Archive for the ‘Tennessee floods 2010’ Category

Don’t VOLUNTEER to Be a Flood Victim!

May 14, 2010
Flood Waters Kill
There’s more to flood waters than meets the eye.

Charlotte, TN, 5/13/10; Revised, 4/27/11

Here are some reflections on the power and danger of flood waters, put down as the Cumberland sulks back within its banks, and the months-long process of cleaning up Middle Tennessee gets into gear (and revised as flood waters rise almost a year later.)

First, let’s dump that  “Save the Planet” sentimentality, OK? Look at some of the pictures of this flood. Look at pictures of the Iceland Volcano, Eyjafjallajökull. (Eyzeforjutosey!) For some superb pictures, try National Geographic online.

Feeling small and insignificant, yet? Good. Now, tell me how plastic bags and SUVs can destroy this immense, powerful Earth, when all it will take is an unconscious, negligent shrug for this planet to destroy the human race. One seismic twitch, a raised terrestrial eyebrow, an atmospheric sigh, and humanity is — not history, because somebody has to be around to WRITE history — simply and permanently gone.

If you still harbor doubts about how insignificant you are before the forces of nature, review some video of the Tsunamis in Japan. Understand? Good. Let’s move on.

The force that flowing water can exert on objects challenges the most fertile imagination. Like an advancing line of indifferent bulldozers, it pushes aside man’s monuments, or tumbles them ahead like toys,  and moves on downhill.

According to the recording instruments at the Cumberland River in Clarksville, downstream from Ashland City, the depth at the peak of the flood was 57.36 feet, at 9:00 AM, on May 6th. At that depth, the rate of flow past that point was more than 300 thousand cubic feet of waterper second. A cubic foot of water weighs just less than 62.5 pounds. That means 18,750,000 pounds of water passed the gage every second, at peak.

Depth (L) and Flow rate (R) of the Cumberland at Clarksville, downstream from Nashville (NWS

Rainfall, May 1 & 2, 2010 (NWS)

A railroad train, consisting of a typical diesel locomotive and 31 loaded freight cars weighs around nine million pounds. That flow rate was equivalent, then, to the weight of two such trains passing the measurement station every second. No wonder a river can push along the contents of a neighborhood, including houses, cars, trees and topsoil.

Six inches of running water can drag an adult off his feet, and then beat him against immovable objects like tree stumps or guard rails, rendering him helpless. Of course, “six inches” of muddy water can be hiding a six-foot hole in the pavement that the water undermined minutes before you arrived at the flooding.

washed-out pavement, TN Hwy 7, Maury Co., TN

A foot and a half of flood water, moving at six miles an hour, can turn a car into a rudderless, powerless, leaky life raft. A foot and a half of running water looks innocuous enough — especially in the dark — unless you know how strong the tug is on anything in its way.

Or, unless it’s after dark, and you think the water is much shallower than that. You don’t know the truth, until the car starts moving on its own…

Of course, by then, it may be to late. Your car-turned-into-a-boat turns into a coffin.

More people are killed nationwide in flash floods and river floods, on average, than in tornadoes, hurricanes, and lightning.  Most of those deaths could have been avoided, if the people thinking of crossing running water had only known how powerful it is.

Twenty-three, flood-related fatalities have been confirmed in Tennessee so far, according to Tennessee’s Emergency Management Agency . Two more bodies have been found in the Nashville area as of May 13, and both are tentatively described as flood victims.

The Harpeth River is a tributary of the Cumberland, and is usually a mild-mannered scenic “stream” that plays host to a lot of leisure-time activities, including fishing, boating and camping. My first chance to see the flooding close-up came two days after the rain had stopped, on Tuesday, May 4th. The bridge was closed to traffic, but no longer under water.

Flooded Harpeth

The treeline in the distance is usually the far bank of the Harpeth, as seen from the Montgomery Bell Bridge, Cheatham County, TN. Not on 5/4/10.

The Harpeth River Campground, adjacent to the Montgomery Bell Bridge, was under ten or twelve feet of water when I visited the still-closed bridge on May 4th, 2010.

It might have looked like an inviting ride in a raft or tube, but, standing on the bridge, feeling the faint vibration of the brisk flow of flood water under the deck, it looked forbidding and ominous to me. I looked over the upstream side at the uprooted, whole trees, building materials and trash pressed against the bridge by the current, and wondered what was just under the muddy water, ready to tear a hole in a boat hull or crush a swimmer.

snake

Along with trees and other hazards, flood waters may contain surprises. A snake crawls toward shore along the Harpeth

Fortunately, nobody in the area of the Harpeth Campground thought a swim or float would be fun, that day. In fact, as I listened to the scanner, the only people willing to risk everything to get on that water were the rescuers.

Ordinary boaters, as well as fire and police rescue squads, fish and game officers and professional water rescue crews were picking people off the roofs of their cars and houses, or anything that would float, and, occasionally, right out of the water. That activity went on every hour of daylight for days, and the crews who did it had to be exhausted by the time it was too dark to continue.

These people put their personal lives and their safety on hold for most of a week to do what they did; I salute them.

For stunning photos of flood rescues from last week,browse the Nashville newspaper, The Tennessean.

Don’t volunteer to be a flood victim, Volunteers. The flood will kill you if it you give half a chance. It doesn’t need any help from you.

For more information on flood safety, I will do something I don’t usually do: defer to a government authority on the subject. If you don’t have time for this, here’s one more chance:

flooding sign

Nature will get you eventually. Don’t volunteer to drown. (National Weather Service Flood Safety Awareness)

Advertisements

A Flood of Inattention

May 10, 2010
Cumberland at Ashland City, TN in better days

Cumberland River near Ashland City, TN, in better days -- August, 2008

Ah, how nature can turn. The gentle, slow-moving Cumberland River and its tributaries have given us lots of comfort and beauty, and not a few catfish.

Last weekend (May 1 and 2, 2010), however, nature turned mean. A vast and unstoppable force, sometimes raging, and other times creeping, the Cumberland and its tributaries surged out of their banks and up miles of roads, in through thousands of front doors, stealing irreplaceable personal and public treasures, and destroying dreams and lives.

Flood water under Cumberland River Bridge

Flood water churns under the Ashland City bridge over the Cumberland, twenty feet higher than normal. 5/5/10

Riverview Restaurant/Campground, Ashland City, TN 5/5/10

There it met the water from the second day of rains flowing downhill, having saturated the surrounding ground to the point where it could absorb no more than a paved parking lot. Inconsequential creeks and streams became roaring whitewater monsters.

Take the most rain ever to fall in Nashville over 48 hours… and double it. At one point along the Cumberland, in better days, a relatively civilized river was a few hundred feet across. By Monday morning, after over a foot of rain, that same stretch of river had swollen to thousands of feet across, and it carried cars, livestock and whole buildings along at an astonishing pace. Structures that weren’t floated off their foundations were crushed under the weight and pressure of millions of tons of running water, pushing debris ahead like battering rams. Every crushed building, uprooted tree and floating car added to the mass that careened downstream, multiplying the flood’s destructive power.

As the flood waters recede – and they continue to recede, a week later — they leave behind mud, building materials, brush, dead things, an evil stench, uncatalogued contaminants and nightmarish memories that will last as long as the survivors.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the system of dams, locks and generating sites along the Cumberland and other rivers in the region, had no experience to guide them in operating the flood gates and locks to best manage the water, because not since the completion of the system in the late ‘60s has so much rain fallen in so short a period. The best they could do for a few days was operate the system to keep the floods from destroying it, adding greatly to the surrounding destruction. That they did.

When I had time to watch national news, which was seldom, I was amazed at how little coverage was given to our situation. My amazement diminished when I thought about it.

I composed a “top-ten list” of reasons the lamestream media ignored this story:

10. Tennessee is a Red state. You could skip 9) through 1) now, and know all you need to know.

9. Al Gore didn’t call a press conference at his Nashville estate to blame the flooding on global warming.

8. People in Tennessee don’t sit around and wait for the gummint to give them a hand. They help themselves, and each other. No government dependency story, here, folks; move along!

7. New Orleans Progressive hack Ray Nagin is not the mayor of Nashville. Karl Dean is. Dean took personal responsibility for his city’s rescue and recovery, and was clearly in charge. No whining, no blame-shifting, just good communication and effective action.

6. People in Middle Tennessee cling to their bibles and guns. Looting makes good video, but it has not become a popular leisure-time activity here, because it is publicly frowned upon, and is likely to be fatal.

5. There is no way to blame it on Karl Rove, Halliburton or Dick Cheney.

4. CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS and CNN did not inform the hacks and opportunists in Washington of events in Tennessee, thus depriving them of timely photo opportunities against a backdrop of hapless victims and tireless aid workers. No one watches MSNBC, so coverage there would not have mattered, anyway.

3. There was no way to blame it on Wall Street speculators, Big Oil or Big Tobacco.

2. It’s hard for the race mongers to claim racism, since people of all races got wet, and people of all races were immediately helping each other, without waiting for government permission or coercion.

1. There was no way to blame it on George W. Bush.

It doesn’t matter much to locals to notice the way we were ignored by a crisis-hungry White House and its propaganda engine, but it certainly tells us who our friends are – and aren’t — and how we stand in the eyes of the current establishment.

It’s not hard to imagine. Some primped New York twit from a network morning show in fashionable raingear, trailing a camera crew and makeup artist, walks up to a Bubba dragging soggy, stinking carpet out the front door of his mobile, or searching for his lost goats in the trees, or carrying a dripping family photo album. The twit sticks a microphone in his face, and asks, “So, how do you feel? Don’t you wish Bush and Cheney had done more to prevent this?”

Considering the most reasonable reaction to the kind of stupid question said twits are capable of, maybe it’s just as well. There were enough casualties from the flood waters, without adding any New York twits to the body count. A jury of peers would acquit Bubba in five minutes, but the lawsuits would go on forever.

Stick your microphone where the sun don’t shine, New York twits. We’ll manage without you, somehow.

After all, we’ve managed up to now.

When Old Tech Rules: Learning to Use a Scythe

July 6, 2009
The Marugg Company, Tracy City, TN

The Marugg Company, Tracy City, TN

This article is about buying and using a scythe.

Yes, a scythe.

I am an IT guy, a radio amateur, and a fan of technology in general, but I do not limit myself to the technology of modern day — leading edge, bleeding edge, or otherwise. In fact, some “paleotechnology” beats the modern stuff, in the right context. A brace and bit beats a rechargeable drill with a dead battery ten times out of ten, and a crystal radio will get you the local radio stations when an ice storm has the power off and the double-A in your Walkman breathes its last.

Don’t mistake me for a victim of romantic nostalgia.  I have no desire to go back to the time before the Salk Vaccine, or when getting the horse manure off the streets was a major issue, or before indoor plumbing and air conditioning. A Luddite, I am not. Where old tech works, however, it’s just plain stupid not to know how to use it.

Nor am I an environmental zealot. I think man-caused global warming is a fraud, and a pretext for taking away individual rights that have not already been taken in the name of saving the children lucky enough to avoid an appointment with the abortionist. And those rights not stolen in the process of giving welfare to illegal aliens, protecting the public against violent attacks by roving gangs of Christians and Constitutionalists, and preserving the habitats of spotted owls and snail darters, are not in danger from me.

It’s simpler than that. I need to cut some grass and weeds on a slope that is too steep and creepy to cut with the mower deck on my little diesel tractor, and I don’t want to use a gas-powered string trimmer. I hate the damn things. A gas string trimmer is a back-breaking, expensive stick, with a debris-spewing, hissing, whirling dervish on one end, a hot, stinking, noisy, temperamental motor and a tank of highly-flammable liquid at the other; and an exhausted, nearly-deaf, weed-juice-spattered dummy in the middle. Politics and environmentalist feelgood-ism played no part in this decision.

I have not been the weed-juice-spattered dummy since the end of May, 2009, when I brought home my “European-style” scythe, bought in-person at the Marugg Company [www.themaruggcompany.com], in Tracy City, Tennessee. My gas string trimmer is in the long-term custody of my nephew, who will probably continue to store it in his garage.

I have been on my tractor, the classy little Kubota BX1500, cutting a wide, smooth swath through grass and weeds on open areas that, from a transplanted Middle Tennessean’s perspective, are close enough to level to avoid the feeling that one is risking life and limb. I don’t regret a single molecule of Carbon Dioxide the tractor or I exhaled in that process. That is guilt-free CO2, and Al Gore can get over it.

I researched the subject of the scythe extensively – well, as extensively as one can without leaving one’s chair in front of one’s Internet-connected computer – before I settled on the Marugg scythe. Indeed, I was surprised to discover considerable scythe-related content can be dug up with some judicious use of Ixquick, my Google replacement, privacy-protecting meta-search engine.

Not only is there a lot of content, there is even a bit of controversy among the scythe-using community. Yes, controversy! Not about the difference between American-style scythes and their European counterparts, but among those who agree that the lighter, sportier European models are better than the clunky, heavy American models.

Some Canadians, such as the members of the Vido family, as represented by Scythe Works  and Scythe Connection  approach the subject of scythes with more than a little of the ardor of the evangelist. In fact, their ardor puts me off a bit, as they give the impression that people with questions or concerns about scythes should be treated with some disdain and impatience, and maybe even some arrogance.

I coined a term for this rather zealous branch of the scythe fraternity: Scythentologists. They are impatient with the stubborn, unenlightened masses who prefer to see the scythe as a tool for which there may be quite appropriate uses, but don’t find themselves able to treat it as an object of worship, a tool for artistic expression, or as a focus for an entire school of metaphysical contemplation.

To get a taste of the fervor, self-righteousness and near-contempt with which the unenlightened are treated by Scythentologists, I offer you some email correspondence between your humble blogger and Peter Vido, from the early stages of my research into scythes.

First, my note to Scythe Connection, (which apparently was the wrong place to address my questions anyway, as Mr. Vido takes pains to point out)… Well, see for yourself.

On 18-May-09, at 9:45 PM, Tom Cox wrote:

First, my sizing info: Height: 70 in.; Ground to shoulder: 60 in.; Ground to core of hip joint: 34 in.; “Cubit”: 19 in.

Second, my contact info:

Tom Cox

[contact info]

Background:

I am 60 years old, in relatively good physical condition (able to do most of my own odd jobs and grounds keeping chores), and dealing with a hilly, rural acre that is so steep in places that it makes me nervous to try to mow on my Kubota BX1500 tractor. There are also places where the ground stays wet all spring, and, even though it has turf tires, the tractor will strip or rut the turf, even on near-level ground.

I would like to be able to get some mowing work done early on summer days, without stalling until the dew is off. I understand that dew-wet grass is easier to cut with a scythe, which is good for me. By the time the dew is gone, the temp and humidity are into the range where just being outdoors is work, let alone doing anything strenuous.

I have some areas on the slopes where the grass has gotten long (2 – 3 feet), because of heavy rain and my reluctance to tackle it on the tractor. The gas weed eater is slow, noisy, messy and really hard on my lower back due to the asymmetry of the stress of using it, especially while walking the slopes. I get tired of coming in from trimming with a green paste of “yard salad” all over me, with my ears ringing from the noise, and overheated from wearing the chain saw helmet or goggles.

Another area of concern is a steep slope that has become overgrown with blackberries and sapling trees. I can attack it in small doses, downhill-only, with the tractor, but it is a little nerve-wracking and may be somewhat risky due to the hazards of rollover and hitting hidden rocks and stumps with the mower deck that I don’t see from the seat. I don’t want to belt a rock through the window or wall of my mobile home like a line-drive homer.

I doubt that [it is] realistic to expect one blade to do a good job on both the grassy slopes and the berries, so I am focusing on the grass, which I may be able to give to my nephew to feed his goats. In any case, the grass will be gone before it can become a fire hazard, and leaves a less friendly habitat for ticks, which are plentiful here. Goat fodder or garden mulch — at least it’s put to use and out of my way.

If I can mow the tender grass and weeds between patches of berries, I may be able to conquer the latter with the tractor, or, as a last resort, the Woodman’s Pal. With the surrounding grass and weeds out of the way, either method will be easier and safer.

I want a peening set, because the idea of working the metal appeals to my aesthetic sense, as well as to my frugality. I might graduate to a hammer and anvil at some point. I also want to get a suitable stone and holster.

I assume I would be best off with the shortest snath, given my height and the prevalence of sloped terrain. The #0 blade looks like a good one to start with, since I am a learner, and it is inexpensive compared to the average. I can come back for another blade when I know more. Am I on the right track with these choices?

Am I missing anything major? Assuming I get the items listed, what would the price be in US dollars (such as they are, these days), and the shipping to Tennessee (37036)?

Thanks for your time and the benefit of your expertise.

Best Regards,

Tom Cox

I thought that was a fairly uncontroversial approach — conversational, not confrontational, asking questions that would lead me to choose the right combination of products for my application, with (at the time) the intention of spending money with them upon getting my questions answered. Well, silly me. Mr. Vido replies:

Tom,
I tried to call you last night to respond more comprehensively to your scythe inquiry than I have time for in writing — but reached only your answering machine. (Our phone is far from the house, I’m there once or twice a day at irregular hours and thus there is little point of you trying to call back.)

So instead I suggest you contact Alexander at http://scytheworks.ca/ (which, if you read our catalogue introduction carefully, is where you would have sent your e-mail.) Just two quick pointers: Firstly, I think that given your terrain (and experience) an 80cm blade may be too long. Secondly: Totally regardless of  my involvement in scythe retail (but knowing what I do about the scythe’s potential) if I were you I’d give away (or sell cheaply) both of your machines and obtain suitable scythes to replace them. Your machines have no future to speak of; the scythe does! To help you understand what I’m saying here read (carefully) more information on our website — none of which was inspired by business considerations.

Sincerely,

Peter Vido

After scolding me for addressing my questions to the “wrong” party (he is a marketing genius, obviously), Mr. Vido offers me the unsolicited and un-useful advice to “give away (or sell cheaply)” my equipment, including my cherished Kubota tractor, and “obtain suitable scythes to replace them.” Uh-huh.

Gosh, Mr. Vido, which scythe model will carry 400 pounds of dirt or firewood in the loader bucket, grade my gravel driveway with the rear blade, or re-position a 26-foot camper trailer with a 2-inch receiver adapter on the three-point hitch, all the while sipping diesel as if it were expensive champagne?

I am so glad I held off on spending my allotted scythe money until I had taken another look at the Marugg folks’ site and product line. Their small, friendly shop and store are in Tracy City, Tennessee, a cool little town at the end of a pleasant, two-hour drive from our home in the northeast corner of Dickson County, about twenty miles west of downtown Nashville.

Although I had already communicated with Amy Wilson, owner of Marugg with her husband, Allen, by email and phone, we had not met until our arrival in Tracy City around midday on May 26th. Amy made my wife, her sister and me feel welcome immediately, and proceeded to give us a tour of their facility – an unassuming, single-story building with a plaque on the front door that says that “The Marugg Company has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior – 1873.”IMG_1792r1

I am a fan of the history of technology, including that of manufacturing. As a former resident of Muncie, Indiana, I have become somewhat familiar with the late, lamented era of American history in which our country was the manufacturing heart of the world.

Remember when we made stuff? Muncie was home to General Motors plants (well before it became Federal Motors) in the middle and latter parts of the last century, but Muncie’s involvement with manufacturing predates that period, thanks to the plentiful fields of natural gas that permeated that part of the country. Muncie also was the manufacturing site for giant, stationary internal combustion engines that powered manufacturing plants all over the world between the times when steam and water powered factories, and the advent of plentiful electricity. Muncie Oil Engine was a premier manufacturer of huge, slow-turning but very high-torque engines that powered a whole generation of factories for decades before cheap electricity made them obsolete.

Factory buildings of that era had a long, skinny form factor, because the power to operate the heavy machinery that made the goods the world bought was distributed through the plants not by wires, but on implausibly long, rotating spindles, driven at one end by the enormous, slow-moving but powerful engines of the type manufactured in Muncie. Every drill press, trip hammer and bending brake derived its power through belts and pulleys connected to this central spindle.

A model for a manufacturing plant, dating at least from the earliest days of the 19th century, was the Springfield Amory. The armory, which pioneered many of the principles of modern manufacturing, made rifles for the US military. The wooden stocks for those rifles were turned on the Blanchard lathe, which received its power from just such a central spindle. Early photos and drawings of plants like the Armory show the unmistakable signature of the central spindle, connected to surrounding machines by long, serpentine belts and pulleys, whether the power on the business end was from a water wheel, a steam engine, or a Muncie Oil Engine or its kin.

All of the above is meant to explain why I was pleased to recognize the remnants of such a power distribution system in the Marugg plant. Amy didn’t know how the original plant’s power was produced before the electric era (probably brought to Tracy City by the Tennessee Valley Authority in the years after World War I), but I would bet that, in 1873, when the plant was owned by the Swiss family for which it is named, it was powered by coal-fired or even wood-fired steam, and maybe later by a diesel stationary engine.

From bygone days: Knob-and-tube wiring (top), and pulleys from the old spindle power distribution system, both replaced with modern electric power

From bygone days: Knob-and-tube wiring (top), and pulleys from the old spindle power distribution system, both replaced with modern electric power

SpindleDriveMotor

The electric motor in the background was used to power the spindle system, at some point in the past. Before electricity, power was from steam engines, and then from large, stationary internal combustion engines like the one show herehttp://ralph.lafayette.la.us/stationary-engines/muncie.oil.engine/

In any case, some pulleys and spindles were still in evidence in several places around the building. That power system had long been replaced with “knob and tube” electrical wiring, which was modernized by subsequent owners up through the acquisition by Allen and Amy Wilson. Such a tangible connection to history is a pleasure to discover in the midst of modern life.

As Amy gave us a tour and lecture, she was picking up the parts of the scythe that would be going home with me. She measured my height, my “cubit” (yes, cubit – length from the elbow to the tip of the longest finger) and the height from my shoulder to the ground, so I would leave with the right length “snath” (sounds like a made-up name for a Muppet character, but it’s the term for a scythe handle, dating at least from the English of Shakespeare).

As mentioned, there are two main styles of scythes, including both blades and snaths. The American style snaths are heavy; some of them even made from aluminum or steel, and the blades are heavier, too. American blades are made from stamped steel, and seem to rely more on brute strength and momentum to cut, while European blades are hammered from more malleable steels, and can take a very sharp edge, if that is desired.

A European blade whistles through grass or wheat stalks like a breeze, cutting like a sharp knife (not an imitation hacksaw blade, like some cheap steak knife, but a real, smooth-bladed knife), striking the grass at a shallow tangent to the axis of motion, and slicing through a narrow band of vegetation with each swing, but with little more effort than that required just to move the blade through the arc.

An American blade is apparently intended to cut more like an ax or a cleaver, striking the grass nearly perpendicular to the axis of motion, and requiring considerably more effort with each stroke to carry it through the cut material. To appreciate the difference, try cutting a ripe tomato with a very sharp knife, and then try cutting it with a meat cleaver.

If these snath dimensions had been wrong, or if I had bought just any snath from eBay, I’d be hacking and swishing my way through the weeds like a demented golfer, wasting time and energy, and thinking dark thoughts of going across the road to liberate my gas string trimmer from my nephew’s clutches.

Marugg imports scythe blades from European manufacturers, but it makes its own snaths. Amy chose a curved snath for my use, and although I don’t really understand the functional difference between a curved snath and a straight one, mine works well.

Amy Wilson, onwner with husband Allen of the Marugg Company, does some drill press work on my scythe snath.

Amy Wilson, owner with husband Allen of the Marugg Company, does some drill press work on my scythe snath.

Amy takes a phone order from a customer in texas, while I roam and shoot.

Amy takes a phone order from a customer in Texas, while I roam and shoot.

The Marugg people hand-pick their snath material from Tennessee hickory.  Candidates for that role are stacked all over the plant. To get that sporty, Euro curve, they steam a batch of snaths in a tub to soften them, and strap them down to one of the original  pieces of equipment unique to the Marugg shop: a snath bending rig. It looks a bit like a medieval torture device, but I heard no complaints from the couple dozen steamed hickory sticks that were getting their bend fixed in place. They looked comfortable. Maybe they thought it was more like a spa treatment; getting a massage after a soak in the hot tub.

Snath bending rack, overseen by Marugg quality control inspector/mouser

Snath bending rack, overseen by Marugg quality control inspector/mouser

Snath bath -- the hot tub where snaths get steamed before bending

Snath bath — the hot tub where snaths get steamed before bending

The next crucial choice was that of the right blade for my usual mowing jobs. Of course, it had to be a light, sporty, Euro-style blade, but there are hundreds of different styles of scythe blade just in that category.

A scything virtuoso – perhaps an accomplished Scythentologist – who would be cutting wheat or grass in a cultivated field, would want a long, light grass blade that can be made sharp, to cut a wide swath (another Middle English word first associated with scything, apparently). Such a user will not subject this blade to the indignity and abuse of trying to cut coarse weeds, sapling trees, or (shudder) hitting rocks.

Scythe blade inventory, imported from (mostly) Austria -- to match the tool to the job

Scythe blade inventory, imported from (mostly) Austria — to match the tool to the job. Using the wrong blade for the cutting job would be like using the wrong bit in a drill.

I, on the other hand, being of the unwashed and uninitiated, scythe-wise, could be expected to abuse the blade somewhat, in the process of learning the swing, and to satisfy my curiosity as to exactly how thick a sapling or berry cane I could cut with it. Also, as I said in my email to (Professor? Father? Bishop?) Vido, above, my mowing will not be in a level, cultivated field, but in land that has never seen a plow, is constantly prey to encroaching brush, and includes the need to trim close to fences and buildings.

Amy recommended a “brush blade,” which is shorter than a “grass blade,” and with a deeper and slightly thicker back, putting a little more metal between me and whatever I attack with my scythe. I went with her recommendation, and I was not disappointed. I have subjected this scythe to considerable abuse, both accidentally and in the process of learning its limits, and it is holding up well, with some maintenance.

Maintenance is another way the European blades differ from their American counterparts. To sharpen an American blade, the preferred method is either filing or grinding. Filing is slower, but doesn’t heat the blade the way grinding does, changing the character of the metal in ways that affect its hardness and wear resistance, and using up metal at a high rate. One does not approach a European blade with a file, and — Heaven forbid — with a grinding wheel. These methods are simply too rough and unrefined. A bit of filing may be called for to repair a damaged blade, but grinding — never.

Sharpening European blades take a kinder, gentler approach. The metallurgy of European style blades calls for frequent sharpening, even in the field, but with much less metal removed at a time, and a sharper edge attained with less effort. The doctrinaire method of field sharpening is with a whetstone that the user carries in a container that holds the stone(s) in water. The stone soaks up water and stays cleaner, that way, keeping its pores from clogging with metal particles that would reduce its effectiveness.

Sporty, Euro stone holster, complete with belt clip -- holds two stones in water.

Sporty, Euro stone holsters, complete with belt clip — holds two stones in water.

After the removal of metal near the edge with several sharpenings with the stone, however, the cutting edge recedes to the thicker region of the blade, requiring more metal to be removed to arrive at a sharp edge. To thin or draw out the edge, the European blade is peened gently with a hammer and anvil designed for that purpose, or with a combination of tools called variously a peening jig, or a peening apparatus. The latter device, used correctly, allows the novice to thin the blade with calibrated hammer blows that compact the metal, making it stronger, while thinning the edge to allow it to be honed with the whetstone to a thin, sharp cutting edge.  The apparatus comes in two pieces – a fixture, and two cylindrical pieces that are struck against the fixture with a hammer, with the edge of the blade between them.

The fixture is a machined cylinder of tough steel with a central body about two inches thick and six inches long, turned down on a lathe at one end to a spike, and at the other, to a column about the diameter of a finger. The fixture’s spike is driven into a piloted hole in a section of tree trunk or a stout workbench, to keep it steady and to absorb the impact of the peening hammer. The other pieces are cylinders with their centers bored out to fit smoothly over the column in the fixture, but with a face at the opening that is beveled to the angle desired for the blade edge.

The blade fits between the pieces, with the cutting edge resting lightly against the smaller column, just to insure that it is compressed the proper distance toward the back with each stroke of the hammer. One cylinder is beveled for preliminary shaping – usually marked with a single groove around the outside diameter, and the other for the final contour, is marked with two grooves.

The first cylinder puts the initial contour on the edge, or repairs a major dent or crack. The second one puts on the final contour, and is most often used for maintaining the working edge at the proper thickness after a few sharpenings.

Foreground: hammer and anvil combo; far side of front stump: Peening apparatus.

Foreground: hammer and anvil combo; far side of front stump: Peening apparatus.

SharpeningToolsCloseUp

Various scythe sharpening tools, close up

My scythe budget only allowed for the hammer and anvil combo, which is about half as much as the peening apparatus from Marugg. I have peened the blade a couple of times to what I imagine to be a “good” thickness, but I will be getting an apparatus as soon as I can afford it, to take the guesswork out of that part of the maintenance routine.

I want to go back to Tracy City again as soon as we can afford it, and take more pictures of the Marugg facility. I enjoy being in the company of people who understand that the virtues of technology extend to whatever works, whether it is today’s, or yesterday’s. I also like to be around people who can be enthusiastic about a subject they know well, without being self-righteous about it. There is no hint of Scythentological fervor at Marugg — just friendly enthusiasm.

My next “wish list” will include the peening apparatus, and possibly another scythe blade, or maybe a “scythe sickle” – a short-handled sickle with a scaled-down scythe blade, for close-in trimming around landscape plants and garden beds, and an old-style weeding hoe that looks a lot more effective than the modern ones.

I also want to go back to a superb little restaurant in Tracy City, The Dutch Maid Bakery, It’s only a short walk from the Marugg shop to the restaurant, and you’d be foolish to plan a trip to Marugg that didn’t include lunch there, and some baked goods to go, and maybe a souvenir or two from their gift shop.

So goes my experiment with the centuries-old technology of the scythe. Unless circumstances force other, older ways of doing things on me, I’ll probably stick with factory-made clothes, indoor plumbing, networked computers and the Kubota tractor.

MaruggIcon

Marugg Trademark

But the scythe is here to stay.

Gratuitous, artsy shot of old machinery in the Marugg plant.

Gratuitous, artsy shot of old machinery in the Marugg plant. Looks like an idler pulley, meant to keep tension on the drive belt, but to allow it to slip if a piece of wood jams the tool.

My new scythe, sized for me and wrapped to travel.

My new scythe, sized for me and wrapped to travel.