Sunday, September 14, 2014

Techblogging August 1944, I: Ancient Scandals

My Dearest Reggie:

The trip through the Oregon country was as wonderful as ever, although somewhat trying, in that Wong Lee and I were confined in close quarters with three teen-agers with considerably less patience with sweeping coastal vistas. Nor was the impatience much lessened by the experience of the sleepy pace here in Canada. Your youngest is amazed to see the way that time has stopped since he left! Ore perhaps he merely chafes under instructions to be circumspect in looking up old friends. Word is not likely to get back to the police, never mind the FBI or Border Patrol where it is not sought, but even so, I should hate to undo the work of his "midnight rebirth," and his American life will be the easier if there is never occasion to doubt his supposed American birth. 

Turning to your hospitality, I can only repeat my thanks, and apologise for the burden we impose on your wife, who has retired to your summer place on Bowen Island, as I am sure she will let you know. Fortunately, a few more days (and one more newsletter), and I shall be on my way to the South Seas, while Wong Lee adopts the role of teen-ager-wrangler-in-chief and chivvies the young ones back down the coast to California. 

If I can ask one more favour, could  you discretely seek out our friend and put some questions to  him? I distinctly recall him saying, on more than one occasion, that his grandfather came to the country to work on the railroad. Nor was he above the old joke, "Ching, Chang, Chong, the Old Names make the sound of the hammers," although careful to leave his own clan off the list. While I would not put it past the Old Man to lie to us in the matter, I am confident that Grandfather would have sought his own sureties in the matter of purging the relevant  records. Yet it seems certain now that our friend's employer believes that it has in its possession documentary evidence of our friend's grandfather's date of arrival in the country and racial origins. I know that you will regard this as a footling matter, but it is important to me that when discussions turn to breaking off the relationship, we have the upper hand, in the form of an offer to address their technical concerns, and not they, in the form of a breach of the morals clause of the employment contract. (If you are wondering about the fate of your "Christmas present," Bill and David have subcontracted the matter to a Santa Clara engineering student of the utmost discretion.)

Speaking of investigations, and morals concerns, you are correct that the fonds that I have directed "Miss V.C." towards in the Vancouver Archives are related to Old Liu, and, of course, the Honolulu arrests cannot go unmentioned, even after 39 years, as his family's continuing attempt to ignore their ancestor would anyways suggest. Yes, these are not matters that one wishes to discuss with an eighteen-year-old girl, and, yes, her mother's opinion of me can still go lower. However, they are also not a side of life that can be practically withheld from a young lady of her generation, what with the Andrews Sisters and burlesque dancers and worse on every radio and cinema screen. Old Lieu will introduce "Miss V.C." to the specific cargo that the whalers of the old McKee "triangle trade" brought in to Nootka, and the provision that was made to place that cargo on the trail and rails to Chicago. If she does not now think of the issue of the "Prince of Maquinna," it will be because she is diverted into the larger scandal, seeing in the fonds the connection to the Chinatown arrests that the family interest so promptly suppressed. 

And that, apart from the delicious scandal of it all, will, I imagine, bring her back to the rails and the connection with her grandfather on another line of inquiry. 

I suppose. Right now, she is asking for my assistance in reaching Nootka. Naught but disappointment awaits her inquiries there, as you had the good sense to move our landings to more congenial locations in anticipation of the Volstead Act, but I can hardly tell her that! 

As I rather expected, we have seen more of Lieutenant A. than one might have expected. His employment in Seattle seems none too onerous, and his attendance at Pearl Harbour scarcely required, as in practice if not in strict chain of command the refitting of the new flagship's radio arrangements is in other hands. Fortunately or not, it now appears that the young man will continue his remote association with it, too. That is, he will join Nimitz's family in Honolulu, rather than that of his admiral at sea, for the forthcoming campaign, with signals responsibility. It does not appear that military service is  necessarily that onerous if you choose your grandfathers adroitly. It rather makes me wonder how "Sink-Us" got his appointment!   

I do not ignore your inquiries about Fat Chow. We believe that he is going to reach Kashgar via Herat, and when we know more, we will let you know.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Electric City, VI: Royers Lock: Or, the Fall of Antwerp

It's been a long time since I wrote an addition to "The Electric City" series, and they're all old and crappy and digressive Also, this "tag" thing was then foreign to me. (1,2,3, 4). The intent, however, was from the first to build to this. Not the biggest and most important of electric cities, but the one that counted for the most at the critical turn towards modernity: Antwerp, and specifically, Royers Lock.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Techblogging July 1944, II: Hereditary Jaundice

My Dearest Reggie:

Again I find myself breaking the rules of war correspondence, though not with news of fear and danger, but rather of business. Matters financial I leave to the bottom, where your daughter-out-of-law kindly appends a thorough precis of the "Bretton Woods" system. In short, she thinks it solid, for at least this generation. As far as I can make out, this is just female intuition, but it is ostensibly not unsupported by political arithmetic, and I cannot argue my case. The business, then, is concerned with more irregular matters.

First, Wong Lee has been to Los Angeles, and has established that the "Section 60" clause is no boilerplate. It was inserted into our friend's contract two years ago, in response to some marital issues which have apparently been resolved as far as they can be. Unfortunately, before he appealed to us, our friend took the rather desperate step of burning his own house down. This seems to have confirmed his employer in his suspicions at the same time that it apparently removed any evidence. Even more unfortunately, it now appears that his employer has been offered independent confirmation. Although it seems absurd that a morals clause would be triggered by such a barbaric law, our friend has relations who will not wish to see the facts emerge. The point here being not to humiliate someone in public, but leverage contract negotiations. Our friend wants his freedom --but at what cost?

Second, after diffident sniffing about submarine tours and various grandiose and implausible aerial projects, Fat Chow is going homewards the way he came. His pan-Turanian friends may be both mad and pro-German, but the bomb plot has soured them on Berlin, and they are willing to extract him. He has the precious medium, and a device for "reading it," which the Gestapo, for its own reasons, has manufactured entirely of components removed from American aircraft --which should help if his belongings are searched. He will not, of course, proceed to the Panchen Lama and make broadcasts to set Central Asia aflame --he doubts even his Gestapo handler takes this  project seriously any more, never mind the Foreign Office girl assisting him. They just want to cultivate us, Fat Chow intimates. Well, we shall return the favour, however ambiguous. The girl and the man's family, anyway. I doubt that anyone will care very much if someone with that much innocent blood on his hands slips into the black waters instead of being delivered to Buenos Aires safe and hale. As for the Pan-Turanians, they get one last chance to bleed us. Fat Chow has been evasive about his route, but if they really do send him through Tashkent, I shall be quite cross. Considering its reputation, the NKVD is surprisingly inept, but I do not trust Russian slackness anywhere near that far.

However, whether via the Pansheer or the Vale of Fergana, Fat Chow will not be returning to California directly. You will have heard of the fall of Nomura. Now comes word from Nagasaki of a willingness to exchange yen-for-Hawaii dollars-for-US at a most favourable return. Or, indeed, for promissory notes on the right conditions. Some money is better than no money, it is thought, an American investment even better under the circumstances. I have word that our Hawaiian counter-parties are pleased by the idea of silent partners of such distinction. Moreover, though I have misgivings about dealing with the old enemy, the exchange will be done at the old house in Alicia, giving us the means to reward old retainers. Fat Chow will need to be conducted thence, and Nagasaki's assistance will greatly ease the trip from Kashgar to Zamboanga. If the matter does not disintegrate into a mutual massacre of Moros and Satsuma men, Fat Chow will then make his way to New Guinea and join me on Sparrow, and we shall see to the freight from there. 

Speaking of Sparrow, I am definitely taking a temporary leave of "Cousin H.C.'s" employ to drive to Vancouver to join my ship. I will be accompanied by your youngest, "Miss V.C.," my housekeeper, and one other. I have taken your counsel, and will not chance having someone with "Miss V.C.'s name register at the Provincial Archives. Rather than ask her to use forged papers, it proved a simple matter to arrange the accession of certain papers to the city's holdings. I get the sense that while the money is not unwelcome, ancestral memory weighs heavily on a house trying to forget its past.

 Whether the father or the mother more, I do not know. I could tell them that those days could be hard for an orphan girl, that not all who "gave honey for money" had their heart in the old trade. But I expect they would misunderstand, and my disapproval of their lack of filial piety might come through.

I may not approve of the lack of filial piety, but that just causes "Miss V.C.'s" inquiries to warm my heart the more. I do not think her lessons advanced enough yet to read the old papers, so I have asked that Miss Wong accompany us as translator. I imagine that your youngest could read them, but he has so far kept his oath of silence remarkably well. 

Young Lieutenant A. will be joining us in Vancouver from Bremerton at what I expect will be all-too frequent occasions. I gather that his admiral has chosen to fly his flag from the New Jersey battleship, notwithstanding its dubious suitability. She will be returning to Pearl to make up its most serious deficiencies with some equipment to be assembled in Seattle under the young man's supervision. That is the admiral for you.

Have I mentioned that I met Lierutenant A.'s grandfather in Palo Alto? A younger sibling is in prospect of being sent to the college, and inasmuch as the  father is serving in the Pacific, it is left to the grandfather to see libraries and sororities and be jollied by his old chief. The Engineer  is as uncomfortable in the role of college booster as you would expect, and I managed to restrain the temptation to grab the old admiral by the lapels and yell, "Where are my ships?" For I gather that it was really all no-one's fault, or possibly that of the Admiralty, or of Stark, or King, or the President, or perhaps even tourism boosters who would not black out the coast. Heaven forbid that we should trouble the old man in his retirement!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

D-Day+81: Vaulting the Seine: Tn. 5's Triumph

Advance, Brave Canadians!

GRAY Bridge over the Seine at Elbeuf. (Sources, 1, Curated by Michael Sabarly)

Are you tired of picturesque Ocean Falls, British Columbia? I know I'm not. This is Kimsquit Lodge, the women's dorm.

City of Vancouver Archives

Let us say it's 195-- Okay, I've already used "194Q," so, let's say, "195R." That is, this the year that the future begins, so you are never actually there. You've been in Ocean Falls, man and boy, since before 1924, and you're thinking about next year, or the year after that. The year things start to move in this hick town. (The only Simpsons clip this could possibly link.)

So you're not overly impeded by reality, is what I'm saying. You can see the future. The company brings in unattached women to do women's work. (You know: staff the cafeteria, type, clean up. Obviously you don't put the nurses and teachers and head secretaries here. Obviously.)  They meet millwrights, they marry, they buy a home in Martin Valley. They get a car. By that time, the road is through. Their kids go through the class-enhancing magic of high school, and drive the 600km or so to Williams Lake, the 1200 or so to university to Vancouver. The 2500 or so to golden California and the kind of magical, middle-class jobs that people have been lighting out of the coast for since time immemorial --but now they can come back! No more people complaining about the isolation! Before you can turn around, there'll be one of those new-fangled "shopping malls" in town!

So what's a "Kimsquit?" A small town in B.C. This is what it looked like in 1913.

 And this is what it looks like today:

I don't want to make some German Indianer cosplayer squee himself to death or anything, but the burden of the picture is that Kimsquit was abandoned years ago. (Almost. James Sirois still lives there.) It's not the forest primeval. There's been some logging, and there's an air strip to accommodate fly in anglers. 

If you can get away from that kind of thinking, you will notice that that's the Dean River issuing into the head of Dean Channel at 52 degrees 13 minutes North, and you will appreciate that this is nice farmland at the mouth of one of only three rivers that punch through the Coastal Range: the Fraser, the Skeena and the Dean. The first two host major seaports. (Prince Rupert has a container terminal now. That qualifies as "major," right?) So why not a third?

Because, we say now, in our diminished world where 195R never happened, because. It's just impossible. Not even worth bothering about. No-one's going to farm way out there, or build a railway connection. Or a town. We don't do that sort of thing any more. Better to leave the Dean River as a veritable Mecca of anglers, the place that makes every fly fisher's eye gleam at the mention, because of the superlative quality of the super-steelhead trout which inhabit this best of all possible rivers.*

Our booster/dreamer can be spared for not thinking that way, for naming the women's dorm "Kimsquit Lodge" as a step on the inevitable progress that leads to the moment (soon now!) when the road that links Ocean Falls to the world, the road that has to pass through Kimsquit anyway, climbs the Dean River valley to Anahim Lake.

From this distance, we can see the absurdity of this road that descends the Dean Canyon and climbs passes between  four watersheds on its way from Kimsquit to Ocean Falls. Looked at from the other side, the fact that the road goes through four heavily forested watersheds is an advantage. All of that fibre, tied to Ocean Falls forever!

This will be 195R. 

Perspective: here's work on Wong Chee's Corner, the turn around the bluff that takes Ocean Falls Road from the townsite to Martin Valley in 1924, per the Ocean Falls Museum. 

Shovels and wheelbarrows. That's 1924.

Here's work on U.S. 10, the later I-90, in Snoqualmie Pass, Washington, in 1950, from the University of Washington Library's Flickr account.

We're not even building interstates yet, but a bit of a change in methods, don't you think? 195R is the year when roadbuilding gets this easy on the road to Ocean Falls. It's year that never comes, a year as imaginary as flying cars.

In the imagination of Walther Model, briefing his Fuehrer on the evening of 25th August, the question was one of managing the withdrawal of Army Group B behind the Somme-Marne line in the respite given by The Allied halt and regrouping on the Seine. The Somme line would not hold forever, but it would provide a place on which to reconstitute the battered remnants of his command. Walther Model does not believe in 195R. But he is still wrong.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Exploring the End of Grass: Oceans Fall

At Ocean Falls, a ghost town on the central coast of British Columbia, 35 mW of power drains away in to the sea, unused. In this post, I will take this as symptomatic, in a spirit of autumnal regret.


Back up: I grew up, it bears repeating, in a small town built to service a sulphite pulp mill hurriedly erected during World War I at the ass end of creation to hear the local kids talk.

Here: let's look at the great picture that someone scrounged up for Wikipedia again:

It also bears repeating that the townsite does not look like this any more, that the buildings were all torn down and a new site in early-60s high modern was built a ways down the inlet. The only thing remaining is the meadow above the town, which is a golf course. Surreal, I know. For me, this picture is one of nostalgia for places never seen, a mood for which there must be a German word. This is the Port Alice of the deep past, a community of migrant workers and old-time families sleeping in their isolation from the world from 1917 to the early 1960s, one of many such.*

 Today, the subject is the dates. I am going to try to  pinpoint the moment when the tide of modernity reversed, the moment when the end of the age of grass asserted itself.

Port Alice is still going, survived the end of grass. Port Alice, like the other pulp mills on the coast, was built next to a convenient source of hydroelectric and hydraulic power, and this is quite an advantage. Add to that that people are even investing in making new rayon these days, and with the collapse of fibre demand from newsprint mills, the future is positively bright --for the mill, anyway. It's never going to support the number of workers, hence town population, of the 1970s, however. When the town was growing, reluctantly, haphazardly, as those who might have wanted to build their own homes on the townsite looked over their shoulders at the painful death of: Ocean Falls.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Postblogging Technology, July 1944, I: Victory Comes Late

My Dearest Reggie:

I see that I have once more broken the first rule of home front correspondents. I have worried you. No need for you to worry any longer. Firstly, Wong Lee and I have returned home, and there is no tong war in the offing. It turns out that even east coast "men of respect" have their limits. Our friend was delegated to break the news to his acquaintance that even his closest relatives had no time for malingering. There was a war on, and all he was being asked to do was tour and sing, something which he had taken on as an amazingly lucrative career, and he should get on with it.

Regrettably, men of respect only respect strength. Someone had to be seen to pay for encouraging the young man's selfishness, which is why I arranged an arrest even before D-Day brought this to  a head. You will, I am sure, have heard of that. What you may not have heard is that the case is quite thin. The arrested fellow has been an irritation for so many reasons that I do not feel the least guilty about moving forward, even though it is likely that this will degenerate and require even more extreme measures.

Well, that was a terrible attempt to lighten the mood! You may have heard that with school out, "Miss V.C.'s" research trip to Monterrey went ahead. Certain papers were seen that supplement the annals of old Monterrey, and I had an interesting conversation with the young lady on her return. She confirmed in the Santa Clara university library that Maquinna's daughter, Maria Jesus de Nutka, arrived in the old town in 1794, attended school in Santa Clara, married into an old Californian family, and had descendants. The portfolio at Monterrey added information about the "prince of Nootka" who accompanied her, of which of course I need tell you nothing, and led her to a family name (besides, obviously, her own, as she would have to be dense not to see the similarity) --and so, of course, back to the county records and to a reference to that old map in the family papers from the 1871 lawsuit.

"Do we still have it?" She asked. I did not see the point in denying it. It is not outside the realm of possibility that she will still need it. So I produced it from Grandfather's papers, seeing much else that I had forgotten for years, and waxing  nostalgic.

"1820 is awfully old for a house in these parts, especially such an Oriental-looking one," she observed from the date on the map. I shrugged. Even in those days there were wealthy sea captains in the Bay, involved in the tallow and coastal fur trades, I pointed out. And Chinese styles were in fashion in those days.

"Why is the name written in Chinese?" She asked. I shrugged again. I pointed out that the building was erected by Chinese artisans, and that this version of the property map had been drawn by one of them. "It means 'Arcadia,'" I said. No point in bringing up the awful Hilton book. Did you know that the Lady wanted to complete the estate with a pagoda on the south ridge? Imagine what our neighbours would think if we completed the bequest!

"Et in Arcadia Ego," "Miss V. C." said. I started, and had difficulty controlling my expression. I had had no intention of feeding that clue to her. But it turns out that she was just quoting some snatch of popular writing.  "It's an odd place to find Chinese carpenters," she continued.

There were not many other places to find them around the Pacific in those days, I observed. Arcadia was quite a sight. I am just glad that it was never reported by someone whose reminiscences  went into print --at least, not into print in a fashion that the good fathers of the Mission were not as eager to see suppressed as was Grandfather. So many things were lost in the Earthquake....

"Is that why Meares brought Chinese carpenters to Nootka? And no-one ever says what happened to them."

You would be so proud of the artful way that I let my face slip at this point. What can I say? I shall be in Vancouver inspecting the refit, and it is a beautiful summer, I have a line on good tyres, Vancouver Island is beautiful at this time of year. and I can probably find an elder who is willing to lead her down the next step on this little journey of discovery of hers.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Postblogging Technology, 1944: A Technical Appendix for July 1944: Making the World Safe for B-29s

A bit of an amuse-bouche here. This is Highway 19, completed in 1979 between Campbell River, British Columbia and Port McNeill, in the same province.

This is not what it looks like on the ground, because Google fails me, or people are reluctant for some reason to put up pictures that show that the roads to their town are awful or little used. Fortunately, the residents of the old Canadian Forces Station, Holberg, have a certain perverse pride in the tradition: here's Elephant Crossing:

It was not, by a very long shot, the worst stretch of road in northern Vancouver Island in 1979, nor today, either. There are many fewer now, though, because we have got a great deal better at building good, cheap roads. This is why I think it is time to look at the B-29, seventy years after the summer in which Hobo Queen toured Britain, intending to give the Germans the impression that Twentieth Air Force might fly against them as well as against Japan.