Sunday, December 31, 2017

Fire Museum of Texas

The Fire Museum of Texas is located in Beaumont.  It was originally opened as the Beaumont Fire Department Historical Museum in 1984.  Housed in the Beaumont Fire Department’s 1927 Central Fire Station, the two-story, seven-bay station was recognized by the Texas Historical Commission as a historical landmark in 1983. 

Outside the museum is the World’s Largest Working Fire Hydrant.  At the time of construction it was the World’s Largest Fire Hydrant.  Since then there have been 2 other larger fire hydrants built.  So, while Beaumont may no longer hold the title of world’s largest fire hydrant, it does work.  The name was revamped to the World’s Largest Working Fire Hydrant. 

In 1999, to endorse its re-release of the cartoon classic 101 Dalmatians, Walt Disney’s Home Video division chose to build the World’s Largest Fire Hydrant at Disney Land (California).  In a competition of 300 U.S. museums for the movie promotion site, the City of Beaumont was selected as the winner and permanent home.  It was dedicated on March 9, 1999.

It’s 24 feet tall, weighs 4,500 pounds and is capable of blasting 1,500 gallons of water per minute. Constructed using fiberglass and re-enforced with 1,000 feet of steel, the Dalmatian spots are actually copyrighted by Walt Disney.

While donations are happily accepted, the museum is free.  It’s packed with one of the most comprehensive collections of fire service apparatus and artifacts in the United States.  Exhibits range from bucket brigades, to 19th century hand pumpers and steam engines, to motorized apparatus of the 20th century.

This 1931 REO Search Light Truck, the first ever constructed in the United States, was designed and built by Beaumont firefighters in this building.

The Gamewell Call Box Alarm System was used before there were telephones!

1856 Howe hand-drawn tub pumper:

The “kids” get to sit behind the wheel of a real fire engine:

Mark behind the wheel.
1909 Arial Ladder Truck:

Communications has changed probably more than any other aspect of the fire department in the past 135 years.  From bells to the Gamewell system to a fully computerized dispatch department.  The museum has a lot of interesting displays showcasing the different communications systems.

 Street listings.

There are lots of different fire extinguishers displayed:

The building is very large and holds many fire engines:

This is a very interesting museum with a lot of more displays than I've shown.

Before leaving we had a little fun with the fireman’s cut-out.


Friday, December 29, 2017

What A Grind

There hasn't been a lot of job variation here at the park so we were pleased to hear that a stump grinder would be arriving.  It is on loan from another park and will have to be returned in a few weeks.

There are hundreds of stumps in the campground ranging from small 6 inch to over 8 feet in diameter.  The park manager told us that he would spray a green dot on the stumps that needed grinding.

This is a very nice grinder that doesn’t have any trouble doing the job.

There are 2 campgrounds here at Martin Dies State Park separated by Highway 190.  With 3 couples doing 2 1/2 hour shifts, we were really making progress the first week.

Mark moving the grinder to another stump.

I think Mark was having a lot of fun with this new equipment.

Here is the operator’s view:

After the stump is ground a couple of inches below ground I have the job of filling in the hole and spreading the shavings around.

The large stumps produce an unbelievable amount of shavings!

As we drove around the park we noticed that there were many stumps that didn’t have a green dot.  We asked one of the maintenance guys about this. We were told that those stumps might have some archaeological artifacts and could not be disturbed.  Well, you know how rumors are!  Since this didn’t seem right we waited a couple of days and asked the park manager who was the one painting the dots on the stumps.  Sure enough, he didn’t know what we were talking about and told us he didn’t mark stumps he thought would be too hard to get to and that he never finished marking one of the campgrounds!

With the holidays and rainy weather, we’re don’t think we will finish this project before we leave but it’s nice to have something different to do.


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Disc Golf As It Should Be Played

The #1 disc golf course in the country is here in Texas.  Mark has been wanting to play it for several years.  It’s a 4 hour drive from Martin Dies State Park so we decided to spend a couple of nights in the area.

This is a private course on an East Texas Ranch in Talco, Texas (between Sulphur Springs and Mt. Pleasant).  It was featured in Disc Golfer magazine and designed by John Houck, a premier course designer out of Austin.

Disc golf is played like traditional golf, but instead of clubs, players use specially designed high tech plastic discs.  Instead of hitting a ball into a little hole, disc golfers throw their disc into metal baskets. 
Mark holding a disc.

I very seldom play but I do enjoy getting outside and watching Mark play.

There are two 18-hole courses at Selah Ranch.  This is a beautiful area and the tees are so spread out that golf carts are advised!  This is the first course we’ve played that offered carts. 

After visiting the Pro Shop, where Mark bought a few (much needed!) discs, we started out.

It was a whole different experience driving from hole to hole.  Mark got to ride while I chauffeured.

This is my idea of playing disc golf!

There was plenty of room in the back for all our stuff.  Since we were going to be out most of the day we even took an ice chest and had a few cold ones (diet Coke) while playing.

Selah Ranch is advertised as a Christian Retreat on 1000 acres.  It’s a beautiful ranch with lots of water.  Many of the ponds come into play on the disc golf course.

There is one tee where Mark had to throw to the basket on an island.

All in all - this course deserves to be number one in the country!

Map on one side, score card on the other.

There is another private course close by in Mt. Vernon.  After 36 holes at Selah Ranch we headed to Trey Texas Ranch for another 18-holes.  When we arrived the day before Mark played one of the courses at Trey Texas.  He wanted to play both courses before we left.

Trey Texas Ranch
After 54 holes - we headed back to the hotel for dinner and a much needed rest!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Our last blog described Longleaf Pine forests that are found in this area of East Texas. The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is a species that evolved within the Longleaf Pine forest, and continues to rely on it for survival.

Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are unusual in that they are colony nesters. They live in family groups, and cooperatively raise their young. They look for mature pine woodlands with very open understory that is maintained by regular fires. Unfortunately this habitat has become rare due to fire suppression and harvesting of mature pines, so the population of this woodpecker has declined severely in the past several decades.

One interesting behavior of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers is their use of  a "sap well" just below their nesting cavity. They poke holes into the tree so that sap flows down below the nest hole. This sap deters snakes and other predators from approaching or entering the nest. I you look closely at the picture below you can see the yellowish sap coating the tree below the nest hole.

Red-cockaded Woodpeckers historically excavated their nesting cavities in large pines with red-heart fungus, a condition which causes a soft core inside of a hard outer shell. As these trees became less common, wildlife biologists came up with a solution to help the woodpeckers out! Cavity boxes inserted into trees in areas where these woodpeckers were known to nest. The availability of cavity trees helped the populations to increase. This particular cavity is no longer being used, but gives an idea of what they look like. These are 30' - 40' up in the tree, so installing them must have been some fun...

Thanks to the efforts of biologists and forest managers, there are several Red-cockaded Woodpecker colonies in our area. We have enjoyed getting out to observe these endangered birds.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

My, What Long Needles You Have...

We are in far east Texas, the only part of Texas that supports Longleaf Pine forests. Longleaf Pine is an interesting tree that is highly dependent on fire to thrive and persist. For the first 5-10 years of life, it exists in a "Grass Stage" in which it appears to be a thick clump of grass. In this stage it is highly resistant to fire, which will burn the needle tips but not harm the bud.

At some point the tree makes a growth spurt, elevating the growing tip 4-5' in just a few months, (hopefully) placing it out of the reach of low-intensity fires. This is called the "Bottlebrush Stage".

After the growth spurt a Longleaf Pine grows up to 3 feet per year, to a maximum height of about 125 feet.  

Longleaf Pine is named for its extraordinarily long needles, which are up to 18 inches long. The local Alabama Coushatta Indian Tribe is famous for their ornate (longleaf) pine needle baskets. Here is a picture of baskets from an article about the Alabama Coushatta tribe. 

As impressive as the needles are, the cones are even more so. These are the biggest pine cones we've ever seen! These cones are 8 inches tall, but sources say they can be up to 10 inches. 

Most pine seeds are too small to notice, but the seeds in these cones are big enough to see. On the right is the "winged" part of the seed, which detaches from the cone and floats to the ground. On the left is the seed itself, which is about 1/2  long. 

Longleaf Pine forests benefit from regular, low-intensity fires. Fire eliminates the brush understory and competing trees. In the Angelina National Forest where we found this grove of trees, there are regular controlled burns to keep the forest healthy. All of the trees have scorched trunks, but they are thriving. 

Next - The rare bird species that relies on Longleaf Pine forests to survive.