Have you ever…

March 31, 2009

had a song just keep running through your head?
The last few days I’ve been walking around with a song stuck in my head that just won’t go away. On top of that it’s a movie theme song and some times I get carried away with it. I’ve been getting some funny looks as I walk around humming with a goofy grin on my face.
So I thought the only way to get rid of it was to do a post about it.

If you were around in 1968 you might remember a movie called Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. It was a comedy musical that the whole family could enjoy starring Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes. The one about the wacky professor who invents goofy machinery and isn’t taken seriously until he invents a flying car. What many don’t know, or care to remember, is that the movie was based on a book written by Ian Flemming. Yes the same author who brought us James Bond.

Since I have this weird inquiring mind I decided to check into it. I sometimes wonder if a story is a complete fabrication, or it there is some truth to it. Ends up that the movie car was based on an actual vehicle, and perhaps even the wacky professor as well. While the real Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang couldn’t fly it was very fast on the ground.

In England after World War I, Count Zborowski, a race car driver bought 23 surplus aircraft engines. So of course he decided to build a race car. In all 3 Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang cars were built. For Chitty 1 he asked Clive Gallop to build him a car. A chassis from a 1907 Mercedes was stretched and used along with the transmission and radiator. Between the two they stuck a 23-litre Maybach airplane engine that produced 305 bhp. It had a chain drive and dry sump oiling system for road clearance. It won several races in 1921 at Brooklands and proved it could go 120 mph in spite of its poor handling and negligible brakes. In 1922 Chitty I raced again until a blown tire at high speed nearly killed the Count. The car wound up in the infield with barely a scratch on it and was rebuilt.

For Chitty II they used another pre-war Mercedes chassis, but with a shorter wheelbase. The engine in this car an 18,882cc six-cylinder Benz unit with 230 bhp. Since it was intended to be a high-speed touring car, it was fitted with a four-seater touring body by Blythe Brothers. In only raced once in the autumn of 1921 doing laps at 108.27 mph, but didn’t win the race. The car in the movie was supposedly based on this car.

Chitty III was built in 1922 on a modified Mercedes 28/96 chassis. The Count imported the complete car which had a rough test body on it. The engine was removed and replaced with a 14,778cc six-cylinder Mercedes airplane engine with a modest 160 nominal horsepower. It was hooked to the stock Mercedes gearbox and rear axle. In 1924 the Count again won races at Brooklands and the car could do laps at more than 112 mph.

After the Counts death Chitty I was bought, then neglected for years, and finally abandoned and cut up. Chitty II was restored and resides in the United States to this very day. Chitty III was racing as late as 1939 at Brooklands, then sold for road use and later broken up.

One other car built by Gallop for the Count but not called a Chitty was the Higham Special Brooklands car. It has an amazing resemblance to the other cars, and a 27-litre American Liberty V-12 engine. It was sold to Parry Thomas, renamed “Babs” and improved. It took the World Land Speed record then later killed its owner in a crash at Pendine Sands in Wales. The car was buried there after the
crash. It was dug up in 1969 and has since been restored by Owen Wyn Owen in North Wales.

That is the story of the real Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang car, and I guess it really could fly.
Comments are always welcome.

Border update

March 30, 2009

On March 24 Deputy Attorney General David Ogden announced that the Department of Justice was going to increase efforts to combat the Mexican drug cartels in the United States and Mexican law enforcement battle the cartels in Mexico.

Also announced on the same day the United States will be investing $700 million this year in Mexican law enforcement and judicial capacity while working to coordinate efforts against the cartels. I didn’t realize we taxpayers were so giving.

The DOJ through the FBI; the U.S. DEA; the ATF; the U.S. Marshalls Service (USMS); and the Criminal Division of the Office of Justice Programs will be at work investigating and prosecuting cartel members for illegal activities it the U.S. They will also work with law
enforcement in Mexico to disrupt the illegal flow of weapons and bulk cash to Mexico.

The DEA has the largest U.S. drug enforcement in Mexico and has 11 offices there. They are also placing 16 new positions in its Southwest border field divisions. This increase means that 29% of the DEA’s domestic field positions (1,180) positions are allocated to their Southwest border field divisions. The DEA is also forming four additional Mobile Enforcement Teams (METS’s) to target Mexican
methamphetamine trafficing operations and the associated violence along the border and in U.S. cities impacted by the cartels.

The ATF is relocating 100 personnel from the Houston Field Division to the area and they will be known as Gunrunner Impact Teams (GRITs). They will combat the violence along the border. The ATF recieved $10 million for this project to stop arms trafficing between the U.S. and Mexico. It will include hiring 25 new special agents, six industry operations investigators, three intelligence research specialists, three investigative analysts, and establish three new
permanent field offices in Texas, New Mexico, and California.

The FBI is creating the Southwest Intillegence Group (SWIG) as a clearing house for all FBI activities involving Mexico. This will increase the focus on public corruption, kidnappings, and extortion. This will be along with the already existing initiatives in Mexico and Central America. They include the Central American Fingerprint Exchange (CAFE) as well as the Transnational Anti-Gang initiative in El Salvidor.

The U.S. Marshalls added 94 additional deputies including 4 in Mexico City. They are increasing their efforts in the Southwest border region under the Mexico Investigative Liaison Program to help with cross-border apprehension of violent fugitives. The U.S. Marshalls also hired 25 Criminal Investigators-Asset Forfeiture Specialists to investigate cartels and large scale operations.

And the DOJ’s Organized Drug Enforcement Task Forces Program (OCDETF) is adding analyst personnel along the border, and the Office of Justice Programs will invest $30 million in stimulus funding to assist state and local enforcement to combat narcotics activities in high drug-trafficking areas.

This looks like big money, and it is, but it is also a very big problem which so far hasn’t slowed any. While most weapons are heading into Mexico the drugs are headed here. Once these drugs cross the border they could end up anywhere in the country. This is a good start but I’d also like to see the same type operations on our Canadian borders. Guns are not a problem there, but a lot of drugs enter our country from the northern border also.
That’s the nickel tour of our war on drugs, comments are always welcome.

Weekend update

March 29, 2009

Saturday was the day we were supposed to turn off our lights for an
hour to show support for global warming or some such thing. On Wednesday, Paul Knappenberger, a climate research scientist for the Science and Public Policy Institute, gave a talk to the Iowa Evirnmental Protection Committee in which he said that Iowa had no long term trend in temperature since 1920. He also stated that the slight increase in precipitation in 110 years had no inpact on the argricultural output.

By now most Iowans know our Governor wants to sell $750 million in bonds to fund his own stimulus package. He’s been heard time and time again saying this would create 30,000 new jobs for Iowans. But Dave Swensen, an ISU economist, says he believes the number will be closer to 4,000. If you take the $750 million and divide it by 30,000 you come out with $25,000. And that doesn’t even take into account the administration costs.

And what are some of the projects this money would be spent on?

-Well, in Vedic City, Iowa, it would fund the Tower of Invincibility. A grand tower of at least 10 stories built in the center of the city to allow grand vistas of the city in all directions.

-In Dewitt, Iowa, it would fund 2 bronze statues from John Bloom’s WPA mural “shucking corn” to create an entrance identity for the city.

-We know LaMars, Iowa, needs a Golf Practice Green Relocation. The money for this would allow relocation, landscaping, bridge replacement, and a cart path extension for a golf course.

-In Dubuque, Iowa, it would cover a Coaches office addition at the Athletic and Wellness Center at Loras College.

-Another critical project would have to be a new parking ramp for the University of Dubuque.

-And the one that I feel stretches it by being included in a ‘stimulus’ package is the purchase of 600 acres for the future runway replacement at the Des Moines International Aiport. This would stimulate the economy how?

HF 801 was passed which is a bill for more transparency in State government. It will require the Department of Administrative Services to create a searchable budget and taxing database that can be accessed by Iowans with internet access. If all goes according to plan the site should have a tax rate map and an individual tax rate calculator. In case anyone forgot, Iowa has the 3rd highest state tax rate in the nation.

I’m watching the “Fair Share” talks with interest. Funny thing about government is that although they’re calling it “fair share”; there is nothing fair about it, it is basically forced unionization, and is a big union bailout. The unions are not retaining their membership and haven’t been growing. Since the current trend is asking for government aid when trouble hits, the union seems to be following
the trend. So in a right to work state; why should non-union employees be forced to pay union dues? I wish everybody would just quit whinning and deal with the problems at hand.

The shopping for a doctor bill, HF 530, is another solution for a non-existant problem. Iowa is ranked third nationally in maximum health care benefits, and first in the Midwest. Why do they want to monkey with it?

On the home front, literally, is the new propasal to give homeowners who refinance their mortage $5,000 to help with closing costs. Also included in the proposal is a $15,000 tax credit for home buyers. If passed this would expire in July 2010 and require a 5% down payment. The current program which offers an $8,000 tax credit is due to expire this December.

Then there is House File 687. Some call it the anti-transparency bill. It takes out of Iowa law the requirement that our school districts have to tell us the percentage of students who graduate from our high school but can’t read or do basic math. It also removes the “sign and return” letter sent home to parents when their grade school child fall behind. I have to agree with one member of the Iowa House who said it cuts off true community wide understanding of how good or bad our schools are performing, removes accountability, and stops us from asking the hard questions. As Iowans we spend $3 billion every year on our K-12 education and now we’ll be kept even more in the dark thanks to this bill. Remember, in a recent survey of high-school students only 39% said they thought their school was not doing a good job of preparing them for the future.

That’s a nickel update of our state government at work.
Comments are always welcome.

A car with a history

March 28, 2009

qodAs a classic car lover I’ve been looking at what is going to sold at
the Branson Auction on April 17th and 18th. The one car that caught
and held my attention is the 1930/33 “Queen of Diamonds” Duesenberg Model J Sports sedan.

Chassis No. 2385 came with a 420 ci, 265bhp straight eight with twin
overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. The chassis also
came with a beam axle in front, live axle in rear, semi-illiptic leaf
springs all around, servo-assisted hydaulically operated drum brakes
on all wheels, and was left-hand-drive.

Like many luxury car builders of the time the chassis and cowl were
consigned to coachbuilders such as Derham, Dietrich, LeBaron, Weymann, Rollston or Murphy here. A few were sent to Europe to be built by the European coachbuilders of the time like Castagna, Hibbard & Farrin, Gurney Nutting, Figoni and Frannay.

This chassis was delivered in 1930 to the French firm of Kellner and
was fitted with town car coachwork. For some reason this didn’t sell
and in 1931 new sports sedan coachwork by Frannay was done with a
sliding sunroof and skirted rear fenders. This car is the only Duesenberg body ever done by Jean-Baptiste Frannay in France. The car was red with a tan leather interior.

The car was owned by the builder and only shown at the best auto shows of the era. In 1934 it was sold sold to its first private owner the Countess Porceri who was known by the press as the “Queen of Diamonds”. The Countess was born Mabel Boll in Rochester, New York in 1895. She married Colombian coffee magnate Hermando Rocha in 1922. He is the one who started her on the way to earning her nickname when he gave her a million dollars worth of jewelry, mostly diamonds, and Mabel wore it all when out in public.

She must have been a fireball because because Mr. Rocha died shortly after the marriage. He was the first of five husbands for the “Queen”.In April 1931 she married Count Henri de Porceri in Paris. She bought the Duesenberg in 1934.

Not much else is known about the car until Mabel Boll died in 1949.
In early 1950 a retired schoolteacher named Henri Beaud of Villeneuve
bought the car was the only know owner until the late 1950s when he sold it to partners Henri M. Petiet and Serge Pozzoli. Mr. Pozzoli
was amoung the first in France to recognize the historical importance
of the motor car. He and a network of friends saved many cars from
destruction and for many years his collection was housed the banking
at Montlhery.

The car had various owners and in 1975 Chicago jeweler Marvin Cohn
bought it and completely restored in with some modifications. The built-in trunk was removed, the hood was lengthened and some fine cabinetry was added to the tan leather interior. Amoung the other changes done, Mr. Cohn opted for the metallic strawberry paint that is still on the car today. By 1985 Mr. Cohen was too ill to drive and enjoy the car and sold it at auction.

This car sold for $550K at Christies’ Pebble Beach Auction in 2001.
For more information about about the “Queen of Diamonds” or the car go

Latest woes

March 27, 2009

A while back I mentioned a problem with our sewer. After the plumber left it seemed like we were once again on easy street. Then we got another rain and it backed up again. Well now we’re into a problem with a collapsed sewer. Our alley is being jackhammered as we speak and we are well on the way to owning our little portion of the alley.

It won’t be a cheap fix but it still beats the alternative. Once again we haven’t been able to flush the toilets, do the dishes, or do laundry for a couple of days and I miss those luxuries. It should be repaired today and I look forward to a nice hot shower later.

After the plumbers left yesterday we heard a loud knocking on our front door. When we opened it a police officer stood on the other side. I turned pale becuase the last time that happened I was informed we lost our only daughter and grandson. My first thought was oh God not our son. But it ended up someone had reported a big fight at the Casa Cruiser. After we had a good laugh the policeman told us to have a nice day and we told him the same.

So if the ’48 doesn’t get restored this year at least the money went to a good cause. I can still get a few things done on it and wait on the bigger things. At least we can still make coffee. And with a hole in the alley this weekend at least I won’t have to shovel that snow if it comes. We hope your week has gone smoother than ours.
Comments are always welcome.

Blackhawk project

March 26, 2009

A comment on my ‘web cruisin’ post has me a little confused. I’ve added the comment below in its entirety and my comments after.

anonymous Says:

March 20, 2009 at 12:51 pm
Now the City Council is about to approve signing of an agreement in one of these Public/Private partnerships between the Banks, Restoration St. Louis, and the city signing as the guarantee if something goes wrong.

Alan Guard says there’s absolutely nothing to worry about because a local bank had done the ‘due dilegence necessary’ on this transaction. Why doesn’t our City Legal and Accounting Department do their own assessment of the situation to make sure in our own mind that we are well protected in this agreement.

It also comes to mind on how many mistakes are made by these Banks after doing their homework on transactions. Each Tuesday on the steps of the Scott County Courthouse, 10 to 35 properties are sold because some deal went sour between a property owner and lender.

This deal seems just like the spin that was put on the Courtland fiasco not long ago. Everyone was so glad that a developer was going to ‘do something’ with that multiplex, and the city was in an inferior position when it came to lien seniority, and the City lost their shorts on the deal when things went sour.

Won’t be long and we’ll see the hotel deal go in this same direction, and everyone will start the fingerpointing on who exactly was at fault.

Fast forward to a story in todays QC Times “City sells bonds for hotel project” by Tory Brecht. In it Brecht reports the city sold $7.03 million in general obligation bonds at a 5.36% interest rate and will use the cash to provide Tax Increment Financing to Restoration St. Louis. It also says aldermen voted unanimously to remove the bridge loan
from the agenda. Why is this part of a new proposal? Did the old one break?

Now a misunderstanding regarding terms of the loan caused the city to use its own cash? Who couldn’t figure out that if the city took out the loan the city, not the state, would be responsible to pay it back? Is this going to come in way over budget like the Adler project? How about the millions for the Gold Room remodel? Since that isn’t included it should at least double the figures stated so far. This project is getting interesting before it even gets started.
Comments are always welcome.

More mini-rants

March 26, 2009

After some thought I decided to devote another Thursday post to some mini-rants. Some of these are based on fact, some are based on what people a lot smarter than have told me, and some are my opinion.

First is the government wanting to take benifits away from wounded veterans who use the VA hospitals. I have been assured by more than one person in position to know that it won’t pass. If they are right it makes one wonder if it isn’t just a diversion to get peoples minds of some of the real problems in Washington, D.C.

Also in Washington we hear how our lawmakers are enraged that AIG would have the audacity to hand out bonuses after getting a bail-out. Don’t these self-serving, egotistical windbags realized it was authorized in the very bill they themselves signed?

Our Governor wants us to go in debt to fix our crumbling infrastructure and put more Iowans to work. He came to Davenport to sell his plan which uses some of the tax income from the casinos to pay for the plan. When the westside sewer tunnel was first being discussed it was said it would create around 200 jobs locally. Now our
Governor says over 300. I don’t believe the number of jobs will be anywhere near that high, nor would they be permanent.

Locally the law that held parents accountable for their children’s bad actions was deemed unconstitutional in a higher court. As with many things governmental, the answer should be obvious. Hold the juvenile deliquents who are causing the problems responsible and award monetary damages to the victims. If said JD’s don’t have any money then they should do community service and work it off.

And Pachino Hill has won a change of venue because he couldn’t get a fair trail here. Why not man up and plead guilty? Getting sentenced to church must have worked for him if he shows this much remorse for killing someone.
Comments are always welcome.

Just a thought

March 25, 2009

box1 I added the political cartoon as a nod to Snarky, the text part of this post came in an email. I felt both are appropriate for the times. This is another opinion post based on what I think are relevant issues.

Take a minute and read the next six sentences, stop to let it soak in,
and guess who it is before you coninue reading.

They travel miles in the heat.
They risk their lives crossing a border.
They don’t get paid enough wages.
They do jobs that others won’t do or are afraid to do.
They live in crowded conditions among a people who speak a different language.
They rarely see their families, and they face adversity all day ~ every day.

I’m not talking about illegal Mexicans ~ I’m talking about our troops! Doesn’t it seem strange that many Democrats and Republicans are willing to lavish all kinds of social benefits on illegals, but don’t support our troops, and are even threatening to defund them?
Comments are always welcome.


March 24, 2009

The post on toilets started a cruise down memory lane for a lot of us.
Old houses are like old cars to this oldfart who thinks older is better.
If you measure a 2×4 in an older home, it measures 2 inches by 4 inches. Measure one in a newer house and they are 1 and a half inches by 3 and a half inches.

My parents bought our place in 1954 when I was just a pup. Back then most houses in the neighborhood didn’t have clothes dryers. After mom finished with the wringer washer she’d haul the laundry out to the clothes lines and hang them to dry. We kids were in charge of getting the poles in place when the lines started sagging.

Then the source of news was the back fence. Neighbors would be outside and if you were out they stopped to chat over the fence. It was kinda like “Cheers” back then because everybody knew your name.My how times change.

TV wasn’t as important as it is today. Kids today watch more TV after school than entire families watched back then. We also ate supper as a family every night. On Sundays most of us went to the church of their choice as a family. That was when we found out we had a drug problem. We were drug to church, drug to visit sick relatives, and drug to visit neighbors.

I was a little too young to remember but it must have been safer back then. Nobody we knew locked their cars or houses at night. And yet I don’t remember hearing of anyone getting robbed, killed, or sexually assaulted in their home. We kids would take off in the morning with no way to contact home in case of trouble, be gone all day, walk all over the city, and we lived to tell about it.

Back then we had the option of a morning or evening newspaper too.
We had three movie theatres, a five-and-dime, a Grants store, and a
lot more neat things to do downtown. I honestly think we were in better shape than kids today because we were so active. Sure we had Iowana, Dairy Queen, and A & W driveins, but we usually walked to get there.

When we bought the place from my folks in 1994 things had changed.
Oh sure, the house was 40 years older, but the dynamics of the old
neighborhood had changed. What was once all owner occupied houses had changed to probably at least half rentals. People don’t seem as eager to know their neighbors anymore, and you rarely see them outside except to mow the lawn or grill some meat. Some might call that progress, but I think it’s a crying shame.
Comments are always welcome.

After the outhouse

March 23, 2009

I’m going to get a little potty-mouthed here and talk about a subject
most people avoid like the plague. This nasty thing is so much much a
part of our life we use it every day, yet nobody talks about it. It has
been referred to with very crude nicknames and even has it’s own brand of humor that some find offensive. Yes my friends I am talking about the toilet.

crapper How many times have we referred to this convience as ‘the crapper’? In case you don’t know the origin of the term, there was indeed a Mr. Crapper. Thomas Crapper was considered a sanitation engineer who held 8 patents and his name was seen all over England starting in the late 1800s. Some American GIs thought he was the inventer because “T. Crapper Brass & Co. Ltd.” was inscribed on the tanks of most public toilets at the time. The closest the Crapper name got to any toilet patents was in 1897 When his nephew was awarded a patent for “improvements in or relating to automatic syphon flushing

The concept originated in 1596 when Mr. John Harrington invented the first flush toilet for his godmother, Queen Elizabeth I. It was more of a novelty that didn’t improve sanitation because it allowed for no drainage system or sewer treatment and the waste was disposed of manually in the nearest street, or river. It would be hundreds of years before municipal sewers were designed to make the toilet sanitary. Mr. Harrington’s device bombed, but his first name will last for eons as another term for toilet. The first patent for a siphonic flush toilet was given to a Mr. Joseph Adamson in 1853.

As bad as some of this sounds, the medical field didn’t realize the link between poor sanitation and disease until around the 1840s. Would you believe that with all we know about sanitation and disease today a full 40% of the world’s population don’t have access to proper sanitation?

Plumbing and sanitation have seen many advances recently and with that our bathrooms have improved greatly. The indoor toilet, still referred to as the water closet or the wc wasn’t always as private as is today. In the early 1900s the toilet was laid out in blueprints along with a sink and tub to align with the house’s supply and drain lines. By around 1925 the indoor residential bathroom went from being a rich mans novelty to being required by code in all new homes in our country.

One last interesting fact is that the word toilet comes from the French word toile (pronounce “twall”), which is a fabric. The connection is in reference to a fabric-covered piece of furniture (called a toilette) similar to a dressing table, where people once primped and preened.

This idea for this post came to be because of an article I read in a magazine. I also used Google, Snopes, and other online sources.
Comments are always welcome.