I went to "Brains on Beer" - BOB - to have a beer and visit with friends last night. I had the oatmeal stout. Only five of us turned out, including the new guy.
The new guy is a high school science teacher. BOB started collecting donations from whomever was present each week when we paid the bill. No one was coerced but most would give an extra five to twenty dollars. We started the practice last summer, and built up a kitty of $600. With that in hand, we contacted a local high school at the end of last year and asked them if there was anything we could buy them for the science lab. Long and short of it, Michael the teacher showed up. This is actually our third meeting with them.
Michael is from New York, less than 30 years old, white, moved out here to finish his Masters and ended up employed. Now it happens that of the four other members, three of us are named Michael. Michael the Teacher joined Michael the materials engineer, Michael the weapons consultant and me, previously known as Michael the Younger. Eighty percent of our table was named Michael.
Michael fits in well with us, a liberal who lives down the street and likes science and beer. He brought his catalog with him and showed us the air table he wants to order for the school, and we agreed it was an admirable purchase. Then, being of scientific bent, we discussed our scientific childhood toys and experiements.
Erector sets! I had so much fun with mine, along with the Sterling Steam Engine. I wasn't allowed to purchase the chemistry set I wanted but that was okay. I built a see through model of the human body and turned my attention to cars and other vessels. I built battleships, racing cars, street cars, tanks, and of course, rockets. Some of the disciplines became twisted in my hands so some rocket engines ended up in wheeled vehicles I created by modifying models.
My first one was very simple. It was a car with wheels. I worried about ground clearance and stability, and rightly so. When I launched that thing, it just started flipping and bouncing around in a cloud of sparks and smoke that we found terrifying and funny as hell.
I built Model 2 with a wide, long chassis. In a sense, it was tubular. Plastic model cars came with the parts mounted on 'trees'. I collected those discarded trees and created a few trussed modules by laying them out and gluing them together. (I didn't know these were trussed modules until an adult neighbor saw it later and told me that's what I had done. It wasn't an original idea, but one that I adopted from the balsa wood airplanes I'd built a few years before.) I used wheels from my 1:16 model Jaguar, as they were bigger and 'real' rubber. The single rocket engine was centerline, mounted toward the back, and canted slight downward to keep the car on the ground, in theory. I launched it down our suburban street one fine summer day.
The sound! The speed! The smoke! The parents! Neighbors were not pleased. It was not very scientific. Although I'd staked out friends on the far end, about an eight of a mile away, that thing shot past them, unfortunate, because that's where the road curved. My friends were forced to chase the rocket car. Fortunately it hit a curb and flipped over, beginning a spinning, smoking pinwheel. Great stuff.
I was told in very specific terms and voice not to do that again. It had to be done again, though, because we wondered, how fast was it going? We had the formula for that. We just needed to organize ourselves.
A new car was built built with salvaged parts and much greater secrecy. My group was much smaller as well. But the best part was my new plan to use the ball field as the test ground.
The ballfield was flat, hard dirt with bases, dugouts, and a backstop. I figured I'd go to deepest centerfield and launch it toward the backstop. If we measured it and had a stop watch, we could figure out how fast it was going.
My friend, John, acquired those tools from his Dad, who loved this experimental side of us. John also took it upon himself to organize a party to smooth the path, to reduce the chances that the vehicle would veer or turn over. Summer rains and baseball games delayed the project but we finally launched it....
Now here are the surprises. One, I didn't remember doing this until the day before yesterday, when one of my sisters reminded me of my rocket cars. I remembered building the rocket cars but had not remembered this project. It all came back as soon as I read her email. That came about because her son reminds my mother of me, and they were recalling some of my adventures.
So I can't say with certitude how fast the car went that day. I do remember that it travelled straight and fast in a streak of smoke, and that it slammed into the backstop, scaring the crap out of us. That was the end of my adventures. I was growing older, my mom and her husband were having problems, and I was becoming a teenager with other issues.
Back to BOB. Michael the Teacher wanted to add a plague or marker to the table. We of BOB were unanimous that we did not want Beer on Brains on a plaque, nor BOB. The BOB name came about through some emails but we never formally adopted it. I had called it The Gathering and The Breathren, while another dubs it Quaffs & Laughs. On my calendar, it's just called "Beer Night".
After much thought, we decided it would not have a plaque. The teacher can tell his students where it came from and who we are, and if it's origins get lost with time, that's okay.
We're just doing it for the fun of it, because that's what science is.
Causes Michael Seidel Supports
Kiva, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Propublica.org, Doctors Without Borders, GreaterGood.com