28 February 2010

Parks Are a Sweet Deal for Residents

Is there any doubt that Somerset County residents enjoy the best park system in the state? I am reminded of that fact every time I discover a new program at one of our facilities.

Today I accompanied the young women of Girl Scout Troop 255 as they learned about maple sugaring during a special presentation at the Environmental Education Center located in Lord Stirling Park, Basking Ridge.

Below are some photos from our day out in the snow at the Sugar Shack. Enjoy.

Somerset County Parks naturalist Monica Juhasz greets her guests after the half-mile hike from the Environmental Education Center to the Sugar Shack.

Ms. Juhasz led us out to the grove of Sugar Maples and provided an interesting overview of maple syrup from pre-colonial times to the present day.

Sugar Maples only grow in New England, New York, New Jersey, and parts of Canada. Sap only runs when nighttime temps are below 32, and daytime temps are above 32. Trees must be at least 10 inches in diameter before they can be tapped.

Everyone got a taste of sap straight from the tree!

Back at the Shack, Ms. Juhasz demonstrates the boiling process. It takes 40 gallons of watery sap to produce one gallon of sweet maple syrup.

And here's the finished product!

27 February 2010

Pack 89 Pinewood Derby

I told myself I wasn't going to be one of those dads. You know the type. The guys who will stop at nothing to make sure their kid wins the big game, or has the coolest project at the science fair.

But most of that went out the window when my son lost one of the regulation axles needed for the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby.

Scouts contemplate the trophies before the first race at the 2010 Pack 89 Pinewood Derby, hoping to take one home for themselves.

While searching the internet for official axles, I stumbled upon a high-tech pinewood derby replacement part and customization industry that would have been unimaginable 40 years ago when I was a kid. They have everything you need to make your car go fast - from pre-polished axles to de-burred wheels to a magic substance called "tube-o-lube". This is the special dry graphite lubricant all the other dads had been talking about - the only type of axle lubricant allowed under Boy Scout rules.

Anticipation is high as the cars line up at the start.

By the time I hit the "Buy Now" button I had spent about $20 - on axles, lubricant, and the all-important lead weights. Pinewood Derby cars can be no heavier than 5 ounces - and ideally should hit that number right on the nose to maximize potential energy at the top of the track.

Click on this image to see a series of four photos taken just one second apart. These cars are really moving - at scale speeds over 200 m.p.h.

As is the case with most fathers of seven-year-old scouts, I ended up doing most of the work on the car. But the design was all his, and, ultimately, it was that cool design which got us to the finish line first.

That and the tube-o-lube!

The two big winners at the end of the day.

24 February 2010

Plowing Through - Full Steam Ahead

It looks like we're in for a few more days of snow - and it's still only February! Considering that one of the worst storms to ever hit this region didn't occur until the middle of March, I'd say we can probably expect another storm or two before we're through. At least we have the television, radio, and internet to keep us informed. They had none of that during New Jersey's worst snowstorm.

Three Lehigh Valley steam engines wrecked in the snow
 at Three Bridges, 14 March 1888.

The March 11-14 storm known as the Great Blizzard of 1888 dumped four feet of snow on central New Jersey in just four days. Drifts of the 40-foot variety were common throughout the region as sustained winds of 45 m.p.h. piled up the snow from Virginia to Maine.

Railroads bravely tried to keep running - with disastrous results.

15 March 1888 Courier News

On the morning of March 14, four Lehigh Valley Railroad steam engines coupled together with two wrecking cars containing 100 men set out from Easton, PA in an attempt to clear the tracks eastward through New Jersey. By that afternoon they had cleared nearly 100 snowdrifts and were feeling confident as they approached a tremendous snowdrift blocking the tracks at the curve between Three Bridges and Neshanic Station.

Three Lehigh Valley steam engines wrecked in the snow
 at Three Bridges, 14 March 1888.

To smash through, the speed was increased. As the four locomotives hit the snow, the first one derailed, and the next two were quickly wrecked. The engineers in the front two engines were killed, along with the conductor of the gravel train. The fireman in the first engine was badly scalded by escaping steam.

This was one of three fatal railroad accidents related to the blizzard in New Jersey. Four coupled engines of the Morris and Essex Railroad ran into a drift near Hackettstown, killing the engineer of the first locomotive. Three engines of the Jersey Central Railroad heading east from Phillipsburg attempting to clear the tracks struck an immovable 16-foot snowdrift. The snow broke right through the front part of the first locomotive's cab, killing the fireman instantly.

In the days before computers, television, radio, and telephones, the railroads were not only vital to our nation's transportation, but also its communication. They were the carriers of the information in the pre-information age. No wonder so many gave their lives to keep those lines of communication open.

22 February 2010

A Near Perfect Pair of Towns

Have you picked up the March 2010 issue of New Jersey Monthly magazine? Inside you will find the "Best Places to Live" in New Jersey - with Hillsborough and Millstone at the top of the heap!

Monmouth University's Polling Institute ranked the 566 municipalities according to the key factors that best represent quality of life: population growth, home values, property taxes, land development, employment, crime rate, school performance, and proximity to services.

Congratulations to Millstone which was recognized as the best small town (population under 5,000) in the state! The borough, which ranked 11th overall, achieved this status by garnering a bunch of zeroes - zero population growth, zero unemployment, and zero crime. No other municipality in the top 100 could make this claim.

Congrats are also due Hillsborough, which ranked second in "big towns" (population over 25,000) and 31st overall. Our town's large population seemed to be the only negative factor in the survey, as no towns with a population over 30,000 were included in the top 30, and only two more populous towns figured in the top 100.

Hillsborough and Millstone continue to constitute a near-perfect pair of New Jersey towns.

16 February 2010

Out-Standing in their Fields

What do former Boston Red Sox slugger Jim Rice and Hillsborough farmer Richard Norz have in common? Yes, they have both been outstanding in their fields. For Rice, that would be left field, and for Norz, the cow pasture on South Branch Road.

Now, with the announcement this week that Norz has been awarded the title of National Outstanding Young Farmer by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce, they have something else in common. They have both been elected to their respective Halls of Fame.

Norz is just the sixth New Jersey farmer to receive this recognition since its inception in 1955. Rice, a 2009 inductee, is the 103rd member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

So what ELSE do they have in common? Both Jim Rice and Richard Norz squeaked through in their last year of eligibility. Rice was on the ballot for 15 years before finally getting enough votes, and would have been dropped in 2010. Norz, who is 40 years old, would have been officially too old to qualify as a "young farmer" next year!

Just goes to show, it's never too late to be recognized for being outstanding in your field!

14 February 2010

Hillsborough - the New Dodge City?

Is Hillsborough becoming the Dodge City of the East?

Forty years after the famous, and infamous, Kansas town tore down its false-fronted 19th century buildings along the main street in an urban renewal project, our stores near the corner of Route 206 and Amwell Road are being treated to their own facelift.

In typical old western style, the strip mall is being given some new height with the addition of a phony second story.

Apparently the project is intended only to improve the aesthetics of the property, as no additional commercial space is being added.

It's interesting to note that Dodge City owes its success as a cattle drive boomtown to the creation of a bypass (!) off of the old Chisholm Trail.
With the Route 206 bypass ready to get underway, it will be interesting to see what effect it will have on Hillsborough's "Main Street".

08 February 2010

Anna Case the Patriot

The Somerset Patriots will be auditioning singers Saturday, March 6 [2010], at the Menlo Park Mall. They are looking for talented individuals to sing the National Anthem at home games this upcoming season. It would be fitting if at least one of the chosen soloists was a Hillsborough resident since one of the most renowned Anthem singers of the 20th century was Hillsborough's own Anna Case.

1918 magazine advertisement for Liberty Bonds.

Beginning on the eve of the First World War, the Metropolitan Opera soprano began including the Star-Spangled Banner in her concert performances. She often appeared on stage draped in an American flag, singing and asking the audience to buy Liberty Bonds.

October 1918 Liberty Bond Rally at the Treasury Building in New York

Besides her own concerts and other special musical events, the popular singer appeared numerous times at war bond rallies in and around New York.

1917 Edison Records ad.

The song was so well received that she recorded a popular version for the Edison record label.

Anna Case at the Sea Girt Army Camp, 1917

A quarter-century before Bob Hope took to the road, Anna was entertaining the troops at military camps across the country, sometimes delivering an Edison phonograph and an assortment of discs for the soldiers to enjoy, as she did during a visit to the Army camp in Sea Girt pictured here.

1924 newspaper clipping

Having gained a reputation as THE Anthem singer, Anna Case became the go-to soloist whenever the Star-Spangled Banner was needed - most notably at the 1924 Democratic National Convention at Madison Square Garden, where the only way to calm the boisterous partisan crowds was to call Miss Case to the stage. With arms outstretched, the first notes of the Anthem so "stirred the hearts of the multitude", that a near riot was transformed into a "reverent tribute" to the late President Woodrow Wilson.
24 July 1927 Pittsburgh Post Gazette

By 1927, it was almost unheard of for any singer OTHER than Anna Case to be called on to sing the anthem at a public event. That's why it was big news when a bumbling entertainment coordinator unwittingly booked both Miss Case and another soloist to sing the Anthem at the New York reception for Charles Lindbergh following his return to America after his solo flight across the Atlantic.
1943 newspaper clipping

Even her semi-retirement from the concert stage following her 1931 marriage to telegraph tycoon Charles Mackay couldn't temper Anna's patriotic spirit. She continued to deliver the Anthem wherever and whenever needed, right up through World War II - sometimes including her own composition "Our America", one of a number of patriotic tunes penned by the talented singer.

Singing at the Acadia Ballroom, 1943

There is perhaps one engagement Anna Case did not play. I haven't been able to find an account of her singing the Star-Spangled Banner at the start of a ball game.

05 February 2010

Gut COAH, Then What?

A year ago this week, campaigner Chris Christie made his well-remembered pledge to "gut COAH". Now columnists and bloggers and pundits are calling on Governor Christie to follow through with his promise - even suggesting he simply stop paying the Council on Affordable Housing staffers, just let everyone go home.

I don't think that's what he is going to do, because I don't believe he has a problem with "affordable housing", or with the idea that our municipalities should be "inclusionary", not exclusionary.

Yet still, he looks at a town like Hillsborough with its wide variety of housing ranging from tiny one bedroom rental apartments to the latest "McMansions", and wonders why a town as inclusionary as ours should have to bear the burden of more phoney-baloney affordable units than anyone could possibly want or need.

03 February 2010

Un-fair Tax

Our national government needs money. Money for national security, infrastructure, social services, and about a million other things. A convenient way to get that cash is by taxing its people. Nothing new here - it's been going on for millennia.

The simplest way to collect those funds is to impose an old fashioned poll tax. This is not a tax for voting, but simply a flat per-person tax. Who qualifies as a taxable "person" can be worked out, but simply, every qualified individual pays the same fee. This sort of tax is based on the idea that all individuals benefit from the government equally, and all should contribute equally to it. Sounds fair to me!

Another way to collect funds is through a flat percentage tax based on income. This takes into account the fact that individuals making more money can afford to pay more. So, at a 20% tax rate, a person making $100,000 would pay $20,000 and a person making $50,000 will pay $10,000. I can live with that!

A third scheme, one which the United States has employed for decades, is to tax different levels of incomes at different percentages. This is based on the theory that not only can "rich" people afford to pay more, but that they can also afford to pay a higher percentage of their income. After all, 20% is a lot more dear to a person making $50,000 than it is to a person making $500,000 - so maybe the person making $500,000 needs to pay 40%. Okay.....

These first three plans all make sense on some level.

What doesn't make sense is President Obama's budget plan that would result in 50% of working Americans paying ZERO income tax.

In my view, every working person has to pay something - I don't care if it's one percent, or one half of one percent! Doesn't he see what a disincentive it will be - to the half that will still be paying - to be as productive as they have been, once they realize they are paying for services enjoyed by the half who pay nothing?

If this keeps up, we are likely to chase our most productive citizens, and their tax dollars, right to oblivion.

02 February 2010

Why Should Phil Have All the Fun?

Starting today, let's wipe Punxsutawney right off the weather map. Two years ago I suggested Hillsborough should have its own groundhog, and I am making that suggestion again. If Staten Island can have one (Chuck), and Milltown can have one (Mel), then there is no reason our town can't have a pint-sized prognosticator to call our own.

All we need is a melodious moniker, and a Mayor with the fortitude to go nose-to-nose with the furry garden pest - not to mention the courage to wear the top hat!

Let's hear your ideas for Hillsborough groundhog names - and what you think a Groundhog Day ceremony in Hillsborough should look like.

Take a look at today's celebration in Pennsylvania to get some ideas.