Pat Shingleton: "Francin's Folly" and Bugs, Plants and Leaves...
The chief engineer for Lowell, MA, James Bicheno Francis, constructed a five-mile system of canals in 1848. The Merrimack River provided an uninterrupted source of power to a dozen textile mills. Changes in the river level were controlled by a system of gates and locks. He compiled a history of floods and during a major flood in 1785, the river crested above Pawtucket Falls at 13 feet 6 inches. With the city 30 feet lower than the falls, Francis realized that if crest levels repeated; surging water would funnel through the canals, destroying the heart of the city. He proposed building a massive gate to prevent this tragedy by constructing a gate to deflect flood waters. The project included a gate that would drop and close off feeder canals to the Merrimack River and was similar to gates used to defend castles in medieval Europe. Contemporaries ridiculed the idea but in April, 1852, the Merrimack was on-the-rise and Francis decided to lower the gate for the first time. On April 22, 1852, the river crested higher than the flood of 1785 and the gate, snug in granite, held fast. The massive gate worked and 24 hours later, a second, 28-foot wall of water, bombarded the gate. Once again it held. For more than 160 years, "Francis's Folly" is still used. Here's another...Riverside High School was a relatively new high school compared to others in Western Pennsylvania and our biology teacher, Bob Fredericks brought a level of education that his students embraced. Ironically, his mother was my fifth grade teacher at North Star School. Our advanced biology class included an assignment of collecting 50 species of insects, 50 different species of wild flowers and 50 leaves from trees within our area. Butterfly nets were provided along with a "Ball" jar laced with formaldehyde to "prepare" the bugs. Leaves were picked, pressed, mounted and identified as to class and species. As for the insects, Darryl Smialek made the task easier by putting the top down on his convertible as we motored through the valleys with eight nets protruding from the car. Trekking through the "woods" on a beautiful Spring day with my girlfriend, Sue Welsh, accomplished the plant-collecting assignment even though her Mom and Dad were disturbed that she contracted poison ivy. The U.S. Forest Service releases a wildflower map that identifies hundreds of locations, on and outside National Forests, for prime wildflower identifications. The map includes 317 wildflower viewing areas on National Forest System lands, referenced by state. Their website also includes more than 10,000 plant images. Regardless of your travels for our final April weekend, you can check seasonal and territorial wildflowers at: http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/viewing/.
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