Speed Gibson of the International Secret Police

speedgibsonAs a young boy, I was fascinated with the Danny Dunn series of booksDanny Dunn, Time Traveler.  Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine.  Danny Dunn and the Weather Machine.  Danny Dunn, a young boy, in a fictional New England city, had a professor-friend at the local University who was always inventing devices and substances (there is an invisible paint-themed book in the series, too).  One way or another Danny was left alone with the invention, and, curiously, he turns on the machines or uses the substance that is the theme of the book.  Adventure ensues.  It is the kind of adventure that catches a young mind (or not so young), and takes the imagination along for that adventure.

A friend (also named Alex) and myself, for a little while, have been aficionados of old time radio.  Alex is a fan of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.  The series originally aired from 1949 into 1962, and featured a clever story device of reading an expense report.  It sounds boring, but the story unfolds from cab fares – you will learn why Johnny took a cab in the first place, to why Johnny needs to be reimbursed for a hotel.

I became hooked on old time radio by listening to the radio version of Jack Webb’s Dragnet. Webb cut his crime-drama-teeth in the film-noir, He Walked by Nightwhich helped kick start what would eventually be Dragnet.  The Dragnet radio program aired from 1949 into 1957, with 314 episodes produced. If you are familiar with the television version of Dragnet, you will know most of the radio versions’ storylines.  I hope everyone agrees that the stolen-baby-Jesus-Christmas-episode is an infuriating and all together inane episode — radio or television.

After Dragnet, I came across The Blue Beetle (terrible audio quality along with an annoying stereotypical Irish cop character), and pointed Alex at it, and through a bit of sleuthing, he came across Speed Gibson of the International Secret Police as a better series.

In that Danny Dunn sort of adventure-craft-way, Speed Gibson, is an intelligent, young teenager with a streak for adventure – and he has a pilot’s license.  Speed has an uncle, Clint Barlow, who, in the first episode, is revealed to be in the secret police along with his friend, Barney Dunlap.  The term secret is really only implied, as it seems that with every new person encountered, someone is blabbing about being in the secret police.

The series itself consists of two story arcs.  The first story, 100 episodes in length, you follow Speed, Clint, Barney and host of others along the way, travel to Hong Kong and other parts of Far East in search of the Secret Polices’ arch nemesis, The Octopus.   The second story, 78 episodes in length, you follow the gang to Africa to foil more of the Octopus’ evil plans.

As I listened to first story, I could not help but think about how the Octopus was a lot like Dr. Claw of Inspector Gadget.  As the story plays out, I feel that the creators of Dr. Claw had to, at bare minimum, take inspiration from the Octopus and his gang of inept henchmen.  There is little comparison on the protagonist side of Inspector Gadget, but the antagonist side, there is plenty to draw from.  The Octopus, like Dr. Claw, has a huge ego, and feels that at every move, he will easily trap his enemies with an overly complicated, yet, ultimately, easy to foil trap.  Upon nearly being captured by Speed and the gang, the Octopus slips away with a quip about ruing the day that Speed Gibson crossed him.

Aside from the simple plots, heavy reliance on coincidence, the use of shortwave radios, and having some of the worst “Chinese” accents of any drama, radio or television, Speed Gibson of the International Secret Police is a great serial to listen for at the office, or on a road trip.  Between the introduction music, the exit music and a recap of the previous episode, you get a solid 8 to 12 minutes of new, if slow moving, adventure.

You can find Speed Gibson of the International Secret Police on archive.org for free streaming or downloading.


My last write-up was a while ago.  Shortly after that post, Melissa and I headed to Gray Summit, Missouri, for the Basset Hound Club of America’s annual gathering.  This gathering is usually in a different place each year; in 2011, it was in Kentucky, last year, it was in Massachusetts, and next year, it will be in Wisconsin.

The trip to Missouri kicked off a strange bit of travel – completely planned – for myself.  We drove to Missouri – it’s an eight and a half or nine hour drive from Saint Paul – on Saturday, October 5th.  On Monday morning, we were at Purina Farms in Gray Summit.  By mid-afternoon, I was heading to the St. Louis airport – a friend of Melissa’s was kind enough to give me a ride there.

I was flying to Hibbing, Minnesota; my hometown.  Meghann, my sister, was already back in Hibbing; she had arrived from Japan earlier in September.  Our grandmother was turning ninety years old and Meghann had made plans for a photo shoot with our parents and grandmother.

The last time I flew into or out of Hibbing was August of 2000.  I was still living in Hibbing at that time and I was heading to Colorado to visit my cousins.  I remember flying south and seeing Lake Mille Lacs pass underneath as I headed to the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport.  That flight was rough; it was in a twin engine turbo prop.

Flying north from St. Louis to Minneapolis, farm fields stretched out under the airplane; small streams dart here and there; now and again, a river whittled its way through the landscape.

I have flown into and out of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area many times; the trip to the west coast in July being the most recent prior to October.  By no stretch am I a frequent flier.  I fly more often than I did when I was in my 20s; as household income and my age have increased, the occurrences where I take flight have also increased.

For much of my life, the act of passing through the Minneapolis/St. Paul area was seen as an unfortunate have-to.  With Melissa having grown up in Saint Paul, and her parents having always lived there, the metro area turned into an occasional destination.  With move to the metro area now heading toward being eighteen months ago, it has turned into my new home and it’s a homecoming for Melissa.

The flight to Hibbing was odd; the doctor who had delivered me was on the flight along with several others who seemed vaguely familiar in that I’ve-seen-you-before-maybe-twenty-years-ago sort of way.  No turbo prop, this time.  It was a small jet.

The time in Hibbing was brief – around 36 hours – and then it was back to St. Louis; by the end of the week, we were back in St. Paul and soon there after, back to the daily routine.  Back to this place that is now my home.


Lawnmowers & Vespidae

Before leaving for Portland, I had been putzing with the lawn tractor and its mower deck.  The mower deck has a Rube-Goldbergian pulley system from taking power from the engine and directing it to the mower blades.  For a while (prior to traveling to Portland), I have been trying to get the right belt for the mower deck.  The mower itself is a Sears.  Its green color is not original, nor is the yellow mower deck.  The belt that was on the machine when my father-in-law was cracked and worn and continually slipped off. Amazon.com has been stellar with their selection of belts.  Props to Amazon for having belts listed by size and not simply the model of the machine they will fit.  I have bought several – different circumferences and different thicknesses.  Except for the last belt I tried, the others keep violently vibrating and slip off of the pulleys.  The last belt was simply too short.

With the far-back garage closed and the not-mowing-mower in said garage, Melissa was not able to get the grass cut while I was in Portland.  The grass also did not get cut the first week back from Portland.  This was more than nerve-racking for Melissa, and she had had enough.  We bought a new self-propelled push mower yesterday.

Melissa is a tomboy.  She likes things with engines – lawnmowers, tractors, fishing boats.  Whenever I would get the lawn tractor out to mow, inevitably, Melissa would wander out and ask if she could take over.

Like a kid with a new toy, I could barely get the few things I was carrying out and into the house; she wanted the new mower unpacked and working.

With the jerrycan of 92 octane gasoline empty after filling the new machine, I headed to a gas station; Melissa buzzed around the front yard with the new mower.

When I returned, she had moved into the backyard.  She had mowed in front of the entrance to the vegetable garden and was now mowing lengthwise in front of the chicken coop.

I had noticed a mole hole near the entrance to the garden several days ago.  I had made a mental note to fill it with dirt, but had since lost the mental note.  Walking to check the expansive Little Shop of Horrors-like squash plant (I have not had to feed it bodies, yet, but the plant is enormous, and, in the hot weather of several weeks ago, it was growing nearly 12″ per day) that had been looking dehydrated earlier in the day, I noticed activity around the mole hole – insects, flying insects, black and yellow flying insects.

A closer inspection revealed wasps.  Depending upon which entomology camp you follow, you call them Vespula alascensis, or you might call them Vespula vulgaris.  Either way, they are wasps.

Melissa had apparently, and unknowingly mowed over the mole hole that now contained the wasps.  Before I inevitably had to put wasp spray into their home, I set up a video camera and videoed them cleaning out the grass clippings that had landed at the entrance.

Take a Picture, It’ll Last Longer

For quite some time now, I have usually carried a camera with me.  The ubiquity of cameras in cellphones has helped. For example, I have an iPhone 4, which, in a pinch, can take quite nice photos.  For weekend excursions and trips that might have something interesting, I will take our Nikon D5100.  I purchased this camera before my 2012 trip to Japan.  Before that Nikon, it was a different Nikon – a D60.  But, for a number of years and prior to leaving Hibbing, it was a late 1970s Pentax ME 35mm.  I, more or less, usurped ownership of this camera from my father.  He had bought it new, and it was often part of outdoor summer outings in the mid-1980s.  Screen Shot 2013-01-19 at 11.36.11 AM

I remember standing on top of a mining dump (these are large hills of waste rock and dirt from a bygone era of iron mining), we were near Kelley Lake on the outskirts of Hibbing, MN.  A side note, in the map, above, Kelley Lake is the marker on the left.  I stared off in the distance; my father stared through the camera and its 205MM zoom lens toward the east northeast.  He was looking at Minntac, the mine he worked at, at that time, located 21 miles away.

The camera was kept in a closet under the steps at the house in which I grew up.  In the early 1990s, before I was old enough to drive a car, I rode my bike.  I rode miles and miles everyday; often north to trails that ran along mine-owned properties.  Occasionally, we would cross over onto mine-owned property and go swimming in the then-abandoned-and-water-filled pits.

Friends and I would take photos of many things.  Water running out of a distant, long forgotten mine shaft – from the days when iron mining was conducted below the surface.  We would also photograph weekly mine-blasts, the abandoned foundations of the city that moved, and sometimes, we would end up in front of the camera.

While visiting my sister in Japan this past year, I was looking at a bookshelf she had in her living room; on the top shelf, there was a photo of me – I was on my Raleigh mountain bike, and I was wearing a backpack.  The photo was in black and white.  I stared at the photo.  I could remember where the photo was taken, and the approximate time of the year.

I was fourteen.  It was the middle of the summer of 1995.  My friend John F. and I were biking around Hibbing and we were following the railroad tracks that still cut through Hibbing; we were just west of the old depot building riding through puddles of water.  I believe it had rained earlier in that day.

John and I took hundreds of photos that summer, and of all those photos that we took, that one photo of my young-self that is currently sitting on a bookshelf in Japan, is the only one that I know of that has not been lost.


At the old homestead, in Proctor, we had a fence.  It ran, on the east, from the front corner of house – parallel to the front face of the house – to the property line.  A ninety-degree angle at the property line, and the fence ran up hill to the edge of the driveway.  A similar configuration of fence was on the westerly side of the property and house.  The fence was constructed of eight-feet long sections of lumber; the rails and stiles of each panel came together into a butt joint.  We stretched and stapled welded wire to the wood frame.

In back of the yard, directly in from of the driveway and from garage to the property line, we had a wood slat privacy fence; we also had a solid wood set of gates.

Our neighbor, across the alley from us, was a cantankerous curmudgeon.  There is nothing wrong with being a curmudgeon, there is nothing wrong with being a cantankerous curmudgeon, but he also happened to be a busybody.

I often thought of him as Jimmy Stewart’s character in Hitchcock’s Rear Window.  He was always sitting in his window; he was constantly aware of any motion or activity outside his window.  He would comment after the fact about the comings and goings of our house.  “I see you brought home some groceries two nights ago – about 6:00 pm; where do you go shopping?”

When it became apparent to him that we were putting up a privacy fence, albeit a short privacy fence across the back of the yard in front of the driveway, he got decidedly cranky.  “You know, Alex, a neighbor might take it the wrong way, you know, with you walling off your yard and all.”

I asked him if he had ever read North of Boston by Robert Frost.  I went on to say that there was a poem in this book called, “Mending Wall”, with the line “Good fences make good neighbors.”  Neighbor gave an half-annoyed, half-inquisitive “Who?”

The privacy fence went up, and the prickliness of the neighbor eventually subsided to his everyday-normal-baseline prickliness.

It worked very well.  It limited the snooping of those behind our yard, and helped block our view of our vehicles and whatever other random heaps of stuff we may have had in the driveway.

Now, in St. Paul, we have a bit more space.  In Proctor, we fenced off half of our little-under a quarter-acre and that included a house in that footprint, as well.  At the new place, we have over an acre.  The main yard area goes from the road in the front, past the house and a couple hundred feet (~ 60 meters) back where it meets the wooded area of our property.  From the edge of this yard-clearing, to the property line is another hundred feet (~ 30 meters).  This area is heavily wooded and has a diverse collections of flora and fauna.

After returning from Boston, at the beginning of October, we started to sink fence posts.  Work, fleeting day late and school got in the way of working on the fence during the week, so, each weekend, weather depending, we put in time.

Two sets of weekends, and the posts were in the ground.  We would start on fence panels.

The constructions of the panels was identical to those we used at the old place. The only exception would be size; the panels are a foot and a half taller.  Melissa eventual plans for a coonhound; coonhounds like to climb.

A weekend here, a single Saturday there, the panels went together.  Hugging the slope of the ground where needed; we put a pair of five feet wide gates at the front of the yard to drive a vehicle into the yard.  The gates are set at a 5° slope to match the ground.

A third of the way through the fence project, it snowed and briefly became cold.  We were almost certain the remainder of the fence would have to wait until spring.  Luckily, the weather turned nice, and we were back in action.

With the help of Melissa’s dad (throughout the project, actually), a really nice Saturday, and some extra long electrical extension cords to reach the back of the property from the house, we finished up the fence.  The hounds were released and ran and ran and ran for the remainder of the afternoon after we finished.

During the construction of the fence, we got to know our neighbors a little better; they came to see the fence and chat.  Very nice people, but we will need time to find out if our good, new fence will result in good neighbors.