Monday, September 27, 2021

A Road Less Traveled

This past weekend, I surprised Tammy on Saturday morning with the suggestion that we complete our farm chores and then go to one of the various parks that are within an hour to an hour and half drive from our farm.  Taking a quick day trip to explore nature is something we give lip service to, but usually let the list of things that must be done win the battle.

After some consideration (and completion of the chores) Tammy agreed that we could take a trip to see Backbone State Park near Strawberry Point.  It only took around an hour to get there and we enjoyed the park immensely (we'll let that part of the trip have its own blog later).

On our return, we grabbed some take out lunch in Strawberry Point and decided we'd visit another park on the way back and eat the lunch there.

Don't let it fool you, there be serious ruts in that there road!

We kept debating whether this was a place we had visited over ten years ago or not.  It seemed like it might be, but then we doubted ourselves.

It turns out it was both a good and a bad thing that we doubted.  Because if we had remembered it a bit more, we might have tried something else for a quick visit and location for eating lunch!

The big problem?  We were in our little car (a Honda Civic - named Belle) and compact vehicles don't have much clearance.  And the road... the road is definitely one that is "less traveled."  Or, it should have been less-traveled by us in the sedan.  Chumley, the big red truck, would have enjoyed the trip.  Belle, the little blue car.... not so much.

And once you got to a certain point, there wasn't much choice but to go all of the way down... because there wasn't a good option to turn around.

The "parking area" wasn't all that large and this is the view that greeted us at the end of the road.  There was a rarely traveled trail at the left and a shelter to the right (presumed to be a rest area) and what looked like a picnic shelter a little further down.

At this point, I think we recognized the place as one we had visited before.  It is a beautiful location and would have been worthy of a hike.  But, we weren't really prepared for this sort of hike and we were really ready to eat our lunch and we needed to be getting back home.  Alas for us.

Brush Creek Canyon Preserve is largely undisturbed by human development and that's a good part of what makes it special.  

A research paper by Lawrence Eilers in December of 1974 identifies a whole host of plant species in this small, wild area in Iowa.  Part of the abstract of this paper is below:

Brush Creek Canyon State Preserve ... contains steep, wooded ravines; tall, vertical outcrops of dolomitic limestone; clear streams; cascades area; and cool springs. These habitats support a variety of native plant communities, resulting in a rich flora of at least 268 species of vascular plants. Man-made disturbance is minimal, and there are several species of rare plants that increase the importance of the preserve.

As I did some searching for more information on this area, I came across a fair amount of mis-information, including claims that there is camping and this is a state park.  But, with a little more digging I found the paper linked above and I noticed that the Tallgrass Prairie Center had offered a field trip in the Spring of 2018. 

Let's just say that this has peaked my interest.  If a person who is familiar with the plant species and the preserve could take us on a guided tour, we're in!

But, we'll bring the truck next time.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Mighty Pencil - Postal History Sunday

Welcome to the final Postal History Sunday ... for the month of September!   Actually, I really am celebrating this one a little bit because there were a couple of times during the past month that I was not sure I would have the energy to create the weekly post.  Yet, here we are, successfully creating another opportunity for me to share something I enjoy and for you to put on those fluffy slippers, enjoy a favorite beverage, and maybe even learn something new!

Before I get started, I would like to extend my gratitude to those who gave me some positive feedback over the past couple of weeks.  The timing was excellent and put more fuel in the tank that should turn into more Postal History Sundays.


How Business or Junk Mail Can Be Attractive

I could be counted among those who currently take most of the things that arrive in the mailbox directly to the recycle bin after a cursory glance.  The bulk of what we receive now are advertising newspapers, flyers, and various other types of junk mail.  The rest of the mail is typically bills, and those rarely have much going for them from a collecting standpoint either.

So, how ironic is it that an envelope that might very well have been junk mail or a bill is among the favorite pieces in my collection?

Since this envelope no longer has the contents, I cannot be sure if it contained an invoice for an order or a receipt for payment - or maybe just a price list.  Frankly, it doesn't really matter, because the graphic design on this advertising cover is enough to keep me happy.

Just the concept of making the artwork appear to be three-dimensional is enough to get our attention.  The pencil appears to pierce the paper, revealing an image of the Joseph Dixon Crucible Company's factory buildings.  And, they don't miss a trick nor do they leave space unused.

The pencil is, of course, a Dixon pencil.  They use the bottom left to advertise their crucibles.  The top left shows the return address.

Even the reverse is fun to look at.  You won't have many questions about what they offer after you see one of their advertising envelopes!

Clearly, this company focused on graphite, turning it into a whole host of products.  Graphite is a crystalized carbon that is a softer substance, but is resistant to heat.  In addition, it is inert (it doesn't react) with most other metals.  If you want to learn more about the basics of graphite, this site has an easy to read description

Crucibles are used to melt metals so they can be worked with and formed into other shapes.  Given the two properties I cited (resistant to heat and inert with other metals), this makes graphite an excellent choice as a substance to make a crucible!  It is my understanding that a well-made graphite crucible could withstand temperatures up to 2000 degrees Celsius.

Oh - and one more tidbit - "plumbago" was the term used to refer to graphite until the late 1700s.  So, in a way, putting "graphite, plumbago, black lead" on the back of this envelope was a bit redundant!  As always, there is likely more to it than that, but I'll let you have a go at researching the point if you want!

My personal exposure to graphite products is largely limited to products to keep my bicycle working (greasing the chain and keeping cables lubed) and... of course... the pencil.

Here's the Postal History Part

This letter was mailed from San Francisco on April 6, 1899 and was received on the same day in Stockton, California.  The 2 cent stamp paid the postage for a piece of letter mail that weighed up to one ounce (effective from July 1, 1885 to November 1, 1917).  The envelope was sealed, so this would not have qualified for the reduced postage rates that printed matter were often given.

As far as postage rates and postage routes are concerned, there isn't a whole lot to drive my interest.  It was properly paid, it doesn't appear to have been misdirected at any point.

However, there is a point of interest for persons who are especially interested in postal markings (marcophily or marcophilately).

Barry Machine Cancels

As the volume of mail increased, it became increasingly difficult for a postal clerk to use a handstamp on each piece of mail and process the volume of mail coming through their office.  Thus, there was motivation for mechanical innovations so more mail could be processed in less time.  This particular envelope was postmarked with one such device.

By the time this letter was mailed, postmarking machines had been in existence and in use for over twenty years, starting with the Leavitt postmarking machines in the 1870s.  And, according to this article by Jerry Miller, there were even some trials for postmarking machines in the U.S. in the 1860s and in the United Kingdom in the 1850s. 

Most machines would require that the postal clerk "face" the envelopes so that they were oriented correctly.  The idea was that most mail had the stamp placed correctly at the top right of the envelope.  As long as the clerk "faced" the letter correctly, the marking would properly cancel the stamp so it could not be re-used.

This particular envelope ran through a machine created by the Barry Postal Supply Company of Oswego, New York.  The marking was comprised of two parts.

A dial that gave the originating post office location and a date and time stamp.

And, a portion of the device called a "killer," which was intended to deface the postage stamp so it could not be re-used.

William Barry (1841 - 1915) and his company are responsible for a wide range of markings that postal historians and marcophilatelists can hunt down, collect, and study, to their heart's content - should they desire to do so.  This website by the International Machine Cancel Society provides some guidance if you want to hunt down what type of Barry machine cancel you might have discovered.

Mr. Barry held a patent (1897) for his cancelling device which can be viewed on the Google patents site.  One of the illustrations that was part of the patent paperwork is shown below:

Of note, is the fact that the Find A Grave site provides the death announcement for the correct William Barry.  Unfortunately, the photo attached to the site is incorrect.  William Barry is listed, in this 2012 book by Keith Holmes, as one of many Black Americans who have successfully created inventions and received patents in the United States.  

It is my understanding that the wide range of Barry cancels can be found primarily on mail during the 1894-1909 period, so our piece of mail lands nicely in the middle of that time frame.  If you would like to begin learning about U.S. Machine Cancels, I have found "A Collector's Guide to U.S. Machine Postmarks: 1871-1925 by Russell F. Hanmer to be a useful start.

And Here's the Social History Part

The Dixon Crucible Company was initially founded in 1827 by Joseph Dixon (1799-1869) and his spouse, Hannah Martin (1795- 1877), according to this site.   The company was not incorporated as the Joseph Dixon Crucible Company until 1869 (presumably after Joseph's death), remaining open until 1983 when it was merged with the rival pencil maker, Ticonderoga.  In fact, many who read this blog will remember using the yellow Dixon No. 2 pencils while taking standardized tests in school.

His experiments for using graphite to create working crucibles led him to develop the use of graphite for lubricants, pencils, and non-corrosive paints (among other things).  The company was initially housed in Salem, Massachusetts, but it moved to its Jersey City location in 1847 (which is where it remained until the 1980s).

Collier's Oct 5, 1901

It is tempting to think that pencils were broadly accepted at the time Dixon's company began creating them.  However, most people who did much writing used quill and ink pens.  It wasn't until the Civil War that the use of pencils became more widely accepted.  After all, a soldier could probably keep a pencil stub that could be sharpened with their knife far more easily than a jar of ink and a quill.

By the time we get to the early 1900s, Dixon's company had a wide range of products, including products for farm equipment as it moved away from horse power.

The American Thresherman May, 1906

Joseph Dixon was an inventor who held multiple patents for uses of graphite crucibles in pottery and steel making (patents issued in 1850).  He also developed equipment to automate the making of pencils, including a planing machine (1866 patent) that shaped the cedar wood so that it could receive the soft graphite to create a pencil.

The origination of this cover in San Francisco likely illustrates the company's move in the late 1890s to start using Incense Cedar that grows in California for the wood casing of the pencil rather than the Eastern Cedar Cedar found in Tennessee and surrounding states.

Bonus: A Foray into "Evocative Philately"

In December of 2017, Sheryll Ruecker came up with a brilliant topic idea for an online stamp club meeting.  She suggested that we share items that bring strong memories, feelings or images to our minds.  

I appreciated the topic immensely because I believe that many people who enjoy various hobbies make connections that go deeper than "this is a neat item."  So, what does this particular item bring to my mind when I look at it?  So, in honor of Sheryll, I offer this edited version of what I shared with the club:

The wooden pencil.

All I have to do is look at the cover, with the image of a pencil punching through the paper, and I can hear the sound of the pencil sharpener at the elementary school when I was a student.  I remember that there were times we would line up to take a turn sharpening pencils and I remember working desperately hard to use up every tiny bit of each pencil.

How many people can remember sharpening a pencil for the last time where you could barely hold on to it to keep it from just spinning around in the sharpener?

And, what good is a wooden pencil without one of those nice big rubber erasers?  There wasn't a 'backspace' key to hit that made what you wrote go away when you made a mistake.  After a few seconds of scrubbing on the paper you'd have all of these pills of eraser stubble that you had to sweep off the desk with one quick swipe of the hand.  

But, oh, the frustration when you were overly aggressive with that eraser.  How many times did you put a hole in the paper?  Or perhaps you wrinkled the whole sheet up - ugh!

There were some moments in the classroom where everyone was pretty mellow and calm.  Everyone was working on something and no one seemed inclined to make a ruckus.  I can remember putting my head down on the desk next to whatever I was working on.  I realize only kids can do this because it requires a certain amount of flexibility and a ridiculous ability to see things a couple of inches from your face.  But, the odd thing about it was that doing this had the effect of making you feel a bit like you had your own space, even though you were in a room with 20 to 30 other students and a teacher.

There is a certain feel and smell that goes along with wooden flip top desks, paper, pencils and erasers.  I am fortunate that my memories of these times are positive.  I realize some people struggled in school and others were in a school environment that didn't feel safe to them.  I, on the other hand, equate these sensory inputs with an opportunity to create in a secure environment.  There wasn't a huge rush to get it done.  Instead, there was permission to immerse myself in whatever project was before me.  Sometimes it was math, sometimes it was writing, sometimes it was art.  But, whatever it was, the process often involved pencil, paper and eraser.    

I still write and plan with lead pencils of the 'mechanical' variety.  Pencil sharpeners are no longer found at every corner of a library and I rely more on my 'portable office' so I can work in any environment.  The traditional wooden pencil is no longer the best technology for me.  But, I still find myself feeling like I'm in the right place when I pick up a newly sharpened lead and cedar number 2 pencil and put the first figures on the page.  

How does this fit in my collection?

If you have been reading Postal History Sunday for a while, you may recognize that this particular item is unlike many of the things I share here.  So, why is it in my collection?

Well, one of my projects has been to find postal history items that reflect how a small, diversified farm works.  In my opinion, record-keeping is a critical part of the whole operation - and a pencil is one of the few things that writes reliably when you are outside in the rain!

For those who have interest, you can see a sixteen-page exhibit I created that includes the "mighty pencil" on page 14.


Thank you again for joining me for Postal History Sunday.  Once again, I find that I have learned MANY new things as I explored a single cover with the idea that I would share with you.  I hope you were entertained and that you, too, learned something new.

Until next week, my wish for you is that you have a fine remainder of the day and good week to come.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Still Words to Live By

What follows is perhaps one of my favorite blog posts from 2017 (April 22) and I wanted to update and adapt it for this September as part of our Throwback series of posts.  I hope you enjoy it.


I admit to being a bit of an introvert.  Ok, I am very much an introvert.  That's why writing a blog like this makes so much sense and so little sense all at the same time!

Someone sent me sayings that many introverts could relate to and I found one in particular that stood out with me:

When you are an introvert and try to say anything in a group of extroverts - 'Please be quiet, I'm really very interesting.'
I guess I can relate to that just as I can also relate to being surprised when people actually DO find me to be interesting.  When that happens - what's an introvert to do?   Oh great... they actually do want me to share with them... eeek!

Another thing that rang true in those sayings was the recurring theme that many persons who exhibit introversion tendencies will contemplate things that were said by others far longer than many who are extroverted in nature.  Maybe it is a function of the nature of many introverts to say less and listen more, all I know is that I have a number of things running through my head that have become 'words to live by.'

A "Happy Little Tree"

I know I am not the only person who still thinks fondly of Bob Ross and his Joy of Painting episodes that appeared (and still appear) frequently on Iowa Public Television.  Bob would talk about 'happy little trees,' 'happy little clouds' and he would encourage people to be creative ('this is your world').  

Our new-ish horse chestnut in the front yard appears to be happy

 The most important part for me was the tone of these shows.  I always started to relax, no matter what was going on, as soon as Mr. Ross loaded up his brush and started painting.  I am not sure I fully realized how much the serenity this man exhibited in his shows affected me until I found myself dealing with a nasty virus in 2017.  I could not sleep and felt generally miserable, so I flipped through some of our limited TV channels and found Joy of Painting on IPTV.  

I fell asleep for the first time in a couple of days almost as soon as the words 'happy little tree' left his lips and I dozed to the sounds of his brush hitting the canvas.

Why did I finally fall asleep?  It isn't that I think his painting is boring.  In fact, I usually can't help but be riveted by the process.  But, I needed some serenity.  Some sense that things could and would be ok.  And, how can you be without hope when the trees are happy?

You Meant Well 

Sometimes a little backstory is necessary - so I will give a bit of one here.  I was very frightened of talking in front of people (introvert - remember?) and was dismayed by the choice I would have to make for 9th grade... Speech or Debate.  

There was no getting around it, you had to take one or the other.  So, I opted for Debate.  Why?  Because I knew it wasn't very popular and there would be fewer people in the class.  Then, a strange thing happened.  I showed an aptitude for public speaking - and took Debate the next three years of high school.... as an elective!
Frank Kruse and Kate Kolb

For three of those years, Mr. Kruse was our debate coach and one of his pet sayings was "you meant well."  Initially, I don't think those of us in his class fully understood all of the nuances this phrase could hold and I suspect most of us thought he used the phrase to console us when things didn't go as planned.  But, as we gained some experience, we started to understand that the context of the conversation and the situation had as much or more to do with the meaning of "you meant well." 

Of course, Mr. Kruse was not the sort of teacher who would spell everything out in the simplest terms.  He took joy in challenging us to consider meaning and variations in meaning.  

"You meant well" could console you that you did your best with the resources you had and there wasn't much more that could have been done in your situation.  It could also imply that someone else did not "mean well" by exclusion.  

And, of course, it could be used to point out that you were operating on false assumptions and the harm that had occurred as a result wasn't what you were working towards. 

In the end, the biggest lesson I took from Mr. Kruse and this saying was that good intentions do NOT always carry the day.  You may have "meant well," but your failure to do your work properly or your unwillingness to think through your actions and consider the fallout can result in a bad situation regardless of the results you envisioned.

In the end, it is both enough and not enough to mean well.  We can do better and do no better than to mean well.  I can be absolved of blame and be wholly responsible for the same when I mean well.    

Do or Die!

That's a "do or die" weeding job if I ever saw one!

I learned a few years ago that Coach Rowray had passed away and it reminded me of the single year he served as baseball coach on the Junior Varsity (JV) Newton High School baseball team.  Playing on that particular team with that particular person as coach was one of my more positive experiences in baseball.  

I may not have appreciated all of the 'pole to pole' running he made us do at the time, but I always appreciated his fair and balanced approach to handling the diverse personalities and talents on the team.

Baseball practice often consisted of 'situational drills' where the players trained to respond to given scenarios.  One of Coach Rowray's favorite was the "Do or Die!" drill, which was focused primarily on the outfielders (yes, I was one of them).  

With the bases loaded and less than 2 out, the outfielders were trained to charge a ground ball that gets through the infield as hard as they could.  The idea was that we needed to pick up the ball cleanly and get the ball to home plate as quickly and accurately as possible.

If you could get there quickly, pick it up, throw it accurately (and low enough so it could be 'cut off'), you were able to "Do" and if you didn't... well... you get the point.  I guess I was particularly good at this drill since he would say "watch Faux do or die!" during practice and then make me do three to five of them in a row.

At the time, I wondered if he thought I was deficient with my "doing or dying" because he kept at me with it.  But, I figured it out soon enough.

Clarity came after this scenario actually occurred in a game.  I charged the ball, picked it up and...
Threw a hard strike to the catcher standing on home plate.  We very nearly caught the guy coming home from third because he wasn't running as hard as he could.  

And as the dust floated out of the catcher's mitt from the impact of my throw, Coach Rowray jumped out of the dugout and yelled "THAT's the way to DO or DIE!!!"

Coach Rowray was building me up as a model for others to follow.  He was encouraging me to work on a strength and make it even better.  He was reinforcing something that was good and using a person who was surely not the best athlete (but a passable one) on the team to do it.

Coach Dave Rowray 3rd from left

While I don't walk around telling myself or others to "do or die" this memory reminds me that preparation to succeed is part of success itself.  And, I learned from Coach Rowray that sometimes success isn't flashy like a home run, a diving catch or a pitcher striking out the side.  

Success is doing the right things in the right way and doing it even when the situation is difficult and maybe even in situations where it didn't seem to make a difference. Success often comes because of the things that happen when no one else is looking.

And then one day, you "Do."

I Like You Just the Way You Are

This last one may also ring true with a number of people who read this blog.  Are you feeling a little beat-up?  Maybe a little depressed by things that are going on?  Maybe you feel like you've messed up or you aren't what you're supposed to be?

Listen to Mr. Rogers for a second or two:

A simple show teaching important concepts - among them: self-acceptance and acceptance of others. 

When I watch this video, I instantly feel better about myself and the world I live in.  And, I was reminded that if a person I've never met and only seen on Iowa Public Television can make me feel this way by saying "I like you just the way you are," just imagine how much power this statement might have if you tell someone you know the very same thing.

A picture of two Dr's in one GFF field - cool!

And, I like them both - just the way they are. 

And some farmer friends.  More people I like - just the way they are.

And my family.  I like you all just the way you are.

And I like you.  Just the way you are.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021


A remember a day a few years ago when I was feeling pretty down about life at the Genuine Faux Farm.  This, in itself, is nothing new.  I am sure I am just like so many other people in this world.  Things don't always work out and you begin to question what you are doing and how you are doing it.  You wonder if your efforts make a difference.  And, when it comes to something that can be as all-encompassing as working on a small, diversified farm to grow food for people, the roller-coaster ride can be pretty dramatic and quite wearing on a person.

A Black Swallowtail at the farm in 2021

On this particular day, I found myself alone on the farm.  There were no workers.  Tammy was at school.  It was just me on the farm, acknowledging that, once again, we were having to deal with pesticides, heavy rains and limited resources to address them and the myriad other issues and tasks that the farm required of us.

I will admit that there are also times when I will talk to myself when I am alone on the farm.  And, I have been heard to mutter, "Why in the world am I doing this?"

On this particular day, things were really getting to me, so I voiced those words a bit more forcefully than I usually do.  And, I will admit that there might even have been some profanity laced in there.  I was struggling with the situation THAT much.

Why... in ... the ... world... am I doing this?!?

At that moment, a Tiger Swallowtail butterfly floated over my shoulder and proceeded to land on the clover that was flowering at my feet.  It sat there for a second or two until the words, "Oh, that's why," left my lips.

Fast forward to 2021, and we find the farmer is farming less and writing more - especially given his job for the Pesticide Action Network.  I am still prone to those moments of asking "why?" and I suspect the question will always be under the surface whenever things do not go well.  But now, when I ask, I mentally picture a Tiger Swallowtail on the clover at my feet.

I recently shared that story with my co-worker who is the organizer for Hawai'i.  She informed me this is hōailona - a sign from the Universe, from the Elements  ... from something bigger than we are.

The difficulty with omens or signs is that we are always so ready to make them fit what we want them to be instead of really listening and really contemplating what they were MEANT to be.  And, if they aren't something we want, we tend to ignore them for what they are.

In fact, I tend to believe that we are provided with signs on a daily basis that tell us things we don't appear to want to hear.

The oak tree leaves throughout the state have been showing more damage earlier in the season over the past decade than they have in prior decades.  It's a sign that the environment they reside in is no longer as friendly as it once was.  And, we know one of the causes is the amounts and types of pesticides we use so freely on our land.  But, this is a sign we prefer to ignore either because it inconveniences us or it reminds us that we are complicit in the destruction of trees many of us cherish.

A drive in the country no longer results in a wind-shield covered in juicy insects of all sorts.  This is another sign that the things we are doing to the world around us is making it less hospital to life.  But, once again, this is easy to discount - especially if you don't particularly like "bugs" and you aren't particularly fond of cleaning windshields.

We like our signs and omens when they comfort us or when they reassure - like a Tiger Swallowtail on the clover.  It's ok, Rob, I know you're doing your best to do the right thing on your farm to support the natural world and still grow good food.  That's a beautiful story and a nice sentiment.

But, it is also telling me that I can't let my distress that things go wrong stop me from seeing the other signs and omens and doing what I can to address the problems they speak of.  I don't want the vision of a swallowtail to become a butterfly's farewell to someone who meant well.  Instead, I want this vision to return and manifest itself every season at the Genuine Faux Farm and everywhere else the clover blooms.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Almost Five Pounds?

Even after growing vegetables every season since 2004 at the farm and raising produce in our own gardens for several years prior to that, we can still see experience something new.

This year, we had some decent sized cauliflower in our second planting.


No, there is no photoshopping or perspective tricks going on in this photo.  That's just a REALLY big cauliflower.  Four pounds and fourteen ounces worth of cauliflower, in fact.

It is certainly not the prettiest cauliflower I have ever seen, but it is so spectacular in its size, I'll forgive some of the imperfections.

For comparision, a more typical sized cauliflower that happens to be the same variety, is shown in the next picture.  The smaller cauliflower is just a bit over one pound - definitely something I would proudly offer to CSA customers or at market in prior years.

Unlike prior years, we did not grow all that many cauliflower this season.  These were mostly for our own use.  But, given the size of this one and a couple of other fairly good sized specimens, we're not sure we NEED that much!

For those who want to know, the variety name is "Amazing."  

Yes, yes it is.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Merry Chases - Postal History Sunday

Welcome to Postal History Sunday!

Grab yourself something to drink and find a comfy chair. This week's PHS entry is going to take us on a a "merry chase" that I hope we'll all enjoy!


What is a "Merry Chase?"

This is going to be one of those times in Postal History Sunday where I introduce you to a term that is not an "official" postal history or philatelic term.  Instead, I am afraid this is one of those Genuine Faux Farm terms.  At least that's my story and I am sticking to it!

At a stamp show some years ago, a person shared an item that made numerous stops on the way to its eventual destination.  The envelope was covered with a confusing myriad of postal markings, defying anyone to make complete sense of all of the travels it had taken.  As I looked at it, I said, "Well, this sure went on a merry chase."  Much to my surprise, several people were greatly amused by that comment.

Many who collect postal history are attracted to items that clearly had to make multiple stops in the process of attempting to find the recipient.  Sometimes the individual is traveling and the mail has to follow them until both are in the same location.  Perhaps that person's travels are over and the letter has to get sent on to their permanent address.  Maybe global conflict requires some extra travel on the part of the mailed item?

So now... I present you with a  "Merry Chase."  Enjoy.

Choices Choices - Leigh/Liege?
Have you ever thought about how difficult it must be for postal people to deal with all of the bad hand-writing and mistaken addresses on letters and packages?  If you haven't, consider the envelope sent by letter mail in 1858 shown below:

The short story is that this letter was posted in Le Havre, France.  It first went to England - which was NOT the correct destination - and then it went to Belgium.  Aha!  Right country!

The back of this cover shows a fairly decent array of markings that invite us to trace the travels the envelope took as it attempted to find Mr. John Haile.  Don't worry, I'll take some time to decipher these as we go, but if you want to give it a try, click on the image for a larger version of the image.

Postal historians often enjoy letters such as this one because they show a journey that was a bit more complicated than most letters of the time took.  When things go wrong, there is more to explore! The markings on the back of the letter actually help us to tell the story.
  1. Le Havre Feb 28, 1858 (on the front)
  2. Le Havre A Paris Feb 28 (on the back)
  3. Paris A Calais Mar 1 (on the back)
  4. London Mar 2 (on the front)
  5. Manchester Mar 2 (on the back)
  6. Leigh Mar 3 (on the back)
  7. Manchester Mar 3 (on the back)
  8. London Mar 4 (on the back)
  9. Angleterre par Ostende Mar 5 (on the back)
  10. Liege Mar 5 (on the back)

But, part of what makes this letter and its journeys interesting is the fact that it all starts with a spelling error.

The sender of this letter had some issues with the correct spelling of Liege, Belgium - calling it “Leigh.”  Then either the clerk on the mail train between LeHavre and Paris or the Le Havre post office had to make a decision.  Did this person really mean Belgium or didn't they?

These clerks had lists of post offices to reference, so I suspect they did a little looking.  Finding no “Leigh” in Belgium, they did find it in England.  And, actually, they probably found it TWICE!  There is a Leigh near Manchester and North Leigh near Oxford (WNW of London).

(*note - there are also Eastleigh, Westleigh and South Leigh in England.  South Leigh is near North Leigh and Westleigh is near Leigh and Eastleigh... that's um, near Southampton - so maybe there were even more options.)

So, the postal clerk decided the person sending this letter must not mean Belgium, they apparently were sending it to England.  The simple letter rate was the same (40 centimes) either way, so now a decision was needed - which Leigh in England?

If we look at the darker ink, we can see that N. Liegh Angleterre (England) appears to have been written to correct the address.  Belgium was crossed out and then "Leigh" is underlined.  To make matters worse, it looks like this person spelled "Leigh" wrong here... maybe even giving us a premonition that it really was "Liege?"

My guess is that they might have found North Leigh and then Leigh.  At that piont they may have crossed out the "N. Liegh" and figured the underlining on "Leigh" would make the point.

Apparently it did, because here is the route the letter took:

  1. Feb 28, 1858 - the letter entered the French mail system at Le Havre
  2.                       - the letter was on the mail train running from Le Havre to Paris
  3. somewhere in steps 1 & 2, the decision was made to send the letter to Leigh, England
  4. Mar 1, 1858  - the letter was on the mail train from Paris to Calais
  5.                      - the Paris to Calais train was an exchange office for mail to England
  6. Mar 1 or 2    - the letter crossed the English Channel from Calais
  7. Mar 2, 1858 - the letter was taken out of the foreign mail bag in London and routed to Leigh.
  8.                      - the letter took another train from London to Manchester
  9. Mar 3, 1858 - regional letter services probably used coach or other ground transportation and the letter arrived in Leigh, just west of Manchester.

Once the letter arrived in Leigh, the postmaster there probably sighed a little and wrote “Try Liege Belgium” and put it back in the mail stream.  Of course, if you look at what this clerk wrote you could also think he wrote "Try Lieje Belgium."  I guess the writing and spelling issue didn't just belong to the general public?

In any event, now this letter had to retrace some of its steps:

  1. Mar 3, 1858 - the letter is returned to Manchester
  2. Mar 4, 1858 - the mail train from Manchester gets the letter back to London and the clerks there put the letter in a mailbag destined to Belgium.
  3. Mar 4 or 5  - let's cross the English Channel again - going to Belgium this time!
  4. March 5 - HEY!  We're in Belgium at the Ostende exchange office.
  5. March 5 - Finally, after taking some Belgian trains, we get to Liege.

Similar Letter Rates Fail to Help

Our poor postal clerks guessed and were wrong about what a postal customer intended with their misspelled address.  And, unfortunately for them, the postal rates did not help one bit.

The postal rate for a simple letter from France to Belgium was 40 centimes for a letter weighing no more than 7.5 grams (from Oct 1, 1849 to Mar 31, 1858).

The postal rate for a simple letter from France to the United Kingdom was ALSO 40 centimes for a letter weighing no more than 7.5 grams (Jan 1, 1855 - Dec 31, 1869).

At least the clerks in France got this much right - the letter WAS paid in full to the destination, so they marked the cover with the red "PD" in a box.  The postal clerks in England understood that the letter had been misdirected by post office error, so they also put a "PD" marking in an oval on the cover, to show that they also considered the postage to be paid.

So, let this be a lesson to us all - write your addresses carefully and well, lest your letter take an unwanted trip to another part of the world.  But, if you happen to err, let's hope someone who enjoys tracing the travels of a letter will someday collect that piece of mail and get a little joy out of doing so.


Thank you once again for joining me for this week's Postal History Sunday.  Have a great remainder of your day and a wonderful week to come.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Saturday Tunage

Over the last couple of months I have been enjoying the re-emergence of music in my life.  For whatever reason, I just wasn't in the mood for the tunes that typically play as I do work at the farm or during those moments when I am working for PAN (and not in a meeting - though some meetings would be that much better if there was some music in the background!).

I know Stu thinks I need more music in my life, considering he started his singing this morning at 5 AM.  He certainly has the pipes for it.  But, either he was a little out of tune this morning or I wasn't quite in the mood for his rendition of "Wake Up Sleepy Head."

Since I wanted to hear something other than Stu's crowing, I put in some music and decided that I felt like sharing another short playlist on the blog, just like I did two weeks ago and four weeks ago.  Maybe you'll find something here you like too?  If not, I can always record Stu and put him on your playlist!

Peatbog Soldiers - Glengarry Bhoys

What Are You Made Of - the Call

One Day Remains - Alter Bridge

Path - Apocalyptica

O Valhalla - Skald

Sittin' in the Backseat - NeedtoBreathe

Drums of Belfast - Scythian

Night Owl - Laren d'Or (sorry no link)

Blinded - Thrice

Mudd - King's X

Misunderstood - Vocal Few

20 Years - the Civil Wars

Hurricane - the Choir

I hope you have a good day and a good weekend and that you find some music that fills your day.

Friday, September 17, 2021

A Fool

Why would a person regret selling something, especially if the person who bought it was willing to pay too much for it?

Let me paint a picture for you and we'll see what you think of it all once I am done.

You are walking down the road one day when you notice something shiny in the ditch.  Upon further inspection, you discover that it is an old coin and you pick it up.  What a cool thing to discover on a nice little walk!  Once you get home, you put that coin in a cup that sits on your desk - you use that cup to just hold a few odds and ends that you don't know what to do with and it sits there for a while.

One day, a person visits you and conversation brings up a fact that they collect coins.  A memory is jolted and you bring your find out for your guest.  After a quick look, the person offers you $2000 for the coin.

How would you react?

I suspect you would react the same way I would.  I'd probably accept the $2000 and hand over the coin.  Perhaps, if I didn't really know this person, I might be a bit suspicious that it was worth more than that.  Well - it only cost me a few moments of climbing into and out of a ditch.  Given my personality, I would probably take the $1900 AND an explanation of why it was worth that much.  

But, this scenario is like the mulberries on our farm.  We did not plant them.  We don't give them any special care.  We harvest if we feel like it.  They aren't exactly a favorite of mine to eat.  And, frankly, I don't think about them much.  In short, I don't place great value on them, so if someone else sees them and wants to harvest - that's fine.

Now, let me modify the story a bit.

Let's say you worked very hard to save money and purchase that coin for your collection.  It took significant effort on your part.  And, when the coin arrived, you studied it and realized it was a special variety and you shared it with your visitor because you are so pleased with it.  Upon seeing it, they offer you $1,000 instead of the $100 you scrimped and saved to pay for it initially.

What do you do now?

You take the $1000?  Did I make it clear the coin and the story that surrounds it are a REALLY BIG deal to you?  There is some real meaning in this item - it's not just an object to you.  This is kind of like the difference between finding a wild mulberry and eating a couple of berries versus buying a seed packet, planting a seed, growing a seedling, transplanting a seedling, watering, weeding, trellising and fertilizing a plant and then having someone take the harvest away from you.

And, let's make it a bigger deal.  You aren't going to be able to take the money and find another replacement that fills the place that the current thing does in your life.  Once you sell, it is gone.

Now, do you take the money?

While I doubt that most of us have had to deal with something quite so dramatic, I suspect you can think of a time when someone who had more resources than you offered to pay (and maybe overpay) for something you had.  And, if you balked at the sale, perhaps you were made to feel that you were a "fool" for rejecting an offer that clearly would result in you making a "profit."

First of all, it is clear that the person making the offer has more resources.  $1000 for them is probably equivalent to other's $10.  Second, it is clear that they see real value in the item they desire - hence the offer.  And third - they aren't considering other ways of determining value - such as your story that surrounds the thing they desire.

So, I ask you.  What kind of fool are you?  

A fool that releases something that means a great deal to you because the money is good?

Or a fool that refuses to let something go that means a great deal to you, even though the money is good?

Either way, one things is clear.  We are all a fool in somebody's eyes.  I can live with being a fool in your eyes, but I sure will do my best to not be one in my own eyes.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Still Humble Pie

Welcome to Throwback Thursday on the Genuine Faux Farm blog!   This is the day of the week where Rob finds an older post from years past and updates, adds, or otherwise modifies what was written and then shares the new and improved version again!  This one comes from August 27, 2017 and references events from that year, but I've added a bit to it as well.  Enjoy!


Tammy and I have been working the Genuine Faux Farm since 2005, so it's not like we're novices.  Yet, we still make mistakes and things still go wrong.  We still have problems that give us grief and we still don't necessarily like sharing them publicly.  

Yet, here I am, putting these things on the blog, illustrating our failures - why is that?

The biggest reason I have for recording the opposite of success is to enforce some level of reflection so we can try to avoid the same situation in the future.  If you don't think about the causes and reasons for the problem, how can you address them effectively?  The answer to that question is that you can't. 

But, why share them publicly in a blog? Especially for a second time in a throwback post?

First, I highly doubt that enough people read this blog to require a media tour to explain why things went wrong to the general public.  Those who do read this blog are genuinely supportive and/or are interested in learning.  And second, there is no better learning situation than when failure is encountered.  And, we are all about learning here.

And finally, I want to make the point that our farm plan has always been built to absorb failures.  To paraphrase another farmer I respect very much, "If you don't have some failures each season, you aren't trying hard enough."

Everyone Who Farms Has Done This (and will probably do it again)

Don't leave rolls of barbed wire, chunks of fencing, fence posts and other such things near paths or other areas where grass and other growing things will cover them.

Yeah, yeah.  I hear you.


There are very few people who have mowed on a farm that can say they have never mowed over something that fowled up the blades.  In fact, I'll bet that the few people who can say that didn't do a whole lot of mowing on a farm.  Simply put, farms have a lot going on.  You set things down 'just for a second' because you only have two hands.  You'll come back and get that after you do this thing or that thing.  You run over it with the mower two months later.

After you swear a little bit, you then swear that you will NEVER let that happen ever again.  

Then, one day sometime later, you find that you have too many things to do and too little time to do it all in.  You only have two hands or only so much room in the tractor bucket.  You set something down so you can pick it up later...

If You're Going to Deviate From the Plan...

When we plan for our season we usually have 'alternative plans' in place for those foreseeable situations that might come up.  But, I can tell you this much - as soon as you get a spur of the moment thought that follows the format of "Huh, I'll just do this instead of..." you'd better take another moment or three to think through it.

Huh, I'll just change the spacing in this field because the plan doesn't look right... ya, right.

As always, there is more to the picture than the heading shows.  And, this post isn't really about all of the details that led to sad chleome flowers in the middle of weeds.  My point is that, while it is good to be able to make adjustments, you should make sure to think through those adjustments.  The worst mistakes we have made on the farm were the result of a rushed decision.

Let's be perfectly clear here.  Every season is filled with numerous quick decisions that MUST be made to move from day to day on the farm.  That is simply part of diversified farming and much of those decisions come about within the larger plan for the season. What I am talking about here is making alterations to the plan on the fly that don't actually NEED to be made.

For example...  If it has rained and rained and rained for days and one area of a field won't dry out, you may have to make a quick adjustment to how you plant things or remove or reduce a crop or two on the season's grow list.  But, if you just look at a field and say, "Hey... I think I'll just change the row spacing for this field," DON'T DO IT!

Remember, you're the same person who just mowed over that roll of woven wire fencing you set down a few weeks ago.  Your judgement in this moment has been found to be wanting.  Trust your former self that put the plan down on paper in January.

You'll be glad you did.

Note: for those who want to know what happened to that row of chleome - it got tilled under soon after that photo was taken.  Oh well.

It Doesn't Count If You Answer the Quiz Question Correctly

It sure doesn't hurt to have a nice pool of knowledge at your disposal for whatever work you may do.  But, darn it, if you don't apply what you know, it doesn't really help does it?

This one frustrates me because we have known for many years that bush beans (especially green beans) usually keep potato beetles out of potatoes well enough that you don't need to worry about the population getting out of hand and destroying your potato crop.  We know this to be true and we plan to execute an intercropping plan every season.  We may modify the plan every so often, but it's there.

So, how is it possible that we did not get it done in 2017? 

First, let me assure you that we didn't lose our crop.  Some varieties did poorly because of potato beetles, but we still got some decent taters.  But, I'm still asking the question - how did we let this happen?

The reality is, we didn't just let it happen.  On a highly diversified, small-scale farm there are limited resources for a very diverse number of crops.  Weather events, equipment failures, or labor shortages can set a subset of crops back simply because the resources were not available to deal with that crop AND all of the others that need something done 'right now.'  Hard choices have to be made and the beans in the taters didn't happen in time to prevent the potato beetle flush that we had to deal with this particular year.  In this case, it made the difference between an outstanding crop and a barely passable one. 

On the plus side, it encouraged me to exercise my "poetry skills" that are exhibited in the photo of the chalkdoor shown above.  And now you are all saying, please do better with your intercropping every season from here on!

Sometimes, It's Not About You

The weather doesn't provide the growing degree days for a crop to reach maturity during the planned period of production.  The sun doesn't come out for ten days straight.  The state of Iowa is so full of herbicides flying all over the place that things don't germinate consistently.  The woodchuck figures out how to get into a coldframe and eats your melon starts.  Excessive rain floods your high tunnel and rots out carrots and beans.  It's just part of what we deal with and it's a big reason why the diversity on our farm is so important.

Eden is missing some beans here....

The excessive rains in July, 2017, resulted in standing water in Eden (our smaller high tunnel).  Green beans do not care for that sort of situation so our formerly healthy plants all had to be pulled.  The good news?  We had already harvested a pound per row foot from these plantings.  The bad news?  We usually get three pounds per foot by the end of the season from rows like these.

But, as I mentioned, the diversity of our crops and the diversity built into our plan tends to result in an overall 'win' for the farm.  For example, we were able to harvest from some of the green beans in our east fields since the loss of these bean plants in Eden.  And, in another week or so the beans in Valhalla started producing - so hurrah for succession planting.  We'll be just fine, thank you.  But, it would have been nice to have the easier road to our harvest goals with beans happily producing in Eden.

Mad Scientist?

We experiment on the farm frequently because we know there is always more to learn and we recognize that experiential learning is very effective.

I'd say there was some seed in that straw mulch, wouldn't you?

Our sprawling cucumber vines always result in some weed issues later in the life of the crop.  We've considered (and even tried) paper mulch, but you can't walk on that to harvest.  We've considered trellising (and tried it), but there's a labor timing issue that just doesn't work on our farm.  This year, we trialed putting some straw mulch between two rows and you can see the result above. 

Apparently, the straw had a lot of seed in it.  We had to find the time to pull the voluntarily seeded 'weeds' and that succession of cucumbers finished with an average harvest.  But, this experiment was NOT repeated.

Let's just say that the scientist who thought up this trial sure was mad when he had to go out and pull all of the weeds we inadvertently planted.


And there you have it!  A look at some things that didn't go quite as we wanted on the farm in 2017.  Obviously, we dealt with each of them in whatever way we felt best with the time and resources we had available to us.  The most difficult part about them was avoiding making our failures our focus for the season.  Plenty of things went well in 2017.  But, we're human.  It seems like it takes only one failure to obscure ten successes. 

But at least we won't get a big head.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

It Must Be Magic

The month of September is the month of chores for the poultry at the Genuine Faux Farm.  Some years, we have had as many as six different flocks to care for at one time.  This year, we have five: two broiler flocks, two laying hen flocks and one rafter (or flock) of turkeys.

Each morning, every flock requires some food, some water and an exodus from their safe, night-time housing.  And every morning, magic occurs.  And, I am the magician.

The chickens all equate my arrival with the magical appearance of food and water for the day in their containers.  But, of course, with these events happening every day of their lives, some of the "smarter" birds are beginning to figure out some of the intermediate steps to the magics I work.

A few have, for example, figured out that I bring their feed in five gallon buckets AND some of them are big enough to look in and sneak a bite or two before I can get it dumped into their feeders.  When they were smaller the food just kind of appeared in their feeders as they stood there avidly watching until the emptiness became something edible.

The broilers and young hens STILL stare at an empty waterer until, magically, there is water available for drinking.  

Essentially, they see the farmer.  The farmer makes food and water appear when they approach a feeder/waterer.  Their focus is on the result and only the result and very few look up to see that the farmer is pouring that food or water from a bucket.

With a wave of my hand and a tilt of the bucket, there is sustenance!  Magic!

Poultry aren't particularly an appreciative crowd as far as my magical performances are concerned.  Yes, they eat and they drink.  And the hens produce eggs and the broilers grow.  But, honestly, all they really care about is that the water appears and the food appears.  The farmer is merely a harbinger.

So, if you were wondering if there was a bigger point in here somewhere, here it is.

How often are we, as humans, caught looking at our food, or our water, as if it appeared by magic - whenever we need it?  You turn on the faucet and there's your water.  You sit down at a table, and there's your food.  No thought to anything that brought it to being there for our benefit.

It just - appeared.  Like magic.

And that's a problem.  Because when we treat it like it was magic, there is rarely thought for gratitude for the processes, people, and living beings that brought these things to us.  It makes us feel that there are no consequences for our consumption or considerations for others.  

Even magic requires someone's efforts and skills.  Even magic has its limits.  And even magic can fail you.

Just ask the chickens who looked on in disbelief when I walked up to a feeder and then walked way and the feeder did not fill - because the bucket I carried was empty.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Overused, Overhyped, and Over It

If I told you that you did something well, how would you feel?

What if I told you that you had actually done exceptionally well?

Or maybe, what if I said your work just "blew me away!?"

It feels like we have decided the extremes have become the norm now.  A person does something for the first time ever and the results are "just amazing," "couldn't have done any better," or "literally fantastic!"

It doesn't leave much room for anything does it?  Where's the room for growth and future achievement?  Is it even possible for the person receiving these comments to prepare for the possibility of constructive criticism or the likelihood that the outsized dreams they have begun to cook up after high praise are going to require a good deal of effort and a fair amount of negative feedback along the way?

This is why I cringe when someone says something is "perfect."  Either I am really, REALLY bad at being me or the perfection I have been striving for my entire life is a bit harder than we make it seem when we throw that word around so freely.

We have this tendency to give things far mar weight than they deserve.  It's not just the praise for someone's efforts.  Our criticisms must always be the most scathing and make it sound as if this is the FINAL WORD.

That was the "worst" such and such I have ever seen.  This just "destroys" the position that these "other" people hold.  etcetera etcetera...

Our desire to create the ultimate put-down/take-down leaves us, and everyone else, with no opportunities for discussion.  No chance to reach a better understanding.  No real incentive to learn more and improve ourselves.  We're making it clear that there is no redeeming qualities here and it's time to move on... and find something or someone we like/agree with to be in awe of that "perfection" instead.

Once again, I cringe when this happens.  After all, while I am far from perfect, I have honed a few skills and acquired some knowledge about a number of things.  I believe I have shown some ability to learn and adapt.  But, when you tell me that something I have said, something I have done or something I identify with is abhorrent and no worthwhile creature in the universe possibly believes that or does things that way, I am left either feeling like I must oppose you, or I must cease being who I am.

Truly heartfelt praise comes with carefully considered words.  Don't just reach onto the shelf and grab the closest superlative.  Give something real.  Give something concrete.  Give something that appreciates effort while also helping the person target an area for future growth and improvement.  Give in a way that doesn't try to make that person into your clone.  Instead, give so what you say and do encourages them to be their best self.

Similarly, honest and beneficial criticism and dissent also come with carefully considered words and actions.  We aren't playing a game to see who gets the most points for the most cutting remarks, most dramatic actions, or the most empty applause for efforts at stealing the show.

Or are we?

If we are, I am not playing.  Fair warning.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Run Aground! - Postal History Sunday

Another week is at its end while a new one begins.  That can only mean one thing on the Genuine Faux Farm blog.  It's time for Postal History Sunday!

Postal History Sunday (PHS) is a place where the farmer (Rob) can unabashedly share a hobby he enjoys.  In the process, I usually learn something new - and I hope those who read it also pick up a thing or two, even while being entertained.  All who wish to join me here are welcome.  It doesn't matter if you collect stamps or postal history.  I do my best to write these posts so they are of interest to people who have had years collecting as well as any who might like to read something different, even if they do not want to join the hobby.

As always, I am willing to accept criticisms, corrections and questions.  Feel free to leave a comment or use the contact form at the right on this page.


A Whole Month?

If you have been reading PHS for a while, or if you are someone who knows what I like to collect most, you will recognize that postal history items that have a 24 cent stamp from the 1861 issue of stamps in the United States are my specialty.  You might also notice that I like postal history items of all sorts, especially if there is a story I can decipher as I research.  This week, I get to share something that has both a good story and a 24 cent stamp!

Years ago, an acquaintance of mine showed me a scan of this item.  They had just added it to their collection and they knew I liked postal history with the 24 cent stamp.  Their interest was in the Galesburg, Illinois origin.  But, as I looked at the cover, I saw other reasons to be drawn to it.

The Galesburg June 10 postmark in blue and the July 10, 1867, Glasgow receiving postmark indicate an abnormally long journey to get to its destination. Galesburg was not terribly far from an exchange office (Chicago) and the Grand Trunk Railroad should have delivered the mailbag containing this letter to Quebec in no less than two days time from Chicago. The crossing of the Atlantic typically took no more than 10 to 12 days, thus this letter was delayed for nearly half a month.

Below is an example that left Green Bay, Wisconsin on August 12 and arrived on the Glasgow Packet August 29.  This would be a more typical date range.

When the date range is longer than expected, I usually smell a story that could be told!

Filling in the Timeline

Two postal markings with dates a month apart provided sufficient evidence for me to identify the voyage this letter took to get from Illinois to Scotland.  For those who don't like to read a bunch of text, I offer you this:

Ok.  There's text on the image too.  Never mind!

Once again, the first clue was the long voyage indicated by the two postmarks on the envelope.  The good news is that there are now many resources available to a postal historian to aid in the search for the reasons why the voyage might have been delayed.

Shipping tables compiled by Hubbard and Winter in their book (see reference 7) confirmed for me that the North American was scheduled to leave Quebec in the middle of June in 1867.  The footnotes provided in the book related much of the details seen above, which I could confirm in period newspapers. With the basics readily in hand, I was able to spend more time finding interesting details related to the story.

I frequently remind myself to be grateful for the work others have done and then shared so that others (including myself) might benefit.  I am particularly beholden to Dick Winter for his works on trans-Atlantic mail.

The letter was delivered to the post office in Galesburg, Illinois where the blue postmark was placed on the envelope.  The letter was sent by train to Chicago, which was one of the exchange post offices for mail to be sent to the United Kingdom.  The Chicago foreign mail clerk knew that the quickest route on that date would be through Canada with a sailing on the Allen Line of steamers.  So, the clerk put the red "3 cents" marking on the envelope and put the envelope in a mailbag with other items that were going to go to the UK.  

That is where the envelope stayed UNTIL it got to an exchange office at the destination country - in this case the exchange office was Glasgow - one month later.

The graphic above shows you all of the events that happened while this letter sat in that mailbag. 

Saint Lawrence Seaway Navigation

Navigating the Saint Lawrence Seaway could be tricky and it was not uncommon for ships to encounter difficulties in the 1800’s. In particular, the waters around Anticosti Island were most treacherous, with 106 recorded shipwrecks between 1870 and 1880 despite the existence of lighthouses by that time [1]. The sea lane was used for ocean traffic of all sorts, including the Allen Line mail packets.

For those who might not know, when I reference a "mail packet," I am merely talking about a ship that had a contract to carry the mail.  These ships also carried other cargo and/or passengers.  After all, a few bags of mail weren't going to fill up an ocean-going vessel.

The Perils of Anticosti 

Anticosti Island can be found at the mouth of the St Lawrence Seaway as it enters the Gulf of Lawrence. 

Louis Jolliet, an explorer who initially believed the Seaway would provide water crossing to the Pacific Ocean, was awarded ownership of the island for his service to New France. Starting in 1680, he ran a fur trading and fishing business from the north shore of the island until it was raided by New Englanders in 1690. After that, his son divided and oversaw operations on the island for the next 40 years [2]. 

By the 1860s, an estimated 2000 ships passed the island each summer but it was sparsely inhabited [1]. The island is now owned by the Quebec government, serving as a popular game and fishing reserve. 

Anticosti Island is not a small obstruction in the St Lawrence Seaway, having 360 miles of shoreline and covering 3100 square miles. It is surrounded by a reef that can reach out a mile and a half from the visible shoreline in places. The reef, combined with a strong current led to numerous shipwrecks resulting in losses lives and property [2].

Strong currents and reefs could certainly be mapped and lighthouses were built to help for nighttime navigation. However, experienced Seaway navigators recognized variations in compass readings could ALSO lead the unwary to run aground. An editorial to the Quebec Mercury in 1827 included observations from a mariner of that time:

“… it would be well that all ships at every opportunity should try experiments on the variation of the compass. I am fully of opinion that it does, and has increased. Since my first coming up the St. Lawrence, and very lately from experiments made, I found six degrees more variation than ever I expected, of my courses steered.” [3]

Wrecks on Anticosti Island from 1820-1911 by Department of Marine and Fisheries, Quebec Agency

These variations are known to be due to the shifting magnetic pole and its dramatic effect on compass readings as one goes further north on the globe. The treacherous nature of the waters around Anticosti caused many ships to employ a local navigator for the run into and out of the Seaway.

The Allan Line and the Mail

The Province of Canada was very interested in supporting a steamship company that based itself out of Canada rather than continuing to be tied to the United Kingdom’s Cunard Line. In 1855, the Montreal Ocean Steamship Company (known as the Allan Line) secured a contract to carry Canadian mail, which it proceeded to carry out upon the return of their ships from the Crimean War (Oct 5, 1853 - Mar 20, 1856) [4]. Allan Line ships departed Quebec (Riviere du Loup) in the summer when the St Lawrence Seaway was free of ice. During the winter months, the Allan Line left from Portland, Maine to cross the Atlantic.

The Canadian and United States governments reached an agreement in November of 1859 that granted the Allan Line a contract to carry American mail [7]. Mail from the United States was sorted and placed in secured mailbags in United States exchange offices (usually Detroit, Chicago or Portland).  Occasionally, a bag from the Boston exchange office (and rarely, New York) would also travel on the Allen Line steamers.

In most exchange offices, each piece of mail was hand stamped with a red (paid) or black (unpaid) marking that included the city name of the exchange office and a date. If you scroll back up to view the second cover I shared here, you will see a red Detroit exchange marking that includes the city, date and 3 cents credit.

Chicago, on the other hand, often employed a credit marking that gave the amount credited to the foreign mail service with the word ‘cents’ in an arc underneath.  But, Chicago typically did not include a marking with the city and date for letters bound for an Allan Line ship.

Mailbags left the Detroit and Chicago offices via the Grand Trunk Railroad to their Quebec (summer) or Portland (winter) port departures [5].

Mails sent from the United States to Britain were governed by the 1848 postal convention which remained in force until the end of 1867. Under this treaty, letters from the United States to Scotland required postage at the rate of 24 cents (1 shilling) for up to a half ounce of letter weight. 

The postage collected was split between the British and US postal services in the following manner: 5 cents for US surface mail, 16 cents for the country who contracted the mail packet and 3 cents for British surface mail [5]. The red “3 cents” marking indicated that 3 cents were owed to the British postal system by the US postal system. The Allan Line ship was under contract to carry mails with the United States, thus 16 cents were kept by the US to pay the Allan Line.

The North American 
The North American was a single screw, 1715 gross ton ship that was originally named the Briton at the point William Denny & Brothers laid the keel in 1855. The ship was launched as the North American on January 26, 1856 and took her maiden voyage from Liverpool to Quebec on April 23 of that same year. The ship was able to accommodate 425 passengers and served as one of the fleet of mail packets for the Allan Line. 

 In 1871, the ship was moved to a Liverpool – Norfolk – Baltimore route until it was sold in 1873. At this point, the ship was converted to a sailing vessel and was used as such until it went missing in 1885 during a trip from Melbourne to London [6].

On June 16 of 1867, the North American ran aground on the south shore reef of Anticosti Island outbound to the Atlantic Ocean from Quebec. All passengers and crew survived the incident, spending some time on the island. Accounts indicate that they enjoyed picnics of fresh trout and were treated well by a Mr. and Mrs. Burns, who lived on the island at that time. 

The home occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Burns was furnished with material from other wrecks and they had survived a shipwreck themselves fourteen years earlier [1]. The St George picked up the passengers and the mail, taking them to St. Johns, Newfoundland. 

The North American was successfully refloated and towed to Quebec for repairs, resuming its services to the Allan Line on November 12, 1868.

Present Day Story

Bringing all of this back to the present - if you will recall, I had mentioned that someone else was the caretaker for this piece of postal history when I first discovered the beginnings of what is an interesting story.  Once I shared my initial findings with the individual who shared the image with me, they arranged for me to become the new caretaker of this piece of history.  And, that, as you probably have guessed, encouraged me to continue digging into this story over the years.

The other good news is that this individual also found another cover with a 24 cent stamp for their collection not long afterwards.  

You have now had the opportunity to read my latest rendition of the story as I continue to learn more about it.  Will it be my last attempt?  That's unlikely as it has become one of my favorite postal artifacts in my collection over the years.


Thank you again for joining me for this latest offering of Postal History Sunday.  Have a good remainder of your day and an outstanding week to come.

Resources for today's PHS
[1]  Mackay, D. Anticosti: The Untamed Island, McGraw-Hill, 1979.
[2] Henderson, B. Anticosti Island, KANAWA Magazine, Winter 2003 Issue,, last viewed 1/15/06.
[3] Quebec Mercury #41, Tuesday, May 22, 1827, Page 241.
[4] Arnell, J.C. Steam and the North Atlantic Mails, Unitrade Press, 1986, p 224-5.
[5] Hargest, G.E. History of Letter Post Communication Between the United States and Europe 1845:1875, 2nd Ed, Quarterman Publications, 1975, p 133-136.
[6] Bonsor, N.R.P. North Atlantic Seaway, vol. 1, Prescott: T. Stephenson & Sons, 1955, p. 307.
[7] Hubbard, W.  & Winter, R.F. North Atlantic mail Sailings 1840-1875, U.S. Philatelic Classics Society, 1988, 129-30,148.