"I don't make hell for nobody. I'm only the instrument of a laughing providence. Sometimes I don't like it myself, but I couldn't help it if I was born smart."

1st Sgt. Milton Anthony Warden.
"From here to Eternity"

Paul Valery

"You are in love with intelligence, until it frightens you. For your ideas are terrifying and your hearts are faint. Your acts of pity and cruelty are absurd, committed with no calm, as if they were irresistible. Finally, you fear blood more and more. Blood and time."

The Wisdom of the Ages

"When a young man, I read somewhere the following: God the Almighty said, 'All that is too complex is unnecessary, and it is simple that is needed',"

Mikhail Kalashnikov

Ford Three-Ton Tank

Ford Three-Ton Tank
Two complete Model T drive trains, one per track
"Here lies the bravest soldier I've seen since my mirror got grease on it."

Zapp Brannigan

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Beaumont Egg and "The Diver"

Here's a hypothetical: Suppose there was a fella -
a well-respected
engineer and a proven designer of multiple, railroad structures - who
landed his dream job. And this cushy gig just happened to be the
construction of the longest railroad bridge in the world.
Some last minute adjustments had to be made during construction
but - he pulled it off.
He so impressed the Queen that he's knighted.
Pretty sweet, right?
Well then: Just suppose that, at some painfully close interval, and
further, just because we know the universe can be cruelly ironic on
occasion, let's say: His downfall occurred during a season of peak
impact, ie the holidays, and that it impacted his own family.
It happens: The bridge fell down. With a loaded passenger train
crossing - carrying our hero's son-in-law.
That'd be pretty bleak - even for '70's movie.

Welcome to the world of Sir Thomas. Acclaimed designer of the
Tay Bridge and father-in-law to one of the seventy-five or so folks
aboard. Only sixty were ever accounted for. All died.
Sir Thomas died less than a year later.

Short version: A gale-force wind was blowing up the Firth of Tay

(firth = tidal estuary) off the North Sea just as a passenger train
was crossing and the elevated section of the bridge, the so-called
"high girders", blew down due to the action of the wind on the

So, a monumental fuck-up occurred  which put poor old Thomas on the carpet.

What was revealed was a mix of inadequate design, poor manufacturing
standards and a plan that changed  radically when it was discovered
that the bedrock they were so confident was close to the river bottom,
turned out to be consolidated gravel.
The root of every part of the problem lay in the nature of the
material used - cast iron.
Cast iron (Actually just an extremely high-carbon steel) is great
stuff. it flows nicely into molds and has awesome strength... in
compression. Keeping it positive; it also has excellent resistance to
deformation under heat and excellent dimensional stability.
It doesn't suck for bridges either, at least sometimes. Others such as
the Dee Bridge, which collapsed thirty years earlier should have clued
them up that they ought to be paying attention.

What put Britons agog over this wonder material was the Crystal

Palace. Built for the Great Exhibition of 1851, it was nothing but a
huge greenhouse (990,000 square feet. Think twenty Home Depots) made
from nothing but cast-iron and plate-glass. Good looking as well.
You can't blame folks for thinking "Holy shit! if we can build that,
we could build a space ship out of this stuff!"

Baby steps. Besides, they weren't completely pulling out of their ass.

in 1781 the impressively named "Iron Bridge" opened.

They held a naming contest and this entry squeaked by just ahead of "Bridgy McBridge Butt".

It was never intended for rail traffic and, in the modern world, if you want to cross,  you

have to walk over it - but you can do that - today.

Then there was the Dowery Dell Viaduct that operated from 1878 to 1964

which was only dismantled because the rail line shut down.

The Crumlin Viaduct opened in 1857 and the last passenger train

crossed it in 1964. A passenger train.

The Belah Viaduct was first crossed by a locomotive in the fall of 1860 and continued in regular use until1963.

I think one conclusion we can draw is: Cast-iron doesn't totally suck when it comes to bridges.

A further conclusion can be reached when, after reading the following, that Thomas Bouch was hardly a dummy when it came to bridges.

"The Crumlin Viaduct, of which a description has been given in our previous work, was

doubtless the model after which the Belah was designed, but the
Engineer, Mr Thomas Bouch, of Edinburgh, did not follow Mr Kennard’s
example, except in the general scheme of skeleton trussed piers,
composed of cast and wrought iron, and a superstructure composed of
lattice girders crossed with timber."

Okay then. what the hell happened at the Firth of Tay?

Okay, we've already mentioned  the unpleasant fact that all their best-laid plans were thrown into turmoil by the revelation that - what they'd supposed was bedrock was actually consolidated gravel.

But... in for a penny, in for a pound. So much had been committed already that the design was "adjusted".
The original, structure begun in 1871, was to be a  bridge supported by brick piers resting on bedrock.  Safe as houses, sounds like. If that had been the case, it would likely still be in service today - in its original configuration.
Initial borings had shown the bedrock to be relatively close to the bed of the the river. Accordingly, at either end of the bridge, the bridge were deck trusses, the tops of which were level with the pier tops, with the single track railway running on top.  Pretty standard and nice and solid.
However, in the center section of the bridge (the so-called "high girders"), the arrangement was reversed. Instead of having a solid, latticework frame under the rail bed like the rest of the bridge, the high girders were trusses on either side of the track to allow clearance for sailing ships. No flies on any of this - so far.

Before we discuss this delightful graphic it should be noted that the modifications made to the original plan primarily consisted of cutting down on the load carried per pier. 
Sir Tom was no dummy but he wanted to keep his gig. Time for compromise. More and narrower piers upon which the roadbed rested as well as lessening of the lateral supports between the cast iron columns and, hey presto, Tom's a peer of the realm.
More fun graphics:

The black diagonals in the first gif represent the wrought iron cross bracing, which was lessened and lightened for the new and improved version of the bridge.
Thing is: wrought iron, given its fibrous structure, has awesome strength in tension. It's not at fault in the least - aside from the fact that there were rather less of the brace/lug connections, as pictured  above - breaking - that there ought to have been so ...
Cast iron, as stated kicks, ass in compression but isn't worth a shit in tension.
Over the course of investigation it was discovered that the founders of the columns had, shall we say, cut some corners.
First off: that nice connection that we've been watching fail for lo-these-many-seconds was made by either a pin or bolt - and  of substantial size I should think. The holes in the wrought iron laterals were likely bored with whatever precision was usual for the time, being that we still have such bridges today.
In the lug portion of the connection things were iffier.
Being that these columns - eighty-five feet high - were braced by these diagonal brace connections, it would seem that this would bear some special attention. Didn't happen.
Now, not only are we getting by with narrower piers and fewer columns, the manufacturing standards I mentioned at the outset were also in the equation.

Pictured above: An illustration showing the concept of draft. Draft is the process whereby you can extricate the pattern from the mold after ramming,without tearing chunks out of your molding sand.. Making that process clean saves much time and labor in later clean-up. "A clean pattern-draw" is  what it's called by trade and industry professionals.
Just because that's the picture I found - and the principles are identical - pretend that what's pictured is the profile of a hole.
Thing is: Every one of those oh-so-critical connections twixt cast columns and wrought iron diagonal braces (If I may belabor the point; with fewer of both which meant a more highly stressed joint than originally planned.) was assembled with the flange holes as pictured (Reverse it). As in: Un-machined, tapered and cleaned-up just enough for the connecting bolt to go through. 
Good enough is good enough! It's Miller Time.
At the inquiry it became plain that no one had given a thought to taking the extra time and expense to bore these holes out for a tighter fit. The boss of the foundry said that if no one asked for it special - and no one had - it wasn't their problem. 
The other issue was, as mentioned in the title "Beaumont Egg". As near as anyone can gather, this waa 'cockneyisation' of "beau montage". French speakers chime in. It was a term used by French joiners to describe filling the cracks in your new joinery project before it went to its happy new owner. Sort of like: "They'll never see that from a trotting horse" - a My Dad-ism.
Bottom line: It's Bondo. And there is nothing wrong with that except... it was used on structural members.
I was looking for more info on the beaumont egg stuff and found a forum for those arcane anoraks who restore Victorian era machinery, stationary power tools and the like. The warning was given to readership not go too crazy with your brand-new,  three-thousand pound bandsaw and put paint stripper on all the cast parts. If in doing so, you uncover some beaumont egg you may just accidentally melt it out of the hole in the casting you never knew was patched thus. And, depending, the stripper may have contaminated the cavity so...
So what was this stuff? It could have been iron-fillings, alum and violin rosin. Or it could have been lead shot pounded into blowholes and sand inclusions. One later account it that steel shot - as used in shot-blasting - is mixed with Portland cement and the whole is pounded firm with a pneumatic hammer. What ever comes to hand that will keep the paint level with the rest of the surface and let you get this damned thing out the door.
It seems that the inciting incident was, as illustrated in the gif, a derailment at the beginning of the high-girders. Followed by the passenger cars falling against the leeward trusses due to the gale-force winds happening in the moment (Another embarrassing query during the inquiry concerned whether Boucher had taken wind loads into account in his design - he hadn't. It simply hadn't come up) and  then there follow  a wonderful cascade of failures that put him in the doghouse and occasioned the construction of a new bridge.
The piers are still there, right next to the new bridge.
But c'mon now. Turn that frown upside down. There was a survivor - the locomotive later known as "The Diver" (I made a rhyme AND I didn't include 'MacGyver'. You're welcome).

After spending some time in the mud, this valuable, capital asset of the British Northern Railway, was dragged out and put back in service. By the way, pictured below is not the Diver, merely a representative of the type,  the NBR 224 series.
After being dragged out of the muck on the third attempt, in 1880, she was refurbished and continued in service until 1925
Gonna close as this is depressing.

Friday, March 10, 2017


"A Fast Convoy"

I've posted this painting before, only because I absolutely adore it.
It has everything, the stormy North Atlantic, the gallant destroyer USS Allen bucking the swells with her decks awash. Did I mention? She's also one of those too-cool-to-even-exist, four-stackers.
Sigh... Instead, we're going to discuss the big unit, seen lurking off in the murk. But despair not,
it's not like she can't hold our interest.
Remember before the primaries when Marco Rubio piped-up from the kid's table to point out that the USN, my Nav, was rocking the smallest number of vessels since The Great War.
Isn't it cute? He thinks he's a defense wonk.
And our own illustrious president reckons he'd like to have more floaties in the pool as well.
Fact is; at the time old Marco And MOIC (moron in chief) made reference to, the Navy was utilizing a lot of loaners, commandeered civilian vessels etc.
Back to Leviathan; during her brief moment of service, she was the largest troop transport on earth - and somewhat different from the standard troop ship if only because she was so big. She was also a virtual freebie.
First of all, it's not too surprising that she was the largest troop ship since, a few years earlier, she had been the Vaterland.
She was launched 13 April, 1911 and was the largest passenger ship in the world
She was a 54,282 gross ton passenger liner built by Blohm & Voss at Hamburg, Germany, as the second of three ultra-liners for the Hamburg-America Line's trans-Atlantic route. 
Bad luck. It seems that on only her third or fourth trans-Atlantic crossing, she had the misfortune to be docked in the US at just the moment that in which that ... unpleasantness began... in 1914.
Well, being a German registered liner, it was deemed unwise for the big girl to venture home until things had sorted themselves out a bit.
Three years later, they were well-and-truly sorted when the US declared war and, certain valuable assets were seized - hey presto - USS Leviathan was born (Laterally promoted).
More boat porn.
The dazzle camo scheme, here looking majorly aggressive was soon adopted and she started carrying the troops. 
 During the period she was active, all of eight months, she transported 119,000 from here to Over There.
About 14,000 head per trip and the Chief Quartermaster - the guy who gets to steer the boat into and out of harbor - for each of those trips was...  Wait for it. Celebrity connection:
No! Not Fred MacMurray, the guy in the middle, the one rocking the Lt Cmdr goodies.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, thirty-four years prior to playing the most famously insane minesweeper captain in the history of literature, Humphrey Bogart, was in reality a competent Navy man. A senior enlisted man at that.

But, peace broke out - like it does and this giant freebie of a ship suddenly became a burden, along with a whole lot of other Naval floating-stock such as commandeered coal-barges etc.
Hems were hawed and hands were sat on regarding the Big Girl until 1924 when, having been rewired, replumbed, her hull strengthened and converted from coal to oil began anew her career as a passenger liner.
It took some time due to an absence of blueprints - as in  - there were none.
The treaty of Versailles had put the German's nose out of joint so they were disinclined to negotiate re "the plans for your ship that we 'happened to acquire' and would now like to rehab." Awkward.
The prints were available but... pricey. Germany was short of $$ at the moment as you know so... the price they were asking was insane
What that meant was that every part of the ship needed to be measured.
From the fathomless mind of Wiki:

"War duty and age meant that all wiring, plumbing, and interior layouts were stripped and redesigned while her hull was strengthened and her engines converted from coal to oil while being refurbished; virtually a new ship emerged.[5]"

Except that... a luxury ocean liner was hardly a guaranteed money-maker... during a depression.
And so it goes...
Wiki will now kindly deliver the eulogy:

In 1937 she was finally sold to the British Metal Industries Ltd. On 26 January 1938 Leviathan set out on her 301st and last voyage under the command of Captain John Binks, retired master of the RMS Olympic, and a crew of 125 officers and men who had been hired to deliver her to the breakers. She arrived at Rosyth, Scotland, on 14 February. In the 13 years that she served U.S. Lines she carried more than a quarter-million passengers, never earning a cent.[5]"

In the word of one of the orators of our era:

Aside... RMS Olympic (AKA Titanic's sister ship and thus equally unsinkable) went on to run over the top of - and sink - four different vessels over the course of her career. That's something, isn't it?

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Chill, Hotshot!

It would seem to go without saying that, if one lives in a self-contained world made almost entirely from wood, one would have to watch out for fire. And if such wood were further coated with tar and/or paint, one would need to be even more cautious. The French ship, Orient illustrates the problem. She got caught in the middle of one of the many interminable paint jobs a ship undergoes in the course of life and the paint that was being applied above deck caught fire. It wasn't the paint that burned down the ship. it was just the fire the paint started. It got into that wood we mentioned earlier and that, ultimately blew up her powder magazines. So, you'd think that the "wooden walls" represented ocean-going ships, ships made of heavy stock. Sure it wouldn't catch fire from a cigarette butt. Maybe, probably. It still bears paying attention. One thing that is certain to make the fire happy to stick around is the winning combination of a sustained source of heat, and splinters. Not the kind you get from the firewood. More like these:

Check out Mr. David "Big Balls" Farragut. Just hangin' out; overplaying it just 'cause the photographers were there.
Enough about him. Take a look at that big chunk of wood in the foreground, laying across the rail, the one that looks to be a lot more deadly than Dave does.
That's a splinter. That bursting out the bulkhead right next to your head would ruin your entire next... howeverlong.
So, a heavy cannon ball hitting the side of a ship would produce these large, pointy projectiles, even if the ball didn't go all the way through.

Cross section of USS Constitution. Outside, the planking runs horizontally while the structural ribs on the inside are vertical. It would be a rare shot that actually punctured the hull. What didn't bounce off would be stuck until further notice.

Stuck like Chuck and stuck surrounded by a nest of the splinters which didn't break loose and decapitate anyone. Let's call those splinters; "kindling."
It seems that if a fella could somehow make these projos hot, seriously hot, then the job of putting the ship under would be greatly aided.
Enter the hotshot furnace.

Mostly found accompanying coastal batteries although a very few were used aboard ship.
A small furnace used by the Norwegian Navy

It's pretty straightforward. Balls go in at the top like they would in a giant Marble works, line up on iron rails inside where the heat from a fire at the lower end makes the balls nice and toasty as it passes over them on its way to the flue.

In a lab, kiln-dried red oak will ignite after just half a minute at 800 degrees Fahrenheit - self-cleaning oven temperature. A ship isn't kiln dried, not a huge difference and it's also not red oak. However, as a guideline...
Iron starts to glow just a bit over 1000 but will be over 1500 when it becomes a bright, cherry red.
So, imagine a red-hot ball, taken from the furnace and put down the tube - with a wad of either wet clay or rags as a buffer - and sent downrange.
I'd say - less than a minute from start to finish. All that time our hypothetical ball is losing heat but how much heat?
I'm thinking it would be a significant amount but that it wouldn't matter.
The time spent being trundled from the furnace to the gun, the contact with the barrel and the wad followed by its final trip through the air, have of course cooled it but only on the surface.
Old, ARTY expression: "You've gotta have a lot of balls to justify a hotshot furnace!" It'll be old by the time you read it, older anyway.
Point is: These batteries weren't throwing rounds on any quick schedule so a ball on the bottom row of the furnace may have spent the entire day rolling down there, all the while getting a nice long soak.
So, the ball itself may have even lost its rosy glow at least temporarily all that other cast iron on the inside would be unaffected.
USS Constitution carried 24 and 32-pounders. The coastal batteries would have gone bigger but there's a limit to how much red-hot iron two guys can carry, with tongs, at a run.

Because I seem to lack a purpose in my life but do own a sixteen pound cast iron ball from a ball mill, I stuck it into my propane forge. I then spent twenty minutes running it up to cherry red.
Having been taken out and sitting in the open air it was still perceptibly glowing eight minutes later.
Two minutes after that it didn't look hot at all but a piece of cardboard put next to it caught fire in less than a minute.
So it would appear that when a chunk half again as large or twice as large or larger (I would think a 50 pounder would be the upper limit of manageability) would hold onto its heat even longer.

So it's easy to imagine the sense of urgency 32 pounds of hot iron resting in a nest of kindling would engender on a hugely flammable ship.
What would be needed to be rid of it was the boarding axe.
The pictured example is from the War of 1812.
These are thought of as weapons but in reality they are weapons in much the same way that a hammer would be a weapon in the case of a crew of house framers defending themselves. It could definitely be used as a weapon but its main function was damage control and firefighting.
This bad boy was used for chopping away fouled rigging and spars, and chopping out any hotshot that it may be herded to a nearby scupper.
This prosaic hero is also the direct forerunner to the well known, modern fire axe.

In closing, this has not been just an attempt to bore you with minutiae.
Rather it's a grand product roll out. Places everyone!

Introducing my new and improved Naval Boarding Axe.
Bigger, heavier with more authentic langets!
24 oz head, 23" overall length.
Coming soon.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Once and Future USS Montana

Okay, maybe it's different now but when I was a lad, growing up in Missoula and watching TV from Butte - the only station we could get - it was hard not to feel left out.
Sidebar: Yes, Missoula had a TV station but it was situated in exactly the wrong place re their transmitter, my house and intervening hills. Therefore I grew up watching Evel Kneival's Dad ("Kneival Imports!!") sell VW Beetles. $1995. each.

So am I painting the picture? Backwater Montana, Little Danny wondering all the time why it never snowed and was horrible winter in the mythic land of television -  and why, if we're only two miles out of town, does our TV come from over a hundred miles away.
Sucked to be me, stuck in this provincial hellhole where my brother and I actually waited with bated breath for a week simply because the next episode of "Rawhide" had "Butte City" mentioned mentioned in the preview. Maybe I thought Gil Favor would run the herd up the Rattlesnake Valley and past my house, I don't know but it felt nice to feel a part of things.
Of course it's probably better now since Robert Redford ruined the state, the Gallatin River and fedoras. Now we can bask in the glory of being from the land of the Two Teds; Katczinski and Turner.
But one honor has eluded the Treasure State - kind of - as hinted at in the title. Fact: Even though Montana is a Yuge state, lots of little, loser states such as North Dakota  (which represented an entire class not just one named-after-a-lame-state boat), Alabama (Ala-fucking-bama!!!) and New Jersey, tiny home of Chris Christie and toxic waste dumps, have had battleships named after them.
But... it sucks slightly less because our great state was poised to become the first of her own class of battleship.
According to Wiki: The new Montana class of five battleships was authorized under the 1940 "Two Ocean Navy" program. A two ocean Navy because these monsters were going to be too chubby for the Panama Canal.
Nearly a third larger than the Iowa class with a displacement of 60,500 tons and three added 16"/50 guns they were gonna be way big and scary in addition to being well armored. In fact they would have been the first American battleships of the war that could survive a hit from a gun of equivalent caliber.
Short version: They were going to be the shit but... all of a sudden it was the bird farms that got all the attention. Some bitchin' models were built though.
Okay, this sucks. Let's go back in time to see if things improve.
There was to be a Montana, BB-51 about twenty years earlier. Now that's what I'm talking about. An actual boat with a hull number - South Dakota class but...
The Washington Naval Treaty, ratified in 1923 and brought about by the reality that the world wasn't engaged in a war anymore and didn't much care for the last one.

In the end all the hulls under construction - most over 30% complete were scrapped "in the ways" in 1923. That is to say: The South Dakota class of battleship, six vessels in all, were never completed.
Don't despair, South Dakota fans, My Nav saw fit to create another South Dakota class of battleships, four of them all of which got to actually float around and act like Vessels of Naval Might. Fuck you, South Dakota.
But, before we Montanans soil our collective selves over shame for our state, now the playground of millionaires and right-wing nut-fudges (I never know if that's redundant), there was a USS Montana who kicked ass and took names.
Stolen from Wiki... I'm a lazy man:
USS Montana (ACR-13/CA-13), also referred to as "Armored Cruiser No. 13", later renamed Missoula and reclassified CA-13, was a Tennessee-class armored cruiser of the United States Navy. She was built by the Newport News Drydock & Shipbuilding Co.; her keel was laid down in April 1905, she was launched in December 1906, and she was commissioned in July 1908. The final class of armored cruisers to be built for the US Navy, Montana and her sisters were armed with a main battery of four 10-inch (254 mm) guns, and were capable of a top speed of 22 knots (41 km/h; 25 mph).Montana spent her active duty career in the Atlantic Fleet. She made two cruises to the Mediterranean Sea to protect American citizens in the Ottoman Empire, the first in 1909 in the aftermath of the Young Turk Revolution and the second during the Balkan Wars in 1913. Montana was also involved in political unrest in Central American countries, sending landing parties ashore in Haiti and in Mexico during the Occupation of Veracruz, both in 1914.After the United States entered World War I in April 1917, Montana was tasked with convoy escort and training ship duties. With the end of the war in November 1918 came a new task, transporting American soldiers back from the battlefields of Europe. She made six round trips to France and carried back a total of 8,800 men. Montana was then transferred to the Puget Sound Naval Yard in Washington State, where she was decommissioned and renamed Missoula. She remained in the reserve fleet until 1930, when she was stricken under the terms of the London Naval Treaty. The ship was eventually sold for scrap in 1935 and broken up.
Broken up like my heart.
Four stacks, maximum cool.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The White Gold


"Mom is so gonna kill you two when she gets home."

Unless your head has been in a hole recently, you've certainly heard of the brave patriots weathering harsh, winter conditions with insufficient socks and snacks. Said brave action being in aid of preventing government overreach.
Apparently this tyranny thing is getting pretty bad.

Vanilla ISIS, you don't know you're born regarding  what you consider an intrusive state.

"The Lord Coke, his Speech and Charge, with a Discoverie of the Abuses and Corruptions of Officers. 8vo. Lond. N.Butter, 1607."
The following officer is unknown in the present day, I give his character in extenso:
"There is also a Salt-peter-man, whose commission is not to break up any man's house or ground without leave. And not to deale with any house, but such as is unused for any necessarie imployment by the owner. And not to digge in any place without leaving it smooth and levell: in such case as he found it. This Salt-peter-man under shew of his authoritie, though being no more than is specified, will make plaine and simple people beleeve, that hee will without their leave breake up the floore of their dwelling house, unlesse they will compound with him to the contrary. Any such fellow, if you can meete with all, let his misdemenor be presented, that he may be taught better to understand his office: For by their abuse the country is oftentimes troubled."

Whoa, this "Salt-peter man" sounds like a real dick. What was his deal?
Well, as in so many cases, an authoritarian government barged-in and started digging up the floors of people's houses, churches, their yards, barns and so on - all under the King's authority:

Proclamation of King Charles I (1625):
"For the Maintaining and Increasing of the Salt-petre Mines of England, for the Necessary and Important Manufacture of Gunpowder."
"That our realm naturally yields sufficient mines of saltpetre without depending on foreign parts; wherefore, for the future, no dovehouse shall be paved with stones, bricks, nor boards, lime, sand, nor gravel, nor any other thing whereby the growth and increase of the mine and saltpetre may be hindered or impaired; but the proprietors shall suffer the ground floors thereof, as also all stables where horses stand, to lie open with good and mellow earth, apt to breed increase of the said mine. And that none deny or hinder any saltpetre-man, lawfully deputed thereto, from digging, taking, or working any ground which by commission may be taken and wrought for saltpetre. Neither shall any constable, or other officer, neglect to furnish any such saltpetre-man with convenient carriages, that the King's service suffer not. Non shall bribe any saltpetre-man for the sparing or forbearing of any ground fit to be wrought for saltpetre," 
"... the Necessary and Important Manufacture of Gunpowder"

Now we're getting somewhere. It's all about firepower.
Saltpeter has been around a long time and it's everywhere - and it was especially prevalent on King Chuck's island, what with centuries of various people and animals living and moving - having their being - specifically pooping and peeing everywhere.

That's what his Sovereign Royal Highness was talking about when he mentioned "sufficient mines" of this strategic mineral.
To leave nicknames behind, the compound were talking about is potassium nitrate.
Mad, Swiss Chemist, Ulrich Bretscher (http://www.musketeer.ch/blackpowder/saltpeter.html) can get you up to speed on the formulation of black powder far more accurately than I can.
Saltpeter's been around a long time - millions of years being that it's a product of natural processes. Have you noticed tiny, white crystals under any random dog-turd, cow-flop or any other substantive pile of merde - of a certain age - that you may kick over?  That's the stuff.
Before those clever Chinese came up with gunpowder the uses for potassium nitrate were pretty much limited to meat preservation. Minus saltpeter there would be no corned beef, then life would lose all meaning.
Prior to the realization that we could get whatever we wanted - and whenever we wanted it - by simply blowing things and/or people up, the stuff was generally scraped off of cellar walls.
Let me set the scene: Imagine you're a tavern owner in the fifteenth century or so. It's a nice piece of property and even has a basement for you to store inventory in.
The quality of your drink ables is such that the place is packed with all sorts of folks enjoying the hospitality of the house - all the time.
Happy saltpeter makers at their labors.
At some point - and many subsequent points - all of your customers need to "see a man about a horse" and they'll do so just outside and wherever convenient. 
Gross - but you don't have the wherewithal to finance a matching set of rest rooms with cutesy signs like "Pointers" and "Setters."
The end result will be: Most of your clientele will end up peeing outside, beside the same wall. This place will become a touchstone for any dog or tomcat within a quarter-mile and they'll all drop by as well. Not to worry, you're just one stop on the dog/cat tour. Everybody in your town does it al fresco except for the big man on the hill. He shits in a pot and has someone else take it out and throw it on the ground.
Over time you'll notice, in your basement, that the wall directly under the pissing wall is starting to grow little, white... cotton balls - kind of. That's what we're talking about.
That's what the industrious pair are doing in the fist picture.
You'll have to check out Ulrich"s website for him to explain how the marvel of shit and piss and soil bacteria can produce the wonder behind corned beef.
Anyway, what happened on our hypothetical cellar wall would also have happened had there been horses stabled outside, chickens, hogs, a slaughterhouse that dumped its guts, blood etc.
Okay, bucolic interlude is over. Gunpowder! Woo-Hoo! except - it's gonna be grim scraping all that white fuzzy stuff off the walls until it's all gone, then impatiently peeing and shitting to restart the magic. Obviously not workable for a would-be world power.
The great thinkers surmised that, if they could get hold of this magic dirt, they could fast-forward the whole, tedious wait-for-it-to-grow-out-of-the-wall process. Just find the appropriate dirt, dig it out, leach water through it and boil said water (Nasty) until the magic crystals precipitated out. Easy peasy.
Given the nasty mix of delectable soil components that produced the magic white powder, it's easy to see the logic behind the places that King Charles directed his duly-appointed representatives to dig.
One of the favored spots was - wait for it - under the floors of churches because "...the women pisseth in their seats". Okay, misogyny aside, it's a safe bet that all parishioners were draining the lizard indoors every now and again. Services were long and getting out was a hassle - and the place smelled like pee already.
Mother England had just about figured out this saltpeter-making trip except the urine component was a little hit-and-miss. Not only that, there was only so much pee-soaked soil... anywhere, so they started making it from scratch.
They built long beds of likely materials, blood, guts, manure, layered with soil for that sweet bacterial action. Then, they would apply the pee and wait for the magic.
Now please understand, this was a production operation and while I'm sure it was encouraged that the workers "do their little ones" onto the pile, it was but a mere drop (couldn't resist) on the disgusting slime. No, for an industrial operation you needed lots and lots of the stuff.
Making the "magic dirt"
This is where everyone had to pitch in and do their bit. Everyone in a household would take care of the first office of nature into an appropriate vessel. No biggie, they were doing that already - except for when Dad happened to be standing by an open door or the family was at church.
But with this emergent threat from abroad and the need to make potassium nitrate post-haste, there'd be no more days of freedom...  The simple freedom to take that chamber pot with all its fetid, morning broth and fling the contents thereof out into the street responsibly shouting "gardy-loo!" 
No extra credit for that. It's what anyone would do in a polite society.
So into this functional system - which had worked flawlessly for centuries - was thrown the dictate that henceforth pee was to be collected  on some sort of schedule for the use of His Majesty. In the meantime, you could bond with the family's past twenty-four kidney flushings and wait for the pee man to arrive. 
Would it have been that much worse? At least the stinky was being taken somewhere else and not being walked through constantly just outside the door.

If you've been following these links, it's easy to see that this was a subject which was brought up with some regularity and the outcome was always the same.

Citizens: "These guys get to dig up any place that suits their fancy and arcane notions of property have gone by the wayside."

Pee collectors and shit shovelers: "Make everything nice - just like you found it but by all means get the white gold!"

The madness only ended at the close  of the 19th century with the invention of smokeless powder (After which gun-powder would be called "black powder" because it was black).
The meat-curing industries along with makers of fertilizer lucked out as well and potassium nitrate was extracted chemically around the time of the Great War.
I think it's worth a paranoid thought that, from a prepper standpoint, there'd be no harm in creating your old "saltpeter mine" right at home!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Woodlot Management Optimized For National Security

Don't laugh. It's surprisingly important.

First of all, what's a woodlot?
It's bunch of ground with trees growing all over it, trees that are going to be used for something - someday.
Doesn't seem that would be something needing a whole lot of keeping-track-of, does it?
Oh but it was. Through simple inattention, you could have seriously screwed-up during the Tudor period. or later or, for that matter, any time post-king Arthur. Britain had logged off a majority of woodland even before it became a strategic issue whereupon the Crown was compelled to step in.
At this time, Mother England was having to play catch-up in the colonizing game - and maintain an ability to project power abroad all while continuing to protect the home island. It was clear; England needed a navy, or at least more of a navy.

To this end, the shapely and personable gentleman pictured was forced to make a law mandating that his loyal, property-owning subjects should - if they've got coppice on their place:

 Put a damned fence around it - and leave twelve standards per acre!
So, what was the problem, wild coppices escaping, frightening children and menacing old ladies? Outside coppices wanting to infiltrate, what?
Was a coppice something valuable that thieves might "rustle"?
What the hell is a coppice?

A coppice is the mass of suckers that grow out of the stump of a felled hardwood - and that are being paid attention to.
All those new stems that grow from the stump ("stool") do so with the added bennie of a mature root system so they grow quickly. They also grow up straight and tall since they're packed together and in competition with one another.
Various trees produced suckers that were left to grow to the appropriate size for whatever the end use might be whether withies, wattle or fence rails. Wood coppiced for firewood may have been left alone for thirty years waiting for it to get big enough but withies are good every few years. The trick was to time everything so that you could cuts a years worth of wood to work with, depending on where you cut, every year.
Sounds like a good system so why would Cranky Hank up topside have been all up in every one's business about their woodlots?

Actually, the fencing Henry mentioned makes sense when you learn the oh-so-mundane reason for it but we'll get to that.
The real question that all (three, Hi Mom!) of you have been asking is this: What the hell was Henry talking about when he demanded "twelve standards per acre"?
Next slide please...
'Tween decks on USS Constitution. Those large white-painted units dominating the right side of the picture are called "knees". In this case, they form a solid brace between the upper and lower decks as well as the hull. These date from the recent refurbishment and are made of laminated white oak.
Back in Henry's day, the ships were smaller so the knees would naturally have been smaller as well,  like the one pictured next.

Laminating wasn't an option back in the day, hide-based glue in a moist environment and all that. They had to grow trees that would yield shapes like that - with the grain structure following the curves.
This next picture is from an early nineteenth century treatise but still the standard was being pointed out was impressive. A tree that would yield a saw log between thirty-five and sixty feet long and at least a foot square.
Then up above, like an afterthought, is the knee. The knee chunk can be between nine and twelve feet long with square cross-sections in the ten to sixteen inch range.
You don't grow this type of stick from a coppice.
You need a full-sized tree for this - AKA a "standard".
See, Henry, remember Henry, was in the the process of pissing off the world - at least the Catholic world which is to say, Holland, Spain and France, all of whom had ass-kicking fleets.
So, Henry was needing to build a fleet - and keep building it because the Spanish,the Dutch  and the French would keep putting all that finely worked English oak on the bottom - as Henry hoped to do likewise with their ships.
That requires a lot of random crooks of wood.
Okay, we'll let Hank off about the "standards". When your entire island was logged off hundreds of years prior there's nothing else for it. You have to plan ahead

But coppice? What could this lowly collection of sticks possibly have been worth that Henry would pass a law to make sure everyone kept their shit consolidated regarding it?

The oldest industrial fuel, until coke was discovered in the 18th century, what it took to make things hot.
You couldn't melt metals without it, you couldn't forge without it. It was the shit but if you didn't have your loyal subjects properly tuned-up on the subject you could find your charcoal burners short of raw material and the smelters and forges laid-off - until the charcoal coppice grew back.
The other reason for the charcoal mania involved one specific form of charcoal, willow.
Willow is best but grape-vine will work. Other woods work, just not as well.
Although charcoal is the smaller ingredient in gunpowder it, being the fuel component, dictates how well it works. Since charcoal retains the same cellular structure as the original wood, when it fractures down, it offers maximum surface area for the oxygenating agent to work its magic.
Next, we'll look at that "oxygenating agent" and see how the gubmint could really get up in your shit.

Oh, recall the fence that Henry was so adamant about; you ever notice that the trees where cattle are pastured - and where limbs grow low enough to notice - have all the foliage cut-off in a dead-level line maybe four or five feet off the ground.
Seems cows like to munch on that new, tender growth that grows down where they can reach - AKA - the coppice zone.
Just put up a fence so His Royal Highness doesn't lose sleep worrying that the nation's supply of potential thatching broaches, barrel hoops, hurdles and other sticks might be eaten in their infancy. Oh, it safeguarded the nation's charcoal as well.
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