Friday, November 30, 2012

Cool Bicycle Art

I plucked this interesting black and white up from the fast flowing current of the Internet.  I don't know anything about the image other than it has elements of some of my favorite things -bikes, telegraph insulators and an old steam train.  We really can't tell who wins this race but for the moment it looks like the velopedist has got the edge on the hissing and chugging giant.  However it turned out I love how this picture captures the bicycle spirit and that urge to turn pedal power into speed.  Man and machine at its finest. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

MTB -- Alum Creek S.P. (Phase II)

I don't like plans and schedules. I like going into long weekends with the itinerary wide open.  Thanksgiving was nice and the following days were kind of cloudy, dreary and cold so we stayed around the house.  Last night we took our son and his friend out to see the new Red Dawn movie which I highly recommend by the way.
Sunday morning I peeked out the window to find sunny skies although it was a chilly 34 degrees F.  A little too cold for motorcycles but just right for mountain bikes so I hung the Yeti on the bike rack and took off to central Ohio specifically the Alum Creek State Park located in Delaware County just north of Columbus the State Capital.  The distance from my driveway to the trail head is 38 miles.  It took almost nine songs of a favorite CD to get there and wasn't a bad trip at all.  I actually kind of like a little car time before a ride to listen to some tunes and get into the groove.
This ride is special for me because it is the first time I've ridden Phase II of the park's trails.   Phase I is the original network that I have rode a few times but for some reason I never made it down to check out this new loop.
Right off the bat my knobbies met a smooth leaf-free ribbon of single track heaven.  I love that special bit of magic when riding a new trail.  It's a very cool experience flowing with the trail and tackling the obstacles that come up on the fly. A sense of adventure is always present as I try to look past the next bend.
With the leaves all down off the trees the vistas are sweet.  In the summer this trail would look completely different; shooting down leafy green tunnels with the occasional glimpse of water or sky.

Phase II is a six mile one-way loop that follows the topography of a small branch of Alum Creek Lake.  Ravines and natural drainage cuts make the shape of the lake look much like an Oak leaf.  The bike trail hugs the edge of  the leaf shape traveling up each small gorge to a switchback at the drainage's head. 

Numerous bridges constructed to make the many stream crossings manageable without causing erosion add variety to the route. The bridges are typical plank on beam and even narrow split logs for testing that sense of balance. Each tricky section always had an easy out as shown in this picture.  I took the fat one.   

Well constructed log bridges are numerous throughout the route to climb up and over bigger blow downs.  Years ago these big wooden humps would always make me nervous but I've been over so many of them I hardly bat an eye these days.

I stopped to take a picture of this expansive little bridge just when a rider caught up to me.  I waited until she looped around and was out on the span to take the shot.  It's quite exciting to be pedaling on these narrow structures with a big drop on each side.  At eight or ten feet above the stream bed this crossing is actually a small one compared to some in more rugged parts of the country.
There is a few drops but nothing over a couple feet and there is always a bailout around the edges for a guy like me who has an aversion to broken bones and bike parts.
Here the trail wound through a small stand of young pines. Some welcome greenery in an otherwise brown and dead looking landscape.
I took my time on the first lap enjoying the scenery, getting to know the trail and stopping often for photography.  In about an hour and fifteen minutes I made it back to the starting point.  For the second lap I put the camera away and hammered it completing the circuit in 45 minutes.  Phase II is allot like a giant pump track.  There are no long lung busting climbs but if one puts the pedal to the metal it can work up a sweat.  Some of the trail is sweet, smooth and flowing while other sections are choppy and rooty ready to yank the bars from an unwary rider's hands.
Single speed paradise.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Turkey Day Ride

 After a big plate of turkey and other Thanksgiving carbohydrates I enjoyed a big slice of bike trail for desert.  Most people I know like to kick back on the sofa and watch football after the big feast but not me.  The weather was fantastic on Thanksgiving day reaching a high of just over 60 degrees.  I actually wore shorts on my ride. 

I was in the mood for road biking so I set out to ride the nearby B & O rail trail on the titanium Motobecane.  I started from the northern end and fought through a bit of a head wind from the south but still managed a respectable for me 16.1 miles in the first hour.  After the second hour I had brought my average speed up to 16.5 mph.  I'm sure the tailwind helped as I was headed back north but that leg of the trip is also slightly uphill most of the way so I think things kind of evened out.  In any event I rode a little stronger during the second hour and I'm happy about that.

At this point I'm about two months into my winter fitness program. Although I haven't been riding a whole lot it seems the cardio sessions every other day on the elliptical machine and the weight lifting have peaked out my cycling form nicely.  I felt strong on the bike and pleased with my ability to meter out the power just right over the course of the ride.  The bike performed dutifully and the conditions were nearly perfect.  Lastly this is was my first ride as a 42 year old kid having just hit the mark a few days ago.
Turkey the performance enhancing drug.
Bike:  Motobecane LeChampion
Ride Time:  2:14
Distance:  37.1 miles
Average Speed:  16.5 mph
Max Speed:  22.6 mph

Monday, November 19, 2012

ZN-HK by N3ZN Keys

ZN-HK Hand Key by Tony Baleno

Back in February of this year I learned that Tony, N3ZN would be introducing a straight key and this key would be slated for release in the late summer or fall of 2012.  I contacted Tony right away securing my name near the top of the list and after the long summer I am now the proud owner of ZN-HK serial number 002.

Tony is a master craftsman of Morse Code instruments and is best known for his magnetic paddles.  While my proficiency with sending and receiving the code has steadily increased allowing me to more effectively make use of paddles for sending higher speed Morse I will always be a straight key operator at heart. 

A straight key breaks down the act of sending to its very basic original form.  Elements of rhythm, precision and accuracy are required by the operator of a hand key to produce code that is pleasant to the ear and easy to copy.  A straight key is played much like a musical instrument and as such the skill of the operator makes all the difference.

The design of the ZN-HK follows the traditional American style with a bent arm. Topping the lever at the point of human interface is a large navy style knob and skirt.  This arrangement has become my favorite so much so that I can hardly stand to send with a flat-knob key.  I place my index finger on the top of the knob and my thumb and remaining fingers rest lower down on the skirt. 

In the old days telegraphers would refer to this lower skirt as the "poker chip".  In all likelihood a re-purposed poker chip was first used under the knob of a telegraph key to provide a safety barrier against the metal of the arm.  In the early days of radio the key was part of the transmitter circuit and huge voltages would be present on the key itself.  This made it very important that one not touch the metal while the gear was energized.  Modern amateur radio key circuits operate with just a few millivolts so electrocution is no longer a hazard.
The major components of the key and base are machined from solid brass.  The lever and trunnion ride on precision bearings and adjustments can be made with the assorted stainless steel hardware.  Every bit a work of art as it is a precision instrument the handsome brushed surface of the key is sealed with six coats of a specially formulated lacquer made for brass.  The ZN-HK should always have its like new luster.

A feature I like is the big bevel cut along the front edge of the base.  Not only from an aesthetic point of view but the engineering side as well.  The angled cut matches the bend in the lever and allows the pivot point to rest far back on the base preventing the key from tipping forward if the user gets a little heavy handed.  Tipping is one of my biggest peeves with American style keys.  Thanks to Tony's expert engineering and the heavy brass base this thing stays rock steady on the desk and absolutely will not tip. 

In keeping with the high quality theme a perfectly proportioned and engraved nameplate is fixed to the rear of the base with tiny machine screws.
Like a kid on Christmas morning when I opened the package I had to run down to the ham shack and plug it in.  After setting the gap and lever tension to my liking I was shortly in QSO with KA2YBT in Nassau, NY on the 40 meter band.  I would have played around more on the air but I had to attend my local radio club meeting.  Later I met up with ND9M in Panama City, Florida also on 40 meters. The third contact made with the new key was an interesting one.  After calling CQ on the 80 meter band I heard a faint signal answering who was amateur station AC0AF located in Duluth, MN.  The Ops name was Dave and he was transmitting QRP or low power. His transmit power was 1 watt!  We exchanged information and had a short but pleasant conversation. The QRP guys always amaze me.  Dave's one watt wireless signal at 3.538 MHz travelled 625.7 miles to reach my antenna. 
I've been busy with other things so I've not had a lot of time for brass pounding but this winter I will be putting the ZN-HK through its paces for sure.  The key is solid and the feel and response is very precise.  Making the Morse music with this fine instrument is truly a joy.
Thanks Tony - Job well done!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Scrambler Ride

I had an appointment Today at the Triumph dealer to get my oil changed.  Sure I could do the work myself but I don't mind having the shop do it.  For one thing if I ever have a major mechanical problem with the bike I know I can trust the guys to fix me up.  I can build up a bicycle from the frame up but when it comes to internal combustion I'd just as well leave it to the pros.  Besides a trip to the shop ensures a nice 100 mile round trip ride through the Ohio countryside.
When I left the house at 8:30 am it was pretty chilly around 35 degrees Fahrenheit.  Couple that with 50-60 mph wind chill and it can get a little uncomfortable.  Fortunately after the work was done it had warmed up into the upper forties.  Geared up properly I can ride all day when it's in the 40's or 50's.  Actually I prefer these temperatures for riding motorbikes.  Air cooled engines run great in the crisp air and I don't have to worry about sweating under my jacket and full face helmet.
On the ride home I toured through Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area.  This was the first time I've been in this area and it is beautiful.
I've ridden my Triumph Scrambler for a year now and have just over 2000 miles on the clock.  This bike has more than met my expectations allowing me to explore out of the way places handling with ease anything I put in its path.  A few miles east of the wildlife area the road really got rural so I took some video.  My camera does not handle wind noise at all so I had to dub in some tunes:
I'm asking Santa for a Go Pro video camera because I've had fun playing around with my Canon point and shoot and it does take decent video but I think I need something more dedicated to video and a way to fix it to my helmet.  It's tough to ride a motorcycle one handed twisting the throttle, shifting, clutching and film at the same time.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

MTB -- Lake Hope State Park

Last week I took my car into the shop for routine maintenance and I was talking to my mechanic Steve who also happens to be a long time riding buddy of mine.  By day Steve works on cars but for the rest of the time he lives and breaths mountain bikes.  He mentioned that on Saturday he was planning a drive to southeastern Ohio to ride mountain bikes at Lake Hope State Park in Vinton County.  I was planning on a recumbent ride but the idea never occurred to me go out for some trail riding and I agreed to join him on the spot.  Steve and I have been riding together since the early 90's and have enjoyed many miles of Ohio single track together.  Of our old group we are the last two that still get together when we can for a little fun.

On the left is Lance a new rider joining us for his first time out on a mountain bike.  Steve is a big cycling advocate and he enjoys introducing new people to the sport.  Even setting them up with one of his bikes to ride if they don't have wheels of their own.
It's a couple hour drive to the park but it is well worth the trip.  Saturday the weather was great and the temperature warmed up to just over 60 degrees.  The views from the trail around the Lake are just magical.  I've mentioned before that spring and fall are my favorite times for mountain biking. When the leaves are down it is much easier to see the lay of the land.
The park is situated in a region that once supported a flourishing iron ore smelting industry in the 1800's.  Near the main road the remnants of Hope Furnace can still be seen.  During the height of its production the furnace was fired 24 hours a day and the huge demand for wood soon stripped all the surrounding hills of native timber.  Iron from the Hope Furnace was used to make cannons and other munitions for the Union Army during the American Civil War.  All the forest presently in the park is second growth predominately Oak and Hickory.

Here I got a nice shot of Lance fording a small stream.  Steve and I were impressed with Lance. He did a great job for the first time on a bike since his bmx days as a kid.  To his credit Lance has extensive experience with dirt bikes and four wheel ATV's so he already knows a great deal about getting around off road.  Lance also enjoys playing football and MMA fighting so he was pretty fit to start with. 
That said Steve and I always get a kick out of taking young guys in their twenties for trail rides.  Endurance cycling is unique in that it takes years of riding to build up the endurance for hours in the saddle.  For the first hour or two the young guy can go strong but soon enough they're sucking wind.  We take it easy on them letting them have plenty of breaks and not getting two far ahead but it is certainly fun for a couple old dudes in our 40's and 50's to run circles around the young pups! 
Steve is a great guide. Along with his intimate knowledge of the trails he also is constantly emphasizing the need to stay hydrated and keep a steady stream of food going in on these long rides to avoid the bonk.
Above Steve navigates a leaf covered switchback.  While it is beautiful in the woods in the fall the blanket of leaves on ground makes it tough to see the trail.  Often the only clue is a slight depression.  On trails hugging the side of a hill the flatness of the trail is more apparent than on level ground but it is still tough.  These pictures I took on a connector trail that had seen little use.  The main trail that travels the northern perimeter of the park was more beat in from previous riders so navigation was much easier.

Lake Hope may very well be my favorite trail system here in Ohio. Its been a place I've wanted to write about for a while but it has been about four years since I last rode in the area and that was back before I started my blog.
For the most part the trails of the park are smooth and flowing with not too much in the way of roots and rocks so even with the leaf cover the ride is still very nice.  The Athens Bicycle Club responsible for designing and building many of the mountain bike trails did an expert job. Not cutting in the grades too steep make the network a single-speed paradise.
Keeping the pace down to a reasonable clip for Lance we covered 18 miles in about 4 1/2  hours.  About five minutes into the ride the tension spring broke on my left eggbeater but thanks to Steve's mechanical prowess and multi-tool he saved the day by unwinding a key ring and bending the steel around the cleat retainers enough to provide the needed tension allowing my shoe to lock in so I could keep riding.  It wasn't until the last mile or two that the key chain stretched enough to not keep me locked in.  Other than that small mechanical we had no serious mishaps and spent a wonderful day on the trail. Lance loved the experience and wasn't hating us so we think we may have pulled a new enthusiast into the fold.
Steve's Trailside Hack


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Insulator Post -- 2012 Mid-Ohio Finds

Earlier this week I snapped a few photos of my new insulators from the 2012 Mid-Ohio show over my lunch hour to take advantage of the mid day sun.  In this first shot is a standard CD 161 signal of which I already have a couple of in this pretty sage color.  What caught my eye was a series of dimples or depressions in the glass along the bottom inside edge of the skirt.  While this anomaly doesn't add any value to the piece it is an interesting flaw that I've never seen in California glass before.
CD 152  I've got a few of these in light smokey purple but didn't have a green one so when I spotted this extra shiny sage example I had to have it.  Some insulators really display a super glossy wet-looking surface. These are my favorites.

Next we have a trio of CD 102 ponies (a nickname these little guys have had ever since the beginning of their use in the late 1800's). I like the ponies with their compact size and rounded domes.  The two smokey ones on each side have the original CGICo emboss while the aqua pony in the middle has the full CALIFORNIA emboss.  The middle insulator is likely a later production made after the company's restructuring in 1914.  Ponies were used for telegraph and open wire telephone circuits or "tolls"
I normally don't like to buy insulators with damage but California ponies in this pretty aqua blue color are relatively rare so in this case I made an exception.  It looks super in the photograph but around the back side there is a fingernail size chip out of the base and a crack running up the skirt about an inch.  The collector from whom I purchased the piece said I will probably have it for while before finding a flawless upgrade.  The damage is not visible from the front so I can live with it.  I think I paid $15 for the insulator.  A near perfect example would fetch between $75 -$100 on the collector market. 

Last but certainly not least is this awesome CD 178 "Santa Ana"  The Santa Ana is a high voltage distribution line insulator with some unique history behind it.
In an article in Crown Jewels Of The Wire CD178 collector Jim Sinsley speculates on the origins of these power pieces:
"it is interesting to note that the name was probably determined by the style's first use in a project for power distribution, about 1893, along the Santa Ana River Valley in Southern California to Redlands. They were designed to carry 5,000 volts, but were not abandoned when the line was upgraded to 10,000 volts in 1896.* I suspect, although there is no real proof that I know of, that the project was large enough that more than one manufacturer was used simultaneously to supply the first project. I believe that HEMINGRAY was among the first producers of the style and perhaps one or more of the Elmer companies also. I am confident that the style was popular enough and marketed for a long enough period of time that several companies got into the act. The original project in the river valley would have been completed before the California company was in existence. There have been a large number of CaliforniA and non-California pieces found in the San Joaquin Valley in California and others in the Mid-West. "

 Front emboss:  CALIFORNIA
Rear emboss:  303 over SANTA ANA
The Santa Ana is one of a few CD numbers not represented in my California collection so I was happy to have found this one and for a fair price.
Today the majority of antique glass insulators are "hunted" by attending shows or perusing sale lists online.  It wasn't always this way. The hobby can probably be attributed to linemen who in the course of changing out or dismantling lines would keep the pretty colored ones they found on the job.
The interest in the glass objects also germinated with boys over long summers as they scoured railroad lines as far as their legs and bicycles could take them in search of the glowing prize.  In the couple decades after the 1950's many abandoned lines still stood with the occasional glass dating from the early 1900's or even earlier just waiting to be picked.  Here's a great account of collecting in the early days of the hobby by Joe Maurath, Jr of Brockton, Mass: I could not link directly to Joe's notes on the subject of insulators but it's easy enough to access by clicking the link titled "insulator collecting" under the About Joe header to the left of the home page.  It's worth a read.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

42nd Mid-Ohio Insulator Show

On Saturday I attended the 42nd Mid-Ohio Insulator Show held as it is every year in Springfield, Ohio near Dayton.  Over the past four years this show has become the highlight of my insulator collecting hobby and I look forward more than ever to making the 100 mile pilgrimage.
The Mid-Ohio show is considered by many to be the greatest collection of insulators gathered together in one spot in all of the world.  I've only ever been to the Mid-Ohio show so I really can't say myself but to best this show it would have to be an event of ridiculous proportions.
I've covered previous trips to Springfield here on the blog but this year I tried to find some other interesting pieces that I've not documented before.  With that said let us get on with the tour! As soon as I entered the exhibition hall I saw these monstrous power line insulators.
For a sense of scale I laid my phone down on the table.  My Galaxy is not a small phone at all measuring 5 3/8" in length.  As with all insulator applications before the transition to porcelain in the 1950's glass was used for everything.  These big pieces were used on high voltage transmission line towers. 

Pictured here is nice aqua Hemingray "Muncie" These were made at Hemingray's second facility in Muncie, Indiana.

A person would need a lot of real estate if they were going to collect very many of these giants.

The best thing about attending these shows is seeing all the wonderful colors and shapes.  The unique champagne colored pieces below are called "carnival glass"  The color is the result of a surface treatment the glass underwent after the molding process.

Each year a topic is decided on for a community display.  A certain style or manufacturer of insulator is chosen and attendees submit their best examples of the chosen subject.  This is a great part of the show because it brings together a very large amount of insulators all sharing the same breed and illustrates the wide variation of colors that existed.  This year the style chosen was the common CD 145 or "Beehive"
Back in the early 1900's quality control was not like it is today. Whether by accident or intentionally pieces of debris such as chunks of metal and wire and fire brick from the furnaces would occasionally find its way into the molten glass.  Some collectors specialize in these "Junk In Glass" pieces.

When the glass insulator industry was young the techniques used were primitive and unrefined. As a result small bubbles and fizz often appeared in the solidified pressings.  Not so common were larger bubbles like these.

Besides the sales tables that fill the hall one wall is set aside for displays.  This was the best display put on this year. A very thorough and well set up display with examples of both glass and early porcelain baby signals.

Some collectors must have really deep pockets!  Check out the prices on these beautiful honey-amber Hemingray signals.  Very few were produced in this color and as a result the scarcity drives up the price.

If the ambers are too rich for your blood a nice cornflower blue could be had for a mere couple hundred.

I've been curating this web log for about three years now and in that time I have been content to just post up my ramblings in writing augmented with photographs I take of the things I do and places I see.  I've decided to get with the times and add a new tool to my box.  This year I witnessed something very cool at the show and while I was standing there I decided to take some video footage using my Canon digital camera.  Later I opened up a YouTube account and learned how to post up the media to it. Now for the first time in the history of Recumbent Conspiracy Theorist I'm pleased to present my very first video production:  Pressing Glass Insulator Miniatures

Commemorative miniatures have always been made at the shows but for some reason I had not seen the process in person.  I was so impressed I had to go back inside and purchase a couple of the pressings made earlier.  The idea of these minies as a souvenir to be sold off to show attendees is not a new one.  In the past small runs of miniatures would be produced as "salesman samples" to be given away to power and telecom companies when visited by the glass house salesmen eager to secure a lucrative contract to supply insulators to municipalities and utilities.
Another type of glass insulator that came after the telegraph era is known as the "Radio Strain"  These little strange looking pieces were used to isolate the ends of wire antennas supported high up in the air.  The support cord would be tied to one eyelet and and the antenna wire would be threaded through the other eye and doubled back on itself then secured with a few twists.  Strains were produced in many colors but most common are clear and lightly straw colored tints.

The same collector and insulator enthusiast who was producing the miniatures has also acquired an actual radio strain mold from the 20's or 30's and has begun pressing strains again using recycled cullet of all different colors.  Sometime I would like to pick up a few of these new ones or maybe even use vintage strains for my ham radio high frequency wire antennas. 

I had a great time at this years show and found a few nice California insulators for my collection.  Once we get a sunny day I'll take photographs and post up my new finds.  Here is a great CD 187 threaded spool made by the California Glass Works. Unfortunately I didn't have enough money so alas it did not come home with me.  The asking price was $115 -Ouch!