Tag Archives: 315 glenroy

Chemistry 001

A merry chemistry-set Christmas to all and each. God spare us, every one!


A green and yellow exhaust-fuming bus stopped at the top of Glenroy Avenue, just across from the mailbox (still painted red, white and blue) — a very short walk from the Poe house and across from the once and future Haneberg house of Rick fame. There was a corner house with detached garage and level-as-a-dream driveway — more on driveway slopes in a minute. But you might not want to look at a topographic map of 315 geography to discover something the contour lines reveal — water flows downhill. And all waterways lead to Schroer.

It might not ever be a good time to read about Schroer, unless  you have four minutes remaining ’til the microwave beeps three times…

Hey Bill, you haven’t even started to talk about chemistry and the microwave is beeping.


Anyway, dad drove 100,000 miles a year for Pittsburgh Paint and Glass and he liked to park his car in the toasty garage. My memory-favorite is the schoolbus-yellow ’55 Chevy. Look at the photo above and imagine the steeply descending driveway chock-full of snow. Envision shoveling from the top of that stone wall down to the garage door. When the car made it to sidewalk level we watched dad drive the rear tires onto chains. Whoa, or something; my brain cells are suffering frostbite.

Since we’re not on topic, was that in the days before studded tires made tire chains as obsolete as laser discs?

Yes. yellow-school-bus

So, back to the fuming bus — don’t confuse it with yellow Kissel Brother school buses of rusted-floorboard lore. Seriously, you could see asphalt passing below the bus. Well it stopped at the John Shillito Department Store. Now long gutted and converted into upscale condominiums. There was an amazing toy department that stocked chemistry sets.

Holy crap, finally, a hint of your topic. 


Mad scientists of 1950’s film fame inspire young mad scientist wannabes such as this writer. A spirited collision of science-fiction reading, household chemicals, periodic table of the elements, sulphur and ignitable materials then sold at the drugstore in Storetown (Greenwell and Delhi area). There was even a Dot Food. Storetown is a few miles northwest of Sacred Mountain, in case that datum helps you orient.

Wasn’t The Gunpowder God published in Analog around 1964?


Written by H. Beam Piper. Premise: Pennsylvania highway patrol officer runs into a Möbius warp of the kind that sweeps you into alternate histories — in this case a gunpowder-free culture. Same geography, different history. That story piqued my interest in the flash-points of various combustible compounds.

Hey, it was even better than that. Piper provided the exact steps for the sulphur, charcoal and sodium nitrate — including the evaporation and precipitation steps. Stuff that a normal mad scientist might miss.

Any other 315 trivia we don’t want to know?

Yes. An ancient bottle of boric acid was still in the hall closet after dad died in 2012. It probably hadn’t been opened since the 60’s, when it joined my personal chemistry lab and darkroom. Things accreted in that basement. Layers and layers of family life in remnant form.

We just want to know about the chemistry experiments there, and we’re tapping our shoes off.

Yes. There was a refrigerator with its compressor on top, a gas stove to supplement the denatured alcohol burner, an old dresser to lend mad scientist flavor. Hot and cold running water.

Wow…or something.

Everything on the periodic table was fair play. Acids in the form of vinegar (acetic acid), bases in the form of Drano (sodium hydroxide). Look at ammonia from an open-ion perspective. Force some burning sulphur fumes into a concocted plastic container holding a little water. Shake it up and hope the resulting sulphuric acid melts through the plastic.

My attempt was somewhat more primitive than this inspiring page clearly illustrates

Fortunately for the other inhabitants of 315, I never got that far. I would pour a mixture of Drano and water onto aluminum foil and try to figure out how the bubbles could be captured and stored.

The 315 vicinity produced a team of neighborhood firework freaks who could find their way to Al’s in Covington, a Ma and Al shop that sold interstate fireworks to the likes of us. All very nice, but wasn’t it better to slice up cherry bombs and M80’s, stuff the ignitable into a bamboo pole? How to do it. That was another question. Severe burns and severed limbs? Hey, don’t change the subject. Bold scientist at work

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Bill, don’t you have a deadline or anything. It’s Christmas Eve tomorrow and, quite frankly, we are bored to frazzle. Do you know what that’s like?

No, but I’ll wrap this up for now and unwrap it later. And that reminds me: have a grand time unwrapping recyclable paper. Reuse.

And allow your cat(s) to help.

Merry Christmas, and all that stuff!

Thanks for reading.




Sacred Mountain, Lost City and an Apocryphal Wolf

Sacred Mountain yet rests above the Ohio River in Delhi Hills 45238. But you’ll have to dig under a plenitude of 1960s houses and apartments in what is still called Delshire. I call it the scouring of the Delhi. Over 3,000 residents today. There were 0 human residents in 1960. We often talked of overnighting at an abandoned farmhouse in that census year of zero homo sapiens.

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The boy-scout compass we used did not have any GPS functionality. Anyway, here is a link that we also didn’t have at the time to its latitude and longitude. If you have a time machine handy, set the values:

39°5′20″N 84°35′47″W

Then set the time for June 1961 (approximate, depending upon the capabilities of your specific time machine). Then look around. You might ask locals about Ma and Pa Wagner’s (native German speakers with super strong accents) shop, the one with all the great candy. They have three cherry-sized things for a penny.

Tolkien had already written about the ‘scouring of the Shire’ but I hadn’t known it at the time. The mythical landscape disappeared before the 60’s were less than half gone. In resume-timeline fashion the 60’s waxed with grade school (1961)and waned with university (1969).



Mythical names are serious tokens of youth. Let’s consider the central stream that cut through the middle of Sacred Mountain, now running into an unnamed cement culvert.

Water has a way with wear. It’s one of the few liquids that actually expand upon freezing, so it floats on water. It floated there in Winter 1960 according to personal witness.

And gravity has a way with attraction. Water seeks its level and finds it. Water coursed down a rapidly moving stream to disclose limestone strata on its water-wearing way to the Ohio, the Mississippi and the sea.

OK Bill, that’s already boring. Tell us about the vines that you lied on and that you swung with, the dust cloud of a pick-up truck and the contents of the barn.


Well, let me just tell you that it was a rapidly running stream with 10 foot falls at one place. Light-grey shale is often slippery when wet (Cuidado!). Expect to slide into the pooling water below.

OK. Food foraging kids of the 50’s living near 315 Glenroy spent every available moment grazing outside. It gave their mothers time alone in a two-bedroom house housing a family of six. Sleeping in the backyard of 315 was one way of escaping the Summer inferno that toasts the air in an unventilated bedroom. ‘Twas the day before air-conditioning in home or vehicle. Walks taken in the middle of the night to visit Dolly the retired horse were called ‘Journeys.’

OK Bill, now you’ve made us uncomfortable and you again lose the narrative to pedantry. So?

There was a tree so heavily covered with vines from canopy to forest floor that it was almost a room: darkness at midday. If you climbed up the tree your head would pop out. The surrounding vines were thick enough to allow you to recline upon them and observe the clouds.

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Swinging over a stream via vine is more than bracing, but by the end of the season it’s lack of that water I talked about earlier that results in a dead vine that will suffer no weight. Plan to land on your back. Just suggesting.

A gravel road traced its way from Mt. Alverno Ave. to the cliffs of Sacred Mountain. We knew it not at the time, but the abandoned farmhouse and full-sized barn were slated for scouring. The puffs of gravel dust served as a warning to juveniles (of potentially delinquent status).

Anyway, we shared sentry duty atop that barn. A cloud of dust portended a spoilsport whom we never met in person. A cry of ‘truck’ meant a call to jump down from barn roof to chicken-coop roof, then down upon the ground, and a run to the safety of trees and wood.

The Chantilly Woods was home to a large and hungry wolf. There existed no evidence of its existence, but we would not let that get in the way of a good story. Somehow it gave us pause, so we never ventured into its apocryphal lair. Obviously it jealously guarded the forest against invading juveniles, so we skirted the perimeter in what I will now say was deference to a legend and a nod to the sanctity of myth.

August 1961: 315 Glenroy backyard shack o’ the year. Construction materials retrieved from  a property lot bought for boomers’ parents. Unfortunately I did not take any photos of the shack after its paint job. Photograph taken and developed by the author in the 315 basement: sometimes a darkroom, sometimes a chemistry lab, always a time capsule.

The woods of Chantilly became another bulldozed victim of that demographic watermelon in the throat of time’s serpent; most parents were busily creating baby boomers. All that booming required slapped together units for exploding nuclear families. But that slapping together yielded waste lumber, shingles and nails (a magnet could find in the dust of summer dirt). Sheet by sheet and nail by nail we moved that bonfire-destined lumber before it could be sacrificed to the Wolf god.

As far as anyone can tell, this is the only surviving photograph of a structure assembled completely from waste construction (repurposed). We called it a Shack.

So, anticipating an unasked question, ‘Did that shack have a security system?’

Indeed, it did. A buzzer connected to a hobby-sized battery — wires completed a circuit when an intruding knee pressed down on a sheet of plywood. We intended to frighten potential thieves, instead those thieves stole the entire security system: buzzer, batteries, wires and all 🙂

Thanks for reading.