Monday, December 11, 2017

FIRST Robotics - The New Game

The last couple of years I have been fairly deep into FIRST Robotics.  For those wandering in late it is a world wide competitive engineering program for high school students.  I have gone from being the smart adult who actually knew things about building robots to a combination of comic relief, ambassador and juggler of many delicate and/or heavy objects.  I also keep the floors swept.

Its the students who are the smart ones now, the students who create the technology that to primitive eyes - mine - is indistinguishable from magic.  I take consolation in the fact that the middle school students now coming up out of our "farm system" will quickly surpass my current high school wizards, who will in short order join me in the peculiar experience of watching Younger and Smarter people surpass them.

In our first two seasons we met a couple of times in the fall then had a "cold start" at the beginning of the build season.  That by the way is January 6th.  

This year we have kept the motors turning over slowly, so expect to have just a bit less rust on our early efforts.  We have a promising looking crew.  We only lost a couple to graduation and our returning veterans are smart.  We also have a good bunch of recruits.

Each year FIRST throws out a "teaser" video giving a basic theme for this year's game. It also contains hints and clues which are picked apart endlessly by those trying to guess at the specifics.  I must admit I have only watched it one time, so my game predictions below are ill informed.  But I did get things mostly right last year....

Theme: Classic video games

Assumptions: You can't actually roll Donkey Kong barrels all over the place.  

                      In the current era it is likely that the Princess will rescue the Prince.

                      Mostly non violent, or at least abstract.  There was Medieval Siege a
                      couple of seasons back.

So I predict stair climbing or ramps.  No, I'll go farther.  There will be both options. There will also be some kind of coin like objects to put into slots.  I'm going to say they will light up when put into the right place. Of course, and this is not a stretch at all, the background music and effects will all be cheesy early video game stuff.  I am already tired of the silly little "Wocka-Wocka" noise that Pac-man makes and fear that I will hear a lot more of it in the future......

Build Season begins in one month.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Wilson Wisconsin 2017

I thought it might be interesting to have a look at Wilson Wisconsin.  From reading the Ryan & Scott saloon ledger book I had formed a mental picture of the town.  So on a sunny mid November day it was off for a look.  Here it is.

The ledger book returns to downtown Wilson.  It does not look like a very busy place, does it?  In fact I actually did drive through and missed it.  To find the place you need to turn off of the highway and go over some rail road tracks.

The less than vibrant economy of Wilson seems to have always been tavern based.  So, are either of these the Ryan and Scott tavern?

No and probably no.  The white building in the foreground is a former "meeting hall" now a VFW post, where a drink can always be had.  The brown building down the street has been a tavern until fairly recently.  It is now defunct.  But I think that is too modest a building for a brewery owned tavern.  They wanted to look good.  So they tended to go for things like this structure across the street:

Maps and such are hard to come by in micro town America but this sure looks right.  Perhaps the structure to the left is a heavily remodeled version of the barn that is mentioned in saloon records.  The back of the tavern is a residence, this would fit with the suggestion that Riley and Scott had some room and board facilities.

In the background you can see the only other two signs of commercial life in Wilson. A tiny little post office in a trailer.  And beyond that a white brick building that is currently an auto repair shop but I can guarantee you, it got its start doing horseshoes not oil changes.

The saloon was not open when I visited at mid day on a Saturday.  There were some lights on inside.  It had that peculiar look that one encounters on occasion.  Has it been out of business for a short while or is it open when and if the owners feel like it?  To be fair this was opening day of Deer Hunting Season, which in Wisconsin is a Holy Day on which all non hunting activity ceases down to the sub atomic level.  Out behind the tavern was a nice ball field that looked to have seen recent play.

The outfield fence, deep center field.  Is there a more succinct description of The American Dream than this?  I assume that any home run through the slot gets free drinks for the team all night.

So what would Ryan and Scott think of their town a century and change later?  Well it was probably sleepy then and remains so.  I think they could relate to the simple reality of business moving off of Main Street and over to the highway a quarter mile off.  This process has been repeated many times.  Probably Wilson got its start when the railroad went there instead of through some other now extinct hamlet.

On the highway there are two more taverns.  Honestly, Wilson is listed as having a population of 176, and not all of them are of legal age.  So if we assume the former Ryan and Scott tavern is still open - when the owners feel like it - that gives us four active and one recently defunct watering holes.  

Competitive business I guess, tending to the thirst of rural Wisconsin.  I am sure the long ago saloon keepers would approve of the sentiments on display at one of the modern places.....

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Running a Saloon in 1904

A garage sale find.  Most people just skim right over old books but a customer with sharp eyes saw something unusual about this one.

It is a business ledger for a small town saloon.

The location was Wilson, Wisconsin.  Not much there then or now, but presumably enough thirsty farmers to keep a tavern in business.  The proprietors were a Mr. Ryan and a Mr. Scott.

You can learn a lot by looking at "the books".  Mostly it seems to have been a listing of people's bar tabs!

Elegant hand writing.  I noticed a subtle change as the ledger progressed from 1902 to 1905.  Here the entries are all for Mds, which I assume is short for merchandise.  Earlier entries just said "drinks".

So, if you got a little behind in your tab there seemed to be assorted ways to pay it off.  Here Mr. Purvis paid his tab with potatoes!  He started running a new one right away.

Evidently you could also pay your bar bill with sheep!  Who knew?

Or with hay!  In other entries I note that the establishment rented a barn and occasionally bought cows, so this does make a little sense.

Regular customers had their own pages in the ledger book.  Really regular ones had several pages.  It is interesting to see that there was not a single woman appearing in this record.  Not even one.  Oh, and also that some customers were identified like this one:

Let the historical record show that Old Man Buscart, as well as several other patrons identified as Old Man, all paid their bar tabs promptly.  Of course, a few customers were less diligent.  Sometimes you saw a line drawn and this notation"

Ed Manning seems to have taken the "Paid no good" designation seriously and settled up soon thereafter.

The products sold seem to be a mixture of liquor and beer.  Regards the latter it was all Pabst products.  In fact the ledger pages for Pabst transactions also include an entry each month for House Rent, so I figure the bar was owned by the brewery with Ryan and Scott just renting it.  This was a fairly common practice at the time but was less obvious than in the UK where independent pubs would be called "Free Houses".

Ledger books of course can only tell you so much.  The clientele looks to have been largely Irish, but that reflects the community.  So far as you can tell from the entries the product sold was beer - in bottles, cases and kegs - hard liquor by the drink or in several sizes of bottles, and cigars.  Lots of cigars.

There may have been living quarters associated with the saloon.  Not all of the rent entries make obvious sense, and in a number of places there are charges for "Board for 2 weeks".  This cost $12 according to the books, this seems pretty steep in an era not long removed from times when a working man would earn a dollar a day.....

There are a few references to non alcoholic beverages.  One entry specifically mentions purchase of "soft drinks" from Drewery and Sons of St. Paul.  And then there is this enigmatic page:

Typo notwithstanding this should be Joe Evans of Eau Claire.  He was a prominent soda pop bottler.  So I guess it makes sense that you could buy a barrel of Cider from him. And maybe a couple sacks of corks.  But a case of Flasks?  Did Evans have a wholesale side line business?  Or was there in fact such a similarly named man in such a closely related line of trade?  No answers.

Come on back next time, we shall visit the Wilson Wisconsin of 2017.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Ultimate Wisconsin Christmas?

I think this picture has it all.

It's a little used car lot.

Now selling Christmas trees.

With a stand selling deep fried cheese curds!

Buy a tree and they throw in an order of curds.

When I stopped by a day later they even had one of those inflatable "arm waving guys" so common on used car lots!

I should really only report on what I have seen myself, but I am told that the proprietors are going to have a guy in a Grinch costume out front soon.  Will he encourage customers to come on in or to drive on past?

Ah, the mingled scents....fresh, aromatic pine and horrid, greasy deep fried treats...

Friday, December 1, 2017

Tree Shaped Tombstones - Cassville Wisconsin

Cassville is one of those towns built on a little strip of flat land down in a river valley.  Real estate was in short supply.  And for a cemetery anything too close to the river was out. You just wouldn't want the remains of your loved ones to go tumbling towards New Orleans during one of the frequent floods.

So they perched it up on a lonely bluff some distance out of town.  And in keeping with this week's theme it had a single Tree Shaped Tombstone.

An odd shape, quite stout.  I wonder if the McKemmie family tended a bit in that direction.....

I like to take close ups of little features.  Nothing remarkable here, just lichen and moss on a leaf carved from stone.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Tumble down times in Cross Plains Wisconsin

- Note: One of my rules of thumb is that you never find just one of these "Tree Shaped Tombstones in a cemetery.  There are always at least a couple.  But on a fall road trip I ran across a bunch of exceptions to this rule.  Here is "One Off Week". -

Cross Plains Wisconsin.  I had taken a bit of a detour to visit hoping to find remnants of a cave in the ruins of a brewery on the edge of town.  No such luck.

But I did run across an interesting cemetery, another in our series of "One Off" tree shaped tombstones.

Valley Home Cemetery surrounds St. Martin's church.  St. Martin's has been decomissioned and now serves as the headquarters for the local historical society.  The place overall is well kept up and there are some nice monuments there.  But something, perhaps the nature of the soil, is causing trouble with some of the older markers.

Temps fugit.....

Anna Schulenberg has a nice tombstone.

The little motto below is rather Germanic and grim.  It translates roughly to "Death pain and Grave rest, with Christ in Heaven".  She probably did not die peacefully in her sleep.

Well lets hope that she is resting more comfortably than her leaning tombstone!  Is it being propped up by that little slab from somebody else's grave or is that just there to make mowing the lawn easier?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Tree Shaped Tombstones - Father and Sister

- Note: One of my rules of thumb is that you never find just one of these "Tree Shaped Tombstones in a cemetery.  There are always at least a couple.  But on a fall road trip I ran across a bunch of exceptions to this rule.  Here is "One Off Week".


Mineral Point Wisconsin is a great place.  Scenic.  Lots of history.  It was at the center of the early, pre-statehood lead mining rush.  I expected to find tree shaped tombstones a'plenty.  Nope.  The three cemeteries in town have a total of two examples, each - in the theme of the week - standing all alone.  One was pretty standard stuff but the other....

Reverend Francis Weinhart has a rather imposing tombstone.  Nicely done in the "Rugged Cross" format.  Appropriate for a man of the cloth.  Great detail too, look at the nails that hold the cross together.

I had expected that the "book" part of the monument would have a verse from Scripture.  The line up above VIEMENTO is a bit of Latin portmanteau that translates to "remember the life".

Occupational references on tombstones are always nice to find.  They say something about the deceased and also show the degree of creative latitude given to the monument carvers.  Here we have a Communion chalice and wafer.

Francis Xavier Weinhart was of course a Catholic priest.  He came to Mineral Point relatively late, in 1871.  That was when the German speaking members of the Catholic community decided they should have their own parish.  

If Priests were sort of the "rock stars" of the Catholic world, nuns had a different status.  Respected, in the case of school children sometimes even feared.  But they were decidedly less visible.  Here is an understated tombstone I ran across in Portage Wisconsin:

Perhaps the designation SIS could be interpreted variously but the key is in the other part of the inscription.  Fading and partially covered with lichens...In His Holy Name.