Tuesday, August 29, 2017

One-Room Prairie Schools

An oil well pumps away where a school once stood.  If you know
Oklahoma politics, this is also a good illustration of how big oil
has supplanted education.

A good job has been done of marking the location of old one-room schools that dotted the landscape since the land runs.  Since they needed to be within a distance kids could walk or ride a horse, schools could be found every couple dozen miles or wherever clusters of families settled.  This one, the Dane School, operated from 1896 until 1957.  Many schools have since collapsed, but a few still stand in varying degrees of disrepair.  The Dane School is on private property, so we went searching for the owner to get permission to pass through the fence to get better pictures.  The owner was initially very suspicious of us, but she warmed greatly when she learned our genuine interest.  She told us about going to the school herself, as well as her adult daughter, and how she had aspirations of fixing it up as a historical site.  Much of what we saw was familiar.  I went to a one-room school as a kid, and Jean was a teacher in an Amish one-room school for a number of years in Delaware.  The granddaughters were fascinated by the outhouse, coal shed, and the 48-star American flag still hanging by the blackboard.

The Dane School was well-built of red block, and hands on.

One-room schools were seriously devoted to serving the needs of local students.  Somehow, the wheels have come off the wagon.  The headline here would be “Oklahoma Leads the Nation---In Failure.”  It has led the nation in public education failures for years, and remains the state with the greatest number of funding cuts to education in the country.  Our legislature has cut public education per student funding by 26.9% since 2008, almost twice as much as the next worst state, Alabama.  Many teachers have left for work in other states, and Oklahoma now has a teacher shortage of well over 500, programs are being cut, and class sizes continue to grow.

Support for higher education has suffered as well.  State funds for higher education have been cut by 17.8%, again making it the worst in the nation.  And again, the cuts for colleges are much worse than the next worst state, Louisiana.  Gene Perry, director of Oklahoma Policy Institute, states, “We are one of only seven states that didn’t increase funding over this period, and one of only three states that cut funding by more than 10 percent.”  Education funding has been cut seven out of the last 10 years.

The school backs to the road.  The hidden side is actually
its front, showing coal shed, door, and windows.  Note the
beautiful accents incorporated in its construction over a hundred
years ago.

Now, here’s the part that will shock you beyond any bounds.  Gov. Fallin says she is having trouble convincing businesses to come to Oklahoma.  Imagine that!  When they can’t find skilled employees, where educational standards are continually dropping, where their own children will be unable to get either a proper public or higher education, they don’t want to come to Oklahoma.  She just can’t understand that.

Why is there no money for education, or for that matter for roads, bridges, human services, corrections, public safety, and so on?  Oklahoma law makers have continually submitted to lobbying pressure from the oil and gas industry, giving them the sweetest of sweetheart deals in the country.  In one year alone, 2015, the state gave away $470 million to big oil and gas while at the same time having production tax rates of as low as 1 percent, while in North Dakota, another big oil producer, the tax rate is 11.5 percent.  Between 2012 and 2015, the tax giveaways to Oklahoma big oil topped $1 billion.  So, while per student funding in Oklahoma has dropped 26.9 percent, funding for students in North Dakota has gone up by 26 percent.  Also, while big oil is swimming in money at the cost of education, they run ads claiming that oil and gas production funds education in the state.  At Continental Resources’ headquarters, a poster in their lobby showed a smiling boy with the caption, “Oklahoma Oil and Gas produces my education.”  Ironically, the statement only becomes true if read backwards.  “My education produces Oklahoma oil and gas” would be far more accurate.  In the last oil boom of 2008 to 2014, oil rich states like North Dakota and Texas took advantage of the opportunity to set aside a chunk of oil tax revenue for education.  At the same time, Oklahoma not only didn’t save, but allowed oil revenue to slide 32 percent.

Not many would have lingered in the 'rest room' during the winter.
The ice storm this past winter left broken tree limbs all around.

The argument for the huge giveaways to big oil and gas offered by Republican legislators is that oil and gas bring jobs to Oklahoma.  That’s a shallow argument at best, and only then if you are seeking part time/short term employment.  A family’s breadwinner needs to count on secure employment with a consistent income.  It needs to be the kind of income that insures the mortgage will get paid, the lights will stay on, and a savings plan will provide for their retirement and insure the kids can go to college.  The oil business is a boom or bust cyclical enterprise.  When the boom is going strong, yes, oil jobs provide salaries 84% above the national average.  But, when the bust comes, as it must, men are let go without notice in the hundreds and thousands.  In a 12-month period between June, 2015, and June, 2016, 10,000 jobs were lost in Oklahoma alone.  Many workers who lost their jobs in the last bust moved into wind and solar renewable energy.  At least the wind and sun don’t operate on a boom/bust schedule.

The other argument is that incentives draw oil drillers to Oklahoma.  Wow!  Are we to assume that oil companies not getting handouts will, out of spite, stop drilling in Oklahoma so they can move and drill where there is no oil?  Fishermen can pretty much be counted on to spread their nets where there are fish, and oil men can just as reliably be counted on to drill where there is oil.  Having given hundreds of millions of dollars of Oklahoma tax revenue to the oil companies, legislators try to fill the void with really stupid schemes, like higher cigarette taxes, or requiring Oklahoman’s to buy new license plates, or suck blood from agencies that have experienced year-after-year cuts in operating revenue and manpower, or increase income tax or add another ‘temporary’ additional penny tax, all to come out of the pockets of the working middle-class.  After failing to create a proper and balanced budget, and passing fund-raising legislation that was illegal, the legislature then needs to be called back in special session to do the job they have already failed to do, and at the cost to the taxpayer of an additional $30,000 per day.  While this continues, the state is still shelling out money for low-producing and non-producing oil wells to supplement the incomes of farmers and ranchers who have wells that just suck air and water.

While the glass has been broken out, peeking through the window
guards, one can see the 48-star flag still hanging near the blackboard.

There’s that old saying, “Stupid is as stupid does,” so in spite of their greed, all the blame can’t be put on oil and gas.  They have a sweet deal going, and they know it.  They can buy, sell, and trade legislators like stock, tear up roads with their heavy equipment with no responsibility for repairing them, enjoy the total eminent domain the legislature has given them so they can drill or lay pipeline anywhere, anytime, at their whim, suck natural resources from the ground with no concern for conservation, cause thousands of fracking earthquakes and just shrug and walk away, sell the oil anywhere, in the state, across the country, or to China, wherever they see the most profit, all with no responsibility or concern for the state they are victimizing in the process.  Why not?  If they are dealing with lawmakers dumb enough to cater to tycoons that just get richer and richer at the expense of the state’s own citizens and their children, then where is the fault?  Is it with the greed of the oil industry that gets everything it wants, or with the voters, legislators, and a governor dumb enough to allow them to get away with it?  Voters reap only what they sow!

Sources: Enid News & Eagle, Reuters (http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-oklahoma-bust/)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Road Trip

An abandoned road grader.

Okay, so we aren’t unlike any other grandparents, and when the grandkids come to visit it’s sometimes a challenge to keep them interested and learning new experiences.  On this day, we took a road trip through the country here in NW Oklahoma, and just stopped for pictures at those things we found interesting.
In the days before hydraulics and push-button controls, the operator
had to rely on the power of gear-ratio to crank in the settings he wanted.

The first stop was a road grader.  While progress has made these machines more efficient, they are still the backbone of the transportation system in Oklahoma.  About 75% of all roads in Oklahoma are unpaved.  Of the two-lane roads that are paved, about 80% of them have no shoulders.  Many also have no guardrails, and the edge of the roads often drop off into deep ditches, gullies, and ravines.  The Department of Transportation is really behind the 8-ball.  Constant budget cuts leave DOT with fewer personnel and fewer resources for maintaining, let alone upgrading, the state’s roads, so road grading is still a vital job.  Here, the grader required two men---one on the tractor to pull the unit, and one on the grader to operate its controls.

All steel ride, when it was felt the farmer already had God-given
cushioning for a comfy ride.  Take a good look at the wheels.

A short distance past the abandoned grader, we came to Burrell Implement Company, where they still have a large collection of antique farming implements.  While the old engines are interesting enough, we were fascinated by what passed for tractor wheels before the advent of rubber tires.  The huge tractor wheels were steel, and depending on the amount of traction needed, multiple rims could be bolted onto the wheels, and teeth, which are called spades, could be bolted on in almost unlimited numbers until the needed pulling power was achieved.


Here you can see the spades through-bolted on the wheel rim.
And finally, a selection of as many rims and spades as any
farmer could want.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


Alone, by Admiral Richard E. Byrd, pub. 1938 by Kodansha America, NY,NY, 309pp with afterward by David G. Campbell. 
This is a must read.  If you base your reading on whether the matter is paddling-related or not, this is and it isn’t.  If your interest is day-paddling or whitewater, there may not be much relevance here, but if your interest is paddle-camping or expedition paddling, this is a must.  Also, if you just enjoy a great adventure spotlighting the power of nature and the will of the human spirit, it’s still a must read.  As most people that expedition paddle will attest, the trip is as much about the mind as any other aspect of the trip.  Admiral Byrd’s trip was about meteorological testing, experimentation, and observation; about stretching the understanding of the polar regions; about overcoming adversity, but he also planned to spend six months alone under the polar ice in total darkness “to taste peace and quiet long enough to know how good they really are.”  He was about to overdose on peace and quiet when he realized he needed to explore and overcome the deep reaches of his own mind in order to survive both physically and mentally. 
He was already a famed polar explorer in 1934 when he set off on this trip, so he had some understanding of what he faced.  A 9 by 13-foot insulated hut was taken first to Little America, a base camp on the Ross Ice Shelf, an Antarctic area so inaccessible that it was also called the Barrier.  From there the camp was taken further south to his Advance Base.  A hole was dug large enough to bury the entire hut a few feet below the surface of the ice and snow.  By going up a ladder and opening a hatch that was prone to freezing shut, he could access the surface.  The hut was to be equipped with a coal stove, but at the last minute it was decided that moving that much coal across the polar ice cap before winter set in would be too difficult, so it was fitted with an oil burner instead.  That never produced enough heat to either keep the interior of the hut from icing, or to provide proper combustion, or keep ice from forming in the stove pipe or the fresh-air return vent.  Temperatures dropped to 60-70 degrees below zero.  He began to suffer from monoxide poisoning, frostbite while inside his sleeping bag, couldn’t get fresh air, injured his shoulder, couldn’t keep food down, eventually had trouble keeping water or milk down, but the risk of another team trying to reach him for rescue was too hazardous to attempt in the polar winter, so his standing orders were that no one from Little America was to make a rescue attempt.  
If meeting nature on her terms, being tested to overcome any and all challenges by your own wits, and sharing “one of the most intense and moving dramas of our own or any time” interests you, this will appeal to you.   This is a compelling ride you won’t want to miss.  The book has been republished a number of times, so there is a range of book covers that may not match the one illustrated here.  Also, it can be accessed from a multitude of sources with a multitude of prices.  You should be able to get it through inter-library loan if it isn’t already in your local library, but it is also available on line, from Kindle, and used books for prices of $1.99 to $30 or more, so look around, but don’t miss the chance to enjoy it.