I'll admit to occasionally being surprised, but when I saw a headline over at Forgotten Weapons about a Savage revolver, I scratched my head just a little. I couldn't recall any revolver made by Savage; autoloaders yes, and of course rifles, but a revolver?
Turns out that the Savage Model 101 isn't really a revolver at all; it just looks like one. The ‘cylinder’ is fixed to the barrel, and the entire assembly pivots out from the frame to access the single chamber for loading and unloading. In this regard it’s very similar to the Colt Camp Perry Model, with the exception of the ‘cylinder’ - on the Colt, they removed the unused material and made the ‘cylinder’ the same width as the frame. (They did, however, flute the thing so that, from a distance and directly from the side, it could be a little difficult to tell the difference.)
Have a look at the video Ian made of his time with the Model 101. I'm not sure just why, but I want one!
It's no secret that I'm enamored with the Saturn V rocket. For my generation (read: old fogies) the Saturn V defined the United States; it was big, bad, and cemented our belief in our technical superiority over the Evil Empire (read: Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.) To this day it is the tallest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket ever to be deployed and holds the record for launching the heaviest payload into space. It's also the most reliable, because in its 13 launches it never lost a crew member or payload.
The Saturn V was the rocket that took us to the moon, and there was nothing like the giant fireball of the Rocketdyne F-1 engines in its first stage to ignite our nationalistic pride on liftoff. Those godless Soviets may have been first, but by golly we were the BEST!
In the 2 minutes and 41 seconds those engines burned they took the Saturn V to an altitude of 42 miles and a speed of over 6,000mph. At that point the first stage was jettisoned and the five Rocketdyne engines would tumble into the sea, to be forgotten by the American people.
Several years back I told the story of my Father and his history with the famous B-29 Superfortress bomber. He loved that airplane, and never missed a chance to read or watch anything and anything about Boeing's first modern strategic bomber.
As it happens he and I went aboard the only flyable B-29 in existence, the Commemorative Air Force's 'Fifi', when it visited Oregon many years ago. Of the nearly 4,000 built, only Fifi can still take to the sky. There are 21 others in various museums around the globe, but she's the only one who can still stretch her wings.
Hope is not lost, however, because in February a new non-profit group took ownership of the craft and the restoration has now resumed.
Apparently most of the difficult work has already been done, but that doesn't mean getting the thing into flying condition is going to be cheap or easy! The group is looking for donations and volunteers, and they have a website where you can do both - or simply learn more about the plane and their dream of flying her once again.
Truth be told, I'm not really much of a fan of full auto weapons. It's not that they're not a whole heap o' fun, and it's not that I believe people shouldn't be allowed to own them. No, it's simply that I'm way too cheap to buy one!
Start with the insanely high prices, then add in the $200 tax stamp, and THEN factor in how much it would cost me to feed one (even with the cost savings of reloading), and it's just too much for my parsimonious nature. I’m glad that not everyone is as much of a cheapskate as I am, however!
That’s because I’m fascinated with their mechanical design and rarely miss a chance to look at how one operates (or even, if someone else is footing the bill, getting a little trigger time in myself!) This brings me, inevitably, to the Forgotten Weapons blog; Ian loves full autos, and goes to great lengths to unearth the very rare and unusual examples - usually complete with operational drawings.
This week he came up with a couple of fascinating articles. First is the story of a WWII era Romanian submachine gun, the Orita. It was designed by Nicolae Sterca and Leopold Jaska, two engineers who I'd not heard of before this article. (Some day I'm going to take the time to write a piece on great firearms designers who didn't hail from the U.S. There are a lot of them.) I was particularly intrigued by the grip safety on the traditional wood stock!
No wonder! The video in question is him firing one of the Colt 1877 Bulldog Gatling Gun reproductions (which I covered in my SHOT Show 2012 report last year!) Neat video, neat gun, and I wish I could afford one.
It's easy to forget that World War II didn't really touch America all that much. I'm not talking about the lost lives of our troops nor of the privation at home, but rather about physical damage. Other than Pearl Harbor and the people killed by a Japanese balloon bomb right here in Oregon, the U.S. was spared the horrors of war because we weren't being regularly attacked or invaded.
The rest of the world wasn't so lucky. We bombed Germany night and day, and it took destruction on a horrific scale to convince the Japanese government to surrender; the Russians got their cities pounded almost to rubble before they were able to turn the situation around and start massacring the Germans who had invaded their homeland. We experienced none of this, and as a result today we have no tangible reminders other than Office of War Information pictures that we'd gone through the largest conflict known to man.
Thus it slips our mind that our major ally, Great Britain, was bombed by the Luftwaffe over a period of months in an operation called “The Blitz.” Over 50,000 bombs fell on London during that time, and today you can view an interactive map of every one of those bomb strikes. Modern technology brings home the message that the horror of war can strike anywhere, even Jolly Old England.
By now you probably realize I'm a sucker for cool technology, and one of the things I like are the new generation of multipurpose mountable cameras like the GoPro video cams. It's amazing what can be done with this gear!
The myriad of mounting options plus the superb image quality means that we're commonly seeing images of things that twenty years ago we wouldn't have. That's not to say it couldn't have been done, only that it was both more difficult, a whole lot more expensive, and not nearly as flexible.
But let's go further back. I'm thinking a bit over a century ago - how would you have gotten cool aerial photos without things like radio remotes and ultra small imaging sensors? (Did I mention that airplanes were not yet in common use?)
If you're Dr. Julius Neubronner, you make yourself a special camera and a special mounting system. Then you get yourself some pigeons (the feathered kind, not the easily taken rube kind.)
Yes, I said pigeons. Besides his work in pharmaceuticals, Neubronner was known for his pigeon photos. In your face, GoPro!
When I was in grade school, before the internet and the Kindle, there was the Scholastic Book Club. A couple of times a year the SBC would roll into the library, where students could peruse the offerings and order their choice of books. The orders would be delivered to the school a few weeks later.
One such fifth-grade order found me in possession of a book on codes and ciphers. This was fascinating to me, especially the part on code breaking. Finally a practical use for all that math I'd been studying! With that book I taught myself to break the most common historical codes, and even at one point challenged my classmates to produce a code that I couldn't crack. The efforts were almost comical - simple substitution ciphers, mostly - but every so often they'd throw me a curve. I managed to break every one, however.
Cryptography has remained an interest ever since. Though I haven't tried to invent - or crack - a code since I was a kid, I still follow stories of of code breaking with keen attention. If they're combined with historical lore, so much the better!
It should not come as a surprise, then, that I found this WIRED Magazine article so intriguing: a 250-year-old code from a secret society. It's as if that Scholastic Book on codes and ciphers morphed with another childhood reading favorite, the Mad Scientist's Club, and time-traveled to the screen of my iMac. I couldn't NOT read it!
There was a time when Cape Canaveral (Cape Kennedy, for those who grew up in the late '60s) was the center of national and international attention. That's where all of our manned space launches happened: the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo projects, as well as the Space Shuttle missions. It drew throngs of tourists and resulted in a long-lived boom in the region. It was a place where real magic happened.
With the close of the Shuttle era, however, the infrastructure of Cape Canaveral is being idled. The thousands of technicians, engineers and scientists who worked there have dwindled, and along with them the tourists. The Cape is slowly turning into a ghost town, complete with empty attractions and shuttered businesses. The structures on launch pad LC-39B at the Kennedy Space Center were demolished in 2011, while the fate of sister pad LC-39A is uncertain.
Photographer David Ryle has spent some time there chronicling the decline of what has been called "Space Coast". A selection of his pictures are up at Fast Company, and are worth a look if you - like me - were ever fascinated by the idea of human beings being rocketed into space.
One of the modern conveniences which we take for granted is smokeless powder. It's stable, predictable, and stores for a very long time. It's also not hygroscopic, meaning that it doesn't readily absorb water - a really good attribute for a propellant!
This wasn't the case with early gunpowder, which we now refer to as black powder. (Even that's not quite accurate, as the black powder of today is considerably more reliably formulated than that which was available in the 19th century, let alone before.) In the days of percussion arms, powder was not as consistent as today - and that's before factoring in the non-dessicated storage conditions! As a result it was often necessary to test a keg of powder to determine how good it was. How do you do this without things like piezoelectric pressure transducers and electronic chronographs?
The answer was the eprouvette. While the form might vary from country to country (or from maker to maker), the idea was to fire a measured charge the suspect powder in a device that had a known amount of resistance. The amount of resistance that the powder charge could overcome was used to compare to other, known lots of powder.
The Firearm Blog recently showed some great pictures of a Belgian eprouvette, and the concept is very easily grasped. These are quite rare today; they were made in very small quantities compared to firearms. Have a look and marvel at what our ancestors went through just to keep from blowing themselves to pieces!
Many years ago I visited the now-defunct Harrah's automobile museum - the real, original one, not the neutered National Automobile Museum that currently bears the "Harrah Collection" monicker. It was amazing; I saw cars from companies that I didn't even know existed. One of the more interesting activities was having my picture taken with the two cars that bore my names: A Grant and a Cunningham. I had no idea those cars existed until I was standing next to them.
The Grant company sold what were apparently unremarkable vehicles, and was in business for a scant nine years. Cunningham, on the other hand, was a storied firm with an impressive pedigree.
James Cunningham, Son & Company of Rochester, NY was founded in 1862 as a carriage manufacturer. In fact, they became one of the largest such firms in the country. They were known for quality above all else, and were usually among the most expensive coaches available. They made the switch to automobile production in 1908, making both gasoline and electric models. They maintained their well-received focus on quality, and their first models sold for a whopping $3,500!
By 1916 they'd developed a 442 cubic inch V-8 engine which would become their trademark. By 1921, their town car model was selling for $8,100 - when a Ford Model T Runabout could be had for $370 and their four door sedan for only $725!
Around 1928 Cunningham's interests changed to aviation, and they dropped auto production entirely in 1931. In 1938 the company was reorganized to build electrical switching apparatus, which they did until the mid-1960s. The aircraft division, a joint venture between Cunningham and a fellow named Robert Hall, continued in business as an aircraft component maker until being closed in 1948.
Today all Cunningham cars are exceedingly rare and do not come up for sale very often. I've not seen another outside of the Harrah museum. In their heyday, though, driving a Cunningham - whether horse or mechanically powered - was the mark of sophistication and style (and a not-insignificant income!)
Here are a couple of videos of Cunningham autos; this first I included just because I like the word “Phaeton”!
I've written before of the depression-era Farm Security Administration (FSA) and their photographic propaganda campaign, of whose results I'm a big fan even if I decry the manipulative intent behind them. Their photographers roamed the country and produced phenomenal documentation of both urban and rural areas that would not exist were it not for their efforts.
A couple of them made it here to Oregon, and I've seen some of the photos they made. However, I was completely unaware that on July 4, 1936, the great Arthur Rothstein had been in my little hometown: Molalla, Oregon, population (at that time) about 700. Then, as now, the big event in town was the annual rodeo - the Molalla Buckeroo - and Rothstein was in attendance.
He made this picture of what he identified as a Warm Springs Indian at the old Buckeroo Grounds, which was near the middle of town. (The grounds were demolished and new ones built outside of town when I was a teenager, hence the "old" designation.)
The fence behind the gentleman ran the circumference of the grounds and was regularly maintained right up until the demolition. It’s entirely possible that at least a few of those boards survived to the early 70s, when I helped paint them in preparation for the annual festivities. (They sure seemed like they had been there over four decades, but then anyone over 18 seemed ancient to my young eyes.)
-=[ Grant ]=-
P.S.: Please, no partisan comments on how great FDR was or how his programs allegedly saved the country. This time, I'll be deleting them.
What struck me was the quality of workmanship. Remember that this thing is circa 1700, long before modern machine tools. Notice how precisely everything fits; listen to the sound of the barrel being unscrewed, which gives you a feeling for how exact the threads are. This is amazing for any era, let alone three centuries ago!
Note also the attention to detail; at the 42 second mark, where he's showing off the magazine, you can see the little "bump" of wood on the stock which matches the hinge protrusion, serving to keep the hinge pin in and also preventing the hand from contacting a metal edge. The maker could have simply rounded off that end of the hinge and staked it so the pin couldn’t come out accidentally, but that wouldn't have been nearly as intriguing!
Looks like you don't need CNC machining equipment to do good work! (Which reminds me: I really need to do an article on the misconceptions which abound about the capabilities of CNC. Most people really don't have a clue and use those three letters as an indicator of quality. 'Taint necessarily so.) -=[ Grant ]=-
Perhaps it's my background in watchmaking, but I've found myself gravitating to Swiss products over the years. The vast majority of my precision measuring tools are Swiss, as are many of my screwdrivers and assorted precision hand tools. Their products are not frilly, but purposeful and built to an incredibly high standard. Though my Austrian Emco-Maier lathe is a perfectly serviceable machine, I still lust for a Swiss Schaublin 120-VM (or, dare I say, an SV-130 Mk. III ?)
Given my fetish for fine machinery, you can imagine my delight that Forgotten Weapons is doing "Swiss Week" - a multi-part look at Switzerland's lesser-known entries into shooting history.
Take, for example, the LMG25. This magazine-fed medium machine gun is chambered in 7.5x55 Swiss, the same cartridge used by the (relatively) common Swiss Karabiner Model 1931 (K31). Like the K31, the machining of the LMG25 is exquisite - which is readily apparent from the photos. I can't stop staring at it.
Ian even did a tear-down video. Even the magazine port cover is precisely made and nicely blued. Listen to the action sound as he cycles the bolt - smoooooooth.
Last week's Surprise was about space, so I thought "why not keep the theme going?"
The Space Shuttle, as you probably heard, has been grounded forever. In total, we built six of them: The Enterprise, which was used for atmospheric tests only and never made it to space; the Columbia, which broke up on re-entry in 2003; the Challenger, which blew up shortly after lift-off in 1986; and Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavor, which were all retired and are even now in the process of being moved to museums.
There was one Shuttle, however, which preceded even Enterprise. It's been sitting, nearly forgotten, in an unlighted warehouse in Downey, CA since 1972. There's now a movement underway to restore it and put it on display.
So, why doesn't anyone remember it? After all, it was the model - literally - for all that would follow. If you can think of a word that rhymes with "follow", and put it together with the other clues I’ve worked into this post, you’ll get the rest of the story. Alternatively, you could take the easy way out and just click on this link and read about it at the Los Angeles Times.
In the fall of 1977 I was starting my junior year in high school (we had actual high schools back then; no junior high nonsense, and we didn't refer to ourselves as being in the "eleventh grade".) I was something of a math and science geek, and along with that came an abiding interest in space travel. NASA was like Mecca.
For anyone who followed the goings-on at Cape Canaveral, it was an exciting time. The launch of the Voyager space probes - Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 - was imminent. They were destined to do exploration of Saturn and Jupiter and hopefully give us new information about those planets, information which we couldn't get from telescopes on earth.
The launch went perfectly and the Voyagers did their jobs at both planets. We learned many new things from their close fly-bys, but the machines were still operating. NASA extended both missions, with Voyager 2 being sent to Uranus and Neptune and Voyager 1 being sent on a mission to explore the outer limits of the sun's influence. Voyager 2, if it were to be operating after the passes over Uranus and Neptune, would join that mission.
Today Voyager 1 is the furthest man-made object from earth: 1.8x10^10 kilometers, or 120 astronomical units, or roughly 11,154,696,873 miles. It is now in a part of space that we've never explored, a region known as the heliosheath. This is the narrow area between our solar system (heliosphere) and interstellar space, where solar winds slow and cosmic rays start to penetrate. This was an unimaginable achievement when the Voyagers were launched, and unless Voyager 1 collides with something it is expected to reach the heliopause - the very boundary between the solar system and open space. When? We don't know, because we don't know how thick the heliosheath is. That's something else the Voyager missions will be able to tell us!
Voyager 1 is expected to continue to function until about 2020, at which point it will be 43 years old and its systems will finally run out of power, many years past its original design life. We may not have been able to make very good automobiles back then, but we sure knew how to make spacecraft!
Forgotten Weapons is rapidly becoming my favorite firearm blog, simply because they cover neat stuff - usually, stuff that I've never before encountered. Take the Treeby Chain Gun, for instance. How else would you increase the firepower of a rifle during the era of muzzleloaders?
What struck me about this design (other than how close they got to the centerfire self-contained metallic cartridge) is the resemblance to a belt-fed machine gun. The chain is nothing more than a connected belt of linked muzzleloading cartridges, and they could have easily designed it to use a longer chain length - or even a split chain, giving them in effect a belt fed muzzleloader.
If the Henry was the rifle "they load on Sunday and shoot all week", Imagine the reaction to a 100-shot repeater! -=[ Grant ]=-
I've written previously about my general fascination with the photography of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and its successor in documentary imagery, the Office of War Information (OWI.) The FSA was really nothing more than a propaganda machine for the Roosevelt administration, and the head of the FSA - Roy Stryker - was diligent in his job. He hired good photographers and artists, gave them cameras and film, and sent them all over the USA to get the shots necessary to help the President sell his various make-work, wealth redistribution, and nanny state schemes.
The plan worked, and the photos they made were carefully archived in Washington. Apparently, though, Stryker was not all that trusting of his employer. He sent a second archive of 41,000 images to the New York Public Library for safekeeping, where they sat until 2005 - when someone decided to actually catalog them.
Now this story wouldn't be at all interesting without a twist. After all, the entire FSA catalog is in the Library of Congress (LOC) and available online. Who cares about the duplicates sitting in the Big Apple? As it happens, they weren't all dupes; there were about a thousand images in the New York collection that weren't in the LOC. They're now seeing the light of day once again.
The history of firearm design is fascinating, but even more interesting to me are the beliefs and assumptions that we make about the designs we see. Why do some designs persist, while other - sometimes quite promising - ideas never see the light of day?
It's often held that certain gun designs succeed in the marketplace (the military and police being a skewed adaptation of a market) because they're the "best". It's true that in some form any given design must win over others to succeed, but "winning" needs to be understood in context for it to have any meaning at all. Too many people assume that the winner is the best performer, and that's not always (if it ever really is) the case.
"Winning" means not just physical performance: the gun shoots well, is reliable and durable. It also needs to be economical to manufacture, easy to repair, use a minimum amount of resources, and not intrude upon political or social contracts. Sometimes it’s those political concerns which trump all.
Take, for instance, the case of the M14 rifle. The testing and adoption of the M14 was convoluted at best, with charges of test-fixing, tampering of the data, not a small amount of military pressure on our allies in NATO, and a strong dose of nationalism. Many people today hold that the FN Herstal design - essentially a FAL in American clothing - was the actual winner of the physical tests, but political pressure by Springfield Armory (which had been the origin of nearly all of our military's rifles up to that point) won over the more meritorious design. Regardless what one believes about the two designs, it's clear to all but the most myopic that there was more than just the rifle's shooting qualities that went into the decision to adopt the M14. The same could be said the of that gun's successor.
A military or police trial is not necessarily a good indicator of merit, even if it is run fairly and squarely. The easiest way to explain this is the old joke about the two guys being attacked by the bear; one says "gee, I'm glad I wore my running shoes!" The other guy says "are you crazy - you can' outrun a bear!" The first guy looks at him and says "I don't need to outrun him, I just have to outrun you." The winning design in a trial only needs to perform better than the others in the design pool to win; if all the designs are crap, it's simply the least crappy which gets the crown.
The entity which runs the trial can establish a performance floor through firm goals and requirements, but that's still not definitive. In the case where an entry meets spec just enough to win, it's helpful to remember the adage: "what do you call the guy who finished dead last in medical school? 'Doctor'!" Just because something completes a trial successfully doesn't mean there isn't something better out there that didn't even get entered - or wasn't allowed to because it didn't come from the right place.
Long-time readers may remember that I'm a big fan of the Shorpy Historical Photo Archive site. In fact, it's one of the few that's in my "favorite" RSS feed tabs in Safari. I never get tired of seeing what they've come up with!
Last Friday they showed a picture taken in 1909 of a gentleman (I assume it was a man) dressed up in protective clothing and holding a pistol. Labeled "dueling with wax bullets", it strongly resembles what today we refer to as "force-on-force" training. Everything, it seems, has been done before!
Photo courtesy of Shorpy
Check out the Shorpy site for a very LARGE version of the picture.
Not sure how I found this civil war blog (Uncle? Tam? Someone else?), but it has a great article on Moore’s Patent Revolver - the first revolver with a swing-out cylinder (though not quite of the kind we're used to.)
It's also interesting in that it was one of the many guns which violated Rollin White's bored-through cylinder patent. History buffs may recall that White was a Colt employee who first presented his idea to allow a revolver cylinder to chamber metallic cartridges to his boss, Colonel Colt. Colt rejected it out of hand. White knew he was onto something, and left Colt to market his patent.
Messieurs Smith and Wesson, enterprising and astute gentlemen that they were, knew a good thing when they saw it and licensed White's patent. This agreement was really the foundation of their new handgun company, and they used it to produce their first revolver - the Model 1. That patent made Smith and Wesson rich, allowed them to grow like crazy relative to Colt, and should have made White rich too. It would have, if he'd bothered to consider the fine print.
You see, the licensing agreement required White to pursue all litigation against infringers himself. Moore, like many others, used White's patent without license - and White was obligated to go after his revolver and his company. White would sue, win, and then Smith & Wesson would somehow end up acquiring the infringing guns - which they would sell themselves. (I've never read the licensing agreement, so I can't be sure exactly how that transpired, but Moore's case isn't the only example.)
Ironically, Moore's company survived and was purchased by White's old employer, Colt, in 1870. More ironically, while Moore survived White's fortune didn't; his defense of his patent cost him nearly everything he made in royalties.
I'm thinking of a writing a firearms industry soap opera: "As The Cylinder Turns."
(Never heard of the Model 1897 75mm cannon, an artillery piece so advanced that they justifiably considered it to be a state secret? Or the first high velocity smokeless powder rifle round, the 8x50mmR, aka "8mm Lebel"? Or how about the first autoloading rifle adopted by any military - the A6 Meunier? Or perhaps the first autoloading rifle to be in general service in any military - the Model 1917 RSC? Yes, all French. The toadying, indolent France of today is nothing like the truculent, innovative France of the early 20th century. Not everything ballistically innovative has come out of Utah or Springfield, and it would do us well to remember that.)
I've held - though never fired - both models, and must say that I was impressed with both the workmanship and design (given the vintage, of course.) I was particularly intrigued by the 1892, as its makers managed to construct a modern double action revolver with a surprisingly small number of very well made parts. The script engraving is, to my eye, quite fetching and makes them almost decorative.
The Model 1892 is fairly common, with nice examples selling for around $250-300. The Model 1873 is much scarcer, with very good specimens fetching north of eight bills. Very neat guns!
Until this post, I'd never seen a picture of one - only line drawings in Pistols Of The World (Hogg/Weeks.) When I saw the image I was intrigued not just with the rarity, but with the obvious quality of the gun's manufacture (and the incredibly good condition!) Head over to FW and look at the great pictures.
Note how the grip screws fit precisely into their ferrules; how the wood of the grips mates with the contours of the metal, and the precision of the checkering pattern. The bluing is very nice, and see how the grip safety fits into the frame. There was a lot of care and talent that went into making this pistol.
It's easy to look at late-war examples of Arisaka rifles, with their poor machining and fitting, and forget that the Japanese were quite capable arms makers when they had the resources. This is a beautiful example of what they could do.
Dorothea Lange made what is perhaps her most famous image, "Migrant Mother", in 1936 while working for the Resettlement Administration. What is often overlooked is her interaction with her subjects, particularly Lange's reported use of a variant of the phrase "I'm from the government, I'm here to help."
I hope everyone enjoyed my little SHOT Show recap last week. Between recovering from a nasty cold (which I picked up in Vegas) and being a bit tired of talking guns, this morning is going to be all linky, no thinky.
-- Over at the Geek With A Gun blog, there is a discussion about my recent post on safety rules. He doesn't entirely agree with me, which is okay - the important thing is that he's THINKING about the rules and their effect on those who hear them, rather than doing the knee-jerk "the four rules are immutable" routine. The more people who understand that any rule which requires people to pretend something is doomed to failure, the better off we'll all be.
-- As you may know, I've become a fan of the Forgotten Weapons blog. This morning I checked my RSS feed to find that they have an article on the Hotchkiss Revolving Cannon! (Hey, it's a revolver - it's topical for this blog!)
-- There was an interesting article published in TheJury Expert, which is the journal of the American Society of Trial Consultants, back in September of 2009. In it, Glenn Meyer did a little test on the effect of firearm appearance on the opinions of a mock jury. The results were a little surprising.
In the last installment I bemoaned the current fad of attaching AR-15 buttstocks to anything that doesn't move. I'd like to have the adjustability, mind you, but without the wobble and general unsightliness of the AR stock. I was passing by the ATI booth, and found that in addition to their AR-style collapsible stocks (they're big in that market), they also make a more traditional looking collapsing stock that incorporates both a cheekrest and a very thick recoil absorbing pad.
Called the Akita, they have models to fit a wide variety of guns - including my beloved Ithaca Model 37 in 20 gauge! Comes in black, earthtones, or a faux woodgrain finish. It will give me the adjustability my short arms need without the Mall Ninja look I despise, and i think I'll be buying one or two!
Notice how the cheekrest covers the extended portion of the Akita stock.
If I had to pick the biggest crowd pleaser of this show, I'd have to say it was the new Colt Model 1877 'Bulldog' Gatling gun. Colt is now making replicas (technically, I suppose, it's simply a long production hiatus) of the smallest production Gatling gun. Fully functional and authentic in every way, they're limiting the first run of these beauties to 50; ironically, that's almost three times the number that were originally produced!
I had a good chat with John Buhay, the man in charge of the program (and the person who assembles every one of them.) They went back to the original Colt blueprints, but those proved to be incomplete and in places actually inaccurate. It was necessary to find one of the existing originals, take it apart, and reverse engineer some of the parts. Getting their first prototype to work took a year and a half! The result, though, is that the parts of the new guns will interchange with the originals. That's testament to his team's desire to make them exactly like Colt did originally.
Well, not exactly! The new guns have far better finishing than the originals could ever hope to have, and they're stronger too. The majority of the gun is produced from brass castings, and by using more aluminum in the alloy and less of the original lead they were able to dramatically increase the strength and wear resistance of the brass. These guns are stronger, and will last longer, than the originals.
It takes 200 man-hours to make one Bulldog. The main casting, of brass, weighs in at 110 lbs. After machining away everything that doesn't look like a Gatling, they end up with a part that weighs 40 lbs! After all the machining is done the parts are polished and assembled. The polishing is amazing - not a flat spot or radius change anywhere, and it reflects like a mirror. Gorgeous!
The MSRP is $50,000, and I'm told virtually all of the first run are spoken for. Given that an original recently sold for over $300k, I'd say it's something of a bargain!
The business end of the Colt 1877 ‘Bulldog’ Gatling gun. Technically, it’s a revolver - right?
It’s a small world! I was in the press room one day waiting for a podcast interview when I noticed the fellow on the other side of the table had a badge indicating he was from my neck of the woods. We started talking, and it turns out that his company produces a product that has become a staple of hunters here in the Northwest: The Target Book For North American Game. It's a largish book of targets to help the hunter understand ballistics, trajectories, sight-in distances, and aiming points for a wide range of animals.
The targets cover 95 different cartridges and their trajectories, showing how to aim and sight in to reach a specified "kill zone" with that cartridge. American Hunter magazine once called it "ballistics for dummies", and the creators are proud of that appellation! They wanted a product that would help the average hunter take advantage of ballistics without having to dive into the technicalities, and The Target Book does just that.
You can get it at Cabela's, Sportsman's Warehouse, and Wholesale Sports or directly from the publisher: Percentage Tags, Inc. in Salem, OR.
I'll end this SHOT Show review with something surprising. If you've hung around here for more than a couple of minutes you know that I'm not a huge fan of the 1911, so it takes something really special to get me to even look at one. At SHOT I found the booth of Cabot Guns, and I've got to admit that their guns are special.
I had a long talk with Ray Rozic, the fellow in charge of their operation, and he showed me their products inside and out. He's a tool and die maker, and the parent company's major business is doing super high precision machining for the aerospace and medical fields. There is more than enough talent there to build anything to any tolerances desired, and we spent a lot of time talking about metrology (the science of measurement), heat treating, tolerance stacking, and a lot of other technical trivia. In just a few moments I realized that I was in the presence of someone who not only knows what precision is, but is capable of delivering it. He also enjoys showing off what his team can do!
The quality of machining on their guns is stunning. I actually had to break out a magnifying glass to examine the detail work on the National Standard model he handed me; it was that good. The breechface, for example, is smooth - not a bump or blemish on it. Slide to frame fit was perfect, as was the barrel lockup, and with zero lube on the rails the slide cycled like it was running on linear bearings. The barrel bushing (their own design) is perfectly fitted and even tiny details, like a reversing radius on the disconnector slot in the slide, have been given attention and are done to perfection. Flats are flat, the rounded surfaces have no flat spots or changes in the radius, and the trigger breaks crisply and cleanly. That's just the beginning.
This kind of quality doesn't come cheap; this particular gun sells for $5,950.00, but given the level of workmanship I saw I think it's a fair price. It's gorgeous, and people who I trust tell me they shoot superbly.
If I were ever to purchase a new 1911, Cabot is the one I'd buy.
Yes, I’m using a magnifying glass on this 1911. The machining is that good. Photo by Tom Walls.
Ray Rozic of Cabot filling me in on one of the details I observed. Photo by Tom Walls.
I hope you've enjoyed my SHOT Show Spectacular this week. But wait, there’s more! Tune in tomorrow for a special Saturday edition of The Revolver Liberation Alliance, where I'm going to be talking about the food I chose to sample on my trip to and from Sin CIty.
A couple of months ago I brought you the news of the sad death of Dennis Ritchie, the co-developer of the Unix operating system. As it happens, his death occurred just before the 'official' anniversary of the birth of Unix - the publishing of the first Unix manual in November of 1971.
Spectrum, one of the publications of IEEE (the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), has a great article of the birth and impact of Unix. It's a must-read for anyone interested in computers or the history of technology.
One thing in the article struck me: that an original copy of Unix did not exist until it was recreated (and only then after great effort) by some software engineers. It's interesting to think that a vital part of technological history was essentially lost, and might have remained that way had someone not cared about it.
Electronic creations are fleeting; they're jettisoned wholesale when new and better creations are introduced, and nowhere is that more true than with software. We upgrade our software and throw out the old versions; the media deteriorates or the ability to read it is lost. It's hard, for instance, to find an actual copy of any early software for any computer, let alone the more obscure stuff. Software is planned obsolescence in its highest form, and one where the old literally disappears permanently at a keystroke to make room for the new.
The topic of preserving our technological heritage is one I think about frequently. There are many early and important computers which no longer exist; in a few rare instances, like the first version of Unix, enthusiasts have taken it upon themselves to build replicas. The Colossus project in England is a perfect example, without which we would have no record of the pioneering machine or the people who built it.
There is only one SAGE - the largest computer ever built - left in existence, and it is non-functional. These and many more achievements, and the people who made them, are fading into obscurity.
This is of particular interest to me as an author. My work here on this blog (and the rest of my site) exists only as ones and zeroes on a computer somewhere. At some future point all of what I've done will simply disappear; electronic copies of my book can disappear too, no longer left to future discovery on the dusty shelves of some thrift store.
Nooks, Kindles and iPads may in fact be the future of reading, but I'd still like to see paper books available if for no other reason than to serve as a marker to future generations: we were here, this is what we did, and you don't need to restore some ancient device (if it's even possible) just to read them.
'Ephemera' is the term used to describe things that weren't meant to last, things that were never expected to leave an imprint on the world. If we're not careful, everything we do - and our very existence - will end up in that category.
I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving weekend - ours was filled with windstorm destruction and a blown head gasket on my primary vehicle. My spare time for the next couple of weeks will be filled with hauling debris and fixing an engine. Why can't these things happen in summer, when it's nice to be outside working?
Thanksgiving weekend seems these days to be filled more with thoughts of football than of peaceful coexistence with one's fellow man. Here in Oregon we had our annual Civil War Game - Oregon State University versus University of Oregon, the prize being the opportunity to play in another game of some sort. (No, I don't follow college football - does it show?) I personally find it rather sad that folks can tell you who's playing, why they're playing, who the head coaches are, and even the names of a couple of ousted coaches from a college clear back in Pennsylvania - but can't name five of the top physics programs in the country.
(Just for the record, this is not age-related curmudgeonliness - as my siblings will gleefully tell you, I had precisely the same opinion as a kid.)
Someone (could have been Tam, but I’m not absolutely positive) recently turned me on to a cool gun blog: Forgotten Weapons. Lots of great stuff about guns you may not even know existed, presented with a decidedly scholarly bent. Immediately became one of the few in my daily RSS feed.
A couple of days ago I found out that my new book, The Gun Digest Book of the Revolver, is being sold in the U.K. by Amazon. As of this morning the folks across the pond only had two copies left, which sounds as though it's a big seller over there. Then again, they may have only ordered three copies total - this realization serving to keep my ego in check!
The plane went down in the bog in 1941 and lay undisturbed for precisely 70 years. The wreck was in superb condition, thanks to the clay under the soft peat. The clay was anaerobic - being absent of oxygen - and shielded the aluminum, brass, steel, leather, rubber, and even paper from disintegration.
When items were brought out of the deep pit they were dirty, but un-corroded. A simple swipe of a gloved hand cleaned the .303 British cartridges sufficiently to read the sharp, clear headstamps.
The plane made contact with the earth at over 300mph, and there was damage to many (if not most) of the parts - including the machine guns. Thanks to the otherwise fine condition of the wreck the crew was able to gather enough serviceable parts from the eight guns on board reassemble a working example. The article has video of the gun being fired on the test range.
What is astonshing is that the organic stuff - the rubber tires, leather flight helmet, and even instruction books and papers - were equally well preserved. The history buff in me finds that even more exciting than the guns!
Neat article from the BBC, but I couldn't help noticing some jolting cultural differences between "us' and "them". In the article it mentions that the historic guns were "made safe" (i.e., permanently rendered incapable from ever being firing) before being put on display. Second, read through the comments - you'll see more than one that bemoans the article's focus on "deadly weapons." That is testimony to life in the Land Where Great Britain Used To Be.
Me? I watched the video and thought “it would cost me a lot of time and money to reload all those casings..."!
A personal item: I hate this whole getting older thing. This last week I stacked our winter's firewood supply in the woodshed - all five cords - and managed to do some soft tissue damage to my right elbow. The last time I remember doing this was about five years ago, when I was doing a lot of hammering during a kitchen remodel. My wife, however, tells me I did the same thing last year when I stacked wood for the winter. That's another part of getting older I can't stand: the memory lapses!
Anyhow, my elbow is quite painful and I'm none too happy about it.
Last month a Colt Paterson revolver sold at auction, setting a new record for the price of a single American firearm: $977,500. Yes, you read that right - within spitting distance of a cool million. Somehow the S&W I'm carrying at the moment seems tawdry in comparison.
For those who have asked, the Kindle version of my book is available NOW!
Just as I was going to press with today's blog post, The Firearm Blog put up news of a new rifle: Advanced Armament Corporation's "Honey Badger", a subsonic .30 caliber rifle built on the AR platform. Tacticool rifles are getting common enough to bore me to tears, but I'm glad they named it what they did because it gives me the opportunity to link to one of my favorite YouTube vids: the (famous) "Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger"!
A couple of weeks ago I posted about one of our country's greatest research facilities, Bell Labs. Yesterday came the sad news that one of the Lab's shining lights has died.
Dennis Ritchie started working for Bell Labs in 1967 after graduating from Harvard with degrees in both physics and applied mathematics. This wasn't a tremendous surprise: his father Alistair was a scientist at Bell Labs and a seminal figure in switching circuit theory. The family business, and all that.
Dennis migrated to the relatively new field of computer science, where he made a name for himself by creating the 'C' programming language, co-authoring the definitive book on 'C', and - most dear to my heart - co-developing the UNIX operating system.
That dry list of accomplishments may not mean much to you, but a large part of what your computer does has roots in Ritchie's work. If you have a Macintosh computer, an iPhone or iPad, you owe him a special nod of appreciation: UNIX is the underpinning of the OS X operating system, which (in one form or another) is what runs all of those devices.
The development of modern software and the existence of the web as we know it wouldn't have happened the way they did without his work.
The Firearm Blog (one of the few blogs I read religiously) brings us good news: Alexander Arms (AA) has decided to stop gouging people who want to make 6.5 Grendel rifles! Apparently Hornady submitted the cartridge to SAAMI to be standardized, but AA refused to relinquish their trademark. That recently changed, and now the 6.5 Grendel is available to anyone who wants to use it.
This is great news; I'd once considered building an AR-15 in 6.5 Grendel but was put off by the insanely high price tag that AA had attached to all things bearing the name. Les Baer, miffed at that very situation, essentially duplicated the round and named it the .264 LBC-AR (try saying that three times, fast!) It didn't catch on.
Now that the 6.5 Grendel can be made by anyone, without paying royalties, I hope to see many rifles so chambered. The round would make the AR platform more usable for a wider range of shooting activities, and the availability of factory ammunition should speed its acceptance. With proper bullets it would make a nice deer round with good accuracy and downrange energy. Though nothing is ever perfect, the 6.5 Grendel is as well-balanced a round as exists in the AR platform.
Take a look at this old LIFE photo essay about a gun safety class in an elementary school back in 1956. I wish to call your attention to frame numbers 5, 6, and 7 - can you identify that rifle? (I can, because it was the rifle I used as a kid. I still have a very soft spot in my heart for it.) Make your guesses in the comments!
It's a tricky task to attach a sling to a rifle where any alteration could adversely affect the value. For instance, what if you have a very old but heretofore unaltered Winchester lever action which you want to take hunting? How do you attach a sling to the butt stock without drilling a hole? I'd never thought about it, but the answer appears to be a butt stock cover such as those produced by these guys. (I could personally do without a lot of the embellishment, but the workmanship appears to be first rate.)
In response to my recent paean to the lever action rifle, Ed Harris sent some of his thoughts. As always, interesting reading from one of the most knowledgable guys in the shooting world:
If I had to “bug out,” riding my mountain bike around EMP-killed vehicles, getting out of Doge carrying only what I could in my ruck and pockets to get beyond the moderate damage radius before the fallout starting coming down, a lever-gun and revolver combo isn’t the world’s worst choice.
I have no plans to stand and fight off the whole world. If you attempt that by yourself, in the words of the late clandestine operator, Harry Archer, who ventured in dangerous climes on behalf of our country and lived to retire and die peacefully in front of his TV, “you’ll never live to shoot-‘em all.”
I just want to protect myself and my gear, put time, distance and shielding between me and any threat, escape, evade, “shoot and SCOOT” if needed, put meat in the pot and get the job done.
A compact, sturdy, fixed sight, double-action .357 revolver such as the Ruger SP101 is an affordable compromise. It is simple for anyone in the family to use. It is accurate enough within 25 yards, “hell for strong,” rugged, highly portable and has impressive ballistics for personal defense. It can use either .357 Magnums or lower powered .38 Special ammo.
Round out the package with a Marlin 1894C carbine in .357 Magnum. It offers adequate combat accuracy for “short range” (less than 200 yards in the infantry sense) and ten rounds magazine capacity. The magazine tube can be topped off without taking the gun out of action. Rapidity of fire is good. It is a natural pointer. The carbine is light in the hand, quick to the shoulder and fast to the first shot and follow-ups come easily. Teamed with a sturdy, concealable revolver, the combo is hard to beat.
The sad truth is that back East it is difficult to find someplace to practice with a military caliber assault rifle. Sure you can get a .22 LR upper for your AR, but it just isn't the same. Most indoor ranges will let you fire any rifle chambered for handgun ammo, so my most-used center-fire rifle these days is my Marlin 1894C carbine in .357 Magnum.
A .357 lever action is manageable by females and youngsters. It has low recoil and is fairly quiet when used with standard velocity lead .38 Special ammo. It is a fun camp gun which works great for small game, feral dogs and groundhogs. When firing .38 Special standard velocity (non +P) lead bullet ammo from a rifle, velocity remains subsonic, producing a mild report little louder than a .22, which has advantages for discreet garden varminting.
Its potential for home defense with .357 ammunition, is nothing to sneeze at. A .357 levergun with proper ammunition is fully adequate for deer within 100 yards and with peep sights is more accurate on silhouette targets out to 200 yards than your average AK. But leverguns are familiar and nonthreatening in appearance, so they "don't scare the natives" as a "black rifle" often does.
The Marlin lever-gun requires better sights, but you can install these yourself. The most rugged iron sights are the XS ghost ring peep. If cost-conscious stop right there and you will have a good outfit. If you have trouble seeing iron sights well, or want to improve your longer range and low light performance, add a XS Lever-Scout rail. This accepts a variety of quick detachable optics, such as a hunting scope or military reflex sight, leaving the peep sights available for backup.
New leverguns cost less than "black rifles." Use the money you save to buy a Dillon RL550B to load your ammo! Used .357 lever-guns sell for about 60% in stores of what a similar rifle would cost new. In most places the Marlin 1894C .357 Microgroove rifles sell for about $100 or more less than a similar used "Cowboy" model with Ballard rifling, because people think that "Microgrooves won't shoot lead."
In my experience of over 25 years, the 1894C with Microgroove rifling shoots lead bullets just fine, as long as you stick to standard pressure or ordinary +P .38 Specials at subsonic velocities.
Microgroove barrels handle jacketed bullet .357 Magnum loads best. The 158-gr. soft-point is what you want to use for deer from the rifle. The 125-grain JHPs are best for personal defense from the revolver, or for varmint use in the rifle. Jacketed bullet .357 magnum rounds are expensive. You will actually need and use very few of them, so just buy a several boxes of factory loads for contingencies.
Standard velocity .38 Special, 158-grain lead semi-wadcutters are the basic utility load for both rifle and revolver. This is what you want to set up your RL550B to assemble in quantity. Bulk Remington .358 diameter 158-grain semi-wadcutters assembled in .38 Special brass with 3.5 grains of Bullseye approximate the velocity, accuracy and energy of factory standard velocity loads. Velocity is about 750 f.p.s. from a 3 inch revolver, and 950 f.p.s. from an 18 inch carbine. Ordinary lead plinking loads shoot into 4 inches at 100 yards from the Marlin. Jacketed soft-point .357 magnums shave an inch off of that. If you buy powder and primers in bulk, component cost to reload free gleaned brass that you have saved with a plinking load is about 10 cents per pop. If you cast your own bullets from free scrounged scrap lead you will save a nickel. Jacketed bullets cost 15 cents eachInstead buy a good quality 4-cavity bullet mold such as Saeco #358. Buy only a few boxes of full up magnum factory loads for serious hunting and conserve them.
My “Cowboy assault rifle” has a Trijicon Reflex II sight Model RX09 with A.R.M.S. #15 Throw Lever Mount fitted into an XS Systems Lever Scout rail. XS mounts are dimensioned to accept Weaver bases. Fitting the military M1915 rail base requires that you to determine which cross-slot you will locate your optic onto. You want the optical sight at the balance point of the rifle.
After you have located the proper cross slot to position your sight, adjust the slot width and depth with a square Swiss needle file to enable the mounting clamp crossbar to press-fit snugly into it. Retract the thumb clamps and slide the A.R.M.S. mount over the front of the rail. The rear mount clamp tightens against the angled sides of the rail only. You want no “slop” after you have fitted the crossbar slot depth and corners.
After fitting, the A.R.M.S. #15 thumb-lever mount offers quick-disconnect with perfect return to zero. I can use the tritium illuminated, no batteries required ever, combat optic or backup ghost ring peeps at will. I zero 158-grain .357 magnum loads to coincide with the pointed top of the Tritium-illuminated chevron at 100 yards. Standard velocity .38s hit "on" at 50 yards. Holding the legs of the chevron tangent to the top of a 12-inch gong at 200 yards I can hit with magnums every time. Placing the chevron across the shoulders of an Army E silhouette I make repeat hits out to at 300 if I do my part.
Maybe I shouldn't have watched, "The Road" again...
When I was growing up, one of the foremost research labs in the country (and the world) was Bell Labs in New Jersey. They had all the cool toys to play with, and a large amount of both pure science and technological research was being done there. The Bell Laboratories logo was a familiar one to science geeks like me.
When the Bell System was broken up by the government in 1984, Bell Laboratories became AT&T Bell Laboratories. That didn't have any effect on the quantity (or quality) of work coming out of the Labs, and even the mid-90s spinoff of the Labs into Lucent Technologies - with AT&T retaining some of the best staff for themselves - didn't stop their progress.
A complete list of all of the innovations that came from the Labs would fill a book, but just the stuff most of us know is impressive: the C programming language, cel phones, UNIX, modern solar cells, radio astronomy, wireless LANs, and more came from the fertile minds at the Labs.
Sadly, an eighty-three year legacy of top flight research ended in 2008 when the new owners - the French communications conglomerate Alcatel - decided that things like basic science and material physics were not remunerative enough and dismantled most of what remained of Bell's history. Today what's left focuses only on things that can be commercially exploited in a rapid manner. What was once a shining example of American leadership in the hard sciences was reduced to a 'profit center' of an offshore corporation.
It was a phenomenal run though. Luckily the AT&T archives contain a number of videos that the Labs produced over the years to help educate the next crop of American scientists and engineers. I remember seeing some of these when I was in school, and they always fascinated me.
You can peruse them yourself, but I'll start with one of my favorites: "A Sense of Hearing", which begins with a ultra-cool demonstration in what was once the world's quietest room - using a revolver, of course!
Today marks the final scheduled launch of our Space Shuttle. While one can argue about the merits of the program, it was a great example of what our country could do if we simply decided to do it. Back in '79 I could not have conceived that space launches would be so common that people would scarcely pay attention to them, yet that's exactly what happened.
As it turned out most of the Shuttle's jobs could be just as easily (and usually less expensively) be done using expendable rockets. Still, despite my avowed position as a critic of government involvement in most areas of life I'm glad that my tax dollars went to fund the Shuttle.
Sometimes, folks, you've got to do something outlandish just to prove you're alive. NASA has given us a collective way to be outlandish, the national equivalent of your local municipality's fireworks display.
Down in Florida's Everglades, well hidden from casual view, is the remnant of an idea: to build solid fuel rocket motors for the Apollo space missions.
In 1963 the decision between solid or liquid fueled boosters for what would be the Saturn V rocket had not yet been made, and there was stiff competition between supporters of the two ideas. General Tire Company, which had a subsidiary named Aerojet General, was solidly (pardon the pun) on the side of solid fuel.
They put their money where their mouths were, investing millions to build a rocket assembly and test facility in what was the middle of nowhere. They built facilities to make the fuel and assemble the rockets, a 150-foot-deep silo to test fire the motors, and even a canal to transport the finished rockets through their swampy surroundings to the Atlantic ocean.
The Aerojet-Dade facility, as it was known, built and tested only three motors -- but they were the largest and most powerful solid fuel rocket motors ever made. Liquid fuel was eventually chosen for the Saturn V, and in 1969 the facility was abandoned. Aerojet walked away, leaving everything behind -- including the third rocket still sitting in the test silo!
Here are some rarely seen images made in Hiroshima shortly after the dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945. The pictures were originally classified, but went missing some four decades ago and were presumed lost. The story is that they finally turned up in a suitcase in a pile of trash, at which time the International Center of Photography was able to acquire them for display.
Back in the 1980s digital imaging was still a laboratory experiment. Pictures were made on film, and if you wanted to do anything to the image after it was recorded you had to master (or know someone who had mastered) such arcane things as register masking, transparency stripping, and optical printing.
Toward the end of the decade very powerful (and expensive) graphics workstations came available that were able to manipulate digitized images. Note 'digitized', not 'digital'; the pictures were still made on film, and the negatives or transparencies were digitized on a drum scanner to be read by a computer.
The big boys on the block were Scitex, an Israeli company that made a name for themselves in the emerging field of digital pre-press equipment. Their digital imaging workstation was combined with a Hell drum scanner and a film recorder to provide a way to retouch and alter photographs. The negative or transparency would be scanned, manipulated by the computer, then sent to the film recorder -- which made a new negative or transparency which was processed and printed conventionally. The results were almost comically primitive by today's standards, but back then it was a viable alternative to having a very expensive stripped dye transfer made.
Scitex wasn't the only player in the market, but they were the best known. Eastman Kodak, in yet another of their half-hearted attempts to break into digital imaging, introduced their 'Premier' digital editing system in 1990. Like the Scitex it combined a workstation, Hell scanner, and film recorder. I never used a Scitex, but I did get some experience on the only Premier system installed in Oregon. At the time it was magical, but today we can do all of the things the Scitex and Premier systems did on an iPad -- only faster and easier!
Just a couple years later the Premier system I used was scrapped, already a victim of the emerging PC and Mac digital image applications. Cost was a factor in their failure; I seem to recall that the installation I used was well north of $200,000. About that time Scitex gave up dedicated workstations and develop a more cost-efficient system based around a Mac II microcomputer and Sharp scanner. That didn't last long, either; it was quickly surpassed by the emerging (and now ubiquitous) Photoshop.
Here's a great video from 1988 showing the then-amazing things a Scitex could do.
Not being triskaidekaphobic, I normally don't pay much attention to Fridays that happen to fall on the thirteenth of the month. This particular Friday, however, is a little different: it was Friday, May 13th in 1988 that the jazz world lost one of its more talented members in a very odd manner.
Chet Baker was a trumpet player of uncommon talent. His phrasing, often chided as being 'feminine', stood in stark contrast to the edgier playing of many of his contemporaries. His solos were deceptively simple to the uninitiated, but showed a sophistication that is intriguing even today. Miles Davis got all the attention, but it was Chet Baker who was more interesting to listen to.
Chet also sang, and in later years tended to do that more than play his horn. His singing was what attracted the crowds, but wasn't nearly as inspiring as what he could do with his horn.
He struggled with heroin addiction for most of his adult life, which drained him physically and landed him in jail on numerous occasions. He managed to get himself thrown out of a couple of countries, and at one point was reported to have lived on the street. Like Charlie Parker, he was known for pawning his horns to buy the drugs he craved. Despite all that, he managed several comebacks -- the most notable being in the late 1970s.
He fell to his death on this day in 1988 from a second-story hotel room in Amsterdam. The death was apparently accidental, and it was determined that he was high on both heroin and cocaine at the time.
Here are two clips -- one early, one late -- showing Chet at his best. Happy Friday the Thirteenth!
How would you fill the blank in this sentence: "Accurate as a _____________ watch" ? If you're like most people, the word would be Swiss. To most people Swiss watches are the epitome of timekeeping, and have been since, well, forever.
But that's not entirely true. Today, perhaps, but for nearly a century the country that produced the most accurate portable timekeepers was the United States, and we have the locomotive to thank for it.
Back in the days of steam, in any given locale there would be but one set of track to carry all rail traffic. The rail line that went through town and country would carry freight in both directions, with the direction of travel being determined by schedule. There were no electric signals or radio in those days, so the only way to avoid a crash was to know who was supposed to be using a stretch of track at any given time. Thus, the rigid scheduling.
As tracks got more crowded with more trains, these schedules became tighter and tighter -- down to merely minutes in a lot of cases. The crews of the trains had to know where they were in relation to the schedule, because if they were off by a couple of minutes instead of clear track they'd run headlong into another train.
By the mid-1800s Increasing traffic meant ever tighter schedules, and with little room for error accidents increased. A head-on crash was very costly for the railroads, because not only did it destroy rolling stock and highly trained crews, it could close a valuable line for days or even weeks. Some method to increase safety had to be found.
The railroads figured out that what they needed was a better way to maintain schedules, and the only way they could do that was to give their crews better ways of keeping time. With watches being accurate to perhaps a couple of minutes per day, even a few days of accumulated error could result in death and destruction. The key, they decided, was to get better watches and make sure that they were always of a set accuracy.
The railroads generally agreed in principle, and though there were some differences early on between rival timekeeping administrators eventually everyone came around to pretty much the same standard. Thus the "railroad standard" was born.
The technical challenge was staggering. The goal was to get a watch into service that would maintain accuracy of 30 seconds per week. The best watches available at the time would generally do perhaps +/- 30 seconds per day; there weren't a lot of precision clocks that achieve the goal, let alone a portable timekeeper. American watch companies took up the challenge.
The first railroad approved watches were production models that were 'tweaked' by timekeeping companies that had sprung up to service this new requirement. Men like Webb Ball and B.W. Raymond opened firms that would manage the timekeeping for a railroad - a sort of 19th century outsourcing. They'd buy movements from various watch companies, do some work to make them more accurate and install approved dials, and then sell them to the crews who needed them. Over time the factories started producing their own railroad grade watches which met the stringent standards out of the box.
To put this into perspective, what the railroad demanded and got were watches that kept better time than some observatory clocks, were portable, could endure temperature extremes, would keep their accuracy no matter how they were carried in a pocket, and -- here's the real kicker -- were affordable enough that the working man could afford them. These were not issued, they were simply required. If you were an engineer, brakeman or conductor you were to furnish your own watch, and it had to meet 'standard'.
American watch companies were able to mass produce a product that just a few years earlier was literally a laboratory tool. There was no precedent, but they did it anyway.
That would be enough of a feat, but these watches had to be continually certified and checked by approved watchmakers. With railroads traveling all over the country that meant that this service had to be widely available, fast (a railroad man couldn't be without his watch), and (again) affordable. Watchmakers all over the country scrambled to become 'railroad approved' so that they could handle this regular and guaranteed business. (Not every watchmaker was, and it was a point of pride to those who had made the cut.)
In the space of a few years accidents had been dramatically reduced as a result of this massive system of technology and service. American pocket watches literally set the standard for portable timekeeping worldwide; though there were a few Swiss pocket watches which passed the exacting American requirements in the mid-1950s, most wouldn't. They simply weren't good enough. (Canadian railroad standards were slightly less stringent, and so Swiss pocket watches were able to make inroads into that market a bit earlier.)
Even though the Swiss were able to make a handful pocket watches which were approved for service, their vaunted wristwatches weren't able to meet standards. It wasn't until 1962, with the introduction of the Bulova Accutron, that a wristwatch was approved for railroad use.
It's really a remarkable story, even today. The railroads established unheard-of standards, spurred the development of the technology to meet those standards, and enabled the infrastructure to support and maintain compliance with those standards. It was a phenomenal technical achievement that today is barely a footnote in history.
The entire American watchmaking industry collapsed in the 1960s, and today essentially no longer exists. For that brief period of time, however, it was the best on earth.
Brian Lanker, Pulitzer-prize-winning photographer, died last week at only 63 years of age. He lived here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, in the college town of Eugene.
Brian started out at the Topeka Capital-Journal, where in 1973 he shot a surprisingly controversial essay on childbirth. At that time there were almost no published pictures of a child actually being born, which might seem odd today. This was 1973, however, when a father's presence in the actual delivery room was still a rare occurrence. It was a time when mothers went in by themselves, and a nurse or doctor would walk into the waiting room to announce "Mr. Smith, you're the father of a beautiful little girl!"
That essay - featuring the woman who would end up becoming Brian's wife - netted him a Pulitzer Prize and catapulted him into the 'big leagues.'
After earning his Pulitzer Brian was hired at the Eugene Register-Guard as their Director of Graphics. His tenure changed the face of photojournalism across the country, affecting the ways in which much larger newspapers approached the use of visual information. What your paper looks like today can be traced directly back to the work that Lanker did in what many would think to be a ‘backwater’ of journalistic ability. He also mentored younger photographers, and there are a number of good photojournalists working today who got their start in his department.
Of course his tenure at the paper didn't stop his photography. He continued to do assignments for magazines, corporate advertising, and along the way published several books of his work. Brian was versatile enough to jump from shooting the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition (two years in a row) to doing “I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America” with equally superb results. Very few photojournalists have that kind of ability (though they all think they do!), but Lanker did. He did it all, and did it well.
On more than one occasion here at the Revolver LIberation Alliance I've griped that all of the 'cool stuff' seemed to exist back east. ("Back east", for a child of the west such as myself, might mean anything from ‘east of the Mississippi River’ to ‘all lands to the right of the Rocky Mountains’. Take your pick.)
I've lamented about the old subway tunnels we don't have, to the gigantic industrial machines that are absent from our part of the world. It turns out, though, that there is a very cool place darned near in my backyard: the last operational vintage steam powered sawmill in the United States lies right here in my own Willamette Valley!
Hull-Oaks Sawmill was built in 1938, a time in which steam was still a most viable way to power any large machinery. The main steam engine which powers the gigantic bandsaw blade, is an Ames Iron Works twin cylinder that was built in 1906. It's still running strong, and according to the mill's owner suffers fewer breakdowns than any other piece of equipment in the mill. So famous is this particular engine amongst steam aficionados that there are companies selling working models and kits.
A couple of years ago one of those self-storage concerns in Chicago auctioned off the contents of one of their units. This is not an uncommon occurrence throughout the country; when a storage unit's rent goes unpaid, the storage company opens the unit and auctions off whatever they find. (I went to one such auction, and when the unit was opened it was discovered that the renter had disassembled an entire automatic car wash and stuffed it into the space!)
In this particular case the unit had been rented by one Vivian Maier, who - as it turned out - had died in April of 2009. Ms. Maier had no heirs, no one who apparently knew of this rental, and so her belongings went to the highest bidders.
As it turned out Ms. Maier was something of a photography buff. In this unit were hundreds of thousands of negatives and slides, and hundreds of rolls of exposed but undeveloped film. Several people bought several lots of this stuff, and there the story might have ended were it not for the fact that Ms. Maier was, by all appearances, a talented photographer - a very talented photographer.
The bulk of her collection ended up in the hands of two different gentlemen: John Maloof, described as an "eBay entrepreneur and real estate agent", and Jeff Goldstein, who apparently has a background in art galleries and shows. Maloof and Goldstein have become crusaders of sorts for their desire to expose Vivian Maier's talent to the world.
And what work it is! Her photos are very compelling and show a photographer who is in full control of her craft. Technically and artistically, her work is as good - better, in many ways - as photographers who have made much bigger names for themselves. Her pictures are worth examining closely, because they really are a find.
There is, however, one nagging question in the back of my mind: was she for real? There's something I can't quite put my finger on, something that leaves me with doubts about the poignant picture that has emerged of Maier - unmarried, no children of her own, living out her life as a nanny while maintaining a secret identity as an ace street photographer. The thing that comes to my mind as I look through her photos is that they’re too good.
It’s not just the images. Her whole story just seems too good to be true, so like a movie plot that it could almost be a very slick viral marketing campaign for an upcoming Hollywood blockbuster. That she looks a lot like actress Nancy Kulp, best known for her portrayal of Miss Jane Hathaway on The Beverly Hillbillies, only intensifies the doubt.
Goldstein and Maloof, of course, insist that everything is on the up-and-up, but it's worth noting that they both stand to profit from their ownership of her work. I'm not saying that's their motivation (at least, not their sole motivation), but the possibility must be considered.
In the meantime, there are the photographs: undeniably good, wonderful to peruse. Whether Vivian Maier took them or not, they're still terrific. Go and have a look.
One of my favorite places to buy quality tools is the Harry Epstein company. They've been in business at the same location in Missouri for over 80 years, and though I've never been there (in fact, I've never been to Missouri) I enjoy shopping through their retro-themed website.
This isn't their first foray into mailorder, however. Back in the days before the internet, when Al Gore was still getting his privileged education at a private boy's school in D.C., Epstein's had a catalog from which one could order all manner of things: baseballs, wrenches, hatchets, rifle scopes, cleaning supplies, and all the other stuff a well-stocked homestead might need.
They recently scanned their 1965 catalog and put it up for viewing. (If you prefer, you can download a .pdf copy.) If you remember the 1960s, sit back and reminisce. If you were born after that time, read it with the understanding that the federal minimum wage that year was a whopping $1.25, making the surplus Enfield on the back cover worth very close to two full days of labor.
Last week I linked to an article about an eery graveyard behind a sanitarium, and fellow gunsmith Todd Koonce wrote to remind me of the Library of Dust here in Oregon. It’s something we all know about, but sadly tend to ignore.
The Oregon State Hospital, the current 'PC' name for what was once the Oregon Asylum For The Insane, once boasted a cemetery of their own where unclaimed patient remains were buried. Around 1913 the hospital, occupying property close to downtown Salem, decided that they needed the real estate being taken up by those graves. They had the bodies exhumed, cremated, and stored in copper urns bearing a distinct resemblance to paint cans.
These urns were put on shelves in the hospital's basement, added to over the years, but largely forgotten until the mid-1970s. That's when public outcry resulted in the urns being properly buried in a special crypt on hospital grounds. This is Oregon, though, where it's tough to find a dry basement; water infiltrated the crypt, destroying hundreds of paper labels and corroding many of the cans. The patient's remains - some 5,000 of them - were exhumed again, and the corroded and sometimes dented copper cylinders were put back on shelves in a small room in the hospital.
If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll remember that I've been following the demise of Kodachrome film with some interest. In June of '09 came the news that Kodak had stopped producing the stuff, and in August we learned that the last roll produced by Kodak had been processed at the sole remaining Kodachrome processor. We also learned that they would be closing that service at the end of the year.
Yesterday, December 30th 2010, the last roll of Kodachrome was processed and the machines were turned off for good. The complex chemicals necessary to take a roll of Kodachrome from exposed film to vibrant transparency are no longer made, and it's not possible to do the process in one's basement. Kodachrome is dead.
Non-photographers, or those who have come up solely in the digital age, may not understand the wistfulness of this subject. That's partly because Kodachrome's attributes can't yet be duplicated in digital. My 24mp SLR can beat the resolution, but it can't match the color depth, unique tonal rendition, or the enlargability of the image (a transparency gets grainy as it's enlarged, while a digital image loses resolution.) Many people have tried to duplicate the Kodachrome look in Photoshop, but no one has succeeded. Someday maybe, but for now that look is gone.
Lest you think I'm pining for the old days, think again. I never shot a lot of Kodachrome, because it didn't match the way that I saw my subjects. I was always looking for subtle tonal transitions, accurate color reproduction, and wide luminance ranges - all the things that Kodachrome couldn't deliver. (Digital has trouble doing so too, but that’s another topic entirely.) That doesn't mean I didn't shoot the occasional roll (or ten or twenty) when I wanted that look, but it wasn't often I did.
What bothers me about the death of Kodachrome isn't how it looked, but its accessibility over time. One can go to the Library of Congress and peer at many Kodachrome transparencies made nearly seventy years ago, and they're as vibrant today as they were then:
Digital images, being composed of ones and zeros, won't degrade over time, but the media on which they're stored will. More importantly, our ability to read that media may deteriorate faster than anything. Computerworld ran this great 2009 story of the difficulty of reading lunar images stored on tape a scant 40 years ago. What happens in the latter part of our century, when the hard drives and DVDs that are common today can't be read - because the technology has changed?
With a Kodachrome, all you have to do is look at it. That's what makes it special, and why its disappearance - as well as that of all the other analog imaging media - is so concerning to future history.
That line may not be familiar to you, but if you replace "Army Air Corps" with "U.S. Air Force" and start with "Off we go, into the wild blue yonder..." you'll probably recognize the tune.
Yes, the Air Force Song was originally written not for the Air Force but for the Army Air Corps, as what would become the fifth armed service was then called. (FIfth? Yes - or have you forgotten the men and women of the United States Coast Guard?)
I was reminded of this when reader Art Kramer passed along the link to his website with reminisces of the 344th Bomb Group during World War II. It’s filled with great pictures and short but moving stories about his time in the service of his country. The site is well worth your time to visit.
When I talked about tools a couple of weeks ago, a regular reader emailed and said that his father had owned a service station in the 1960s too. He asked what brand, and I told him Texaco. He then forwarded a link to this shot of an abandoned Texaco station somewhere in North Dakota.
The picture is hosted at a site called shorpy.com, and that link encouraged me to spend the next hour looking at the historic photos that are Shorpy's raison d'être. Shorpy is sort of a cross between a photo album and a blog, and with thousands of photos in their archive I’m going to need a lot more spare time! All pics have a small preview like this one, and clicking on any of them brings up a high-res version. Neat!
Very cool site that has become one of the few on my "daily read" bookmark.
During World War II, my Dad was a flight engineer/2nd co-pilot on a B-29. He'd flown B-17s and B-24s, but loved the B-29 - and why not? It was a technological marvel, full of almost magical gadgets, and my Dad was - to the day he died - a serious gadget freak. There was more than enough interesting technology on a SuperFortress to keep a hyperactive 19-year-old mesmerized for his entire tour of duty.
Dad never stopped talking about Boeing's best, and in the mid-'90s the Commemorative Air Force (then referred to by the more whimsical "Confederate Air Force") brought their crown jewel to a local airport: Fifi, the only flying B-29 in existence.
My father heard about it, and called me with uncommon enthusiasm to tell me the news. Of course I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see one, so I took Dad to the airport. They were giving tours of Fifi, and we joined the small crowd for a chance the crawl through the old bomber.
We were all crammed into the cockpit while the pilot was explaining the layout. Dad sat down at the engineer's station, his old post, and while the pilot/tour guide droned on Dad sort of looked around, shrugged his shoulders and started flipping switches. "One. Two. Three - that's the wrong kind of switch, it's a replacement. Four - they moved Five - there it is - Five."
By this time the pilot had stopped, his eyes got really wide, and he said "what are you doing?" Dad looked at him and said "prepping for flight, sir. Six. Seven." The pilot got a big grin on his face and he and Dad shook hands and exchanged the appropriate pleasantries. The pilot hadn't even been born when the B29s were decommissioned, so it was a treat for him to run across someone who remembered flying one. I was impressed that even after all those years, Dad remembered his job to the letter.
(He also made me crawl through the crew tunnel that goes over the bomb bays, just to get a feel of what it was like. He said "now imagine it in the dark, with a sadistic pilot rocking the plane just to make your life miserable.")
What brings this up? I stumbled across the news that Fifi recently got four new engines:
Last month she took to the air again, her first flight since 2006:
I haven't done a Wednesday Wanderings post for a while, but since I took the holiday off what would have been posted Monday got shuffled to today.
So, what's going on in the world? Well, Tam continues her slide to a greener lifestyle. She's almost to the point where she could move to Portland and lobby for more bike paths to further clog traffic. (I'll bet she's developed a taste for tofu, too.)
The Firearm Blog recently posted a great old television commercial for the Mattel "Tommy Burst" gun. Someone I knew as a kid had one of these, though for the life of me I can't remember who it was nor do I remember the commercial. I do, however, remember the sound the bolt made as it was pulled back. Fun toy that would cause apoplexy of sold today. (Readers of a certain vintage will recognize the voice of the narrator and the face of the bad guy as both belonging to Hal Smith, the great character actor and voice artist.)
Gabe Suarez recently posted an interesting article of the value of simplicity in training. I don't necessarily agree with everything he says, but his point about not having unlimited time to train is spot-on. That point alone deserves an entire article.
As if the Judge phenomenon couldn't get any sillier, I give you the Tactical Judge. Make of it what you will.
Rob Pincus recently returned from a teaching stint in South Africa, where he made this video of a Glock suppressor that he (and I) didn't even know existed. Square (of course), made of plastic (what else?), and disposable (!!), it fits on a special barrel that Glock also sells.
Cool stuff, but why in 'repressed' South Africa are these things freely available, but here in the 'free' United States are they demonized and heavily regulated?
In 1935, a fellow by the name of Roy Stryker went to work for the federal government. Specifically, he took over the job of managing the Historical Section of Roosevelt's Resettlement Administration. Almost immediately the organization morphed into the Farm Security Administration, and his section became the Information Division.
Without putting too fine a point on it, Stryker's job was propaganda - to give the Administration what they needed to justify spending money that they didn't have. To further this aim, he came up with an idea: he'd send out a bunch of photographers to make pictures that would both tug at America’s heartstrings and provide support for Roosevelt's policies. He gathered a bunch of talented people from varied backgrounds - writers, painters, and budding photographers - and sent them over the country to make pictures.
While we can certainly debate the means of the program, the ends were spectacular. Stryker's team shot over 164,000 pictures, producing hundreds of iconic images and launching the careers of many talented photographers. So good was the group that they would later be transferred to the Office of War Information to document the country’s entry into World War II, though their tenure would last only a year.
Of those hundreds of thousands of images they shot, only 644 were in color. Color film was quite expensive, even for the government's pockets, but more importantly couldn't be reproduced in the newspapers of the day. Its use was therefore quite limited, and the photos somewhat rare.
(What happened to Stryker? In 1943 he went to work for Standard Oil, who foresaw the need to polish their own public image. Several of the FSA photographers, now unemployed after the OWI cut them loose, went to work to make Standard look good. They succeeded, and the Standard Oil photographs of that period still stand as supreme examples of industrial photography. It’s too bad that Stryker died in 1975 - I’m sure BP could use his services right about now.)
In the Friday Surprise for the 6th, there were two bonus questions. A couple of people came close, but didn't get all the details. The Leopolds referred to in the title were Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowsky, friends who happened to be professional musicians and amateur photo chemists. Their work in color film led directly to the invention of Kodachrome. The connection with Rhapsody in Blue? The song's composer, George Gershwin, had a sister named Frances - who was married to Godowsky.
It seems odd to me, but I get lots of inquiries about where to buy targets. My favorite source is Law Enforcement Targets, which carries a huge line of paper and cardboard products. For defensive and "tactical" training, their stuff is the best. My other source, which carries more traditional targets (NRA, IPSC, and IDPA) is Alco Target Company. I've done business with both for years, and have never had a reason to complain.
I've mentioned this before, but do check out the forums over at the Personal Defense Network. There are some great discussions there, and the only thing missing is YOU!
The roll was shot by photojournalist Steve McCurry, and the images on it range from New York to India to Parsons, Kansas - where the last Kodachrome processing line is located. It, too, will be going the way of the dinosaur this December, when the equipment will be shut down for good.
Bonus points: can you decipher the meaning of my title? Extra bonus points if you can do so without a search engine; super extra bonus points if you can tell me how 'Rhapsody in Blue' is related to Kodachrome.
In 1791, the French Assembly decided that the purpose of capital punishment was to end a miscreant's life, not to cause him unbearable pain. A committee was formed for the purpose of devising a pain-free method of execution that was suitable for both upper and lower class undesirables. How egalitarian of them!
One of the committee members was a Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin. While he was opposed to the death penalty, he believed that making it more humane would lead to its abolition. (The logic behind this escapes me, but apparently doctors often have this failing: one Dr. Richard J. Gatling, inventor of the gun that bears his name, believed that the creation of a terrible weapon would inspire people to no longer entertain the idea of war. Didn't work for him, either.)
The French committee eventually came up with a beheading machine, and because of the good doctor's promotion of the new "humane" method his name was associated forever with the contraption.
But just how humane is the guillotine? This article at Damn Interesting raises all kinds of questions about just what happens at the instant one's head is separated from its support mechanisms. Personally, I hope to never find out!
Ronald Reagan was halfway through his first term as President when I took my first trip east of the Rockies. It was also my first trip via airliner, and though I'd flown quite a bit in small aircraft the view from 30,000+ feet was new to me. I was heading to Rochester, NY. Traveling from Portland to Rochester on Delta Airlines entailed a stop in Detroit, which also meant a trip over Lake Michigan.
If you've followed the story so far you'll deduce that I'd never seen any of the Great Lakes. Oh, I knew all about them; I'd studied geography in school. I knew that they were actually inland seas, that they had their own weather, that they were the largest group of freshwater bodies on earth. What I didn't know, or more correctly didn't fathom, was just how big they were.
As the plane crossed Lake Michigan I was struck by the fact that all I could see was water. I finally grasped the reality of the Great Lakes, and the stories I'd read about shipwrecks and lost souls suddenly became understandable. In that vast expanse of water, some of it nearly a thousand feet thick, it would be very easy to lose a vessel in one of the lake's infamous storms.
In 1898, that's what happened to the steamship L.R. Doty. She was carrying a load of corn destined for Ontario when a powerful storm armed with thirty-foot waves sent her to the lake floor. The 320 feet of cold, salt-free water that sat on top of her preserved her remains in almost perfect condition.
Those remains were just recently found, 112 years after her final trip. Great story from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; be sure to check out the photo gallery of the wreck.
When I was a kid I dreamed of converting the fuel oil tank in our garage into a submarine. It was a 350 gallon flattened oval tank, no doubt familiar to millions of baby boomers whose furnaces ran on liquid fossil fuels, and I just waited for the day that I could get my hands on it.
I had big plans for my submarine: first I'd explore the depths of the pond on our 'back forty', then I'd take it down to the river and search the bottom for...I'm not sure what, but I just knew I'd find something. Little things like how I'd get air to breathe or how I'd see where I was going were mere trivialities. (After all, didn't Seaview have windows? I'd have them too!)
Naturally nothing ever came of my plans, but that didn't stop me from being fascinated with small submarines. The Japanese mini-subs of World War II were particularly interesting, and I read everything I could about them. It was known that five had attacked Pearl Harbor, but only four had ever been recovered. The fate of the fifth remained a mystery.
I hope everyone enjoys their three-day weekend, but do take a least a moment to reflect on why this holiday exists. Nothing maudlin, no overblown sentimentality, just a request that you think about it for at least a few moments as you fire up the grill.
I usually eat my breakfast in front of the computer. I check my personal email, look in at Twitter and Facebook, read George Ure's blog, look at all the blog feeds to which I subscribe, and maybe even check what's for sale on Craigslist.
One of the Facebook updates this morning was from Rob Pincus, who is heading for Rochester (NY). That brought back memories, as in my former life I traveled to Rochester on an occasional basis, one time staying for the better part of two weeks. Astute readers will deduce that these trips had something to do with the Eastman Kodak Company (EKC, as it was known - Kodak was extremely fond of acronyms and abbreviations), and that deduction would be correct.
In the early- to mid-Eighties, which is when I visited, Kodak owned most of Rochester - and what they didn't, Xerox did. Kodak's facilities were huge even by Detroit standards, all based on sales of film and associated equipment and supplies. As digital photography eroded film's dominance, Kodak (which had been willfully dismissive of the digital threat throughout the period under discussion) saw their business decline precipitously.
Barely into the new century, Kodak was closing buildings at a rapid pace. They demolished a few, auctioned off some others, and sold what they felt they didn't need but which would still generate cash. One of the latter was a complex known as the Marketing Education Center, or - in EKC-speak - MEC.
MEC is where they held seminars, training sessions, and business meetings. Every time I went to Kodak, MEC is where I ended up. It was a gorgeous campus, looking more like a community college than a corporate office.
MEC sat next to the Genesee River, and featured a dining hall with floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over the river and a placid meadow. The view from the tiered seating was so perfectly New England, regardless of the season, that visitors joked the windows were actually Duratrans - Kodak's trade name for large, backlit transparencies. The food was't bad, either!
This little trip down memory lane got me to wondering: whatever happened to MEC? As it turns out, pretty much nothing. Kodak cleared out and sold it for about $3.5 million to an investment concern in 2004, and it appears to be sitting vacant today. The campus, with 120 acres and four buildings, is currently for sale at an asking price of only $9.9 million.
P.S.: Speaking of acronyms...at one point Kodak decided to do some corporate reshuffling, and the technicians who serviced their large photofinishing and photocopying equipment were inexplicably transferred to the control of the newly renamed Consumer Equipment Service. At roughly the same time, those technicians were given the title of “Field Engineers.” The in-joke was that since they were now FEs, working for CES, that their corporate acronym was to be FECES. Upper management was not at all amused.
While you may not be familiar with her work, Megan Prelinger has been busy chronicling America’s space initiatives, focusing on how they were sold to the public. She’s put together a great book: "Another Science Fiction,” which is largely a collection of advertisements for space contractors during the Cold War.
SImultaneously recruiting employees while dangling the lure of space exploration to the masses, these ads ran in such magazines as LIFE and National Geographic. I remember many of them, but Prelinger's book is the first to collect them and show how vital they were in shaping a new vision of space.
In this must-read interview at WIRED, Prelinger talks about the impact of space advertising, what could have been bigger than Apollo, and how countercultural utopias figured into the space race. Fascinating.
My fascination with old and abandoned things often leads to dreams of great discoveries. Though I've been to a few abandoned places - all of which are pretty well known, at least locally - I'm handicapped by geography. Here in rural Oregon, there just aren't many such places.
There weren't enough people here to have produced a large urban/industrial base a century ago, our technological history doesn't go back much more than 175 years in any case, and we've never exactly been a hotbed of military activity. Thus my dreams of being the first (or, at least, one of the very few) to visit such a site remain elusive.
Other people are more fortunate. A British film crew just last year found the remains of the Aqua Traiana headwaters, the beginnings of a lost aqueduct that once supplied Rome with fresh water. It's beautiful and amazingly well preserved, and all lying below a pig pasture near the village of Manziana, just northwest of Rome.
For many years I've wandered the Northwest visiting ghost towns and abandoned settlements, and always in the back of my mind are the unanswered questions: why did people leave? What was is like to live in a dying town? When did people finally figure out that their town was destined for the dust bin of history? Did it happen suddenly, or was it a slow, agonizing extinction?
These questions come to the forefront as I watch the continuing downfall of one of America's proudest cities.
I'm not saying that Detroit is going to disappear like, oh, Bourne (Oregon) did. It might, it might not. But it's clear that the city's contraction leaves much doubt about its future, and the glorious past of the former powerhouse remains to confront and confound the present residents.
The site English Russia entices me to visit the former Soviet Union - the sheer number of abandoned installations makes my head spin. Today the site beckons me with two related stories about abandoned railways in the former superpower.
First, a look at a never-operational line in northern Siberia, apparently built at Stalin's personal request. The reason for a railroad from nowhere to nowhere remains a mystery, though in all fairness we do the same thing with highways in Alaska.
The second is of a locomotive depot in the same part of the country, but these were all operational - until the USSR broke apart. At some point, everyone just walked away...
The SHOT Show, that yearly orgy of all things that go 'bang', starts next Tuesday. The products shown there will be arriving on dealer's shelves over the coming months, but the ads will show up almost immediately. That's how commerce is done.
It was serendipitous, then, that I recently ran across a site called Vintage Ad Browser. The site collects images of old ads for all kinds of products, including guns and ammo. Just like the SHOT Show, you'll find ads aimed at hunters, collectors, and those interested in self defense:
Take a look - how many do you remember from your youth?
Once upon a time, two geeks met in college. They had some neat ideas about the world of computers, and were anxious to put their ideas into production. They started a little company.
Shortly after they incorporated, they introduced a new computer - one that was more accessible, more flexible, and under the control of a single person. They didn't make many of them, and very few exist today, but with it they changed the face of computing forever.
No, I'm not talking about Jobs & Wozniak. I'm thinking of Ken Olsen and Harlan Anderson, and the company they founded - Digital Equipment Corporation. DEC, as it would come to be known, introduced what was really the earliest commercial incarnation of the personal computer: the PDP-1.
The PDP-1 certainly didn't look like what we've come to expect of the PC. Nevertheless, it started the downsizing of computing power, and introduced a concept critical to the modern PC: user interaction, as opposed to batch data processing. This shift was the necessary step to creating true personal computers, and DEC got there first.
Interactivity opened up huge new vistas for the computer. The PDP-1 has the distinction of initiating things we now take for granted: text editing, music programs, and even computer gaming. (The very first computer video game, 'Spacewar!', was written for the PDP-1. Yes, you have DEC to thank for your Wii.)
Back in '51, the Atomic Energy Research Establishment in Oxfordshire welcomed a new member to their staff: a computer. Today we don't even bat an eyelid when a new PC shows up in the office, but back then computers were a Big Deal. (After all, how many new staff members get their own office - the largest one in the building?)
The Harwell Computer, later to be known as "WITCH" (Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computing from Harwell), now occupies a unique position in computing history. It holds the distinction of being the world's oldest surviving computer with electronically-stored data and programs. All the original parts are present and it is capable, in theory, of being operated.
Though it hasn't been switched on for over 35 years, it is now being restored to operational status at the Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park. They expect the restoration to be completed next summer, at which point the WITCH will be able to claim another title: oldest operational computer, beating out the Ferranti Pegasus whipper-snapper at London's Science Museum.
The LIFE website this week unveiled a photo retrospective of Project Mercury, America's first human spaceflight program. If you look at the picture captions, you'll notice one name on most of them: Ralph Morse. There's a good reason for that.
Ralph Morse was a staffer at LIFE (and later TIME) when he was assigned to cover a press conference in Washington in 1959. That event was the announcement of the Project Mercury astronauts. Sensing the long term importance of the announcement, Morse contacted his editor and told him that there would be a lot of public interest in these men. He suggested that the magazine assign someone permanently to NASA, which was then less than a year old. Morse got the job.
It was a good choice; Morse had already been with LIFE for over a decade, bringing back some of the most well known pictures in their archives. NASA was a fledgling agency, and Morse had gotten himself in on the ground floor of what would become the Space Race.
Over the next couple of decades, Morse would become an insider at NASA. He got exclusive access, and was even allowed to place his cameras in restricted areas his competition at NEWSWEEK couldn't even dream of. Along the way, he produced some of the most iconic images of the various NASA projects.
It all started at that press conference, where an idiot reporter (some things never change) asked the astronauts which of them expected "to come back alive." Morse grabbed this shot of the astronauts showing their mettle:
Some of his shots were very well known...
...while others weren't:
All of them, though, came from the camera of an inventive genius whose enthusiasm for his job knew no bounds. Were it not for his eye, his ingenuity, and his nose for news, we wouldn't have this great visual record of our nation's greatest achievements. George Hunt, at one time LIFE's Managing Editor, said “if LIFE could afford only one photographer, it would have to be Ralph Morse.”
Ralph is now 92, but unfortunately for us gave up photography some years ago.
In 1874, The Netherlands had been only a few years divorced from Belgium. They had a small, weak army, no real allies, and not a lot of money. They did, however, worry about invasion from German, and so decided to fortify Amsterdam.
Remember the "not a lot of money" thing? Their poverty lead them to observe that concrete was expensive, but water was cheap. Their logical conclusion was to build a wall of water to keep invading armies out. They'd do this by purposely flooding the farmland around their own city. Seriously. They thought it was a great idea.
Of course, during World War II the Stelling van Amsterdam (Defence Line of Amsterdam) was obsoleted very quickly by mechanized armies and air power. All that's left now are a few national monuments and some parks.
I now realize that I like looking at beautiful sunrises more than beautiful sunsets. I'm sure there is some deep psychological significance to that preference, but it as yet escapes me.
Everyone, it seems, is making a "tactical" pen these days. Benchmade, Schrade, Tuffwriter, Hinderer, Surefire - and now Smith & Wesson. Who will be next?
I have nothing against the concept, as it's simply a return to the roots of the familiar Kubotan (the techniques for which were originally intended for the common Cross-type pen.) These, though, all look like rejects from The Mall Ninja Outlet Store. I have half a mind to make one myself - classically styled out of real rust-blued steel, of course.
One of the better (most balanced) preparedness blogs extant is Jim Rawle's SurvivalBlog.com It's one of the few blogs on my morning "must read" list, and has been since I found it several years ago. This morning he posted the sad news that his wife Linda has died after a long illness.
He's shared the progress of his beloved in the blog, and while not a shock it's still depressing to hear. My wife and I extend our heartfelt condolences to Jim and his family.
It's necessary, if one is to maintain proper perspective, to learn from those whose experience is different from yours. Take, for example, an interview with a WWII Soviet tank crewman (thanks to Tam, who finds the most amazing stuff.) What he says about the Sherman tank, the Tommy gun, and the .45ACP cartridge are very interesting and definitely challenge certain widely held opinions.
(When you read what he says about the mighty .45, think back to the very similar stories regarding the .30 Carbine.) If you have any interest in WWII, armaments, or the nitty-gritty of battle, it's a great read.
One might think that this era in history is the most well documented that has ever existed. Why, we have photography and sound recording and movies (and their digital equivalents.) Everything, it seems, has been saved for posterity. How much better preserved we are than our forebears!
Yep, you'd think so. And you'd be dead wrong.
There are huge gaps in our archival record, and oddly enough they have to do with the very things that should be most easily chronicled: our technology. Obsolete technology is disappearing, and with it a vital understanding of what we as a species have accomplished in this world. Decorative arts seem to be deemed worthy of perpetuation, no matter their relative importance, while everything else is consigned to the scrap heap.
Take just the computer - there are surprisingly few organizations who have made an effort to preserve this recent technology. With programmable computers being no more than about 60 years old, we should have a very good record of all that has passed in their development. We don't. Old computers are rare, and the earliest (physically largest) machines are virtually all gone. Of those first pioneers we have nothing but a few bad photos and the occasional fragmentary drawing.
SMECC maintains a fascinating site that gives a good feeling for the breadth of their collections. Particularly valuable are the first-person chronicles of the people who actually made the things in the museum's collection.
A warning: their site is perhaps the worst example of Microsoft FrontPage design. It's not nice to look at, not well laid out, and you'll have to poke around to find the gems. It feels like a throwback to the early '90s internet, which I suppose one could argue is appropriate for a museum. (With all that, it's still better than the average MySpace page.)
Any self-respecting geek could easily spend days there. Whether you're into computers, radios, or microscopes, SMECC has something for you.
I've featured a number of decay-chronicling websites, but this one is unique. onlynDetroit.com doesn't just show the deterioration of a once-proud city, it gives the why and how of urban decay. In its many pages you'll learn the stories behind the landmarks, where they came from and how they happened to get where they are today. Along with the analysis is the occasional prescription for renewal, and a happy ending or two as some eyesores get refurbished and reopened.
The photography isn't of the same standards as some urban exploration sites, spelling errors abound, and the text sometimes describes scenes for which there are no pictures - but those are minor quibbles that only help prove that the whole is greater than the sum if its parts. onlynDetroit.com is obviously the work of people who have great affection for their city despite its flaws, and the same can be said of their site. A great place to kill some free time.
I've been collecting conspiracy theories for the ammo shortage, and I recently heard a great one that supposedly came from a local gun store: FEMA has been buying ammunition companies, then shutting them down to eliminate all civilian ammunition sources.
One needs an awful lot of foil for a tin hat that big...
Uncle and I have something in common: here in Oregon, our legislature also passed a "no texting" law. We went further, though - we added that you couldn't use a handheld cel phone at all. Then we enacted $2 billion of new taxes and spending in the state with the second-highest unemployment in the nation. We're number 49! We're number 49! Go team!
If it's as accurate as expected, I may have to own one. (Sure, I could build one myself, but I'm too busy doing guns for other people. Remember the parable about the shoemaker's children?)
Now, if we could just get them to cease doing business with H-S Precision...
Dr. Helen brings us the story of a woman who fought back against her knife-wielding rapist. Read the comments - some insightful, and some very amusing (in a train wreck sort of way.)
From the Irish Times comes news that the powers-that-be want to ban "practical" shooting (i.e. IPSC, IDPA.) The Irish Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, had this to say:
“It’s simply not in the public interest to tolerate the development of a subculture predicated on a shooting activity which by the liberal standards of the US is regarded as an extreme shooting activity." He said any cursory research on the internet showed that these activities were marketed as being at the “extreme end” of handgun ownership and were “anathema to the tradition of Irish sporting clubs”.
Kodachrome They give us those nice bright colors They give us the greens of summers Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, Oh yeah I got a Nikon camera I love to take a photograph So mama don't take my Kodachrome away
Kodachrome wasn't the first time the company had influenced musical history, however. It's true that Kodachrome was invented by a couple of amateur chemists who were also professional musicians, but the influence I'm thinking of goes far deeper.
As it happens George Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak, was an aspiring flutist and music fanatic. His love of making and listening to music led him to found the Eastman School of Music, cementing his place in American music history.
Now you're probably thinking "Eastman School of Music? Never heard of it!" Most people, when asked to name a prestigious music school, immediately think "Juilliard." While Juilliard is a fine school and better known to the general public, those with a deep knowledge of musical education will often quietly refer you to Eastman. Since 1921, Eastman graduates have enjoyed a solid reputation for being "musician's musicians", which persists to this day - it is often ranked as the top music school in the country in major media surveys.
George Eastman was a remarkable individual who also gave major grants to engineering and technical schools such as MIT, and involved himself in a range of social and business innovations. It could be argued, though, that giving the world both Kodachrome and Frederick Fennell would have been enough for any one person.
In January 1940, the Soviet Union was at war with Finland. Just a few months earlier, the Soviets had signed a non-agression pact with the German government, which besides promising to be Best Friends Forever, divided up the countries of Eastern Europe between the two powers. The two chums lost no time in invading and carving up Poland, and that success prompted Uncle Joe Stalin to go for the first country on his own shopping list: Finland.
While his generals mapped out invasion plans, Finland was issued a set of demands to adjust their borders and "lease" part of their territory to Moscow. They refused, and in late November of 1939 the Soviets attacked.
Though eventually negotiating a truce, Finland managed to inflict severe casualties on the Red forces. Nikita Khrushchev would later state that his country had lost a million soldiers, while the Finnish casualties amounted to 26,662.
Forty-six of that million were killed when their submarine, dubbed S-2, was sunk in the waters between Sweden and Finland on that cold January day.
The actual location of the wreck, and the precise cause of the sinking, remained a mystery until just a few months ago. After a decade of searching, a team of Swedish and Finnish divers located the S-2 and found out just what had happened.
Many people have heard of the Maginot line, a series of fortifications designed to protect France from invasion by Germany. As you may have heard, it didn't work all that well - the Germans simply went around it, through Belgium and the Netherlands, and right into Paris for coffee and gloating.
You may not have heard of the Mannerheim line. It was Finland's fortification intended to protect it from Russian aggression. During the Winter War (where the Soviets sustained losses heavy enough to make them wish they'd never set their sights on Helsinki) the Mannerheim sustained heavy damage. Unlike the Maginot line, the Mannerheim was very lightly constructed and took the full force of the Russian advance. The majority of the installations were destroyed, leaving little behind but memories.
During the 1930s and 1940s, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and the Office of War Information (OWI) shot tens of thousands of photographs. The vast majority - and the images we most associate with their work - were in black and white:
However, there were a number of assignments which were shot in color. That number was far smaller, likely because of budget constraints, but produced some stunning images:
DARPA was founded to do fundamental, high-risk research into science and technology that could be used for military purposes. Today that sounds ominous and vaguely sinister, but in the 1950s it was exciting and patriotic.
One of their projects was called ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), intended as a way for DARPA staffers and researchers to disseminate information and share computing resources. It introduced email, file transfers, and even voice protocols into common use, all made possible through the magic of packet switching - another DARPA innovation. This groundbreaking computer network would, with their guidance, evolve into what we now call the internet.
(Funny, isn't it - the internet upon which you can read anti-military and anti-American rants until your eyes launch themselves from their sockets is the product of an American military project. Euro-weenies will no doubt point out that the World Wide Web was the invention of an Englishman working at a Swiss lab, but his contribution - important as it is - was simply a way of easing access to information on the already vast internet. His work would not even have been necessary had it not been for DARPA.)
The computer network wasn't DARPA's only development, of course - the magnificent Saturn V rocket and the computer mouse both came from the think tanks at the agency. How's that for a wide ranging legacy?
When I was a wee lad, America was at the forefront of space exploration. By the time I was old enough to know what was going on, we'd recovered from the shock of the Soviets beating us into space, and had responded in a big way with Gemini and Apollo programs.
In those days, our grade school classes would literally come to a halt as we gathered around a television set to watch a liftoff or a splashdown. The mighty Saturn V rockets - spewing a fireball that remains unequalled for sheer excitement - would take our astronauts into space for yet another thrilling mission. Landing men on the moon was our crowning achievement, watched by just about everyone in the country.
Space flights were national events on a scale that I haven't seen since - and probably never will again. The SuperBowl and American Idol Finals may draw larger audiences, but in terms of captivating our collective conscious, of instilling pride in our country and what we were capable of doing, they will ever equal the NASA of the mid 20th century.
You know, I had a pretty darned good childhood. I grew up on a small farm, outside a small town (I remember when the town passed the 1500 resident milestone) that was nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Range.
After chores were finished and if there were no other pressing jobs to be done (like hauling hay), I got to do what I wanted. I could go down to our pond and fish, or take off with my friends Dan and/or Tom for an overnight camping trip - all with very little administrative (parental) hand-wringing. Even a two-day trip up the river and into the woods wasn't out of the question, though such an outing did prompt some worrying from my mother.
Not a bad way to grow up!
Living as I do in suburbia, I long for the time when we would run into the forest with little more than a small tent, a blanket, a sheath knife, maybe a couple cans of baked beans, and a fishing pole. (If we planned our trip into a particular area that we knew contained several small caves, we didn't even bother with the tent.) Woodcraft, such as shelter building and fire making, was an expected part of any well-balanced upbringing. I miss those days.
I have found a way to keep the hunger for simpler times at bay: I curl up with Nessmuk.
What is a Nessmuk? Properly, the question is phrased "Who is Nessmuk?"
Nessmuk was in normal existence one George Washington Sears. Sears was a slight, asthmatic individual who was born in 1821 in Massachusetts, and spent much of his life - at least, that portion when he wasn't working just to finance his next adventure - in a canoe or on a boat or in the woods.
He was able to combine his love of the outdoors and his considerable talent as a writer by having narratives of his adventures published in Forest and Stream magazine.
He wrote two books, Woodcraft and Camping, which are still in print - combined into one volume titled Woodcraft and Camping (no surprise there, right?!?) It is still available to this day, which must be some sort of record in the publishing business. (Another book, called Adirondack Letters, is a compilation of his articles in Forest and Stream.)
Woodcraft and Camping is not a thick book, nor is it solely a "how to" manual. It is the collected wisdom and insights of a man who lived just to be able to commune with nature. Nessmuk wrote in a beautiful, lyrical style that makes the reader salivate with the desire to get out into the wilderness.
At only $6.95, I believe it to be one of the greatest bargains - as well as one of the "must haves" - in outdoor literature. I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone who enjoys living in and exploring the wilderness, or even just dreaming about it!
This thread at GlockTalk seemed oddly familiar to me. People routinely ask about the lifespan of a particular gun, while at the same time suggesting that somehow the guns of yesteryear would last longer under use than today's offerings. I'm not sure that this is the case.
Let's jump back to, say, 1935 or so. Someone has just bought a new .38 Special revolver (take your pick of quality makers) and a box of ammunition - a box that might last them for a decade or more!
What I've managed to decipher from the "old folks" I've talked with is that they just didn't shoot guns all that much. There weren't a lot of competitive shooting events back then, and even those that existed demanded less ammunition in a year than a typical IDPA match consumes in a weekend. A box of handgun ammo (50 rounds) per year was considered a "lot" of shooting by many of these folks; at that rate, our mythical revolver would be considered to have been heavily used, having only seen a total of 3500 rounds!
Flash forward to 2006, and a certain maker says that their gun has an "expected lifespan" of 6,000 rounds. Doesn't sound like much to us, but it may be two or three (or possibly ten) times the number of rounds that guns sold in 1935 would expect to see over their lifetime.
Perspective, people. There is a lot to complain about in the craftsmanship (or lack of same) coming out most of today's manufacturers, but one generally can't fault the durability of the guns. There are exceptions, of course, but in the aggregate I suspect that your average GP-100 will last longer than the folks of 1935 could even imagine.