Pete's random thoughts

Thursday, September 20, 2007

"You can't hit a man past 50 yards"

We've been travelling a bit over the past week. First we went to the 250th anniversary reenactment of the taking of Ft. William Henry over the weekend, then we had to return to Lake George village for a business meeting (you'll like this, but I'm not saying what I'm working on).

On the 2nd trip, we had some time to do some touristy things like eat in the overpriced restaurants there (I'm feeling pretty sick from all of the "modern" food and can't wait to get back on track with my 18th century diet). We also took Caleigh to the rebuilt Ft William Henry (known in reenacting circles as "Fort Disney". I figured that it would be memorable to Caleigh, as the "museum" is geared toward kids. The place was built in the 1950's right on the foundation of the real fort. It is built of decaying, dry-rotting logs and inside are full-scale dioramas depicting "fort life" complete with genuine 1950's fiberglass people. There is even a dungeon!

The place costs $14 for adults and $8 for our 5 year old. Staggering. The tour starts with a movie that mixes together still images of various artwork spanning the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries to illustrate the story of the fort and it's reduction. Mixed in are what appears to be outtakes from the cutting room floor of the 1990's movie Last of the Mohicans.

After the movie, you are led by a costumed tour guide (he actually used the word "karma" in his talk) who led us up onto the ramparts where we watch a "grenadier" light and throw a grenade at us.(we know he was a grenadier because he said so and he had a pointy hat, no regimental coat, but a pointy hat, I suppose that's better than a coonskin cap) The grenade contains firecrackers and it makes the tourist jump. Caleigh, ever the logical one, did a great "duck and cover" dive behind the railing as he through it. After the "grenadier", we are lead down to a corner bastion where we are shown a 6-pdr field piece. Here's where the factoids and incompetence get annoying.

We are told about how inaccurate artillery is in the day, and about how cannon are used against fortifications, not troops. (Ummm...OK, I guess that is why a 3-pdr is considered an infantry weapon, and the grapeshot and canister rounds were developed) The two guides then loaded the piece and prepared to fire. One of them donned a pair of green earmuffs! They talked about the loading and firing sequence, and how the bore was searched and swabbed. The dude with the earmuffs worked the front end of the gun and we noticed that in swabbing he only pushed the swab a few inches into the bore, not all the way to the breech, where lingering sparks would actually be. They fired the round and searched and swabbed again, this time talking about how you need to thumb the vent to extinguish lingering sparks. The only thing is, as the guy was saying this and going through the motions of thumbing the vent, his thumb wasn't even on the vent and as earmuff-guy shoved the swab down the bore, a big jet of smoke cam out of the touchhole right next to the other guy's thumb.

Yeah, it's cool that the public gets to see a cannon loaded and fired, but the guys running the show are an accident waiting to happen.

After the cannon demo, the original guide loads and fires a musket. Everybody loves to see muskets fired, but here's where I get annoyed. He goes into the uneducated BS line I have heard so often about how inaccurate muskets are and tells us that you couldn't hit a man past 50 yards away. Now I'm kind of annoyed because I have paid $37 for my family to be taught a crock of factoids.

I mentioned this glaring error to Wendy, and she that she wouldn't let me off the hook until I talked to the guy about it (remember, this is the guy who told us about "karma" at orientation). So after he demonstrated casting a musketball in a cinder block stove with an electric heater in it, I went over to talk to him. I asked what data his 50 yard claim was based on, and asked if he had ever done any actual field testing of the muskets. His reply was that no, he was new to shooting, but the other guide was an "expert" (he is referring to earmuff man).

He went to get earmuff man, and I asked the same questions. His response started with "blah blah blah I've been doing this since 1973". Then he went on to tell me about how they used to have competitions years ago and shoot 180 grains of powder under a patched ball (with modern powder, 180 grains is a proof load, not a service load). I guess all it takes to be an "expert" is to say that you are one, at least at a hokey, 1950's era tourist attraction.

The thought that these guys are spreading such misinformation bugs me, but not as much as it bugged Wendy. We decided to perform an experiment using man-sized silhouette targets and pre-rolled paper cartridges that approximate the standard British service load. My plan is to post the target, and with an untrained volunteer, see how far away from the target they get before they truly "can't hit a man sized target".

The plan is to use a .690 round ball and 90 grains of FFg. The standard load for the Brits was 120 grains, but you need to consider that their powder sucked compared to today's Goex. Wendy's arms are a bit short to handle a Long Land, but Becky (who helps out in the shop) looks to be a good candidate for the test, so does Johanna (who probably packed your order if you got a gun from us lately). Perhaps I'll roll up a bunch of cartridges and we can have all three do the shooting with three different guns to get an average "new shooter" score.

For Jeff and I to participate would skew the results, as we both can shoot much better than your average 18th century recruit. (he is a hunter safety instructor, I am an NRA black powder instructor)For instance, the Massachusetts Provincials who were in the attack on Fort Ticonderoga in 1758 had a day and a half of training before the attack-that is barely enough time to learn the drill, much less how to shoot well.

Too busy to do this test this week, but we'll document it with photographs and post the results here. This should be fun.

That's not a rat I smell...

We are fighting a war on two fronts: Rats to the south, Skunks to the north.

It seems like every time Buster the dog goes out by himself, he gets skunked, and we (by "we" I mean "I") am sick of washing him only to have him get skunked again the next night. Today I set a live-catch trap out on the game trail that leads from our house to Jeff's house, and baited it with a cheap can of cat food.

I'm thinking that tomorrow morning I'll go check it and either find a really angry skunk or a really embarrassed cat.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

I smell a rat...

Well, I don't actually smell him, but I've seen him. He (they) seem to be living under the rabbit shed and living large by digging into the bags of rabbit feed. Not cool.

I served them with an eviction notice and told them to stop tresspassing under my shed. They did not comply, so this means war. I got myself a big, old fashioned rat trap from Agway.

First, I set the trap baited with peanut butter. They managed to lick it clean without setting it off. I tried it again, this time they set the trap off, but no signs of an injured rat. Then I tried a pice of cheese (swiss, Jarlsburg in fact) because I could better secure it to the trigger since it is a solid. First night with cheese: most of it was stolen, except for the part directly in contact with the trigger. I rest it and left the same cheese remnants so as not to introduce new smells to it. That night, I got one! Good sized one, bigger than a red squirrel. Fed him to the pigs.

I reset the trap, and found it tripped a few times without any sign of rat, then a few days later found it set off and a 3" piece of rat-tail on the ground next to it. (tossed it to the chickens) Some lucky rodent has a great story to tell about how he lost half his tail in the battle with the humans "back in the fall of '07".

After that, they seemed to smarten up and set it off more carefully to get the cheese because every morning I check it and find it set off. I set it with a new piece of cheese before leaving for Lake George on friday, and came home last night to a gut pile where my trap had been.

Yes, a gut pile. I'm guessing that a rat got caught in the trap, then something gutted it for some reason, then made off with field-dressed rat, trap and all! I have searched everywhere that I can see with my flashlight, but can't find the trap! This morning I went out to survey the scene again, thinking that perhaps my tired mind was playing tricks on me, but nope, the trap is gone. So is the gut pile!

I can understand the gut pile being cleaned up by other rats, but where is my rat trap!?!?! Are they setting a trap for ME in the same way that the insurgents in Iraq scavenge unexploded ordinance to build IEDs? Maybe the next time I reach into the rabbit feed bag, I'll hear a loud SNAP and feel the neck-breaking bar of the trap slam down on my hand, then the rats will run out and give me the finger with their leader, the rat with half a tail, leading their attack.

I'll show them. I'll win this war the way we won WW2: with an endless weapon supply! They may have gotten this one, but there are more traps at Agway! Maybe I'll put out a hunk of cheese and sit out there with my .22, like an old fashioned farm boy. I wonder how many rat pelts it takes to make a shot bag?

All of a sudden, it's fall

We got in late last night from Lake George and the 250th anniversary of the French attack on Fort William Henry.

That meant today was spent running around doing errands and catching up on stuff.

One of the things we had to do was to get a new microwave, and we got it in Claremont, the city to the north of us. It's about a 25 mile round trip to get there, so we planned out our shopping and made a loop of all the stores we wanted to go to (groceries, Home Depot, Wal-Mart etc). Around 9PM, we got home and unloaded the truck, and noticed that Wendy's pocketbook wasn't here. I called Wal-Mart, the last stop we had made, and yes, they did indeed have it.

Instead of taking the 10mpg truck or the 25 mpg car, I decided to take the 45mpg motorcycle. Any excuse to take the bike is a good one. All of a sudden, it's cold out at night! In the old days, before I was married with a kid and a full-time business to run, I'd ride year-round as long as the roads weren't icy, so I've got cold weather gear. Fortunately, I had recently come across the earflaps to my half-helmet in the garage while unpacking and knew right where they were so I put them on.

I zipped up to Claremont to get the pocketbook, and on the way back the road had a little less traffic so I had a few chances to open it up. There is one spot along a large meadow where a hang-gliding school has an "ultralight' runway that is straight and kind of fun to really hit the throttle on. Tonight, due to the rapid cooling of the air and the moisture on the grass, there was a thick, gooey fog rolling across the road from the meadow. As I came around the bend in the road that leads to the straightaway, I put my feet back on the passenger pegs and laid forward on the tank, behind the fairing and nailed the throttle. I don't know how fast I was going when I shot into the fog, but it was a pretty cool feeling, much like flying.

I got home and parked the bike, and went upstairs to check the thermometer. 42 degrees outside. Good thing I found my ear flaps!