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Schollhouse“I did nothing in my studies nor in my life to prepare me for a story of the magnitude of that New London tragedy, nor has any story since that awful day equaled it.” Walter Cronkite

The New London Schoolhouse Explosion was one of the first news stories that a young Walter Cronkite covered.

Propane doesn’t smell. It’s odorless in its natural state. But if there is a leak, you smell a nasty odor.

Ever wonder why?

It would have been fortuitous if this had been done as more and more buildings began to use propane and gas for heating. But no one thought of doing it until they realized they had to.

Lessons learned that save lives later, often come at high cost.

On March 18, 1937, a gas leak was sparked, causing an explosion that killed approximately 293 students and teachers at the New London School in New London, Texas. It is still the deadliest school disaster in U.S. History.

Ultimately, one of the biggest factors in this disaster was a desire to cut costs.

Warnings signs, such as students having headaches were also ignored. Instead, windows were opened.

All the contributing factors are listed in Shit Doesn’t Just Happen: The Gift of Failure. My goal in these books is to show how we have learned and can continue to learn from the sacrifices of those who went before. Those people, most schoolchildren, who dies in this disaster led to a change, adding odor to propane, that has saved many lives since then.

If only it didn’t take a disaster!


Every day there is a news report about a catastrophe somewhere in the world. Flood, hurricane, tornado, earthquake, zombies, dam breaks, landslide, power outage, vampires, forest fire, you name it. If you talk to people who’ve been through a catastrophe, the common refrain you hear is: I wish I had been better prepared!

We had a carpenter in our house the other day looking at some windows that needed work in one of the upper bedrooms. He noted the emergency window ladder we had underneath in a box and said: “You must have had been a fire sometime.” We asked why he said that. He said he only saw those ladders in houses, as a volunteer fireman, owned by people who’d been in one and learned they needed it.

We’ve never had a fire in our house, but we could look out the window and see it was needed. Take a look around your house now. Can you safely get out every window?

The other day I was watching news about an area that was suffering widespread flooding and it’s just another reminder that IT’S TOO LATE to prepare once the disaster strike.

Our house did flood one time. Not on Hilton Head Island, where the entire island is considered a flood zone. But in Boulder, CO.  At over a mile high, on top of a ridgeline.  It started raining one day very heavily for about four hours straight.  Then, suddenly, the water table simply rose up.  They’re not called the Rocky Mountains for nothing.  Water simply poured into our basement through the walls.  I would imagine pretty much every house in Boulder that has a basement is flooded now. Some things stick out about that flood.

You can only get into Longmont via I-25—all other roads were shut.  Some of the mountain towns along the foothills were completely cut off and the way the roads were getting washed away, were isolated for quite a while.  How many people there had 30 days worth of food?  Fuel to cook with?  How many had grab-n-go (aka bugout) bags packed when they had to evacuate.

Not long ago another place we used to live, Whidbey Island, suffered a large landslide.  I wrote the Survival Guide there because I knew we were in a high earthquake zone (many times greater than the San Andreas Fault).  I could look out my office window and see where the tip of Camano Island had fallen off into Puget Sound during an earthquake.  According to local legend, a number of Native Americans digging for oysters in the tidal flats off Hat Island were killed by the resulting tsunami.

FromandkorpsetI look at the pictures from every catastrophe and people are doing crazy things and also great things.  I see neighbors pitching in and helping each other.  During the flood, a man went to every basement apartment in his building and made sure everyone was awake.  But I also saw a picture of a guy with an extension cord standing in water so he can hook up a pump.  People driving through standing water—right next to pictures of cars over-run by water.  People playing in moving water.  My team sergeant taught us the power of water prior to our deployment to Danish Combat Swim School.  We were off the coast of Maine and he had us swim landward, but into the mouth of a river.  So as we’re finning toward land, we’re actually being pushed out to sea, because we couldn’t defeat the current.

Water is tremendously powerful.  Truly.  At Ft. Hood you’d pass these markers in every dip you drove down showing high water marks during flash floods and listing how many people had died in them. Yet there wouldn’t be a drop of water in the gully.

SurvivalFinal_KindleBoardsToday I’ve unpacked my large GNG bag, shaking out the sleeping bag, checking the air mattress, the food, the water, the purification tablets, test-fired, cleaned and oiled my survival rifle, checked the rounds, fired up the small stove, made sure I had plenty of fuel, replaced batteries even though they had some juice in them.  I checked all my handcrank devices, especially my survival radio.  Then I did the same with the supplies in my Jeep and house.  I ordered another med kit.  A better waterproof stuff sack for my sleeping bag (waterproofing gear is essential!). I still have a pile of small supplies on my shopping list.  The key is to get them NOW!  It’s too late to get this stuff while or after the disaster hits.  In the Survival Guide I list and give links to lots of gear.  I love using Amazon Prime to order stuff, with free shipping and two day delivery.

Start today and you can have most of what you need by Monday or Tuesday at the latest.  For people somewhere in the country it’s too late.  Don’t make it too late for you and your family.

Sultana“If we arrive safe at Cairo it would be the greatest trip ever made on the western waters, as there were more people on board than were ever carried on one boat on the Mississippi River!” William J. Gambrel, first clerk & part owner of the steamship Sultana.

The sinking of the Sultana is the greatest maritime disaster in United States history, yet most people have never heard of it. Even at the time of its occurrence, the headline was buried because John Wilkes Booth had been killed the day before the ship went down. In fact, the entire month of April was full of headlines: On the 9th of April 1865, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. On the 14th, President Lincoln was assassinated. On the 26th, Booth was cornered and killed. And this happened on the 27th; in fact, the ship that went down, brought word of Lincoln’s assassination up the river from New Orleans.

FREE today on Kindle: The Sultana: Explosion and Sinking.

The Facts: On 27 April 1865, three of four boilers on board the Sultana exploded, killing approximately 1,800. This was a greater loss of life than the Titanic. Most of those killed were Union soldiers, who were former prisoners of war returning home, making it a double tragedy.

This occurred on the Mississippi River, roughly eight miles north of Memphis in the middle of the night. (they’ve located the wreckage and its miles from the current course of the river, which gives you an idea how much the Mississippi changes!)

The Timeline:

21 April 1965: Sultana departs New Orleans.

24 April 1865: Sultana arrives at Vicksburg; boiler is ‘repaired’ but the Captain is in too much of a rush to cash in on the lucrative trade in transporting soldiers to have it done correctly. The boat is overloaded, mostly with former Union POWs.

26 April 1865: Sultana docks at Memphis.

27 April 1865: Sultana explodes.

DEFINITION: Cascade Event: An event prior to a catastrophe that contributes to the actual catastrophe, but by itself, is not catastrophic.

CASCADE THREE: The boat was grossly overloaded.

With a legal capacity of 376, it is estimated there were roughly 2,400 people on board the Sultana.

While part of the reason was the intense desire for the former POWs to make it back home, the fault lies with the greed of both the ship owners and the Army Quartermaster in charge. The system was that for each enlisted man he carried he would receive $5 and for every officer $10. And, the captain made an under the table deal with the quartermaster to kick back $1.15 for each soldier carried, a rather common practice on the river.

Such was the nature of this scheme that another steamboat already docked at Vicksburg, Lady Gay, received not a single passenger from the Army even though it was larger than the Sultana and leaving before her. Lady Gay left Vicksburg without a single former POW on board.

Even when another steamboat arrived, the Quartermaster, Reuben Hatch, refused to divvy up the prisoners, insisting they all go on the Sultana so he could get his kickback. (BTW, Lincoln had pardoned Hatch during an earlier investigation into his shady actions, because of political favors Lincoln owed back in Illinois).

The overcrowding had a direct impact on the explosion of the boilers because it made the boat top-heavy. As it went up the river, every time it took a turn in the Mississippi, the boat would tip. The four boilers were all interconnected and with each tip, water would run out of the high side boilers and into the low side. It’s believed that the water level got so low, that the high side would get almost completely drained.

When the water rushed back in to the hot boiler, the one with the patch finally blew, setting off two other boilers.

LESSON: The lure of ‘easy’ money and a kickback scheme set the stage for disaster. Regulations, concern for safety, common sense all disappeared as the ship’s captain and the quartermaster jammed every person they could aboard the Sultana, viewing each soul as cash.

The quartermaster clearly violated Army regulations in his greed.

Does all this sound sickeningly familiar?

Perhaps this is why history fascinates me so much. It sounds trite to say those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, but it is true. We’ve just seen how in Flint, MI, officials were unwilling to face a growing disaster. The same in Southern California with the gas leak. Only by becoming aware do we make any changes.

Kegwrothwhat do you do?

“We were thinking: ‘Why is he doing that?’ because we saw flame coming out of the left engine. But I was only a bread man. What did I know?”  Passenger on British Midland Flight 92 reflecting on hearing the pilot announce he was shutting down the right engine.

FREE today only on Kindle: The Kegworth Plane Crash: Danger of Trusting Experts.

The Facts

On 8 January 1989, a Boeing 737-400 crashed just short of the runway near Kegworth in the UK. 47 people were killed and 74 received serious injuries out of 126 on board.

Shortly after taking off and passing through 28,300 feet, en route to a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, a blade detached from the turboprop in the left engine. It resulted in a jolt and a bang. This was followed by a pounding noise, vibration, and smoke coming into the cabin. Several passengers near the rear of the plane noted smoke and sparks coming out of the left engine.

For various reasons discussed, the pilot shut down the plane’s right engine; the wrong engine. The vibration and smoke decreased and they descended to make an emergency landing at East Midland Airport. Just short of the runway, the vibration and smoke returned as power was increased to the left engine for landing and that engine ceased operating. The crew attempted to restart the right engine using airflow, but because they were getting ready to land, the plane was flying too slow and too low for this to work.

The plane crashed a quarter mile from the edge of the runway.

In the short book I list the six Cascade reasons why this Catastrophe occurred. Equipment failure, upgrades, inadequate training, failure to properly read instruments and follow protocol, all played a role. But the most important Cascade we have to focus on is the one that involves us. Our participation in the catastrophe. Despite what they saw, not a single person in the back of the plane informed the cockpit crew about what they saw. Not the passengers. Not the cabin crew.

This is the danger of trusting experts past the barrier of our common sense. We’ve all experienced this on a non-catastrophe level. You have a repairman in your house working on something. He doesn’t quite seem to know what he’s doing. And what he’s doing doesn’t make sense. And we don’t say anything, and then . . .

But at the level we’re talking about here, it’s life and death. While the actual threat is very small, people are very concerned about terrorism and active shooters. Yet both of those can often be stopped by observant people who notify authorities. I know in today’s politically correct age, some of us feel reticent to report things, but the costs have to be weighed.

Yeah, I know I’m paranoid. But that’s because people have been out to get me. And I look perfectly sane compared to my wife. She is always projecting ahead, anticipating trouble. The thing is: she right often enough for it to be valuable. And, she has a reason for her worries. She won’t drive, or let me drive, next to an 18-wheeler. Accelerate past it. Fast. Don’t follow right behind that pick-up with the one cord tying down all that furniture in the back. Don’t assume the person at the door is legit. When the flame comes out of the left engine and the pilot says he’s turning off the right, have a fit!

Ides(4b)House-keeping– sign up for email list, get a free eBook. And we are one month and one day away from the Ides of March. It’s been a blast to write. I know more about Columbus, King John II, Leonidas, George Washington, Odoacer and Theodoric, Caesar, Rasputin, et. al, than is probably healthy. History is indeed stranger than fiction, and then adding a little fiction into it, makes it completely crazy!

Time Patrol: Ides of March

15 March 2016

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