Sunday, October 19, 2008

What Goes Up Did Come Down ...

What is it that used to go up really slow, hesitate, and then swoosh downward really fast? Lots of things I am sure. However the first time such an occurrence happened to me was in 1946. But as usual, I am getting ahead of the story so allow me to restart.

We always loved driving from Beaumont down to Port Arthur. Especially we enjoyed visiting Pleasure Island. This was an 18 mile long man-made body of land located across the canal from downtown Port Arthur. The U. S. Corps of Engineers created the island from deposits dredged while constructing the Port Arthur Canal, completed in 1899, and the Sabine Neches Intracoastal Waterway, completed in 1908. A small dance hall and a roller coaster were constructed in 1913. In 1941, the Pleasure Pier Ballroom, a midway, and the largest roller coaster in the south were completed.

Anyway one day in 1946, Dad drove his family in our old 1938 Plymouth down to Port Arthur. After cruising along the street that ran along side of the canal, we crossed over the drawbridge and entered the Pleasure Pier Island area.

We walked along the midway looking at all the rides and the booths. A funny thing happened that day that has stayed with me all these years. There was a man standing on a small stage with a public address system. He was selling pots and pans. He told everyone to gather around and watch him fry an egg on his lap. So we stopped and watched. The salesman heated up a skillet on a little one-burner gas stove. Then he sat in a chair and spread a newspaper across his lap. He set the hot skillet on the newspaper and cracked open an egg. He proceeded to fry that egg on his lap. Then he made the claim, “If I can fry an egg with this skillet on my lap, then you should know that you can cook anything anywhere with this skillet.” People lined up to buy one of his amazing skillets. That really impressed this 11 year old kid.

Then we strolled over to the roller coaster. I had never seen a roller coaster before much less ridden on one. Dad and I sat side by side in one seat. Mama and my big sister sat in the seat behind us. The coaster started up the track at a pretty steep incline. All I could hear was, “ … clickity-clack, clickity-clack …” as we made our way to the top. I remember thinking, “This isn’t so bad … it’s really neat looking out over Sabine Lake and enjoying the scenery.”

The coaster crested the top of the track and started down. It appeared to me that we were headed straight down to the ground at lightening speed. Then my thinking was, “I want off. I want them to stop this thing and get me off.” All I remember is seeing ground … sky … water …ground … more sky … would it ever stop!

Then I became aware of a strange sound emerging from behind me. It sounded like the siren of a large fire truck. Then I realized that the noise was not a siren but my big sister screaming. Ann always did have a southern drawl. Have you ever heard someone with a southern drawl try to scream? Yep, the siren of a large fire truck. That’s the only way to describe it.

Dad asked me if I wanted to ride the roller coaster again. I replied, “No, I want to go back over to the stage and watch that man fry eggs on his lap.”

I’ll always remember Pleasure Pier, those amazing skillets and my first roller coaster ride.

Winston Hamby

Monday, October 06, 2008

Pluto ... Neat Name For Planet And Dog ...

When is a planet not a planet? When it is a plutoid. In other words, if a planet is a plutoid, then it is not a planet. Confusing? Yes, but I am getting ahead of the story.

In 1943, when I was 7 years old, my family lived on Pipkin Street in the South Park area of Beaumont. I was a third grader at J. L. Giles Elementary.

During that year, I became interested in the study of planets, stars and constellations. My parents wanted to encourage this astronomical interest so they bought me a three-foot telescope and a book about stars.

I was totally mesmerized with this hobby. The telescope was very fascinating. The book on stars was a little less fun because it was written for older readers. But by the end of third grade, I tested eighth-grade level in science. The reason was because I knew the names and positions of all the planets and most of the popular constellations.

The book entitled “Seeing Stars” was written by W. B. White and published in 1942 by Rand McNally & Company.

In his book, Mr. White wrote how the planet Pluto was discovered in 1930 by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh of the Lowell Observatory. Pluto was designated the ninth planet of our solar system. This planet became the favorite for grade school kids. One reason for this favoritism is that Pluto was the smallest of all the planets. Kids related to that. Also in 1930, Walt Disney produced a new dog character. The dog was named Pluto in honor of the new planet. So kids loved the planet and the dog.

In 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) met and decided that Pluto was not a run-of-the-mill planet. Therefore it was designated to be a dwarf planet. Then the IAU decided that it would sound more official to call Pluto a plutoid. The IAU is the international organization that brings together almost 10,000 distinguished astronomers from all nations of the world. They are the recognized authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies. Plutoid was selected as the term for “dwarf planet” to appease those offended by the demotion of Pluto.

It is noteworthy to point out that at the meeting where the IAU demoted Pluto from “planethood,” there were less than five percent of the voting membership present. And absentee voting was not permitted.

There are many reasons given for demoting Pluto to a plutoid but none of those reasons made sense to me. There were nine known planets in our solar system as of 1930. But in 2003, the discovery of Eris, a body bigger and farther from the sun than Pluto was discovered. Rather than designate Eris as our 10th planet, the IAU decided that all bodies beyond Neptune should be called dwarf planets or as noted earlier, plutoids. As of now (2008), we have 8 planets and 3 plutoids plus one asteroid.

But I am upset about Pluto being demoted from planet status. I rally behind the state of New Mexico’s House of Representatives. They passed a resolution declaring that in honor of Tombaugh, a longtime resident of that state, Pluto will always be considered a planet while in New Mexican skies, with March 13 being known as Pluto Planet Day. Also the California state assembly passed a light-hearted resolution denouncing the IAU for “scientific heresy,” among other crimes.

My opinion must be prefaced with apologies to William Shakespeare for the following parody on his work entitled, “Romeo and Juliet.”

“O Pluto, Pluto, wherefore art thou Pluto? … What’s in a name? That which we call a planet by any other word would be a planet still.”

Pluto always will be a planet to this 73-year- old-kid. (now 75 and still loves Pluto)

Winston Hamby