Sept 2001, Sept 2002
The weight limit on some back country roads and bridges is 58,420 pounds. Strikes me as kind of an unlikely number. Not a very round number for someone to post on a road. Why not 50,000 if you're conservative? Or 60,000 if you feel like living dangerously? Is this based on some older, or just agricultural, measure of weight that we city slickers are not familiar with? Or is it a deliberate restriction intended to permit one type of vehicle on the road but exclude another?
Aside: the number is not a reasonable multiple, even, of any interesting numbers. It factors into 2*2*5*23*127. The 23 and the 127 are not even nice factors of other peculiar-looking numbers like feet per mile (5280). 26.5 metric tons? Still not a nice number. Puzzlement.
Out there in the real country, one sees western-movie fences. Real fence posts made from real pieces of real trees. Twisted, curved, gnarled, knotted. Not the cleverly-fashioned green painted steel posts that hold up the barbed wire over most of the state. Speaking of barbed wire, there are a dozen or so different types, which we Yankees also don't know about. Saw it in the state of Texas history museum, y'all. Yee ha.
When you get out just, oh, ten or fifteen miles, it is really lonely. Miles between farmhouses. Maybe you can see a barn or a silo on the horizon and maybe not. Much of the time we use the phone poles to decide which way to turn at an intersection of two unmarked rural roads. Follow the wires or not follow the wires?
One can really appreciate why the rural electrification program in the thirties-forties was such a big deal. Without government action and public money to stretch those wires to every farmhouse, it would never have happened. The consumers certainly can't afford to pay for that kind of infrastructure. So what will happen in third world countries, where this level of building is just beginning? I suspect that the utilities -- electricity, water, gas, phone, cable TV -- will be deployed on a much smaller level, say, at the village level, with linkages between villages only where necessary, e.g., wireless communications. (Yes, some of those countries have already taken a leap in choosing to go straight to wireless phone service rather than trying to wire the countryside.) But wait a second. Even village-level deployment wouldn't have worked here, because most of the houses are so isolated. They aren't arranged in villages. One house in the middle of one ranch or farm here. Another house in the middle of another over there. That's odd. I'm used to seeing it another way, a cluster of houses in one place with farms all around, then another cluster some miles away. Villages. I guess that's the pattern where I grew up, in the Northeast where there is less land to go around, but it's sometimes not the pattern here.
Then just when you've seen most of the unusual landscape that the local countryside can provide, you run across this enormous metal spider, giant alien spider from outer space standing by the roadside. Sixty feet tall, a dozen legs, huge feet for stomping. What on earth? It turns out to be a grain sorting and storage facility, essentially fifteen silos of various sizes connected by large pipes. Grain is, I'm guessing, pumped through the pipes with lots of air, from delivery vehicles into the various silos. And then back later, too, probably. Why fifteen silos? Different grains, different owners. Another guess. Eventually we find a sign that says it's the something-or-other Grain Co-op, so it's a good guess. They range from about fifteen feet tall and eight in diameter to several times that, over thirty feet tall and fat, twenty-ish feet in diameter. Corrugated aluminum, gray but not rusty. Later in the day, we saw four or five of these silo farms, and they became slightly less strange. The smallest of them had a mere five containers. Maybe these were just the baby space spiders spreading across the landscape. Too strange for city Yankees.
Copyright (C) 2001, 2002, 2003, Richard Ball Landau. All rights reserved.