Fire marks recall era when flames were major urban threat

Charleston June 2015 068 a

Beginning in the 1750s, some American insurance companies began issuing metal fire marks to policyholders to signify that their property was insured against fire damage.

The fire marks bore the name and/or symbol of the insurer, and some included the customer’s policy number.

The company or agent would then affix the mark to the policyholder’s home or business. For owners the mark served as proof of insurance and a deterrent against arson. The marks not only served as form of advertising for insurance companies but alerted volunteer firefighters that the property was insured. Often, the first volunteer firefighting company on the scene of an insured structure would receive a reward.

The Charleston Fire Insurance Company was incorporated on Dec. 11, 1811, during a time when catastrophic fires were a real danger in American cities, many of which had been hastily erected with wooden materials.

Charleston was devastated by several fires, including blazes in 1740, 1798, 1838 and 1861.

The company’s charter provided for insurance against fire on buildings, goods, wares, merchandise and other property.

The oval mark is made of iron, and consists of an inner image of intact buildings on the left, and buildings engulfed in flames on the right. A figure of Athena guards the intact buildings from the fire, and has a shield by her feet emblazoned with a Palmetto tree. There is a text above the intact building that reads, “RESTORED.” The outer rim bears the text “CHARLESTON FIRE INSURANCE COMPY.”

The cast iron marks measure approximately 7.7 inches by X 9.1 inches and weigh almost 3 pounds.

Today these fire marks can still be seen throughout Charleston, although most of them are reproductions.

The above mark, which is affixed to a structure at 100 Church St. in downtown Charleston, is likely a reproduction.

The Charleston Fire Insurance Company operated from 1811 until 1896.

100 Church st.

The oval-shaped Charleston Fire Insurance Company fire mark can be seen just to the left of the door at 100 Church St. in downtown Charleston.

Connecticut determined to pluck every feather from golden goose


If one wanted to chart a course for steering a state onto the shoals, look no further than Connecticut.

Twenty-five years ago, the Nutmeg State had no state income tax and served as tax refuge for many New York City workers.

Those days are long gone; last week the Connecticut legislature again raised state income tax rates, with the top marginal rate set to rise to 6.99 percent.

Of course, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy promised during his re-election campaign last year that he wouldn’t raise taxes, but that’s the same thing he said in 2010, a year before he signed a $2.6 billion tax hike.

The thing is, it’s not like Connecticut is growing like gangbusters and can afford to bleed its citizens dry.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

…the state grew a scant 0.9% in 2013, the last year state data are available. That was tied for tenth worst in the U.S. The state’s average compounded annual growth for the last four years is 0.42%. Slow growth means less tax revenue but spending never slows down. Some “40% of the state budget goes to government employee compensation and benefits, including payroll, state pensions, teacher pensions and current and retiree health care,” says Carol Platt Liebau, president of the Hartford-based Yankee Institute. …The Tax Foundation ranks Connecticut as one of the 10 worst states to do business. The state finished last in Gallup’s Job Creation Index in 2014 and now ties with Rhode Island for the worst job creation in the index since 2008.

The Journal added that Connecticut was one of six states that lost population in fiscal 2013-2014, and a Gallup poll in the second half of 2013 found that about half of state residents would migrate if they could.

If all of the above weren’t bad enough, lawmakers also made permanent a 20 percent surtax on Connecticut-based companies’ annual tax liability – a tax on a tax – which would be figured on Connecticut companies’ world-wide income, rather than what they earn in the state, according to the Journal.

Consider some of the corporations headquartered in Connecticut: Aetna, Cigna, General Electric, Pratt & Whitney, Praxair and Xerox.

Why would any of the above stay in Connecticut when faced with this kind of competitive disadvantage?

No doubt economic development officials in low-tax states such as Texas and Florida are giddy with anticipation at getting a shot at landing the likes of a GE or Pratt & Whitney.

“The high marginal rates are bad enough, but it is an astonishing overreach to tax corporations headquartered in your state based on their worldwide income,” according to the Coyote Blog. “This leads to a huge double taxation problem for any company dumb enough to stay.”

(Top: Connecticut Statehouse, Hartford, Conn.)

Amtrak train takes out 70,000 pounds of cured heaven

amtrak bacon 2

Oh, the porcinity!

In a world seemingly run amok – with militants misusing religion to spread hate; drought, floods and other weather phenomena of catastrophic nature wreaking havoc; and governments increasingly using technology to spy on its own citizens – another tragedy occurred Friday in the Midwestern US.

An Amtrak train headed to Chicago from San Antonio slammed into a tractor-trailer carrying thousands of pounds of bacon at a crossing in Wilmington, Ill.

There were a few injuries, all believed minor, but the overturned truck was split open like a gutted hog and 70,000 pounds of bacon were flung about at the site of impact.

The contents represented hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of the cured meat product, especially prized in North America, Western Europe and at the global headquarters of this blog.

(Top: Demolished tractor-trailer seen Friday in front of Amtrak train in Wilmington, Ill., with thousands of pounds of bacon strewn about.)

The Bugatti Veyron: What I won’t be driving this summer

2006 bugatti veyron

For those saving up your nickels for a nice used car, keep your eyes peeled for a prize coming on the market this summer.

RM Sotheby’s will hold an auction Aug. 13 at Pebble Beach in Monterey, Calif., that will feature several high-performance vehicles, among them a 2006 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 that bears the chassis number 001.

The vehicle, whose owner is unidentified, was last auctioned in 2008 by Gooding & Company for $2.9 million.

“Given the unchecked appreciation of Veyrons – engineering showcases producing in excess of 1,000 horsepower – it seems safe to say the first in the Veyron line would bring significantly more,” according to the BBC.

The Veyron features an 8.0-litre, quad-turbocharged, W16 cylinder engine, equivalent to two narrow-angle V8 engines bolted together. The engine features four turbochargers and displaces nearly 488 cubic inches.

The vehicle has an astounding 10 radiators: three heat exchangers for the air-to-liquid intercoolers; three engine radiators; one for the air conditioning system; one transmission oil radiator; one differential oil radiator; and one engine oil radiator.

The Veyron’s average top speed was 253.81 mph during test sessions in April 2005.

By comparison, the fastest official speed recorded by a NASCAR driver is nearly 213 mph, by Bill Elliott at Talladega Superspeedway during qualifying in 1987, while the fastest speed run by an Indy car is just over 236 mph, set by Eddie Cheever at the 1996 Indianapolis 500.

Whoever comes away with this trophy better have a little extra cash on hand.

The Veyron uses special Michelin PAX run-flat tires that cost $25,000 per set. In addition, the tires can be mounted only in France, a service which costs $70,000, according to Car and Driver magazine.

If interested parties can’t land the Veyron, there are a number of other outstanding vehicles going up for sale at the August auction, including another Veyron, four Ferraris (288 GTO, F40, F50 and Enzo), a Lamborghini Reventon, a Maserati MC12, a Mercedes SLR McLaren, a Porsche 959 and a McLaren F1.

I wonder what they charge to allow plebeians to come and drool?

SC man upset he can’t get health insurance after getting sick

Luis lang

When discussing cases such as those of Fort Mill, SC, resident Luis Lang it’s difficult to do so in a dispassionate manner without sounding at least somewhat heartless.


The 49-year-old self-employed handyman, who works with banks and the federal government on maintaining foreclosed properties, has bleeding in his eyes and a partially detached retina caused by diabetes. An area ophthalmologist who examined Lang said he will go blind without care.

Lang, however, has no health insurance. He told the Charlotte Observer that he has prided himself on paying his own medical bills.

Apparently, he’s done well for himself, too. His wife hasn’t had to work and the pair live in a 3,300-square-foot home valued at more than $300,000.

Lang’s pay-as-you-go approach to medical care worked fine while he was healthy, but this past February he suffered through 10 days of nonstop headaches and ended up going to the emergency room.

He told the Observer he was informed that he’d suffered several ministrokes.

Lang ran up $9,000 in bills, exhausted his savings, saw his vision worsen and now he can’t work, he told the Observer.

After consuming his savings, Lang turned to the Affordable Care Act exchange, known colloquially in the US as “Obamacare,” after President Barack Obama, who promoted the concept of a health insurance exchange as a key component of his health care reform initiative.

However, Lang found himself out of luck because 2015 enrollment had closed earlier that month. Also, because Lang is unable to work and his income has dried up, he earns too little to get a federal subsidy to buy a private policy.

Lang isn’t exactly owning up to having played a role in his predicament.

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Hard times hit South Carolina long before the Great Depression

black sharecroppers sc

The Great Depression is rightly regarded as the most tumultuous time, economically speaking, in US history.

But for South Carolinians, the downturn brought on by the 1929 stock market crash was simply a continuation of hard times that began shortly after the end of World War I nearly a decade earlier.

The state, hardly more economically diversified in 1920 than it had been in 1860, was still largely dependent on agriculture, and cotton was still the predominant crop.

Beginning in 1920, the state’s cotton industry was hit first by the loss of overseas markets and overproduction, then by the boll weevil and drought. Between 1920 and 1922, cotton production in the state dropped by more than two-thirds, according to Walter Edgar in South Carolina: A History.

Cotton prices plummeted from 38 cents a pound in 1919 to 17 cents a pound a year later and to less than 5 cents a pound by 1932, and by the early 1930s many South Carolinians found themselves destitute, both hungry and out of work.

No one was worse off during this period then the rural poor. Sharecroppers, forced to focus on the crop in the field, which held their only hope for any return on investment, had little time or money to raise food for themselves such as vegetables, cows, hogs or chickens.

“With such a meager diet, poor in nutrients and vitamins, malnutrition and disease ran rampant among the rural poor,” according to the book South Carolina and the New Deal.

“’New’ clothes were most often fashioned out of old clothes or flour or feed sacks,” wrote author Jack Irby Hayes Jr. “Children dropped out of school to look for work, because they did not have clothes to wear or were so malnourished or sick they were unable to attend.

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Sacramento railyard reveals past industrial prowess, bygone era

sacramento railroad shop

Sacramento, like many state capitals, is known today for being a government town, but it wasn’t always that way.

As the terminus of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad, Sacramento quickly saw its population swell in the second half of the 19th century as blue-collar laborers poured into the city in droves to secure work as machinists, painters, carpenters and boilermakers for the Southern Pacific Railroad.

By 1900 as much as one-third of all workers in Sacramento were employed by Southern Pacific at the corporation’s massive Sacramento industrial complex, the largest industrial site west of the Mississippi River.

Among them was my great-grandfather’s brother, who worked as blacksmith for Southern Pacific in the 1890s.

Today, the complex, shuttered in 1999, is a shell of its former self, with just eight of 50 structures remaining. The survivors, many of which are still-impressive brick buildings that show the ravages of time, weather and use, appear to be biding their time until a colossal housing development is built on the location.

Like much of California, Sacramento’s railroad shops grew quickly.

Just 14 years after gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in 1848 and only a dozen years after the state was admitted to the Union, four Sacramento merchants – Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker – joined with Theodore Judah, who had surveyed and engineered the Sacramento Valley Railroad, to incorporate the Central Pacific Railroad.

Their plan was as straightforward as it was audacious: Build a rail line over the Sierra Mountains and on further east, where it would become part of the first transcontinental railroad.

“The groundbreaking ceremony took place on Jan. 3, 1863, at the foot of K Street in what is now Old Sacramento,” according to Kevin W. Hecteman in his work Sacramento’s Southern Pacific Shops. “Stanford, who at the time was the president of the Central Pacific and the governor of California, deposited the first shovelful of dirt for the railroad’s embankment …”

Designs were in place for the Sacramento shops by 1867 and two years later, by the time the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroad had joined together at Promontory Summit in Utah, connecting the nation by rail, a machine shop, blacksmith shop and car shop had already been constructed in California’s capital.

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