Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Baseball Mystery in Five Post Cards - Part Three

The third in a series of post cards that seem to be telling a story.  Back track for the earlier post(s).


Another card in the genre of baseball and romance.  This features the usual comedic pairing of an elegant, serene Gibson Girl alongside a coarse featured bumpkin of a ball player.


Like our last entry this is from "Cy" to Benjamin Christianson of Viroqua.  This is dated a couple of weeks after the prior card, June 12th of 1911.  The text on this is again both dense and confusing.  In fact it was reading this one that made us think we were on to something really unusual, perhaps the correspondence of a minor league manager.  OK, here goes:

"Hello Pal, how is everything over on your side of the world?  On my first managerial trip my youngsters lost to Ontario 8 to 7 in 14 innings.  Same game away from home on a rainy day. Come over next Sun + watch us skin them here.  Good Luck.   Cy Young Roberts

After puzzling quite a bit about how a baseball team from Wisconsin could be playing a team from Ontario, and perhaps from Montana in our first entry, I had a flash of inspiration.  Sure enough, there is a small community called Ontario Wisconsin not far from where this card was posted, LaFarge Wisconsin.

So we now have tumbled quite a ways down the baseball hierarchy, from a wide traveling minor league or barnstorming team all the way down to town ball.  "Cy" in reflecting on his recent promotion to manager seems a bit surprised.  Perhaps he was an unexpected choice as player-manager?

I suppose Cy has the last name of Roberts.  He is referring to Ben Christianson as "Pal" so my notion that they were brothers seems unlikely.  As they share an interest in baseball and seem to both be young fellows I am thinking former team mates.  Oh, and there actually was a major league player who went by the moniker of Cy Roberts.  In the summer of 1911 he was still in diapers.

We shall, alas,  hear no more from Cy, but Ben Christianson's role in the story continues tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Baseball Mystery in Five Post Cards - Part Two.

The second in a series of post cards that seem to be telling a story.  Back track for the earlier post(s).


An attractive post card, but a bit confusing.  The suggestion is that the successful athlete is finding even greater success with the ladies.  But the ladies appear first and the ball game second.  Also, if this is supposed to depict a stolen base, well the runner was safe by a mile.  He did not even have to slide! There is clearly some dunderheaded defense going on here.  And talk about confusing, it looks as if the player in blue has just stolen a base.  Fine.  But the other runner charging in is in the white uniform of the defensive team!  Very odd, and not suggestive of any particular athletic glory.  If you stare at this illustration long enough it becomes even more surreal.  From the positioning of the players it looks as if the fellow in blue has either just stolen first base or almost as likely, has stolen third by running in from somewhere out in left field.  Or did he run backwards?  Now that would have been impressive.


This one is addressed to a Ben Christianson.  The last name is identical to our first entry as is the small southwest Wisconsin town of Viroqua.  It is reasonable to assume Ben and Carl were related, perhaps brothers.  The "Ping Bodie" addition is another joke, that was the name/nickname of a major league slugger of the day.  The text is dense and a bit hard to read.  I make out:

"Well Shieth, have you located my base ball pad yet?  If not crawl under your porch or into the chimney + get it.  How's your salary arm?  Am going to call on you to twirl against the Cubs soon.  Am enjoying my good health with the paint brush these days.  How are you making it?  Any school maam there yet?  Go swimming for me.
Cy   Cy   Cy   Cy

Oy, where to start.  Shieth is a word I had never encountered.  It is an archaic word for "shy".  I infer a degree of kidding throughout the message, Cy seems to be sending Ben on some kind of wild goose chase.  Ben might be a pitcher, hence the reference to salary arm and pitching against the Cubs.  Or it might just be more kidding around.  Perhaps the salty nature of our first card is still on my mind, but the references to paint brushes and school maam sound a bit off color.

I am no expert in such matters but despite the similar tone I do not think that our "Cy" from this card and our enigmatic "I.No." from the previous one are the same person.  The hand writing looks different.

Cy of course is a reference to the famous Cy Young.  More kidding around.  This writer sounds like a brother but the reference to "your porch" instead of  our or the porch makes it more likely they are friends and probably former team mates.

More from "Cy" tomorrow.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Baseball Mystery in Five Post Cards. Part One.

A friend found a small collection of post cards at a garage sale.  Recognizing them as my sort of story she loaned them to me.  Together they tell a tale, but one that teases with information just out of reach.....


Our first card is a racy little number.  And a little creepy.  Notice how the young lady has her eyes on the camera?  And the "umpire" does not seem to be making the traditional "safe" sign of arms held straight out.  He has wrists bent as if he is recoiling in surprise.  He also has more of a nautical cap on, rather than the usual umpire's gear.  Is he some sort of voyeur?   There is of course a base in the picture, and the fellow stealing a kiss is wearing spikes.  As to the location of his left hand, well, just how old is the phrase "second base"?


This card is addressed to a Carl Christianson in Viroqua Wisconsin.  Presumably the writer and recipient knew each other well enough for a bit of banter,  Also so that he writer could sign himself simply as "I.No."

The card was sent from Melville Montana on an illegible date in 1910.  Melville was still something of a wild frontier town at that time.  It was and is famous for trout fishing.  Parts of the town have survived unchanged from this era and featured in the fishing/brotherhood film A River Runs Through It.  Was the enigmatic I.No. out there fishing?  Was he a brother to Carl?

The story continues tomorrow, and daily the rest of the week.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Militant Flower

Walking home from the Farmer's Market the other day.  I got to carry the produce, Wife was toting some gladiolas.  I got to wondering....any connection between this:


And this:


Actually, yes.  Gladiolas is the diminutive form of gladius, the Latin word for sword.  The resemblance is a bit stronger with the long pointy leaves than with the actual blooms.  Never a good day unless you learn something.

Friday, September 12, 2014

FrankenBunny and Pals

I have been seeing more examples of "Folk Art" around lately.  I think this mural painted by local high school students qualifies.


Lots of whimsical critters here, not always done with classic perspective ratios...


A worried looking trout.


A gigantic squirrel.  He can insolently turn his back on the glowering hawk right behind him.


A large mouth bass with "Disney Eyes".  It appears to be leaping out of a localized area of boiling water.  An albino cardinal watches indifferently.



The glowing red loon eye in lower right is scary enough.  Note also the "skunk eyes".


The average weight of an adult North American beaver is 44 pounds (20 kilos).  This oddly assembled "Frankenbunny" must be at least 50 pounds.  Time for an entry in one of my long neglected categories The Rodent Peril.
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Addendum.  While clearing out additional photos of this mural I noticed something off in one corner. It seems I was mistaken in my theory of this being a school project.  An artist has signed it, way off on the right hand side next to the howling albino wolf.

Having been a bit, er, critical of the work maybe I will just skip the name, but a quick internet search shows that the individual in question is a real estate agent who dabbles in "commission work" of this sort.  Maybe the perspective issues can be explained by the fact  that said artist lives on a farm with "a small herd of minature horses, one pygmy goat, two cats.."  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Forgotten Brewery Caves - An Iowa Ghost Town

Ignatz Bilger figured he knew the next big thing.  He had after all seen a lot of the world for a man his age.  Born in Baden Germany in 1828 he emigrated to Rochester New York twenty years later.  He barely had time to unpack before heading overland to the California Gold Rush in 1849.  After a few years of presumably unprofitable effort he came back east in 1852.  Arriving by ship in New Orleans he took a river boat upstream to St. Louis where he spent a couple of years learning the brewing trade.

Records are a little sketchy but he became a naturalized citizen and moved around a bit.  Milwaukee, Dubuque, Ft. Atkinson Iowa, all pursuing the brewing trade.  Then in 1859 he relocated to a place called Auburn on the Little Turkey river.

In the decade before the Civil War nobody really knew which communities would thrive and which would not.  They all started with great hopes, certain that they would be the next Chicago.  But often as not the railroad took a different route or the ore ran out or it was just a lousy place to put a town in the first place.

Auburn got off to a good start.  The first mill went up in 1849, not long after the area had been ceded by the Winnebago Indian tribe.  In short order it accumulated the essential components of a bustling frontier town.  A cabinet shop, a hotel, a drug store, even a plow factory, a pottery and a machine shop.

Bilger's Brewery started off slowly, tax records show him only making 10 1/4 barrels of beer in 1862. One wonders if it was at this point only an oversized home brewery.  But by the late 1860s he was up to 1,500 barrels a year, and had expanded his facility into an impressive brick and stone structure.

Bilger died young, only 50 years old when he passed in 1878.  His brewery was carried on for a while by his widow but was squeezed out of business by the state wide Prohibition laws of the 1880s.

Auburn never amounted to much.  Today it is a church and a couple of houses.  It even lost its name, and now a town in the western part of the state goes by that moniker.  There is a grave yard.  If you can find the spot I understand the pottery site has a marvelous hillside of shards.  And of course there is the ghost of the Ignatz Bilger brewery...


The brew master's house.  Probably a little later than the heyday of the brewery but still very old.  Now also in ruins but it seems to have been occupied not so very many years ago.


Behind the house is junk.  An old camper, two wrecked snowmobiles.  This is a derelict boat.  Beyond you can see walls and a cellar.  It is full of old tin cans and trash.


One section of the brewery wall still stands tall and proud.


The entrance to the cave.  Not very big now, it seems to have been silted in over time and I suspect partially collapsed.


Here the cave snugs up against the ruins of the brewery walls.


Old stones.  Laid most likely during the Civil War.  Perhaps only 20 years or so of use.  Then 130 more of slow decay.  Ignatz Bilger built well.  He just was wrong about where the next Chicago was going to be.

If you were interested in visiting the site, it is rather out of the way.  Take highway 150 north out of West Union.  About four miles or so from town there is a road designated B44.  Turn left.  In another few miles you come to a bridge over the Little Turkey River.  On the left you will see a small landing for canoeists.  Park there.  The brewery site is just over the dirt road (marked as Nest Road).  If the foliage is not too dense you should be able to see the red brewmaster's house from the landing.

When I visited in August there was not a soul around.  I walked down Nest Road a hundred paces before seeing what proved to be part of the site.  After crashing around in chest high weeds and oppressive heat I walked back out, actually coming out right near the B44-Nest Road junction.  As I left I did see a No Trespassing sign mostly covered with weeds.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Robot Combat - 2014

It is fall.  The kids are back in school.  Summer is slipping off to southerly climes in the near future.

So it is time for my annual middle school combat robotics class.

I think this is my 14th year of teaching it.  And it was an offshoot of previous adventures building larger, more imposing combat robots for the "RobotWars" type competitions that sprang up all over in the late 1990s.  Pretty much they are all gone now, but "Machines Behaving Badly" not only endures, it thrives.  Sign up fills at the first opportunity.

In part the concept has stood the test of time from its sheer simplicity.  We have them build 3 pound robots out of very simple, cheap components.  Here is my staging area as I pack up for class.

A big box of servos.  The class fee covers snacks, two servos per student.  If you want four wheel drive we improvise.


A large tub of robot guts.  This is a mixture of destroyed robots from past competitions plus the occasional batch of parts from a guy I know....he has a Barbie Jeep graveyard and I pick up motor/gearbox sets from him...


This one is very Barbie!  Also a nice light unit, somebody will build a good 3 pounder based on it.


This is the battered wreck of my favorite entrant from last year.  It had a ping pong ball machine gun! Really, the two central motors spun foam rubber wheels that fired ping pongs like a pitching machine.  Several parts including the ball magazine are, well, somewhere else now.


Maybe the single biggest thing that did in Robot Combat generally was the need for ever more durable arenas.  The robot arms race was appalling.  What started out as simple machines based on scavenged wheelchair motors soon looked more like the post apocalyptic world of Terminator.  So we have more or less frozen the technology at sane levels.  Our arena lasted a long time.

But it is being replaced after about 13 years of yeoman duty.  Thanks to the generosity of a Kickstarter campaign the new arena is taking shape in a secret facility.  The walls of course will be clear polycarbonate, what you see here still has the protective backing on it.


First class tomorrow.  Updates from time to time.  Maybe I will get a class filled with cheerful students, expecting to build happy, chirpy robots that will work together to solve problems in a cooperative fashion.  But perhaps, if I am lucky, it will instead be an edgy intense bunch, ready to divert their adolescent angst into what I refer to as "vigorously applied physics".

Updates periodically in the months ahead.  Tournament in early November.