Strontium Plums and Beryllium Bears

The morning glories were raging as I, Gil, Maud and Oliver pulled away from Cabin World to start on our road trip to the midwest., leaving the hovel-in-the-marsh in the capable care of our friend Javert.

We crossed Pennsylvania to find a farm stand with a prematurely aged man making change out of a prematurely aged leather wallet. The plums he sold were the most delicious I’ve ever eaten.

Gil has his own take on the region we’ve hit, staying at a biker bar/motel so remote that a denizen of the bar exclaimed, “I’ve never seen anybody stay at the motel!” So here are his ruminations:

Researching a writing project, we’re embarking on a vacation tour of Fifties nuclear sites, the first one being the Quehanna Wild Area in west central Pennsylvania. As part of Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” program, the Curtis-Martin aeronautics company tore a huge swath out of the wilderness and installed a reactor as part of an experimental nuclear-powered jet engine development. But in 1960 the U.S. Air Force crapped out of the whole Jetson-style concept altogether, Curtis-Martin pulled out, burying some of its waste underground, after which area black bears and other animals rummaged through the stuff. Beryllium dust anyone? How about some strontium-90? ARCO inherited the hot cell in the woods. One of its subsidiaries had the brilliant idea of irradiating plastic-infused hardwoods to create a sort of super-flooring product, which Permagrain, Inc. installed in basketball courts and gymnasiums around the country  (shades of flubber!). Several Quehanna clean-up efforts tried and failed to remediate the site, the robots were sent in, and the whole mess was eventually buried out of sight and out of mind. Even today, though, there’s a hexagonal “restricted area” on the maps. Another local attraction is a coed boot camp correctional facility for wayward youths, just up the road from where we’re staying. Escaped juvies wander into nuclear twilight zone? Sounds like a killer horror flick. The Forest Has Eyes…

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Filed under History, Jean Zimmerman, The Orphanmaster

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