My Work

Monday, March 23, 2015

Hey, Buddy. Your Pants Are Unzipped

Do you remember all the nasty little things your “friends” did to you on April 1, April Fool’s Day? Do you remember what you did to your “friends” on this one day of the year when one can almost get away with being an SOB? Now that we’re up to date and understand the true meaning of today’s blog, I’ll tell you about the best one I ever pulled on anyone.

It was in the early years of this century, I was editor of Nevada’s premier on-line news magazine, The Nevada Observer, and in the tradition of Mark Twain, from time to time we would publish outlandish tales. Mine were under the signature of one Washoe Willie, a degenerate of established debauchery, and he wrote this:

Bold New Plan To Bring Sunlight To Beleaguered Virginia City
World Famous Engineer At The Heart Of Long Needed Plan
by Washoe Willie

Papers filed in Washington, D.C. and Carson City recently outline a bold plan that was first discussed over 100-years ago, to bring late afternoon sunshine to Virginia City. An environmental impact study is underway at this time and an engineering team led by Johann Schultz of Berlin is being put together. Schultz said, "I first read of the problem Virginia City has with late afternoon sunshine while visiting friends in San Francisco." He went on to say, "There are two small towns perched on mountainsides in the Black Forest that have also come to me for help."

Virginia City sits on the eastern flanks of Mt. Davidson, locally known euphemistically as Sun Mountain, and during the winter months the sun goes behind the mountain top as early as 2:00 p.m. Sitting above 6,000 feet altitude, it is already cold, and a lack of sunshine for extended hours makes life on the Comstock very difficult for many. The town survives today, not on mining but on tourism and when it gets dark, tourists go home. Even if it is early in the afternoon.

Representatives from Virginia City's very active Comstock Merchant's Association contacted Schultz two-years ago, he says, "and brought me a delightful suggestion. Build a tunnel through the mountain, use mechanically torqued mirrors to correct for natural deviation of the sun's focus, and flood the Comstock with sunshine until late in the day." Schultz is known throughout Europe as one of the most sought after tunnel masters. Railroads throughout the Alps and other mountain ranges travel through Schultz built tunnels daily.

Plans that have been circulated in Nevada's capital city show a tunnel angled downward from west to east, with mirrors at the western edge to catch the sun's rays, and mirrors at the eastern opening to direct the sunshine across the cold and snowy side of the mountain. The engineering graphics that were not available for publication as we went to press even go so far as to show brilliant flowers blooming despite snow on the ground.

"The first thing I had to do," he told The Nevada Observer, "was to go to the tops of Slide Mountain and Mt. Rose along the Carson Range of the Sierra Nevada and plot the angle I would need in order for the most sunshine to be directed through a tunnel and come out above the town." Schultz said he has been working for more than nine-months on plotting those angles. "I think we will be able to start our drilling sometime in the spring if we can get all the necessary permits and licenses." So far there has been little publicized opposition to the plan. "Think of it, being able to walk along C Street at 4:00 O'clock on a January afternoon and have the town bathed in sunlight. What a boon it will be to those wonderful people that have lived in 15-hours or more of darkness every winter for more than 100-years."

Financing for the project has been coming primarily from individuals and businesses but Schultz says he expects federal financing to pay for most of the work. State financing from the tourist agency is also going to be coming if plans can be made to go before the Interim Finance Committee before the next legislative session. According to Storey County Commissioner Brad Hemmings, "Almost all the legislative representatives from western and northern Nevada have voiced approval of the project, in particular our own representatives from here on the Comstock."

Schultz isn't the least bit reticent about discussing the costs of a project this size. "I believe we can expect the final figure to be somewhere in the neighborhood of about $650 million. It's similar in cost to building a highway, which of course we will be doing, but underground." More than $500 million is expected from the federal government, another $100 million will come from the state, and Hemmings believes a quarter cent increase in the Storey County sales tax will provide the remaining $50 million.

Hemmings said he doesn't plan on asking the voters for their opinion on the project. "You know how people are sometimes. They just vote no because they don't want to take the time to investigate whether the project is good for them, is feasible, or is even needed. No, we'll just pass a resolution in Commission Meeting, and proceed with the project." There has been little discussion of the project in meetings held on the Comstock. One group, the Retired Hard Rock Miners of Nevada has come out in favor of the project, and several members have already offered their services. Schultz says he doesn't think he will need any of the retired miners. "After all," he said, "this is Nevada. I'm sure I won't have much difficulty finding underground workers."

Several engineers working in the State Environmental agency have come forward saying this is absolutely a terrible plan. John Traviolta-Jones, a graduate of the Mackay School of Mines says such a plan was brought forward in the late 1800s and mining engineers then said it couldn't work. "This idea of aiming the sunlight by way of mirrors is horrible. Do you know what a mirror does to sunlight? They will fry anyone caught in the rays." He said he remembered roasting ants that way when he was a child. Another engineer who wishes to remain anonymous, "I'm too high up in the agency to let you use my name," he said, told me about a project in southern Nevada that will be using mirrors to super heat a liquid in order to create steam for the development of electricity.

"They will be using a liquid, not water, in troughs, and directing sunlight onto the liquid using mirrors. That liquid will become super hot, and by piping it through tanks of water will create steam to power generators for electricity." He laughed at Schultz's idea of mirrors to direct sunlight through Mt. Davidson. "It'll be Sun Mountain all right. Hotter'n hell, and damn dangerous. If I have any say in this matter, the project will not happen."

Schultz will be flying to Washington on April 10 and is expected to testify before a congressional environmental committee looking into the project. "These people are already in favor of the project," he said, "and are pushing hard to step up the timetable for permits and licenses. I hope to come back with guarantees of money and permits." He doesn't believe there is any danger at all from super heated air coming through the tunnel. "Of course not. Just nice bright sunshine for all my new friends on the Comstock."

During discussions before a local citizen's committee on March 17 Schultz was asked about the possibility of having to drive his tunnel through existing mining claims. "I think we have most of that worked out. The owners of some of the original claims have said they want a piece of the action, well of course they do, but there isn't any action to get a piece of." He explained that the project is a public project paid for entirely by government funds, federal, state, and local. "I think that if we should happen to strike a major silver lode on an existing claim, there might be some adjudication that might have to take place."

Ben Villamaria, owner of one of those original Comstock claims said, "You better believe there would be some adjudication. You better just plan on that, Mr. Schultz."

According to a person answering the telephone in the newly opened Comstock Tunnel and Sunlight Project in Virginia City who would not give her name, "Heavy equipment is being purchased at this time and we anticipate advertising for engineers, miners, and laborers in the next few weeks." When she was informed that environmental permits and state and federal licenses have not been procured, she said, "Mr. Schultz plans to start work when the snow is off Peavine Mountain."

It was on April fifth, following publication of the Washoe Willie piece that I received a phone call from an Associated Press (AP) reporter who said she had tried to follow up on the article and wasn’t able to corroborate any of the information. I sat back in my chair with a full-blown Cheshire Cat grin and said to the young lady, “Did you check the date of the publication?”

There was about ten seconds of silence and she burst out in giggles and gasps, finally saying, please don’t tell anyone. I promised I would certainly tell the story but never reveal her name.

Sometimes the day is called All Fools’ Day, some believe it might be related to Romans and Hindus, and the vernal equinox, and changing calendars, and none of that matters a wit. What matters is how much fun we can have without actually hurting someone. Making someone red in the face, or slightly humiliated is not actually hurting them. Creating that redness, that humiliation more than once in a year’s time would be classified as bullying, and I’m not a bully. Are you?

Of course you aren’t. Looking for left handed monkey wrenches, pipe extenders, putting funny notes on someone’s backside, are for children. Adults play differently. In fact, in 1998, the Financial Times of London was red in the face for a long time. Here’s the story.

An article in the Financial Times detailed an agreement that had been struck between the Old Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England and the Guinness brewery, wherein Guinness would be declared the official beer sponsor of the Observatory's millennium celebration. Greenwich Mean Time would be renamed Guinness Mean Time, and instead of counting seconds in "pips," as was traditional, the Observatory would count them in "pint drips." The Financial Times lamented that the deal marked a new low in corporate marketing and set a "brash tone for the millennium." But what the Financial Times didn't realize was that it had fallen for a joke. The Guinness press release, from which it had taken the information, had been marked for April 1 release. The Financial Times subsequently published a curt retraction, clarifying that Guinness Mean Time had been "apparently intended as part of an April 1 spoof."

Have as much fun as you can possibly have on April First. I plan to. Until next time, read good books and stay regular. Will you join me on facebook from time to time?
Or Tweet with me, darlin’?

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