The Flea Market Strikes Again!

Hey, all. So, in between creating and launching books, I’ve taken a little time to lean into my violin hobby. Knowing that I have a knack for finding things, my instructor, Ryan, asked me to find a good violin for a student who needs a quality instrument but isn’t long on cash.

I was happy to oblige. I loaded up on Friday morning and cruised to the local flea market, hoping to find something. I usually do, but sometimes what I find isn’t worth having. This can be a shame; on my last visit, I found a good Strad clone for reasonable. However, someone had “repaired” it with wood glue and hadn’t done a very good job. It wasn’t worth the eighty dollars the seller was asking. If it hadn’t been “repaired,” eighty dollars would have been a steal. As it was, the value was close to zero.

By the way, never glue a violin back together with wood glue. It makes the instrument very difficult, if not impossible, to disassemble for maintenance. These things are designed to be taken apart for periodic repairs, and modern wood glue works too well- you won’t get it apart without ruining the instrument. The wood will break before the glued joint lets loose. This is undesirable.

If you must glue a loose spot on an instrument, spend a couple of bucks for proper, old-fashioned hide glue. But I digress.

I arrived and stepped out of my vehicle with some cash in my pocket. The junk man doesn’t do plastic. I prefer junk dealers, guys who tear shit down and could care less about what they sell. Or, fellas who frequent estate sales and want to turn a quick buck. Homeowners can be a pain, frequently they have an inflated idea of the value of their junk, or they have some emotional attachment to what they sell. So, I look for the junk man.

You can tell those dudes at a glance. They usually have some shitty vehicle and a very wide range of stuff, most of it old.

The “antique” dealers are usually not worth looking at. They’re there to rip off city people. The “theme” dealers aren’t worth looking at, either. They know damn well what their stuff is worth. No- I want the utter mercenaries who would gladly sell you something they got for nothing for a few twenties.

I walked about two minutes when I happened upon my first deal. A guy was selling an old, hand-stitched 48-star flag for twelve bucks. I’ve been looking for one of those for years. His price was twelve because he fully expected me to talk him to ten. Those are usually fifty, so I didn’t feel like haggling. It was a good deal. I put it into my backpack and kept walking.

Three minutes later, and bingo.

An obvious junk man, and an obviously old violin. Usually, the case is the tell. Typical early twentieth pressed-paper. What was inside, I wondered. I asked if I could open the case. He waved, “Sure!”

I opened it and saw the above. Horsehair everywhere, like usual, and a neglected instrument. It had real purfling, a tentative sign of quality manufacture. I looked closer and took it from the case. I flipped it to look at the belly.

YASSS. Excellent quality maple- this wasn’t a cheap instrument when new. I flipped it back over and looked at the tag inside.

Whoa- this was different. This violin was a del Gésu clone- an instrument made to the rough pattern of an old master by the name of Guarneri. Almost everyone is familiar with the Stradivarius violins, and no, a tag that says “Stradivarius” does not mean it’s a real Strad. Just put that out of your mind. You will never find one. Period.

Almost without exception, most old violins you find at flea markets are Strad clones. There’s nothing wrong with this- they are great violins if you pick the right one. So, finding a del Gésu pattern was unusual. My holy grail is finding an individual luthier violin, but it hasn’t happened yet and may never.

A quick note- the violins you find range from beginner stuff to professional grade. Beginner stuff is usually Chinese or older Japanese. Don’t bother with used. If you’re after this, go to Amazon and get a Cecilio. They aren’t great, but for a starter violin, they work, and the case and accessories are useful.

The flea markets are great for intermediate violins- this del Gésu clone was a fine example. Individual luthier violins are usually low professional grade, even high grade, but I’d have to have serious luck to find one of those. By “individual luthier” violin, I mean hand-made and proudly labeled as such by a master craftsman.

The violin I found was about a century old and it was hand-made, but probably by a team of craftsmen in a shop under the direction of a master. In contrast, the Cecilio violins are a total factory operation and they are CNC milled.

The del Gésu clone was what I was after, a serious upgrade for Ryan’s student. It was an advanced student violin.

It had a few small defects but nothing fatal. A couple of hairline cracks on the upper plate, whatever. Maybe a couple of hundred dollars in repairs (BTW, I may teach myself how to disassemble and repair these things. But I need a MUCH worse violin than this for my first repair project!). This one needed some new strings, maybe pegs, a new tail gut. Whatever. So, I asked the question.

“How much?”

“A hundred.”

“What’ll ya take?”


I said the hell with it and handed him ninety. I wouldn’t quibble over five bucks, and the violin was worth much more than that. I had a winner. I took it back to my truck and re-examined it, pleased by the deal. Of course, junk-man probably paid five for it, or got it for free, but so what? This was a win-win.

I left. I hadn’t been there more than ten minutes. Why stay longer when the mission was accomplished? It was an amazing day.

I cleaned up the case and dusted the instrument when I got home. Also, to my utter shock, I used one of the bows when I trimmed about half the rotten hairs from it. Put on some rosin and played! I’ve never seen that before- usually, the bows are ruined. Even the pressed paper case was nice- usually, they are JUNK. Not this one- I didn’t immediately chuck it in the trash, which is rare.

Not bad for a half-hour’s work, really.

Also, I laid the del Gésu out next to Rose the Strad, and you can see the clear difference in body shape, although the wood on both is nice. Both of these fiddles cost less than 100 in initial outlay! Sweet.

It was a very good day, and I can’t wait to see how this latest purchase shapes up- I estimate that this violin will probably cost about 500, total, to be completely ready and playable. A real deal, IMO.

Love me some flea markets.

We, the living.

Here we are, at another Memorial Day weekend. Long-time readers will know that I’ve struggled with these days for a long time. How do we, the living, properly honor our dead- our ancestors, our fallen?

Simply put, there is nothing we can do but remember.

I think the forgotten deserve this remembrance more than the mighty.

The image above is a simple mound in a nearby village, a relic of the indigenous Mound Builders culture. These folks lived until about the 17th century. It seems that most of these people died of waves of disease. Smallpox and influenza killed them off. They had no immunity.

Surely some scattered survivors lived and ended up with other tribes, but their culture was annihilated. Forgotten.

Who mourns the Mound Builders?

I guess I do.

It’s not much, but I prepared a prayer tie and hung it from the dead tree at the top of the mound. You could be depressed about the Mound Builders and the rotten maple at the top of their memorial, but I choose not to look at it that way.

The dead tree atop a dead civilization- it’s all part of the cycle.

Each and every one of us is a survivor of past calamity. Do we really think of ourselves as uniquely divorced from the track of history? Do we think we can escape the Mound Builder’s fate?

Nope, it’s not going to happen.

So on this weekend, I remember. I pay my respects to those who came before. To those whose luck ran out.

Like this guy. A tombstone tucked away in a forgotten corner with about twenty others. Victims or survivors of the US Civil War, by far our deadliest war.

How soon do many forget, or worse, idolize, an ignominious cause? It took years to recover all the dead strewn across the American landscape. Some ended up here.


But not by me. I took a moment and reflected. Hung out with the guys and left them a nice flag. Played a few songs they’d recognize, and the fiddle sang with the gentle breeze.

I sighed.

This is Memorial Day, as I prefer it. No speeches, no band, no BBQ or sales.

Just a survivor’s gratitude.

I remember.

The Stone Marker- released today.

Evening, everybody.

Today, with a lot of help from my peeps, book #3 of the Ohio Rifles trilogy hit the shelves at the Beast.

You can grab your copy here in the US.

Or here in the UK.

Here also, in AU.

This trilogy took years to get out there, but it’s been my most successful venture. Writing it was a lot of fun, and I’ve enjoyed my journey with the characters here. I think many other people have enjoyed this, too, and that’s the whole point.

We followed our hero as he grew in this alternate World War One, watched his world expand, and saw what happened to him and those he cared about. Some of it was pretty grim. Well, that’s war. No glory. No cool stuff, no guarantee of a happy life.

At best, you survive and tell the tale.

So, now it’s available in its entirety, the Ohio Rifles bit.

On to other things.

Cheers, J

Getting Smoked

Hey, all. Above is a pic of a private holding his rucksack above his head. He’s being “smoked.”

Back from a pretty amazing vacation. We had a lot of fun.

Now it’s time to do things again.

I happened upon this article, which is a pretty good story. This is what getting smoked is all about- instilling discipline through physical exercise. Being legally tormented to lengths of pain and exhaustion that are difficult to comprehend.

In the US Army, outside of extreme circumstances, you cannot beat the shit out of someone to enforce discipline. I’m not going to say it doesn’t happen, because it does, but you better have a damn good reason or you are in deep shit.

What you can do is apply corrective physical training, which is known as “smoking.”

I have been smoked beyond all reason and have given the smokings in turn.

This is because I came up through the ranks as a junior enlisted troop, reached NCO rank, then ended my career as an officer.

NCOs are generally the ones who hand out smokings. If an officer smokes you, you have really, really fucked up, and after he’s done, then the NCOs will take over until the offending soldier is a quivering mass of jelly, usually covered in sand or pine needles and mud.

Hmm, what are things I’ve done to deserve a smoking.

The list is long.

First, nothing. Someone else screwed up, and everyone paid. The one who caused everyone to get smoked? He’d pay later, after the NCOs went to bed.

Next, flicking a cigarette butt where it didn’t belong. Or, forgetting to button a button in an inspection. Not cleaning the latrine properly. Showing up drunk to formation. The list is long. Very long.

One of the worst, most painful experiences I had was something I don’t remember. But I do remember what happened.

We were in our Class A’s (dress uniform). Something happened. Don’t know what. We were ordered to “open ranks.” Basically, this is an inspection formation. Everyone spaces themselves out. The command “dress right, dress” is given to ensure the ranks are perfectly straight. When a soldier hears this command, they turn their head sharply to the right and extend their left arm at a 90-degree angle, pointing at the next soldier in line. The next command is usually “ready, front.” When you hear this, you drop your arm, turn your head straight, and return to the position of attention.

On that cursed day, it didn’t happen. Our arms remained perfectly rigid and extended, our heads cocked sharply to the right.

After a few minutes, my arm and neck began to ache terribly. Our sergeants watched implacably. A fellow in front of me, his arm began to tremble. Soon, everyone was doing it. It went on and on. An NCO walked down the lines, he started snatching “cunt caps” (garrison caps) from people’s heads and placing them on the tips of their trembling hands.

The minute weight of the garrison hats was too much. A soldier dropped his arm, utterly exhausted. Screaming ensued. “Are you letting your fucking hat kick your ass, retard? Get your fucking arm up!”

“I can’t!”

“Then get on the ground with your cap and do the front leaning rest.” (The push-up position. Also bad!)

I’m not sure for how long this went on under the blazing Southern skies, but it seemed an eternity.

We were wrecked by holding a simple body position through following a lawful order. Not a single blow was given. Very little was said. I’ve never seen this in a movie, and I don’t think you will. I never forgot how effective it was. You don’t need to hit anyone. Simple exercise or body position will do. Even simple children’s games like “Leapfrog” can become the worst torture.

Years later, I stood before my platoon. They had fucked up. They knew it, you could hear a pin drop. I looked them over and spoke a simple command.

“Open ranks, march.”

It was the gift that kept on giving.

Looking back on things, we were given a choice. Follow lawful orders and get what’s coming to you, or, bitch up and get paperwork.

Smoking’s better, trust me.


Alright, you may need some explanation for how a chunk of wood jammed into my tire has a place in an article named “Pleasures.”

Don’t worry, an explanation will be forthcoming.

It’s the little things in life, really, that make all the difference.

I got that flat while returning home from helping a family member get health care from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, the VA. My uncle, a veteran of the Korean War, was in a jam. Nearly ninety, with totally inadequate (and expensive) “care,” he was whiling away his days in a terrible bed, and my exhausted aunt was his sole provider.

Well, they finally decided to hand his discharge papers over to the VA, and lo and behold, he’s now getting the care he needs in less than 30 days from the start of the process. People cry about the VA all the time, and I don’t see what the problem is. They’ve provided me with world-class care, and now it’s my uncle’s long-overdue turn. I’ve helped the process a little, and it’s involved a bit of travel. No biggie.

The flat was a result of this. A chunk of wood flew from a contractor’s truck, and I didn’t have time to dodge it. A quarter mile later, and my “low inflation” display came on, with a helpful diagram to let me know which wheel and it’s current pressure. 27 psi, and dropping fast. There was a problem. I looked for a good place to park, right away. Fortunately, there was an Aldi with a generous parking lot nearby. I whipped it into there with ten psi to spare.

I got out and looked. Yep, a big chunk of wood was jammed into my tire, there was no way it could be patched. I scratched my head. It was raining, of course, and I had never changed the tire on this particular vehicle. The spare was stowed in an odd place, and there is a whole procedure to getting it out. Damn.

A lightbulb went off. Hey, didn’t I have Ford Roadside Assistance as part of the vehicle purchase package? I wasn’t sure, but there was a 1-800 number in my owner’s handbook (which I had been looking through to figure that spare tire thing out). I called it, and instead of speaking with an operator, I received a series of texts. Within five minutes, a repair dude had been dispatched, complete with a Google Maps display with an icon of the inbound repair vehicle’s location.

Easy-peasy, and it turned out I didn’t even have to fish around in the booklet for the 1-800 number, I could have used my Ford app. But I digress.

The fellow showed up, and I watched how he took out the spare- it could be that sometime I’d be in a place hours from nearby help, so I wanted to file that info away for potential future use.

He swapped the blown tire for the spare, had me sign a receipt, and he left. No cost involved. I followed Siri to the nearby Ford garage and they took my vehicle in and installed four new tires.

Within two hours from the time I hit that jagged chunk of wood, I was back on the road. Ford did an amazing job, from start to finish.

An unpleasant event turned into an unexpected pleasure; I now have full faith and confidence in Ford’s Roadside Assistance program, and new tires for a reasonable fee.

Today was violin maintenance day. Another pleasure.

Guys, there is nothing quite like getting your functional antiques out, along with polishing cloth and polish.

It’s a pleasure.

Holding these old girls in your hands, admiring the craftsmanship and obvious wear from their past lives. Smelling the wood, rosin and polish. Rubbing them down with a soft cloth and a thin layer of fragrant varnish restorer. Bringing out the shine. Tuning them and then giving them the first strokes of the bow.

Hearing them sing, at least as well as I can do.

It’s a great way to start off the day.

A pleasure.

Rose, Restored.

Hey, all.

A follow-up bit on the restoration of the nineteenth-century violin I scored at the local antique mall for USD 92.50.

The earlier articles are here (No. 1), and here (No. 2).

There are few things in life I enjoy more than finding an apparent piece of junk and bringing it back into service. I guess I’m a sucker for a good deal, and have an eye for an object’s potential. Rose the violin falls neatly into my interests.

All of my violins have nicknames, it’s how I tell them apart and they usually have something to do with their appearance, sound or origin. One of my favs, Twist the mountain fiddle, is called Twist because of it’s deformed peg box, a result of imperfect craftmanship or poor storage, hard to tell which. If you’re interested, there are a series of older posts about that particular resto, it was a fascinating process (to me).

So why did I name this violin “Rose?” Well, it’s an appearance thing. She has a very nice reddish patina, accentuated by the new furniture I got for her. Also, I grew tired of calling her “clone,” a temporary nickname based upon the fact that she is probably a German Stradivarius pattern copy.

It’s always a gratifying moment when these relics play their first notes after decades in storage. My instructor, Ryan, had the privilege of playing the first tune on this old girl after some minor tweaks. Rose didn’t need much to wake her up, which the antique dealer foolishly didn’t know (or care). See below.

Ryan says it’s not his best recording ever, but hey, it was meant as a quick demo, not a concert quality recording. He did a quick version of a song we’ve played often, “Good Old Mountain Dew,” a regional fav. Here’s another version of it, done by Reina del Cid, a personal fav, right up there with Rhiannon Giddens, another amazing musician.

For the pure hell of it, I decided to add a couple more versions of this song. Check this one out, or this one.

This. This was a successful restoration! One of the finest yet of a high-quality instrument that had been set aside decades ago. Another detail below.

The craftsmanship that’s on display here. It’s amazing and a little heartbreaking that this fiddle almost ended up in the trash or hanging on a wall.

Rose turned out astoundingly well, and I’ve played her a bit since I got her back.

The violin has that comfy feel of an old instrument and that wonderful old wood and polish smell. As a real bonus, it plays very well- it’s a quality instrument. Incomprehensible that it was set aside, but such is life.

Thanks to everyone involved in this process- my eagle-eyed daughter and Ryan.

This has been a good week- I needed a break.

The Potter’s Field

Hey, all. It’s been a busy past month, a lot of life events happening.

The image above is a section of a cemetery at the sprawling former site of an insane asylum located in Athens, Ohio. Note all the tiny white markers, most have a three-digit number carved upon them, the only identifier given to the poor soul who died while in institutional care.

Note the cluster of white markers- these were found randomly when they cleaned up the cemetery recently. The first time I saw this place, it looked like a hay field. I was walking the grounds looking for paw-paws, a banana like indigenous fruit, when I tripped over a marker. I asked my companion “WTF is this?” and she said “oh, this is a big-ass cemetery.” I had no clue. We did locate the small paw-paw grove, and the fruits were delicious.

However, I couldn’t get this place out of my head. A lonely place, full of forgotten people.

Well, at least they cleaned it up, as you can see. Note all the small US flags, there are a lot of them. The VA, the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs, went through the effort of identifying the veterans amongst the anonymous graves and they placed stone markers at some point in the past. I’d imagine there was a dusty book somewhere full of names next to the three-digit numbers on the graves.

It says something about how seriously the VA takes the care of the departed that they went through the trouble of ID’ing the graves of veterans in a place like this. It must have involved some real sleuthing to figure all of this out. But they did it, probably in the 1950s.

In the years since, I’d imagine the cemetery has gone through waves of neglect and then clearing. My bet is that this latest round of cleanup was done before Veteran’s Day, the eleventh of November. A day that used to be known as Armistice Day. A lot of times veteran’s organisations or perhaps the local chapter of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps do these types of cleanups.

The dead matter. They are our ancestors, even if they landed in such a bad situation in life that they ended up here, in this semi-forgotten potter’s field.

I took a picture of the above grave because it caught my eye. This soldier, or inmate, had served with the 122nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, or the 122nd OVI. They had an extensive service record in the US Civil War, and, as was usual in those days, more men died of disease than combat. It turns out that I had an ancestor with the 122nd, he served with D Co. as opposed to C Co, as the corporal above did. It’s possible they knew each other.

My ancestor was captured in 1863, in Winchester, Virginia. According to my Grandma, he spent time in Andersonville Prison. Strangely enough, this was related to me second-hand from Grandma, who had heard the tale directly from the veteran as a child.

As she lay dying, I thought to ask an odd question. As a child, I had always talked with old people, they had the most interesting things to say. For example, I spoke with a very old woman who was born in my childhood home in 1888. She told me of life back then. Stories about the end of World War One, the transition from animals to machines on the farm. But I digress.

I asked my Grandma if she knew any stories about the Civil War. It turns out, she did. And that’s how I heard the tale of a veteran of the 122nd Ohio, and his bad experience at Andersonville.

This is a big motivator for me as a storyteller. If you share the story, these people aren’t truly dead. They live on. Alive in living memory, their worlds brought to life for those of us in the age of the iPhone.

A time before electricity. A time when teamsters weren’t members of a union, but people who handled horses for a living. A time when a simple UTI could kill you.

Contrary to popular belief, those times weren’t good. There was <zero> social safety net, and most people had to work as hard as they could from sunrise to sunset just to make ends meet, then they died in their forties or fifties for the most part.

It was a time before recorded music, a time when a book was precious gift.

It was a time when people with the “Soldier’s Sickness” were sent to institutions by their families, who were driven by desperation to attempt to help their soldier who came home, altered forever.

If you look at the image of the potter’s field, there are a lot of little US flags. Each and every one was a soldier once, a member of the line.

There they lay, along with the others that society didn’t know what to do with.

Pretty crazy.

Be thankful you live in the age of the internet, anti-depressants and fast food.

I am, all the time. Especially so when I visit this potter’s field.

The M60 goes to war

While not a shipload of regular main battle tanks (which would be nice), I read today that the latest batch of goodies for Ukraine includes bridging materials and vehicles for the Ukrainian army.

This is an introduction of the M60 Patton design into the Ukrainian War, and it could foreshadow a larger deployment of the type into the theatre.

I’ve made the argument for a while that the M60 makes sense in the fighting there, and it should be used. It was a good design, more than capable of taking on the T72 series tanks that are the backbone of the Russian armored forces in the conflict.

Also, any heavy maneuver guy will tell you that crossing obstacles under fire is an essential component of tank warfare. The AVLB was designed to do just that, and can support the majority of the vehicles currently used in the war.

The Ukrainian combat engineers have three missions- mobility, counter-mobility, and survivability. They are the ones who will operate these vehicles, in conjunction with maneuver forces.

Bridging units are essential to this effort, and they are a key part of the combined-arms team. It’s not a glamorous job, but it’s dangerous as hell and utterly necessary.

Remember, a BCT (Brigade Combat Team) has these elements- Infantry, Armor, Artillery, Engineers, and Aviation assets. These elements work together to create the effects necessary to wage war and fulfill the commander’s, and ultimately the national intent.

This is the essence of maneuver warfare, and the AVLB snuck in under the radar.

The Hidden Sun

Hey, all.

I launched my sixth published book today, “The Hidden Sun.” It is the bridge novel of my Ohio Rifles trilogy, a series based in a different First World War.

It was a lot of fun to write, and so far book one “The King’s Ohio Rifles,” has done very well by my standards.

You can pick up this copy on the US version of the Beast here.

My Aussie peeps can go here.

Finally, my UK crowd can take a look here.

Launch days are always good, and today will be no different. This should be a busy year for me, I have three more long-form novel launches scheduled for 2023.

I plan to finish off the Rifles series by May, then I’ll do another book in the Storyteller series in August.

Around Christmas I plan to do the first novel in a for now secret-premise trilogy.

Stay tuned.

The US Army’s stupid AR glasses vs. Xiaomi’s pair

A while back I wrote a piece about the US Army’s overbudget and wildly impractical Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or IVAS. It was called “More Garbage to Carry,” and I meant what I said when I named the article. Compare the image below to the sleek glasses above.

WTF is up with the Army thinking about fielding a useless piece of crap like the Ranger above is trying to use? The IVAS is a soldier’s nightmare. Bulky, claustrophobic, prone to fail, and overly complicated. As a bonus, the IVAS features software by Microsoft, because we all know how reliable and user-friendly that is, of course.

Get real. The Army should cut its losses now and get something like the Xiaomi AR glasses. Here’s an article listing the capabilities of this upcoming off-the-shelf unit. I understand that Xiaomi is based in China, and there may be some issues with sourcing from the PRC.

Fine. The USG should buy a dozen pairs and shamelessly copy them and add a few extra features- this is what companies based in China do with our IP all the time; turnabout is fair play, right?

When I think of daily soldier activities, I can picture doing them with the Xiaomi units.

Things like long movements to contact. Raids. Ambushes. Climbing mountains. Sitting long, boring, and dangerous guard duties at night while struggling to stay awake. Walking through some fire-lit village.

The IVAS would suck for each and every task I just listed.

The Xiaomi AR glasses would not suck, and you could use Android software, which many soldiers would already be intimately familiar with. Of course, I would opt for OS, but hey, you can’t have everything.

Without much tweaking, the Xiaomi units could have NVGs or thermals. They can easily track soldiers much as smart phones already do with equipment- just give everyone a version of an Air Tag. Leaders could use these things to direct the battlespace and communicate. Drone feeds could give clear recon to all combatants in an instant, and be controlled by them, as well.

The Xiaomi units could be a real force multiplier in ways that the stupid IVAS will never be.

Of course, the Microsoft people would squeal like pigs if the Army just dropped the IVAS. So what?

Also, US Ordnance has always struggled with “Not Invented Here” syndrome. This is why our guys went to Vietnam with the outdated M-14 and had their asses handed to them by the AK-47.

Modern warfare happens at the speed of social media and flitting drones. We can no longer afford sclerotic logistics and blinkered thinking.

If the Chinese are making these amazing glasses, I say steal them.

All’s fair in love and war.