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A sharp-eyed reader pointed out to me a math error on page 10.

.583 ft. X .75 ft. X 9 ft. = 3.94 board feet/tie

3.94 board feet X 3,249 ties per mile = 12,786 board feet of lumber per mile of track.

3,249 ties per mile X 11,500 miles of track = 37,363,500 ties = 147,039,000 board feet of timber

Multiplying the 0.583′ x 0.75′ x 9′ dimensions gives 3.94 cubic feet of wood per tie, but this then needs to be multiplied by 12 board feet / cubic foot to arrive at 47.28 board-feet per tie.

47.28 board feet X 3,249 ties per mile = 153,613 board feet of lumber per mile of track.

1.8 billion board feet of lumber for ties.

No matter how you cut it (pun intended) that is a lot of wood dedicated to building railroad tracks, and it does not take into account ties needed for replacement. Railroads were as dependent on loggers to build their track as loggers were on railroads to haul the timber and finished products to market. Shipping depended on wood either as crates, railcars, or crossties.

Math was never my strong suit and I beg the readers’ forgiveness for the error.


New Book

This post is out of the ordinary for this blog but I thought it worth passing along.

My cousin, Jim Cheskawich wrote this book about his service in Vietnam. It is a compelling book and talks about one man’s experience in the war in southeast Asia.

If you are expecting tales of firefights, battles, napalm and the like this book will not meet those expectations.


 The inside dust jacket describes the book better than I can. Whether you served during that time or whether you did not, this is a book you should read.

You can order directly from Jim, through on-line book purveyors, or if you don’t want to buy it, go to the local library and ask for it.

Things Haven’t Changed All That Much

State officials, men connected with big corporations and private owners of forest land, conservationists and lovers of wild life have been making a special effort this year to prevent recurrences of the fall forest fires and calls will be made upon sportsmen and others who go into the woods to not only prevent fires, but to go out of their way to stop them. The loss in timber in Pennsylvania last spring alone was more than a million dollars and thousands of acres, including some young timber planted at considerable expense, were ruined. An elaborate system of warnings of fires has been perfected in a dozen counties and hunters will be asked to give their help in event of blazes occurring. Appeals have also been made to the national railroad authorities as statistics show that a high percentage of the forest fires in the regions, wherein there is good hunting have been caused by sparks from locomotives. Loss in game last spring was very great, notably in Centre and other counties where efforts to propagate have been under way, fires occurring in districts which had afforded good hunting. This fall the small number of fires has been encouraging.

From the Harrisburg Telegraph, October 26, 1918

The Legislature and Money

Bob Schott is a retired DEP biologist and a friend and colleague. He wrote a letter to the editor about an interaction he had with a legislator. You can read it at:

A couple of years ago I wrote an op-ed piece for the Harrisburg Patriot News and actually received pushback.  I include it here in case you missed it the first time around.

We routinely watch the Penguins play at Consol Energy Center, the Pirates play at PNC Park and the Phillies play baseball at Citizens Bank Park.  The Steelers are at Heinz Field and the Eagles are at Lincoln Financial Field.  Even our own Harrisburg Senators, play at Metro Bank Park.  There are stadiums and arenas scattered across Pennsylvania that bear corporate names.   Many of these venues have been paid for, at least in part, with public money. And so with tongue planted firmly in cheek I offer the following suggestions to alleviate the Pennsylvania budget deficit.

The idea is to sell the naming rights to streams, lakes, rivers and ponds.  Virtually all public surface waters would be up for bid.  There could be a two-fold effect here.  The state would receive a much needed boost in revenue and the companies who pasted their name on the body of water might actually take some ownership and protect it a little bit more than if it just had some Native American name with a lot of mis-arranged vowels and consonants.

There are 124,183 stream segments in Pennsylvania according to the PSU, PASDA geographic information system (GIS) data. Even if all the unnamed tributaries are removed from consideration that still leaves 52,567 stream segments that could have their naming rights sold to the highest bidder.  The cost could be based on the length and flow of the segment.  Considering today’s GIS technology that’s a relatively simple thing to do.

Let’s start with the most obvious name first.  The Chesapeake Bay could be renamed the Chesapeake Energy Bay.  Of course the naming fee – hopefully in the billions- would have to be divvied up between Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, and I suppose the feds would want their chunk of change too but it could provide funds to clean up the bay.

Next the Susquehanna River could be changed to Range River and the Monongahela River to Consol River.  This has huge benefits not only to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania but also to students all across Pennsylvania, who no longer have to learn to spell those difficult, tongue twisting words.  The Youghiogheny and Kiskiminetas would no longer confuse computer spell checkers after they become the Exxon and the Shell rivers.  The often mispronounced and frequently misspelled Schuylkill River could become the Sunoco River.  With these simple changes students could spend less time studying giving them more time for jobs (and paying taxes on the money they earn).  Teachers could spend less time doing lesson plans and correcting papers, thereby allowing more time for more students thus increasing class size, meaning less teachers are needed and school budgets get reduced.  See there are spinoff benefits everywhere.

Lakes are great for this plan and fit right into the scheme.  Lake Wallenpaupack, already owned by PPL could very simply become PPL Lake.  Just think of all the ink that would save when vacationers send home postcards.  Okay, so nobody does that anymore, but imagine how much easier that is to text and tweet?  The Fish and Boat Commission’s Leaser Lake would truly become Leased Lake, hardly a name change at all.

But why stop with bodies of water? State Forests and State Parks could be up for grabs as well.  How about Promised Land State Park becoming the Smart Balance, Promise Spread State Park?  Both the buttery-like spread and the park promote healthy living so it fits.  Poe Paddy State Park could become Peppermint Paddy State Park where the dew drops off the cool green leaves, and Prince Gallitzin State Park could become Princess Cruises State Park, an alternative for potential customers who might get seasick on a boat.

We’re on a roll now.  How about Sproul State Forest becoming Chief Resources State Forest?  Bald Eagle State Forest could become Coots and Boots State Forest and Tiadaghton State Forest could change its name to the easier to pronounce Halliburton State Forest.  Who would object?

And let’s not forget the transportation. The Pennsylvania Turnpike could become the Chrysler Turnpike, the Schuylkill Expressway could become the Mopar Expressway and why not I-Chevy instead of I-80?

With these few simple changes the Commonwealth of (insert name of highest bidder here) could be reaping millions, nay billions of badly needed dollars.

This was written a few years ago when the gas boom was going strong but it is still a viable option.

What’s next? How about the PGC having hunters pay a harvest fee when the get a deer? Considering the deer herd in Pennsylvania (where I hunt) they can expect it to generate $42.56, 3 cases of mis-matched returnable pop bottles and a set of partly worn re-caps.




Boxing A Compass

Boxing a compass does not involve the pugilistic arts, nor does it involve sending a broken instrument back to the manufacturer. Boxing a compass is a way to tell directions.

There are four principal directions. They are North, East, South and West. These are the cardinal directions, cardinal meaning most important. Considering that a compass is a circle and there are 360o in a circle; the cardinal directions are 90o from each other. Hence North is either 360o or 0o. Then the degrees are measured in a clockwise direction. East is 90o, South is 180o and West is 270o

Halfway between each of these points are the ordinal directions 45o from each cardinal direction. Northeast (45o), Southeast (135o), Southwest (225o) and Northwest (315o). This seems simple enough. But wait there is more. Halfway between the cardinal and ordinal directions are still more divisions 22.5o between each point. This leads to 16 points on a compass. Sometimes these are called inter ordinals or sub-ordinals and have names like North Northeast and West Southwest. To further refine these points an additional point was added 11.25o between the previous points. These are sometimes referred to as “By” points. By points are seldom used today. This makes for 32 points around the compass, each point being 11.25o from the points on either side of it.

If one can name in order all thirty-two points starting from any given point on the compass this is called “boxing the compass.” The 32 points are from north in clockwise direction:

Direction Notation Degrees
North N 0 (360)
North by east N by E 11.25
North-northeast NNE 22.50
Northeast by north NE by N 33.75
Northeast NE 45.00
Northeast by east NE by E 56.25
East-northeast ENE 67.50
East by north E by N 78.75
East E 90.00
East by south E by S 101.25
East-southeast ESE 112.50
Southeast by east SE by E 123.75
Southeast SE 135.00
Southeast by south SE by S 146.25
South-southeast SSE 157.50
South by east S by E 168.75
South S 180.00
South by west S by W 191.25
South-southwest SSW 202.50
Southwest by south SW by S 213.75
Southwest SW 225.00
Southwest by west SW by W 236.25
West-southwest WSW 247.50
West by south W by S 258.75
West W 270.00
West by north W by N 281.25
West-northwest WNW 292.50
Northwest by west NW by W 303.75
Northwest NW 315.00
Northwest by north NW by N 326.25
North-northwest NNW 337.50
North by west N by W 348.75
MathInst (800x699)
With these implements of math instruction it is possible to accurately draw a 32 point compass rose but it is much more convenient to just use degrees.

It is just about impossible to measure quarter degrees with common small protractors such as those found in today’s math classes. With a good drawing compass, a straightedge, and a protractor that can measure a 90 degree angle it is possible to construct a 32 point compass rose but you better have a lot of patience.

So why use all those points and not just use degrees? Well there are a couple of reasons. The cardinal directions were based on the four directions of the winds. Most sailors were illiterate. They couldn’t read and their math was rudimentary at best. They knew enough to know they would get one piece of silver for each finger on their hands at the end of the voyage. Counting much beyond that was out of the question. They couldn’t read but they could understand symbols. A ship’s compass had a lot of symbols and if they wanted to go in a certain direction they would point the bow of the ship toward that symbol on the compass. The captain would give the order, “Head Northwest by North” and the guy steering the ship – the helmsman – would turn the wheel or rudder until the bow was in line with the “NW by N” on the compass.

And besides that sounded more nautical than saying, “Bring it around dere just a scosh,” or “Okay just a teensy bit more thattaway.”

compass2 (624x800)
A modern compass showing the cardinal and ordinal directions with degrees around the outside ring.

Degrees really didn’t come into widespread use until the 20th Century.  There are 360 of them, with 0 or 360 always at north. Everybody understands that East is 90 degrees and South is 180 degrees. Learning that West by North is followed by West Northwest is no longer necessary. All that is really necessary is to be able to count from 1 to 360.

In today’s electronic world with GPS and satellite mapping it really isn’t necessary for a person to understand compasses and bearings and the like. You can select a location and the GPS will guide you, even telling you in a soothing voice which way to go. Whether you are trekking through the woods to a deer stand or driving to a new location to fish, satellites can guide the way. But what happens if your GPS’ batteries die or for some reason the satellite signals go down? Can you get out there and back?