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

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Little Miami Scenic Trail -- Day 2

Sunday morning brought a fog that settled on the campground and coated everything with dew.  The air was chilly and damp as I readied my coffee and as it got lighter the bluish cast gave way to golden hues as the sun rose in the east.  One of the things I like about tent camping and spending lots of time outside is experiencing the subtle changes of the sky as day turns to night and the way the light of dawn washes over the landscape chasing away the shadows.  There is some primal connection with nature that mankind lost long ago when we started building shelters and spending more and more time shut away from the natural world around us.  Getting outside for a few days and nights really seems to reconnect that bond.

I took my time with breakfast letting the sun burn off some of the fog.  A cold front was moving into the area and a steady breeze picked up from the north east just as it had Saturday.  I was happy to find I felt fairly well after just riding a good distance the day before.  One of my goals for the weekend was to do two long rides back to back to get a feel of what touring style riding would feel like.  I've done a couple centuries and a few 50 milers but never one after another.  I had the mental benefit knowing for my second day out the first half of my ride would be uphill slightly and into the wind.  I'd be able to run much easier on the return trip.

I got started again from my staging area in Corwin and headed north east.  Right away I noticed that the valley widened out and the trail followed much straighter lines.  The false flat effect is really accentuated on these old rail beds.  Just standing there and looking back and forth up and down the trail it seems impossible to perceive the grade but once rolling and moving under pedal power it is obvious.

After about five miles the stiffness worked out of my legs and I felt strong.  This encouraged me greatly because I really did want to put in another day on the bike and make my weekend tour a success.  Sure I wasn't setting any speed records and I wanted to make sure I had enough gas to hit my goal of 25 miles before turning around so I tried to moderate my effort and just enjoy the ride and new scenery.  The temperature was at that point where it was almost too chilly with a short sleeve jersey but when I put my windbreaker on I started to heat up a little too much.  Eventually it warmed up enough that I could put the jacket away.  

Traffic on the trail was pretty light perhaps due to the fog, clouds and chilly breeze.  Often I would travel quite a while by myself without even seeing another trail user.  I loved the solitude.  It seems the older I get the more I enjoy being alone.  A five man group of roadies or a "Fred Squad" as I like to call them caught up to me somewhere south of Xenia. They were friendly and wished me a good morning as they got on up the road.

While it did seem flatter as I rode north there was no shortage of interesting natural features along the trail.

After about an hour I rolled into the county seat of Greene County; Xenia, Ohio.  The name itself is a Greek word which means "hospitality".  If you're visiting Xenia by bike then the name does indeed fit. Five different bike trails radiate out from the town making up the combined 330 mile Miami Valley bike trail network.  I'd say that's bike hospitable.

Xenia Station is a unique two story brick building that really stands out from the other depots along the line.  

The B & O was one of the six different rail ways that entered into Xenia during the towns early history.

Continuing northward from Xenia Station there is a short couple blocks through the center of town where cyclists have to travel through the downtown area on the street or sidewalks.  It's not a problem in a small town like this and on Sunday when I passed through there was hardly any car traffic anyway.

As I passed by the county courthouse I noticed this big monster positioned out in the green space and of course I had to stop and check it out.

This is a US Civil War artillery piece known as a 6.4" Parrot Rifle  or a 100 pounder as that was the weight of the shell this brute would fire at an effective range of 3,500 yards propelled by a 10 pound charge. Named after its inventor Captain Robert Parker Parrot, a West Point graduate, This piece is one of just over 80 guns still in existence today.  Clearly stamped nomenclature around the muzzle allowed me to learn a bit about where this imposing looking front stuffer came from.  

W.P.F. Stands for West Point Foundry.  All the Parrott guns were made at that facility.
1862.  Date of manufacture
No 77.  Registry number.  I tried digging around a little to see if I could use this number to see if the gun saw any combat but have not had any luck so far.
9789.  The weight of the gun in pounds
A.M.   I'm not sure but I think this stands for Army.  Parrot rifles were put into use by both the Army and the Navy.
*Edit:  In a reply email Craig Swain, whose blog I referenced above informed me that the A.M. inscription stands for General Alfred Mordecai, Jr who was the inspector at the time.  Thanks Craig for setting me straight here.
6.4.  designates the bore diameter in inches.  6.4"

As I've mentioned before on this blog I get such a kick out of discovering things while out on my bicycle which give me a chance later to get online and easily research whatever caught my attention.  As I get out explore more places around my home state I'm finding no shortage of interesting stuff to learn about.

Pressing on up the trail after another hour I crossed the only other big iron bridge I encountered on the LMST and arrived in the town of Yellow Springs.   

Yellow Springs Station is a replica of the original station.  Still very cool even though not the original building.

Antioch Hall

Yellow Springs is the home of Antioch College.  Higher education really doesn't interest me but the link does provide some curious facts about this coeducational liberal arts college founded in 1850.  Curiously the 1950's TV series "The Twilight Zone" was created by Antioch alumnus Rod Serling.

About a half mile north of Yellow Springs my computer registered 25 miles and I was happy to make a U-turn.  I took a break to eat a snack and then began the trip back to Morrow.  The downhill grade and a little extra push from the tail wind felt awesome and I cruised comfortably at speeds up to 16 or 17 mph for the return trip.  

I had broke camp earlier in the morning and had all the gear stowed so once I arrived back at the staging area all I had to do was secure the recumbent on the rack, change my clothes and make the drive home.  While I was stopped in various places I met quite a few nice people striking up conversations with riders and non riders alike.  I found folks down in south west Ohio to be very friendly and I can't wait to get back down to explore some more of this amazing trail network.  

With the completion of my weekend tour I logged 105 miles in two days impressing myself for sure.  Up until this weekend the most I had ridden this year in a single go was about 40 miles.  I took Monday off from work just to allow a little time for recuperation but honestly I felt like I could have kept on riding another day.  Although my trip got off to a rocky start once the bike riding got underway things shook out for the better as I figured they would.

Day 1
Total Distance:  55.47 miles
Ride Time:  4:02:37
Average Speed:  13.7 mph

Day 2
Total Distance:  50.03 miles
Ride Time:  3:41:53
Average Speed:  13.5 mph

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Little Miami Scenic Trail -- Day 1

One day last week I was reading a post by Larry Varney, Co-Editor of the excellent recumbent website "Bentrider Online".  In the post A Week On The Katy Trail Larry talks about long rides on bike paths.  While his post concentrated on the Katy Trail in Missouri Larry also mentioned the Little Miami Scenic Trail that is here in Ohio.  The LMST is a path I've wanted to check out for a couple years.  

Larry's post spurred me into motion and everything seemed to be lining up perfect to make a weekend of it.  I checked the availability of campsites at Caesar Creek State Park located at about the half way point of the 75 mile paved bike path that runs between Springfield and Cincinnati, Ohio.  There was a few tent site still open so I used satellite maps to reconnoiter the campground and made reservations for Friday and Saturday nights.  I spent the rest of the week preparing my gear and worrying about this and that.  I hate making plans and commitments but exploring a new place on my bike is just too big a draw for me and I will accept a little trouble.  

I had everything ready to roll except my cooler which I quickly filled when I got home from work.  I loaded the recumbent on the rack and hit the road.  If I'm leaving on a Friday afternoon I like to arrive with at least an hour of daylight left to set up camp and maybe cook a late dinner.  What should have been an easy two hour drive stretched to three when I spent an agonizing whole hour just getting through the Columbus, Ohio area.  A combination of rush hour and construction bottle necks had the flow stop and go for miles.  Instances like these remind me why I really don't care for big cities.

Eventually I did make it to the park as night was falling and my heightened state of irritability was ratcheted up a yet few more notches when I pulled up to my reserved campsite and found a couple already set up enjoying the evening by the campfire.  I couldn't believe it!  I parked my car and double checked that I was indeed looking at the correct site.  Putting on my happy mask I approached the couple and showed them my reservation and informed them that they were set up on my site.  I dislike confrontation and I always try to go out of my way to be a gentleman in cases like these.  They were apologetic and made an offer to quickly move but I asked them to sit tight and I would go back to the front gate and see if there was any other sites open.  An excuse was made that the little post at the front of the campsite had no "Reserved" note clipped to it.  If that was the case then the park operation screwed things up.  Explaining the situation at the check in desk the clerks apologized for the mix up and said they would have them removed from my site right away.  I told them that if they had another site still open I'd be happy to take a substitute.  I just needed a place to put down my tent. 

Lucky for everybody there was an open spot around the corner and finally I could set up my camp.  At least I had a partial moon shining down to make it a little better than operating in pitch blackness.  If I'm travelling solo I have a small dome tent that I've owned for twenty years.  I've set it up and taken it down so many times over the years that I can practically do it in the dark.  

By this time I was tired; my nerves frazzled by the long drive and I considered waiting until the next morning to cover the picnic table and unload my stove and cooking gear.  After a second thought I decided to get out my stove and warm a little water for some tea.  Evidently fate wasn't done with me yet and when I went to pump the piston to generate pressure in the Coleman stove's fuel take I found the plunger had no resistance and would build no pressure.  At this point my despair sunk to new lows.  The thought of getting back in the car now was out of the question.  I would have to go out in the morning and find a solution to my problem.  The one draw back with this scenario is that I don't like to do any problem solving until I've had my coffee and now I had no way to even heat some water.  Dejected and beat I went to bed.  Adversity builds character I kept telling myself.

I slept very good my first night which is a rarity waking first light in a much better mood.  Without too much trouble I found a Walmart and got a new piston for the stove for $10.  Now I really can't complain about my stove.  It has served me faithfully for twenty years without a single problem.  And good on Coleman for supporting a great design that's been around for a couple generations. My parents used Coleman stoves as did my grandparents who were campers way back in the day.  I love the fact that I could pick up a part in a local Walmart swap out the worn one and be cooking in just half a minute.  Once I compared the old and new pistons side by side I could see that the little dish shaped rubber gasket on the original stem had simple lost its ability to expand and create seal inside the cylinder.  

After coffee and a big bowl of oatmeal I was feeling ready for some adventure and the stove episode had only cost about an extra hour of the day.  

I like reading accounts of bicycle touring.  It's always been something I've thought seems interesting but I'm just not crazy about about loading down my bike with racks or towing a trailer.  I like the comfort that comes along with car camping so I don't mind integrating the two by setting up near a trail or riding area then biking out a different direction each day of my mini-tour.  For that reason I chose Caesar Creek which is near the small village of Corwin which would be my staging area. 

Little Miami River south of Corwin, Ohio

I rolled out a little later than I had planned but still had plenty of time to cover as much of the southern end of the trail as possible.  The weather was picture perfect early fall; warm and sunny with a light breeze coming from the north east.

The LMST follows the grade of the Little Miami Railroad which was constructed during the years of 1837 to 1845.  The railway linked up the cities of Cincinnati, Xenia and Springfield to the north.  This railroad was one of the most successful and profitable in the U.S. carrying both passengers and freight. The line changed hands several times over the years and passenger service declined in the mid 1900's while freight service carried on until the line's abandonment in 1976.  A hundred and forty years the LMRR operated.  I think it is very cool that these old right of ways are preserved today as recreational paths.  I find it so interesting to cruise along the path and think of all the history and what it must have been like to travel by rail as a passenger or perhaps make a living working on the line.  If it wasn't for bike trails this early American infrastructure would slowly be reclaimed by nature and fade from memory leaving nothing but some old pictures and a few entries in the history books.

The southern leg of the trail hugs closer to the river because the valley is narrower.  The area is remote with lots of trees along both sides of the trail and the river peeking out once in a while along the route.  Below I took this picture of a horse ranch which was one of the few places where the tree cover gave way.  

Road crossings were also much farther apart than the trails I'm used to up in north central Ohio.  It seemed like four or five miles passed by between crossings at some points along the way. 

It's always a little awe inspiring to come across big bridges after traveling through wild areas and seeing nothing but woods and sky for a time.  This steel bridge carries Interstate 71 over the Little Miami Valley.  The steel construction is old and soon to be decommissioned.  The concrete center section is the new part and I'm assuming a second one will be constructed to handle the lanes traveling in the other direction.

Speaking of bridges I expected to see more old railroad iron but I only found two all weekend.  The first I crossed coming into the town of Morrow. 

Morrow is one of those quaint old towns whose main thoroughfare was the railroad.  The buildings are arranged in a crescent shape matching the curve of the railroad.  Now the town's center is a bike trail.  How cool is that?

As I rounded the bend and passed into town I came to Morrow Station.  Of course laid back on my recumbent I noticed a telegraph pole standing proudly beside the station.

Vintage Hemingrays Awesome!

I like the design of this station with its big overhang all around.  Even on a windy and rainy day a dry spot could be found while waiting for the train.

I took a short break here and checked out this old Pennsylvania Rail Road Caboose that was built in 1905.

As I continued south getting closer to Cincinnati I came into more populated areas but in the sheltered and wooded valley next to the river I couldn't tell.  Suddenly the trees gave way to this old industrial complex known as the Peters Cartridge Company.  I took a couple more photos of this unique looking place so I'll revisit in another post.  

Once past the factory it was back into the woods.  The dappled sunlight through the trees was delightful.  I actually got a suntan in October spending the day on the bike.  I love when I'm out on my bike away from the cars on a day like this everything is right with the world.

Here is a smaller yet picturesque arch bridge I thought I wouldn't be able to get a clear shot of through the woods.  Downstream a bit I did find a spot where I could get down to the water's edge for a better vantage point.

After a couple hours I pulled into the town of Loveland.  Here I found trendy shops and eateries along the trail. 

There was some festival going on called "Tastes of Loveland" or some such but I had already picked a spot I wanted to check out when I was researching the route on the computer.

One of the trail websites I was looking on had an advertisement for Paxton's Grill. I figured with this place selling itself right next to the bike trail I wouldn't be out of place walking in with my stretchy bike suit on.  

The place was packed but I scored an empty table by the window and enjoyed a couple brown ales from the tap while I waited on a cheeseburger.  

Yes there was a patty between that bun it was just hidden under that fresh green lettuce.

After a couple beers and the delicious burger and fries I wandered around the town for a while to let the food settle.  I visited the local bike shop where I purchased a new brass bell for my bike.  I also found the Loveland Station which now houses a runners equipment shop.  I stocked up on Cliff Bars and gel packs there.

I originally planned to ride south for around 36 miles to the town of Millford but the day was getting on and after loitering around in Loveland I decided to head back up the trail.  I wanted to have a little daylight left when I got back to camp and turning around in Loveland I'd still end up with a respectable 55.4 miles for the day.

Here's a couple great shots I got on the way back as the shadows were going long. 

The southbound run was a gradual downhill with a slight tailwind so I had to force myself to take it easy.  Riding back up the trail the uphill grade was more pronounced and my average speed dropped off a couple or three mph.

Once back to camp I got a hot shower and lounged around my campsite while I heated some spicy chili on the stove.  After my meal and dusk turned slowly to night I enjoyed a cup of strong Irish tea and listened to my portable short wave radio.  Not long after the content feeling of a full belly and satisfaction that comes only from a day on the bike I could feel the tired coming on.  I turned in for some well earned rest waking only late in the night to sounds of hoot owls and a pack of coyotes passing not too far off.