Monday, September 22, 2014


A picture from the road, Dubuque Iowa on a hot, humid morning.  The Statue of Liberty replica on the right is overlooking the I-20 freeway exit and this 19th century brick building with an enigmatic "ghost sign".

It has been treated roughly by time.  The addition of modern fire escapes suggests that the building, once a grocery, is now apartments.  And some later sign has been slapped over the right lower part of the SAPOLIO ad, but seemingly it was done with really cheap materials, as the newer sign has faded much faster than the old.  All I can make out is an R and an X.  Sometimes rain brings out the details better.  But back to the main ad.  I guess it reads:


I think the last word begins with an S, and that it is short, probably meant to line up with the end of the product name.  It would be common in the advertising jargon of the day to have it rhyme.  So what does the ad read and what in fact is/was SAPOLIO?  Answers such as they are, below.

SAPOLIO was a popular brand of soap in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  You may have guessed this if you know French (soap = savon) or Latin (sapo).  It was extensively advertised, and featured an array of very witty ads.  According to advertising lore the brand went into a precipitous decline when the company decided that their product was just so darned well known that buying more publicity was a waste.

Soap of course being one of those products where the differences between brands were minimal this proved to be a disaster.

As to the exact message shown above, I am not certain.  I have seen a few variations on the theme of using SAPOLIO every weekday so you could skip weekend cleaning.  And if you peer under the bottom fire escape you might just make out SU...

But were they suggesting that non-users of their product would probably have to work on the Sabbath? A bit harsh, but from the link above you can see that they did not shirk at suggesting that users of other soaps would probably never get married!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

1st Report - Robotics 2014

We are up and running with the middle school robotics class.  For those showing up late this is an after school class where I am having kids build 3 pound combat robots.

Biggest class ever I think, I gave the OK to some over booking.  We have 25 students divided up into Tuesday and Thursday sections.  Also the most girls ever, four.  Last year I think we had one and she dropped out.  This year the gals look to be pretty serious.

Above is one of the servos we hack for drive units.  A bit of a glitch this time around, although it is the same type I have been using for years they have some different components.  The kids are finding them harder to work with.  The screws holding them together seem to be made of cheaper than usual Chinese mystery metal and there is also a small plastic tab in a very inconvenient spot.  Its necessary removal involves a combination of filing, snipping and deft use of a serrated steak knife.

The latter raised an eye brow or two.  Schools these days have strict no weapons policies. Appropriate if sometimes enforced to a ludicrous degree.  I had to reassure the students that this was not a weapon. It was a tool.  We are after all right around the corner from the school's metals and wood shop where the wall has assorted hammers and saws hanging in neat rows.

Good bunch of students so far.  Impractical but interesting designs are being explored.  So far the level of prudent oversight is just fine, I have a high school kid volunteering to help after taking the class himself for three straight years.  Also the much appreciated presence of the occasional parent who takes me up on the offer to come on down and pitch in.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

(Wild) Life in a Rural ER

Seen out my window.  Well, actually I don't have any windows, we work in a bunker.  There are some video feeds of the ambulance garage and the parking lot.  To see a glimpse of the real world I have to walk down the hallway that connects to the rest of the hospital.  Looking out the window there I saw this on a recent morning....

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Baseball Mystery in Five Post Cards - Part Five

Finally a post card where the sender and recipient are both evident.

Ben Christianson has joined the army and been shipped to Europe.  The year is not given but is known to be 1918.  The address appears to be in Ben's hand.  The more elegant writing on the opposite side is presumably that of a Company Clerk in the 341st Infantry Regiment.

Bertha is almost certainly his wife.  Lots of changes for our Pal Ben.  Perhaps the wild days of hanging out with "Cy" and "I.No." are just distant memories for this now settled man.

I can add a few details thanks to the wonders of the internet, particularly the genealogy buffs of cyberspace.

Our first correspondent Carl Christianson married a woman named Bella.  They had a daughter, Drusilla, in 1919.  Drusilla lived until 2006.

Benjamin Christianson was born on 27 February 1888.  He died in Knapp Wisconsin on 1 February, 1978.  His surviving The Great War is not all that remarkable, his division debarked in France late in the war and never made it to the front lines.  They turned around and came home.  Another fellow from Viroqua, Bertina Christianson, was less lucky.  He died in action.  Christianson is a common name in the Viroqua area - there is even a Christianson Road - so this might or might not have been a relative.

Bertha Christianson was also born in 1888.  She died in 1976 but seems to have lived her last days in Omaha.

So much for the facts.  I suppose I could glean a few more by chasing down obituaries.  But the real story here is what is implied.  This exchange of cards is probably between a group of young guys who grew up together.  I would bet money that the Christiansons were brothers and that they along with the mysterious "Cy" Roberts and "I.No." - and maybe Josie- were team mates on a small town baseball squad.

In their early 20s when these cards go back and forth they are still speaking of an innocent, earlier day when playing ball, swimming down at the local creek, and casting eyes upon school marms were their main interests.  It seems quaint.  In fact it seems so corny that Norman Rockwell would roll his eyes at it.  But we are looking back on it from a jaded and battle scarred perspective. Between 1900 and The Guns of August in 1914 it was indeed a fine time for optimism and progress.

I doubt that the 30 year old Ben Christianson was shy at this point in life.  I imagine that he thought of those idyllic times down at the swimming hole as his troopship neared the bloody shores of Europe in the summer of 1918.  It sounds as if he settled down to rural life upon his return. So, common wisdom notwithstanding, I guess you can keep 'em down on the farm, now that they've seen Paree....

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Baseball Mystery in Five Post Cards - Part Four

The fourth in a series of post cards that seem to be telling a story.  Back track for the earlier post(s).

A rather nice post card this time.  Or at least it used to be.  It has blue felt forming the pennant and red ink on the highlights.  Notice the particulars on the reverse, Ben Christianson has now moved to Knapp, Wisconsin.  This is about 70 miles northwest of Viroqua.  Note also that the date on this card is July of 1915.  I assume this is old stock, as the events of August 1914 made all things German seem far less quaint and jolly.

The message is short and sweet.  Someone named Josie likes LaCrosse and says all is well.  It is hard to say much given this small amount of information.  I do note that "Josie" misspells Ben's last name...en instead of on.  Perhaps this was a less familiar acquaintance.

1915.  Things were happening in the world.  Things that would soon involve Ben Christianson.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Baseball Mystery in Five Post Cards - Part Three

The third in a series of post cards that seem to be telling a story.  Back track for the earlier post(s).

Another card in the genre of baseball and romance.  This features the usual comedic pairing of an elegant, serene Gibson Girl alongside a coarse featured bumpkin of a ball player.

Like our last entry this is from "Cy" to Benjamin Christianson of Viroqua.  This is dated a couple of weeks after the prior card, June 12th of 1911.  The text on this is again both dense and confusing.  In fact it was reading this one that made us think we were on to something really unusual, perhaps the correspondence of a minor league manager.  OK, here goes:

"Hello Pal, how is everything over on your side of the world?  On my first managerial trip my youngsters lost to Ontario 8 to 7 in 14 innings.  Same game away from home on a rainy day. Come over next Sun + watch us skin them here.  Good Luck.   Cy Young Roberts

After puzzling quite a bit about how a baseball team from Wisconsin could be playing a team from Ontario, and perhaps from Montana in our first entry, I had a flash of inspiration.  Sure enough, there is a small community called Ontario Wisconsin not far from where this card was posted, LaFarge Wisconsin.

So we now have tumbled quite a ways down the baseball hierarchy, from a wide traveling minor league or barnstorming team all the way down to town ball.  "Cy" in reflecting on his recent promotion to manager seems a bit surprised.  Perhaps he was an unexpected choice as player-manager?

I suppose Cy has the last name of Roberts.  He is referring to Ben Christianson as "Pal" so my notion that they were brothers seems unlikely.  As they share an interest in baseball and seem to both be young fellows I am thinking former team mates.  Oh, and there actually was a major league player who went by the moniker of Cy Roberts.  In the summer of 1911 he was still in diapers.

We shall, alas,  hear no more from Cy, but Ben Christianson's role in the story continues tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Baseball Mystery in Five Post Cards - Part Two.

The second in a series of post cards that seem to be telling a story.  Back track for the earlier post(s).

An attractive post card, but a bit confusing.  The suggestion is that the successful athlete is finding even greater success with the ladies.  But the ladies appear first and the ball game second.  Also, if this is supposed to depict a stolen base, well the runner was safe by a mile.  He did not even have to slide! There is clearly some dunderheaded defense going on here.  And talk about confusing, it looks as if the player in blue has just stolen a base.  Fine.  But the other runner charging in is in the white uniform of the defensive team!  Very odd, and not suggestive of any particular athletic glory.  If you stare at this illustration long enough it becomes even more surreal.  From the positioning of the players it looks as if the fellow in blue has either just stolen first base or almost as likely, has stolen third by running in from somewhere out in left field.  Or did he run backwards?  Now that would have been impressive.

This one is addressed to a Ben Christianson.  The last name is identical to our first entry as is the small southwest Wisconsin town of Viroqua.  It is reasonable to assume Ben and Carl were related, perhaps brothers.  The "Ping Bodie" addition is another joke, that was the name/nickname of a major league slugger of the day.  The text is dense and a bit hard to read.  I make out:

"Well Shieth, have you located my base ball pad yet?  If not crawl under your porch or into the chimney + get it.  How's your salary arm?  Am going to call on you to twirl against the Cubs soon.  Am enjoying my good health with the paint brush these days.  How are you making it?  Any school maam there yet?  Go swimming for me.
Cy   Cy   Cy   Cy

Oy, where to start.  Shieth is a word I had never encountered.  It is an archaic word for "shy".  I infer a degree of kidding throughout the message, Cy seems to be sending Ben on some kind of wild goose chase.  Ben might be a pitcher, hence the reference to salary arm and pitching against the Cubs.  Or it might just be more kidding around.  Perhaps the salty nature of our first card is still on my mind, but the references to paint brushes and school maam sound a bit off color.

I am no expert in such matters but despite the similar tone I do not think that our "Cy" from this card and our enigmatic "I.No." from the previous one are the same person.  The hand writing looks different.

Cy of course is a reference to the famous Cy Young.  More kidding around.  This writer sounds like a brother but the reference to "your porch" instead of  our or the porch makes it more likely they are friends and probably former team mates.

More from "Cy" tomorrow.