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. (But, I was never told any of that... only what was to be done). 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, one cup of flour (250ml) and a wad of steel wool. 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 or the steel wool, 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. (our Battery has been very active for many years and this was their first) 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.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Laugh 'Til It Hurts

By Rob Watson

It is possible that you had to be there for these to be funny, but our kittens have on two occasions paralyzed Wife and I in sidesplitting laughter with their antics.

Our kittens are about 5 months old on this first event. Unlike most cats we have had, they seem not to mind traveling, as long as the air conditioner is on. If the air is not on they complain until it is. They know what the small crate is for... to move them from one place to another. Usually, we open the crate and two of them will quickly wander in. The third will not be far behind. They do not distinguish between transfer from house to car, or car to vet, or any other transfer. They get in and go... until...

A few months ago we drove 14 hours from our new home to the old one. We needed to pack up the last of our stuff and haul it to the new place. This was the first time the kittens had ridden in the covered bed of our large pickup. We put them there because it was vastly more room than the cage they usually travel in. They have food, water and a sandbox in either.

On arrival at the old place, we needed to get the kittens into the small cage to transfer them to the old house. When we opened the cage one walked in. I grabbed the second and shoved him into the cage. when we tried to put the third in, one of the others crawled out. Then both tried to get out. We would grab one of the escapees and stuff him back in only to have another one to squeeze out. In. out. In. Out. In. Out. Never more than two in the cage at any one time, until we both began to laugh and lost control. Several minutes later, after we regained self control, we got all three in the cage.

These days, the kittens are 8 month old. The boys are 10 pounds each and the girl is about 8. During their exercise periods  they dash around the living room, alone, or one in pursuit of another. There is no obstacle that cannot be traversed. A leap of four or five feet is common. Floor to recliner to pet tower to another recliner... zoom, zoom. zoom.

We keep our TV tables, each by our respective recliners, each with a place mat for when we eat in front of the TV. One of the boys came dashing across the room, leaped from floor to the arm of my recliner, and followed immediately with a leap of five feet or so, laterally across me and onto the place mat of my TV table. The table top, being polished, offered no resistance to the lateral momentum of the 10 pound cat.

Cat and mat continued to fly together, as if on a magic carpet ride, for another five feet or so until the two landed on the carpeted floor.  Our uncontrolled laughter continued for several minutes. The cat, apparently, embarrassed by the outcome, cut short his exercise and curled up in another chair, eying the two us with a hurt look on his face.

Well, I guess you had to be there.

A Celebration of Christmas

By Rob Watson

Recently, I had cause to attend a religious service celebrating Christmas. It was of such a unique nature that I thought I would share it with others. Of course, it may be old and common to some folks, but it was new to me.

The choir was the Northwestern Chamber Choir. This is a group of 32 college students. They sang all but one interlude acapella. The service began with a choral piece. As the choir sang, the lights were lowered to near complete darkness in the church and the participants processed in and took their places. The pastor, entirely by the light of a single candle, greeted the congregation and read an opening prayer.

The core of the service was nine readings from the Bible. Each reading was related to the Christmas story. After each reading was a choral interlude of one or more religious pieces. During each interlude, two acolytes would come out and light a few candles. By the end of the service 80 candles lighted the front of the church.

The service was held in the Catholic Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. The main alter is a large and ornate structure made in several tiers, each supporting candelabras of different sizes. There are also side alters to the left and right of the main one. These also were made in tiers, each with candelabras.

The last reading was followed by the congregation joining the choir, singing "Oh Come All Ye Faithful"; followed by a final blessing from the pastor. As the participants processed out, the congregation joined the choir in singing "Hark! the Harold Angels Sing".

The choir was excellent. For the size of the group, it made a tremendous sound. If there was electrical assistance, that was done well enough so as not to be detectable.

Before the service began, two men hustled about handing out programs. These listed the readings and the musical pieces in order. Also included were the words to the two songs sung by the congregation. I, of course, sang without that assistance, as the building was still almost completely dark. (congregational participation thinned considerably on the third verse of each song.)

After the service had ended, the lights were turned up, and the audience gave the choir a very well deserved standing ovation.

The readings were:
1. Genesis 3: 8-15
2. Genesis 22: 15-18
3. Isaiah 9: 1, 5, 6
4. Isaiah 11: 1-9
5. Luke 1: 26-33
6. Luke 2: 1-7
7. Luke 2: 8-16
8. Matthew 2: 1-11
9. John 1: 1-14

May the peace and blessing of this holy season be upon all of you of good will!!