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Category Archives: memories

The Camp Fire

The great campfire of 2018

I sit at my computer in the near dark as we finish the forth day of this adventure. No electrical service, so running on battery UPS that is chirping at me. I will need to start the generator again. Only a few gallons of gas left. Fuel smuggled to me by a local friend that knows the back ways. The Officials have us under blockade so we can’t go for food or fuel. The fire is several miles to the south of us.

In the middle top of the map below is a full 90 degree crossroad.  I am at the lower end of the left or west branch of it, just above the forks of the stream there. About 2 mile below the Forest Ranch caption. Fire is now very subdued burning over grass and light brush. The red and orange spots are the active fires at this pictures date 11-11-2018 7:30am.


screen shot 11-11-2018 7:30am

I got up at daylight Thursday.  About 6:30 and there was a light red smudge on the horizon to the south east, by 8:00 the power was cut off. After a couple of hours that smudge had grown into an angry towering black cloud the soon filled  the south horizon all the way to Chico, and the booming of exploding of LP tanks soon followed. A North to South air flow kept the cloud at bay but it towered higher and higher as the fire progressed in our direction. The wind from the north strikes a tall ridge to our south and the resulting Up Draft creates a from the south surface draft as a back flow over Paradise/Megalia. Perfect air flow conditions to suck a fire from Pulga up the rolling hills into town through very dry grass, brush, and pine.  The air spillage to the west from that ridge also funneled air to the west  sucking smoke and fire into Chico. After a time of watching this unfolding disaster We dig out the generator that hasn’t been used in 16 years. Clean out the fuel tank and and add gasoline. Set the choke, third pull it Starts ! Wow! I didn’t expect it to be that easy to get the thing running. As we only have 5 gallons of fuel on hand for the generators, we must husband our use. It is nearing dark and we have No Idea how long this will last…pg

A personal note:

Something that has been rattling around in my brain.
In 1961 at this time of the year my family’s home burned to the ground and we were left with nothing but the cloths we were wearing. I was just 15, …………………………………………..It
was a long cold

Friday morning, the southern horizon sky is a bit murky but the smoke billowing from the fires are much reduced, My guess is the worst is over but it will be at least a week before it is well suppressed. We can’t go for fuel or supplies because of government edict. Electric power was cut off yesterday morning. No big thing, just do without. This is a fairly safe place. It is too bad that the Ecoloons prevented good fuels management and turned the Paradise/Magalia area into a explosive fire area. Nature has fixed that problem for now…pg

Saturday, Because of the blockade we have to organize a smuggling operation to get fuel in. A friend uses a jeep trail to bring in fuel for my neighbor and I, while he picks up things to store in his root cellar or take down to Chico for safe keeping. We can leave the area but would be blocked from returning. This sucks, we are staying. My neighbor and I are well versed on fire dangers, have evaluated the situation and know that we and our properties are quite safe. The fire is over 105,000 acres in size with 5% containment. We now have 8 gallons of gas for the generators, maybe 2 days worth, to keep the refers cold, some lights and me on the internet, phone line has been dead since morning and no cell phone service…pg

This is Sunday, the fire has not grown appreciably today, 109,000 acres in size. 25% contained  at least 29 dead, 6500 homes destroyed and nearly 60,000 people displaced. Poor management of biomass fuels has created this great disaster one of many in California. I still don’t see any signs of intelligence in the political class of “leaders”. Just a bunch of touche-feelies and the out going Governor calling for 100s of billions of dollars to fight “Global Warning” and the new one seems worse,

As the sun sets this evening, there is a light smudge of red in the air to the west from the small fires burning below…pg

Monday, connections are being made to deliver fuel and food to us. It is a smoky day as the North wind has subsided and there are still a few grass fires several miles down the canyon from us, mainly back fires to rid the area of fuel under controlled conditions.  After the car arrives I set to using the car fuel pump in the tank to pump 20 gallons of gasoline into the empty containers. Wonderful! We now have fuel for the coming week. The refers can be kept cold and water pumped as needed…pg

A bit after 7pm Electrical service is restored to us. HURRAH ! I can shut down the generators.  I have real lights to type under and may even get to take a warm shower before bed. Life is slowly beginning to return to normal….pg

Tuesday morning, it is a bit smokey, things are returning to normal conditions, for us. We are out of danger here.  But for others this hell will continue.  Fire is 30% contained at 125,000 acres. 43 fatalities confirmed – more to find I’m sure. 200 people are still missing.  Homes destroyed nearing 7 thousand, as well as hundreds of business operations wiped out. 50 thousand people or more are are more or less homeless and the first rains are a week away….pg

Wednesday; the air is smokey and calm, very boring day here, that is good, just putting things away. The reports are 56 fatalities known, 146 still missing, nearly 9,000 homes destroyed, 52,000 people displaced by the fire and official actions. 138,000 acres involved and the fire 35% contained.

A possible humanitarian disaster is approaching in the form of a cold wet northern storm that should strike in a week with many thousands of people living in their cars or in the streets and parking lots with little real shelter, because the Officials don’t want them to go back to their homes in and around the fire area, nearly 2/3 of those displaced have intact homes to go back to but at present are locked out of the area. …pg

Thursday, Now that my situation has stabilized I can point out the cause of this Camp Fire disaster. While poor fuels management caused by the Ecoloons of the area, specially those in the local government was a major factor. The fire storm that swept through Paradise/Magalia was caused by a rare fluke of geography and weather.
To the south of me and to the north of Paradise/Magalia is a tall ridge that looms over the rolling hills that the town sprawl covers in a mature Pine forest. This DoeMill Ridge was in direct line to block and lift the North Wind that blew against it. causing an up draft that sucked air from the South where the fire started toward the north over the city. between that city and the ridge is a deep canyon that funneled the return flow to the west towards Chico over the only hiway leading down out of the area. A Fire Storm swept south to north and then east to west over the people fleeing the area in their normal directions on the normal way of getting into and out of the area.
Now that the fire has traveled to the west and out of the shadow of the ridge the north wind is pushing the fire towards the south and Oroville…pg

Friday dawns smokey, visibility is nearly a mile, The blockade on us was lifted last evening, we can now come and go to town for supplies. Most of the area is still in lock down and the first winter storm approaches, late Tuesday night to begin at least a week of wet cold weather. 2 inches of near freezing rain on it’s way and the forecast has been getting wetter and colder as the storms get closer. Motel rents are now over $1,000 per week. People with intact houses are living in their cars or tents all over the area outside the fire zone. Lucky ones are staying with friends or family as this disaster continues…pg

Saturday is smoky, almost 1 mile visibility. some people being allowed to return to their homes. The President has made his appearance and left. 149,000 acres burned, 55% containment, over 9,000 dwellings burned, 76 fatalities known, over 1,200 still missing, 46,000 still evacuated ….pg

It is now Wednesday morning,  the wet has arrived with a damp drizzle and fire fighting will begin to change from fire suppression to cleanup. As much as 6 inches of rain forecast for the burn area in the next 3 days. Air is clearing as wind and water does it’s magic in restoring the Atmosphere.  79 fatalities known and over 400 still missing. Over 40,000 still evacuated and over 9,000 homes destroyed. For some this disaster continues…pg

Wednesday evening the power goes down again, off all night long, well this sucks, we were expecting to cook the Thanksgiving Turkey in our electric stove. My sister recommends the big BBQ to roast the Turkey, why not! I set it up, start the thing heating and ready the bird, breast down Garlic Olive Oil slathered all over,  put in the Turkey at 8 am, after an hour the power comes back on and We transfer the turkey to the 325F oven, at noon, the 17 pound bird is cooked to perfection, 4 hours total time. Sometimes you get lucky!

November 23, the day after Thanksgiving. After 2 days of heavy rain the fire is nearly out. 153,334 acres burned, 95% contained. 84 known fatalities and 475 still missing. over 10,000 homes and businesses burned out. and nearly 40,000 still homeless….pg

Saturday, November 24 , We went into FEMA’s temporary facility in Chico to register as being in the Camp Fire effected area. Considering the expected zoo they were well organized, most helpful and fast. They claimed to have processed over 5,000 people in 3 days, I can believe it. It was crowded, They were using a closed Sears super store for a facility and the shopping center parking lot was FULL. The registration was necessary for any long term, to be determined later,  assistance. Agencies such as CalFire also made immediate funding and assistance available to those in real need. CalFire -$250 to those that registered. Not much, but still something to those with little more then their hands in their pockets. Nearly $2 million into the local economy. Many other agencies involved within the same place, for after registration help. All things considered, I would give them all high marks for their attempts to create some order out of the expected chaos. I would guess FEMA has learned a few things about dealing with the aftermath of disasters…pg

The great campfire of 2018  is 100% Contained Sunday 25 November


Camp Fire 100% contained

A real Rodeo

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Desert Rodeo

Back in “85” I was entertaining my friends at the Golden’s bar in Cederville and Tom Espil shows up, wants to take me out to the lower Solder Creek Ranch to get a walkin cooler going.

In the early 1960s I went to high school with the Espil boys in Cederville, California, a small cow town near the Oregon/Nevada corner of California. John was a classmate, Tom a couple years younger and Brent a few years younger.

So we gather up my gear and head out south on the Gerlach Rd to the ranch a hundred miles out into the desert. Got introduced at the ranch but Tommy had to go to Susanville, be back the next day. So I examine the job and got started, Brent and his giant dog have to work the local range cattle, without help, so he is very busy, but his wife Vicky is a good hostess and I get the job done by afternoon the next day…..but no Tommy.

Brent sets me to servicing the generator and then fix a couple of tractors, clean and organize the shop,  but, After 4 days still no Tommy and I’m running out of things to do.  Brent says they are doing a big roundup the next day and invites me to join as a rider. Ok, I can ride.

We get to the campsite before dark and set up for the night along with the rest of the crew. Before light we roust up and wake up the remuda, the horses no happier in the dark cold morning then the rest of us. I get assigned a horse and gear, Saddle him up, draw up the cinch but leave it unbound as I walk around, talk to the horse, check the gear, drink the last of the coffee, get instructions. Day light comes, time to get to work. Walk back to the horse, draw up the cinch strap tight and bind it up. Now when you first saddle up a horse they will swell up and after they relax you wind up with a loose saddle and real problems if the horse moves abruptly. Hence the delay in binding up the cinch. UP into the saddle and we start out down the trail to the flat, my horse starts crow hopping and dancing around.I let him get a few good jumps in and come down hard with heels and the tails of the reins to force the horse into a run and now we run into a circle in the brush back to the posse. Guys were smiling at their entertainment, guess I, can ride.

As we enter the valley the riders spread out. Across the flat, maybe 25 riders from 5 outfits are gathering 600 pairs of cattle for brand marking and medication treatment of the young calves. As we work our way across the prairie gathering the cattle, Antelope bucks are gathering their harems of does with young and moving them behind us. Antelope hang out with the cattle because those big cows will help keep coyote away from attacking the tiny young kids . One buck passes near me with his 5 does, He has the tallest horns I have ever seen, near 30 inches! Wow ! The gathering herd is moved towards a natural arena in the rim-rock where the ground crew is setting up their equipment and fire pit to heat the Irons. The riders keep the herd milling within the “arena” while the real Cowboys begin working their way through the herd selecting the pairs that need attention. The head roper catches the calf and moves it toward the ground crew. As they near that crew the second roper catches it’s hind legs and pins it in place so the bulldoger can drop it and tie the legs. The ropers instruct the ground crew as to the outfit the calf belongs to as the bulldoger removes the ropes for the ropers so they can pick up the next pair. The smell and sounds of cow and horse, sagebrush , fire and sweat. A real Rodeo out in the desert as cowmen do their work. Is this fun or work?

As long as they can work from the back of a horse, Cowboys will work any hours under any conditions. Sometimes even pay for the privilege of working on a real ranch doing cowboy things chasing real cattle! I always thought a horse was a poor means of transportation. Very dangerous as well.  On the Espil Ranch, cowboy was the lowest level of employment. If you were good at that job you could advance to being a sheep herder. A job of greater responsibility and a lot less work under better conditions.

While we were working the cattle, The sheep operation was doing similar work in corrals further to north east tending to bands of Espil sheep

We are done before noon and head back to break camp and head out on a rough 8 mile track east through the rimrock to the upper ranch. There is a Bar-B-Que at the upper ranch!   The Espils know how to throw a party.  Beer and wine, Desert Oysters,  Barbecued Beast and a vast array of fixins…pg

Oh yes, Tommy shows up at the party, he is in a hurry to return to his place near Eagleville   😦  as well as take me home.   …pg

More about pg


Back in the winter of 63-64 I was sent to a symposium being put on at Cal Berkley for budding young scientists to join their next years student body. We were given a selection of departments to go through on a show and tell. I chose the Physics Lab. and the Soils Lab.

The Physics Lab. had a lot of cool stuff, “Giant” new cyclotron and all the latest equipment being operated by Laurence Radiation Laboratories. I found their “toys” equipment fascinating. Their bs science, which they were very proud of,  mainly boring. Later at the presentation of the grad students papers, I pointed out that the conclusions drawn from one experiment could have several other causes. The grad student was not pleased that a 17 year old “hick from the sticks” would critique His science!

The Soils Lab was quite a shock! Their science was in how to “Destroy Soil” to make it solid underlay to build on. I had spent 4 years learning how to create and husband soils for farming. Was something of an expert at it. These guys were teaching how to ruin it!
What would you expect at Berzerkly….pg


for a bit more see An Engineers’ Tale

A tale of the first Solo flight

The airplane involved was a beautiful twin of the one below.

See the source image

PA-22-108  Piper Colt  Specifications:

The airplane is a two-place, high wing, single engine airplane equipped with tricycle landing gear, constructed of welded steel tubing covered with Grade “A” fabric and finished with fire resistant butyrate dope.
This airplane is certified in the normal and utility category. In the normal category all aerobatic maneuvers including spins are prohibited. See the aircraft’s P.O.H. for approved maneuvers when in the utility category. The airplane is approved for day and night VFR/IFR operations when equipped in accordance with F.A.R. 91 or F.A.R 135.

The aircraft is powered by a Lycoming O-235-C1B or C1 and is rated at 108 horsepower. It is a four cylinder, normally aspirated, direct drive, air cooled, horizontally opposed, carburetor equipped engine.

The fuel for the Colt is carried in an 18-gallon fuel tank located in the inboard end of the left wing. As optional equipment, an auxiliary tank, located in the right wing, provides an additional 18 gallons of fuel. The auxiliary tank must be used in level flight only. An electric fuel gauge for each tank is located on the instrument panel.

Electrical power for the Colt is supplied by a 12 volt, direct current system. For all normal operations, power is provided by a 12 volt, 25-ampere generator. A 12-volt, 24 ampere battery is used in the system to furnish power for starting as a reserve power source.


So begins the tale;

In early 1968 I was station at the U.S.Navy Base at Subic Bay, Philippines and decided that learning to fly was an interesting talent to pursue. There was a flying club at the adjoining Cubi Point Naval Air Station that provided aircraft and instruction to members, so I joined.  The club had two PA-22s for our training use, two  T-34s for more advanced use, as well as certificated instructors that were available to hire for the members.

After 10 hours of ground school, the flight training began. My instructor, a former Alaskan Bush Pilot.   After filing a flight plan with  air operations we pre-flight the airplane, kick the tires, check the fuel, untie the airplane from it’s anchors and fire up the engine, Cool!  Call up uniflight for taxi instructions to the flight line and then call up the tower. Identify ourselves, We are ready for take off.

The Navy of that time felt that it was a good idea to have semi trained pilots available to act as co-pilots with real Naval Pilots in case of an emergency need to move all of their airplanes during a pilot shortage. At least that was the excuse that was used to justify our use of military facilities for “Private club” use. At times we helped with the on the job training of the new tower controllers under much slower conditions then existed during Jet operations. It was kind of cool to be flying a brightly colored, rag covered, powered box kite among the heavy jets dressed in their somber warpaint. Just need to, NOT get in their way.

After clearance to take off, we depart the area toward the north over Subic City to an old, out of the way dirt strip, 20 miles out in the jungle, to practice flight maneuvers as well as touch & go, landing / takeoffs. After several of these we return to the base pattern and land after 2-1/2 to 3 hours of flight time.

After one of these touch & goes during the third day of instruction the instructor asked me to land and stop on the end of the dirt strip. He opened his door, hopped out, and said “Take her around on your own”.  OMG! ,,,,,Er ok. After 7 hours of total flight time I’m not so sure I am ready for this.

Well, I sped up the engine, taxi to the down wind end of the runway, turned into the breeze, fire walled the throttle and with 200lbs less weight in the airplane it quickly took off, almost jumped into the air and quickly rose to 3,000 feet!  I flew a nice square pattern and soon found myself lined up with the down wind end of the runway.  Time to begin the decent back to the GROUND. I set up the aircraft trim for landing, throttled back, carburetor heat on to prevent ice buildup inside the carburetor and add a click of flaps to improve slow speed lift and slow the decent speed. This is not so bad, good glide slope, lined up with the runway. Everything looks good.

Just as I flare out to touch down, a hard cross wind hits, the airplane is floating off of the runway and over the 6 foot tall elephant grass.

OH CRAP!  I am nursing the aircraft controls to keep it on the ground effect bubble to keep the wheels out of the tall grass. Get rid of the power robbing carb-heat, smoothly adding throttle so the engine speeds up without stalling, and soon it all works. Air speed increases, I’m flying again! Slowly I get rid of flaps, gain airspeed and altitude.

I’m up in the air with airspeed and altitude, life is good, but the instructor is still standing on the end of the runway, 20 miles out in the jungle.

Back into the landing pattern I go. Now! how do I land in a stiff cross wind? Well I do remember hearing this discussed by other pilots. Maybe even mentioned during ground school instruction.

As I approach the end of the runway the plane is crabbed a good 30 degrees into the wind to move inline with the center of the runway. The trick is to fly in as slow as possible with some power and some flaps and as the wheels touch the ground, rotate the airplane into the runway centerline, get rid of flaps and power, push the nose down and apply the brakes.

Wow! it worked, not even a bounce.


I slowly taxied up to the instructor, he opened the door and got in.

Didn’t say a word, just sat there. The engine just kicking over in a slow idle  …………  …………..  ……….  ………….  …………  ………..  ……….  ……….  ……….  ……….  ……….

er, How did I do?

“Well,” he says, “You took off just fine, flew a nice square pattern, lined up a clean glide slope, flared out to land, just then that cross wind hit you. Off the runway you went into the elephant grass.  I was sure that I would have to walk back to the base, through 20 miles of jungle and explain to the base executive officer how I lost a pilot and plane.

You got it flying again! As you went by I figured you would just fly back to the base and land. This was not so bad, I would just have to hike those 20 miles back to the base and explain why my pilot came home alone.

Then, you went back into the pattern and tried to land into that cross wind. Again, I was sure that I would have to hike back to the base and explain how I lost a plane and pilot. And you landed it just like you knew what you were doing.”

“I will sign off on your logbook, you are cleared to fly solo!”

After that, an airplane just felt like an extension of me. Flying was as natural as walking or riding a bike.  😎   pg

An Engineers’ Tale

An Engineers tale

 Berkeley/ Livermore; Former Chief Engineer, Lawrence Radiation Laboratories. .

In the early 1980s I was visiting the home of a good friend, his recently retired father was there. We were sharing beers and swapping lies. When the subject of his fathers’ engineering work at Lawrence Radiation Labs. came up. His father said that the scientists would come to the Laboratories with Large grants to carry out a test of their pet theory. It was up to him to create the experiment that would yield the results that were required. When the needed results were created, they would then write up their paper and publish it. It would then become the foundation of the next step in the “science” of physics. As the cost of the experiment was so high, it was not likely that anyone would ever get the funding to repeat it.

So, he said, I should not believe everything that what was published is an actual fact in physics.


Berkeley Physics Laboratory

On my 1963 visit to a symposium of physics papers and tour of the Berkeley science labs.

As a budding young scientist, the government funded my travel to California  Berkeley University to encourage my travel on that path. This allowed me to visit much of the Science Department. In particular the radiation lab run by Lawrence Laboratories. This entailed their Cyclotron, linear accelerator, Detector system, computers, cloud chambers, and photo labs. The biggest and best of that era. They were very proud to show off their toys to the budding, want to be,  science students. The Physics work was of some interest to me. The engineering needed! Magnets, shielding, detectors, computers, right down to the time measurements of signal travel in the wires and equipment in nano and pico seconds. That was fascinating! The hell with being a Physicist! I wanted to be an Engineer. Applied Science, real stuff, not lame theory based on Assumptions  and verbal higher mathematics  priest talk.

After the presentation of the grad students papers on their experiments, facts ( the real science) examined and conclusions that they had drawn. We questioned them. I was struck by the lack of exploration of other things that might have caused the results that they had detected. Generally the experiment was to prove their theory and their argument rather then explore all the possibilities. But then what did I know? I was just a 17 year old, Hick from the Sticks, kid.

When I was a science student we were told that Science was done by creating a theory, Develop an experiment that gathers the facts that you will use to prove your argument. The proven theory then becomes scientific fact.

That can be the path to BS ( Bad Science) if the “proved” facts are bs (bull scat) and the key parts of the argument are based on assumptions from “cited authorities” previous work. pg