Excursion 15, Part 2 (The Ghosts of Steel)

In which our intrepid hero puts another notch on his Rust Belt…

When I was a young child, my parents took me to visit a ghost town, the old mining town of Mogollon (of Spanish origin, now pronounced muggy-own) in far west New Mexico in the Gila Mountains.  In the 1890s, Mogollon was a happening place, with thousands of residents who were involved, directly or indirectly, in the mining of gold and silver (the same mining that would give nearby Silver City its name).  However, by the 1920s, many of the mines had shut down and an exodus followed.  By 1930, its population was only around 200.   When the last nearby mine shut down in the 1950s, the remnants of its population blew away like dust.  When I visited the town, probably circa 1973 or so, it seemed to have been abandoned for a century.

That’s one type of ghost town.  But there’s another.

Continue reading

Excursion 15, Part 1 (Up the Old Ohio)

In which our intrepid hero travels up a lazy river…

Typically, in introductions to blog entries such as this one, I have tried to evoke personal memories of years long since gone, but recently, the only memories easily evocable have been dreams of only a few short months ago, those naïve times before I had ever heard of terms like “polar vortex.”  After several years of very mild winters, the winter of 2013-2014 has been a shock to my system I still have not quite gotten used to.  Although we’ve had years with more snow, in terms of pure coldness, this is the nastiest winter we’ve had here in Ohio in 20 years and I guess I was getting spoiled.  As I type, though, the temperature is around 11 degrees, it has been snowing, the wind is whipping outside my window, and the forecast is telling me that two days from now the high temperature will be below zero and the low somewhere around 15 below.  In times like these, I can look at photographs such as these from early August 2013 and almost feel the warmth coming from them.

Continue reading

Excursion 14, Part 4 (Alone in East Liverpool)

In which our intrepid hero explores the empty streets of East Liverpool…

I was 21 in 1988 when I learned I would be moving to Ohio (to go to graduate school).  I knew nothing about Ohio.  The mental image I had was a jumble of snow storms and rubber factories, all with healthy sprinkling of “Rust Belt.”  I discovered, of course, that Ohio is a wonderful and varied place—this blog itself is sort of an ode to the state.  But it is certainly true that there is a Rust Belt and certainly true that Ohio is one of the states at its center.  Ohio cities like Akron, Youngstown, Toledo, Dayton, and others were thriving industrial cities.  Ohio boasted steel mills, automobile factories, all sorts of heavy industry.  Much of that is gone now and although new technologies and new businesses have replaced much of the heavy industry that went to Japan or Korea or China, Ohio has still not recovered from this transformation and probably never will.  Many of the people who had steady factor jobs will simply never make the leap to an information-based economy.  Few assembly line workers can become computer programmers.  Ohio will always have this hole in it, I think.

Continue reading

Excursion 14, Part 3 (On the Trail of John Hunt Morgan)

In which our intrepid hero encounters the ghost of a Confederate general…

The Civil War has long fascinated me.  Of course, on one level it should, as I have a Ph.D. in American military history.  But it began long before that.  I probably have my grandparents to thank for that, because at some point they purchased American Heritage’s Picture History of the Civil War (1960) for my uncle Dennis, when he was a child.  This amazing book, containing fascinating diagrammatic paintings of battlefields and text written by famed Civil War historian Bruce Catton, remains today about as perfect an introduction to the Civil War as I could imagine.  I soon discovered that they had related gems on their living room bookshelves, including Reader’s Digest abbreviated versions of some of Catton’s histories.  These were among the earliest books I read on military history and certainly had a lifelong influence on me.  They also produced another effect on me that still lasts, too—a wistful realization of the immutability of history.  Sadly, no matter how many books on the Civil War I read, no matter what new material they may uncover, McClellan never manages to take Richmond; Hooker always loses his nerve.  It is Groundhog Day, but where Bill Murray never changes.

Continue reading

Excursion 14, Part 2 (Turn and Face the Strange)

In which our intrepid hero looks at some ch-ch-ch-ch-changes…

A few times when I was a kid, a neighbor of ours took his kids and me and my sister out into the desert outside El Paso to go “sand surfing.”  This involved taking the wheels off of a kid’s red wagon and tying the wheel-less wagon to the trailer hitch of a truck with four-wheel drive.  The truck would then go up and down some of the dirt roads and arroyos, dragging the wagon behind it, and you would be standing on the wagon, holding on to a rope also tied to the truck, hanging on for dear life and hoping that when you were finally bucked from the wagon you would not land on a cactus or rattlesnake or sharp rock.

Many years later, I reminisced about this to someone, who let me know of her sharp disapproval.  “Don’t you know how fragile the desert environment is?  Don’t you know how much damage you did to that ecology?”  Not being from El Paso, she didn’t understand, so I had to explain it to her.  “This was the desert right outside El Paso,” I said.  “That desert was only going to be there for a couple more years before development would swallow it up.”  This was because, thanks to geographic and other conditions, the tide of growth in El Paso is overwhelmingly in one direction, to the east.  And I was right.  What was desert for me back then vanished in the blink of an eye, to become three and four bedroom ranch houses.  And then the desert beyond that.  And the desert beyond that.  The rate of change in that place at that time was incredible.  Where I used to have to go to get out of the city into the desert is now miles and miles within the city itself.

Continue reading

Excursion 14, Part 1 (Pastoral Ohio)

In which our intrepid hero cows some cows…

As I sit here typing on my computer, the weather outside is 11 degrees (Fahrenheit, of course; I do not belong to Al Qaeda).  The next few days are going to get much colder.  The winter of 2013-2014 so far has been a pretty darn cold one for Ohio.  That arctic quality is only enhanced when I look at the photographs in this blog entry, which were taken last July 13 on a gloriously sunny summer’s day.  As an obese person, I tend to prefer extremes of cold over extremes of heat (you can always put on another layer, but you can only get so naked), but I am not much for extremes of any sort.  Although I can put up with cold weather, I really am a weather wimp.  I would be much happier if the temperature always stayed between 69 and 72 degrees.

Continue reading