Monday, September 29, 2014

Farewell to the Pity Car

Time to say goodbye to a car that served me well but without distinction.  Its ten years old and I got it used a few years back when one of my kids,  um, dispatched my Honda Accord.  With shifts to work and little time to car shop I bought the first thing that came to hand, a 2004 Ford Focus.

Hey, I like Ford as a company.  The don't need government bailouts for one thing.  And I got good highway mileage in the thing.  Sure it was a dowdy little tin can of and winter driving was a bit like snowboarding but I figured at least in a year or two I could give it to one of my kids.

They wouldn't take it.

Well as it turns out the Universe intervened.  I was finishing up an overnight shift in which I had actually managed a couple of hours sleep.  As I wandered, eyes asquint, over to get my breakfast tray I noticed that it was pitch black outside.  Huh.  It was supposed to be 7:30 am.  Was the call room clock wrong?

I looked out into the hospital parking lot just in time to see torrential rain and marble sized hail, both pounding down at a 45 degree angle.  My poor little car never had a chance.

It looks like a golf ball.  There must be five hundred dents in it.  On the top.  On the sides.  I suspect there might be a few on the undercarriage.

Sometimes "only a flesh wound" is pretty bad

The insurance company is calling it a total loss.

So farewell.  You always got me where I needed to go.  My risk of carjacking was zero when driving you. I feel a little sad.  It still runs fine but the cost of fixing it exceeds any possible resale value.  The insurance company will presumably sell it for it dissected parts.

It showed an unexpected toughness, bending but never breaking.  So as it drives away, dinged, pitted but undefeated I feel for it, well, pity.

It was a work horse.  And at the end of its days it will go where broken down work horses end up. Sure, the jovial claims agent I spoke with promised me that it would be going to a happy place, a farm or perhaps a beach where it would never have to drive up hills again and where it would get a nice coat of wax periodically.

But we all know better.

Friday, September 26, 2014

England 2014 - Signs of the Times

As we wandered about England in April and May a few signs caught my attention.  I like small mysteries and the little touches that show the difference between the US and the UK.

This is kind of a big deal.  You see these signs on churches and other older buildings. Evidently metal thieves really like lead roofs and gutters.  This company has some sneaky way of putting distinctive radioactive isotopes into the metal.  Scrap dealers can have the offerings of shady looking folks checked to see where the stuff came from.

This is from the same little church in Cornwall.  I had never heard of a Sunday School Stone before.

On a similar note, a stone placed into a brick building in Hexham.  This area was fairly straight laced back in the day.  Today it seems more or less normal, but if you compare it to nearby Newcastle on a Saturday Night, this would still very much be true.

As you can tell, sea side location is hard on exposed paint.  Seagulls love it though.

We ran into these ancient coin boxes in some very improbable places.  Sometimes when we were lost and in an area where nobody seemed to have been around in a long while.  Given the rust and the low returns I assume none of these have been checked lately.

This notice was pinned up in a village.  Here in the States a lot of elected officials have stopped having open meetings with their constituents.  They don't like to be told by their employers that they are a bunch of rascals and ninnies one supposes.  The term "Constituency Advice Surgeries" was new to me.  I like it.  I looked him up, Stephen Gilbert is not a physician or surgeon.  He also is one of 24 openly gay MPs.  He sounds like an OK guy for a politician.

Although I like the image I do wonder how effective "Officer Pup" is as a feces control monitor.  He seems more likely to avidly sniff the evidence than to make an arrest.

Hey, traveling can get lonesome.  This big lug in York was just standing there inviting a hug.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Alma, Wisconsin

Alma Wisconsin is a pretty little spot on the Mississippi river.  It is by the way, pronounced "Al-Ma" not "All-Ma" by the locals.  Perhaps this linguistic twist dates all the way back to the predominantly Swiss origins of the early settlers.

The Swiss of course enjoy a glass of beer now and then, so Alma's first manufacturing venture was a brewery.

John Hemrich was actually German, not Swiss.  He emigrated in 1848 settling first in Rochester New York then Keokuk Iowa.  He worked in a brewery in each place, starting one of his own in Keokuk. But Iowa kept passing pesky Prohibition Laws making it a difficult place to be a brewer.  So in 1855 Hemrich headed up river and established a brewery in Alma.

He chose a location just south of town, on Main Street between Iron and Bluff Streets.  His first brewery was made of logs.  Additions to his family and to the brewery followed on a regular basis.

In 1876 he put up a brick malting house.  In 1880 he built a stone ice house to store beer above ground.  Having the Mississippi right in front of him made ice easy to come by.  In 1884 John Hemrich leased the brewery to his son William as he prepared to move to the West Coast where other branches of the Hemrich family had established successful brewing ventures.  William continued to make improvements, replacing the log building with a framed version in 1887.  The Alma brewery was eventually sold to other parties and William went west to work in the now very successful family business.  The brewery continued in local production until it was closed by Prohibition.

So what remains of the Alma brewery?

Here we are in Alma.  South Main Street in front of me, Mississippi River behind me.  I think the street location is unchanged but it has probably been raised up a bit.  The house on the left looks to be built into the foundations of the old brewery.  The arch way into the storage cellars probably was for loading onto wagons.  I assume the brewery proper was on the higher, less prone to flooding area that makes up the back yard.  Nobody was home to ask, so I tiptoed up for a closer look....

You can see the top of an arched entrance, mostly buried under rubble.  I was surprised to find evidence of a cave system at this depth.  What did they do during the predictable spring floods?

Nice stone work.  The area has lots of limestone to work with.  That little dark niche in the stones...when you get up close you have a peek into the cave behind.  And there is light coming in from the right side.  So, around the corner we go.

If you refer back to the first photo, this is the back yard of the brown house.  It has a mix of old foundations and new landscaping stonework.  This second, smaller entrance to the cellars is nicely incorporated into their design.

I think they even added some modern brick when the original entrance had some erosion issues.

So how to interpret.  Well first, tip of the cap to the current occupants.  I have never seen brewery ruins incorporated into landscaping this nicely.  It was common in Victorian times to build fake ruins and grottoes into gardens, especially in England.  Here they were presented with a perfect set up and they have done well with it.  I also should think that their kids had some great adventures and sleep overs down there.

These caves no doubt date from the original 1855 brewery and became obsolete when the above ground ice house was added in 1880.  At that point the lower level was probably just allowed to silt in. Most likely when they built the original facility they underestimated the water problems.  As to size, who knows.  Circa 1880 the brewery was making 4,000 barrels per year so I assume the caves were substantial.  Probably they go back under the bluff behind the brewery, or did at one point do so.

Monday, September 22, 2014


A picture from the road, Dubuque Iowa on a hot, humid morning.  The Statue of Liberty replica on the right is overlooking the I-20 freeway exit and this 19th century brick building with an enigmatic "ghost sign".

It has been treated roughly by time.  The addition of modern fire escapes suggests that the building, once a grocery, is now apartments.  And some later sign has been slapped over the right lower part of the SAPOLIO ad, but seemingly it was done with really cheap materials, as the newer sign has faded much faster than the old.  All I can make out is an R and an X.  Sometimes rain brings out the details better.  But back to the main ad.  I guess it reads:


I think the last word begins with an S, and that it is short, probably meant to line up with the end of the product name.  It would be common in the advertising jargon of the day to have it rhyme.  So what does the ad read and what in fact is/was SAPOLIO?  Answers such as they are, below.

SAPOLIO was a popular brand of soap in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  You may have guessed this if you know French (soap = savon) or Latin (sapo).  It was extensively advertised, and featured an array of very witty ads.  According to advertising lore the brand went into a precipitous decline when the company decided that their product was just so darned well known that buying more publicity was a waste.

Soap of course being one of those products where the differences between brands were minimal this proved to be a disaster.

As to the exact message shown above, I am not certain.  I have seen a few variations on the theme of using SAPOLIO every weekday so you could skip weekend cleaning.  And if you peer under the bottom fire escape you might just make out SU...

But were they suggesting that non-users of their product would probably have to work on the Sabbath? A bit harsh, but from the link above you can see that they did not shirk at suggesting that users of other soaps would probably never get married!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

1st Report - Robotics 2014

We are up and running with the middle school robotics class.  For those showing up late this is an after school class where I am having kids build 3 pound combat robots.

Biggest class ever I think, I gave the OK to some over booking.  We have 25 students divided up into Tuesday and Thursday sections.  Also the most girls ever, four.  Last year I think we had one and she dropped out.  This year the gals look to be pretty serious.

Above is one of the servos we hack for drive units.  A bit of a glitch this time around, although it is the same type I have been using for years they have some different components.  The kids are finding them harder to work with.  The screws holding them together seem to be made of cheaper than usual Chinese mystery metal and there is also a small plastic tab in a very inconvenient spot.  Its necessary removal involves a combination of filing, snipping and deft use of a serrated steak knife.

The latter raised an eye brow or two.  Schools these days have strict no weapons policies. Appropriate if sometimes enforced to a ludicrous degree.  I had to reassure the students that this was not a weapon. It was a tool.  We are after all right around the corner from the school's metals and wood shop where the wall has assorted hammers and saws hanging in neat rows.

Good bunch of students so far.  Impractical but interesting designs are being explored.  So far the level of prudent oversight is just fine, I have a high school kid volunteering to help after taking the class himself for three straight years.  Also the much appreciated presence of the occasional parent who takes me up on the offer to come on down and pitch in.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

(Wild) Life in a Rural ER

Seen out my window.  Well, actually I don't have any windows, we work in a bunker.  There are some video feeds of the ambulance garage and the parking lot.  To see a glimpse of the real world I have to walk down the hallway that connects to the rest of the hospital.  Looking out the window there I saw this on a recent morning....

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Baseball Mystery in Five Post Cards - Part Five

Finally a post card where the sender and recipient are both evident.

Ben Christianson has joined the army and been shipped to Europe.  The year is not given but is known to be 1918.  The address appears to be in Ben's hand.  The more elegant writing on the opposite side is presumably that of a Company Clerk in the 341st Infantry Regiment.

Bertha is almost certainly his wife.  Lots of changes for our Pal Ben.  Perhaps the wild days of hanging out with "Cy" and "I.No." are just distant memories for this now settled man.

I can add a few details thanks to the wonders of the internet, particularly the genealogy buffs of cyberspace.

Our first correspondent Carl Christianson married a woman named Bella.  They had a daughter, Drusilla, in 1919.  Drusilla lived until 2006.

Benjamin Christianson was born on 27 February 1888.  He died in Knapp Wisconsin on 1 February, 1978.  His surviving The Great War is not all that remarkable, his division debarked in France late in the war and never made it to the front lines.  They turned around and came home.  Another fellow from Viroqua, Bertina Christianson, was less lucky.  He died in action.  Christianson is a common name in the Viroqua area - there is even a Christianson Road - so this might or might not have been a relative.

Bertha Christianson was also born in 1888.  She died in 1976 but seems to have lived her last days in Omaha.

So much for the facts.  I suppose I could glean a few more by chasing down obituaries.  But the real story here is what is implied.  This exchange of cards is probably between a group of young guys who grew up together.  I would bet money that the Christiansons were brothers and that they along with the mysterious "Cy" Roberts and "I.No." - and maybe Josie- were team mates on a small town baseball squad.

In their early 20s when these cards go back and forth they are still speaking of an innocent, earlier day when playing ball, swimming down at the local creek, and casting eyes upon school marms were their main interests.  It seems quaint.  In fact it seems so corny that Norman Rockwell would roll his eyes at it.  But we are looking back on it from a jaded and battle scarred perspective. Between 1900 and The Guns of August in 1914 it was indeed a fine time for optimism and progress.

I doubt that the 30 year old Ben Christianson was shy at this point in life.  I imagine that he thought of those idyllic times down at the swimming hole as his troopship neared the bloody shores of Europe in the summer of 1918.  It sounds as if he settled down to rural life upon his return. So, common wisdom notwithstanding, I guess you can keep 'em down on the farm, now that they've seen Paree....