Stoney Creek, Day 1, Wednesday

On the first weekend of June, I had the experience of a lifetime. I got to relive history! On June 6 1813, 205 years ago, the British Redcoats engaged the American army in what we know as The Battle of Stoney Creek, a small but decisive conflict that was a part of The War of 1812.

I was given the opportunity to go work at the reenactment of the battle, as a ‘sutler’, or ‘merchant.’ I was working in the kettle corn tent, selling bags of the good stuff to all kinds of people as they went by on the way to the battle or to look at the historic sites. My boss, Dana, is a real history buff, with about a million and five (at least) stories to tell about everything under the sun. He’s my kind of guy, and the kind of boss you actually want to hang out with.

Here is the story of my adventure, which I will release in a number of segments so that it is a bit more reader friendly. If you have any questions please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Enjoy!

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Stoney Creek, Day 1, Wednesday:

At around noon, Dana drove up to my house in his big red truck, pulling an equally large silver enclosed trailer. The trailer was jam-packed chock full of popcorn making equipment, supplies, corn, sugar, oil, salt, the whole deal. The truck was loaded high with canvas, coolers, and camping supplies. Somehow we found enough room for me to ride shotgun, and I threw my bag on top of the precarious pile already threatening to topple in the back seat.

The drive was about an hour and a half or so, which we filled with yakking about Dana’s service over in Afghanistan, which I found really interesting. I had just read Dana’s book – if you want to hear a firsthand account of what it’s like to be right out there where the fighting happens, you definitely should read it, click here – and so Dana was able to tell me lots more stories about some crazy stuff. What an experience to have.

When we got to the Stoney Creek Battlefield House Park, we began unloading and setting up. On the right side of us, Jeff, or ‘Sutler Cyrus,’ sells the very creative (and delicious) Cartridge Candy, and is currently running a political campaign for Willy the Weasel, an aspiring rodent politician who doesn’t mind admitting that he’s only in it for the money. For more about Willy, head over here.

On the left side, was Four and Twenty Blackbirds, a period bakeshop that sells amazing baked goods of all shapes and sizes, including… butter tarts! Oooh those tarts were good! They also sold lemonade in green glass bottles, which was a huge hit when it got hot.

Since the vendors are part of the reenactment, everything had to be period accurate, or in other words, everything must look as if it was from 1812. All the guys wore button up pants with suspenders, and all the ladies wore long dresses. The tents were of real canvass, with wood pole supports and blacksmithed tent pegs. Everything modern got tucked away in the back of the supply tent.

After setting up everything, I met all Dana’s reenactor friends. One guy, Mike, was an amazing photographer, and since I had brought my camera along, we naturally started chatting. We talked about everything from photography tactics to the history of the War, and everything in between.

Dana and I then walked to a nearby restaurant for a fantastic fish and chips supper. When we returned we got a campfire started and all the sutlers pulled up lawn chairs, and sat around chatting until it was time to turn in. And that was the first day!

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Liberation Day

Opa Lloyd

Yesterday, May 5, was Liberation Day in Holland. This holiday celebrates the liberation of The Netherlands from the NAZI regime over 70 years ago.

My great grandfather was in Holland for the original liberation celebration. For he was one of the liberators!

His name was Lloyd Victor Rains, and indeed he was a victor. He had signed up for the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry two years previous, and had spent the last one and a half years on the fighting front, going through experiences no one should have had to endure. He was a private, and he carried a rifle and a shovel. The shovel was used for quickly burrowing into a ‘slit trench’ when under fire, and we all know what the rifle was for.

After months of brutal combat to liberate Sicily and Italy, Lloyd’s regiment was moved around up to France, where the liberation of Continental Europe was in full swing (following the famous invasion of D-Day). Lloyd was then moved on to Holland, where the fighting continued until the end of the war. Lloyd’s was the first regiment to enter Amsterdam directly following the war’s end.

In the following months Lloyd met and married my Great Grandmother, Olga, one of the many dutch girls who came back to Canada as a War Bride.

Lloyd joined up as a teenager hoping for adventure. What he saw was not so glamorous. He hardly spoke of his experiences to anyone. I have always been fascinated by WWII, the way the entire world clashed together in arguably the most all-embracing worldwide conflict in history. It was so terrible in so many ways, what lessons can we now learn so that we never have to do something similar again?

Thank you Opa

An Introduction to Charcoal

 

 

 

‘Charcoal by the bushel, charcoal by the peck, charcoal by the frying pan, or anyway you lek!’

“It was an era of charcoal and a time of disappearing trees”

Oh the wonderful things you can find at secondhand stores. My mom was once at a used goods store, and knowing my love for history, bought me a book called A Reverence for Wood, by Eric Sloane, © 1965. It had a price tag of $1, half of its original price of $2. I started reading the book, and was intrigued by the wast variety of wood related subjects covered in this compact but dense manuscript. One of the things that caught my attention was the portion written on the charcoal makers of old.

‘The charcoal burners were always a strange breed, living a lonely life in the forest, almost like wild beasts.’

Charcoal was used widely for a great number of applications. It was utilized for making Iron long before coal was widely employed for the purpose, but it was also used to store meat, make printing ink, gunpowder, and medicines, brush teeth, and even purify water. As you could imagine, something with such a wide variety of possibilities really piqued my interest.

‘At its best, the job of making charcoal was not for any normal human being. The time required for charring a small mound varied from one to two weeks, but with mounds of wood thirty feet or more round, a month was average. During that time, through every kind of weather, the maker of charcoal lived with his mound, sleeping only in dozes for fear a flame might start and explode into a full fire which would demolish the mound.’

Now, if you don’t know what it is already, I’ll try to explain charcoal really quickly.  *Stay tuned to this blog, and I’ll likely post something more detailed about the science of charcoal later on.* Charcoal is different from ashes, which is the grey/black stuff found after a fire dies. I like to think of charcoal as wood that has burned as much as it can without actually breaking down. You’ll see in my instructions below, that all the flammable gasses from the wood burn, but it burns outside of the container and doesn’t break down the wood, leaving it charred, not burnt.

Instructions for homemade charcoal:

You’ll need a metal can and its matching metal lid (any size is great, but the bigger it is, the more charcoal it makes, and the longer it takes) and a bunch of sticks, preferably all the same kind.

Cram the can full of as much wood as you can fit, and before placing the lid on top, poke a small hole in it (the lid). Close the box tightly, and put it in your fire pit with the lid facing upwards. Build a fire around the tin, and keep it going as hot as possible. In a couple minutes you’ll see a small flame pop up out of the hole in the lid. This flame is all the gasses from the wood. As soon as this flame goes out, you can let the fire die down, and once cooled, your charcoal is done. It may take an hour or two, depending on the size of the tin.

This is a fun and interesting project, that costs almost nothing, and is easy to do. And to find out what kinds of wood are best for different purposes, the internet is your friend.

Also, if you try this and use it for something cool, let me know in the comments below.

 

One final note:  I am interested in finding out the old method of making charcoal in huge mounds covered with sod and dirt.  If you know anyone with information about the old methods of doing it who would be willing to share what they know, please let me know by commenting below.

 

 

The Legend of the Stuffy Box

Stuffy BoxFor my twelfth birthday several years ago, my Grandpa Ross (who was a scout with the 30th troop in Hamilton) gave me a small box full of many little treasures. When I opened the box I found inside a rolled up ‘scroll’ bound by a birthday ribbon tied in a bow. The Scroll

You could tell it was (supposed to look) old because of the (tea bag) stains and marks all over it ;) I opened up the scroll and inside I read the following:

The Legend Of The ‘Stuffy Box’

What is a ‘Stuffy Box?,’ more common folk might ask … it is the beginning of a long journey.

Every twelve year old boy should have a stuffy box.

What is the origin of the stuffy box? Well, it is a modern day legend, and let me tell you that legends are very difficult to begin. In fact, this may be the only labelled stuffy box known to mankind, so you are at the beginning, Dorian!

The term stuffy box comes from your Great Grandpa Lloyd. When your Grandpa, Ross, was a boy, he enjoyed rummaging through his Dad’s little boxes that could be found in our shed. They could contain almost anything …. Screws, bolts, springs, washers, pieces of electric cord, broken pieces of plastic from a curtain rod, or whatever.

The great thing about Great Grandpa Lloyd is that he had a lot of stuffy boxes … you could find several in the shed, a couple in his personal desk, some near his easel and paint, easily one in the washroom, and on and on it goes. He is the true founder of the stuffy box movement.

You are now ready to begin your stuffy box journey. Dorian. Do so with honour and pride!

There are things about a stuffy box you should know. First, it can never be made of new material. It must always come from a pre-existing purpose. In your case, this stuffy box was a pre-existing wine box. The lid had to be reversed and many coats of Varathane were applied by your Grandma. Special wood letters were applied to make ownership unmistakable.

Second, the wise care of a stuffy box includes having one place to keep it where it never moves.

Third, it’s preferred if it gets scuffed and chaffed a bit. You want it to look rough and rustic. It’s a working man’s treasure box … in it you can keep anything you want … a favourite screw driver, coins, stamps, nuts and bolts, candy, a pocket knife, whatever. Odd stuff.

It’s not really a secret box … that is the stuff of another legend. It is more a place to put stuff when you don’t know where to put stuff.

Every few years it’s a good idea to add another stuffy box to your collection. It doesn’t have to look the same, or even be labeled … it just needs to be a good container for stuff. Make the year ahead be full of good stuff, Dorian. Collect good stuff. Do good stuff.

Love,

Grandpa Ross.

I have shared this letter with you so that you can begin your own stuffy box journey.  Please ‘Do so, with honour and pride!’

Hawker Fury

FuryWith two forward firing 7.7 mm machine guns and a top speed of 333 km/h, the Hawker Fury packed a punch for anyone that got in its way.

This fast biplane interceptor fighter was created in 1927, and was used throughout the interwar years until larger more powerful monoplane fighters started appearing on the scene.  One of these monoplane fighters, the Hawker Hurricane, was based on the Fury, but with a more powerful engine, enclosed cockpit, retractable landing gear, and many more modifications.

The Hawker Fury was manned by one pilot, and was the first British fighter capable of surpassing 200 mph (322 km/h). The sleek strait lines of its fuselage make it look fast even if it’s not flying.  Despite the performance of this airplane, it never received a production contract and only a total of 275 were made.  Nevertheless, the Fury was an important step towards providing the Allies with one of their most effective fighters during WWII, the Hawker Hurricane.

For further reading check out these sites:

Aviation History

Military Factory

Here are some watercolour paintings – from the pilot’s view – of strafing a train on the ground.  The spray of white dots are machine gun bullets.  A good pilot will first take out the engine, and then the rest are easy because the train stops moving.  These paintings where inspired after I watched some real gun-camera footage from the cameras in the wings of WWII fighters.Air to Ground Attack

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Here is another picture of the 1/72 scale Hawker Fury model I recently finished assembling.

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Avro Lancaster

Lanc Painting.jpgThe Avro Lancaster was the best night heavy bomber in WWII, and is the most famous of the RAF (Royal Air Force) heavy bombers.  It was born after the twin engine Manchester proved a failure because of the inadequacy of its Rolls-Royce Vulture engines. The designs for the Manchester were changed; two more engines were added, the wingspan was increased (first from 80 ft to 90 ft, and then to 102 ft), as well as several other modifications.  Thus, the Lancaster was created, with the first one flying in January of 1941.

Lancasters continued to be modified throughout the war, and many versions were made, each with a few small differences. You may have heard, for example, of the famous ‘Dambusters’ who used modified Lancasters to skip ‘bouncing bombs’ into dams in Germany.  After the war they were also modified for many civilian and experimental jobs as well.

I’m going to describe the Avro Lancaster Mk. I.  Although other versions had slight changes made, this is the basic design of the Lancasters:

The Avro Lancaster Mk. I had eight 7.7-mm machine guns, and a crew of seven. It had two guns in the nose turret, two in the dorsal (upper) turret, and four in the tail turret. The Mk. II had a couple more machine guns in a ventral (lower) turret, but this was not implemented in the majority of the ‘Lancs’, and so did not prevent hundreds of airmen’s lives from being lost to upward firing enemy night-fighters.  The Mk. I could carry a maximum of 8,165 kg (18,000 lb) of bomb load, sometimes including a 1800 kg (4000 lb) – or even larger as the war progressed – ‘Cookie’ bomb as well as many more smaller explosives. This impressive bomb-load capacity was almost equal to the American B-29 Superfortress, even though the Lancaster is a much smaller plane.  It was 21.18 m (69.5 ft) long, and had a wingspan of 31.09 m (102 ft).  It could fly as fast as 394 km/h (245 mph) at sea level, and had a range of up to 3589 km (2230 miles) or slightly less with a full bomb load.  It had an operational ceiling of 6706 m (22,000 ft).

Lancasters were the main force behind the night bombing runs over Europe during WWII, serving with the RAF, RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force), as well as other commonwealth air forces.  They flew over 156,000 bombing sorties and saw service throughout, and well after the war.  In all, Lancasters dropped 618,378 tonnes (that’s over 628,000,000 kilograms!) of bombs on Europe, destroying huge portions of land.

Sadly, almost half of the 7,377 Lancasters ever built were lost in action or accidents. Now only two specimens remain airworthy; one is based in Great Britain and the other in Canada.

Below are some pictures of the Lancaster scale model that I recently finished assembling.

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Here are a few more sites where you can read a little more about the Lancaster:

Aviation History

World War II Database

Bomber Command Museum

 

Bottles in the Atlantic

In 2013 my family drove all the way to Nova Scotia, Canada, to visit extended family. We stayed at a cottage on a small lake called Lake Deception, near Shelburne, NS.

After launching canoes on the lake, we found that although the surface appears quite flat, there are many hidden rocks barely beneath the surface. We figured this could have been the reason behind the name Deception.

I found an empty glass bottle (the kind used for rootbeer, soda, or beer) that one of the previous renters chucked from the deck behind the cottage. It instantly gave me the idea to write a message, roll it up inside, and toss it into the lake, in the hopes that someone from one of the 10 or so other cottages along the lake would find it.

When my Uncle Ed heard of my plans, he took the idea to a whole new level, by suggesting I throw it in the ocean instead. He also gave me the idea of doing more than one bottle, so as to increase the chances of someone finding it, and even went out of his way to help me photocopy the note (which included my name and address and a request for the finder to write). I left all the ten notes with Ed. He told me that he had a friend at a liquor store, where he might be able to get some bottles.

Later that day while I was at a beach with my family, Ed pulled up in his mini-van and called me over to it.

He gave me a box of ten shinny, brand new, freshly sealed beer bottles. Inside each bottle was one of the notes, tightly rolled up and fastened with an elastic band. On each bottle was a crisp white cap with a red octopus that had a bottle instead of a head.

I put the bottles in our van, and later we drove as far towards the open sea as roads would allow, than walked for a bit on a path, ‘till we got to some rocks where you could see the frothing Atlantic Ocean right below.

My cousins, siblings, and I took turns lobbing the bottles off the cliff like hand-grenades, and watched as they bobbed gently up and down, moving slowly out to sea.

Uncle Ed had told me that it would take several months before the bottle caps would rust through, so if they had not been beached before then, they where goners.

After arriving home from NS (Nova Scotia), I wondered, is someone actually going to find one of these on a beach somewhere?  If so, how far away might they be?

A couple weeks later I got a letter in the mail from NS. Since it wasn’t from Uncle Ed or his family, I wondered who it was. I opened it up, and inside found a letter from someone who had found one of the bottles while walking on a beach on Cape Sable Island, NS. This is not very far from Shelburne, but it was still exciting news.

Two or three days later I received another letter, from another island nearby called the Cape. The two people found their respective bottles two days apart from each other!

I replied to both letters, and wrote to Ed to tell him the good news. I even continued to correspond with one of the people for some time, although the other person never replied a second time.

Sometimes I wonder what happened during the journey of those bottles, and what befell the other eight bottles which I never heard from again. Still, I deem it quite a success, and am very grateful to Ed, without whom I would not have been able to carry out such a great experiment.