Kansas Grasslands

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The prairie is an ocean on which no oar is dipped.

One in a continuing series of Road Trip essays . . . Taking a diagonal cue from the atlas, we look at I-35 thru Kansas en route to our intended two-lane destination, US-400 / US-54.  And discover the Monarch Highway.  Not asphalt, grasslands. The I-35 as Monarch Highway initiative is an example of a recent coordinated effort across six states – Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota – to provide habitat for the rapidly declining monarch butterfly.NWF

Camping is permitted.  Next time we’re entertaining area stretches of two-lane  relaxation, we’ll plan to pull in closer to dusk.  A piece of rough linen as sleeping cocoon with a seat cushion for our noggin, and we’ll slumber under the stars ’till dawn.  On part of the original prairie.

Kansas was a pleasure.  Kingman Kansas deserved more time.  Taco Delite in Pratt, locally owned and surrounded by chain fast food, Six Thumbs Up !!!  Grassland to the horizon dotted with cattle.  Wheat!  Corn, soybeans, milo, hay.  And of course oil, pronounced awwwlllllll, with a capital $$$$ at the end  🙂 

We continue 2-lane magic upon US-60 into New Mexico and Arizona, rediscovering Ira’s Bar and finally stopping for a perfect enchilada-stype burro in Globe, Arizona.

U J Ramelson

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Micro Woodcarving Tools

Since 1937 U.J. Ramelson of Newark, New Jersey, has been satisfying a niche unassaulted by cheap copies.  They make perfectly engineered micro-chisels at a reasonable price.  Good steel, reliable handles.  East to sharpen, easy to customize.

The prize-winning carved mallard decoy?  That amazing dollhouse display in the church basement?  Lifelike figurines for your nieces and nephews?  Ramelson likely had a hand ~ in giving you a hand.

While most instrument makers may consider a ½” or possibly a ⅜” chisel as small as they’d require, these Ramelsons are made far smaller.  My 2.0mm and 3.0mm sets have proven themselves, scraping and shaving me out of a jam, adding just the bit of grace for which customers look.

RO-ARK Leather

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Romance, Arkansas  From the beginning Man has used animal hides to improve his life.  The Art of Tanning is developed.  Jerkins, leggings, boots, gloves, satchels, and iPhone cases quickly follow.  The best of crafters are elusive.  These crafters bridge income disparities, turn trade to hobby and back again, set down needle and thread when returning to a previous career or duty.  Full-time production shops?  Not the same as a one- or two- person operation.  When you find a stand-out product, stock up for a lifetime of gift-giving!

A year back we covered the work of Michael Hicks Design, when they created the perfect minimalist wallet.  A business card case which accommodates my DL & CC, CIA ident’, and all-hours White House Pass.  Very handy bit of stitching, thin as a whisker.  Now a year old, hardly broken in at all!

With growing nephews sprouting like summer corn, I figure to start them out right in their early teens, and present another favorite after college.  Stack’o’leather, please, Mike!

Ro-Ark Leather obliged and made me eleven different bifold card cases.  I chose seven.  The fun is just beginning.  I’ll get the two boys to choose their favorites in turn.  Years down the roads, these adolescent decisions will come back to them as milestone gifts.

Lenox Saw Blades

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In the food services industry, you never know what you’ll run into.  Standard tradespeople avoid working on restaurant equipment.  Those few specialty service companies have huge service fees (the local branch of a national company bills $174 for the first ½ hour, $104/hr after that, invoiced in ¼ hour increments).

Specifications are always changing, equipment gets handed down through subsequent owners with no service manuals, identifying plates are obliterated by heat and abrasion and cleaning agents.  At death, you’re left with a hulk of smoldering stainless steel, a few greasy bent knobs, and frantic kitchen staff winging it with other equipment.  The restaurant owner, upon seeing just the material cost of new components (which will not mate up with his existing components), asks hopefully, Can it be repaired?

When the original manufacturer went out of business, they politely left behind a zero-database for others to maintain their commercial kitchen equipment.  A Bricks-N-Mortar shop promised OEM replacement parts.  But the Infrared Element for Brian’s essential cheese melter came in a wee bit on the big side.  The appliance’s I/R element mounting shelf will require discrete modification.

My metal nipper is lent to the big church job up the street.  Grinder with thin cut-off wheel?  Mmmmm, maybe too much dust.  I’m thinking jigsaw.  Lowes has the blades.  And would’dga lookit that!  Made in USA, both the Lexox and the DeWalt.  

Most of the small blades seem to be USA origin, or USA/Swiss with global components.  A few packs of Asian remain, but their reputation seems entrenched:  they are cheap and burn out far too quickly.

I went with a 5-pack of 24 t.p.i. Lenox over two 2-packs of the Dewalt in 18 tpi and 24 tpi, figuring 18 teeth per inch is more than I want for thin metal.  Two blades later, I’m back to fitting the I/R burner into place.  In short order, Brian’s cheese melter, mounted above his main grill, is again toasting meatball mozzarella grinders and nachos.  Yummm!

Craftsman Hook And Pick Set

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Yorke violin daddario kaplan.jpgWhile purchasing another Asian-made Craftsman 5-pc. mini-pliers set – can’t have too many of these! –  I spied this Hook And Pick Set.  Craftsman, guaranteed for life, padded handles, just the right length.  Length for what?  I did not know yet.

Sometimes nudging a violin sound post wants a thin strong piece of steel with a tip of peculiar shape.  These picks had those attributes and more.  They arrived with my sturdy mini needle-nose pliers, package contents noted, then drawered unopened.  I was pleased to see the Made In USA logo.  It meant the steel tips would probably not bend out of shape upon first use.

Finally, the right job.  All my gear is packed for a luthier skills exhibition in Omaha and Olivia’s violin is making an emergency pit stop.  Wow, Hercules must have cranked her chinrest onto the violin body.  The turn bolts turn not, bending my make-shift turn-key.  A right angle hook from the Craftsman set is perfect.

Its tip handles the job without complaint, bending, or chipping.  Of note, the pick tip would not insert far enough through the turn bolt hole to scrape the violin ribs if one worked without care.  All situations are different. Gouge fine wood in haste, repair at leisure.  These are rugged tools for delicate jobs.  Further inquiry reveals a range of Craftsman hook and pick sets for all occasions.

The 4-pc hook and pick set with cushioned grip handles comes with four instruments, a straight pick, a hook pick, a 90 degree pick and a complex pick. – Sears Craftsman 41634

Stuarts Draft, Virginia

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Amid a cacophony of tectonic activity there lies a valley of peace and tranquility.  Prosperity, jobs, and amazing opportunities for outdoor types.  Nestled here amid the Allegheny, Appalachian, and Blue Ridge Mountains,  NIBCO manufactures world-class copper plumbing fittings.

Brian’s sports bar in University City is a hopping success.  Near three colleges, it is de facto dorm room to scholars and athletes alike.  But by the northern battery of beer taps, what is that smell?  The beer tray indirect trap had issues.  Nothing the right plumbing can’t fix.  Brian will tell you, for great food, it starts with quality ingredients.  Likewise, for plumbing parts, I turn to the leaders. NIBCO.

With the right fittings and tools, Brian’s longstanding issue disappears.  After a little all-purpose cleaner mixed 50/50 with hot water and a heavy scrub pad, his floor tiles are back to Union Specification. 

The fittings came to me from the supply house in pristine condition.  Blessedly with no gooey stickers affixed.  Deeply and proudly stamped NIBCO.  Country of origin?  A call to NIBCO’s general number immediately connected me with Susan, who zapped me onward.  In a flash, Jem in Technical Support looked up the fittings, confirmed origin, right as I was viewing the Stuarts Draft article on NIBCO’s webpage.  Sunday morning calls to area businesses confirm the vibe:  Stuarts Draft is a great place to live, work, and raise a family.

Vintage Laura Ashley Comforter

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A typical love story.  The small town girl loved the idea of a big city.  A city filled with arts and liberal thinking and culture and men.  She moved herself across country.  From the hot arid Southwest to the Ice Capital of the Mid-Atlantic States.  Two items did not make the trip:  1] heavy winter coat, non-existent back home, and 2] satisfyingly thick blanket for comfortable sleeping (same reason).

With negative percentile body fat, her blanket had to be the best a department store within walking distance could offer.  Wanamakers?  Precise provenance is blurred in a haze of Philadelphia smog.  But a thick attractive comforter was purchased.  Durable, with excellent stitching, it probably cost a week’s salary.

Philadelphia is a cruel mistress.  Some are taken to her bosom, nurtured, and blossom to fulfillment.  Others, disillusioned, return home, leaving coats, boots, and blankets for other’s hopes and dreams.  In time, the comforter was inherited and stored.

While I’ve never been a blanket guy, barely wanting even a sheet on cold nights, advancing age means thinning blood.  The abandoned Laura Ashley comforter found new purpose.  What a lifesaver it turned out to be this frigid April!

Now in its majority, the stitching remains tight.  Its strong fabric is a little faded but wearing gracefully.  

Whether enjoying your comforter trdelník-style or indulging full-court burrito, the vintage Laura Ashley makes every dreaming session a Top Hat affair.

Laura Ashley USA is headquartered in Fort Mill, SC.  Revman International made my comforter decades ago for Laura Ashley.  They continue to provide quality merchandise Laura Ashley customers want. 

Vintage Laura Ashley Comforter   74″ x 86″   5.7 pounds.