Wednesday, April 29, 2020

USS Enterprise Memorial

 There's a bunch of stuff that happened earlier this year I need to catch up on, and now's as good a time as any.

Right as the COVID-19 story was just starting to break on the east coast, I had plans to attend a bicycle trade show, CABDA East, in New Jersey on March 11th and 12th.  I figured it was a good opportunity to touch base with some of my vendors and see what might be happening in the industry as a whole, since the big Interbike show had ceased a few years back.

I also thought this might be a good opportunity to check out a memorial that I'd wanted to see for a number of years - a memorial to the USS Enterprise, CV-6, the famous aircraft carrier that served in WWII.  Aside from the historical significance of the ship, there's a personal connection as well.  At the end of the war, the Enterprise was pressed into service for Operation Magic Carpet, where various warships were used to carry servicemen home from various theaters of war.  My father, who served as part of the ground forces of the 8th Air Force in the UK and Ukraine, caught his ride home on the "Big E."

US Navy photo of bunks in hangar deck of USS Enterprise, just as my dad had described.
I discovered another connection to the Enterprise quite by accident.  I grew up in Bowie, Maryland, and not far from there was a road called Enterprise Road, on which there was an Enterprise golf course, and a place call the Newton White Mansion.  The golf course had a graphic on their sign that represented the 1960s nuclear powered Enterprise, so I assumed that was the connection to the name.  That is, until one day when I helped a friend who was a DJ at a wedding at the Newton White Mansion and I saw the very large portrait of the WWII Enterprise over the fireplace.  Suddenly, my memory clicked and I realized... Newton White was the very first captain of CV-6, the WWII Enterprise.

River Vale, NJ
Because of those connections, the Enterprise was a big part of my early interest in WWII history.  I read Edward Stafford's classic The Big E in my early teens, and over the years have read and watched pretty much everything I could about the ship.  She served in the Pacific theatre from beginning to end, taking part in almost every major carrier battle of the war.  She only missed the Battle of the Coral Sea due to her mission to escort USS Hornet when the latter ship launched the Doolittle Raid bombers against Tokyo, and later missed the final air attacks on the Japanese home islands due to having been severely damaged by a Kamikaze off Okinawa.  There was a time when she was literally the only US fleet carrier in the Pacific.  Earning 20 battle stars and the only American ship ever awarded an Admiralty pennant by the Royal Navy, and with a war record second to none, you would think she would have been a shoe in to be preserved as a museum ship.  Sadly, due to bad timing and a lack of funding, attempts to preserve her failed, and she was cut up for scrap in New Jersey, and only a few artifacts of this great ship remain.

River Vale, NJ
Thanks to the foresight of one man, Henry Hoffman, who supervised the scrapping, the stern plate of Enterprise was saved and spent many years at a little league ball park in River Vale, NJ.  Apparently there was a tradition where a player who hit a ball into the outfield and hit the stern plate got a free hot dog at the concession stand.  Not really a dignified position for such an important artifact.  Fortunately, in the late 90s, the town decided to restore the stern plate and move it to a small memorial park adjacent to the library, which also houses a small display of Enterprise artifacts in a display case.

River Vale Library, NJ

While my plans to go to the trade show fell apart due to the COVID-19 outbreak, I still managed to carve out a few hours to drive up to River Vale to check out the park and library.  I have to admit, as simple as it was, I found it very moving.  I guess just the thought of all the men that served, all the conflict the ship saw... and the thought of my dad on that massive hangar deck, with thousands of other GIs, finally heading home after the war.  Standing there and running my fingers along those letters on the stern plate really made a strong impression on me, and I'm so glad I finally got the chance to see it.  I only wish the whole ship had been preserved.

Stern plate of USS Enterprise, River Vale Memorial Park, NJ

 The USS Enterprise CV-6 Foundation:

About the library display: USS Enterprise (CV-6) Collection

About the Memorial Park: The Enterprise Stern Plate: From Scrapyard to Small Town America

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Fifteen Years With Tybalt!

While I don't know the exact date, I do know that right about now I'm reaching the anniversary of the first time I ever laid eyes on my little tabby cat Tybalt, and brought him home.  My best guess is that we first met on April 23rd, and he came home a few days later.

I should start by explaining I never thought of myself as a "cat person" for most of my life.  None of my friends when I was growing up had cats, and my family never had cats, only two dogs.  One of my earliest experiences with cats, when I was probably about fourteen or so, did nothing to win me over to the species.  I was visiting my older sister at her house, and was petting her cat Maggie (you Tennessee Williams fans will get that), who seemed perfectly calm.  In a flash, I found myself with a cat, claws out, scrambling up my arm and shoulder to my head, where she launched herself across the room.

Really not a great first impression.

Savannah perched on my desk.
Over time, yes, I met some cats who were nice enough.  My brother had a sweet manx named Savannah that I got to know when we were both back at our parents' house for a while.  I even cat sat for her for a week or so while my brother was away, and got to know and like her pretty well.  Still, over the years, I had few really close and positive interactions with cats.  I, like many others, saw them as mysterious, aloof creatures.  I'll always remember visiting someone's house or apartment who owned a cat, but you'd never, ever know, since they hid the moment you arrived.

Then I got to know Tomas.  He was a sweet, big black cat who belonged to a woman I started dating about a year after moving back to the DC area.  He took to me, and I'll admit, I grew quite fond of him.  When we all moved into a house together, it was suggested that I get my own cat, both so I could learn what it's like and to provide a buddy for Tomas.  We talked about it idly, but didn't really make any definite steps.

Then a late April weekend where we had planned a camping trip, and the weather turned nasty... freezing rain and chilling cold.  With camping plans off, we thought we'd go check out a local shelter, and look at cats.  I don't know that either one of us really expected to find one on the first, impromptu trip, but on arrival we met this sweet little tabby kitten named Junior by the shelter.  The shelter had a separate "visitation room" and we took the little guy in there, and he was very friendly and cuddly, not shy at all.  He absolutely won me over right away, so we went to fill out the paperwork to start the adoption process.  As we were standing in line, I overheard the couple next in line talking, and the woman said "his name was Junior, right?" and I realized we weren't the only ones taken by the little fellow.

Paperwork done, all that was required was a house visit to make sure we were going to give him a suitable home.  When the woman came to interview us, Tomas calmly strolled into the middle of the room, plopped himself down, and proceeded to bathe himself.  This made us all laugh and the woman said "well, he's clearly very content here."  So that was that, Junior was mine.

One of my first photos of Tybalt, comfy on my desk.
Upon getting him home, we followed all the good advice about putting him in a room by himself for a while before introducing him to Tomas.  I spent a lot of time just getting to know him, and learning what a smart and playful boy he was.  I also knew I needed to come up with a new name for him, as Junior just wouldn't do.  After trying out a bunch of options in my head, I finally landed on Tybalt, from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.  If you haven't seen or read the play, or seen the amazing Zefferelli film from the 60s, you might not know that another character refers to Tybalt as "rat catcher" and "good king of cats."  It just seemed to suit my new little guy, so that's what I chose.

Snoozing with his buddy Tomas, about a month after coming home.

Prowling the yard.

The funny thing is, for the first few years of his life he was an indoor/outdoor cat, and we learned pretty quickly he really was quite the hunter.  Rodents were not at all safe around our house, and sadly, neither were birds.  He's since become an indoor only cat, which is better both for him and the wildlife.  He did very much enjoy his outdoor time, but it just isn't safe for him or my other cat where I live now.

He's got his eye on that bird outside.
I do have to share one of the funnier aspects of his hunting days early on.   He experimented with a variety of ways to try to wake me up for his breakfast earlier than I wanted to.  Leaping off the headboard onto my chest certainly woke me up... but also got him tossed out of the bed, and not breakfast.  Then one day I was woken by him running around and leaping and pouncing all over the bed.  I opened my eyes, and there he is on the pillow right next to me, with a tiny young mouse pinned under his paw, and he's looking at me like "isn't this cool?"  The mouse still being alive, and me being that kind of person, I managed to get the mouse from him and release it outside.

The next morning... there he was again, running, leaping, pouncing all over the bed.  I open my eyes and he's there on the pillow right next to my head, but no mouse!  The little stinker is looking at me like "Fooled you! Now how about that breakfast?"  Funny thing is, every so often, for the next few years, he would play the same game, and I could never just relax and assume he had no mouse, because I knew all too well what a good mouser he was.  I've lost count of how many times I've found a mouse or even rat he killed.  Luckily, for the last five years or so, there seem to be none where I live.  I'm pretty sure he and my other cat Jinx are the reason for that.

Tybalt in February of 2020, still bright eyed and active.
We've now been together for fifteen years and I couldn't be happier.  He's a sweet, gentle, and very affectionate cat, who likes nothing better than settling down on my lap (where he is right now as I write) or curling up next to me.  He loves naps with me, and at night, as soon as he sees I'm getting ready for bed, he trots into the bedroom and hops into bed with me.  Not a big one for meowing ever, he's got this adorable trill that I love.  He's quite a mellow fellow in his later years, but he'll still play with toys and chase things around, even giving my younger cat Jinx a run for his money.  And I've learned just how wonderful it is to have cats in your life and how easy they are to love.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Beautiful British Bicycle!

Time to revisit my bike collection, and talk about one of my many bikes.  This is one I've had a while now, but just never got around to writing about.  It's a Mercian King of Mercia, hand built in Derby, England, and it's a really lovely old bike.

A bit of background here - as I've written before, I learned to ride late, but once I did learn, I fell in love with bikes and I never stopped riding.  My dad served in the UK in WWII, and during that time he developed an appreciation for English bikes, which got passed down to me.  It also helped that our local bike shop where I grew up was a Raleigh dealer.  My first two bikes were made by Raleigh, and I've owned a number of their machines over the years.  Heck, I have five Raleighs in my collection today, now that I think about it.

By the time I had my second 10-speed bike, a Fuji S-10S from Japan, I started to dream of having a really fine, high end hand built bike.  I'd go to bike shops and look at the top end machines, and wish I could afford one.  Around this time, a book came out called The Custom Bicycle, which included profiles of a number of bike and frame builders around the world.  They were grouped by nationality, and I found the section on British builders fascinating.  One company profiled was Mercian, and I just really liked what I read about them in that book.  The thought of owning one of their beautiful frames really appealed to me, but through high school and college, and beyond, it never really was in my budget.

Like so many of my current bikes, fast forward a few decades...  and I finally found one for a very fair price.  Browsing Craig's List one day, there it was, a nice tall Mercian bike, with what looked like mostly original components, and only a little over an hour away from me.  Only problem was, I was tied up at work the next few days, and as it was a weekend, I was sure it would be gone before I could get down to see it.  Then my friend Marty (who was the one who pointed me to my Proteus some time back) happened to contact me, and after hearing me talk about the situation, offered to make the drive and pick it up for me. And he even got the seller to take a little bit less for the bike!

When I got the bike, it was a bit grungy, and had a few "features" I knew I would have to change, such as the handlebars with a rather extreme shape, and the super narrow US Postal Service Flite saddle, neither of which were original or really appropriate for the bike.  Examining the bike and doing some research based on the serial number, I figured out the frame was built in 1977.  I reached out to Mercian, who keep pretty good records going back rather far (they've been in business since the late 1940s), and they told me it was a King of Mercia model, and sold to Stone's Cyclery in California.  I tried to get more info from Stone's, but the fellow who would have known more had passed away.

The majority of the components on the bike are made by the Italian company Campagnolo, and while they are from the Nuovo Gran Sport group, their more "affordable" series, they are really quite lovely and excellent quality.  The one notable exception to an otherwise complete component group is the rear derailleur, which is a French Huret Jubilee.  The Jubilee was known back then for being a very smooth shifting derailleur, and some considered it better than any of the Campy choices of the time.  It was also the lightest rear derailleur made up to that time, and at 136 grams, I believe it is still the lightest ever made, at least mass produced.

Huret Jubilee rear derailleur
Campy Nuovo Gran Sport crankset and front derailleur
Campy Nuovo Gran Sport Rear Brake
The other interesting thing about the component set is that stamped codes on the Campy parts indicate they were manufactured in 1981.  My guess is that Stone's Cyclery (still in business and selling high end frames today) ordered the frame for stock, and just didn't find the right customer (and a tall one at that, since it's a 25" frame) for a few years.  And it must have been a pretty serious enthusiast who knew their stuff, to have requested a full Campy kit, with a Jubilee rear derailleur.  Or maybe Stone's steered them that way.  Regardless of how it came about, it makes for a really great bike.  The frame itself was hand brazed (on an open hearth - see here), built with double butted Reynolds 531 manganese-molybdenum tubing, a classic tube set.  This gives a light weight and lively feel to the bike, and the lugs and fork crown and everything are just very classic and lovely.  And that paint job!  I really couldn't ask for anything more classy and classically British than that two tone green and white.

As mentioned before, I did change a few things.  The handle bars and stem got swapped out for a more traditional "Mae's bend" shape and higher bars, and that Flite saddle made way for a Brooks B17 leather saddle, my personal favorite.  While the pedals were Campy Nuovo Gran Sport, and good quality, they were the "quill" style that I don't find work very well with my really large feet, so I swapped them for a modern set of Shimano (gasp!) pedals with SPD fittings on one side, flat cage on the other, so I can ride with bike shoes (or in my case, sandals) or regular shoes, depending on mood.

So how does it ride?  In a word, great!  Nice and smooth riding, light and fast.  There's a lively spring to the 531 frames I own, and this one is no exception.  It's a great general purpose road bike of its time.  I wouldn't load it up with touring bags (well, if it was the only bike I owned, sure, but it's not), and it's not a true racer, but it's great for a nice long ride in the country with a saddle bag carrying a sandwich, apple, and snacks.  All in all, another lucky find, and another case where a bike I dreamed of in my youth proved to be worth the wait.

To see more photos of the bike, including before and after shots, check it out here:

1977 Mercian  King of Mercia