Monday, June 29, 2015

Garden Party


Being plugged into the Filipino community as I am, they like to get together about three or four times a year for a get together so that they can speak their native tongue and eat native food. Since almost all of them are female, we males of a different descent generally sit outside in lawn furniture sipping beers and talking among ourselves.

As we were sitting there, I noticed this cloud heading over the trees towards us. In today's smart phone world, a half dozen people pulled out there phones with radar apps and promptly declared that we were in for a bit of rain. I on the other hand decided we might be in for a bit of wind too and that perhaps we might start securing things and heading in doors.

The host of the part didn't seem to worried but after awhile, some of the ladies started picking up the buffet and carting it inside. It probably was five minutes later when the wind hit and hit us it did coming in somewhere around 70 to 80 mph I learned later. Darn near tornado status.

At first there was a bit of a panic among the kids and the Filipinos as people scrambled toward the door of the house. It was justifiable panic for seconds later the wind blew a large ladder propped up against a nearby building and almost squashed a few people but missed. After that, people had a bit more pep in their step. My biggest concern was from flying debris as the house where we were having our party tends to leave quite a bit of debris out in their yard all the time. Fortunately however, this storm came in over the pasture which was clean and gave us some eyesight so I just kept my eye upwind as I tried to help wrangle in all the lawn furniture and other party detriment that was quickly flying away.

Eventually we got things wrangled up as best as you can do in a gale and headed inside. However the house is small and we were probably nearing 60 or 70 in number and with the humidity of the storm, it was more like a sauna. I opted to go stand back outside under the roof with no sides where we were having our buffet and wait out the storm. Despite staying on the downwind side forty feet away from the upwind side, I still ended up getting plenty wet until the winds died down to respectable levels but at least it was comfortable temperature wise. This storm did end up producing some tornadoes and hail in other parts of Iowa but fortunately for us we only saw wind and 2 inches of rain in about 30 minutes.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Killing Time


After a week of driving around country roads looking for old barns to photograph while my daughter attended morning classes, I was looking to shake things up a bit. I came across this river southwest of town and after consulting a fisherman, I determined that it was the Skunk River. I am familiar with the river but from quite a ways farther west where one can just about jump across it. Along the Skunk I found a park that contained the old bridge seen above which is now just a pedestrian bridge with some park benches and a picnic table on it. I like these old iron bridges but the sign saying that a maximum of 100 people could be on the bridge gave me some notice. That doesn't seem like a lot of weight for a bridge.


The bridge, like many of its kind, was full of interesting decorative ironwork that you just don't see these days.


Downstream of the bridge about a 100 yards was what used to be a hydroelectric dam. If you had asked me if there were any dams on the Skunk river I would have told you absolutely not, much less dams that used to produce electricity. The dam had been defunct for many years by the looks of things but according to the fisherman poling for flatheads off of it, there had been talk about bringing it back to life.

The scary part of the dam was that there was absolutely no warning that it existed on the river and no cable or self-rescue device for a boater to save themselves before going over the brink. The way the water was flowing due to recent rains, I judged from passing stumps and logs like the one above, that you had about two minutes after coming around a nearby bend before going over the dam into the huge re-circulatory wave at the bottom that was full of logs that would have ground you into a bloody pulp. As someone who kayaks, those are one of the most dangerous things you can find on the river. I watched the above massive stump flow over the dam and recirculate for over 15 minutes before I tired of watching it and moved on. That is an eternity for a human to survive especially when most of that time would be spent under water.


On the upstream side of the hydro part of the dam, I saw a large tree trunk about 18 inches in diameter wedged against the dam and a huge whirlpool about two feet in diameter and going down deeper than I could see at the end of the log. While this might not kill someone, it would sure scare the bajeebers out of someone to get caught in one of those and sucked down.


After that first time at the dam, I came back a couple more days and spent lots of time parked on the other side of the river reading and watching logs and entire trees wash downstream over the dam. (Note you can see the hydro part of the dam in the background of the above picture.) The first tree I saw happened so fast that I didn't get any pictures and then I didn't see another one the rest of the day. On my final day, I happened to see one in plenty of time to get a series of pictures. You can see the base of it jutting out from the water after the edge of the dam and a large part of the upper structure in the far right of the photo.


The tree got caught up in the recirculating water beneath the falls and thrashed about there for about 15 minutes and was quite a site to see. I could hear deep booms from beneath the water as other logs mashed against it stripping it of much of its small branches and washing them off downstream. A couple times it got closed to the concrete jutty on my side of the river and I backed off for fear that the water might flip parts of it up onto the jutty and seriously injuring me.


Finally after 15 minutes of this and about 50 pictures on my part, the tree finally escaped the boil line beneath the dam about 30 feet which divided the recirculating part of the water from the water heading downstream. I took one parting shot of the tree as it made it's way south to the Des Moines river and then the Mississippi where it would likely spend it's life upstream of the river lock just south of their confluence.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bullet and International Pens


During my garage sale, one of the people who bought a pen from me was intrigued when I told him I could make customized pens. He was into hunting so I told him that I could make a pen that came with bullet casings for ends and had a rifle clip and a bolt action to the ball point. He immediately said that he wanted one of those using deer antler. I looked through my catalog that night and got the parts ordered but it took me a month to get the parts and the time to make the pen for him. I actually made two because I wasn't sure what part of the antler he would like and in case I messed up making one since it would be my first time. Both turned out well so when he comes to pick up the one he wants here in a couple days, I will keep the other one as a display piece, especially since there is a huge deer hunting community in these parts.

Deer antler in interesting to work with. It has an extremely hard shell which plays heck on my lathe tools requiring me to sharpen then three or four times per pen instead of maybe once every two or three pens using wood. Also, as you get towards the root end of the antler, the center gets pithy which means I have to be really careful turning it or the whole thing will fly off in pieces. However if I take my time and get it turned, once I apply my superglue finish, it can gets some beautiful colors like the bottom one seen above. That is probably my most colorful antler to date and I really don't want to let it go but I know I can make another one if I find the right shed.

Out at the ends of the deer antler, they don't develop the soft pith in the center and keep a whiter color with pinkish tinges to it. Some people will bleach them to pure white but I like to keep the color as a reminder that it is deer and not ivory or some such. Also, to maximize the antler, I usually turn down some pretty small pieces which after drilling the center hole, means that the curve of the antler can show up on the pen barrel and not be completely round. That is the case with the upper pen shown above though it is mostly lost in the shadows on the bottom side of the pen. Personally I like the curvature because it reinforces that it is a handcrafted pen and not a store bought one.

I should also mention that I'm taking my hobby international and sold my first pen out of this country, plus shipping. I never really was aiming to do that since I think you need to see and feel the pens in person before plunking down money but the person who bought it has read my blog enough to trust me when I say it is worth it. Since their blog is on my sidebar, they may be reviewing it after they receive it. Whatever the review, I know it is going to a good home and it means that with that one and the custom one above, I not have the funds to order parts for another pen or two. I need to look through the catalog and see what catches my eye.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Forgotten Barns: Part 6


Many of the older barns in the area have stone foundations on the lower parts and you can see a bit on this one. However, it seems like many of those with stone foundations are still functioning barns and have been up kept better. Others have just been in areas where I can't photograph them without first getting permission or trespassing and so I pass them by. This one however, I could see from the side of the road.


Although there weren't many windows on this one, I'm guessing it was probably a house at one point due to the front porch with columns. It's days are clearly numbered judging by the lean and the sag. I'm always find it interesting how the roof rusts in such odd looking but uniform patterns. Judging from the striping effect, I'm guessing the paint application process wasn't as good on the right side of the sheet as the left for whatever reasons.


I've seen many barns shaped like the one above but this is the first all wood and shingle one I've seen. Most are metal roofed or sheathed in fabric with metal hoops supporting it. From a distance, I had thought this was a barn that had collapsed but left the roof largely intact. I'm not sure why this barn is shaped or why it was built this way. Maybe they wanted to make it all roof so they could save on paint. Driving by the entrance, you could see all the holes in the roofing allowing daylight to shine into it.


This barn was probably still in use as a storage building for farm wagons or such but what struck me was the rust pattern on the roof. Not only is there a vertical element to it but also a horizontal element.


Finally, one last one with days that are numbered. Back in the day, we used to salvage these barns for their lumber. You would find solid two-by lumber 16 inches wide and twenty feet long with nary a knot in the entire span made from oak trees. Now an oak board one inch thick and half as wide will cost you fortune and will be full of imperfections. This barn however, is too far gone to salvage directly. If it was my barn, I would try to push it over gently so not to break up or twist too much of the wood and then try salvaging it. Seems a shame to just let it rot away.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Forgotten Barns: Part 5


With my daughter attending "college", I have plenty of time to kill every morning for two weeks. I have been spending part of that time feeding my addiction of driving around and photographing decaying barns. They call to me, partly because I wish I had a large barn out back to do with as I wish and two, because I'm probably the only one who is noticing them as they slowly decay back into the earth from which they came. The one above is a particular favorite of mine due to its shear size and how nice it must have looked back when it was being used.


This one has the classic overhang and steep roof suggesting it was used as a hay barn back in the day. Lots of these barns that are still water tight are used as hay storage even in modern times though they have gone from storing loose hay to square hay bales. I spent many a summer of my youth putting up 50,000+ square bales of hay in various barns on various farms my parents owned or farmed.


Here is another barn with a similar overhang. It has more openings in the bottom half suggesting it was probably used for animal protection as well as hay storage. In the background, you can see the modern "barns" that now populate the farming landscape. They are ubiquitous in shape and color and frankly uninspiring.


Here is a barn that did not survive. Most if not all of these barns have wells nearby that were serviced with windmills that did the pumping. Many wells were filled in and capped in the 80's as part of a push to eliminate direct water source contamination but probably many more still lie out there in the weeds, still accepting runoff. The windmills have been replace by rural waterfication which happened in the late 80's. Now thousands of people in the rural part of the state get their water from a few man made lakes and hundreds of thousands of miles of piping. The windmills have largely disappeared having been sold for scrap metal pricing. A few had their tops lopped off and now serve as yard ornaments. Growing up, it always felt reassuring to lie in bed at night and hear that windmill squeaking off in the distance as it worked away without complaint. I had completely forgotten about that sound until the picture above sparked that memory.



Another large barn with an even rust patina on the metal roofing. As you can see from many of my other pictures, many barns have a patchwork of roofing material that was put in place to extend the life of the barn without too much cost. In my youth, farmers with rusty roofs of barns facing the road would get offers of free paint jobs (on the road facing side) from companies wishing to advertise their products. Occasionally I still see what looks to me like a disgruntled farmer protesting Obama using their roof but gone are the days of barn roof billboards.