Friday, September 30, 2016

Tree Shaped Tombstones - On the Railroad

Wonewoc Wisconsin.  I was passing through on my way back from a mostly fruitless hunt for brewery caves.  Wonewoc sounds like a tiny community and in fact it is although the long, spread out nature of the town made it look larger.  I was not really looking for the cemetery but there it was so there was nothing for it but to hit the turn signal and head over.

There were a couple of tree shaped tombstones of which this one was clearly the prize.

It has a bird, a GAR* star and an attached planter. But the really cool thing was obviously this:

Locomotive engines turn up on these monuments from time to time.  I think this is the third or fourth I have encountered.  But this one has such cool details.  You can see individual rail road ties for goodness sakes.  And you can also see on the cab an inscription C.M. ST. P. No. 91.

This is an easy one to start out, the letters stand for Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, which was a prominent line back in the day.  Finding this on a grave stone marks the deceased as a proud former employee.  But what does 91 signify?

Sometimes the presence of a locomotive on a monument means that the rail road man died in the line of duty.  Various famous wrecks are commemorated in this fashion.  But while there was a doozy of a wreck in Paris in 1895, here in the United States no train mishaps of note appear to have warranted mention.

I suppose the designation could indicate a particularly famous train, but so far as I can determine this is not the case here.

Another thought is that this might be a monument put up by one of the fraternal orders to which rail roaders belonged.  Could this perhaps be from The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers?  They designated their local chapters as "Divisions" by number, so 91 could denote that.

My theory has little support I fear.  Division 91 was active then, but located down in Missouri. And while there are tombstones relating to the B.L.E. they would be likely to have the ornate logo of same on them.  

Quite fancy.  This is slightly later when the Firemen were added on.  I do notice that a Division number is part of it...

More than a simple fraternal organization, the Brotherhood was one of the earliest industrial unions in the nation and is still active, albeit only after merging with the Teamsters.  Elsewhere on the monument there was the shield and anchor logo of another early labor organization, the AOUW  so Mr. White's union sympathies were significant.

But maybe Zoeth White just had a favorite engine.  If a definitive answer is out there I do hope somebody will chime in with it.
*Grand Army of the Republic, a Union Civil War veterans group.  Zoeth - a surprisingly common name by the way - served briefly with the 98th New York infantry regiment.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Kindergarten Goals

When my mechanically adept son went to Kindergarten so many years ago he had a great teacher.  She could recognize and appreciate that this was not an average, just out of day care tyke.

The first week of school the students were all supposed to pick a goal for the year.  I imagine they were expecting something along the lines of:  "I will learn all my letters", or "I will be brave riding the school bus".

My son said: "I want to learn how to be a better carpenter".

And so that was his official kindergarten goal.  And he did become better although after a while his inclinations ran more towards metal than wood.

As a post retirement student I don't actually have to write down goals for my instructor.

But I just want to be a better machinist!

And it is not as easy as you would think.  I am not dim witted.  I have a good understanding of how machines work.  I have at least tinkered with various gadgets and tools for decades. But it does not help.

I guess with regards to metal working I come in knowing just enough to be dangerous.  I first have to unlearn quite a few ill conceived and sometimes unsafe short cuts to get to a better and more precise level of work.  And so many tasks are comprehensible but unfamiliar.  Measuring down to 1/1000th of an inch is tricky.  I find myself measuring often and being too cautious in making my lathe and milling cuts.  Inevitably I fall behind.

And having been an ER doctor does not help either.  Lets review.  In the ER you can call a helicopter and fly the most complicated stuff away.  Not an option.  When splinting broken bones or suturing a laceration you just have to get it close.  Nope, Steel Don't Heal.  You have to get it spot on and to specs.  A large part of medicine in all specialities - well maybe not Radiology or Pathology - is being able to "read" patients and interact comfortably.  This is of no help.  The metal ain't listening.

I guess there are a few reasons to take heart.  I start out so ill informed that I will without question increase my knowlege base by a greater percentage compared to the rest of the class. And my worries that I might not be challenged in retirement....these appear to be without basis.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


A small town in our area was having its annual Fall Fest.  A balmy September day with the usual attractions.  Food, music, crafts.....wiener dog races.

The Dachshund race course was set up with a beer garden along one side so that you could enjoy "short beers and long dogs".  It seemed like marketing genius but wiener dog races are actually less interesting visually than you might imagine.  The pups are low to the ground and divided into two categories; off like a shot and never leaving the gate.  Oh well, I can prefer Llama racing.

But the lowest blow of all was when they paraded some winsome hounds about wearing Adopt Me sweaters.  The announcer said the paper work could be handled on the spot courtesy of the local Animal Shelter.

Darn.  Going home still dogless stung a bit.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Robotics Update - Fall of 2016

Having decided that in retirement I would take a pass on golf, yoga and buying an RV I instead am devoting my efforts to teaching robotics.  So, you might ask, "How's that workin' out?"

As it happens the World contains multiple opportunities for a person with atypical interests and abilities....who is willing to work for free.

Fall of 2016 finds me with variable levels of involvement in three different programs.  In ascending order of complexity they are:

1. FIRST Lego League.

This is the elementary/middle school program of FIRST Robotics.  The mechanical side of things is quite basic, the kids just snap together little plastic bits.  But there are things to be learned that way.  It is actually heavy on the programming side, of which I know little.  I probably should not count this one as I just had a look in an advisory role. 

The team meets in one of the odder work spaces I have been in.  It is a converted racquet ball court.  Frankly I find it disconcerting.  Stark flourescent lighting and horrible acoustics thanks to the very high ceilings.

Legos were deployed.  The little programmable computer seems to work but needed new batteries.

2.  The ongoing Middle School program.

Is it really year 16 of this?  This year's crop looks promising.  Some are annoying and a bit disruptive.  That is often the case with pre-teens after a long day in school.  I have found that the students with the most up side in terms of what they can accomplish often are a bit more of a pain in the rear than the average kids.  So....patience.

Already this bunch has impressed me.  I detailed some of them to dismantle Barbie Jeep gearboxes and to both explain their workings and come up with a method of hacking them for more effective weaponization.  Darned if they did not come up with a novel and apparently workable idea....

On a trip to Axman Surplus I picked up several slabs of a dense, tough foam substance. Its the kind of stuff they make archery targets out of.  It looks to be a very good option for wheels.

Another revelation this year.  As I am learning Solidworks software why not work with the kids to design and 3D print parts for their robots?  The school has a nice 3D printer right down the hall. 

Here we are designing an adapter hub with a gearbox laid open in front of us.  The gearbox is covered in grease which is probably good for my micrometer but gets the keys on the laptop a little messy.

I consider this a transition year to some swell new tech and this could help a lot.  I suppose some joker will want to 3D the whole robot but my intent is to fabricate complicated hubs and perhaps servo holders.  This will translate over rather nicely to:

3. The High School FIRST team.

We only lost one member to graduation last year and expect to have the whole team back plus some new recruits.  As to what the Challenge will be this year, FIRST has put out another of their vague "teaser videos":

We won't find out the actual details until kickoff which is as it says, January 7, 2017.  But I have my suspicions.  Reading these teasers down to the last pixel is a FIRST tradition.  I am not going to give away my theory on what our robot will have to do but will instead offer a teasing clue of my own....


Stay tuned.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Horicon Wisconsin

The best way to get information on local historical sites is to just stroll up and start asking questions.  So weekends when folks are out doing yard work and such are ideal.

We were passing through Horicon Wisconsin on a very warm Saturday afternoon.  So when I went up to 518 South Hubbard Street I found a couple of guys doing renovation work on it. The young man who is the owner of the house was happy to talk about it and when I said I had heard it had been a brewery he immediately took me to the back yard to show off the cave.

The house may not look much like the grand fantasy castle buildings that housed later and more successful brewing enterprises but that just makes it more special.  It recalls an era when anybody with a substantial house, a few outbuildings and a hillside for a storage cave could set themselves up in business.  Most of course only lasted a few years.  There is no way to tell how many of these small enterprises actually existed in odd little corners of the Midwest, lets just say "lots".

The above is the Paul Deierlein brewery.  The house/brewery was built in 1859 and was Horicon's first such enterprise.  It managed to stay in business until 1891 after apparently being owned in succession by Charles and then John Deierlein.  As usual the picture is muddied by family ownership.  Perhaps Father and Sons, perhaps Brothers.  

The storage cave is at the back of the lot on the hillside running down to the river.  It appears to have been reinforced with cement at one point.  It is on private property and should not be visited without permission.  But as I said the owner is happy to share the history of his historic property so asking is not unreasonable.

Supposedly there was at least one other small brewery on Hubbard Street that presumably took advantage of the same hillside.  There is a dam on the river today and I suspect it is an old mill pond. That would make getting ice for the storage caves fairly easy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Franklin Wisconsin

Franklin Wisconsin probably had big dreams once.  It was an early settlement in the western part of Sheboygan County and the hard working citizens perhaps hoped their little village would become a bustling metropolis.  They had a mill, stores, churches, a hotel, heck even a brewery. But the world passed it by and today it is a drowsy hamlet.  Just a dozen or so houses, a former tavern that is now a consignment store, a swell fire station and nothing more.

Traces of its former industry and its unrealized hopes are hard to find, but are there if you know where to look.

The brewery in Franklin was established in 1853 by a man named Menke.  A few years later it was owned by a Gustav Seidleman.  In 1858 it was damaged by fire, and a workman down in the basement was killed when 2000 bushels of barley crashed through a weakened floor and crushed him.

A new brewery was put up and the cave was said to have been excavated at that time.  This of course begs the question of how beer was being aged in the early years of the enterprise.  It was still in operation into the 1870s, but when the brewery went under the cave was sealed.  Later it was opened up again and used for social gatherings of a "Bachelor's Club".  As this was during Prohibition I think that one might reasonably assume that the members were evading both the authority of The Fair Sex and of the Federal Government.

The cave is described as being 60 feet long, 30 feet wide and ten feet high with a 25 foot entry passage leading to a seven foot wide door and the main chamber beyond.  A stove in the back was there to provide a bit of warmth to the Bachelors.

And what is there today?

An entrance among the underbrush.

The passage way, now partially collapsed.

Here is a great schematic of how an arched brewery cave was constructed.  A trench was excavated and a stone foundation laid down.  The extra row of darker stone is a nice touch but the reasons for it are obscure.  Then an archway of brick was laid, probably over a wooden form.  Here, rather unusually, the roof is flat instead of being a nicely formed arch.

That is actually not very good construction technique.  Notice how the ceiling is starting to fold in at the center line?  This cave is nearing a state of collapse and is NOT SAFE to enter.  I took a few pictures from the entrance and am quite happy to trust the published details as to what lies beyond.

I will say this again, do not enter this cave or any that look like it.  The ghost of that 1858 workman is probably haunting the place and he does not need any company.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Minnesota Twins - Decimation or Annihilation?

On my desk I keep a box of unopened Minnesota Twins "Premium Facial Tissues".  Kleenex if you will.

I have left it unopened not for lack of opportunities to weep in this most horrid of baseball seasons.  I am simply not sure how many of these are out there and this might have considerable collectors value one day.  Such matters are always about scarcity and I must assume that most Twins fans in the face of epic disappointment will have popped the box open and quickly gone through them. I am made of sterner stuff.

Oof, what a season.  I am jotting this down on 18 September with about two weeks to go in the dismal 2016 season.  My beloved Twins are currently the worst team in baseball with a record of 55 wins and 94 losses.

Mostly it has been the pitching staff that got them there.  Injuries, incompetence, trades that did not turn out as planned.  

Sometimes you speak of a pitching staff being "decimated".  But in the case of the Minnesota Twins it is far worse than that.  

The Twins began the 2016 season with 12 pitchers.  Four of those guys are still on the staff.  And the team had tried fairly hard to unload at least one of them in trade but had no takers.

Decimation means the loss of one in ten.  But the Twins pitching staff has been cut down not by 10% but by 75%.  That gets us very close not to decimation but to annihilation.

Decimation was a seldom used practise in the Roman army.  When a unit had exhibited cowardice in the face of the enemy they would have to draw lots.  One soldier in ten was then randomly put to death by his fellows.  Somewhat less unjustly all the officers would also be executed. As this practise was clearly very bad for morale it was done rarely.  Until I looked it up I had not known that this was done more often in the Republic than in the Empire. If you buy my theory that Star Wars basically ripped off the history of Rome, then you have to imagine Yoda and the Jedi Council being less merciful than Darth Vader and the Emperor.

In later days this sort of thing has been done less and less.  Perhaps the most recent example lies barely within the life span of a few very old folks.  In 1917 elements of the French Army refused orders to advance and mutinied.  Some details of the punitive actions that followed are still said to be sealed.

Decimation comes from the Latin decima, meaning ten.  Annihilation comes from nihil meaning nothing.  Hence nihilism, the absence of all belief.  Things did not get quite that bad this year for the Twins pitching staff.  Santana, Gibson, Pressley and Tonkin are still suiting up and throwing with variable levels of competence.  Perhaps with a little time left in the season one or two more will go down with injuries but at this point it hardly matters.

Of course nihilism does not infect True Fans.  We have belief.  In the off season shoulders will heal.  Management will make some savvy trades.  Winter will surely come, but so also comes the warmth of spring and with it "The hope that springs eternal...".