Monday, March 31, 2008

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Poets' Corner

Here is a great description of a waterfall, written by the Bard, Robert Burns. This one will make you dream of far away places.

Standing by the Fall of Fyers, near Loch Ness

Among the heathy hills and ragged woods
The roaring Fyers pours his mossy floods;
Till full he dashes on the rocky mounds,
Where, thro' a shapeless breach, his stream resounds.
As high in air the bursting torrents flow,
As deep recoiling surges foam below.
Prone down the rock the whitening sheet descends,
And viewless Echo's ear, astonished, rends.
Dim-seen, thro' rising mists and ceaseless show'rs,
The hoary cavern, wide-surrounding, low'rs.
Still, thro' the gap the struggling river toils,
And still, below, the horrid cauldron boils--

Weekend Steam

The March-April 1964 issue of The Iron Men Album-Magazine has a very nice photo and letter from Roy Mitchell of Council Bluffs, Iowa. Mr. Mitchell provides some very good information in his letter. " This picture was taken in 1904 (I was 14 at the time - that is me on the engine ) in the heart of the Ozarks about 14 miles from Springfield, MO. The engine is a 16 HP Gaar Scott and was about 6 years old at that time and was always kept in the best of order....The last time I saw this engine was in 1919 and it was still going strong - they were threshing with it.... I have had the Gaar Scott in some bad places, have had to ford rivers where bridges unsafe, drove into the water with full head of steam, 125 pounds pressure and out on the other side with no fire and perhaps 50 pounds steam but the engine would never fail me."

That is a fascinating glimpse of the good old days. This engine would have produced about 50 horsepower on the belt, and would have been marginal for pulling a sawmill on large logs, but its performance would have also depended on the sawyer's skill in sharpening, and sawmill setup and maintenance. I have been debating the species of the logs being processed in the photo. The warty appearance of the bark has me thinking hackberry, but the prominent grain exposed on the log has me thinking that ash is a possibility. Comments from anyone familiar with bark patterns in the Springfield, MO area are welcome.
A Gaar Scott engine very similar to the Mr. Mitchell's can be seen at Old Threshers at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. Here is a shot of the water tank, which sits in front of the smokestack.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Crankin' It Up

Joe Schenck is a name you probably have not noticed before, but he was very important in the entertainment business for several decades. You can read a brief biography at Wikipedia: . Now, sit back in your seat as the house lights go down and you visit the Ziegfeld Follies of 1921.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Anvil Chorus

The woodpeckers are really beating up on this little red oak. You can see a scar in the first photo; this is from a wound that occurred several years ago which opened the tree to wood boring/eating insects. The insect activity has attracted woodpeckers, who are enjoying a smorgasbord.

The homeowner could probably stop the damage by wrapping the stem, but rot and wood boring insects will continue to work on the tree, and it is standing next to a house. Compromised stems are best avoided when a high value target is within striking distance. If this was next to my house, I would cut it off a couple of inches off the ground. The stump will send up several sprouts, and after another year or two I would cut all but the strongest sprout. A straight, sound tree will be the result.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Anniversary For A Typical Nineteenth Century Guy

I have mentioned William Tweed before. He is he man on the far left in the banner at the top of this blog. He was born near Fort Wayne, Indiana on February 12, 1834. His family moved to Oquawka, Illinois while he was still a young boy. Abraham, his father cleared a farm at the river bluffs across the Mississippi from Burlington, Iowa, but he died and the kids were all taken in by an uncle. William was eleven at that time, and did not like the way he was treated by his father's brother, so he got on a horse and rode back to Ft. Wayne to live with an aunt. He came back after several years and took over the affairs of his brothers and sisters.

During the 1850's he and a brother went to Kansas as part of the anti-slavery movement in Kansas. He enlisted in the Tenth Illinois Infantry in 1861, and left his wife, Mary, to manage their farm and care for their two babies while he helped put down the rebellion. Most of the travel in the Infantry was by foot, and the Tenth Illinois went from Southern Illinois, through Tennesee, Georgia, the Carolinas, and ended up at Wahington, D.C to be mustered out.

He returned to farming after the war, but packed up and homesteaded in Nebraska during the 1880's. Mary died in 1911, and he moved to Oklahoma to live with his son Clarence, then later moved back to Oquawka to stay with his son, Moses. He died on this date in 1925, and he was shipped by rail to be buried next to Mary in Bassett, Nebraska.

I am always amazed by amount of traveling that went on Before Cars (B.C.). People used to travel great distances on foot or on horseback, and they did not have cushy hiking shoes. William Tweed: a real Travelin' Man.

Basic Height Measurement

The Biltmore stick is one of the basic tools all foresters have for use in the field. One side of the stick is used for measuring tree diameter at 4'6" above the ground, and the flip side has a scale to meaure the merchantable height of trees. These sticks use similar triangles to measure height, and are set up to be held 25" from the eye, 66' away from the tree, to measure the number of 16' logs.

I teach forestry basics to FFA students from several schools and use a simple setup for them to learn how to pace a chain (66') and to measure with the hypsometer. We set up three stakes with 16' between two of them, 66' away from the third one. Pacing is just normal and consistent walking and counting every other step. We always start with the left foot and count on the right foot. A few trips back and forth establish the number of paces each student uses to cover one chain. Note the spot that you call one chain, turn around and place your eye above the one chain mark.

The stick is designed to be held 25" from your eye. We check everyone's reach with a tape. If a student cannot adjust their reach to 25", they will need to make a custom stick. With your eye at a distance of 66' feet from the stakes spaced 16' apart, hold your stick at your 25" reach, line up the bottom of the stick with one stake, and holding your head motionless, rotate your eye to the second stake. It should be lined up with the 1 log mark on the hypsometer. You are ready to measure the number of logs in trees when you can do this consistently.

Merchantable height measurement goes like this:

1. Size up the tree from a distance to determine the upper cutoff point.
2. Go up to the tree and measure the diameter.
3. Select a clear horizontal path away from the tree so you can pace one chain.
4. Pace out one chain, turn around and check to see if both the bottom of the tree
and the upper cutoff point are visible. Lateral moves are often necessary at this step.
5. Extend your arm with the stick to your 25" reach
6. Tilt your head back, roll your eye to the stump height on the tree,
line up the bottom of the stick with the stump.
7. Hold your head motionless and roll your eye upward to the cutoff point on the tree.
Read the number of logs on the stick. Estimate to the nearest 1/2 log. Don't round up.

Tilting your head back before measuring is important. If you don't do this, you will find that you can't roll your eye up far enough to reach the upper cutoff point.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Poets' Corner


I have a Schnauzer at my feet
And as I try to get my Z's
The dog is biting at his fleas
And barking at imagined foes.
I have a Schnauzer at my feet;
I have a hell-hound at my toes.

Perhaps tonight he'll let me sleep
And fall off into slumber deep,
And rested, I'll the morning greet.
But no, the dog cannot be still.
I have a Schnauzer at my feet;
This puppy has the stronger will.
He'll be licking me upon an ear
When the sun's first golden rays appear.

God knows 'twould be better to be sound
Asleep than tortured by this pup
I'd like to cart off to the pound,
For every night he keeps me up.
A moment's rest would be so dear...
But I've a Schnauzer at my feet.
If I had sense I would get up
And kick him out upon his ear,
But no, I just admit defeat
To that darn dog that's at my feet.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter Kitty

Ain't no Bunny comin' around while this guy is in charge.

Weekend Steam

Here is a look inside the smokebox on a two cylinder traction engine. The exhaust shooting up the stack induces draft through the fire, and gives us those great sound and visual effects associated with a hard working steam engine. You can also see a small pipe in the bottom of the smokestack. As soon as you have a few pounds of steam pressure when firing up, you crack the valve open on this pipe, and send steam up the stack to heat up your fire.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Difficult Concept?

Notice that this tree planter has his head down. He is looking at the top of the root, and the top of the planting slit so he can place the root in the ground properly. It sounds simple, but putting all of the root in the ground is a concept that first time tree planters cannot seem to get their fingers around. Stacks of handouts, pep talks, and slide shows help, but some would be planters never do figure it out.

This doomed pecan was in the third planting project of one of my clients a few years ago. He killed pecans by the hundreds. Pecan seems to be the most difficult for landowners to separate the root from the top. I inspected a project yesterday, and every pecan was planted high; some as much as six inches high. It seems so simple to me--identify the top of the root; put all of the root in the ground. Oh Well, or words to that effect.

The Easy Way

Cars nowadays have some incredible maintenance intervals for changing sparkplugs. We drive a 2000 Chevy that calls for the plugs to be changed every 100,000 miles. In case you haven't done your own upkeep on a car, here is the problem with that. The threads on those plugs gradually accumulate combustion deposits as your engine runs, and as you near 100,000, they are harder and harder to remove. If your engine has aluminum heads, you may strip the threads when you unscrew the plugs. Luckily, there is an easy way to mitigate this problem. When you reach around 35,000 miles, pull those plugs, smear a little Anti-Seize compound into the threads, and put them back in the engine. Do not put compound on the shoulder: you want it to grip the head when you tighten down.

Another problem you are likely to encounter with sparkplugs is removing the boots. Soon after you acquire a car, and every 30,000 to 40,000 miles after that, ease the boots off the plugs and give them a generous shot of silicone spray inside and out. This will keep them pliable, and allow easy removal. If you do not do this, you are likely to tear them to pieces when you try to remove them at your 100,000 mile service interval.

Cheap sparkplugs may tempt you when you are looking at the selection in Wal-Mart. Plugs for your car may come in cheap, better, and platinum. The cheap ones are fine, but they will start missing somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 miles. I prefer the platinum, because I know they will stand up to hard driving, and they really will last for 100,000 miles in a good engine. If you drive an oil burner that fouls plugs, then you definitely will want to buy the cheaper grades since you will be changing plugs often.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Crankin' It Up

The True Blue Fan Club has been clamoring for another record for St. Patrick's day, so I dug into the record cabinet and found a beauty. Here is an accordion solo of an Irish Jig medley! The cats all went nuts when I cranked this one up-it required three takes. Put on your dancing shoes before you click on this one.

Poets' Corner


...the harps of spring
are in the air
the blackbird
i do not care a darn if school
keeps in
or not
the jonquil says
all work is rot
the pollywog
has hours to spare

let us rejoice
and from us tear
in glee
our winter
and let us
and let us
the harps of spring....

excerpted from spring, the lives and times of archy and mehitabel, by don marquis, doubleday doran & co. inc, garden city, new york, 1935

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Weekend Steam

Here is a Russell engine at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa in the late 1960's. This engine belonged to the Shellabarger brothers, and was operated by John and Frank Rhodes.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Crankin' It Up

Faeries! Blarney! Shillelaghs! The Old Sod! It's that time of year when we all get to be Irish. These songs will make even an old Swede misty. Have a great St. Patrick's Day!

This is a record which was loved to death, so here are the lyrics to help you enjoy Annie Laurie.

Annie Laurie
Maxwellton braes are bonnie where early fa's the dew
And it's there that Annie Laurie gied me her promise true
Gied me her promise true and n'er forgot will be
And for bonnie Annie Laurie I'd lay me doon an' dee

Like dew on the gowan lying is the fa' of her fairy feet
And like winds in summer sighing her voice is low and sweet
Her voice is low and sweet and she's a' the worls tae me
And for bonnie Annie Laurie I'd lay me doon and dee

How many of you have spotted the problem here? Sure, John McCormack is a Genuine Irish Tenor, but the song Annie Laurie is a Scottish song. I have listened to this record many times, but it wasn't until I looked up the lyrics that the light went on. I also have a record of him singing Marcheta, a Spanish love song. You have to wonder if there is a Mariachi band somewhere performing the Irish Washerwoman. Part of my ancestral line is Scotch-Irish, so both these songs work for me.

It's About Time

I thought spring weather would never arrive. I will be starting a landowner on his planting project tomorrow. Lightweight tree planters like this one come from the manufacturer with a bumper hitch for moving on the road. I used the supplied hitches for moving planters until I received practical education. These implements have no springs on the axle, which is fine when they are working in the field, but on the highway the tires are doing a dance as you roll along. So long as the bumps in the road are fairly equal the planter rolls along OK. One day I was moving a planter in an absolute downpour, on a blacktop road full of chuckholes. I was going no more than twenty miles per hour because of the poor visibility, when I hit a deep chuckhole. I looked in the mirror and watched the planter do a rollover after it hit the same hole. It ripped right off the hitch ball. The safety chains kept it attached to the truck, and I was able to re-hitch the wreckage and clear the road.

Ever since that little lesson, I have used a trailer. You have a wider footprint on the road, you have lights on the back of the load for moving in the dark, and you have those all important springs. It is easy to load with a come-along as pictured above, or with an electric winch which I have in the back of the truck.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


The Shawnee National Forest is hosting a Helicopter Crew Member class this week. I have been through it before, and attended today for the Long Line Refresher portion of the class. Quite a few forestry students from SIU-Carbondale are taking the class. This is a great opportunity for students who want to work fire details out west. The pay is much better than for grunt firefighters, and the extra training makes them more valuable come job - hunting time.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Spring Is Getting Closer

The Easter Bunny stopped by a few days ago to work on a recipe in our kitchen. Spring surely is just around the corner.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


Toilet Seats

While I am emulating Keats
My brother fabrics toilet seats,
The which, they say, are works of art,
Aesthetic features of the mart;
So exquisitely are they made
With plastic of a pastel shade,
Of topaz, ivory or rose,
Inviting to serene repose.

Rajahs I'm told have seats of gold,--
(They must, I fear, be very cold).
But Tom's have thermostatic heat,
With sympathy your grace to greet.
Like silver they are neon lit,
Making a halo as you sit:
Then lo! they play with dulcet tone
A melody by Mendelssohn.

Oh were I lyrical as Yeats
I would not sing of toilet seats,
But rather serenade a star,--
Yet I must take things as they are.
For even kings must coyly own
Them as essential as a throne:
So as I tug the Muse's teats
I envy Tom his toilet seats.

From: Rhymes For My Rags by Robert W Service 1956

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Weekend Steam

Here are a couple of snapshots from an old family album which were taken in 1952. The location is Mt. Pleasant, Iowa at the Midwest Old Settlers and Threshers reunion. The engine is a Russell and it is operating a Prony brake. The gentleman in the hat next to the brake is Milo Matthews, one of the founders of Old Threshers. I was fortunate to become acquainted with Milo when I began attending Old Threshers regularly in the mid 1960's.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Crankin' It Up

This Friday night's selection is a comedy song performed by Billy Murray. Mr. Murray began his entertainment career in 1893, was in minstrel and vaudeville shows, and recorded songs into the 1940's. His voice was a perfect match for the acoustic recording media, and on this record you will note that you can understand every word easily.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Hinges Again

Some of the earlier Chainsaw posts on this blog tell about setting up the hinge for dropping a tree where you want it. This tree was a large maple which had split and become a hazard to a parking area on a farm. The tree had to be felled in two separate operations because the stem had split, but first I had to take off a heavy side limb to regain some balance. In this first photo you can see the open face and the bore cut, which together establish a hinge.
Cutting through the back strap dropped the limb neatly as planned.

Here you can see the two parts of the stem which had split apart. I made open face cuts on both parts, bored the one on the right and dropped it, then did the same on the bigger portion on the left.

This is the view from another angle. The tree was still fairly solid, but rot was making headway. It is to your advantage to take down a tree before it is rotten. The operation is safer and more predictable.

You can see some fiber pull in the hinge; that's because the hinge is a bit thicker than necessary. I left it on thick side because this stem had an unbalanced crown, and a thicker hinge is less likely to fail. Fiber pull is a problem if you are cutting trees for lumber, because it ruins the lower end of the boards cut out of the butt log. Fiber pull does not matter when you are taking down hazardous trees, or firewood. This picture shows the advance of rot through the stem as a result of the fork splitting off.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Good Old Days

History has many references to poisonings of both good and bad people. Wives in America did not always have divorce as a resource to escape a bad marriage, and numerous nasty husbands conveniently croaked in the not too distant past. You have probably been asking yourself, " How could a woman obtain arsenic to get rid of the bum, without casting suspicion onto herself?"

Here is the handy dandy answer for the woman who needs a discreet way out of a dead-end marriage.

It hasn't been too many years ago that the average housewife was constantly fighting flies from the horses, cows, and pigs around the homestead. This product would raise no eyebrows when purchased at the general store, and if it happened to be dipped in the old boy's coffee while he was out doing the morning milking, no-one would be the wiser. This sample was in a box of plunder we bought at a farm auction years ago. It is behind glass, and I check it every morning when I pour my coffee.

Midwest Weather Update

Monday, March 3, 2008

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Poets' Corner

Random Thoughts From Archie:

archy on this and that

an old stomach
reforms more whiskey drinkers
than a new resolve
and the sexton
stops more than either

a man who is so dull
that he can learn only by personal experience
is too dull to learn
anything important by experience

a great many people
who spend their time mourning
over the brevity of life
could make it seem longer
if they did a little more work

judging by the number and variety
of pills and religions in the world
the chief preoccupation of man
has been the state of his digestion
and the condition of his soul
and just look at both of them

From: the lives and times of archy & mehitabel by don marquis; doubleday doran & co. inc. garden city, new york, 1933