Friday, July 29, 2016

The Super Cows

Monroe Wisconsin calls itself "The Swiss Cheese Capitol of the USA".  That pretty much tells you what you need to know about the place.  It was settled by Swiss, so the place is quaint and immaculately tidy.  And they really like their cows.

So when we were passing through on our road trip and saw a sign announcing "Super Cows - Historic Town Square", we had to turn off.  What I was expecting to find was, well, exactly what we did find.

Stationed around the old brick central square were carved figures of assorted bovine heroes.  

Batman Cow looking suitably dark and mysterious.  Perhaps inspired by the Black Angus variety.

The Incredible Hulk is not looking happy here.  Somebody has broken off his right horn.  This will not end well.

Superman Cow.  Now admittedly I am a full generation removed from farm life but even I know enough about male bovine anatomy to state with confidence that the skimpy shorts worn by "Supe" and by the Hulk above would not meet any standards of modesty!

On a similar note it probably does not bear thinking about what it would take to squeeze udders into the capacious but poorly located brassiere of Wonder Woman.

The Flash has a bit more "giddyup" than most cows.  It appears he has just received instructions from the Mayor or Commissioner Gordon, or somebody in the Courthouse directly behind him.

Thor, looking decidedly non-Swiss.

One last pleasing bit of art.  Super Girl Cow posing demurely next to a small community garden plot.  Most farm families have genuine affection for their cows and consider them as both "girls" and most decidedly "super".

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

At the Corner of Faith and Judgement - Summer 2016

A few pictures from our recent road trip.  Much more of course to follow in the weeks ahead.

Shullsburg Wisconsin has some fascinating street names:

You can STOP at the intersection of Faith and Judgement.  Judgement is the main street in the town and it also meets up with Friendship, Peace, Truth and Cyclops.

If you had somehow forgotten that Sheboygan is a very Teutonic city that likes to have a good time, just look up as you walk down 8th Street.

I really should not seek out signs entirely for the purpose of upsetting my British pal MooseandHobbes, but it would be hard to find more anti-vegetarian sentiments than this sign snapped through the window of a small town meat market.  They have been turning Bambi into Burgers since 1890.

A 19th Century tobacco warehouse in Edgerton Wisconsin.  It was just after a nice rain shower so the "ghost signs" were visible.  The middle section has scraps of meaning.  "...N FOR MEN" "HENRY"  "5 c".  We thought it was an awful lot of artistic effort for a surface that would only be seen by people riding on the trains.

At their home base in Kohler Wisconsin the eponymous Kohler Corporation has their amazing Design Center.  More high end plumbing fixtures that you can imagine, designer bathroom displays that cost more than I paid for our house, booths where you can turn on a dozen different shower nozzles all at once and so forth.  I especially like the forty foot tall Wall of Tubs and Toilets.

Because she likes puns and I am feeling a little badly about the carcass drop off photo I shall mention to M&H that I dubbed the triumphant figure at the top "The Emperor Commodus".

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Baseball Road Trip '16 - Beloit Wisconsin

My favorite baseball movie of all time is Bull Durham.  Among many gems of wisdom is this line:

"Sometimes you win.  Sometimes you lose.  And sometimes it rains."

We had been looking forward to watching the Beloit Snappers play.  They have a nice vintage ball park, and are a former affiliate of our favorite big league team, The Minnesota Twins.  And the mascot, Snappy D. Turtle, is very good, in our experience second only to the immortal Mr. Shucks.

But it was not to be.  When we got to town the skies were unsettled and radar showed an enormous wall of thunderstorms marching in from the west.  As they were due to hit right when the game was supposed to start it became clear that there would be no game that night.

So our third game of the Road Trip became a rain out.  We went to the movies instead.

See ya next time Snappy.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Baseball Road Trip '16 - Sheboygan Wisconsin

A new stop for this year's Road Trip, Sheboygan.  One of my kids has a job there so we had a place to crash for free.  And Sheboygan has a long established semi-pro team, The Sheboygan A's.

I was looking forward to comparing the quality of play and the general ambiance here versus the actual "official" baseball at the single A level of the professional ranks.  Some random pictures and thoughts.

Wildwood Park is a nice little field.  The plume of smoke you can see in the second picture is where they grill the bratwursts.  Brats are more or less a sacrament here.  The stands don't look very full in this picture but we got there early enough to watch warmups.  A nice crowd was on hand for the game.

Before the game began the announcer - who had a marvelous, sonorous voice - reminded the fans that any foul balls hit into the stands had to be returned....and you got a dollar at the concessions stand for doing so.  Oh, and he also said that nobody should direct abusive language at the umpires.  I have never heard such an announcement made at a ball game.

The ticket taker was a nice lady named Phyllis.  She was in a wheelchair and had a pot of flowers next to her.

At our game in Appleton the flag was brought out onto the field by a bunch of bikers on Harleys.  Here a troop of Cub Scouts did the honors. The National Anthem was a recording.  I think I was the only one singing the words.

It was a blazing hot day and we had eaten pizza not long before, so I can't report on the food served at the park beyond saying it was a varied menu and smelled great.  As to beer, well it was a promo night for "Bud Lite".  Blessed indeed is the beer drinker who does not know what this pallid swill tastes like.  I ordered a pitcher of the alternative, a local brew called Spotted Cow.  All three of us independently came to the conclusion that we had instead been served "Lite".

The quality of play started out well.  Both teams fielded crisply and the pitchers had good "stuff".  But we noticed that the visiting team from Manitowoc had only showed up with nine players.  There were no reserves.  So as the game went on and their pitcher faltered there appeared to be nobody available to relieve him.  Tired arms lose control and the walks, hit batters and pitches just plain left right out over the plate started to accumulate.  Bad baseball karma becomes contagious and the Manitowoc infielders, who had been excellent in the early going, made several embarrassing errors.  Most atypically for our road trips we left before the game was officially over.  It was 10-1 and getting ugly.

I was surprised to find that the "A's" had a mascot.  He wore a team uniform with the number 1 on it and the announcer did call him "A-1" on one occasion.  But he was more of a walking advertisement than a true mascot.  He occasionally engaged with the fans but I saw a lot of this sort of non activity:

In the lower photo the observant will note that all the fans have hats off and hands over their hearts for the National Anthem.  Now I know that A-1's hat is sewn on but I regard a mascot that does not recognize the Star Spangled Banner in any fashion as being sub-par.

Well he seems to be a skinny kid, perhaps high school age.  That would explain why the only times he came over to our section was to chat up a bunch of young gals sitting five rows back from us.

Overall a pleasant evening.  Sheboygan and its ball team go way back and it was good to see this degree of community support for them.  In some important ways it was a return to the roots of baseball, which is always at its best on warm summer evenings in places that lack fancy video scoreboards and other modern distractions.

Keep up the good work Sheboygan.  But lets do a little better on the beer next time.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Baseball Road Trip '16 - Appleton Wisconsin

Appleton Wisconsin is the home of the "Wisconsin Timber Rattlers".   This is single A ball which for my non baseball friends is the lowest level of professional baseball.  

This was our first stop on the annual baseball road trip.  

The stadium is a bit too new and clean, and disconcertingly is next to a large shopping mall. But it was a perfect night for a ball game.  The blistering heat of the day had been relieved just before game time by a brisk shower.  Kudos to the ushers who went around with a towel and dried your seat off for you.

On to the important stuff.


This is "Fang" the Rattlers' mascot.  He was having fun this night as his team was romping over a hapless opponent.  But he has a tendency to hang out in the dugout with the players a bit too much.  A top notch mascot is always out working the crowd.

Most minor league teams have various diversions going on between innings.  They should supplement the game not distract from it.  People racing around the field in these costumes gets my seal of approval:

Speaking of food and drink I must regretfully report that Appleton is still low on our rankings in these areas.  Uninspired burgers.  And the only interesting beer on tap turned out to be some local atrocity made with blueberries.  Shudder.

As I mentioned the game was not close.  The Fort Wayne Tin Caps are at the bottom of the league and their play showed why.  Five errors, several of which my little league teams of the past would not have made.  

So a nice night for a ball game and a good time was had.  More games ahead.  

My new goal is a picture with each mascot.  It was hard to catch Fang out and about but we did get a quick shot.

I give "Fang" the fangs and he gives me a thumbs up.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Dr. Who Saves the Enterprise

I don't make a big deal out of the fact that I am able to travel back and forth in time.  Most people find my stories implausible.  The ones who do believe me sometimes ask which of "The Doctors" I am but acknowledge that the ability to bounce around and alter time lines makes it an irrelevant question.

In the 1970s I was kept pretty busy.  It was a crummy decade and I did what I could.  Sorry about Pet Rocks and Disco, I tried, oh how I tried.  But there is one success story that I feel I should share.

After the Apollo program NASA was in a real funk.  The Space Shuttle program was teetering on the brink of cancellation.  I mean, it was cool but really less useful than cheaper unmanned vehicles.  

The truth can now be told.  I organized the letter writing campaign that got the prototype shuttle named "Enterprise".  And once we got "most" of the cast of the original series to show up for that roll out ceremony in 1976 the survival of the program was assured by a great tide of public affection.  Ah, good times.

I'm there of course.  I wanted to share the moment without stealing the spotlight.  

That's me standing behind George and Nikky.  Here's another photo of me from about the same time, as if time really has any relevance for the owner of a TARDIS tricked out to resemble a simple garden shed.

Bill Shatner of course didn't show.  What a putz.  You can be sure I remembered that incident when I wrote it into the screenplay for Galaxy Quest 23 relative years later.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Lake Pirates

Perfect weather.  Sunny, no bugs.  

Boating, berry picking, fishing and of course the annual treasure hunt.  

The clues were all over the map this year and no adult help allowed.  Puns, hobbit riddles, codes.  One was in Swedish which is actually fair since one of the kids speaks it.  Clues were under water with an arrow made of white rocks pointing the way.  Or nailed high up on a tree trunk.  This one was moored off shore in an anchored milk bottle.

Another was frozen into a block of ice.  This one was buried in a container of dog chow.

Here are a few of the clues.  Note the candle burned edges?  That not being "pirate authentic" enough they were also splattered with ketchup and baked in the oven a while!

After an hour and a half of hard work they finally found the treasure chest.  It contained Wisconsin legal fireworks.  Sadly they were so tired by then that they did not seem suitably impressed.

Kids sleeping well at the end of a long and busy day.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Lake Rules

I have the next door neighbor's grandkids coming up for a few days at our cabin.  They are a handful especially the twin 8 year old boys.  

There have to be rules.  I am going to hand them a copy of said rules on arrival:

Friday, July 15, 2016

Shipwrecked in Lake Michigan

Like most inhabitants of flat lands far from the sea I have a fascination with all things nautical. It's just human nature to stand on the edge of large bodies of water and stare at them.

In Sheboygan Wisconsin recently I got to indulge my rather silly inner Sea Dog by walking around the wreck of the Lottie Cooper.

This was a three masted sailing ship, built locally in 1876.  It hauled cargoes of timber up and down Lake Michigan.

One stormy night in 1894 the ship was battered to bits by a gale as she lay anchored off shore. Five of her six crewmen were saved.  Later much of her cargo of 230,00 board feet of timber was salvaged but the wreck was left in Sheboygan bay until harbor improvements a century later required it to be removed.

It is now up on shore and you can walk around in it.  The "deck" is just a pedestrian path and is solidly planted on the ground but I can imagine just a bit of swaying back and forth....

This box like structure supported a large centerboard.  If I am calling it by the wrong term please don't correct me, remember I am having my little Sea Dog fantasy here.

So very many nails.  I wonder if they needed this much iron to hold it together or if it required frequent repairs over its 18 year career.

Farewell Lottie Cooper, you can sail on in my imagination...

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Tree Shaped Tombstones - Merrillan Wisconsin

Supposedly the village of Merrillan got its start when local land owner Leander Merrill sent a representative to the offices of the West Wisconsin Railroad asking them to change the proposed route of their line to the town site.  A few winks and a $75,000 consideration did the trick.

It is a modest little hamlet now but has some rather nice tree shaped tombstones in the cemetery just east of town.

Your basic model.  Nice anchor though.

This one is rather more ornate.  The stylized branch on the upper right disturbs me.  Doesn't it look exactly like a clutching, skeletal hand?

Another nice anchor.  The local rock chipper had a certain flair with these.

The yellow lichen that adheres to these monuments adds quite a bit to their visual appeal.  But once in a while you find one that has so much of the darned stuff that it covers most of the carving.  Too much of a good thing I guess.

The most interesting "Tree Shaped Tombstone" on the place was of course a far newer one. This caught my eye.....and I immediately came up with a theory.  Can you guess?

Calvin Frelk was born in the Chicago area and spent his younger days as a utility lineman.  In 1955 he and his brother George invested in their first Wisconsin property dedicated to raising Christmas trees.  Through a long and successful career Calvin grew an awful lot of trees and served at various times as the President of both the Wisconsin and the National Christmas Tree Associations.

He met his wife Arlene at a roller skating rink in the 1940s.  They had been married for 60 years at the time of his death.  The image of two trees side by side but with branches growing together is just perfect.  Nicer, don't you think, than the stark, barren dead tree stumps of the earlier tradition?

Monday, July 11, 2016

Twelve O'Clock High School

High school team names pose a few challenges.  For one thing we seem to be living in a "Participation Ribbon" age and the very concept of cheering on your Falcons (or Panthers, Cardinals, etc) to victory over some other bunch seems just a little mean.

And lets be honest there are some team names that are unfortunate.

Of late there has been quite a push to get rid of team names like Indians.  Also probably Warriors.  Redskins may seem a lot worse but hey, that's different 'cause D.C..

Not that there is anything inherently offensive in the name itself.  Most of us enlightened 21st century types recognize a great deal of merit and nobility in Native culture.  But tempers and spirits in young people being what they are you can see why pep rally references to scalping and so forth are inevitable, so maybe Indians should be gradually phased out as a High School team name.

But, if you want to pick a name that is even more cringe inducing, how about this:

I mean it is really hard to see the nobility in bombing people even in time of war.

Welcome to Kohler Wisconsin, home of the Blue Bombers.

Actually my first clue was not the equipment trailer shown above.  No, it was this:

When we saw this we were really, really hoping this was not something that the mascot drove around the field at football games.  It wasn't.  But what then is it?

Something with tail guns....

Here is the big clue:

No kiddin', this is a huge barbecue grill fashioned to look like a B17 bomber.  There are grills in each wing with the fuselage holding space for coolers full of brats.

I should explain to the non Wisconsinites that bratwurst is very important in our state, and that Sheboygan is the unofficial Brat Capitol. This portable grill would presumably be used by the booster club to cook up tasty sausages at games and other functions.  A bit of research showed that it was student built, part of Project Grill.  This is a design and engineering program in which all manner of interesting barbecue grills get built.  The link contains photos of some really fabulous ones.  As I said, brats are very important in Wisconsin.

So to get back to my original point, how did a high school team get named The Blue Bombers?

Kohler actually started out as a company town, built adjacent to the factories of The Kohler Company.  Employees of same still make up much of the population.  Kohler is one of the world's premier manufacturers of plumbing fixtures.  Sinks, toilets that sort of thing.  During both world wars the fact that Kohler had existing foundries for brass and iron naturally led to government contracts making, well, a small out of the way exhibit in the company museum gives you a clue.

I can't confirm that they made parts for the B17 but they did some work on the B29.  And they made lots and lots of things that were dropped out of aircraft or fired out of cannons.

Kohler is a very nice town.  The Kohler Company is a great place to work and makes fine products.  The "Bomber" grill is a swell student project and was done in collaboration with local veterans.  But in a new era when bombs are going off all too often around the world maybe I will be so bold as to suggest that the school consider a name change.

The Foundrymen sounds nice.  Or given the modern tendency to pick names like Avalanche or Crimson Tide perhaps Kohler could ponder the products of their name sake company and dub themselves The Swirling Vortex!

Friday, July 8, 2016

The World's Largest Badger Soldiers On

As I sat down to the keyboard to chronicle the tale of The World's Largest Badger I realized that you could make a case for this being either a Golden or a Dark age for ridiculous roadside advertising statues.  On the one hand there are certainly more of them than ever before.  The advent of fiber glass construction techniques and the mass marketing culture we live in has resulted in boom times for assorted mascots, shills and critters.  

But so many of them are uninspired.  A mouse in front of a cheese shop is cool.  But when you have seen a dozen identical mice in front of such places you are less impressed.  I am not so far gone yet that I can quote the catalog numbers but no doubt such cultists are out there.

But the Classics, the Originals, the True Greats....they were often idiosyncratic projects that were the handiwork of some imaginative small businessman or perhaps a local civic group. These mostly older and certainly not from a catalog artifacts are becoming rare in our times. Many have suffered indignities of age and of, well, read on.

The World's Largest Badger can be found about five miles north of a little Wisconsin town named Birnamwood.  The village website thanks the Girl Scouts for keeping the down town planters watered and reminds all that local ordinance does require you to keep you lawn nicely mowed.

There seem to have been no famous humans from this fine little hamlet, their one famous citizen being...The Badger.

Well, that's the Big Guy in July of 2016.  But to do him justice please take a look at this YouTube clip of him in better, so much better, times.


Yes from his creation in the (?) late 1960s or early 70's Badger watched benevolently over a kingdom of wonders.  Gifts, Cheese, Taxidermy. A fishin' pond.  A petting zoo.  A giant hollow log contained the gas pumps.  The Great Squirrel on the roof was a nice whimsical touch.  Alas, how the mighty have fallen.  No doubt you saw some glimpses of the hard times that have come..

The Badger is no longer 40 feet tall.  His body was cut off when the Badger Country Store went out of business in the late 1990s.  What is left of him is buried in a mound and peers out over a wooden fence.  He now welcomes, or perhaps warns off, potential customers for a strip club.

The current, er, establishment does not seem to be doing well.  It has changed names and ownership several times.  I am by no means an expert in such matters but an isolated spot five miles north of a hamlet of 800 mostly rather conservative souls does not seem like a great business plan.  I suppose they are busy during deer hunting season but most cars going by are vacation bound families on their way north to the lakes.

The Squirrel, who seems to have something wrong with his right front paw, is of course censorious as their kind tends to be.  Angry chirps and chatters for a usurper threatening to scale his log home.

But The Badger had nothing to say.  He stands his lonely vigil with as much dignity as he can muster.  His paint is peeling.  One of his fangs has become dislodged.  But still he endures, an Ozymandius of a lost Kitsch Empire.

"Look upon my works, Oh ye Mighty, and Despair!"

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Det.of Emp.-1K

This marks something of a mile stone for Detritus of Empire.  Post number 1,000.  That seems like a lot but spread out over roughly five and a half years it is a manageable bit of lifting. Three days a week.  A few extra posts for travels or when the mood strikes me.

It is a bit difficult to tell who - or in the case of automated spambots, what - is reading.  The stats generated by the blog creating software claim that roughly 320,000 entities of some sort have opened a page.  

A lot has changed since early 2011.  Blogging has for instance died.  Or so I am told.  It has for certain become passe, almost something to be apologetic about.  The means of communication over the internet have moved on.  Facebook, Twitter, whatever is current today. Until a handier means of "long form" communication turns up I expect I will keep writing although perhaps with some changes along the way.

I have for instance tinkered with font and picture size, recognizing that much of the world has pitched their computers into a landfill and are peering at tiny little phone screens.

It is interesting to track what have been the most popular posts over the years, and to speculate why...

Three Guys Versus the Asian Carp  is number one by a big margin.  It tells the tale of our attempt to stem the tide of invasive fish in the Illinois River.  We did knock their numbers back by a single digit figure.  The mighty Instapundit site picked it up.  Thousands of hits in the course of an hour or two...

History of England Part Seven was part of my first series of posts back in 2011.  I had written a bootleg history of the UK for some travelers of my acquaintance.  This one seems to have attained enduring popularity because it features royal Corgis.

Travels in the Shire another post picked up by "Insty".  I just thought northern England looked like the Shire.  Oh, and there was the thing about Mordor Slugs.

Dressed up Dogs one of the few posts I feel bad about.  Its just some silly dog pictures I found on the internet.  I consider myself more of a "content producer" not just a collector of nonsense.

The Curious Legacy of General Claude Martin this one started with a book I got at a local garage sale.  I read about the remarkable General Martin and had to research more.  This post gets a fair amount of traffic due, I suspect, to alumni from the schools General Martin started in India and France.  Greetings "Old Martinians"!

The Squirrels of Mirkwood I do worry that my increasing interest in squirrels is a sign of impending dotage.  

The Creeping Terror In the summer months I spend an inordinate amount of time explaining to patients that the tick they think maybe crawled across their shirt sleeve is less dangerous to them than the pack of cigs in the pocket of said shirt.  Sigh.

The Grandchildren of the Okies go Home My parody of the classic Woody Guthrie song.  Folks leaving the taxes and regulations of Cal-i-forn-I-A and heading back to the Dust Bowl.  A bit more interest than the usual political posting.  But in general politics are a glut on the internet market.

Forgotten Brewery Caves Alma Wisconsin my most recent Top Ten post, this one is from 2014. I am always careful with the Brewery Cave series to not put temptation to trespass or take risks into the path of the unwise.  In the fashion of recent years this one was picked up via Facebook and made the rounds of local history buffs.

Harvey I have not actually seen a six foot tall talking rabbit.  But I would like to imagine that I would see one if it ever wandered past.

So, what direction for the next thousand posts?

I am surprised to find myself something of an internet authority on a few odd topics such as 19th century brewery caves and tombstones shaped like trees.  I'll probably stumble onto a few more.

I expect to retire the intermittent "Tacitus MD" category shortly.  I have always had to hedge a bit on those stories for privacy reasons anyway.

The student robotics project posts have never been of wide interest.  Too bad, I'm going to keep doing them.  There is a lot of cool stuff ahead in that world.

I hope the "Generations" category continues to expand...

And beyond that we shall just have to see.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Old Glory Waving High

When I visit somewhere I consider it just common courtesy to do a little homework first.  So naturally when getting ready to visit Sheboygan Wisconsin on the Fourth of July weekend I noticed quickly that they had what was described as "The World's Tallest Flagpole".  That of course made a visit mandatory on a magnificent sunny day.

It is certainly one very, very tall flagpole.  That little white dot at the base of the flagpole is a strapping 6 foot plus lad who frankly looks like an ant.

Here I am leaning on the base of the pole.

So, what's the deal?

The flagpole is 400 feet tall.  It is a project undertaken by the Acuity Insurance Company and stands outside their headquarters.  The numbers are mind boggling.

The flagpole is 100 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty.  It weighs 420,000 pounds.  It takes 500 gallons of paint to coat it.  The flag proper is 70 feet by 140 feet.  Each star is three feet tall. The whole thing weighs 340 pounds and is 9,800 square feet of Red, White and Blue.

It draws the eye.  It is hard to stare at it very long - you get a bit dizzy - but hard also to look away.

But is it really the tallest?

No.  I was not aware of it but there has been a recent - sorry for the pun - wave of Giant Flagpole building.  Assorted Middle East and Central Asian countries just have to one up the competition and raise their flags just that much higher.  Freudians, have a field day with this one.

Make what you will of it but all those Big Sticks in repressive lands are the handiwork of an American firm, Trident Support Corporation.  Marc Summers and David Chambers are a couple of resourceful engineers who got into this line of work kind of by accident.  Every few years they build one a little bit taller.  And then their phone rings.  Tajikistan, Jordan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan.  The current "champ" is in Jeddah Saudi Arabia. At 560 feet it has held the record for two years now.

Now, I want to be fair.  The info that claimed the Sheboygan flagpole as the world's tallest was either old or poorly written.  The actual information that Acuity puts out calls it "The World's Tallest Symbol of Freedom".  

I am ok with that.  None of those other flags, though they may be a little higher off the ground, fly over as good a place.  Here you can salute the flag, or if you prefer, not.  You can agree with the policies of the current Administration or call them scoundrels.  I can and do have pointed discussions with friends and relatives who vote in different ways and still consider them - as I hope they consider me - to be decent patriot folk and great neighbors.  

Tajikistan and its ilk may be waving something around but it is certainly not a symbol of that kind of freedom.

Happy 4th of July, 2016