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:

Aug 6, 2017

Dulcimer Doin's...

The completed Dulcimer Jig
It was around 1990 that I signed up to take a dulcimer building class at the Augusta Heritage Arts Workshops in Elkins, West Virginia.  Margo had decided she wanted to learn to play the dulcimer, so it was the perfect time for me to build her an instrument.  The class was taught by Keith Young, a luthier from Annandale, VA.  Keith and I became friends.  I visited his shop more than once.  When business travel took me to the D.C. area, I always tried to go to dinner with Keith and his lovely wife, Mary.  The year after I learned how to build dulcimers from him, we took a class together in "Mother of Pearl Inlay and Engraving."  We shared a love of music, instrument building, and craftsmanship.  For a couple years I assisted Keith in teaching the dulcimer-building class at Elkins.  I was honored to do so.

Over the ensuing years, I've built a few dulcimers for friends and acquaintances.  It's probably been ten years since I built my last one.  A few have made their way to these pages. Here and here.  Recently, a co-worker expressed a desire for a dulcimer to match one that he already owns.  I told him I'd build him one.  This time, I decided to do something I've wanted to do for several years.  I would build a jig or form on which to construct the instrument.

Previously, I've built the instruments in a manner I call "free-style."  I would assemble and glue the parts on a workbench using a variety of clamps.  Sometimes that works OK, but sometimes you feel like you need three more hands, just to align and hold parts.  People who build more than one instrument of the same design usually use some kind of jig to make things easier to deal with.  Here's how I did mine, which I finished yesterday:

Hanger bolts stay put in the wood,
allowing wing nuts to tighten the clamps.
I began by making a full-sized drawing of an hourglass-shaped instrument that appealed to me.  I then cut out parts of the drawing and glued them to some 2 x 6 stock so I could accurately cut the pieces out using my band saw.  I created a full-sized model of the body of the dulcimer as well as two "outside" molds that can fit snugly against the body piece,  Then, I used hanger bolts to mount several clamps along the curved side of the outside pieces so they could be used to press down on the sides of the instrument and later the top as gluing is taking place.  When the first side was finished it looked like this

The entire setup needed to be mounted on a flat surface, so I cut up a piece of 3/4" plywood that I had saved from another project.  To keep the three pieces in alignment, I mounted some small strips of hardwood on the base and cut corresponding channels in the underside of the forms.  I also glued thin battens to the underside to raise the two outer pieces slightly so the don't interfere with an oversized back while it is being glued and before it is carved or sanded to its final dimension.

To hold the outer forms in place, I drilled holes at each end for carriage bolts and cut corresponding slots in the base board.  All the fasteners use wing nuts so a wrench is not needed to use the jig.

Carriege bolts and wing nuts enable the
outer forms to be locked in place

Grooves in the underside of forms
keep them aligned
Guide rails on base board guide position of forms

Felt on underside of clamps protects wood being clamped