Friday, November 28, 2014

J.J. Lundy - Rest in Peace

As I mentioned in a post some months back J.J. Lundy was a fine craftsman of stone monuments in the area around Independence Iowa.  I was through there again recently and dropped by the cemetery where the Lundy family is resting.  I was expecting something grand and over the top.  Here is what I found.

The Lundy family plot.  Nice, but I admit I was expecting something more.

The marker for Lundy's only child.  His death must have been a hard burden.  J.J. himself only survived for one more year.

As I went here and there about the very Catholic cemetery I saw a lot of conventional stone work.  Having seen a few examples of his more artistic creations I was a little disappointed. Maybe small town folks are just a little less ostentatious in life and in death.

A tree themed bench, showing the unfortunate structural weakness inherent to the design.

I am seeing more of these deteriorating monuments these days.  Another headless Dove of Peace.

There were a number of these "mini Rustic Crosses" in this cemetery.  This one has been cemented back together but not very securely.

The prize of this visit for me was something I had not seen before.  I am very sure J.J. Lundy's hand carved it.  A nice tree themed planter dedicated to the common burial plot for a group of nuns.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Biggest Turkey in the Store

It has been many years since my grandmother passed away.  I assume she is now in some sort of tamed down Norwegian-German Lutheran Valhalla. Instead of boisterous feasting halls with flowing ale and roasted stag I expect they dine frugally on bland white food and chase it down with decaf.

But in her day Grandma Nita served up an impressive Thanksgiving dinner.  She expected us all to be there.  It was just assumed.  So each year she went down to the local grocery store (my memory makes it a Red Owl) and told them she needed the biggest turkey they had.

Oh, how we ate.  Three kinds of pie.  A huge bowl of mashed potatoes.  Corn, stuffing, cranberry sauce.  All as supporting cast to the star of the show, a turkey the size of an adolescent ostrich.

So when driving through Elk Creek Wisconsin I just had to stop, turn around and snap a photo of this:

It looks as if it once was some kind of parade float.  I am not sure why it is sitting on the lawn of this house propped up on white plastic barrels.  I photographed it on Halloween, perhaps they just leave it up all November.  What better way to welcome the family - all of whom are expected - for a Thanksgiving feast to remember.
Addendum: A bit more sleuthing suggests that the turkey is sitting on a dinner plate.  And that the entire entree once was perched atop the Elk Creek Inn a nearby dining spot.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Advanced Robotics 2014/15

Looking at the amazing things that robotic technology has accomplished in recent years I hesitate to call my upcoming class "Advanced".  Bigger toys would be a more fair description.

I took last year off, but for the preceding six years I had followed up my small "Machines Behaving Badly" class with a more ambitious project.  Some worked out well, others less so.  It depends on the caliber of student you get, and in a free for all sign up it varies.  And I have learned a few things over the years, that pesky project to build a remote control dragster came to grief when we got a long, dismal winter that precluded outdoor testing (although the mothballed dragster did get its moment of glory later).

This year I am going to give the kids the final decision.  One option will be to reprise the "lunch room robot" a vaguely humanoid five foot tall machine that cruised around dispensing either M&Ms or a brief spritz from its on board water gun.

Or....I have obtained some old wooden writing desks, the sort that used to be lined up in rows in every classroom in America. They seem like just the thing for automation, and I hope we end up doing the Grand Prix Desk race in the hallways in a few months. Hmmm. Just recalled that there was a cheesy 1975 cult movie called Death Race 2000,  Desk Race 2015 has a nice ring to it, no?

With a wide assortment of various motor and wheel types I think we could juggle components and operating voltage to create three racers with roughly equal velocity and torque.

I have looked at programming options but most likely we will just keep them under radio control.

There is still that nasty scuff in the hallway from where we crashed that dragster on an indoor half power test years back.

Updates now and then from December through February.

Gearbox/motor combinations from Barbie Jeeps.  An excellent go to choice.  But unless you over volt them and trick them out with big wheels, the velocity tends to be appropriate for complacent toddlers...

Other geared motors.  The top one is from a coin sorting machine.  Actually rather powerful but with an "Achilles heel" plastic gear inside. The other option shown is an old school 7.2 volt cordless drill. No plastic in there and plenty frisky at 12 volts  Easy to attach wheels, just lock them into the chuck.

Oh, I hope it does not come down to using starter motors.  This one is from an outboard boat motor. It was fit with a pulley for a project many years back. No directional control, one would have to sprint, decelerate and hope you can execute a ninety degree turn at each bend in the hallway.

I now have a big box of Victor 884 and 883 speed controllers.  Like all electronics they keep getting cheaper all the time.  Somewhat obsolete but still quite functional, I saw one on ebay recently with a starting bid of $9.99!

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Young Hunter Remembered

It would be a stretch to include this specimen in my "Tree Shaped Tombstones" category.  Not that it doesn't have a few features in common with them.

The framing of the text in the intertwined branches is nicely done.  And it even has the sickle motif often seen on a short version of the tree tombstones:

There is a bunch of other stuff going on here as well.  The nice deer's head in the upper center of the carving has as its counter point, a hunting rifle.

The text is hard to read but what I can make out tells a sad tale....

????? 1894

I have made at least a preliminary search of obituaries in the little town - Rock Falls, Wisconsin - that is near this cemetery.  So far no luck.  Make up your own story I guess.  But I have not shown you everything yet.

Look behind the tombstone.  Young Mr. Browning is not alone.

Opening day of Wisconsin deer hunting season tomorrow at dawn.  Everyone, please be careful out there.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Fountain City Wisconsin

Fountain City Wisconsin is a very pretty little place.  It is on a bend in the Mississippi River and is wedged tightly between the river and a steep bluff.  It was settled early - 1839 - and served as a refueling stop for steamboats.

Perhaps because of its constraining geography Fountain City grew early to just under 1000 citizens....and has stayed at that number ever since.  But in the thirsty state of Wisconsin that is plenty of population base to support several breweries.

The published histories are a little confusing but there seem to have been four breweries established in Fountain City.  Two faded out quickly, the other two went through the usual cycle of ownership changes and catastrophic fires but managed to survive into the post Prohibition era.

The first brewery in Fountain City was established in 1855 by a man named Alois, last name unclear. This was so early that the current configuration of streets and railroad tracks likely did not exist so the location quoted is simply "on the site of the plow factory and machine shop of Mr. John Clark".  This business was founded in 1866 so the brewery was probably already gone by then.  The location remains obscure but I hold out faint hopes for finding remains of the brewery. Floods, flood control measures and a post Civil War railroad going through likely make this brewery a lost one.

The second and third breweries were both established in 1857.  One was the City Brewery run by a J.G. Ziegenfuss.  Like the 1855 venture it did not last many years.  Its location is unclear.

The other 1857 brewery was the Eagle Brewery.  It was set up on the north end of town, right along the main street.  The list of proprietors over the years reflects the customary instability of the brewing industry, after being established by Richeter and Eder* it was acquired in succession by Xavier Eberhardt, Ewe and Krueger, Mrs. Pistorius and John Koschitz.  (this list is up to the 1888: source, History of Buffalo County Wisconsin.)

Some online sources claim that the building shown here was in fact the Eagle Brewery.

This claim might technically be true but is stretching things quite a bit.  This appears to be an 1870s building that served as a saloon and hall.

While it certainly was owned by the Eagle Brewery and bears their sign it probably was not where the beer was actually made. For one thing a brewery would generally have a bigger chimney to go with a boiler and brewing vats.  The brewery proper should have been to the right in the above picture and was described circa 1910 as being a building of three or more stories. At that point the business may not have been a vibrant as in the boom times, it had only two employees.  If you take a peek into the yard where the brewery once sat you will see this:

Tucked into the cliff face is a cave entrance, probably it once exited out the back of the brewery building.  I am told that it is mostly silted in.  I am content with a sidewalk view.

The other 19th century brewery in town was a "late" entrant.  The Lion Brewery was built on the south side of town.  Since sites for breweries always had the same requirements it is possible that the City Brewery existed here earlier.  The Lion Brewery was established circa 1868 or 69 by a partnership of Fiedler, Bedmer and Lenhardt.  An ad in 1876 identifies Henry Fiedler as the principal figure in the enterprise.  At some point in the early 1880s the brewery burned down and was replaced in 1885 by a large five story brewery under the name Fountain City Brewing Company.  Circa 1910 it was the larger of the two surviving breweries in town having 6 employees including one who worked exclusively at its bottling works.

Here is the site of the Lion/Fountain City brewery in 2014:

Apartment buildings, they seem oriented towards seniors.  Great view of the river out the front.  And out the back windows you would see this:

Gee, a tunnel going back into the bluff.  Who would have predicted that?

It is a mess of cement, metal, plywood.  Note the old hinge on the door.  The cave is crudely but quite effectively blocked off.  Not that a camera can't be deployed for an "inside shot".

Sorry for the photo quality, I had to really tweak the contrast and light/dark settings to show the brickwork that exists about ten feet in.  And if anyone can explain the mysterious round spots that show up on flash pictures taken this way I'd be obliged.

A few parting thoughts on this cave.  First of all - Off Limits.  There is a crumpled No Trespassing sign on the floor of the cave but just plain common sense says messing around where you are not invited is a bad idea in any case and a really bad one when your activities are presumably under the watchful eyes of several Oldsters who would find them far more interesting than watching the usual squirrels raiding the bird feeder.

I was surprised by the solid looking cement leading into the cave.  This suggests that when the "new" brewery was built in 1885 the cave was still in use.  In fact I am pretty sure the entrance to this cave was maintained well into the modern era.  Why?  My theory is that while big breweries quickly found that the economics of mechanical refrigeration made sense as soon as it was available in the 1880s, smaller ones may have kept using caves for decades after that.

Despite their mystique ageing caves really are not that great an idea once you have an alternative. Hauling kegs and perhaps ice in and out of a limestone tunnel is not efficient.  And no matter how well you keep things clean parking beer in a damp, mildewed environment will have effects on the stuff.  Some small breweries, especially in Belgium, make this work to their advantage.  Many of the exotic treats from such places owe their distinctive charms to local micro flora.  But when you are a small brewery that is competing with the big boys from Milwaukee and LaCrosse you are on a very narrow margin for profitability.  How many skunked batches would it take for your loyal local market to decide that "It's Miller Time"?

UPDATE: 1 December, 2016.  The new looking cement in the above photos now has a partial explanation.  As late as 1975 this cave was still in use, being leased out as a mushroom growing operation.
*For those interested in small details, the Eagle Brewery was started by Frederick Richter and Valentine Eder.  Richter was a native of Germany who worked in the brewing trade up and down the Mississippi river valley - Freeport IL, Stillwater MN, Dubuque IA before settling in Fountain City in 1856.  Valentine Eder was his brother in law.  Richter left the business in 1861 due to health reasons. He was it seems having trouble with his eyes.  Circa 1870 he started a new brewery, probably the Lion with Phillip Eder.  Phillip was another early settler of Fountain City and was brother to Valentine.  Phillip was a veteran of the Iron Brigade.  I suspect Valentine died in the Civil War, Anyway, Phillip ends up marrying his widow in one of those convoluted business-romantic alliances that typify 19th century brewing.

Depending on how you piece some of the information together, there may have been another short lived brewery between 1868 and 1870. Given the frequency with which these buildings go up in smoke it would not surprise me.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Machines Behaving Badly, After Action Report.

The 2014 robotics end of class tournament is a wrap.  24 robots had at it, with results ranging from comical to apocalyptic.  Sometimes in the same fight.

This cloud of plywood and styrofoam came from contact with the spinning "Chains of Doom". Another crowd pleasing hazard was this new one, the Ginsu Knife.  It also spun rapidly about.

Good crowd on hand today, and my staff of tournament minions was working so efficiently that I had a chance to wander around, even watch a few matches myself.

A number of firsts I guess.  The "Black Knight" award - typically given for foolish bravery long after any chance of victory....went to a kid named Victor.  His robot lost one of its two wheels early on but he kept on going.  Eventually his spinning weapon disabled both of his opponents in a three way match.  Never before have I handed out the award to somebody whose perseverance actually led to triumph.  But the possibility that it might is what the award is all about...We also had our largest robot free for all ever.  Machines that lost their first couple of matches were out of contention early. So we gave them a chance at winning a "Machines Behaving Badly Official Minion" shirt.

The life of a combat robot is not an easy one.  There are pits to fall into, spinning chains of Doom, knives, pneumatic poppers.  And for the unwary, there are even hazards that drop from above...

A TellyTubby, a plush Pikachu, a plastic dinosaur.  Later in the event we replaced these mostly Insult drop hazards with Injury ones.....a scythe blade, a sledge hammer, a pitchfork.  And of course a small anvil with the word ACME written on it in magic marker!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Debris Settles

More complete report tomorrow, but a stirring round of robot combat yesterday.  Lots of surprises. One favorites of the judges was a mobile cardboard box called "Slow the Snail".  Here it is in test driving the week before the event:

His high tech armor made of cardboard/duct tape/plywood/VCR box took an astonishing amount of abuse without damage to the electronics and mechanicals inside.  Slow, yes.  Snail like, yes indeed.

Eventually the arena hazards were turned to full power and Slow the Snail had a tough match.  Off he went to Robot Hospital for repairs.  Among the detached parts were his "snail smile".  His mood thus altered by experience the decision was made by Snail's builder to alter the design for what proved to be his final match...

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Tomorrow the Machines will Behave Badly

End of another season of my middle school robotics class.  It has been a good bunch of kids.  Four girls out of 25, a new record.  Only two or three who seem to think their main job in life is to annoy all around them; this is less than average.

The robots are ready, most of them have been operational long enough for a good bit of practice driving.

Some strange ones this year.  Two with tank tread designs, one of which runs on 18 volts instead of our usual 6.  Hey, you give kids free reign (the rules: No Flamethrowers, No Hand grenades, No Live Animals) and some of the craftier ones will find all sorts of loop holes.

Combat starts at 11:30 am tomorrow.  The last pieces should stop bouncing around 4.

A photo gallery of the Impending Robot Uprising:

Intention here is to flip the opponent over....we will see.

Non functional sword.  Mean little polycarbonate spinner.

We need a few sacrificial bots for "bracket fillers"  Audience members get to drive Hapless Victimbots.

Driving practice.  Yes, the smiling cardboard box is a functional robot.
With a little extra time this student built a custom garage for "Fury Jr."

A well protected tank tread design.  Should do well...on paper.

Each competition has a few "apex predators".  This spinner should hit pretty hard.

It of course comes with a bright pink top also.

License plates.  Really an underutilized construction media.

Fear the Kitty

This last one is my personal favorite.  It is one of those projects that fought us every inch of the way. The other students were filing out from our last session when we finally got to fire up this "helicopter spinner".  Scary.  It will go into battle still covered with plastic shavings.

I will try to get a few pictures of the action for next week, but frankly I spend most of the competition running from place to place keeping the wheels from coming off.  Often literally.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Small Town Stroll

My scouting mission to Durand Wisconsin located my main objective - the brewery cave - quickly. So I had some time to wander around a bit.  You see some interesting things in small towns.

Small town newspapers often have interesting names.  The Courier - Wedge is odder than most. Around the corner was the municipal park with the classic bit of civic architecture, a band shell.

I was a bit surprised to find a Nativity Scene parked up there.  In a lot of locations various spoil-sports have filed lawsuits relating to separation of Church and State.

The cradle is empty, maybe that is their legal loophole.  Kind of an odd assembly of characters here:

Shop worn Wise Man.  I can never remember which one was supposedly Ethiopian.  Gaspar maybe.

Two odd humanoid figures.  One with wings. One without.

It is a nice little park.  I liked the trash can with a musical theme.

A couple of blocks away I walked past a shed that had a whole bunch of these.

This has to be a high school art project.  "Groovy" and "I (heart) the 70s"!  The bottom barrel is more enigmatic.  "Video killed the Radio".  Last I checked radio stations were doing ok and video rental stores were imploding.