Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Setzer anniversary

Carolie and I had our anniversary night out tonight. I bought tickets last month for tonight's Brian Setzer (and his orchestra) concert down at Mystic Lake Casino in Shakopee. I had never been there before; it's quite an operation.

And Setzer was Setzer. This was the encore before they ended with Jump, Jive, and Wail!


Monday, November 09, 2009

The deck

A few years ago -- 2004, if I recall -- Carolie and the boys headed East for a celebration of some sort with her folks in the Berkshires and I figured it was a good time to replace some rotted stair posts on the backyard deck.

When I removed the stairs, however, I found some rot in the deck plankings. So I started replacing the deck plankings. I noticed the railings weren't very good because, well, there weren't any posts holding the railings up; only the ballisters nailed to the joists.

It was clear that the entire deck -- minus the footings and joists -- would have to be replaced. A little here. A little there.

I had a lot of goals for the "good weather" this year. One of them was to get the deck (mostly) finished, five years later.

Earlier this summer, I replaced the upper part of the deck.

This weekend -- thanks to great weather -- I added the railings and posts to the stairs. This actually required about five separate cuts per post, that made each post look like part of puzzle for Mensa members. But it got done:

The structural rebuild is now complete. I still have to finish adding ballisters (I'll be making a design in one panel) and adding the railing cap. I also have to add lattice. And I'm thinking about adding some railing boxes for flowers and such.

Have I ever told you I flunked shop in school?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Fall flying

Famed RV-6A builder/pilot Alex Peterson (you may have seen his aerobatic video here) is like Batman. I -- and I guess this makes me "the commissioner" -- put out the Bat Signal a week ago on Van's Air Force. I needed a motivation flight. Alex saw the signal and stopped by South St. Paul today.

I've been stuck on the project lately and when I went to putter around today, I just ended up sorting nuts and bolts and screws and such; not something that's going to get a plane built. But that's the way building an RV can be; sometimes you need a nudge.

So Alex dropped in and took me for a spin. Here's the takeoff out of South St. Paul. Note the glider in the grass we pass on the way out.

Alex let me fly a little bit and I was consciously trying not to exert any backpressure on the turns, but I increased altitude so I must have. It was weird to look over at the airspeed indicator and see 160. I'm used to plodding along at 90 in a Warrior.

We flew up the St. Croix River, looked for Doug Weiler's house in Hudson (Doug heads the Twin Cities RV builders' group) and then headed back -- a half hour of good flying in which -- for the record -- neither Alex nor I opened our laptops during the flight.

After he dropped me off, he advised, "just start on anything and plow forward," and he and his friend, Benny (who was visiting from Israel) headed north back to Anoka.

And I plowed into some firewall forward stuff.

Mission accomplished.

Monday, October 12, 2009

For Don Thurston

Sunday October 11, 2009
Delivered by Bob Collins

I am deeply honored to be asked by the family to speak to you this afternoon about Don Thurston. I've been known to put a couple of words together from time to time, but there's nothing in my experience that has given me the ability to put Don's life -- as I've known it -- into words.

In 1976, I got a letter which said:

"Dear Bob: Thank you for your interest in WMNB. Unfortunately, we have no present positions. We will keep your resume on file. Sincerely, Don Thurston."

I wish I'd saved that letter. But I had so many of them.

Three or four years later, I met his daughter when we worked down at WBEC in Pittsfield, and I didn't care for her that much, and she didn't much care for me. So, naturally, we were married about three years later and I became Don Thurston's favorite son-in-law.

Years later, when I went to work for him, I asked him where he kept that resume and he acknowledged that he didn't.

Life is funny. And life is to be marveled, even when it ends.

A guy grows up in Gloucester of modest means, goes to school to be an electrical engineer, goes to Vermont to work in radio; even does a morning show from a barn -- with a dog -- then strikes out on his own and works his way up to owning a radio station in North Adams, and he put an FM station on the air -- WMNB, which he used to stood for "We May Never Broadcast." And from his home base, he became one of the most influential people in his field in America.

Radio was the medium that united America's communities, and it selected Don Thurston as its leader. He knew mayors, and governors, and presidents, and people who wanted to be president and they knew him by his first name. He could spend a day listening to Yo Yo Ma down at Tanglewood, and another in Nashville swapping tales with Dolly Parton.

But up on the hill here, at the highest point beyond the hairpin turn, there's a red light on top of a tower that flashes: on…and…off. All night. Every night. We refer to it as "Papa's Light." They were going to shut it off a few years ago because it's not required anymore. But pilots over at the airport -- bless their hearts -- asked that it be kept on because when you're flying around in the dark over horrible terrain, it's the beacon that says, "This is where home is. Right over here." So, Don and Cory kept it on.

Like Papa's Light, Don reminded us through his actions and words, that no matter where you are, no matter the route of your life, no matter the terrain you encounter, this is where home is. Right over here.

Lesser men have left the Berkshires and never looked back.

Others have seen success as something you find somewhere else.

Where others saw danger, he saw potential, which is the number one reason why Don saw so much success himself. He saw in us things that we didn't even see in us. Nobody loved our success more than Don. He was loyal to the people who worked for him at those radio stations and they were loyal to him, and to these communities, and that did not happen by accident.

Don Thurston was living proof of what can be accomplished with a bucket-load of optimism and a woman named Oralie.

If you were a contemporary of Don's -- and especially if you were an in-law -- your God-given survival instinct compelled you to a life with a singular purpose: Not to disappoint Don Thurston, a man with that voice that would make you sit up straight.

I say that not to imply that there was a price to be paid from Don for disappointing him; there was a price to be paid from you and your mirror. That's what a role model does. He provides the big shoes. The rest is up to us.

He made us want to be better.

Don was brilliant. He made us want to be brilliant, too.

He was a man of more integrity than any person I've ever met. And he made us want to act with more integrity, too.

Don felt an abiding sense of service to his community, whether it was his church, his city, his county, his college, or his country, and he made us want to serve our communities, too.

Whoever you are and whatever life you've lived, when Don Thurston talked to you, your life was the most interesting in the world -- not because it was some technique of a guy who knew how to close a deal, but because Don found the same wonder in our lives as we found in his. If at times we thought we didn't measure up to our role model, the cure was merely to spend a few minutes with him.

Nobody deserved a happy and healthy retirement more than Don Thurston. But I'm not going to lie to you; he didn't get it. The last few years were a struggle. The last few months were the very definition of "unfair."

They required us then -- and require us now -- to make a withdrawal from a bank account into which Don made a regular deposit of wisdom.

There is a well-embellished parable that says that one day Solomon decided to humble Benaiah, his most trusted minister. He said to him, "Benaiah, there is a certain ring that I want you to bring to me. It has special powers. If a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy."

Benaiah searched for the ring, and finally passed a merchant in Jerusalem, and said, "Have you by any chance heard of a special ring that makes the happy wearer forget his joy, and the broken-hearted wearer forget his sorrows?"

The elderly man took a plain gold ring from his display and engraved something on it.

Benaiah took the ring back to Solomon, who read the inscription that made his smile disappear. The jeweler had written three Hebrew letters on the gold band -- Gimel, Zayin, and Yud -- which begin the words "Gam zeh ya'avor." This, too, shall pass.

These words were Don's mantra, and as we reflect on our sorrow today, they can make a sad person happy. For we know that Don was right. This grief will pass.

For now, however, I share it with Oralie. And Allen. And Carolie. And Cory. And Marie.

The largest part of Don Thurston's loving heart was reserved exclusively for his grandchildren.

  • If you didn't know Don Thurston, then meet Sarah, in whom Don's optimism, smile, and wisdom lives.

  • If you didn't know Don Thurston, then meet Tom, in whom Don's dignity, love of family, sense of responsibility, and curiosity lives.

  • If you didn't know Don Thurston, then meet Sean, in whom Don's brilliance, and standard of fairness and justice lives. If your grandfather ever rooted for the Yankees (and I'm not saying he did), then it was only because you did.

  • If you didn't know Don Thurston, then meet Ross, in whom Don's love of music, resilience, and ability to accomplish great things without forgetting his roots lives.

  • If you didn't know Don Thurston, then meet Patrick, in whom Don's ease around people of all stripes, high expectations, joy, and determination to serve others lives.

    If you did know Don Thurston, then today we share a common sense that we have been the luckiest people in the world.

    In this hour… at this moment… this family… this community… this world … has never needed the likes of Don Thurston more.

    He has given us the example of a life well-lived, in service to us.

    Let us vow not to disappoint him.
  • Saturday, September 26, 2009

    To a good man at a bad time

    My father in law, Don Thurston, is dying and now that I've written it, it looks worse in print than in my head. Carolie has gone back East to be with him and her family.

    If there was ever a guy who deserved a healthy -- and long -- retirement, it was Don Thurston. But it was not meant to be. Instead he got Parkinson's. Mysterious ways? Yeah, I've got your mysterious ways right here.

    The boys and I are back in flyover country, waiting for a call that has no choice but to come. In the meantime, the only thing I could do early this morning was the only thing I know to do.

    The original (slightly bigger) version can be found here. You can also look at it in full screen, although the movement and loading degrades when viewed in full screen.

    Update 10/6/09 - Don died this morning.

    Monday, September 07, 2009

    An afternoon at the Arboretum

    We went to the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (we're members) last spring and I got some ideas for the gardens. Lots of purple and lots of petunias this year. How did it work out? Not so good. Lots of slugs. Not much grew except for the perennial garden.

    So today -- Labor Day -- we went for our late summer/fall visit. The Arboretum had a better year, I guess. For the slideshow below, I recommend the full screen version. Just click the icon with the four arrows on the bottom right. Hit play and the rest will display automatically.

    Monday, August 24, 2009

    Art of the interview

    I got some nice coverage of a tour of college campuses from the magazine of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System. It's on page 14 here.

    Tuesday, August 18, 2009

    Dog days of summer

    If I could pick one place to be today, I guess this would be it. On my brother's porch overlooking Cape Cod Bay. I probably wouldn't be reading. Or sleeping.

    Saturday, August 01, 2009

    Oshkosh Diary: Back home and counting

    I left Oshkosh yesterday morning and have returned home. Unfortunately, I didn't get to say goodbye to the half dozen or so people who are pretty much the reason I go in the first place.

    So if you're reading this -- and you know who you are -- they should make a video about you all. Planes are nice. Airshows are nice. Fancy gadgets are nice. But they're not what makes Oshkosh Oshkosh.

    Friday, July 31, 2009

    Oshkosh Diary - The Inhofes

    You can't throw a rear spar down the street in the campground at Oshkosh and not hit an RV builder and/or pilot.

    I met Jim Davis, right, this morning as I was breaking down the campsite for the return to St. Paul. Jim is an RV-8 pilot (I think he also built an RV-6). He's from Tulsa. A few minutes later a group of his friends stopped by to visit with him. That's U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, who may be one of the biggest supporters of general aviation in Washington. We may see a lot of RV builders here in the campground, but we don't see a lot of U.S. senators showing up for a cup of coffee.

    His son, Jim (shown below) was kind enough to take our picture, and tell me about his RV-8 and flying into Oshkosh. He's been coming here for 23 years, I believe he said.

    It's time to pack up and head for home. Fifty-one weeks to go.

    Thursday, July 30, 2009

    Piece of Grass 2009

    We had about 100 people -- I'd guess -- at the scaled-down annual get-together of RV builders at Oshkosh. For all of the glitz and glamour of the show, it's people sitting around shooting the breeze that keeps people coming back to a spot in Wisconsin every year. Or at least I like to think so.

    It's very late as I upload this and I haven't had a chance to put captions to all pictures. But if you see yourself here, write down the number and e-mail me and I'll add you.

    Internet service is very spotty, so I'll do the best I can to get it updated.

    I stole this next picture from Doug Reeves:

    See his pictures here.

    Wednesday, July 29, 2009

    Oshkosh Diary - Wednesday July 29, 2009

    It was a real thrill to see a skywriter write "Welcome, RV airplane builders" today. Unfortunately, the school levy up here failed recently and he spelled it wrong.

    One of the interesting things about Oshkosh -- at least for aviation types-- is every morning you step out of your tent and into your screensaver. Most of the EAA monthly screensavers through the year are images shot during this week. This morning, I'm sitting at the campsite watching the powered parachutes flying overhead; every now and again a bird will join the procession.

    I've generally been unable -- and probably will continue to be unable -- to provide significant updates here because the wiFi at AirVenture simply isn't very good. Last evening I parked under the gizmo that provides it and I still couldn't get online. It's free, so we really have no right to complain, and in the big scheme of things it's a small complaint. But the EAA probably should stop advertising "free WiFi" to entice people to camp until it reaches a certain level of performance.

    Even at the press office, the system is so overloaded, many of us can't file our stories and accounts. OK, EAA. You've worn me down. I'll gladly pay for wiFi that works rather than free wiFi that doesn't. You know what would be great? If Ford or Honda or any of those big conglomerates that EAA is now synonymous with would get into the broadband business.

    Yesterday was a combination of work and play. I documented -- slightly -- my lunch with Lane Wallace. I then interviewed Joe Balzer for about a half hour. He's one of the Northwest Airlines crew members of a 727 flight from Fargo to Minneapolis in 1990 who flew drunk. He did prison time and now he's written a book. I have the interview on tape and at some point I'll bang out a story for the day job and post it here as well.

    Then it was off to dinner downtown with my friends from Trio Avionics -- Jerry Hansen, Chuck Busch, Sid Tolchin, and Paul Ross. This is always the highlight of my stay at Oshkosh and one of the highlights of the year. They're fine people and I enjoy their company, partly because they're among the few that enjoy mine. I've decided, by the way, to take the TruTrak single-axis autopilot out of the RV-7A project and replace it with the Trio Pro Pilot autopilot. It's robus, can do more things, perhaps, than an around-the-patch flyer like me need it to do, but it comes from a good company with good people and because it does, I have no qualms about flying with it.

    By the way, they said business -- which is mostly indicated by the number of people who stop to talk -- has been very good and this is the emerging theme of AirVenture this year. It may confound the economists but business is booming here. The airport was closed to any more incoming arrivals on Monday because there's just no place to put them. The campground is packed solid and people here apparently have money to spend.

    Now one can argue -- as I have -- that aviation is for people with money anyway, but even comparing apples to apples (previous years of AirVenture), this is a significant uptick in the economic reality here. Jerry attributed it to a couple of things including the fact that there are a lot of airplane builders like me who have reached the point in the project where there's simply too much invested in it -- time, money and emotion -- to quit, no matter what the economic reality is.

    Back at the campground last night, a steady trickle stopped by for "happy hour." A group from Massachusetts caused -- then cured -- a case of homesickness (you can do that to me with a Boston accent). A nice couple from The Netherlands also stopped by. They're building an RV-7A, and learned to fly at the same time. And the "RV compound residents" like Paul Trotter, and Chris Stone and John Porter were there. So we had about a dozen people and that was great fun.

    And this evening will try to increase that with the RV Family Reunion Piece of Grass 2009. I've bought watermelon (I always do at these things and nobody ever wants any) and a cheap grill from WalMart and we're encouraging RVers to simply stop by and sit a spell. No big BBQ. No door prizes. People come simply because they want to sit around and make up lies about our homebuilding prowess.

    So today I'll mostly hang around the campground, buy some firewood (it feels like the '40s here at night), and get things ready.

    Then this evening, I'll take a bunch of pictures and make my own screensavers.

    Tuesday, July 28, 2009

    Oshkosh Diary: The Airbus A380

    It's probably worth pointing out that the presumed pilot is Terry Lutz, a former Northwest Airlines pilot and proud builder and owner of an RV-8.

    Oshkosh Diary - Tuesday July 28, 2009

    I started out today taking some pictures of RVs to share, then I got sidetracked. I'll go back and add some later on...


    I got sidetracked because I had lunch with Lane Wallace in the Flying building, an air conditioned, catered lovely meeting spot full of the who's who of aviation. But I was most interested in a conversation with Lane, whose writing I've admired for many years.

    But she's more -- much more -- than her Flying Magazine columns, or her column on The Atlantic's Web site. Her Web site -- No Maps, No Guide, No Limits -- is a great site full of interesting material on passions and risks and life.

    Why do we do the things we do? Why do we persist through the "dark nights?" What is the difference between succeeding with our dreams or giving up? That was the substance of our conversation and, no, I don't have a picture of us together because that's lame.

    Still, even in the "must pass through the bouncers" environment of the Flying building, several people came up to us -- well, her -- during lunch to tell her how much her writing means to them. That's saying something.


    It was a happy happy hour on Monday afternoon even though the storms rolled through right on schedule and wiped out the air show, which -- from what I can tell anecdotally -- a lot of the veteran Oshkosh attendees don't watch anyway.

    The Doobie Brothers were set to perform in AeroShell square and while we figured the show would be canceled, they went on, from what we're told. It's better, however, to sit under the canopy in a patch of a field a half mile away, though, and discuss the finer points of bucking bars.

    And so we did. Bill Settle from North Carolina wandered over and we had a delightful happy hour with Paul Trotter and John Porter and Chris Stone and then went out for dinner.


    Sitting around over the morning coffee, the comparative quiet of an Oshkosh morning was broken by a couple of P-51s taking off and flying over the campground. The QOTD goes to John Porter:

    "The orthodontists are awake."


    New flush toilets a hit at Camp Scholler.

    Of course, the truly great campers by now have already calculated what time the Porta Potty cleaning brigade cleans a particular Porta Potty and adjusted their schedule accordingly. Another art form lost.


    The wallet was found. In Chris Stone's van. Stand down.


    At least in the campground, this is one of the bigger crowds I've seen in recent years. I talked to Jerry Hansen at Trio Avionics yesterday afternoon and he said it was a steady stream of people to talk to. Now the key, of course, is whether that translates into business.

    I'm generally not a big fan of ripping out systems already installed in an RV-7A that hasn't flown yet, but the Trio Pro Pilot looks to be a superior autopilot.

    Will head out to buy a lottery ticket later on.


    The weather looks like it's savings its best for Wednesday. However, wiFi is way too spotty for posting pictures right away so the live "chat" is canceled.


    I wouldn't know a good formation from a bad formation. I thought the 37 ship formation of RV airplanes that arrived Sunday was excellent. But these are particular fliers with a skill far beyond me. There apparently was some dissatisfaction with a ragged tail. Couldn't tell it by me.

    Here's some pictures of what it looked like at altitude.

    The day is young. More as it happens.


    If you want to hear the Oshkosh Tower, go here.

    Monday, July 27, 2009

    Oshkosh Diary - Monday July 27, 2009

    I'm realizing after three days here that I really don't have that much to do this year. Most of what I need to buy for the RV I've already bought and that which I haven't bought I can't afford. That takes a great deal of pressure off.

    Frankly, though, for working stiffs like me, it's difficult to walk the AirVenture grounds and not get the feeling that everyone else did something right and somewhere along the line, I got derailed. Money is exchanging hands like crazy. There's giant RVs (the kind on wheels) worth millions and enough toys to handle Christmas around the world this year.

    For an old New Englander with a Protestant work ethic, sometimes the self-indulgence can be overwhelming.


    My camping neighbor and RV friend, John Porter, lost his wallet somewhere last night. We went over to the Fly-In movie theater and he figures it fell out somewhere over there, he figures. A trip to the lost-and-found yielded no success. I can't imagine a bigger pain in the neck for someone visiting AirVenture.

    I'd like to think that some EAAer found the wallet and turned it in but the longer we go without a happy ending, the less likely there's going to be one.


    The one forum I'm going to take in today is with the gentleman I'm interviewing tomorrow for the day job (and this blog). Joe Balzer was on the flight crew of a Northwest Airlines flight from Fargo to Minneapolis in 1990 with 91 passengers aboard. All three of the pilots were drunk. He's been sober for 19 years and I'll be telling his story here and elsewhere this week.


    Dick Knapinski does a fabulous job with the EAA media department and it's easy for a journalist here on media credentials (this year it's for this blog via RV Builder's Hotline) to feel guilty for not working harder to dig up stories. The LED Aero folks are catering a luncheon here in the press tent in a few minutes. I don't accept free food (other than some water) so I'm vacating to make the rounds on the grounds and see what average folks I can run into.

    But the EAA deserves great credit for its effort to get people to tell the story of aviation. It's important to note that the organization does not pressure media in any way to bend the message of any of the "working media."


    Dave Gamble of Columbus, Ohio writes one of the better aviation blogs out there. With a gift for the printed word and an airplane that actually goes places, Dave has made PapaGolf Chronicles one of the daily must-reads.

    His daughter is up here working the Girls With Wings booth all week and they're staying at a hotel in West Bend, an hour or so away. It caught my attention a week or so ago when he "tweeted" that flying his RV-6 here would be too much of a pain in the neck. But there's probably more to be said for a nice hotel than a small tent on the hard ground of Wisconsin.

    If you've got an IFR-capable RV-9 that you'd like to unload for next to nothing, contact Dave.


    Here's dozens of more pictures from Doug Reeves at Van's Air Force.
    (More as it happens)

    Sunday, July 26, 2009

    RVers of Oshkosh: Vern Darley and Tommy Turner

    Vern and Tommy, from Peachtree, Georgia, arrived yesterday, navigating a front that has extended from Iowa across the middle of the country. Some of the RVers were stranded on the southern side of the front, and should make it in today, Vern said.

    Vern's airplane isn't a kit. He made it from parts, including a canopy which had a gallon of epoxy poured on top of it. "You can do great things with sanding plexiglass, Tommy said. And they did. The airplane is beautiful.

    Vern said he heard that an RV flipped yesterday while coming in, although I haven't heard anything about that (I wouldn't; I haven't been done on the flight line until today).

    Crosswinds are a real problem so far this year, some of the RVers report.

    There's a big empty hole in the space where RVers are usually parked. I assume that's for a 36-ship formation that's arriving around 1:30.

    Oshkosh Diary - Sunday July 26, 2009

    We amateur economists -- and these days, what economists aren't amateurs? -- have been figuring we'd use AirVenture as one of the barometers of house the economy is affecting people. After all, aviation isn't an essential and finding one's way to the middle of Wisconsin is an optional way to spend a week.

    As evidenced -- sort of -- by the picture above, the early indication is more people will be at AirVenture this year than last year. Usually the field around where I set up camp each year doesn't fill up at my neck of the field until Sunday afternoon. But by Saturday afternoon this year,the tide of humanity has reached me.

    Now this, of course, is all anecdotal. It could very well be that the people with pop-ups and tents this year, used to be the people with the big "land yachts" down closer to the show in previous years.

    We'll see.

    This morning I'm going to meet up with the guys from Trio Avionics to help set up their booth. It's going to be cool this week, especially for the people from the southwest who've been living with 100+ temperatures. Dry heat, schmy heat; that's no way to live.

    Welcome back to Wisconsin, fellas!


    I strolled along the homebuilt camping area for RVers a little bit ago (9:27 a.m.). I'll upload some pictures later but I loved the plugs I found above.

    And here is the obligatory and cliche self portrait. I am not above cliche.


    Here's an interesting modification. A rudder trim tab.

    This is the RV-6 of Roger Hansen of Henderson, NV. This may be a common thing on a 6; I don't know. But it's cool.

    Of course you can always find the builders strolling the RV corral. They're the ones taking pictures VERY close up.

    I've been looking at fiberglass work of the elevator tips as I go from RV to RV. As you may know, that's what I've been doing. For the first time in 10 years of coming to Oshkosh, today was the first time I've ever said to myself "I like my work better" when I looked at some planes. It's not that the ones I looked at were poor; far from it. I just like the amount of work and payoff I got in the last two weeks working on my plane.


    This one incident today involves a Pietenpol.

    Completely second-hand info follows: A couple of Pietenpol Air Campers were landing and one caught a gust of wind and went vertical, settling back on the tail. I understand the pilot is OK. I suppose if you're going to break your airplane, Oshkosh is a good place to do it. There are more than few folks around who know what to do.


    The 36-ship formation of RV airplanes flew over with a roar at 1:01 p.m. As usually, very impressive.


    Updated 8:01 p.m. - I've added a few more pictures. Apologies if this stuff isn't all that great. I'm taking things a lot slower -- so far -- this year.

    Saturday, July 25, 2009

    Oshkosh Diary - Saturday July 25, 2009

    Around 7 this morning, Rich Emery stopped by to help me get the canopy up before the wind came up. We got it up and the wind followed shortly thereafter. Such is the life of camping in the field.

    Now we just wait to see who shows up to claim some of the camping sites I've staked out, and who will be neighbors around the "compound." You never know at Oshkosh but in 9 years of attending, I've never been disappointed.

    I'll update each of these entries throughout the day.

    We were spoiled by last year's Oshkosh weather. Especially out here in the field, you're vulnerable to high winds, pestilence and, of course, downpours. We've had one so far today but the wind is the difficult child. Paul Trotter (above) has joined the compound. He's joined the broken-tent-rod club.

    Chris Stone, who's not too far away from flying one of these newfangled airplanes that he built himself, has also joined the compound. And John Porter should be in tomorrow. Looks like we're going to have an extra camping spot, or two.

    Darwin Barrie, Glenn Brasch and Glenn's son, Michael, arrived from Chicago. They brought Glenn's trailer, got in an accident in Kansas where a woman side-swiped the trailer, they dropped the trailer off here and then Glenn and Michael went to visit Mom/Grandma in Chicago. They picked Darwin up at O'Hare today and made their way here. Good folks. I'm looking forward to many happy hours together.

    Roger Evenson, also from Arizona, and his wife have also arrived. Very nice people who are helping the Hazebusters people sell sunglasses. Roger built the Web site.

    Now he has to rebuild his right elevator which suffered when it hit the ground when Roger stepped on on his RV the other day.

    Darwin reports by way of Jeff Point that a steady stream of RV airplanes have been arriving. I'm not sure how much time I'll spend down there this year. I may try to take in more forums.

    Tomorrow morning, I hope to help Sid, Jerry, and Chuck set up the Trio Avionics booth in the hangar. I always look forward to their company at Oshkosh.

    Friday, July 24, 2009

    On to Oshkosh!

    I'm heading over to Oshkosh this afternoon. I'll post some items when I get there.

    And, yes, I will be doing Ask the Dummy in the Campground again this year. So if you have a question about Oshkosh, send it to me at

    I wanted to leave St. Paul by noon and I'm on track. Here's the shot of the car all packed. You're not going to believe how much I crammed in. I'll put up another shot when I get to Oshkosh and unpack.

    Update 7:15 p.m. - This much:

    As I was putting up the tent in the wind, I said to myself, "Please don't let this be the year one of these poles breaks. Then the wind came up and one of the four poles snapped. Some gents from Iowa helped me fabricate a fix but it involved using one of the pipes for the big canopy. So the tent is up but I can't put the canopy up yet because the pole is being used to hold up the tent. In a bit, I'm off to Fleet Farm in search of a pipe. Then grocery shopping. Then dinner.

    As is custom, Rich Emery of Missouri was the first to stop by and say hello. He's two builder numbers below me and thinks if he put his wallet to it, he could be flying at the end of the year. I'll try to get things done quickly here so I can join him for happy hour.

    If you're going to Oshkosh, be sure to stop by the campsite and say "hello" so I can duly report to Planet RV that you're there.

    On Wednesday, of course, we've got Piece of Grass 2009. I'll be providing some live updates, picture and, maybe, video during the evening. So if you can't make it, join us virtually.

    Tuesday, July 14, 2009

    The life of bees

    Bees are disappearing from the planet and nobody seems to know why. But I worry about it. How will things be pollinated without bees? I've planted plenty of bee balm (although this is a pincushion flower above) around the estate to do my part. And when I go out to get the paper (another endangered species) just before 6 a.m., I walk out to the perennial garden in the front yard to see if there are any bees. I'm quite certain if anyone was up at that hour, they'd think Old Man Collins is off his rocker.

    Two years ago, I had lots of bees. Last year, not very many. This year: Just a few more than last year.

    I'll keep my eye on them and wonder whether bees are at all worried about this -- or anything else for that matter. Do they feel the pressure to make their deliveries on schedule? Is it good to be a bee? Is there something to be said for ignorance of the matters of the world?

    I'll see you tomorrow morning, bee.

    Monday, July 13, 2009

    A bridge too far

    I don't know why but when life is too hard to figure out, I've always headed for the shore, whether it's the camp in Vermont, or Plum Island, or Hampton Beach or -- as befits my land-locked locale -- the Mississippi River. (Click on the image to see full sizes)

    Reports from back East have not been good. Carolie's dad is not doing well and there's a fair amount of sighing going on at my house. And I walk to the river.

    The Wakota Wabasha Bridge is the best bridge in a city of bridges, especially if you're walking.

    It doesn't look like much, perhaps, but the designers of this bridge knew what they were doing. The stairs that take you from the bridge deck down to Raspberry Island, leave you out over the river.

    Never been scared of heights? Try these stairs.

    Raspberry Island is a lovely little spot below the city, along the river, which is low right now and is only this high because of high rainfall out in the western part of the state. The water made its way to the Minnesota River and eventually to here.

    I can sit in the sun and ponder chucking it all and living on a boat on the river:

    Or whether the guy in this little house atop the railroad bridge has the best job in the world ...

    ... or the worst.

    I can consider the merits of swimming in this river, which I still consider America's sewer...

    Or I can just sit and try to prove the existence of a loving God with his plan to make a good man -- and a good man's daughter -- suffer.

    I always find myself heading for water to make a question like that make sense. Two-thirds of the planet is covered with water.

    I don't think that's going to be enough.

    Monday, July 06, 2009

    The great deck rebuilding project

    My mother has said she feels as though summer is over on July 4th (this year might be the exception since she lives in New England and they haven't had anything resembling summer weather yet), and being genetically linked and all, I could hear the tick, tick, tick of another summer slipping away without completing one of my long-standing projects. I'll bet it's been six year since I started rebuilding the deck.

    Of course, when I started I didn't intend to rebuild the deck. I was replacing some rotted stairs at the bottom of the deck, but that led me to notice the railings were wobbly, which led me to noticing some planks were rotted which led me to just rebuild the darn thing (except for the joists which were fine).

    So this holiday weekend, I finished the bottom deck and then removed the top, added a new footing and beam and just before work Monday morning, I screwed down the last plank and cut the overhang.

    Now I need to make stringers for the stairs (they'll be much wider than the old ones) connecting the upper and lower deck, then add posts and railings.

    Where did summer go?

    Tuesday, June 30, 2009

    The Senate race ends

    My family and friends from out of town can stop asking me if we have a senator yet.

    Here was my on-air analysis of the end of the Minnesota Senate race.

    Thursday, June 25, 2009


    The talented people at work have designed a new Web site, upon which my daily offerings appear.

    As with any new endeavor, there's a few kinks to be worked out.

    Tuesday, June 23, 2009

    Spiderwort in the morning

    This is the most interesting thing in the garden these days. I bought the Spiderwort plant and put it in a container on the deck. The flowers only unfurl in the morning, along the lines of a Morning Glory.

    I like the fact a bumblebee was at the Spiderwort this morning. Click the images for the full effect.

    Thursday, June 18, 2009

    The afternoon walk

    One great thing about working in St. Paul, is the Mississippi River is just a short walk away from the downtown headquarters of Minnesota Public Radio.

    My new favorite activity at midafternoon is to walk over to Rasberry Island and sit on the benches and watch the world go by.

    Saturday, June 06, 2009

    Garden therapy

    I have always said -- only to myself -- that the more I'm enjoying work, the worse my gardens are. This year, my gardening is going very well, despite a drought that doesn't seem to want to quit anytime soon. We're getting a few showers in the Twin Cities today, but only enough to ruin some people's plans, not enough to do any good.

    Here it is June 6, and some of the perennials that should be out in mid-May are just unfolding. It's been that kind of year.

    Here's the spring tour.

    I had hoped to expand the perennial bed in the front yard, but money being tight and the economy being what it is, a kid in college, a deck project to finish, and an airplane engine loan to pay, it doesn't seem like the right time.

    It's going to be a big year for the delphinium.

    The Japanese lilac is the last to bloom. Unfortunately, it's season is just about done.

    I've got a lot more flowers on these cool-colored iris that my mother sent me a few years ago.

    And the peony are just starting to bloom. This was my grandmother's bush. She would've been 113 on Thursday.

    OK, hummingbirds, where are you?

    These peonies -- one white and one pink -- aren't quite ready to show themselves.

    You can't see it very well, but Carolie bought me two hydrangea bushes for my birthday. I'm branching out, as it were, from gardens on the edges of things and starting to try to develop one in the middle of the backyard. It seems silly to have a big patch of grass back there now that the kids are gone. Better to have a nice "nature walk."

    The original garden, back by edge of the estate, isn't much to look at anymore. Trees have grown so much that it's shady most of the time. Still, I planted some beans and radishes and corn, all of which sprouted. The rabbits have pretty much eaten everything except the radishes, however.

    And there's not much to the yellow iris garden around the apple tree. I spent an hour or so last week weeding this. There's also some bee balm in there... somewhere.

    Now that part of the deck has been rebuilt, I'm trying a little container gardening this year.

    I even threw some extra radishes, beans, and corn in this one. I realize it's too much for one container, but what the heck. By the way, my corn is now -- technically -- knee high.

    We'll check in a few months and see how they all did.