Water Column Barometer

When Jim Stone and I visited our old earth science teacher Ernie Chiles on one of our trips back to Cape, Ernie mentioned a class project both of us had forgotten.

To back up a bit, I’ve written about the odd relationship Ernie, Jim, George Cauble and I had in class. Ernie was a teacher so new the ink was still smeary on his diploma. Jim was on his way to become a science whiz and George was destined to go to Rolla as an engineer. Me, I was just a guy who liked to challenge authority and hang out with George and Jim.

Jim is on the left in the photo above. Ken Trowbridge is in the middle. The fellow on the right looks familiar, but I can’t put a name on the face right now. Wife Lila says it might be Terry Hopkins. Click on the photos to make them larger.

The pressure (atmospheric) was on

As Ernie tells the story, we were on a chapter dealing with atmospheric pressure, which is typically measured in inches of mercury. Normal atmospheric air pressure – roughly 14.7 psi at sea level – will support a column of mercury about 30 inches tall. The same 14.7 psi will support a column of water about 34 feet high.

Jim, George and I said we wanted to prove it. This is where Ernie got worried, he said. “It would be an interesting experiment that would make the concept clear, but I was worried. What kind of prank had these these scallywags cooked up that was going to get me fired?” Maybe Ernie was contemplating what having a student fall to his death out of his classroom window would do to his teaching career.

Our motives, despite Ernie’s misgivings were pure. We had a chance to kill a class period doing something that would allow us to drop a hose out of the third-floor classroom, attracting the attention of the classes of Floors One and Two and we could watch Ernie squirm. Oh, yeah, and we could learn something that we already knew about atmospheric pressure. What’s better than that?

The experiment was simple

The experiment was low-tech. We had to fill a waste can with water, drop a hose in it to fill it with water, then hoist it with a rope to measure how high the water column was. A three-story building should give us the 30 feet we needed. Jim was in charge of the classroom side. I was supposed to get the hose filled with water.

I don’t recall Bill Wilson being in our class, so I may have Tom Sawyered him into filling the bucket and carrying it under Jim’s classroom window. I probably said something like, “Hey, Bill, how about doing this while I take your picture?”

George Cauble was even smarter

George Cauble didn’t even work that hard. While Jim was hauling hose and Bill was toting water and I was taking pictures, George was hanging out with Nancy Jenkins. Like I said, he was the smart one.

The experiment worked (sort of)

Jim didn’t fall out of the window, Bill managed to fill the hose with water, the water column came close to 30 feet (there was some kind of last-minute glitch of some kind, but it was close enough for CHS work), I managed to take some pictures that I held onto for almost half a century and we didn’t put an end to Ernie’s teaching career. Not a bad day’s work.

10 Replies to “Water Column Barometer”

  1. Ken first I want to say that I love your blog. I read it every morning. It is my my morning paper. Secondly thank you for including a picture of George Cauble in this story. He was my uncle. Our family just moved his mother Olene back to Cape from Florida right before her 87th birthday and I know she will love to see this story. In a previous story you had a shot of my grandfather that she was delighted to see. I was wondering if you happen to have any other photos of George? Thank you for making each morning so interesting:)

    1. Thanks for all the compliments.

      George was one of the nicest guys I knew from Central. Our only connection was doing our best to ace every one of Ernie’s tests at the same time Ernie was trying to write a test that we couldn’t score 100% on. You can imagine what THAT competition did to the curve for the rest of the class.

      Jim and George would come over to my house before the tests and we’d virtually memorize the book, plus we’d brainstorm to figure out what off-the-wall questions he might come up with. (Forty-plus years later, I’m still disputing one question, and Stone is arguing that he deserved an E in the class and not an E-.)

      Beyond that, George and I didn’t hang out together. He was older and we didn’t have any other interests in common. Truth be told, I was a little bit in awe of him because he seemed so mature and together. It’s a shame he was taken from us at such a young age. There’s no doubt in my mind that he could have done big things.

      Let me poke around a bit. I’m pretty sure I have at least one or two more shots of him. If I run across them, I’ll email them to you directly.

  2. Notice the large mountain of dirt behind Bill Wilson as he fills the bucket at the Lou Muegge Field water fountain. It was placed there during construction of the new Junior High and obscures the house on Thilenius Street where i grew up. Because of the short walk to school I could never make an effective argument about the need to drive to school. Rain, snow or sunshine, didn’t matter.

    fred williams CHS ’67

  3. That mountain of dirt! The fiendishly clever Track coaches used to make us run sprints up the sides of it. I remember wondering what we would do for conditioning when the Jr High construction was completed.

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