What does the dog days of summer have to do with the stars? Everything and nothing.
Dog days of summer isn’t a new term. In fact, it is very old but describes July in North Carolina very accurately. We have heat day and night. The dog days actually refer to the stars. Really one single star — Sirus. Sirus is known as the dog star and rises about this time of year above the horizon in the northern hemisphere. Dog days of summer refer to the arrival of Sirus.
Dog Days of Summer in Ancient Greece
Around 3000 years ago the ancient greeks watched the sky for the rise of Sirius above the horizon with dread. The Greeks called the star Canis Majoris. Translated as the big dog. You can locate it with nearly zero knowledge of the constellations as it is straight down the sword of the constellation Orion. It should be visible above the horizon in about two days (depending on where you live). Of course, you could just look for the brightest star low in the southern sky. It is hard to confuse Sirius with any other stars in the southern sky.
The translation of Sirius is “the scorcher”. Sighting Sirius noted that it was going to be hot, very hot for at least the next month. The ancients blamed the heat on Sirius, but we know it is because of the tilt of the earth on its axis. Sighting Sirius noted the arrival of the Nile River flood season in Egypt. Homer noted that Sirus was responsible for heat thunderstorms (we just had one).
Nearly 2000 years ago Sirius was blamed for weak men, cranky women, drought, lethargy. Drinking wine was encouraged. At least about five hundred years ago bloodletting was discouraged during the dog days of summer.
Piedmont dog days of summer
Not much has changed. We are heading towards Raleigh tomorrow afternoon and the entire area seems to have a case of lethargy. When we get up, we better do something quickly because in the afternoon it is going to be hot with a likelihood of thunderstorms. Yesterday clouds covered the sky after the thunderstorm and though humid it was pretty ok. Today, the sun came out just after the storm passed and it is very sticky outside.
Pisgah Covered Bridge
The Pisgah Covered bridge is located on the West Fork Branch of the Little River. The bridge was built in 1911 for the price of $40. The bridge is one of two of the last remaining covered bridges in North Carolina. Covered bridges are covered to protect the wooden deck from the rain. If bridge decking is allowed to get wet from both the top with rain and the bottom because of the moisture of the river it rots quickly. When covered the decking lasts much longer.
Spencer was chosen to be a major train yard and repair facility in North Carolina because it was halfway between Washington D.C. and Atlanta. The small train town of Spencer is located to the east of Salisbury. “Spencer Shops” was the major steam engine repair facility for the Southern Railroad in 1896. The train yard was huge and had a round table and a huge 37 bay roundhouse. Fifteen stalls were remodeled to repair diesel locomotives.
North Carolina Transportation Museum
Spencer Shops was gradually phased out with the advent of diesel engine locomotives and finally closed. One interesting historic tidbit was just like you would find in a Thomas the Train Story. The first diesel locomotive to go to Spencer Shops was towed into the yard, after breaking down, by a steam locomotive.
The North Carolina Transportation Museum took over Spencer Shops in 1977 and is much bigger than a train museum. They have vehicles of all types including an extremely rare steam-powered truck.
The collection of old vehicles, including some aircraft, was impressive. I really like the milk truck and the pumper (fire truck) in the collection. They have a Ford Model R (predecessor to the Model T) in the collection and plenty of old vehicles. Most of the displays were in the “back shop” where in previous years steam engines went through major repairs.
Several times during the year, on weekends, train rides behind an old steam locomotive are available. The turntable is still used to move engines in and out of the roundhouse and for train lovers to ride around the circle.
No train station
Spencer Shops did not include any freight or passenger service; it was a maintenance yard. A small passenger station from the nearby town of Barber Junction was moved to Spencer Shops to complete the museum.
The workforce at Spencer Shops didn’t seem to mind the dog days of summer or lethargy that we are encountering today. Working here was obviously difficult and hazardous.
The photo at the top is the Western Veil Nebula taken by Scott Helmann, not Sirius, just in case, you thought I have a new hobby or this ability.