Sunday, May 17, 2015


We live in Virginia Beach amid bumper stickers that say, “I (heart) Jet Noise.” Of course we do! Our family, friends and neighbors work in this center of the Navy’s carrier fleet. We are treated to the roar and whistle of F-18s, E-2s and Navy general aviation daily, and though the noise can interfere with a phone call or a conversation, we still “heart” it.

Today, though, another treat. Just south of our house a few miles, there was an air show featuring WWII aircraft. Not the roar of a GE or Rolls Royce turbine but the deep RUMBLE of a very old, treasured and pampered radial engine from a B-24 or a B-17 or, not likely, a B-29. The James Earl Jones of aircraft power. An educated old-timer (not me) could identify the engine/aircraft by sound, but about all I can differentiate is the difference between one of the “big-uns” and the distinctive, sexy Merlin V-12 in the P-51 Mustang.

The sound takes me back to childhood, classic Ford pickups that we didn’t know were destined for fame, the ’57 Chevy that most of us knew was going to be a classic the first time we saw it in 799 Tropical Turquoise, Formica, “modern” furniture and appliances in colors like harvest gold. Mid-century in central Nebraska which then, as now, is close to the paths that flights take from Chicago to western destinations like Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles. My brother and I would listen, then see the magnificent “Connies” (Lockheed Constellations) and marvel at the romance of air travel. When air travel was society at its highest level, luxury and opulence abounded. Now, you get on one and fully expect one of the passengers to arrive with a crate of chickens and a goat.  

Then we would go back to milking cows or other not-so-romantic endeavors.

My friend Jerry said just today how we can’t remember what we had for lunch yesterday, but we can remember a conversation from a half-century gone by. Or the magnificent RUMBLE of a big radial, and recognize that then, just as now, the United States holds mastery of the skies.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Sandhills

The Nebraska Sandhills are part of my DNA. We pastured stock cattle in the Sandhills when I was young and I worked one summer putting up hay southwest of Atkinson in the eastern Sandhills. The Sandhills total about 20,000 square miles (just a shade bigger than Vermont and New Hampshire combined), were once called “The Great American Desert” and, except for the fact that this is fantastic cattle country, the “sand” part of the desert claim is about right.

When the last glacier receded about 15,000 years ago, it was much like God dumped a handful of sand on the landscape, and especially as you approach from the west out of Gordon, that is how it appears.
The true Sandhills in my mind have always been centered in Cherry County. A bit larger than Connecticut with a population of 5,788 (less than one person per square mile even if you include the largest city of Valentine) this is cattle country and not people country. The old-timers called it “hard on men and hell on wimmin and horses.” I once drove from Valentine to Thedford, a straight shot of about 65 miles, and on the longest stretch of US-83, I met a pickup and saw two men on horses…but lots of cattle.

Our good friend and fraternity brother ranches in Cherry County and comes from a family that has been a big part of the history of the Sandhills. He participated in the research and publishing of a story called “The Day the Sandhills Died” describing a murder that terrorized the area in the 1950’s. Butch’s dad was one of the posse that organized and caught the murderer who was killed at the end of the search. The spirit of generosity, hospitality, open doors and trust was hit hard, but I would submit this story by another good friend, Danny, to refute the idea that the Sandhills “died”:

It was about 1980 and I had not seen Butch for 8 - 10 years.  I called [him] one evening and invited myself, Virginia, and my brother and his wife, up to the ranch for the weekend.  Of course we were welcome to stop by.

George and his wife Linda were living at the home ranch at that time, on a dead end trail road about 5 miles off the main trail to the home place.  

We arrived in the late afternoon and Linda invited us in for an ice tea.  As we sat in the living room making conversation we noticed a lot of Jehovah’s Witness literature scattered around the living room and, exchanging glances, my family wondered what I had gotten them into.

Linda brought us the tea and sat down to join us.  Suddenly she noticed the Watch Tower publications and quickly gathered them up.  She explained “We hadn’t had company up here for such a long time and these Jehovah’s Witness people stopped by.  They were so nice, we invited them to stay for supper."

Now, that’s what I remember about the Sandhills.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


Hybrid Vehicle Sales are plummeting and only 30-35% of HEV owners purchase another according to the May 5, 2015 edition of WardsAuto, using a “Mad Men”-era phrase to describe the situation and to capture the arrogance of those in charge as well. (See Note below)

“The dogs aren’t eating the dog food.”

To figure out who is “in charge,” here we go with the acronyms: CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) is under the DOT, delegated to NHTSA with the involvement of the EPA, EPCA and EISA. The sum of it is that the US Government has established a fuel economy goal of 54.5 mpg by 2025.

It seems that US consumers are responding to low gas prices by buying vehicles with less fuel economy and the “corporate” part of CAFE kicks in because the goal is based on the company’s total package of offerings and sales. Plus, technologies that benefit real-world driving conditions, such as air-conditioning improvements, active aerodynamics and adaptive cruise control are largely ignored in the government testing.

According to Fiat-Chrysler (FCA) director, Chris Cowland, HEV’s are selling poorly despite big incentives, but FCA is completely sold out of gas-guzzling 707-hp Hellcat Challenger and Charger models with zero spiffs.

Don’t you just hate it when people don’t do what they are supposed to do?

Note: This post is heavily borrowed (well, ok, plagiarized) from the WardsAuto article by Drew Winter, May 5, 2015 on-line edition

Friday, May 1, 2015

Doing the NFL

Doesn't everyone know the adage, "Don't do the same thing again expecting different results?" Apparently certain GM's (are you listening in Tampa?) either haven't heard or don't believe.

Disclaimer: I'm not a big NFL fan, so this isn't going to be a well-researched tirade, just a plain ol' rant.

Number one pick in the 2015 NFL draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pick Jameis Winston. Not to mention a favorite I-told-you-so around our house like Johnny Manziel, but let's talk about another one, JaMarcus Russell. What do all three of these fellows have in common besides being outstanding college quarterbacks and being picked number one (wait, Johnny Football was drafted later, just rumored to be number one) in the NFL draft?


"Character issues" are how the current crop of announcers and scouts describe folks like an old Cornhusker, Lawrence Phillips. As a Nebraska alum and fan, I guess we can excuse some college hijinks like dragging your girlfriend down the stairs by her hair, but when you murder your cellmate in prison, that's just beyond the pale! BTW, would you try to blame it on somebody else when you're locked up with just the one guy and he is now dead?

Back to JaMarcus--he was awful for the Raiders. Played, sort of, for three seasons. But, get this. They paid him $40 million. He had one of the worst quarterback ratings ever, and he is currently listed by the internet at a substantial playing weight of 309 pounds. Don't think he is gearing for a comeback.

Now, here is a question that I have never heard analyzed, and if somebody out there knows of a reasonable analysis, let me know--what happens to all that money? JaMarcus got busted for drugs, so we can speculate that a lot of the money went up his nose, but that's not my question. Economists talk about "velocity of money" and "multipliers" all the time, as in "Let's give XYZ Manufacturing $40 million in incentives because of blah and blah and blankety." How is that different than having Mr. Russell spread around the largesse?

I will probably get shot down (or at) for this, but is it possible that Kansas City is wealthier in the aggregate because football players are getting huge sums? As the Irish footballer George Best said, "I spent lots of money on women, booze and fast cars. The rest I just squandered." Maybe that is all a stimulus to the economy.

As I said, a subject for better, well-trained minds.