Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Home Delivery Then And Now

A reader's email reached the Beacon-Villager with a suggestion to write about the old days of home delivery: "Back in the 30's and 40's when few people had cars it was necessary for a litany of service people to come regularly to your home. From my recall..."

A few observations here that differentiate home delivery of decades ago with now. First, men worked and women were at home. People might have had cars, but more and more had phones. Delivery could be on a schedule (milk, eggs, mail) or ordered (ice, coal, heating oil, groceries). Ice delivery by J.L. Comeau continued into the 1960s. Hans Eriksen started milk processing and delivery in 1902. The family stayed in the milk business until 1965 before deciding to focus only on its ice cream business. This April, Erikson's Ice Cream will open for its 80th year. 

In addition to delivery, there were goods and services that are now only faint history. The knife and scissors sharpener came around. Kids delivering newspapers. Doctors making house calls. Farmers selling vegetables from a horse-drawn wagon or an open-backed truck, calling out "I got STRAW-berries, I got PEACHES." (Now we go to a farmers' market.) The ragman would come around to buy old clothes. The life insurance man knocked on doors to sell policies, but also came around monthly to collect money owed on the policy. Many houses had a cast-iron lidded, concrete-lined pit by the back door, for kitchen organic waste. Inside was a large metal bucket. Every so often a collector for a local pig farm would come by to take away the pigswill. The lid of ours reads "F.B. JONES. SOMERVILLE MASS.

Cast iron lid for kitchen organic waste - to be collected by pig farmer
If you had horses or cows you would know to arrange for the knacker to haul away any animal that sickened and died. The carcasses went to Taylor's mink farm, on Concord Street.  

Now that we are well into the 21st century, delivery has taken on entirely new methods. The issue is still what is referred to as the "last mile problem." Planes, ships, trains and trucks can move items in bulk, but businesses and people want delivery to their door. This last leg of the supply process can be up to 28 percent of the total cost of moving goods from manufacturing site to customer. General purpose delivery is handled by the Post Office, FedEx, UPS, DHL. In cities, bicycle couriers do the small stuff. Amazon is growing its own delivery system (trucks, maybe drones?!?). Walmart will deliver prescription drugs ordered via their pharmacy. Car dealers will deliver a new car. Medical marijuana can be delivered, too (including in Massachusetts).

Security has become an important issue now that valuable items are being left by front doors. Especially around the December holidays, deliveries are being stolen by  'porch pirates.' Some delivery services are experimenting with electronically coded lockers at convenient locations. The customer orders. The item is delivered. The customer gets a text with the location and a one-time-use code to open the locker. This works well for people in apartments, or who want a delivery convenient to where they work.    

Home delivery of food is an explosively growing niche, with plenty of innovative ideas. Restaurants have their own delivery people, or you can go through a centralized service such as GrubHub. GH allows you to look at a menu on your smart phone, text your order, and pay, so no more phone call frustrations or fumbling for cash for the delivery person. Other types of food delivery can be groceries, food prepared for specific meals, or Meals-On-Wheels for the elderly and infirm. One company is experimenting with PiePal. The idea is you push a big round button installed on a wall, hold your phone up to it for your credit or debit number, and it orders pizza. Perfect for college dormitories. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Delaney Complex, Stow, MA

Sunrise at Delaney Pond, Stow, MA (frozen) looking north, January 2017
The Delaney Complex, also referred to as the Delaney Project, applies to two earthen dams in Stow and Bolton that provide flood control on Great Brook and Elizabeth Brook. These were completed in 1971. The larger dam is in the northwest corner of Stow. It creates a permanent pond with a surface area of 163 acres. It times of heavy rain the water-covered area expands to surrounding marsh and lowlands to cover as much as 397 acres. Surrounding the pond is a wildlife conservation area. The whole encompasses 580 acres in Stow, Harvard, Bolton and a wee bit in Boxborough.  

The Delaney Complex serves three functions: flood control, wildlife preserve, and recreational use for boating, fishing, hunting and hiking. There are many rules applying to the Delaney - a state Wildlife Management Area - including no alcoholic beverages, no fires, no overnight camping, etc. Example, "Any person aboard a canoe or kayak between September 15 and May 15 shall wear at all times a Type I, II or III Coast Guard approved personal flotation device."

Dog rules for Delaney Complex
 Dogs are allowed (unlike in the federal Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge), but one rule that irks many people is the 2008 Stow decision that all dogs must be leashed and owners required to pick up after their dogs, enforced by a $50 fine. The rationale for this was that dog owners were using the grassy area and main path leading from the boat launch parking lot as a dog park, to the annoyance of people who pass through to get to the hiking trails.

Flood control areas (marked "Fc" on maps) are designed to either retain a permanent pool of water, such as at Delaney and Nichols (the headwaters of the Assabet River) or to be dry except in times of heavy rainfall or snowmelt, such as at Tyler Dam, also on the Assabet. All told, the Assabet River and its tributaries have ten flood control dams - the two in Delaney and eight others. Collectively, these dams can hold back up to four billion gallons of water, and by doing so, reduce downstream flood damage by millions of dollars.

In 2015 the federal National Resources Conservation Service evaluated all dams on the Assabet and tributaries and decided that six needed work (Nichols had work done in 2012). This included $2.9 million to modify the auxiliary spillway of the Delaney Dam and to raise the height of the East Bolton Dam by 3.5 feet. These projects will increase flood holdback capacity of the Delaney Complex. 

Stow Conservation Trust has descriptions of trails, with maps, posted at The listings include two trail walk guides for the Delaney area. However, parking for both is supposed to be at Finn Road, Harvard. The area in question is a bit west of the Stow:Harvard border sign. It is very small, currently iced over and presumably soon to be snowed over. Come spring thaw, a good guess is that it is a morass of mud. This leaves as the only realistic parking the lot at the boat launch site, next to Harvard Road, in Stow. From there, the south set of trails can be accessed by walking to the end of the dam, and then north.

There are unknowns to this column that internet searching could not solve, but may have answers in the Stow Historical Society records. Or the memories of people from Stow. For example, is the area so-named the Delaney Complex/Project because it is near Delaney Street? Was the street named for a landowner? If so, who? And was there a Delaney Farm before it became Delaney Pond? There do not appear to be Delaney family members buried in any of Stow's cemeteries, so no clues there. 

Flood control structure referred to as a riser. Water enters lower openings,
which are protected by the sets of bars called trash racks. Except in times
of drought this allows some flow into Elizabeth Brook. Only after water level
rises about six feet would it enter the larger opening protected by the top
set of bars, resulting in faster outflow. Click on any photo to enlarge. 
The aforementioned walking guides show the network of trails as twisty and criss-crossy, so even an experienced woods hiker should have a compass or a cell phone with a compass app. Worst case - the latter will allow you to call for help, and for rescue to find you. Police reports in the newspaper have on occasion been about darkness and foul weather descending on people lost in Delaney.

Odds are this pond is quite shallow, given its man-made nature. By comparison, Walden Pond, formed by glaciers, covers only 61 acres but has a maximum depth of 102 feet.