Wig Wag

During the days the American Civil War the Union Generals kept President Lincoln abreast of progress via wire telegraph. In order to accomplish this a team had to move the wire every time the general moved.

Information sent to the general – troop movement, numbers, locations, supply line, equipment – didn’t arrive by wire. It came in Morse code from individuals stationed on hills or rooftops armed with a flag attached to a four-foot hickory stick. It was called a Wig Wag Flag.

Messages began with the flag held in an overhead vertical position. Dropping the flag to a horizontal position on the sender’s right side made a DIT (dot). Dropping it to a horizontal position left side was a DAH (dash). Held in vertical position signified the beginning or end of a letter. Straight down meant the end of a word or finished.

vertical up meant the beginning of a letter

l,r,l,r, up was C

r,l, up was A

l,r, up was N

l,r, up was N

l,l,l up was O

l,r, up was N

down meant end of word or finished


  • Slow but faster than sending a runner down the hill with a note.

Camping Itinerary: Colorado’s Pawnee National Grassland

Find a Friendly Rock

It’s always fun to compare your best-laid plans to reality. Here are the best-laid plans for RV Trip #2.  I wrote this while nervously eyeballing a foot of snow in the yard. But the weather app delivered: 70-degrees-and-sunny for a spring weekend on the Grasslands.

Trip Goals

  • Procure a meteor shower for my 4-year old, because she asked to “see a shooting star with Mama,” with total confidence that Mama could make that happen
  • Sandwich a little American History between our s’mores
  • Introduce my forest-dwelling cubs to a prairie ecosystem

General Plan

Two nights of boondocking on U.S. Forest Service land in Pawnee National Grasslands.

While camping reviews for the Grasslands range from “okay” to “meh,” I’m convinced we will make this memorable with proper research. And research is my jam.

Out and About

A prairie is not an amusement park. It’s simultaneously vast and subtle. I want my girls to acquire a sense of this: to open up, settle in, and contemplate some grasshoppers.

Trevor Pellerite, quoted 

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What Would Take With You?

Stephen Hawking is now predicting that humans must vacate planet Earth within the next 100 years or face doom.

Obviously, not everyone can go. Most humans will stay behind and face this fate. If you are still in your prime years when this event takes place what would you take with you? Your sunglasses? An extra pair of shoes? A change of underwear? A tooth-brush? A Jug of Old Crow?

The Erie – Duck Down

[even the mule knows to duck]

Sometime in the late 1980s Barb and I renewed

our interest in bicycle riding. One thing led to another – strength, stamina, staying together – and we eventually bought a tandem bike – a bicycle built for two. I sat up front which made me the Captain. Barb rode behind which made her the Rear Admiral. With this new machine came a series of serious learning experiences, Those experiences are probably best left for other stories. The main thrust of this post is one of our travel quests.

A book by William Least Heat Moon, River Horse, introduced me to tow paths. Moon’s quest was an inland watercourse from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It’s not that he recommended such a trip on a bike. It was his comment of a bicycle in a single paragraph.

He was on the Erie Canal motoring westward. Progress was slow, waiting for locks to allow passage and other obstacles that have slipped my mind. These delays allowed him to gaze about and consider his situation. One thing that seemed to bother him was a lone bicycle rider pedaling along the tow path. Many times the bicycle passed him by. If the shores of the Pacific was this cyclist destination Moon feared he would most certainly lose the race.

As a result of this paragraph we set our sites on pedaling the Erie Canal. And how I wish we could have pulled it off. But obstacles also blocked our progress – not slowing us down, but preventing us from going at all. My yearn for this adventure caused me to conduct a mountain of Erie research. The history, politics, financing, and effort making Clinton’s Ditch a reality was mind-boggling.

In subsequent posts I shall address some of the numerous aspects I found worthy of passing along.

In this post, however, I’ve included a song written about the Erie:

The Erie Canal Song Lyrics

I’ve got an old mule and her name is Sal
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal
She’s a good old worker and a good old pal
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal
We’ve hauled some barges in our day
Filled with lumber, coal, and hay
And every inch of the way we know
From Albany to Buffalo

Low bridge, everybody down
Low bridge for we’re coming to a town
And you’ll always know your neighbor
And you’ll always know your pal
If you’ve ever navigated on the Erie Canal

We’d better look ’round for a job old gal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
‘Cause you bet your life I’d never part with Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
Git up there mule, here comes a lock
We’ll make Rome ’bout six o’clock
One more trip and back we’ll go
Right back home to Buffalo


Oh, where would I be if I lost my pal?
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
Oh, I’d like to see a mule as good as Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
A friend of mine once got her sore
Now he’s got a busted jaw,
‘Cause she let fly with her iron toe,
And kicked him in to Buffalo.


Don’t have to call when I want my Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
She trots from her stall like a good old gal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
I eat my meals with Sal each day
I eat beef and she eats hay
And she ain’t so slow if you want to know
She put the “Buff” in Buffalo


Author Information

Thomas S. Allen (1876-1919) was an early Tin Pan Alley composer with many popular songs not related to the canal life. His first major hit was Any Rags in 1903, only two years before that of the Erie Canal Song.


A Winter Vacation

It was February. It was bitter cold. Ice on the Lake of the Woods was thick enough to drive a team of horses on. But we enjoyed our vacation anyway.

I was getting our stuff for a lunch while Barb went ahead to check out the pavilion. Someone had left the power turned on so we made hot wiener sandwiches with an electric sandwich maker. And the three of us had lunch.

Barb, myself and the custodian – the blue jay.

Lauguage Thoughts

If you are fortunate enough to speak more than one language, which one do you think in? This is a question that has never been satisfactorily answered, to my benefit.

As one of the tests I sometimes ask an unexpected question of someone who had command of more than one language and then note the first word of their response. But I’m still not satisfied.

Years ago a friend was the father of two young children. Many of their playmates spoke Spanish. In a short period of time they were speaking Spanish as well as anyone on the playground and speaking English at the dinner table.

Their father once told me they talked in their sleep part English, part Spanish.

I wish I knew which language they thought in. Perhaps both?


meatloaf surprise

part one: fulfillment and failure

de bill, K7WXW

The first birthday present I remember is a Betty Crocker cookbook. On the cover, two boys and one girl. The older boy, cake held high, is (of course) being admired by the girl. Her look says, he has done it again! He is triumph. I wanted to be that kid.

I remember cooking only one dish from it: Meatloaf Surprise, a ground beef encased hunk of ketchup-coated velveeta. Knowing my dad, who deeply disliked surprises, I am certain that my mom made a side of pork chops that night. I don’t remember rave reviews but I was quickly hooked on (sorry) the joy of cooking.bettyc_cookbook

I worked in kitchens in high school and college and owned a decent chef knife before furniture. Way before. Turning something (eggs, flour, water) into something else (bread) for people to eat was a big part of my life. A menu didn’t have to be complicated, or have fancy ingredients, or take five hours to prepare, to make me happy. A couple of well-scrambled eggs? Good enough!

Cooking taught me that making, transforming ideas into tangible reality, can be remarkably fulfilling. Cooking, photography, computer design, language translation, home brewing electronic gear; I fell in love with the process of turning ideas into stuff. I decided, what could be more awesome than that?

If the web is your guide, nothing. It is filled with triumphant boys showing off. Translations that sing, barbecue that falls off the bone, antennas that generate world spanning QSOs on five watts. It pictures a world in which stuff works. Amazingly well. On the first try. And if you come to believe this is representative of the process of making, you are going to be miserable.

I do not have one of those websites. Many of my meals are a reason for ordering take out. I have a zillion boring, blurry photographs, a resume with more than one spectacular product failure, and a junkbox of non-working homebrew gear. Stuff that works when I turn it on the first time is rare. Tasteless stew, overexposed photos and hundred foot long dummy loads are not. The truth? To be a maker is to be intimate with failure.

I can’t say that I learned this quickly or with any grace. I did not. For a long time, I let other people’s advertising determine the value of my making. I really wanted to be that kid, the one with the website who always got things right. Unable to abide the mistakes, screw ups, and disasters that are an inevitable part of cooking, designing, writing and so on, I turned it all into work and drudgery. I cooked to eat and made things when I was paid to do so but it certainly wasn’t fun, let alone awesome.

Meatloaf surprise? I don’t think so!