’18 A To Z Challenge – Flood

Challenge '18

Letter F

Unless the Mayan calendar apocalypse comes to pass, my little home town, situated where a river meets a lake, will never have a flood.

Lake Huron’s levels are closely monitored and controlled by the St. Lawrence Seaway commission, the geography is stable, and it would take something larger than a falling Chinese Space Station, to cause a tsunami.  The land quickly rises, so that most of the town is 50 feet above water level.  My birthplace house is more like 70’.

The closest thing to a flood is the spring ice-breakup in the river.  It starts 3 miles upstream, below the little rapids.  The thin ice breaks, pushing downstream against the thicker and thicker layers, partly impeding the water flow, until finally it lets loose.  Suddenly, thousands of tons of ice blocks, 2 – 3 – 4-feet thick, and as big as buses, thunder down the canyon, scour the harbor docks, and spew into the lake.

I’m told that it is an awe-inspiring sight and sound, but silly little things like education and employment have never allowed me to be present.  In late fall, the docks are cleared.  Ladders for swimmers and boaters are unbolted.  Fishing boats are winched onto the concrete, and placed well up on the banks.  After the cascade, ice that’s in the way is bulldozed back into the water.  Blocks that aren’t, are still melting beside the little park, well into June.

***

When we made our pitifully few visits to the lower United States for vacations, we were usually fixed on getting to our destination as soon as possible, and took the Interstates.  Humming along steadily for hours, at 110Kmh/70MPH, the extra distances were made up for by not having to follow some farm tractor, or stop at every stop sign and red light in every goober little town.

The time we took our On Top Of The World trip, we decided that we had the time, not to go 100 miles from Buffalo to Erie, PA, to get on I-79.  Instead, we took State highways down and back, from Buffalo, through Pennsylvania.  The entertainment and education justified the decision.

We passed through Du Bois, PA, named after W.E.B. Du Bois, a 19th century Negro civil-rights pioneer.  Both names are pronounced ‘due–boys’, rather than the French ‘due-bwah.’

We found a small PA town that clings to a mountainside so steep, that the northbound lane of the highway/main street, is 8 feet above the southbound lane, with a guardrail to prevent cars from falling in.  The industry in another Pennsylvania town was a Weyerhaeuser paper mill.  We could smell that one 3 miles before we got there, and 3 miles after we left, and rolled the windows down to clear the stench.

Rolling into one town we were faced with 6 or 7 truck-docks, at the back of a large plant.  Each dock seemed to be a different color, red, green, orange blue, purple.  When we got closer we found that it was a Pittsburgh Glass plant, and what we’d seen was hundreds of pounds of broken bottles and other glass, all sorted by color, which had fallen below the docks as it was being brought back in for melting and reuse.

As we were coming back north, we reached a spot where a secondary road met the highway at a T-intersection to our left.  Suddenly, in the middle of Nowhere PA, miles from any town or city, I was faced with the first roundabout I’d ever seen.

Like the 1942 song That Old Black Magic says, “Down and down I go.  Round and round I go.”  Round and round the roundabout I went, missing the northbound, uphill highway.  Instead, I continued ‘round, and exited onto the westbound, downhill road.

Six miles this steep, two-lane blacktop weaved its way down and down, with not a sign of a turnoff, another side-road, or even a farmer’s lane, to turn into to turn around.

Finally, after losing hundreds of feet of altitude, we reached a sign that said, “Welcome To Johnstown PA”.  Johnstown??  Like in the Johnstown flood??  Sure enough, there was the Conemaugh River, before we started our long trek back uphill.

In 1851 a dam was built 14 miles upstream, to provide water for area industries, and for a barge-canal system.  Later, trains replaced barges, so the dam was sold to a railway company.  The Railway Company wasn’t in the ‘dam’ business, so they didn’t maintain it, even removing and selling piping that could lower water levels behind it.

In 1889, a ‘Century Storm’ dumped 12 inches of rain in the mountain valley in two days.  The dam finally failed, and the flood roared through several small towns and Johnstown.  It caused $17 million 1889 dollars worth of damage, almost $500 million today, and killed over 2200 people.

I quietly drove back up to the highway and home, to compose this happy tale for you.  Stop back again later, when we visit The Rockies and talk about avalanches.  😯

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COOL

ice

Shortly after the last ice age ended, and the glaciers withdrew, the Neanderthals started to notice that the carcasses of woolly mammoths began to go bad quickly. Soon, many people were looking for an artificial way of producing cold/ice.  Finally, about 1850, using ammonia, some Americans perfected a machine to remove heat.  It only worked on a large scale, but the race to develop a smaller version was soon on.

In 1930, Frigidaire (frigid air – get it?) developed Freon™, and made lighter, safer, cheaper, home-size refrigerators possible.  The chiller-tubes (actually freezer-tubes) were wrapped around a small box at the top of the fridge, to increase the cooling area.  The cold air drifted down to chill items on lower shelves, but anything placed inside the box froze solid.

The makers soon learned to put doors on these boxes. You could put a tray of ice cubes in, but there wasn’t much more room than would take a modern cell phone.  Housewives still relied on regular trips to the butcher or grocery store.

This technology didn’t drift north into Canada very quickly. Possibly Americans felt we still had enough ice to keep us going.  My parents relied on an icebox until after 1950.  Too young to notice, I don’t know how or where we stored meat for daily meals.

One of the businesses on the main street was a lumber store, with saws and planers and sanders. The little office at the front did not require the full store width.  In an attempt to increase his income, the owner had one of the big refrigeration units installed, forming a large, walk-in freezer. He installed various-sized lockers, and rented them out.

Of course, only the more well-to-do in town could afford this service – to pay for the locker, and afford to buy and have butchered, a side of beef, half a pig, or a dozen chickens. As a young child, wandering the main street, through the big front window I often saw the ‘Rich Lady’, from the other side of the tracks, entering this strange room, wearing a full fur coat – in the middle of summer.  When I asked my Father, he explained about the rented frozen food storage.

By the time I got old enough to travel to other towns and cities, and look around, refrigerators were equipped with larger freezer compartments.   Both the lumber store and the need for its freezer room had disappeared.  I am not aware of this service anywhere else, but find it difficult to believe that it was unique to my little hometown.  Have any of my (particularly older) readers seen or heard of this service elsewhere?

Getting The Cold Shoulder

ice

Once upon a long time ago, I overcame my failure to launch, got a job, and moved to a city a hundred miles from home. During the middle of February, a nasty cold snap moved in.  One Friday night, my friend and I went to an early movie.  The place was not crowded.

Afterwards, we went up the street to our favorite restaurant. Besides the proprietor, there were only four of us on that chilly night, the friend and I, and two young ladies.  At least that’s what they told us they were, when we went over to introduce ourselves.

After about an hour, they asked if we would walk them home. ‘Why shor!’ As we left the restaurant, I glanced at the big Coca-Cola thermometer, hanging on the outside wall.  It read -18° F, about -28 of these newfangled Metricated degrees.  The walk home involved only that, not even any hand-holding, although it’s hard to hold hands with snowmobile gloves on.  Snowmobiles might have been invented by then, but snowmobile gloves sure hadn’t.

After leaving the girls, we headed back to the restaurant to warm up again before going on home. I looked at the thermometer again as we stepped in.  It had fallen to -23° F, or -30° C, in the hour we’d been gone.  As we sat cuddling our hot chocolates, my pal said, “Do you know your ears are white?”  Like the joker I am, I said, “No, but if you’ll hum a few bars, I’ll try to sing along.”

“No, no! Your ears look frozen!”  I reached up and found something that felt like Michelangelo had carved from marble.  I wrapped my hands around the mug, and transferred warmth to my ears.  I couldn’t feel a thing.  Within 15 minutes I could feel them again, and was sorry I could.  They stung for hours.

The next day I went to a Men’s Wear store, explained what had happened, and asked if they had a solution. The salesman provided a bright-white as-the-snow, 100% wool, skiers’ ear band, which I wore faithfully.  I later found that, while I had not lost the ears to frostbite, the tiny blood vessels had been damaged.  Now if a cool September breeze stirs the leaves on the Maples, the ears don’t like it.

I left the job, moved back home for a summer, moved out again, went back to school for retraining, got a girlfriend, got a fiancé, got married, and wore that headband every winter. My WIFE looked at the now grey-brown abomination on my head, and said, “That thing’s gotta be washed!”

Most of the wife’s family is allergic to wool. Thank the Catholic God and Monsanto for Nylon, Rayon, Orlon, Banlon, Dacron, and Polyester.  She washed it in nice hot water, and dried it in a nice hot dryer, and I got back a nice, paper-white wrist band.  Oops!

We easily replaced it at K-Mart, before they went extinct, but she always felt badly about destroying the original. Some years later, when her knitting skills had improved to the point that she was arguing with knitting patterns and TV knitting show hostesses, she asked if I would like her to custom-design and make me a replacement, this time in a washable wool/polyester blend.  See above, “Why shor!”

head-band

She started with a tube, a basic sock. Then she steadily increased stitches on one side, while adding a simple pattern.  After achieving a desired length, she stopped the pattern, and reduced stitches till both ends were equal.  Now she carefully sewed the ends together, and I have a double-thickness ear protector.  The protruding edge goes down the nape of the neck, to fend off cold breezes and falling snow.

After letting me be the guinea pig, the son decided that he’d like one also. A neighbor kid, watching me shovel snow with it on one day, asked how I got my hair to grow up through my hat.

I once sliced into an old tennis ball, and pushed it down over the ball of my trailer hitch, to protect it from rusting. This was the same kid who asked me how I got the ball to balance there.  I think he’s got all the way up to manager at his McDonalds location.   😯