USS Shenandoah (ZR-1) – One of four airships commissioned by the US Navy

This picture floated across my screen:

Shenandoah Airship over Fort Bragg

Wow, says I, a US Navy airship over Fort Bragg! Tell me more.

Per Wiki ….. “USS Shenandoah was the first of four United States Navy rigid airships. It was constructed during 1922–23 at Lakehurst Naval Air Station, and first flew in September 1923. It developed the U.S. Navy’s experience with rigid airships, and made the first crossing of North America by airship. On the 57th flight, Shenandoah was destroyed in a squall line over Ohio in September 1925.

Diagram of the Shenandoah

The photo says that the flight over Fort Bragg was on October 17th – but which year? More from Wiki …….

Shenandoah was originally designated FA-1, for “Fleet Airship Number One” but this was changed to ZR-1. The airship was 680 ft long and weighed 36 tons. It had a range of 5,000 miles, could reach speeds of 70 mph.  Shenandoah was the first rigid airship to use helium rather than hydrogen, Shenandoah had a significant edge in safety over previous airships. Helium was relatively scarce at the time, and the Shenandoah used much of the world’s reserves just to fill its 2,100,000 cubic feet of gas bags. Shenandoah was powered by 300 hp, eight-cylinder Packard gasoline engines. Six engines were originally installed, but in 1924 one engine (aft of the control car) was removed. The first frame of Shenandoah was erected by 24 June 1922; on 20 August 1923, the completed airship was floated free of the ground. Helium cost $55 per thousand cubic feet at the time, and was considered too expensive to simply vent to the atmosphere to compensate for the weight of fuel consumed by the gasoline engines. Neutral buoyancy was preserved by installing condensers to capture the water vapor in the engine exhaust.

Shenandoah first flew on 4 September 1923. It was christened on 10 October 1923 by Mrs. Edwin Denby, wife of the Secretary of the Navy, and commissioned on the same day with Commander Frank R. McCrary in command. Mrs. Denby named the airship after her home in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and the word shenandoah was then believed to be a Native American word meaning “daughter of stars”.

Captain of the Shenandoah at the controls

In July 1924, the oiler Patoka put in at Norfolk Naval Shipyard for extensive modifications to become the Navy’s first airship tender. An experimental mooring mast 125 ft  above the water was constructed; additional accommodations both for the crew of Shenandoah and for the men who would handle and supply the airship were added; facilities for the helium, gasoline, and other supplies necessary for Shenandoah were built, as well as handling and stowage facilities for three seaplanes. Shenandoah engaged in a short series of mooring experiments with Patoka to determine the practicality of mobile fleet support of scouting airships. The first successful mooring was made on 8 August. During October 1924, Shenandoah flew from Lakehurst to California and on to Washington State to test newly erected mooring masts. This was the first flight of a rigid airship across North America.

USS Patoka

On 2 September 1925, Shenandoah departed Lakehurst on a promotional flight to the Midwest that would include flyovers of 40 cities and visits to state fairs. Testing of a new mooring mast at Dearborn, Michigan, was included in the schedule. While passing through an area of thunderstorms and turbulence over Ohio early in the morning of 3 September, during its 57th flight, the airship was caught in a violent updraft that carried it beyond the pressure limits of its gas bags. It was torn apart in the turbulence and crashed in several pieces near Caldwell, Ohio.

Based on the above it looks like the year was 1924. It will remain 1924 till I get told different!!!!!

A sommelier’s busman’s holiday

A busman’s holiday = a vacation or form of recreation that involves doing the same thing that one does at work.

A sommelier is one VERY knowledgeable about wine.

Daughter Holly is a sommelier by profession. She works for one of the largest wine distributors in the United States. So, what did she and her friend Michelle from work do on a recent weekend? Yep, you got it – they helped with the wine harvest. Michelle wrote up this account of their efforts for their fellow workers.

Holly and I went to Joseph Swan (vineyard) to help with Harvest.  One of us worked harder than the other…. 

Holly not working too hard

Michelle working hard crushing the grapes

Holly and I went expecting to work alongside the Interns and provide harvest support hoping to jump in a few places to help where we could.  We quickly realized that this was not the case.  There were no interns (except us).  It was the Rodfather and Cody to do it all and they were thrilled for any and all help.  It has been a few years since I jumped on top of a tank for hand punch downs and my arms are still screaming.  Holly was the pressure washer and sorting queen. 

I can honestly say the Syrah and many of the Single Vineyard Pinot Noirs have our actual sweat in them.  In addition to punch downs 3 times a day for each tank and bin (6 large ones and 6 smaller ones), they had just picked the Syrah from their estate (Trenton) early that morning and pulled in the Viognier later that morning as well.  We pressed off the Viognier first putting the tiny amount (5 bins) into a tank.  It was tasting great.  Rod decided to leave the Viognier skins inside the tank post press and sent the Syrah directly in after.  This will be their Syrah Rosé. 

After pressing off the Syrah it was time for cleaning up, pressure washing and of course more punch downs.  We left around 8 pm after enjoying some 2018 Rose in bottle and a rare taste of their Cabernet Sauvignon (only 20 cases made from a super small parcel within Trenton).  I have a whole new respect for Joseph Swan, Rod Berglund (Rodfather), Cody Sapieka and the entire staff that was hosting tasters as we worked around them.  Standing at the sorting table with the Rodfather, hearing his stories or his winemaking decisions or thoughts as it was happening was priceless. 

I am not sure Holly knew what she was getting into (just confirmed, she did not) when I asked if she wanted to join me, but she was a champ and impressive at every task.  Her love of power washing is unparalleled, and one might even say borderline obsessive.”

Holly crushing

Grapes just off the vine

Michelle power washing


Sand Dollars

I swear, I think that the only place that folks can ask questions is at our model train layout. Today a young family came to me to share what they had found on the beach and what they had found they were very excited about. They had found 4 sand dollars on the beach – two were whole and two were broken. They had a lot of questions and, alas, I had few answers. I promised them I would blog “sand dollars.” Here I go:

Sand dollar is the common name for many flattened species of sea urchins that burrow in the sand, but where exactly did that name come from?

Different types of sand dollars

Different types of sand dollars

When dead sea urchins wash ashore, their skeletons, or tests, are bleached white by the sun. Beachgoers thought they looked like a large silver coin like the old American or Spanish dollar. So they started calling them sand dollars. But these sea urchins are also called sand cakes, cake urchins and sea cookies.

What does a sea urchin look like when it is alive?

Live sea urchin

Live sea urchin

Here’s a few more bits of info about them  I got from the Monterey Bay Aquarium:

  • Their mouth has a jaw with five teeth-like sections to grind up tiny plants and animals.
  • A sand dollar chews for fifteen minutes before swallowing.
  • It can take two days for the food to digest.
  • Scientists can age a sand dollar by counting the growth rings on the plates of the exoskeleton.
  • Sand dollars usually live six to ten years.

A variety of imaginative associations have been made by beachcombers who collect the bleached skeletons of dead sand dollars. They are sometimes said to represent coins lost by mermaids or the people of Atlantis. Christian missionaries found symbolism in the fivefold radial pattern and dove-shaped internal structures, and a card with an anonymous poem explaining the legend is often given in conjunction with the sale of a sand dollar by merchants. The story compares the holes with the crucifixion wounds of Christ, and other features with the Star of Bethlehem, an Easter lily, a poinsettia, and doves.

And in answer to the question, “Can you paint them?” – the answer is “yes.”

Painting sand dollars

Painting sand dollars

Go to this site to see the pretty simple process.


Fishing for fun way back then

What did folks do for fun “back then.” There are lots of books and pictures demonstrating the harshness of life. But fun? There are a few pics of works picnics. In Fort Bragg there were dances most Saturday nights. We know there were brothels and bars. We know there was hunting for deer and bear. But fishing? These are the first pics I have collected showing men fishing. I can’t tell when the pics were taken or where. They are sepia so the chances are they are late 1800s or early 1900s.

Intense concentration from this guy

Intense concentration from this guy

No luck - taking a break

No luck – taking a break

A tall tale?

A tall tale?

The Trout Farm in Fort Bragg

Serendipity strikes!!!!!!

Gordon McNutt was a founder member of our club, The Mendocino Coast Model Railroad & Historical Society. His railroad modelling interest was in small gauges – Z and N scale. He had two exquisite layouts in attache cases. When I found the two photos below a bell went off in my brain that Gordon owned and operated the Trout Farm in Fort Bragg. But, who to ask to confirm this? Well, today, his great grandson’s wife came to the layout and generously gave us boxes of stuff that once belonged to Gordon. Whilst she was at the layout I asked her if, indeed, Gordon was the owner of the Trout Farm. “Oh, yes!!” was the answer.

Trout Farm in Fort Bragg

Trout Farm in Fort Bragg

The Trout Farm in Fort Bragg when it was owned by Gordon McNutt

The Trout Farm in Fort Bragg when it was owned by Gordon McNutt

How about them cookies!!!!!!


Deer on a Mendocino Coast Beach

Until I saw these two photos it had never occurred to me that deer went onto the beach. I have no idea if this is a rare or regular event. I asked wife, Sarah, about it – she goes to the beach very frequently with her hounds – and she said she had never seen a deer anywhere a beach.

Stags sparring on a Mendocino Coast Beach

Stags sparring on a Mendocino Coast Beach


Deer  leaving the water on a Mendocino Coast beach

Deer leaving the water on a Mendocino Coast beach

These pics were in one of Lynn Catlett’s, “You know if you are from Mendocino if……………..” Facebook page.

If anyone can shed any light on the dubject of deer on beaches I’d be happy to hear from them.


Will SMART (Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit) ever go further north than Cloverdale?

In a word, “No”

SMART is a passenger rail service and bicycle-pedestrian pathway project currently under construction in Sonoma and Marin counties in Northern California.  The SMART District was established by state legislation in 2002. When complete, it will serve a 70-mile corridor between Cloverdale in northern Sonoma County and Larkspur Landing in Marin County. At Larkspur passengers can board a ferry to go to the Ferry Building in San Francisco. The first phase to open, a 43-mile segment between Northern Santa Rosa and Downtown San Rafael had long been planned for late 2016, but potential issues with the trainsets (diesel powered passenger cars), among other factors, pushed this back to “late spring 2017.”Additional segments are to be opened as funding becomes available.

The above answers several questions I have been asked whilst “working” our G Scale model train layout, The Mendocino Coast Railroad & Navigation Co. The follow-up question invariably is, “Why?” . The answer is that a large part of the track between Cloverdale and Willits is on seismically unstable ground. Yes, the NWP (the Northwestern Pacific did run a line north from Cloverdale north to Willits and then on to Eureka but at enormous cost. Just how unstable? Club member Mike Aplet and his charming wife Laura take “field trips” with their friends to locales around Brooktrails where they live. Brooktrails lies just north of Willits. A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words, and these pics of the old NWP going south from Willits down the Ridgewood grade tell you all you need to know.


Sad, as they say, but true.

Great pics Mike/