A Gurreat Day Out

Had the pleasure of spending yesterday with Henry Gurr and his son David (and Cinnamon, the dog) in and around Aiken, New Ellenton and Savannah River, South Carolina. (Thanks again Henry for the Carolina BBQ hospitality and local historical sightseeing.)

Most of us will know Henry through his passion (some might say obsession) for documenting and photographing details of the ZMM trip of Robert Pirsig for the benefit of future generations of Pirsig’s readers. Adding new detail and new photographs is continuous. Even the author has been heard to mutter “Not more questions Henry ?” The exercise says as much of course, about Pirsig’s writing process, as the extent to which detail of place is a natural mix of the literal and factual with added pastiche and invention. Henry’s work provides future generations of readers with the opportunities to experience that real sense of place, even as the locations are redeveloped over time.

Perhaps I / we should take a serious stab at the Lila boat trip project 😉

Of course personal projects suffer from the “Too much to do, too little time” syndrome, as I have fequently bemoaned. And that of course is where you discover the real value of meeting a person like Henry in the flesh.

As well as the intense stimulating conversations with Henry and David, on all things physical, philosophical, psychological and evolutionary – I hadn’t come prepared for the friendly “grilling” or the need to take notes in case of questions later 😉 – one discovers that Henry’s interest in physics as a university professor goes well beyond the theory.

You get a hint from the fact that Henry’s on-line interest in the Aeolian harp (an interest shared with Own Barfield) led him to build his own, but what that doesn’t pepare you for is Henry’s other projects.

“Interested” in the idea of naturally stable two wheeled cars ? Make your own, and no toy either; a 1955 Chrysler V8 based prototype with serious engineering, welded fabrication and road-testing practicalities. (Practical and stable ? It relies on the natural balance between the “castoring” in the steered wheel, with the mechanical advantage in the steering mechanism whereby, as in high performance motrocycling, one applies a small outward steer and the vehicle of its own accord leans into the corner and follows that inward curve. Don’t believe it will work – try it yourself, Henry did. Spookily my own first real engineering experience was “shimmying” in nose-wheel steered aircraft, particularly the Harrier, with all its weight on the centreline.) Anyway, I’m left with the mental picture of Henry as Anthony Hopkins’ Burt Munro.

“Interested” in ecology ? Design, build and inhabit your own eco-friendly house. Henry did / does.

I’ll not embarrass Henry the engineer, by further suggesting he’s a “craftsman” in say the sense of the welder in ZMM, however when it comes to appreciating that the relationship between the conceptual and the material, is in their practical whole, Henry is the real deal. Quality in action.

(And a gent too, for not mentioning I’d kept him waiting over an hour, as I had failed to make the correction for losing the hour driving over into the Eastern time zone, an error I only noticed on the drive home – oops Sorry Henry and David.)

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