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Welcome to the personal website of Andrew Turnbull. This outpost features tons of stupefying and trivial things pertaining to various and diverse interests of mine. Chances are, if there's something I know about or like that doesn't much other representation on the 'net...there's a bit of it here.

The front page (usually) updates every week. And it is just a static page.


11 November 2019

West Virginia's fractional highways

In Ontario, there hasn't been much about roads to be excited about since Mike Harris took a machete to the highway map in 1997. Most of the U.S. states I have innate familiarity with (namely Wisconsin, Michigan, and Virginia) have differing rules for highway classifications, and signage and numbering of minor roads (or lettering, in Wisconsin's case) is inconsistent at best.

Thank dog for West Virginia.

[West Virginia Route 44 map]

In the 1930s, my home state of West Virginia hatched an ingenious solution for inventorizing and numbering minor roads. Each county became criss-crossed with a web of secondary "trunk" roads with whole numbers, connecting isolated pockets to major highways. Minor connecting and spur roads were treated as "tributaries" of the highways and secondary trunks...and were assigned fractional numbers to match!

Minor roads branching off from highway 44 would bear the numbers 44/1, 44/2, 44/3, and so forth, then reset at the county line. The "denominators" were numbered in the order in which the state inventorized and commissioned them, not in the order of geography. Nevertheless, the initial-assigned batch of fractional highways in the 1930s did work their way numerically from north to south and from west to east.

The typical means of signing these roads are one-piece guide signs. Several variations of these signs exist, with the one below being a rare old specimen from the 1970s. The number circles became black on white in the 1980s, and the newest signs have mixed-case Series E lettering.

[West Virginia fractional county route sign]

As ingenious as the system was, it did have one catch: The state didn't tell anyone about it.

Even though the fractional numbers appear on signs and some maps, they have no significance in addressing. Houses and parcels aren't numbered nearly as meticulously as the roads, and whatever mail comes their way would be addressed something like "Rural Route 2 Box 152." Nor is there much local awareness of the system. Ask someone on the street above where they live: Chances are, most of them would answer "Lilly Addition Road," and some of them would have their own pet names. Next to none would say that they live on "20/7," and even fewer would know that "20 over 7" is WVDOT's prescribed way for saying it.

Because the fractional road system ended up being exclusively for the domain of internal accountants, map geeks, and traffic engineers rather than for addressing or waymarking, many of them became fossilized in time. There's no better example of this than West Virginia Route 44, the example at the top of the post. In the 1940s, this highway was renumbered "20." Yet, spur roads with "44"-denominator fractional numbers persist in several counties along the road to this day! Similar "numerator artifacts" of rerouted, renumbered, and decommissioned highways can be found all over the state.

Still another fascinating side-effect of the "fossilization" of the fractional route system: Route designations can stay in place when the roads (and connections between them) disappear.

[Mercer County, WV CR 4 and branches in 2019]

Here's an excerpt of the current Mercer County, West Virginia highway map. See route 4/2 in the lower-right corner? And see the whole-number route 4 near Dunns at upper left? Both of these roads are insignificant stubs, with a state park and river canyon filling the impassable void in between. Surely they were never connected?

[Mercer County, WV CR 4 and branches in 1935]

Pulling out a map from circa 1935, it turns out that...yep. The roads were once connected! Not only that, but route 4 once had an additional fractional spur, 4/1, that has now completely disappeared from the map. What could explain this?

When Pipestem State Park was built as a Great Society project in the 1960s, several of the roads that passed through the property were closed to traffic and converted to hiking trails. This appears to have been the fate of the bulk of 4/2.

Route 4, meanwhile, didn't actually disappear: It was recast as a park maintenance road, and deliberately omitted from the map.

That leaves the mystery of 4/1. My best explanation for the fate of this road is that it passed through an uninhabited area, and never warranted being "improved" from dirt two-track status. With no traffic and no pavement to keep entropy at bay, the road eventually returned to the earth and was deleted from the State Road Commission's files in the name of expediency.

I've spent the last two weeks drawing maps and examining the roads of the Place I Once Lived with a fine-toothed comb. Expect to see more posts like this in the near future.


4 November 2019

Allure of the blue school signs

Canadian road signs are a strange beast. Half the time, they more or less look the same as their stateside counterparts. Sometimes, the differences are subtle: A differently-drawn graphic here; 21st-century kilometres instead of 18th-century miles there. But once in a while, their standards bodies throw a curve ball and drop a design that looks like nothing else in the world.

[School signs, 1956-57 Ontario Motor League Road Book]

The school sign is a good example of this. For many years, it wasn't yellow: It was blue! It came in two flavours: A pentagonal design for school zones, and a rectangular design for school crossings. Both designs were in use by 1956, a full decade and a half before the Americans had anything comparable. (The scans above came from the Ontario Motor League Road Book, which I've highlighted before.)

There's one problem with the blue signs, though: They're obsolete. Newer Canadian school signs are fluorescent yellow, same as in the US. And the blue signs are so rare that I might as well be looking for King's Highway shields from the George VI era.

How rare? A quick search of the topic brought up the AARoads forum...and with it, a tale of frustration finding the Phantom Blue:

"I've lived in BC off and on, and have never seen one, so good luck. I'm looking around GMSV right now, quite furiously, and have not been able to find anything. The BC MOT and local jurisdictions have recently put lots of money into roads and many older signs have been replaced."

"After MONTHS of searching, I finally found one in Mitchell, near Steinbach, Manitoba."

[Blue school sign] [Blue school sign]

Through luck and persistence, I've managed to find two blue school signs in my travels in northern Ontario. One five-sided sign turned up north of Sault Ste. Marie, and the rectangular "crossing" variation showed up right under my nose in Thunder Bay. Both are sights for sore eyes.

Questions that becken:

  • When precisely did fluorescent yellow replace blue in the Canadian school sign standard?
  • Where else have blue school signs persisted on the road?
  • When did the 1956-era "word" designs get replaced with purely graphical designs? Seems far-fetched that any of the former are still out there; though as usual, I'd love to be proven wrong.

  • 28 October 2019

    The election is over, and Canada has a Liberal minority government. This is actually the best-case outcome, giving the social-democratic NDP a seat at the table as a de facto partner and obligating the Liberal Party to back up its lofty platitudes with constructive action, particularly on environmental issues. I'm very proud to live in Canada right now...as the country's bigots and bullies cry in their $1 beers.

    Two weeks in, Thunder Bay is proving to be a interesting city with a rich history and more twists and turns than I expected! I'll be having a field day on Supermartifacts as soon as my local research on that front is complete. For now, however, it's time to turn my gaze back to a place I've lived before: Wisconsin! Brenna Stollenwerk was kind enough to share these images of older Sentry stores for the site. Both of these buildings stand in Waukesha, and are very much representative of the chain's architectural conventions:

    [Sentry store] [Sentry store]

    The first store features a rather bizarre layout, with a windowed second story jutting out from part of the building's roof. This second level covers only about a quarter of the building's full footprint, and is accessible from a side exterior walkway. Office space for a divisional headquarters? Who knows.

    Looking back even further into the past, I've dusted off my copy of Inkscape and drawn two maps of Mercer County, West Virginia. What'll it be, folks? Railroads (number one), or highways (number two)? If you picked railroads, be aware that there are tracks, tracks everywhere, yet not a single passenger train to board.

    [Mercer County, WV railroad map] [Mercer County, WV highway map]

    For quite a while, I've been resolving to write more about West Virginia...in spite of the bitter feelings I have about the state (hoo boy!) and the 489,000 people in it who never saw a racist, creationist, forced-birther, homophobe, or fascist that they didn't like. I see it as defiance: West Virginia is my home state, Mercer is my home county, my formative experiences were fostered there, and no one can ever take those away from me: Not Don Caruth, not Don Blankenship, not D*n*ld Tr*mp. Enjoy!


    21 October 2019

    [Pulled out that 'Canada' picture, again.]

    I find it heartening that Canada has a parliamentary system of government that represents people more fairly than the political system of the United States. That isn't to say it's beyond reproach by any means (the system is riddled with catches and clauses that overrepresent some and underrepresent others)...but confidence motions exist as a safeguard, gerrymandering is kept at bay, and you'd never have a political party fail to get elected with 3 million more votes.

    I find it heartening that the modern notion of Canadian national identity was fostered by the contributions of Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau, instead of by Ronald Fucking Reagan and a host of 18th-century slave owners. I find it heartening that that identity gets expressed in the popular consciousness as a shared affinity for universal healthcare and multiculturalism, not the barrage of Christian dominionism and white-supremacist gun worship that accompanies the Stars and Stripes.

    I find it heartening that the Canadian parliamentary system allows the New Democratic Party the practical chance to exist, to influence policy, and to become coalition partners.

    I find it heartening that Stephen Harper—Canada's closest brush with American-style fascism—was denied a parliamentary majority for well over half his tenure as Prime Minister.

    I find it heartening that Ontario has used its outsized influence as a "safety valve" against total right-wing domination, pulling strong for the federal Liberals while Mike Harris was mucking with cities and hospitals close to home (and conversely, pulling strong for the provincial Liberals during the years Harper was turning Canada into a terror-milking, Kyoto-withdrawing hellhole on the international stage). With Doug Ford running amok in Toronto and every day brimming with the news of a new environmental or human rights atrocity south of the border, Canada desparately needs a safety valve about now.

    But as heartening as these things are, I don't know if they're enough.


    14 October 2019

    Here I am in an unfamiliar land.

    [Thunder Bay, ON establishing shot]

    Welcome to Thunder Bay, Ontario. How does it compare to someplace more familiar, for better and for worse?

    London Thunder Bay
    Population 383,822 107,909
    Annual snowfall 194 cm 162 cm
    Snow in mid-October? No Yes
    Passenger rail service Yes No
    Nearby shipwrecks None 19
    Libraries 16 public, 10+ academic 4 public, 2 academic
    Gay bars 1 (that's rarely open) 0
    Safeway stores 0 3
    NDP MPPs 3 1
    Telephone company Ma Bell Municipal-owned
    Distance from Minnesota 1,300 km 60 km
    Job opportunities None 1

    P.S.: Did you know that the intra-province travel distance from London to Thunder Bay is the same as the distance from London to Fredericton, New Brunswick?.


    7 October 2019

    [London, ON establishing shot]

    I'm going to miss London, Ontario.


    Feeling disoriented? Here's the site map that used to be on the front page.







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