Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Mom, Auntie Jo & the Coal Chute

Truck dropping coal down coal chute.
That is not Aunti Jo!
When my parents were young a lot of homes were heated with coal.  Usually there would be furnace in the basement with a coal storage bin nearby.  The coal bin was filled periodically from a passing truck which would open the access door and drop coal down a chute into the bin.

Auntie Jo, Aunt Eileen, Uncle
Tom & Mom
 Once when Auntie Jo was very young the truckers apparently forgot to re-secure the access door to the chute.  Auntie Jo noticed this strange little opening in the front yard and decided to investigate.

Well, she got a little too curious and the next thing she knew, she was sliding down the chute right into the piled coal.  The chute was too steep to climb back up and the bin door latch was too high for her to reach.  Struggling to escape she soon found herself coated with coal dust.

Realizing the hopelessness of her plight, Auntie Jo began to cry.  Her parents hearing the faint cries and noticing her absence began a search and soon located her. Daddy Con opened the coal bin door and found a “little black baby” inside.  Pretty quickly Auntie Jo was in the tub and her clothes in the laundry.

This became an oft-told tale in the family.  By the time all four children (Uncle Tom, Mom & Aunt Eileen also) were teenagers they had all shared many a good laugh over it.  Once when the story came up in conversation between Mom and Daddy Con, Mom happened to say that she remembered when it happened.

Auntie Jo, Uncle Tom, Mom & Aunt Eileen

Daddy Con looked at her strangely, “How could you remember that?”

“I don’t know, I just do.”  Mom replied.

“It’s not possible, Dolly,” he said, “you weren’t born yet.”

These are the tricks our memories play.  Mom had heard this story so many times, in her mind she thought that she had been there and actually experienced the event.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Jacob, the Serpent & the Dead Porcupine

I wrote about Jacob a while ago, and that story reminded me of a couple other adventures he participated in.

One day when we lived in Meadow Lakes Jacob and I went for a walk.  Towards the end of the walk, he seemed to be slowing down and just trudging along.  This was a bit unusual, even though he wandered all over as we walked through the fields and forests nearby, he usually seemed to be just as eager and excited at the end of a walk as at the start.

Shortly after we got back to the cabin dinner time rolled around.  I poured some food into his bowl and he got up from where he was laying in the living room.  He sniffed at the food, took a quick drink of water from his bowl and went back to lie down.

This was really odd.  Wondering what was wrong with him I took a close look at his face.  One of his upper lips was quite swollen.  Looking closer, I saw two little holes on the fleshy part of his lip. Wanting to see the inside of his lip, I touched it intending to pull it out so that I could see.  Jacob whined and I let go.  He was obviously very uncomfortable.

I turned on a couple more lights and got down very close to him.  What could have made these little holes, a thorn bush or barbed-wire fence?  Then I noticed there were actually four of these little marks, two sets, exactly the same distance from each other.

They were puncture wounds from a rattlesnake bite! Good old curious Jacob – one bite wasn’t enough for him.  He had to go back for seconds!

Fortunately for him, the snake bit the thin flap of his lip and passed clear through – most to the poison was injected in the space between the lip and gum.  I was sure that he wasn’t in any serious danger and a few days later he was back to normal.

Quite a few years later, when living in Truckee, I came home from work to find Jacob with a snoutful of porcupine quills.  I wasn’t terrible surprised, even though this happened during the day (porcupines are generally nocturnal).  This was the first time I’d seen Jacob tangle with a porcupine, but they were pretty common and lots of other dogs in the neighborhood had come home with quills.  He did not enjoy it when I got the pliers and pulled them out, but there were only about a half dozen and none were really stuck in deeply.

But the next day – same thing – Jacob had a good half dozen quills around his mouth.  Strange, that there’d been a porcupine around, during the day, again.  Well this repeated itself every day for quite a few more days – I’d come home to pull six to ten quills from his snout.  No one else in the neighborhood was having this problem, and no one had seen any porcupines for weeks.  The last time anyone had seen one it had been fatal for the porcupine – she killed it because it was chewing up the side of her house.

On the morning of my next day off, I took Jacob for a walk.  I let him lead thinking if I just followed him he might show me where he was finding this porcupine.  There was a creek about 20 or 30 yards from the house and he headed that way.  We walked along upstream for about a half-mile until we got to a point where a dirt road came near.  Jacob walked up to the road and started home.

Just as we got to the edge of the little group of houses where we lived he stopped and was sniffing near a bush.  I walked on past towards the cabin.  A few minutes later he followed and as he approached I saw that he had a couple more quills on his nose.  I walked back to the bush and there were the remains of a dead porcupine.

He had to sniff it every time he passed!

I got a snow shovel and tossed the carcass in the dumpster.  End of problem!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pearl Harbor, JFK Assassination & 9/11

In “modern” American History three events have happened which left vivid memories of “where were you when….”  for most people living at the time.

Those events are the attack on Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President Kennedy and 9/11 – the destruction of the World Trade Towers.

Pearl Harbor was attacked on Sunday December 7, 1941, well before I was born, but both my Mom & Dad remembered it.

Mom & Dad were both 12 at the time.  It was about 1:00 o’clock pm in the eastern US where both Mom & Dad were, when the attack occurred.

Dad was at the farm of a family friend between Gibson & Kellenburger roads in Phoneton, Ohio.  He and the son of the family who owned the farm had been riding horses that morning.  They’d put the horses away and were walking back towards the house when the boy’s Father came out and told them.  Sometime since then the farm became a nine-hole par-3 golf course (now defunct) called Willow Pond.  So the area has changed a lot, but the buildings were still there in late 2009.  Dad used to comment that, “Right there at the corner of that barn was where I heard about Pearl Harbor.”

Mom was at home at 151 Clark Avenue in Chelsea, Massachusetts.  After Mass they came home and she and Aunt Eileen were playing.  Daddy Con went down to the local Pub for an ale and talk.  He wasn’t gone long when he came back and told them about the attack.

It was on Friday November 22, 1963 at about 1:30 o’clock pm (in Ohio where I was) when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  I was in the 8th grade in Sister Stella’s class at St. Christopher’s School when we heard the phone ring.  In addition to being our classroom teacher, Sister Stella was also the Principal.  Since there was usually no one in the Principal's Office, Dick Meyers, who sat by the door, was assigned to go answer the phone when it rang (which wasn’t often).

We were in Art Class at the time and we were creating mosaics by cutting up colored construction paper into “confetti” and then pasting them onto a background to form an image.  I was attempting to create a Thanksgiving turkey (ready to be served, not strutting around the barnyard).

Dick returned from the office a few minutes later and said, “I don’t know, it was some crazy lady.  I couldn’t understand what she was saying.”

Moments later the phone rang again.  Dick trudged off to the office again.  When he returned he looked a little pale and while he briefly glanced at us sitting in the room, he directed his comments to Sister Stella saying, “This lady says the President has been shot.  I think you better talk to her.”

Sister Stella left the room.  After she found out what happened she notified the other classrooms and staff and then put the radio on over the PA.

I was a member of the “Safety Patrol” who worked as crossing guards.  When school let out at about 2:30pm I remember so many of the girls crying as they walked home.

Kennedy was sort of “our President” since he was the first (and so far only) Catholic President and of course he was also Irish, like lots of the students, so his death hit many of the children very hard.

The hijacking of passenger aircraft attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Towers occurred on Tuesday September 11, 2001.  In Bishop it was just before 6:00 o’clock am when the first attack occurred.

I was still a Fireman then, and that day I was the “Duty Officer” which meant that I would be responsible for managing any activities that the firefighting resources on the Inyo National Forest might be called on to perform.

At about 6:30am the phone rang.  I was already up, even though I didn’t go on duty until 8:00am.  It was your Grandma, Deborah.  She told me that there had been an accident in New York – a plane had flown into a building.

We did not have cable TV in Bishop, and there were are no broadcast stations there at that time, so I turned on the radio and also logged into the internet to find out was going on.  I wasn’t overly concerned as I knew that, sometimes, especially in bad weather, inexperienced and/or careless pilots sometimes did foolish things.

It didn’t take long listening to the radio and reading on the internet before I knew that there was much reason to be concerned.  I immediately called our Dispatch Office and they were freaked out.  The FAA had called them and wanted to know how many airliners we could park at the Bishop Airport.  The FAA was considering not letting any aircraft fly near big cities and direct them to land at smaller airfields where the were few, if any, tempting targets for the terrorists.

The Bishop Airport was built as a training base for WWII bomber crews, so the runways are long and wide, easily big enough for jet airliners.  I went to the Airport and consulted with the Airport Manager trying to determine where, how and how many aircraft the field could handle.  As you can imagine, the timeframe was very short.  Before we had made any determination the FAA canceled the request.

I then went back home for a while as we were worried about your Aunt Doris who was living in Brooklyn at the time.  She could see the towers from her apartment.  She was never in any danger.  Our cousin John Meade, a FDNY Fireman, was off-duty that day.  He did lose his Father-in-law and a Brother-in-law.

Dear Readers – thanks for visiting.  I would really appreciate it if you would please leave your own stories (if you have them) about these events in the comments.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Tharn Fawns in Euer Valley

Deer fawns have survival skill of lying down motionless when a predator is near.  Sometimes this is called “tharn” which is a phrase from the excellent story Watership Down.

In the summer of 1988 the Tahoe National Forest was getting a lot of lightning and the resultant fires.  I was working in Truckee and we got a report of a smoke high on the slope south of Euer Valley (which is just west of the Tahoe-Donner area).  I headed out with one Engine.  We located the smoke just where the report stated.  It was on private land inside the National Forest.

Euer Valley
It was a good distance up the very steep slope.  I directed the crew to attack it by hiking up with handtools and five gallon water bladder backpacks (about 45 pounds each).

While they were making their way up to the fire I went down to the home of a long-time local to inquire about alternate access to the vicinity of this fire.  Since the fire was on private land I had very little knowledge of the area and any roads or trails there.

My friend and I examined maps at his house and I pointed out the approximate location.  He told me that the land owners had done a timber sale in the area a few years prior and that some of the logging roads might still be accessible.  We drove out to an area above the valley to a gate to which he had a key.  He opened the gate and we drove out the road.  The road was overgrown but passable.  We had to move some small fallen trees and used a chainsaw on one which was a little too big to drag out of the roadway.

A few minutes later I drove right up to the fire.  It was about ½ acre, but not doing much.  There wasn’t a lot of other vegetation around it, but I called for another Engine, since I now knew how they could easily drive to the location. 

I also called the crew that was hiking up from below.  I figured they were probably about to the fire but depending on how far they still had to go I might have told them that there was a road, and to go back to the Engine and drive around.  But he told me that they were almost there, so I didn’t add any more.

Then I walked back along the road, looking down the very steep slope for them.  I moment later I saw the first crewman, Jeff.  Sweat was pouring from his face and his shirt was soaked.  I felt bad about them hiking when there was a road right there, but it was funny.

Just then he saw me, “What?  How’d you get here?  Oh my God, don’t tell me that there’s a road!”

“Yes Jeff, I’m sorry.  I didn’t know this was here until a few minutes ago – too late to turn you back.  But, yes, there is a road and the look on your face is priceless!”

So – I’m getting to the point here eventually – after a while we had a line around the fire and had used up all the water in the Engine.  I sent Jeff and another fireman off in my truck to get the Engine they’d parked down in the valley.  Another crew member, Tami, and I went off in the Engine to refill with water.

There was a creek about ½ mile away, so we accomplished this with no difficulty and started back.  About halfway back we saw a doe with twin fawns.

Tharn Fawn
The three of them started running away and then suddenly the fawns disappeared.  What happened to them we wondered.

We came around a little bend in the road and there the two fawns were.  Lying right in the middle of the road – tharn!

Tami and I got out, assuming that if we got close enough they would get up and run.  We walked right up to them and neither of them moved a muscle.  I got a stick and gently poked them.  Absolutely no reaction.

Hum!  We were stumped. We looked for a way to maneuver the Engine around the fawns, but there were large trees and boulders which made that impossible.

Finally we got some largish branches and scooted/dragged the two fawns off to the side so that there was room to get past them.  During this entire process they gave no indication that they were even alive except for the rise and fall of their little chests as they breathed.

We went on to the fire.  When we went back for the next refill they were gone.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Black & Tans

In the early 1920's the Irish were growing impatient to be free of British rule. They wanted to run their own affairs.  The Brits weren't ready to allow this and to keep it from happening they reinforced their Irish police forces with the "Black & Tans."

Actors portraying "Black & Tans."
One evening during this period several of my Great-Uncles from the Meade family went to a dance near their home in Shronebeha.

On their return they were stopped by a group of Black & Tans.  Uncle Jack suspected that they were stopped mostly because their group included a number of attractive young women.

Uncle Jack tried to stay in the background and avoid drawing attention to himself as they interrogated the group.  He had good reason for this behavior -- he was working with the IRA (although he was still only in his teens, he would become one of their primary bomb experts during the independence struggle).

Jack’s younger brother, Uncle Ned, however, wasn't trying to be inconspicuous.  Possibly to show off for the ladies, maybe because he'd a had a few nips at the dance, or maybe it was just his nature, Ned, only about 15 or 16, decided to confront the "Black & Tans."

Uncle Jack Meade & his sister, my Grandmother,
 Johanna Callahan (née Meade) about 1975.
Almost the instant that Ned smarted off to them they took him into custody.  The others were released and Uncle Jack and the rest hurried home to alert the adults.  Ned’s Mother immediately went to the Banteer Police Station.  They claimed to know nothing.

The family spent all the next day searching and inquiring about Ned.  They enlisted the help of the Parish priest, all to no avail.  No British Official admitted any knowledge of his whereabouts or circumstances.

Late the following morning the family heard a large truck driving up the lane.  They looked out and saw an Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary (ADRIC) vehicle stop briefly near the home and then continue on.  The family went out and found Ned staggering up to the house.  He was beaten and bruised.  Several of his fingernails had been pulled out.

The family said that Uncle Ned never really recovered from this.  Before he’d been a bit wild, but mostly good-natured, but afterwards he was argumentative and belligerent.  His temper was short and he always seemed to be “looking for a fight.”  He never married.

Little Short Things

The following are just short little items which I don't feel deserve a whole post.  I will be adding to this post as these "Little Short Things" come to mind.

I once drove a train.  Uncle Tom worked for the Boston & Maine Railroad.  One night when I was about 10 Dad & I visited him at work and he had to move a self-powered passeinger car across the switching yard.  I got to set in the Engineer's seat and control the throttle.  Uncle Tom had his foot on the "Dead Man's Pedal."

Julius Boros was the oldest golfer, 48, ever to win a Major.  The next oldest was Jerry Barber at 45.  

Tiger Woods will be the same age Boros was when he won his last Major when he plays the Masters in 2024.  So as of June 2013, if he can win a Major when he is as old as Boros was, he has 43 Majors left to win the four that he needs to match Jack Nicklaus's total of 18.  To do this he has to win about 9% of the next 43 Majors.  Is it possible?

When Woods plays in the PGA Championship in 2020 he will be the same age Barber was when he won his Major title.  So as of June 2013, if he can win a Major when he is as old as Barber was, he has 34 Majors left to win the four that he needs to match Jack Nicklaus's total of 18.  To do this he has to win about 12% of the next 34 Majors.  Is it possible?

As of June 2013, in his career, Tiger has played in 68 majors and won 14.  21% of the ones he has entered.


Things my Grandmother (Dad's Mom) used to say:

When you were starting to get on her nerves a bit. "I'm going to cloud up and rain all over you!"

When there was lightning or you'd pretend to be a monster:  "Oh!  That scares me and I ain't afraid of nothing!"


I had a friend who played football at Notre Dame for Knute Rockne and who was in the locker room for the "Win one for the Gipper" speech.

Manny in 1929
Manny Vezie was the owner of Gold Arrow Camp, a children's summer camp, at Huntington Lake.

We used to go there pretty often to give fire prevention and nature talks and I got to know him pretty well.  He was an entertaining storyteller and loved to talk about his adventures in football and things that had happened at the camp in the past.


When you work outdoors as a Ranger and Ski Instructor, as I did for most of my life, you are very aware of the weather and the change of seasons.

Rangers have a very precise way of determining when the various seasons begin.  Summer begins the first day that you decide to eat your lunch in the shade instead of sitting in the sun.  Fall begins the day you decide to sit in the sun while eating your lunch, instead of the shade.

Winter’s first day is when you decide to sit inside your vehicle to eat lunch.  And Spring begins when you think sitting outside in the sun feels better than staying the vehicle.




I saw Ted Williams hit a home run at Fenway Park.  It was in 1960 - his last season.  I was with my Dad and my Uncle, John Cranford.  We were sitting in the right field stands and the ball was hit right at us.  My memory is that it hit the top of the low wall separting the stands from the filed.  It was about 50 feet in front of us.  The game was against the Cleveland Indians and Jimmy Piersall hit two home runs that game - one of which cleared the fence atop the "Green Monster".


Guided by Voices

 Guided by Voices is a well-known & well-regarded American indie rock band led by Bob Pollard, who is my second cousin. 

Bob is more than seven years younger than me, so I really don't know him well.  They lived just a few miles south of us, off of Dixie Drive (as of 2013, his Mom & Dad still live in the same house) and our families visited one another often, but Bob and I rarely interacted.  I've listened to some of his music, not much -- so I can't say I'm an expert -- but I haven't heard anything that makes me want to listen to more of his tunes.

Overheard in London - 1994 -
Blonde, "Oh, hi, it's good to see you.  How was the vacation?"
Brunette, "It was great.  We had a wonderful time.  It's a really beautiful place."
Blonde, "Where did you go again?"
Brunette, "Majorca."
Blonde, "Where's that?"
Brunette, "I don't know, we flew."

We were sitting near the field at about the
right edge of this picture.
One time when Dad and I went to a game at Riverfront Stadium.  Not sure what year it was.  We were sitting pretty near the fence in the left field corner by the visitor bullpen. Dennis Martinez, a fine pitcher who made the All-Star Team four times, was hanging out near us.  There was an attractive young women sitting near us. She was about 30 and had her about 10-year-old son with her. She and Martinez were flirting with each other in a very slimy way. They were using her son as a go-between in a way that was really creepy. I can't remember the specifics of what was said, but it made both of us very uncomfortable and neither of us are prudes.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Jacob Versus the Black & White

In my life I’ve been blessed with a number of great dogs.  One of the best was Jacob, a border-collie mix mutt who was with me from 1975 until 1988.  I've also been fortunate that, until I moved to Davis, I'd always lived in a place which was a great place for a dog to live - lots of freedom to safely roam.

Here’s a story about Jacob.

In 1983 a friend and I went on a camping/road trip through the southwestern US.  We saw a number of great places and climbed/hiked a few mountains.

One of the mountains we hiked up was Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico.

After we completing our hike we went to the Red River cabin of my good friends, Bob & Kay Cady.  We went in the house but Jacob was pretty tired after the hike (as usual, he probably covered two or three times as many miles on the hike as I had) so he just stayed in the camper van.  The van doors were wide open, so he could come and go as he pleased.

By the time we had finished cleaning up and eating it was getting on towards dusk.  I went over by one of the windows and saw a skunk walking across the yard, right in front of sleeping Jacob.

Just at about that moment, Jacob woke. He raised his head and looked at the skunk.  From inside the house I wasn’t positive, but I thought I heard him growl.

My heart sank.  Sure as I’m standing here watching this, I thought, he’s gong to go after that skunk, get sprayed and we’re going to spend the rest of our trip with a foul-smelling dog in the van.

Thanks God we’d just finished a fairly grueling hike.  Jacob, bless his heart, was too tired to do any more than watch and growl.  The crisis was averted.

For another story about Jacob's adventures, click here.

High Points

In my travels I’ve made a some attempts to visit the highest point of many states.  Some of these endeavors are just minor detours from a road as I’ve passed nearby, while others have involved considerable more effort.  Here is the list of the states with the High Point names and the dates I first visited it.

Ohio – Campbell Hill - 1975

California – Mount Whitney – 1981

Nevada – Boundary Peak – 1982

Colorado – Mount Elbert – 1983

New Mexico – Wheeler Peak – 1983

Indiana – Hoosier Hill - 1986

Pennsylvania – Mount Davis - 1988

West Virginia – Spruce Knob – 1988

New Jersey – High Point – 1991

North Carolina – Mount Mitchell – 1992

South Carolina – Sassafras Mountain – 1992

Georgia – Brasstown Bald – 1992

Kentucky – Black Mountain - 1992

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Baseball Gloves

Disclaimer -- This is not an entirely original work.  I put this together for my sons, so I wrote some of it, copied some, received some as comments from others and heavily edited other parts.

Maybe yours was a Willie Mays, or a Robin Roberts, or a Jackie Robinson. Maybe you slept with it smashed between your mattress and box spring or on the table next to your bed. You lovingly stroked its hide, oiled it with neatsfoot, cleaned it with saddle soap. Hanging from your handlebars, you took it with you everywhere you went.

Probably you still have it. Maybe it’s out in the garage, on the shelf next to the socket wrenches or in a box in the attic with some old books. Maybe, if you’re lucky, your Dad’s glove is there with it.

And you go there sometimes, late at night, when the wife and kids are asleep. When the house is silent and cold. You go there, pick yours up, brush the dust off and slide it on. You punch the pocket with a tight fist, run through your pitcher’s motion, scoop up a few grounders and drift way back to catch one on the warning track. You hold it close to your face, smelling the leather, oil and dust.  The memories well up around you, so thick that you have to brush them away. You remember – the smell of the grass and the hot dogs, the crack of the bat. You feel the coarse wool of your baggy Little League uniform. You watch as the ball drifts high towards you in the outfield, taste the dust kicked up from your spikes as you run, you hear the thunk as you reach out and snag the ball with your faithful mitt. You see your Dad standing at the fence by the dugout, smiling, still wearing his work clothes.

Then you put it back on the shelf, or next to the books and return to bed. Your wife wakes and asks, “Where were you?”

“Bathroom,” you reply.

But that night, you dream of striking out the side, making that backhand stab in the hole at short, nailing the runner by a step. You run one down in the gap. You leap over the wall to pull back a homerun. You play ball.

A baseball glove can do that. It can take you back. Gloves are as eternal as the game. Balls come apart at the seams, disappear in the weeds and roll down sewer drains. Bats crack, splinter and break. Hats and spikes wear out, get lost or outgrown. But gloves last a lifetime. They become part of your life, a part of your soul.

What is it about baseball that’s so fundamental to our lives?

Maybe it’s the rhythm of the ball, the apology for a bad throw, the forgiveness for a hole in the mitt, the speed and accuracy of a hard smack, the thrill of a homerun … the constant drama of achievement and failure —the cheer for the great catch or a pillow filled with tears after losing the game for your team. Perhaps it’s simply spending time with a child or the child in all of us.

Or, maybe it’s a bit of all these things ... It is the legacy of our years growing up as Americans. And it’s also the legacy of American heroes. There is something uniquely American about the game and the team spirit it invokes.

There are countless stories, slices of life about playing ball. Some are our own stories and some are about legendary players. So many of our stories connect back to our glove.

Partly equipment and partly attire, unlike any other piece of equipment, you wear a glove, it’s an extension of your personality.  No other sporting goods equipment has the same sentimental and personal value as a baseball glove. It’s why you held onto your old glove. It just feels right. It’s the glove you made that great catch with. The glove you used to play catch with your Dad in the backyard. The glove you took to your first big league game. Or, maybe it’s the glove that your Dad, or maybe your Granddad, played sandlot ball with in his old neighborhood — the glove that was passed down to you.

How many of us still have our first glove? Even though we may have replaced it with a newer one, that old mitt is probably still tucked away in a closet or sitting on a shelf. That glove somehow embodies your legacy — a reminder of your past. Embedded in that worn piece of leather is every great catch, every grounder that skipped between your legs, and memories of the teammates you shared the wins and the losses with. Maybe it’s a reminder of the time you made that legendary catch and you were hero for a day. Your glove went everywhere with you — to the dinner table and to bed each night. It was a physical extension of your body — eternally connected.

For a parent, the most vivid memory may be the first time you showed your son or daughter how to catch and your child actually caught it. It’s the way you felt about your Mom or Dad taking the time and having the patience to coach and encourage you when you were ready to quit.

Perhaps the Rawlings Sporting Goods Company said it best. In the mid-60’s something like this was printed on their glove and mitt boxes:

What Is A Baseball Glove?
A baseball glove is a beginning and an ending: a boy’s first sure step towards manhood; a man’s final lingering hold on youth; it is promise ... and memory.

A baseball glove is the dusty badge of belonging, the tanned and oiled mortar of team and camaraderie; in its creases and scuffs lodge sunburned afternoons freckled with thrills, the excited hum of competition, cheers that burst like skyrockets.

A baseball glove is a thousand-and-one names and moments strung like white and crimson banners in the vast stadium of memory.

A baseball glove is the leather of adventure, worthy successor to the cowboy’s holster, the trooper’s saddle and the buckskin laces of the frontier scout; it is combat, heroics and victory ... a place to smack a fist or snuff a rally.

Above all, a baseball glove is the union of father and son, boy and friends, man and men, the man and the boy; it is union beyond time, language, creed or color.

Glove History

In 2000, six million baseball gloves, manufactured by 17 different companies, were sold in the United States. It takes 10 days to construct a glove, but a Rawlings spokesperson says the process can be condensed to an hour if a prominent major-leaguer is in a bind. Rawlings gloves are used by more than 50 percent of big-league players, including such All-Stars as Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees, Cal Ripken Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles and Ken Griffey Jr. of the Cincinnati Reds. Even Texas Ranger Alex Rodriguez, the highest-paid player in baseball, uses a Rawlings glove. It’s Rawlings that sponsors the annual Rawlings Gold Glove Award, which has been presented to players for fielding excellence since 1957.

Rawlings is also one of only two major glove manufacturers still producing gloves in the United States. At its Ava, Missouri plant, gloves take shape from 16 to 20 pieces of cowhide and six to nine ft. of rawhide lacing. The hides are graded into four classifications prior to being cut cookie-cutter style into the various glove parts. The palm is cut from the dense hide that runs along the steer’s backbone. The back of the glove is from the flank. From the softer, stretched belly comes the lining. And the web is made from smaller cuts of each. The shell is sewn inside out and turned. But prior to inserting the lining, the shell is laid off on a hot metal “hand” to form its shape. The lace holes are then punched, the eyelets added and the straps and logos sewn on. Then the glove is laced by hand.

First base mitts get plastic parts in the thumb and toe sections. The parts are inserted between the two-piece pad and held in position with the thumb and toe lacing. The padding in catcher’s mitts consists of five pieces that are assembled to form the pocket. The padding is wrapped with nylon cord to retain its shape under the constant pounding of major-league fastballs.

But gloves haven’t always been so meticulously made, or even in favor. In fact, just after the Civil War, in baseball’s infancy, the prevailing sentiment among macho players was: Real men don’t wear gloves. When Doug Allison, a catcher for the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the nation’s first professional team, asked a saddlemaker to develop a mitt for him in 1869, he was considered a wimp. In 1875, Charles Waite of St. Louis received the same ridicule when he took the field wearing a thin, flesh-colored glove similar to the ones gentlemen wore while driving buggies.

As baseball gained popularity and hitters began to hit hard, however, more and more players sought the protection of a glove while in the field. The first ones resembled golf gloves. The fingers and thumb were snipped off at the first joint and a small amount of padding was inserted into the palm area. The term “mitt” came into vogue because many early players created their gloves from an old pair of winter mittens. By the end of the 1870s, gloves were common. In the mid-1880s, Buck Ewing, a catcher for the New York Giants, became the first to use a pillow-type catcher’s mitt.

Today, high-end gloves used by the pros can cost up to $300. Early gloves, made of cowhide, horsehide or Indian-tanned buckskin, sold for about $2.50. Horsehide continued to be used until the 1930s when cowhide became more prevalent.

The largest improvement ever in glove design happened in 1920, when Bill Doak, a journeyman pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, approached Rawlings with an idea for a web laced between the first finger and thumb. He said it would create a natural pocket. The Bill Doak model revolutionized glove design, and it stayed in the Rawlings catalog until 1953. Its web became a standard throughout the industry.

Another important innovation was the binding together of the individual fingers, which began sometime during the 30’s. Some unknown person decided to punch holes through the ends of each finger and lace a strip of rawhide through the holes, allowing the fingers to support each other. Many players preferred the older style, which were referred to as “split-finger” gloves, but by the mid 50’s virtually all gloves had the fingers laced together.

1941 saw another innovation, this time in first baseman’s mitts. Rawlings credited the design to Hank Greenberg, Hall of Fame first baseman with the Tigers. Rawlings made this model mitt for all manufacturers, including Wilson, MacGregor and Spalding, and claimed that Greenberg advised them on the design.

With the revolutionary design, Greenberg changed the art of fielding for first basemen. Greenberg was able to easily make one handed catches. So effective was Greenberg’s fielding that the league put special specifications for the mitt — it could not exceed 12” in length. For a time the mitt was quite controversial.

In fact the federal government cited Rawlings with an antitrust action for their monopoly on the manufacturer of first baseman’s mitts.

Rawlings made this model from the Second World War until approximately the late 50’s when the design was replaced by larger, more contemporary designs. The mitt is best known as the Claw and or the Trapper. It was simply the state of the art — the best mitt of its time.

Another controversial glove design was the rolled lacing web. Some claimed that the rolled style extended the web from a half inch to inch over what the standard web offered, hence making the reach for the glove, especially the outfielder and third baseman, a little greater. And some players, it’s alleged, may have pulled the web out even further.
In about 1949 or 1950 the style was banned.  Some thought Joe DiMaggio influenced officials to implement the new rule banning the rolled lacing style. In one of the most famous images in baseball history, during the 1947 World Series the usually taciturn DiMaggio shook his head and kicked at the dirt in frustration after the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Al Gionfriddo, using a rolled lace glove, made an amazing catch near the 415 foot mark in left-center field.

Supposedly DiMaggio believed that the diminutive Gionfriddo would not have made the catch with an ordinary style web. Ironically, DiMaggio occasionally used this style himself and one of his rolled lace gloves is now property of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Manufacturers were not sorry to see the style banned, as it was time-consuming and tedious to make.
Because there is a 17-year limit on glove patents, there are only a few basic web styles, shared by all manufacturers. Middle infielders favor open webs like the Pro Style I-Web on Alex Rodriguez’s Rawlings or the H-Web on the Wilson glove used by New York Met Rey Ordonez. But some infielders like the laced-in sixth finger of the Rawlings Trap-Eze webbing. Also called the Trap T-Web by Mizuno and the Pro-Laced T-Web by Wilson, this web design evolved in the 1960s, but was reintroduced by Rawlings in 1978 and eventually became a favorite of All-Star shortstop Ozzie Smith.

“Six fingers are better than five,” Smith once told a newspaper about the glove.

Pitchers prefer solid webs, like the Wilson Dual Hinge and the Rawlings Basket Web, because it hides their throwing hand as they adjust their grip on the ball. But the Basket Web, a woven solid pattern, which was under patent to Rawlings until 1983, is popular with players at every position, even middle infielders. Ryne Sandberg, a second baseman for the Chicago Cubs from 1982 to 1994, used the basket design.

“I just felt I could really get in there and find the ball,” he once said about the design.

Outfielders are also partial to the closed web design. Outfield gloves tend to have longer fingers and longer finger stalls (the leather that divides the fingers). This allows the player to wear the glove out on his fingertips for maximum reach. But the length of baseball gloves is limited. Major League Baseball rules state that a player’s glove cannot be longer than 12” measured from the heel to the tip of the index finger. Still, most manufacturers make a 13” long glove, which is used by most major-league outfielders, including All-Star Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants.

“I use a 13” Wilson,” says Bonds. “I need a long glove with strong fingers that enables me to grab fly balls I might have to dive or go over the fence for.”

Second basemen use the smallest gloves, which are 11” or 11.5” long. Shortstops’ gloves run 11.5” to 11.75” and third basemen usually use gloves that are 12” long. The reasons are simple. The smaller the glove, the lighter the glove. Second basemen and shortstops need quick hands in order to make most plays. Third basemen, on the other hand, stand closer to home plate, so they usually deal with harder-hit balls. They need the longer glove to snag hits down the line, and the added protection it offers while manning the hot corner.

Most players sign with a glove manufacturer during their years in the minor leagues, and some stay with that company throughout their major-league careers. But many switch companies, especially if the price is right. Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, once loyal to Zett, now throws heat wearing a Rawlings. Roger Clemens won three Cy Young awards — one using a Wilson, one using a Zett, and one with a Cooper. Star players usually sign to a two- or three-year contract for gloves and cash, typically worth more than $100,000. Pitchers, however, are the most sought after by the glove manufacturers because the logos on the backs of their gloves get prime TV exposure.

With these contracts come custom-made gloves. San Diego Padres star Tony Gwynn has tan lightning bolts sewn on the finger backs of his black Rawlings, and Mark McGwire, more known for his thundering home runs than his fielding prowess, likes his gloves to be black with a tan palm section and one tan bar in the web.

Like Bill Doak, many modern players have influenced glove design. In 1998, four-time Cy Young award-winning pitcher Greg Maddux of the Atlanta Braves asked Wilson to design a glove that would conceal his protruding index finger, which he felt was tipping off batters to his pitches. Wilson developed the Pro Sleeve, a leather sheath sewn to the glove’s back. The Pro Sleeve is now found on many Wilson glove models.

Hall of Fame second baseman and broadcaster Joe Morgan is given credit for the progressively thinner glove heels of the past 30 years. Morgan, who also started a trend toward smaller infield gloves, recognized that heel padding was unnecessary and he removed layers of it from his gloves. More recently, because of input from players, manufacturers have been making the thumbs of gloves thinner by using thinner plastic stays — 1.5mm compared to 2mm before.

And they’re using far softer leather, which has all but eliminated the need to break in a glove. It once took weeks or even months to properly soften a new glove. Break-in methods ranged from the organic to the downright violent. Some guys soaked the glove in a bucket of water. Others coated it with neatsfoot or olive oil. Some swore by saddle soap, vaseline or shaving cream, while others threw it in the clothes dryer or asked their Dad to run over it with the car. But today, like blue jeans, gloves are soft from the start. Only a few games of catch are needed for a modern glove to start taking shape.

So find your old glove. Stand in the cold garage fielding imaginary ground balls. Take it to a big league game.  Play catch with your son or grandson. Smell your youth in its scarred skin. Remember your Dad, standing at the fence.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Good Sam Doors

James & John looking at the inside of the doors in 2007.
This picture is of the entry doors to the Chapel at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Dayton.

These beautiful doors were constructed sometime before the First World War by your Great-great-grandfather, Edward Locker, an immigrant from Wernburg, Germany.  He was a master carpenter, as this fine craftsmanship shows.  The doors are more than 100 years old yet are still serviceable and add dignity to the Chapel.

I don't think that he did the stained glass.

Wernburg is at the teardrop "A" in the center

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Just a Boy From North Dayton

James Tipton, circa 1960
The man in this picture is James Tipton.  He was the older brother of Fred Tipton, who was one of Dad’s best friends from his youth.  I wish I had a better picture of him, this is a screen capture from a home movie taken at Fred’s wedding in the early 1960’s.

I wanted to tell you about him, because, although he was just a boy from North Dayton, he endured some of the most brutal treatment one human can impose on another.  I guess it can happen to any of us.

Jim joined the US Armed Forces in the late 30’s while he was still in his teens.  After finishing his training, Jim had the misfortune to be sent to the Philippines

Jim’s unit fought in the Battle of Bataan.  He survived the battle and then endured the Bataan Death March.  After more than three years in a Japanese POW camp in the Philippines he was loaded onto a “Hell Ship" for transfer to Japan.

His ship suffered the same fate as the Shinyo Maru or the Oryoku Maru -- attacked and sunk by Allied units who thought it was transporting Japanese soldiers.  After it sank, Jim drifted in the sea for hours before being picked up by another Japanese ship which delivered him to Japan.

When he was liberated after the war he weighed less than 80 pounds.

Presidential Hand Shakes

Dayton Airport and Vandalia about 1954
I’ve mentioned the notable people my Grandfather and I met here, here, here & here.

I haven’t yet mentioned the two well-known people Mom shook hands with.  Both of these "celebrities" were politicians (and Irish!).

Both of these meetings happened at the same place.  The Dayton Airport (the same place my Grandfather met Orville Wright).  At the time of all these meetings the Airport Terminal was on Dixie Drive.  This is the area that is now used for the Dayton Air Show.

The first person Mom shook hands with was John F. Kennedy.  During his Presidential run he had a campaign stop in Dayton.  It was announced that he would spend a few minutes at the Airport for a "meet and greet."  Mom, Dad & Aunt Norma went.  For some reason he arrived quite a bit later than expected and not many waited.  Both Mom and Aunt Norma really wanted to shake his hand and they hoped, with such a relatively small crowd, that they’d be able to.

Dad was helping both of them get up to the “rope line” and Mom got close enough to touch his fingers, although she said that she wasn’t able to really shake hands.

Unfortunately just as Aunt Norma got her chance, he turned away.

Éamon de Valera

A few years later Éamon de Valera, a leader of the Irish Independence movement and eventually President of Ireland, visited Dayton.   Mom & Dad were among the crowd greeting him at the Airport.  This time the crowd was much smaller than the one greeting Kennedy and Mom was able to shake de Valera's hand.