On This Memorial Day

The symbol of who we are and what we stand for

There are times in a persons life when dreams of the future are formed and nourished.  Hopefully, with honest work, persistence in the face of life’s ever-present obstacles, and a good dose of luck, a persons dream may eventually be realized.  I feel blessed in the fact that Retta and I are able to lead the life that we do, as this lifestyle has been a long time dream for the both of us.  Because we could not have arrived at the place we find ourselves in today without the freedom to make and implement our plans along the way, I am always cognizant of the benefits that living in a free country has bestowed on me.  And that is one of the many reasons that we proudly fly the Stars and Stripes on a daily basis.

When I look out the window in the morning as I sip my AM cup of coffee, I see our flag.  As I putter around the front yard, doing this or that, I see our flag.  As I drive back and forth across fields and pastures doing my tractor work, I can see our flag from various vantage points.  When I pull back into the barn to put the tractor away, I see our flag.  And walking back to the house from the barn/paddock area takes me right by the flag, so I see it again.  And every time that I see our Stars and Stripes, I am reminded that the opportunity to live my lifestyle, and enjoy the freedoms that I do, is because of the environment created in a free society.

Today is the special day for us to stop and pay our respects to all of those brave, and yes, the not so brave, men and women who payed the ultimate price so that you and I may exercise our freedom of choice.  Retta and I tip our hats to you all, and thank you for the sacrifice that you and your loved ones have endured to make life better for all of the rest of us.

Thank you.

An Interesting Website

Retta was searching for solutions to the problem of squirrels consuming the pears off our pear tree, when she ran across a website entitled “All Squirrels Must Die – the official homepage of the Squirrel Defamation League”.  This site is tongue-in-cheek, and it had me in stitches.  A good place to start your visit would be with the following essay.

Dr. Squirrelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Squirrels

It is well worth a click to check out this funny website.

The Catfish Pond

Catfish pond at back of pasture 

We have several ponds here at the ranch, each with it’s own character, and each with it’s own set of problems and pleasures. This post is about our small catfish pond, which is located in a margin between grassland and woods. In the picture above you can see the berm which creates one bank of the pond, at the far end of this field.

Catfish pond view from berm

This is what the pond looks like, viewed from the berm which was constructed to contain the pond water.  Across the pond, in the woods, is an area I cleared of brush and set up a fire ring and glider.  It has become an area where Retta and I like to sit and contemplate the world around us, and sometimes have a picnic.  This is what the area looks like –

Picnic area

When seated at the picnic area, the view looks across the field towards our barns and paddock facilities.  It is a lovely spot, and I always like to sit here to take a little break during my work day, surveying my little domain and enjoying the peace and quiet (country quiet, which is sometimes not all that quiet, but I digress).

View from picnic area

As you can plainly see from the pictures, this is not a clear pond.  It is designed to catch the runoff from a clay based gully which drains about a forty acre watershed.  Every time it rains, clay is washed into the pond along with the rain water.  From the time we first acquired this property, I have been dissatisfied with the lack of water clarity in this pond.  I mentioned this problem to an employee of the local farm store, and he told me he had just the solution.  He sold me a gallon container of a liquid, which I proceeded to apply to the pond per the directions.  I should have done more homework than I had, because this is what I ended up with –

Oh my!  What happened here?

Now, I don’t know about you, but I prefer the natural silty brown over this obviously artificial looking turquoise dyed pond.  Fortunately, the pond returned to it’s former natural state after a few rains.  Unfortunately, the pond was bright turquoise when NASA flew over us on their latest photography mission.  In the space imagery that was produced from this mission, our pond color stands out like a beacon in the night.  I even received a comment about this from the Arkansas Forestry Commission forester who came out to assess our property.  He said he had to stop and scratch his head a few times trying to figure out what that bright turquoise spot was on the image!

I have since been told that there is some kind of chemical product that can be added to the water that affects the ionization of the suspended particulate matter, causing it to sink to the bottom of the pond.  I have not been able to locate any such product, except for certain solutions meant to be used in tiny backyard ponds.  And if I can find this product, I suppose that it would have to be used whenever the rains washed more clay silt into the pond.  So I will instead try to accept the pond as it is.  After all, there are plenty of healthy catfish and minnows living in it, so why should I care?  And most important, guests who come to visit us here at the ranch always seem to enjoy throwing in a line, even if the water is silty.

Out at the fishing hole

Flashback Friday #6

 Mount Gould Sojourn

Mofo Five

Would you be brave (or foolish) enough to take a journey with this motley crew?  If so, than follow us on our journey to the top of Mount Gould, which occurred over thirty years ago.  The humble author of this blog is the character on the extreme left, in his more *vibrant* days.  Actually, these fellows turned out in later life to be a veterinarian, a physician, a respected music producer, an architect, and some fellow that I heard was last seen furiously writing blog posts somewhere in the Ozarks ;)

Mount Gould is a moderately high (13005′ elevation) peak in the John Muir Wilderness area of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.  It lies within the bounds of Kings Canyon National Park in California.  The route to the top of Mount Gould takes you from the trail head area in Onion Valley on the eastern flank of the Sierras, through beautiful mountain scenery on your way along the Kearsarge Pinnacles, and ultimately to the craggy peak called Mount Gould.  Here is a photo of our group gathered around the campfire in Onion Valley as we acclimate to the elevation change and prepare for our climb to come.

Keeping the mosquitos at bay

If you thought that we were huddled by the fire for warmth, you would be wrong.  It turned out that the mosquitoes were extremely pesky that evening, and the only comfort was to cover up from head to toe and stay close to the smokey, sooty fire for protection.  The next day we hiked along the rugged Kearsarge Pinnacles area on our way to the base of the ridge leading up to Mount Gould. 

Setting off for the base camp

As we gained elevation and ventured further into the High Sierras, we began to encounter snow on the ground and in the trees.  Finding a spot to set up camp was pretty easy – you certainly didn’t need to worry about where to pitch your tent, as the entire surrounding landscape was blanketed by a soft carpet of snow.  As long as you stay out of any avalanche pathway you are safe and secure.  It is off to bed early in the evening, as we have a strenuous hike awaiting us in the morning.

Base camp

When we arise early the next morning, we assess the first leg of the hike.

First leg up the mountain

We will begin our ascent by following the ridge you see in the photo above.  We plan to switchback across the snow-covered slope before us, ending up on the crest of the ridge at the far left in the photo above.  From there the plan is to follow the ridge line as much as possible on our way up to Mount Gould.

Making our way up the slopes

Here you can see what is involved in this trek.  The climbing is not technical at all, just a slow but steady plodding up the snow covered slope toward the first goal we had set, which was the ridge line above us.  Eventually, we arrived at the top of the ridge, and were greeted by the following sight –  

Mount Gould behind Kearsarge Pinnacles

In this photo you can see Mount Gould, just to the right of center.  We are still quite a distance away from our goal, and we have lots of snow and rock to traverse before we arrive at our intended destination.  It is a test of fortitude and desire more than skill or daring to climb this sort of peak in the winter, but if you plan properly, and stick to your plans, than you will eventually reach the top, as we did here –

Conquering the peak

That is your humble (and tired) author you see at the top of Mount Gould.  And how did he obtain this picture?  By sending fellow mountaineer Chris up an adjacent rock to snap some photos, as seen here (hiding behind a nasty fingerprint) –

Chris on a rock (not Chris Rock)

So now we have been successful in our attempt to scale Mount Gould, but the REAL fun is just about to begin.  It has taken us well over 6 hours to make our ascent of Mount Gould, and now we plan to make it back to base camp in less than 1 hour.  And just how do we intend to do this?  By using a technique called the “Glissade”.  The first step in a glissade descent is to don your trusty nylon rain suit.  This will act as a slick surface for your body, which you are soon to propel down the snow-covered slopes as fast as you can, using only your ice axe as a rudder and your ice axe as your brakes (via a technique called an ice-axe arrest).

Glissade chute

In this photo you can see the chute that we chose to glissade down the mountain crest.  On the way up, this section might have taken 1-2 hours to climb.  On the way down, thanks to the glissade technique, it took just a few fun and wild minutes.  From this point we can turn around, and now looking down the mountain again, this is what we saw.

Final glissade down to base camp

All that remained between us and our base camp was this long, steep, snowy section of mountain that was just ideal for a joyous glissade.  We made it back to base camp, tired, a little wet, and very happy campers.  After a good nights sleep, we hiked back down to Onion Valley where we encountered –

All good things come to an end


How Can This Happen?

Original fuel canister

This is a picture of a five gallon diesel fuel canister that was purchased from Wal-Mart in 2001.  There is nothing particularly special about this container, except for the fact that it is a mature and fairly well evolved product that has been sold across the continent for many years.  You have probably used a canister like this one, or perhaps it’s red gasoline sibling, many times in the past.  It is a useful and inexpensive product that has stood the test of time.  When I open the spout assembly and begin pouring the fuel into my tractor’s fuel tank, it sounds something like this:

GLUB gla GLUB,  GLUB gla GLUB,  GLUB gla GLUB,  GLUB gla GLUB,  GLUB gla GLUB,  GLUB gla GLUB,  GLUB gla GLUB,  GLUB gla GLUB,  GLUB gla GLUB ……..

….. and so-on and so-forth until the canister is empty, which takes slightly less than two minutes.

Perhaps you remember a past post entitled The “Ouch” Factor that dealt with seeking an improved method of fueling my tractor, so as to minimize back strain.  In that post, you can see a picture of this author fueling the tractor with a similar fuel container. 

Redesigned fuel canister

It is similar, but not identical to the canister in the first picture.  If you compare the two containers, you will see that the second canister, purchased from the same Wal-Mart store in 2005, lacks a vent on the upper left-hand side of the container body.  When I lift this container up and try to fill the tractor’s fuel tank, this is what I hear:

GLUB gla GLUB,  GLUB gla GLUB, GLUB gla …. silence!

Remove the container from the filler neck, turn the canister upright to allow air back into the container to equalize the air pressure, lift the container back up to the filler neck, and begin the fueling operation:

GLUB gla GLUB,  GLUB gla GLUB, GLUB gla …. silence!

Remove the container from the filler neck, turn the canister upright to allow air back into the container to equalize the air pressure, lift the container back up to the filler neck, and begin the fueling operation:

GLUB gla GLUB,  GLUB gla GLUB, GLUB gla …. silence!

Remove the container from the filler neck, turn the canister upright to allow air back into the container to equalize the air pressure, lift the container back up to the filler neck, and begin the fueling operation:

You get the idea by now I hope!

It now takes me over 7 minutes to drain one of these new fuel containers, but worse than the time involved is the fact that I have to lift/lower the heavy fuel container repeatedly in order to accomplish this formerly simple task.

When I first used this fuel container and noticed that it wasn’t working the way I thought it should, my initial reaction was that the company must have inadvertently neglected to install a vent in the container’s body, as was included in the previous style.   But upon further examination I discovered the cause of the problem to be an ill-conceived and poorly executed attempt at including the vent mechanism within the actual spout itself.  The following photo shows the underside of the new style spout:

Underside view of spout

In this photo you can clearly see a small vent tube molded within the larger fuel spout opening.  I do not claim to have any special knowledge of hydrodynamics or hydraulic engineering, but it seems contrary to my intuition that this could possibly work.  How can the fuel flowing through this spout possibly be offset by an equal airflow through a vent tube 1/5 the size of the fuel opening, particularly when the fuel surrounds the vent (top and bottom) while it is flowing?

Let us assume for a moment, just for the sake of argument, that the designer of this spout assembly drafted the concept in a CAD program, calculated the appropriate calculations necessary to arrive at a workable design that resembled what we see here.  Wouldn’t somebody in the design team have looked at this and had the same intuitive sense about this design that I had, and nixed the design as unworkable, or at least ordered a prototype to be produced to test the concept?  And if they had tested this hypothetical prototype, wouldn’t they have gotten the same results as I did?

Let us now move on to manufacturing.  The tool and die makers create the molds necessary to produce the spout assemble, which they pass on to the shop floor.  The molds are installed on an injection molding machine, and out pop spout assemblies by the score.  At some point, doesn’t the shop foreman, his/her supervisor, the product manager, or the plant manager think to fill a container with water and see if the new spout assembly works?  Are there no curious souls left?  Does anybody care enough about the product they produce to try it out?

The factory, content in the fact that they have the injection moulding machines now spitting out spouts (no pun intended), provide samples and specifications to the marketing department, so now the ball is in their court.  Marketing is tasked to sell, and sell they do (obviously, as I purchased this canister at Wal-Mart).  Did the marketing manager at this company, after spending long hours dreaming up wonderful prose extolling the virtues of this new fuel can model, ever have the desire to fill up one of these containers with an actual liquid, and try out the “New & Improved” spout?  And how about the sales representative who flew to Bentonville, Arkansas to speak with the automotive buyer at Wal-Mart, carrying with him samples of his companies new fuel cans?  This was the man/woman charged with the responsibility of knowing everything there is to know about his product, in order to accurately inform and educate the buyer about this item.  Shouldn’t this person have once thought to actually put the fuel can through it’s paces?

The fact that I purchased this fuel canister at Wal-Mart indicates that the item passed whatever product screening the Wal-Mart buyers thought necessary for inclusion in the automotive department of the store.  The operational specifications for a fuel container of this type should be fairly simple and straightforward.  One should be able to fill it with liquid, and one should be able to pour out the liquid.  Nothing should happen in between these two events.  It is really that simple.  Didn’t anyone on the buying staff at Wal-Mart think to perform even the simplest test of this item, particularly since they were aware of the re-design of the spout assembly?

Last, but not least in this unfortunate chain of neglect is the owner of the company that produced this fuel canister.  I believe that Mr. Gates has an obligation to himself and his company to sit down in front of a Windows computer and use the software his company produces.  Similarly, I believe that Mr. Ford has a duty to get behind the wheel of the automobiles that bear his family’s name.  Along the same line of reasoning, I believe that it is also the responsibility of the owner of the fuel canister company that produced this item to have actually tried to use it, if even once.

What Is This Creature?

I found this curious looking creature nesting in the back recesses of a little used file cabinet in the basement.  I know what it is, but can you identify it?

Mystery creature

(Hint: it never caught on, and is now extinct)


The item above, as pointed out by David, is known as a :Cue:Cat.  This device was produced by a company called DigitalConvergence.:Com Inc.  The idea was to provide every computer with this modified bar code reader, and convince business partners to include special :Cue codes in various printed matter which would then lead to a specific web page on the internet.  The :Cue:Cat was distributed by Radio Shack stores for free, and in the year 2000, Radio Shack supplied their Master Catalog with the special :Cue barcodes, as shown here –

Radio Shack catalog page

The entire installation and promotion kit that was distributed by Radio Shack stores is pictured below, which included various teaser promises of wonderful applications to come.

:Cue:Cat promotional package

Three of the more noteworthy uses that DigitalConvergence was hoping to implement with this device were 1) a link between television and the computer using a special :CueTV cable.  This was an audio cable with a RCA type pass-through connector at the television end, and sound card connector at the other end.  When properly configured, the audio system on the TV was supposed to feed web-page links directly to a connected computer, via specially encoded transmissions contained in the audio signal.  So, while watching TV, one could theoretically view unlimited program information simultaneously on the computer screen.  Instead of the hard-wired connection, one could also opt to purchase a Wireless Audio-Link from Radio Shack.  2) a web-based, consumer accessible UPC code database linked directly to a unique web-page for each UPC code in existence.  The idea behind this was simple – by simply scanning the bar-code from any commonly available product, one would be instantly transported to a web-page relevant to the individual product.  3)  a personal :CueCode available to any consumer who wanted to register for one.  This would allow any individual the ability to direct someone to their personal web site by including the personal :CueCode on business cards, letterheads, invitions, etc.  The personal :CueCode was to be marketed exclusively by Office Depot stores.

For those people on the go, DigitalConvergence had two mobile solutions as well, one in the form of a keychain fob code reader and the other in the form of a Cross pen with a built in reader.  Each of these readers could store up to 300 :Cue:Codes, and by simply touching the reader to a device called an OptiLink (sold seperately), the information would be uploaded to the computer.

My own experience with the :Cue:Cat was not quit as rosy as DigialConvergence would have had me believe.  After installing the driver software and hardware, I took the Radio Shack catalog and tested some of the links I found within it.  Most of the links returned a 404 File not found) error message.  Of the links that worked, I found that most of them simply parroted the information I had before me on the printed page.  Similarly, when attempting to scan the UPC code of various products, I experienced mostly failure.  It might well be that this was a result of rushing the concept to market before all of the required pieces were in place.  Regardless as to the reasons, it left such a poor impression on me that I uninstalled the software, and all of the materials that you see here have sat dormant in the recesses of my file cabinet until now.

The First Sport Utility Vehicles

This post could be considered an update to the previous Flashback Friday post.  Over at Pure Florida there is a surfer guy who expressed an interest in the woody shown in the background of a couple of the pictures I had posted.  Had I known, I would have featured a good photo of the vehicle, so Florida Cracker, this is for you.

1946 Ford Super Deluxe Woody Station Wagon

This is a 1946 Ford Super Deluxe Woody Station Wagon.  To be more accurate, it is a highly modified 1946 Ford Super Deluxe Woody Station Wagon, unlike what you would have purchased from your local Ford dealer back in 1946. This was one of the finest regularly driven customized woodies I have ever seen.

Prior to the mid 1930’s, wood was a more economical material to use in the fabrication of automobiles than steel.  Many vehicles utilized wood in the chassis framework as a structural component, upon which steel body assemblies would be built.  Eventually, a small number of automobiles began to shed portions of the steel body in favor of all wood exposed body panels.  Besides the material cost considerations, there was another dynamic at work.  Prior to common adaptation of the automobile as our standard mode of transportation, this country traveled by horse-drawn carriage.  As the automobile gained in affordability and popularity, there were many craftsmen skilled in the methods of woodworking used to manufacture the carriages that lost their livelihood.  By transferring their skills to the automobile industry, many regained employment building the wooden body parts for this new breed of vehicle which we now call a woody.

The original derivation of the term station wagon has interesting roots.  Prior to World War 2, there was no such thing as common commercial air travel.  Substantially all long distance travel in America was done by train.  Passengers needed transportation from hotels and private residences to the local train station to embark on their journeys.  Cabbies, or hacks, began to alter regular automobiles by rebuilding and extending the rear trunk sections to hold the large amounts of baggage that was being hauled to the train station.  This is where the term “station wagon” comes from.  They were also referred to as “depot hacks”, but this term did not stick, so we are left with today’s usage of station wagon.

1946 Ford Super Deluxe Woody

There is much nostalgia regarding the woody as THE wheels for surfers in America.  Contrary to common recollection, the woody was originally chosen by surfers for two simple reasons.  First, they were cheap in the late fifties and early sixties.  While some authentic wood paneled vehicles were produced after WWII (including this 1946 Ford), it was increasingly more economical to produce vehicles entirely from steel.  Since domestic automobile production came to a virtual standstill during the war years, it can be inferred that most woodies were produced prior to 1941.  Therefore, by the late fifties and early sixties, most of the wooden autos still in existence were at least 20 years old.  If you have ever seen an unmaintained woody, you will understand that in 1960, prior to their nostalgia induced popularity, a woody could be purchased for a paltry sum of money.

The second reason that the woody became popular amongst surfers was the space available in the rear to transport their surfboards.  For those familiar with the surf culture, you will know that surfing is a nomadic sport, in the sense that gung-ho surfers are always venturing to different spots seeking the “perfect wave”.  It is not uncommon for a surfer to start his surfing day at one location, and through the course of the day, travel up and down the coast searching for the most challenging wave sets to tackle (and the prettiest surfer girls to flirt with).  The large space in the rear of the woody station wagon was perfectly suited to the task of hauling surfboards.  The flip up tailgates associated with the woodies allow the surfer to quickly throw many boards in the back of the vehicle and travel to the next venue.  It is interesting to note that the second most popular surfer vehicle of the past was the Volkswagen bus, for just the same reasons; they were inexpensive and they could hold many surfboards easily.

1946 Ford Super Deluxe Woody

It is just a guess, but from my observations along the California coastline during the course of many years, it would seem that very few woodies are still being used by surfers.  The nostalgic popularity of these vehicles has probably made the cost of a classic woody prohibitive to most surfers today.