Sunday, June 29

Quiet time

This morning the satellite link went kaput. Signal strength on the receive side dropped to 15 out of a possible 100. I called HughesNet and managed to get through the menus, but then I had to sit there and listen to some ghastly, distorted sound quality music and drum my fingers on the table till I said, “You know, I think I can do without the Internet for maybe a few months” and hung up.

I fired up the old dial-up modem and can creep by at a pace that makes snail mail look pretty swift. I don’t know if I’ll pursue getting the satellite back. I’ll just call and cancel the service. That’ll get their attention.

Meanwhile, the blog could be neglected because pictures take a long time to upload by modem.

What a difference a day makes…

A couple of satellite photos show what can happen in a very short time frame. Above we see the entire Central Valley of California obscured by the smoke of its roughly 1,000 wildfires. All the news agencies reported that air quality throughout the valley was “unhealthy.” I figured out why people say that word instead of the correct word, unhealthful. Go ahead, say the word unhealthful and you’ll find that the mouth has to work harder to say thf than to say ee. Kind of like the word ophthalmology. Phth is difficult to say, so it becomes op-tha-mology. As I blogged earlier, say goodbye to unhealthful. Locally, nobody says Huntington Lake. Hunnington Lake is what you hear. Constitution is my personal difficult-to-say word.

Today’s picture of California shows a sunny bright oasis of wonderful healthy air quality.

This brings me to another problem with our language, the use of terms such as “twenty-five-year anniversary.” To be correct, it is simply “twenty-fifth anniversary.” The term anniversary means the date on which an event took place in a previous year. Things fell apart when people started saying “This is our six-month anniversary.” Idiots. They make the word anniversary into a marker to be applied to any arbitrary chunk of time. Why is it that language only seems to deteriorate, not ateriorate? Is it because only dumb people become teachers, while the smart ones become bloggers? I believe what I’m saying is truthy.

Saturday, June 28

President sends in the big iron

Governor Schwarzenegger asked the president for some US Government help with the current wildfires. A few minutes ago, three of these ginormous helos flew over, rattling the windows in the house. Maybe that’s how they’re going use them to put the fire out—hover over the trees and shake all the leaves, needles, twigs and loose bark off. Then drop down and blow all the debris off to where it can be shoveled into large bright orange CalTrans plastic litter bags, thrown onto waiting trucks and carted off to be made into compost. Pretty smart plan, methinks. And a real moneymaker if you don’t mind buying compost that may have dead fish and frogs in it.


This poor sunflower plant has had all its leaves stripped down to their vascular bundles (or whatever you call the veins). Not by grasshoppers; that was so 2007. No, I watched the culprits flocking all over the plant, eating till their little tummies bulged. They were tiny birds with greenish-yellow foliage, eating all the flower’s plumage (or whatever you call feathers and leaves). They seem fearless unless I am wearing a camera around my neck; that strikes fear into their little birdbrained hearts so I don’t have direct evidence of their crimes against sunflowers.

A nearby sunflower remains unscathed. Maybe the little birds were going after insects on the plant, and just happened to like a little salad with their meat. And scathed the poor thing to death.

The lakes are being emptied

The nearby Oliver Fire, now approaching a week old, is still going full steam ahead. It has grown despite the efforts of over 1,200 fire fighters, 141 fire trucks, 29 ground crews, 8 water-dropping planes, 5 helicopters, 15 bulldozers, 11 water trucks, and $3.37 million. Shown here is a Sikorsky Sky Crane helicopter outfitted with a water tank for fire fighting. Huge barely describes this monster. They are flying over the house now in search of water to dump on the fire. Apparently they have drained all the nearby ponds and lakes and are expanding their search area. I suppose they could dip their straw down one of our well casings, but that would take some superb piloting skill and a 1,000-foot (300 meter) straw. They can carry 2,000 gallons (7,570 liters) at a time not including the fish and frogs. I guess the firefighters can rush in after a water drop and get lunch if they don’t mind a little charcoal and ash on the frog legs and fish fillets.

I hope they don’t spot my three-tier fish fountain. The goldfish are getting almost big enough to eat, and I don’t want a crop failure just to stop a stupid old wildfire.

Friday, June 27

Pelton parted out

Above Luke is aligning the crankshaft of the governor control with the rod that connects the governor to the deflector. The way this machine regulates its power is by raising and lowering a curved piece of steel into the stream of water that comes out of a 2" (50 millimeter) diameter nozzle aimed at the cups of the Pelton wheel. When the deflector drops, the full stream hits the wheel; when it rises it deflects the water away from hitting the wheel. Some power plants actually reduce the amount of water by constricting its flow with a fast-acting valve. If we did that, our pipes would burst if the water shut off suddenly due to the momentum of several tons of water in the half-mile (0.8 kilometer) penstock. Unless the valve simultaneously directed the unused part of the stream away, which defeats the purpose.

Above is the heart of the regulating mechanism. The part on the right has the flyball governor, which is driven by a rubber belt connected to the shaft of the Pelton wheel. As it spins, the balls fly out by centrifugal force, pushing down on a shaft that has part of the sleeve valve on it. This controls hydraulic pressure on a 5" (14 centimeter) piston that in turn is connected to a crankshaft connected to the stream deflector. (Are you following? There will be a test.)

The two interacting parts of the sleeve valve are shown here. On the left you can see pitting on the steel cylinder, which will probably contribute to a slight tendency for the regulator to “hunt” a teensy bit before settling down to the correct speed. The most critical part is the little brass or bronze piece on the shaft to the right. If I remember correctly, it is machined to one ten thousandth of an inch (metric equivalent—super teensy), the most precise part in the whole regulator. (I was told by a mechanical engineer that nobody did anything that precise in the 1920s, but that was the specification on the blueprint.) The “lands,” which are the edges where they are cut at a 90° angle, are still as sharp as they were when I last tore into the regulator about 25 or 30 years ago. I was very careful not to put a scratch on either of these parts.

Both pieces fit into another cylinder that directs the hydraulic oil to either side of the drive piston. The steel cylinder in my hand provides feedback from the piston. It rides up and down on a steel inclined plane attached to the drive piston. As the piston moves right and left, the sleeve rides up and down, balancing the movement of the little brass spool connected to the rod of the flyballs. The ankle bone is connected to the shin bone, the shin bone’s—you get the idea. It’s intricate; the entire range of vertical motion of this assembly is around 1/16" (1.6mm) which makes the hydraulic cylinder connected to the deflector move about 4" (10 centimeters) total.

Lots of cleaning and careful gasketing with modern anaerobic two-part liquid gasket material will give us another decade of essentially free electric power. Well, not free since we have to pay a license fee to use the water to the United States Government and the State of California and the Fish and Game Department and…

Nothing’s actually free anymore, is it? Even after it’s been paid for.

Thursday, June 26

Pelton problem

Just returned from the drugstore after picking up last weekend’s pictures. (Heh heh, remember those pre-digital days? I wonder what has happened to all those photo processing machines.) Shown above is the target of my Friday helicopter flight to the ranch, our gorgeous 63 thousand watt Pelton/General Electric hydroelectric power plant. Serving almost trouble-free since 1959, it gave us a fright when it wouldn’t properly regulate its speed. When a heavy load like the 9KW dishwasher heater or electric oven was turned on, the voltage dropped because the wheel wasn’t getting more water to compensate for the increased load.

When I arrived at the ranch, I entered the rock building and admired the machine’s smooth powerful sound, enhanced by the replacement of a worn bearing last season. Luke had torn into the main bearings on the turbine and was surprised to see that one of its roller bearings was evolving into a ball bearing! He had a replacement and put it in correctly (the original had one of its parts reversed). The old feeling of a slight vibration in the floor was now gone. Imagine what it took to shake a concrete foundation that’s three feet (0.9 meter) thick!

My admiration quickly vanished when I inserted the long steel rod into its socket which we use to start the wheel. Once it’s running, you can’t move that rod because you’re pushing against hydraulic pressure that regulates the speed of the wheel, a force that’s nearly half a ton. I pushed on the rod and the wheel slowly sped up! And it kept speeding up when I let go! Quickly I stomped my foot on the solenoid-operated valve that dumps the hydraulic pressure; it’s one of the safety shutoffs that prevent the machine from overspeeding and possibly disintegrating. After restarting it, I tried once more and got the same result. I shut it down. Time for diesel backup, and time to start dismantling the regulator.

Which I will cover in the next entry. Don’t touch that dial!

Wednesday, June 25


Fresno State (CSUF) is the lowest-ranked team in the history of college baseball to ever get to the finals! Tonight they won the NCAA College World Series Baseball Championship. Just thought you’d like to know that the only college I ever dropped out from finally made up for my dropping out.

Poke another stick at the hornet’s nest

The photo above shows Florence Lake when nothing is happening. You know the season has finally started when things get chaotic. Over the weekend an Outward Bound group of nine teenagers and their two group leaders got lost near Courtright Reservoir south of us. It’s been the top of the local news ever since. Today around 1 PM they showed up at the Florence Lake boat landing, all in good shape, while the Sheriff’s helicopter and a Search and Rescue squad were looking in another area. Karla called me from the store and told me what was happening, and I called a couple of local radio stations with the news. They wanted to contact the store directly, so I gave them the phone number. Karla called the Fresno Bee with the news. Then I got a call from CBS News in New York. They got the store’s number too. I hope she doesn’t kill me!

Late breaking news! I just got a call from the Associated Press in New York. Gave them the number too. I’m going to go crawl under a rock and stop answering the phone.

More news—watch CNN and Good Morning America on Thursday morning for more…

Laughter’s reward

Last Sunday I conducted a tour of our hydroelectric plant at the ranch. Many of the guests were from Hawaii, a state that pays through the nose for electricity. (Come to think of it, maybe that’s why their noses glowed and has nothing to do with last night’s bacchanalian orgy.) As we approached the beautiful rock building that contains the generator, I recalled a story my mother told about a group of teachers that toured a hydroelectric dam long ago. One had asked what they did with the water after all the electricity had been taken out.

As soon as all fifteen or so guests gathered at the entrance to the building, I directed their attention to the outlet of the tailrace where water shot out with great force. It was brilliant white and full of vitality and roaringness. I said, “First I want to direct your attention to what water looks like after all the electricity has been removed.”

The reward of laughter makes life worthwhile.

Tuesday, June 24

Now for something completely different

The old tack shed at Muir Trail Ranch served nobly for decades, but time had taken its toll and we decided to knock it down and turn it into firewood. Some new fence was near the shed and would have been damaged if the shed fell on it. Frank the farrier took a short break from shoeing and wielded a log-splitting maul to get one of the upright posts moved out of the way.

After removing the cross-bracing, Briana and Jesse were ready to play bulldozer.

You go girls! Frank gets out of the way.

Mission accomplished!

Monday, June 23

Odd cloud formations

The red arrow above points to the fire nearest our foothill ranch. Right now the sky is brown with smoke here at the house. The “clouds” shown in this weather satellite photo, except for the fog off the coast, are smoke from what is now reported to be 831 wildfires, an all-time record. The Saturday lightning storm gave us 5,000 to 6,000 strikes and produced a disaster that will keep the Governator up all night. Governor Schwarzenegger will probably declare a disaster and has already asked for help from neighboring Oregon and Nevada. (Does barren desert Nevada have things that burn?) (Can anything in super-rain-soaked Oregon burn?) (Why would either state have even one fire engine?) (Oh, right, I forgot—cigarettes in sofas.)

I hope they can help with whatever they have since we are overwhelmed. Parts of the Mariposa area and north of Ahwahnee are being evacuated.

Welcome back, Tommy

Don’t you just love it when you’re away for a couple of days and come home to a sight like this? On Saturday a relatively dry thunderstorm visited Northern California and set off 341 wildfires. Coming down Acton Grade on Sunday afternoon with another four miles (6.4 kilometers) to go before getting home I finally get to see the relationship of these two fires to where home is. At two o’clock this morning (Monday) I was awakened by the smell of smoke and looked out the window to see a red glow on the horizon to the north. I just hate when that happens. Starting around 8:30 the planes resumed their mission of dropping fire retardant. This time they broke out the big iron; I had never seen the large four-engine turboprops on a fire around here before. Currently the larger fire is around 400 acres, 160 hectares. Let’s hope it stays that way!

Correction at 7:45 PM — There are now 831 wildfires.

A very good cause

I have been a fan of liberty for most of my life except when I was forced to take American history classes. One of my causes is ending eminent domain abuse. Today is Kelo Day, named for the woman whose case was overturned by the US Supreme Court. The Court said it was all right for government to confiscate private property and give it to another private interest in order to make a profit. Not nice. Here’s your chance to support the cause.

Kelo Day - June 23, 2008

Donations as small as $5 are welcome. Now’s your chance to redeem your old selfish ways and finally become a decent human being. For a day anyway. I am for today, but then tomorrow comes, and the next day, and the next…

Sunday, June 22

Airport security begone!

Friday morning, get up at 4:15 AM, put on your socks and pants and one hopes the right shirt, comb hair (ha!) brush teeth and try to remember why it’s so dark outside. Oh yeah, we have a flight to catch. A flight where I can take a knife and keep my shoes on and there are no X-ray machines or scowling bureaucrats. Just drive a mile down the road from the house to our pilot’s favorite landing spot because there is such a long downhill for a smooth takeoff and altitude gain without having to break a sweat. At 6:30 Richard Ambrosini comes in and touches down like he’d done it ten thousand times. Forty years of experience sure shows. He had already picked up Susie Hickman at her ranch near Friant. So it was Adeline, Karla and me to fill out the load.
Thirty-five minutes later we were over Florence Lake. The air during the entire flight was unusually calm, which suited us just perfectly. The only problem from a photographer’s viewpoint was that we spent almost the entire time flying toward the sun. Lots of windshield glare, and the usual springtime bug spatters.
After a 40-minute flight, we set down in Blayney Meadow. Richard took off his headphones and announced, “We’re here!” to which I added, “Wake up, everybody!” He commented, “That looks like frost on the grass,” and he was right. It was just flat cold! Hilary and Ron and Sioux and Sallie were waiting for us with one of the ranch trucks, and took Susie and Adeline in while Hilary, Karla and I walked to the ranch.

The only reason I was on this flight was that the venerable Pelton power plant was not regulating properly. Since I was the last person to ever sit at the master’s knee and hear the secrets of its operation, I was the one to resurrect it. Karl Smith told me once, “Tom, you’re the only person I know who can understand how to keep this ranch running.” He was exaggerating of course, but not much (cue the laugh track here). Since the old operating manual that showed every part and its function and how to adjust everything was missing, Luke was reluctant to tear into the machine. I was conned to return to the ranch and reveal my fading understanding (slowly rotting mind, y’know). Luke and I had a ball taking the three-foot-tall regulating mechanism totally apart, from the spinning flyball governor to the brass-shimmed base, something I had never done. Luke discovered that fifty years of aging had mis-aligned a critical drive shaft, and corrected that problem with a flourish of tin-snip wizardry. We were mutually amazed at the simplicity, complexity, and sheer beauty as each piece was brought out to sunlight for the first time in fifty years. There was evidence of corrosion because somehow water got into the hydraulic fluid. The job ended up as a cleaning operation, getting rid of sludge and polishing some corroded parts.

We started taking the machine apart around 11 o’clock Friday morning. By noon Saturday morning it was up and humming and giving us 63,000 watts of power if we wanted. The rest of the day was spent cleaning up the mess and putting the tools away. I stayed overnight and came out Sunday on horseback!! Not a helicopter in sight. Oh well, I guess you have to strike a balance.

Thursday, June 19

Revised plan

The only thing that is constant is change.

I don’t know to whom to attribute the above quotation, but it is a constant in my life for sure. I just received my orders for tomorrow: Leave the house at 5:23 AM and drive 1.1 miles, 1.77 kilometers, southeast to the pickup point. Look skyward. Pray.

There will be pictures.

Kelo Day - June 23, 2008

Missed a day…sorry

I told you recently that our horses were going to be heading up to the high country. Yesterday was the second sendoff. The truck above hauls them to the High Sierra Ranger Station on the Kaiser Pass Road where they are offloaded to a Forest Service corral to be shod and then gathered and herded up the road to a corral at Florence Lake, then around the lake and on to Blayney Meadow. It’s a remarkably involved process that takes the efforts of about a dozen people. My assignment for the two days was to be up at the corral in the foothills with a truck at 6:45 AM to pick up five riders and bring them back to the foothill ranch. Then I turned around and drove back to the same corral to pick up the saddles and other tack to return for the following day’s ride. On that second day the saddles rode a truck to the ranger station where on the third day many of the same riders will finish the cycle to the ranch. When it goes well, it’s like a beautifully choreographed ballet.

It went well.

Tomorrow I have to get up at 4:30 AM and do something else. I’ll probably be able to get to a computer and write about it in a couple of days. Don’t hold your breath. There will be pictures.

Tuesday, June 17

They’re pulling my leg

This is showing on Tuesday’s Astronomy Picture of the Day. I think they finally ran out of real pictures of the universe and are starting to make things up. Like this, for example, supposedly taken by The Hubble Space Telescope. Baloney! I can see that it’s a couple of heads of cauliflower Photoshopped onto a splash of ketchup and orange juice with a few little sprinkles of starlike things tossed in. They can’t fool me!

Monday, June 16

Medicine woman

During our spring roundup, Mike the vet suggested that a little extra worming be done on some of our fine steeds. Hilary thought it would be a good idea to give the medicine today while all the horses were together in the corral. Early tomorrow morning we will head out the road to bring in riders who will take a string of ponies down the road, up the hill, and into the loading area out there on the paved road where 15 or so horses get on the big 18-wheeler and head off for the high country. Wednesday we repeat the operation for the remaining 15 or so. Any leftovers will ride in the trailer for the trip to lush green meadows in the high country.

Later this week, another mode of transport will be used to take some of the two-leggers up to the ranch. Stay tuned.

He-e-ere’s Monty!

As I approached the creek crossing to come back from the corral to the house this morning, who should be crouching under the buckeye tree by the huge rock but Bob-Kitten! So named last September when I got the photo shown below, he has been pretty elusive ever since. The picture above was taken no more than 8 feet or 2.5 meters from the now-bigger, adolescent feline. I was tempted to call him Bob, but after being chewed out yesterday by Earl Squirrel (real name: Reginald) I didn’t want to be attacked by a bobcat! Even verbally.

Since I don’t speak or understand any feline languages except the one spoken by Raven, our house cat, I am only guessing that this fine creature’s name is Montgomery. As for Raven, his every utterance means only one thing: Feed me.

Sunday, June 15

He-e-ere’s Reggie!

On our morning walk, up pops our old buddy Earl, checking us out as we approach. He had ducked into his hideout when we got a little too close for comfort, and eyed us as we walked by. “Hello, Earl,” Karla chirped. She talks to all the animals even if they never respond. Earl let out a string of chirps, squeals, and whistles that startled me! Mainly because I understood what he said! I responded with a series of my own chirps, squeals and whistles and finished off with a particularly sharp burp for emphasis. Earl ducked into his hole for a few seconds, then popped up again and started another diatribe.

Karla seemed confused. As I said, she doesn’t get replies to her utterances, and here I was having a full-fledged conversation! I had just remembered that in a past life I was a small-animal psychotherapist and spoke many of their languages. Earl was telling me that to call him Earl Squirrel was just plain stupid, something a very immature or uncaring two-legger (human) would do because it’s cute. Turns out his real name is Reginald. So there.

Saturday, June 14

So you think you’ve had a tough day? Part 2

News out of the midwest is depressing. Flooding is expected to continue through next week. One thing about the photo above mystifies me: How is that traffic light getting power? Is the entire system waterproof?

Many Californians don’t realize that we’re just as vulnerable to flooding in the region around Sacramento. There are over 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) of levees, some of which are over 150 years old and not in the best condition. Of course, we have to get rain in order to be threatened. Whew! I guess we’re safe!

If/When Sacramento gets wiped off the map (it’s only 30 feet, 9 meters above sea level), guess where the capitol of California moves to? Temporarily, at least. Fresno! Downtown are buildings stuffed with duplicates of all the necessary paper and computer files to run the government, updated daily. At 300 feet above sea level, everything’s protected for awhile at least. Now I can sleep without worry.

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Friday, June 13

Karla’s brand new van!

When Karla was a little kid, a Hollywood heart-throb actor, either Van Heflin or Van Johnson, she can’t remember, gave her a big kiss. Ever since, she’s had a thing for vans. Different from the original Van, for sure, but still…

Every season when the ranch is going full steam, we have to haul lots of stuff up the hill. A truck isn’t appropriate for some loads, but a van sure fills the bill. So the choice is: Buy or Rent. If you buy, you own a van. It gets old. You have to keep it up. It fills up with dents, bald tires, and expired registrations. Plus insurance. Oil changes. And the payments go on and on and on…

Rent! No insurance, registration, bald tires, taxes. Plus we only need it for three months then give it back. Next year it’s brand new. And if you get it for the corporate rate (20% off normal rental) and use your American Express card, you save so much money you can simply quit working! Just sit in the comfy chaise by the driveway with the mint julep in your hand and stare at the money-making van. Well, not really, but you get the idea.

And Karla gets to renew her love of Vans!

A new use for cell phones!

This may be what's making that popping sound in my head.

Now all we need is a cell phone that melts butter and sprinkles salt on the finished product.

So you think you’ve had a tough day?

Bald Eagle vs. Trumpeter Swan. Get the rest of the story here.

Speaking of bald eagles, I’ve been approached by total strangers who ask me why the bird is so named. “The whole head is covered in feathers, for cryin’ out loud!” they’ll complain. “How can that be called bald?” I guess I’m the target of such inquiries because of my long-standing experience with being follically-challenged.

Seriously folks, I have known for a long time that the “bald” in “bald eagle” is actually misspelled. When the bird was chosen to be America’s national symbol back in the 18th century, the word was spelled balde, which meant white-haired or white-maned. The only reference I could find on the Internet (after going one page deep in Google) is here and these people only refer to the spelling used in the 18th century without explaining any further. I’ll send them a link to this entry and set ’em straight. Now there’s a justification for for blogging!

Photo: Kelly Munday

Thursday, June 12

A blog about nothing worthwhile…

Yesterday’s blog about bananas was supposed to be saved for today in case nothing happened. I do that once in awhile—get inspired and make an entry to be saved for later. But my keyboard shortcuts must have been interpreted differently by Blogger and it posted the banana thing. Oh, well. Today nothing of note happened, and it would have been so easy to select the banana blog and hit the “Publish post” button and go back to bed.

Above is a shot I took from a helicopter last year. It’s a little lake at something like 9,000 feet (2,750 meters) elevation between Florence Lake and Huntington Lake. Looks pretty crappy. I wonder if that’s cow manure mucking up the water. There were no cattle around this lake at the time, but I know they come up there to graze during the summer season. Or maybe it’s runoff from the Totally Addicted Mega Coffee Drinkers’ Big Springtime Bash that’s held every odd year after a Coronal Mass Ejection. They toss their used grounds into the nearest body of water hoping that they will be there the next time they return. Makes the new brew even stronger, if you re-use the water. Saves money, too, what with shipping costs from Jamaica and the Kona Coast of Hawaii. They do have to be careful that they don’t mistakenly pick a cattle-stained lake, though. From the caffeinated lakes the fish actually jump into your creel and gut themselves, ready to eat. Saves work and time. I wonder if anyone has gotten a patent on that.

See what happens when I don’t have anything legitimate to write about? Sorry.

Wednesday, June 11

In praise of seediness

In my determined, knowledge-seeking Web surfing, I happened to run across the above picture. Do you have any idea what that pathetic seed-filled fruit is? Unappealing, for one. Probably inedible for another. Guess what? It’s the ancient ancestor of our most-eaten fruit (in the United States, anyway) the Cavendish banana! Over a period of 5,000 years or so, we humans have managed to reduce its seediness and extend its length. We managed to make it yellow when ripe, and easy to peel. Concurrently we invented the knife so we can slice it into nice little discs to adorn our breakfast cereal. Another plant we’ve managed to de-seed is the watermelon. Pale tan little vestiges of the robust black seeds of yesteryear are scattered through the flesh of this favorite summer melon. The fun of spitting those little black missiles is forever lost to today’s generation. Even pitted olives take the fun out of squeezing those hard little ovals between thumb and forefinger to see who can gain the greatest distance, or hit the cat square between the eyes! (Bonus points if you hit the eye!) If we keep this de-seeding up, what will happen to our morning’s cereal? Seedless Wheaties won’t be the Breakfast of too many Champions, nor will Riceless Krispies give us our beloved Snap, Crackle and Pop. Let’s hope our pursuits along this line don’t escape the laboratory and deprive us of all our food. Wouldn’t it be awful if we were reduced to eating blind cats!

Silk deck

On our morning walk we spotted some new construction in the neighborhood, a nice big silken dance floor. Nearby was the entrance to a residence that accompanies it. Imagine how smooth it would be to dance on a silk floor, especially if you have eight legs! Or perhaps it’s a deck to be used in the evenings when downhill breezes come along to cool the ground. The occupants might emerge to relax and enjoy a cocktail, or maybe a cockroach.

Tuesday, June 10

Hooray for yesteryear!

Ninety-four years old, and ready to go back to work! This from today’s San Francisco Chronicle is a story of an old “iron monster” that has been sidetracked for 50 years, but is now all spiffied up and ready to return to the streets of San Francisco. It’s good to see people getting their money’s worth from their investment instead of junking anything that’s no longer the latest and greatest. Whenever I’m on Market Street, I can’t help but feel good when I see the parade of old streetcars filled with happy passengers go by. I doubt if the airlines, who are parking literally hundreds of their older less-efficient airplanes, will ever bring them back for old times’ sake.

In the early 1960s when I was attending the Navy’s electronics school in San Francisco, I went home for a Christmas break. It cost about $10 to take a Greyhound bus at the time. There was a heavy demand due to the season, and Greyhound rolled out bus number 560, a true antique (at the time, the buses were numbered in the 7,000s). It probably was manufactured in the late 1930s and had corrugated aluminum sides and a rounded front end and a tapered, rocket-like back end. The seats were what really intrigued me, though. They were made of a cushion to sit on, and a curvy back frame, probably of wood, maybe of metal, with a sheet of heavy velvet-covered rubber upholstery, kind of like a luxurious hammock. You could see the impression of the sitter’s back. Odd looking, but super comfortable. The engine purred as if it were just tuned up, and I had a memorable ride. Greyhound was smart to preserve that old buggy for those many years.

Monday, June 9

The Flying Red Horse

Soon to be airborne (Hilary is putting this model in the box as I write) and on his way to England, Ravenhill is finished. A new mane and tail are the only changes, besides a little fleshing out of the body to make him more robust. To make the modifications, Hilary used gray epoxy on the white polyurethane body. To see if things are just right, she then paints the horse a single color. We were out of her preferred gray primer, so she used red paint instead. The finished porcelain horses won’t be red, but that would be interesting, I think. Maybe I can order a custom paint job.

Sunday, June 8

More cactus flowers

We’ve had this scruffy little collection of cacti on a rock adjacent to where our real cacti grow. It’s been neglected for at least 15 years, and has never flowered. Until now. And what a profusion of flowers! I was lucky to get the picture above, because one day later, they were closed. End of bloom.

Not to be outdone, another pot of cacti produced about 20 blooms. Our friend, Beatrice Bee, landed in the blossom to give us a sense of scale. Thanks, Bea Bee.

Friday, June 6

Sunset on Mars

I lifted the copy shown below from the NASA site that shows this photo. It still amazes me that we can do this kind of thing (show pix from Mars, not lift copy).

“On May 19, 2005, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit captured this stunning view as the Sun sank below the rim of Gusev crater on Mars. This Panoramic Camera mosaic was taken around 6:07 in the evening of the rover's 489th Martian day, or sol.

“Sunset and twilight images are occasionally acquired by the science team to determine how high into the atmosphere the Martian dust extends, and to look for dust or ice clouds. Other images have shown that the twilight glow remains visible, but increasingly fainter, for up to two hours before sunrise or after sunset. The long Martian twilight (compared to Earth's) is caused by sunlight scattered around to the night side of the planet by abundant high altitude dust. Similar long twilights or extra-colorful sunrises and sunsets sometimes occur on Earth when tiny dust grains that are erupted from powerful volcanoes scatter light high in the atmosphere.”

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Texas A&M/Cornell

Thursday, June 5

Getting a good grade

Karla thought I should appear in a picture so she stood precariously on a dog’s back and a big beach ball (kidding) and caught me getting a good grade. We needed another parking spot so it was natural to consult with ourselves then hire ourselves to grade a flat place. We can get at least ten hours of operating time out this little machine for barely five gallons (19 liters) of diesel fuel. And it’s tax-free because it’s for off-road use. Yay.

Wednesday, June 4

When a dirt road becomes a studio…

The Realistic Equine Sculpture Society asked Hilary to submit an article and a picture of her bronze horse, Ravenhill, for use on the cover of the magazine. Not having a photographer’s studio with all the fancy controlled lighting, Hilary substituted a dirt road and low-angle sunlight. She came up with a pretty darned good photo.

Another gorgeous horse

Hilary uses her real dentist’s drill, a gift from her kind dentist in Mariposa, to make adjustments to an old casting of Ravenhill. The model will be shipped off to The Horse Gallery in England to be reproduced in fine porcelain.

Her last model made by the Gallery, Highland Heather, is the only one in their current catalog that has sold out, so they obviously like her work. Heather measured about 3-1/2" long, 90 mm. Ravenhill will be about 10" or 25 cm long. I predict that it, too, will be a hot seller. Predicted price: $525.

Sunday, June 1

Same old same old

Well, here it is again, the scene we’ve seen for what? 60 years? More? One more exciting season is about to be started. But for whom? Us? Visitors? Maybe exciting, maybe boring, maybe their last. We’ve measured time by how many of the old timers don’t show up anymore. Thousands of people have looked on this very scene thousands of times, and they come back for more. Then they die. But we only know that happens when after a few years they no longer show up. The musician from Gustine, for example. Never missed a year since 1940 until finally a year missed him. His son and family still return. Another man who always rented a boat and sat on the gunwale (gunnel) as he steered his way across the lake. We never knew if the smoke trailing him was from our motor or his endless cigarettes. He built a camp at the river mouth that people still enjoy. The one legged-man who uses Florence Lake as practice for his big annual event, the swim from Alcatraz. The full-time carpenter, part-time actor whose crowning achievement was as a major guest star on Star Trek: The Next Generation. And the perennial re-appearance of Robert Redford, getting off the Muir Trail mid-way as he has done for years. He still looks pretty good, so he’ll be coming back.

The cycle repeats.