In which our intrepid hero discovers the site of an American Icarus…
The oil and natural gas boom here in Ohio is interesting. “Fracking,” as the process is called, promises huge amounts of natural gas, with all the accompanying benefits, yet offers possible dangers that range from earthquakes to drinking water contamination. Properly regulated, the industry is something I could not really oppose, but in Republican-controlled Ohio, one can never guarantee that anything will be regulated at all. All too often, Ohio learns the hard way. The other reason I am cautiously supportive of fracking is that the deposits are in the poorest area of the state, Appalachian Ohio, which needs every bit of help it can get, although it won’t be the individual property owners who lease out their mineral rights who will really rake in the money.
[Remember that you can click on any of the photographs below to see larger, better versions]
Another oil well, one of thousands. Impressionistically, the wells in northeastern Ohio seem better kept up than in southeastern Ohio. What I don’t understand is why some well equipment is left to rust out, instead of being dismantled, refurbished, and used elsewhere.
By this point, my meanderings had taken me to far southeastern Ohio, near the tiny hamlet of Ava. Driving down one road, I saw an old camper which seemed at one point to have been used as a de facto billboard, though it was now tucked away. On it were painted the words “U.S.S. Shenandoah.” This tickled the back of my brain but I couldn’t place it. Soon, however, I came across a small roadside sign pointing down a road and announcing the direction of “U.S.S. Shenandoah crash site 2.”
This set my brain working. The “U.S.S.” meant some sort of navy vessel, but of course, I was some 150 miles from any large body of water. However, I vaguely remembered in the back of my brain that the U.S. Navy had many decades ago had an airship program. The Shenandoah had to be some sort of lighter-than-air craft—a dirigible (like the Zeppelin, in essence, though there are several structurally different types of such craft). I decided to follow the signs, which took me out on ever more remote roads until finally I was driving on a one-lane dirt track really in the middle of nowhere.
That was when I came upon the Shenandoah crash site memorial. It was really not much more than a small field with a sign, a marker, and a flag. There was not even a place to park—I had to stop my car right in the middle of the road, though I may well have been the only car ever on that road on that day. I got out, went up to the marker and discovered that my suspicions were correct.
The Shenandoah, launched in 1923, was the first major airship built by the U.S. Nazy. Longer than two football fields, it had a crew of some 25. Unlike the Hindenberg, the Shenandoah used helium, not hydrogen. Almost two years to the day after it launched, the Shenandoah, while flying across Ohio, ran into a major storm and was torn apart. It broke into three sections (the crew compartment and the two halves of the dirigible itself), which landed in three different locations. The ship carried 43 people that day; amazingly, 29 of them survived the crash. A major event in 1925, it has been eclipsed by history and few even know this tragic event happened.
After visiting the Shenandoah crash site, I soon drove through the hamlet of Cumberland, Ohio (population 367, salute!). Though tiny, it has several interesting old buildings—buildings which, despite their age, are still in use.