The final countdown to Chile

Well it’s now under 24 hours until I get in the car for the trip down to NYC where a plane awaits to take Dan, Derek, Ted, Zach, and me down to Chile. I’m packed, and everything is set, and I’m doing my best to quell the feeling that I forgot something. The snow is coming down hard here, and I’m already thinking ab0ut summer in Chile, only a few short hours and long miles ahead.

I don’t really know what the plan for our travels is going to leave for internet-time,  so I can’t really say when I’m going to post on this blog. I will say that I’m not going to bust my butt to post too often. I will definitely be taking many photos and writing daily, but it may take a little while for things to make it to the internet.

Also, my riding companions are running a blog called Bicicleta Abajo where they’re going to keep people updated, so check on that to see what the group is up to as well.

Adios for now.

Posted in Bike Touring | 2 Comments

Barbarian Enterprises

I became acquainted with Cat Bates when he moved into my old house in Philadelphia from Maine. He came to the city in order to set up his metalworking studio in our house and spend a few jobless months creating some new work.

Under the name “Barbarian Enterprises”, Cat creates handmade items of metal, bone, leather, and other materials that evoke the primitive craftsmanship of ancient ornaments, but also display a sophisticated technical acumen and attention to detail.

Cat’s work displays a strong connection to his father, who first used the Barbarian Enterprises name  for his goat farming business.

One piece that shows this connection is the necklace pictured above, which utilizes the horn and leather taken from a goat slaughtered by his father on their family goat farm. “I feel my aesthetics came from my father… he’s definitely my biggest inspiration,” says Cat. “We had lots of bones around when I was a kid, knives and stuff like that, and big boxes of leather.” Animal materials figure heavily in much of his work, including a number of pieces that replicate the form of bones in other materials.

Bone Collage, 2009

This is a bracelet constructed of plaster casts of real bones whose original form was manipulated in an interesting way. From the Barbarian Enterprises site:

This piece began as a collection of five bones. A soft mold was made of each bone. These molds were used to produce wax replicas of each bone. The waxes were then manipulated and combined to create master models of the two bones in the final piece. Molds were made of these models, and then the final pieces were poured in a high-strength plaster. Working in wax allowed us to maintain the appearance of real bone.

Poise, 2009

I enjoy the way that this bracelet blends smooth, streamlined curves with the ends modeled after bones.

Another interesting use of bone  is this copper tea set, which features bone and teeth.

Tea Set, 2006

Cat also produces commissioned work of all kinds. We recently arranged a work trade in which I fixed his bicycle in exchange for a brass belt buckle. I’m really happy with the result. It’s very unique and understated, and sure to last a lifetime.

Check out the Barbarian Enterprises website for more examples of Cat Bates’ work. He’s got some very interesting things happening in the studio right now. If you’re in the Philadelphia area, I highly recommend arranging to see some of his creations in person.

Posted in Artwork | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Centralia, PA: The town that no longer exists.

Centralia was a coal mining community in eastern Pennsylvania. In 1962 a coal seam was ignited by burning waste in the town’s dump. From then on, fissures began to develop, pouring out smoke and carbon monoxide gas. The town remained inhabited through the 1970’s while the fire continued to burn. In 1981, a twelve-year-old boy was nearly killed when his grandmother’s lawn suddenly collapsed and he fell into a sinkhole.

His brush with death proved that the fire could no longer be ignored, and the residents were bought out of their homes and relocated. Whole blocks of vacant houses were bulldozed. A few holdouts remained, but lost an eminent domain lawsuit that would have granted them rights to stay in Centralia. Despite this, there are still a handful of residents that occupy their homes.

I first heard of Centralia from a friend, and I was captivated by the vision of a town wiped off the map. There is something particularly apocalyptic about the toxic gas, empty streets and smoking fissures.

I visited Centralia on Labor Day weekend, which turned out to be a bad time to cultivate a feeling of desertion and post-apocalyptic waste because the place was crawling with families that piled out of minivans, groups of teenagers who roamed, possibly stoned, through the streets, and people riding obnoxious motorcycles.

It was still cool to check the place out, though. The highlight was the section of the road going into town that was closed because the road developed large smoldering cracks. Now the road is a canvas for juvenile graffiti and anatomical diagrams. Lots of ‘So-and-so is a fag/slut/etc’ and unoriginal satanic iconography. The road has become a drag strip for all sorts of off-road vehicles, which I would say really helps lend a “Mad Max” vibe to the place.

From Centralia, PA
From Centralia, PA
From Centralia, PA
From Centralia, PA
From Centralia, PA
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

One More Trip to North Philly

Since I found the place back in January, I’ve been back to the same giant warehouse in North Philly a few times. Last time I was there, I found hundreds of wood clamps in barrels and I constructed a quick sculpture out of them while my friend Eddy was excavating piles of old business papers and correspondence in another room. I used maybe 20 clamps, and the whole process took about 15 minutes. You could make a seriously huge unwieldy monster if you spent some more time. The only trick is keeping the thing balanced- my little construction teetered and half-collapsed a couple of times.

From North Philadelphia Warehouse Part 3
From North Philadelphia Warehouse Part 3

My latest visit also revealed a burned-out car and a makeshift indoor skate park.

From North Philadelphia Warehouse Part 3
From North Philadelphia Warehouse Part 3


Posted in Abandoned Places | Tagged | Leave a comment

Some Dust Bowl Ephemera

Reading The Grapes of Wrath recently got me on a search for primary source documents from the Dust Bowl, and I found the Library of Congress’ Voices From the Dust Bowl site, which has a wealth of interesting news clippings, scrap books, and some really interesting newsletters written by migrant workers who lived in government migrant camps. The newsletters are full of funny pencil drawings, poems, gossip and jokes from the residents of the camps.  There are even recipes!

These are just a small sample. Check out the newsletters yourself.

Also, read The Grapes of Wrath if you haven’t already. If you were forced to read it in high school, read it again! John Steinbeck captures the experience of the Dust Bowl with staggering eloquence and humanity. Outstanding and easily the best book I’ve read in a very long while.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Some Bike Geek Vanity- My Road Bike

I like to think I’m above the bike geek obsession with ‘correctness’ in setting up bikes. For the most part, I don’t get finicky about tracking down complete part groups or poring over catalogs to find the original parts specification for a certain bike, and I don’t really own any true pieces of vintage bicycle exotica.

This is more about being cheap than any high-minded ideals about finding value in more modestly-crafted bikes, because definitely do keep an eye out for interesting and fancy older bike bits. My sights are just a bit lower than the standard collector, so I’ve ended up with a decent stash of semi-desirable and/or undesirable parts that I find interesting.

My 1984 Raleigh Competition road bike is a good example of this.

From Bicycles

You might be familiar with the Raleigh company and their heyday in the 1970’s and before, when all of their bikes were manufactured in the UK, but my bike is not one of these. By the 80’s, Huffy, the famous maker of terrible bikes, obtained a license to design and distribute bicycles in the the US under the name ‘Raleigh Cycle Company of America.’ The quality of the bikes produced during this time was not particularly bad, despite the connection to Huffy, and most of the bikes were unremarkable and decently crafted. The high-end bikes like the Competition and Professional were built in Japan, supposedly by Bridgestone.

The Competition falls third in the line-up, behind the Japanese Professional and the English-made Team Professional. It’s built of Raleigh 555SL tubing, which I’ve heard may be re-branded Reynolds 501SL. Whatever it is, the bike handles well, and is not impressively light. The frame looks fast, with very tight tire clearance (23mm max.) The whole frame is chromed, which is proven by the various nicks in the paint, and the head tube and rear stays are unpainted chrome.

The parts on the bike are a hodge-podge of higher-end stuff from the 80’s, but nothing terribly outstanding or rare. One interesting point is the wheelset, which uses some unusual and obsolete 28-hole Phil Wood road hubs that I purchased from a former time-trial rider and laced to some basic Mavic CXP22 rims.

The brake levers are also kind of interesting (that is, if you find old brake levers interesting.) They are from Mavic’s SSC parts group of the late 1980’s, and I also got these from the same former racer.

The rest of the bike consists of nicer 1980’s road gear, nice enough to work well and look good, but nothing that required great sacrifice to acquire. Every part has a story, and most of them aren’t worth hearing.

The end result looks and rides quite nicely.

Full spec:

Frame- 1984 Raleigh Competition, Raleigh 555sl (aka Reynolds 501sl?) tubeset
Wheels- Phil Wood Road Hubs, 28-hole, rear threaded for freewheel, Mavic CXP22 rims
Tires- Michelin Pro 3 Race 700×23
Shifter- Shimano 600 left, low-end Shimano six-speed right
Derailleurs- Shimano 600 6208 front and rear
Freewheel- Shimano 600 six-speed 6208
Cranks- Shimano 600 Ultegra 39/53
Brake Calipers- Dia-Compe Aero Gran Compe
Brake Levers- Mavic SSC, made by Modolo
BB- Shimano 600 6207
Seatpost- Sakae?
Saddle- Selle Italia Super Turbo
Stem- Chro-moly steel
Bars- SR road
Headset- no-name chrome

Posted in Bicycles | Tagged , | 1 Comment

What’s in a name?

Not very much, I guess. Here’s a couple of head badges from two different Raleigh bicycles. For those who don’t know, Raleigh of Nottingham, England was once one of the largest bicycle makers in the world, and like many mega-companies, were responsible for a vast array of different bicycle models, from droves of three-speed roadster bicycles and some very high quality racing bicycles and everything in between. The badge on the left comes from a 1960’s Raleigh Record, a low-end road bike. Despite the unexceptional pedigree of the bike this badge comes from, it’s stamped from brass and the color has survived over 40 years of exposure to the elements.

The badge on the right is from a mountain bike dating to the mid 2000’s. It’s stamped from thin aluminium and whatever color the badge once possessed has disappeared completely.

A classic case of “they don’t make ’em like they used to”? yep. A severe case of “find something worthwhile to complain about”? You bet!

Interesting comparison, though.

Posted in Bicycles | Leave a comment