"I don't make hell for nobody. I'm only the instrument of a laughing providence. Sometimes I don't like it myself, but I couldn't help it if I was born smart."

1st Sgt. Milton Anthony Warden.
"From here to Eternity"

Paul Valery

"You are in love with intelligence, until it frightens you. For your ideas are terrifying and your hearts are faint. Your acts of pity and cruelty are absurd, committed with no calm, as if they were irresistible. Finally, you fear blood more and more. Blood and time."

The Wisdom of the Ages

"When a young man, I read somewhere the following: God the Almighty said, 'All that is too complex is unnecessary, and it is simple that is needed',"

Mikhail Kalashnikov

Olongapo City 1915

Olongapo City 1915
"Here lies the bravest soldier I've seen since my mirror got grease on it."

Zapp Brannigan

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The White Gold


"Mom is so gonna kill you two when she gets home."

Unless your head has been in a hole recently, you've certainly heard of the brave patriots weathering harsh, winter conditions with insufficient socks and snacks. Said brave action being in aid of preventing government overreach.
Apparently this tyranny thing is getting pretty bad.

Vanilla ISIS, you don't know you're born regarding  what you consider an intrusive state.

"The Lord Coke, his Speech and Charge, with a Discoverie of the Abuses and Corruptions of Officers. 8vo. Lond. N.Butter, 1607."
The following officer is unknown in the present day, I give his character in extenso:
"There is also a Salt-peter-man, whose commission is not to break up any man's house or ground without leave. And not to deale with any house, but such as is unused for any necessarie imployment by the owner. And not to digge in any place without leaving it smooth and levell: in such case as he found it. This Salt-peter-man under shew of his authoritie, though being no more than is specified, will make plaine and simple people beleeve, that hee will without their leave breake up the floore of their dwelling house, unlesse they will compound with him to the contrary. Any such fellow, if you can meete with all, let his misdemenor be presented, that he may be taught better to understand his office: For by their abuse the country is oftentimes troubled."

Whoa, this "Salt-peter man" sounds like a real dick. What was his deal?
Well, as in so many cases, an authoritarian government barged-in and started digging up the floors of people's houses, churches, their yards, barns and so on - all under the King's authority:

Proclamation of King Charles I (1625):
"For the Maintaining and Increasing of the Salt-petre Mines of England, for the Necessary and Important Manufacture of Gunpowder."
"That our realm naturally yields sufficient mines of saltpetre without depending on foreign parts; wherefore, for the future, no dovehouse shall be paved with stones, bricks, nor boards, lime, sand, nor gravel, nor any other thing whereby the growth and increase of the mine and saltpetre may be hindered or impaired; but the proprietors shall suffer the ground floors thereof, as also all stables where horses stand, to lie open with good and mellow earth, apt to breed increase of the said mine. And that none deny or hinder any saltpetre-man, lawfully deputed thereto, from digging, taking, or working any ground which by commission may be taken and wrought for saltpetre. Neither shall any constable, or other officer, neglect to furnish any such saltpetre-man with convenient carriages, that the King's service suffer not. Non shall bribe any saltpetre-man for the sparing or forbearing of any ground fit to be wrought for saltpetre," 
"... the Necessary and Important Manufacture of Gunpowder"

Now we're getting somewhere. It's all about firepower.
Saltpeter has been around a long time and it's everywhere - and it was especially prevalent on King Chuck's island, what with centuries of various people and animals living and moving - having their being - specifically pooping and peeing everywhere.

That's what his Sovereign Royal Highness was talking about when he mentioned "sufficient mines" of this strategic mineral.
To leave nicknames behind, the compound were talking about is potassium nitrate.
Mad, Swiss Chemist, Ulrich Bretscher (http://www.musketeer.ch/blackpowder/saltpeter.html) can get you up to speed on the formulation of black powder far more accurately than I can.
Saltpeter's been around a long time - millions of years being that it's a product of natural processes. Have you noticed tiny, white crystals under any random dog-turd, cow-flop or any other substantive pile of merde - of a certain age - that you may kick over?  That's the stuff.
Before those clever Chinese came up with gunpowder the uses for potassium nitrate were pretty much limited to meat preservation. Minus saltpeter there would be no corned beef, then life would lose all meaning.
Prior to the realization that we could get whatever we wanted - and whenever we wanted it - by simply blowing things and/or people up, the stuff was generally scraped off of cellar walls.
Let me set the scene: Imagine you're a tavern owner in the fifteenth century or so. It's a nice piece of property and even has a basement for you to store inventory in.
The quality of your drink ables is such that the place is packed with all sorts of folks enjoying the hospitality of the house - all the time.
Happy saltpeter makers at their labors.
At some point - and many subsequent points - all of your customers need to "see a man about a horse" and they'll do so just outside and wherever convenient. 
Gross - but you don't have the wherewithal to finance a matching set of rest rooms with cutesy signs like "Pointers" and "Setters."
The end result will be: Most of your clientele will end up peeing outside, beside the same wall. This place will become a touchstone for any dog or tomcat within a quarter-mile and they'll all drop by as well. Not to worry, you're just one stop on the dog/cat tour. Everybody in your town does it al fresco except for the big man on the hill. He shits in a pot and has someone else take it out and throw it on the ground.
Over time you'll notice, in your basement, that the wall directly under the pissing wall is starting to grow little, white... cotton balls - kind of. That's what we're talking about.
That's what the industrious pair are doing in the fist picture.
You'll have to check out Ulrich"s website for him to explain how the marvel of shit and piss and soil bacteria can produce the wonder behind corned beef.
Anyway, what happened on our hypothetical cellar wall would also have happened had there been horses stabled outside, chickens, hogs, a slaughterhouse that dumped its guts, blood etc.
Okay, bucolic interlude is over. Gunpowder! Woo-Hoo! except - it's gonna be grim scraping all that white fuzzy stuff off the walls until it's all gone, then impatiently peeing and shitting to restart the magic. Obviously not workable for a would-be world power.
The great thinkers surmised that, if they could get hold of this magic dirt, they could fast-forward the whole, tedious wait-for-it-to-grow-out-of-the-wall process. Just find the appropriate dirt, dig it out, leach water through it and boil said water (Nasty) until the magic crystals precipitated out. Easy peasy.
Given the nasty mix of delectable soil components that produced the magic white powder, it's easy to see the logic behind the places that King Charles directed his duly-appointed representatives to dig.
One of the favored spots was - wait for it - under the floors of churches because "...the women pisseth in their seats". Okay, misogyny aside, it's a safe bet that all parishioners were draining the lizard indoors every now and again. Services were long and getting out was a hassle - and the place smelled like pee already.
Mother England had just about figured out this saltpeter-making trip except the urine component was a little hit-and-miss. Not only that, there was only so much pee-soaked soil... anywhere, so they started making it from scratch.
They built long beds of likely materials, blood, guts, manure, layered with soil for that sweet bacterial action. Then, they would apply the pee and wait for the magic.
Now please understand, this was a production operation and while I'm sure it was encouraged that the workers "do their little ones" onto the pile, it was but a mere drop (couldn't resist) on the disgusting slime. No, for an industrial operation you needed lots and lots of the stuff.
Making the "magic dirt"
This is where everyone had to pitch in and do their bit. Everyone in a household would take care of the first office of nature into an appropriate vessel. No biggie, they were doing that already - except for when Dad happened to be standing by an open door or the family was at church.
But with this emergent threat from abroad and the need to make potassium nitrate post-haste, there'd be no more days of freedom...  The simple freedom to take that chamber pot with all its fetid, morning broth and fling the contents thereof out into the street responsibly shouting "gardy-loo!" 
No extra credit for that. It's what anyone would do in a polite society.
So into this functional system - which had worked flawlessly for centuries - was thrown the dictate that henceforth pee was to be collected  on some sort of schedule for the use of His Majesty. In the meantime, you could bond with the family's past twenty-four kidney flushings and wait for the pee man to arrive. 
Would it have been that much worse? At least the stinky was being taken somewhere else and not being walked through constantly just outside the door.

If you've been following these links, it's easy to see that this was a subject which was brought up with some regularity and the outcome was always the same.

Citizens: "These guys get to dig up any place that suits their fancy and arcane notions of property have gone by the wayside."

Pee collectors and shit shovelers: "Make everything nice - just like you found it but by all means get the white gold!"

The madness only ended at the close  of the 19th century with the invention of smokeless powder (After which gun-powder would be called "black powder" because it was black).
The meat-curing industries along with makers of fertilizer lucked out as well and potassium nitrate was extracted chemically around the time of the Great War.
I think it's worth a paranoid thought that, from a prepper standpoint, there'd be no harm in creating your old "saltpeter mine" right at home!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Woodlot Management Optimized For National Security

Don't laugh. It's surprisingly important.

First of all, what's a woodlot?
It's bunch of ground with trees growing all over it, trees that are going to be used for something - someday.
Doesn't seem that would be something needing a whole lot of keeping-track-of, does it?
Oh but it was. Through simple inattention, you could have seriously screwed-up during the Tudor period. or later or, for that matter, any time post-king Arthur. Britain had logged off a majority of woodland even before it became a strategic issue whereupon the Crown was compelled to step in.
At this time, Mother England was having to play catch-up in the colonizing game - and maintain an ability to project power abroad all while continuing to protect the home island. It was clear; England needed a navy, or at least more of a navy.

To this end, the shapely and personable gentleman pictured was forced to make a law mandating that his loyal, property-owning subjects should - if they've got coppice on their place:

 Put a damned fence around it - and leave twelve standards per acre!
So, what was the problem, wild coppices escaping, frightening children and menacing old ladies? Outside coppices wanting to infiltrate, what?
Was a coppice something valuable that thieves might "rustle"?
What the hell is a coppice?

A coppice is the mass of suckers that grow out of the stump of a felled hardwood - and that are being paid attention to.
All those new stems that grow from the stump ("stool") do so with the added bennie of a mature root system so they grow quickly. They also grow up straight and tall since they're packed together and in competition with one another.
Various trees produced suckers that were left to grow to the appropriate size for whatever the end use might be whether withies, wattle or fence rails. Wood coppiced for firewood may have been left alone for thirty years waiting for it to get big enough but withies are good every few years. The trick was to time everything so that you could cuts a years worth of wood to work with, depending on where you cut, every year.
Sounds like a good system so why would Cranky Hank up topside have been all up in every one's business about their woodlots?

Actually, the fencing Henry mentioned makes sense when you learn the oh-so-mundane reason for it but we'll get to that.
The real question that all (three, Hi Mom!) of you have been asking is this: What the hell was Henry talking about when he demanded "twelve standards per acre"?
Next slide please...
'Tween decks on USS Constitution. Those large white-painted units dominating the right side of the picture are called "knees". In this case, they form a solid brace between the upper and lower decks as well as the hull. These date from the recent refurbishment and are made of laminated white oak.
Back in Henry's day, the ships were smaller so the knees would naturally have been smaller as well,  like the one pictured next.

Laminating wasn't an option back in the day, hide-based glue in a moist environment and all that. They had to grow trees that would yield shapes like that - with the grain structure following the curves.
This next picture is from an early nineteenth century treatise but still the standard was being pointed out was impressive. A tree that would yield a saw log between thirty-five and sixty feet long and at least a foot square.
Then up above, like an afterthought, is the knee. The knee chunk can be between nine and twelve feet long with square cross-sections in the ten to sixteen inch range.
You don't grow this type of stick from a coppice.
You need a full-sized tree for this - AKA a "standard".
See, Henry, remember Henry, was in the the process of pissing off the world - at least the Catholic world which is to say, Holland, Spain and France, all of whom had ass-kicking fleets.
So, Henry was needing to build a fleet - and keep building it because the Spanish,the Dutch  and the French would keep putting all that finely worked English oak on the bottom - as Henry hoped to do likewise with their ships.
That requires a lot of random crooks of wood.
Okay, we'll let Hank off about the "standards". When your entire island was logged off hundreds of years prior there's nothing else for it. You have to plan ahead

But coppice? What could this lowly collection of sticks possibly have been worth that Henry would pass a law to make sure everyone kept their shit consolidated regarding it?

The oldest industrial fuel, until coke was discovered in the 18th century, what it took to make things hot.
You couldn't melt metals without it, you couldn't forge without it. It was the shit but if you didn't have your loyal subjects properly tuned-up on the subject you could find your charcoal burners short of raw material and the smelters and forges laid-off - until the charcoal coppice grew back.
The other reason for the charcoal mania involved one specific form of charcoal, willow.
Willow is best but grape-vine will work. Other woods work, just not as well.
Although charcoal is the smaller ingredient in gunpowder it, being the fuel component, dictates how well it works. Since charcoal retains the same cellular structure as the original wood, when it fractures down, it offers maximum surface area for the oxygenating agent to work its magic.
Next, we'll look at that "oxygenating agent" and see how the gubmint could really get up in your shit.

Oh, recall the fence that Henry was so adamant about; you ever notice that the trees where cattle are pastured - and where limbs grow low enough to notice - have all the foliage cut-off in a dead-level line maybe four or five feet off the ground.
Seems cows like to munch on that new, tender growth that grows down where they can reach - AKA - the coppice zone.
Just put up a fence so His Royal Highness doesn't lose sleep worrying that the nation's supply of potential thatching broaches, barrel hoops, hurdles and other sticks might be eaten in their infancy. Oh, it safeguarded the nation's charcoal as well.

Monday, November 16, 2015

What the Hell, Boat Post

I've raved before about the drop-dead coolness of torpedo boats and our topic is kinda like on of those. It looked the part anyway. 
USS Katahdin wasn't really a T-boat since it actually possessed no torpedoes nor armaments of any kind save four, quick-firing, six-pounders.
  for a while anyway
Read: "Deck guns" like this one on USS Oregon, taken at about the same time.
Although, the pictured gun is a Hotchkiss, the one animated on the link above is a Nordenfeld. We need to be clear about these things.

 No, Katahdin was a whole different breed of cat.
She was a "Harbor Ram". Of course, the six-pounders bad-assed as they were, were only defensive. The Katahdin was expected to put down any battleships - and yes they were her intended target - that may have slipped into her AO by ...  running into them
You saw it first here, ladies and gentlemen.

This was big news in 1893. The above drawing and accompanying text were given pride-of-place - on page 8 of the San Francisco Call - next to all the pressing advertisements of the day.
We'll go on a brief, pictorial romp before we go on with Katahdin's service and undignified end.
Here are the stats:
  • 2,190 tons displacement. about a third that of the concurrent, USS Maine (Remember?)
  • Two-hundred and fifty feet long and about forty-five across, she drew only fifteen feet of water. Hence the "harbor ram" designation; 
  • "Run your battleship into MY harbor and expect to be sunk forthwith by my pointy nose, shallow draft, impressive ass-pounds and kick-ass, fast engines.
Or not. Although her credentials and construction (Presumably) were solid, her engines, although more powerful than had been specified, had failed to bring her to the requisite speed of 17 knots.
But, so bitchin' cool was she that special legislation was passed to accept her as is - which was certainly adequate to the task given the likelihood of hostile battlewagons menacing our vulnerable harbors.
 A fantasy lithograph of what might have been...
Of the three ships pictured, only the rearmost, the gunboat Machias  had actually been commissioned in 1893 and our mate, Katahdin front-and-center, never rocked those, Great White Fleet colors.
Here's a close-up that solidifies in my mind why it must have sucked big-time to serve in Katahdin.
Notice the ship's gangway; such as it is, welded steps onto her "turtleback".
Now there's no brain-strain to figure out the purpose of said construction. This vessel plans on spending, at least some, time under water.
Not to worry, the lads were safe because the turtleback served its purpose and kept the lower decks sealed away nicely from the the deadly wet stuff.
But, notice the stack. Check out the size of this thing, easily six feet in diameter. that's because Katahdin burned coal. With fifteen, vertical feet of her below the waterline, she must have cozy indeed when underway.
She actually did her job during the Spanish-American War, patrolling harbors from New England to Shit City (Norfolk).
Alas, no Spanish warships appeared for her to fearlessly puncture with her pointy bow so we'll never know if she was a good idea or not.
She got shuffled around and ignored for a while until her final orders came (Dramatic, innit?).
The sixteen years between her launch and her demise were chaotic to say the least. Roosevelt built and outfitted his "Great White Fleet" and sent it on a round-the-world show-the-flag cruise.
Then, before they'd even gotten back home, virtually all of his battleships were rendered obsolete by the Brit upstart, HMS Dreadnought.
Now it was all about guns - big guns and lots of them.
Dreadnought changed the game with five pairs of 12" guns.
Now, just three years later, The Navy ordnance folks were cranking out brandy-new 14" guns.
Like these on USS Texas, circa 1918:
It was the testing of these new wonder weapons that brought Katahdin back into action. Very brief action.
If you hadn't noticed, just to the north of our happy Texas shipmates was a page from the NY Daily Tribune from October 1909. It's a breathless account of how agog, simply agog they were about the Navy's new 14" 450 caliber rifles.
Shoehorned in among vast praise for manufacturing and ballistics, Katahdin is mentioned, blocked out in grey above.
Here's the quote:
"...as if robed for the sacrifice..." What a line of shit.
And she cost a million dolllars! WTF?
That's about twenty-six million in modren money so, by present standards, she was a bargain.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Happy Armistice Day!

Teeth. What's the expression... "just ignore them. They'll go away"?
Speaking for my own self; me and the chompers have had a rocky relationship.
In general, they don't fuck with me and I stay away from Snickers and the like at bedtime. It seems to be a workable relationship.  So far, so good.
But enough of this dental discourse. We're here to celebrate the ninety-seventh birthday of the temporary  cessation of hostilities in what had been, to that point, the most deadly, pointless and stupid attempt to change the world in history.
Thanks, Kaiser Bill.
That's not what this is about. This is about a need, a legitimate need, being felt by that most vulnerable and fragile of the population, the rich.
Back in the day, sweet stuff was hard to come by for hunter-gatherer types so finding something like a honey comb was a huge occasion.
Well, being the smart folk we are, after we've had ample time to civilize ourselves, along comes this deadly white substance, sugar.
Suddenly - this wondrous powder appears and no more having to just luck-out and find a honey tree - or spend extra energy chewing on cane just to get a tiny fix.
You can just buy it and then put it on everything.
Problem was:You could buy it - if you had the cash.
End result: All the "hep cats" and members of the "in group", with all their pastries and whatnot, ended up with their precious, rich-person's teeth rotting in their heads!
All that was needed was a way to make fake teeth! Then Buffy and Skipper could munch down the Ho-Ho's without the worry that they'd hit the social scene with mouths that looked like the rotting pilings of an abandoned pier.
Now; there were teeth and there were teeth. I can't speak to the quality of Mr. Stanton's  work (Above) but he seemed to have had an advertising budget in any case. Based on that I assume he was on the upscale end. You'll notice as well: He lists a "per tooth" price.
The low end of the market was occupied by ivory and ivory-based dentures such as those pictured next, the ones with those oh-so-comfortable springs.
The lower looks to have been carved of-a-piece while the upper has ivory teeth mounted in gold. They don't look bad. They just don't look like teeth.
Unlike these bad boys. One piece, hand-carved ivory and very expensive but still; not quite it. Know what I mean?
There were options of course for those long in the dollar but rotten in the tooth.
For example: A gold frame could be set with the genuine article: A new/used, recycled tooth that looks just like the original.
Pretty sweet! 

Brief sidebar while I explore the utter weirdness of this: Back during my one of my intermittent clumps of college time, I took a poetry class wherein, one day the professor read a poem somehow inspired by the sensations of wearing his dead granddad's vest. Upon discussion of this later, one of my classmates said: "Wear  a dead man's clothes? No way!").

So, he wouldn't wear a garment from a dead relative, how might he feel about having dead folks teeth grinding up his dinner for him.
Now the next pictured is an admittedly funky example from the 1870's. It's upside down as it consists of the four middle teeth (Thank you for your service!) of... somebody else, maybe a couple somebody elses', mounted in a ... thing carved out of hippo ivory. Possibly they were made for a warthog and those holes were for tusks - I don't know.
Harvesting teeth off of people who weren't using them any more is an old practice, It's just the supply was sporadic at best.
If you were in the tooth trade, you'd need to have gotten friendly with the executioner, whoever managed the morgue or potter's field and any unscrupulous doctors that might be willing to hook you up.
Even though this was early on, when the pricing was high due to scarcity of supply, the quality of said supply was marginal. You might get the teeth of someone who'd died from syphilis or any number of things.
Of course you could hook up with some resurrectionists, the cheery folk who dig up other, less cheery folk who just happen to dead and buried.
It was looking bleak. The makers of quality dental prostheses had no access to quality chompers and the suffering, rich sweet-toothers were paying top dollar for teeth that they may get sick from.
But something happened that turned everything sunny-side-up in the early 18th century.
All of a sudden, enough teeth to make everybody happy and the beauty part: Nearly all of said teeth came from people in the prime of life.
  That would be: The Napoleonic wars.
Who'd have thought that this sawed-off, pot-bellied Frenchman and his European ramblings would have any spillover bennies for our poor tooth-hunters and their sad clientele.
"Waterloo teeth" became a thing.
  Seriously, if you were in the business of finding replacement teeth, this was like striking gold.  
The word got out - all over Europe - fifteen-thousand full sets of teeth (Mostly) just laying out on the ground, somewhere up in Belgium.
They, the tooth-pickers, had probably clued up to this well before Waterloo and had following the bonanza trail ever since the sovereign nations first began to kill one another with all that modren technology, leaving all that toothy goodness out there for the picking.
Waterloo was the name that stuck and the proud tradition of pulling dead men's teeth for money was carried on in the aftermath of subsequent conflicts.
Gettysburg teeth, Antietam teeth, whatever. They're always called Waterloo teeth.
Now, I have nowhere else to go with this so; Happy Armistice Day!
Let's enjoy  Siegfried Sassoon's:

To The Warmongers

"I'm back again from hell
With loathsome thoughts to sell;
secrets of death to tell;
And horrors from the abyss.

Young faces bleared with blood
sucked down into the mud,
You shall hear things like this,
Till the tormented slain

Crawl round and once again,
With limbs that twist awry
Moan out their brutish pain,
As the fighters pass them by.

For you our battles shine
With triumph half-divine;
And the glory of the dead
Kindles in each proud eye.

But a curse is on my head,
That shall not be unsaid,
And the wounds in my heart are red,
For I have watched them die."

Okay, we can't quit on a downer like that. Let's have at the Royal Scots Greys and their charge at Waterloo.
Lot's of teeth in that picture.

Monday, October 05, 2015


What bridge?
The Brooklyn bridge, although it's not called that yet. In fact it's not even a bridge, indeed it's hardly visible above the waterline of the East River at this stage.
Wait, what?
Most of what you see above is stone and steel. What could have possible caught fire?
And thereby hangs a tale.
Of the two granite towers, the Brooklyn and the Manhattan, the Brooklyn side was started first because the river bottom on that side was rockier and harder digging. The thinking being: If this is going to fizzle due to the unworkability of digging tower foundations, it would be best to find out early.
As you may recall from your school days, the foundations beneath the river were dug in caissons.
When first developed, these were just tubes that kept the water out of the work area and sank as they were undermined - like a self-contained cofferdam. Easy-peasy.
Illustration to the left is from 1846 and shows a very simple and shallow example.
The water in the scenario pictured isn't deep - three feet or so. Different problems arise when the water is deep, said problem being; keeping the water out - it being heavy and liquid.
The Eads Bridge, built across the Mississippi at St. Louis, was one of the first to use "pneumatic caissons" which, as the name implies, keeps the water from intruding by filling the space with compressed air of a pressure sufficient to counterbalance the weight .
Of course, the caisson will need a roof now, unlike our pictured example.
With me so far?
The Eads Bridge was one of the first times that "caisson disease" was noticed. Now we call it "the bends" or decompression sickness.
Official Brooklyn Bridge genius,  Washington Roebling, often consulted with Eads concerning his project, happening at the same time, the projected "East River Bridge", which would use the deepest caissons ever sunk.
On top of that, Roebling's caissons were to serve not only as work chambers but later, as the ultimate foundation of the tower.
And these were big items.

Launching Size and weight of Brooklyn Caisson: 168 x 102 x 14.5 feet; 3000 tons
Of course, upon launching still more courses of timber were laid until the total over the heads of the workers in the caisson totaled fifteen feet. Apologies for the shitty quality of the next image. I had to scan it from a book since all the Internet shitheads have taken these public domain prints and are monetizing them to sell prints.
The book: "The Great Bridge". Excellent read but don't buy it from Amazon. Fuck that guy.
The upper of the two shows the completed caisson before it was floated down to its new home.
So, since a granite tower was to be erected topside, Roebling's caissons had to be closed at the top. Rather like a big, thick, wooden box open at the bottom.
The lower picture: The layout of the caisson. I'll dispense with any description of the multitude of details relative to the how of things and just say this: What you see above the heads of the happy workmen toiling at the bottom - and below the masonry a'building above - represents fifteen feet of solid, southern yellow pine. Twelve-inch square timbers laid in alternating directions until the full height was reached.
Yellow pine was chosen due to its high resin content, in fact the sticks Roebling used would hardly float due to their density.
Movie break!
Dave Matthews was going to provide the soundtrack but bailed at the last minute. 
As the riveting footage above illustrates, the other side of the rot inhibiting character of such resinous wood was...  Anyone?
Now Roebling was no idiot and was well aware of the dangers of a compressed-air work area and the need to be careful with open flames.
The work progressed apace and on December 2, 1870 the Brooklyn caisson was almost forty-three feet below the river bed and very near to where it was going to be for the rest of eternity.

But, whadya know, fire.
It seems that, in spite of the diligent pointing of all the joints between the timbers, one area in the roof of the caisson was missing an inch of two of mortar so the oakum caulking was exposed.
Probably no biggie except that just below this spot a fella had nailed a box to the partition  to keep his lunch in. In looking into said box, he would put his candle on top of the box and...
A most unspectacular catastrophe indeed. There was no smoke, no flames, nothing but a hole a few inches across through which was visible an inferno of glowing coals a foot or more wide and possibly seven feet long.
Up in that fifteen feet of criss-crossed yellow-pine timber with a huge fuel supply and all the combustion air a fire could want. Compressed even.
Short version: This fire wasn't going away on its own.

Assholes were jumped through and bricks were shat.
They stuffed rags and mud into the hole. They threw buckets of water up into it and they shot steam into it for fifteen or twenty minutes. Then two big cylinders of CO2.
None of it worked. It would work well enough - until it didn't. When the steam was shut off or the gas ran out, the fire was back.
This was a serious problem being that there was now approximately 28,000 tons of stone piled on the ceiling of this structure which now had a supercharged fire burning the guts out of it.
Roebling had been there since half an hour after the fire was discovered and was by now exhausted. He was on his way home, feeling sick to begin with but then got word that the drilling that had been going on into the roof of the caisson had discovered more fire.
Back he came and the monumental decision to flood the caisson was slowly but finally arrived at.
This wasn't as easy as it sounded. There were odd parts of the interior that were lower than the outside rim and the interior partitions. These were the water shafts which served as an air-lock for the clam shell buckets to pick up material from.
A few problematic boulders beneath the water shafts and the perimeter had to be dealt with and even then it was a gamble.
Prior to this, the caisson had never rested anywhere with none if its weight unsupported. Ever since it was launched it had been full of air and buoyant. It was only supposed to be down settled on the bottom after the bedrock had been reached.
The short version is: There was nothing else for it. The compressors were shut down and water was pumped into the caisson. 
It was left flooded for two days and survived with some minor damage.
With the water gone, the gamble was deemed a success being that no traces of the fire were evident. The only indication that there had even been a fire was the small opening in the roof, just above the partition.
That was such a nothing-burger that everyone immediately assumed that the damage would be minor, probably just sticking to the edges of the timbers leaving lots of meat there to support this half of the bridge.
Good news indeed, especially since during and after this drama played out, the preparations for finally settling the caisson into its new home were nearing completion. Brick piers were built to support the weight above for the time ahead when the air pressure will be shut off so the remaining space could be filled with concrete.
About this time, strong smell of turpentine is detected at the top of the caisson along with a frothy brown liquid.
Back to panic mode. Roebling and his chief mechanic took another look at the fire damage and realized that it may reach farther than they'd expected. In any case, it was obvious that lots of compressed air was being lost through the timbers.
The thought was this: They'd pump concrete (a grout really) into the main hole as well as the two-hundred holes that had been drilled up into things over the past few weeks.
Roebling devised a pump with a cylinder and a piston that, when a screw jack applied pressure, the grout would be forced through a 1/4" pipe and into the void.
Slow going as you may imagine. When all was said and done, they'd pumped six-hundred cubic feet of concrete. Those in the trades would refer to this by cubic yards, in this case, twenty two and change. 
Another way to look at it: It's just a little shy of four mix-trucks worth - or forty-five tons
Trucks like this one.
A giant, collective sigh of relief was expressed and, since the caisson was finally at its destination and the brick piers were in place, Roebling decided to cut off the compressed air so they could all bask in their handiwork.
He then ordered that a six-foot hole be cut into the ceiling of the caisson so that the effects of the fire and its brilliant repair could be examined.
Turned out - the concrete had been very effective. It had completely filled-in all the labyrinthine passages that the fire had eaten - but it'd left a nice, crunchy, structurally-unsound, charcoal layer an inch of two thick around it all.
Out came those forty-five tons of mud and the task then became "gigantic dentistry".
All the charcoal had to be scraped out and the voids filled.
For three full months, eighteen carpenters worked 'round the clock clearing away the charcoal and filling in the gaps.
Small spaces would be filled - again - with concrete while the larger were filled with timber.
The ragged edges were chiseled square and new sticks - again southern yellow pine, 12"x12",  in lengths of eight to ten feet - were snaked up into the mess above and bolted in place.
So, even though the caisson was virtually in its home since December, the final repairs weren't  finished until March 6, 1871.
Five days later, the caisson was filled with concrete and that end of the great bridge was settled.
Apparently, it's still there. But, as they used to say: "I ain't never lost nothing in New York" so I can't personally verify.

Monday, August 31, 2015

A tale of two 2X6's or - We don't grow 'em like we used to

 In 1987 I bought a house, a dirt-cheap shitbox, 31739 C. G. Lorane Rd. (Folks with a better computer than mine - ie everybody - can probably look at a picture).
Anyway, bought the joint on a land-sales contract for $25,000. I said shitbox.
During the seventeen years that I owned the property, I did much remodeling and ultimately sold it for $125,500 (!!!) in 2004.
These two chunks of wood represent two different generations of Oregon framing lumber as well as two distinct periods of my remodeling.
The top one was original to the house which was built in 1947 or so. The smaller piece dates from some work I'd done circa 1989-ish.
Same species. Douglas Fir, God's most perfect structural lumber. Hell, they may have come from the same hillside although forty years apart.
Let's have a look at the older of the two:
At about the mid-point of this cross-section, the growth rigs represent roughly fifty years of growth - all compressed into an inch-and-a-half.
Contrast that with the newer one which made the same amount of fragile, weak timber all in the space of six years.
Which is the stronger chunk?
Paradoxically, if we were talking about oak, the fast grown one would be the stronger. Doug fir isn't a ring-porous species so it's different and we're not talking about oak anyway.

This is the tree that the entire Pacific Northwest was covered with until we avaricious, industrial humans ("Human" being used loosely) decided that they all needed to be mowed down 'cause Progress.
It wasn't about "the poor little spotted owl" or any such bullshit. It was greed,plain and simple.

The stronger of those two chunks of wood represents, in the eyes of the timber industry, an "over-ripe tree". Read: We could have made money off this two-hundred years ago. WTF?
Thing is: In the '80's these swine were busy cutting down the big trees and sending lots of them to Japan for the construction of tea houses many of them as raw logs ("Colonies are the only ones that export raw materials").
Full marks to the Japanese for recognizing superior timber. You can still get it. It's just called VG fir (Vertical Grain) and has nothing like the densely packed growth rings that this 1947, lumberyard 2x6 had.
In our hall of shame we have to mention Murphy Logging. They were busted in the '80's for selling raw logs overseas beyond their quota.
Fucked up but my favorite thing about them is the bumper sticker I saw on a Murphy crummy a few years back:
"Clear-cut it and burn the damned thing!"
With the Murphy Co. trademark shamrock.
Classy - like Donald Trump.
No need to freak out though. They grow back. It just takes four-hundred years or so.
Americans are nothing if not patient and we can wait.

No - we can't but we weren't always this stupid and short-sighted.
Take those stodgy Brits.
Oxford's New College (Founded 1379) has a dining hall with a roof supported by oak beams two feet square and forty feet long.
In the 1860's it was discovered that the beams were riddled with the burrows of powder-post beetle larva. Not surprising but what could they do?
Turned out that Oxford University had, on property it owned, oak trees of sufficient size to replace the spongy oak beams. They weren't even planted on purpose for the project. They just happened to be there.
I'm ready to rant so I should rein it in now.

To the left, please find: A time line covering the fifty-some years it took for our Truman era board to grow that inch-and-a-half of thickness.
Of course the dates are bogus.
The arc of the rings says that this stick wasn't anywhere near the inner - or outer portion of the log. As opposed to the modern version where the pith of the log is included (which makes it unstable and prone to split but... PROFITS!)
So, in all likelihood my chronology could easily be two-hundred years off but it still represents half a century of growth and a chunk of time that we can't wait because... big house! Toilet paper!
We need this stuff and it's just growing out of the ground.
Be a shame to waste it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Trolling, Trolling Over The Bounding Main

"I'm busting, Jerry. I'm busting"
George Costanza

Got some Facebook buddies dating from my past in Montana that have been waxing stupid re Muslims, the world, reality and of course, the internet.
One re-posted someone's stupid photo of a Muslim institution supposedly wanting to destroy America.
Dumbasses didn't know that it came from this wonderful website.
I went there and made my own to counter it. The result is below.
Well, mistakes were made, time was wasted by someone with too much of it (Buy some knives, Damn it) because it was major fun.
My other trolling efforts follow.
Feel free to rip them off.
Bit 'o arcana there.
Trolling at its best.

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