A Carolina Tale

010

Photo of Reedy River from S. Main Street bridge, downtown Greenville, SC.

In the category of “You Learn Something New Every Day,” I learned some interesting American lore rooted here in my new hometown of Greenville, SC.

PoinsettJust south of Greenville City Hall in front of the old County Court House (now the M. Judson Bookstore) on S. Main Street sits a bronze statue of Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851). Born in Charleston, SC, son of a wealthy physician, Poinsett was a physician, statesman and diplomat.

He was educated in Connecticut and in Europe, where he traveled extensively including Russia and the Middle East and became fluent in several languages. He returned to the U.S. where President James Madison named him ‘special agent’ to Chile and Argentina (1810-1814, 50+ years before the U.S. had ambassadors). He returned home to be elected to the S. Carolina House of Representative (1816-1819). He was elected for two terms to the U.S. House of Representatives (1821-1825).

Poinsett resigned his seat in Congress when President John Quincy Adams named him the first Minister to Mexico (an appointment turned down by Andrew Jackson).

Poinsett’s interest in science led him to discover La Flor de la Noche Buena (the Christmas Eve flower). He brought specimens back to the U.S. where it became know as the Poinsettia.

In addition to further public service as Secretary of War in the Cabinet of President Andrew Jackson, Poinsett also was a cofounder of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science and the Useful Arts, a group of politicians advocating for the use of the “Smithson bequest” for a national museum that would showcase the most significant items from American history, which eventually became known as the Smithsonian Institution.

Note: A block further south on Main Street leads to a bronze statue of Charles H. Townes , (1915-2015) who was born in Greenville, SC. Widely recognized for his work as an inventor and a physicist, in 1964 Townes was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics with Nikolay Basov and Aleksandr Prokhorov for contributions to fundamental work in quantum electronics leading to the development of the maser and laser.

The Day Mt. St. Helens Blew

Our view of Mt. Rainier from Chinook Pass Photo credit:  Wikimedia.org

Our view of Mt. Rainier from Chinook Pass
Photo credit: Wikimedia.org

Note: Inspired by memories of my younger days, this story is the second in a series looking back on my experiences growing up in Seattle.

It was May 18, 1980. I was standing on a snow-covered ridge south of Chinook Pass on a bright, sunny day with Mt. Rainier towering over the western skyline. Above us to the east stood Naches Peak, a 6,000 foot peak overlooking our snow camp. I was encamped with nine teenagers and one other adult – my friend Scott.

Scott and I were leaders of an Explorer Post in Seattle with nine teenagers including three girls. These were kids I had backpacked with a number of times. I had led backpack trips over previous summers with each of them as members of the group. They were all great kids, and like me, they loved the mountains. Now they were sixteen and old enough for their parents to entrust them to my care to teach them mountaineering.

Our practice slope for self-arrest practice near Naches Peak Photo credit:  EasyTrails.com

Our practice slope for self-arrest practice near Naches Peak
Photo credit: EasyTrails.com

Our snow camping and ice axe training was the final field trip before our planned graduation climb of Mt. Rainier. We had hiked in from Cayuse Pass the day before, and we were busy kicking steps in the steep snow after breakfast. Scott and I were supervising ice axe practice from our vantage point on the ridge above our campsite. I looked west to take in the fantastic view, and that is when I saw what appeared to be a massive storm cloud, and it was clearly moving in our direction. I even thought I saw a bolt of lightning. That was strange.

Ash cloud of Mt. St. Helens soon after the May 18, 1980 eruption. Photo credit:  Joan Magin

Ash cloud of Mt. St. Helens soon after the May 18, 1980 eruption.
Photo credit: Joan Magin

It was a sunny day and the weather report had been favorable. I looked at my altimeter which would indicate an increase in elevation with any drop in barometric pressure. It showed no change from the day before. This was too weird. Nothing in my experience would account for a sudden weather change without a corresponding change in air pressure. All I knew was what I could see, and that was a colossal storm headed directly for us.

In my experience, when something is happening that you do not understand, do something now and ask questions later. I yelled out to the group, ‘That’s it, we are done! Coil your ropes. Pack up. We are leaving NOW!’ These kids could hike! We boogied down the mountain and within an hour we were back at the parking lot. It was about 10:00 a.m. as we headed down the highway. Droplets began striking our windshield, but there was no water. These drops just blew off our windshield. I soon realized those droplets were volcanic ash when, thirty miles down the road, we finally had radio reception. That was when we first heard that Mt. St. Helens had erupted at 7:32 a.m. that morning. I breathed a quiet sigh of relief when I realized we had averted a major disaster.

Ash cloud looking north Photo credit: USGS

Ash cloud looking north obliterating Mt. Rainier in the background
Photo credit: USGS

By the time we arrived back in Seattle, the ash cloud from the eruption had turned day into night in the City of Yakima, and our camp had been directly in its path. I have no idea what happened to the day hikers who were out there when the ash started to fall. I only know how relieved the parents of my young climbers were when we called them from my house in Seattle to say we were all safely back in town.

A few weeks later, six of my young scouts reached the summit of Mt. Rainier. My reward was the satisfaction of seeing the elation on their faces. It was the 16th anniversary of my first climb of Mt. Rainier, and these kids achieved the same goal – reaching the summit of Mt. Rainier as a teenager. I could not have been happier for them.

I eventually lost track of these young people as they got on with their busy lives. Although we did not climb together again as a group, we will always have the experience we shared that day, the day Mt. St. Helens blew her top.

Seafair Memories from a Seattle Old Timer

Unlimited hydroplanes racing down the backstretch on Lake Washington. Photo credit: U-37.com

Unlimited hydroplanes racing down the backstretch on Lake Washington.
Photo credit: U-37.com

Note: In July, we will be returning to the United States to begin a new chapter in our travel lives.  With this blog, Applecore, I will continue to write about our travel adventures.  However, our lifestyle as The 6 Monthers is nearing its conclusion.  As our time in Spain comes to an end, I have begun contemplating our next destination – the return to my home state of Washington.  Inspired by memories of my younger days, this story is the first in a series looking back on my experiences growing up in Seattle.

Much of this story will be news to newcomers to the Seattle area, those who came within the last 40 years.  It was a time before Seattle had the NFL Seahawks, the Major League Mariners, or an NBA franchise like the now defunct Supersonics (now known grudgingly as the Oklahoma City Thunder).  We had the AAA baseball Seattle Rainiers who played at Sicks Stadium, located on Rainier Avenue where a Pepsi Cola warehouse now sits.  We also had the Western Hockey League Seattle Totems who played at the Civic Ice Arena, now known as the Seattle Center Arena.  However, these were minor diversions for sports fans.  There was only one sport that owned Seattle during my youth in the 50’s and 60’s – unlimited hydroplane racing.

Hometown favorite, Miss Bardahl won the National Championship in 1967 and '68.

Hometown favorite, Miss Bardahl won the National Championship in 1967 and ’68.
Photo credit: Seattletimes.com

In 1947, a national racing circuit was established for unlimited hydroplanes.  They were powered by V-12 Allison aircraft engines surplused after WWII.  The Allison’s were gradually replaced with V-12 Rolls-Royce Merlin aircraft engines, the ones that powered the British Spitfire fighter planes.  Generating over 1,000 horsepower, these extremely loud aircraft engines were what led to nicknaming the hydros as ‘Thunderboats.’  Even where I lived south of the city near Burien, I could hear the Thunderboats from my home five miles from the Lake Washington racecourse.

Why was unlimited hydroplane racing so big in Seattle?  Other than no big-time sports in the city, the lakefront along Lake Washington was, and still is, public park land.  It was an ideal setting for a daylong summer outing for the whole family.  The fans, who enjoyed swimming and picnicking between racing heats, turned out by the hundreds of thousands.  There was also a floating log boom installed along the backstretch of the racecourse.  To this day motorboat enthusiasts moor side-by-side to form a mile long flotilla of partying race fans.  Annual attendance estimates in the 50’s were around 400,000 people for the hydroplane races – almost half the population of the Seattle Metropolitan Area at the time.

The U.S. Navy is popular in the Puget Sound region, and their Blue Angels are a Seafair fixture on race day.

The U.S. Navy is popular in the Puget Sound region, and their Blue Angels are a Seafair fixture on race day.
Photo credit: Seattlepi.com

One great legend from this era was that of test pilot, Alvin ‘Tex’ Johnson.  Originally from Arkansas, he acquired the nickname ‘Tex’ from his penchant for wearing a Stetson and cowboy boots on the flight line.  He came to Boeing from Bell Aircraft, where he piloted, among other prototype aircraft, the rocket-propelled X-1, which pioneered the breaking of the sound barrier.  At Boeing, Johnson, the first pilot to fly the B-52 Stratofortress, sealed his legend when he flew the prototype Boeing 707 over the Lake Washington hydroplane racecourse on race day and performed a barrel role directly overhead of thousands of awestruck onlookers.  This risky maneuver, never before attempted in a four engine passenger jet, was captured on film.  (Click here for the brief video.)  The story goes that Tex was called before then Boeing President, Bill Allen, and asked what the heck he thought he was doing, to which Tex replied, ‘I’m selling airplanes.’  And that is exactly what he did.  Orders for the 707 came pouring in after his stunt, and Johnson was never fired, suspended or fined.

Other legends arose from the early hydroplane days.  Col. Russ Schleeh, who left his career as a test pilot to drive the old Shanty I hydroplane, is still the only hydroplane driver ever to get his photo on the cover of Sports Illustrated (September, 1957).  Old time race fans will remember the 1950 Slo-Mo-Shun IV driven by Stanley Sayres that set a world water speed record of 160 mph breaking the 11 year old record by almost 20 mph.  Two years later the same boat set a new record at 178 mph.

On race days the ‘Slo-Mo’ used to stop traffic on the Lake Washington Floating Bridge as it left its owner’s private dock near Leschi Park, a mile north of the racecourse.  It would race under the west high rise of the bridge and time its approach to the starting line going 160 mph as the starting gun sounded.  The running start was halted when the rules were changed requiring all boats to start from and return to the pits.

Unlimited hydroplane racing is inherently dangerous.  Even the modern aerodynamic boats can get airborne at high speeds.  Photo credit: Seattletimes.com

Unlimited hydroplane racing is inherently dangerous. Even the modern aerodynamic boats can get airborne at high speeds.
Photo credit: Seattletimes.com

Other early hydroplane drivers were household names in Seattle:  Mira Slovak – The Flying Czech (who escaped Communist Czechoslovakia as an airline pilot who diverted his commercial flight to Luxemburg), Dean Chenowith, Ron Musson and Bill Muncey.  Slovak was the only one of these drivers not killed in competition before safer boat designs were instituted.

My most vivid memory of the hydroplane races was standing on the shore of Lake Washington in 1969 as six Thunderboats came across the starting line.  They came roaring straight toward me side-by-side at 150 mph as I stood waist deep along the shore near the first turn.  Imagine seventy-two un-muffled combustion chambers exploding with aviation fuel as the boats spit out roostertail wakes fifty feet high.  The sound was so loud that it pulsed through my bones like a hundred sub-woofers cranked to the max at a KISS concert.  I have never experienced such total immersion in sensory overload as I did at that moment.

Beginning in 1980, unlimited hydroplanes began using Lycoming T-55 turbine engines.  Initially built to power Chinook helicopters, these engines produced over 3,000 horsepower.  The safer design of updated hydroplanes incorporate space age components, advanced aerodynamics, and enclosed cockpits.  As fast and powerful as these boats are, now easily reach speeds in excess of 200 mph, their high-pitched turbines can never replace the excitement and sensation of the classic Thunderboats.

Seattle’s annual Seafair celebration still culminates with unlimited hydroplane races on Lake Washington, and the races are still a great extravaganza.  Every year over a quarter million people line the course to watch the races.  However, with so many sports options available, hydroplane racing in Seattle will never regain the unique excitement once provided by the Thunderboats whose tradition is kept alive only when there is a demo race of the classic hydroplanes.  What remains of the Thunderboats are museum pieces which can be viewed at the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum in Kent, Washington.

 

The Legends:  U-4   Miss Burien, Chuck Hickling U-40 Miss Bardahl, Norm Evans (later drivers: Miro Slovak, Jackie Regas and Ron Musson) U-60 Miss Thriftway, Bill Muncey – winningest driver in unlimited hydro racing history (62 victories)  U-6   Oh Boy! Oberto, Buddy Byers (later, Jim McCormick) U-77 Miss Wahoo, Mira Slovak

The Legends: U-4 Miss Burien, Chuck Hickling
U-40 Miss Bardahl, Norm Evans (later drivers: Billy Schumacher, Mira Slovak, Jackie Regas and Ron Musson)
U-60 Miss Thriftway, Bill Muncey – winningest driver in unlimited hydro racing history (62 victories)
U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto, Buddy Byers (later, Jim McCormick)
U-77 Miss Wahoo, Mira Slovak
Photo credit: waterfollies.com

Note:  For more reading about the Thunderboats, click here for another story I ran across by another Seattle old-timer with his own take on the classic hydroplanes.

Dunfermline, Scotland – Birthplace of Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie statue in Pittencrieff Park Photo credit: wikicommons.org

Andrew Carnegie statue erected in 1914 in Pittencrieff Park, Dunfermline
Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org

While visiting Dunfermline we discovered the Andrew Carnegie Museum which was built around the humble cottage where Carnegie was born. The story of his youth makes his rise to become the richest man in the world* all the more intriguing.

The Carnegie's occupied the top floor, left half of this cottage.

The Carnegie’s shared the top floor of this cottage with another family.

In addition to telling the life story of Andrew Carnegie, the museum preserved the humble one room loft apartment where he was born and where his family cooked, ate and slept. Another family occupied the room across the hall. The first floor space was taken up by hand looms. Andrew’s mother, Margaret Carnegie, worked to hand weave towels and linens. Once textile factories mechanized the weaving process, the Carnegies fell on hard times.

Andrew Carnegie was born in this room, beds on the right, dining table to the left.

Andrew Carnegie was born in this room, beds on the right, dining table to the left, no kitchen, no bathroom. Cooking was done at the fireplace.

Against the wishes of Andrew’s father, Margaret decided they should emigrate to Allegheny County, Pennsylvania where she had a sister. Andrew was 12 years old when they made the journey. Although education was not mandatory, Andrew had voluntarily attended school starting at the age of 8 and learned the basics. He put his sharp mind to use on his first job at age 15. He earned $1.20/week as a telegraph operator where he became invaluable by being able to translate Morse code messages by ear without having to write down the words.

Two of these hand looms occupied the cottage's first floor.

Two of these hand looms occupied the cottage’s first floor.

Carnegie was hired as a personal secretary at $4.00/week at the age of 18 by Thomas A. Scott, owner of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, one of the largest railroads in the country. Carnegie quickly rose to the role of superintendent of the Pittsburgh office. Carnegie’s relationship with Scott made possible an investment in Adams Express, which carried messages to corporate offices as they came in by telegraph. Margaret had to mortgage their house for $500 against its $700 value to make the payment. The investment paid off. Adams Express later grew to become American Express with Carnegie getting in on the ground floor.

The Carnegie steel mill at Homestead, PA, 1905 Photo credit: documentarist.com

The Carnegie steel mill at Homestead, PA, 1905
Photo credit: documentarist.com

The outbreak of the American Civil War called for rapid, large scale expansion of the railroads. Carnegie did not invest in railroads. He invested in the companies who supplied railcars, locomotives and parts to the railroads. Carnegie used money from his investments to open a steel plant using state-of-the-art technology to sell rails to the railroads. He also invested in iron mines, shipping and refineries. Eventually, Carnegie’s expanding steel empire threatened the future of other steel producers because he now owned the entire supply chain as well as the finished goods.

The library at Homestead, PA included a swimming pool, a 1,000 seat theater and a bowling alley as free facilities for employees.  Photo credit: Explorepahistory.com

The library at Homestead, PA includes a swimming pool, a 1,000 seat theater and a bowling alley free for employees.
Photo credit: Explorepahistory.com

In order to stop him from overtaking the industry, the steel producers needed an investor who had the funds to buy him out. John Pierpont Morgan envisioned an integrated steel industry with efficiencies based on consolidation and minimizing waste. In 1901, Carnegie was 66 years old and ready to retire, so he accepted the largest corporate buyout in history.  J.P. Morgan paid Carnegie $480 million ($13.2 billion today) and U. S. Steel was born. Carnegie spent the next twenty years of his life funding public works including the building of over 2,800 public libraries. He endowed the Universities of Scotland with $10 million including scholarships for boys who could otherwise not afford a university education. The Carnegie Trust continues to endow numerous universities.

The World Court at The Hague, The Netherlands Photo credit: muntr.org

The World Court at The Hague, The Netherlands
Photo credit: muntr.org

As a pacifist, Carnegie had the Peace Palace built at The Hague in The Netherlands, which today houses the International Court of Justice (The World Court), and is still managed by the Carnegie Trust. The Trust also supported the Children’s Television Workshop. The Carnegie Museum displays Bert and Ernie puppets to commemorate the Trust’s support for the production of Sesame Street, now in its 44th year and broadcast in 140 countries.

Growing up in Dunfermline, Carnegie was excluded from entering the nearby private Pittencrieff Estate. In 1902, Carnegie purchased the 76 acre estate and gifted it to the people of Dunfermline. Today, as we depart Dunfermline, we pass Pittencrieff Park where now stands a statue of Andrew Carnegie, a self-made business mogul and philanthropist, a famous American and a favorite son of Scotland.

*Note: Using CPI cost-of-living statistics, Carnegie’s net worth would have been $13 billion today. Using GDP figures to determine the costs of goods and services at the turn of the century, Carnegie’s purchasing power would be comparable to $165 billion today.

Expat Scotland