On Memorial Day I honor two William Slyters: My great great grandfather who died near Memphis in the Civil War and my father who served in Hawaii in World War Two.

From reading the history of the senior William’s 28th Wisconsin Infantry, it appears that during the units 3 years of service they saw but a few days of combat. This is reflected in the dozen or so combat fatalities among the thousand odd 28th’s soldiers, while around 200 died by stupid accidents and disease as my great great grandfather did. I doubt this was by design- President Lincoln and his generals certainly wanted to engage and defeat the confederates as promptly as possible. But even the north’s railroads were still making there way across the Mississippi River, the south’s few railroads couldn’t even agree on a common gauge, and once away from the mighty Miss’, the rivers soon got too small to navigate. With scarce horses and wagons dedicated to hauling supplies, both union and confederate armies tended to move at a walking pace, with the union troops having to walk to the south before battle could even commence. Throw in days spent foraging for essentials and sitting out southern humidity and northern snows, and it’s no wonder the Civil War was a long and slow one.

Shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack the younger William gave up a job as recreation leader where he kept depression deprived kids busy and out of trouble in Minneapolis’ parks and enlisted. After basic training the Army gave him the same job in Hawaii, working to boost the morale of service members on R&R or injured in combat. Other than overly large servings of pineapple, my dad had no complaints about the plentiful food and supplies. Heck, the military even flew him home to Minnesota for his dad’s funeral. In less than a century, America’s military had become proficient at logistics, freeing soldiers to tend to the needs of others instead of fighting for mere survival.

So how did we get so good?

For America, the Revolutionary War and War of 1812, being fought on our home turf, presented only minor logistical challenges. For the British it was another matter, with supply and communication lines stretching for weeks across the Atlantic. For the union the Civil War presented a whole new set of challenges, the least of which was transporting and supplying a tenth of the country’s population hundreds of miles from home in an age when trains were stopped by teams of Brakemen running along the tops of cars to turn giant wheels to apply the brakes, and riverboats were routinely wrecked and burned even in peacetime. Add in state and even local militias that picked sides and came and left the war as they pleased, and the American military had to grow up fast.

That led to a national commitment to mobility, which took the form of transcontinental railroads and later a national highway system as well as deep water ports and the Panama Canal. Thus despite a late entry into World War One, America was able to ship enough troops and supplies across the Atlantic to provide the margin of victory.

Two decades later the Nazis had built a frighteningly efficient and brutal war machine that rapidly overran country after country. General Eisenhower, who had long worked to improve the military’s mobility, was amazed at the German autobahns while we were largely still a nation of two lane roads. But thanks to depression era jobs projects those were paved roads, our railroads were at peak strength. Hitler blew his logistical advantage by ordering his troops to march far beyond their supply lines in Russia while pursuing low value targets and fuel in north Africa. We invented the greatest military vehicle ever, the Jeep, and mass produced it and millions of trucks, planes, and ships. Black soldiers from the south, many of whom hadn’t even driven a car, were put on ‘dozers and built a road to Alaska, while women drivers wrestled twin engined Ford trucks hauling long bomber fuselages by night across the midwest between plants. No wonder we were able to pull off what is probably still the largest logistical exercise in history, the D-Day invasion,

After that the Korean War barely challenged our logistical skills, and in Vietnam the officer’s mess were infamously kept stocked with baked Alaska while wounded soldiers were whisked away to hospitals. But we were matched by an enemy whose supply line was a rugged trail not even ridable by bicycle that had so infiltrated the country that we were buying cement to build our airport runways from them.

With the porky Humvee replacing the svelte Jeep, we became a military that travelled too heavy and thirstily. No wonder that when the first Gulf War started, Mack workers labored through xmas vacation to build a rush order of trucks for the military, while trucking companies were running their drivers so ragged that they couldn’t move military vehicles to port quickly enough. Thankfully that little intervention into Iraq’s civil war was mercifully short.

Comes the 9/11 attack and Bush the junior had an excuse to double down on the stupid and return to Iraq. While the special forces rapidly counterattacked with air dropped ATVs, it took months for the rest of the military to get their Humvees packed up and back to Iraq. And like Vietnam, not knowing who was friend of foe, the military had to bring everything, kitchen sink and all, to Iraq. Then came the IEDs- improvised mines that would tear right through unarmored Humvees and the hordes of fuel trucks that fed them. Thus began the “uparmoring” of the Humvees, making them more thirstier and less durable. The enemy adapted with bigger IEDs, and the military answered with half million dollar MRAPs, a truck so heavily armored that it had to be built on a medium truck chassis. It says something of what the military thinks of these bloated poor excuses for a Jeep that most of them are being left in Iraq… To be captured and paraded by ISIS, at least until they figure out that they’re better off selling their stolen fuel supplies rather than waste them on these behemoths. When you’re an impromptu army that has no VA style lifelong healthcare commitment to it’s troops, a Super Duty pickup with a .50 in the bed works just as well… DOD, could you at least put a satellite activated kill switch on these things?

So America’s military mobility is at a crossroads… Clearly the age of 10 ton guzzlers with no more capacity than a crew cab pickup and relying on america’s trucking “industry” to move them are over. The military is clearly shopping for something Jeep/Land Rover size and even ATVs, and a few small contracts are even being let. But STRANET, the military’s plan for a “steel interstate system” of upgraded rail lines to speed military matter and every other form of freight and passengers is going nowhere in the current conservative congress. Too few of those congressmembers have served in the military or even have kids in the military, and too many are beholden to big military contractors… Thus they have little understanding of the military, and poor kids die in stupid trucks because of their stupidity.

DSC_4019In case you haven’t perused a recent edition of the glossy BMWMOA News lately, the club’s business plan is pretty obvious… Noting that BMW is making some some healthy profits selling overpriced motorcycles, BMWMOA figures that the well heeled owners of those new BMWs should head straight on over to their littler corporation and it’s overpriced rallies and spend a bunch more $$$. But it appears that a lot of the local clubs that founded the MOA either haven’t gotten the memo or are outright rebelling, as they persist in holding these low budget weekend rallies offering maximum fun for minimum bucks.

Thus after the previous weekend’s $20 bargain on the banks of the Missouri, I blew all of $33 for a couple nights camping, saturday night supper, a couple continental breakfasts, and all the coffee, etc. we could drink and firewood we could burn at the Great River Road Rally. The folks in the Minnesota and Iowa clubs haven’t gotten into compliance with the MOA business plan either, as they’re offering similar bargains in the coming weeks… Meanwhile, MOA expects even members to cough up $50 just for some dusty ground to sleep on at their rally!

DSC_4018Now one would think that MOA HQ in suburban St.Louis would just lay down the “law” and pressure these poverty rider enabling local clubs into line… Problem is, they can’t (and that’s a “good” problem). MOA is running scared, losing a mere few hundred members a month while the internet makes their “farkle guide” monthly rag obsolete. That means less ad revenue, which may explain why the MOA rally fee keeps risin’. That reduces MOA’s reason for living pretty much down to bulk purchasing of liability insurance for local clubs, and they can get that from AMA should MOA fold.

But MOA has a staff of ten or so and requisite payroll to make, which probably explains a lot of the desperate moves MOA is making.  Meanwhile, the local clubs are powered by volunteers who happily keep on doin’ what they do best- puttin’ on affordable events while MOA tries to keep their bloated beauracy alive and paid. MOA, get the message: You’re pricing yourself out of a shrinking market!

Sophronia was a plucky lady, widowed first when my gg grandpa William Slyter died in the Civil War, and again a few years later when her next hubby, Isaac Fuller, got hit by lighnin’. Then in the 1870s a Sophronia Fuller pops up in the Government Land office records, homesteading a quarter section near Springfield in southeastern South Dakota… DSC_3998Dang good land! Sophronia also bought outright a few acres in the Missouri River bottom lands a couple miles away, may have been farmable at the time, but after the most recent floods…DSC_3992This was a bit of high ground, most of the acreage was too wet to hold a tree up. But Sophronia didn’t hang around long, couple years later she’d married a West Daggett and was back in Wisconsin, where she remained in Whitehall ’til her passing in the first years of the 20th century.

Did all this reconning on my way to the Big Sioux Riders spring campout at Fort Randall on the Missouri River. Finally dried out on friday so had a nice ride there with the sidetrip to check out Sophronia’s claim, followed by a lovely day saturday as we explored the river valley to Niobra and back. The forecast for saturday night and sunday was foreboding.. 90% chance of rain, with snow in the Black Hills! This didn’t help attendance any, and at peak we we’re up to about 15 sociable souls. Then one of the riders crashed on some unsigned pavement grinding on the way to the campout, and a couple other riders with a trailer went to give the rider and battered bike a ride home to Sioux Falls, they didn’t come back. A few more riders headed home during the day saturday and for a while we were down to four of us to lay waste to 30 brats and equal proportions of beans! I checked the weather at around 4 pm and it was looking better- down to 50% chance of rain heading east, but 90% on the northward leg to my Buffalo Ridge abode… I decide to stay the night instead of hightailin’ home. Then reinforcements arrived in the form of two more club members, we didn’t shame them for arriving by car.

We had to get moderately resourceful, cheating by using gasoline to start our camp/cook fire in the rain. Did the brats and beans up good, and the rain and wind pretty much held off ’til we were too tired to stay up any later anyway. Was warm and dry in my tent, didn’t even zip up the sleeping bag all the way. Morning brought an even better forecast… a couple hour window of opportunity with but 30% chance of rain, and 50% chance for the last miles home. Had a tangerine, couple a snack bars, and couple cups of coffee and skipped breakfast and headed east, with the rain about 50 miles north. Had a dry ride save the odd raindrops, marred by some drizzle for the last 50 miles when I turned north towards home.

So watch the weather… But don’t let the weather keep ya home!

DSC_3991No, this ain’t no rural love story.

That weight limit sign says 34 tons max, no matter how many axles you got on your tractor trailer rig and how far apart they are. Legal limit for all loads here in Minnesota is 40 tons, ‘cept farm products are allowed up to 49 and a half tons by permit. And those are good ol’ ‘merican short tons, not the 10% heftier metric tons. Lincoln county, pop. ~5000 or so, has around a hundred bridges, and darn near a quarter of them are damned by the overworked bridge inspectors and county engineers and officially labeled unsafe and overdue for replacement.

Now when a hilly and stream infested county of 500 odd squares miles and ~5000 odd people has a couple dozen bridges to replace, that’s a tall economic order. And that’s just the official number, when I added in the bridges that require evaluation and approval from that same overworked county engineer before even a 40+ ton tractor trailer rig can cross them, the number of bad bridges rises into the 30s. And these weight restrictions make it damn hard to farm or bring in giant wind turbines, which are the county’s number one and two economic engines respectively, excepting the county’s multiple nursing homes.

Which probably explains how Lincoln County got to be the county in Minnesota with the highest percentage of broken bridges, beating out #2 adjoining Pipestone County. Both Counties are represented in the legislature by the same republicans who shill for the nursing home industry which are darn near number one or two in patients/percapita in the state… While refusing to support even a “Keep up with inflation” gas tax increase to fix the busted bridges. And of course, they support increased truck weights so the can bust up more bridges even faster.

Sorry, teabaggers… You wanna play with 40+ ton trucks, you gotta pay at the pump!

Does this look like the starting line of a race?DSC_3942

Nasty uphill full of fist size and bigger than fist size rocks… A few spectators took pity and removed the bigger boulders.

DSC_3863DSC_3913they let little kids race too…DSC_3893This is as organized as the starting line got… Hey, gettin’ this many kids pointed in the same direction is a major accomplishment!DSC_3982Then they turned the big kids loose… this rider made so much roost, he oughta be in the excavatin’ biz.

Faithful rider- This guy rides every year on the 70s Suzuki dual sport bike he bought new.DSC_3957

The “trail rider” class provided something for everyone- kids just graduating from the tiddlers to old duffers on plated dual sport bikes.

DSC_3937

DSC_3969‘Twas a relaxed way to ride or “race” or anything in between- The young hotshots thrilled us with their speed, while the old timers stopped to help each other out, grab some refreshment, or just plain take a break.

The Off Road Poker Run happens every May at the Glacial Lakes Motorcycle Club’s riding area at South Shore, South Dakota, snowmass willing. FFI: http://www.glmc.org

DSC_1491I’ve always loved you… The strong, silent type… Always there to break the toughest turf and pull and plow for what seems like forever. You we’re kinda behind the times… Who else built 1910 2 cylinder tractor designs into the 1950s? But you were always there when needed, without complaint, and sometimes you even caught up with the times.

But John (Deere), lately you’ve been becoming kinda high maintainence. Just noticed it the other day when I wandering by the local dealer for your “Deere Days” or whatever promotion. Desite it being a nice saturday with a free lunch offered, the parking lot was empty but for an old pickup or three, probably the usual parts counter hangers on takin’ in the free lunch. And the promised equipment demonstrations and test drives? Looked like the same bunch of tractors that had been sitting on the lot long enough to grow roots!

Mighta had somethin’ to do with the prominent near $20,000 price tag on a 25 horse subcompact “1 series” tractor with nothing but  a mower and a front end loader. For those kind of bucks we’ve come to expect a full cab with wipers, heat, and probably a coffee maker too. Jilted, I rode home, taking new interest in the several orange, blue, and red tractors along the way. Got on the web and figured out where that crazy near $20k price came from- Looked to be MSRP plus shipping and the other “usual” charges. But then I remembered the 17% discount that Deere was offering my state DOT, even if they only bought one tractor. And that 17% applied to the cheaper economy “E” model too, dropping the price by thousands. So yes John Deere, you been holdin’ out on me, while wooin’ the big buyers… And here I even bought stock in you.

So John, this is it… That orange Kubota guy does the job just as well or better, and the dealer knocked over a thousand off the asking price before the hagglin’ even got started. And if Kubota ain’t available, there’s the blue and red tractors too. And don’t give me that “buy ‘merican” BS… I know damn well your mother was a Yanmar! So you can take your attitude, and your arrogance, along with your limited catagory 1 3 point hitch and…

In all seriousness, the local John Deere dealer’s marketing manager and I have been engaging in an e-mail debate of late. As a customer, I’m rather off put by the dealer’s highball pricing- It’d make a lot more sense to lowball with a stripped model of the same tractor to get customers in the door, then upsell them. But this appears to be SOP at the Deere dealerships, which tend to be owned by huge chains- This dealer has only 6 stores! Their “competitor” 40 miles away has dozens of stores over several states, and the local Case IH dealer has around a hundred stores spread over several continents and countries. That sort of effective monopoly keeps prices profitably high, but drives away volume… Which given current low crop prices and the glut of late model tractors on the farms, is not a good thing. When the tractor dealer’s lot is full of repo’d 600 horse tractors, giving a residential or small farm customer a good deal on a 20 horsepower tractor keeps the doors open ’til better economic days. That’s why, as a Deere shareholder, I’m ticked… I can go over to the Kubota dealer and get a better deal, but if every customer does that I’m losing on downward trending Deere stock what I save by not buying a Deere.

Maybe I should make the Deere annual meeting this year…

EBR is in receivership, despite receiving twenty million in capitalization from a bunch of foreign investors who traded half a million in “green” apiece for a green card assuring themselves and their families a lifetime pass in the United States. That’s on top of Indian motorcycle maker behemoth Hero dropping twenty five million into EBR in return for a near half share of Erik Buell Racing, LLC. This 45 million dollar capital infusion doesn’t include the “flooring” (financing of unsold dealer stock) provided by GE Capital and whoever else’s dollars were sunk into EBR… It’s an LLC and not a public company, so we may never know just who all has skin in the losing game that EBR has become.

So how did EBR, in barely five years and after building a mere couple thousand bikes, manage to blow through at least forty five million? Unlike previous failed wannabe bike builders like Excelsior-Henderson, EBR rented their digs instead of soaking the investors and local governments to build a Taj Mahal factory/museum and finance multiple junkets to Daytona and Sturgis. Granted, rent may have consumed a couple million. The head count peaked at a bit over a hundred towards the end, so figure a payroll that went from zero to five or six million a year. Figure worst case of $10k per bike in raw materials for the couple thousand EBR’s built and there’s twenty million sunk in materials… But GE Capital has effectively bought the dealer stock of perhaps a couple hundred EBRs, and at least a few hundred more EBRs have actually been sold to hard core customers. So EBR has probably spent a couple million on rent, fifteen million or so on the help,  case maybe ten million on materials, and the odd couple million on ads, web presence, and paper clips. We’ve accounted for barely half of the known capitalization of EBR, what happened to the rest?

I know about EB-5 from the mismanaged state immediately to the west, the southern of the Dakota twins. South Dakota had a very active EB-5 program, so successful that the state employee administrator in charge of it sold it to himself and made it his private company. Where was the official oversight? He up and blew his head off when the media started looking for explanations of why so many EB-5 funded companies went under… Just like EBR. And after being blessed with those millions in EB-5 capital, how could a string of thousand head and up dairies and a giant beef packing plant in Aberdeen not succeed?

Well, their business plan sucked for a start- The market for milk and beef isn’t growing, as consumers shift from milk to soft drinks and now overpriced water, while beefeaters are defecting to poultry and tofu. And the Dakotas, hundreds of miles from major markets, are a poor logistical choice. EBR made similar mistakes, offering a raw boned traditional race bike with a license plate while Yamaha with the R1 and BMW with the SS1000 have changed customer expectations to include a bit of riding civility. That limited EBRs market to the couple hundred remaining hard core “race bike with a plate” buyers a year. Building there own engine when no less than premier supplier Rotax would supply it was a questionable move too.

But boss of record Erik Buell isn’t the kind of guy to worry about budgets… Would you expect anything less from a brilliant engineer who quit Harley to build race bikes, even after Harley offered him the job of chief engineer! Reputedly “hard to get along with”, A glance at court records in his suburban Milwaukee county finds him named in no less than three divorce proceedings, and at age 65 he still hasn’t acquired the exurban estate expected of Harley execs… Heck, he even allowed a lean on his modest home to get Harley to acquire Buell Motors two decades ago, a deal his own lawyer advised against. And shortly after Harley shut down Buell and tossed him, he put aside starting EBR for a couple days to pour new babbitted main bearings for a couple Norwegians riding half century old Danish bikes cross country in the middle of winter. Clearly, Erik Buell is the guy you want to keep comfortable in front of a CAD terminal, and let someone with more appropriate talents handle the money.

So were the millions in EB-5 largesse legally wasted on dumb business plans, or was there sinister and perhaps even criminal intent? We’ll probably learn first from South Dakota, where an open criminal investigation of the EB-5 program continues. We do know that a whole industry has fed off the EB-5 program, and while the dairies and beef packing plant went bankrupt, the wheelers and dealers that put together these questionable deals are doing very well. In Wisconsin the same wheelers and dealers that sold green cards to raise green for EBR and themselves did the same for a company that’s trying to build and market a two stroke diesel aircraft engine. That’s a business plan that makes EBRs look sane… But makes money for the wheelers and dealers just the same.

So while EBR and Erik’s dream may be dead, forty foreigners and their families got green cars, and the wheelers and dealers made big bucks… “There oughta be a law”, or did they break laws we already got?

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