Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Old Wood + Old Soldiers = Old Soldiers Home

I have nothing to hide: Iv'e been playing with plastic Civil War soldiers since I was a kid.

And I think I'm not alone on this one. (note comment below, thanks Duane)

No, I'm not talking high-end pewter miniatures here (different entry for another day) but those roustabout 54mm plastic guys that can come through a kitchen-floor skirmish unscathed; Marx recasts, Imex, Armies in Plastic, Ideal, etc. I've accumulated about 2,000 of these guys over the past 25 years and even have them divided into regiments of 200.

Hey! it's a hobby, I'm entitled.

Anyway, Iv'e been storing the various regiments, batteries, supply trains, etc. in an assortment of bags, shoeboxes, and other nondescript cartons, stashed in closets, garage, and attic space. I'd always thought it would be nice to make some uniform wooden boxes for them all.

Enter the pile of garbage wood left behind my garage by the guy we bought the house from.

This rotting assortment consists of the sawed-off ends of painted planks, fenceposts, interior trim, pressure-treated dimensional lumber...a bug and spider infested truckload waiting to be hauled to the dump.

Two days ago I suddenly viewed that scrap pile as "raw materials"

I started selecting out the best of the worst of the lot, salvaging straight pieces with no nails, little or no rot, and no large cracks or splits. This new (and much smaller) stack then went to the table saw whereupon the "re-sawing" commenced.

Resawing is the process of cutting dimensional lumber to a new, slightly smaller dimension on all planes. This removed the paint, rot, and crud from each board and let me make each piece square and uniform. It's a pretty dirty process, producing large amounts of sawdust thats comprised of rot, bugs, and paint as well as wood. Definately wear a respirator and goggles when resawing.

Here's a before and after:

This would have been alot easier with a planer, but a table saw is what I have.

With this new stockpile of clean wood (which turned out to be oak) I started the design and production of the first of my "army guy boxes" roughly based upon the small ammunition crates of the Civil War.

All joints were glued and pegged.
and the surface was finished with a light Danish oil.

The resawing brought out lots of "character" in the wood, including scars, knots, and here, shotgun pellets.

And now the Iron Brigade has finally found a home.

One down, nine to go

Making the chips fly while waiting for subbing gigs,

Ranger Mannie

Monday, October 29, 2007

Us Old Guys can "Live the Adventure" too

Yesterday at the park as the day was winding down a gentleman approached me at the front counter. I'd sold him a ticket early in the morning and had seen him from time to time throughout the day.

We chatted each other up and his story had a familiar and comfortable ring to it: Kids grown, chucked his high-pressure job, foot-loose and fancy-free, loves the National Parks and Civil War history.

"Is it reasonable to hope that someone my age could do what you're doing?" was his question.

Noting that we appeared to be about the same vintage I told him what I tell everyone who asks the oft-asked question of "how do I get a job as a ranger?"


Identify the park you think you'd like to work at and join their "Volunteers-in-Parks" program. That's how I started, that's how a lot of us started. Let them get to know and love you, Let them know that you are interested in becoming a seasonal ranger. If you've already demonstrated to the person who'll be doing the hiring that you posess the skills, savvy, and magic that the job requires then you have a great advantage over all of those applicants who are unknown quantities to the park.

I asked if he was a veteran, and yes he was, with a combat related disability, no less. That will shoot him to nearly the head of the line of qualified candidates.

I also let this fellow know that about 90% of the ranger force is made up of seasonal rangers like me who are all trying to find that invisible rolling rabbit hole known as a permanent or "status" position.

Then he asked how does one go about getting a permanent rangering job. At that, I shot a sidelong glance at my friend and fellow seasonal, ranger John and said:

If we figure that one out we sure as heck aren't telling YOU!

It was all pretty jolly. We wished him luck. I expect he'll get lucky down the road.

I also recommended this publication put out by the Association of National Park Rangers:

Simply click on the title of this post to be taken to their website.

Good luck to us all!

Ranger Mannie

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Short, but bright, days of color

The leaves are turning at Antietam National Battlefield. With the fierce drought of this summer no one was willing to predict what the colors would be like for the autumn. No one had very high hopes. But with the dip in temperatures over the past week the colors are becoming revealed . Despite the very dry summer and the stress the drought placed upon the trees it appears that we'll have a spectacular show of color this fall.

Join us at Antietam and celebrate autumn.

It just dosen't get any better than this,

Just north of Sharpsburg.

Ranger Mannie

Friday, October 19, 2007

Working While looking for Work

Working as a ranger only two days a week has me looking for part-time employment.

This coming Monday I have my interview with Washington County Public Schools as a substitute teacher. As I only subbed a half day last school year my certificate lapsed with the system so I had to do the whole application process again to get back on the roster.

I'm sure everything will go A-OK and that I'll be subbing again within a week or so. In the meantime I've been staying very busy around the house.

I took this week to finish my basement studio, hoping that more writing and cartooning/illustrating can round-out the bigger employment picture.

The person I bought our house from left alot of junk in the outbuildings. Fortunately among the junk was some treasure, including some nice pieces of mahogany. Two days with my table saw netted this drafting table.

ready to start slinging ink!

I also finished off the display cases that I started in July

(that same space this morning)Once again my destroyers and sculpture have a dust-free home.

I model these guys out of a polymer clay product called Sculpey. I've done a series of sailors and marines from the 1940s, 50's, and 60's...

back when smoking and drinking were still part of the culture. This sweaty swabbie is really enjoying that cold, frosty San Miguel (didn't we all?).

I've also done a few Civil War figures. In these examples, two soldiers are posing for a photographer.

I call these things "three dimensional cartoons".

You can see a few more at my woefully neglected cartooning blog; "Mannie Gentile: Art Imitates Life" at

You can also see a short Youtube of me making figures from Sculpey for an art festival poster by going to:

or simply by clicking on the title of this post.

Now I must go bake some bread while my wife is out bringing home the bacon.

Boonsboro's favorite house husband,

Ranger Mannie

p.s. The bread came out pretty good too.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Gone to Seed

As if a switch was thrown, suddenly it became autumn at Antietam. Temperatures dipped, daylight is becoming more precious, and as a result the lush greens of the battlefield are giving way to tan, buff, and gold. The bulk of the underbrush is thinning out, leaving hay, straw, and seeds in the wake.

As the park turns into a feeder for the winter birds, we realize that fall is upon us.

Come see for yourself, just north of Sharpsburg.

Ranger Mannie

Friday, October 12, 2007

Muzzle blasts revealed

This past summer, our good friends from South Mountain State Battlefield limbered up their 12 pounder Napoleon gun howitzer and went into action at the Pry House for the delight and instruction of our visitors. I took the opportunity to lock down three camcorders in an effort to make some didactic hay out of the afternoon on Youtube. Now please understand that none of these still images (captured from video, accounting for the low quality) involved me, or anyone else being in harms way. Each camera was prepositioned and simply switched to "record" prior to any firing. The Park Service is extremely saftey conscious, great pains are taken to insure that black powder events are as safe as possible for visitors and presenters alike.

That disclamer noted, now let's look at some of these captured frames.

I've recently been reveiwing much of the artillery footage that I've recorded over the last two years, and I've come across some pretty interesting stuff.

These frames in particular are instructive when discussing the means by which Civil War projectile fuses were ignited.

This is an original, five-second fuse from the American Civil War. Simply a cardboard tube, packed with black powder, measured in one second graduations. This fuse relied upon the studied eye of the experienced gunner who would cut the fuse at the increment that coincided with the time of flight of the projectile to the enemy. That is to say, if the enemy were three and one half seconds away (by flight of projectile) the gunner would cut the fuse at the 3 1/2 second graduation and push the fuse into the fuse plug at the nose of the projectile prior to its loading into the gun. Follow?

Here is that very fuse inserted into the fuse plug of a six pounder projectile (case) ready to be rammed down the muzzle of the gun.

The idea being that, when the gun is fired, the projectile will exit the muzzle along with a ball of superheated gases (fire) from the ignition of the propelling powder charge. This ball of flame will instantly ignite the fuse as it is sent upon it's merry way toward the foe, where, ideally, it will explode exactly three and one half seconds later, directly above the enemy.

Let's look at the sequence that will ignite that fuse, one frame at a time.

Here is the muzzle of the gun at the moment the lanyard is pulled:

These are the superheated gases that exit the muzzle prior to the emergence of the projectile. This is the heat that ignites that fuse.

Within this ball of flame the projectile will emerge, fuse sputtering to life, towards it's rendezvous with the enemy, three and a half seconds downrange.

Here is that same sequence from a different, more revealing angle. Please pardon the color shift as my expensive camera decided to bite the dust at this crucial moment.

Lanyard pulled...

superhot gases proceed the projectile...

at this point the projectile will emerge with fuse ignited...

and projectile is on its way.

Simple as that.

To view the Youtube movie that I produced on Antietam Artillery Weekend 2006, simply click on the title of this post or go to:

Keep your heads down!

Ranger Mannie

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

1st Texas at Antietam video

Hello park watchers,

I celebrated this beautiful day by cutting a short Youtube, consisting of footage I captured last Autumn at Antietam when the 1st Texas was visiting. One of the advantages of assisting on the saftey line is the opportunity to preposition cameras for some compelling shots that couldn't be gotten otherwise (for obvious saftey reasons).

Go to: or simply click on the title of this post to go to the movie.

I hope you enjoy it.

Speaking of cool angles not readily available:

I'm still in the editing phase of my artillery piece, its going to be a while yet, but the sequences will be worth the wait.

See you on the firing line!

Ranger Mannie

Friday, October 05, 2007

No posts for awhile

Whatever bug I had last week, now has me.

Talk more later.

Must have pudding.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Idle hands mean edited videos

Hey gang,

Check out my latest Youtube at:

Or simply click on the title of this post.

The next one will be on Civil War artillery.


When This Cruel War is Over: Iraq and the sesquicentennial

Being the age of nine in 1961, I vividly remember that watershed of an event for me, the Civil War Centennial. It was, for better or worse, celebrated in a very public way over the years 1961-1965. My consciousness was raised by a multiple installment pictorial in LIFE magazine, Civil War themed postage stamps, the John Wayne movie "The Horsesoldiers", those classic toy CW soldiers manufactured by Marx, and a cool Civil War color-comic strip that appeared in each Sunday newspaper. Of course there were also special programs on TV, many other cool Civil War toys, and the trip to Getysburg in '64 with my dad and brother.

It was quite a celebration.

Within four years of the close of that event my brother would be in Vietnam, two years after that I'd be on a destroyer in the Pacific and by that time everyone was sick of the war and anything that had to do with war. War movies had lost their popularity, toy soldiers had tanked, GI Joe took an early out and Hasbro turned him into some sort of adventurer cum scientist. Nobody wanted to study on war anymore.

The centennial celebration dodged a bullet. Whither the sesquicentennial?

With 2011 just four years away, and no end of the current war in sight, what might be the impact on public commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War? I'm curious.

I invite your thoughts.

Perhaps, this time around GI Joe will become a Park Ranger...after all he does have that ten point preference.

Just askin' from just north of Boonsboro,

Ranger Mannie

Monday, October 01, 2007

Final Day, Final Project

It's been a great year and a half. Today is the day that's been looming for some time. I'll be weekends only until May. That's the way it is as a seasonal ranger. Man, have I had a great time.

It was mostly us seasonals at the park today and the mood down in the "bull pen" was the usual good-natured banter. However, toward the end of the day a slight pall crept in to the room as we started comparing notes on part-time job opportunities in the area. Then we ended up laughing about how much the workload is going to be increasing for the full-timers (no wonder they're rooting for us). We ended up in agreement about how lucky we are to have the coolest of jobs even on a part time basis, and headed for the parking lot and our homes until next weekend.

Over the last 18 months at the park I undertook several projects that I found quite satisfying, including lots of illustration jobs for park publications and rehabbing our collection of replica artillery projectiles. Today I completed my final project of the season.

During my tours I like to indicate the position of Battery B, 4th U.S. artillery from the Cornfield and tell the Johnny Cook story. The only problem is, you can't see the Battery B guns from the Cornfield. So late last season I cut a red artillery guidon out of a plastic table cloth and stapled it to a truncated sponge-rammer shaft. The result was immediate visibility of the battery position from the Cornfield as well as other key vantage points. I was pretty happy with the impact this simple expedient had on my tours and resolved to replace the plastic with actual fabric.

Today was the day and just in the nick of time. Ranger Christie brought in her sewing machine and I brought in a yard of red cotton cloth. I'm pretty handy with a sewing machine (I was a sewing machine mechanic in a garment factory many, many years ago) and in about an hour I had a nice little guidon all set to go.

The results are pretty convincing...

and very visible from the "sweet spot" in the Cornfield.

Everyone have a great autumn and I'll still see you on the weekends, for awhile, just north of Sharpsburg.

Ranger Mannie