Saturday, April 30, 2011

Telling Time

I've been away from the blog for a couple of weeks due to parental illness. It is easy to imagine things are going to stay the same forever, but time marches on and both ourselves and the ones we love get older and wear out a little more.

As it happens, just before my father became ill, I had ordered a new watch to compensate for my own fading eyesight. As time has gone by, even my long arms haven't always been long enough to read my watch. I wanted something bigger, with bigger numbers and hands, to make it easier to see at a glance.

I could have gone digital with 3/4" numbers and a bright back light, but I've typically preferred the traditional analog hands and dial.

The search for a bigger analog watch led me to a strange place, Russian watches. Traditionally, Russia has used analog watches for it's military and for aviation, a large watch with an easy to read dial is key. For the most part, Russia never made the switch to quartz movements, so most of them are traditional mechanical movements.

The reason we all changed to quartz or digital movements is that they are cheaper, but far more accurate. Those of you that know me know that I am often a few minutes late and have never worried about the exactness of time. I have always loved the detailed mechanism and craftsmanship that come with mechanical time pieces. I have 3 mechanical clocks in my house that make lovely noises and need periodic winding. When it came to a watch, I was happy to trade accuracy for size and uniqueness.

The watch is a Moscow Classic Aeronavigator with a 31 jewel Vostok automatic movement. Automatic means that it has a little pendulum inside that winds the watch as your arm moves. There is even a little window in back where you can watch the pendulum and all the little gears. It is a modern watch in the style of Russian military aviation watches and is decorated with a WWII bomber on the face. Yes, that is Russian Cyrillic writing on the face.

In this choice, I realized an interesting contrast to my father. He has always been interested in watches and clocks, but from the viewpoint of technology and accuracy. In the 60's he had a Bulova "tuning fork" watch which was unique method for keeping time. Since then, he has graduated through quartz movements to "atomic" movements that look for a radio signal from an "atomic" standard clock and correct themselves to be accurate to the second.

A couple of years ago, he and I went to visit family in New York. I remember him asking the hotel for a room that faced west so that he could put his clock in the window and make sure that it updated it's accuracy overnight. Even almost 30 years after he retired and needed to be someplace on time, he still wanted to know that his watch was accurate.

So here is a picture of my new, inaccurate Russian watch with my old watches. The watch on the left is a cheap Sharp that I use when I travel. The watch on the right is my old TAG. Both are "normal" size watches for men. I'm hoping the new watch ages gracefully and that I do too. I'm also hoping my father gets better and we can have an interesting conversation about what is important in keeping time.

Monday, April 18, 2011

April Snow Showers bring May Flowers

For the last few weeks, I've been posting seasonal pictures of bright green foilage, trying to will spring into being. Even though I knew the forecast suggested a chance of snow, I still spent part of my Sunday doing the prep work to get one of the bike ready to ride.

And this morning, we have this little gift. To my friends in the south, the seasons do change here in Michigan. It is just not always a steady progression.

Consider this 3 inches of snow that is melting away as I type.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Old Buildings

One of the things that I like best about wandering the backroads are the old buildings. Old buildings seem like they have grown out of the ground. They have been there long enough for lots of things to happen to them and they seem to me like they are just begging to tell me their stories. Unfortunately, they don't speak English and I can only get a glimpse of their stories from the side of the road.

By contrast, new building are just plain boring.

Barns are great. Born of function, yet they seem to have interesting, simple architectural shapes. So much more than a house, they seem to grow out of the ground. And when they get old, they lean and sag and talk to us of the hard winters and heavy loads.

Sometimes, they are split from the house and other barns by the road, almost like no one ever thought there would be more people and traffic when they were built.

Then there are the curiosities. When you built this house, how did you think you were going to get into the attic?

I like this. The whole barn has been without paint for a long time but the window is painted blue. Also, note the car radio antenna rusting away outside the window.

Finally, there are little gems like this cute little barn. It just makes me want to climb into the loft with a good book and take a nap.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

California Moss

Exploring the coastal mountains of Northern California is an excellent way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon. The hills are steep, the valleys are narrow, and there are new micro-climates around every corner.

The narrow valleys seem to hold the mist that comes in from the ocean. All that moisture and shadow results in pockets of dense forest with long shaggy moss.

The bright green of the moss in the half light seem appropriate for spring time here in the midwest.

The density of growth is amazing. Note the redwood tree that has fallen over the creek. Suspended on the bridge of the fallen tree, another tree has taken root and grown up toward the sky.

Sweetwater Springs is narrow little road, even narrower when it squeezes through a stand of redwood. At this point, the road is about 6 feet wide. Note the telephone line and pole squeezing through the same gap.

Of course, sometime you just have to go around the tree.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

David E's Office

There has been a little too much death in this blog recently. Sometimes, it just can't be helped.

David E. Davis passed away last week at age 80. For those of you who don't know him, David E. Davis was a writer first and foremost. Among other accomplishments, he was editor of Car and Driver magazine and the founder of Automobile magazine. More than that, he was mentor and supporter of the best of automotive writers and automotive writing. He always had a strong personal style and was, in the best sense of the word, a raconteur .

This last Saturday, a memorial was held for David E. at the Warehouse. Many members of his family were present, along with a couple hundred other admirers. The current editor of Car and Driver gave an excellent remembrance of David E. and read some of his words.

In conversation with Steve Schewe, he mentioned how influential David E. was to his viewpoint. In the late 60's, David E. wrote an article about the BMW 2002. He said that driving most cars was like wrestling, but in the BMW, he found a willing dance partner. Naturally, Steve bought a BMW.

As for myself, I had met Mr. Davis, but can't say that I knew him well. I did have the chance to hear him tell a few stories in his office. About 3 years ago, David E. rented the offices that were once the executive office for the factory that is now the Warehouse. He furnished it with photos and memorabilia from a life in the auto industry. In that original open house, his wife held court in the conference room with the food. Someone asked her why, now that David E. was retired, he needed separate offices? She said. "I married him for better or worse, but not for lunch." I guess any woman married for a long time to a wit like David E. had better have some intelligence and wit herself.

This Saturday, I wish I had brought a camera. As part of the memorial, they opened his offices. What an excellent way to get a glimpse into the man and his wit.

For example, on his desk is a beautiful little model of an early Ferrari F1 car and on top of it's case, a corn cob. There was a styling model of a Ford GT90 concept car and photos of a young woman (probably his daughter) in both the normal portrait smile and sticking out her tongue and making a face. I also like the Yugo change machine (you know, the metal thing you put on your belt to make change at the ballpark) and the speaker stand and speakers from a drive-in movie theater that was used to hang his collection of race and show credentials.

On my previous visit to his office, he told a story about some photos of a Mercedes pre-war Grand Prix car that were on his wall. This was Mercedes pride and joy and they had brought it out of the museum to show to Mr. Davis. The pictures show the factory driver coming around the banked turn of the test track and parked photos of the car. Naturally, David E. asked to drive the car. It was clear that his hosts didn't want to let him drive, but he was an important journalist, so they eventually caved and let him drive. As David E. describes it, 'the road was wet, the clutch was tricky, and the car difficult.' Apparently, he popped the clutch, spun out, and came to a stop, backwards, and 3" from a guard rail. As you can imagine, the car was quickly hustled back to the museum.

On this visit, my favorite piece was an old photo that had been framed and sent to David E. on the occasion of his 80th birthday by Dan Gurney. At first glance, the picture looks like some 60's Rock-n-Roll band with a bunch of long haired guys standing on a bandstand with guitars and drums. Then you look closer and see it is Bruce McLaren, Graham Hill, Dan Gurney, Jack Brabham, and Jim Clark looking like the original mop-tops.

Wish I could be sharing pictures of this, but those of us who don't carry cell phones are often without camera.