Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Insulator Post -- 2013 Springfield Finds

This year I almost skipped the big insulator show that happens every year in November at Springfield Ohio.  In the end I did decide to go after all.  The show is a bit of a tradition now with this being my fourth year of attendance in row.  As one of the biggest shows in the country I just can't pass up the opportunity of possibly adding some new pieces to my collection.

When I first got into collecting glass insulators I quickly took the sage advice of an experienced collector and specialized my interest in the hobby around the California Glass Insulator Company.  I love the soft pastel colors of the California glass and the interesting history of the company that operated for only four years. (1912-1916)  Now on the eve of 2014 I am certain that the pieces in my California collection are between 98 and 102 years old.  2014 is the 100th anniversary of the reorganization of the small upstart company which occured in 1914.

During a rare sunny day in December I set up in the back yard to photograph my new pieces.  In the above picture are four sage green CD 161 "Signal" Insulators.  These are a relatively common shape and color from CGIC and can be found for around $5 a piece or a bit more for a pristine example.  Note the difference in "Dome Glass" at the top of each insulator.  Dome glass is a term used by collectors to describe the solid glass at the very top of the insulator.  Because CGIC did not adhere to strict quality control measures back in the day the depth of the threaded hole and resultant dome glass can vary widely.

Even though I already have a few of these I couldn't pass up this nice pale purple CD 152.  A common insulator that once probably sat atop a pole along a railroad out west.

Two CD 102 Ponies and a CD 112 "Keg".  These little guys are a bit more rare. They were used on telephone circuits.


For the past couple years I've been looking for a scarce power insulator called a CD 208 "Cross Top"  Although commonly produced in larger numbers by eastern glass houses the California cross tops were made in limited quantities and used on only a few power distribution lines in the west.  These unique insulators got their nickname from the double grooves situated in a cross pattern at the top of the dome.  I'm not sure of the purpose of the double grooves but I suspect the arrangement offered more options to the lineman who secured the heavy power conductors to the insulator with tie wires.  Perhaps two tie wires would  be fixed at 90 degrees to one another providing a very secure attachment of the power line to the tower.


After carousing most of the show floor I settled on a beat up CD 208 that had some cracks, a broken inner skirt and severe wear on the top of the dome.  Normally I don't choose to buy an insulator unless it is very near if not mint condition.  This trade off in my collecting method means I have to be patient and wait for the right piece to come along or else settle for a less than perfect example of the CD I'm looking for.  In this case the desire to have a cross top in my collection won out over my normal modus operandi and besides the price was right on the damaged 208 at ten bucks.

After passing just a few more tables and nearly at the end of the show floor I spotted another cross top and to my amazement this one was in perfect shape.  Of course I had to pay full collector market price for this one but I finally found a winner cross top for my main window display.

Damaged insulator on the left.
Technical note:  For the opening group shot of insulators I used a setting on my Cannon camera called "Vivid".  This setting enhances the color which looks great but is not really a true representation of the colors as they appear.  The remaining pictures on the post were all taken with a normal automatic setting to account for the bright background.  I prefer to photograph glass insulators in direct full sunlight and while this does tend to wash out the look a bit I feel it provides the most accurate color representation of the glass.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Cool Bicycle Art

Many years ago my mother started a tradition at Christmas of giving a Christmas tree ornament to myself and my sister as a stocking stuffer.  A few years back I began a similar thing when I started collecting bicycle themed ornaments to decorate my tree.  Always clever and thoughtful and knowing I'm a bike nut my mom gifted me this box of long stemmed matches.  She transformed the box into an ornament by attaching one of those little metal hooks to one end.

Of course the best part is the old-timey bicycles on the front and back of the box.  Even a tandem!  So with this post I'll kill two birds;  Display some very cool bicycle art, wish a Merry Christmas and hope that you all enjoy your holiday traditions whatever they may be.

"Keep Calm And Pedal On"

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Shooting Bench -- Ruger SR1911

In 1911 the U.S. Government adopted John M. Browning's .45 caliber automatic pistol as the issued sidearm for the U.S. military.  After 70 years of faithful military service and a hundred and thirteen years after its inception the design is still wildly popular.  Probably the most recognizable handgun in the world it has been produced by many manufactures from all over the globe.  Currently the 1911 and its variants are available from a greater selection of manufactures and price ranges than ever before. 

In the year 2011 Ruger introduced their very own version of the classic centerfire pistol.   Back then I knew it would be nearly impossible to get my hands on one so I just bode my time and recently my friend at the local gun shop tracked one down for me.  For a while demand outstripped supply and pistols were selling for a couple hundred over the suggested retail price.  

The pistol is constructed from stainless steel with the slide and barrel machined from forged steel while the frame is investment cast stainless in Ruger's foundry.  The design closely follows the original colt "Series 70" guns in that it does not have any firing pin safety disconnect like later "Series 80" and most contemporary pistols and revolvers.  The reason for a firing pin disconnect is to prevent the pistol from firing in the event it is dropped and impacts a hard surface.  The SR 1911 uses a lightweight titanium firing pin with a heavier spring to guard against accidental discharge from impact.  

I like that Ruger chose to build their pistol remaining true to the original configuration of Browning's design.  

Modern features like a lightweight aluminum trigger, skeletonized hammer and Novak 3-dot sights bring the platform up to current spec's demanded by today's 1911 shooter.  I've been shooting guns since I was a boy and as an adult I've mostly been a revolver enthusiast but I have to admit there is just something very satisfying about operating a semi-automatic.

For the initial test firing I brought a box of Aguila 230 grain full metal jacket cartridges. This is the standard ammunition consisting of a copper jacketed round nose bullet seated over the powder in a brass case as used by the armed forces for the seven decade tenure of the pistols service.  I thought that would be as good a place to start as any.

I shot a combination of standing two handed fire and shooting from sandbags.  Right away I noticed that the SR 1911 with its 5" barrel and longer recoil spring shot much smoother than my 3 1/2" Rock Island Arsenal 1911A1.    The RIA was my first 1911 and it is a handful when it goes off.  I was very curious to try out the Ruger in its full size configuration.  The recoil is bit softer and the gun just feels better in my mind than the shorter version.

I shot on the pistol range at a distance of 15 yards.  The black bulls eye (7, 8, 9, and 10 rings on the target) measures 4 inches in diameter.  At this distance that black dot would be completely obscured by the front sight blade and after the first few shots I noticed that I was hitting high.  Adjusting my point of aim to make the top of the sight blade even with the row of numbers brought my shots down just about right.  The following targets show my hits impacting a little to the right so on my next trip out I'll remember a hex wrench so I can adjust the rear sight a bit to bring me dead on target.

7 yards - Sandbag rest

7 yards - Sandbag rest

7 yards - Standing off hand

Judging by the targets I look to be shooting as well off hand as I did from the steady rest of the sandbags.  I'm very happy with my results and I can't wait to get back out and fine tune sights and try out some different loads.  

After a range session cleaning and proper lubrication of firearms is a must for continued safety and long service life of a weapon.  What I really like about the 1911 is how quick and easy it can be field stripped for cleaning.  

Stainless steel makes cleanup so much easier than blued or blackened guns.  Without a doubt all the grime can be removed from the nooks and crannies and you can tell by sight things are ship shape.  

Check out this interesting article on the history of the 1911 on the Browning website.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Chilly Commute

I passed this ice sculpture in the town square on the way to work this morning.  It was 15 degrees but with my wool balaclava and lobster gloves I was plenty warm.  The temperature is supposed to reach a balmy high of 27 today so I have some lighter gloves and hat for the ride home.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Peters Cartridge Co.

During my recumbent tour of the Little Miami Valley this fall I came upon the remains of this early industrial complex right along the bike trail.  The Peters Cartridge Company operated for about a hundred years along the banks of the Little Miami.  The company produced shotgun shells, rifle and pistol cartridges for both civilian use and government contracts.

I've mentioned before on this blog how I love discovering places of historic import on my bike rides and then learning about the subjects later by reading books and Internet searches.  My short visit to the Peters factory did not disappoint in that regard.  Established in the late 1800's the business worked in conjunction with the King Powder Company located just across the river in Kings Mills.  In the early days before the advent of modern smokeless gunpowder volatile black powder was the only option for propelling a bullet or a wad of shot from a gun.  One of the ingredients of black powder is charcoal and it is said that wood harvested from willow trees makes an excellent charcoal for the creation of black powder.  Years ago I suppose plentiful willow groves along the river were responsible for several powder mills to spring up in the area.

Although the plant closed down for good in the 1950's the Peters legacy lives on to this day.  In the 1930's Peters sold out to the Remington Company which used the facility to assemble smokeless munitions up through World War Two.  At that time Remington decided to concentrate its manufacturing elsewhere and operations at the Peters plant soon came to an end.

As a shooter and cartridge reloading hobbyist myself I have always wondered what the R - P stamp stood for on the heads of my brass casings.  Easy enough to reason that the R is for Remington but had it not been for my bike ride down into the south western corner of Ohio I may have never discovered what the P meant.        

The brick buildings shown in my photographs were built in 1916.  Originally the work was done in wood frame structures and once the business was well established the facility was upgraded.  Obviously the tall smokestack was used to vent gasses from the furnaces but I wasn't sure what the purpose of the tower was.  I thought maybe it was a quiet place where Mr. Peters could take his special guests up so they could look down over his little empire.  

Well I couldn't have been farther from the truth.  The tall structure is called a shot tower.  Inside was a shaft through which molten lead would fall and cool after passing though a screen resulting in the lead shot that would then be loaded into shells.  The little round spheres would land in a pool of water at the base of the tower fed by a small stream diverted to flow underneath the factory.

I love the style and flair of the architecture of that era.  Check out the tiled P logo that adorns the tower and main building.

Parts of the facility are leased out by the current owners for industrial purposes and the site has been used for other purposes over the years.  Police training takes place on the grounds and for a few years a haunted house display was operated in one of the buildings.  I also read that a low budget horror film was even shot on the location.

Here is a great newspaper article from 1890 that details the hazards of working with black powder back in the day:

CINCINNATI, Jul 1 -A terrible explosion occurred late this afternoon at King's powder mills, on the Little Miami railroad, twenty-nine miles east of this city. Six persons were killed and a dozen or more seriously injured. Two empty freight cars were being rolled on to the side track where a car containing five hundred kegs of gunpowder was standing. As the cars struck there was a terrific explosion, and immediately afterwards a car containing eight hundred kegs of gun powder exploded, making thirteen hundred kegs altogether. WM. FRAULY, a brakeman, in the service of the Little Miami, was standing on one of the empty cars when the explosion occurred. His body must have been blown to atoms, as no trace of it has yet been found. Five other persons, supposed to be employes of the powder company, were killed. The King Powder Company and the Peters Cartridge Works have works on both sides of the river along the railroad. The explosion occurred on the south side, and the destruction was enormous. There are a number of cottages occupied by the workmen in the powder factory and situated close to the track. These were shattered by the explosion and their inmates injured. Twelve or fifteen girls at work in the cartridge factory were crippled by the explosion. The military station, or freight house, belonging to the Little Miami railroad, together with all the adjacent buildings, were set on fire and totally consumed. The havoc wrought by the explosion of sixteen tons of powder is dreadful. The track and ties of the railroad are fairly torn out of the ground, and a great hole ploughed in the ground. The Peters cartridge factory was burned to the ground and nothing but a mass of smoldering ruins remains to mark the spot where the building stood. As soon as the news reached this city, about 5 o'clock, a relief train was dispatched to the scene of disaster, with SUPERINTENDENT PETERS and a large party of surgeons on board, and relief was afforded the sufferers as soon as possible. The work of searching for the missing and caring for the wounded is now progressing. As most of the girls who were injured, live at Morrow and South Lebanon, it is most probable that they will be taken to their homes in these places. It is hardly possible that any train will return from King's Mills earlier than 10 o'clock, and further particulars will be obtained then. The Peters cartridge factory was a large building, and fully supplied with a great amount of costly machinery, both for the manufacture of shells and the loading of shot gun ammunition, and a large force of employes was at work at the time that the explosion occurred. The news from King's Mills at 9 o'clcok to-night is that ten dead bodies have been taken from the ruins, and thirty are known to be wounded. Definite news is more likely to swell the list of casualties than to diminish it.
The Columbus Enquirer-Sun, Columbus, GA 16 Jul 1890

Other links worth a look: 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Custom Moto Trike

What I like about riding bicycles is one is never going too fast to spot interesting things along the way.  While I was on my mini-tour of the Little Miami Scenic Trail a few weeks ago there was a few motorcycle rallies going on.  I passed one watering hole along a state route where the bike path crossed over and I saw this.  As a motorcycle fan myself I had to stop and check it out.

Knobby tires all around for those southern Ohio back roads and plenty of space out back for refreshments! 

It reminded me of this song the moment I laid eyes on it.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Log Cabin Shop -- Lodi, Ohio

The list of interesting places in Ohio is a big one and now I can check one more off the list.  This weekend I visited The Log Cabin Shop in Lodi, Ohio.  I've been aware of this supplier of all things black powder for many years but never made the trip until now.  The Log Cabin Shop is a second generation business founded in 1940 that has for 73 years proudly supplied traditional muzzle loading guns and related equipment to black powder hunters, history reenactors and target shooters.

The retail section of the shop is amazing and must really be seen to be believed.  Glass cases line the walls and shelves display for sale every imaginable piece of gear a primitive shooter would need; Pistols, long guns, caps, balls, flints, molds, ramrods, powder measures, horns and patches just to name a few. All kinds of accoutrements from huge buckskins, belts, bags and period clothing to outfit a 17th or 18th century buckskinner or adventure seeking rifleman.  A multitude of examples of  locks, stocks and barrels can be found.  If a person possessed the skills all the components could be hand picked to build a fine and functional one of a kind black powder long gun.

I knew I'd be overwhelmed as soon as I walked in the door so I made up my grocery list ahead of time. Needless to say I found all the items I was after and then some!

The retail establishment is amazing enough standing on its own but it was the other half of the operation that had me curious to check out with my own eyes.  Passing through a door off to the side I entered a large room with a massive stone fireplace at one end complete with rocking chairs and a warm fire crackling away on the hearth.  A grand collection of authentic weapons, gear and tools from the past has been gathered and meticulously displayed in museum form.  I mostly just wandered around shaking my head in awe but I did mange to take a few pictures.

One wall held racks of muskets and rifles from both America and around the world.  Some of the specimens were in amazing condition for being around a couple centuries or more. 

Below is a selection of American made smooth bore muskets from the early 1800's.  What a treat to be able to stand just inches from these old pieces checking out the armorer's engraving and wondering of the places these guns must have seen in their long history. 

The opposite wall was all Ohio made long guns.  Small white tags designated the gun's maker and the county from which he worked.  When one thinks of old side lock guns common styles like "Kentucky" or "Pennsylvania" rifles come to mind.  In reality rifles were made just about everywhere in young America.  I think it is interesting how design elements of English, French and Germanic guns were brought to the New World and over time and the westward expansion these traits blended and evolved into weapons best suited to the needs of their owners.  Uniquely American just like the first generations of immigrants who used these tools to tame the frontier as the population of a young nation grew.  And later in darker times when divisions among countrymen unfortunately came to blows.

Here is an awesome collection of authentic powder flasks and below powder horns.

Some of these powder horns show intricate scrimshaw designs carved by their owners.  Perhaps during rare spells of downtime around the camp or cabin the more artistic hunter or soldier would decorate his horn with a motif to personalize it.

Bullet and ball molds and one very large Bowie knife.

A nice collection of Native American artifacts.

Pictured above is a barrel drilling machine.  I have always wondered how the bore was drilled and rifling was cut in the early days.  As a woodworker I know how hard it is to drill a straight hole in a piece of wood just a couple inches deep.  I've got big time respect for the guys that pulled off this precision work in metal before the days of electricity.

Exiting from the museum room a third door leads into the library.  Benches are lined up in the center between the stacks where workshops and classes are held.

It goes without saying that basking in the glow of all that firearms history gets me in the mood for gun smoke!
After paying for the goods to resupply my shooting box we headed outside to the large muzzle loader-only range behind the shop.  Nice.

I am a fan of modern cartridge firing guns but there is just something special to me about bringing out my Hawken rifle and going through the steps just as rifleman have done for hundreds of years.  I think of muzzle loading as bringing not only the gun to the range but the reloading bench too.  Shooting black powder for sport allows me to practice my marksmanship as well as a peek back through the window of history. 

While in the shop I bought a new adjustable powder measure.  That's the brass cylinder that I'm holding with the wide mouth.  From the powder flask the black powder is slowly metered out until the measure is full.  A charge of black powder is measured by volume not 
 by weight.  Once the powder is poured down the barrel a lubed patch cut from pillow ticking is placed over the muzzle.  Next one of the .54 caliber 
round balls that the RoadQueen and I cast the other day is placed with the sprue facing up.
The hardest part of the loading sequence is using a short starter; the round wooden ball in my hand, to force the patched ball down past the crown of the muzzle.  With a pop the ball and cloth patch material will engage the rifling and from there it is much easier to start the ball down the barrel.  
At this point I can drop the short starter and use the gun's ramrod or a range rod to fully seat the ball against the powder charge.  After just a couple shots the bore will become fouled with black soot and it will get progressively harder to push the ball down unless the bore is swabbed out.  

My rifle employs a caplock system to ignite the charge.  By the mid 1800's firearms technology reached  the point where mass produced percussion caps supplanted the older flintlock ignition.  Like most hobbies today's muzzleloaders fall into various camps and endlessly debate the merits of their preferred ignition system.  I have a flinter too but it doesn't matter much to me how it goes off as long it does.  If it makes a boom with lots of sparks and smoke coming out of the business end it's all good.  The final step is placing the cap on the nipple.  At that point the rifle becomes a deadly weapon and utmost care is taken to keep it pointed in a safe direction.

Using 60 grains of Goex ffg black powder and thanks to the heavy mass of the 34" x 1.00" across the flats barrel the Hawken barely kicks.  More of a dull boom instead of the sharp crack of a modern rifle and the lighter recoil makes for an enjoyable shooting experience. 

Thanks to RoadQueen for her excellent camera work during the range session.

Just because I crossed the Log Cabin Shop off my list of places to visit does not mean I won't be returning.  On the contrary I can't wait visit again when I have a whole afternoon to spend.  The folks at the counter were very friendly and helpful.  And the customers too were laid back and took their time looking over the museum exhibits or shopping for supplies.  Very much a friendly, old-fashioned vibe you don't see to much these days.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Backyard Casting

I like to keep a camera handy in case I see or do something interesting.  This weekend the RoadQueen was hanging out and she was excited when I suggested we take advantage of a sunny but cool autumn afternoon and engage in a little backyard casting operation.  She is a naturally curious person and firearms enthusiast to boot so I was more than happy to demonstrate this cool process for her.

In the course of my bicycle commuting and recreational road riding I have trained myself to watch for wheel weights cast off from automobile wheels along the streets and roadways surrounding my home.  These weights are made out of a lead alloy and are clipped to the rim of a car wheel to balance out the spin of the wheel and prevent vibrations at speed.  The small steel clip eventually loosens and the weights pop loose. I often find them lying alongside the road near railroad crossings and around intersections.  Any place the car is likely to hit bumps in the road these weights can be found.  I also have a theory that that a loose weight can be released from a rim by an under-inflated tire rolling during a turn and pushing off the weight.

Over the course of a year I find two or three a month.  Earlier this summer I lucked out and found two on the same commute.  The two weights were just a few feet apart.

Once I've collected up a few I'll put them in a cast iron pot and warm on my Coleman camp stove.  The melting point of lead is 621.5 degrees F or 327.5 C so it is fairly easy to get a hot enough temperature to melt this dense, heavy metal.  In the picture above you can see a couple of the weights just turning to liquid.  As the lead melts I can remove and discard the steel clips from the pot.

I have found that my cast iron patio wood burner makes an excellent crucible to do the actual casting work.  Using the rim of the wood burner's opening and a piece of fire wood as rest for my ladle and mold I have a sheltered work area that is easy to keep at a constant high temperature.  

The trick to casting is to keep the mold blocks in the perfect temperature window of not too cool and not to hot.  If the mold is too cool the molten lead will start to harden as it is being poured into the mold and not fill the cavity completely.  If the mold is too hot the ball will remain in liquid form and deform itself as it rolls out of the mold when the halves of the block separate.  When the temperature is just right the ball will harden and drop out perfect.  Doing the work as shown inside the mouth of the wood burner where a high temperature can be maintained makes the process flow smooth and trouble free. 

Over the course of the afternoon we produced 53 .54 caliber round balls from the wheel weights I scrounged from the roadways around my home.

So what do I do with these little silver spheres you ask?  Why shoot them out of my walnut stocked Rocky Mountain Hawken Rifle of course.

This afternoon I chose 10 pieces in a blind sample from the production run to check the weight of the balls using an accurate beam scale.  Here are the results measured in grains:


The maximum spread between these 10 sample is 3 grains.  Not much!  

1 ounce = 437.5 grains
1 gram = 15.43 grains