One City’s Halloween Horror is Another’s Way of Life

That’s what they’re learning in the wake of Hurricane Sandy:

A casket floated out of the grave in a cemetery in Crisfield, Md. after the effects of superstorm Sandy Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012.

This phenomenon–the effects of a high water table and not of demonic activity–was one of the first rude awakenings the early French settlers of New Orleans.  Their response was to build the elevated crypts that are a hallmark of the city (some of which contain my own ancestors).

My prayers are with those who found themselves in the path of this storm–and that includes family who are descendants of those buried in above-ground crypts.

Trumpeting Ethnic Minorities at Home, Trashing Them Abroad: Our New Mistakes in Myanmar

Under the guise of “democracy”, we’re setting ourselves up for trouble:

Americans have fought at home and on many a distant shore with resolve in truths that they hold to be self-evident, “that all men are created equal”. Under the Barack Obama administration, America appears to have abandoned this principle through its recent engagement policy with until recently military-run Myanmar.

To be sure, Myanmar matters. The country has emerged as China’s main gateway to the Indian Ocean, with massive natural resource wealth at home and important international markets beyond. Myanmar has thus emerged as a key state in the US’s “pivot” policy towards Asia.

The flaws in the US approach are threefold, including: (1) failing to understand the unambiguous, enduring power of ethnic populations; (2) failing to engage them fully as equal stakeholders in the country’s future; and (3) forgetting that many have been faithful American allies going all the way back to World War II.

It seems like an obscure place, but Burma/Myanmar has an important role in American history, as students of World War II will attest.  Now it’s trying to emerge from years of centralised dictatorship and it looks like we’re about to repeat some of our earlier mistakes such as those in other multi-ethnic situations like Afghanistan.

The ethnic composition of the country has always been the key.  As the article notes, although the name of the country would indicate otherwise, only about half of the population is ethnic Burmese; the rest are a variety of minorities, some of which are predominantly Christian (which hasn’t endeared them to our elites) and fought with us in World War II.  The British, in their (and our) trademark style, elevated the ethnic minorities against the Burmese majority in the colonial bureaucracy to insure their own dominance.  When Burma became independent, the Burmese got even and the ethnic minorities went to war, starting a brutal cycle which has continued to the present.

Now, after years of military rule, Myanmar is trying to establish “democracy” with Nobel prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi becoming the well-known “face” of the “new” Myanmar.  Her father attempted to establish a more even-handed balance after independence, and he paid for that with his life.  There’s evidence now that such even-handedness is lacking on the ground, setting the stage for more conflict.  This time, however, Washington is complicit.

Here and elsewhere American foreign policy suffers from two serious flaws that keep dogging our steps in the world:

  1. A tendency to be enamoured by elitist romanticism of leaders who talk a good game but either lack the authority to make it a reality or are just fronts for other less noble power holders.  That’s not just a foreign policy problem either; that’s why our elites went overboard for Barack Obama in the first place.
  2. An obsession with “democracy” and democratic process when the realities on the ground indicate that the process goes one way and the reality goes another.  The classic example of this right at the moment is the Arab Spring; we’re getting plenty of “democracy” in the Middle East but in reality it is a hegemony of the religious/ethnic majorities at the expense of everyone else.  You’d think a country like ours with an elite obsessed with identity politics would apply that to other situations, but that’s how delusional the people who run this country really are.

If our elites really want to show they are as cosmopolitan and worthy of dominance as they say they are, they can start by avoiding mistakes such as we are making in Myanmar and elsewhere.

Freshman? Just Call Them “Fish”

Political correctness makes life more complicated on campus, this time at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill:

The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill has removed the word “freshman” from official university documents, citing as their reason an attempt to adopt more “gender inclusive language.”

We are “committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for all members of our community,” reads a statement administrators sent to Campus Reform on Monday.

The University of North Carolina…dropped the term “freshman” in an effort to adopt more “gender neutral language.”

“Consistent with that commitment, gender inclusive terms (chair; first year student; upper-level student, etc.) should be used on University Documents, websites and policies,” it continues.

Since most college students are admitted as freshmen (I have known exceptions) and most college students admitted are women, there is absolutely no evidence that this terminology has hindered women from entering and advancing in their undergraduate academic careers.  So why, other than job security for the diversity officers, would an institution do this?

But, if they really want to cut to the gender-neutral chase in a hurry, they could call undergraduates below the first credit hour break point what we called them at Texas A&M: fish.  That of course is the source of Fish Camp and many other freshman-oriented stuff in Aggieland, although a lot of what fish put up with from their superiors (especially if they were in the Corps of Cadets) didn’t add much dignity to the designation.

And that, Ags, is today’s good bull.

We Only Have One True Country

It’s the home stretch for our election season.  This is a “make or break” election in many ways.  It will both define and set the course for the kind of country we are and kind of people we are.  And it’s been competitive.

As I discussed in the last post but one, it’s also been a dilemma for Evangelicals, with a Mormon and a Roman Catholic on the ticket.  But the Evangelicals, true to form, have risen to the occasion at last and started rallying the troops with talk about the role of this election in “bringing revival to America” and “re-establishing our covenant”.  (The Scots and their progeny are obsessed with the business of “covenant” because in real life they tend to be fickle and erratic).

The fact that we have to go through this every election cycle (or seems that way) betrays, I think, our poor understanding of who we really are as Christians vis á vis the country we live in.  It’s ironic that the Mormons have wrapped their religion around the country and Constitution the way they have; a big reason Brigham Young led them to Utah to begin with was to get away from the long arm of Uncle Sam and enable them to practice their faith (which included polygamy and blood redemption).  The Mexican War fixed that, and they’ve had to make the best of it since.  But Christians have better options.

It’s very common for Evangelicals to make analogies between ancient Israel and the United States, with the implication that the United States is, in a sense, a new Israel, with all the special provisions that go with that.  But there’s no Biblical support for such a position, especially if we really believe that the New Testament is the fulfilment of salvation history and that Jesus Christ’s work depicted there is finished and final.  There are two basic Biblical facts that we need to internalise if we are both to be faithful to our calling and get through whatever might come to us in this life.

The first is that we only have one true country, which is heaven. To see how this plays out, let’s consider the meaning of the term “apostle”.  The term is a loaded one in Christianity because it’s wrapped up in the idea of authority.  On the Roman Catholic side–Paul Ryan’s church–we have the idea that the church is authoritative because its leadership are the successors of the apostles, thus they can teach with apostolic authority and act with the special apostolic chrism.  On the other side, until recently Protestant and Evangelical churches have avoided the term for people walking on the earth, but now we have “apostles” with more authority and anointing than they know what to do with (and the results usually speak for themselves).

But to invoke another authority–Strong’s–the Greek term ἀπόστολος (apostle) means the following:

From ἀποστέλλω a delegate; specifically an ambassador of the Gospel; officially a commissioner of Christ (“apostle”), (with miraculous powers): – apostle, messenger, he that is sent.

And about the term ἀποστέλλω:

From ἀπό and στέλλω set apart, that is, (by implication) to send out (properly on a mission) literally or figuratively: – put in, send (away, forth, out), set [at liberty].

The whole idea of authority is certainly there, but at the root of the word is the idea that someone is sent out as a representative–an ambassador, if you please.  Sometimes that role can be tragic, as our experience in Libya reminds us.  In the ancient world, and until recently, slow communications actually enhanced an ambassador’s authority, because he (usually) could not get a quick answer from back home in a timely fashion but had to make decisions on the spot that reflected on the people he represented.  Now ambassadors are pretty much portes-paroles for the country that sent them; the real authority and decision-making is done at the centre.  (If it’s done at all: that’s an issue in our current election cycle).

Irrespective of how far you think the “apostolic chrism” goes into the Body of Christ, at best we are representatives of our God, and given that he is omniscient and omnipresent, our latitude in that role is limited at best.  All of this, however, underscores the fact that our highest and best calling is to be an ambassador of one country–heaven–and not of the earthly country in which we find ourselves.  When our time here is done, we return to that country where our proper home is.  The sooner American Christians get that simple reality into their beings, the better for everyone.

And that leads to the second point: there’s strength in that reality.  A heavenly destination has been generally regarded as escapist.  But being put beyond the final authority of the state is empowering, which is a big reason secularists hate it so much.

Let’s think this through.  Are there enough secularists willing to shed their élite lives to defend themselves against the serious attacks of Islamicists?  Now that homosexuals can serve openly in our military, can they fill the ranks that we might leave empty?  Everyone knows that defence is largely a “Red State” business, what happens when people from these places walk?  On another level, what happens when we decide we’ve had enough of feeding this beast that hates us and just go on the dole?  (That decision is already being made more often than people care to think).

The truth of the matter is that this country needs its socially conservative Christian population more than the Christians need it, if nothing else to keep the birthrate up enough to afford the retirement system.  Neither our current elites nor the Christians themselves really understand this.  The former keep thinking that secularism will lead to paradise (when did we hear that before, Marxists) and the latter keep hog-tying their Christian life to “bringing America back to God” which will only bring disappointment when the country doesn’t respond the way we think it should.

We as Christians have only one true country, and we are ambassadors from same.  We need to stop investing so much of our greatest hopes in this one and use that as a bargaining chip, if you please, to secure our freedom to worship, to follow God’s way and to share our faith as he commands us to do.

Unfortunately our identity politics and our obsession with “taking a stand” when we should be on the move don’t make that easy in our current political climate.

I’m good with voting for this Republican ticket, not because I think they’ll renew our national covenant with God or bring “Christian” leadership to this country, but because they’re more likely to keep our freedom.  It’s that simple.  That’s the key.  The sooner we realise what the end game is down here, the sooner we can use that to make our way to the true country better for ourselves and those who might like to join us on the way.

Diocese of South Carolina: The Last Drama for the Episcopal Church

The Anglican/Episcopal blogosphere received a jolt when TEC highest levels decided that the Diocese of South Carolina, and especially its bishop, had “abandoned” its own church.  Here are some of my thoughts on the subject:

  1. The only thing really “shocking” about this was the complete lack of Episcopal decorum that the Presiding Bishop and her minions have exercised in taking this action.  Episcopal decorum, however, is another one of those things that has gone out the window in the transformation of the Episcopal Church from what it was to what it is.
  2. DioSC’s final disposition will be the last act in the drama of TEC’s division of its orthodox minority from its revisionist majority.  The rest of the dioceses are either in litigation over their secession, agree with the Presiding Bishop’s course, or just too apathetic/ignorant over the real course of the church to be a threat to anyone but themselves.
  3. The major difference between this situation and that of the other seceding dioceses is that TEC’s central administration took the first move and not waiting for SC to secede such as, Ft. Worth or San Joaquin have done.  Jefferts-Schori has decided evidently that it’s time to carry out revisionist hegemony.  That decision has been buttressed by their successes in retaining the property, although those victories have been, financially at least, Pyrrhic.
  4. This result is the inevitable result of the takeover of TEC by revisionists that has been ongoing for half a century.  Where we are at now would have happened a long time ago if the orthodox had recognised how far “behind the eight ball” they have been from the beginning in TEC’s internal situation.
  5. TEC’s current leadership does not have a practical game plan to reverse the decline of the denomination, as is the case across the Main Line.  Their idea is that, by eliminating internal competition such as DioSC offered to their vision of success, they can move forward.  But ultimately they have no forward to move, because what they have to offer can come from secular organisations/movements with much less “baggage”, something that is more obvious to younger people than to the Boomer leadership.

My prayers are with the Diocese and its leadership; they’re going to need all the help they can get.  They have put together as strong of an exit strategy as could be done; whether it will survive our legal system will be the final question.

Ever Wonder Why the Republicans are Running a Mormon and a Roman Catholic?

Our hopelessly biased media brings up the subject of Mitt Romney’s Mormonism on a regular basis.  One way they can do this while not attracting attention to themselves is to go out and interview Evangelicals on why they’re struggling with voting for a Mormon.  This is a clever diversion that, while bringing up an interesting subject, deflects attention from the fact that anyone with a serious belief in God (i.e., one who acts on it) gives them the creeps.

But let’s turn the question around: how come it is that Evangelicals, doubtless the main driving force behind social conservatism in the Republican Party, cannot seem to get one of their own nominated these days for either spot on the ticket?  Most would give the stock answers: the media will pummel any Evangelical nominated, George W. Bush, the “Regular Republicans,” etc.  The basic concept behind this is that Evangelicals are the recipients of a raw deal in the public square and that, if our system were more “fair” things would be different.

It’s true that the media, by and large, love to pummel Evangelicals.  It’s also true that George W. Bush did nothing to advance the reputation of Evangelicals in this country.  Evangelicals’ biggest mistake re GWB was to canonise him after 9/11 the way they did.  When he ran in 2000, many Evangelicals had reservations about him which proved justified.

But, as I always say, if you believe that everything bad that happens to you is someone else’s fault, you’re a failure.  Now that our nomination is done, three out of four debates are in the can, and the election fast approaches, we need to stop the blame game and ask ourselves: why cannot Evangelicals manage to get at least one of their own on the ticket?  Or, to turn the question around, why do we have a Mormon and a Roman Catholic–two bêtes noires to Evangelicals if there ever were–there in the first place?

I think the answer to this lies in the way the various religious groups/organisations cultivate their leaders (or don’t).  Let’s start with the Mormons.  Mitt Romney reminds us regularly that he was a leader in his church, not only on a lay vestry/deacon board but of the stake itself.  My first personal contact with this was an attorney friend of mine whom I found chowing down at the local buffet (and with the waistline to go with it) before he headed off to a ward meeting.  Mormonism, for all of its faults, does not distinguish between clergy and laity the way that Christian groups do, and so the leaders of their stakes and wards and ultimately of the church itself are drawn directly from their membership.  That’s enough to give someone the kind of socialisation and leadership experience which is valuable in politics.

The situation with Roman Catholics is almost the opposite.  You have a celibate priesthood who “hold the keys” to just about everything, and unless you are ready to enter that, you can just about hang it up in the church.  What Roman Catholicism has, however, is an unmatched intellectual tradition that challenges those who can get past the banalities of parish life to find it.  So lay people who want to move forward do so with secular achievement, which is why SCOTUS has so many Roman Catholics.

With Evangelicals, as they say, it’s complicated.

In the past, Evangelical churches have certainly encouraged lay leadership within, if not political involvement without.  The Southern Baptists even elected one as SBC President one year, and the career of Judge Paul Pressler has had a major influence on the course of that denomination.  Trends in the last forty years, however, have mitigated against that, especially with men.  Gothardian authoritarianism, coupled with the Boomer tendency to think “it’s all about me” have centralised control in churches in the hands of pastors who dislike power sharing.  In a male dominated field, the men of the church are the greatest potential competitors to that control, so rhetoric notwithstanding the system mitigates against the development of strong male leadership in the church apart from the clergy.

By the time Evangelicals woke up to the state of things and started to run people for office, prominent “values” candidates tended to be drawn from two sources: the ministers (Pat Robertson, Mike Huckabee) or the women (Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann).  (In regions where Evangelicals are strong, a more traditional pattern of laymen continue to present themselves for public office).  Ministers, for all the skills they may bring to the table, are not in general ideal for political life, especially beyond the state level.  That’s because in many eyes they’re always associated with the church they come out of, and that can be a liability both within and without Christianity.  Conservative women of any kind are a horror to our left; their ascendancy would do more than anything else to wreck the hegemony of identity politics, which are the bedrock of the left’s own hegemony in American political life.  They will do just about anything to take down a conservative woman.  That was the hard lesson of 2008.

One other factor that works against Evangelicals in politics is the lack of a strong intellectual tradition within Evangelicalism.  While this makes the faith easily comprehensible and adoptable for new converts, for those looking for different horizons, it discourages “out of the box” type approaches and solutions to problems.  (The whole conundrum of civil marriage is a classic example of this, but in fairness neither the LDS nor the RCC has done any better).  It hasn’t always been this way; Charles Finney, for example, was very much an “out of the box” kind of thinker whose impact on the advance of American Christianity has been enormous.

Until Evangelical churches go back to a more democratic way of operation, they will never develop the kind of lay leadership–men or women–who will make the kind of impact in the world around them that’s necessary, either in the political sphere or elsewhere.  As long as the Boomers are in charge, that’s highly unlikely, and so will be a viable Evangelical candidate on a national level.

There’s also the argument that Evangelical Christianity, for all of its move into the political arena, is by design not suited for the task.  But that’s for another post.

The Stimulus That Actually Worked (For the Moment)

The campaigns’ and Super PACS’ junk mail has injected cash into our strapped postal system:

The 2012 election season couldn’t have come at a better time for the U.S. Postal Service.

While still low on cash, the postal service has enough to avoid insolvency this month, thanks in large part to the mountains of political junk mail and the influx of Super PACs paying top postage rates.

It’s heartening to know that, for all the posturing our Federal elected officials take about the postal system, the system has actually worked in its favour, at least during this election season.  It’s not bad either that (atheists shriek in horror!) the Christmas season carries things through at least through the first of the year.

Overall, however, our dysfunctional political system has done the postal system a tremendous disservice.  We all know that changes in the way we communicate change the role of the system, a Constitutionally mandated one at that.  But while the USPS has sunk deeper into insolvency the Congress has blocked solutions such as ceasing Saturday delivery and consolidating post offices in the name of short-term political expediency.

Our political system gives us two stark choices: the government should be everything or the government should be nothing.  Our Constitution, however, sets forth a limited government and presupposes a people with enough self-responsibility to maintain it.  Part of that is not only to make the burden on private enterprise and individuals as minimal as necessary, but also that the functions which government does be led effectively.  Currently we have the worst of both worlds; our private sector is over-regulated and the public sector poorly led.  Fixing these problems will be the measure of whether we are responsible enough to keep up this Republic or not.

Churches Aren’t the Only Institutions Ruined by Egos

Works even for a “place” like WikiLeaks:

But leading Anonymous accounts on Twitter…have now withdrawn their support (of WikiLeaks)…Calling the split “the end of an era”, Anonymous tweeted: “It was an awesome idea, ruined by egos.”

I’ve commented on the adverse effect of “egos inflatable to any size” ruining efforts in the church, especially with the recent spat centred around Chuck Murphy.  People inside and outside the church are quick to criticise Christian churches when egotism and pride get in the way of the real mission of the church.

This is justified.  Humility and servant leadership are quintessentially Christian concepts, something I pointed out in When the Sheep Have Anthrax.  In authoritarian societies, humility is drilled into the population by the power holders.  Jesus Christ introduced the idea that it should be a voluntary act, one he demonstrated when he washed the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper (and by going to the cross afterwards).

In a world where freedom is an obsession (not enough in some ways, but…) and secularism is widespread humility starts to look like one of those old “fuddy-duddy” things.  Arrogance and overweening self-confidence become the order of the day.  It creeps into the church and it’s a tragedy.  But it’s no better when it gets into an enterprise like WikiLeaks, irrespective of the merits of that enterprise.

Humility isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when we think of “one nation under God”.  Maybe it should be.  You can’t have “one nation” or one church or one anything if everyone is trying to be first (cf. 3 John 9-11).

Or one WikiLeaks…

The Caldwell Cyclone Stem Snow Plow, or Why We Hate Promoters

With winter coming on us, I felt that this, coming from another of my sites, might be interesting.  I always wondered why my family instilled in me such an intense dislike of promoters, those uniquely American creatures so prominent in our landscape.  I think I discovered why.

Vulcan Iron Works started out as a foundry, and from that evolved into a company primarily manufacturing pile driving equipment. Yet throughout its history it engaged in the manufacture of a wide variety of products, as the Special Products Division is evidence of. Sometimes things didn’t go according to plan with these “special products,” and few illustrate that more than the Caldwell Snow Plow.

The “Cyclone Steam Snow Plow” was the brainchild of E.P. Caldwell, who set up the Cyclone Steam Snowplow Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota. On 27 December 1888 (almost exactly seven years after the Warrington brothers had incorporated the company) Caldwell and Vulcan entered into a contract to produce an experimental snow plow. The purpose of the device was to clear railroad tracks of snow.

Above: a diagram of part of the snow plow, from George Warrington’s patent on the lubricator he developed for the plow. Vulcan produced most of the machined parts; the boiler came from Baldwin Locomotive and the machine was assembled at Wells, French and Company.

Although Vulcan did develop some improvements to the plow, the basic design, configuration and base patent were Caldwell’s, and this was to prove crucial in subsequent litigation.

The snow plow had been completed but not delivered it when, on 11 October 1889, Caldwell brought an action of replevin and subsequently took possession of the device without payment. By the time the action went to trial on 24 January 1890, Caldwell had sent the plow to California and sold it to the Southern Pacific railroad.

The journey was, if nothing else, eventful. The plow was too heavy for the light rails of the Illinois Central between Chicago and Council Bluffs, Iowa, and damaged the track. Things in this regard improved after the plow crossed the Mississippi.

The 4 February 1890 Sacramento Record-Union (as reported in the 16 February 1890 New York Times) gave an ebullient description of the plow’s arrival in the West:

The Cyclone steam snowplow arrived here yesterday morning in charge of Engineer John Goldy for repairs. the Cyclone is the largest and widest snowplow yet built for any road, making a path 10 feet 4 inches in width. Its capacity is something marvelous. When the fan and auger are running at the rate of 500 revolutions per minute it will throw out 130,000 cubic feet of snow per minute. The car is 48 feet long, the width of the wheel being 10 feet 4 inches. Within the cab are three engines of 600 horse power each, or a combined force of 1,800 horse power. Two of these engines drive the fan which expels the now. The third one connected direct with the auger, which draws the snow into the cylindrical case in which the fans revolve. The discharge pipe is 33 inches square, the spout being 14 feet above the rails. This throws the snow almost perpendicularly for 30 feet before it begins to curve over in its fall, clearing the telegraph poles with east. It is provided with the largest Baldwin locomotive boiler for consolidated engines, the whole length of the boiler being 28 feet, having 1,500 feet of heating surface. It has a 12-foot fire box and 185 flues 2 inches by 14 feet.

It has a flanger on the front end which works by air and gathers the snow from the centre of the track and from each side of the rails, taking it in to the inner portion of the plow, whence it is expelled through the spout on the top, leaving a perfectly flanged rail. The trucks are extra heavily built, having 5 1/2 by 8 journals. The plow weights 75 tons 300 pounds. It is entirely under the control of the engineer, who stand at the front end, on the inside, and operates and communicates with the pushing engineer by the use of his whistle, without having any gongs, signals, or bells, as it is customary on the rotary plows. The engines are capable of traveling 700 revolutions per minute, and being connected directly with the fan and auger it is possible to revolve them with the same rapidity.

The inventor of the Cyclone steam snowplow, E.P. Caldwell of Minneapolis, Minn., is General Manager of the Duluth, Huron and Denver Railroad, and has had large experience in railroading, having worked himself up from a locomotive engineer to his present position. Speaking of the general workings of the Cyclone, Mr. Caldwell said: “On approaching a snow bank the large auger at the front is put in motion, and its tendency is to draw the snow into the auger, passing it back into the fans, whence it is thrown out through the spout on top to either side desired. In order to divert the stream from one side to the other, it is only necessary to reverse the engines which propel the fan and at the same time reverse the cut-off valve in the spout. While it requires several engines to keep the rotary up to a bank of hard snow, we have never yet had over three engines on the plow in the heaviest work, and there was no necessity of having over two, while on ordinary work one twelve-wheeler will be ample power to propel the plow into the hardest snow banks.

“We arrived in Odgen on the 23rd of January and immediately commenced work on the Salt Lake Division. We passed through snowbanks on the Pequot Mountains on the Salt Lake Division, ranging from 10 to 14 feet in depth, and the snow was hurled to a distance from 100 to 175 feet down the mountain side. Passing over the Salt Lake Division we were accompanied by Superintendent S.N. Knapp, Roadmaster Fitzgerald, and the train crew. The first snowbank that we came in contact with was light snow, having just allen and drifted into the cuts. The auger running independently from the fan permitted us to pass through the snowbank at the rate of ten miles an hour.

“At Wadsworth we met Superintendent Whited of the Truckee Division, and we passed over that division, widening out the cuts and throwing out all the loose snow and small drifts that had gathered there during the night. When we arrived at Truckee the plow was put to work clearing out side tracks. Here we came in contact with the worst kind of snow, which had been shoveled and thrown off the sheds and from the main line to side tracks, and which was three-fourths ice. The most severe test of the Cyclone plow was made on these side tracks in the presence of Superintendent Whited, Superintendent of Machinery Small, and Traveling Engineer Stephenson. We first tried the plow on side track No. 4. The snow averaged from 8 to 12 feet in depth. the plow passed through the side track, a distance of 1,500 feet, in ten minutes by the watch, hurling the snow a distance of 250 feet, breaking out the glass in the roundhouse and covering up small cottages on the side near the track. It was estimated by the gentlemen who witnessed the working of the plow that it would have taken 200 men four days to have cleared this side track of snow with shovels, and we cleared it in ten minutes.

We next tried the plow on a side track leading out of the roundhouse, which passed back of the woodshed. Here the snow was frozen nearly as hard and ranged from 8 to 12 feet in depth. This track was about eighteen hundred feet long. We cleared it of snow in fifteen minutes, throwing it over the top of large buildings and breaking windows at hotels and stores on the business street, 200 feet from the track. We then opened up two or three other side tracks which were buried in about the same manner, and then got orders to come to Sacramento. We found it necessary to reduce the cab in order to pass through the snowsheds. On the trip to Sacramento we passed through some very deep snow banks, notably at Cascade. The banks had been opened up by the shovelers, small bucker plows, and the rotary, but the cuts were too narrow for the Cyclone to pass, and we widened them out from 12 to 15 inchees, permitting the Pullman cars to pass without taking off the steps, as had been necessary before. We came in contact with several slides wihch were very quickly thrown from the track.

“We had quite an experience on the plains of Nevada. We ran into a drove of cattle and the auger picked up two or three steers before we could stop. We pulled sirloin steaks out of the machine and had quite a feast.”

This destructive transcontinental jaunt, however, came to a grinding halt in Cascade. As described in the 10 February 1890 San Francisco Chronicle (and reprinted in the 17 February 1890 New York Times) the test went as follows:

Yesterday morning the Cyclone was at Cascade, six miles west of the summit, where the deep snowe [sic] recently held back the trains so long. It was ready for full operation, and was to show what it could do by clearing the buried side track there. To see this new invention in operation and to see the condition of the road in the mountains generally a large party of railroad officials want up to Cascade in two special palace oars on Saturday night, arriving there early yesterday morning. The excursion was managed by General Superintendent J. A. Fillmore, and among the others in the party were Vice President J.C. Stubbs, S.T. Gage, George F. Richardson, A.D. Wilder, Master Mechanic A.J. Small, Arthur Brown, Superintendent of Bridges and Buildings: Roadmaster Kellogg, Freight Auditor C.J. Wilder, William McKenzie, and others. the inventor of the plow, Mr. Caldwell, was on hand, and Mr. Jones, President of the Chicago company owning the patent, had made a special trip from Chicago to see the first critical test of the great invention.

The test was a sad disappointment. The snow on the side track had originally been nearly twenty feet deep, but it had packed and thawed until it had become a compact mass about twelve feet deep. After a good deal of the bright, beautiful morning had been spent in tinkering and getting 155 pounds of steam in the snow plow’s boilers, two locomotives slowly forced it to the side track and against the shining wall. The great auger which bores out its path whizzed around at lightening speed; the fans which take up the white borings and send them high and far on either side whirled faster still, and the crowd which straggled about on the cleared track and the high walls of snow on either side waited to see a resistless advance through the long bank of snow as high as the engine tops. But after a minute’s work the snow stopped flying and the plow backed out.

The steam had dropped to seventy-five pounds through some boiler defect. A later trial was also a failure and then, to improve the time, the company’s rotary steam plow, which was also there, was started in on the other end of the switch, with two big engines behind it. This was close to wehre the rotary broke down during the blockade clearing the main track, leaving several hundred feet to be shoveled out. The drift proved too deep and hard for the rotary, and all the power of the plow’s engines, whirling its blades and fans, and the power of the two locomotives crowding it against the bank, failed, after repeated attempts, to dig out more than three feet. The trouble was that the drift was too high, and the front of the plow above and around the circle of knives pressed against the wall of of snow which the blades did not disturb.

It was nearly noon, and the Cyclone was ready for another attempt. When it got fairly started a cylinder cross head broke and nobody wanted to wait an hour until it was fixed.

A subsequent attempt to modify the screw in Sacramento produced no better results.

Although there were probably other weaknesses in the design, the basic problem was that “the largest Baldwin locomotive boiler” powering the plow was too small, which explains its inability to maintain pressure. This may have been the reason behind Vulcan’s reticence in releasing the device (lack of payment probably entered into this, too.)

Caldwell wisely dismissed his own suit of replevin, which meant that Caldwell was not in legal possession of the plow and could not sell it at the time of the test. Vulcan spent nearly three years in court attempting to recover its $8,527.57 investment, but on 18 October 1892 finally prevailed, the details of which are described here in the U.S. District Court’s decision.

Caldwell must have been quite a promoter, because, even in the face of this failure and his legal problems, the Central Pacific railroad bought the machine. (The fact that a friend of his was a mechanic at the CP probably didn’t hurt!) But they didn’t find it any more satisfactory, and the machine was scrapped in 1894.

Right: railroads weren’t a complete bust for the company; in fact, railroad construction and repair were an important application for pile driving equipment, and had been before the Caldwell debacle. It’s important to remember that, before World War II, railroads were the primary mode of long-distance transportation for passengers and freight in the United States. This photo shows a Vulcan hammer driving pile for the Missouri Pacific railroad in central Arkansas.

California Runs Out of Gas

The state that almost invented auto mobile living grinds to a halt:

Gas prices shot up nearly 13 cents in some areas overnight Saturday, fueled by what’s being called “a perfect storm of factors” that drove inventories across California to near-record lows.

The average price for a gallon of regular gasoline in L.A. County was $4.66, up from $4.58 on Friday.

It’s been a long time coming.  Consider this, from a piece from another website of mine showing one of my family business’ products offshore California before they pulled the plug.  The commentary is nearly ten years old:

Vulcan 3100 hammer installing piles for Exxon’s Hondo platform off of Santa Barbara, California. In 1752 Bishop Erich Pontippidan noted that “The North Sea has a curious property. In addition to its salinity it also possesses oiliness. It is likely that here or there the sea, just as the earth, ejects oil flows, or streams of petroleum, naptha, sulphur, coal tar and other bituminous and oily juices.” Similar things were noted off of California, without the offshore drilling that is supposed to be the sole cause of this.

The fanatical determination of environmentalists to see their vision of purity realised ended offshore oil exploration off of California, something that the state has paid the price for ever since.

And obviously is not getting any better…but such is life in the People’s Republic.