Meeting people and book signings

Wife, Ann, and I had a very fine time at the Saturday November 8 Craft Fair at  Good Shepherd Lutheran Church on LaGrange Ave in Tomah. We sold and signed about 25 books, both our newest science book Ask A Science Teacher and a book out in late September Seneca Seasons: A Farm Boy Remembers.

Had a good talk with Mr. Vann, who was the baker in Tomah for many years. He told the story of his surviving a 1969 plane crash of a KC-97 refueling tanker attempting to land at General Mitchell Field in Milwaukee. Four of the eleven on board were killed.

We will be at the Burnstad’s Holiday Showcase this Thursday, Nov 13, from about 4 PM to 7 PM. This Tomah event is very popular with local residents and a big crowd is expected. Fred Weiner, who did the 48 illustrations for Seneca Seasons will also exhibit some of his art work.

Also looking forward to the Nov 15, 2014 Saturday Seneca, Wi.  Town Hall Lions Craft Fair from  9-2PM. It will be good to see and talk to so many of those “dear hearts and gentle people from my hometown.”

007 12 frontcover

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We are coming to Seneca

Reedsburg Book Signing 11  1  1412 backcover???????????????????????????????12 frontcoverWe are coming to Seneca.

The book Seneca Seasons: A Farm Boys Remembers is available from or directly from me, the author, or you can attend any one of the upcoming book signings. We’ve had 2 so far, at Kirby St. Matthew’s Church, north of Tomah, and at Reedsburg Craft Fair, and they have gone very well. Here is the schedule thus far:

Nov 8, 2014 Sat. Good Shepherd Lutheran Church 1221 LaGrange Ave

Tomah, Wi 9 AM-2 PM.

Nov 13, 2014 Thursday, Burnstad’s Holiday Showcase, Tomah, Wi 3-6 PM

Nov 15, 2014 Sat Seneca, Wi. Lions Town Hall Craft Fair,  9-2PM

Nov 7, 2014 Monday 10 AM talk and book signing, Wilton, Wi  Library

Nov 22, 2014 Sat Methodist Church Craft sale, Tomah, Wi 9-3 PM

Dec 6, 2014 Sat Warrens, Wi Cranberry Discover,

Dec 10, 2014 Wed Elroy Library, evening

Dec 18, 2014 Thursday 6 PM, short talk and book signing Mauston Library (Hatch)

Feb 7, 2015 Sat Tomah Historical Society Chili Supper and Fund Raiser at the KC         Hall, Tomah, Wi   4-7 PM

It will be especially poignant to be back in Seneca on Saturday November 15. Hope to see a lot of the people I grew up with. Folks who have read Seneca Seasons invariably have said such things as, “that sure brings back a lot of memories”  or “you know, that’s just how I remember growing up”. One fellow commented on my use of the word “zerk” in referring to a grease fitting on machinery. He said he used the word “zerk” when talking to friends, and they didn’t know what he was talking about. Well, it’s plain to see that those folks didn’t grow up on a farm or been around farm machinery.

My descriptions in Seneca Seasons (my wife Ann picked the title) of the one-room country school out on Oak Grove Ridge brought these comments: “you took me back to 1949, when I started attending such a school” and “the basket social, snowball fights, softball games, spelling bees, Gosh, I had the same experiences.”

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Seneca Seasons: A Farm Boy Remembers

The book Seneca Seasons: A Farm Boys Remembers is finally out. It is the memoir of my growing up on the Crawford County farm, 2 miles from Seneca, in the southwest Wisconsin. I was born in 1942 on a rental farm on Wauzeka Ridge. The Scheckel family, Dad, Mom, and six kids moved to the 238 acre farm in the spring of 1945.

The older three siblings, Rosemary, Ed, and Teresa were gone from the family farm when I was about 8 years old. So I grew up with Phillip, a year older than me, and Bob, a year younger than me. Three younger sisters, Catharine, Rita, and Diane, came along later.

Seneca Seasons is mostly about us three Scheckel boys growing up together. Chores, farm work, hunting, fishing, arguing, games we played—it’s all in there and more. The threshing crews of the  mid 1940s, farming with three horses, putting hay up loose, cutting oats with a grain binder, shocking corn and shredding, cutting wood with a crosscut saw, milking cows in sweltering heat and bitter cold, and attending the one-country school out on Oak Grove Ridge.

This book is for anyone who grew up on a farm or wish they had, or who wonder what life was like in the United States in the 1940’s and 1950’s, or speculate about growing up in a large family of 9 children, or likes to eat at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store.

Learn how the one-room country school was a focus of rural life. How family, school, and church stimulate and induce the way we lived later in life. Of friendships formed and lessons learned on the playground.

Find the answers to these questions: Which of the nine Scheckel kids backed up the green 1953 Chevrolet farm pick-up truck and the back axle hung up with the wheels spinning? Which of my sisters run over a brand new 10 gallon can with the truck, claiming that the sun got in her eyes? Who broke his arm falling out of a tree hunting squirrels, put his fingers in the corn sheller, and nearly cut his foot off with an axe? Who urinated on the electric fence- and never did it again? Who put a pig ring in his own nose?

This is a blatant advertisement for Seneca Seasons and it is available on Makes an excellent Christmas gift. My wife, Ann, and I have already had a book signing and will have several more in the next few weeks. At book signings, we sell the book, (40 pictures, 48 sketches, 3 appendices) for only $12. Or an unbelievable deal of 2 for $24. A little joke !!


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Why life on Earth?


Why was Earth chosen to have living things on it?


Five good reasons! First, Earth has water, the most essential ingredient for life. Earth is the perfect distance from the Sun for water to exist in all three states, solid ice, liquid water, and vapor or gas. Water contains oxygen needed for life, it doesn’t harm the skin, and it’s needed for photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process of turning water and carbon dioxide, with the aid of light, into oxygen and sugars used as plant food. Water is drinkable, and permits molecules to move around easily. Mercury and Venus are so close to the Sun that liquid water would boil away. The planet Mars, and Titan, a moon of Saturn, may have water below the surface, but that’s only speculation.

Second, our atmosphere is ideal. It contains breathable oxygen, put there as the byproduct of plant growth. Our atmosphere has some carbon dioxide, which animals and humans give off as part of respiration. The tiny bit of carbon dioxide helps moderate the temperature of Earth. Mars, Mercury, and the Moon are too small to keep an atmosphere. You need enough gravity, and Earth has it. As a bonus, the Earth’s atmosphere is thick enough to filter out many harmful ultraviolet rays. Our magnetic field deflects tons of particles from the Sun that would otherwise kill us in short order.

Third, Earth is blessed with a beautiful climate. The temperature is ideal for life. Mercury and Venus are too close to the Sun, and go from 600 degrees above zero Fahrenheit to 400 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Those extremes are not conducive to life. Mars is a tad warmer, but at 140 degrees below zero Fahrenheit at times, water and blood would freeze. The outer planets have no solid surface and are way too cold.

Fourth, is something that McDonalds and Walgreens have figured out. It’s location, location, location. Earth gets just the right amount of sunlight. Earth is just the proper distance from the Sun to get sufficient heat and light to permit life to flourish. It is too hot on planets closer to the Sun. It is too cold and dark on planets at a greater distance from the Sun,

Fifth, Earth receives sufficient light for trees and other plants to produce oxygen by the process of photosynthesis. The Earth’s rotation, once every 24 hours, insures that each side of the planet receives sunlight on a regular basis. Venus takes 243 days to spin once on its axis. Any place on Venus is in darkness far too long to support vegetation and life.

Recall the Goldilocks and Three Bears bedtime story. The porridge was too hot, too cold, and just right. The armchairs were too hard, too soft, and just right. The bed was too high, too low, and just right. Goldilocks wisely chose the “just right’ version each time.

Earth is “just right” in terms of location, size, rotation rate, mass, gravity, water, atmosphere, climate, and magnetic field.

So far, we’ve been discussing life our solar system, which is a tiny little corner of the Universe. Is there life on other planets in distant solar systems? Most scientists think the answer is yes, but there is no proof. For now, our Earth is all we know, and we had best take real good care of it.

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Black holes


How does a black hole work?


            A black hole is what is left over when a massive star has run out of fuel and collapsed. Why does that happen?

            There are two main, competing processes that shape stars. The fusion reactions are similar to tiny hydrogen bombs going off and tend to make the star bigger. At the same time, gravity tends to crunch all solar material and make the star smaller. These two forces are balanced throughout a star’s life, which typically lasts for billions of years.

             The size of a star is determined by this balance between gravity, making it smaller, and explosive forces, making it bigger, and this balance shifts only at the end of a star’s life, when the ultimate fate of any star is determined by its mass.

What happens to a star the size of our Sun? When nearly all the hydrogen is converted to helium, gravity will dominate and the star will collapse, ignite the nuclear ashes of helium, and fuse them into carbon. The star will then expand to the size of the orbit of Mars, at which point it is a Red Giant. After a few million years, the helium will be all burned out, the Red Giant will collapse, and the sun will become a cool cinder, called a Black Dwarf. Not a glorious end for our beautiful life-giving Sun!

            When all of the star’s hydrogen is used up, the fusion reactions stop, and the star’s gravity takes over, pulling material inward and compressing the core. This compression generates heat, which eventually leads to a supernova explosion, which blasts material and radiation out into space. This debris material goes into eventually making new stars. Stars are born, live out their lifetimes, and ultimately die.

            The story is quite different for a star three or four times the mass of the sun. Once nuclear fusion is done, the collapse doesn’t stop. The star not only caves in on itself, but the atoms that make up the star collapse so there are no empty spaces. What is left is a core that is highly compressed, very massive, and very dense. Gravitation is so strong near this core that light can’t even escape. The particles within the core have collapsed and crushed themselves out of visible existence. The star disappears from view and is now a black hole.

            If we can’t see a black hole, how do we know they exist? Though they’re not visible, we can detect or hypothesize about the presence of one by studying surrounding objects. Astronomers can see material swirling around or being pulled off a nearby visible star. The mass of a black hole can be estimated by observing the motion of nearby visible stars.

The core, or nucleus, of Galaxy NGC 4261, for example, is about the same size as our solar system, but it weighs 1.2 billion times as much as our sun. Such a huge mass for such a small disk indicates the presence of a black hole. The core of this galaxy contains a black hole with huge spiral disks feeding dust and material into it.

Email questions and comments to:

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I continue to write a weekly science column for the Tomah Journal and 2 newspaper in Juneau County are running some columns, soon to be joined by the Prairie du Chien Courier Press. The following question came from a student in the Warrens, Wisconsin area.


Why do some chemicals explode when they are mixed? 


            All chemical explosions are rapid and violent oxidation-reduction (redox) reactions that produce huge amounts of heat and gases that expand rapidly. A redox reaction is simply a reaction in which two atoms exchange electrons. Oxidation involves loss of electrons. Reduction means a gain in electrons. All explosions are exothermic, meaning heat is given off or liberated.

            It is the speed of the reaction that makes the difference between ordinary combustion and an explosion. Consider wood that is burning in the fireplace or campfire. The same oxidation-reduction process is taking place in the burning wood as is occurring with a firecracker. However, the heat and gas released with the burning wood happens much slower, not rapidly enough to cause an explosion as in the firecracker.  Another example of a very slow redox reaction would be steel that rusts.

            Gunpowder was the first man-made explosive, invented by the Chinese in the ninth century. A combination of sulfur and charcoal was the fuel, and saltpeter (potassium nitrate) was the catalyst that provided the oxygen. Gunpowder, or black powder, is a slow reacting explosion, causing a subsonic shock wave. That’s good for propelling a bullet out of a gun barrel. Deflagration is the term used to describe the slower burning explosion.

            Nitroglycerine  was discovered in 1860s.  Nitroglycerine is unstable, so Alfred Nobel invented the safer-to-handle dynamite in 1866.  Dynamite and TNT produce fast acting explosions with a resultant supersonic shock wave. Detonation is the term used for a first acting explosion. If dynamite were to be used in a gun barrel, it would blow the gun barrel apart.

            That prefix nitro is a clue that an explosion of some kind is possible. We burn 10 percent nitromethane fuel in our radio controlled airplane engines. Nitromethane  fuel is used in some dragster race cars.

            A fertilizer bomb destroyed the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April, 1995 with the loss of 168 lives. Timothy McVeigh used over 4,800 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and nitromethane. There’s that word nitro again.

            The worst industrial accident in the United States occurred on April 16, 1947 in the port of Texas City, Texas. The freighter SS Grandcamp, loaded with 7,700 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded at 9:17 AM. The denotation killed 581 people and injured over 5,000. The blast knocked out windows in Houston, a distance of 40 miles.

            An explosion of twice the magnitude of the Texas City disaster was the N1 rocket disaster in the Soviet Union on July 3, 1969. The Russians planned to use the N1 rocket to beat the Americans to a moon landing. A loose bolt was ingested into a fuel pump of one of the thirty engines, triggering the massive blast. After this lost,  the Soviets never mounted a serious effort to go to the moon. Email questions and comments to:



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Summer in Tomah

It’s been a busy but beautiful summer for the Scheckels in Tomah, Wisconsin. Ann and I have been doing two-a-week science presentations in Wilton, Gays Mills, Tomah, Warrens, Mauston, and environs. Many of these are part of summer library reading programs. We use a lot of volunteers from the audience and it very rewarding to see many kids excited about being a part of a science demonstration. Yes, or program is fast moving and entertaining, but we take time to explain the science principals involved. We try to express how these science activities are involved in their everyday life.
We also enjoy riding bicycle in the hill country of southern Monroe County. A group of us bike on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday morning to breakfast in one of several pancake nooks, such as Camp Douglas, Sparta, Wilton, Clifton, or Oakdale. Plentiful rains have ensured a lust, green countryside. The corn and soybean crops look good. Second crop hay is being baled or chopped. The roadside chicory and Queen Anne’s Lace greet us at every turn. The views from the top of the Ridge, along Highway A, are spectacular.
I have been a part of a flying club here in Tomah for many years and enjoy flying the Cessna 150 over the verdant quilt work of fields, forests, and farms. But something new; I’ve taken up learning to fly a radio controlled plane and let me tell you, it is not easy. There is an active RC club in Sparta and I have been taking a few lessons. I did successfully fly a Tower Hobby 60 inch wing trainer successfully for a few flights. But disaster struck when I flew it into the rising Sun in the east and lost track of it. The repair job is coming along nicely!
Ann and I were very happy to help Dick and Sandy celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary which is in September. Every year the Bishop in La Crosse has a Mass and dinner for all the couples in the Diocese who have their 50th in the calendar year. The commemoration was last Sunday at the Diocesan Center in south La Crosse.

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