Archive for April, 2009

Clamming in Seaside

Back when my grandparents owned the beach house at Neskowin, there was a strange collection of narrow shovels and aluminum cylinders in the garage. I was told these were tools used to extract clams from the sand down by the surf line, but I don’t recall anyone in the family ever using these odd items for their intended use. So it was a curious moment last week when Joel emailed to see if I wanted to try clamming over at Seaside. For whatever reason, this stuck me as something I really needed to try, so I went out and bought one of those narrow shovels and spent a whopping $6.00 on an annual shellfish licenses.


Joel and I had trouble rounding up other like minded adventurers, but Damon, who is always up for a fishing or fishing-like trip, decided to join. We made it to Seaside around 7:30 AM or so and headed out toward the surf after squeezing into our waders. Joel picked the day because it was a minus tide, which means vast stretches of the beach were exposed. Seaside was a strange sight to see. What looked like hundreds of people were fanned out as far as the eye could see. And then were the thousands of mounds of sand, where clams had (hopefully) been dug. We walked straight down from the Promenade and started digging where we thought a clam tell had been. Joel and I just started digging at a furious pace, excavating a very large hole. By now, nearby clammers were laughing and some begin yelling comments like “are you boys digging to China?” Clearly, our technique left much to be desired.


Fortunately, an older Hawaiian lady on a rusty bike rode up and asked us if we needed help. We soon learned from other diggers that she’s a regular on the Seaside beach and is universally referred to as “Clam Annie”. With Annie’s coaching and some stainless steel clam guns, the three of us start to get the hang of things, and in no time we’re pulling razor clams from the dense sand at a quick clip. One of the hardest parts of clamming is avoiding damaging the shells, which are surprisingly thin. According to other clammers, you have to keep damaged clams, so we had to adjust or aggressive technique a bit. With the assistance of Annie to two other older women, we were able to limit out in about 30 minutes or so. The limit is 15 clams, which is more than enough for a decent meal.


Back at Stacy’s later in the day, I went through the messy task of shucking and cleaning the clams. It wasn’t quite as bad a task as I expected, but I didn’t expect they would still be alive. Boiling water was used to kill the
clams and open the shells and from there it was just a matter of pulling the body apart from the shell. With scissors I cut the head from the neck and then pulled the lungs and foot away. You can eat the cleaned foot, but to save time I skipped this part. Stacy made a tasty batter and we fried everything up last night. I’m not a shellfish fan, but these clams were really tasty.

For video footage of us in action, go here

Add comment April 27th, 2009

British Aircraft of the Cold War

The Avro Vulcan

Britain’s economy was hit particularly hard by the Second World War. Unlike the US, the UK struggled to bounce back and had to contend with what was left of its far flung empire. To make a bad situation worse, the Brits also had to deal with the emerging nuclear threat posed by the Soviet Union — a country possessing the capability to strike the British Isles with long range bombers. To address the prospect of nuclear death from above, the UK began to plan for an advanced air defense strategy. Along a parallel track, the UK also began to make plans for strategic bombers to deliver newly minted nuclear weapons. One of the most amazing systems they devised was the V Force, a threesome of long ranger bombers including the Valiant, the Victor, and the Vulcan. The most innovative, long lived, and beautiful of the three was the Vulcan.


The Vulcan bomber looked like it was built for Batman. The final production model represented an evolution in design after extensive prototype testing. Probably the most notable feature of the aircraft, the delta wing, had to be modified with a “kink” on the leading edge to reduce buffing at high speeds. Production began in 1955 and ended in 1965 with a total of 134 Vulcans produced. As a testament to its great design, the Vulcan remained in service with the RAF until 1984. And as the British are want to do with both their cars and aircraft, the Vulcan unfortunately didn’t offer much in the way of creature comforts. One the worst over sights was the omission of a lavatory, forcing the crew to wear diapers on long missions. A proper galley was also lacking, leaving few options for in flight food prep. Crews were left with a small soup heater, which rarely worked. Often times, it overheated cans causing them to explode, spraying soup all over the interior. Also, to make things even more uncomfortable, the anemic heaters didn’t work well. And of course, like all things British, the Vulcan suffered from numerous electrical issues (many of which were eventually addressed in the Mk2 version).


As part of the V Force, the Vulcan initially carried the Blue Danube nuclear gravity bomb. After the US fielded its first hydrogen bomb, the British developed one of there own, the Yellow Sun Mk2. Smaller nuclear bombs, like the Red Beard, were prepositioned in places like Cyprus and Singapore. In 1962, the RAF started arming Vulcans with the Blue Steel, a massive rocket with a 1 megaton Red Snow warhead. To replace the limited Blue Steel, the British worked with the US to develop the Skybolt ALBM. Unfortunately for the Brits, this program was canceled by the Kennedy administration. By 1970, the RAF decided to remove the Vulcan entirely from the nuclear deterrent role and transition it to the tactical bomber role. In this conventional configuration, the Vulcan could carry up to 21 1,000 pound parachute retarded iron bombs.


Thankfully, Vulcans were never used in a nuclear conflict, but they did participate in the Falkland War during the early eighties. Five Vulcans were update to include ECM pods and missile hard points on the wing. The logistics of the Vulcan bombing missions was amazing, requiring a daisy chain of refueling planes along the route over the Atlantic. And the bombing runs, while not producing much damage, were precisely executed by the crews. While the bombings didn’t disable Argentinian operations on the island, they spooked the Argentinians enough to cease deploying combat aircraft to forward bases.

Vulcan Video (don’t mind the strange music)

English Electric Lightning

To defend against Soviet nuclear bombers, the British developed the supersonic Lightning interceptor in the ’50s. Like the American F-104 Starfighter, the Lightning was basically a “missile with a man in it” with not one, but two stacked jet engines shoehorned into a small airframe. Armed with two 30mm cannons and two air-to-air missiles, the Lightning packed a pretty good punch for the era, but sacrifices in fuel capacity were made for the sake of unparalleled performance. Later variants added an internal fuel tank lending a beer belly to the aircraft’s profile. And in a truly bizarre mod, over wing external tanks were added to extend the Lightning’s range even further.


With the adoption of the more advanced (yet slower) Tornado F3 interceptor, the Lightning began a slow phase out between 1974 and 1988. In their final days, the Lightnings were painted camouflage and used to defend the cold expanses of the North Sea. While the Lightning never shot a hostile aircraft down, in 1984 an RAF pilot intercepted an American U-2 at 88,000 feet using what’s called the zoom climb technique. In 1985, a Lightning bested F-15s, F-16s, and F-14s in intercepting a British Airlines Concorde as part of a multi-nation exercise.


Despite its impressive performance, the Lightning was quickly outclassed by more advanced fighters in the late ’60s. The radar, with its 30 mile range, was particularly weak even by British standards. Still, many RAF pilots claim the handling of the Lightning was better than any of the American Century Series fighters.

Lightnings in Action (+ hot air traffic controller)

3 comments April 14th, 2009

It’s a Rummer!


A couple of weekends ago, Stacy and I embarked on a self directed tour of Rummer homes in Beaverton after reading a recent issue of Dwell. Rummer homes were built by Robert Rummer, a developer who was inspired by the designs of Joe Eichler. Eichler homes were favored by Californian elite, like Quincy Jones, but Rummer built most of his mid-century modern dwellings in Portland, Beaverton, Newberg, Salem, and Florence.


Stacy had everything all mapped, so we set out on something akin to an architectural Easter egg hunt. We were especially excited about the prospect of finding the mythical Vista Brook neighborhood with 60 Rummer homes concentrated within a four block area, so we left that one for last. The title of this blog post comes from a “for sale” listing sheet we swiped outside of one of the Rummer homes we first found. The picture of the listing agent gave the impression she only learned the significance of Rummer homes about a week ago (Rummers can command a $30,000 premium over similar homes).


We still have one more neighborhood left to explore out in Beaverton, but I think we’ll be better trained to spot Rummer homes by then. It’s regrettable that many Rummer homes have been severely damaged by misguided renovations. But we can at least take solace in the fact many of these Rummer have not been radically altered by previous owners simple because they never had the money to make major alterations.


There are a few more local Rummers out there left to discover, but they’ll have to wait for another nice weekend this Spring.

5 comments April 10th, 2009


We had some fantastic weather this last weekend here in Oregon. To capitalize on this rare April event and the fact we had a couple of feet of snow in the Cascades last week, Stacy and I decided to spend last Sunday skiing at Hoodoo down in Central Oregon. For those of you not familiar with this particular ski resort, it’s situated within US Forest Service land on and around Hoodoo Butte, an old cinder cone volcano at the top of Santiam Pass on the stretch of US 22 between Salem and Sisters .


I haven’t skied Hoodoo since high school, but it was one of those winter destinations we tended to look down on back in the day. Most of us preferred the more popular, and expensive, Mount Bachelor outside of Bend. But now I’m kind of smitten with Hoodoo’s charms, like short lift lines and non-punishing, if short, ski runs. I particularly liked the run snaking around the summit that seems to be not very well known. We took that route a couple of times and rarely came across other skiers.


Speaking of the summit, besides having an odd shaped crater, it also has a couple of microwave relay stations. There was no identification suggesting who maintains these stations, but it go me wondering if these might be tied to a modernized Long Lines system from the Cold War. More likely, these are relays for cell phone networks, since there doesn’t seem to be any hardening of the structures. Anyway, it was pretty cool seeing all this communication equipment.


The only thing that marred an otherwise prefect day on the slopes was the ironic fact I lost my cell phone. Oh well, maybe it will turn up later this week.

Add comment April 7th, 2009


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