My intentions were honorable. I’d decided on the topic for the July column, and after the world’s longest winter and coolest spring, I was looking forward to traveling around to do the research.
You’ll have to wait.
The sound of the sump pump coming on in my basement was the first sign that things were not going to go as planned.
I’d been so prudent! I’d brought stacks of boxes of research upstairs in anticipation of flooding, but the “Big Runoff” ran off without flowing over the narrow field between the house and Cottonwood Creek.
The creek went back down and so did the boxes.
I’d underestimated the amount of ground water, which was percolating stealthily beneath the field. It found the cracks in the basement and flowed up through the floor.
On went the pump and up went the boxes again -- not neatly stacked as before, but perched on anything that would keep them dry.
Then I got the summons for jury duty. It is a melancholy fact that people who believe they work best at the last minute are in real trouble when the last minute is unexpectedly taken away from them.
So what’s today’s topic? A random selection of notes strewn across every available surface above water level.
For example, did you know that carbide is man made? Carbide lamps lit Victorian homes, mines and bicycle headlights. It was discovered by accident when an inventor -- searching for a way to process aluminum -- ran a strong electric current through a finely ground mixture of coal and lime. Water dripped on carbide generates acetylene gas, and my father had an acetylene lamp mounted on his helmet when he was working in the mine up Telegraph Creek back in the '40s and '50s. It was always something of a family joke that although he usually kept the extra carbide in a Union tobacco tin, one day he couldn’t find the tin, so he just put a couple of pieces of carbide in his hip pocket.
Mining is sweaty work, and the carbide reacted. As a little kid, I didn’t understand why acetylene, which needs to be ignited in order to flame, should have given him a hot seat, but in my random research turned up the information that it generates quite a bit of heat on its own.
As for bicycle headlamps, it is commonly thought that most people went directly from horse and buggy days to automobiles; however, my folder on the transition from blacksmiths to mechanics reveals a brief period between the two when a bicycle craze filled the gap.
Did you know that besides becoming a famous country and western singer, working in a Helena smelter and playing baseball for the smelter’s team, Charley Pride performed at a lot of small town Montana night spots when he was just starting out, and at one -- Porter’s Corner -- “Bus” Hess told him, “Give it up. You’ll never make it, kid.” Hah!
In July, 1903, local newspapers reported that the “anti-oleo law” was invalid and it was now legal to color margarine. That scrap of research needs a follow-up, because I recall a time when margarine (oleo) was still lard-white, and came with a little bead of yellow coloring, which my brother got to squish into it. Some other folks “of mature years” remember mixing in a little packet of yellow powder for giving a more appetizing appearance to the fake butter. And in case you’re wondering, I was not born before 1903.
The Montana Territorial Legislature justifiably takes credit for promoting the creation of Yellowstone National Park, but Deer Lodge gets to claim the most credit, because it was William H. Clagett, of Clagett and Dixon in Deer Lodge who introduced the “Act of Dedication Bill” in 1871, which led to the creation of the park in 1872.
With the flooding gradually subsiding and jury duty likely to end this week, I should be able to get to my planned topic by next month. In the meantime, I hope you’ll find something of interest in this flood of random information. I’ll let you be the judge.