Thursday, October 30, 2008

Greenbrier Ordnance Depot

(a wholly fabricated toy soldier story)

Today little remains of Greenbrier Maryland.  A few tumble-down foundations and the skeletal remains of a waterwheel beside the canal are some of the only clues of what was once a bee-hive of wartime activity, nearly a century and a half ago.

A combination of geography and geology conspired to place Greenbrier in the center of the Union cause for twenty-two exhilarating months between late 1863 and spring of 1865. Greenbrier, nestled at the foot of South Mountain sat astride the confluence of a moderate-grade iron ore deposit and a shallow soft-coal seam. Proximity to both the Cumberland Canal as well as Boonsboro Creek provided water power and transportation. Added to that coincidence of place arrived the Baltimore Valley Railroad spur in 1862, and before the locals knew what was transpiring in their sleepy valley hamlet their rudimentary forges and furnaces became a smoking, hissing, soot strewn center of medium industry, with blast furnaces producing low carbon steel, and iron pigs being melted in giant crucibles and thence poured in golden showers of sparks into the giant sand-banked wrought iron flasks from which massive cannon barrels would emerge 42 hours after pouring.

The valley would ring and shudder with the pulse of water-powered trip hammers, the scream of mill and train whistles, the throb of engines and the throaty shouts of hundreds of mechanics, soldiers, engineers, laborers and idlers, all turning their gnarled fists and burly shoulders to the great wheel of ordnance production, all bound by the same simple credo:

Union Forever!

Here, then, are glimpses of those bygone halcyon days of hubbub, hustle-bustle, and hullabaloo that once characterized, nay, Defined, Greenbrier Maryland, once known simply and assuredly as:

"Greenbrier Ordnance Depot"

"The yard" as it was known to hundreds of soldiers and ordnance workers, where in the span of a fortnight tens of cannons would be cast, bored, turned, rifled, finished, mounted, tested, and then shipped by car or canal to the gun-hungry Army of the Potomac or the ring forts of the Federal capital.

Often guarded by stalwart soldiers of the Third Michigan Regiment of Volunteer Infantry, the yard workers were able to labor day and night secure in the assurance that these watchful Wolverines would keep secession's heinous henchmen well at bay.

Shops large and small served the manufacture and refurbishment of countless guns of every caliber and design.  Here, an Army artificer prepares to re-weld the iron tyre rim of of a heavy iron veteran of many a battle.

The headquarters building, scant months before a humble canalman's residence, now rings with  orders, instructions, and reports...the work of men!

Outside the main hammer shop sentinels call to one another in an endless sing-song of "all's well", providing a monotonous madrigal of martial maintenance of the peace and security of the shops and attending valley hamlets.

Already, just in the merest span of this brief description, the heavy gun is repaired and a six-pounder is manhandled to the small forge for light repair.

The forges, furnaces, flaskmires, and flamecures billow and spark day and night in the production of freedom's fulsome firearms.

At firstlight newly-mounted guns and mortars are assembled for loading upon cars and canal boats to be whisked to the front at the beck of Liberty's loyal legions.

Loading day brings an extra degree of diligence among the men of the Tuebor state, virtuously vigilant against the dark and traitorous machinations of the lackeys of the Dame Dixie and her deluded dunces of disunion.

Union's upright sons will stay the designs of the traitors, and the guns shall get through, always the watchwords; "THE GUNS SHALL GET THROUGH!"

And such an array of guns, the likes of which freedom loving men have never cast eyes upon all in so compact a space!  These testers of treason, these punishers of the perfidious include:

BMC/Americana ten-pounder Parrots, with their distinctive reinforcing welt at the breech of the cast-iron tube,

colorful TootsieToy Parrot rifles in the newer 3-inch caliber patiently awaiting a baptism of fire,

the renowned, and very expensive, Wm Britians 3-inch ordnance rifle, proven on so many a field of strife, here awaits the boatmen to whisk her away to freedom's grim and gruesome contest,

the imported Whitworth "pencil-sharpener" gun.  Though produced by the pomp0us John Bull, this fine gun can nonetheless deliver a bolt to a distance of up to five and one half miles...Victory thy name is Technology!

The yard is dominated with heavy caliber "Armies in Plastic" siege guns in configurations of the 30-pounder Parrott rifle as well as the iron 32-pounder.

The unorthodox ordnance of CTS is also represented in Freedom's train in the guise of these Parrott-modified iron field guns.

Aged and obsolete, but still ready to limp to Liberty's call is the Marx field gun, in its lonely corner of the yard, a silent reminder of those early glory days of manufacturing by that former titian of teeming troops - Louis Marx (requiescat in pace).

The slovenly though serviceable BMC/Americana three-inch ordnance rifles slouch in the shadows.  So great is the need of our noble cause that even these venomous vagabonds will be called to Victory's vanguard.

Well represented in "the yard' on this shipping day are the steel and iron icons of Imex, from their sturdy, steady, and stern six-pounder, to their lean and lethal Parrott rifles.

And gleaming among the sulphurous soot of steel and slag, we glimpse that most senior of guns, the Penncraft bronze 12-pounder.  As ready for action today as it was sixty years ago.

These are the men, the machines, the means, and the might of the Greenbrier Ordnance Depot.  Once a dynamo of industry, a crucial cog in the great mechanism of Freedom, Liberty and Union.  Once so vital, so brash, so pulsating with energy, vitality, manly exuberance and grim determination.

Now, nearly a century and a half later, with Union preserved and Freedom assured, the mouldering remains of "the yard" and its works are known only to an occasional aged local with a long memory or the casual investigations of a wayward hiker.

To the memory then of a great enterprise and a greater cause...

Union Forever!

Soldier on!


Next thrilling post on the 15th!  (emphasis mine)

I'll see you all in Gettysburg for the annual "Fall In" convention, link here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Armies in Plastic 30-pounder Parrott Gun

Right on target!

I'm a big fan of artillery, 1:1 or 54mm, its all good.

On a recent trip to Gettysburg I picked up what I believe is the finest (hands-down) 54mm plastic representation of an artillery piece manufactured today.

Ladies and gentlemen...The Armies in Plastic 30-pounder Parrott gun!

This past summer on one of my trips north to check out the new (and outstanding) Visitor Center at Gettysburg I stopped by my usual toy soldier haunts as well as one I'd not visited before.  "Better late than never" is all I can say!

Tarbox Fine Military Miniatures is a paradise of quality and craftsmanship amid the sea of schlock shops on Steinwehr Avenue.  

Tucked between ghost tours and tee-shirt shops its a real goldmine for miniature collectors and toy soldier enthusiasts.

Charlie Tarbox holds court in the store and is a wealth of information, and puns, including visual ones.  Note the soldier below who has obviously...

"kicked the bucket".  The place is full of groaners like this, though you have to look closely.

I'd opine that the shop specializes in really high-end stuff like Napoleon and his staff here,

but also has a nice range of plastic focusing on Imex and Armies in Plastic, two solid product lines.

Be sure to check out Tarbox's establishment on your next visit to G'burg.  

I was hoping to get the (relatively) new AIP release of the 30-pounder and I scored by going into Tarbox's, they had plenty of them, Union and Confederate.   Several shelves of these simple but attractive AIP cartons caught my attention and I knew my hunt was over.

This fantastic cannon comes in what AIP calls "military green" but I'd say more of a greenish gray (heavy on the gray).  Also included are five well done crewmen (discussed below).  I opted for the Union detachment. 

 The gun comes with two barrels providing the buyer with the option of the welted Parrott tube or the iron 32-p0under.  That's some nice flexibility.

The "kit", if you want to call it that, comes in six pieces: trail, wheels, handscrew, and the two tubes.  Everything snaps together beautifully, and generally casting-mark and flash free.

You can even dismount the tube and position it in the towing configuration for these larger siege guns.  The carriage is quite correct in all respects for these larger caliber heavy guns.

Altogether a very handsome, well sculpted, and accurate piece in all respects.  I bought two!

The tube exhibits one of the few casting marks, otherwise its a very clean model.

With the included crewmen you can man the works of these combined BMC redoubts, or...

appear equally menacing peering out from a custom made recreation of ...

historic Fort Ward,

part of the outer defenses of Wartime Washington D.C.

Click here to see more of my recreation of Fort Ward as well as the real thing.

Reviewing the troops.

Like all Armies in Plastic figures these guys aren't exactly detail-rich, however, like all AIP figures they are flash-free, exceptionally well sculpted, nicely animated, robust, well balanced, and so delightfully shiny

 AIP makes really nice soldiers, despite the limited detail.  My main beef with AIP is their silly tendency to mold the same figures in a variety of colors in an attempt to pass them of as different types of troops.  They package about eight different versions of Zouaves, which are merely the same poses molded in different colors.  Similarly their Berdan's Sharpshooters (in Green) are the same figures as their Union (blue) and Confederate (gray) Marines.

That gets a little tiresome.  I'd prefer to see them extend their talents and exceptional degree of quality control to all new poses.  

Like these guys:

The battery commander has a nice command posture.  The arms holding the binoculars are a separate piece and are a nice, clean, tension fit in sockets in the shoulders.  The caped greatcoat is very nice though I always prefer my troops in summertime order.

Our equally nicely-sculpted number two man seems to be have an exceptionally heavy sponge at the end of that staff, also his posture is, technically incorrect.  Sponging, and ramming, must always be done with one hand, lest the powder discharge prematurely.  At least our veteran will be able to go home with one arm intact.

here's a little video I did demonstrating correct sponging technique:

You can check out all of my videos by clicking here.

Now, back to the troops.

The spherical projectile limits this guys usefulness to serving the 32-pounder.  It would have been nice if AIP had sculpted a man with an elongated projectile for the Parrott rifle.

This guy has a long implement used to lever the carriage into position, by boosting it under the wheels and manhandling the gun.  Unfortunately the engineering on this figure is flawed.  As is evident in this picture, that lever extends far below the plane of the base.  Also, the shaft isn't particularly straight, and the thing looks a whole lot like the crazy weapons carried by those Egyptian alien dudes in Stargate.


Powderbag man.  No complaints here.

 Hat cords and crossed cannon (in fairly low-relief) are evident on all of the hats, which is a nice touch.  

I like these guys.

And the guns are stand-outs among their peers, as well as in the ordnance yard below:

guarded by steadfast tin soldiers of the Third Michigan!

Detail is great and the engineering is absolutely robust without being clunky or off-scale.

I'd love to see AIP  take on the production of 54mm light field guns, of which even the best (plastic) like this Imex 10-pounder Parrott...

tend to appear very spindly and have very fragile engineering.

AIP scores a bulls-eye with this outstanding release!

See you again on November 1.

Soldier on!