SpaceX Starlink satellites

I just saw the coolest thing….

I read online today that SpaceX launched their first group of 60 Starlink satellites 4 days ago.  Although they will spread out over time they initially crossed the sky in a line, very close together.  This was how they looked the day after being launched:

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(Photo credit: SatTrackCam Leiden)

The satellites were launched 4 days ago (May 23) and passed over Durham last night (May 26) at 1030pm.  I didn’t know about it until today but they crossed overhead again at about 925pm local time tonight (May 27).  The sky had been clear but cloud cover was starting to move in.  I went outside with my binoculars and finally spotted at least three which were clearly moving in a line together almost directly overhead.  They each “flashed” at least once which tells me they must be positioned in a manner which causes them to reflect the sun’s rays more intensely depending on their angle.

I will have to find out the next time they plan a launch and keep my fingers crossed that I might be in the right place to see them while they are grouped more tightly.  If I can find a link to determine when you can see them at your location I will add it to this post.  I know I found one once before but don’t know if it will be up to date for such a current launch, or if it is designed to track a group (the article I read called it a “flock”) of satellites since they will spread out after a few days.

It was fun to see at least a small group of satellites traveling together.  I believe they go over Durham again early in the morning either Wednesday or Thursday so I may try to get a brief glimpse again, although by then they may be so far apart it won’t be obvious that they are traveling together.

Looks like the website is n2yo.com and the Starlink Group is Object Catalog #74001.

Tuesday morning update – There was a short viewing opportunity at 531am.  The satellites were to pass from the NW horizon, low in the sky, to the SSE horizon.  The sky in the east was getting light (sunrise approaching) but the western horizon was still fairly dark and I could see a planet and maybe 3 bright stars.  The only thing I saw with the naked eye was one bright flash like I had seen Monday night.  Internet pictures show that these satellites have a long solar panel emanating from the main body.  The flash was very bright, not like an aircraft beacon but more like someone reflecting a bright light source with a mirror, which is essentially what is happening with a solar panel and the sun.  I’ve seen the ISS pass overhead many times but it creates a large, steady light source since it is so big and a flash from it probably wouldn’t be as noticeable.

I will have better viewing opportunities Wednesday at 450am and Thursday at 408am, both of which will cross higher in the sky and appear for a longer period of time.  Fingers crossed that I wake up in time and that skies remain clear!

Wednesday morning update – Good news and bad news.  The good news is the conditions were perfect.  I got out early to let my eyes adjust to the area I’d be watching (the northwest horizon, bordered by the setting Big Dipper constellation to my right and a bright planet to my left) and I have a perfect spot behind my apartment where the two street lights on either side of me were blocked by trees and the direction I was looking is a big open field.  The bad news – I saw exactly one.  I was more patient this time and watched the area for about 20 minutes.  Evidently if I had done that Monday night I might have seen more than three because some people are posting that they’ve seen a small group followed by a larger group.  It is now 6 days after launch and they are presumably getting spread further apart (and are raising their orbit further away from Earth).  The three I saw on Monday covered an area about as long as my hand held at arms length.  I didn’t see this object “flash” (astronomers apparently call it a “flare”) but I am confident I was seeing the right thing.  I did continue to scan the sky in case what I saw was a different satellite.

I have at least one more opportunity, tomorrow morning at 408am.  The sky will stay darker longer and I’m going to be looking at the same area.  I believe they will be passing a little higher in the sky so that may help me spot others.

Thursday morning update – About the same result as Wednesday… I spotted one shortly after the appointed time, slightly right from where I had seen in the night before, rising between the outermost and middle of the three stars which comprise the handle of the Big Dipper constellation (which was setting slowly on the horizon).  When I first saw it it was about as bright as those two stars and was on a trajectory which would take it almost directly overhead.  This time I noticed that it got dimmer as it approached the highest point in the sky and then almost completely faded from view (the sun would be rising over my right shoulder so as it started passing between me and the sun the reflection of the sun’s rays wouldn’t be nearly as bright). Again this time there was no flash or flare.  I continued scanning the sky between and above those two stars but never saw any more movement, nor did I see any flashes.  I waited almost a full hour, then gave up.

I am going to see if I can sign up for an alert when the next batch of satellites will be launched in the hope of seeing them the first few nights when they are grouped closest together.  Elon Musk (SpaceX) plans to launch over 12,000 of these satellites over the next ten years, apparently for high-speed internet communications.  The ability to see future satellites in orbit may be reduced as he is already getting flak from astronomers for polluting the sky with so many objects and may alter the material on their exterior to reduce their reflectivity.

 

Darryl Starbird Custom Cars

After visiting Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas in May of 2017 I took a nice scenic road over to northeast Oklahoma (not very far away) and the little town of Afton.  There I found a Custom Car Museum and Hall of Fame out in the country next to the home of Darryl Starbird.  Now 85 years old, Mr. Starbird was one of the most popular custom car designers of his time.  As you can see in the photos below his works vary from classic hot rods to futuristic designs and variations on regular car and truck designs.

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If you like what you see you can find lots more photos online.  This only a small portion of the photos I took while going through the museum.  Most of these are his work, although this was also a Hall of Fame so there may be works of other people.

The Dreaded Interstate

Forgive me for jumping around so much but for the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about what I was going to post when I finally resumed and this is one of the random things I wanted to include.

A recent crash outside of Denver, Colorado which got national attention brought back vivid memories of something which happened to me (well, next to me) on August 3, 2016.  This is the reason I now refer to interstate highways as “the dreaded interstate” and drive more defensively when I do have to be on them.

On that date in 2016 I was driving east on I-74 near Crawfordsville, Indiana, heading home from a trip through Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois.  It was a beautiful sunny morning and the road was clear and dry.  I had my cruise control set on the speed limit (honest – these days I’m usually not in a hurry and like to enjoy the scenery) and had to disengage my cruise control while waiting for a semi-truck towing a flat trailer to complete passing a UPS tandem rig ahead of me.  Once the left lane was clear I put cruise control back on and proceeded past both of those vehicles at which point I noticed that traffic was stopped a short distance further up the highway.  I put my 4-way flashers on, disengaged cruise control and slowly advanced to where traffic was now completely stopped.  Because there were mainly trucks in the right lane I stayed in the left lane and stopped next to the last vehicle which was stopped in the right lane.

I looked in the mirror and noticed the brown truck which had been passing the UPS truck barreling up the right lane at what appeared to be full speed.  I quickly thought back to recall if perhaps there was an exit where we were stopped (doubtful, since I probably would have taken it).  I looked in the mirror again and didn’t even finish the thought “that guy’s not going to…..” and BAM – he plowed into the truck next to me at full speed (probably 70 mph).

Here are photos of what both trucks would have looked like before the crash (these are NOT the actual trucks but photos I found online):

The brown truck (Maverick Trucking, LLC):

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(Photo credit: Jason Miller Collection)

The white truck (which I learned after the incident was a propane tanker – yikes!):

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(Photo credit: Unknown.  I found this picture shortly after I got home in 2016 and now can’t find it online)

The reason traffic was stopped was that there had been another accident a short distance ahead.  I got out of my car and started calling 9-1-1.  I was prepared to tell the 911 operator that the driver was probably dead but the next thing I heard was “Help! I need a knife, I need a knife”.

When a State Trooper arrived on the scene (very quickly, as they were just up the road) he advised those of us in the left lane to pull our cars ahead in the grassy median since the vehicle which had been struck was, indeed, a propane tanker.  I had already turned a little left when the white truck started to jackknife after hitting the truck which was stopped in front of it.

After I moved my car I took these photos:

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In the photo above you can see the rear wheels of the white truck impaled in the front of the brown truck which stopped immediately on impact.  At impact my car had been in the left lane, between the fire extinguisher and the man in the blue shirt.  The brown truck had been hauling huge spools of wire (like guy wires for radio or TV antennas) and you can see that much of the load went forward right through the truck cab, splitting it as if you had been standing on the trailer and split it with an ax like cutting firewood. I still can’t believe the driver survived!

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The guy in the hat standing next to the cab was consoling the driver, who was still stuck in the cab, until emergency personnel arrived.

Here are photos taken by a local newspaper which I later found online:

(Photo credit: Journal Review, Crawfordsville, Indiana)

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They loaded the driver into a helicopter to fly him to Indianapolis.

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In the photo above you can see the UPS tandem truck at the front of the line of traffic in the right lane.  Fortunately he had enough sense to slow down when he saw my 4-ways on (and perhaps heard on his radio that traffic was stopped).  Through news reports I learned the name of the driver of the brown truck but never heard what they think caused him to behave the way he did.  I figure he either fell asleep, though this was at 9 am, wasn’t paying attention, or had a medical emergency.  I read later that the highway was closed for 10 hours.

I stuck around long enough to leave a report with the troopers, and called one of the accident investigators a day or two later to tell him two things I hadn’t thought to write down – that I never heard a horn and never saw brake smoke.  Evidently the driver made no effort to stop or signal the impending impact, and didn’t “ditch it” into the guard rail to even try and reduce his speed.

Thank God he didn’t move to the left lane or I’d be a goner for sure….

I now leave a cushion between me and the vehicle in front of me when stopping on the road (even a single lane road) in case I need to take evasive action, and unbuckle my seat belt.  If he had changed lanes at the last second I wouldn’t have even had time to get out of my car.

I pay much closer attention to what’s going on behind me when I see we need to slow down or stop.  And my blood pressure and adrenaline levels both increase slightly every time I see a Maverick Trucking vehicle on the road (and there are lots of them – nice, clean identical chocolate brown cabs).

Lambert’s Café, Sikeston, Missouri

I almost forgot – on my way to Branson I had lunch at the original Lambert’s Café in Sikeston, Missouri.  Thanks to Gloria, a friend of mine in Durham, who told me about Lambert’s reputation for “throwed rolls”.

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Sure enough, there are staff members who wheel a cart containing freshly baked dinner rolls (5 inches in diameter) hot out of the oven and literally throw them across the room to customers!  You need to establish eye contact and indicate you are a willing participant (evidently there have been incidents of unsuspecting customers getting bonked on the head by flying rolls).

According to their website (throwedrolls.com, of course) they bake rolls non-stop from 9 am until 9 pm, average 520 dozen per day (that’s over 2 million a year, folks), and use over 23,000 44 oz. cans of sorghum molasses.

Oh my, were they yummy!!

And I successfully caught both of them…

And you should see their cinnamon rolls – almost as big around as my head (and some days I’m told I have a pretty big head…)

 

Bentonville, Arkansas

While staying in Branson, Missouri in May of 2017 I made a daytrip down to Bentonville, about 2 hours southwest.  Branson is in southwest Missouri and Bentonville is in northwest Arkansas.  This trip enabled me to travel on some of the scenic backroads which were on my list as well as visiting Walmart headquarters.  I have a first cousin once removed who was an executive at Walmart at the time I visited the area but I did not contact him as I figured he’d be busy working as I’d only be there in the middle of the day.

I was quite surprised to see how small Walmart’s corporate headquarters is:

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It may be like the time I went to Redmond, Washington to see where Microsoft is and after seeing a multi-story building there I remember thinking “nice, but I was expecting something more substantial”.  Then I saw a sign indicating that I was looking at Building 19 (and they have many more than that!).  Well, I went where the signs told me to go in Bentonville and this was all I could find.  Maybe there is more underground?  Then again, I guess people who work there just order products online and have them delivered directly to their distribution centers throughout the country so perhaps they don’t need that much room.

Bentonville itself is a very nice little town and I did visit the Walmart Museum downtown:

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Inside is the actual 1979 red and white Ford F-150 which Sam Walton drove and, as you can see in the photo above, a similar truck is parked out front of their original 5 and dime store which is next to the museum entrance.  If you look at the end of a recent Walmart commercial featuring many movie vehicles (yellow Transformers VW, silver Back to the Future DeLorean, among others) you will see a 1979 red and white Ford F-150 pickup truck pulling in to the Walmart parking lot.  I’m not sure but it may have been featured in other Walmart commercials as well.

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I made another daytrip deeper into Arkansas on more scenic roads and will be returning to central Arkansas towards the end of my “Texas Loop” (which I will feature in future posts).

Branson, Missouri

I spent a full week in Branson, Missouri in early 2017 to kick off my 6-week tour of the south-central United States.  When I originally mapped out my route I planned to stop in Branson for a day or two on my way home but my youngest brother had a week of timeshare I could use and there was an opening for a week in early May so I decided to start my trip there.

This trip was taken before I knew I’d be posting a blog so I wasn’t taking nearly as many pictures as I do now.  Branson itself was ok (kind of a mini-Nashville) with many country music themed entertainment venues owned by celebrities. When I was there there weren’t any big names actually performing, although in peak season that may be different.

One nice feature of Branson was the color-coded tourist map to make it easier to find certain music venues, restaurants and attractions.

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(Photo credit: branson.com)

Simply determine if your destination is on the Red Route, Yellow Route, Blue Route or the main “Strip,” Route 76.

Branson is located in the Ozark mountains and I will say that the areas surrounding the city are gorgeous.  The only deterrent while I was there was that the area had experienced a large amount of rain a little over a week before I arrived and water levels were still high and some roads were closed.

As I approached Branson from the east I had to make a detour down through northern Arkansas because a road which had been open the day before was now closed because water had risen up over a bridge.

This was only a few miles east of downtown at a campground near a river, after the detour but before arriving in town:

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And the last full day I was in Branson I drove west about 45 miles to go to Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, a 10,000+ acre facility owned by Johnny Morris, the founder and president of Bass Pro Shops (which bought competitor Cabela’s a few years ago).  The park boasted about having a herd of bison as well as numerous longhorn cattle, elk, deer and horses on the property.

When I arrived at the entrance there was a man parked there who told me the park was closed until further notice.  Because of the flooding (it rained 10 inches in a day, which exceeded a 30-year record) he told me that every bridge within the park (I forget the exact number but it was alot) was damaged or destroyed, and that they had lost 4 vehicles which still hadn’t been located.  Because they had warning of the approaching rain they were able to get all the animals to higher ground but the facility itself was closed for about 5 months.

I found these before & after photos online:

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(Photos credit: Dogwood Canyon)

I drove back to Branson and spent the remainder of the day at Table Rock Lake west of town.  They have a beautiful Visitor Center and I spent some time out on a deck in the shade highlighting my maps for the upcoming portions of this trip.  I’ll be heading down to southern Texas, west to southern New Mexico, drive up to Lubbock, Texas, northeast to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, further east into central Oklahoma and then head for home to rest up for my big Northwest US trip which were the initial posts to this blog.

 

I scream, you scream….

In May of 2017 I headed towards Branson, Missouri to start what I call the “Texas Loop,” a roughly 6-week swing through the south-central United States.  After spending the second night on the road in Memphis, Tennessee (and having lunch at an awesome rib joint there which wasn’t open the day I tried to eat at while visiting Memphis the year before) I headed north on some scenic roads which would take me through northwest Tennessee before crossing over into Missouri.

As I drove through Covington, TN, about a half hour north of Memphis, I saw this facility on my right:

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I stopped and after doing some quick research on my smartphone discovered that after it’s expansion in 2013 this was the largest ice cream factory in the world (you are only seeing a small part of it).  It is owned by Unilever and, as you can see, produces a wide variety of frozen treats.  Unfortunately there were no tours offered.  If nothing else I wanted to ask them why I can’t buy Good Humor Toasted Almond bars (my all-time favorite) in North Carolina….

While doing research for this post I found that the claim to “largest ice cream factory in the world” now belongs to a plant in Bakersfield, California.  That plant, owned by Nestle, covers 650,000 square feet and churns out (pun intended) 70 million gallons of ice cream and 98 million dozen frozen snacks each year!  Nestle owns Dreyer’s, the most popular ice cream brand in the western US, whereas Unilever owns Breyer’s, which is the most popular brand in the eastern US (where Dreyer’s is sold under the name Edy’s).