Saturday, December 29, 2007

Where Am I?

No, that wasn’t me whistling in to MRY in my Lear 25 for the golf tournament. (Hint: I don’t own a Lear.) But that could of been me shooting landings at the Camp Granite airfield out along Highway 62. Don’t bother looking for it on the Los Angeles sectional, by the way. Camp Granite was abandoned in 1944. Flying to places like that, you can’t look it up on a section and you don’t call the FSS for a weather briefing, you call the guy at the gas station at the junction, if the place is lucky enough to have such a thing, which most such places don’t. In fact, if you drew a circle fifty miles wide around Camp Granite, on any given day the odds are you’d be the only human in it. That’s the reality of the Great American Desert, which may help you to understand how someone like Steve Fossett could go missing and not be found.

California, my native state, is fairly large; lotsa people, too. But the people are clustered near work & water, which leaves the desert portions pretty empty. For example, Camp Granite is about five hundred miles from the Pebble Beach Golf & Country Club - - it isn’t even on the same sectional. In fact, you’d need more than forty dollars-worth of sectionals to cover the entire state of California (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Klamath Falls, Las Vegas and Phoenix). Even then, you wouldn’t have much luck finding Camp Granite... or any of the hundreds of abandoned airfields scattered across the western United States.

Forty bucks-worth of sectionals is kinda rich for my blood. Add to that the fact they don’t show abandoned airfields and you’ll get some idea why I use other kinds of charts, such as old road maps or the super-sectional from California’s own Division of Aeronautics, a state agency under CalTrans, our state department of transportation. The super-sectional costs about nine bucks and like road maps it isn’t supposed to be used for Air Navigation, with capital letters and all that. But when the air-nav charts don’t show the places you want to go, a good map - - even a 1955 Texaco road map - - and a healthy dose of common sense, will usually get you there.

As a point of interest, especially for the frugal airman, most states have some kind of aviation office; Department of Aeronautics, Aviation Bureau or what-have-you. And most of them offer some pretty good charts, usually copied from the FAA’s sectionals. Best of all, State charts are often free or, like California’s, cost less than the sectional(s) covering the same area.

A golf tournament isn’t someplace I’d pay to go and a Learjet can’t take me to the places I want to see. Most lightplanes will get me there, even a homebuilt puddle jumper that leaves my head sticking out in the breeze and requires an Armstrong starter to get the engine going. Once you arrive at the middle of Nowhere the Nazca-like lines that were visible from the air will vanish when viewed from the ground, the ghostly image of tent cities blown away on the desert wind. Indeed, if you lack the shaman’s gene there really isn’t much to see in the Great American Desert and the typical white man dismisses such places with a shrug; the WWII camps a page of history erased by the bureaucratic hand. But dry lakes were once inland seas and for those of us who can see the passage of time such places justify more than a casual visit.


31 Dec 2007 -- A sharp-eyed reader named Oliver (see the 'Comments') noticed I'd gotten my photos mixed-up, posting a pix of Camp Coxcomb (which is near Hwy 177) instead of Camp Granite. -- rsh

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Scrimshaw Fleet

Fully rigged, glued to pallets of Sitka Spruce, protected by a coat of spar varnish applied with a Q-tip, the Scrimshaw Fleet sets sail for the Christmas Tree.

Protected by jelly jars, the tiny boats will be making whimsical voyages long after their builder has departed for Fiddler's Green.

-Dec 2007

Saturday, December 8, 2007

the Nina, the Pinta and the Rancho Bernardo

Scrimshaw II

"What are you making for the kids this year?" my wife asked about a week ago at breakfast.

Total blank. I was cracking walnuts to eat with chunks of Korean pears; I'd forgotten all about making gifts for the grandkids. "Little boats," I lied. "In fact, I'm working on them right now."

I continued to crack walnuts with the blade of my pocket-knife while I told her about Duke Haliburton and how he'd persuaded King Charles of Spain to out-source the transportation between Mexico and the Philippines, back around 1665. She gave me a suspicious look.

"Seriously. Duke Haliburton convinced crazy King Charles that out-sourcing would save him a buncha money. Then the Duke hired some Chinese guys to sail back & forth between Manila and Acapulco..."

"Chinese guys?" Her eyebrow arched up the way it does when she's on to me.

"Sure. It was a lot cheaper than building a galleon..."

"I suppose these chinese guys used a Chris-Craft."

"Don't be silly." I crunched my way through a couple of chunks of Korean pear. "Chinese guys sail junks."

"So... you're making the kids Chinese junks?"

"Right!" Whew, that was a close one.

"Three of them?"

"That's how many Duke Haliburton hired. Cost him twenty pieces of eight a month, each. For which he charged King Charles something like a million dollars."

That got a smile. "Things haven't changed much." Then she gave me that look: "I don't suppose you remember the names of those Chinese junks."

"Ah... the Nina, the Pinta and... uh... the Rancho Bernardo."

At which point she said something rude.


From that morning to this, I've added half an hour or so of Basic Boat Building to my breakfast schedule. As the little boats took shape my wife stopped making jokes about it.

Every kid knows walnut shells make perfect boats. In fairy tales. In real life they need some ballast, which I provided in the form of lead BB-shot, glued to the bilge before I started construction.

Small hull needs about eight BB's, bigger hulls can use up to twelve.

To make the decks I took a pair of scissors to some scraps of cardboard; the same stuff I've been using for gussets in my airplane rib experiments.

I made the sails out of a coffee filter, gluing on the battens. Straws from a whisk-broom provided the yards and booms; the battens are bristles from a defunct paint brush.

For masts I'd planned to use toothpicks but the only round ones we had were colored and the flat kind didn't look right, so I split some aircraft spruce with a razor-knife and turned the splinters into spars.

As you can see, the fleet isn't quite ready to get underway but they'll be sailing in formation under the tree by Christmas morning.


Every sailor does this sort of thing. The generic term for it is scrimshaw, which I wrote about last Christmas.

Junks are a bit easier to model than other types of sailing vessels because they don't have much in the way of standing rigging, although their running rigging is wacky enough to confound Confuscius. Oddly enough, the junk rig is superior in almost every way to the square-rig, something no Westerner will accept until they've actually used one.

-Bob Hoover

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

VW - Volkswagens and Sex

You like sex, right? (Come on, don't be shy. Just nod your
head if you don't wanna say it.) Okay!

So I guess that means you really enjoy changing those diapers,
right? Mixing up the formula? All those PTA meetings and
putting money aside for college... You're really hot for all
that stuff, right?

No??! Well... gee. I mean, that's the whole IDEA behind sex.

Ah! I see. You want the fun but not the responsibilities.
Ummm... okay. It's your life.

Unfortunately... (you knew that was coming, right? :-)

Unfortunately, old Volkswagens have a lot in common with sex.
The sexy part is roaring around, lotsa noise & chrome, a really
kewl ride ... or for geezers like me, driving off to the ends
of the earth, hitting rocks with hammers, catching fish, getting
chased by bears & stuff like that. It boils down to the same
thing: Having fun. Getting down & dirty. Like good sex.

But after you've had your fun you gotta face the
responsibilities -- the shitty diapers. That's the maintenance
and tune-ups and clutch-jobs and doing the brakes and all those
other unkewl things that YOU gotta do soz you can keep on
having fun.

The reason I'm writing this is because a lot of folks out there
are in it strictly for the Fun & Games. They want sex without
babies and a kewl ride without getting grease under their
fingernails. The problem is, it don't work that way. Not
unless you are stinking rich... in which case you wouldn't be
reading this anyway :-) Most folks aren't rich but neither
are they dirt poor. They let somebody else raise the baby...
and do the brake jobs. But of course that gets expensive as
so you gotta scrimp here & there. Never on the polish, of
course. Or that ohsewkewl bud vase. But you let a lot of
'unimportant' details slide, such as keeping your wheels
aligned or your shift linkage tight or whatever, firstly
because you yourself haven't any idea in the blue-eyed world
how to do such things.. and aren't about to learn since you're
only in it for the fun anyway, and secondly because you can't
afford to pay someone to do them because you've pissed away any
money you do happen to get on 'having fun'.

I hate to tell you this but you can't have it both ways. Oh,
you can. But not for long. All those 'unimportant' things
start to pile and, eventually, so do you. (Darwin was right
you know :-)

The point is, when it comes to Volkswagens you can't have your
fun without accepting the responsibility that goes with it.
Not if you want the fun to last. How long will it last?
Statistically, based on the transfer of VW titles (ie, ownership)
here in California, about thirty months. Two and a half
years. (*) That's when all those 'unimportant' things finally
catch up to you and you sell your bug or bus to the next kiddie
waiting in line because you have neither the bread nor the
brains to fix it.

Over and over and over again. That's the 'churn' that spells
survival for the VW-specific magazines and all those VW after-
market suppliers (who are becoming fewer each year, in case
you hadn't noticed).

Don't believe it? Check the archives of this Newsgroup.(**)
Where are the kiddies of yesteryear?

So what's the answer? It depends on the question :-)

Wanna earn up to $400,000 in 'hidden' income during your life?
Then keep your car forever. (ask Consumer's Union for the
article on this subject) That's right; just keep repairing it
instead of throwing it away every couple of years. Fuel, oil,
tires and maintenance accounts for only 7% of the cost of
owning a NEW car.(*) The rest gets pissed away renting the
money to pay for the thing, which isn't worth what it cost
to begin with, for the insurance and taxes and license and
all that other crap the System demands you must have.
Average cost? Almost a buck a mile for a full size sedan,
more for an SUV, less for a rice box. (Sound too high?
Check with the AAA. You're in for a surprise.)

Or you can buy an old bug or bus, fix it up and keep it that
way, you'll end up driving for about three cents a mile.
(It doesn't have to be a Volkswagen... the Forever Car
Philosophy applies to any repairable vehicle.)

Of course, that kinda thing means buying tools instead of
those kewl chrome rims, and manuals instead of that bitchin'
bud vase and planning slightly farther ahead than where to
go for lunch... and the record shows most kiddies
don't have the Right Stuff to do that. (Because it's not kewl,
of course :-)

Volkswagens and sex have a lot in common, when you think about it.
But so does divorce and Volkswagens. The sad part is that the
record shows most VW owners are only interested in a joy ride
instead of a stable, long-term relationship.

-Bob Hoover

* - The DMV data was for 1996. Vehicle cost data was 2000. This article first
appeared in 2002.
** - RAMVA