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Recalling San Diego’s Panama-California Exposition

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16 July 1945–Anyone Remember Trinity?

This morning I was bemused to discover what mainstream news considers to be newsworthy.  It is the 70th anniversary of the Trinity detonation: the world’s first atomic bomb.  Rather than spend a moment or two on merely noticing the inauguration of the nuclear age, they spent most of their time on an awards program where a transsexual was given a “courage” trophy, a deeply unpopular treaty with a Middle East theocracy that achieves none of its stated goals, and a few amusing videos of robbers being taken down by civilians.

An age ago, a school friend’s father told of what he saw that morning.  He was in the Special Engineering Division (SED) working at Alamogordo on some diffusion experiments.  The SED was an organization of engineers, technicians, chemists, and other specialists who, plucked out of the military, helped with the more mundane tasks required for the highly technical work while nominally under military discipline.  The dad was a metallurgical chemistry PhD candidate when he was drafted, and soon after he reported he was sent first to Chicago, then to St. Louis, and finally to New Mexico, all the while knowing just enough to do his job, which was mostly metallurgical studies of exotic materials.

Just after midnight on the 16th of July he and several thousand others were bused to a set of grandstands in the desert, where they shivered in the dry cold for hours.  About an hour before dawn, two spotlights pointed straight up into the sky turned on some miles away, and a siren sounded.  They had been issued goggles and were told to put them on as soon as the siren went off.  The lights began to move back and forth, and they had been told to turn away when the siren stopped and the lights crossed.  They did.

After the flash, the roar and the blast, the most common reaction can best be described as “oh wow: we did that?”  A few were positively giddy; most merely excited.  Others were contemplative, wondering if the war would last long enough to be used.  No one was concerned about any future victims.

I will watch with interest and amusement the saturation coverage of the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in a couple of weeks.  It may offer an interesting counterpoint to the attitudes of the people who actually built the bombs at the time.

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On Woodworking, Military History, and Writing.

When I started this blog in January, the hope was to sell books…lots of books.  That effort has been…disappointing, but not entirely fruitless.  However, in the meantime, I have discovered a number of things.

Now the weather has warmed up and my wood shop is moved out of my basement to my garage, I have concentrated weekends on rebuilding what I had abandoned some years ago, when I could no longer feel my hands well enough to be safe around sharp tools or even sandpaper.  Having had that issue resolved in March 2013 and having recovered enough from the surgery required, I can now go back to turning perfectly good lumber into sawdust, splinters, shop fixtures, household trim and small furniture, in that order.

But that leaves very little time (and energy) for writing, though a great deal for research.  I have sold another article to Strategy & Tactics, another to Against the Odds, had some modest book sales for both The Devil’s Own Day and Crop Duster, so I am not entirely disappointed in my personal writing career.  In my day job, while slow at this time, it has to be looking up soon as the price of copper slowly rises again.

I like building things, be they stories of people in wartime or quasi-useful widgets of wood.  I make a living out of words; I lack the skills and endurance to make one out of wood.  Yet, the creative outlet is there, and shall remain there when the weather is warm enough to work in my insulated but unheated garage, which means about mid-April to about mid-November.  Research, however, doesn’t stop.  Reading on average three books at a time (albeit slowly), and concentrating for the moment on non-military subjects, my next work I believe will be a study the battle of Belmont in the American Civil War.

Or not.  I also have to finish my article based on a bunch of WWI artifacts from a fellow named Harley Washburn, who joined the US Army in 1917 and went to France.  There’s also my article on the evolution of the cruiser in the coal-burning age, and another on Confederate Mississippi River ironclads.  Those need to be done.  Then there’s that piece I started ages ago on recovering from cervical vertebrae fusion surgery…but the end to that hasn’t been written yet.  And then there’s that ages-old essay on Pickett’s Mills (an 1864 Civil War battle in Georgia, en route to Atlanta) I really should dust off, and that other piece I started on the development of flame weapons in the 19th century, and that long-promised essay on HP Lovecraft and WWI (he tried to enlist in 1917, but somehow his family put the kibosh on that).

But in the shop I have to improve power tool storage, square off the end of my bench deck, flatten my bench plane sole, cut new headers for the front porch door (which has been waiting for about, well OK, years.  And then I want to plan something useful for my great-grandson’s Christmas present.

Oh, I’ll then take some time and write my blog…