Monday, May 23, 2016

Fire Hydrants - Oldest in Maynard

New Mueller hydrant, all red, dated 2015.
There are two Muellers dated 1959 on Nason Street.
After penning last week's fire hydrant article I got a few tips. A Mueller hydrant dated 1958 was sighted at Driscoll Avenue. This is now the oldest Mueller found. Pre-1975 Muellers are identified as being made in CHATTA TENN, not CHATT TENN (still meaning Chattanooga). Other brands of hydrants found in Maynard include American Darling, in the Presidents' street district, one hydrant at Main and River Streets branded the Eddy Valve Div of James B Clow Valve, and a couple of Traverse City Iron Works hydrants on mill&main property. A second  Rensselaer hydrant labeled THE COREY, stands on O'Moore Avenue. According to, this model dates to 1900-1930. The street itself dates to 1921, so this may be an original hydrant, new in 1921.

Being in a neighborhood where the nearest hydrants are red-topped, meaning low water flow, is not as scary as it sounds. First responder trucks carry 500-1000 gallons of water, which is often all it takes to knock down a house fire. Even if not extinguished, time is gained for other water-carrying trucks and hydrant pumper trucks to arrive.

Chapman Valve fire hydrant.
Click on photos to enlarge.

The apparent winner for oldest hydrant is on an unpaved portion of White Avenue. Buried under uncounted layers of white paint, the hydrant has an emblem of a "C" entwined with a "V" which stands for Chapman Valve, A raised circle surrounds the emblem with the faintly legible words CHAPMAN VALVE on the top and BOSTON on the bottom. Outside this ring is a stylized snowflake design. All this detail dates the hydrant's manufacture to 1890-1900. However, Winter Avenue itself and neighboring streets were created in 1921. The possibility remains that this is one of Maynard's first hydrants, installed at the same time as the beginnings of the town's water system, in 1890, later relocated to Winter Avenue.  [Here's hoping that when the hydrant is retired it will turned over to the Maynard Historical Society.]

Chapman Valve Manufacturing Co. was located in the town of Indian Orchard, near Springfield, MA. Chapman had its own complex history. During World War II it supplied valves to the Manhattan Project and the Atomic Energy Commission. After the war, Chapman machined enriched uranium rods into reactor fuel slugs for the Brookhaven National Laboratory. The company may also have conducted rolling operations on uranium metal as late as 1949. The hydrant and valve factory was still active under various company names until 1971.

Twenty-five years later a radioactivity examination found evidence of enriched uranium contamination throughout the buildings and grounds. Remediation actions were taken, the buildings razed, the site capped with concrete and declared safe. A fund was set up to make payments to workers who had developed cancer in the interim. Or to their families if they had died of cancer.

Chapman Valve fire hydrant close-up. Center is letters "C" and "V" with
"MFG" in center. Top of ring reads "CHAPMAN VALVE" and bottom of
ring reads "BOSTON." Outer ring is eight-point snowflake design. 
Much closer to home, Nuclear Metals Incorporated, later named Starmet Corporation, processed depleted uranium (DU) to create armor-penetrating shells for military use. The NMI/Starmet site is in Concord, on the south side of Route 62, about half a mile east of Wendy's. The company operated from 1958 to 2002. Clean-up and remediation efforts, which began in 1997, continue.     

Depleted uranium is 67% denser than lead and only slightly less dense than gold. DU's military use advantage over lead (and gold) is that after penetrating tank or other vehicle armor the pulverized uranium is pyrophoric, meaning that the sparks of impact will set it afire. "Depleted" in this context means that most of the highly radioactive uranium isotope 235 was removed to make power plant or weapons-grade uranium. The problem is that depleted or not, uranium is chemically toxic if inhaled as dust or ingested from a contaminated water supply. Decades of processing DU and other exotic metals at the NMI/Starmet set left buildings and grounds and an on-site retention pond heavily contaminated with metals and chemicals such as PCBs.

Only now - 2016 - are the buildings being torn down and removed from the site, as part of a $100+ million dollar process of final remediation. The previous year saw removal of 4,000 tons of contaminated material, shipped off to Utah and Idaho. In addition to all the above ground and near-surface contamination in a holding pond and on-site dump pit, there is concern that contaminating materials have seeped deep into the earth, and are spreading beyond the boundaries of the property. In time, contaminated subsurface water could reach the Assabet River, some 300 feet to the north.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Fire Hydrants - American Iron

Mueller Centurion fire hydrant (left) and "THE COREY (right). Paint color
on the bonnet and outlet caps signifies how much water will come out.
Through the paint, and sometimes through the rust, most of the fire hydrants in Maynard read MUELLER, ALBERTVILLE,  and either ALA or AL (for Alabama), plus a year for when the hydrant was made. Mueller Company was started in 1857, but did not get into the hydrant business until 1933, when it acquired Columbian Iron Works. An informal search found a Mueller hydrant dated 1959. One of the newest - dated 2015 - is next to the former American Legion building, at corner of Summer and Linden Streets. Older Mueller hydrants have CHATT TENN instead of Albertville.

And the oldest hydrant in town? There may be Mueller hydrants that pre-date 1959 (two of those on Nason Street). That's not shockingly old, as with proper maintenance hydrants can be operative past 75 years. Forest Street hosts an antiquated-looking, red-topped hydrant with "THE COREY" across the top. This model, from the Rensselaer Manufacturing Company, was named after the inventor William W. Corey. This individual hydrant may be more than 100 years old, although some versions of that model were still being made into the 1930s. There is an "1895" low on the front, but it seems that refers to the patent year, not the manufacture year.

Click on any photo to enlarge
Maynard appears to use a nationally standardized color coding system on older hydrants to indicate capacity. The main body of each hydrant is painted white. The bonnet and outlet caps are blue, green, yellow or red. Color indicates water output in gallons per minute, with blue meaning excellent, green meaning good, and so on. Route 117 toward Stow has a series of red-topped hydrants. All newer hydrants are entirely red, as the fire department now has computerized information on water volume and water pressure provided by the Department of Public Works, which is responsible for hydrant maintenance.

Mueller Centurion hydrant dated 1959.
Two with this date on Nason Street.
All of Maynard's public hydrants are dry barrel, meaning that the insides of the hydrants are not full of water when not in use. The top nut connects via a long rod to the valve many feet down, at the level of the water pipe. The alternative system - wet barrel - is used in warmer climates, where there is no risk of water in a hydrant freezing solid, which would render the hydrant useless and possibly damaged. Those movie scenes in which a truck or bus hits a hydrant and water spouts high into the air can be true, but not here.  

Maynard in the late 1880s had a population of 2500 and no central water system. Pipes and pumps were installed to bring water three miles north from White Pond, Sudbury. In town, a tank was built on Summer Hill, so that water pumped to the hilltop would provide good water pressure to all homes and businesses. The initial system included just over 7,500 feet of iron pipe and 57 fire hydrants. Subsequent annual reports mention pipe and hydrants being added as the town grew. Settled Maynard was very compact at the time; today's more spread out population is on the order of 10,000 people, serviced by a roughly estimated 400 to 500 fire hydrants.

There are perhaps a dozen hydrant manufacturing companies in the United States, and many more elsewhere, so it is nice to think that Maynard makes a point of buying American iron. Nice, but now also legally required. The American Iron and Steel Act of 2014 requires that any public water system getting federal funds to help pay for waterworks of any type use iron and steel products produced in the United States.  

By the way, you break it you own it, meaning that your insurance company will have to cover the cost of hydrant replacement in addition to the damage to your vehicle. Same applies to any damaged signage, light posts, traffic lights, etc. The newer Mueller Centurion models are designed to break off when hit, minimizing damage to the underground parts.

Sign in Stow, MA
Stow Fire Department
access to Elizabeth Brook
Lest any reader think this column is neglecting Maynard's western neighbor, Stow does not have a public water supply system, and thus no centralized system of hydrants. New housing developments are required to have underground water storage tanks. For everything else, the Stow Fire Department is equipped to pump water from streams, ponds and lakes. This is not as scary as it sounds. First responder trucks carry 500-1000 gallons of water, which is often all it takes to knock down a fire. Even if not extinguished, time is gained for other water-carrying trucks (Stow's and neighboring towns) to arrive. Only rarely would there be a need for the trucks to shuttle back and forth from a water source to the site of the fire.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Winter Moth Caterpillars (April & May)

Maple tree leaves, eaten by winter moth caterpillars
(Published early May) Stand next to your blueberry bushes, your maple trees and birch trees, your cherry and apple trees. Are flower buds turning brown? Are nascent leaves been eaten to the point that they resemble lace? In early morning hours are small green caterpillars dangling from silken threads? Are you thinking - maybe I should spray? Too late. Winter moth eggs hatched in early April. The tiny, tiny hatchlings climbed inside beginning-to-open leaf and flower buds and nibbled them from the inside. By early June the full-sized caterpillars will descend to the ground where they will transform into pupae, not to emerge as adults until late November and early December.

The reason for this topic now is to help you to identify which of your trees are in duress. Some of them will have the reserves to produce a replacement set of leaves, but unless you start some moth management going forward your trees may join the standing dead in a few years.

Tree wrapped in plastic wrap and sticky stuff, with male and female winter
moths stuck, dead or dying. The females are climbing up from the ground.
The males are attracted to pheromones (chemical compounds) released
by the females. Males also attracted to light, so can be found around
door frames in the evening and early night if an outside light is on.
Winter moths, native to northern Europe, reached Canada in the 1930s. The introduction was accidental, the problem monumental.  The "winter" part of the name refers to an evolutionary strategy used to avoid predation. Most insect eaters (birds, bats, spiders, wasps and other insects) are active during warmer months.
By not emerging until after November frosts, there perils are avoided.

This plague appeared in eastern Massachusetts around 1990 and to date has slowly spread to affect land within the I-495 arc and down into Cape Cod, but not farther west. Yet.

Winter moths have an interesting dimorphism. Males have strong flight muscles, with an ability to pre-warm these muscles through shivering before cold weather flight. In contrast, females have only vestigial wings. Sacrificing flight capacity allows more than fifty percent of their adult body weight to be given over to eggs. Mating is achieved after the females climb up tree trunks and then release scent pheromones into the air. Males fly to them. Given a choice, males prefer larger females with smaller wings.

Male winter moth, about the
size of a dime.
The non-flying nature of female moths means that individual trees can be treated by putting sticky products such as Tree Tanglefoot around tree trunks in mid-November. Instructions are to wrap the trunk in plastic wrap or some other material and put the sticky stuff on that rather than directly on the tree. This is kept on through mid-December.

Female winter moth.
Click on photos to enlarge.
Help is on the way. Canada successfully introduced parasitic flies and wasps from Europe, both specific to preying on winter moths. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been experimenting with this approach. The net result is a downgrade from chronic traumatic damage to acceptable damage, with occasional bad years. However, until these bio-controls are in widespread use, best advice is to sticky-band trees in the fall as much less expensive than spraying dormant oil or insecticide in early spring.      

Moths in Massachusetts are not a new plague. Town records from decades back show annual expenditures to combat browntail and gypsy moths. The former were introduced accidentally in Somerville, MA in 1897, and spread quickly. Damage was not limited to plants. The browntail moth caterpillar
Winter moths, mating.
is covered with thread-thin, poisonous, barbed spikes which in sensitive individuals elicit a poison ivy like reaction. Worse, the spikes are easily dislodged, often became windblown, and if inhaled, cause moderate to serious respiratory distress. In time, natural predators adapted to browntail moths, so there are only remnant populations along the Maine coastline and parts of Cape Cod.  

Gypsy moths were deliberately brought to Medford, MA in 1869 in an attempt to start silk production from cocoons, escaped, and spread slowly. Despite millions of dollars spent, eradication efforts failed. Suppression efforts have successfully used combinations of insect parasites, fungal and bacterial species toxic to gypsy moth caterpillars and a species-specific deadly virus.

Females resting on birch tree, waiting for evening to climb up and mate.
Winter moths are not the only bad thing happening to your trees. Oriental bittersweet, an invasive plant species from Asia, climbs up trees and kills them by a combination of blocking sunlight and weight. Hemlocks are dying due to wooly adelgid infestation.  Ash are succumbing to Emerald Ash Borer and diseases, fungal infection has killed off most of the flowering dogwoods, and the Asian longhorned beetle will eat almost any type of tree, but is partial to maple, elm and willow.  

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Ku Klux Klan in Massachusetts - 1920s

Columnists tend to have a working list of five to fifteen topics in various stages of completion. But sometimes an idea jumps the queue, so to speak, and demands to be written first. In this column, the hijacking of my curiosity was a consequence of a friend who asked a startling question: "David, did you know that the Ku Klux Klan was active in Maynard back in the 1920s?"

I did not. A spate of diligent verging on obsessive research on the topic turned up enough evidence to make a story. First clue came from the centennial-celebrating book on the history of Maynard: "The year 1925 saw unusual and unexpected happenings in our fair town, when from May through November, Maynard had some Ku Klux Klan activity in its midst. During this period meetings held in neighboring towns were attended by a number of our local citizens. On at least two occasions crosses were burned on top of Summer Hill. Fortunately for everybody, this idea has a short life locally."  

What I learned was that the second era Klan had its birth in 1915. One catalyst was the popular movie "The Birth of a Nation," which romanticized the post Civil War Klan. The driving force, however, especially outside what had been the Confederate states of the south, was a sense of displacement - loss of political and economic stability - of the white, Protestant population by immigrants, primarily Catholics and Jews from Europe.

In the hearts of those who joined or sympathized, America had been great when America was a rural, agricultural society of land-owning, church-going, alcohol-abstaining families (Prohibition had begun in 1919). All that was being challenged by an ever more urban, industrial society peopled by strangers who did not necessarily speak English, drank alcohol, went to movies, and were clearly 'not like us.' In a time of change, the Klan captured perfectly a simultaneous sense of being entitled and endangered.

Internet download of Klan march in Washington, DC, either 1925 or 1926.
Note display of American flags, which was standard for the Klan in that era.
Many joined. By its peak, around 1925, membership in the Ku Klux Klan numbered an estimated four to six million, or roughly one in ten adults. In Indiana and other states membership approached one-third, including many state legislators. Across the country, county and state fairs would have "Klan Days." Annual parades down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, drew 50,000 white-garbed marchers, men and women, thousands carrying American (not Confederate) flags in addition to wearing white robes.    

In eastern Massachusetts there had been a large influx of Irish and French-Canadian Catholics in the mid- to late-1800s, followed by Italian and Polish Catholics after the turn of the century. Locally, Klan activities were mostly anti-Catholic, which triggered strong anti-Klan responses. One newspaper described it as the Knights of Columbus against the Knights of the Invisible Empire. On July 2, 1924 anti-Klan protesters threw rocks at and broke up an initiation ceremony in Stow. Long-time Maynard residents can recount stories told by their older relatives of seeing burning crosses atop Summer Hill (a treeless cow pasture at the time) back in 1925.

That same summer of 1925 saw several Klan rallies in Sudbury, on the farm property of one family that had land on the Sudbury/Framingham border. This was to culminate in a major gathering of some 150-200 men - members and new initiates - on August 9th. Anti-Klan activists attacked cars with rocks and clubs. Some Klan members responded with gunfire, resulting in five men being injured, one seriously. Sudbury and Framingham police responded by rounding up 75 Klan members (including the Sudbury police chief's son!). Guns were confiscated. Sixteen men were required to post $200 bail, paid for by the state Klan organization, but in the end there was not sufficient evidence to bring anyone to trial.

Nationally, the second era Klan abruptly collapsed in the late 1920s after numerous scandals including fiscal misbehavior by leadership, evidence of bribing government officials, and a notorious kidnapping, rape and murder case in Indiana. By 1930, national membership was estimated at under 30,000 and declining.

A third era Klan arose in the 1960s as very loosely connected chapters, primarily in the southern states, symbolized by association with the Confederate flag, in opposition to civil rights and voting rights for African-Americans. The Klan exists presently as white supremacy organizations in many states but without any semblance of national coordination, estimated at 10,000 individuals.      


A lengthy scholarly discourse on the rise of the second era Ku Klux Klan as a quasi-fascist organization is posted at

An account of the Worcester event, 1924:

An account of the Sudbury event, 1925:

Kathleen M Blee authored a book: Women of the Klan. An excerpt is posted at