January 2014

Tomorrow at work we are having a Super Bowl Potluck. Or as I prefer to say, a Superb Owl potluck. Here’s what I’m bringing.

Superb Owl

Superb Owl

For the past month or so, our Pathfinder Club has been working on the Model Hot Air Balloon honor. We’re simultaneously in the middle of shooting some video for a production we’re working on for Pathfinder Sabbath next month. I chose Hot Air Balloons because we can take a couple of kids out at a time to shoot their portion of our video, while I work with the rest of the kids on the balloons.

The balloons are made from tissue paper – we bought the kind you’re supposed to wad up and stuff into a bag when you don’t feel up to wrapping a gift. I guess.

Anyhow, the balloons are not that hard to make, and each kid has been working diligently on their own without needing too much help from the adults.

Yesterday we were ready to launch a few of them. We used a hot air gun to fill them:

Filling it up

Filling it up

I did some calculations and estimated that these balloons are a little more than 260 liters in volume (about 70 gallons). I did some more calculations and determined that if it was about freezing outside (0°C) and we were able to pump the balloons up with air on the order of 40°C (about 100°F), they should have about 40 grams of lift. So as long as the balloons were 40 grams or less, they should rise.

I didn’t measure the temperature or weigh the balloons, and both of those are likely to be wildly off. But none the less:

We have lift off!

We have lift off!

They achieved buoyancy. Not much though. We tethered them with fishing line, and in the photo above, I’m trying to get away from the heat gun and not get tangled in the fishing line.



This particular balloon did pretty well. None of them stayed aloft for very long, and I think that was because they lost their heat pretty quickly.

So now I’m thinking I might like to build another using a Mylar emergency “space” blanket. They weigh 85 grams (or so I have read), but they should reflect all the heat back inside, and therefore, stay aloft longer.

That will require about an 80° temperature rise, but honestly, we might have had that already with the tissue balloons. As I said, I didn’t weigh the ones we have.

Anyways, this was a very fun project. I might be hooked!

Tradewater near my parent's house

Tradewater near my parent’s house

Earlier this week my wife shared a message with me which she had received on Facebook from an old friend of ours. I won’t go into the details, but she had found my blog while looking for photos of the Tradewater River which runs through our hometown. Then she figured out who I was, and asked me to post something about the railroad tunnel. So here you go. 🙂

I have no idea when this tunnel was made, but it goes under route 672. My brother Steve, a few friends, and I would sometimes go through the tunnel on the way to Bandit’s Cave, so named because the name “Jesse James” had been carved into one of the rocks there. I have no idea if it was carved by the man himself, but that is a real possibility. And now that I have introduced Bandit’s Cave, we’ll have to explore that tangent before getting back to the tunnel.

The cave itself was very high (maybe 100 feet), very wide (again, about 100 feet), and not very deep (maybe 30 feet). It was more of a scoop out of the side of a bluff than a cave, but it was leaned over such that its interior was sheltered from the rain. One time when we went there, we scrambled up the hill to get to the top of the bluff and were tooling around up there when some other kids we knew arrived. It became fairly apparent that they were pretty stoned, especially when one of them came tearing down the hill towards the edge of the bluff in a full run. As he neared the edge, he did not slow down. When he did get to the edge, he extended an arm, grabbed a tiny 4″ diameter pine tree, and swung out over the edge, landing again on the other side of the tree. It would be an understatement to say that I was somewhat alarmed by this antic. Right up until he grabbed that tree, I was sure I was witnessing a suicide. We decided we would leave before something else crazy happened that we a) did not want to get sucked into, and b) did not want to witness.

And thus ends the Bandit’s Cave tangent, and we can get back to the tunnel. Once again, Steve and I were in the vicinity of the tunnel, although this time, it was not on the way to or from Bandit’s Cave. I think we were visiting someone on Route 672, but I don’t remember anymore. Not having a car, we had ridden our bikes to the tracks, stashed them, and then walked the rest of the way there, first by going down the tracks to the tunnel, and then climbing the hill that the tunnel went through. It wasn’t far by foot, if one were willing to climb the heavily wooded and very steep hill through which the tunnel had been dug. By road it would have been a very long bike ride, and there’s no way we’d want to haul a bike through the thick woods up that hill. Not to mention that it would have been no fun to try crossing the Tradewater (via the railroad bridge) with bikes in tow.

On the way home we decided to go through the tunnel. Going through the tunnel was exciting because it was risky. It was, after all, an active railroad track, and if one were caught in the tunnel when a train came through, one would not likely survive. It was just big enough to let a train through. We were always very careful to listen for a distant train, and we would even press our ears against the rail to listen for one before entering the tunnel. Then we’d dart through.

Now these woods on the hillside were so thick that it was impossible to see the tracks from the road above. You just had to know where they were, and we pretty much did. We picked our way through the woods down the southwest side of the hill, hoping to come out on the east side of the tracks. When we got to the bottom, we could still not see the tracks, but since we were east of them, we knew that we should go west to get to them. Only we were already west of the tracks.

That was the densest, most thorn-infested patch of Creation I have ever laid eyes on. On top of that, it was also pretty swampy. It was quite the bushwhack. We kept going, and going, and still no tracks. Then we’d come to an impenetrable barrier of green briars and have to go around them, only to hopefully pick up in the same direction again on the other side. We did OK (except for getting farther and farther from the tracks). After a while we figured out that we had come down the hill on the wrong side of the tracks and were headed away from them, but the thought of backtracking through that tangle was unthinkable. So we pressed onward. After about an hour of bushwhacking, we broke through to the other side and found Montgomery Creek, which feeds into the Tradewater pretty close to where Route 672 crosses it. We followed the creek to the river (and bridge), and then followed the road to where we had stashed the bikes. Then we rode home.

Talk about going the long way around Robin’s barn!