Monthly Archives: March 2013

More stuff in Cincinnati

In addition to licking Abe Lincoln’s leg, we did a few other things on our recent Cincinnati trip.  Since the kids were less old than they are today, we have always enjoyed visiting public aquariums.  It just so happens that Ohio has a pretty cool aquarium.  It’s in Kentucky, but Ohio’s aquarium is pretty awesome!  I am always happy that the kids seem to enjoy wandering around aquariums.  We often see repeating species but it never grows old.  I guess it is a testimony to how incredible nature is.  I always stand amazed at the variety of creatures that exist and it makes me sad when I hear how so much of the diversity that exists is in jeopardy due to global climate change, habitat destruction or other abuses of nature.

Newport Aquarium Newport Aquarium Newport Aquarium

Newport Aquarium

Anyhow, we very much enjoyed touring the Newport aquarium and spent several hours enjoying all there was to see.  We also spent a bunch of time at the Contemporary Arts Center.  We had a great time touring the exhibits and what made it especially cool is that we got to interact with the art pieces on two entire floors in the ON! Handcrafted Digital Playgrounds exhibit!  When we walked in, I didn’t realize that the place was set up for kids but it couldn’t have been more perfect.  Of course, most art is regular museums is hands-off, but the kids and I both enjoyed playing Smash Pong (Ping pong on an artsy table where extreme hitting is encouraged), flying paper airplanes and rocking-and-rolling a patchwork quilt camper at the CAC.

03_23_2013 031 At the Contemporary Arts Center

At the Contemporary Arts Center

I think the place that was the most powerful during the trip was the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.  I am not sure why it sort of touched a nerve with all of us, but seeing the “slave pen” when you enter the building spoke to us immediately.  It’s a simple display but when we walked into the wooden cabin, we all stood with our mouths open, not saying a word.  Seventy or so people were warehoused in a a room not much larger than a typical school classroom.  They were forced to live in terror, filth and shock until they were sold.

03_23_2013 148 National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Most displays within the center were simple and straightforward but I think that made it easier to understand the horror that faced slaves each and every day.  It seems so simple to see how wrong it is to take someone’s freedom and civil rights.  We learned so much about the economics of slavery, the politics of bondage and the bravery of people who worked to protect others.  I understand the economics of slavery I guess, but for the life of me, I cannot imagine how people can be so cruel to other people.  I cannot imagine treating animals as badly as slaves were/are treated, let along talking, thinking people!?  Both the kids and I continued onto the discussion of modern slavery and we were shocked at how extensive modern slavery is around the world and even here in the United States.  You know, it is one thing to read about what people did a long time ago…it’s easy to write off as how things were when people didn’t know any better, but now…how can people still enslave other people?  I don’t understand it and am pleased that the kids were equally shocked and disturbed.

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Despite the tone of this writing, these places were each pretty incredible in their own way and I was pleased to visit and learn something in each place.  I suppose it is fairly uncommon when you can experience powerful imagery with your kids and even more powerful when it changes how you see the world!

How to catch a cat

We used to have a neighbor who was somewhat less than “whole”.  She had a real passion for animals…well, for collecting animals; not so much for taking care of them.  Fast forward a few years and she has moved away, and, in fact, her house was torn down.  The animals remain and we have grown somewhat attached to some of them.  Just so you get a picture of what I mean, we have had as many as 13 cats on our side porch…none of which was ours.

There are fewer now and we have captured the ones that are tame and had them fixed.  I guess we should have taken them all to the pound but there are a few that are good cats and nice to pet when we are out in the yard.  They stay outside and keep the varmints at bay.  There are a number of cats that are feral, and as it is now spring, pregnant.  We do not need a dozen more cats around here so we plan to trap the feral ones and take them to the pound.  I have a few box traps so this seemed like an easy task.  I baited two traps with canned cat food and walked away.

I checked the traps periodically through the day and only succeeded in catching one of the tame/fixed cats…three times.  I can’t tell if he is smart or dumb.  Dumb to keep getting caught or smart because he filled his belly with good food, knowing that we would just release him.  Anyhow, I set them again and forgot about it until morning.  I checked the trap Sunday and sure enough, I caught another cat…a real wild one!

'possum caught in a trap
(hint: that’s not really a cat)

I took this one out to the woods and let him go.  He didn’t stick around for pleasantries which suited me just fine!

Electrolysis to remove rust

So my cane mill is around 105 years old.  It has rust slightly younger than that, but that’s not saying much.  Pretty much all un-restored mills have old rust to some degree.  Some folks like the rust look and it technically will not harm you if it is otherwise clean.  I don’t like the look though and the mills weren’t rusty when they were new so it’s not like I am changing its original state.

Electrolysis to remove rust
Before electrolysis…the whole thing is pretty rusty
Electrolysis to remove rust
After electrolysis…hardly any rust left!

So, I was searching around for the best way to remove rust from old iron and there were tons of people using electrolysis.  I had heard of electrolysis for hair removal (which is becoming increasingly more interesting as I age and my ears have started to sprout).  Anyhow, it is a well known technique for rust removal too (Here is a great bit of info on it).  I put my rusty  iron into a plastic tub filled with water and laundry soda.  I hooked up my battery charger and hee-haw if it didn’t start bubbling!

Electrolysis to remove rust
The electrolysis chamber. Those bars are all electrified! Be careful if you do this!

Cut the power on and wait a few hours and poof…science happens!  Search around for more details on your own because, of course, this could kill you if you do it wrong (Just look at my de-rusting tank…those bars are electrified when it’s running).  Abigail and I enjoyed our little experiment and I am here to report that it works pretty well.  I will still touch it up with a sand blaster (or maybe a soda blaster) but I think it is going to turn into a really nice piece!

My cane mill/sorghum stuff

Hollow iron is still heavy

I spent a few hours this weekend working on tearing apart the cane mill in preparation of restoring it.  Some folks like the old rusted iron look and, too a degree, I do too, but when it comes to something I am going to use to make food, I think I would rather have it cleaned up and protected.  Plus, I got to buy a sand blaster so it’s legit.  Anyhow, I used lots of PB Blaster, an amazing rust buster, and delicately tapped on various pieces until they loosened up and came apart.  I was surprised to find out that pretty much all of the mill came apart which is fortunate because it weighs a ton!

03_12_2013 009 Cogs on the Chattanooga Plow Company cane mill

So, to make sure it makes sense, I’ll describe how it works.  Basically there are three rollers that are joined by large metal cogs at the top. The  largest roller has an iron shaft that extends above the mill to which I will attach a long pole.  In this case, The Chattanooga Plow Company numbered the mills according to how long the pole should be for proper leverage.  In my case, I need a 14 foot poll to go with my Chattanooga #14 mill.

The top of the Chattanooga Plow Company cane mill

So, I will attach a mule (like my wife and kids) or a horse or even a 4 wheeler to the pole.  The beast of burden will walk in circle turning the main shaft which will, in turn, rotate the other rollers as well.  The rollers are spaced about 1/8th to 1/16th inch apart.  Sorghum canes are fed into the gap.  The rollers rotate and pull the canes into the mill and crush the stalks releasing the juice inside the canes.

The hollow main roller of the Chattanooga Plow Company cane mill The base of the Chattanooga Plow Company cane mill

So, luckily the mill comes apart which makes my restoration much easier.  I was surprised to find out that the largest roller was completely hollow.  It will still more than I could lift so luckily my main mule wife helped me get it off the mill’s base.

The Chattanooga Plow Company cane mill disassembled and ready to be restored

I bought a sand blaster this week and was surprised how cheap they actually are.  Now that I have the mill apart, I plan to try my hand at sand blasting.  I also have another plan in action to remove rust also.  Abigail and I are doing a little science experiment to find a chemical method to remove rust also (more on that another day).  Depending on how that works, we may go that route instead, mainly because…well…science!  Hey, science has ways to make lifting heavy stuff easier too, doesn’t it?

My cane mill/sorghum stuff

To the woods

Abigail and I went to the cabin this weekend to do a little work on the place. We started out by planting onions. I like onions so we started with 60 sets. Abigail loves to get dirty and Emily hates it when she does, so it was a perfect opportunity since it was just the two of us. I emptied a few new bags of soil and a bag of manure (yeah, I bought it…I hope some neighbors will help me out with some next time around) into a raised bed we made. Abigail helped me space them out and we got as much dirt as we could under our nails.

Working in the dirt Working in the dirt

After we licked our fingers clean, Abigail wanted to take a walk into the woods. It was such a beautiful day, how could I refuse a walk in the woods? We started down a path we hadn’t walked before and found a really great log down on the ground for sitting. We decided to sit a spell. It took a few minutes, but after a bit, Abigail stopped rustling around and it got really quiet. She commented how quiet it was in the woods. It was nice…she turned back to the woods and just sat and stared over the holler without another sound. I suppose we sat like that for 10 minutes or so. Eventually, we got up and spotted a deer trail off to one side and decided to follow it in to the woods.

A bleached turtle shell Sitting a spell

We stopped again when Abigail spotted a hole in the ground. It was right where the deer trail went so it was easy to find. We stood still for a second and heard running water. There wasn’t a stream to speak of, but we heard running water down in the hole I suppose we discovered a spring though we never saw it come out anywhere. It didn’t matter…we had already cleaned our fingernails anyhow!

Mystery tree with silver bark Queen of the lichen rock

We continued on and spotted a small standing pool of water and another spring and an old bleached out turtle shell. We watched a pileated woodpecker for a few minutes and sat a few more spells on a couple of rocks. We saw some really cool trees that looked like birch trees but they were a a lot larger than any birch tree I have ever seen. We talked and picked out our favorite lichens. I must have brushed up against something on our walk as I now have a rash over my entire body. It’s just the price one pays I suppose. It was well worth it to have this great opportunity to spend some time with my daughter when she told me she wanted to go to the woods. It just doesn’t get any better!

Chattanooga Plow Company

So over the weekend, Emily and I went on a road trip to Pleasureville, KY.  Thumper told Bambi what his Mom had pounded into his head, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”.  In regard to Pleasureville, KY, I will follow the Thumperian Principle and let you visit sometime to make up your own mind.

Chattanooga #14 cane mill
Chattanooga #14 cane mill

Anyhow, back to my main purpose…let me give you some back story… Sorghum is a plant native to Africa that was first raised in the United States in 1853 or so.  Much like sugar cane, sorghum cane has a sweet core that can be pressed and boiled to make sorghum syrup (some people call it molasses or sorghum molasses.  Molasses is technically made from sugar cane only).

Chattanooga #14 cane mill
It’s huge…rated as a 2 heavy horse mill. It weighs 1158 pounds

It was commonly grown on farms in the south where sugar cane wouldn’t thrive (i.e. the mid-south) so families could have access to sweetener.  Anyhow, as family farms declined in number and as artificial sweeteners grew in popularity and cheap labor (I read this as large farm families) became less accessible, sorghum fell by the wayside.

Chattanooga #14 cane mill
Here it is getting gas in KY

There really isn’t anyone making sorghum presses, at least not in the old style, so the only ones left are 100 or more years old.  There are a few old cane mills left but they are becoming more and more scarce as old-timers pass away and old farms rot back to the land.  There are a few people still willing to turn loose of an old cane press they have laying around, but it is hard and expensive to find them.  That brings us to our trip to KY.  We bought an old sorghum cane mill made by the Chattanooga Plow Company from a guy who had one there.

Chattanooga #14 cane mill
Can you tell how huge this thing is?!

I have another bit of info you didn’t ask for but I am going to tell anyhow…Chattanooga Plow Company  made plows and basic cast iron farm equipment and was a very large producer in the mid to late 1800s.  They were bought by International Harvester when it appeared John Deere was going to get into the harvester business.  JD had been absent in that market while focusing on plows and similar implements.  When IH got word that JD might be getting into harvesters, IH decided to get into plows.  (Read a really interesting history here).  So, ultimately, my cane mill is in the International Harvester family.

I also have bees, as you may know, so you could say I have a thing for sweets.  What really made me think about raising sorghum though, is a recent article in Mother Earth News (here’s the article).  Basically, as folks long to understand old ways and to eat natural food or produce their own “stuff”, sorghum has enjoyed a bit of a revival.  I read the story in Mother Earth News and read a bunch more online and was hooked on the idea.  Getting started in any new endeavor can be a problem if you do not have folks around who understand how to do things, like, say, grow and process sorghum.

Chattanooga #14 cane mill
I just can’t get over how big it is!

I am very fortunate that Granny Sue, my neighbor, used to process sorghum on her farm and the man who originally owned both her land and mine, also ran sorghum.  I think this new project was meant to be!  I have a few months to restore this old cane mill while our sorghum grows, and I will be sure to keep you up to date on that process.  I hope some other folks in the area will plant sorghum so we can have a regular old fashioned sorghum cook-off.  I think that’s a big part of the old ways too…doing thing as a community.

My cane mill/sorghum stuff

Married couple roadtrippers

When we were in college, we were pretty poor. Neither Emily nor I had a car and most of our friends were car-less as well…at least until the end. Anyhow, we didn’t really get a good chance to do road trips, that special rite of passage among college kids. There were a few occasions when we could borrow a car but mostly we just hung around campus. We had a really cool group of friends so I don’t think I ever missed road tripping. We just had too much fun where we were.

Anyhow, Emily and I are going on a road trip tomorrow. I can’t tell you why yet because that part is top secret. It’s probably a lot more exciting for me than for anyone else, but I like the mystery of it. I can tell you we are road tripping to KY though…to a place called Pleasureville. Honest, it’s all on the up and up. Pleasureville is a town, not a business or anything like that..I swear! I am buying a huge piece of cast iron from a guy in Pleasureville so I can do an old-timey thing this summer/fall. Oh boy! See, I can tell the suspense is killing you!

A hint - from the Library of Congress
A hint – from the Library of Congress

Anyhow, we got a new spare tire for the trailer and I even dug out a car jack. You see, this piece of cast iron weighs almost 1200 pounds so a flat tire would not be trivial. I figure we will stock up on pretzels and soda before we go. The car is loaded with music appropriate for a day-trip. I am so excited to head out tomorrow and goof around with Emily. We will get to relive to college experience we never had! I’ll let you know how things go and if all goes well, I’ll be able to show you pics related to our next big project!

Superior rating

I have been remiss in writing about a significant event that took place last weekend.  Isaac plays in his school’s jazz band and they had a regional band competition and rating.  I had a certain expectation of how the middle school band would sound.  I mean, I have heard Isaac play a lot at the house, but getting an entire band to play together is another thing…and middle school kids…well, they aren’t always known for their attentiveness to detail.

Jazz band kid

We headed to Huntington to one of the high-schools  where school bands had been playing all day.  Band kids are super cool and mostly a lot of fun to hang around, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend my day sitting in an auditorium listening to a bunch of hormone fueled kids screeching out jazz tunes.

I couldn’t believe how wrong I was about pretty much all of my assumptions.  I still think band kids are really cool, but I had no idea how awesome they could play a huge variety of jazz tunes.  Most of these kids had only been playing 1-2 years but to hear them, you would think that they had been playing since way before puberty.  Anyhow, their music speaks for itself so without further adieu:

Song 1

Song 2

Song 3

Song 4

Extra points to anyone who can identify the names of the songs!  I am so proud of all of these kids.  They did one heck of a good job and all of their hard work definitely paid off.  They were given a superior rating, the highest rating possible!