Snow on Cyders’ Mountain

TJ Cyders w stuck ATV 03-05-2015Jessica Cyders, curator of the Athens County Historical Society and Museum in Athens, Ohio, and her husband, T.J., live on the top of a tall hill in a rural part of Athens County, a place that practically defines “rural area.”

How tall is the hill?

She texted this photo captioned, “TJ got the ATV stuck in the Ken Steinhoff Memorial Ditch. I just helped him pull it out with the winch. Snowshoes came in handy today.”

Steeper than it looks

Messenger box in snowThe last time she and I took a road trip from Cape to Athens, we rolled into town late to find her driveway covered with wet leaves. “I don’t think you’re going to be able to make it up it,” she warned me.

I gunned the van. I mean, what does SHE know, she just lives there.

Just a little beyond where T.J. is standing, the road kicks up a few degrees. It was there that the traction control kicked in, then the wheels started spinning out. I conceded defeat and stomped on the brakes. The car started sliding back down the hill with all four wheels locked. I might as well have been on ice.

I booted her out to make it up to the house by herself, and started to back down the lane, which, unfortunately, has some curves in it. Every time I had to make a correction or step on the brakes, gravity would take over.

Ken Steinhoff Memorial Ditch

Snow and sky and treesThe next thing I knew, I was in a slow slide into a ditch. It didn’t matter if I gunned the engine or put on the brakes, it was just a slow-motion train wreck. I called Jessica on my cell to tell her about my predicament.

She and T.J. ambled down to see how bad the situation was. She had a smirk on her face.

T.J. teaches engineering at Ohio University, so I counted on him to take one look and say, “No problem. I’ll just go back to the shed and get some duct tape and some binder’s twine and we’ll have you out in less time than it’ll take the Little Woman to heat up some hot chocolate and bake us some cookies.”

Instead, he shook his head and said, “You need a wrecker.”

 “Call me a wrecker”

SnowshoesI remember an exchange on the police scanner one night in the distant past: “Athens 1 to HQ, Call me a wrecker.”

“OK, Athens 1, you’re a wrecker.”

When it’s almost midnight-thirty on a cold, blustery, rainy weekend night, it’s not a good time to call for a wrecker. The first two companies said, “We’ll be there on Monday morning. If we can find you.”

The third guy said, “I’ve got my shoes off and I’m sitting where it’s nice and warm watching my girlfriend do her homework. But, I’ll be there shortly.”

I didn’t even ask how much it was going to cost. It didn’t matter.

The wrecker went sliding down the hill

Creek with snowAbout 40 minutes later, the wrecker showed up. After a little backing and filling, the driver hooked up a tow cable to my van. He told me to stay in the vehicle to “help” him try to move it. I’ve seen what happens when a cable snaps, so I wasn’t crazy about being in direct line of the tow, but I also couldn’t open the driver’s side door because it was up against a bank.

He took up the slack on the cable, the van gave a little lurch, then the wrecker started sliding toward me. He repositioned the wrecker, gave another pull, and got the same result.

It was time to get creative. He rigged a pulley to a tree on the opposite side of the road and said he was going to try to pull me crossways in the road, with the eventual hope that he could get me onto a solid surface pointing downhill.

When he finally got me to a 90-degree angle to the roadway, he said, “Give it the gas. See if you can pull yourself up and out.”

“You can’t see it in the dark, but about four feet in front of me is a steep drop-off that ends up in a creek,” I warned him. “If it grabs hold, you’re going to see a blur and hear a splash.”

“You’ll be OK,” he assured me.

He was right

Snow angel selfieThe tires got some bite, I got pointed downhill, he unhooked the cable and said he’d go to the top of the hill to turn around, then he’d meet me at the bottom to settle up.

The trip down was a little interesting, but I made it down to flat ground where their lane meets what passes for a real road. I waited. And waited. And waited. After about 30 minutes, he pulled alongside me.

“I thought I was going to have to call a wrecker for the wrecker,” he said.

“Are you the owner or a worker bee?” I asked him.

“I own the company, but I’ll entertain an offer right now.”

The job cost me a hundred bucks plus a tip. Worth every penny of it.

I was about as happy as Curator Jessica doing a snow angel selfie.

[Thanks to Jessica for providing the photos.]

 

Bean Cemetery

Bean Cemetery 08-27-2014I’m drawn to the quiet dignity of rural cemeteries. It doesn’t matter if I don’t know anyone there. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Bean Cemetery in Rome Township near Guysville in Athens County, Ohio, or it’s the Hitt Cemetery near Arbor or it’s the High Hill Cemetery north of Neely’s Landing. I’m not big on ghosts and spirits, but I feel a kinship walking among those strangers.

You can click on the photos to make them larger.

Feeling the bonds

Bean Cemetery 08-27-2014When I did a story about the Cruse Cemetery near Toga returning to nature, reader Larry Points left a comment that shows he has experienced those same feelings:

…one will find the Gravel Hill Cemetery on a knoll with a scenic overlook of the countryside. In it is a tombstone for a nine-year-old girl who died in the 1880s. Upon the stone is this eroded inscription: “Beautiful lovely she was but given, a fair bud to earth to bloom in heaven.” Standing alone at such a stone, in such a setting, imagining shared grief gathered round so long ago, one is drawn to the emotional ties which bond we humans one to another.”

 Bean Cemetery

Bean Cemetery 08-27-2014I didn’t find a lot of online information about the cemetery. FindaGrave reports there are 104 internments in the cemetery, with about half of them photographed.

As you might suspect, there are a lot of Beans buried there. (Curator Jessica commented, “They grow lots of Beans in that part of the county. Actually, that is true, in both senses of the word.”

The fields aren’t green today

Bean Cemetery 08-27-2014Athens County gets Cape weather about two days after Cape. The lush green fields I photographed at the end of August have seen snow in the past few days and there’s more on the way.

The temperatures in West Palm Beach as I type this are a chilly 45 and falling. That’s a lot better than Athens, where it is -2 and falling (wind chill -15), headed for a low of -11 before sunrise.

Maybe Florida isn’t so bad after all.

 

 

Pumpjacks in Athens County

Athens County natural gas wellI was all excited back on September 18, 2014, when gas in Jackson dropped to $3.03. On December, 14, I celebrated that gas in Florida had fallen below $2.50. This week, I gassed up for $2.13, and Neighbor Jacqie got it for seven cents less two days later

That got me to thinking about this pumping rig I spotted in Athens County last summer. I was hoping I would run across one because they used to be pretty common in that area.

Other names for pumpjack

In case you aren’t familiar with the term “pumpjack” (I wasn’t), it is also called “oil horse, donkey pumper, nodding donkey, pumping unit, horsehead pump, rocking horse, beam pump, dinosaur, sucker rod pump (SRP), grasshopper pump, Big Texan, thirsty bird, or jack pump). It is the overground drive for a reciprocating piston pump in an oil well.”

In the old days, you’d drive by a field that was covered with a thick sludge of oily goop and see pipes running to a central collection point. For some reason, I don’t think I ever shot one. Maybe it was just too ugly in a not-neat way.

Here is a site that explains how those old “jackline”operations work, along with a lot of other interesting history. That sounds like what I remember. They’ve pretty much become obsolete.

Drilling rig hit gas

Drilling rig fire 03-29-1969The closest I came to photographing anything like that was this fire. I don’t know why this drilling rig was working right next to the road on a chilly day in March of 1969, but it must have hit a pocket of natural gas, and all it took was one spark to light it off.

How does thing work?

Athens County natural gas wellCurator Jessica and I found this while we were running around looking for neat stuff. I asked her how it worked.

Curators are supposed to know everything, plus, she’s married to T.J., who is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Ohio University. I figured she’d have picked up this kind of knowledge through osmosis.

Instead of breaking a stick off a tree and sketching out the whole thing in the dirt alongside the road, she said, “Wait until dinner and have T.J. explain it to you.”

Natural gas is the target

Athens County natural gas wellT.J. is an effective teacher. The first thing he explained was that the target is natural gas, not oil, as I had always thought.

His description pretty much matched this explanation given on Wikipedia. He’s known on campus as a tough grader, so rather than try to parrot what he said, I’m going to let this illustration explain it. (He doesn’t tolerate students who copy the work of others, so I may STILL be in trouble.)

When I asked why they went to all the trouble to use the walking beam with its horse head for a small operation like this (I’ve seen giant ones out West), he explained that the walking beam with a counterweight can do all the heavy lifting, enabling the use of a much smaller motor than if it was connected directly.

I don’t have any idea what kind of volume the wells produce nor how many of them are in operation. A lot of them were sitting idle when we passed by, but we saw one large one that looked like it was fairly new.

 

 

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