Jun 24

Got a wrench? I’m going to need a wrench.

We were just heading out to the hardware store for an early evening errand — I needed a wrench larger than any wrench I own. I own many wrenches, a lifetime of accumulation will do that for you, but I do not own anything that will open 10-and-a-half inches wide. And, today, we had a reason to need one. So I resigned myself to spending a fortune for a tool I needed to use exactly twice, to take off a piece and, moments later, reinstall it. Then of course, I wouldn’t need to use the wrench again for a good quarter of a century or so.

We were at the end of our driveway and had to yield because our neighbors were returning home. So I walked over to see Joe the Elder as he got out of his truck. He’s got a great big smile, an across-the-street “How ya doing!?” and a positively enthusiastic handshake. Lovely people. He gave me two wrenches to try, and so we did not have to go to the store.

Both worked! And we needed both. And it took the both of us to complete the job. But we did! And, this part is important, it seems we got it right the first time. Nothing was broken, no utterances were uttered, and our cost, after the replacement part, were two stiff backs and a bit of sweat. Standard DIY invoicing.

The replacement part is a device that holds filters. Looks like a cup holder. We can hold four drinks in the thing. The previous one was broken, somehow, which is a mystery because the thing lives in a case that requires a metric wrench, a mallet and then some deliberate intentions to even get to it. We replaced it with a similar piece, but supposedly more sturdy, which is good, because if we have to go through the whole process again — after all of that to open it, we had to remove a threaded piece that was not installed in such a way as to grant easy access, then mallet hammer and pry one piece from the other and so on — I think we just might start over.

I took the wrenches back over and as ever, I am wondering what I can offer these nice people as a gesture of thanks. It’s one of those small-to-you, big-to-me things. This wrench was sitting in their garage, and that one was in his truck, and he wasn’t using them, but it saved me a small fortune, and a trip to one or more stores and the frustration that could go along with it. And they say, don’t ever go buy something, just come over here and get it. They really are quite sweet. We’re very lucky with the neighbors we picked.

When I woke up this morning I wondered if I should go for a swim, or a ride, today. I did both yesterday. And that was easy enough. Doing both two days in a row seems like a tiny challenge. And then I got up, and wondered if I would do either. I felt weary. But that’s no reason to stop, it’s just an excuse to slow down.

This afternoon my lovely bride was heading out for a ride and I invited myself to tag along, get dropped, and see her back at home. I predicted she would leave me behind in one of two places, both of which can best be described as “early in the ride.” And she did, in both places.

Somehow, I caught up to her again, which was great because that allowed me to ride in front of her in the one little tricky part of this route, a three-tenths of a mile stretch with a fork and an awkward merge. I sprinted through there with the only bit of energy I had and she stayed right behind me and that made the next turn easy.

This look right here?

This is the look The Yankee gives you before she rides you right off her wheel.

While I’d done the little lead out and made it off the relatively busier road onto some empty county roads, I could not keep up from here.

I lost sight of her a third of the way into the ride, and slowly diminished for the next hour or so. But this was too be expected. I don’t have a lot of miles in my legs right now, but somehow it feels like I do. Anyway, pleasant ride, even if I got in two seconds later than I’d anticipated from half-an-hour away. My riding buddy had no such problem. She pronounced it a strong ride, and, having spent the whole of the thing watching her disappear into the distance, I’d say she was being gracefully humble.

It’s time once more for We Learn Wednesdays, where we discover the county’s historical markers via bike rides. This is the 38th installment, and the 69th and 70th markers in the We Learn Wednesdays series. These are grouped together because they’re directly related anyway as we continue our exploration of Fort Mott.

In the last few weeks we checked out the old gun batteries and had a quick look at the observation towers that helped them in their work of defending the river and Philadelphia, beyond. Most recently, we took a quick glimpse at the parados and the moat that served as the fort’s rearguard. We also saw the signs for the generator, plotting and switchboard rooms at. (The signs are good, the rooms were empty.) Last week, we saw another empty room, the battery commander’s station.

The park has a map to orient you to the fort’s layout.

The river is on the left side of this drawing. You can see the pier jutting out into the water. Next to that you’ll see the long row of gun placements. You can see the moat, in blue, behind them.

Today, though, we’re starting off between the moat and the gun batteries, up near the top on the map, at Peace Magazine.

There’s no way to photograph the whole sign without the railing, which is, no doubt, period authentic. If you’ll allow me, then, the generous use of the blockquote …

A Special emphasis was placed on keeping the interiors of the defensive magazines under the various batteries dry. According to an excerpt from, “Reports on 5-inch Guns, Fort Dupont and Fort Mott, December, 1900, Operations” which references Battery Gregg …

“…ceilings of the magazines consist of flat arches of 6-inch hollow tile and the vertical walls are covered with 2-inch hollow tile furring and both ceilings and side walls are plastered with a thin layer of Portland mortar 1 – 3. Two hundred thirty-two linear feet of 3-inch vitrified tile were laid underground from emplacement number 6 to a manhole at the entrance of the west emplacement for carrying cables for electric light and power. Outside walls of the battery were roughly plastered and then waterproofed with paraffin paint #3 and coal tar. A 2-inch porous tile drain was placed around the foundations of each emplacement and covered with a layer of broken stone.”

Despite many efforts, condensation of moisture in the emplacements and magazines continued to be a problem that was never adequately solved. On June 11, 1903, the Chief of Engineers authorized an allotment for the construction of a new storage magazine to be detached from the main installation and located behind the parados. Money was also provided for the creation of a tunnel through the parados, and for extending the railroad tracks through the tunnel to the new magazine. The brick building, called the Peace Magazine, was finished in 1904. The structure was slightly more than eighteen feet by fifty-two feet on the inside, with a copper ventilating roof.

I’d like to think that Peace was named after someone who worked on the fort, or in honor of a soldier who served and died elsewhere, like so many of the parts of Fort Mott, but I don’t see any mention of it anywhere.

Here’s another angle of the magazine.

And one more quick view today from Fort Mott. This marker actually addresses what’s across the way.

At this section of the Delaware estuary, the waterway narrows from a broad bay into a river. Considered a strategic location early in the nineteenth century, military officials selected this area for a coastal defense fortification. Fort Delaware was built on Pea Patch Island during the first half of the nineteenth century. However, the advent of steam-powered naval vessels necessitated a more elaborate defensive scheme to adequately protect the upstream ports. Fort DuPont on the Delaware shore and Fort Mott on the New Jersey side were designed and built during the last half of the nineteenth century to reinforce Fort Delaware. The three fort system remained in force until after World War I.

Fort Delaware is visible on Pea Patch Island. Finished in 1859, it also served as a prison for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. Many of the prisoners who died there are buried at Finn’s Point National Cemetery, located adjacent to the north side of Fort Mott.

(The state really should get around to updating some of these markers.)

The three photographs show Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island, the view of Pea Patch Island from Fort Mott, and the last is an aerial view of the three forts that protected this section of the river. (All three were closed down when a more powerful and modern installation opened down river.)

And if you’re looking off into the distance, you can see a bit of Pea Patch island, and the fort that stands there.

You have to take a ferry to get over there. And maybe one day I’ll visit. There’s a lot of history over there, as well. When it was built in 1859, that hazy looking fort over there was a state-of-the-art example of American fixed fortifications. It also served as a POW camp during the Civil War. Almost 13,000 Confederate prisoners could be held there at once.

Back on this side of the river, Fort Mott became a state park in 1951, but it was a self-contained military installation in its day. At it’s busiest, Fort Mott had over 30 buildings, including two barracks that each housed 115 soldiers, commissioned and non-commissioned officer housing, a hospital, post exchange, library, a YMCA, a school for the soldier’s children and more. Most of those buildings were constructed between 1897 and 1905. It closed in 1922, when another, more modern, installation opened downstream.

We have just one or two more markers to visit at Fort Mott, and we’ll do that in our next installment. Until then, if you’ve missed any of those historical marker posts, you can see them all right here.

Jun 24

The long pause Wednesday

Warm today, and cloudy. I watched it all slide away. When I was prepared to go for a bike ride I stepped outside and was impressed by the humidity and that, Nahhh. Could I have made a better use of the time? Sure. Do I feel ambivalent about that? Probably — whatever.

At any rate, I had to return to the closet project. Yesterday I resized six clothes hangar bars. Today I had to resize four more of them again.

That’s what happens when you eyeball things, comfortable with the knowledge that, these things are so adjustable precision doesn’t matter and, they are going to be in a closet, so perfection doesn’t matter and, they’re going to be in the guest bedroom closet, so this will only come to mind a few times per year. So I eyeballed it all yesterday, and I ended up doing a bit more of it again today.

I did not refine my technique. Happily, I did not have to purchase any new equipment. And now the custom-sized closet system is completed.

And, somehow, it may yield us a bit more room for stuff and things.

And, after dinner, it started raining. After a time it started raining hard. And now it is raining so hard it just sounds different.

I’d never heard water roar down a drainage pipe, and now that’s happening just outside the window next to where I am typing. It is, to be sure, a sensation.

It’s time once more for We Learn Wednesdays, where we discover the county’s historical markers via bike rides. This is the 37th installment, and the 67rd and 68th markers in the We Learn Wednesdays series. These are grouped together because they’re directly related anyway as we continue our exploration of Fort Mott.

In the last few weeks we checked out the old gun batteries and had a quick look at the observation towers that helped them in their work of defending the river and Philadelphia, beyond. Most recently, we took a quick glimpse at the parados and the moat that served as the fort’s rearguard. Last time we saw the signs for the generator, plotting and switchboard rooms at. (The signs are good, the rooms were empty.)

As a park, Fort Mott has a map on a sign that will orient you to the space.

The river is on the left side of this drawing. You can see the pier jutting out into the water. (That’ll figure into this in just a moment.) Just above that you’ll see the long row of gun placements. You can see the moat, in blue, behind them.

Today, though, we’re in front of the moat, in one of the most dangerous spots at the fort, the battery commander’s station.

Back then, all of the work of fighting invaders would have started here. The people in this bunker would visually ID and chart the progress of enemy vessels. They’d relay the information they collected, by a simple phone line, to the plotting room. There, soldiers following mathematical formulas created firing solutions that would allow the defenders to put 870-pound rounds downrange, six per minute.

This is in fact a former gun position. One of the batteries, Krayenbuhl, was outmoded as technology improved, and so this went in at the same physical space.

If bad guys ever sailed up the river — looking for Philadelphia beyond — and they were fired upon by Fort Mott, they’d want to target all the observation points in kind. And the guys sitting in here, would be the target.

Remember that pier, in the map above? You can see it through that narrow slat in the command bunker.

Fort Mott became a state park in 1951, but it was a self-contained military installation in its day. They had a small hospital, a PX, a library, school and more. It closed in 1922, when another, more modern, installation opened downstream. But we aren’t done with it yet. There’s still a bit more for us to explore on We Learn Wednesdays. Until then, you can catch up on all of the older posts, right here.

May 24

Every item achieved — though there were only a few

I did that thing this afternoon where you leave the house in order to accomplish a series of goals. I believe this has a name, but it escapes me. Whatever it may be, I bundled up three items together, because they were more-or-less convenient to the route.

First, I drove a short distance to a place that repairs cameras, for I have one in need of repair. You fill out the form and get a standard reply: mail your camera to the address below. Serendipitously, their office was only a half hour away. Cut out the middleman, I say. So I found myself in a nondescript industrial center, you know the type. The map got me close, and a second try got me a bit closer, still. I asked some guys hanging out around their office about the address and they had no idea what I was talking about. This is an area for work, and not personal investment. And most of the work from the many companies leasing space, you imagine, is done off-site. This is a place for morning meetings, day old donuts and misapplied Tony Robbins quotes. And sales reports. You know the sort.

So I dropped off the camera, and then visited a nearby retail store, a giant place named after an object that is used to test accuracy. Granted, it was the middle of a work day, but that place looked and felt dead. Circuit City dead. Open, but unaware of it’s demise. The only thing that wasn’t there was a scent of musty despair. And some items on shelves. And employees. The last three times I’ve been in one of these stores it felt like that, but it could be a question of timing.

I found the thing I wanted, thanks website, but decide it wasn’t what I wanted, so I left.

And then I went to the grocery store. I needed to get some granola and, of course, once I’ve found one I like they seemed to have stopped carrying it. This is the height of first world problems, hilarious in its predictability. There was also a small list of other things we needed, Ketchup, aluminum foil, corn meal and the like. And this probably says as much about our house as possible, grated cheese was on the list twice.

When we consolidated our houses when we married, we had a lot of extra things. Each of us had a house full of stuff, of course, and in some respects we had more than one copy of things. Somehow, our two houses became stocked like three homes. When it came to consolidating refrigerators we had five or six different canisters of the grated cheese. (She brought most of it.) It took ages to use it all, and we still laugh about it. I’m sure that’s why it was on the shopping list at the top and bottom. I only purchased one container, because we don’t need surplus everything.

I got home in time for a bike ride. My lovely bride was off for a ride with a friend and I decided to ride over to the friend’s house with her. I just needed a recovery ride, anyway after several hours in the saddle yesterday.

The science is still up in the air, but the suggestion is that the benefit is minimal, though people do feel better after the effort, which is meant to be short and low-intensity. They are meant to be almost casual, flat. Zone 1 or Zone 2, with a reasonably high cadence. Easy. You’re not stressing yourself.

It should be so, I’ve read, that you wind up feeling almost guilty about how easy you went.

Let me tell you about trying to stay in Zone 1 or Zone 2 when you’re following someone in Zone Infinity over here.

She gets in her aero bars, puts her nose in the wind and will drop you, or me, in a hurry.

Anyway, they went off one way and I doubled back for home. It was a 15-mile recovery ride, one where I found myself sprinting through intersections because it felt good. I blame her for that, somehow.

And so here is one of the views I saw along the way.

Tomorrow, I’ll just go for a swim.

May 24

Do you know what “parados” means?

Rainy again, today, and just barely into the 60s. And at least four or five more days of the same. It has been, on balance, a wonderful way to experience … let me just check the calendar here … May.

At this point it’s just funny, really. I’m not even sure, as I type these letters into the word box, what the ideal weather would be, or if it matters. I don’t have to wear a heavy coat or stay under a blanket or shovel anything, and there’s no dangerous storm bearing down on me, so any manner of weather is fine, I suppose.

We’ve got a sign on the front porch, and it says “Hello, Summer!” It is prepared for the somewhat plausible eventuality.

I went for a bike ride this evening. First one in weeks. First there was work, and then there was grading and then I spent all my time visiting with family. So, it was nice to get outside, and nice to have another restart to riding. (This is the way it always works: stops and starts.)

It was cool at first. Almost chilly, even. And then the rain started. I just rode around a few neighborhoods for an hour to wake up my legs and practice clearing the rain droplets from my glasses.

You don’t always appreciate the small skills in life. There’s an art to taking off your glasses, banging them against your person, shaking them at arm’s reach and then trying to put them back on your face. It’s nothing, really, but you must do it every so often because the things you do while riding a bike aren’t always just like riding a bike.

Here’s the thing. It’s the height of style to make sure the arms of your glasses are worn outside the straps of your helmet. This is easy when you have standard, rigid glasses. Place, then slide. But since it was late and gray and raining, I did not wear my usual glasses, but, instead, I was wearing a pair of clear lenses.

They’re actually safety glasses, just about the cheapest pair you can buy at a box store. I probably wouldn’t wear them when real eye safety was a concern, but I picked them up for working under a kitchen counter. If all you must do is keep rust and things from falling into your eyeballs, they were worth the six bucks. But I’d wear something a bit thicker if things were flying with more speed than gravity or had more heft than crumbs of ruined metal. They are terribly, wonderfully lightweight, which, when the repair job was done, made me think I could use them for bike rides. Sometimes you don’t want dark lenses, but you do want to keep bugs or rain out of your eyes. So clear lenses! And these, again, were cheap. And lightweight!

Also, the arms of the glasses are basically the cheapest, most flexible bits of rubber the 20th century ever devised. And they don’t easily go over the outside of the helmet straps. So, for a time, I was riding and breaking one of the important rules. Yes, it’s in the rules.

Rule 37 // The arms of the eyewear shall always be placed over the helmet straps. No exceptions.
This is for various reasons that may or may not matter; it’s just the way it is.

It doesn’t matter. None of this matters. We do it anyway.

Let us, one last time, return to California. This is my last video from our trip in March. If stretching things out two months seems excessive, it is!

I made this video for our friends’ daughter. She loves all the fish in my SCUBA diving videos, and she asked, specifically, if we found Nemo in the Gulf of Mexico when we were diving off Cozumel and Quintana Roo. I did not find Nemo there. I found Nemo, instead, in central California.


I’m hoping this video will make her smile.

I’ll let you know.

It’s time once more for We Learn Wednesdays, where we discover the county’s historical markers via bike rides. This is the 35th installment, and the 63rd and 64th markers in the We Learn Wednesdays series. I’m grouping them together because there’s not a lot to say about this particular set.

So, we’ll return to our tour of Fort Mott, where we have recently we saw the old gun batteries and then the observation towers that helped them in their work of defending the river and Philadelphia, beyond.

In its day, Fort Mott was a self-contained military community featuring more than 30 buildings here, including a hospital, a PX, a library, a school and more.

Here’s a not-bad map that’ll give you some idea of the layout. The river is on the left side of this drawing. You can see the pier jutting out into the water. Just above that you’ll see the long row of gun placements. Let’s look behind them. Note the blue bit in the map.

That’s the moat. The engineers had the idea that while the big weapons were defending against vessels sailing up the river, they needed to protect themselves from anyone sneaking up behind them.

On one side of the fort is the river. Since it sits, essentially, at a point on the shoreline, the river also shields another side. Still a third side looks protected by thick wooded terrain and narrow creeks. That one direction opposite the moat is about the only approach an enemy would have, though it is difficult to imagine how anyone could get there to begin with. So we need a moat, and a parados.

The workers dug, by hand, 200,000 tons of sand, soil, and rock. Apparently $1.25 in 1897 is worth less than 48 bucks in 2024 money.

That doesn’t strike me as a lot for moving 10,000 pounds of earth a day.

The parados (Spanish for rear door) is the earthen hill adjacent to the gun battery. It serve as a shield against gunfire from the rear. Construction of the moat and parados at Fort Mott began in 1897 and took over two years to complete.

The earth used to build the parados came from digging the moat; 44,500 cubic yards of earth, over 200,000 tons, was moved with grapples, wheelbarrows, and shovels. The work was grueling. Each man was expected to move nearly five tons of earth daily for a wage of $1.25.

The moat was constructed by hand using shovels and wheelbarrows. Mules were used to help move soil and shape the parados.

The parados originally reflected the “mirror image” of the moat. This feature provided a substantial obstacle to help thwart the advance of an enemy force attempting to capture the main gate line, as well as protect the gun crews from enemy artillery fire.

Here are some of the still standing and preserved barracks the soldiers lived in, just behind the gun emplacements.

I’m pretty sure this window unit was standard gear at the beginning of the 20th century.

An important part of their creature comforts …

Two latrines were built within the parados for soldiers assigned to the gun batteries. The bathrooms each had several toilets for enlisted men, a private stall for officers and a large cast-iron urinal.

Toilets were similar to our modern flush toilets, except that the plumbing took the waste directly to the moat and not to a septic system. Since the moat was tidal and controlled by a sluice gate, the sewage was flushed out into the Delaware River with each tidal change. In addition to the practical necessity of the latrines, this system also served as part of an overall defense strategy: any enemy who tried to cross the moat first had to get through the sewage.

First … eww.

Second … also ewwww.

Thirdly, what if this one engineering choice prevented any invasion plans anyone was considering in the early 20th century. Suppose some Spaniards or Canadians came down, saw that and realized they couldn’t get their men to sneak through a stinky sewer moat to capture a fort so their ships could sail up the river.

Also, the insects out there are pretty intense, too. Not only would you have to wade through that moat, you’d have all sorts of insect bites.

Finally, the state put these signs in. The state needs to update them.

Made obsolete when nearby Fort Saulsbury opened just after World War I. The last soldiers were removed in 1922, the fort became a state park in 1951.

If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

More tomorrow. Another bike ride! And maybe some other things, too!

May 24

Get the sand between your toes

After a morning at the house we set out for other locales. Because we have company, and because we are close to it, and because the weather was nice, and because it is still uncrowded as we’re still technically in their off-season, and because my mother likes the ocean, we went to the beach.

We walked on the boardwalk in Ocean City. We listened to the waves, felt the breeze, enjoyed the sun and a thoroughly pleasant afternoon.

When you go to the beach, you need an ice cream. This is my lovely bride’s tradition, and some traditions are definitely worth adopting.

We walked out on the rocks of the little jetties.

And we enjoyed the sand, looking for shells and feeling the still quite cold water as it sneaked up to our feet.

It was a delightful and low key afternoon on the beach. We had dinner at a busy local seafood joint, cleverly titled The Crab Trap. Try the tuna steak.