Thursday, August 6, 2015

An Hour Fishing

An Hour Fishing,
By Rob Watson

Back in June, I bought a fishing boat. Because of heavy Spring rains, most waters were closed to boats. This week, the week of my 69th birthday, I decided to take time off from my chores to try out the boat and update my fishing skills. My neighbor likes to fish, so I invited him to come along. After consulting the sun and moon fishing tables, we decided today, 5am, would be the optimal time to head out.

Yesterday, I began preparing and loading. I charged the boat battery, filled the gas tank and added an extra can of equal capacity. (prompted by experiences from an earlier time) I got out two fishing poles and updated the contents of my tackle box to cover most possibilities. Wife cleaned all the life jackets. I bought health food snack bars and loaded the refrigerator with bottles of water. I cranked the boat motor, ran it, and familiarized myself with the controls. I checked all the boat tie down straps and connected the trailer to the truck. Then I went to the store and got a new fishing license and a box of worms. Wife set the alarm for 4:30.

This morning, I woke up at 4:26, put the water, ice, and box of worms in a cooler and loaded all in the truck, with the life jackets. At precisely 5am I drove up to the neighbors house. We loaded his gear into the truck and were on the road by 5:15 and in the water by our scheduled time of 5:30.

Unknown to me, our troubles began when the boat hit the water. I had forgotten to put the drain plug in place. I also forgot to take the equipment from the truck and put it in the boat until I had parked the truck a good 50 yards away. While the boat was filling with water at one end, I was filling it with equipment at the other… all by the light of the half moon. The motor grounded on the bottom and prevented the boat from taking in more than the three inches of water it already had. After some troubles getting the boat ungrounded I discovered the open drain hole and plugged it.

When I tried to start the motor, it sputtered once then refused to start. With fishing time slipping by, we paddled about 50 yards out to some trees and began to prepare our lines. Neighbor went first and could not get his reel to work properly. One of his problems was his line had wrapped around his pole and tangled. I untangled that for him. He repeatedly tried casting while I got out my pole. On one of his casts his pole hit mine… I should have been watching… and created a tangle that took 10 minutes to undo.

I got my line in the water and was feeding worms to a small fish while Neighbor actually caught one. After several more minutes, we decided to move to another spot. The motor started on the first pull of the starter rope. However, no matter how fast I set the throttle, the boat would not move. I killed the motor and we paddled back to shore. By then, neighbor was feeling sick. I set him on a bucket, On shore, while I moved the truck and loaded the boat onto it’s trailer. It took several minutes for the water to drain from the boat. Neighbor put the one tiny fish back in the lake. We drove home by the light of the rising sun.

A related post may be read by clicking on "Boating with the Boss" in my list of posts... beside this near the top.

Boating with the Boss

By Rob Watson,

My recent attempt at going fishing brought to mind an experience from many years ago... 30 years, give or take.

One of the things I enjoy most is seeing what is around the next bend or over the next hill. As a child I just walked through the woods and down the creek bottom. As a teenager I went on my bicycle. After I built the Merry Bee, she was my mode of transport. When I could afford a ski boat I added lakes and rivers to my adventures. The following action took place just after my divorce.

During this time I worked for a big electronics company in the hill country and lake country of Texas. My group got a new boss, who was also single and new to the area. My close friend had just moved out of town, 150 miles away, so, I decided to try to cultivate my new boss as a friend. To that end, I invited him to come boating with me on one of the chain of lakes in the area. Other than the spectacular scenery, another attraction, for this lake, for a couple of single guys, were a number of nude beaches... but that is another story.

My boat had two gas tanks of equal volume. My practice was to shut off one tank and run on one until it was empty, then switch to the other. That way I knew when it was time to start back the way I had come. On this particular day we launched the boat and filled the tanks at the first marina. We dawdled at a couple of beaches then proceeded to cruise up the lake toward the dam of the lake above. After a time we left the lake proper and got into the river above it. Then the river began to narrow. We cruised past the last marina and kept on going.

After sightseeing for a few miles, the engine died. A sign the first tank was empty. I went to switch tanks. The problem was the fuel valve to the second tank was open, as was the valve to the first tank. Both tanks were empty, completely empty. Here begins one of the strangest conversations of my life.

I say to my boss, "We are out of gas."
His reply, "What do you mean, we are out of gas?"

I say to my boss, "We are OUT of gas."
His reply, "What do you mean, we are out of gas?"

I say to my boss, "We are OUT OF GAS."
His reply, "What do you mean, we are out of gas?"

So, I point to the first gas tank, saying, "See that gas tank? It is empty." then I point to the second gas tank, "See that gas tank? It is empty." Then I repeat, "We are out of gas!"

His reply, "You mean we are out of gas?" "Yes," says I, "We are out of gas."

And it was so. Out of gas, miles from the nearest marina, in a big heavy boat, with one small paddle. I began to consider a way out of our predicament. We had passed a small landing area a few hundred yards back. I had seen a truck and boat trailer there. A truck ment a road. A road would lead to a bigger road. I could then hitch a ride to a gas station and get a can and get gas. The boss could relax in the boat and watch it. There was plenty of food and drink.

As we paddled back toward the landing, I saw a small fishing boat headed our way. In the back of his boat I could see a one gallon gas can. I asked if it was full, and offered him $5 for the gas... This was back when gas was less than a dollar a gallon. He said he would take one dollar. We made the exchange... My boat got 3 miles to the gallon and we were 5 or 6 miles from the marina.

I started the motor and set the speed just above Idle, hoping fuel economy from the slower speed would get us back. As we puttered back down the river, visions of my youth and days on the lake back home came to mind. Back then, anyone with a big yard always had a can of gas for mowing their property. I told the boss to look for mowed property beside the river, they would have gas. Eventually, we came upon a large mowed lot with a house on it. I landed the boat and hiked up to the house. The owner was there. He sold me the gas from his full 5 gallon can for $5.

My boss spent the rest of his tenure with our group proclaiming my extraordinary problem solving abilities. To which I always silently replied, "Even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then."

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Salt from Laeso

By Rob Watson

The best story is from the salt processor, a former school teacher: Salt processing was begun in Laeso about 1100 AD when a subsurface source of concentrated brine was discovered there, and discontinued in the late 1600's when all the trees on the island were gone. In the mid 20th century the Danish forest service planted trees on the island. By the 1990s a few citizens decided to revive the old business and began excavating the old salt processing area. They eventually discovered most of the methods used formerly... boil the brine until the salt becomes dry. But the salt was brown and tasted bitter. The school teacher began researching. He found a mine in Germany that used a similar process but got good salt. He went there and watched the process and asked some questions. Turns out, the brine is heated at 80C until 2/3 of the water is gone, then reduce the temperature to 65C... afterwards slowly adding water and removing the salt that precipitates out for 6 days. "By then the remaining solution of water and calcium carbonate is brown and tastes like horse piss." to which our teacher replied "I don't know what horse piss tastes like." (This remaining water is then fully dehydrated and sold as "bath salts" (really!)) The good salt that comes out of the brine is wet and "fluffy" (I think something is being lost in translation on the fluffy part) It is then air dried in woven conical shaped baskets.

When the trees were all gone, the men of Laeso discovered they could go to their roof tops and spot ship wrecks on the margins of the island... a fine source of building materials and goods if no one survived... and a fine source of rent if any did survive (many homes had extra rooms to rent to survivors.) Records show 10 to twenty wrecks a year were common. On the highest hill in the island is a tower, nearly 30 meters tall, from which you can see anything around the island, except for the trees. Some years after this new source of income was developed, a newcomer to the island thought it would be nice to plant some trees. Mysteriously, the next day all the trees were found uprooted. (when Shirley's father emigrated from the island about 1916 it was still completely devoid of trees and tall bushes.)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Mixed Blessings

By Rob Watson

Today began with church. I was to read the scriptures, which I enjoy doing. (plus) The first was from Genesis, and was easy and straightforward. (plus) The second was from St. Peter, who's tranlater insists on writing in 100 word sentences full of prepositional phrases which don't come out well when reading aloud. (minus)

My big task for the day was a Civil War Reenactment. (plus) That area had lots of rain during the night and the weather had turned cold and misty. (minus) But, I had my Captains cell number and could call to find out if they were still having the event. (plus) He did not answer, so I left a message. (minus) I called the police at the town and asked if the event was still on. Yes. (plus) I loaded up and set out.

After a few minutes on the road I turned on the radio and got Prairie Home Companion, an NPR production of humor and music, that kept me entertained for most of my drive. (plus) On arriving at the battlefield I was told I would again be 'union'. (minus) But I would learn a new position on the cannon, Gunner, which is the guy that pulls the lanyard to fire the gun. (plus) After several practice drills, (plus) we stood in the cold misty wind for 30 minutes (minus) waiting for the order to begin the reenactment.

 The first order is "Load". The second step of that is to clear the barrel with a 'mop'. The mop came loose from it's handle and stuck in the barrel. (big minus) The cannon, now disabled and out of action left us, the gun crew with nothing to do. Some of the crew went and stood around the other cannon and tried to look busy.

My colonel found a guy who brought an extra rifle and asked me to be a 'skirmisher'... a guy who wanders around the battlefield, by himself, shooting at the enemy. (plus) The rifle was an 1866 Henry repeater and a sack full of blanks for it. (plus plus plus plus) {the battle we were reenacting was in 1864 so I am guessing this rifle was a simulated early preproduction model} As the battle progressed I wandered around popping away with my most excellent toy. After 30 or so rounds the rifle jammed. (minus) The last I saw of it, the owner and his friend were addressing the thing (and possibly me) with rather salty language. (minus) At the end of the battle my colonel told me the blanks cost 50 cents each... oops.

On the way home, I turned on NPR again and was listening to a couple of interviews about the Chinese New Year and Viet Namese Tet holidays. (plus) As I drove along, the road seemed less and less familiar, until at last, it turned into an uncared for narrow strip of tar and gravel. (minus minus) After careful consideration, I looked in the glove compartment for a state map put there by my loving Wife. (plus) I found my location on the map and after a half hour of driving got back on the correct road. (Plus) I bought food and gas and had a quiet, uneventful drive home. (plus plus)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Battle of New Orleans

By Rob Watson,

A History: The United States began the War of 1812 to redress certain violations of its sovereignty by the British and to capture Canada for itself. The American leaders chose 1812 because Britain was heavily involved in fighting Napoleon  in Europe. By mid 1814 little progress had been made by either side in accomplishing their war goals.

With the problems in Europe abated for the time, Britain decided on a three pronged attack on the United States. First an attack down from Canada, then one against Baltimore and Washington, and finally, New Orleans. The first two had failed and peace negotiations got serious in Belgium when the final effort began.

At the peace conference, the British were aware of the upcoming campaign against New Orleans and deliberately left wiggle room for success there, hoping to negate the Louisiana Purchase entirely, or as much as possible. American grievances were not addressed and commissions were established to define the boundaries of the United States and Canada. It was signed on December 24, 1814.

As in all military operations, there were a lot of coulda/woulda/shoulda things that I will ignore for the time being, and concentrate on what actually happened. The weather during the series of battles was reported as rain during the day and frosts during the night. Some accounts mention fog, others not.

The "Battle" of New Orleans was actually a campaign designed to capture the city for the British. Ships bearing troops and supplies, from various points, congregated in the Gulf of Mexico, about 80 miles east of the city. They could get no closer because the gulf was very shallow in that area. Troops and supplies were placed on small boats and rowed the 80 miles to the Villere Plantation where they set up their camp. About 1/3 of the troops arrived during Dec. 23. Jackson learned of this movement about noon and planned an attack for that night.

For the night attack, Jackson had about 2,100 regular soldiers, cavalry, Indians, and militia. He was also supported from the river by a number of small armed boats. The British began with about 1800 regular, very experienced, troops. The British had neither eaten nor slept for 24 hours and were preparing their meals and sleeping when Jackson attacked. Due to confusion, darkness, and a continuous stream if incoming British troops, little progress was made by either side. The fighting ended about 4am and Jackson retreated two miles north to the Chalmette Plantation. Casualties were light on both sides.

At Chalmette Plantation, Jackson began to dig out an old canal and build a dirt and wood earthwork from the Mississippi River to the swamp on the east. He was assisted by citizen volunteers and slaves from local plantations. By Dec 28 it was mostly completed.

By the 28th, British General Edward Pakenham had taken charge and decided on a reconnaissance in force to test the American defenses. He had some success against the American left at the swamp but called off his attack when his artillery ran out of ammunition. Jackson, seeing his weakness there, extended his line into the swamp using wood and logs. It is reported the militia at that point stood in waist deep water for the subsequent fighting.

Pakenham decided to reduce the American earthwork with artillery. On Jan 1 he moved up his reinforced and resupplied cannon and began to bombard the earthwork. The American cannon responded. Because the earthwork was made of soft mud, and twelve to twenty feet thick, no significant damage was done.  The British gunners had the most casualties because they had poorly made gun emplacements. This action is usually referred to as the Artillery Duel.

For Jan 8 Pakenham planned a two pronged attack. One group would cross the Mississippi and attack a small artillery emplacement on the west bank, then use those guns on the east bank Americans, while the main British force attacked the American troops behind the earthwork on the east bank. To cross the ditch dug by the Americans, bundles of sugarcane and ladders were to be carried by the leading British troops.

The west bank assault was delayed and played no part in the fighting on the east bank.

Pakenham decided to attack the ends of the American lines because of the vulnerability he discovered on the 28th. On his left, his leading troops "forgot" to pick up the sugarcane and ladders. When they came under fire they broke and ran... possibly to go get the bundles and ladders. A followup unit actually broke into the American lines there but was repulsed because other supporting units had been destroyed by cannon and musket fire. On the swamp end of the line, the British encountered the extended and strengthened American left.

As the British assault began to falter Gen. Pakenham rode forward to encourage his troops. He was unhorsed by a cannon blast and killed by a rifle shot when he tried to remount. At about the same time the other two ranking generals, Samuel Gibbs and John Keane were hit. Gibbs died on the spot and Keane was carried from the field. The surviving General, John Lambert, halted the attack and asked for a truce to bury the dead and tend the wounded.

Of the 7,500 British troops involved, about 2,000 were killed, wounded, or missing. 44% of officers of all ranks were killed or wounded. Most of the British casualties have been attributed to the American artillery, maned by Jean Lafette, his brothers, Dominique and Pierre, and their pirate cohorts. Jackson's troops suffered about 20 men killed or wounded. The British packed up and went home on Jan 18. Pakenham and Gibbs were packed in casts of rum for the voyage. They were said to have left in good spirits.

200 years later many questions remain. You can read all about it in Robin Reilly's "The British at the Gates." (only 370 pages, small print, with pictures)

The commemoration and reenactment of these events began under my watchful eye on this January 7th past. In Jackson Square, (formerly Place de Armes) a tall thin park ranger depicted General Jackson by standing on a precarious makeshift platform, and after introductions, remained entirely silent. Robert Livingston, portrayed by a distinguished French diplomat (assigned to promote the speaking of french in Louisiana), read, in both English and French, the call to arms, as originally presented 200 years previously. They were backed up by 30 or so reenactors in period dress, representing the various units of regular army troops, militias from various states, Indians, Pirates, and townspeople.

(you may have discovered this last picture is a screenshot from a paused video, not a viewable video)

I introduced myself to one of the militia men. He was from California and was visiting his son, an NOPD officer. He had a complete outfit, researched on the internet, and authentic except for color. He was outfitted with a flintlock musket, cartridge pouch and all the proper accoutrements. During these four days many people, besides the reenactors, were dressed in complex and often elegant costumes.

January 8, dawned cloudy, piercing bitter cold, and windy. Large capacity heaters set up by the Park Service served mostly as decorations, unless you were tall and stood close. Then a small portion of your head  would feel a slightly reduced chill. Wife and I arrived late to the actual battlefield and missed most of the speeches. We did hear the English Ambassador speak about the battle and the importance of continued good relations between our countries. This was followed by "Taps" Played "in echo" by two excellent buglers . Inside the visitors center there were a number of informative displays and videos depicting various portions of the New Orleans Campaign. If one more person had entered that building there would not been enough room left for anyone to turn around, much less move... but, it was warm.

Friday was much like the eighth, weather wise. We went back to the battlefield for the demonstrations of period crafts, weaving, powder horn making, musketry, and cannon firings. I noticed a small number of differences between these cannon procedures and those used in the Civil War. Then we went to the reenactors battlefield, about a half mile away. The area was to be a subdivision before Katrina. Now the owner has leased it to The Louisiana Living History Association, presumably for annual reenactments of the battles of New Orleans. The field was cleared, about 200 yards (meters) wide and 600 long. On the north end a replica of the original defenses, built by Jackson, complete with cannon embrasures,  and redoubt, had been erected.

Friday night brought the reenactment of the night battle of December 23, 1814. Spectators were allowed to stand at the dirt and wood berm of the Jackson defenses and watch the battle taking place in the open field to their front. Huge portable lights illuminated the area. Mostly all one could see were the backs of the American troops and the flashes and sparks from the English muskets and cannon. The freezing wind kept the gun smoke from obscuring the view... this time, and for each of the other engagements as well.

Saturday's weather was the same. Wife and I arrived early and I made friends with some of the cannoneers. I quizzed them closely on their guns and procedures. At 10am spectators stood behind barricades set back about 50 yards behind the Jackson defenses. Again, spectators watch the backs of the American troops as they defended against the "reconnaissance in force" of December 28, 1814. Between battles we wandered around the encampments and the sutlers (Venders) tents. I hoped to talk to some of the British (actually Brits from England, some Canadians, and some Australians) but they were having drills and inspections in formation when I went to their camp. Some of the British and many of the American reenactors were from the North, where they mostly do battles from the French and Indian War, The American Revolution, and the War of 1812. Idle times found us wandering about in the French Quarter. We saw the Presbytery, the old US Mint, and the Civil War Museum. We ate well and often.

1pm brought us back to the area behind the Jackson Defenses to watch the reenactment of the Artillery Duel of January 1, 1815. This time I searched out the bleacher on the highest ground (nearly one foot above surroundings) and got us seats on the top (fourth) row. If I stood, I could occasionally see a line of British troops or their cannon blasts. 4pm brought us up to the Jackson berm to watch the reenactment of the January 8, 1815 engagement that occurred on the west bank of the Mississippi.

Wife and I had given up our room at Place de Armes hotel and moved to Slidel. This to avoid a raise in rates from about $125 a night Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday , to over $350 a night for Friday and Saturday. Our reward, besides a $90 room, was an excellent dinner at a lakeside marina/yacht club.

Sunday weather was slightly less cold. 10am brought on the climactic battle of January 8, 1815. Spectators were again stationed in the area 50 yards behind the Jackson Line. I secured my regular observation point early and recruited some pleasant folks to join us. The curse, was a "talker" who joined us and insisted on talking from 9am, shortly after I secured our seats, until we left after the show. The following pictures and video should tell the story of the reenactment... The mule team may have been the simulated ambulance.

Sorry! the video has not downloaded. i will try again later.


Monday, December 29, 2014


by Rob Watson

Perhaps you have had cause to wonder how any change in a series of events might have changed an outcome. In the cases of great outcomes and cases of tragedies, we humans take time to examine our decisions and speculate on how we might have made things better or worse. The following is a story of a rather benign series of events with a pleasant outcome.

Wife made friends with a co-volunteer at one of her former occupations. A plan, on our part to travel some 3,000 miles,  would bring us within a few miles of this person's abode. Using electronic means they made a plan to meet this friend as we traveled near by. There in lies the tale.

After a week or so of electronic isolation, Wife sent a message of when we would arrive, but received no acknowledgement. Presuming the message would be received later we continued with the original plan. After driving a few hundred miles it became clear we would arrive at the meeting place two hours early. Common courtesy requires one to call to verify we could come early. Again there was no acknowledgement. Now the question becomes to go or not to go. We decided to go.

When we arrived in town,  Wife called again. Again, no answer. We had a GPS, a map, and a general idea of the location of the friend's home. We decided to go there and if no one was home we would come back to town and look around until the appointed meeting time. In order to drive in the correct direction we had to turn around.  We decided to turn around by going around the block. We could have gone right or left. We chose left.

At the end of this block we could again choose right or left. To the left I saw the town hall and seat of local government. I suggested we ask at City Hall for better directions.  Wife responded by turning right and suggested we ask at the post office, which was right there. She turned in and parked.  Being a gentleman I volunteered to go inside and inquire.

As I stepped from the car a lady on a bike rode up and dismounted. I inquired as to whether she knew Wife's friend. "Oh, indeed!" was her reply. "How can I help you?" I told her we were seeking directions to the friend's home. "go back one block and drive south 9 miles until you get to a big barn. Turn right and drive three more miles to a large orange mail box and turn left. You will see the house off in the distance at the top of the hill." I repeat these directions with her nodding to indicate I had gotten it right. Then she repeats these directions again, and concludes "Well, I think that is correct. Lets go in the post office and make sure."

 Inside, the postmaster is on the phone and we must wait for her to finish before asking direction again. "Go back one block and drive south 9 miles until you get to a big barn. Turn right and drive three more miles to a large orange mail box and turn left. You will see the house off in the distance at the top of the hill." word for word the original set of directions I had previously been given. Then the postmaster added "The road is being torn up to be resurfaced but it has not reached the mail box yet... Let me call to find out." She makes a phone call but got no answer. She calls another number and chats for a bit before hanging up. She repeats the directions a second time. I can now go outside, get in the car and relate to Wife all that has occurred, including the, now repeated four times, directions.

When I have finished, there is a pause in the action as a car pulls into the parking space beside Wife. There in the front passenger seat is her friend, who looks over and develops an expression of great surprise.

As It happens, the friend had completely forgotten we were coming. Her mother had died several days before and she had gone, with her sisters and friends, to that home to clean up and sort the mother's possessions. They had come to town to visit the bank, check the mail, and go to a resturant for lunch.

Arrangements were made for meeting at lunch in another town. We lunched, visited, and drove on our way, marveling at the series of events needed to make this happen.

Friday, December 19, 2014


By Rob Watson 

 The group is a Catholic men’s organization first formed by Irish Catholics in Boston in the 1880’s to provide charity to catholic widows and orphans. It has grown to an international group. When I was in college, the Catholic student club, the Newman Club, finally saved enough money to build a new building. It was unfurnished until the Knights of Columbus men of Shreveport sent a team of their officers to Ruston to determine our requirements. A doctor’s wife, associated with our little club, led them through the building, room by room, with a catalog, picking out what we needed. Those men never had a chance. Mrs. Black was smart, aggressive, and attractive… a deadly combination around men. What we got was attractive, durable, and very good quality. We got everything we needed. They spent thousand of dollars, today would be measured in tens of thousands of dollars. I was president of the Newman Club that year and had a front row seat to it all. It is probably time i worked with these guys and did some pay back.( I recently had cause to return to my old college stomping grounds. At the newer, much expanded Catholic facility there, I met some ladies who regularly visited Mrs. Black at an elder care home. I wrote a note to Mrs. Black identifying myself and expressing my thanks and admiration for her work on my behalf. These ladies promised to deliver the note for me.)

However it might be classified, manly or childish, I like the parading around in the fancy outfit and the sword. I have not gotten the hang of handling the sword yet. Today, in church, we marched down the isle and drew the swords in salute. Then we were to replace the thing and remove our hats. Every time I tried to get the sword back into its scabbard, the point snagged the fabric of my glove and would not go in. As a form saving device I held the scabbard and unsheathed sword in my left hand. I removed the hat with my right. After a few minutes I was challenged to use my left hand for another activity, while still holding the hat in my right. I put my hat on to make another stab at replacing the sword. Immediately, the boss knight on the alter, saw me and signaled to take my hat off. This time the sword made it in on the first try. The hat came off and everyone was happy.

The “Installation” pictured is for the officers who were just elected. I am in the pictures because I was a stand-in for a guy who couldn’t make it. My actual induction was part of a secret ceremony done three years ago in Kansas. That group never had a meeting, so I transferred here to the local group. There are a lot more Catholics here than in Kansas… They are active with meetings that include a nice meal, and they use their funds to do public service and charity work. The regalia ( the fancy outfit) is used for funerals and special celebrations in the church. Friday we will go to Many, LA to participate in the 25th anniversary of priesthood for one guy and 17th of another. They will feed us afterwards… another chance to get food on that outfit.

Another recent activity, pictured below, was attending the dedication ceremony for the Veterans Memorial Park. This monument has a series of plaques listing the local persons who died in the various wars our nation has fought. All of these men, pictured, are veterans of the US Military.