Brief Tale with Digressions
March 3, 2005
the ages of seven to 16, I lived with my family in a farmhouse not
far outside the village of Richwood. The house had a yard, of
course, with a lot of open space except for one big tree.
The tree was a Northern Catalpa. My mother never cared for it,
calling it dirty because it covered the lawn with fallen
blooms in the spring and long brown seedpods later in the year.
a 1958 photo that I've posted here,
it's the tree on the right. Below are some pictures taken by
others of a catalpa flower and beans.
yard might have been a good place to throw a Frisbee around, but I
had no one to throw it back to me. Instead, I tried sailing a yardstick.
This yard was also where I first experimented with stereoscopic
photography. In 1962, I set my Polaroid camera on a table and
took one picture of the catalpa trunk and the Cramers' house across
the road. Then I moved the camera a few inches to the right and
took a second picture. Viewed through a stereoscope, the photos
formed a three-dimensional image.
later, I used a computer to combine the photos into this version,
which you can view with colored 3D glasses.
pictures labeled 3D are
stereoscopic anaglyphs, using the system that you may have seen in a
couple of Sports Illustrated issues in 2000. For the three-dimensional
effect, view them with a red filter over your left eye and a cyan
(blue-green) filter over your right eye.
experimental flying yardstick was one of the advertising items (such
as matchbooks) that my father's auto
dealership gave away every September when the new models were announced.
Introductions of new cars were major events back then. For that
matter, even the introductions of new tractors were big
deals. In early 1955, the local paper reported:
Motor Company's new farm tractors for 1955 will go on display on
January 7 in the showrooms of McDaniel Tractor Sales.
Implement will observe open house at their place of business on East
Ottawa Street on January 10 for the premiere showing of the great new
McCormick Farmall tractors.
Deere Day is slated at the American Legion Hall on January 11
showcasing the new John Deere line for 1955. Entertainment for all.
some of my father's giveaway wooden yardsticks were thin and
flexible, this one with the slogan "Oldsmobile: Always a Step
Ahead" was more substantial. It was a quarter-inch thick
and rigid, and it weighed a full four ounces.
some reason, I had it out in the yard one day and idly began tossing
it around. Before long, I discovered how to make it fly.
the three-foot-long strip of wood near one end with my right hand, I
held it out horizontally beside my body, but not quite flat. In
aerodynamic terms, I used a positive angle of attack. The
leading edge of the yardstick was tilted up maybe 20 degrees.
then threw the stick forward. The leading edge, catching the
air, flipped up further, and the stick began to rotate rapidly,
making a soft buzzing sound. It was now a sort of flying wing,
blurring into something resembling a cylinder three feet long and an
inch in diameter.
spinning baseball traveling through the air creates a pressure
differential that causes its path to curve.
the same way, my spinning yardstick created lower pressure above it
and higher pressure below. That resulted in lift. So it
resisted gravity by maintaining its altitude, maybe even climbing a
little, as it buzzed along. It flew even better if I threw it
into the wind.
after a few seconds, drag slowed down my glider. It fell to
the ground, and I retrieved it for another flight.