Amarillo RR Museum (1)

My first stop (other than the truck area of Interstate rest stops) on my westward journey was the Amarillo Railroad Museum. There were two attractants – this post is about the full-sized one on the tracks out back: the White Train.

The White Train

From 1951 to 1987 the White Train moved nuclear warheads from the Pantex facility northeast of Amarillo where they were manufactured to where they were deployed. I’m not sure how I stumbled over the White Train; I’m thinking maybe it was a stray historical photo the Instagram algorithm tossed on to my timeline. Regardless, once I found out I could see a representative consist in northern Texas, a detour from my normal New England to Austin route was a must.

The typical train was an engine – as far as I can tell. just one, since the train topped out at 35 mph – a guard escort car, a power buffer car, some number of weapons transport cars, another power buffer car and, bringing up the rear, another guard escort car.

The guard escort cars were just what it says on the box: repurposed Army kitchen cars set up for the security detail that accompanied the warheads. There were bunks, bathrooms, a kitchen/lounge area, a comm station and a lookout turret. One of the cars was open for exploration and my gosh, what a Dr. Strangelove vibe. You can see all my photos from the museum here; but a couple of the things that struck me:

Hot brass vacuum system, because you don’t want expended shells bouncing around when you’re shooting evildoers.

Hot brass vacuum system

Ashtrays everywhere, of course.


A pano of the turret.

turret pano

Buffer cars are normally used to keep some distance between the crew and any hazardous loads. In this case I’ve gotta think they were mainly for protecting the weapons transport cars from an engine fire or the like. If something went seriously wrong with the warheads (I’m guessing they were rendered un-mushroomable, but cracking open casings in a derailment would suck) I’d want a lot more distance than 50 feet or so. The other thing these buffer cars did was supply power to the guard escort cars. The history of powering, heating and cooling passenger rail cars is fun digression that I might post on sometime, but regardless of that tech tangent, freight locos are not provisioned to deal with passengers, so a power car was needed.

Connectors - guard escort car Connectors - power buffer car

Top is the guard escort car, bottom is the power buffer car.

I don’t have much to say about the weapons transport car other than I wish I’d had a geiger counter with me. There wasn’t much to see on the side of the car and, though I thought about climbing up to have a look at the top, I didn’t want to presume on my host’s hospitality.

I chatted with one of the museum members about modelling the White Train – happily, someone had been by earlier in the year taking measurements, photos, etc. with an eye towards producing some kits. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. I’d love to build 2 pair of guard and buffer cars and put a (freelanced, obv) shoggoth containment vessel on a depressed center flatcar  and containment vessel support machinery on another, smaller flatcar. Yep. I’m a weirdo.



L.A. River Camp Coffee and the Canning Stock Route

I first had coffee outside with the L.A. River Camp Coffee crew a couple years ago while out on a visit and doing it again was a priority this time, given that I’d legit biked into town. By way of explanation, LARCC is an informal group of cyclists, organized originally by Errin Vasquez, who meet at a small park on the L.A. River bike path to brew coffee and shoot the breeze – my kind of group! First thing Wednesday morning, I put Lotte in her basket and pedaled 5 miles north to meet the group. It was – no surprise – a ton of fun and there was lots of interesting bike talk.

#adventureteckel at L.A. River Camp Coffee!

Errin and I were talking about Molly Fin (the bike) and frame materials; I said something about a steel mid-tail being a dream machine and he filled me in on the ur-midtail – the bike that inspired the Salsa Blackborow. In 2013, Rick Hunter built a bike for Scott Felter (bagmaker/Porcelain Rocket). Not just any bike, obviously, but a mid-tail fat bike for a ride along Austrailia’s Canning Stock Route. More on the route in a minute, but check out this bike!!!!

Lots of cargo capacity, not because Scott planned to take an #adventureteckel with him, but because the route requires that folks ride with 30-35 days of food and 4-5 days of water. If you want to read about the ride, Tom Walwyn’s blog is the place to start; he has a great Flickr album, too.

20130801-Dune descent 1

I’d never heard of the Canning Stock Route, so I googled it up. It’s clearly a tangent I’m going to spend some time reading about. I’ll quote from Wikipedia:

The Canning Stock Route is a track that runs from Halls Creek in the Kimberley region of Western Australia to Wiluna in the mid-west region. With a total distance of around 1,850 km (1,150 mi) it is the longest historic stock route in the world.

The stock route was proposed as a way of breaking a monopoly that west Kimberley cattlemen had on the beef trade at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1906, the Government of Western Australia appointed Alfred Canning to survey the route. When the survey party returned to Perth, Canning’s treatment of Aboriginal guides came under scrutiny leading to a Royal Commission. Canning had been organising Aboriginal hunts to show the explorer where the waterholes were. Despite condemning Canning’s methods, the Royal Commission, after the Lord Mayor of Perth, Alexander Forrest had appeared as a witness for Canning, exonerated Canning and his men of all charges. The cook who made the complaints was dismissed and Canning was sent back to finish the job.

I’m especially interested in the Royal Commission and the cook, Edward Blake. I wonder if my initial take – that for things to have risen to Royal Commission level, the accusations were serious – is indeed correct. I’ve got no background in Australian history, so no context to judge against; looks like an opportunity for me to learn. Thank you, Errin, for exciting my curiosity!

Ice, Ice Baby

Antarctica again: a post from Barry Lopez talking about his time on a blue ice field with a field team collecting meteorites. A lot of things to love about this – space, ice, people cooperating in a tough environment, nunataks, and a mix of cutting edge and traditional technologies.

John and I share an appetite for physical engagement with the world of snow, ice, and rock beyond our tent, and we appreciate having an opportunity to work together, almost always in silence. We’re comfortable being confined in the limited space of a Scott tent. We split the cooking chores easily, and we observe the same unwritten rules that ensure each person a bit of privacy. I like the rhythm of our daily problem-solving and the hours of stories and reminiscence we share in the tent on storm-bound days, the physical and technical challenge of the work the six of us do, and the deep sleep that comes with exhaustion. Humans, I think, were built for this. We can do it superbly.*

Read the whole thing, as they say. Additionally, some of the tech tangents I zoomed off on…

de Havilland forever! I’ve flown on a radial engine Beaver; no Twin Otter, yet.

Three years before we arrived, four scientists, the first people to visit this part of Antarctica, landed nearby in a Twin Otter plane.

BAS Twin Otter

Scott pyramid tents count as middle-aged tech, I think. Though most of Scott’s experiments were a bust, the tent endures.

Nansen sleds! Designed in the 1890s, adapted from traditional Inuit qamutiiks. Lashed, not nailed, so they flex on uneven terrain. Lights up a bunch of my pleasure centers.

Got a match?

I’m resurrecting a format from the past because the high-wheeler post got me thinking about cylinders jam-packed with complex bits.

The Curta calculator first came onto my radar screen as I read William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. – a Curta is used in a swap: calculator for decrypted info. At the time, I was working at a boarding school in central NH; when I mentioned this odd calculator to a math teacher, he said, offhandedly, “Oh, I know about those! In fact I think there’s one up in the attic.” We searched, but no joy. So I’ve yet to see one in person but that has not stopped me from coveting.

Type II Curta

Curta Type II

Parts and a look inside

I’m sure you saw the match coming a mile away – the second cool cylinder is the Rohloff Speedhub. Beautiful. intricate, robust and functional (it’s 14 speeds are evenly stepped – something that other internally geared hubs can’t pull off) – what’s not to love? Oh, yeah, as mentioned below, the price. Throwing caution to the wind and setting another wad of cash on fire, the ‘before’ Rohloff photo is an example with a Phil Wood hub shell. I have no idea how much the Phil shell would add to the price, but omg it’s lovely.

The Phil shell gives you spoke count options – the std Rohloff is 32 spoke drilling only


A repeat from the Ordinary post – Rohloff cutaway from my trip to NAHBS

And a very exploded view!

My current ‘one bike to rule them all’ fantasy starts with a Speedhub-equipped Tumbleweed Prospector frame, 27.5 Plus tires, a big basket up front for teckels, a big saddlebag in back and some sort of trailer for hauling beehives around exurban Quebec. A boy can dream… And if I went that route, I guess I’d have to budget in the money to eBay myself a Curta as well!



I fell over this hilarious thought experiment recently and thought I’d post on it as it touches on a couple of interesting topics: bike history and bike gearing.

The big advancement ordinarys incorporated that put them miles ahead of their boneshaker predecessors was Eugene Meyer’s wire-spoke tension wheel. Lower weight and comfort – the boneshaker was instantly obsolete. The high-wheeler’s time at the top of the bike heap was brief – Meyer’s bike was introduced in 1869 and the first safety bicycle (what we think of when we say bike), the Rover, hit the pavement in 1885. In 1888 John Dunlop used pneumatic tires on a trike and the increased comfort for riders of small wheels was the high-wheel’s death warrant. Of course (because we are kooky primates), people still race Ordinarys – skip ahead to the 9 minute mark for actual racing action. And kudos to the small person wearing pink cowboy boots!

Why the huge wheel? I’m sure you know this already, but in a word, SPEED. Ordinarys are direct drive – one pedal revolution equals one wheel revolution. If you want to cover more ground per spin, increase the diameter (and thus the circumference) of the wheel you are turning.

Not satisfied with 1:1, Mr. Bout modeled a unicycle/Rohloff 14 speed hub mashup. At this point my smile became full on laughter. WHY? Why would you do this? The whole point of high-wheels is that the wheel defines the gear ratio!!?! 😀 But I got hold of myself – first, this is a modeling/illustration exercise so, really, who cares, and second, it gave me something to think about.

A weird blend of concentric unicycle Kris Holm hub and Rohloff speed hub with what would be huge bearings. Is this even possible ? I don’t know. The Effigear cranks are borrowed from my previous bikes, and shortened.

My immediate question was “I wonder what that gearing would work out to be?” I think about bike gearing in terms of gear inches rather than gear ratios – an explanation of gear inches and gear development is here. Whenever I’m thinking about gearing my first stop is the late Sheldon Brown’s site – there’s an online calculator and tons of info on internally geared hubs. Before I started calculating, though, this stopped me short:

To maintain optimum functionality and safety of the Speedhub, the lowest allowable gear combinations are 42/17, 38/16 or 36/15. These are the equivalent to a 22/32 combination on a conventional drivetrain.

So, apparently, there’s a minimum amount of torque needed to run a Speedhub. Will this bike supply that? I’ll assume the wheel diameter is 52 inches (a not-unusual high-wheel size) and since it’s 1:1, that’s 52 gear-inches easy-peasey. Inputting a 27.5×3.0 wheel (Molly Fin’s), a 42 tooth chainwheel and a 17 tooth cog into Mr. Brown’s online calculator gives us 70.9 gear inches. So, nope, wouldn’t work – or at the very least would void the warranty on a very expensive bit of German engineering (standard, that is to say, not ‘nonexistent unicycle-modified’, Rohloff hubs start at $1,300 and go up from there). Regardless, let’s press on! Again taking the same wheel and gearing setup, the calculator tells us that a Speedhub gives us a range of 19.8 / 22.4 / 25.5 / 29.0 / 32.9 / 37.4 / 42.5 / 48.3 / 54.8 / 62.4 / 70.9 / 80.4 / 91.5 /103.9 gear inches. Since 26 is half of 52, I plugged in a 26 inch wheel and 24 teeth on both the chainwheel and cog (1:1) and then doubled the result. This high-wheeler would have a range of 14.2 / 16.1 / 18.6 / 21.0 / 23.8 / 27.2 / 31.0 / 35.2 / 39.8 / 45.4 / 51.6 / 58.4 / 66.6 / 75.6 – that’s a really l-o-w set of gears. Appropriate, I guess, for trying to maneuver a huge wheel up and down trails. To get to equivalent safety bike gearing, just grow the wheel to 71 inches (and sign up a very tall rider) or, y’know, put a chain on it.

Note: I think my gear reasoning is sound, but am open to correction. And I’ll end with a couple relevant photos from last winter’s North American Handmade Bike Show.


Speedhub cutaway








Two Wheels X 2

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love two wheeled vehicles. My own riding has been restricted to bicycles for a long time, but I love looking at a nice motorcycle too. The presence of an engine gives builders freedom to be less minimalist and practical – expressed esp in the world of choppers. Last Saturday there were two bike shows: the Welcome East motorcycle show in Portsmouth NH and The Builder’s Ball handmade bicycle show in Boston. I spent time at both as I made my way back to Scituate.

There was an an amazing range of bikes at the Welcome East show; a diversity that led to my favorite juxtaposition of the day: two bike conversions next to two superbikes.

Good juxtaposition

My favorite was this perfect BMW. I am a sucker for Earles forks.

Bay Em Vay

The Builder’s Ball was smaller but in some ways even more amazing. The attention to detail was incredible. Brian Chapman used spare spokes as chain slap protectors:

Chapman Cycles spoke chainslap guard

Bilenky Cycle Works fabricated a gorgeous rear dropout to accommodate a Gates belt drive:


There needs to be a break point in the drive side rear triangle of Gates-equipped bikes so that the belt can be threaded into place. I’ve never seen the problem handled so elegantly.

There was also space for less Apollonian stuff. A bike chopper with what I assume is a combination running light and butt warmer:


And this amazing machine:



I thought at first that it was some sort of e-bike conversion. And then realization dawned: hydraulics! The owner was given the bike by its creator, a Worcester machinist, as he was heading off to a retirement home. The current owner has had the bike for two decades and it is still immaculate. I’d hang it on a wall if I owned it – art.

Locally, preparations for my bike trip continue. Today’s task is choosing books that will live at the Scriptorium in Breuklyn – Lotte and I are heading south tomorrow to celebrate my b-day with friends and fam!

A long time ago, I went on a bike ride


Bike Trip of the Ancients

Here’s how this post started:

Karl responded and generously sent along scans of all his photos from the trip. Those of you with eyes for detail may notice a certain, how to put it, consistency in my dress. At that point in my life I had borderline Cayce Pollard levels of clothing signifier fear. JPUs for the trip consisted of jeans both long and short, a wool jac-shirt and a couple (trip-famous) identical t-shirts. I figure I wore cycling shoes a lot more than I remember – off the bike, I seem to be always barefoot, with w-h-i-t-e feet.

The trip itself? It was organized by Project Adventure (in the person of Karl Rohnke); we loaded up a U-Haul trailer in the parking lot of Hamilton-Wenham H. S., drove up to Montreal, put everything on a CN (thus no spiral tunnels – that’s CP) passenger train, rode same to Vancouver, debarked and rode our bikes home (the North Shore of Massachusetts). An amazing and wonderful trip.

trans canananananada

More photos after the jump.

Continue reading

So, naturalists observe, a flea (Dino hunting II)

Has smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite ’em,
And so proceed ad infinitum. *

I noted in the 1st Dino Hunting post that Brian Aldiss had written a time-travel dino huting story; a bit of googling found it reprinted on line. I quote the whole thing because I don’t want to rely on the linked items staying put:

Claude Ford knew exactly how it was to hunt a bronto­saurus. You crawled heedlessly through the grass beneath the willows, through the little primitive flowers with petals as green and brown as a football field, through the beauty-lotion mud. You peered out at the creature sprawling among the reeds, its body as graceful as a sock full of sand. There it lay, letting the gravity cuddle it nappy-damp to the marsh, running its big rabbit hole nostrils a foot above the grass in a sweeping semi-circle, in a snoring search for more sausagey reeds. It was beautiful: here horror had reached its limits, come full circle, and finally disappeared up its own sphincter movement. Its eyes gleamed with the liveliness of a week-dead corpse’s big toe, and its compost breath and the fur in its crude aural cavities were particularly to be recommended to anyone who might otherwise have felt inclined to speak lovingly of the work of Mother Nature.

But as you, little mammal with opposed digit and .65 self-loading, semi-automatic, dual-barrelled, digitally-computed, telescopically sighted, rustless, high-powered rifle gripped in your otherwise-defenceless paws, as you snide along under the bygone willows, what primarily attracts you is the thunder lizard’s hide. It gives off a smell as deeply resonant as the bass note of a piano. It makes the elephant’s epidermis look like a sheet of crinkled lavatory paper. It is grey as the Viking seas, daft-deep as cathedral foundations. What contact possible to bone could allay the fever of that flesh? Over it scamper – you can see them from here! – the little brown lice that live in those grey walls and canyons, gay as ghosts, cruel as crabs. If one of them jumped on you, it would very likely break your back. And when one of those parasites stops to cock its leg against one of the bronto’s vertebrae, you can see it carries in its turn its own crop of easy-livers, each as big as a lobster, for you’re near now, oh, so near that you can hear the monster’s primitive heart-organ knocking, as the ventricle keeps miraculous time with the auricle.

Time for listening to the oracle is past: you’re beyond the stage for omens, you’re now headed in for the kill, yours or his; superstition has had its little day for today, from now on only this windy nerve of yours, this shaky conglomeration of muscle entangled untraceably beneath the sweat-shiny carapace of skin, this bloody little urge to slay the dragon, is going to answer all your orisons.

You could shoot now. Just wait till that tiny steam-shovel head pauses once again to gulp down a quarry load of bulrushes, and with one inexpressibly vulgar bang you can show the whole indifferent Jurassic world that it’s standing looking down the business end of evolution’s sex-shooter. You know why you pause, even as you pretend not to know why you pause; that old worm conscience, long as a baseball pitch, long-lived as a tortoise, is at work; through every sense it slides more monstrous than the serpent. Through the passions: saying here is a sitting duck, O Englishman! Through the intelligence: whispering that boredom, the kite-hawk who never feeds, will settle again when the task is done. Through the nerves: sneering that when the adrenalin currents cease to ?ow the vomiting begins. Through the maestro behind the retina: plausibly forcing the beauty of the view upon you.

Spare us that poor old slipper-slopper of a word, beauty; holy mom, is this a travelogue, nor are we out of it? ‘Perched now on this titanic creature’s back, we see a round dozen – and folks let me stress that round – of gaudily plumaged birds, exhibiting between them all the colour you might expect to find on lovely, fabled Copacabana Beach. They’re so round because they feed from the drop­pings that fall from the rich man’s table. Watch this lovely shot now! See the bronto’s tail lift . . . Oh, lovely, yep, a couple of hayricksfull at least emerging from his nether end. That sure was a beauty, folks, delivered straight from consumer to consumer. The birds are fighting over it now. Hey, you, there’s enough to go round, and anyhow, you’re round enough already . . . And nothing to do now but hop back up onto the old rump steak and wait for the next round. And now as the sun stinks in the Jurassic West, we say “Fare well on that diet” . . .’

No, you’re procrastinating, and that’s a life work. Shoot the beast and put it out of your agony. Taking your courage in your hands, you raise it to shoulder level and squint down its sights. There is a terrible report; you are half stunned. Shakily, you look about you. The monster still munches, relieved to have broken enough wind to unbecalm the Ancient Mariner.

Angered, or is it some subtler emotion?, you now burst from the bushes and confront it, and this exposed condi­tion is typical of the straits into which your consideration for yourself and others continually pitches you. Consid­eration? Or again something subtler? Why should you be confused just because you come from a confused civiliza­tion? But that’s a point to deal with later, if there is a later, as these two hog-wallow eyes pupilling you all over from spitting distance tend to dispute. Let it not be by jaws alone, oh monster, but also by huge hooves and, if convenient to yourself, by mountainous rollings upon me! Let death be a saga, sagacious, Beowulfate.

Quarter of a mile distant is the sound of a dozen hippos springing boisterously in gymslips from the ancestral mud, and next second a walloping great tail as long as Sunday and as thick as Saturday comes dicing over your head. You duck as duck you must, but the beast missed you anyway because it so happens that its coordination is no better than yours would be if you had to wave the Woolworth Building at a tarsier. This done, it seems to feel it has done its duty by itself. It forgets you. You just wish you could forget yourself as easily; that was, after all, the reason you had to come the long way here. Get Away From It All, said the time travel brochure, which meant for you getting away from Claude Ford, a husbandman as futile as his name with a terrible wife called Maude. Maude and Claude Ford. Who could not adjust to themselves, to each other, or to the world they were born in. It was the best reason in the as-it-is-at-present-constituted world for coming back here to shoot giant saurians – if you were fool enough to think that one hundred and ?fty million years either way made an ounce of difference to the muddle of thoughts in a man’s cerebral vortex.

You try and halt your silly, slobbering thoughts, but they have never really stopped since the coca-collaborating days of your growing up; God, if adolescence did not exist it would be unnecessary to invent it! Slightly, it steadies you to look again on the enormous bulk of this tyrant vegetarian into whose presence you charged with such a mixed death-life wish, charged with all the emotion the human orga(ni)sm is capable of. This time the bogeyman is real, Claude, just as you wanted it to be, and this time you really have to face up to it before it turns and faces you again. And so again you lift Ole Equalizer, waiting till you can spot the vulnerable spot.

The bright birds sway, the lice scamper like dogs, the marsh groans, as bronto sways over and sends his little cranium snaking down under the bile-bright water in a forage for roughage. You watch this; you have never been so jittery before in all your jittered life, and you are counting on this catharsis to wring the last drop of acid fear out of your system for ever. OK, you keep saying to yourself insanely over and over, your million dollar, twenty-second century education going for nothing, OK, OK. And as you say it for the umpteenth time, the crazy head comes back out of the water like a renegade express and gazes in your direction.

Grazes in your direction. For as the champing jaw with its big blunt molars like concrete posts works up and down, you see the swamp water course out over rimless lips, lipless rims, splashing your feet and sousing the ground. Reed and root, stalk and stem, leaf and loam, all are intermittently visible in that masticating maw and, struggling, straggling, or tossed among them, minnows, tiny crustaceans, frogs – all destined in that awful, jaw-full movement to turn into bowel movement. And as the glump-glump-glumping takes place, above it the slime resistant eyes again survey you.

These beasts live up to two hundred years, says the time travel brochure, and this beast has obviously tried to live up to that, for its gaze is centuries old, full of decades upon decades of wallowing in its heavyweight thoughtlessness until it has grown wise on twitter-patedness. For you it is like looking into a disturbing misty pool; it gives you a psychic shock, you ?re off both barrels at your own re?ec­tion. Bang-bang, the dum-dums, big as paw-paws, go.

Those century-old lights, dim and sacred, go out with no indecision. These cloisters are closed till Judgement Day. Your reflection is torn and bloodied from them for ever. Over their ravaged panes nictitating membranes slide slowly upwards, like dirty sheets covering a cadaver. The jaw continues to munch slowly, as slowly the head sinks down. Slowly, a squeeze of cold reptile blood toothpastes down the wrinkled ?ank of one cheek. Everything is slow, a creepy Secondary Era slowness like the drip of water, and you know that if you had been in charge of creation you would have found some medium less heart-breaking than Time to stage it all in.

Never mind! Quaff down your beakers, lords, Claude Ford has slain a harmless creature. Long live Claude the Clawed!

“You watch breathless as the head touches the ground, the long laugh of neck touches the ground, the jaws close for good. You watch and wait for something else to happen, but nothing ever does. Nothing ever would. You could stand here watching for a hundred and fifty million years, Lord Claude, and nothing would ever happen here again. Gradually your bronto’s mighty carcass, picked loving clean by predators, would sink into the slime, carried by its own weight deeper; then the waters would rise, and old Conqueror Sea would come in with the leisurely air of a card-sharp dealing the boys a bad hand. Silt and sediment would filter down over the mighty grave, a slow rain with centuries to rain in. Old bronto’s bed might be raised up and then down again perhaps half a dozen times, gently enough not to disturb him, although by now the sedimen­tary rocks would be forming thick around him. Finally, when he was wrapped in a tomb finer than any Indian rajah ever boasted, the powers of the Earth would raise him high on their shoulders until, sleeping still, bronto would lie in a brow of the Rockies high above the waters of the Pacific. But little any of that would count with you, Claude the Sword; once the midget maggot of life is dead in the creature’s skull, the rest is no concern of yours.

You have no emotion now. You are just faintly put out. You expected dramatic thrashing of the ground, or bellowing; on the other hand, you are glad the thing did not appear to suffer. You are like all cruel men, sentimental; you are like all sentimental men, squeamish. You tuck the gun under your arm and walk round the land side of the dinosaur to view your victory.

You prowl past the ungainly hooves, round the septic white of the cliff of belly, beyond the glistening and how-thought-provoking cavern of the cloaca, finally posing beneath the switch-back sweep of tail-to-rump. Now your disappointment is as crisp and obvious as a visiting card: the giant is not half as big as you thought it was. It is not one half as large, for example, as the image of you and Maude is in your mind. Poor little warrior, science will never invent anything to assist the titanic death you want in the contraterrene caverns of your fee-fo-fi-fumblingly fearful id!

Nothing is left to you now but to slink back to your time-mobile with a belly full of anti- affairs; one by one, they gather up their hunched wings and fly disconsolately off across the swamp to other hosts. They know when a good thing turns bad, and do not wait for the vultures to drive them off; all hope abandon, ye who entrail here. You also turn away.

You turn, but you pause. Nothing is left but to go back, no, but ad 2181 is not just the home date; it is Maude. It is Claude. It is the whole awful, hopeless, endless business of trying to adjust to an over-complex environment, of trying to turn yourself into a cog. Your escape from it into the Grand Simplicities of the Jurassic, to quote the brochure again, was only a partial escape, now over.

So you pause, and as you pause, something lands socko on your back, pitching you face forward into tasty mud. You struggle and scream as lobster claws tear at your neck and throat. You try to pick up the rifle but cannot, so in agony you roll over, and next second the crab-thing is greedying it on your chest. You wrench at its shell, but it giggles and pecks your fingers off. You forgot when you killed the bronto that its parasites would leave it, and that to a little shrimp like you they would be a deal more dangerous than their host.

You do your best, kicking for at least three minutes. By the end of that time there is a whole pack of the creatures on you. Already they are picking your carcass loving clean. You’re going to like it up there on top of the Rockies; you won’t feel a thing. *

The first thing that struck me is how mean it is – nothing is any good. Neither the hunter nor the prey are treated sympathetically at all. Life sucks, then you die. But then I started thinking about the twist: the dinosaur parasites. I recalled reading something recently about Cretaceous lice – off to the google! Yep, I remembered right. Summaries here and here and a link to the paper via the graphic below.


What keeps bringing me up short regarding Aldiss’ story is size. I don’t see any indication that the Cretaceous dinolice were the size of refrigerators. “Wait a minute,” you say, “Maybe Aldiss was using ‘lice’ generically.” Good point, and especially so since lice seem to be associated with either feathers or hair and I’m not sure what the current thinking on Diplodocid pelage is. So let’s put lice, specifically, aside and think about large skin parasites. There aren’t any. The largest creature on the planet right now live in a medium that is much more large-critter-with-exoskeleton friendly than air, and yet Wikipedia tells me that whale lice (not really lice) “length ranges from 5 to 25 millimetres (0.2 to 1.0 in) depending on the species.”* Do elephants have lice or ticks or mites that are, let’s say, softball sized? Nope. One explanation that makes sense to me is the problem of predation.

If you’re going to be confined (more or less) to the skin of your host, getting large just paints a “lunch is served” sign on your back. Better, apparently, to remain small and numerous. Am I crazy? I’m trying to think of a creature that is simultaneously large and host-oriented enough that it won’t leave a live host. Coming up empty.

Dinosaurs and Time Travel

Ripped from the Twitter headlines! The genesis of this post:


I’ll pull @aeromenthe’s excellent link out and embed it. L. Sprague de Camp’s (1956) A Gun for Dinosaurs:


I think there’s a rule that any time travel yarn has to deal with a kill-yer-grampy paradox (did H. G. Wells address it? I honestly can’t remember.) de Camp’s universe won’t allow a paradox, but Ray Bradbury’s will – A Sound of Thunder (1952) is his time travel/dino hunting tale. Tangentially – while looking for an on line version of ASoT, I stumbled across a reference to another dino hunting story I’ve never read: Birian Aldiss’ ‘Poor Little Warrior!’

As regards time travel paradoxes, you’d need to go a long way to beat Heinlein’s All You Zombies. Warning – classic Heinlein attitude displayed throughout.

In A Gun for Dinosaurs, Reginald Rivers talks about using a .600 Nitro Express in the Cretaceous. A .600 NE is a huge gun, but whenever I think of dinosaur guns, one always springs to mind: the Holland & Holland Saurian 4 bore.


A little bit of history… Before there was modern smokeless powder, there was black powder. Both propellants get called gunpowder, but they are not the same thing. Black powder burns much more slowly than smokeless, and thus, with reasonable barrel lengths, just can’t produce muzzle velocities (how fast the bullet is going when it leaves the barrel) that hunters take for granted today. There are 2 terms in the equation for kinetic energy – velocity and mass. Since our black powder velocity is constrained, upping the mass is the option that’s left. The bore number is how may lead spheres of bore diameter it would take to get to 1 lb. A round ball bullet for a 4 bore weighs a quarter pound! Wikipedia’s entry on the 4 bore is quite good, if you’re curious.

I’m assuming the Saurian is built for black powder (or black powder equivalent) loads, though it’s somewhat academic. This is an art gun – an opportunity for engravers, smiths, stockmakers and cabinet makers to show their skills. I have an old magazine somewhere with more pictures of the Saurian – if I ever find it I will scan and post. The case, as I recall, included a glassed in area with a display of varous dinosaur fossils. Is the Saurian what I’d choose for my time travel dino hunt? Hell no. But it’s not like I’m going to have to choose anything any time soon.

And to finish, via @tetzoo, a major dino hunting disappointment.




The local historians think that the Second Miskatonic Antarctic Expedition had 3 Sno-Cats (along with the with the LeTourneau Snow Train mothership): 2 Utilities and 1 Freighter and that those vehicles that weren’t destroyed were brought back to the Archive. I’ve been seeing this beauty on Rte. 236 in Eliot, Maine for a couple months and decided to stop and get some photos today. Mo Labrie is going to kill me, but I forgot to get serial numbers/VINs etc. I’ll have to stop again; no telling if the Goat Island Project historians can tie this Sno-Cat back to the 2nd Misky (as they call it), but they’ll need numbers to even try.

3/4 view

tracks and logo

I guess that sometimes you need to lay on the horn out on the Antarctic plateau.


headlight and wear

one of three hitching areas in back

coming atcha