Sep 14, 2017

The Great Drop Tower Catastrophe...

On the right - The Dynamic Test Stand, Facility 4550, at Marshall Space Flight Center
According to a NASA document entitled, "Brief Chronology of Facilities Buildup Relating to History of Marshall Space Flight Center (Early 1950s through 1990) ," in 1964, "the Saturn V Dynamic Test Stand (Facility Number 4550) was constructed for low frequency dynamic testing of the complete Saturn V launch vehicle to evaluate structural frequencies and assure decoupling from the vehicle control system.  Various flight configurations were evaluated, including, the complete vehicle, the vehicle less the S-IC stage, S-II stage, etc.  In the years that followed the tower was utilized to structurally qualify the Skylab orbital workshop and the meteoroid shield deployment for Skylab.  The facility was modified in 1977 to perform low frequency vibration tests on the mated Space Shuttle using the orbiter Enterprise.  The facility was later modified to contain a drop tower and drop tube to provide a low gravity environment for approximately 3 seconds."

That last phrase, "The facility was later modified to contain a drop tower and drop tube to provide a low gravity environment for approximately 3 seconds," sounds almost like a throw-away, but it was a real effort and I was fortunate enough to have been part of it.  In 1981, my short-lived contracting career was coming to an abrupt end.  I need to find a different direction in my career and was open to just about any opportunity that might have come along.

One day my wife Margo saw an ad in the Huntsville Times that indicated that the Division of Continuing Education at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) was looking for someone with a Master's Degree (Preferably a PhD) to become the new Associate Director of Technical Studies.  The job description, which included the development of new training courses for the Army Corps of Engineers and other Federal agencies, sounded like something I might excel at.  So, in spite of my lack of an advanced degree, I submitted an application for the position.  I heard nothing for several weeks.  I checked with some acquaintances at UAH and was informed that the job requisition was still open.

The person who had posted the position was a Dr. Gary Workman.  I tried reaching him to no avail.  In speaking with his receptionist, I learned that Dr. Workman often met his wife for lunch and returned around 1:00 P.M.  I found out what kind of car he drove.  One day, in suit and tie, freshly shaven and hair combed, I laid in wait at the door of the Continuing Education building on campus.  When Dr. Workman stepped out of his car to return to work, I confronted him and informed him that his refusal to answer my written and telephone inquiries about my job application was both rude and unprofessional.  I was here to request an immediate job interview and I believed I could convince him of my ability to do the job without an advanced degree.

We went together to Gary Workman's office, had a cup of coffee to relax in an informal job interview that was followed immediately by two more interviews (with Dr. Mike Oliver and a lovely lady named Anneliese Dilworth), and I left that afternoon with an informal offer letter with the formal offer to follow.  Sometimes it pays to be assertive.

I worked closely with Gary for the next 2 1/2 years as his assistant.  We worked very well together and the department grew at a healthy rate.

One day Gary came into my office and laid a NASA solicitation on my desk.  "NASA wants to reactivate the old drop tower out at the dynamic test stand," he pointed out.  "They're looking for a PhD in metallurgy or metallurgical engineering.  I've got my PhD in physical chemistry and you have a bachelor's degree in metallurgical engineering.  What if we proposed the two of us for the price of one?  We might have an opportunity to get into some really neat research!"  We proceeded to write a decent proposal describing how we would proceed to reactivate a facility that had not been used for 15 or 20 years.  We went out to visit the dynamic test stand, took the elevator to the top, and inspected the rusty remnants of what had been a beautiful bit of research equipment.

The drag shield on the drop tower that we
reactivated in the early 1980s, here being held
in position by its hoisting cable
A little background is needed.  The dynamic test stand is an imposing structure nearly 500 feet tall.  One side of the building is comprised of an open steel gridwork within which various configurations of the Saturn V booster and later the Space Shuttle were mounted to be shaken and vibrated by enormous hydraulic actuators.  Alongside this mammoth structure is a series of platforms on which people can walk, accessible by elevator, and from which engineers could observe and measure various points on the structures being tested.  Part of that "floored" area was chosen in which to construct the Drop Tower.  A pair of long steel rails was erected vertically about 5' apart, extending the entire 475 foot height of the structure.  These rails are exquisitely constructed to be absolutely parallel and perfectly straight.  Now imagine a bullet- or bomb-shaped container (properly called a drag shield) aligned vertically between the two rails with guides that embrace the rails on either side.  Through access plated on the walls of this "bullet" scientists can enter the interior and install experiments that are designed to occur in very low gravity conditions and over a very short duration (less than 3 seconds).  An example might be the rapid melting and re-solidifying of a tiny droplet of some alloy.  The drag shield would be hoisted by a winch to its topmost position on the top floor of the dynamic test stand.  At the moment of initiation of an experiment, the latches holding the shield in place would be released at the same moment that a set of small CO2 powered thrusters surrounding the top of the device would be activated.  These thrusters were aimed upward.  Their function was to  give a momentary downward push to get the facility started on its 450-foot drop.  The experiment inside would "float" up from the floor and remain floating for the 2-3 seconds that it took the shield to reach the bottom of its travel.  Those 2-3 seconds represented the period during which the experiment would actually transpire.

When Gary and I first saw the "laboratory" it was depressing.  This facility is exposed constantly to the elements.  Every piece of equipment was rusty.  Paint had peeled off in great sheets, exposing broad swaths of rust.  The rails had layers of rust covered with bird droppings.  Apparently, there were some favorable roosts that aligned with the location of the rails.  Fixtures that we touched that should have moved, such as movable latches and hinges, were frozen with corrosion.  This was going to be an interesting effort.

We proceeded to write our proposal, describing in detail how we would restore, upgrade and activate the entire mechanism and its associated instrumentation.  Within a few weeks after submitting our proposal, the university research institute was notified that we had won the competition.  We were soon under contract to reactivate the drop tower!

Over the next several weeks, we spent most of our time meeting with NASA facilities specialists, researchers, and experimenters.  We completely stripped all the hardware down to bare metal and restored the painted and coated surfaces.  We replaced bearings and bushings that had long since ceased to function properly.  We rewired hundreds of feet of corroded and broken wiring harnesses.

The local operating center and instrument room adjacent to the drag shield's launch point had been gutted and exposed to the elements.  We completely restored it with up-to-date equipment and instruments.  Within only a few months, it was time to check out the drop mechanism.

We decided that Gary would be located at the top, or release point to observe the event.  Most of the NASA client's personnel would be there as well.  I would be stationed on the second or third deck of the drop tower facility, standing adjacent to the hole on the deck through which the "bullet" would descend en route to the "Catch Tube."  This was a steel cylinder about 25-30 ft. tall into which the drag shield descended at the bottom of its fall.  It had holes perforating its sides through which air could escape at a controlled rate to slow the container down and the bottom of the catch tube was lined with padding that looked like a collection of old mattresses.  My job was to try to take a photograph of the dropping capsule as it passed through my level at a high rate of speed.

In this NASA cutaway image
of the drop tower facility, you
can see the simulated capsule
descending toward the
catch tube.
On the appointed day, we all took our assigned positions.  A small dummy experiment and some high speed cameras were mounted inside the experimental capsule to ensure that the experiment "floated" correctly on the way down.  We had a formal countdown over the loudspeaker system of the dynamic test stand.  "3-2-1... and Bam!"  I heard the loud report of the latch mechanism and the whoosh of the speeding capsule.  It all happened so fast that it passed me before I even thought about the camera release.  Then I made a serious mistake.

I leaned over the edge of the deck to watch the capsule descend into the catch tube.  We had overlooked one item in our restoration effort.  The catch tube had collected twenty years worth of rainwater, debris, dead birds, and God knows what other detritus during its inactivity.  So instead of a soft landing against a cushion of air, the falling laboratory's kinetic energy was used to force the liquid in the catch tube between the capsule and the enclosing walls, creating a gusher of unimaginable foulness.  And I caught its full force and volume.  I got absolutely drenched with this vile goo!

There were a couple University associates and NASA representatives standing nearby who immediately started laughing hysterically as they backed away.  I ended up walking down the stairs to the ground level, since I didn't want to contaminate the elevator.  Fortunately, there was an outdoor decontamination shower available where I was able to get most of the slime and filth off.  In retrospect. the event got funnier as the memory of the smell grew fainter.

And you can bet that the very next day we began the job of cleaning out and restoring the catch tube!

Sep 13, 2017

David Stone and the "Big Book"

The colorful dust cover of an early printing
of Alcoholics Anonymous
Every newcomer to the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous hears certain suggestions.  They usually include immersing oneself in the textbook that defines the organization, also entitled "Alcoholics Anonymous."  Most members of AA call it simply the "Big Book."  (Many years ago, I attended an AA spiritual retreat in southern California.  The moderator, a Roman Catholic priest from Alabama, picked up the New Testament to read a passage.  He said, "This is the original "big book." )

As a newcomer to AA, I took the message seriously and read and re-read the book, which describes "The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism."  I also wanted to know how and when the book got written.  I learned much of the story from the foreword to the 1st edition.  Bill W. and Dr. Bob, the two men credited with founding AA, had been instrumental in producing the initial manuscript supplemented by the stories of many early AA members.  I also found narratives the origins of the book in some histories of AA that had been published.

A current pamphlet published by AA's World Headquarters describes it nicely, "In May 1938, when Bill W. began work on the first draft of what is now the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous, in New York City and Newark, New Jersey, he had been sober about three and a half years.  Dr. Bob was sober a few months less than three years, and the other 100 early members who contributed in one way or another to the writing of the book had been sober for periods ranging from a couple of years to a couple of months.  The early members realized the book would need a “story” section.  “We would have to produce evidence in the form of living proof, written testimonials of our membership itself.  It was felt also that the story section could identify us with the distant reader in a way that the text itself might not.”  Dr. Bob and the members in Akron, Ohio led this effort.  One member of the Akron Group was a former newspaperman with two years of sobriety, named Jim.  He and Dr. Bob “went after all the Akronites who had substantial sobriety records for testimonial material.  In most cases Jim interviewed the prospects and wrote their stories for them.  Dr. Bob wrote his own.”  By January, the Akron Group had come up with 18 stories.  In New York, where there was no one with writing expertise, they decided that each member with substantial sobriety would write his own story.  When Bill and a fellow member turned to edit these “amateur attempts,” there were objections.  “Who were we, said the writers, to edit their stories?  That was a good question, but still we did edit them.  The cries of the anguished edited tale tellers finally subsided and the story section of the book was complete in the latter part of January 1939.  So, at last, was the text.”  The book still lacked a title.  “The Akron and New York groups had been voting for months on possible titles.  This had become an after-the-meeting form of amusement and interest.  The title ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ had appeared very early in the discussion….  We do not know who first used these words.  After we New Yorkers had left the Oxford Groups in 1937 we often described ourselves as a ‘nameless bunch of alcoholics.’  From this phrase it was only a step to the idea of ‘Alcoholics Anonymous.’”  More than 100 titles were considered, but in the end, it came down to “Alcoholics Anonymous” or “The Way Out,” and when the two groups voted, “The Way Out” received a slight majority.  At this point, one of the A.A.s visited the Library of Congress to research the number of books titled “The Way Out” versus those called “Alcoholics Anonymous.”  There were 12 with the former title, none with the latter, and since nobody wanted to make the book the thirteenth “Way Out,” the problem was solved.  “That is how we got the title for our book, and that is how our society got its name.”  So, this somewhat shaky, often fearful group of men and women somehow brought to publication, on April 10, 1939, the book Alcoholics Anonymous."

I, like many newly sober members of AA, decided that I would like to acquire an early edition of the Big Book.  I approached my friend David Stone, who owned the Booklegger used book store in Huntsville.  He said that he was certain that early copies of the Big Book were very rare and therefore quite expensive.  David suggested that I contact a gentleman named Charles Bishop, who owned a bookstore in Wheeling, West Virginia, called "The Bishop of Books" that specialized in books about alcoholism and drug addiction.  I promptly called Mr. Bishop and explained my quest.

I suppose Charlie Bishop heard from hundreds of new AA members every year, but he was extremely polite and patient.  He explained that not only the edition is important to establishing the value of an early Big Book, but equally important is the printing.  The book was initially printed in 1939, allegedly in a printing of 5,500 copies.  He suggested that that number probably was an exaggeration and that it was more likely that only around 4,700 of the first printing were really delivered.  Mr. Bishop explained that the book was printed on a pulpy paper, making it look bigger than its number of pages would normally suggest.  It was bound in a rather inexpensive binding that would not hold up well to abuse.  And this was a book that, if properly used, would be read again and again.  Thus, he pointed out, the survival rate of early printings is quite low.  The values are therefore high -- in the thousands of dollars.

He stated that he had one first printing with a broken binding, no dust cover, and substantial marking on the pages, that he had priced around $4,000, and that he had no doubt it would sell at that price.  He had a pristine 1st printing with an inscription from Bill W. to its original owner that was priced around $10,000.  He then explained that the high prices of the first printing have an inflationary effect on the other early printings, all of which were printed in relatively small numbers.

Bill W.
Mr. Bishop's description of the very limited first printing is supported by an article recently published in Fine Books magazine.  The article is entitled "One Day at a Time - How a Rare Books Dealer Came to be an Expert on Alcoholics Anonymous."  The author, William Schaberg, describes the first printing: "With the final edits made, Cornwall Press in upstate New York was contracted to print 5,000 copies of the book. It was only after they were finished that the printers realized that apart from a down-payment, the AA people had no money to pay for the press run. Cornwall ended up stockpiling all of the books and parceling them out to the group on a ‘pay as you go’ basis over the next two years. The first copies of Alcoholics Anonymous arrived in New York City on April 10, 1939. Two weeks after the book was published, the bank foreclosed on Bill’s and Lois’ house in Brooklyn—the site of AA’s earliest meeting in the East—forcing them to live on the charity of their friends for the next two years.
Dr. Bob Smith

Sales of the first printing were painfully slow. It took almost two years to sell all 4,650 copies."

I relayed what I had found out to my friend David and suggested that I probably would never be fortunate enough to own one of these rare, precious early printings of the book that has literally changed and saved millions of lives.  I thought the subject was dead.

A few weeks later, I was at work one morning and received a call from David Stone.  "Are you busy today at lunchtime?" he asked.  I told him I had no plans.  He suggested I drop by the store.  He had "something to show me."  Naturally, at noon, I was at the Booklegger.  David was standing behind his checkout counter.  He reached under the counter and retrieved an obviously over sized version of "Alcoholics Anonymous."  It was in a zip lock bag, but I could see that it had a worn but intact dust jacket.  I looked at the spine and could read the words "Second Printing."  I couldn't believe my eyes!  I told David to put it back under the counter, that it was worth far more than what I could afford.

David insisted that I take the book out of its bag and look at it.  It was absolutely pristine with no pencil markings on any pages.  I asked him how he had gotten it.  He informed me that a regular customer of his had acquired it at a recent estate auction of a prominent southern author.  This client knew that David was looking for an early AA printing.  He had gotten a real bargain which he had passed on to David.  So my friend said he would sell the book to me for $425, far below it's true value.  David knew how precious my sobriety was to me, and this was his way of supporting me in substance and spirit.  I immediately accepted his offer and we worked out a payment plan.

A few years later, David told me the name of the customer who had acquired the book at the estate auction.  It turned out that I knew the individual.  Not long after I found out his name, I happened to bump into him one day at the bank.  I told him that I was the recovering alcoholic who had bought the Big Book from David Stone.  I asked if he would tell me whose estate he had bought the book from.  He advised me that he felt he had to protect the family of the author and refused to give me the name.  On a couple of later occasions, I ran into him again, asked again if he would tell me whose estate the book had been part of, and again he refused to give me that information.

My late wife Margo was a librarian.  One evening as I was expressing my frustration over the individual's secrecy about the source of my Big Book, Margo suggested that we could probably make an educated guess as to the source.   She suggested that we work backwards from the time I acquired the book and figure out what southern authors had died.  I bought the book in early 1985.  As we looked at deaths of southern authors preceding that time, we realized that Truman Capote had passed away in August 1984.  He was known to have had a long history of struggles with drug and alcohol abuse.  So, although I can't document the fact, I believe that my pristine early copy of the Big Book probably belonged at one time to Truman Capote, author of Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood.  I will probably never know for sure.

I still have that Big Book.  It is one of the first 10,000 copies of a book that has now sold over 30,000,000 copies!  That puts my copy in the first 3/100 of a percent of the production history of the book.  I treasure it as a piece of the history of AA that it represents.

Sep 11, 2017

Ben Lehman's Mysterious Return...

Ingalls Shipbuilding in the mid-1970s -- a beehive of activity

I worked at Ingalls Shipbuilding (A Division of Litton Industries) from 1972 until 1978.  It was my first "civilian" job.  During the last three years in Pascagoula, I ran the change boards for the LHA program.  This was a program to build 5 helicopter assault ships, basically aircraft carriers designed for amphibious assaults.  It was an exciting job, always new and always challenging.

My boss at the time was a fellow named Jerry Smith.  He and I decided to move the "center of gravity" of the LHA change activity from the administration building to the waterfront.  This was a major shift in the way the change boards would operate.

Previously, the change board met once daily, at 1:00 P.M. in the administration building.  The board was made up of representatives from several departments -- engineering, material, production planning and control, quality assurance, and the program office.  We would review any proposed change with a critical eye, asking whether it was required under our contract and whether it was the best, most cost-effective way of addressing the issue that had triggered the proposed change.

This was in a time when computer-aided design was in its infancy.  Most of our drawings were still being done by human draftsmen at drafting tables on vellum using pens.  Sometimes, because hundreds of draftsmen were working in parallel, the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing.  A substantial part of our change "traffic" involved interferences -- cases in which two separate items, say a pipe and a vent duct, were shown in the drawings occupying the same location.  Something has to give.  Our job was to approve a proposed solution or to disapprove it with a suggested change to the approach.

The problem with the existing way the change board operated was that you had a built-in 24-hour delay any time a member of the board was asked to gather information on a proposed change.  For example, take the case in which a field engineer has investigated an interference problem.  A group of cables has already been installed through a space on the ship.  A vent duct defined by a different drawing is about to be installed when the installers note that the cables are in the way of their ductwork.  

The field engineer is called in and his proposed solution is to reconfigure the shape of the vent duct to go around the existing cable.  When this proposed change is presented to the board, several questions may arise.  "How soon can the new duct be fabricated?"  "Does the new design provide adequate headroom?"  "Do the curves in the new design meet Navy specifications?"  The production planner on the board will have to take this question to his organization to figure out the answer.  Likewise for the compliance engineer.  The odds are that it will be 24 or 48 hours before an answer can be received from the next department representative, because, remember, the board meets at 1:00 P.M. every afternoon.

Jerry and I had talked over an alternative.  What if we had some office space adjacent to the fitting out area of the shipyard directly adjacent to the location where the LHAs were being worked on?  There was a building not more than 50 feet from LHA-1 called the "Wet Dock Building."  We acquired some real estate in that building and created some offices, a reception area and a conference room.  We proposed to each department manager that their change board representative would now reside permanently in their new change board location.  In essence, the change board would now be in perpetual session.  Their representative would have the highest allegiance to change board business, after which they could tend to other departmental assignments.  To our astonishment, every department head agreed!  I think they realized that this was indeed a sensible way to expedite changes and revise the design of the ship in the best interests of both the Navy and the shipyard.

From now on, a change could be processed in an average time of 2-3 days rather than the previous average of 15-20 days from the time it was initiated until approved changes were implemented by an approved revised set of drawings.  We even had a process by which the "crafts" could begin working on some changes using a simple sketch of the revision.  This was used in cases where there was near certainty of the change being approved by the entire board.

One unexpected side effect of our new location and procedures was this -- people began to believe that we knew "stuff" about the shipyard long before anyone else.  People would hear a rumor and come to the LHA Change Board offices to find out if it was true.  I don't think we really knew any more than anyone else in the shipyard, but the myth seemed to persist that we were the clearing house of all shipyard intelligence.

Rear Admiral Ben Lehman
Jerry and I decided to conduct an experiment.  We would start an unbelievable rumor and see how long it took until it got back to us by way of the grapevine asking if we could confirm it.  The rumor we decided to test involved a former Vice President of Engineering named Ben Lehman.  Ben had been V.P. of Engineering from 1972 to 1975.  He was a Rear Admiral in the Naval Reserve, a World War II veteran, had studied naval architecture at MIT and mechanical engineering at Harvard, was a brilliant engineer and was a force to be reckoned with.  He was considered by many of his adversaries in the shipyard to have been a tyrant.  He had left the shipyard and had served as a consultant to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  The story around the shipyard was that Ben had been so unpopular with the unionized workers at the Brooklyn yard that some had threatened his life and that he was forced to hire bodyguards and ride in an armored limousine!  So Jerry and I started the rumor that good ol' Ben was being considered for a job back at Ingalls Shipbuilding.  We let it slip in a conversation in one of the fabrication shops that "We had heard..."

It was only one or two days before the rumor became rampant throughout the shipyard that Ben Lehman was coming back!  Several folks came by the Change Board offices to see if we knew anything.  We admitted that we had heard something.

A few months later, the most incredible news reached us.  The shipyard had decided to hire Ben Lehman back as a consultant at the behest of the Navy.  The result was that the LHA Change Board became even more infallible in the eyes of the shipyard's rumor mongers!

Sep 8, 2017

The Trudgers

There is a passage on page 164 of the "Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous that goes, "We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny."  Quite frankly, it was difficult for me as a newly-sober individual in 1984, to relate to a "Road of Happy Destiny."

Within six months of my sobriety, I went to work for John M. Cockerham and Associates, a small engineering and consulting firm in Huntsville.  Not long thereafter, I was sent to a job in southern California that would last for several months.  As a newly-minted recovering alcoholic, I remained very engaged in daily AA meetings, and sought a remote AA sponsor in the area in which I found myself working.  The first California sponsor I had was a gentleman named Rich C.

Rich had been sober about three years and like many newly-sober individuals had become a fitness nut.  He had lost 40 or 50 pounds and had started working out and jogging.  It had worked for him.  He was a picture of health.  And as a result of his pursuit, I had a chance to get some tickets to some of the events of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.  Here's how that happened.

As Rich had started his jogging career, he noticed that he occasionally bumped into other members of various AA groups whom he had met at meetings.  It occurred to him that there were probably a fair number of folks like him -- newly clean and sober, and eager to get in shape.  So Rich put a notice on the bulletin boards of several South Bay AA groups (There is no shortage of AA groups in the Los Angeles Basin.) seeking other runners who might like to organize informally or formally.  He soon had a fairly robust list of runners and they decided to call themselves the "Trudgers" from the quote initially stated at the top of the page.  They began to meet socially and to schedule running events to raise money for charity.  They even had t-shirts made to advertise their membership.  When I asked Rich C. to be my AA sponsor, the Trudgers were a real and growing organization.

When the Olympic Committee was laying out the detailed plans for the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games, it became obvious that they required community volunteers.  The Trudgers decided to offer their services.  I think they were amazed when the Olympic Committee asked if they could serve as security monitors for a section of the marathon route.  They would be provided with Olympic-emblazoned blazers which were be worn with khaki trousers and appropriate footwear, along with their Olympic ID badges on the provided lanyards.  The Trudgers eagerly accepted!  They were going to be part of this great event!

In lieu of any cash payment, the Trudgers would be given books of available event tickets.  These were not to the main events -- the great track and field, team sports of international interest, or the like.  So Rich would pick me up to take me to a meeting and say, "How would you like a pair of tickets to tomorrow's Women's Archery, Round 4, between Portugal and Andorra?"  I was never able to accept the offers, as they all took place during the working day.  But I was proud to know someone that had any tickets available to an Olympic event!

Aug 26, 2017

Once in a Lifetime...

The spectacle!

I have written before about my early interest in astronomy.  This past week, I finally got to see a total solar eclipse, something I have looked forward to my entire lifetime.

In June, 1954, some close friends, the Goble family, pulled their three boys out of school early so they could head to Wisconsin to view a total solar eclipse.  I remember them packing up their 1950 Studebaker with luggage and camera equipment and heading out.  Dr, Alfred Goble was the head of Union College's physics department.  His wife, Ethel, was like a second mother to me.  I practically lived at their house, where Rob, Louis, and Jonathan were like family.  I had spent a summer with the Goble family in Maine.  And now, they were going to get to see a total eclipse and I wasn't.

I've waited since that time for this opportunity.  Several months ago, I looked at the NASA-generated state map of Tennessee that included the path of totality.  I wanted to observe the eclipse from near the center line.  Looking for the closest point to our residence, I came up with Silver Point, TN.  There seemed to be a couple of nearby highways -- 96 and 141 -- and it was just south of interstate highway 40 that runs from Nashville to Knoxville.  Then I noticed that only a few miles away was a state park - Edgar Evins State Park!  Wouldn't it be great to observe the eclipse from the tranquil setting of a state park?

Location of Edgar Evins State Park
I called the Park Superintendent, a very helpful young lady who informed me that they were anticipating up to 5,000 people coming to the park for the event.  Mary Ann and I decided to use this as our observation point in spite of the potential crowd.  As the magic date approached, August 21, 2017, we packed our observing gear (I had bought our solar glasses months before).  We were going to be ready.

On Monday morning, we headed out around 8:30.  The park official had recommended we get there "as early as possible."  We (including Bella, of course) wanted to find a good place to observe this amazing event.  We programmed the GPS with the address of the park headquarters and headed out.

More than once, our GPS has taken us on routes that were less than ideal.  On one of our trips to Iowa, we were directed on to a barely-paved two lane road, which became progressively less paved, evolved into a gravel road, and suddenly opened up to an interstate highway access road.  On this trip, we were somewhere on Federal highway 70 and were directed to take a left turn onto Main Street, followed by an immediate right turn.  We followed those directions and found ourselves on what appeared much more like a driveway than a public road.  Two miles later, after three harrowing "passes" to ease by oncoming traffic, we found ourselves emerging on to a beautiful, newly-paved highway.

As we were getting fairly close to the park, we encountered a roadblock staffed by a young lady park ranger.  As she talked to the cars ahead of us, we saw that she was frequently mopping her brow, obviously suffering from the heat as she stood on the hot pavement.  We approached her checkpoint.  She informed us that the park was really full and suggested we might want to go to an alternative location.  She suggested a picnic area within a few hundred yards of our location, just to our left, below the dam that forms Center Hill Lake.

The picnic ground where we observed the eclipse
The location she suggested was perfect.  When we got to the large parking lot, we saw shade trees, lots of grass (great news for Bella), a picnic pavilion, and a convenient rest room building.  It looked like the perfect setup!  We unloaded our chairs and set them up in the abundant shade.  A couple of gentlemen nearby informed us that they had driven from Illinois and Minnesota.  We all shared our good fortune at finding such a great observing point.  Mary Ann and I enjoyed our lunch and soon we were ready to see the beginning of the eclipse.  She was able to sit in the air conditioned car between observations while I remained under the shade trees and made frequent trips into the sunlight to look upward through my special solar glasses.

Mary Ann and Bella enjoy the shade
The moon gradually "ate" the sun.  As totality approached the light seemed to gradually dim around us.  I let Mary Ann know when totality was imminent.  We watched together as the as the occultation became complete.  What a sight!  I looked at the remaining sky and saw Jupiter and the brilliant Venus.

The biggest surprise for me was the intensity of the corona.  Its radiating spokes were a brilliant blue-white.  As I looked around our surroundings, it looked like a room with dimmed lights. The crickets began chirping.  I looked back up, wishing I could extend the sight forever.  It was magnificent!  And then, way too soon, the brilliance of the sun peeked out from behind the moon, and it was once more time to use our solar glasses.

The crescent sun projected on my chair through
the pinhole camera effect of the tree leaves
A few minutes later, we began packing the car to head home.  The GPS took us home by a different route.  We repeatedly ran into traffic jams as everybody who had viewed the event tried to get home.  The trip that had taken 2 hours going north took over 4 hours going homeward.  We arrived safely a little before 6:00 p.m.

The next U.S. total eclipse will take place in 2024.  I'm looking forward to seeing that one too.  It's an event not to be missed!

Farewell, Goldie

About 8 years ago, Mary Ann and I acquired a new golden retriever puppy from some neighbors who were dog breeders.  This little female pup quickly adopted Sheila, my shepherd mix, as her mother.  The two became inseparable.  They were best of friends.  When I built the Dog-ma-hal in 2010, I commented that Goldie was almost as big as Sheila:

Goldie in 2010
Sheila died in August, 2014.  Since then, Goldie has been an especially affectionate dog, crazy about her personal cat and human affection as well.  A few months ago, I noticed she was losing weight.  She seemed to have lost her appetite.  I tried different dog foods to see if she might find a favorite.  She continued to lose weight and grew weak.  I took her to the North Alabama Animal Hospital in Hazel Green, AL.  Dr. Joel Hayes kept her for a few days and advised me that she was experiencing an inability to swallow.  There were a number of possible causes, one of which is called cricopharyngeal dysfunction, apparently not uncommon in goldens.  For a few days I brought her home and administered some medication that offered some hope.  She continued to lose weight.  I finally made the difficult decision to have her put down to end her suffering.

To my surprise, Dr. Hayes asked if he could keep her at the clinic to try other means to save her.  He has had her for several weeks, and went so far as to insert a feeding tube to try to save her.  He and his partner, Dr. C. Alan Jones, and their entire staff went way beyond any expectations I might have had in their efforts to save this gentle, loving dog.  I will never be able to repay what they did.

Unfortunately, Goldie reached the point, in spite of all their efforts, where it was time to let her go.  Last week, we lost Goldie.  She will be long remembered.

Aug 9, 2017

The Last Howard Johnson Restaurant

A few years ago, I posted a blog entry about Chief Petty Officer John Morrissey.  I served with Chief Morrissey on the USS Maloy (DE-791), and one of his claims to fame was that he had amassed a small fortune as a result of being an early investor in the Howard Johnson restaurant business.  According to Wikipedia, Howard Johnson's "was the largest restaurant chain in the U.S. throughout the 1960s and 1970s, with more than 1,000 combined company-owned and franchised outlets."

This morning, I ran across some sad news.  According to a BBC report, the last Howard Johnson's restaurant, located in Lake George, New York (my old stomping grounds), may be going out of business.  Some traditions, such as turquoise and orange buildings, should go on forever.  A couple of years ago, CBS Sunday Morning presented a feature on this last surviving HoJo's Restaurant: