Tuesday, August 26, 2014

One-Room School House -- Cranberry Twp.

Today was my son's first day back to school after the summer vacation.  He's in the eighth grade this year and had he been born 120 years ago he might have gone to a school that looks like this.  Fortunately his school building is a bit bigger than this one.

I discovered this wood sided schoolhouse in the northern corner of Crawford County earlier this year on a recumbent ride.  The well cared for structure sits close by the road and is near a farm.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

HP Velotechnik Upgrades

The great Eddy Merckx once said "Don't buy upgrades! - Ride up grades!"

Indeed wise words from one of the best bicycle racers the world has ever seen.  If the goal is to go faster on a bike that is some good advice to follow.  Because I'm not a bike racer at all my aspirations are a bit different.  One of my goals;  the one that brought me to recumbent bikes in the first place, is comfort.  In this post I'd like will write about a couple recent upgrades I've made to my recumbent in pursuit of rider comfort that I have found worthwhile.

My bike came stock with a 52 tooth chainring on the triple crank for a high gear.  I've ridden the bike over 3,500 miles with that big ring and have long since come to the conclusion that the bike is over-geared for me.  I'm not a powerful rider.  My strength lies in long steady endurance.  For the first hour of a ride while I'm fresh I could turn the 52 tooth gear utilizing most of the cogs on the cassette in the back.  As the miles add up and fatigue set in I found on longer rides I was shifting to the bigger cogs if not shifting down to the middle ring in front to make pedaling easier.

At the Harris Cyclery website I found just what I was looking for;  This fine 48 tooth chainring made by French component maker Specialites TA. The ring is exquisitely machined in the classic style and bolted up perfectly to my 130mm bolt center crank.  I long ago shifted to a 50 tooth ring on my road bike and found that gear better suited to my riding but for the recumbent I decided to go a couple teeth smaller still to a 48 tooth trekking size ring and now I find I use a much greater range of the cog set.  Multiple hours of riding and I'm still turning the 48 comfortably.

Riding up grades is easier too!
 A second upgrade for the summer that I can't believe I waited so long to do is this HP Velotechnik adjustable headrest.  

I ordered the rest from the Hostel Shoppe were I originally purchased my bike.  This component also easily bolted up to the Body Link seat back to existing threaded sockets.  

A slotted carbon fiber strut allows the height of the rest to be set and an alloy top piece can adjusted to various angles to dial in perfect fit.

On the first test rides my 13 year old son came along.  He has developed into a pretty good rider himself and I am proud of him.

Local Loop
Ride Time:  58:24
Distance:  11.79 miles
Average Speed:  12 mph

Kokosing Gap Trail
Ride Time:  2:12:23
Distance:  26.77 miles
Average Speed:  12.1 mph

On these rides I let my son set the pace.  I was impressed with his steady cadence.  Gone are days of his inexperienced speed up-slow down riding style.  On the 13 mile return trip back up the Kokosing trail he actually raised our average speed by 1 mph! 

Over the last week I've put in some more miles fine tuning things for maximum comfort and efficiency on the bent.  One thing that didn't occur to me right away was to recline the adjustable seat back to capitalize on a more aerodynamic position.  When I first got the bike I tried reclining the back all the way but found that with out a head rest the position was just too laid back to be comfortable.  Ever since I simply left the seat adjusted to its most upright position which struck a good balance in comfort. 

Now with the head rest installed I can lower the seat way back and take all the stress off my neck muscles which used to have to hold my head up.  I rotated my handle bars back just a touch to make up for the recline and now I notice I seem to slice even better through headwinds.  Before using the head rest I thought rough road surfaces and bumps would transmit annoying vibrations up through the rest but that's not the case at all. The foam cushion does a great job and I only have to pick my head up for the biggest surface irregularities. 

B & O Trail
Ride Time:  2:21
Distance:  37.3 miles
Average Speed:  15.8 mph

Quarry Loop
Ride Time:  3:27:10
Distance:  50.29 miles
Average Speed:  14.5 mph

So while I have increased the comfort level of my bike substantially I'm also surprised that I may have made it touch faster as well.  Checking back through my records this recent ride of the Quarry Loop was the fastest yet on the recumbent.  The only time I've bested this time was in 2007 when I rode the Lemond road bike on the loop at an average speed of 16.32 mph finishing the 50 miles in 3:10.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Insulators In The Wild

Today I was out for a ride aboard my recumbent bike.  As I was cruising along the right of way of what was once a spur route of the Baltimore & Ohio railroad the glint of blue glass laying in this freshly worked field caught my eye.  I took a mental note of the location and continued on my with my ride.  I figured I would investigate on the way back.  Out in the middle of nowhere and only feet from the railroad bed the glass was most certainly a piece of an old insulator.

Sure enough on my way back I stopped and picked up the sky blue shard which was a piece of an old insulator.  In the photograph you can see a discoloration of the soil adjacent to the bike path.  This is caused by coal dust and cinders deposited by steam locomotives as they worked up and down the corridor long ago.  As I walked back toward the field edge where I had left my bike I forgot the shard in an instant as my gaze came to rest on an unmistakable shape resting in the dirt at the edge of the field.

Unfortunately when I pulled the object from the dirt I found that the insulator was cracked in half longitudinally.  In any case for me it was a stunning find.  Usually when insulators break they fracture in the middle along the wire groove creating a profile much harder to identify.

Clearly visible on the crown are the letters ATENT and below that 19 . 1871.

I wrapped the piece up carefully and stowed it in my pack and finished up my ride.  When I got home I thumbed through my insulator collector guide looking for the bullet shaped insulator.  Soon I located the familiar shape and positively identified my find as a CD 132.

The embossing on the crown of the insulator had it been complete would say Patent / Dec. 19. 1871.  This was a U.S. Patent issued to Robert Hemingray of Covington, Kentucky for a glass insulator molding technique he developed.  This insulator I found today is an example of one of Hemingray's earliest productions before the glass plant was moved from the banks of the Ohio to Muncie, Indiana in 1888.

While I would have been completely happy with my ride and the beautiful weather outside today finding this little jewel capped off my day perfectly.

Additional documentation at Hemingray.info

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Sunlite Handlebar Basket Update

Late last year I was looking for a way to more conveniently carry things while on my commuter bike.  I found what I thought was a great bargain; the Sunlite Handlebar Basket. Since I wrote that post eight months ago a few readers have inquired about how the basket was holding up.  I was going to wait until the one year point to evaluate the long term durability of the product but since another commenter recently asked I thought I would go ahead and address it today.

I'm pleased to report come hell or high water the Sunlite Handlebar Basket has served me well.  The powder coat paint is still glossy and black with no cracks or peeling.  Welds are all solid and the basket has retained its shape.  Now after many months of use I would not hesitate to recommend this carrier.

For average daily use the usual cargo is my lunchbox and my jacket and gloves if it warms up later in the day.  Occasional trips to the grocery to pick up items for the day's meal or a six pack is another area where the basket shines.  I am always curious and looking for other odd things I might be able to portage while leaving the auto back at home in the driveway.  Earlier this spring when it came time to start mowing the grass I hopped on my bike and peddled down to the gas station to fill my can.

One concern that was brought up on numerous online reviews and even here on my blog was damage to the head tube area where the lower bracket makes contact with the bicycle.  On my bike I have never pulled the black nylon hook and loop strap off to look underneath so I did this morning on the way to work.

A little marring is visible on the surface of the titanium head tube where the bracket slides as the bike's steering is actuated.  Too me this is no big deal and is no different than the wear spot visible just above where the cable jacket rubs against the frame.

Of course the consideration for someone thinking of using a basket like this is how much damage are you willing to accept.  My situation is perfect because my frame has no paint to wear off exposing the metal underneath to potential corrosion.  Even so on a painted frame the rotating motion of the nylon strap would simply polish the metal once it did wear through a paint layer.  Bicycle head tubes are made from pretty stout tubing so I would guess it would take several centuries of use for wear to cause any real detriment other than cosmetic.

Some bikes have thick three dimensional head tube badges that may or may not fall right in line with the bracket strap.  If so I would think the uneven surface of the badge would more quickly wear through the nylon material of the strap allowing the steel rod of the bracket to do greater damage to the bike.  A head tube decal on the other hand would allow the nylon strap to turn easier and wear much slower but the decal would certainly become scuffed and unattractive in a short time. 

Another problem that may be a deal breaker as we recently discovered when the RoadQueen picked up a Sunlite basket for her hybrid bike is the bulging 31.8 mm center clamp section of her handlebars.  It is this thicker area where the two upper hooks of the basket's mounting bracket hang.  The basket's intended market is on commuter and cruiser style bikes.  Handlebar diameter of these types of bikes generally have ranged between 22 and 26 millimeters.  The rubber covered hooks of the bracket grip this thickness range securely but are too tight a radius to work with the new standard on sportier bikes.  We worked around the issue by clamping the hook in a wooden furniture clamp and bending the hook open enough to slip over the 31.8 bars on her bike.  It's not perfect and the bracket isn't quite as solid as on my older style mountain bike bar but it still works ok for her.   

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Ohio State Reformatory

Ohio Historical Marker

Designed by architect Levi T. Scofield, The Ohio State Reformatory opened its doors in 1896 as a facility to rehabilitate young male offenders through hard work and education. A self-sufficient institution with its own power plant and working farm, the reformatory produced goods in its workshops for other state institutions and provided opportunities for inmates to learn trades. As social attitudes towards crime hardened in the mid-twentieth century, it became a maximum security facility. The six tier East Cell Block is the largest known structure of its kind. Considered substandard by the 1970's, The Ohio State Reformatory closed in 1990. It has served since as a setting for several major motion pictures. This Mansfield landmark was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

As I read the words on the plaque along the causeway leading up to the somber sandstone structure I thought back to last time I visited this place.  Every October a local group puts on a Halloween themed "Haunted Prison" show.  It was a blustery, cold and rainy night when a bunch of us took the tour.    

It's just my opinion but I thought the run-of-the-mill cheesy sound effects and obligatory costumed actors jumping out from the shadows to scare actually took away from the inherent creepiness and potential of this place.  I like to think I possess an active and colorful imagination.  Smoky torchlight, some rattling chains and an occasional anguished cry from deep in the bowels of this Gothic prison would have been enough to really get my skin crawling.

During the rest of the year the reformatory is open for tours and that's what brought me back to the grounds again.  A group of the RoadQueen's friends recently wanted to check the place out so we met up one Saturday a few weeks ago.  While we waited for the others to arrive we walked around the outside and took some pictures.  The old building is huge making it difficult to get all but parts into the camera's eye. 

The main structure was spared from demolition years ago when a new facility was built on the grounds to the west and north.  Work is slowly being done mostly by volunteers to restore years of exposure to the outside and preserve the internal decor of the administrative and other sections of the prison.

The formal dining room is the only room fully restored and furnished at this time.  Besides offices the central area contained living quarters for the warden, his family and other important staff.  Quite a stark difference from other residents of this house.

The tour leads on through the various offices and residential spaces.  Peeling paint, dusty woodwork and decorative floor tiles are all that remains.

Fortunately it was sunny that day and the natural light helped to illuminate the interior spaces for my camera.
Notice the beautiful stained glass panels at the top of the windows in this second floor room.

In time the tour route takes visitors from the administrative area through a doorway and into a cage which then opens up into an atrium known as the Gaurd Room.  The Guard Room was the central hub of the reformatory connecting the east and west cell blocks and the administrative section.  It was in this area that prisoners could meet with family once a month. 

Another small doorway through the bars leads to the cell blocks.  Decorative iron work is something I'm sure doesn't appear in any modern prison these days.

At the end of each level is a small room with the locking controls for all the cells on that level.  The roster can still be seen on the wall.

A few of the cells have been restored to what an inmate's home would have looked like during the last decades of the reformatory's operation.

The tour does allow visitors to climb to the top of the six level cell block.  While the bars prevent any chance of a fall the feeling of vertigo is still intense.

The cell blocks are laid out in two rows with the doors opening to the south on one side and the other row opening to the north.  The following shot shows maintenance catwalks extending the length of the block between the two rows of cells to provide access the plumbing and other utilities.

This spiral staircase winds all the way to the top of the cell block.  Closed today for safety reasons it was probably used for quick access by the guards when situations warranted.

At ground level the cells are larger.  Perhaps inmates convicted of lesser offenses or people of higher social standings were housed in these cells.

In a basement level known as "The Hole" are rows of solitary confinement cells. No windows and nothing but a solid rack mounted to the floor.  Bad behavior would land an inmate here where they would spend all but an hour a day.

Not much signage  is left but I did find a couple examples still visible.  Above each cell a number was hand lettered; A marking system of a bygone era for sure.

The showers

Above is the reformatory's chapel where Sunday church services were held for inmates.  A large elevator in the back of the room was used to move prisoners from the cell block area to attend services.  I'm sure that in the day this was a bright and cheerful space.

This area was last used as a library.

Here is an old aerial photo showing the complex as it was in the mid-twentieth century.

Click to enlarge.

As a regular law abiding Joe I don't give much thought to the idea of incarceration but spending a few hours in this collection of cages for men really slams home the reality of life for those who can't or have chosen not to conduct themselves to the standards of society.  It's sad that today we still have to maintain modern versions of this kind of institution. Unfortunately as long as evil sometimes lurks in the hearts of men it will continue to be a necessity of our society. 

Without a doubt one of Ohio's most interesting even if a bit depressing historical sites.

Additional information at the OSR wikipedia entry.