Arcing to Arcturus

On July 13, 1977, at 8:37 p.m., a lightning strike at the Buchanan South electrical substation on New York’s Hudson River tripped two circuit breakers.  At the time, Buchanan South was meant to be converting 345,000 volts of electricity from the Indian Point nuclear plant to lower voltage, but a loose locking nut, combined with a faulty upgrade cycle, meant that the breaker wasn’t able to reclose and allow power to resume flowing.

When a second lightning strike caused two more 345,000 volt transmission lines to fail, only one reclosed properly, resulting in a loss of power from Indian Point and the over-loading of two more major transmission lines.  Con Edison tried to initiate fast-start generation at 8:45 p.m., but no one was overseeing the station, and the remote start failed. (more…)

A Ghost of Texas Past

The site of James Briton Bailey’s land grant, known today as Bailey’s Prairie. (Click for larger image)

Twelve years after “Brit” Bailey succumbed to cholera on the hot, humid coastal plain of Stephen F. Austin’s colony, events had taken a turn. Texas had become a Republic, and word of the opportunities to be had there was spreading, particularly among the Germans.

In November 1845, German scientist Ferdinand von Roemer debarked in Galveston. Sent to Texas by the Berlin Academy of Sciences, he had been charged with the task of evaluating mineral assets on the Fisher-Miller land grant west of San Antonio. In the process of meeting his obligation, Roemer not only established himself as the father of Texas geology, through his association with John Meusebach he became an important player in the opening of the Fisher-Miller grant to settlement.
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When The Book Becomes The Story

It began, as life’s best days often do, with little thought and almost no planning. Eager only to escape the city and enjoy the long-awaited Texas spring, a friend and I prepared the simplest of picnic lunches, then headed south and west, into Brazoria County, to see what we could see.

As it happened, there were delights aplenty. We discovered Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) filling the ditches with color.
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The Hauntings of History

Born to a land his great-grandparents settled in the 1870s, Ken McClintock is bound by blood and affection to Council Grove, Kansas. Shaped by the town’s history, perhaps even obsessed by it, he and his wife Shirley have reshaped a piece of that history into a treasure for us all.

The story of their accomplishment begins long before McClintock’s birth — long even before the births of his parents and grandparents — and stretches back to the time when Abraham and Mary Rowlinson, immigrants from England, built a home in Council Grove.  They began construction in 1860, when Kansas still was a territory. By the time Kansas had been admitted to the Union in 1861, the house was complete.

Seen from the road, its native limestone walls were sturdy and attractive. Inside, light filtered through windows dressed as beautifully as any in Kansas City. In certain seasons, the walnut staircases and trim were warmed by the setting sun, and entire rooms became infused with the same shimmering, golden light that colored the surrounding prairie. (more…)

Reclaiming the Freedom to Sing

Because it was a school night, my tenth birthday celebration necessarily remained a small affair, confined to our family’s dinner table.

It was October 23, 1956. As I blew out the candles on my cake, whatever sweet, mid-western wishes I made had little in common with the wishes of children a world away, children who, with their own parents, were marking a different sort of occasion —  an uprising that later would be known as the Hungarian Revolution.

On the 24th of October, or perhaps the 25th, I passed through the dining room on my way to breakfast and noticed the Des Moines Register lying where my cake had been. A photograph filled the space above the fold, and a bold caption: “REVOLUTION IN HUNGARY.”

At the time, there was no 24-hour news cycle. There was no CNN, no internet, no Facebook or Twitter. There was only a newspaper, motionless and mute, waiting while my father readied for work and my mother drank coffee in the kitchen.

I stood at the table, transfixed by the photograph. Eventually, my air of concentrated astonishment caught my dad’s attention. Stopping behind me, he asked, “What’s happening?”  I pointed to the photograph. He picked up the front page, scanned it, then brought it to the kitchen. He showed it to my mother, then handed it to me.  “Maybe you should take the newspaper to school,” he said. And so I did. (more…)

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