Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A picture is worth a thousand words

The resent discovery of what may be the last photograph of President Abraham Lincoln dated, March 1865 itself is quite the find. But what is more interesting is the revelation that it may also be the first photo ever of a seated U.S. president standing in front of the most iconic house in the free world. The photo was discovered in a album, originally belonging to the family of Gen. Ulysses Samuel Grant. You can find the full story by following this link http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090310/ap_on_re_us/lincoln_photograph_uncovered

Saturday, March 7, 2009

In quest of rank...also know as what the heck was I thinking!

As some of you might be wondering, what is this "rank" that the Sentinel is wearing? Well, I'm about to tell you a rather challenging and frustrating story, which, believe it or not, has a happy ending. Late in 2005, with the centennial anniversary of the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906 fast approaching, I began looking around for appropriate persona to play for the expected festivities. I thought it was important that I be there, I am a 5th generation San Franciscan. My family survived the catastrophe and helped in the rebuilding of the city.

I had stumbled across a picture a few years earlier of a group of soldiers in the Persidio of San Francisco from c. 1904. These "Electrical sergeants" were some of the first technical specialist in the U.S. Army. They were electricians in civilian life who were encouraged to join the Army with high pay and rank. Because, you see the Army needed their "special skills". The late 19th century found the Army in a processes of modernization, particularly in the area of coastal defenses. With the advent of bigger, more powerful guns, came the need for electric hoists to lift the increasingly heavier shells. Electric lights for the powder and shell rooms, searchlights to illuminate targets at night, etc.
As I am an electrician, I figured taking on the persona of one of these, "Electric Sentinels" would be easy. I can "Walk the walk and talk the talk." The uniform itself was easy, readily available tailor made uniforms can be had. The insignia, now that was an equine of a completely different hue...

The Readers Digest version of this story is much easier to follow and not mind numbingly long. So, to hit the important points. There were no originals available for reference or to wear. In the later case they would be to fragile as well as cost prohibiting to go this route. So, all there was to do was make them myself. Hah! How naive I was. The adventure began with the collection of any reference I could find. Including the original Quartermaster description of the insignia. With my fathers help we began essentially as the first designers did. By throwing the arcs required for the stripes. This created a full sized image to make a positive from. The five lightening bolts however were alittle more difficult. I used an original german silver"overlay", originally used to denote specialist rank on the 1885 dress helmets. This was a inch and an eighth representation of forked lightening. Applied to graph paper and simple scanned into the computer were it was blow up to what looked like right size. This image was then printed and cut out, with some minor adjusting of the size, it was used to create a positive in "ruby lith" (clear asitate film with a semi-transparent red overlay) Both images were scanned into a computer and digitized. This information was used as the pattern to run a computer driven embroidery machine. taking roughly 10,000 individual stitches to complete one insignia. From start to finish it took 6 months of leg work and research to complete this project.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Mobius illumina

36inch arc searchlight on cantilever arm

3 cylinder jug engine provided power for the set

This was probably the first purpose built set used by the U.S. Army c.1900. Unlike the first mobile sets built from modified fire apparatus. Once I figure out a good way to scan those pictures, with out harming the book there printed in I will post them.

World War 2 era searchlight

After my visit to Ft. MacArthur in San Pedro I'm again looking into the earliest use of carbon arc searchlights by the U.S. Army. I know that the Army had 6 portable searchlight sets on order at the beginning of the Spanish American War. These consisted of two horse drawn wagons, that appear to be modified fire fighting apparatus. This idea is confirmed by a photograph of the generator set mounted on a steam fire engine, similar to apparatus built by American La France. I found these photos in the Army handbook c.1900 " for the use of electricians, in the operation and care of Electrical Machinery and Apparatus of the U.S. Seacoast Defences" photos to follow later. Sometime later, after 1904 the Army switched to a gas engine to supply power to the 36' searchlight.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Stories don't always begin at the beginning...

Hello to you all,

As this is my first venture in to the world of blogging I thought I'ld start with a little background. I'm fascinated by all things technological and scientific in the 19th and early 20th centuries. These include early use of electricity and steam power, strange inventions and eccentric fellows. So, needless to say, you'll find me delving into all sorts of odd and sometimes off the wall areas of interest. I hope you enjoy...