• Category Archives looking back
  • As in “looking back in time,” things which have a historical connection.

  • COVID Memories

    Just a few things from early last year, documented — probably, but not necessarily, in chronological order — for posterity:

    • The news about the new disease in Wuhan, China started coming out in late December 2019, and I remember it being obvious even then that this would be bad.
    • Even so, it wasn’t all that obvious right away that it was already here. I remember going to a doctor’s appointment, and she asked me if I’d managed to avoid that “nasty cold going around.” Only much later did this start to seem like foreshadowing.
    • I managed to avoid that “nasty cold,” but Anne did not — she had something in early February that was like the flu from Hell. It lasted for a bit more than a week, and there were a few times in there where I though we’d need to go to the ER. We did not make the connection to the pandemic until “loss of sense of smell” became more well known…
    • There were a number of people we knew, parents/grandparents of friends etc, who died in this time period, of things like pneumonia or “flu.” Nobody thought to test at the time.

    I’ll probably write more as time and memory permits. By the way, this is what I wrote fifteen years ago.


  • Remembering Professor Cochin

    I saw this bit of craziness today, small potatoes for a day full of crazy but there it was:




    Next thing I know I’ve gone down a rabbit hole of stupid… apparently this really is a thing, especially on TikTok — “if she was blind and deaf, how could she possibly learn to read and write?” It’s weird and a bit scary that people could be like this, but it’s also pretty laughable, especially since I had a blind and deaf professor in college.

    I just Googled him, Professor Ira Cochin, and saw that he’d died only recently — his obituary says he passed away at 91 in 2016, but he already seemed a million years old back in the ’80s when I had him. (I was young.) According to the internet, he was a leading authority on optics and gyroscopes,and eventually became a professor. Years later he went blind, then a few years after that he lost his hearing. (If I remember right, he lost one eye in an accident, then eventually lost sight in the other from diabetes. I forget what caused the deafness.) Each time, he stepped back and reconfigured — this included a stint at the Helen Keller School for the Blind and Deaf — then kept on going.

    He was not my favorite professor — he was irascible, and paranoid, and had a taste for annoyingly bad multilingual puns, but he also managed, better then most professors, to keep his classes engaged. He constantly solicited yes-or-no feedback by having us rap on our desks (which he felt in his shoes), he had invented a lot of devices to help the disabled handle various tasks, and he had assistants who communicated with him with a form of tactile sign language modified for blind people. Granted, he wasn’t disabled from birth like Helen Keller, but he was still pretty amazing. I still have his textbook on dynamics somewhere in the house.

    So here’s to “Dr. Ira,” because nothing stopped him in this world.


  • Speaking of Eating

    We’ve been eating a lot of salad greens, and also turnip greens (that come with the turnips), and I turned to an old go-to recipe: pasta and tuna with wilted greens. I learned the “tuna in olive oil over pasta” thing from my work friend Vito, probably more than 20 years ago at this point, and over the years I modified the recipe to add spring greens. (I actually wrote up a vegetarian version — sans the tuna — for a recipe exchange once.) We had it with tuna one time this week, and another time I made it with smoked mussels. Both were excellent…

    Meantime, this is what I wrote ten years ago.


  • The Iron Bridge

    Although it probably won’t rise to the level of my Calypso Island obsession, I’ve been intrigued by a story I ran across, about a nearby railroad bridge and a fire there that smoldered for 20 years…

    I ran across this while doing some futzing around with OpenStreetMap, where someone had left notes on the map — “notes” are meant for marking items where corrections need to be made, but these notes were just interesting bits of historic trivia about certain places. (This, by the way, is a pet peeve of mine.) One note described an iron railroad bridge (on Iron Bridge Road) that had been covered by fill. There is a railroad that crosses Jordan Creek, and Iron Bridge Road which runs parallel to the creek, but the road and creek crossed under the railroad via tunnels, and the note in any case was nowhere near this particular spot on the road. Does the note indicate a different RR crossing, now gone?

    I did some research, and discovered that there was no other railroad crossing, the existing railroad was indeed the location of the iron bridge. This was part of a rail line build jointly by the Crane and Thomas Iron Companies, from Catasauqa out to local ore fields. It was originally a plank road when local roads proved inadequate for heavy traffic, and was converted into a railroad, complete with huge wooden trestle bridge across Jordan Creek, when the plank road proved inadequate.

    As time went on and trains got heavier, the wooden bridge was replaced with an iron trestle bridge, which was an engineering marvel for its time but was, in its turn, also discovered to be inadequate… So about 1916, the railroad build a set of concrete tunnels under the bridge (for the creek and the road to go through), then started dumping slag, “factory ash” and other industrial waste, building up an escarpment around and over the bridge. They dumped about 300,000 tons of fill between 1916 and 1919, and created the hill that’s there now.

    So far so good, and a moderately interesting piece of industrial history, but what caught my eye was a newspaper story from about 1942, lamenting the inaccessible iron now buried under the hill, which could have been salvaged for the war effort. Unfortunately (the article continued), the escarpment, which was basically a mountain of industrial waste, caught fire in 1917; it burned underground, melting the buried iron so it sometimes leaked out of the hill, and occasionally catching the railroad ties on fire, for the next twenty years.

    Twenty years! I thought that a twenty-year fire, complete with molten iron running from the ground, was just crazy, a story on the order of Centralia that locals would still be talking about, but I found almost nothing about it. Just another part of Pennsylvania’s Mordor-industrial history. OpenStreetmap correctly shows the current conditions on the ground (RR on escarpment, with road and creek passing under in tunnels), so I made no changes and closed the note.


  • Interregnum

    Posted on by Don
    Surprise! Brian at his birthday party.

    Brian would have turned 60 a few weeks ago. It’s been ten years since his big 50th birthday bash, and that means it’s only a week or so until the 10th anniversary of his death. The birthday party did not carry any extraordinary significance at the time, but it’s loomed larger in the years since, as the starting bracket for “the last weeks of his life,” and this year I’ve been thinking a lot about him.

    The world has changed so much since then. I wonder: what would he be like now, and how would he fit into this world? Our friendship was in the middle of changing when he passed away: it was early in my relationship with Anne, I was no longer a fellow bachelor, and he was no longer riding as much — or shouldn’t have been — and we were drifting apart. Where would we stand, as friends, now? It hurts to think this, but maybe I value him more than I would have, if he were still here and I didn’t have to miss him.

    But I do miss him.

    Godspeed you Brian, wherever you are. In Moab, or Jim Thorpe, on a goofy bike adventure or just sitting in some bar shooting the breeze, I’ll think of you as being there. I’ll remember you and smile.


  • Goodbye, Old Friend

    dog in snow
    Langston in the Snow

    We heard the other day that our old dog Langston finally had to be put down. Anne had him when we met in 2008; he wasn’t more than two years old at the time, and we were the best of buddies for about two years, until it became apparent (rather I should say: undeniable, un-hideable) that he was making me very sick, and we had to give him to her ex. We saw him a few times since, the last time being about two years ago, when we all got together to plan Emmi’s wedding. He was a bit older and grayer, but then so were we, and he was happy to see us, breaking out some of his toys to play tug-of-war. He had a pretty good life, but I still feel bad that he couldn’t have stayed with us.

    I don’t have very many photos of him. That one was from a day of hiking and playing in the snow at Sals, in January of 2009.


  • Spring Sprang Sprung

    It was a perfect springlike day Monday, so I hopped on the Iguana to do a little OpenStreetMapping — there was a note on the website saying that a Moravian spiritual retreat just outside of town had been closed, and I thought if I could go there and confirm it on the ground, I’d go ahead and make the change when I got home. The former retreat was right next to a new park too, so I could also do a little exploring when I got there.

    My ride was pretty low-key: I was just out in street clothes and boots (and my helmet), something I’d been doing lately for casual riding; I was also inspired to keep it simple by Bike Snob’s recent article… I tooled up Main Street to Macada, then Altonah, then made a right onto Santee Mill Road, which is basically as bucolic as the City of Bethlehem gets. I was looking for a road/path off Santee Mill to take me into the park, but never found it (I saw later it was smaller than a sidewalk and very easy to miss). No matter, I continued forward, back into civilization, and entered the park from the front. Just outside the park entrance was a house where the retreat would have been; the house had posts out front, from which there might once have hung shingles, and the shingles might once have said “Spiritual Retreat” or whatever, but the shingles were gone now and there was a big “Private” sign by the driveway. So Phase 1 of my exploration was complete…

    That left the park — officially, “The Janet Johnston Housenick & William D. Housenick Memorial Park” but apparently just called “Housenick Park” by normal people. This is a parcel of land donated by Janet Johnston Housenick, granddaughter of Archibald Johnston, the first mayor of the consolidated City of Bethlehem (he was also chief architect of that consolidation, and a high ranking executive at Bethlehem Steel — he was as Bethlehem as it gets). The land was once part of the Johnston farm/estate, and it includes the old Archibald Johnston Mansion. The park is fairly new and still under construction/renovation, but there are a bunch of new footpaths and old carriage roads, and I cruised around for about an hour, taking pictures.

    It’s hard to believe looking at it, but the estate only dates from the 1910’s or 1920’s — it looks typical of a farmstead from about 100 years earlier — and the house was built using Bethlehem Steel beams. There was a boat house and tennis courts (or the ruins of them), but there were also lime kilns and the remains of orchards, ornaments in a hobbyist’s historical reenactment of country-squire life.

    The ride home was uneventful, and pleasant though the day was getting breezy. I returned via Township Line Road, which eventually becomes Altonah, and basically retraced my steps from there. I went about 16 miles all told, and total ride time was just over 2 hours


  • SuperWolf BloodMoon

    We watched the lunar eclipse the other night, going out every half hour or so for quick peeks — it was cold out! — until just a little after midnight. We used binoculars to get more detail, and we had a perfect view. We caught the very first appearance of the shadow, watched the gradually growing coverage until it was complete and the Moon was a dark red ball, and finally saw the shadow begin its retreat before we called it a night. (We saw photos later where the occluded Moon looked blue, but for us it was red, a deep and rusty, almost brownish red.) The show was awesome in all senses of the word, and “Superwolf Bloodmoon” sounds like a great name for a band — maybe names for two bands…

    Updating The Databases

    I’ve been updating my Sals trail map in QGIS, and I think I now have most of the new trail name/blaze changes, definitely all the changes I could verify on the ground, documented. I’m working on actually making a big paper map from all my data, which requires that I now learn some actual cartography skills. I put that project away to let it simmer for a while, and went back to my list of trail amenities.

    In terms of actual, usable data, that list is a hot mess: restaurants and bars have closed or changed names, new establishments have opened, many long-established places were still missing from the list (because they were never on OpenStreetMap, my primary source), and, worst of all, most of the amenities had no other information than name and location. I spent a good part of the last few days adding and removing establishments, and finding phone numbers and other contact info, and generally updating the list. I still have a ways to go, but Bethlehem is starting to look complete.

    The final database update was for my family tree, which I maintain in GRAMPS genealogy software. (The problem was that I might have “intercalated” an imaginary person into the tree: there is a Dorothy Murphy in my database, a distant cousin who might have had a niece Dorothy Mahoney, and either Dorothy Mahoney married Tom Hagenberg, or Dorothy Mahoney never existed and it was Dorothy Murphy who married Tom Hagenberg. My database had the “Dorothy Mahoney is real” version.)

    This issue came up a few years ago in conversation with my parents, but I never got around to fixing it in GRAMPS, and eventually forgot which version was correct. I happened to be looking at old photos the other day though, and there was Dorothy Hagenberg, handing out cake at a child’s birthday party in the late 1940’s, and the whole thing was back in my face… A little email correspondence this week with Mom got the family tree straightened out, and fixing it in GRAMPS was surprisingly easy — Dorothy Mahoney is no more. There’s a lot of missing information in this database as well, but at least that one known error has been corrected.

    Cello Time

    My cello playing has been coming along, not in leaps and bounds but I am progressing… I’ve got a few songs under my belt now, and I am working on possible duets with Anne, and my lessons are starting to get beyond the very basics — I’m now working on the regular basics…


  • Trail Summit

    So Sunday (last Sunday, not yesterday) was a recreational day for the Eastern PA Trail Summit, and I had an invite — a free pass really, courtesy of the D&L — to the whole event, so I rode to Easton to check out the Canal Boat ride and the industrial history tour. Both were awesome despite my stubbed toe…

    (Both events were informative, but while anyone can get a picture of canal boat life from what’s currently on display, and it’s common knowledge that there were once many factories along the canal, it was truly eye-opening to have someone point and say, “right there was a giant textile mill, and in that empty field there was once a blast furnace, in fact that boulder is what’s left of its foundation.”)

    Very cool, and here are some photos from Sunday:

    Scott S was also at the park that day, doing a kid’s bike ride with the Easton Police. That was pretty cool, and nice to see some cycling friends there with their kids.

    The Trail Summit proper was Monday and Tuesday. I had no real idea of what to expect — I actually had to look up what a “breakout session” was, and what the difference was between “keynote” and “plenary” speakers — but they were two awesome, informative and inspiring days.

    I learned a new term – “inland port,” sigh — from Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure, who spoke of it as one of several competing visions for the Lehigh Valley (as opposed to “nice place with trails,” I suppose), and the keynote speaker, a woman who thru-hiked the AT and spoke of it as a life-changing experience, made me realize that the Lehigh Towpath changed my life as well. There were morning sessions on redesigning roads to accommodate trail sections, and afternoon sessions on marketing your town to trail users, and a cyclist, the speaker for Tuesday’s lunch, said we need more amenities and signage. Amen brother!

    There was a dinner Monday night at the National Museum of Industrial History, so of course we all toured the museum. Here are a few photos:

    Not everyone was an awesome speaker, even if their ideas were good, and not every session was informative — there were a few I actually disagreed with — but all in all, it was an awesome conference.