Monday, May 28, 2012

Trouble — Right Here in River City !

This post has been perceived as controversial and has been withdrawn for now for further consideration.

The subject of water in the Southwest, as has been pointed out to me, is a highly emotionally charged topic.

The intent of this blog has never been to stir controversy but to inform and entertain.

John Rogers

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Kim Audette's Amazing Electric Bus

Kim and her solar powered bus. Maybe the only one of its kind.
Think solar powered public transportation isn't doable? Think again. An enterprising woman here in Truth or Consequences, NM, has a dream and is bringing it to life.

Kim Audette, a fifth-generation Sierra Countian, became convinced a while back that her city needed public transportation—preferably  low-cost and nonpolluting.

So she bought an electric bus from a company in California designed to run on batteries and be charged overnight.

But with some experimentation Kim changed that formula and went further. She added solar panels to the roof that she fabricated herself, visible in the photo, and then found she could do away with overnight charging.

"I can run all day and stay charged just from the sun," she says, and proves it by running a 12-hour schedule.

Still there is a trade-off. Her maximum speed is 45 mph, and that's pushing it. 20-25 mph is better and keeps her batteries strong.

Riding in this private, nonprofit bus that snakes through town is like riding in a golf cart in terms of speed. But then in a town that is only a few miles long it doesn't take long to go anywhere. And it is absolutely quiet. Kim pulled out the old air-conditioning system that drained juice and replaced it with a swamp cooler that depends on evaporating water to cool and works well in a dry desert climate.

But building a bus that runs all day on sunshine is only half the battle. Someone has to pay the driver and occasional upkeep expenses. She is working on that part of the equation by selling inside ads, charging fares, selling monthly passes and seeking support from merchants that will benefit from more customers coming to their doors.

If the solar bus (Nickname: Solar Buzz) catches on Kim hopes to add more buses. It's a way, she says, of connecting the community and making good use of one of New Mexico's abundant resources—sun.

Kim thinks we've had it all wrong in our thinking about electric transportation by expecting electric vehicles to do what fossil fuel vehicles do.

"Go slow and enjoy the ride," she says. "You're going to get there and without leaving even a tiny carbon footprint."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Amara Grace—A Voice Like a Choir

I was privileged last night to attend a concert and hear Amara Grace sing. Hers is no ordinary voice, nor her songs anything you have heard before. She writes all her music, and it is upbeat, witty and fun. She pounds the keyboard with great big rhythmic chords. One reviewer likened her voice to a choir. It has that kind of power.

Amara Grace
Which seems odd, coming from a small person. It seemed to me as I sat and listened that she did not own her voice but instead her voice owned her.

Amara Grace is the daughter of the amazingly talented and prolific and as yet undiscovered Truth or Consequences artist known as Ruth. I've blogged about Ruth before and will do so again.

Her abstract paintings have abundant energy and precision. "I lose myself when I paint," says Ruth. Like her daughter's songs, they too are unique.

The musical performance took place in Ruth's gallery on Broadway. About 75 chairs had been brought it. It wasn't enough. There are 25 or more standees, and when Amara finished her hour-and-a-half recital there were more than 100 stood in mesmerized applause.

You can get some sense of her—but not the full power or her voice or presence— by going to her website:

And here's a pretty good You Tube video of Amara doing Fish and Bicycle from her latest CD.  Also, check out the title song on that CD, Can't Keep a Sunrise Down, by going to her website song page. She's amazing.

I guarantee she won't disappoint. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

How Do You Keep Warm in a VW Bus?

This morning was cold and rainy. Not a nice day. But in just a few minutes I was sitting up, eating breakfast and looking at Internet headlines, toasty warm still in my pajamas. The secret? An Eberspacher gas heater.

Only a few buses sold in the United States were originally fitted with these fine examples of German engineering. A lot of buses sold in Canada, however, were, so I am told.

They are marvels of caloric output.

They blow piping hot air through duct work beneath the rear seat into the passenger compartment.

It only takes a few minutes to take the chill out of the air, and only a few more to make things really toasty inside.

The picture above shows an Eberspacher BN4 similar to the one I have in my bus. Note the fan visible at the entrance. It pulls air into the heater,  past a small combustion chamber and dumps it into your interior at a temperature of about 120 degrees.

Below is the duct beneath my rear seat where tha air comes out.

The bus I have did not come with a heater.  I did a lot of looking and scrounging on eBay and Samba to find one, and to find the duct work needed to install it.

Finding a working, adjustable fuel pump is one of the hard parts.

Adjustment part is critical for your heater to work right. If too much gas is fed to the heater it will burn rich and emit black soot and foul smelling smoke, and will eventually foul yourspark plug/glow plug.

If too little gas is fed into the heater it will not run, or will run too hot and automatically shut down.

Installing a heater requires cutting through the firewall in the engine compartment.

When I installed my heater I made a modification that I recommend. I installed an inexpensive mechanical  thermostat behind the driver's seat and wired the heater to it. It should be mechanical. A mercury switch will not work accurately on uneven ground or when the bus is in motion.

The modification did away with the need to install a cable to lengthen or shorten the on/off cycles to control temperature.

And, like a house thermostat, it can keep your bus at a constant temperature. Or trigger your heater to come on at night when the temperature drops.


VW buses are notorious for being cold to ride in.

When the outside temperature falls below 40 the heat exchangers on an air-cooled engine cannot keep up with the cold air leaking in through the cracks and worn seals and jalousie windows.

So having a gasoline heater helps when driving. The duct at the base of the back seat blows warm air forward to the driver's compartment.

The heater does require electricity to run. A good house battery is a must. It also requires gas but not much. One or two pints will keep you warm through the night.

To the left is my heater.
The fan blades are not visible. They are shielded by a plastic cover that draws air from higher in the engine compartment.

Used Eberspacher heaters are still available but good ones are increasingly rare. If you do find one make sure it is in good operating condition.

There is no one any longer that I know who repairs them. They are complicated. And parts are hard to find.

But the upside is drinking coffee and eating toast, warm in your pajamas on a frosty morning in your Volkswagen bus.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Fiesta in Truth or Consequences—A Desert Rain

This weekend was Fiesta weekend in Truth or Consequences.

It doesn't take much rain to make the desert bloom, and it doesn't take much celebration to make this small town blossom.

Here Friday and gone Monday
And — like a desert storm— it is quickly over.

The Ferris Wheel and other rides that were here Friday are gone Monday along with the vendors, make shift stages, hot dog stands, curly fries, and more. All gone.

Fiesta came and we danced. It's over and we smile.

Town pride shows in the parade that kicks things off.

I met with friends to watch the parade from a window overlooking Broadway. It took almost an hour for the whole assemblage to pass by.

Almost every vehicle, from ancient tractors to the town's totally solar-powered bus— Solar Buzz— seemed to be in it along with folks on horseback, on floats, in bands. It was a parade. Civic Pride made manifest. There were, truthfully, more people in the parade than watching it from the sidewalks. That's because everybody who was anybody was in it.

Even before the parade there was an outdoor "cowboy breakfast"  in the parking lot set aside for the rides and music to follow. Over at Elephant Butte Lake there was a make-shift boat race—paddles only.

The local fire department had its own race. For a small fee you could buy a plastic duck with a number inside. The ducks were then dumped into the Rio Grande upstream. The first duck to cross the finish line won, and the winner got a 32-inch flat screen TV.

The local Lions Club had its own fund-raiser. Again for a few bucks you get your chance to throw three consecutive rolls of toilet paper through three toilet seats suspended about 10 feet away. The prize? A stuffed toy lion, of course.

And there were parties and cookouts and picnics everywhere punctuated by the music that started early and ended late on stages at both ends of town.

In the middle of town, Dr. Bob's club on Broadway opened its doors on Saturday and set up a circle of drums for any and all to play. Some brought their own drums. The drumming started in the afternoon and  continued into the night. The rhythms drew dancers. Some dancers became drummers, some drummers became dancers. Others watched or wandered in and out.

On hoof.

On horse.

A midway  blooms overnight ...
... with all kinds of rides.

A full moon looks down on the festivities.
Curly Fries for the hungry.

Truth or Consequences. A good place to visit. Not a bad place to live.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Me, Mark, Billy, Butch, Grover, Black Jack and Sundance

Unknown Kingstonian.
Name the biggest city in New Mexico — in 1892. Nope, not Santa Fe. Not Albuquerque. The biggest city — and most prosperous — was Kingston. Today, Kingston is all but a ghost town. The unpaved streets boast few houses. There is the old Percha Bank building sitting idle on Main Street and the Black Range Lodge, a bed and breakfast, that once garrisoned a U.S. Calvary deployment and was constructed in part from the ruins of Pretty Sam's Casino across the street. The lodge is a good place to come if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of, say — Santa Fe or Albuquerque.

It all began here in 1888 when a miner, Jack Sheddon, discovered silver  — lots of it! In a few years there were 23 saloons, almost as many mines, fresh oysters 24-hours a day, and no shortage of visitors — Mark Twain, Butch Cassiday, the Sundance kid, Black Jack Ketchum, Billy the Kid  and even President Grover Cleveland made it here to the bustling town that had sprung up almost over night.

It was a happening place. For a while.

Downtown Kingston in the 1880s.
The glory lasted only 15 brief years. By 1892 the silver had all but run out. In 1893 a Wall Street panic and a limit on silver coinage (Remember William Jennings Bryan's: "You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold" in protest to the end of the free coinage of silver) had reduced the price of the white metal by as much as 90%. The bar girls and  bad boys skipped town, the bank relocated to Hillsborough (where there was some gold), and what was left of the town was was destroyed by a fire.

But there were good times here while they lasted.

Unpaved New Mexico road where Kingston once thrived.
Today the town, such as it is, and the almost bare surrounding area like to celebrate what once was. Last weekend there was a festival —  music, food, street vending, antiquing but mostly just fun. Donations go to charity. Visitors sit on hay bales to listen to country, rock and Mexican music on a rustic outdoor stage. Local artists vend their wares, from pottery to painting,  affixed to trees, under tents or in one case attached to the side of a truck almost as old as the town.

One enterprising resident brings in gritty soil known to have flecks of gold in it, and with a backyard sluice and some pans, for $15 lets you pan for the metal stuff and take what you recover home in a small bottle.

Stroll down the dusty unpaved streets and it is hard to imagine that there were once three newspapers, a brewery, 14 general stores and one or two plush hotels flourishing hill.

Lillian Russell before she became a movie star — indeed before there were movies — came here to perform.

Today the Percha Bank building is the only original building still standing. The stone building once housed $7 million in silver  in its ceiling-high black steel walk-in vault. The teller windows and lobby interior remains changed from the early days when stage coaches pulled up to the bank, the assay office, and the stores to deliver goods, and haul out silver to the Carson City mint.

You never knew who just might step off the stage.

The old Percha Bank's original interior.
Today home grown entertainment has taken the place of the all-night saloons, and oysters by the bushel have been replaced by lemonade and tacos, sandwiches and sodas.

That Grover Cleveland may have visited Kingston is interesting. Cleveland — who at 250 pounds could well have eaten his share of oysters — was an anti-silver Democrat who helped end free unlimited coinage of silver and thus engender the panic that would destroy many similar silver mining towns  in the west.

Local artists vend paintings from a truck.

Desert Landscapes.

Mariachi musician.

An old-timer listens.

So long, Butch, Billy, Mark, Grover, Black Jack and Sundance. Good times come, and good times go. 

But good times are not forgotten even after more than a century.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day — International Workers' Day

The 1886 Haymarket Square Massacre. 
May 1st is International Workers' Day celebrated in more than 80 countries around the globe.

Ironically, it is not celebrated here, the country where it all began.

Solidarity For Ever!

In October 1884 the International Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions proclaimed May 1, 1886, as the day when the 8-hour work day would become the standard.

On that day, a Saturday, mass demonstrations in support of the 8-hour day took place around the country. Many workers went on strike. In Chicago, a bomb exploded killing police officers. The police responded and four civilians died. This incident became known as the Haymarket Riot or Haymarket Massacre. In ensuing trials 7 protesters were convicted and sentenced to death.

The riots, violence and convictions sparked protests and outrage around the world. Thus May Day, International Workers' Day, was born.

Today,  the Occupy movement would like to get May Day back on its native soil, with protests and demonstrations around the country.

Boston: An early 7 a.m. start kicks off a "Financial District Block Party," with "Anti-Capitalist" and "Solidarity" marches throughout the city. The evening event calls for a Death of Capitalism Street Theater Funeral Process that promises to travel "through areas of wealth and commerce"

New York: The pop-up occupation begins the night before, as people started a day early Bryant Park, opposite the Bank of America. Organizers promise to manifest its protests as art, "transforming [the city] into a living, walking exhibition" that includes choirs,dance brigades, even clowns. Guitarist and singer Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine tweeted out a call for 10,000 guitar players for a noon-day jam.

Atlanta: The Georgia capital started a day early at the Bank of America Plaza to protest a foreclosure. The May Day is designed as family friendly, with a 10:30 a.m.-1p.m. march from Troy Davis Park to downtown, then a six-hour party at Coan Park complete with childcare, "cookouts, workshops, film screening, and more." The May Day event follows on the heels of a public exchange: A local journalist published a long, "angry break up letter" about the "concentration of nuttery," and a response detailing Atlanta actions and vision statements.

Chicago: The city has already been dealing with protests due to the closure of half of its 12 public health clinics. The Chicago Spring site lists a morning plan to "close the banks which abused their bailout funds" before Union Park meeting, than a 1pm march to Federal Plaza.

Detroit: Motor City will have a later start with a noon assembly at Clark Park, and marches that will take protesters past schools, transportation stations, and the Federal Building before ending with a general assembly at Grand Circus Park.

San Francisco: A union disagreement nearly brought an occupation of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, the span that connects San Francisco to Marin County in the north, but that high-profile maneuver has been averted. Golden Gate Ferry workers, however, will be walking out to call attention to contract disagreements over health care coverage, and morning service has been canceled.

Oakland: The city emerged as the West Coast response to New York. The Bay Area metropolis, which grafted an earlier anti-police movement with the 99% message, still listed a 6am occupation of Golden Gate Bridge on its main page as late as April 30, but a tentative schedule listed "anti-capitalist," "anti-patriarchy," and "anti-gentrification" brigades starting at 8:30am, with a downtown convergence, afternoon march, and an evening "reconvegernce."

Los Angeles: May Day has been the occasion for immigrant rallies in the City of Angels. This year, a "4-Winds Convergence" will emphasize labor themes and more through four caravans. After a 10 am rally, the caravans will take four separate routes to 6th and Main streets for a 2:30 meeting point, and later the financial district.

The world we build is the world our children, grandchildren and all those who follow shall inherit.

Solidarity For Ever!  Sung By Pete Seeger.