepower. These big, 1,230 cubic inch, marine V-12s had huge square straight-though exhaust pipes pointed at the sky. They billowed tongues of flame and must have produced unimaginable noise when the throttles were jammed forward by the onboard Packard engineer. You can almost imagine a pair of goggled maniacs hitting 125 as fingers of death-fire shoot from the stacks.

The British engineering genius, Sir Malcolm Campbell, in the “Bluebird” and the English lady speedboat king Barbara Martin “Joe” Carstairs in her “Miss England” competed unsuccessfully for years with Wood during the 20s and 30s despite the advantage of a government subsidized lightweight Allison aircraft engine.

I also love the wooden speedboat with the supercharged 1957 Chrysler hemi. All these beautiful boats are poetry in wood. It’s a shame that fiberglass or steel have become the boat hulls of choice.

One of the exhibits is the 102 foot, 247 ton houseboat that a Mr. Boldt had built in 1902. It has ten bedrooms, five bathrooms, a party deck and a piano. Originally the hull was mahogany but it has been replaced by steel. Mr. Boldt also built a castle on an island nearby. It is six stories tall. We hope to see it tomorrow.

Here are pictures of lovely wooden boats.

One of the pictures is of a 1904 French Motogodilla outboard engine. It’s said to be the oldest gasoline outboard that still exists. It has a straight shaft drive on a pipe connected to the crankshaft. The engine is mounted on a swivel and the boat is turned by moving the engine and prop in the direction opposite to the desired travel path.. I saw this design in widespread use on the canals of Bangkok and rivers of Vietnam in 1966. An wrinkled old lady with bright orange teeth once smiled and tossed me a betel nut.

Saturday, 16 September 2006

Sentimental Journey

Pima Air Museum, Tucson, Arizona

There are 80 acres of airplanes on display here. I take pictures and scribble in my notebook for five hours. Many of these airplanes evoke a flood of long-dormant memories.

They even have a C-124 — it may well be one that took me to Thailand and back. I long to climb up the crew ladder and sit at the navigator's table, but these planes are sealed up and tied down. There is also a beautifully restored B-29.

The technological wonder of its time, it cost $600,000 a copy, a $3 billion wartime Cadillac investment. The 250 mph jet stream over Japan fouled up plans for high-altitude bombing. Navigator genius Curtis Lemay stood methods on their head by stripping armament and machine guns and sending in waves of these giants and their children crews with 10-pound incendiaries at night, at 500 feet, to set fire to hundreds of thousands of women, children and old men.

The names of these lovely shining birds included:
• Sentimental Journey
• Laden Maiden
• Liberty Belle
• Uninvited Guest
• American Beauty
• Lethal Lady
• Lucky Strike
• Arson, Inc
• Bad Penny
• Blind Date
• Enola Gay

We now are in the Lost Dutchman State Park at the base of Superstition Mountain. The coyotes are close and set off the camp dogs with eerie wails and yips. An RV near us is flying the Union Jack and the sun is setting.

The Dutchman came into town with a pocketful of gold nuggets, but failed to return from a second trip. Whether he was done in by Apaches or underground reptiloids is a source of speculation. A couple on a camping trip found a ledge of gold a few years ago, but the husband had a fatal heart attack on the walk back and the wife couldn't find the place again.

Many people claim to have had experiences with different types of alien beings inhabiting underground catacombs below these mountains east of Phoenix. Reports of reptilian and "grey type" aliens have increased. Some reported encounters involve reptiloids in black-hooded cloaks using abducted/campers as mind slaves or worse.

Friday, 15 September 2006

The Finger Lakes of New York

Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Glaciers pushed though here 12,000 years ago and left heaped up high mountains and very long gouged-out lakes. Some of the lakes are 40 miles long and a mile wide. There are salt mines under the lakes where salts were deposited 400 million years ago. Cornell University scientists are still looking for neutron flashes deep underground in tanks of dark water.

The gorges in this area have been cut though soft shale in the eye-blink since the glaciers receded. Here are some pictures of on of the gorge/waterfalls called “Buttermilk

We have an appointment here to apply for Mrs. Phred’s old age benefits. We arrived at the small local Social Security office at 8:58 AM for our 9 AM appointment. It's been "hardened" against terrorists.

The Wackenhut security guard is armed. He unlocks the thick glass office door at precisely 9 AM and we enter to log in to our appointment on a screen with REALLY BIG fonts for old people.

A few seconds later he buzzes us into an interview room though a steel door. The counselor is behind a large sheet of bulletproof glass. There is a slot to push though Mrs. Phred's birth certificate...

We went to the 215 foot Taugannoock falls today with friends who have traveled here to meet us. Late in the day I get a shot of a Monarch butterfly on a purple flower…it’s my best photo ever.

The Cornell ornithologists reintroduced peregrine falcons into the gorge several years ago. They tagged the falcons with radio transmitters. All the transmitters were later found in owl pellets.

Wednesday, 6 September 2006

In the Mines, Where the Sun Never Shines

Lackawanna Coal Mine, Scranton, Pennsylvania

We don hardhats and coats and ride the cable car deep into the cold abandoned anthracite mine near Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Coal is ranked in the U.S. from highest to lowest quality as anthracite, bituminous, subbituminous, and lignite. Recoverable reserves are estimated at about 275 billion tons, enough for about 200 years at the current rate of consumption. The cleanest and hottest burning coal is anthracite. This makes up 1.5% of the reserve and is located almost entirely in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Anthracite was formed during the Carboniferous geologic period from about 250 to 400 million years ago when Pennsylvania was covered with steaming swamps. The organic carbon was eventually thrust deep underground, morphed into anthracite by heat and pressure and then rose again in veins near to the surface by up thrust layers of rock. Commercial anthracite mining began in 1775.

In mining a seam of underground anthracite, it is necessary to leave a series of 20 by 60 foot pillars to help prevent collapse of the ceiling. Most of the available coal is left in place in these pillars to prevent roof collapse. Beams are placed between floor and ceiling, not to hold up the roof, but to provide cracking noises prior to a ceiling collapse. “When the beams start a-talking, you’d better be a-walking.”

Canaries were placed near the ceiling provided a warning of dangerous methane gas buildup. Rats collapsing on the mine floor indicated a dangerous carbon dioxide level (Black Damp). Eventually these biological warning devices were replaced with the Humpfries’ lamp.

An injured miner was placed in a wagon and left in his company provided home on the kitchen table. This was the extent of company medical benefits. A dead miner was simply left on the front porch and the widow was given three days to vacate. So much for the death benefits.

Children were eligible to begin work in the mines at age six. They worked the “breakers”, pulling out chunks of rock from the mined material as it was crushed. For this they earned $.06 per hour. At age 12, any surviving children could be promoted to operating 600 pound underground “airlock” doors needed for the ventilation system or they could also learn to lead mules pulling coal carts though the mine. The pay for this underground work was $.11 per hour. At age 21 you could become a miner earning about $1.50 for dynamiting and loading four tons of coal on a cart.. When “black lung” eventually prevented further hard labor, the miner could go back to work on the “breakers” at $.06 per hour. This was called the “Circle of the Miner”. Life expectancy was 42.

Payment was in Company script, which could be spent in the Company store. Those who were indebted to the Company could not leave the mining town. In 1902 the Unions began to prevent some of the worst exploitation. However, over 30,000 miners are thought to have died in mining operations since anthracite mining began. Employment in deep coal mining dropped from 180,000 in 1914 to 700 in 1987.

In 1930, the mules were replaced by an “electric donkey”. This was powered by a bare electric cable charged with 440 volts of DC power suspended about five feet off the mine floor. Touching this cable in the wet mine was another way to die quickly. Eventually, the unreliable burning dynamite fuses were replaced with electrically fused blasting caps, which reduced the death rate from blasting accidents.

Anthracite mining is expensive and has declined steadily in favor of the cheaper strip-mining of bituminous coal further west. Anthracite is very hard and shiny. It can be rubbed without discoloring one’s skin. A large chunk is surprisingly light. A very small chunk is available in the mine gift shop for $5.

Pictures of the Lackawanna Mine:

Sunday, 3 September 2006

The Law of the Sea

Alexandria, Virginia

We board the yacht Celebrity in Alexandria at 5 PM for the wedding. The white-haired Captain performs the wedding ceremony on the Potomac River. There is an open bar. Dinner is served after the ceremony. The boat cruises slowly toward the sea and then turns around and passes Reagan International Airport and the Washington Monument as darkness falls.

We don’t know the bride well although we have been friends with the mother of the bride for many years. The father of the bride, a more recent friend, Bruce, wears his tuxedo with all the medals he earned in four tours as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam. He has his silver star on the right-most side of his bank of medals. HBe tells me that the medals were insisted upon by the bride. He's not sure wearing them with a tux is legal. I try to imagine someone with the balls to challenge him and fail.

The bride, we learn, has taught in the American University of Beirut. The groom has served in the Peace Corps in Tonga and Zimbabwe. At one point a very energetic dance breaks out with Tonga music and eight young people who have served in Tonga dance with the bride and groom.

After the garter and bouquet tossing and the cake cutting, the guests are all issued yellow rubber ducks to salute the newly married couple on the dock with faint squeaks.

I was very impressed with these two young people who represent the best that our country has to offer. Eagles mate for life. My hopes go with this young couple. May they do as well as eagles.