Friday, September 30, 2011

Fuel and Ice

It's probably the archeologist in me, but I am fascinated by how quickly the works of man start to fade from view.

A local mom and pop gas station closed last fall.  No surprise there really, it had been in business since the 1930's, and the main road went elsewhere long ago.  They made a go of it anyway, what with home fuel sales, auto repairs and somewhat atypically an ice business.  They used to cut it on a local lake in the winter and store it in an ice house.

So it went out of business, and almost immediately their signs just began to vanish.
This boat used to have two happy fishermen in it.  Now all that is left is the blue pants of the guy in front, and of the guy steering the boat...
This was once a nice piece of folk art signage, certainly done by the owner or a family member.  A couple of small touches...
And a hat tip to the annonymous artist, whose last name was perhaps Wiltrout based on the family associated with the business.
9...certainly not 2009.  But was it '99, '89, '79?
On the more protected side of the building a vaguely alarming it Blue Man Group on tour?  The Smurfville Grand Prix?  Or just a guy who has been breathing too many exhaust fumes?
Maybe it is Ozymandius....."look upon my works, oh ye mighty..."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Axman Surplus II

I hope you have a nearby surplus store.  It is guy shopping at its best.  But I don't think they would have quite the sense of humor of Axman.  A few examples:
Oh, this last one does require a little explanation.  I think that is Stephen King on the sign, but even the master of schlock horror would be squeamish about lending his name to this concept.  But actually what is being sold are surplus "Baby Think it Over" dolls.  These are kind of creepy life like dolls that are issued to 8th graders to tote around for a few days.  If you do not attend to their needs, well, attentively they scream, fuss and electronically record your sloth for the grading displeasure of the Health class teacher.  Lets just peek in that basket, Mr. King....
Over on the right side of the picture is a rubber chicken that got tossed in by accident.  So, where are the heads?  Right inside the front door of the store I guess..
Sort of a nightmare version of the Knights who say "Neeee!".  At least they were stationary, at one of the other Axman locations they have hooked one of these creepy babies up to a motion sensor and when you pass him on the aisle his eyes light up glowing red and he starts to cry!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Axman Surplus

It is still some weeks away, but I have started thinking about my upcoming middle school robotics class.  The budget is as always tight, so I am continually on the lookout for useful cheap stuff.  This regularly brings me to my favorite surplus store, Axman on University Avenue in Saint Paul.  (and several other locations, see their website ).  It is a fun place.

The name Axman came from the source of their merchandise in the early years, mostly businesses that had gone bankrupt.  Calling for "the Axman" to liquidate your stock was literally gallows humor.  The founder of the business had a motto "If you think you might need it, buy it now.  It might not be here tomorrow."  How true, although this usually causes me to end up with extra "stuff".

Off to the cluttered aisles of Axman!
Their weather beaten store front.  Note the "Ax Man"

Axman has an unusual feel to it.  You get the impression, quite correct btw, that the extensively tattooed and pierced staff are allowed to decorate the place according to their whims.  Just inside the front door:
Missile Babe riding a giant telephone. 

I imagine that one of their challenges is trying to move large quantities of weird stuff that has limited appeal.  Their signage encourages creative usages:

All surplus stores in recent years have featured less military surplus and more odds and ends from failed retail.  But Axman still has some of the old school stuff:
These are tank periscopes, and have been sitting in the same general spot for at least 15 years now!
I eventually made it over to the electronics and motors aisles, and did end up scoring a few things that will see action in the upcoming robotics campaign.  A few other things tempted me, but were on a larger scale than my current project.  For instance:
Rock and roll blares continuously over the sound system at the University Avenue Axman (the other locations are more tranquil).  Were this not so I doubt I would have caught on to the above, which is almost certainly the only Devo reference anyone has made in the last decade!

Next time:  Really Weird Axman stuff!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Going to Luckenbach Texas

I mentioned in my post on Culla's Tavern that a certain Jerry Jeff Walker was one of our favorite performers back in our college days.  He sang a lot of songs about friends, and drinking beer, and cowboys, and drinking beer, and traveling, and, well, you get the picture.

Our softball team was called The Armadillos after a Jerry Jeff song, and one year we decided we needed to have Armadillo Spring Training at Luckenbach Texas.  Why? Well, because Jerry Jeff had recorded his classic album "Viva Terlingua" at that tiny hamlet which had become something of an artist's community in the hills near Fredericksburg.

So my brother, myself and our cheerfully irresponsible sidekick Danny hopped in a tiny Japanese subcompact one fine early Spring day and with no planning whatsoever just headed south.

I remember the trip in fragments, as is the case with events of more than half a lifetime ago.

Sleeping on the roof of a public rest stop in Kansas when the ground was drenched.

The worst hamburger of my life from a Wendy's in Muskogee Oklahoma.

A roadhouse where the locals befriended us and the bartender showed us how he actually could open beer bottles with his teeth, such as they were.

Eventually, and after various diversions, we made it to Luckenbach.  It was a ramshackle country store, a dance hall under renovation, a few old houses.  Chickens wandered in the single dusty street.  We got out the gloves and ball, played a little catch on the lawn of the store.  Afterwards we had a nice chat with the owner over a couple of cold Lone Star longnecks.

She said "Yep, Jack (Jerry Jeff) was here a couple weeks back.  Drank 'bout a case of beer, looked at all the tourists and said he just had to get outta here".

Luckenbach had by this time attained a degree of celebrity from the Willie Nelson/Waylon Jennings song about the place.  Ironically neither of them had much connection to the town and had borrowed the tune from somebody local.  Tourists were not exactly overrunning the joint-it was hard to find even when you went looking for it-but in a place that small even a few are a presence.

So we paid our respects and headed back north, at one point driving through a horrific blizzard that I shudder to recall even now, over three decades later.

Such was 1979.  It was a watershed time.  The guys from the softball team were starting to drift off into relationships and careers.  For all our apparent irresponsibility I look back at the ball team and realize that they turned out just fine.  A couple of physicians, a University professor, teachers and engineers.  No wonder we seldom won games, there was too much studying going on.

I have a distinct memory of my future wife shaking her head over our foolish journey.  But as is also often the case it is a false memory, one I concocted from later head shakings over later follies.  If my memory does not betray me in the clutch here, I met her about six months later. 

So the head shaking was retroactive.

Jerry Jeff is still around, enjoying semi-retirement after a productive career.  Riding High  My youngest son has discovered him and has amassed a collection of vintage Jerry Jeff vinyl.  I approve, minus the drinking, as the legal age has moved up to 21 in the intervening years.

Even Luckenbach is still there.  Mostly anyway, they had a flood that washed away just about everything but the iconic store and dance hall.  You can rent out the latter for special events.  This website even has directions, a distinct improvement over our 1979 dead reckoning navigation.

We don't see Danny very often, he joined the Coast Guard, married well and still lives by the sea.  He is said to be little changed from bygone times.

My brother and I make the same claims before we fall asleep at 10 pm following two beers.

Monday, September 19, 2011

4 H Robotics project on a Saturday Morning

As I have mentioned previously, my phone occasionally rings with somebody wanting help building a robotics project.  This spring it was a group of 4 H kids who wanted to build something fun.  I should point out that there are several official, organized 4 H robotics programs, but they tend to be available only in larger communities.  And they take weeks of time.  And they cost money.

I said we could build something fun on a Saturday afternoon using stuff I already had sitting around.  Cost: zero.  My fee: pizza for lunch.

I have more robotics stuff sitting around than most normal people, but since the components we used are readily available I thought a more detailed build account was in order.

This is the 12 volt motor and gearbox from a Barbie Jeep.  I have a bunch of these, and keep acquiring more as derelict Jeeps come my way.  They are robust and cheap.

This shows the motor/gearbox installed.  The white plastic part seen on the first picture locks into grooves in the Barbie Jeep wheel.  The whole thing is attached to the plywood base by just screwing a big 'ol lag bolt in.  The plywood base is two layers of plywood from an old ping pong table.  If anyone every offers you an old ping pong table say yes.  It's great stuff for all manner of projects.

This is a sideways view showing the head of the lag bolt, plus a washer, threaded through the hub of the Barbie Jeep wheel.  Note the large caster wheel under the front of the platform and the on/off switch for main power.  The switch was pulled off some old appliance left on the curb.

This is the basic electronic "guts" of the project, and requires a little explanation for the novice.  To effectively control motors you need forward and reverse, and need the ability to go fast and slow.  Basically you need what are called electronic speed controllers.  The two black square objects are IFI Victor 884 controllers.  The are durable, easy to use and can handle 12 volts of juice.  You also need a radio receiver to tell the controllers what to do.  Any RC radio receiver would in theory work.  But I have taken to using a slightly more complicated system, the Vex controller.  The yellow object is the actual radio receiver.  The larger grey object is a microprocessor.  I'll be honest, I mostly use these because I got a couple for free.  But they are useful enough that I seek them out on ebay.  Both the Victors and the Vex equipment come up fairly often and at a reasonable price, because they are used respectively by the very excellent FIRST and VEX robotics programs.  After their competitions are over the robots often are scrapped and sold off.  The Vex microprocessor also has the ability to accept programming if you intend to build a robot that is actually semi autonomous.  What I am building here is basically a jazzed up, over sized RC car with a few extra features.
Main power is from a 12 volt gel cell battery.  A variety of small electronics such as fish locators use these.  Surplus stores carry them cheap and still fairly zippy.  The battery is held down with simple but liberal application of fire engine red duct tape.  The blue object in front is a 7.2 volt battery, of the sort used by larger RC cars.  It powers the Vex radio receiver and microprocessor.

The Vex radio has six channels.  You need one each for the left and right side motors.  That leaves you four more things to control.  This is a simple on/off switch built from a servo.  It allows me to under radio control turn on and off:

A high powered water squirter.  This is a windshield wiper pump powered off the 12 volt main power.  The water reservoir is a plastic mayonnaise jar.  I drilled a hole in the lid so that we did not have an open container.  Water sloshed onto electronics is bad juju.  The bendy metal strip supports the water reservoir (held on by rubber bands), and allows the water nozzle to be aimed.  I suggested that spraying people with water at crotch level would have the most attention getting effect.  Other switches operated strobe lights and a siren.

Here is the final product, a robotic remote control fire engine.  Built with a half dozen grade schoolers in four hours.
range was about 15 feet

I thought it was a pretty fun project, and the kid who presented it at the county fair won some nice ribbons for it. 

I enjoy this sort of thing, so if any questions on projects like this drop me a line in the comments section. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Rodent Peril-"they mostly come at night......mostly."*

We have a problem with bats.

Yes, I know.  Bats are not Rodentia, being members instead of the class Chiroptera.  But my excuse is that in German they are called "fliegermaus" or "flying mouse".  And if you get close enough to check for rodent like incisor teeth:

Well, by now it is too late to remind you that bats are notorious for being carriers of rabies.

Anyway, while I entirely approve of the local bats eating mosquitoes I take great exception with them using my entryway as a latrine.  Yech!  Bat excreta infested with rabies virus all over the Welcome mat, and no doubt tracked in as well.

So the Bat Wars began.

At first we thought they were daytime snoozing in some small cracks between the house and the overhang.  I carefully pushed wire screening into all such nooks and crannies.  No decrease in bat scat.  Thus it became apparent that they were simply hanging on the rafters and relieving themselves, like beer sodden college students wandering home after a binge.

First I nailed up plastic sheeting, screening off their favorite haunts.  This worked, but it looked kind of shabby, and created enclosed spaces that I suspected would become a happy lair for some other nasty life form.  So down it came.

Next up....fabric softener sheets.  Yes, we had it on good authority that these were a serious annoyance to our Chiroptera pals.  I put up a half dozen wire pouches full of the stuff.  The porch smelled great.  The bat excreta increased.

I had some wasp killer spray.  A liberal application of this did have a temporary impact, probably by reducing the available bat snack bugs.  But it seemed an expensive and environmentally unfriendly solution.

We also had deer repellent spray.  Nasty stuff, lots of ammonia in it.  Impact: modest, and every time I sprayed it upwards I got a good whiff.

Bags of moth balls, now there's an old time favorite.  Total myth, for bat deterrence they did nothing.

Finally I was alerted to this site:  It actually had some useful info, leading me to create this:

These are sheets of aluminum foil.  I put a strip of duct tape across the top so staples would hold better.  Then I cut them into delicate fronds that wave in the slightest breeze.  Since bats navigate by sonar this should send all manner of disturbing echos back at them.  The technology is very similar to "chaff", foil strips dropped by aircraft to confuse radar.

So far it seems to be working well.  Which is probably a good thing.  My next approach was going to be more extreme.  I have somewhere in the basement an old motorized disco ball.  I figured I could wire it up to a motion sensor, add a couple of laser pointers and really mess with their squeaky little biological GPS systems.

Wise Spouse points out that this might lead the neighbors to conclude that somebody odd lives at our address.  And she may be right.  I suppose there are still a few for whom this is merely a sneaking suspicion, and there is at present no need to confirm it for them.
*Yes, another quote from Aliens, one of my favorite movies:

Newt: We'd better get back, 'cause it'll be dark soon, and they mostly come at night... mostly.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Strangest Naval Battle in History?

I freely admit to being a bit of a naval history junkie.  Every few years I have to re-read the Hornblower series of books set in the Napoleonic Wars.  For some weeks afterwards my speech is riddled with various nautical terms: t'gallants, carronades, for'castle and so forth.  It is not easy to work these into most conversations but I try manfully.

In the modern day things have all gotten less colorful.  Sure there are still a few pirates out there but they are unpleasant mercenaries and the navies of the civilized world are hunting them not with frigates but with remotely piloted drones.

It makes me nostalgic for a simpler era.

Today is the 97th anniversary of one of the most confusing naval battles in history.*

The Battle of Trinidad was fought on 14 September, 1914 between two ships who were pretending to be each other.  Confused yet?

When World War I broke out in August of 1914 the German navy had made some preparations.  Among other things there were plans to convert passenger liners to auxiliary cruisers, intended to prey upon Allied merchant ships on the high seas.

So immediately after the onset of hostilities the civilian liner Cap Trafalgar left port in Montevideo, Uraquay and rendezvoused with a supply ship that transferred guns, ammunition and men to serve as gunners.  They then proceded to a secret supply base on an isolated island called Trinidad in the South Atlantic.

A secret German base on a Brazilian island is not the only odd quirk to the history of Trinidad; in 1893 James Harden-Hickey proclaimed himself James I, Prince of Trinidad and set up a military dictatorship.  This "Franco-American author, newspaper editor, duelist and adventurer" went so far as to set up an office in New York City, to sell government bonds, and to hand fashion himself a crown.  Ignored or ridiculed by the world at large-I have not been able to discern the attitude of the tiny local population-he was run off  a couple of years later.

Such was the setting for the Battle of Trinidad.  The Cap Trafalgar had been outfitted with a couple of naval guns and disguised as a similar ship, the Carmania of British registration.  Lo and behold, over the horizon comes another ship.....the Carmania, which had been outfitted with a few guns by the British, and camouflaged as, you guessed it, the Cap Trafalgar.  Talk about bad luck, each ship adopting the only disguise possible that immediately identified it as a hidden foe!

This being the early weeks of the Great War nobody really knew what they were doing, so the two ships opened fire with their unfamiliar weaponry, coming within the rather Napoleonic range of a couple of hundred yards of each other.  By that point both crews were blazing away with not only cannon but rifles, and had they gotten much closer one imagines that they would have organized boarding parties with cutlass and marlin spike.

Lacking armor or effective damage control they were both badly damaged, but the Cap Trafalgar-the real one-was holed below the waterline and sank first.  The Carmania was in no position to do much beyond staying afloat, so things looked grim when a second German ship, the Kronprinz Wilhelm turned up.  This was another converted passenger liner.  Understandably confused, the captain of the Kronprinz Wilhelm could not figure out what was happening, but knew that radio messages had gone out and that other Allied ships were on the way.  He decided discretion was the better part of valor and turned tail.

Thus ended the confusing Battle of Trinidad, with the Carmania limping away, the Cap Trafalgar sinking and the German survivors heading for Uruguay on a couple of supply ships that happened by.  Some of them reportedly made it all they way back to Germany after many adventures.

*I suppose the category of most confusing Naval Battle is an arbitrary one.  Why, even in the subcategory of Uraguayan Naval Battles there was one in 1840 where a shortage of cannon balls lead one of the belligerants to load their cannon with aged Edam cheese!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Wizard of Oz Dogs

What?  Again with the dogs?

I can't be serious all the time now can I?

A good dog series needs a unifying theme.  And the Wizard of Oz serves well.  It has that sort of campy feel to it.  In the original film the costumes were all a bit cheesy and garish, just the sort of thing to slap onto Fido.

We can dispense with the all too obvious Toto and Wicked Witch.  And frankly the titular Wizard is very uninteresting visually.

Here is a rather good Scarecrow:
We love dogs for so many reasons, but as a general rule they are clever rather than intelligent.  This pooch has that wide eyed "looking for a brain" air about him.

And here is his side kick:

From the jovial bon vivant look to this bulldog you can be assured that he has already been issued a heart.

How about Dorothy?

Hey, isn't that the Scarecrow in drag?
The basket is a nice touch.

As you can tell, dogs are among my most beloved critters.  Their only serious rival might be.....monkeys.

So for total kitch bliss here are a pair of dogs dressed up as Flying Monkeys!

Oh Yeah.  That's what I'm talkin' about

In case it is not clear, I am not the creator of these images, merely a sort of curator for the collection.  To give due credit:

Dorothy and Scarecrow are from dogcostumedeals
Tin Man is from  costumedogs

And the most exquisite Flying Monkeydogs are from BostonTerrier

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Help Wanted-President

(Note to recurring readers: I almost never do politics.  There are plenty of plenty of well established sites to go to for that sort of thing, and frankly politics rarely intrudes into those brightly lit, happy places where my imagination wanders during the course of daily drudgery.  But rarely is not the same as never...)

In this very challenging job market we (actually We, The People) are pleased to announce an upcoming job opening with truly outstanding features.

Salary is $400,000 a year.  Housing supplied.  Personal chef.  Armoured limo.  Your very own jet!

You can also look forward to throwing out ceremonial First Pitches, Pardoning the annual White House turkey, and eventually a great retirement package and your own Library.

Experience Required.

Sorry about that last part, and as I will mention later, We are willing to make exceptions for the genuinely outstanding applicant.  It's just that over the years We have noted a certain trend.....when hiring for an Executive position, some Executive experience is a plus.

When historians study the matter they generally concur that our Ten Best Presidents were, in rough order:
Lincoln, Washington, FDR, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, Jackson, Truman, Wilson, Eisenhower and John Adams.  This list is the same for historians of liberal and conservative perspective, although the former are holding a torch for LBJ instead of Ike.

By previous executive experience THIS is the sort of thing we had in mind.  Note carefully, that of the Ten Best no fewer than five were previously Governors. With due respect to our fellow citizens in the Legislative and Judicial Branches, there is nothing like Governing to both demonstrate and improve your ability to, well, Govern.

But interestingly, of the Ten, three were high ranking military commanders, with another two oddly being Assistant Secretary of the Navy.  (This unlikely power position has since been divided into four jobs). 

This listing probably over weights the military versus civilian side of things...after all if you are George Washington and are asked for previous elected office in the United States of America, well it is a rather silly question.  

We The People do not believe in age discrimination, but that pesky Constitution requires the President to be 35 years old. And also to have been born a US citizen, so just save everybody a lot of grief and bring your birth certificate to your initial interviews.  35 is honestly rather old to become a military recruit, so if you are planning on becoming President by that route We sincerely hope you have been getting a good start on this over the last decade or so.  It also bears mentioning that all Presidents who got there by virtue of a purely military background have actually won wars.  And while wars are still sadly common, winnable ones have been at a premium of late.

So overall your best bet would seem to be as Governor of a state.  But its still no picnic.  There are quite a few states-you know, those boring square ones in the middle-that will garner you no media attention at all.  And of the states blessed by the lapping waves of coastal waters and major media markets many of them, sadly, are pretty much bankrupt. 

Now, as to those exceptions...

You could try wearing the paper trainee hat of Vice Presidency first.  No real experience is required, and even the conventional wisdom that you should keep your mouth shut is often waived for some of the more endearing Veeps.  Shockingly, a few of the folks currently jumping up and down shouting about being President are actually angling for the Vice Pres job.  Its a good gig and in all respects better than a stupid unpaid internship.

But for someone with zero executive experience to become a good, nay, a great President?  Well, there is always Lincoln.  He is generally felt to be the best of them all, and is in many respects the Exception that proves the rule.

So, if you think you combine Solomonic wisdom with a profound understanding of America; and further consider yourself to be gifted with poetic command of the written and spoken word, well, bring it on.  We could use a man or woman like that in these difficult times.

But to go the Full Abester you will be expected to pull this off without speechwriters and teleprompters.

And don't be shocked if We ask you to split a few rails too, just to show you can do it.

Fair Well

Time to bid adieu to the Minnesota State Fair, at least for another year. It is a place of whimsy.  And sometimes even of romance.

We were visiting with one of our grown sons and his young lady.  I encouraged them to go on the Sky Ride, a gentle interlude bobbing above the heads of the grazing herd.

I guess they declined the advice, spending most of their time in the animal barns with the bunnies and new born piglets.  But as a final bit of wisdom from the Fair, the following sign at the entrance to the Sky Ride seems appropriate:

Ah but Minnesotans, even us Ex-Pats, would never spit off the Sky Glider.  So my Return Privileges remain intact for another year.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Repent! A million pounds of fat

Much of the "cuisine" at the Minnesota State Fair is sold from small booths out on the grounds.  But there actually is a Food Building.  For aficionados of greasy food this is a sacred place, the Oily of Oilys if you will.  So imagine my surprise when I walked up to one of the doors of it and saw:

You have got to be kidding.  Here of all places, in the Tabernacle of Triglycerides you are actually going to encourage people to get blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol screening?  Well, actually, yes.

This is the weight screening area.  Note, and note ye well, that of all my State Fair pictures this is the sole example that contains no people whatsoever.  It asks the rhetorical question "What weighs one Million Pounds?".  Well, lets do the math.  If the attendance on a rather nice Sunday was 200,000, and if each attendee was carrying an extra five pounds of fat. (Yes, I realize a few with less, many with so very much more) could step outside the empty health screening area and look upon a million pounds of fat.  Much of it constrained within clothing that appeared unequal to the challenge.

Pah, enough of these misguided rice cake eating moralists.  Around a different corner of the Food Building..
Neon always works for Sin.  It is the graphics of Vegas, and of old fashioned liquor stores, and of the hellish alternate Bedford Falls as seen by a delirious George Bailey.

This was directly across the lane from the entrance to the Health Fair.  I suspect the rice cake eaters felt a little like Salvation Army bell ringers next to a brothel.

I usually gaze in wonder upon the vile viands but seldom consume them.  But I did see one item that just could not be passed up.  We asked for and received a small sampling of:
Mmmmmm, Deep Fried Spam Curds.  A couple of the deep brown cubes 'o death were enough.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Minnesota State Fair-Bad Stuff on Sticks

Consuming unhealthy food on sticks has become a Fair time tradition.  Even a cliche.  But it makes perfect sense when you stop and think about it.  People go to the Fair in a mood to indulge a bit.  Food sales is a hyper competitive business with more vendors than you can count.  Those who accommodate indulgences will make money, although I suppose somewhere on the Fair grounds is a lonely outpost selling granola and fresh fruit.

As to the stick part, well, your product is probably dripping with hot deep fry oil or frosting-better yet both!-and is not something people want to grab a hold of.  You need to send them on their way so as to make room for the next rube, so what better solution than food with a handle!

 Here with minimum comment are Bad Things on Sticks from the 2011 State Fair:
This seems like a knock off of the venerable "Pronto Pup"  copyright issues one imagines

I don't know how they managed this

I really did not want to ask about this one.
This is "Beer on a Stick"  A clever wooden paddle with holes for three small sample glasses!

The hunt for ever more exotic meat to deep fry and impale..

Hot dish is a Midwestern tradition.  Think macaroni and hamburger.  
Trendy.  Looks like just coffee flavored ice cream

OK, I admit this last one was cheating.  A pinball machine is something you really must not eat, most of the preceding were simply things that you really should not eat. 

I searched in vain for Stick of Butter on a Stick but did not see it.  Had I captured this elusive prey I would have saved it for State Fair Part Four.....Food couldn't actually get any worse.....could it?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Minnesota State Fair-The Big Pig goes AWOL

On our recent trip to the Minnesota State Fair my first destination was this:

Yep, the Swine Barn.  Note the sign on the right....

I was thus assured that the Largest Boar would be holding court inside.  So, like, how large?  Well, here is Reggie the 2010 Winner...all 1450 porcine pounds of him.
More about Reggie here.

I had high hopes going into the Barn.  I mean, how often do you see a pig just slightly less massive than a 1960s vintage VW beetle?

And here is what we saw:

I found this ominous.  My wife asked a couple of 4 H kids who were lolling about the place and they told us that the Largest Boar had indeed become ill that morning and had to leave.  There does not seem to be a system in place for bringing in the Second Largest Boar as an understudy. 

As of this writing I have not been able to learn the fate of Big Bill, the incumbent Largest Boar, but I fear the worst.  These are impressive animals to behold, but massive obesity is not good for man nor beast.  There is actually a provision in the competition guidelines that says the Boar must actually be able to get up and walk around.  Or at least in theory, in my several viewings of Largest Boars I have never seen one do much more than twitch his snout when a fly lands on it.

For a sad account of the passing of a recent Champion I refer you to:

  Corn Dog RIP

Lets hope that the Big Guy rallies and goes on to live-in the fashion of Wilbur from Charlotte's Web-a long, happy and pampered post Fair life.  I just hope that is not the faint, tantalizing smell of bacon that I am detecting, but as I have noted, Farm folk have a rather practical outlook on life....

Next up: really bad food on sticks