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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

byrd's snow cruiser

I've been working on a display of unusual historical events for our city's Bicentennial and stumbled across this today: Admiral Byrd's Snow Cruiser

The giant 55 foot long, 20 foot wide Snow Cruiser designed for Admiral Byrd’s third Antarctic expedition in 1939 was built in Chicago. It travelled through Fort Wayne, IN and eastward on Route 30, passing through Mansfield at 6 a.m. on the Morning of November 3, 1939 on its way to Boston to be loaded onto the expedition’s ship the North Star.

The cruiser reached Boston in19 days with many mishaps and breakdowns along the way, and accompanied by massive traffic jams of onlookers, but most Mansfielder’s slept through it’s passage through town on Fourth Street, and out Rte. 42 to Ashland.

Once offloaded at the Bay of Whales in the Antarctic the mishaps continued, its lack of traction being its biggest failure. The farthest distance it travelled in the Antarctic was 95 miles, backwards (it was found it had better traction going in reverse).

It served as a winter station for the expedition, buried in the snow on the Ross Ice Shelf. With the war in Europe, funding for the expedition dried up. The snow cruiser was last seen when it was rediscovered in 1962. Today it is either buried beneath the ice or, more likely, at the bottom of the Southern Ocean.

Monday, January 14, 2008


The blockhouse was taken down for restoration in December. The Preservation Commission has design review authority but it has taken some gentle prodding by the Commission to be put into the loop on the project. Fortunately the Chair of the Blockhouse Committee, Lou Hart, and the contractor doing the work, Rudy Christian, are both in tune with appropriateness and preservation concerns. Some of the aspects of the restoration that have surfaced to date:
  • The ugly colored stain used on the logs is not removable... will have to be covered with something more suitable.
  • The current chinking is portland cement which has prevented proper drying of the logs after rains, resulting in rot. Lime mortar will be used in the restoration.
  • The interior will no longer include the metal stairs, jail, and other Boy Scout stuff.
  • The exterior stairs will be built in a more appropriate manner for the time period. That stairs was added along with a door and window when the original blockhouse was converted to a jail and court house use.
  • A puncheon floor will be installed on the first floor and a board floor on the second. This is consistent with the historical record of the conversion.
  • A structural alteration will add hewn floor joists under the upper crib to carry the weight along the length of the two cantilevered support beams. This will allow the restoration without the ugly braces that were added when the support beams broke and sagged years ago.
  • A record of each log will be produced that identifies the source and time period. The interior of the lower level will have a display that chronicles the blockhouse history and the data on the logs and restoration.
  • The blockhouse will be rebuilt across the park road and on a little higher ground, giving it a better location; more visible.
  • Inappropriate memorials and artifacts such as the civil war cannon, bricklayers monument, etc. will not be moved to the new location.
  • The Historic Preservation Commission will exert some authority to thwart future siting of monuments and memorials, or inappropriate landscaping elements in the vicinity of the blockhouse.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

the greenest building is one that is already built

The latest issue of Preservation, the magazine of the National Trust, is THE GREEN ISSUE, all about the myriad energy and waste factors associated with both new and old buildings. The recent green wave has tended to create a perception of a huge gulf between new green buildings and old, drafty, energy-wasters. The hype that accompanied the campaign to build Mansfield's new high school is a prime example of that perception. A more careful analysis of the energy it takes per square foot to maintain a new, LEED rated building, vs. a pre 1920s building is about the same. And the consideration of "embodied energy", the energy already bound up in preexisting buildings or used to construct a new green building, can overwhelm the energy-conservation advantages in new green construction. Wayne Curtis' article, A Cautionary Tale, quotes Mike Jackson, chief architect with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency: "if embodied energy is worked into the equation, even a new, energy-efficient office building doesn't actually start saving energy for about 40 years. And if it replaces an older building that was knocked down and hauled away, the break-even period stretches to some 65 years, since demolition and disposal consume significant amounts of energy. There's no paybacke here," Jackons said. "We're not going to build anything today that's going to last 65 years."
Architect Carl Elefante said it more simply in last summer's National Trust Forum Journal: "THE GREENEST BUILDING IS ONE THAT IS ALREADY BUILT".