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Sunday, July 06, 2014

The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed by John McPhee | LibraryThing

I remember when, years ago, long before I retired, a guy came into the library and wanted some really obscure information on Ferris Wheels.  I got to talking with him and over the years we became friends.  He had some kind of menial job, working at KFC or something, but he was absolutely obsessed with Ferris Wheels and knew just about everything you can imagine about their history and how they work.  He was thrilled when we managed to dig up the arcane material he sought.

I've always secretly admired people like that.  They have a singular, driven purpose and interest that I lack. I’m interested in many, many things, but rarely obsessed with one item alone at that depth, so I've had a bazillion hobbies.

I like John McPhee who so engagingly writes about these personalities.  We have William Miller, a theology maven, who has sunk all his money and time into the development of a bizarre little craft, neither airship nor airplane;  John Kukon, model builder extraodinaire who had won a ridiculous number of model plane speed records, one using a fuel of his own design that was so powerful it broke the world speed record and couldn't be shut off, the plane flew for six miles; and how Aereon, the company they built,  fell apart.  

Why not use lighter-than-air to revolutionize missionary aviation? Why not create a Faith Fleet, a Christian Freight Line marked with the insignia of the National Council of Churches, to carry food, goods, and Bibles to people in what the church called the opportunity countries? Fifty transformers to the Voltaic Republic, a hundred thousand Bibles to Nigeria, a million peaches to the Haut-Katanga.

For whatever reason, the obsession with airships resurfaces every few years. Just read Popular Mechanics for a periodic revival of interest as a way to haul huge loads cheaply over undeveloped wilderness.   For Drew and Miller, the interest was tinged with religious fervor, but they sacrificed a great deal for their dream.

Wonderful story, laced with history, (the story of Andrew Solomons parallels that in John Toland’s The Great Dirigibles.)  McPhee always manages to take something apparently mundane and turn it into a fascinating essay about people and their relationship to the world around them.

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