Monday, April 28, 2008

Easy Call

I get to do lots of shade tree calls in my work, and this is an interesting one I saw over the weekend on a day off. This tree was recently struck by lightning, and large portions of the crown will soon be dead. Taking this white oak down will be expensive because it will have to be done with a bucket truck, and removal is a necessity in the very near future. The tough call was missed many years ago, probably when the homes in this neighborhood were built, between forty and fifty years ago. It was wounded during construction, and was allowed to remain. The wound caused this tree to rot, creating a hollow, dangerous stem. The tree appeared to be healthy, but its hollow butt makes it very risky to have next to houses. It should have been removed and replaced when it first was damaged.

Falling a tree near houses is always risky, but this one cannot be felled conventionally because of the high risk caused by rot and a hollow stem. It will have to be taken down from the top, in pieces, with the aid of a bucket truck. The bright side of this case is that the lightning strike is going to trigger the removal of a dangerous tree before anyone is hurt.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Monday Again!

Back to the old grind!

Not My Victrola

Sunday is a good day for cultured posts, so here is another very nice selection from our friend Rolf.

Notes from Otterhouse: "This is a record by the Delft pianist Gert-Jan Koolen. No biographical info except what is readable on the sleeve. Pupil of theo van der Pas (known from the Willem Mengelberg live recordings) This version of Handel's harmonious blacksmith was recorded 1965."

Mr. den Otter has recently spoken to the the artist, and he is still living in the Netherlands! That is very good news.

Poets' Corner

honesty is a good
thing but
it is not profitable to
its possessor
unless it is
kept under control
if you are not
honest at all
everybody hates you
and if you are
absoulutely honest
you get martyred.
From: the lives & times of archy and mehitabel, don marquis, doubleday, doran & co. inc.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Weekend Steam

Click to Enlarge

The featured steam engine this week is from the pages of the March-April 1957 issue of the Iron-Men Album Magazine. Early traction engines have mostly disappeared because they quickly became old technology at the end of the nineteenth century, and they were discarded when they were replaced by larger, more powerful engines. The scrap drives of two world wars recycled these old oddities. This little Lane & Dyer (sic) engine has an unusual valve gear arrangement that you do not see on more modern engines. It is a Stephenson gear, but the eccentrics are mounted outside the crank disc, rather than on the crankshaft. I have seen this arrangement on one other engine, a Harrison that escaped the scrap drives by being buried in an old river channel. It is on display at Midwest Old Threshers every year at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, and last fall it was actually fired up and operated.


The little engine in the black and white photo is an Owens, Lane & Dyer Co. engine. This firm built its first engine in 1873. There is a brief writeup about this company in the Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines by Jack Norbeck, and you can also find information about this company on Google.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Crankin' It Up

The most famous train wreck in American history happened at the end of April, 1900 at Vaughan, Mississippi. The song "Casey Jones" has been a favorite since it was published in 1909, even though there is no such thing as a six-eight wheeler, and Mrs. Jones did NOT have another papa on the Salt Lake Line. This is one of the first songs I learned, and our son was singing it when he was five years old.

Ernie Pyle interviewed Casey's fireman, Sim Webb in the 1930's, and if you can find a copy of Home Country, the interview begins on the bottom of page 95. Sim went back to work on the Illinois Central after the wreck, and was in another train wreck in 1918. That time he went down with the engine into a river when a trestle collapsed. He miraculously survived that wreck, and his family convinced him to quit the railroad to become a bricklayer. A wall collapsed on him in his new job, breaking a leg and putting him in the hospital for two months. I guess the moral here would be "Don't Be What You Ain't".

You will notice that this record has extreme wear. Every copy of Casey Jones that I have seen has been worn out. Everybody loves this song.


All of our pets are animals that have strayed in over the years. This cat is Brat, and six months ago he was the biggest, baddest feral cat to ever show up on the farm. I put on welding gloves one night, cornered him and caught him. Within a week of his trip to the vet he gentled down and settled in to become part of the family. He is a very vocal cat, and it is a challenge every week to record one of our 78s for the blog because he follows me around and talks to me.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Real Cost Of Bio-Fuels

This scene is occurring all over farm country as farmers gear up to cash in on the high corn and bean prices caused by the bio-fuels rush. The folks who complain about our dependence on fossil fuels never get around to showing us the areas around the world that use wood for the primary energy source in daily life. In the Third World subsistence cultures, the typical day is spent carrying water, gathering food, and gathering firewood for cooking. Forests around these communities are constantly being scavenged for wood, and no real timber is ever produced. Coal, oil, and natural gas have allowed America to let forests grow, but the eco-alarmists haven't been able to connect the dots and figure this out. The Third World is knocking on our door, and if we don't get smart about energy soon, we will all be squatting around cooking fires and living in mud huts.

Harps of Spring

Baby Cherrybark Oak Leaves

Eastern Redbud

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Arbor Day

Mt. Vernon, Illinois celebrates Arbor Day every year by distributing tree seedlings to school kids, and larger trees to adult residents. Today, members of the Tree Board, the Mt. Vernon Garden Club, and city employees bagged seedlings early in the day, attached planting instructions, and delivered them to the schools. The selections this year are overcup oak, pecan, and pitch X loblolly pine hybrid.

Each generation takes the earth as trustees. We ought to bequeath to posterity as many forests and orchards as we have exhausted and consumed.- J. Sterling Morton

Out and About

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Monday Again!

This Monday's mill photo is graciously provided by Engineering Johnson from his post about the Aldie Mill, located in Virginia.

Back to the old grind!

Poets' Corner


Of course you've heard of the Nancy Lee, and how she sailed away
On her famous quest of the Arctic flea, to the wilds of Hudson's Bay?
For it was a foreign Prince's whim to collect this tiny cuss,
And a golden quid was no more to him than a copper to coves like us.
So we sailed away and our hearts were gay as we gazed on the gorgeous scene;
And we laughed with glee as we caught the flea of the wolf and the wolverine;
Yea, our hearts were light as the parasite of the ermine rat we slew,
And the great musk ox, and the silver fox, and the moose and the caribou.
And we laughed with zest as the insect pest of the marmot crowned our zeal,
And the wary mink and the wily "link", and the walrus and the seal.
And with eyes aglow on the scornful snow we danced a rigadoon,
Round the lonesome lair of the Arctic hare, by the light of the silver moon.

But the time was nigh to homeward hie, when, imagine our despair!
For the best of the lot we hadn't got -- the flea of the polar bear.
Oh, his face was long and his breath was strong, as the Skipper he says to me:
"I wants you to linger 'ere, my lad, by the shores of the Hartic Sea;
I wants you to 'unt the polar bear the perishin' winter through,
And if flea ye find of its breed and kind, there's a 'undred quid for you.
"But I shook my head: "No, Cap," I said; "it's yourself I'd like to please,
But I tells ye flat I wouldn't do that if ye went on yer bended knees."
Then the Captain spat in the seething brine, and he says: "Good luck to you,
If it can't be did for a 'undred quid, supposin' we call it two?"
So that was why they said good-by, and they sailed and left me there --
Alone, alone in the Arctic Zone to hunt for the polar bear.

Oh, the days were slow and packed with woe, till I thought they would never end;
And I used to sit when the fire was lit, with my pipe for my only friend.
And I tried to sing some rollicky thing, but my song broke off in a prayer,
And I'd drowse and dream by the driftwood gleam; I'd dream of a polar bear;
I'd dream of a cloudlike polar bear that blotted the stars on high,
With ravenous jaws and flenzing claws, and the flames of hell in his eye.
And I'd trap around on the frozen ground, as a proper hunter ought,
And beasts I'd find of every kind, but never the one I sought.
Never a track in the white ice-pack that humped and heaved and flawed,
Till I came to think: "Why, strike me pink! if the creature ain't a fraud."
And then one night in the waning light, as I hurried home to sup,
I hears a roar by the cabin door, and a great white hulk heaves up.
So my rifle flashed, and a bullet crashed; dead, dead as a stone fell he,
And I gave a cheer, for there in his ear -- Gosh ding me! -- a tiny flea.

At last, at last! Oh, I clutched it fast, and I gazed on it with pride;
And I thrust it into a biscuit-tin, and I shut it safe inside;
With a lid of glass for the light to pass, and space to leap and play;
Oh, it kept alive; yea, seemed to thrive, as I watched it night and day.
And I used to sit and sing to it, and I shielded it from harm,
And many a hearty feed it had on the heft of my hairy arm.
For you'll never know in that land of snow how lonesome a man can feel;
So I made a fuss of the little cuss, and I christened it "Lucille".
But the longest winter has its end, and the ice went out to sea,
And I saw one day a ship in the bay, and there was the Nancy Lee.
So a boat was lowered and I went aboard, and they opened wide their eyes --
Yes, they gave a cheer when the truth was clear, and they saw my precious prize.
And then it was all like a giddy dream; but to cut my story short,
We sailed away on the fifth of May to the foreign Prince's court;
To a palmy land and a palace grand, and the little Prince was there,
And a fat Princess in a satin dress with a crown of gold on her hair.
And they showed me into a shiny room, just him and her and me,
And the Prince he was pleased and friendly-like, and he calls for drinks for three.
And I shows them my battered biscuit-tin, and I makes my modest spiel,
And they laughed, they did, when I opened the lid, and out there popped Lucille.

Oh, the Prince was glad, I could soon see that, and the Princess she was too;
And Lucille waltzed round on the tablecloth as she often used to do.
And the Prince pulled out a purse of gold, and he put it in my hand;
And he says: "It was worth all that, I'm told, to stay in that nasty land."
And then he turned with a sudden cry, and he clutched at his royal beard;
And the Princess screamed, and well she might -- for Lucille had disappeared.

"She must be here," said his Noble Nibbs, so we hunted all around;
Oh, we searched that place, but never a trace of the little beast we found.
So I shook my head, and I glumly said: "Gol darn the saucy cuss!
It's mighty queer, but she isn't here; so . . . she must be on one of us.
You'll pardon me if I make so free, but -- there's just one thing to do:
If you'll kindly go for a half a mo' I'll search me garments through."
Then all alone on the shiny throne I stripped from head to heel;
In vain, in vain; it was very plain that I hadn't got Lucille.
So I garbed again, and I told the Prince, and he scratched his august head;
"I suppose if she hasn't selected you, it must be me," he said.
So he retired; but he soon came back, and his features showed distress:
"Oh, it isn't you and it isn't me." . . . Then we looked at the Princess.
So she retired; and we heard a scream, and she opened wide the door;
And her fingers twain were pinched to pain, but a radiant smile she wore:
"It's here," she cries, "our precious prize. Oh, I found it right away. . . ."
Then I ran to her with a shout of joy, but I choked with a wild dismay.
I clutched the back of the golden throne, and the room began to reel . . .
What she held to me was, ah yes! a flea, but . . . it wasn't my Lucille.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Not My Victrola

Rolf den Otter is one of our You Tube acquaintances we listen to regularly. He has much better equipment, and considerably more skill in recording old records than the staff in the True Blue recording studio. This selection is the final movement of the Brahms Violin Concerto performed by Berl Senofsky, in 1956. Be sure to check out Rolf's You Tube channel: otterhouse.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Weekend Steam: The Man Behind the Lens

Leo R. Clark of Washington, Illinois attended Midwest Old Settlers and Threshers reunions from the beginning in 1950. He was the official photographer for Engineers and Engines Magazine, the National Theshermen of America, and for his employer, the Toledo, Peoria, and Western Rairoad. Leo was an engineer for 48 years on that railroad, and he never had an engine in a wreck. He retired in 1969.

I have often wondered about the photographers who take the pictures we see every day, and here is a rare look. Leo took the above photo at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa in 1968 or 1969, and I was lucky enough to get into this shot. The photo below, from the November-December 1969 issue of Engineers and Engines, is a shot of Leo on his first trip as an engineer on the T P & W in August 1921. Leo took good notes, and we know that the picture was taken with a 2A Brownie box camera.

For a very good article about Leo, go here: * for a selection from the Iron Men Album archives.

Crankin' It Up

We have tulips blooming right outside our door, so this weekend's selection is a natural. This record is an Orthophonic recording, which it means that it is recorded with a microphone instead of a megaphone. The Orthophonic Victrolas have a much longer internal horn than earlier machines, and they have a much better sound than earlier Victrolas. They also use an electric motor instead of a wind-up. If you have a chance to buy one of these rarities, you should jump on it.

Tip-Toe Thru the Tulips was one of the hits from the Movie Gold Diggers of Broadway, and I found a clip from the movie with Nick Lucas performing over on Virtual Victrola. Gold Diggers was the second talkie, and was filmed in Technicolor. Sadly, it is one of the lost movies. I hope you enjoy the record and the clip from the movie.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Prescribed Burning Photos

These competent folks are all members of the Southern Illinois Prescribed Burn Association, an organization of landowners who have banded together to help each other with management burns on prairie and forest.

We use ATVs to carry water, tools and people. Before we had ATVs, firefighters carried water in five gallon backpack pumps. We use mowed lines, water, and flappers to hold the line on praire burns. The method with backpack pumps and flappers is to spray a patch with water, then cover it with a flapper to snuff it and cool it. The ATV makes this process go much faster and easier. We spray in front to the tires, and run over the fire to snuff it. You can hit a section of fire line repeatedly without standing in the smoke and heat, which means you stay fresh all day and do not have a monoxide headache the next morning.

We string fire with drip torches, which use a mix of diesel fuel and gasoline. The person doing this job has to stay in touch with the rest of the crew visually and with his radio. We start out with a backing fire on the downwind side of the burn area, and during this phase, the torch person has to watch the work going on behind him, being careful not to outrun the people controlling the fireline.

These workers are on their feet all day, but doesn't this look like fun? I understand that in Texas they do this from the back of a horse.

This is a backing fire working its way against the wind.

As the black area grows wider, the line becomes safer.

There can be lots of heat and smoke on the downwind side. The ATVs sure are an improvement over hiking the line in the smoke with water on your back.

Safe, black line.

We burned five fields in one day with a crew of nine, using four ATVs.

The flanking fires are lit after the downwind side is safe. The wind is running nearly parallel to the flanks; the fire burns hotter, and moves faster.

The work goes at a much faster pace on the flanks.

Woody vegetation being cooked off.

After the outer flanks are burned in, you can light parallel flanking fires. These keep the fire cooler, and they move slower than a wide head fire, killing large woody stems to the ground more effectively.

In this photo you can see a flank fire on the left, and a head fire beginning its run. Note the thicker smoke coming off the head fire.

A head fire runs with the wind. You do not want to be in front of this.

Head fires cover ground in a hurry.
Autumn olives cooking. These are non-native/invasive plants that will take over grass land.
The desired effect. Prairie and abandoned pasture land that is not burned becomes impenetrable in a few years when autumn olive becomes established. Fire is the cheapest method to keep it under control. We also use fire in timber to promote regeneration of the desirable oaks and hickories.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Busy Day

I had a long day today, and just now checked in on Blogger. I will put up more pictures of today's activities tomorrow evening, and tell a little about the good times had by all involved.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Today in History

A few more pics from my trip last week. Did these old schools always have the pictures of Washington and Lincoln? The school I went to in Iowa did.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Monday Again!

Back to the old grind!

Poets' Corner


If in some far-off, future day,
A stranger's feet should pass this way,
And if his gaze should seek the ground,
Wondering, what lies beneath the mound:
Know that a cat of humble birth
Claims this small portion of the earth.
But I thought not of pedigree,
When, like a child, he came to me,--
A lonely waif, whose piteous cries.
Were mirrored in his frightened eyes.
And so I beg that you will not
Defame or desecrate this spot
By ruthless act or idle jeer,
Though but a cat lies buried here.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Crankin' It Up: Request Line

We received a request through You Tube for I Ain't Got Nobody. Our old records are not inventoried, but while we were looking at our WWI records last night we found it. The singer, Mr. George H. O'Connor was quite the performer, singing for Presidents Taft through Truman. He died in 1946.

Weekend Steam

This ad for Advance-Rumely comes from a 1921 Thresherman magazine. These were great engines, and yes, I am a bit prejudiced, since I learned steam engine operation on an 18 HP Advance-Rumely. They were unusual in using a Marsh valve gear. The Marsh used timing gears with an eccentrically mounted crankpin instead of a conventional eccentric driven valve gear.

Friday, April 11, 2008


One of our loyal readers has responded to the post featuring a Skelgas Constellation cookstove with a photo of his treasure. This Wedgewood features two ovens, two broilers, four burners, and a griddle. Stoves of this quality were rarely traded in on a new appliance; they are a joy to use and they outlive the original owners.

I did a search and found this site: Antique Gas Stoves restores high quality stoves, and also sells replacement parts. I noticed that their prices are not posted on their stoves, which are restored to factory new condition. I am afraid that if you have to ask, you probably can't afford it. Take a look, especially if you are contemplating remodeling your kitchen.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Fungus Among Us

With spring weather we are seeing the reappearance of familiar fungi.

Cedar- Apple Rust

Morels; we had these with supper tonight.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Not Getting Any Younger

Kennekuk County Park, just west of Danville, IL, has a nice historic village which I visited this week. This stove (Skelgas Constellation) on display there had me repeating a lament I have heard from elders all my life. "That's not an antique; I had/used/saw that when I was young." I am saying that with alarming frequency. It is about 1950 vintage. Stoves like this one replaced wood cookstoves after WWII, and I moved and cleaned tons (literally) of stoves like this in my first job in an appliance store.
The stove in our kitchen, which we use every day, is a 1950 model Chambers range. You can get a glimpse of our treasure in the post about soap making (Education label). We have no intention of retiring this beauty; it works when the electricity goes off. Chambers used lots of cast iron in their stoves, and you do not move them about without forethought and several strong backs. Backs younger than mine.

Grass vs Trees

Foresters are famous for preaching against grass in tree planting projects, and for good reason. This thirty year old walnut planting has various treatments to row groupings for demonstration purposes. Grass was controlled with herbicide in the rows to the left, and grass was allowed to grow in the rows up the center of this photo. It is a dramatic difference. The worst grass to have in a tree planting is fescue. It is not unusual to lose 90% of your trees in the first years where fescue is growing. Fescue does not only compete with trees for water; it fights trees chemically.

In deep prairie soils, a seedling with 8" or 10" inches of root doesn't have a chance against deeply rooted grasses during a dry summer. Annual weeds and briars may look bad, but trees seem to thrive amongst them. I have also had good luck with Timothy and red top grasses on poor soils.

Be sure to talk to a forester who knows your area when you begin planning for a tree planting project. Knowledge of local conditions and soil types is critical for success.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Appetizers for dinner last night were fresh-from-the-log shiitake mushrooms.

A Day Late

I was on the road Sunday and Monday and was unable to post on Blogger. Better late than never. Back to the old grind.