Friday, October 21, 2016


Lately I have been learning how to use a Bridgeport vertical milling machine.  Its somewhat complicated but unlike the lathe I don't have to first unlearn assorted bad habits.  This is all new to me.

Bridgeport mills are so commonly used that the brand name has almost become synonymous with this kind of machine.  Rather like all facial tissues are called Kleenex.  It is a marvelous bit of technology first built around 1930.  It was a radical advance in machining ability, so much so that they sold well even during the Great Depression.  There are plenty of units out there that are twenty or thirty years old and going strong.

These machines have their own language you work with.  Today we learned how to "stone the table" and to "Tram the head".

The little L shaped bits of metal seen here are "Trip Dogs".

Even when you update these machines the technology looks like clunky old 1980's stuff.  And perhaps this "DRO" actually is that old.

Dove tail ways....

When does a simple machine become something more?  These big solid Bridgeport mills are almost like pieces of folk art.  There's no reason really to have a tortise and a bunny designating the fast and slow spindle speed settings.

Lets make some chips.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Tree Shaped Tombstones - The La Crosse Carver Part II

After roaming the quiet lanes of Oak Grove Cemetery I resumed my actual mission in La Crosse, which was to check out a possible brewery cave.  More on this another day.  But my interest was diverted once again by another unexpected cemetery, this time the Catholic Cemetery of La Crosse.

Although this one is a bit newer it also had considerable promise as there seems to be a slight tendency towards "Tree Shaped Tombstones" in Catholic grave yards.  This proved to be an unusual cemetery.

You may recall that I left Oak Grove with photos of a "Rustic Cross" style monument.  Here are two more in the Catholic Cemetery that are clearly the work of the same hand.  One is a little more modest than the others, but otherwise...sturdy base, Dying Dove on right branch, wing held upwards....

Next up was a surprise.  These stumps are unusually not subsidiary to a family monument. They are stand alones.  And again the local craftsman's attention to detail on these is clear.

The hand of nature has improved upon the hand of Man here.  The yellow lichen almost looks like painted on highlights.  Very pleasing work.

I'm going to wander off topic a little, but the Catholic Cemetery of La Crosse had some odd stuff in it.  There were a bunch of these grottos, most in need of some repair.

There were also quite a few of these stark metal monuments.  I think this is a European style because they all appear to be associated with Czech names.

I'm sure it was a commerical product, not hand made.  But it also had some nice details.  See here where the soul cluching a bouquet of flowers ascends Heavenward from a very Old World looking city.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Tree Shaped Tombstones - The La Crosse Carver Part I

October is a fine month for traveling here in the Midwest.  The fall colors are always nice and sometimes stunning.  The weather is probably going to be OK.  So I recently found myself in La Crosse Wisconsin on an errand that was frankly non essential but seemed a good excuse for a road trip.

Spicy food was consumed, robot parts exchanged, but my itinerary for the day was seriously altered when I ran across not one but two cemeteries with interesting Tree Shaped Tombstones.

As a self appointed expert on the subject matter I have made a sufficient study of these to be able to detect "styles".  And in La Crosse both cemeteries featured work by a so far unidentified artisan that I shall refer to as "The La Crosse Carver".  Come on, lets look at his work.

First we pull in to Oak Grove Cemetery right across the street from the University of Wisconsin La Crosse campus. 

You start running into nice examples right away, but lets take a bit of time to look at the interesting local variations on these.

I have seen far too many Tree Shaped Tombstones that have toppled over or had damage around the base due to a poorly constructed foundation.  Here in La Crosse many of the examples had this sturdy and aesthetically pleasing base piece.  Notice also that the main portion of the carving is still somewhat square.  I am certain that this was a concious decision. It makes for a sort of stylized but still recognizable tree.  They were going for the theme rather than for explicit realism.

A close up of the "La Crosse" base and the unusual shape of the monument.

I have run through various City Directories from the appropriate time period but have not thus far been able to identify the stone carver by name.  But I have to think he had a kind heart and/or a sentimental streak.  A rather high proportion of the monuments had tender sentiments expressed, often in little custom side panels.

In the above inscription the carver either made two typos or perhaps was using a dialect of German.  The message reads approximately:  "To the memory of my true spouse and our (Late? Lost?) son" and is signed Fr. (Frau?) W. Bendel.  The H in Theureren should be an R based on my text book German.  And Gatten is plural for spouse.  Maybe she had more than one?  But I doubt a remarried woman would be buried with two men.  That would seem - for no logical reason - rather improper.

As to the message below no translation or comment is necessary.

Our stone carver put more than the usual effort into carving the little subsidiary markers that often surround a larger family monument.

Above an oak leaf, which was appropriate in Oak Grove Cemetery.  Below, I am not sure what it is.

It is not uncommon to find little messages like this on the top of the subsidiary markers. This artisan as we shall see, went a little above and beyond on some of them.

Here of course we have an "official" Woodsman monument.  Notice how often the fraternal emblem is nestled between two angled upright branches.  And of course it is in the local style with a squared off tree on a base that should be good for another century.

You sometimes run across very similar looking monuments in a cemetery.  In this case there were two nearly identical version of the "Rustic Cross" variant within a few feet of each other. I suppose you could interpret this as just ordering from a standard template but these have the nice combination of standard features and personal touches.  Regards the former we here have the classic Dying Dove on the right hand branch, wing extended upwards.

Keep this image in mind until we reconvene next time.  A couple miles away and across the much wider Catholic - Protestant divide...

Friday, October 14, 2016

A Tree Shaped Tombstone....for a Tree?

The cemetery in Wausau Wisconsin makes you work a bit. It is sprawling, has the newer and older monuments all jumbled together, and has some unusual local "styles", I suspect from the availability of local red granite.  You find some odd gravestones there.  This struck me as the oddest.

Short, squat and made of granite.  Not your usual "tree shaped tombstone".

It was associated with this marker, remembering a husband and wife named Neu.

But it is the top of the stump that was really peculiar.  The inscription reads:

First Tree cut down in this Cemetery by FRED. NEU

Mr. Neu was born in Germany in 1827.  He came to Wisconsin in 1858.  After working a while at a saw mill and as a carpenter he started a furniture business in 1871.

There are several possible connections between Mr. Neu and the cemetery.  He was an alderman so if this was a publicly owned cemetery he may have had a supervisory role.  He also served as coroner, a job which does tend to bring you into contact with the less lively segment of the population.  But the biggest clue is the furniture business.  In times past those who made and sold tables and chairs often did the same for coffins, and served as defacto funeral directors.

Evidently he was involved in the founding of the cemetery, although why he should remember cutting down a specific tree with such fondness that he decided to spend money immortalizing the deed is an interesting question.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Teaching Tools

Different lines of work have different equations that are important.  Back in my medical days for instance I was pretty good at quickly taking weight in pounds, converting it to kilograms and calculating doses of medications at milligrams per kilogram.

In my new undertaking, machining, the equation you see below is a biggie.  It is how you figure out the RPM setting for lathes and mills.  RPM is four times Cutting Speed divided by the diameter of the part you are working on.  You can see the Cutting Speeds listed, they vary on the basis of how hard the part is.

Obviously this is important enough to put on the shop wall in gigantic letters.  But perhaps this is even important enough that extraordinary measures must be taken to reinforce it.  Now, I do try to keep this blog set to high moral standards.  But what can I say.  You want a class of all guys to think about the diameter and hardness of parts?

Post the equation in the bathroom!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Hot Metallic Smell of Victory

Here I am measuring a part I cut to a length of two inches.

I am, if ever so slowly, becoming a better machinist.  

That plus hearing last week that I would again be excavating at Vindolanda has put me in an upbeat mood albeit with an odd thematic mixture.

Amid the humming of the lathes and mills I thought I heard something like:

"Ave fabricator fortis. Vulcanus ipse saluto"

Monday, October 10, 2016

Rays and Root Vegetables

 I am busily learning the new language of machining.  Most of the interesting new words have some logical, mechanical meaning.  You may never have seen a Spring Collet,  a Retention Knob or a Pull Stud, but you could form a mental picture of what it might look like.  Apologies to my UK readers for what sounds like some slightly off color language.

Its fun, but I do miss my meanderings through the language of medicine, my previous career. There were so many small moments of insight.

Take for instance the term "Radiculopathy".  In Medicalese it indicates pain, usually in the arm or leg, due to pinching of a nerve in the spine.  When discussing the diagnosis with a school teacher a while back I had the realization that Radiculopathy and Radish as words must be not just cousins, but long separated siblings.  

Both descend from the Latin word Radix, meaning "root".  A radish is a root vegetable. Radiculopathy is  caused by irritation of a nerve at its origins, its "root" as it comes off the spinal cord and exits the bony confines of the vertebral column.  

Discussions like this are an excellent and diverting way to get behind in your daily schedule.

With Radix as a Latin origin meaning to come outward from a starting point there are obviously many words that grow from it.  Radiation, Rays, Radius (which is both a bone going outward from the elbow and the distance from the center of a circle to its perimeter).  A few words have picked up modern and unexpected encrustations.

A Radical in the modern political sense only goes back to the early 1800s when the extreme wing of the British Liberal party was felt to be in favor of extreme change "from the roots". Hopefully not by eradication.

And in the fields around stately Trowelsworthy Hall many farmers grow Horseradish.  It is a powerful, pungent root that can only be planted intermittently in any given field due to its severe impact on soil nutrients.  Horses do not, so far as I know, eat the stuff.

In this sense Horse is used as a synonym for "large, coarse".  "Courseradish" would be more accurate.  

Horse comes to us from the Proto-Germanic "hussa".  Until fairly recently it was preserved intact in the word "Hussar" which designated a fancy subset of cavalrymen.  And as to other odd variations on horse...

Horse mushroom, horse parsley and my personal favorite from the North of England: Horsegodmother, indicating a "large masculine wench".

My patient with radiculopathy may have also been complaining of a hoarse voice but my latitude with the daily schedule only goes so far and to consider horse versus hoarse was a bit too much.