Monday, August 16, 2010

It's REALLY not the size of the dog!

What is a Victory? What decides the winner?

In the news recently, 2 pit bulls chewed their way through a fence. Once free, they sighted a child and an infant and made straight for them. But before they could reach their targets, they found their way blocked by the children’s family dog… a Chihuahua! (this was literally “not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog“) The diminutive warrior must have known he was overmatched but his family was in peril and he was their protector! The battle was brief and the outcome, not much of a surprise. The courageous little canine gave his life and was carried away. But those he sought to defend were untouched. He had achieved his goal, while his adversaries were deterred from theirs. Clearly… he was the victor!

The price we pay for the things that are important to us may seem extreme to others. Whether it’s laying down a life to save loved ones, like the little hero in this story, or just passing up a good party to study for school, our goals can show who we are and shape what we will become.

Victory can be a matter of… perspective.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Old Grey Mare She Ain’t What She Used To Be

Or is she? Today’s underdog; the steam engine.

The Old West Locomotive, chugging across the wilderness. The Mississippi Riverboat, making her way up the river at an “elegant” speed. Two Icons of America’s past with one thing in common; a heart of steam!

More a novelty than a practicality today, the old steam engine has had to step aside for the electric motors, steam turbines and diesel engines. And even many of the old steam troopers that remain in service today have had their coal or wood burners replaced by diesel or propane.

What if a heating element could do it’s job and use not a drop of fuel? Would this not give the old steam engine a new lease on life? Let’s see.

I have some friends that run a couple of old steam locomotives at an amusement park. One of those trains is the oldest continually operating steam locomotive in North America. One of my friends says that steam engines are very efficient, that those trains they care for could haul much more than just the four or five passenger cars that is their usual burden. Back in the day, steam engines were used for much more than just transportation. They ran pumps, powered machinery, drove generators… hey! Wait a minute. Drove generators! What if a steam train, or riverboat for that matter, could haul it’s load and run a generator that would be used to power it’s own electrical heating element! It would have to be brought up to steam by an external power source but after that it could be self-perpetuating.

But, you say “All the old water towers along the way are gone. Where would they stop for water?” In the ‘90’s (the 1990’s) the Santa Fe railroad, just for an employee trip, sent an old steam locomotive cross country. How did they water? They were met by the Fire Dept. of each city they stopped at. But with regular trips, a permanent facility would be set up at each station.

Granted the steam engine doesn’t have the muscle of say a steam turbine but it could still haul tons and tons of people and product, by rail or river. How much fuel would that save every year?

But why stop there? A stationary steam engine could run a generator that’s sole purpose is to power the heating elements of other steam engines that would drive other generators that would provide power for general use.

Wow! Guess that old song has merit, “Everything Old is New Again”.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Sometimes the winning underdog is an undercat!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Hell yeah, Virginia!

If you believe that the deeds of one man can resound through hundreds of years and make the world a kinder, more giving place, if only for a season, then you can believe in Santa Claus!

About 245 AD in the town of Patara, a port in Turkey, was born a man, destined to become a saint. His name was Nicholas. At an early age, Nicholas’ father died, leaving him a great fortune. Anonymously, Nicholas gave much of the money away to those in need and to children in particular. But there was one feat of generosity that would become legend! A legend that stays with us today.

A poor man had three daughters but no money for their dowries and so they had no prospect of marriage. And an unmarried woman, in those times, would have a bleak future of prostitution or slavery. Upon hearing of the family’s plight, Nicholas visited their home in the dark of night and tossed a small bag of gold into the window. This was enough for the eldest daughter’s dowry. The next night, a second bag of gold and the second daughter was saved. On the third night, the window was closed. What to do? Up on the rooftop went Ol’ Saint Nick and down the chimney went the gold. Stockings had been hung over the embers of the fire to dry and some of the gold fell into them. Once the story of the third night got out, other people in the town starting hanging stockings about the fireplace to catch any gifts or gold that just might ‘drop in‘.

Ok, ok, so Santa does not shimmy down the chimney, even the REAL Saint Nick didn’t do that. But as long as your family, friends, and you, yourself, follow Nicholas’ example and give gifts to those you love or to those in need, then… yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus… and there always will be.

As for holding to the theme of my blog, I think that one man taking on the whole “me” oriented world constitutes the courage and long odds that are at the core of all of my stories.

Merry Christmas to all! And “God bless us, every one.”

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Niche

Everyone has a talent. A thing they excel at. Sometimes we don’t know it or we consider it too unimportant to be called a “talent”.

The Wildcat. My favorite fighter of the second world war. Little, kinda tubby, a very important plane but mostly forgotten because she didn’t have the flash of the Thunderbolts, Corsairs or even her younger sibling, the Hellcat. She was loved by her pilots and mechanics but when she faced the nimble Japanese Zero, she was dubbed awkward and sluggish by her critics. Never mind the list of pilots who became aces (shooting down 5 planes) in the cockpit of a Wildcat, a couple of which got their 5 in a single engagement. It was a mere 4 Wildcats that helped the Marines stave off a Japanese invasion for almost two weeks on Wake Island. But she was being replaced, by the faster, the more agile.

The British used the Wildcat in combat before the U.S. did. They called them Martlets and scored their first victory on Dec. 25, 1940. Now, the British had a responsibility and that was to supply the Russians by ship convoy. The German navy felt it was their responsibility to sink these convoys and they took this responsibility quite seriously. The British had to think of something. Air cover would be best but the Royal Navy could not spare any of their aircraft carriers to escort the convoys. The answer? A captured German cargo ship, slap a 368 x 60 ft. flight deck on top and say hello to HMS Audacity, the first escort carrier. New problem: the Audacity’s flight deck was about half the size of a conventional carrier. What plane could possibly launch off of that? Why, yes! You’re right! The British, who had brought us the Spitfire, the finest fighter in the world at the time, chose the U.S.-made Grumman F4F Wildcat. Six of them to be exact. Chosen not just for their size but for their reliability. You see, another drawback of the Audacity was… no hanger. The planes lived at one end of the flight deck, exposed to the sea air and salt water, which made the mechanics grind their teeth a bit. But the Wildcat was easy to repair and maintain from the start, so she could take more abuse than her “high performance” contemporaries. The plan was, the Wildcats would take to the air to fend off the dreaded German Condor aircraft or to seek a submarines’ shadow, then, by radio, guide the submarines nemesis, the destroyer, straight to it’s prey. So how effective were our two underdogs, Wildcat and Audacity? Well, they gave the mighty German navy enough trouble that Admiral Donitz himself gave the order to sink the escort carrier and her bothersome Wildcat squadron.

It was December 21st, night time, when Audacity’s planes could not take to the air and no escort could be spared for her. She started a zig-zag pattern to make herself less vulnerable to submarine attack. A merchant ship got spooked and sent up a snowflake flare, lighting up the iron ore ship Annavore, which was sunk immediately and there was the unmistakable silhouette of Audacity, alone and unprotected. Just four minutes later a torpedo hit her engine room aft and flooded it. Her stern dipped into the water causing her Wildcats to slide off the deck and she floated like that for about 20 minutes, giving the crew a chance to abandon ship, all except the gun crews who stayed to try to protect her. But to no avail. Two more torpedoes hit her and blew the little carrier in half. The fact that the Germans made such a specific effort to target the Audacity and her Wildcats for attack, was a compliment that did not go unnoticed by the allies. Many more escort carriers were built, and the plane of choice for almost every one? The Wildcat. The tubby little fighter went on to protect more convoys and gave air support for most of the island hopping in the Pacific. In the Atlantic, flying off of escort carriers like the USS Bogue, she hunted submarines.

Everyone has their niche, the Wildcat had found hers.

“Fate has a niche set aside for us all.”

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Posture of Courage

Some aspire to greatness, others have greatness thrust upon them.

Two situations today. One where the underdogs marched boldly to their fate, the other, the disadvantaged became heroes reluctantly. Question; which one displays more courage?

Most of us have heard of, if not seen, the movie “300”. It is a telling of the Battle of Thermopylae, where, in 480 BC, a force of 300 Spartan soldiers, united with a small number of troops from other Greek city-states, took a stand at a narrow pass and held off, for days, an invading Persian army of 100,000, before being wiped out to the man. In selecting his men, King Leonidas only chose those who had sons to carry on their family name. These were men who knew they were going to make a difference… but not a return trip.
No question of courage here.

On the other hand, 1879, Rorke’s Drift, South Africa. Somewhere around 100 fit British soldiers and some 30 sick and injured in Hospital, were put upon by about 3000 Zulu warriors. After a battle that spread over two days and got down to hand to hand and spear to bayonet, the Zulus withdrew and Rorke’s Drift survived. But only because of men like Private Hitch who was shot through the shoulder but continued to defend the barricade. Even after he was unable to fight, he distributed ammunition to the other men until he was too weak from loss of blood. He survived the battle. The Victoria Cross is awarded to only those showing the most exceptional valor. 12 were given out at Rorke’s Drift. In the face of such odds it would be easy to curl up into a ball and wait for the end. These men chose not to.

I think it takes as much courage to live as it does to die.

They say that “Life is a grindstone. Whether it wears you down or polishes you up, depends on what you are made of.”

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Clear Your Mind of Can't

On my refrigerator door is a note pad that says “Clear Your Mind Of Can’t”. Granted it’s easier said than done but it’s a good thing to file away in your noggin, you may never know when it will come in handy.

The Battle of Britain is one of those uneven battles I mentioned that I would speak of, and I will
but not just now. One of the insanely courageous men who fought in that battle is my focus at the moment. His name was Wing Commander Douglas Bader. I may be related to him (my mother says yes, my aunt says no) . For those of you not raised in England, Bader was quite a prominent name in that famous struggle for air supremacy over Great Britain. But only because he cleared his mind of “Can’t”.

Young Douglas was in the Royal Air Force before the war but there was a plane crash, in 1931, that almost cost him his life… and did cost him his legs. That would have been that for most people, but Bader, instead of choosing to get around in a wheelchair, a walker or even a cane, he chose a Supermarine Spitfire, the finest fighter in the air at the time and he proceeded to procure one. By 1939 he was back in the air as a fighter pilot and then promoted to command. He was shot down in 1941 and as a POW made several escape attempts. In 1976 he was knighted and then on into legend.

If someone tells you “It can’t be done”, it just means that they can’t do it.