Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Long Shot

By Rob Watson

If you are a sensitive person and are upset by reports of harm to animals, You will not want to continue reading this account of a hunting trip.

One of my favorite movies, Field of Dreams, has a line that goes something like this: "When all the cosmic tumblers fall into place, anything is possible." This essay describes just such an event.

I have always had an attraction to nice things. I also have an aversion to spending the money to acquire nice things. So, several years back I came across a very nice Browning semiautomatic rifle. Apparently the previous owner could not hit the side of a barn with it. I got it at a good price and convinced myself I knew enough about firearms to make it shoot well.

As you may know, Different types of ammunition shot to different points of impact in any one rifle. I took my new toy and several different loads to the range to see what load it might "like". The best I could do was to get all the hits inside a 5" (13cm) circle at 100 yards (91m)... not good.

A few days later, I was reading a rather old reloading manual. In the caliber of my BAR, it had a very fast load for a rather small bullet. This load was very different from the others I had tried so I made up a dozen or so. Then Off to the range. (Just so you know, the odds of finding a quality load in one effort are incredibly high against. In some rifles, one never finds an exceptional Load.)

After sighting in the load I fired a test group. It came in near an inch (2.5cm). Inspired to make a serious effort at shooting the smallest group possible, I hunkered down with sandbags, controlled breathing, slow trigger pull, and most of the other things required to make accurate shots. The result was under 1/2 inch (about 1 cm). A continued serious effort showed this to be repeatable. A beautiful rifle with extreme accuracy and my little ole pea pickin' heart went "pitter, pat, pitter pat".

About the same time I came across a unique range finding telescopic sight. Most range finders focus on a crude estimate of the distance from you to an average size deer. Bullet drop and windage are left for the shooter to guestimate. This new scope took windage and bullet drop into account when giving point of aim for the range of the shot.

The next cosmic tumbler to fall into place was a stable shooting platform that one can easily carry into the field. I encountered a salesman with an interesting device: foldable shooting sticks. They were thin aluminum tubes held together with the thinest bungy cords. Slip joints allowed the tubes to be pulled apart and folded. Releasing the tubes and shaking them caused them to snap back together in useable condition. If you are a camper with relatively new tentage, you know exactly what I mean.

Hunting Pronghorns in Wyoming presents some interesting challenges. When the population of the animals gets above a certain level, one could get an out-of-state permit for a relatively inexpensive $25. Permit in hand, finding the game is exceedingly easy. The wide open treeless terrain allows seeing the pronghorns for miles. Getting within half a mile is the real problem, because they can see you at two miles way better than you can see them. My observations cause me to expect them to start looking for an escape route when I get about 600 yards away.

My gunsmith and I received permission to hunt from a sheep rancher. "You can go down that road over there. I own both sides for about 10 miles.". The place we decided to hunt was a fenced triangle, about 2 miles (3km) on a side. Gunsmith started at one point of the long side of the triangle and I drove to the other. The plan was to walk toward the center of the area from these spots. Pronghorn will see a hunter and walk away from him if they are not cornered. (If you shoot a pronghorn that has been running, the meat will taste awful.) Presumably if they walk away from one of us, they will walk toward the other.

I had slowly strolled a good distance when I saw two animals on a hilltop a fair distance away. I also saw Gunsmith on another hilltop even further away and off to my right. I judged the shot to be very long, if I tried to make it. The air was still but a large cloud bank was rolling toward us from a few miles away. It would only be a few minutes before all hunting would be done for the day.

I set all my stuff down and sat down. With the range finder in my scope, I determined the Pronghorn to be 600 yards away. For the most part I do not favor long shots. There are to many variables and the chance to injure the animal without killing it. My rationale for hunting was considering how an animal might otherwise die... hit by car, starvation, disease, predators, a lingering death from a poorly placed bullet... or a quick death from a correctly placed shot.

I had an accurate rifle, a very good scope, a steady rest and very little time to work for something better. To myself I say "I can hit a prairie dog at 200 yards, a pronghorn at 600 should be easier." I decided to try.

I settled into my sitting position, found the animal in the scope, took careful aim, did the breathing thing and fired. After about 2 seconds the distinctive sound of a solid hit came back to me. The target took a few steps and stopped. Afraid that I had not made a killing shot, I repeated the process. Again the distinctive sound of a solid hit came back. And, this time, the pronghorn dropped to the ground.

Pronghorns are beautiful animals. For a few minutes after a kill I am rather sad, then thinking of my rationale, I move on to the really messy part of hunting. On close examination, I found the two bullet holes. Both were in the heart-lung area, 5 inches apart. Two shots, 600 yards (540m) hitting 5 inches (12 cm) apart. Not bad for a small town boy.

The real story here is to watch Gunsmith tell it. He stands with his feet spread apart and closes his hands and brings them to his eyes to simulate binoculars. Then he swings his body broadly from left to right, simulating looking at two widely separated points in the distance. As he swings repeatedly back and forth he says, with feeling, "He can't make that shot! He can't make that shot! Bang! Whap! He made that shot! Bang! Whap! Well, I'll be a ... He made that shot twice!!"

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Serving a Civil War Cannon: Part 2

By Rob Watson

If you have not already, you might want to go back and read my previous posts on the US Civil War. The first (Civil War Battle Re-enactment: Pleasant Hill, Mansfield) was written a year ago and the second (Serving a Civil War Cannon) was written the first of this month (April 2014).

I was slow in contacting the folks that keep the Battery organized and was fortunate to encounter one at the "Cowboy" shoot at the local gun range. He informed me the Battery was going to participate in the re-enactment of the Mansfield battle this week end.

"Now wait a minute" you say. "wasn't that held the first weekend in April?" Well, yes that is so. The town of Pleasant Hill holds an annual re-enactment of the battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill. More specifically, the folks who are descendants of the original towns people, and owners of the land on which the battle of Pleasant Hill was fought, have organized that re-enactment annually.

The re-enactment held this weekend was organized by the Great State of Louisiana and is held on the ground of the original battlefield of the Mansfield fight every ten years. This is also the location of the Louisiana State Park and Museum for the Mansfield Battle. (This ground was originally purchased by local citizens and efforts continue to acquire and preserve more of that battlefield.) Also participating, were the National Park Rangers from the Creole National Historical Monuments around the city of Natchitoches, LA. It should be noted that security for the event was provided by the the Desoto Parish Sheriff's dept and the Louisiana State Police. (these people should also get credit for providing security at the Pleasant Hill event earlier)

During the intervening three weeks I have read more about the position I served on Gabriel's Horn. My first position was at the forward left of the gun. It is called the number two position. My primary duty is to clear the barrel of debris after the shot is fired. I even learned what the number three gunner was shouting at me before I used the corkscrew like device (called an implement) to clear the barrel: "Primer hole clear, Primer hole covered" and why: to insure that sparks do not get back into the chamber where the powder charge will be placed.

There were a number of changes in procedures from Gabriel's Horn and the gun I served today. Previously, the gun captain required that I use my  implement to clear the barrel whenever the command "Service the Gun" was given. Today, if this operation had previously been done, I was not to repeat it. The other big change was brought on by government regulation, because we are on government land.

Previously, we mustered at the gun an hour before the re-enactment was to start. We also practiced loading and firing the gun. (and I got my initial instruction on serving the gun). By government regulation, today we mustered at the gun some four hours before the re-enactment. A state park ranger asked me if I was familiar with my duties, and I answered "well mostly, but I would like to review them." then he asked if I was familiar with the failed primer drill. "No."

Here the unit commander, I shall call him Richard, carefully and patiently helped me through a review of my previous instruction and oversaw a few practice drills. Then he demonstrated the "Failed Primer" drill. (In real life, and in re-enactments, this is actually a dangerous situation and this green apple newbe was learning how to make things safe... and how to be the primary actor in making things safe.) It goes like this...

When the number 4 gunner pulls the lanyard the gun usually fires. If the primer fails, there is a good possibility that fire has been applied to the powder charge but for some reason the charge has not ignited. In the drill, each member of the gun crew, except me the number two man, turns his back to the gun and performs his duties in the drill as best he can from that position, The number two man gets to step away from the gun about three paces. After a time delay of three minutes (to allow the sparks to initiate the charge or, hopefully, to burn out) Number two lays down his  implement, turns his back to the gun and backs up to it but avoids touching the carriage. If any part of the primer remains above primer hole he receives pliers from the powder monkey and attempts to remove the primer. Then he receives a pick (a heavy wire device) from number 3 and pokes down into the primer hole. If there is still fire in the remaining primer parts, the gun will discharge. (which is why one does not touch the carriage)If the gun has still not gone off, the number four man gives number two (me) a new primer which I insert in the primer hole and secure the lanyard until he resumes his normal position. The gun captain reports the gun "ready" and each member of the gun crew returns to his "ready" position. Hopefully, the gun fires on the next "fire" command.

Now, with the ranger watching, the gun crew goes through a complete load and fire drill, or two. Then we did a couple of "Failed Primer" drills. If the ranger is satisfied each gun crew member knows his part, we are officially "Certified". The whole process of certification takes place whenever an event is held on government property.

As reported previously, units are often required to fight for the Union side for lack of true, low life, Yankees. My gun crew was so required for this event. I borrowed a blue coat for the certification drills then went to the sutlers tent to buy my own blue coat. (Fortunately, the Union and Rebel artillery uniforms are similar enough that all I had to change from my Confederate one was to change the coat.) Wife bought her first re-enactment garment, a period sun bonnet. Later I came back and bought a canteen.

Afterwards, Wife and I went over to the Visitor Center and Museum. The museum was rather interesting in that, along with maps, descriptions, and artifacts from the battle, there were numerous quotations from battle participants from both sides, for each of the displays on the phases of the battle. The Louisiana Lt. Governor came to make a presentation. Wife was too far from the man to understand what he was saying. I stayed inside the museum to finish going over the exhibits. An extended golf cart was available to transport folks between the re-enactment site and the museum. We took that back.

I sought  out the camp of the Battery and joined them in the usual discussions... Politics, people, jokes, and previous re-enactments. Richard turned the conversations to questions which I might have. I had several and he was efficient in answering them. My gun captain appeared with a Scottish hat (not a tam) and I asked if he had his kilt yet. He reported his was on order and intended to wear it at the next event. He was the same young man who had served, with me, on Gabriel's Horn. On the second day of this re-enactment he showed up without the hat. Someone commented on that and another replied they were glad he had not worn his new dress.

When it was time to muster at the guns, Richard insisted on a respectful delay (Possibly preferring the man made shade of the camps tent to wandering around in Mother Natures warm sun in a heavy wool, Union uniform.) Then we all collected and donned our heavy wool Union uniforms and meandered over to the gun positions.

In striving for authenticity, the script called for the Rebel forces to overrun our position and capture our guns, as was done in the actual battle.  We gunners discussed who should runaway and who would fall dead. This was not necessary. Apparently in giving instruction to the rebel forces, it was stressed, for safety reasons, not to approach the guns closer than 50 yards until they stopped firing. When the rebel lines approached the 50 yard marker, we secured the guns and backed away from them. Presumably, overcome with an excess of caution, the Confederates never charged. The dead all got up and the whole units presented themselves to the audience. They then fired a salute to the crowd. This error in procedure was repeated on Sunday as well.

After the re-enactment on Saturday, Wife and I wandered back to the museum and took in the video presentation on the battle. Later a Belgian scholar, founder of a Belgian American Civil War Society, made a very interesting presentation on the life of a Frenchman who commanded one of the Confederate divisions during the battle... Camille Armand Jules Marie, Prince de Polignac.
Presumably Prince Polignac was quite proud of his involvement in the victory at Mansfield as he named his son Victor Mansfield.

One of the interesting things I encountered in these re-enactment adventures is the number of Louisiana residents that had relatives in that war. A couple we met, claimed a captain in the Mansfield battle was their relative so we invited them to come along and see the activities. They stayed and went through the museum afterwards. They invited us to their home for hamburgers grilled over a charcoal fire. A very pleasant evening was had by all.

I was pleased to learn the Battery had a rule against doing re-enactments in the heat of the summer. Our next event will be in East Texas in September. It is not clear what battle will be re-enacted in Northeast Texas... as the battle of Mansfield "saved Texas for the Confederacy" and no union soldiers, under arms, ever set foot in that state. (However there was a large prisoner of war facility near Tyler)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Serving a Civil War Cannon

By Rob Watson

This week is the 150 anniversary of the American Civil War battles at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill In the State of Louisiana. The fight at Pleasant Hill was the largest battle, based on troops involved, ever fought west of the Mississippi River. It is being celebrated in the town of Pleasant Hill, on the actual ground of the original battle, with a re-enactment of the original battle. You should read my posts about the reenactment of last year before reading this post.

Anyone who has ever been in real combat will surely find this silly, but to me, serving a replica Confederate Civil War cannon was as exciting as anything I have done in many years. Here is my story. A video at the end (if i can get it in) will make some things more clear.

My original plan for the day was to attend the re-enactment and associated festivities and write a post for my blog. In executing that plan, Wife and I drove to Pleasant Hill early in the morning. We ate breakfast at the American Legion, with the choices of a Rebel Breakfast Of eggs, bacon, grits, and two very good biscuits. Then we went to a suttler's tent. I bought parts of a new Confederate artillery mans uniform.

I found some folks that I had been invited, last year, to visit at the battle re-enactment campground. I boldly walked into their Primitive camp where all the equipment and materials were of the Civil War period. I told them I had purchased a Civil War artillery uniform and asked if I might serve one of their cannon during the days events. One of the older members of the group asked one of the gun captains nearby if he could use some help. The gun captain replied that he was one man short and said he would be pleased to have me. I stayed in camp for a while socializing. One of the men in the group was from my home town and graduated from my same high school. They talked of rules and events and told old "war" stories. I asked what time we "mustered" before the battle then went off to eat lunch and dress in my new uniform.

The Battery is a formalized organization. To be a member, one must attend three events (re-enactments) in a year, then at the annual meeting the group votes on whether the prospect will be accepted  into the group as a member. After that one pays his dues and participates in as many activities as he wishes.

My first position of the day was forward of the gun carrage and to the left of the gun tube. On the command "Load" the position #3 shouted " " (I don't actually know what she said, but it was her only command and after it I was to do my first thing) then I was to take a cork screw looking device and clear any remains of the previous shot from the barrel. I then took the cartridge from the powder monkey and placed it in the muzzle of the cannon. (Hold the cartridge in the left hand, Thumb on the round end, move it down under the barrel then up to the bore. Exposing only my thumb, slide the cartridge into the muzzle. The other guy rammed the cartridge down the barrel and seated it with a couple of firm jabs with his swab/ram tool. The two of us then faced each other, took one step to the side(away from the gun), one step backwards (to clear the carrage), then one giant step to the side, toward the rear of the position. We then leaned further to the rear, face turned, and covered the ear toward the cannon with our free hand. The gun captain reported the cannon ready. The officers commanding the battery then gave a series of commands directing the order of fire for the battery. After the cannon fired, I was to face forward (down range) and wait for the next command.

One might be another "load" command or a "service the gun" command. For the "service..." command my action was to clear the barrel as before. The guy with the swab/ram dipped it in a bucket of water and scrubbed the barrel several times. He then tipped the barrel down and let the water run out. The #3 position used a brass brush to scrub the initiator hole. When these were all done, the gun captain reported the gun serviced and each crew member resumed his "ready" position.

Just so you know, I watched a demonstration of this process once, three or four years ago at Ft Larned in Kansas. Yesterday, they did a run through of this process for me, exactly once, before going to live fire with live cartridges. My only advantage was that I recognized that almost every motion I made was for safety, and I recognized the reason for each move. During the live firing both the man with the swab/ram and the gun captain watched me closely and instantly corrected any deviation from the prescribed move. Everyone involved was quite serious about safety. A minor dustup occurred when a person who did not belong, entered the area of the battery. Only when the load/fire sequence and the service sequence had been properly executed, did the atmosphere relax to a casual but cautious one. (Usually lighthearted comments about events around us)

Our cartridge was made up of 5 1/2 ounces (156g) of black powder and one cup of flour (250ml). This was then wrapped in a few layers of heavy aluminum foil. (when the gun fired, the smoke was blown back into our face by the wind. Ours smelled like burned chicken feathers) The forward end of the cartridge was rounded and the rear was flat. These were assembled before hand and packed in steel surplus ammunition cans. Back in camp, these were transferred to a "Ready Box" and carried to the firing position. Due to the nature of this, possibly the flour, Gabrial's Horn, (the name Of our gun) was quite a bit louder than others. One of those others was so weak as to cause a gun crew member to comment "My daughter farts louder than that". To which another crew member was heard to agree.

One gun failed to fire after being loaded. Apparently the initiator failed. This caused a moderate disturbance among all the gun crews in the line. I did not look, thinking if anything did explode, it would be better to be hit in the back than in the face. After several minutes that gun was made safe and action resumed.

One of the gun tubes was from an actual Civil War cannon. (The carriage was of modern materials) I was told, the owner of that gun specifically stated it could never be used on the Union side and be serviced by anyone other than men in gray. (it is common at reenactments for troops and cannon to swap sides when there are too few Union participants. Many of the serious re-enactors have both uniforms. I could be in the Union Artillery if I spent another $100 for a blue Jacket, otherwise the artillery uniforms are the same)

As an added feature, this reenactment included a "Night Fire" where troops and cannon did their thing after dark. In history, part of the Mansfield battle, the re-enactment done this day, did actually take place after dark. Also thrown in were some regular fireworks. Gabrial's Horn and crew were in the night action. This time I asked to be the powder monkey. I stood beside the ready box. A cartridge was placed in my leather pouch by another crew member. I then held the pouch closed until the commands "load" then "charge". My duty was to rush forward with the cartridge to the loader and hold open the pouch. Then I was to hurry back to the ready box. I was warned to be on the lookout for people with lighted smoking materials and to chase them off if discovered.

The man in charge of the ready box had also brought along some additional steel wool. Because fine steel wool ignites easily, it was placed in front of the cartridge. When the gun is fired the steel wool adds considerable sparks to the muzzle flash. In one case the gun was fired into a fair breese. The sparks spread into a 15 foot (3m) circle and blew back toward the gun and crew in spectacular fashion. The sparks all burned out before getting to me and the ready box full of powder charges. There was really very little danger as the cartridges were wrapped in layers of aluminum foil and secured in a closed steel box.

On one of the firings, something flew out of our gun, burning, and continued to burn for several seconds after hitting the ground out 100 ft (30m) in front of us. This caused some chatter and comment among the gun crews and officers on the line. One being "You sure learn a lot about your gun when firing it at night." (This would not have been visible in daylight.)

To end the night in a very pleasing(and honored) fashion I was given the chance to actually fire the last round. I was given instructions on how to stand and how to pull the lanyard. To the surprise of the onlookers, the gun fired... Apparently first timers never pull the lanyard hard enough. The honor, I was told, was I am the only newby to be allowed to fire the gun on my first event with the Battery.

And, a excellent time was had by all.


Monday, March 17, 2014

The LLLDBH Award

By Rob Watson

Those who are familiar with my political views might accurately classify me as Hard Core, Conservative, Gun Toting, Bambi Killing, Right Leaning Republican. As such, In this season of the Super Bowl, Golden Globe, People Choice, Academy Awards, I would like to announce the new Left Leaning Liberal Democratic Bunny Huger Award. (In the interests of full disclosure, this years recipient is a relative.)

In order to be eligible for this award one must be a Left Leaning Liberal Democratic Bunny Huger of long standing who's political views chill the political soul of Hard Core, Conservative, Gun Toting, Bambi Killing, Right Leaning Republicans such as myself. And, the actions of said recipient must be  truly deserving of recognition, admiration, and emulation. (even by people like me)

This years recipient has for the last ten years put her money where her heart is; her money, her time, and her considerable talent. She has provided for the basic (We are talking basic basic) needs of up to 30 cast aside humans. It is her methods and goals that deserve emulation.

The target population is single parent families. Head of household is usually an uneducated or under educated and, for the most part unemployable, woman. Many are targets of domestic abuse. A few men are also part of the program. One is married with children, others are single parents. Each such person is provided with tutors and training toward a GED. They must be drug and alcohol free. The children also are provided with tutors and oversight to insure their school assignments are complete and correct. The children are also provided with transportation to and from public school. The award recipient and all tutors and helpers are unpaid volunteers. There are three paid assistants that provide 24/7 on site supervision.

Cash money for this operation is raised, about 60%, through fund raising events. The remainder is gotten from grants from various charitable  organizations. All other needs and assistance are provided by unpaid volunteers of every nature. It is the nature of this assistance that inspires.

The 30 or so "cast asides" sleep in tents inside church, or synagogue assembly halls... Well, except for one very small church that clears out their sanctuary, pews and all, to accommodate the group tents... The tents provide each family with minimum privacy. The group resides at one host site for exactly two weeks. At the end of the two weeks each family packs up it's belongings and a volunteer, same guy for most of the ten years, loads these belongings into his, privately owned, large truck and moves them to the next host site. Some 40 churches and a synagogue vie for the chance to be the host site.

Along with the space for the tents, each host site provides bathroom and shower facilities. Not all churches have showers.  When the group is in a church without showers, the families who aren’t employed shower at St. Vincent DePaul Headquarters during the day and the children after school.  Due to their work, the employed parents shower after dinner at the YMCA. The host site also supplies the materials and volunteers to prepare and serve all the meals. Each host site also covers its own additional cost of utilities.

Each day begins at 5AM. All morning activities must be completed by 7AM (such that the volunteers may attend to their own jobs and homes.) Breakfast is served and everyone disperses to jobs, training or school. At the end of the day the evening meal is served and homework is done and checked. Then each family retires to its own tent.

When a person has completed their GED, some additional job skills training may be provided. The family then is helped to secure a fair job and decent housing. These folks leave the group and new people are taken in. There is a waiting list... of clients... and of churches.

Below is a section of the groups news letter: Names changed for security reasons.

5 – Dear Friends of Winter Nights Shelter,

Last Monday morning we said “Farewell” to our friends at XXXXX United Methodist Church. . . and “Hello” to XXXXX Community Church friends. . . . . .

 United Methodist Church, the Pastor  and the Coordinator  made sure that their volunteers included many youth. The Boy Scouts cooked a barbecue dinner and helped the families set up their tents on opening night. When Good Shepherd Lutheran moved in for their week at XXXX, they continued the tradition with a middle school baseball team cooking and serving the meal and inviting some of our kids to a game with them. Sue  coordinated Good Shepherd’s week. Each client received a woolen afghan.

Current Family Profile 
Mom and daughter 15 and son 2
Mom & Dad with daughter 12 and son 2
Mom and daughter 7, son 3, and son 2
Dad and son 13
Mom & Dad with daughter 11
Mom & Dad with daughter 3
Mom & Dadwith son 13, son 12, daughter  11, son 9
7 Families, 25 clients, 11 adults (6 moms and 5 dads) 14 Children
8 boys (ages 2, 2, 2, 3, 9, 12, 13, 13); 6 girls (ages 3, 7, 11, 11, 12, 15)

Wish List: Pillows, Wash Cloths, Bath Towels, Fitted Twin Sheets, Masking Tape, Lysol Disinfectant, Lysol or Chlorox Wipes, Deodorant (men and women), Diapers 5, & 6, and Car Seats.

Red Bean Math . One of my favorite creative learning activities happens each time we are at  United Methodist Church: Red Bean Math. It was initially Jelly Bean Math, but a few years ago the teacher had to change the fun items because we were there during Lent, and one of the homeless moms complained that her kids gave up candy for Lent! So Barbara, the teacher, brought Red Beans this year, and kids still jumped at the opportunity to count the beans!

Our Last Moments came when we arrived at St. XXX Catholic Church. The Pastor and the Parish Life Directorwelcomed the families; and the Coordinators made sure our staff and clients felt “at home.” St. YYYY Catholic Church took over the second week at St. XXXX’s., with the Pastor sponsoring the work of his parishioners, especially that of the Coordinator. St. YYYY’s location takes the prize for being closest to our Oasis. That shortens the van ride to school in the morning. Our families told me about the two great Bingo Nights and the two Bowling outings. Bbbb and Mmmm reported that both churches had a lot of volunteers to assist with activities and tutoring.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

If It's Broke, Don't fix It.

By Rob Watson

Yes, you read that correctly. Perhaps you thought I meant "If it aint broke, don't fix it"...

As previously written, I began building my own hot rod at the end of my first year of college. From that experience, I developed the habit of repairing any of my possessions that developed a defect. As the years went by I was repairing more and more things more and more times. This, to the point that all I was doing was fixing things. When I fixed a thing, shortly after, some other part of that thing would break. Fix it, something else on it breaks.

One day I left one thing unrepaired. It never broke again. The next thing to break went unrepaired and it never broke again. From this I developed the theory that the worst thing you could do to a problem was, to fix it. The exception to this rule is "If the break is a catastrophic failure and the thing is useful, I have to fix it, regardless of the consequences."

This is why I look forward to minor defects developing in the things I own. They never break again. A case in point: I bought my little truck 15 years ago. Shortly thereafter, as with all new vehicles, A truck I was following threw a rock and caused a minor crack in my windshield. The crack now extends from the lower left extreme corner of that windshield to the upper right extreme corner. I change the oil, batteries, tires and buy gas for it and nothing else has ever broken of its own accord.

The right rear fender was damaged in an accident, as was the tailgate (replaced with a gift from a friend, Thanks, Steve) The paint is pealing in places and the front and rear right directional signal assemblies are damaged. The interior light is broken and the door closed sensor thinks the door is always ajar. The onboard computer complains that the exhaust gas sensor is not working properly but, with 100,000 miles, (160,00km) it runs like a top and still gets 24 miles to the gallon (11km/L) of gas.

I recently purchased a new shotgun (made in China) one chamber was distorted by the manufacturer stamping his name on the barrel over the chamber. The shells stuck in the chamber after firing. I fixed it. The next time I used the shotgun one of the hammers stopped working. I fixed that. (who Knows what will break next) The other day I lost my head and replaced a door latch assembly on my bathroom door. Today, not two weeks later, the door no longer latches because the weather caused the house to shift and distorted the door frame... As they say in Mathematics "QED" (This proves my original theory. You can look it up)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Charlie: Depot Hack Therapy

By Rob Watson

In the eight years Charlie and I have been friends we have worked together on about three Model T restorations.  Mixed in were a few repairs, upgrades, and tuneups to his and other folks jalopies.  The first with which I had helped was an assembled pile of junk seen on a used car lot while passing through a nearby town. A later restoration began as a request by one of Charlie's friends to "tune-up" a depot hack the friend acquired... well, here is that story:

The friend had gone to the entertainment mecca of Branson Missouri. One of his choices of entertainment was to attend an automobile auction there. As the auction moved along, a number of rather nice autos came up for bids and sold. Then, a very attractive Ford model T depot hack was driven onto the auction block. Bidding was slow so the friend decided to throw in a bid. You know, just one bid to move thing along. His one bid won the day, so to speak. He failed to notice, until later, that the car was pushed from the stage.

In attempting the tune-up, it became clear the whole motor/transmission assembly needed a complete overhaul. With financial assistance from the friend, and technical assistance from another friend, The job was accomplished with excellent results. In the process, Charley became enamored with the depot hack idea.

You see, depot hacks are all custom made. Charlie's research showed there are hundreds of them and no two are exactly alike. The primary feature they have in common, other than a model T frame, motor, transmission, and running gear, is they are all made almost entirely of wood... finished, varnished, and polished to a high shine. (They are also the most likely forerunner of the "Woody" station wagons of later years)

The third leg of our triangle (desire, knowledge, means) came in the form of a model T frame, motor, transmission, and running gear, supplied as a gift from the owner of the depot hack described above.
In the following picture, Charlie's future depot hack sits on the trailer as it was delivered.

It is said this "gift" sat in a pasture, fully exposed to the weather for over 50 years, including being fully submerged during at least one flood.

My job has always been that of minor assistant: instances requiring extra agility such as crawling under the car... fetching tools... cleaning parts... sandblasting... Observing Charlie's restoration processes have been an education in the conservation of money and dogged persistence.

Our first task was to recover and restore the engine. Most of the engine parts were rusted to most of the other engine parts. Cutting tourches, big hammers, punches, various forms of lubricants, rust dissolving agents, and patience were the main tools. With some paint and a few replacement parts we got this:

A trip to the lumber store got us two sheets of very nice plywood ($78) for the sides and front of the body. The structural parts of the body were made from refinished wood recovered from a piano ($0) and the sideboards ($0) of a cattle truck. The seats ($0) we rescued from a discarded school bus. Fenders, running boards, and other body parts were "in stock" or traded with the "model T old boys club" ($). Most of the nuts bolts and screws were purchased new ($?) as was the rubber covering for the roof ($?). Below is the result:

The reader should remember that with Charlie, everything exists as a work in progress. There is always room for improvement and he is the one to try it. Below, me, Charlie, and his other able assistant, Jake, take the depot hack to town for coffee.

 Therapy? Charlie's lovely wife will sometimes gently remind him that he is no longer young. I counter with the declaration: "Working on these old pieces of junk is what keeps you alive."

Memories of Christmas Past


I tried to move my Christmas story to the top of my blog but have been unsuccessful. To find it you should click on 2011 on the right if this then on December (if it does not automatically open). The title should appear, then click on that.