Twisted from the Sprue is my little corner of the internet. This site started as a simple web presence for the Three Rivers IPMS model club - as in middle-aged guys who never quite out-grew gluing together miniature cars and planes (and not a club of really good looking people who have their pictures taken for underwear ads and the like). But the club now has a spiffy full-featured web-site, and this blog has morphed into a place for me to post stuff I personally find interesting or just want to ramble on about.

While a lot of what I write about here has some loose connection to the model-building hobby, after a while I discovered I was writing more broadly about the topics of Aviation and Automotive History, the stories of unsung Pittsburghers, and the best places to get a good plate of eggs-and-bacon when you're in the 'Burgh.

I'm working on reorganizing the page so if you're interested in only one of these topics it will be easier to find it and ignore the other types of trivia bouncing around my head and out onto the page, but for now its all kind of lumped together just like it is in my brain. Please bear with me...

Its reassuring to know you're not the only guy with an obsession for trivia - if you happen across something interesting here, or have a question or something to contribute, please leave a comment or drop me an email at dnschmtz@gmail.com


Monday, September 12, 2016

The Gulf Boys Go Racing (part 1)

When Andrew Carnegie sold the Carnegie Steel company in 1901 to create US Steel, he became - at least by some measures - the richest private person then or since. But Carnegie had accomplished something even more impressive: Carnegie Steel had attracted and nurtured a technology base in the Pittsburgh region that would be unmatched until the rise of Silicon Valley nearly a century later. The Mellon and Pittsburgh National banks had grown rich financing the fledgling steel industry, and would continue to invest in Pittsburgh's entrepreneurs and engineers to develop the modern electrical power industry (Westinghouse), the aluminum industry (Alcoa), processed food (Heinz),  and heavy manufacturing (Blaw-Knox, American Bridge and others).

At the same time that Andrew Carnegie had been building Carnegie Steel, John D. Rockefeller was building the Standard Oil empire. While the automobile had not yet been invented, neither had the the electric light bulb or commercial electricity generation; petroleum products were in demand for lighting, heating and increasingly for commercial lubrication. In 1900 a number of Pittsburgh businessmen lead by William Mellon decided to get into the growing petroleum industry, and it wasn't their style to make a small investment in someone else's company; instead they got together and built a refinery near the newly discovered oil fields in Texas, followed by a number of pipelines, service stations, a fleet of oil tankers and other bits of infrastructure to support the rapidly growing automobile industry. A few years later, these investments were consolidated as the Gulf Oil company, which would soon grow to rival giant Standard Oil.

Born  in 1908, in a really small town in Texas not too far from Austin and the East Texas oil fields, Irion Grady Davis (you sometimes see him use his first initial, but mostly he just went by "Grady") had studied geology at Texas University, followed by a few years of polishing at Harvard. Fresh out of school, he went to work for Gulf Oil, spending 20 years in their Venezuelan operation. He apparently knew how to work with foreign governments to get things done, and in the mid 1950s was promoted to Administrative Vice President of Gulf Oil and transferred to Gulf's headquarters in Pittsburgh.  A few years later he was promoted to Executive Vice President - the number 2 spot in the company. He would play a big part negotiating with the Kuwaiti government for access to cheap middle eastern oil, which would allow Gulf to expand into Europe.

Related image

Grady Davis - early 1960s
Image shamelessly stolen from the Corvette Hall of Fame website, lots of good stuff there.

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Lost Art of Demolition Derby

Last August I stopped by my parent's house unexpected and found Dad wearing his good go-to-town blue jeans. Dad was getting ready to make his yearly pilgrimage to the county fair to see the Demolition Derby, something I hadn't done since my short-lived career as a derby driver back around 1980. Of course I tagged along, both to spend some time with Dad and relive old memories, not to mention the gastronomic wonders of a sausage and onion sandwich fresh off a food-stand griddle.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Reichholds Cafe - Basic Breakfast in the Great White North

Its been a while since I made a Breakfast in the 'Burgh post.  I just figured out how to turn on photo-backup on my phone, and shazam - I've got a bunch of pictures in my photo account that I forgot I had taken. This is Reichhold's Cafe, on Route 8 near the Allegheny-Butler county line - about 15 miles north of downtown Pittsburgh (map).

Reichhold's is a breakfast and lunch only place; it opens ungodly early and closes at 2PM on weekends and 4PM on weekdays. Some folks might characterize Reichhold's as a "dive", but that just means they have never been to a real dive. Reichhold's is a little dim inside and the furnishings are a little worn, but the floors aren't sticky and the silverware is clean.

The menu is basic diner fare: eggs and pancakes and bacon and sausage and potatoes in all the usual combinations. This is basic home cooking - there is no cilantro or other foodie ingredients in sight - but everything seems fresh and the coffee is strong and tastes unabashedly like - coffee!  My favorite is the sausage-mushroom-cheddar omelette (you can pick your favorite meat, veggies and cheese), most items come with home-fries that are obviously potatoes and actually fried (and a little burned on the edges) just like the ones that came out of Mom's cast iron skillet.  I know it sounds a lot like that chain with the smiling cookies, except the food seems a lot more real  in both appearance and taste.

Reichhold's portions are big. If you remember when your basic bacon-and-eggs breakfast went for $1.99 the prices might seem a little steep, but as long as you stick with the combinations on the menu the prices are in line with other breakfast places (including that one with the cookies). My favorite omelette and potatoes plus coffee costs about $10+tip.  They don't do substitutions, and if you start adding on side orders like extra bacon you can crank the tab up pretty quick.

They do have burgers and sandwiches on the lunch menu, but I usually get breakfast no matter what time I go - and so do most of the regulars there - so I can't comment.

I'm not exactly on a first name basis with the waitresses, but I've always had friendly service, and its usually pretty quick unless you hit a rush; late Sunday mornings can get pretty busy. I've seen a few snarky online reviews complaining about screwed-up orders, but I have to wonder if they were in the same place (I suspect waitresses recognize I'm from a generation that tips well for good service - and not at all for bad - and maybe that makes a difference).

If you're in the neighborhood, a short mile north on Route 8 is Freedom Farm Donuts, which are not the best donuts in the Pittsburgh area but they are pretty good compared to the chain stores and a nice follow-up to breakfast; if you're like me by the time you get home you should have enough room for a creme-filled or old-fashioned. If you're a car modeler who dabbles in diecasts (this is supposed to be a scale modeling blog), 5 miles south of Reichhold's is Diecast Country; I've never been there but have heard they have a pretty good selection of high end die-cast cars.  Its not exactly close, but two of the Pittsburgh area's few remaining hobby shops, Hobby Express and Grand Central Hobby, are about 12 miles away in Cranberry - if you don't make it to the northern 'burbs very often its worth hitting them all in one trip.

If you can't tell, I love breakfast and breakfast joints. If you've got a Pittsburgh area favorite please let me know so I can add it to my rotation!  Thanks! 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Faceless Heroes of Shelby American (part 2)

If you read part 1 of this story, you've met many of the little known names that helped make Carol Shelby a household name (at least in households full of gear-heads). But part 1 left off in 1965, with Shelby's greatest accomplishment yet to come, so sit back and read along while I try to wrap this all up.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Faceless Heroes of Shelby American (part 1)

Out on the Internets Carroll Shelby has become a legend of Paul Bunyan proportions; he is credited with designing and building every Ford racing car of the 1960s and single-handedly putting Enzo Ferrari in his place.  Not only is Shelby's history as a racing driver largely forgotten, but so are a few people who did much of the real work of making the Shelby name larger-than-life. Trying to explain the history to someone on a social network is pointless, but maybe here someone will read and appreciate it...

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Death of Apollo: A Failure of Science Fiction?

One of the things that keeps me writing these little essays is that whenever I research something I find two or three other seemingly unrelated bits of trivia I never knew about, and since I'm willing to write about most anything, there is always a story to be told. In one of my recent missives I wrote about the demise of the 1960s muscle car, I mentioned that like the Vietnam War, spending on the 1960s US Space Program contributed to the inflation and economic turmoil of the 1970s. I still believe that is true, but proving it to myself sent me down a research rat hole to try to understand why the space program met with the same fate as the Pontiac GTO, so all that remains are a few artifacts in museum displays. Its an interesting tale, so pull up a chair...

Apollo 12 Command Module Yankee Clipper, on display at the Virginia Air & Space Center in Hampton, VA.
For a kid growing up in the 1960s the space program was hard to miss.  At school the Weekly Reader (a kind of newspaper for 8 year olds) was full of stories about the astronauts and the Apollo program. As the TV generation, we were treated to frequent "Breaking News from the Cape" reports in the middle of our after school cartoons, and then there were prime-time TV shows like Lost in Space and Star Trek.  And for birthdays and Christmas there were space related toys - space helmets and ray-guns and model kits and action figures and flying model rockets. Not surprisingly lots of kids wanted to be astronauts, except the geeky kids like me who wanted to be engineers and build the space ships (we also thought Scotty was way cooler than Captain Kirk).

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Last of the V8 Interceptors - part 5 of the Muscle Car History

In the last installment of this mini-series I covered the immediate aftermath of what was the Muscle Car Era through the rebirth of the muscle/pony car in 1982, and after banging away at the keyboard, I was thinking I was pretty much done. I thought this was going to be where I wrapped up loose ends and made a few snarky observations about the state of the performance automobile and today's muscle car culture.  But it looks like that will have to wait a bit longer.

The problem with being 55 years old is that I tend to think everything that I've been around to see happen is recent history. It seems like just yesterday that I traded my well worn '69 Road Runner for a brand new '83 Mustang GT, but a lot has happened since then, and since I'm trying to tell the whole story I just can't leave 30 years out...