Citizenship, Compleat Idler, Homeschooling, Preparedness, Technology, Tool user

Tool User Manifesto

 

© 2014 Earl L. Haehl: Permission is given to use this article in whole or in part as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

 

 

Using tools is not a “retreat to a semi-frontier past.” The past is important because it shows what could have happened and why our retreat from the way forward will eventually create a present worse than the past. By not using the tools of the past, how can we build the tools of the future. This is not the first time I have discussed this, but it is the beginning of a concerted effort to talk about something in non-ideological terms and build an argument for the future.

My friends and I had been discussing rocketry and space flight and drawing rockets for about three years before 04OCT1957. On that date, the Sovs launched Sputnik. Sphincters tightened in governmental and educational circles. In our juvenile world we were already discussing propellants and experimenting. At Christmas of 1956 I took out a rocket powered by the compression and release of water which was guaranteed to go 300 feet in the air. Without accurate means of measurement we figured they were right because it went a long way.

We continued to do experiments—it was the “nerd” culture. I often have remarked that we have a government agency devoted to our culture—the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Anyway, hobby stores still sell rocket kits and engines and you can still get CO2 canisters which were sold at the time by an outfit called Johnson Smith Co to power rockets, model boats and model cars.

The way rocket fuel, liquid, solid or compressed gas, propels the rocket is the same way steam or petrol gas moves a piston or gun powder propels a Minié ball. The same principle drives air brakes and nail guns with compressed air. Anyone working with basic tools understands this. We all worked with tools—we all had blown up a balloon and let it go. Many of us had detonated cherry bombs in rural mail boxes to observe the speed with which they opened—the fact that this was considered destruction of federal property made it even more daring. And we were all ready to get out to the desert on any given weekend with our small rockets.

In the meantime we had school and homework to attend to, German and Latin to learn, algebra, geometry, trig, calculus. This was in addition to the applied chemistry experiments that some unknown students attempted involving a combination of chemicals dropped into the trash cans in the lunch courts causing immediate and violent oxidation much to the consternation of the lunch court monitors.

This enthusiasm for space and science went beyond the nerd community. Television brought on a lot of new heroes—Robert Goddard, Werner von Braun, and Ludwig von Drake. There was competition for the advanced science and math courses. Even those outside the advanced courses preferred electronics, auto tech and metalworking to woodworking and graphic arts. For those who made it into the advanced track, competition turned to comraderie and we often passed off slide rules to those headed for tests in chemistry, physics and military science. We would meet for study and discussion in the Public Library after school.

The human population, according to Johnny Keufel, was divided into tool users and lotus eaters. I met few of the latter, one had a view that the world was divided into the workers and the elites and he resented shop because it might damage his manicure. I got plenty of grease, oil and printers’ ink under my nails in those days even though I considered myself elite. He took military science to avoid gym and then was upset that he was expected to take orders from his “inferiors” and to clean his issued weapon. He finally transferred to a private school that would value his status.

The other one I was aware of was an exchange student from Argentina who told his girlfriend she needed to shave her arms—he did not like gym class or the suggestion that he demean himself to take shop. Again the idea that getting dirty was for peasants.

I will say that the aversion to tools was not real common, even in the upscale neighborhood, probably because of the times. Parents were of the World War II generation. Men who served in the war became acquainted with what was necessary for the effort and a lot were on the farm before that. Many mothers had worked in the defense plants. There was in my case also a strong influence from the New England puritan culture and the necessity of the Depression era.

Another thing about the generation previous to mine. They grew up making, repairing and salvaging. It was not uncommon for a group of young men to rescue a vehicle from the landfill and do a rebuild, which is why they would cannibalize shot up jeeps along European roads to keep others running, while the Germans let theirs sit and oxidize. These were stories heard when we gathered in multi-generational settings such as family dinners or neighborhood picnics.

When a bicycle became necessary, the best way to get it was to buy a used bike for five to ten bucks and repair it—new bikes with all the bells and whistles went for $50 and up. $50 was a week’s pay for a lot of parents and odd jobs were hard to find in the urban setting—I had made about seventy five cents a day topping sugar beets (a tool using task) in the midwest, but other than throwing papers there were few tasks for a 13 or 14 year old in urban California. I did cut my dad’s lawn, sometimes for a quarter, but the only offer I got from a neighbor involved a payment that could get me severely beaten if I were caught. Nobody was buying squirrel pelts so trapping was out.

The United States is in financial trouble and politicians feel we should accept that we are a service economy and that we need to “work smarter” because industry is dirty and by extension tools are dirty. There is a proposal for a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour. For a business to be able to pay $10.10 an hour, an employee has to provide greater value than $10.10 an hour. This is a gimmick to create the illusion of doing something to create prosperity.

Minimum wage is supposed to be for the unskilled at entry level. If a company has a pool of $100,000 a year for wages, can it absorb a 37 percent wage increase with the same number of employees in the absence of a greater than 37 percent increase in revenues. And if the minimum is increased by 37 percent, then skilled rates go up by a similar percentage—this is built into labor contracts. Also, the folks getting $10 an hour currently would expect, in the name of equity, to be compensated at $13.70 an hour. Then prices rise and income may or may not increase because the unemployed struggle with purchasing at current prices which means less purchasing and less hiring.

The beginning workers see a dead end because they are not skilled enough to adapt quickly to automation, in addition to the fact that 27 percent will no longer be employed. There is likely to be a greater percentage of the non-skilled out of work because the skilled employees are necessary to handle the automation.

In other words, the State cannot mandate individual prosperity. Nor can policy makers understand that labor and skilled labor are separate entities. Only by rebuilding a society that makes things can a highly populated nation like the United States prosper—we are too large to do subsistence agriculture, plantation crops require a different social structure and the rest of the world has its own service sector.

Whatever one says about the causality of slavery and the plantation crop system relating to the War or 1861-65, it most assuredly contributed greatly to the defeat of the Confederacy. Aside from fervor of Northern troops imagining themselves on a “holy crusade,” the institution of slavery made the southern states a mercantile colony dependent on plantation agriculture and not able to develop an industrial culture despite resources. The textile mills were in New England. Further the plantation system produced exports, not food. The North, with its agriculture geared to the food chain and its heavy industrial capacity as well as greater population, rolled over the South—it could have done so more quickly had the military officer corps (a product of Jefferson Davis’s reorganization and Robert E. Lee’s superintendency of the Academy) not split into the two sides.

The Yankee culture was built around tinkering. In the War for Independence, there had been small time German gunsmiths and surreptitious shops throughout the northern colonies. The prohibition on manufactures rankled New England more than the southern colonies which were geared to the production of cotton, tobacco and sugar for export. Farming on the rocky ground in New England was small scale, but in the northwest and the plains grain and fruit were important.

On every farm was a shop. And “tinkering” was a Puritan value. 30 to 40 percent of immigration to Michigan during the period 1830-1850 was from New England. NOTE: Our denigration of Puritan culture ignores the rise of Puritanism with the Enlightenment rather than the Reformation. And Puritanism arose among the new middle class that later formed the Industrial Revolution.

The problem we now face is that industry has left the building forced out by the idea that it is irrelevant to a modern, safe and environmental society. We could not, even if the capital was as available as the raw materials, immediately reconstitute an industrial economy given the regulatory structure and the convenience culture of the society.

This brings us back to Johnny’s reference in passing to the chasm between “tool users” and “lotus eaters.” He and I both came out of a youth culture where at least one weekend a month was devoted to tuning someone’s carburetor. For my younger readers a carburetor was a device which regulated the flow of petrol and oxygen into the cylinders where it was fired by spark in order to drive a piston. Piston driving was (is) essential to the function of an internal combustion engine. If I still had my 1984 Suburban I could, theoretically, continue to rebuild the engine and transmission and carburetor.

This would be contrary to the need for jobs because union dogma contends that only UAW workers should build cars. And repairs should only be done by factory authorized mechanics. A few independent mechanics still exist. Maintenance functions—such as oil and filter changes—are largely performed by minimum wage employees at WalMart. (Keufel’s definition of minimum wage work was anything less than twice minimum wage.) As a result of the infirmities of age, I have resorted to taking my truck to an independent shop but I remember getting an 84 Ford Escort in the early nineties and immediately changing out the plugs and tuning the carburetor.

The whole culture has changed. By the time my brothers were in high school most of the car culture was gone. By the time my children were in high school it was a nostalgia series on television. Some changes are good—I like my electronic fuel injection better than my weekends being shot tuning somebody’s carb wearing an oil soaked t-shirt and smelling like grease. I like being able to afford the electric motors from Shanghai which make my work easier. I like the duty free Noconas from Mexico.

On the other hand I dislike the throw away attitude of our society—I dislike the fact that the DSLR camera I bought in 2008 was introduced six months earlier and made obsolete a month or so later. I still use it and will until it fails because I cannot really afford to replace it for convenience and cannot, as a practical matter repair it—I use film cameras going back to 1959 that are still functional and can be repaired and yet they are considered as wasteful and harmful to the environment.

So I remember the shade tree mechanic culture of the fifties and sixties. A lot of people do—mostly they are retired. There was also a custom car culture at the same time that pushed Detroit’s designers beyond their comfort zone. It was an age when people were comfortable with tools and with building. It was a time when a full year of shop was available to any high school student in my district—I took electronics and we wound coils and joined wires and tubes to build a super heterodyne radio. Some in the class ran the school’s 20-year-old AV equipment that baffled the faculty and often required adjustment or repair on the spot. (When I was teaching on my own, this ability meant I could leave a projectionist in class.) And we used tools, read schematics and tested equipment. Other options included woodworking, metalworking, graphic arts and automotive.

Flash forward to the mid eighties. My son took a course in “world of construction” where the project was a model of a “dream house” made from styrofoam board. My daughter’s review of the course was that it bordered on insipid—she took two years of mechanical drawing. At that time metalworking, automotive technology and other trades classes were available to those not in the college prep program. So the “dummies” learned measurement and tolerances in a real world environment while the college bound did not.

I did not observe the after school study groups while my children were in high school. They were often preempted by fantasy and role playing games. The closest thing to a rocket they had was a golf ball cannon that one of the gang built in metal shop—they stored it in my garage because I was the parent who tolerated it.

Flash forward to 1999. In addition to telling customers we did not have generators and selling splitting axes and kerosene, I recall talking to architecture and engineering students complaining about having to get tools to make models to match drawings—they even offered me money to build the models for them. They talked about computer simulation that creates the model and the necessary calculations—no math, the computer has it programmed. I also arrived at the conclusion that anyone studying architecture needs work experience in the building or mechanical trades.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Industrial Revolution began in small shops by men who were thinking of ways to improve their production and make money doing so. They did not write grant proposals. They were craftsmen and engineers, not policy experts or elected officials and they were not afraid of making money. They worked with tools and built things—they were not “project managers” or “brainstormers.”

So the answer begins in every home workshop. There is nothing in our culture that requires people to have only one skill. For most of our history have been fixing, building and inventing in addition to “regular” work. The joke about technology from people’s garages is not something from the computer age—it is a logical carryover of the way innovation has occurred in history. Thomas Edison did not begin in some company’s R&D section. Graham Bell worked in his house, not an unattached shop. Henry Ford did not have a TARP grant.

In Germany, licensing mandates require that roofing be done by those licensed to roof: the same with painting, glazing, replacing circuit breakers, etc ad infinitum. This concept comes from “scientific management” writings of Frederick Winslow Taylor and the sociological/political writings of Max Weber. Taylor believed in the factory as an organism where the individual would perform a specific task only and the result would be the product of the factory as a whole under the direction of a manager. This led to the assembly line which made the machines of World War II. To an extent, however, modifications were made in the field by soldiers with mechanical backgrounds. The top down environment led to stagnation of American industry and the ultimate collapse of GM.

As I homeowner, I replaced an entire box of breakers. As a photographer, I designed the plumbing and lighting for nine photographic laboratories, occasionally doing a significant portion of the execution. As a photographer, I built lighting controls some of my own design. Okay, I could have passed the electricians license at some point in my life, but my formal education is in liberal arts and prison administration paid the bills. I also would have had to pay a fee to take the test. I have done roofing, I have done glazing, built shelves and even a drawing table. Until I hit fifty I did ninety percent of my auto maintenance. And I am still a damn good bench electrician—slower but still good.

I believe the more home workshops the better. And I believe everyone should learn to use tools and make things. My friend Johnny built a workshop into a walk-in closet in his apartment—he did not let me take pictures because he was going to do the article himself. He had a drill press, bench grinder and industrial grade vise and he used a propane soldering tool—I would have used a electric soldering gun in that space. But the thing is that he did it and built things.

Expense was a real barrier to building a shop in earlier times. But there is competition. Read the real men’s magazines—Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, numerous hobby magazines, car magazines—and even gardening and home magazines. There are ads for cut rate tools and tool companies. Back in the seventies and eighties, I used to haunt the “truckload tool sales” at hardware, discount and grocery stores. Harbor Freight, Cummins and Grizzly have stores in many major cities as well as catalog sales. There are tool shows in various venues and at one, I calculated that a decent machine shop could be outfitted for less than a thou. The trick is having a thou to spend and sneaking the tools past your spouse. In another article I will cover a systematic way of putting it together.

Back in 1970, my wife and I came back from our studio apartment in Washington with an ammo box half-full of tools. By borrowing from friends and relatives we were able to build furniture we needed. In 72 we started doing house repairs and grinding—adding a 3/8 inch drill and grinding wheel which took up a second ammo box. And sometime in 74, I snagged a real tool box out of a dumpster—the lock was screwed up, but that’s what a hasp and padlock are for. And after moving into our house in 76, the projects and tools seemed to multiply. [To be fair, in Washington our three books multiplied to where they filled a three shelf bookcase and took up the shelf in the closet.]

The moral here is that either tools or more expensive help are necessary for maintenance of home and vehicles. And knowing how to use tools is going to be necessary as the craftsmen retire and die off. Further, we need to be able to build generation equipment as the power lines become more flaky. Electric current that travels through the grid becomes less efficient the farther it travels. Also there are places in the west where miles of transmission line gets stolen for underground cash. Sun spots also impact the long lines.

Home power, whether solar or wind, is insurance. Problem is that a commercial install may cost as much as a house did thirty years ago. It helps to build with friends—especially if they have tools.

The point is to start somewhere and build something. And then build something else. It will either turn you off completely or you will become addicted. And when you need the skills you will have them.

I have written much in the past about politics and I illustrated the policy approach. Building something is much more positive. Feeling the power of the angle grinder in my hands as the voltage shot through it gave me a more positive feeling than arguing with a populist trying to get my vote with buzz words. And in a skilled society, minimum wage becomes irrelevant.

I am seventy years old. I do not know how much longer I can use the skills I have developed over my lifetime or whether I will be able to use the MIG welder when I can afford it. But I am pursuing the dream because the way of the future is in skilled work.

 

 

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Compleat Idler, Education, Writing and diction

Vita Translated

 

© 2014 Earl L. Haehl: Permission is given to use this article in whole or in part as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

 

 

What most people call a resume when they send it to a potential employer is what the experts call a curriculum vita. They think of a resume as a one page summary designed to get an employer’s attention. When I would get one of these to look at and realize it was meaningless for my purposes and wonder what edition of What Color is Your Parachute the sender was reading.

I was watching a four hour interview with John Taylor Gatto and he was discussing the resumes colleges and employers look at. By the time I was out college no one but an institution of higher learning cared about a straight A high school career. If an employer looks at it, it gets balanced out by a C+/ B- college record and the assumption is that you did something other than go to class. (An institution of higher learning will note under-performing.)

So now I can translate my old vita for the benefit of prospective employers. NOTE: I exited the official civilian workforce in 2008 so it might be unpatriotic of me to seek a job, but if something interesting presented itself I might go for it anyway and let someone who is a statistic remain so.

College – Bachelor’s in English and Journalism. Translation: The Army would not take me. Because of a tremor related to cervical stenosis and injury to the cerebellum my hand coordination would not permit drafting so engineering was out. I can write better than most English (and journalism) majors—mathematics teaches logic which is helpful in writing. Also, while there was a general expectation that I would gravitate to law or the clergy, I preferred the journalism option because it allowed photography as well. I finished 22 hours in earth sciences which involved field work.

Law school – This was a socially acceptable way to kill 30 months while looking for a reporting job while my wife was finishing her doctoral coursework. I also would have had to spend the first year in grad school on probation (see C+/B- GPA). I also arranged my time so I could make some money shooting freelance. If I had been offered a job I would have left.

At one point I listed every school program I attended and the dates as well as honors and scholarships. In the first job after college, this is good. But, for the most part, employers do not care where you went if you did not get a degree. Your education should be secondary to work history unless you are applying for a post doc. Also, people who spend a lot of time in different schools get the label (at least in my generation) of “loser.”

Work history – pre government. This was basically odd jobs and temporary work. I did develop some skills and the photo gigs continued part time after I was hired by the state as an investigator.

Work history – investigations and administration. Translation: I could not get a job reporting or teaching photography/journalism. Government pays well and has benefits. Until I promoted to administration, I did a brisk and fairly profitable photo business on the side.

Work history – retail. I did the usual retiree thing. I was hired because I had developed skills over the years related to the businesses I worked in—hardware, photo supply and finishing, and outdoor supply.

To get high level teaching or professional work in the fields of my managerial expertise requires a degree in human resources (a law degree and certificate in labor relations does not count), criminal justice administration or public administration—all bogus graduate pursuits. NOTE: 20 years in mid and upper level management positions do not count. NOTE: I am damn good in relating to customers and product knowledge.

Miscellaneous: This is stuff that does not fit on a normal vita but might be explained in a cover letter or interview.

Sports: Too small for football, to short for basketball, to slow for track or baseball. Outside of school I enjoyed golf and tennis, but was not driven. I climbed cliffs—and slid down messing up my clothes. I hunted with bow and arrow. And I learned riflery in military science. In later years I did competitive shooting with handgun. Fishing improved my abilities at prevarication which helped in writing budget justifications—numbers were accurate, but the justification of new programs was, shall we say, more on the creative side.

NOTE: Colleges and some employers look at team sports to find a team player. Richard Branson of Virgin Air, when looking for leaders, looks at individual sports and risk taking. To work for him I should have taken a boat trip up the Orinoco or gone skydiving—neither of these made my bucket list.

Mechanical/building trades: I am certified by the FCC to build and repair transmitters and receivers in frequencies available in the Amateur Radio Service. As a high school student I learned to field strip and maintain numerous weapons, most of which are no longer in active service—this no longer appears in the high school military science program. I also built a vacuum tube superheterodyne receiver and repaired all my grandmother’s radios. In college I learned to process and print black and white photographs and build a pinhole camera. Working summers for my uncle I did set up a production line1, did drywall, roofing and general construction, and learned to maintain and repair GM engines.

As a home owner I have done plumbing, painting, electrical and cement work. I have also built custom furniture. I personally designed and built photographic laboratories and modified photo equipment to accommodate my needs—I did a portrait lighting set up with $10 used strobes and cheap slave units2. This does not include the lean-tos and sheds thrown together by every kid in my area back in the fifties.

NOTE: When I applied to work at Radio Shack in 2002 they were not interested in my Amateur Radio Service license. I am still a competent bench electrician.

Living in the outdoors skills: I have taught land navigation, woods tools, fire building, cooking, shelter building, edible plant identification, tracking etc. I have done much as a scout and on field work and outdoor photography.

Leadership: Classes in leadership are big in business and government. There are even programs and degrees in “leadership studies” in colleges. I am of the opinion that if eight or nine people go out in a wilderness area with just the essentials and survive they will learn more about leadership and teamwork than if they sit in class doing case studies in groups of four. (I have used case study method in teaching.) I did the week long Wood Badge course—they are no longer doing that format. I learned more there about myself, my abilities and my techniques than in all of the seminars I participated in—including TQM 3.

These are the things I picked up being in the situations I happened to drift into. Your own are unique to you. So use them. Your work experience and education (as well as awards and accomplishments) should be in your vita. But if you want to get on the team to build a new community, it would be good to let the employer or client know if you and your twin were raised by a she-wolf after your parents were killed4. Boil the significant stuff into a cover letter or drop it on the interviewer.

NOTE:  As usual, tags are suggestions for further exploration.

Footnotes:

  1. At age 16. My uncle had a ladder factory. I was on vacation and spending time there. He asked me to set up a line to produce the front part of eight, 10 and 12 foot painting ladders. I analyzed the supply flow, where in needed to run the compressed air and where the rest of the ladder was being built. I set up the line and the next step. I ran the line and was producing 10 units an hour.

  2. It worked at the time. I would go to the camera store’s annual sales where they brought out trade ins, stuff that was discontinued, etc. Maybe I should list my scrounging skills. A slave unit attaches to an electronic flash unit to fire simultaneously with the main flash—this has nothing to do with the Thirteenth Amendment.

  3. Total Quality Management. Developed by Walter Shewhart and modified by W Edwards Deming, the statistical process control system is sometimes referred to as TQM. It worked well for the procurement process in WWII, for Western Electric and for Japanese industry during the American Occupation. American Industry, bound by union contracts, has come around. Government agencies adopted the name but, with the exception of the early space program, has “modified” the concept to the point that it has become a means for reinventing the wheel and adding steps to justify more employees. I was prohibited from teaching the process.

  4. Romulus and Remus founded Rome.

 

 

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Compleat Idler, Preparedness, Technology, Tool user

Tool review – Buck 110 Folding Hunter

 

© 2014 Earl L. Haehl: Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

 

 

Due to a really annoying operation and slow recovery, I was barred from doing stairs for about six months beginning in October and my daughter decided to rearrange the basement. My wife continued in this and there are items I cannot find. So in the laundry basket that came up one Saturday was a tan knife pouch I picked up on a clearance table some years ago. I needed it to replace a pouch I had ordered from Buck and had fallen apart from rough use—that left me to carry my Buck 110 Folding Hunter in a pocket, increasing wear to the trews and getting lint in the blade. Fortunately, the knife was in it which was good (or bad—I had been eyeing a Mora on line). At any rate, I asked where my wife had found the knife and she said it was in her with summer clothes—everything’s gotta be someplace.

My first concern was whether the knife was all right—I opened the blade and it snapped solidly into the locked open position and I felt the heft of the tool. It is not a light knife when compared to the new “backpacking” knives with skeleton frames or plastic scales. The rosewood and brass scales are the real thing, showing signs of age and the wood almost black from the oils in my hands over a quarter century of hard use—on its third pouch that I have kept oiled but done little else to protect. Holding the blade up to the light, I noted that there was a little speck on the blade so I took it into the kitchen and gave it a touch up on the buffer of my electric sharpener. When checking a knife for sharpness, hold the blade out in line with light in the background—flecks of light along the edge show anomalies that need to be buffed or stropped away.

The Buck 110 was introduced in 1964 (I have also heard 1962 and 1963 from reliable sources, as reliability goes in the business). It is still in manufacture although I have been told the new steel (420) is not as good as the “old steel (440).” This new steel/old steel story may or may not be true but even 420 is a high carbon stainless with which I would have no problem. At any rate the fiftieth anniversary is offically 2014.

I have never seen any reason to replace a Buck with a new knife—a pouch or sheath occasionally but never a knife. I have lost a couple over the years including my first—a small stock man format knife that was confiscated by the vice principal in a random search when I was in junior high in California. Hint: in an urban area vice principals had zero tolerance even in the fifties.

A sharp knife is safer than a dull or even semi-sharp knife—the cut is cleaner and tends to have enough blood to wash out the infection. My mother’s youngest brother counseled me when I was sharpening up a Sabre “hunting knife” that semi-sharp was adequate for purposes of a Scout outing. If it were sharper I might get cut. My grandfather corrected the error and I got my own sharpening stone and basically did not consult Uncle Bill on such matters again. He would probably be shocked to see what I carry these days.

There are things I would not do with the Buck 110. The 9.5 cm blade is not suitable for butchering—a little too short and stiff. No place for a lanyard makes it less than ideal for climbing unless you like throwing knives away—at 70 I feel my climbing days were over some time ago. I have opened steel cans with it—my son reconfigured the blade architecture and told me to stop doing that—but I would not stick it through the hood of a truck (I have a any number of military knives for that). And it is not a bread knife. NOTE that slicing five pounds of potatoes does sharpen the blade, but cleaning it off is a pain.

Maintenance is simple. Keep the blade clean and wipe or even wash blood off immediately. Blood contains a high concentration of salt which breaks down metals and subjects them to oxidation—the term “stainless steel” indicates that oxidation is slower, not non-existent. Keep it sharp, not semi-sharp, and give it an occasional drop of light machine oil.

Like the knives I got when my grandfather passed—one went to each of my uncles and the rest to me—the Buck, like all of my Bucks, will outlive me. But is it the be all and end all of knives. No. I carry it because I have it and it is reliable and sharp not because it is somehow magic.

 

 

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Compleat Idler, Economy, Preparedness, Tool user

Tool review – Leatherman Rebar

 

© 2014 Earl L. Haehl: Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

I first wrote this a couple months back, like within a couple weeks of purchase—I am a skilled tool user and I did a quick overview. This was probably a bad idea. It is a mistake that a lot of the internet folks make when they are dazzled by a new toy. The other mistake they make is devising a test without thinking about what they are likely to do. Daily use for a couple months is the best field test I have seen.

Realize that I do not have a “testing regimen” for my tools. I use them the way I tend to use them and evaluate the results—I am a writer, not Consumer Reports®. If paid, I would develop a regimen and test gear, but I am not.

It is almost 30 years since I got the first Leatherman. It was 14 months since my Super Tool 300 had gone missing, the result of carrying it in an unsecured vest pocket rather than a pouch fastened to my belt. I do not know which is the longer term because being without the tool that has been an extension of one’s being amplifies the need for it. I was carrying, for the last six months my old Victorinox Hunter—it is not the same. The Swiss knife says you are the kind of person who drives a BMW and listens to NPR. People view you as civilized and your opinions are expected to be erudite and progressive.

I generally listen to AM radio and drive a pickup that was built in the last century—I am civilized and can speak with some erudition but I have more use in my daily comings and goings for needle-nosed pliers and Phillips head screwdrivers than a corkscrew and my Leatherman CS tool has better scissors and lifts beer caps. Even with the complete tool box on the truck bed the multi-tool is so much more convenient. I was at odd ends and awake about midnight when I ordered a black stainless Leatherman Rebar. It arrived by either UPS or Fedex early in the afternoon a couple days later. (Note: Staples has good delivery.) NOTE: While midnight to 0230 may be good for writing, it may not be good for the Visa bill.

Now to the tool in question. It is slightly lighter than the old Super Tool 300 which was new thing when I bought it a couple years back. I do not see this as a disadvantage because I can still use it to tap in tacks. It reminds me of the original Leatherman Tool that Tom built after a trip to Europe and marketed through Cabelas. In 84 or 85 I got one as a present and have had one on my hip since.

There are two features that are improvements on the Rebar over the original. The blades lock. And the wire cutters can be replaced. I feel my reputation for breaking wire cutters may have gotten back to the manufacturers as this feature is found on the newer Leatherman and Gerber multi-tools—my son said he could tell which were his by looking at the unbroken wire cutter.

It might be helpful if it would carry the trash, but that is not part of its job description. It does its job and has a good price point and is built rugged—like my old truck. After a couple months I feel I have worked out the stiffness and bugs—the tool is what it is, not some ideal of perfection that everyone is looking for. When I was daily using the knife blades to cut boxes and wood I appreciated the Wave which let me access the blades without opening the pliers. Now, I have more time so that option is not as important.

It did take awhile for the tool to loosen up to the point where I could easily work the functions. I do not recall the break in time as being that long on previous tools, but I am older and slower now and still only six months or so out from a fusion. It seems to be working better. If you are looking for bells and whistles, get the Wave or the Surge.

 

 

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Compleat Idler, Writing and diction

Old wolf changes direction — Learns new tricks?

 

© 2014 Earl L. Haehl: Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

It has been some time since I have posted in this venue. Quite recently I have been looking at my own life and at the world around me. I have made a decision that this blog will change its direction and be aimed at the Compleat Idler and subjects such as outdoor living, tools and cooking—I have said about everything I have to say about politics and see myself repeating what I have written. (Note: Decisions I make are subject to future change although at age 70 there is not as much future as there was.)

Expect in the near future articles on the scouting movement, tool use, changes in the earth and general outdoor living issues. But expect them to be fewer and better written.

The key to the latter is that I have changed my editing process. I write a draft double spaced in 14 point type—even with the stasis in my cataracts which puts off the decision for another year I have some trouble reading standard type. I had predicted back in 1967 when they talked about computer editing and type setting that copy editing would become sloppy and stuff would get by. This may have to do more with my view of the nature of mankind than with sociological studies but my reading of the local newspaper seems to bear me out.

About a month ago I went to the coffee shop with a draft in 14 point double space and sat down with a 0.9 mm pencil and went through it the way I used to in a newsroom. There was a similar level of noise, but there were no manual typewriters clicking at 40 wpm and there was not a cloud of tobacco smoke hanging over the room. I guess mocha or latte with a scone is probably better than my old formula of Snickers and Camels. Anyway, the editing went better and I was less distracted without the urge to go online to find out what’s happening in Tajikistan.

I recommend it.

 

 

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Compleat Idler, Economy, Humor, Technology

Short commentary

(c) 2012 Earl L. Haehl Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

Susan Rice withdrew from consideration for Secretary of State. No, this will not end the Benghazi debate—it was not the messenger but the message. Obama wanted his narrative.

Obama to meet with Boehner. A headline something like Fighting Intense Near Verdun in 1915 and 16 and 17 and 18. Look for something that kicks the can down the road a year or two.

Michigan passes “right to work.” Do not be surprised by repeal in a couple years.

Obama supports “secular” opposition in Syrian. Of course they can fit in one phone booth. Jordan is next.

Kansas Governor merges adult and juvenile corrections. This is an extremely bad idea which has been around since the early eighties—at least.

Lindsay Lohan is down to one story in today’s Mail—apparently she is impoverished. You might think that playing Elizabeth Taylor might lead her to Paris’s brother Conrad.

There are petitions on the White House website for secession. The state legislators who actually pass secession resolutions are not about to give up their entitlements and funding for their projects by doing so.

Meanwhile there are also petitions to nationalize Twinkies and build a Death Star—the latter being touted as a “jobs engine” on the scale of NASA. I do not see private capital coming forward to finance even part of such a project.

There are some private capital bids for some Hostess trademarks and recipes (take sugar, add high fructose corn syrup, throw in artificial flavors and colors, pump air into the center, throw on some more sugar). Meanwhile, Little Debbie sits there luring customers with her innocent smile—plus sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and colors, sugar frosting, powdered sugar.

There may be something to this petition site. It helps identify the clueless.

The MailOnline reports a decline in the Samurai Caste during the Edo period because of lead poisoning in the make-up they wore. My brother sent me the more nuanced report from MSNBC. As an historical note, in the 1860s the District of Columbia installed new lead water pipes to prevent sabotage of the system. Solutions cause problems.

 

 

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Compleat Idler, Education

Compleat idler — Stubby

(c) 2012 Earl L. Haehl Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

NOTE: A couple months back we did animal stories at the storytellers group. On the way home, Anne told me I should do a story about Stubby, one of the bright spots of my childhood. She identifies as a storyteller and also believes in telling stories as therapy. I started to write this, and it is short because I know how it ends. There may be a time when I can tell it without tears, but until then no public performance.

I was five when Mom got married and we moved to San Jose. I could not take Stubby with me and she stayed with my grandparents.

I did not know life without Stubby. She was four months old and I was nine months old when she was brought home and given a bed underneath my crib. She was a present from the Gegleins—I think they were cousins of my grandfather on his mother’s side. Her mother was Grampa Geglein’s bulldog bitch and there were numerous suspects, mostly terriers on the surrounding farms. With her lineage and looks she might be shunned today as a pitbull but folks called her a nanny dog.  She was called Stubby because there was just a stub where her tail should have been. At any rate, everyone thought a dog like that would keep me out of trouble.

I felt alone in a strange place—in a city no less—without my dog, but it was California and pets were no-nos when you rented.

We were in California for two years before moving back. And this dog and I were inseparable for the most part. We could easily have taken her when we went to Wyoming and lived in a mining camp, but the allergy doctor said no and even recommended I not live in the same house with the dog. So for the two years between Wyoming and Nebraska we lived in a cabin out back and I hiked up to the main house in the morning to meet Stubby before we went on adventures.

Talk about patience. That dog wore a circus costume and we hitched her to the Radio Flyer wagon and she would pull it for a good half hour before lying down. She would lie down a lot—when I was real young she would sleep in the yard under the maple when I was playing with my trucks or my fort. When I was in college the neighbor explained that any time anyone came in the yard, there would be a bulldog between them and me.

In the summer of ’54, just after Little Britches, I built a chute and we ran her through it to where I was waiting with a lasso. I roped and threw her which was quite a chore as she outweighed me by 15 pounds—there were no girls around to be impressed but I was 10. I got the three legs tied. I loosed it up and she disappeared. She also disappeared every time she saw me getting my ropes out—even though I just did it to practice spinning ropes like Monty Montana.

But 1954 meant she was ten years old and as those things went she was slowing down. I was not aware that her eyesight and hearing were beginning to go. She was missing the Checkers that I tossed her and eating from her bowl. She stopped following me to school and generally slept in my grandmother’s dining room. We still went after rabbits along the irrigation ditch, but she did not move as fast. When I went up to the ranch in 1955, I knew I would see her at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The first year in Nebraska I was unhappy. And when given the opportunity to write a story, I wrote an adventure tracking a badger with Stubby and Red Ryder. We actually had followed weasel tracks in the dry irrigation ditch and as I look back on it, Red fired a .177 copper plated BB and would have been of little use had we encountered a real badger. Ten year olds are not realists a and we were an underarmed kid with a mostly blind dog. But I felt good while I was writing.

And I spent part of the summer of 1956 with my grandparents. Stubby was quieter. We still walked and went places, but more slowly. No rabbits. We sat for long hours on the sofa with her head in my lap. When we got in the car to head home I hugged her and told her I would see her at Thanksgiving. Mom got the letter the last week in October—cancer. I went in the bedroom, chased my brother out, locked the door and cried for twenty minutes. And I wrote no more adventures.

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Compleat Idler, Humor

Compleat idler – the Mississippi connection

(c) 2012 Earl L. Haehl Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

 

Back in 1945 my Aunt Evangeline, an Episcopalian from Boston, decided she would marry and civilize Boudreau Beauregard Laporte, Jr, who may or may not have been Cajun but had proposed to translate Longfellow’s Evangeline into le francais d’acadie. The result was my cousin Beau who went by BB Laporte, III. Beau married Victoria Mary McDonald, which is how I came to meet her family. These adventures should be understood for what they are.

My “shirttail cousin” Bubba McDonald who practices divorce law in Mississippi (the only state with a silent syllable) called me last may after he decided to withdraw from electoral politics. (Like it did any good—he ran in a district he has a vacation home in that has never elected a Republican to the Legislature. As in not ever. Not even during Reconstruction.) So the family political legacy fell to the twins Bragg and Buford—all the boys were named after Confederate generals though the family had moved down from Ohio in the 1920s, but “Gramps” McDonald had political aspirations not realizing that there were long memories. Long memories included that rascal Crockett coming down from Tennessee to promote the National Bank in 1829—and escaping with no tar. The county was posted “No Whigs.”

Bubba had an idea that it might be better to go statewide so he made a speech in Oxford in favor of gay marriage—offending both the Tea Party and the Republican establishment. He was promptly put forward to the Board of the “Family Law Group.” This is an association of divorce lawyers who believe every person has the right to have his/her property divided by a judge.

At any rate he relayed to me the following email.

Sorry to hear about your hand and the humidity down here. Am out of politics for the time being, but Bragg filed for the legislature.

And when I walked into Newt’s Waffle House, all the discussion was on the scandal of 75 which caused Bragg to quit his job with the Ag Dept and go back to gunsmithing which he does better than entomology anyhow.

Seems that back that year Buford was having problems with the cotton crop. My suggestion had been to dredge out the blockage between the field and the bayou (and I do not mean that bar in Oxford where you and Beau Laporte are personae non gratae) and farm catfish, shrimp and crawdads. But Bragg said he would rent Buford a couple boll weevils from the batch he was experimenting on. Said they should produce a big enough infestation to get a $60,000 eradication grant. Problem was, the were both male and you know Buford. What Buford knows, everybody in Ma’s Roadhouse knows which means everybody in three counties knows.

The NRA will back Bragg if Old Man Carson does not seek reelection. And since everybody remembers 75 (hell, they remember the War of 1812 like it was yesterday and we have lived here long enough that Cap’n Jack McDonald had a Company of Militia at New Orleans) he is using the slogan, “The lessor of the weevils.”

Take care of yourself up in Yankeeland and get down here when you can. We’ll get Beau’s skiff and a case of Dixie and go after the big cats.

Regards,

 

Pete

 

Pierre GTB (Bubba) McDonald, Esq

Divorce and Personal Injury

I was not sure what (if any) reply would be appropriate.

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Compleat Idler, Education, photo art

Compleat Idler – the f/ stops here part I

(c) 2012 Earl L. Haehl Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

Back in the sixties, photography took over my life. I remarked when I was selling photo gear and finishing on what digital photography would have done for my social life—no more hanging out in the lab until three in the morning, smelling like chemicals or having stains on my clothing that bleach would not touch. I could have gone over to a friend’s pad and had beer while I loaded images onto a laptop and sent them anywhere in the world. Today the job would be done before the teams got back to their locker rooms.

But back then it was use a mechanical camera preset for the average light, push the Tri-X to 1600 or greater speed. Larry Dressler has a method for going to equivalent iso of 12800 at http://www.digitaltruth.com/articles/pushing-tri-x.php This is wilder than anything I did or even had the patience for. I would use developers called Acufine or Diafine which supposedly used different areas of the emulsion to do the magic—which worked most, well better than 50 percent, of the time. I used a lot of high contrast paper in those days.

While I was learning a lot about photochemistry and emulsions I was also setting my body up for problems later on—by the fall of 1975, the professor in a graduate course barred me from the lab for exposure in excess of that recommended. He said I could keep using my home lab for black and white as long as I improved my ventilation. There is nothing unique about this experience. Several people, who, like myself, did their own black and white survived for years. So why worry.

The mechanical cameras were upgraded over the years and the apex was the Nikon F2 or Canon F1 in the early seventies. So these were discussions over beer and pool—as far as I was concerned these were discussions because my budget and business plan did not have room for a new camera and I picked up used Nikon Fs for $100 or less. By the time I got an F2, it had been replaced by the electronic F3—the apex of electronic non-autofocus SLRs—an the F4, a poorly performing autofocus SLR that was rushed into production after another company seized the initiative. So the discussions have continued over the years.

My friend Johnny ran a photofinishing and used camera store in a rough neighborhood. As the neighborhood got rougher I spent time there after I got off work so there would be two of us when we closed and two of us when we caravaned to the bank. The local thugs knew the guy in the truck had a Mossberg 500 and steered clear. We argued technology for years as I would occasionally look up some of the non-proprietary lenses. And it is always a crapshoot when you buy off brand optics—some are better than others.

A hint for film photographers: The cheapest of the major non-proprietary lenses resolves more lines than Kodachrome 25 which was the philosopher’s stone of transparency film. If you want to see an artistic approximation of the K25 and K64, visit an art museum and find a work by William-Adolphe Bougereau (1825-1905). The temperature and delicacy of the light—the colors and fineness of detail—seem to have inspired the film. In modern film, Fuji Provia 100 comes close in resolution. To go from transparency to the printed page resolution is lost in each stage. So the finest optical glass and a midrange optical glass will produce similar final results.

Johnny was a traditionalist and had been a portrait and glamour photographer. He did catalogs and some photofinishing. I had done some advertising and public relations as well as newspaper and magazine work. By the time I was hanging out at the shop I was doing landscapes and some raptors. I saw the lighter weight of composite lenses as a positive. So we disagreed. When I was laid off from my full-time sales gig, I spent a C-note and got a 2.3mp, autofocus point and shoot. He pooh-poohed it by saying he would shoot negatives and have them give him jpegs on a CD.

I have not worked in the lab since 1993 or thereabouts. Hint: If you have negatives, do not store them in a filebox on the basement floor. Thirty years of black and white work went down the tubes in about 20 minutes during the flood. I do not remember whether I sat down and cried then but I do remember the pit in my stomach. Having culled my transparencies and and stored them high, I still have that record and plan to get a scanner and a pile of CDs to back up my Seagate. Otherwise, they will not survive.

Perspective time again. With a 4×5 view and 6x6TLR I have carefully set up pictures in black and white using the finest grain film and zone exposure. I have done bare domes, broad fields and stands of aspen, but I am not one of the greats. When I was at the University of Denver, I studied at the Denver Public Library which was on my bus route. The table I liked was beneath a painting titled Estes Park by Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902). I bought a large poster in the museum shop at Rocky Mountain National Park and paid for a serious frame. There is no way that painting could be replicated in a single photograph because of the difference in light. I do not have the time to do it. And when one vacations with family, one does not have the time to set up and wait for light.

A few months before Johnny died, I sprung for a Nikon D60. A new SLR! He told me that he could get as good from his F and get CDs. And I have discovered much here about the various options now available such as lenses that compensate for camera shake, and the wide range of options. They finally discontinued Kodachrome 64. It was a matter of time and the fact that National Geographic now uses digital images—I see no degradation in the quality, but I am functionally blind in one eye.

Do I see another SLR in my future? Sure. If I win the lottery and have the physical ability to travel in the west, a pair of Nikon D4s will do nicely.

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Compleat Idler, Free Society, Humor

Boots – a tradition

(c) 2012 Earl L. Haehl Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

Joaquin Ochoa and I were buddies in grade school in Arapaho County, Colorado. His dad worked at Highland Ranch when it was a ranch. It was in 1955 that I left to journey back to Nebraska where five generations of my mother’s family—both sides—had lived. But during the time we played together we mostly practiced roping and mounting horses and other stuff. At 10 Joaquin finally got permission to do Little Britches, a junior circuit rodeo taking its name from Ralph Moody’s book series that took place in Arapaho County. I did not. One of the disadvantages of a brain injury from breathing before I got out of the canal is a tremor and some loss of muscle control that my parents decided I might ruin my career as a scholar if my body got more screwed up.

Since I was 11 they offered me Scout Camp instead. And when my troop could not come up with a patrol, they let me spend an extra four weeks at my Aunt’s place in Wyoming. Scout camp was not really an acceptable option because I knew from my Uncle’s cowboys what kind of groupies they had at the rodeo and I was 11. But going to the ranch meant that I would get a decent pair of boots to wear for school.

We moved to a small town in Nebraska and then to the west coast. I went on to college and law school and a few jobs before my career as an investigator and administrator—a career being a job you stay at too long. Working retail after retirement I ran into Joaquin. He was involved in stock procurement for a rodeo circuit—having his MBA. His first reaction was to ask if my square toed boots were Tonys or Noconas.

Noconas—Mexican.” I replied.

Why?”

Can’t afford Lucheses.” After we both stopped laughing, he told me about Manuel Almanza, a custom builder in Fort Worth. He gave me a card and told to look the shop up.

As things were going I had been doing some security consulting for a small manufacturer near the airport so the next trip down I took a rental into Fort Worth—I remembered the Almanza brand etched into my Uncle’s square toes—it had taken fifty years to realize why he liked them. I had even practiced a little Spanish just in case. It was a little out of the way place and I went in. The guy who came out of the back said, “Buenos dias, Y’all. I’m Manny.”

Joaquin sent me.”

Yeah, he told me about you and I used to read your posts on the forum—you’re Lobo.”

A pair of black boots covered with dust caught my eye. “Something like those.”

My daddy made those for a Wyoming rancher back in the 70s. He died before picking them up.”

Probably my uncle. We called them old guy boots.”

Let me guess—you liked pointed toes.”

Casey Tibbs wore pointed toes.”

So he measured my feet with the Brannock device and made a tracing. A couple months later—after getting an email that the boots were ready—I went back down to Fort Worth to discuss my report and pick up the boots. I had more time because I was no longer working retail so I hopped in my little Tacoma and drove. I did not need to worry because the Life NRA sticker in my window was sufficient to mitigate the Kansas tag. The little wheelchair on the tag helped in parking.

I went in. As I looked at the counter there was a pair in my style, but they were too short. “Don’t worry Amigo,” Manny said. “I have yours in back. These boots were made for Joaquin.”

As a writer of fiction—I used to write budget justifications for state positions and equipment—I use stories for illustration. Characters may be fictitious, but they are composites of people I met. If Almanza Boot Company exists, let me know—I’ve got a pair wearing thin on top.

Boots are important to people from the part of the world I inhabited as a child. Mostly I got boots from my aunt and uncle—my mother kept me in orthopedic shoes. When I got away to the University of Denver I walked into JC Penney’s, went downstairs and found a pair of H&H oiled leather Wellingtons. It was rebellion. During my career in government service I wore Frye, Hyer, Acme, Dan Post, Tony Lama, Nocona and H&H. I also wore Chippewa, Danner and H&H hiking and military boots.

But today we are discussing western boots like the ones on my feet as I write this. If I hit the PowerBall, I will buy two pair of Lucheses, black and oxblood with square toes. My favorite footwear is the forbidden fruit of my high school years when I wore Dr Scholl’s and some Italian made suede shoes that were oh so comfortable and oh so bad for my feet.

Pointed toes were what the rodeo cowboys of the fifties were wearing—square toes were what “old men” wore. My uncle must have been at least 55. In the beginning Charlie Hyer built a round toed boot at Olathe, Kansas. There were probably dozens of bootmakers in the west but Charlie was close to Kansas City and had a knack for publicity. I do know that the riding heel was at times referred to as the Spanish heel—much like what we call a western saddle is referred to in some circles as a Mexican saddle.

As things go, in 1974 I drove into Olathe to buy some boots at the bankruptcy sale for Hyer boot company—I think I was four or five when my grandfather got me a pair of Hyers for Christmas. But this was a bankruptcy sale and for $150 I bought two pair of boots and a 3X Stetson hat. Amazingly they fit. I have on a couple occasions bought boots that do not—and have paid dearly.

It was about 1976 when I fell in love with a woman 50 years my senior named Enid Justin. Miss Enid wrote a statement I have remembered since about fit. She said that boots which do not fit when you first try them on will never fit—countering my grandmother’s statement about breaking in time. I violated that once and I regretted it. Miss Enid, when her father died and her brothers decided to move the business from Nocona to Fort Worth, opened the Nocona Boot Company with existing employees. There was a reason that Justins and Noconas felt similar. By the way, Nocona is a Comanche word and was the name of Chief Quanah’s father.

So much for history. Olathe boot company opened in the old Hyer factory and builds boots that are used by a lot of cowboy action shooters because they have a 19th Century look. The company was, the last time I checked, located in Mercedes (pronounced Mer-sid-ez’) Texas.

Miss Enid’s company merged with Justin Industries in 1981. In 1991, following her death, all operations were moved to Fort Worth. Tony Lama, also a Justin Company, occupies the same factory but has a slightly different process. There is a low end Nocona built in Mexico. It does not differ much from a similar Lama Boot. Like I said, I cannot afford Lucheses. Justin is now owned by Berkshire Hathaway.

Some hints:

Make sure of your fit and make sure the boot will handle any orthotic device you use. This is a lot more important when you hit 60 than when you are 18 and immortal. (Note: by the time I was 21 I had been clinically dead three times. The last was when I was 20 so I’m only 48, right?)

Do not assume that all boots with the same brand name have the same last.  This especially applies to boots made in China.

Decide if you can wear a Spanish heel or you need a walking heel. Some of us interchange.

The pointed toe is for controlling a horse. It originated in Mexico and became popular with the rodeo circuit. I became aware of it in 1953-54. If you plan to do a lot of walking, get a round or square toe.

Realize that they are not really “cowboy” boots until they have had excrement cleaned off of them.

We had a couple of politicians decide to go native and dress in jeans and boots to meet with ranchers. The latter showed up in suit and tie. Note: I was more comfortable wearing boots in Washington than a friend of mine from the east was wearing boots out here.

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