Thursday, May 18, 2023

Laura, The Riveter

This Blog was originally published in the Sleeps Two Blog in 2011  
The blog is not really about camping, it is about my Grandmother
It should be here instead.

George  May, 2023

After several months of car shopping and driving all sorts of SUVs that could comfortably haul our new KZ Sportsmen 202, we finally traded our trusty, venerable 1999 GMC Jimmy for a newer, 2005 Toyota Sequoia. We simply wanted more towing power to haul our new 21 foot travel trailer than our six cylinder Jimmy offered. We wanted a comfortable vehicle we could use whenever the travel trailer was sitting dormant, waiting to be once in again connected and hauled somewhere exotic.

We test drove GMC Yukons, Toyota V-8 4-runners, Chevy something or others, and Fords with hoods so high I couldn't see the road in front of me. We drove just about every combination of pick-up truck or SUV that could haul the new trailer and still give us a vehicle we could use “off-duty.” We finally decided on Toyota's big V-8 SUV and drove several Sequoias before finding the dark blue unit we really liked. It only had ninety-five thousand miles on it, and other than a couple of cosmetic issues, was in great mechanical shape. I was surprised to find there were very few used Sequoias with less than 100,000 miles on them.

My dad never kept a car beyond the 60,000 miles. He traded every car before the fenders might fall off or the floor board might rust out, but that was then, and this is now, since Detroit has been slapped up against the side of their corporate heads by foreign competitors. Our American-built, Japanese designed SUV looked like new, except for the floor mats, which we replaced. I added a new brake controller and was pleasantly surprised to find the necessary wiring was already in place, all I had to do was take off the existing plastic caps from the wiring coiled up under the dashboard and plug in the new controller. Nothing like planning ahead.

I had the Sequoia safety checked and all the inspections brought up to date, from spark plugs to brakes. When we test drove the SUV with the trailer attached, we knew we had a great combination. Only one thing needed to be resolved: The ride height difference between the two vehicles. The trailer hitch had to be lowered to keep the travel trailer level.

The two-inch box hitch receiver is fixed on each vehicle, but the shank on the trailer ball assembly for the load equalizer was adjustable. All I had to do was move the shank down and we once again had a level travel trailer. But I had a problem: I didn't have any regular wrenches that even came close to big enough to fit the nut on the hitch.

However, using the Ford wrench from my grandmother, yes, my grandmother, I made the switch effortlessly. You see, my grandmother used to build bombers. B-24 Liberators, to be exact.

B-24 Liberators being assembled at Ford's plant at Willow Run, Michigan
1943 Ford photo from Wikipedia Commons

Laura Corns Mindling, my grandmother, worked during the war for Ford Motor Company at the Willow Run Aircraft Plant, just outside Detroit, Michigan. She was originally hired as a stitcher, working on seats and strapping, but was soon promoted to the machine shop, or production floor as a press operator. She was so good Ford kept her after the war, moving her to the River Rouge plant, near Dearborn, where she worked as a press operator until 1956.

Assembly line at Willow Run, 1943
 Any of the women could have been my grandmother, Laura,
who worked as a drill press operator for Ford until 1956.
Wikipedia Photo

She slipped on an oily floor in 1956 and broke her wrist in the fall. When she was finished with her medical leave, she took medical retirement, and eventually moved to Miami. 

From Left: Daughter Ruth, Laura with Grandson, Dick; her Husband Louis, Son Glen, my father,
home from Italy, and me. Detroit May 1945

She and her husband, Lou, first with her son Glen and us for several years, then moving not far away in their own efficiency apartment. 

Laura lived alone for several years in Miami after Louis, my grandfather, died in 1966, then moved to live the rest of her life with my Aunt Ruth in Denver. After Laura's death, my brother and I received several artifacts and family mementos. I received a few items, including a heavy, wrapped bag.

Included were two wrenches used by my Grandmother at Ford, oh so many years ago. I like to think she used these tools to help win a war, or build a car that perhaps someone she knew may have driven. 

Today, those wrenches helped me change out a ball hitch and a trailer shank that had me absolutely stumped. Grandma would have been proud.


This Blog was originally published in the Sleeps Two Blog by the same author in 2011. It deserves to be here as well.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

When My Muse Goes Back to Bed

What to write? I’ve been sitting in front of my laptop, reading Facebook posts and old e-mails, killing time waiting on my muse to inspire me. There must be something worth writing that hasn’t filtered out to my fingertips. I’m beginning to think my muse went back to bed. Maybe she didn’t even wake up in the first place.

It is dark out, it should be as it’s only 4:49 in the morning. The apartment is subtly noisy even though I’m the only one awake. It’s not noisy in the loud sense, it’s noisy in the odd sounds at odd times sense. The noises that would normally stimulate my writing motivator that we all call our muse. This dark, detached morning when every sound drifting in from who-knows-where should be questioned, my muse is oddly silent.

The refrigerator makes strange noises, clicking and straining as it cycles through its programmed duties. The building itself seems to occasionally groan, or burp, or emit steam and of course I can hear the ever present hum of electricity. Oddly, I can hear 60 cycle AC, 115 volt electrical power. I used to think I had ringing in my ears until Hurricane Andrew shut down all of our electrical power in Miami for several weeks. I didn’t really realize how quiet it was without power until the night it came back on and the ringing in my ears started again. Perhaps that is one of the reasons my wife and I love camping. I finally hear true piece and quiet when we get away from the outlets and extension cords, except for the ambient noises that come and go in the night. As long as they are not train horns I don’t mind.

CSX Freight train crossing the
Middle Oconee River, Athens, GA
 - Photo by Nikos - Munich Germany
Train horns are why I’m awake now, sitting in front of my laptop screen trying to write something intelligent. My muse has abandoned me, leaving me here alone, unable put coherent sentences together. The freight train rolled through at exactly 3:14 am. The tracks really aren’t that close by our rental house here in the rolling hills of Athens, Georgia, but the main-line CSX railroad track between Atlanta and Charlotte runs along the crest of the hill on the other side of the Middle Oconee River from us, so the sound of the daily, sometimes hourly trains is unimpeded. In fact, I think the small valley is a great natural acoustic chamber and we’re unfortunately at the wrong end of Mother Nature’s really good amplifier.

I like to think one day a great piece of writing will appear here, but so far only detached musings and oddly mismatched pieces of memories display in front of me. For some unknown reason, thoughts about high school, in 1959, when all the cool, future leaders of America were reading their mother’s copies of “Lady Chatterley's Lover,” my friends and I were trading dog-eared copies of “My Brother Was An Only Child” and the book about the Roman Circus Maximus, appear magically on my screen. I don’t remember the name of the book about the Romans but I doggedly remember astonishing things about the Roman Coliseum and the gladiators. It was also when I read my first paperbacks by Ian Fleming, a collection of short stories and a hand-me-down copy of Casino Royale.

Since I was a teenage airplane fanatic, I also had a copy of Adolf Galland’s book, “The First and the Last” and of course Robert L. Scott’s famous book about the Flying Tigers, “God is My Copilot.” I also had the original, illustrated large hardback I got as a present from my Grandmother – with a little coaching help on selection – William Greene’s outstanding “Famous Fighters of the Second World War.” I still have the original book, along with the other three volumes of the set I collected over the years. I used the airbrushed illustrations to paint the multitude of plastic airplane models I built as a teenager. Probably well over a hundred between my brother and I. Most of them ended up hanging from our bedroom ceiling from monofilament fishing line and one time or another.

One of the books in that set I have is a replacement for one I loaned a friend and never saw again. It took over forty years to find a replacement book, but it did teach me to never, never loan a book to anybody. Period. Not a book you want to keep, at any rate. They never come back. Never.

I wonder why no one here complains about the trains, especially in the dead of night. It is Sunday morning and I seriously doubt anyone is driving across any of the several unguarded railroad crossings in the dead of night or in the early hours before daybreak, but I know the trains blow their mournful long blasts at the same places every time, day or night. Probably at the bridge over the river. That’s why the awful sound carries so powerfully down the valley.

And not just short toots or honks. I sometimes think the engineer might have died and collapsed on the horn button. Of course I researched train horns and why they have to be a loud, blaring nuisance at Oh Dark Thirty in the morning. I now know that under the Train Horn Rule, (49 CFR Part 222), blah, blah, blah, “Train horns must be sounded in a standardized pattern of 2 long, 1 short and 1 long blasts. The pattern must be repeated or prolonged until the lead locomotive or lead cab car occupies the grade crossing. The rule does not stipulate the durations of long and short blasts.” I also learned the volume can no longer be above 110 decibels, down from the old 130 decibels which is probably why railroad crew members are all deaf. I also learned that we are forty miles from any of the fifteen registered "Quiet" railroad zones in Georgia. I’ve heard so many horns in the last month I can tell differences between different types of locomotives. My wife just looks at me and shakes her head. It is now 5:52 am and there have been no more trains since the one that woke me up almost three hours ago.

It’s really quiet right this minute. The place has gone silent. It doesn’t last long as a compressor starts up somewhere in the kitchen or wherever back there in the dark. I look at my computer screen, apparently my muse was here after all. There isn’t enough to write about to take advantage of the otherwise secluded time of traction. Yes, look it up! Look up the opposite of distraction. That’s what writers do, they research! That’s why I know so much about train horns. Research. 

Maybe that’s why my muse went to bed. Muses just don't seem do well in the land of facts and reality. They much prefer to be free and unrestrained, flying on the backs of dragons or joking with the President about his golf game. They don't care much for the mundane universe of plausibility.

I’m going back to bed, too. The sun will be up soon and maybe, just maybe, they’ll forget to blow the horn.

Friday, May 5, 2023

The Magic Circle and the Loop That Isn’t

Moving to a new city means getting lost at the strangest times. Like, while driving in a straight line. I was driving on Alps Road and then I wasn’t. I was dutifully driving straight and hadn’t noticed the street name had changed to West Lake Drive. Somewhere back there a ways it changed and my GPS was naively silent. Did I miss a turn? Nope!

Say you’re in Athens, Georgia, and you decide to find an address on Barnett Shoals Road. Barnett Shoals turns unexpectedly left at an intersection that will leave you on Whitehall if you don’t make the turn. But let’s say, just for fun, you do a U-turn to get back on Barnett Shoals, you will find several miles later, at a T-intersection with still more options, BSR turns unexpectedly back toward the way you were headed to start with. In fact, you’ll soon be in Watkinsville, three blocks from Simonton Bridge Road, which is what Whitehall turned into if you missed the turn that got you off Barnett Shoals in the first place. Stay with me here.

“One day through the primeval wood
A calf walked home as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail as all calves do.
Since then three hundred years have fled,
And I infer the calf is dead.
But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.”

My first exposure to the poem The Calf-Path, written in 1896 by Sam Walter Foss, was a single-page insert into my first management course material package taken while was in the Air Force. I kept it with me until I moved to Athens recently, finally tossing it exactly 60 years after I took the course back at Bitburg Air Base, way, way back in a former lifetime. Dog-eared and often copied, passed on to my daughter, and proven time and again to be absolutely correct, it once again flashed through my memory as I tried to figure out where Timothy Road went. Not because I was curious where it would lead, but because I was driving on it and then I wasn’t.

“The trail was taken up next day,
By a lone dog that passed that way;
And then a wise bell-wether sheep
Pursued the trail o’er vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bell-wethers always do.”

But I don’t mind. Even with the University of Georgia in full swing, the local traffic isn’t bad and the countryside is just beautiful, turning even mundane address hunting into a scenic road trip. They're even fixing the famous loop that isn’t, the Athens Outer loop, sometimes called Athens Inner loop. It all depends on whether you are coming or going.

“And from that day, o’er hill and glade.
Through those old woods a path was made.
And many men wound in and out,
And dodged, and turned, and bent about,
And uttered words of righteous wrath,
Because ’twas such a crooked path;
But still they followed—do not laugh—
The first migrations of that calf,
And through this winding wood-way stalked
Because he wobbled when he walked.

Are you going clockwise or counter-clockwise? How would you know? According to some local experts, it depends if you are driving in the inside lanes or the outside lanes and where you are going or maybe where you might have been. I don’t know how to tell the inside lanes from the outside lanes since there are both left and right hand curves on the loop(s). Which way you’re going is generally relevant on most roads, even if they are a loop(s) because if you drive all the way around at east once, you’ve usually covered all the points on the compass. Apparently, a loop is not necessarily a circle.

“This forest path became a lane,
that bent and turned and turned again;
This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half
They trod the footsteps of that calf.

In Athens, you still won’t have a clue if you did it on the Outer Loop or the Inner Loop because it still is the same road and it ends up where it began, the point where you have to get off the loop to stay on it. Yes, you have to get off the loop to stay on it. Believe it or not, the last exit, or the first exit, depending if you’re coming or going on the inner or outer loop(s), is number 10. It used to be exit 11 until they improved the numbering. Exit number one is on the other side of town.

“The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street;
And thus, before men were aware,
A city’s crowded thoroughfare.
And soon the central street was this
Of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half,
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.

First, how far is it from the Outer Loop to the Inner loop? Not very far, I found out after my third week driving on them. Somehow, I wasn’t surprised to discover they are the same road. The Inner Loop and the Outer loop are halves of the same highway. Not like a highway cut serially in pieces by toll booths, like a pizza, but cut in parallel down the side like a sliced bagel. The SR 10 Loop highway is a divided four lane, limited access highway, just like any other divided highway you’ve ever driven on where two lanes go in one direction and the other two lanes go in the opposite direction, except the middle – median – of this oddly named road is an important line of demarcation of sorts: the name changes from one side to the other.

Each day a hundred thousand rout
Followed the zigzag calf about
And o’er his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.

The loop closest to town, by the width of the median strip, is the inner loop, and since we are in the United States and drive on the right side of the road, travels in a clockwise direction. The lanes on the other side of the median, the furthest away from Athens by about 100 yards, going the other way, counter-clockwise, comprise the outer loop.

Oddly, there is something naively appealing about this simplistic naming convention once you live here: Is it faster to get to where you’re going by the Inner Loop or the Outer Loop because simply cutting through town is out of the question during when the University of Georgia is in session. You can drive the entire nineteen and a half miles of the SR 10 Loop at the legal speed limit in either direction and still knock fifteen minutes off driving through town to get to the same destination.

A hundred thousand men were led,
By one calf near three centuries dead.
They followed still his crooked way,
And lost one hundred years a day;
For thus such reverence is lent,
To well established precedent.”

Just don’t get off on Highway 78. Highway 78 can be Atlanta Highway, which is U.S. Highway 78, but not SR (State Road) 78. SR 78 cuts through the middle of the loop on both the North and South side of the loop(s). The US 78 exit on the west side of town is number 18, the same one where SR 10 coming from Atlanta meets SR 10 Loop, also known as the Outer/Inner Loop that goes both clockwise and counterclockwise, depending on whether you are coming or going.

“A moral lesson this might teach
Were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf-paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun,
To do what other men have done.

According to Wikipedia, “Between exits 4 and 8, there is an eight-route concurrency, consisting of US 29, US 78, US 129, US 441, SR 8, SR 10 Loop, SR 15, and the unsigned SR 422.” Believe it or not, old-timers here still call the road the Athens Bypass.

They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,
And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.

They don’t mention if this is the Inner Loop or the Outer Loop because they don’t know which direction you might want to drive, and if you are a hometown fan of the National Champion University of Georgia Bulldogs because then you have to sit on the other side of the stadium regardless of how you get there.

They keep the path a sacred groove,
Along which all their lives they move.
But how the wise old wood gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf.
Ah, many things this tale might teach—
But I am not ordained to preach.”

1896 – Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911)

I can hardly wait for the football season kick-off. Game day here must be something to behold.