Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘Schenectady Gazette’

Spruce Goose

Posted by Admin on October 7, 2013

When you hear someone talk about a Spruce Goose, it refers to a very specific item at a very specific time in history and is an updated version of the idiom white elephant. A white elephant is a valuable possession that the owner cannot get rid of and where the cost of ownership seems to be more than it’s worth. To this end, a Spruce Goose is just another white elephant.

The late rapper Johnny Burns (1979 – 2000) aka DJ Quik aka Mausberg’s song “Ring King” has the expression Spruce Goose in the lyrics:

I flow like the Spruce Goose, sting worse than a bullet from a deuce-deuce
I’m ’bout to cut loose and react with raw tactics
Rights and lefts be bustin’ like fully automatic, I love static

So does rapper Danny! aka American record producer, Danny Swain’s song “Rhyme Writer Crime Fighter” where he says:

I slayed spooked troops in my youthful days
And flew away in the Spruce Goose, ruthless ways
Now you could say my style was aloof but hey
I gotta stay elusive

But rap fans appear to be perplexed by the expression Spruce Goose, as evidenced by the many questions in various music and rap forums asking what it means.  Strangely enough, one may also wonder if the lyricists understand the expression as well.

In the July 2003 edition of Wired Magazine, Chuck Squatriglia wrote used the expression Spruce Goose in an article about aircrafts.  He wrote in part:

The “Spruce Goose” was either a brilliant aircraft years ahead of its time or the biggest government boondoggle ever. By far the largest aircraft ever conceived — its wingspan was 319 feet — the Spruce Goose was intended to be a military transport plane.

While it’s surprising that so many these days seem to be unfamiliar with the Spruce Goose, the fact of the matter remains that it was a seminal part of American aviation history.  Back on November 14, 1993, the Seattle Times newspaper carried a story out of McMinnville, Oregon that stated:

Congress has approved $4.5 million for the museum that will serve as the new roost for the Spruce Goose flying boat. The money, included in the defense appropriations bill approved Wednesday, will get the museum through planning and into the construction phase, said museum director Howard Lovering.

In other words, this airplane was of significant historical importance that it warranted being preserved in a museum supported by money approved by Congress.

But for whatever reason, the importance of this airplane seems to escaped the memories of Americans over the decades. In fact, in a Letter to the Editor published in the February 24, 1971 edition of the St. Petersburg Times, William J. Carter of Yankeetown wrote this about the airplane.

Designed to answer a desperate World War II call for transport in a Pacific area where the sea would have to supply the runways, the huge airframe housed eight nacelles for propeller driving piston-engine units, the largest power units then existing

Later in the letter he also wrote:

Rather than scorn a great pioneer’s effort to meet emergency needs in wartime, we should join Howard Hughes to such other pioneers of multi-engined aircraft as Sikorsky and Dornier, whose creations were airborne, one in 1914 and the other in the 1920s, when lesser men were living with small dreams and small aspirations.

On January 20, 1954 the Milwaukee Journal ran a series of articles on Howard Hughes, with the article in this edition dedicated to the Spruce Goose. The article contained the following facts about the airplane:

Weight – 425,000 pounds
Height at tail – 2 1/2 stories
Wingspan – 320 feet, just big enough to touch both goalposts on a football field
Hull – 220 feet long, 30 feet high, 25 feet wide
Engines – Eight of 3,000 horsepower each
Gas load – 14,000 gallons, enough to drive your car around the earth more than eight times if there were a highway at the equator
Payload – 750 soldiers fully equipped or a 60 ton tank, something that 100 World War II cargo planes were needed to carry

It was a magnificent example of aeronautical engineering at a time when aluminum was scarce due to the war, and ships were being destroyed by enemy fire. The Spruce Goose — erroneously dubbed since it was built from birch plywood and not spruce — was a solution to that problem. The Milwaukee Journal article was aptly entitled, “$41,000,000 Spruce Goose Climbed 70 Feet.”

The Schenectady Gazette of October 31, 1947 reprinted a story out of Hollywood that had been posted the day before. Entitled, “Howard Hughes To Launch Huge Plane Tomorrow” the story began thusly:

Millionaire plane designer Howard Hughes announced tonight he would launch his giant 200-ton flying boat Saturday morning at Lost Angeles harbor. The $23,000,000 flying boat will be floated from its graving dock at Terminal Island to undergo dockside tests for several hours.

The launch took place two days before a Senate committee investigating Howard Hughes’ government contracts resumed in Washington the following Monday.

And five years before the Hercules — because that was the plane’s real name — took to the skies, Henry J. Kaiser and then 36-year-old Howard Hughes were in the news as reported in the St. Joseph Gazette of September 19, 1942 in an article entitled, “Will Build 3 Cargo Planes: Kaiser And Hughes Get Authorization For Big Craft.” The article shared general details about the venture which included the following:

Neither Kaiser nor Hughes will make any profit from the job, arranged through a letter of intent from the defense plant corporation, but Kaiser was directed to draw plans for a factory in which the giant twin-hulled flying boats could be manufactured in volume should the army and navy find the experimental ships successful.

Putting the situation into perspective, by July 1942, America had just lost 800,000 tons of supply ships to German U-boats. The cargo planes were meant to address this problem.

It was also reported in the article that if the ships were successful, the earliest that Kaiser and Hughes would begin turning the ships out would sometime in 1945. When the war ended, it was expected that this project would also come to an end. Instead, Howard Hughes invested more of his money into bringing the Hercules project to its conclusion.

As readers can see, the Hercules aka Spruce Goose — while successful in that it did fly — was an expensive proposition at best and one that certainly expanded the knowledge base in aviation, but it cost Howard Hughes dearly both to persist with the project and then to house the project once completed.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Dollars To Doughnuts

Posted by Admin on February 4, 2013

When you’re betting dollars to doughnuts, what you’re really doing is betting on an almost certainly sure thing. In other words, dollars have a value, while doughnuts — being shaped like zeros — have none.

In the magazine, SaskBusiness the editor, Keith Moen, authored an article on what he referred to as “messy, fear-mongering campaigns” in 2003 and again in 2004. Published on June 1, 2004, his point was that Canada couldn’t by any stretch of the imagination be thought of as a Third World country, the Canadian economy didn’t succeed on the backs of slaves or serfs, and no Canadian he knew of was oppressed under a dictatorship. The editorial ended with these words of wisdom to their readership:

Yet that tax reduction line which separates good from evil must surely be a blurred one, as I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that most of our good public servants take advantage of their pension plans — even if they’re RRSP-eligible, which of course qualifies as a tax reduction strategy.

Kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it? It seems more than just a little self-serving and hypocritical. Sort of like the pot calling the kettle black … or a jalapeno trying to be as cool as a cucumber.

It’s the sort of expression that’s part of the lingo but doesn’t necessarily show up in print as often as one would expect. Sure, it’s shown up in movie dialogue often enough, but it’s not in print as often as it once was. In the Schenectady Gazette of January 19, 1948 it was found in the article “Big Talk, But …” where Under Secretary Of State Robert Lovette discussed the ongoing U.S. presence in Berlin. Not everyone thought that was such a good idea as evidenced by this excerpt from the article:

It’s a dollar to doughnuts bet that the Russian leaders are chuckling up their sleeves. For Russia has every important advantage. Russia’s proximity to Germany, its military might, its diplomatic methods based on the blackjack, its Communist philosophy that appeals to many Europeans who can’t understand democracy, all put Russia in a better position than any of the other occupying powers to dictate to the Germans effectively.

It was such a well-known saying that it appeared as the title of a serial story by author Edith Ellington, and carried by such newspapers as the San Jose News in early 1941. Yes, the soap opera-style serial story was entitled, “Dollars To Doughnuts.”

The Oxnard Daily Courier of June 1, 1914 carried a United Press story entitled, “Tango Commercialized Approaches Its End.” The story claimed the death knell of the tango when it announced that a group of financiers on Wall Street had banded together to corner the tango talent market. It was described in this way:

Society takes up a fad. It flourishes on the Avenue and makes a noise like a dollar. Then the keen nosed mew of money, scenting currency, take hold of it and organize it. The craze then takes on a commercial aspect. Society hears about it and abandons the fad. The lower strata learn that society has dropped the fad, so each in turn drops it.

That has been the history of a long procession of freak things. Never before perhaps did anything so intangible as a dance go through this evolution, but it is dollars to doughnuts that with the money kings playing ping-pong with the tango, it will lose its popularity.

As we all know, the tango still exists and has been seen every season that “Dancing With The Stars” has been on television in recent history.

Back on May 16, 1890 that matter of bills and gags, Republicans and Democrats in the House, and what senators had to say about all manner of things was reported in the article, “Shutting Off The Debate.” With regards to the Dependent Pension bill and the Service bill, the following was shared with readers of then New York Times.

The Dependent Pension bill of the Senate and the Service Pension bill of the House are now in the hands of conferees  the House conference Committee having been announced to-day. Some fear is expressed by the ever-anxious lest there shall be a disagreement, so obstinate that there will be a dead-lock, and no pension legislation. The pension agents may be relied upon to break the dead-lock, and as they are more interested in the Senate bill than in that of the House, it is “dollars to doughnuts” that the Senate bill, in one respect at least, will come out of the conference victorious, notwithstanding Gen. Hawley’s injunction to the Senate that it was “not to be stampeded by claim agents.

A few years prior, the expression could be found in the Daily Nevada State Journal on February 6, 1876 in a front page story that stated:

Whenever you hear any resident of a community attempting to decry the local paper… it’s dollars to doughnuts that such a person is either mad at the editor or is owing the office for subscription or advertising.

Five weeks later, the same newspaper printed this in their publication on March 11, 1876 in an article found on page 3:

Several Benoites took advantage of the half fare tickets offered to those who were to attend the ball given by the railroad boys at Carson last night, and attended it. It’s dollars to doughnuts all enjoyed themselves.

For it to appear in a newspaper without quotation marks around the expression indicates that its meaning was understood by readers. For it to be part of the jargon in 1876 implies that it was in use in the preceding decade at the very least.

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about doughnuts in her story “Farmer Boy” based on the childhood of Almanzo Wilder, Laura’s husband. The setting for the story is 1866 and the following passage is found in the story:

That was Saturday night. All day long Mother had been baking, and when Almanzo went into the kitchen for the milkpans, she was still frying doughnuts. The place was full of their hot, brown smell, and the wheaty smell of the new bread, the spicy smell of cakes, and the syrupy smell of pies.

Almanzo took the biggest doughnut from the pan and bit off its crisp end. Mother was rolling out the golden dough, slashing it into long strips, rolling and twisting the strips.Her fingers flew, you could hardly see them. The strips seem to twist themselves under her hands, and to leap into the big copper kettle of swirling hot fat.

Plump! They went to the bottom, sending up bubbles. Then quickly they came popping up, to float and slowly swell, till they rolled themselves over, their pale golden backs going into the fat, and their plump brown bellies rising out of it.

The ease with which doughnuts were made is evident in this passage … certainly much easier than making a dollar in 1866.

American author Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, 1859) — who best known for his short stories “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle” — included doughnuts in his novel, “Knickerbocker’s History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty” published in 1809. The author described doughnuts or, should I say, his main character, Diedrich Knickerbocker, described them thusly:

Sometimes the table was graced with immense apple-pies, or saucers full of preserved peaches and pears; but it was always sure to boast an enormous dish of balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks —- a delicious kind of cake, at present scarce known in this city, except in genuine Dutch families.

That being said, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) anthropologist, Paul R. Mullins, Ph.D. wrote a book entitled, “Glazed America: A History Of The Doughnut” that the “first cookbook mentioning doughnuts was an 1803 English volume which included doughnuts in an appendix of American recipes.”

It can safely be guessed that the expression came into vogue sometime in the 1850s, giving the word doughnut time to ensconce itself in the English language and backdating the ease with which the expression dollars to doughnuts was used in newspapers by 1876.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »