Friday, June 29, 2018

Road Trip Trees

A couple of Tree Shaped Tombstones from a June road trip.  Odd balls today.

I don't usually bother with this style of monument.  There is something unimpressive about a stack of logs.  But this one caught my eye.  The base is of the usual limestone that I have become so fond of.  The top log is red granite.  It seemed quite odd to see them mixed this way.  I wondered if this was a repair job.

Still not sure, the two stone types did overlap in popularity and the fit is pretty good.   

I ran across this new (1970s) tombstone in a tiny hamlet.  On the one hand it pleases me that people are, or at least recently were, still creating these in something like the old style.  On the other hand, those bears gotta go.  It got me thinking about what my own "Spirit Animal" would be. For now I am going with Capuchin monkey or Possum.

This one got me thinking, because it had the look of something created more by machine than by hand carving.  I theorized that CNC technology has advanced a great deal since this was made, and that perhaps my long standing (and hopefully long delayed) wish for my own elaborate Tree Shaped Tombstone might be practical.  Courtesy of You Tube here is what stone cutting CNC can do in the 21st century...

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Holstein Cross

This is on the side of the L & M Chuck Wagon cafe in Melrose, Wisconsin.

It was odd enough that I had to drive back and get a picture.  Oh, if you are one of my acquaintences from overseas this won't make much sense.  A bit of back story.

Wisconsin is "The Dairy State".  We love our cows.  Especially Holsteins. 

In fact their mottled black and white pattern is a sort of unofficial Wisconsin logo.  You can find all sorts of Holstein "stuff" out there:


I'm not quite sure what to make of "the Holstein cross".  Is it art?  It is a coming together of things that the artist felt were important.  Cows.  Jesus.  Her hometown which has been marked as the capitol of the state.  It is a rather black and white view of the world; and while we can certainly get along without Illinois it is peculiar to think of Wisconsin as floating freely in an archipeligo where one of the closest adjacent islands is shaped like a heart.

But as art I have seen far worse.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Gas Station Time Warp in Orfordville

When I am on a road trip I consider it appropriate to be lost a certain percentage of the time.  Maybe 5% if my wife is along.  But when I am by myself - and with a looser definition of lost - more than that is fine.  Of course when meandering down obscure back roads you must keep an eye on the gas gauge and on a recent southern Wisconsin jaunt I was watching the needle drop as I traveled over some very rustic territory.

So I pulled into a little town I might othewise have skipped, Orfordville Wisconsin.

On Main street there was a dingy looking 1970's gas station that appeared to be closed.  But across the street?  This:

Whoa.  My first thought was that the place on their sign where it said "Established 1964" was totally wrong.  This was a vintage gas station and a much earlier business.  So I pulled in to check it out.

Out of habit I started pumping gas before....a guy came out to do it!  Guy also gave the windows a good squeegie and was happy to chat about the weather, the gas station, etc. 

As it happens it is a vintage building, dating to 1926.  It was a livery stable before it became a garage.  Most of their business is repair work.  The owners of Sather's are buying the dingy 1970's station across the street so that they will have pumps that can be self serve after hours.  The pumps you see here are pre-credit card.  The weather looks OK but "might rain later".

It's not a total time warp.  Sather's has its own website and Facebook page in which more is explained.....

Weirdly Orfordville had another vintage gas station just a few blocks away.  It seems to be inactive now, its most recent incarnation being some sort of ice cream shop.

The gas pump out front does look original.  I remember seeing a few of these still in operation when I was a very young lad.  The little glass "eye" filled up with gasoline when you ran the pump.  It swirled around when the gas was pumping.  I found them vaguely frightening.

Odd how gas stations and their fixtures age with such grace.

Leaving Orfordville I passed a nice new gas station/convenience store complex on the edge of town.  They seemed to be doing well.  I suspect it is the successor to the down town 70's gas station.  I hope they get along with Sather's and that both the old and new enterprises succeed.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Macro Economic Theory as seen by Goats

I was at a petting zoo with my grand son a while back.  He loves animals.  He of course recognizes some of them as natural born rascals; the goats in particular.

There are little vending machines where you can buy a handfull of feed for a quarter.  It seems a simple economic equation.  Animals show interest.  Human buys food.  Animals get food.  Everyone wins.

Goats see things differently.

If you go anywhere near this machine the smart (?) goat on the right will jam his snout up in front of it.  He's not about to let a single pellet go to waste, or to the other goats.  See how the paint is worn off right where his horns are?  He has been at this a while....

The problem is that he makes it nigh impossible to buy pellets.  He's just in the way.  

So in the long run he probably gets a high percentage of the goat chow, but the overall amount of chow dispensed is much reduced by his obnoxious behaviour.

You may insert whatever human world economic parallels you wish at this point.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Tree Shaped Tombstones - Belgian versions, late and tragic.

The Western Front was a fairly narrow band of territory.  If you were a few miles either side of the largely static lines life went on albeit with some disruption.  But within the range of the guns the damage was significant and in the area of Flanders where I was excavating Hill 80, the destruction was near complete.  In many villages nothing survived, they became dust and rubble.

Even the cemeteries, so when I wandered through a few post war grave yards I was surprised to see that "Tree shaped Tombstones" are common.  In fact, I think they are still being made and placed.

Kemmel Belgium.  Note the death date in the mid 1970s.  The church behind it, along with everything else above ground, was destroyed by artillery fire during the war.

Another example from Wychaete, just a short stroll from the Hill 80 excavation.  

As I went about in Flanders I actually saw quite a few of these, all in the "Rustic Cross" configuration seen above.  It seems to back up my theory that these are more of a Catholic thing, as Belgium is almost entirely of that faith.  They all have at least a stylized version of the stone base which I assume represents Mount Calvary where Christ was crucified.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Belgium in Review

A wrap up of my Belgian well did my pre-trip preparations work out?  And what kind of place is it anyway?

In general my preparations worked well.  Lots of walks and garden work in the weeks prior made the physical labor manageable.  I take curious pride in being an efficient mover of dirt.  The first week home I actually had more aches and pains than during my two weeks of digging.

Belgian beer?  As it turns out this was not much of a pub crowd.  And the two local establishments were not always open anyway.  But there were several evening get togethers for curry, barbecue or whatever.  The Uni students brought some watery low cost beer.  Those of us with foresight and funds brought better stuff.  As usual the company and the beer act in concert and the evenings were delightful.  Odd...what with John Denver sing alongs by our guitar playing Austrian explosives expert....but delightful.

The default language on site was as I suspected English.  Belgium can't agree on much of anything and with Dutch, French and German all being official English has become the default.  In second place was Dutch, or rather the Flemish variant of it.  I was able to pick up a bit while digging.  The security guy at Brussels airport was impressed.  He had also heard of the dig on the news and we had a nice chat.

I must with reluctance dispense some negative points to Brussels airport.  The train going to and from the place has a regular team of annoying beggars.  They come around and listlessly hand out grubby pieces of paper saying that they are poor, work with children and would like some money.  They come back later to collect the scraps and put out a hand.  They seem used to being ignored and just move on to their next location, leaving the lingering smell of a three pack a day smoker in their wake.  The airport also has some very suspicious "helpful" individuals who will for instance be right there if the ATM is being difficult, offering to direct you to one that they know works........

But in general the inhabitants of the rural area I stayed in were much the same as country folks the world over.  Polite if primarily absorbed in their own lives.  One of the Belgian archaeologists I worked with told me that Belgians are Europe's most passionate home bodies.  They are said to be "born with a brick in their stomachs".  The contrast of immaculate homes and gardens and very sleepy public spaces would seem to back this up.

Having spent a decade excavating a bit earlier in May and a ways further north - up at Hadrian's Wall - I packed more warm clothes and fewer T shirts than needed.  We had blazing hot weather and I usually slugged down an entire 2 liter bottle of water.  

After the first week I did have my logistics worked out.  There were nice showers on site so I got cleaned up prior to returning to the diggers hovel.  There was also a comical little washing machine so the bag of laundry detergent I carried along was a good call.  The convenience store down the block was pricey but they were open early and made a good lunch time sandwich.  I never found coffee beyond the highly potent stuff available in small quantities on site, but it was just sufficient to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

I was able to manage Belgian trains and buses, and timed things such that I left the excavation having consumed the last of my provisions and wearing my last items of clean clothes.  About half the garments I brought with went into the trash or into a clothing for charity collection bin that I found.

I had numerous conversations with the eclectic bunch of excavators on site, often on the subject of where they should go to visit the "real" America.  So many Europeans confine themselves to New York, LA, Florida and even, God help 'em, Vegas.  I suggested they rent a car and hit the small roads in summer time.

So some of my critique of Belgium is unfair by my own standards.  Brussels for instance is an unlovely place as seen by the train, and no city is fairly judged by its airport.  That being said among my last images of Belgium were this series of ads, all of them showing emaciated, unhappy young people.  

Not the real Belgium, just as LA, NYC and Vegas are not the real America.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Bull Durham - Mechanical Bulls

(Wrapping up my tribute to Bull Durham on its 30th anniversary)

In the movie Bull Durham there is a sign in the outfield.  It is in the shape of a large bull and says "Hit Bull Win Steak".  

It features prominently in this clip from the movie....where "Nuke" learns a valuable lesson:

Of course something similar has to appear in the new Bulls ball park.  Several similar things in fact.  This is out by the left field foul pole.  And indeed, players who hit the bull do get a steak from an adjacent eatery.  It is unclear if the salad offer is valid.  Like the movie prop it has eyes that light up red and steam the shoots out of the nostrils.  

But where is the original movie prop?  I understand that it was a decoration somewhere along the first base line for years but has been taken down.  The closest I could find was this guy up on the concourse overlooking the entry gate.  It is a bull on wheels so probably is taken to events and such.  Lets take a robot builder's look at this one.

The eyes light up with standard truck tail lights.  I could not work out the mechanism for steam production in detail, some elements were enclosed, but it is probably some kind of fog machine, a reservoir tank, and a fan.  That's how I would build it anyway.

Here's what makes the tail go up and down.  It features a mechanism called an "eccentric rod" that allows the toothed gear to create smooth up and down motion of the tail which is mounted to the left gear and bearing.  Think of how old time locomotives work.

I couldn't quite get a look at the drive motor but suspect it is a 24 volt DC industrial motor.  The whole shebang is supposed to be portable, and battery power would be handier than a generator or a need to plug things in.

Below is another Bull.  More art than mechanics here but some very nice welding of an enormous number of fender washers....

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Bull Durham - Crash and Nuke Step Into the 21st Century. Part Two.

Part Two that is, of my tip of the hat on the 30th anniversary of the movie Bull Durham.

Ah, the new Durham Bulls stadium.  What would "Crash" Davis and "Nuke" LaLoosh make of it?

It's a lot fancier than the old stadium.

You get a real sense of the vibrant Durham economy sitting here.  Instead of tired old tobacco warehouses you have construction cranes.

The concessions area features an on site brewery.  Both Crash and Nuke would have approved.  Nuke, who has no class, would have liked the beer I got there.  Crash...I'm not so sure.  In the movie he was seen to be drinking Budweiser but maybe that's all he could get.  The old guys manning the taps here were pleasantly garrulous but the beer was uninspired.

Could our two blue collar heroes even get their minds around the concept of a ball park concession called "The Kupkake Fairy"?  You may recall that Nuke in a desperate attempt to break a losing streak wore women's underwear while pitching.  He thought they were pretty comfortable but reassured himself that "...doesn't make me queer or anything...".  He'd sneak over and get one of these excellent cupcakes when nobody was looking.  Crash would be a friend of the owner who would give him three every time he showed up for a game.

Welcome to baseball in the progressive 21st century.  A little enclosed area for nursing moms.  Neither Crash nor Luke could resist a guffaw over this.  Annie would fix them with an evil, disapproving glare.

Oh yes, the ball game.  I had actually never been to a AAA level game.  These are the guys one step from "The Show".  The quality of play was much better than in the low minors.  Complicated things like sacrifice bunts and pickoff plays were attempted regularly and often with success.  The game was shortened a bit by the storms that had marched about on all sides for the entire evening.  As Nuke Laloosh famously said: "Sometimes you win.  Sometimes you lose.  And sometimes it rains.  Think about that for a while."

Monday, June 11, 2018

Bull Durham - Crash and Nuke Step Into the 21st Century. Part One

Back before my Belgium foray we made a brief trip to Durham North Carolina.  Mostly to visit old friends who had moved there.  Partly just to see a part of the country new to me.  But I admit to just a sliver of Movie Fandom here, as I wanted to see the location for what has perhaps become my favorite movie of all time: Bull Durham.

If you have not seen it, do so.  On the surface it is a movie about life on a minor league baseball team.  But it is actually about life, love, growing old, and about the decisions we make.

It is set in a beautiful, vintage ball park near down town Durham.  Since the movie came out 30 years ago this week there have been many changes.  The Durham Bulls have gone from being a struggling low level "A" ball team to a high level AAA team that wins national championships.  They have also moved from the old ball park into a new one, one whose size and elegance more befits a team that has "made it".

Join me for a brief wander through the two ball parks, the old and the new.  I won't intrude on your journey too much but will share my observations....which mostly deal with how the two main characters of Bull Durham would have appreciated the changes.  How would the mature, analytical but sensitive "Crash" Davis see things?  How would the brash, impetuous young "Nuke" Laloosh see them?

Today the old ball park.  It is still in use.  A local college plays their games there and I believe the Bulls still have one "throwback" game a year in the old place.  It is also a training facility for ball park grounds keepers.

The ball park entrance is seen in the beginning of the movie as a bustling, active place.  If Crash saw it this way he'd be saddened.  Nuke wouldn't go to the park on off days.

The field still looks good but you can tell that the movie makers and time both have changed things.  Down town Durham is a busy place these days, those are upscale condos off the the right.  The outfield in the movie has a series of brick tobacco warehouses.  Here we see most prominently a blue cinder block building.  We'll get back to that in a moment.

Across the street from the ball park is this tall, skinny building.  I assumed - correctly - that it had something to do with fire fighting.  It was used to train firefighters.  It also looks like a "hose tower" which fire stations used to unroll hoses after use, hanging them up until they were dry and could be recoiled.  Both Nuke and Crash being rather obsessed with sex they would have looked at this and made jokes about their towering hoses.

Ah yes, that building out beyond the right field fence.  It was being renovated.  Having heard about it I had to go over and snap a shot of the interior.  

Truth is way stranger than fiction sometimes.  This building is being renovated into a bar where you can throw hatchets.  Just for fun or in competitive leagues.  Really.  After a few drinks Nuke would for sure want to try this.  Hopefully Crash would talk him out of it but if not Nuke's notoriously troublesome control would mean it was time to duck under a table as the hatchet went who knows where.....

Friday, June 8, 2018

At a Loss for an Answer.....

The 57th Wilde's Rifles at Wytschaete

The British Army of the late 19th century was not an impressive force by Continental standards.  Otto von Bismarck famously said that if the British ever landed in Europe he would simply ask the Belgian police to arrest them.  

The shortcomings of the Army were made more evident in the Boer War which lead to significant reforms.  By 1914 the British had a professional, all volunteer force....but half of it was on duty in various colonial postings.

The outbreak of war in August 1914 called home all available troops including some colonial regiments with fabled histories.

Here is a photo of Indian troops from the 57th "Wilde's Rifles" in Wytschaete, October 1914.  

And the same spot in 2018.

Wilde's Rifles were originally called the 4th Punjab Infantry Regiment, part of the Punjab Irregular Force.  They got their new name in recognition of valiant service during the Indian Mutiny, honoring their commander at that time Sir Alfred Thomas Wilde.

Their experiences in Wytschaete were not happy ones.  Their casualties were a staggering 50%.  They were eventually driven out of the village by repeated German assaults.  After further costly engagements they were subsequently taken out of the line and sent to East Africa to help round up German colonial troops fighting a prolonged guerrilla campaign.

The odd thing about archaeology of relatively recent events is that you get information sources such as the first photo.  I think it is fair to say it was taken when the Wilde Rifles first went into the line at Wytschaete...neither the buildings nor the expressions of the men appear to have been subjected to serious combat at this point. 

The spot where these photos were taken is perhaps a quarter mile from the Hill 80 dig site.  So it is possible that artifacts of Indian origin could turn up, although given the short time the Indians were there, and the constant pounding of four long years of combat, it would have to be regarded as a low probability.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

French Ammunition Design....Hey, its French

Among many fascinating aspects of the Hill 80 Dig was the opportunity to learn from experts.  Of course I had to do so while working through an array of different languages and even in English some tough accents.  

Our explosives expert Gehrnard was explaining to me how to recognize French artillery fuses.  He made some curvy hand motions and said something about "neeples".  That was enough for me to figure it out when we turned up one of these:

The red flag indicates something that needs to be examined and cleared.  Fuses have a low probability of being dangerous - unlike the hand grenade that came out of this trench later - so we kept on digging.

This is a nose cap and fuse from a French 75mm shell.  These were primarily designed for firing at infantry not fortifications, so the elongated, er, "neeple" meant it went off on impact an inch or two above ground level.  The fuse is mechanically simple which actually makes it more dangerous.  You can see why Gehrnard's description was a bit anatomically suggestive.  Even without knowing Gehrnard.

But was the French design entirely pragmatic?  Below are two rifle cartridges.  Above a German Mauser round.  Note the iron oxide on the bullet, the Germans used steel in part for practicality and in part due to material shortages.  

The lower cartridge is a round for the French Labelle rifle.  Note the gentle curves.  It must have been harder to manufacture, and the Labelle is usually felt to be inferior to contemporary German weapons.  So why make it curvy and difficult?  Well, they were French and in the era of "La Belle Epoque", that energetic, creative, slightly ridiculous blossoming of French artistic expression.  How could they have just settled for straight lines and boring steel?

Monday, June 4, 2018

Digging Hill 80 - A few leftover Concerning Photos.....

This is the "Gas Flag" atop the dig HQ building.  The wind is blowing from right to left in this picture.  We actually had to take a safety quiz that asked us which way we would run in the event of a toxic gas release.  (The correct answer should this be at all useful to you, is Right).  So far only one gas shell has turned up but you never know.

One day a rather sulfurous odor was detected by several of us.  As concerned and well trained diggers we commented on it.  One of the chief archaeologists apologized......

This one looks innocuous.  Just a big flat board in the lunch area.  But of course I know better from my previous career.  This is a signal board to help medivac helicopters find a landing spot.  The handle is for ease of carrying.  It is sturdy plywood most likely so it can do double duty as a flat surface to put under somebody while doing CPR.  I asked and somebody thought it was also intended to be a landing pad for the photo drone that cruised the site on days where the wind was not a problem.  I never saw it used for that purpose.

Quite a bit less concerning but here is a little example of clothes packing strategy.  I did see quite a few excavators on site wearing shorts.  After anything more than two drops of rain the site became muddy.  I always wear long pants, and if the temperature is not oppressively hot also my rainsuit pants.  You get a choice either to have "Perma Dirt" ground into your skin or into your garments.  At the end of the stay on Hill 80 I threw some clothes away.  Others that were not as distressed went into a bin down the street that collected old clothes for charities.  

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Aardappelautomat - How have we gotten along without them so long?

A sign seen on the outskirts of a small town in Belgium....

If you assumed that this was a sign directing you to a potato vending machine you would be correct.  I wandered around a while looking for it but did not find it.  I suspect it is seasonal.  But then, what would a spud automat really look like?  I might have gone right past it.....
Update: So it is a real thing....I really was not looking for the right structure

Digging Hill 80 - Ninth and Final Report

Journeys home have stages.  Some steps are long, others short.  Some are easy, others a bit dodgy.  With an early train to catch I am ensconced in Ypres in a bed too darned comfortable given my need to stay awake a while and to get moving early.

Last day of excavation on Hill 80 was again carried out in nice weather.  Two weeks and no time lost to rain.  Quite remarkable.

I did a bit of necessary tidy up on some spots and was set to work with another volunteer on what was expected to be a few isolated bones that just needed recovery.

Well, it turned out to be a little more complicated.  

With regards to bones I have to overcome a handicap from earlier experience.  Firstly, from Gross Anatomy class and from many years of reading Xrays and CT scans I do know bones.  But they generally are affiliated with other bones and in the usual configuration.  A random bone that has been blasted clear of its normal surroundings is much harder to identify.  Is that a meta carpal or a meta tarsal?  

As you may imagine we found bones.  More bones than expected.  And things associated with them.  In the end we had to set the site aside for more skilled hands to take on.  But we learned enough about our fallen soldier to ensure that he will in time rest among his comrades.  I assume that the scant personal effects he still carried with him will go along too.  

I have more Hill 80 and Belgium thoughts that I'll get to when jet lag induced stupidity clears.  

It was an interesting experience overall.  In part an education, in part an adventure.  I've met people from the US, the UK and a half dozen European countries.  The assorted languages will take weeks to unscramble in my head.  

Of course all such experiences make you think about time.  It is 100 years back to World War One.  It is 61 years back to my beginnings.  The kids I was mostly associating with of late are correct in assuming that I go more than half way back to The Great War.

Ah well, time to wrap up for now.  Composing coherent paragraphs is difficult enough without the distractions of travel and two glasses of strong Belgian beer....