Monday, December 26, 2011

Surviving the Rubber Crisis

It is hard to find a bleaker Christmas Day than Thursday, December 25, 1941, though Valley Forge in 1778, Washington, DC in 1862, New York in 1929, and the country, still in tears, in 1963, all kind of crowd in.  Christmas Day of 1941, Hong Kong surrendered to the Japanese and Manila was declared an open city on Boxing Day.  The sweep continued throughout the winter and spring until Japan commanded nearly all the South Pacific and seemed unstoppable and everywhere.   

That day, suffering from an undiagnosed dementia, my grandmother took my infant brother from his crib and hid him underneath a hedge in a corner of the yard as a column of Japanese armor clattered by and Japanese officers shouted orders as they turned off Myers Court and on to West Second in Medford, Oregon.

The country was shaken as it realized what it had to do and do very quickly.  The Japanese advance in the Pacific made one of the most critical pieces, rubber, unavailable. It was America's number one agricultural import and fundamental to the design and manufacture of a remarkable number of things needed to protect the country.

On that Christmas Day, America was using rubber at a rate of 775,000 tons each year and had a stockpile of just 600,000 tons on hand. The Japanese had 97% of the world’s rubber supply and there was no clear plan for an alternative except to suck rubber from the civilian economy and apply it to the military.  The country that would, in three years, build 50,000 bombers, 64,000 fighter aircraft, 15,000 cargo planes and 6,000 ships had not yet quite invented itself as that country. 

Travel Adventures
America needed time to create a strategy and put it in motion.  Its first step was to put the rubber part of the economy under an aggressive conservation and diversion program that restricted most civilian uses of rubber and diverted rubber to a stockpile that would support the country's defense while it developed synthetic or other natural alternatives.

Sometime that afternoon, in preparation for a hearing on the national rubber emergency, a planner in Washington, DC might have left the dinner table and his family to read over once again the distressing material he was getting ready for the briefing at which his boss would present the following impressive numbers:

It takes 32 pounds of rubber to put one soldier in the field.

It takes a half a ton of rubber to build a fighter aircraft, double that for a larger bomber. 

A tank requires more than a ton of rubber, a battleship needs 75 tons.
Bernard Baruch
Disaster Wise
After the new year, with the complete attention of the government and some of its most capable citizens – financier Bernard Baruch, the President of Harvard, James Conant and the President of MIT, Karl Compton – assembled a strategy in just 30 days and announced it in June of 1942.  It named a rubber director who had complete authority on the supply and use of the commodity.  The country also set out on an immediate construction program to make synthetic rubber out of oil and began the construction or conversion of 51 factories to make the inputs necessary for a successful synthetic rubber product.
As a hedge, the government also initiated testing on two natural rubber sources – Guayule, (why yool' e) a sagebrush looking plant that grows wild in the southwest of the US and Mexico, and the Russian Dandelion, another wild plant growing in Soviet Union Province of Kazakstan. 

Bob Emerson at the left, Kenzi Nojaki, standing at left
Library of Congress  (Photo by Dorthea Lange)
Guayule had been studied for many years and was a clear choice for the government research project that got underway in Salinas, California.  Soon, 1,000 people were growing 32,000 acres of it and perfecting the process of squeezing the latex out of the plant.  
At the same time, a Cal Tech professor in plant physiology named Bob Emerson was trying to figure out what he could do to help American citizens who had just been incarcerated at the Manzanar detention center across the state in the eastern California desert.  Emerson was aware that there were several scientists behind the fence at Manzanar like Kenji Nozaki, a Chemist from the University of California and Morganlander Nishimura, a CalTech nuclear physicist. Emerson thought they should create their own Guayule project and they agreed and set to work.   

The US Department of Agriculture would not give Manzanar seeds from the Salinas project, only discarded cuttings.  With a hundred dollars worth of chemicals and the cuttings, the internees were soon growing 5 acres of Guayule and producing a stronger and more flexible product to the one coming out of the big farm at Salinas and, because they chose a different process for extracting the latex, they were getting two and a half times as much of it per acre.  The USDA was not amused and cut off the water to the Manzanar Project for a time.

The Russian Dandelion had been discovered in 1929 as part of a systematic effort by the Soviets to find alternative sources of natural rubber.  The Russians soon narrowed the search to the dandelion as the most promising source and made it a state secret.  By the time Germany invaded Russian in 1942, 200,000 acres were under cultivation and Russian planes were landing on dandelion root latex from Kazahkstan. 

After much coaxing, the US received in 1942 two large sacks of dandelion seeds from the Russians and began to study the best soils and weather conditions for growing the plant.  The project was carried out in 42 states and 160 different locations. 
By the end of 1944, the two alternative searches had produced over 100,000 tons of rubber and a vast knowledge base of each alternative.  The products made from home grown rubber performed well.  But the incredible success of the synthetic program ended all thought of new natural alternatives. 

Toward the end of 1942, the four companies in the synthetic rubber program – Firestone, Goodyear, United States Rubber and Goodrich had produced 2,220 tons of rubber.  By 1945, they and other companies were producing over 900,000 tons annually, ending the emergency.

Today, the rubber market is a mix of 60% synthetic and 40% natural rubber.  The world mainly relies, once again, on the solitary Hevea rubber trees used by indigenes for ritual games and identified by a French scientific expedition in 1735, were scattered throughout the Brazilian and Peruvian rainforests.  The inheritors of those trees are lined up in neat rows in Thailand, Indonesia, Maylasia, China, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and India and harvested in the same way, the latex gathered in small cups below diagonal cuts in the tree bark.   

Demand for both the synthetic and natural rubber is up, driven by the growing economies in China – now the largest rubber consumer in the world – as well as India, Brazil, Maylaysia and Indonesia who are now buying passenger and commercial car tires at a furious rate.  According to the International Rubber Study Group, passenger tire consumption will double over the next decade from 800,000,000 tires a year to nearly 1.6 billion.  At the same time, agricultural strategies in some countries, like Maylasia, divert land to biofuel production at the expense of rubber tree farms.

While the Russian Dandelion research was closed out in 1947 with a lengthy report and the Guayule plant experiment in Salinas plowed under and the results classified for many years, these products still live productive lives in different parts of the country.

Fred Anderson, a retired Boeing engineer, started a company called Delta Plant Technologies that is now associated with Ohio State University.  The university is hybridizing new generations of dandelion plants and, using the 1947 report prepared by the Russian Dandelion Project, producing signficant product for the automotive industry.  The Ford Motor Company recently announced it will be testing components made with Russian Dandelion natural rubber. 

While the government decided to keep its Guayule research under wraps for commercial and political purposes, the professors at Manzanar did what professors do – publish.  As a result, the basics of Guayule growth and their successful processing techniques stayed in the public domain. 

An inheritor of the incarcerated Japanese American program now lives in Phoenix, a company called Yulex – a mash up of Guayule and latex -- is managing 4,000 acres of plants and focused on the medical market.  About ten percent of people are allergic to the latex found in standard rubber gloves and Guayule is free of the allergen.  Medical workers also like the fact Guayule gloves have a certain softness that makes them very comfortable.  Other medical uses of non-allergenic rubber products for use inside the body are pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration. 

Considering this story of America at its most muscular, I think of words I would like to substitute for "rubber."  "Oil" comes to mind.  What's yours?

The March to Dominance in the Pacific
Polling About Imprisoning Japanese Americans
1947 Report on the Russian Dandelion
Memorial to Robert Emerson after his death, in a plane crash, in 1959

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Park Slope. Where Kids Are King

I always assumed that when my daughter, Amy, and her husband, Dan, got pregnant, they would come back to Seattle. Amy had grown up in Seattle and met Dan, from Indianapolis, while they both worked in San Francisco. They married there and moved to Manhattan when Amy got the chance to open the New York office of her company.

They had this very cool but costly apartment on the Upper West Side with a tiny garden behind it not far from the Central Park Reservoir and the beautifully refurbished north side of the park.

The Seattle assumption was not really an assumption at all. It didn’t come from a set of facts somehow differently interpreted. It was just what I wanted. True, she had friends from high school in the Puget Sound who had or were having babies, but she hadn’t lived in Seattle for nearly 15 years. So, as she sipped her grapefruit juice and absently rubbed her tummy in a bar we’d stopped at after a walk, I asked her if she had ever considered coming back to Seattle.

“Yes, we have, Daddy. We’re moving to Brooklyn.”

Park Slope Neighborhood
So, that’s how I got to know Park Slope, the Brooklyn neighborhood they moved to, and how I learned to appreciate their decision to locate there. Park Slope is jam-packed with kids, enjoys good public schools, has excellent public transportation and the support of lots of other mommies and daddies with similar demographic tags as Dan and Amy. Some New York City planners include other nearby neighborhoods in their definition of Park Slope, making it home to 40-70,000 people.

Park Slope enjoys all the playground, sports and educational infrastructure to support families with young children, including fairly sizeable sidewalks. They need them. One day in 2006, when I had Lulu, my second grandchild, out in the stroller for the first time, I counted 12 strollers on 7th Avenue, the main shopping street in their section of the Slope, between Sixth and Seventh Streets. You had to be vigilant when approaching a curb cut.

Recently, walking back home in Seattle with the dry cleaning over my shoulder, I passed one, then two, then three strollers on the west side of First Avenue in the one block between Blanchard and Bell streets.

You just don’t see three strollers on the same block in Belltown, Seattle’s hipster, restaurant and party scene neighborhood. In Belltown, bottles and to go food cartons fill up the garbage cans, not Pampers.  I slowed as I walked by each stroller, adopting a casual air and checking the convoy to confirm the presence of a real kid and not a dog, old shoes or garbage bags filled with clothing.

The sight of those strollers and the enthusiastic “yeh, we do!” that followed my question of whether all of them actually lived downtown, made me start to think about how well downtown Seattle welcomes its children. And, for that matter, how many of them are there to welcome?

Turns out, there are quite a few. The Downtown Seattle Association reports 2010 census data showing that there are 858 children under five years old living in downtown – that’s almost double the number living downtown in 1990. A third of those under fives live in the Pioneer Square zip code. All in, the 2010 census reports there are more than 3,000 people under the age of 18 living in what the DSA calls downtown.

The DSA figures that downtown is made up of several distinct communities including Sodo (South of the Dome if you’re reading this in Park Slope) the International District, Pioneer Square, First Hill, the west side of Capitol Hill, the West Edge, Central Core, the Waterfront, Belltown (the Denny Regrade by my reckoning), Lower Queen Anne (according to DSA the Uptown District), South Lake Union and the Denny Triangle.

Perhaps the most intriguing stat from this somewhat arbitrary geography is that it has a large population of 25-34 year olds – a third of the 60 or so thousand people living in the downtown defined by the DSA. We know what people of that age do when they get bored so it is possible that we may well have a period of time in which there are even more babies born to downtown residents and the question then becomes whether we have an interest in helping those kids grow up in our downtown.

The census tells us that when the under five crowd starts going to school, many of their parents move out of the downtown neighborhood. Just 105 kids attend elementary school from homes in the downtown at a handful of schools on the periphery of the neighborhood.

If we chose to truly welcome those kids, we have many, though not all the tools to retain them. In Seattle Center, South Lake Union Park and the Waterfront/Sculpture Park complex, the north and west of the downtown have great supporting park space. Last time the grandchildren were here, it was a five minute walk from our condo to a lovely little rocky beach on Elliott Bay and maybe 15 minutes to the Seattle Center. Hell, we’re just 5 minutes from the Gum Wall! But the southern and eastern part of the downtown lack good supportive open spaces for children though the new waterfront will make a significant difference, particularly for Pioneer Square.

What we don’t have are schools. With the exception of the Seattle Center School, an arts emphasis high school with 300 students and the private Morningside Academy, serving 70 elementary and middle school students, we have nothing serving young children in the downtown, just a handful of day care operations. It would be a good idea to begin considering ways to harvest the young children of the downtown and apply them to the downtown’s future.

Children change the character of places for the better. Children soften the urban setting and broaden the economic life of urban places. Children who stay in the city tend to help turn renters into owners, further contributing to stability. Children improve the safety of urban places making us more vigilant. What makes us feel safer – a cop on every corner, or sidewalks crowded by strollers?

Park Slope’s journey begins with Brooklyn’s independent development from New York before it merged with the city and became one of its five boroughs. Brooklyn created many of its own cultural institutions – art museum, library, etc., but the development of its fine parks system was particularly significant.

Twenty years before the Civil War, it was home to a most curious park, a mixed use kind of thing that doubled as a cemetery. It was such a nice one that it was soon attracting 500,000 visitors a year – more than went to Niagara Falls at the time -- for picnics and outings. Even with all the fuss, the residents never seemed to complain.

The success of Green-Wood Cemetery and the fact that New York’s Central Park was under construction convinced the highly competitive Brooklyn Parks Commission to aggressively acquire nearly a square mile of farm land on which Henry Litchfield, a lawyer, real estate and railroad man had built an extraordinary home at Brooklyn’s highest point. This would become the next great project of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux and be named Prospect Park.

With the park as the centerpiece, the great Brownstones were soon crowding in. By the twenties, the swells in the Brownstones gave way to mainly Irish and Italian immigrants who worked in the pencil and watch factories and other manufacturing that became a part of Brooklyn’s blue collar culture. They in turn gave way to heroin, cocaine and the great 1970s catastrophe that enveloped America’s greatest city.

Nearly half a million people fled Brooklyn neighborhoods like Park Slope in the decade of the seventies. However, even as thousands fled, others were moving in, finding bargains and fixing them up, having babies and putting their kids into local public schools. When they first moved there, one of the units in Dan and Amy’s building was still in the shape it was when the economy of Park Slope was driven by drugs and burglary. 

Lulu and Bobby ready for school to start.
Lulu would really like you to see her new
tennis shoes.
Now, however, Park Slope is home to some 5,000 elementary school students, my two grandchildren among them. Yes, the demographics are changing, the rents are higher, but Park Slope and its neighboring communities are better for all the change. The kids are attending highly diverse schools that generally succeed at improving the lives of most of the children attending them. They live in a culture where kids are king. That was Amy's better choice.

City Journal: How Brooklyn Got Its Groove Back

New York Magazine: Pete Hamill Revisits His Park Slope Home

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thomas Jefferson Hampson's Civil War Memoir, "Peace on Earth"

T.J.  Hampson at about 40 years
This week, we are picking up the story of my great grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Hampson and his unpublished Civil War memoir.
After enlisting days after the shelling of Fort Sumter, Hampson was sent first from his home in Covington, Ohio, just outside Cincinnati, to Carlyle Barracks, in Pennsylvania where he was put into the Fourth Cavalry Division and sent to Missouri in the Summer of 1861.  Missouri’s government was pro-southern and the Union strategy was to drive the government out before it could secede from the Union and give the South control of the central part of the Mississippi Valley and the transportation linkages offered by the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.
By August 10, the effort had been a success, but in the first major battle of the war in the western part of the country, Wilson’s Creek, Union General Nathaniel Lyon, the first general officer killed in the Civil War, was among the 1,000 men who died in the six bloody hours of fighting between 6 AM and noon that day.  The Rebels retained control of southwestern Missouri and held the Greene County town of Springfield.
Hampson was badly wounded that day and was left for dead in a stack of bodies in the basement of the Greene County Courthouse.  When the burial detachment came, he opened his eyes and would spend the next four months a prisoner of war until he and his friend David Davidson escaped and were found by the advancing army of General John C.  Fremont, and sent off in their ridiculous prison clothing to St.  Louis, where they were to report to the Benton Barracks there.  They had no intention of reporting right away because they had become local sensations as escaped and wounded prisoners and could not buy drink or food in those last days of 1861.  For that matter, they couldn't even steal it.  St.  Louis in December of 1861 is where we take up our story, exactly 150 years ago. 
A close call with a fierce looking Dutchman
We strolled up Fourth Street and as we were passing a restaurant, the scent of cooking victuals smote good and hard, and I suggested to Davidson that a breakfast would be the proper thing.  In this he agreed with me and we went in, took our place at the table and a waiter with his eyes bulging out at the sight of such an odd looking pair, came up and took our order.  You can just imagine the size of our appetite after our long ordeal in Springfield.  The amount of grube we stowed away that eventful morning was enormous. 
After the stuffing process, Davidson asked how I intended to pay for the repast and was somewhat fearful of the results when we came to settle up. 
The pay desk was near the front door presided over by a big fierce looking Dutchman, and how to get by him was a question that troubled us not a little.  “Now, David,” said I, “when we get up to the desk, you walk out and I will settle the bill somehow, but how I was to do it I did not have the remotest idea.  However, Davidson did as I instructed him, and I faced the savage looking landlord alone.
“Look here, my friend.  I have no money to pay for this meal, and you will have to charge it to Uncle Sam.” 
With that, I bolted out of the door and the landlord after me.  I did not get far before he had me.  Davidson hurried back to see the outcome of the affair and Mr.  Dutchman escorted us back to the restaurant.  After getting us back inside he opened up on us.
“Now you young rascals, vot you mean by running away like dot after you got your meal – did you think I vud charge you for a meal of victuals – you fellows come mit me.” And he took us up to a room over the restaurant. 
“Now, you youngsters stay as long as you want to, you can get your meals regular and it won’t cost you a cent.” 
I managed to mumble out our thanks when he shuts me up by saying “I want no thanks.  I am a Union man and have a brother in the service.  I do all I can for a soldier.”
He left us advising to wash up, comb our hair, and then come down to the office.  After we had performed the washing and hair combing act, we went down to the office.
The first words he uttered were “How much money you fellows got.”  After explaining our financial conditions, he handed each of us a five dollar bill, saying, “Now, go out and see the sights and be back here by dinner time.” 
The jig is up
We had a jolly time for several days.  One day we were walking along Chestnut Street and a sergeant came up to us and asked our names.  When we told him, he said, “You boys consider yourselves under arrest – come with me.” 
And he marched us up to the Planter’s House where General Halleck, then commanding officer in the department of Missouri, had his headquarters.  It seems that my mother and a very dear friend of mine had written to General Halleck making inquiries about me.  Mrs.  Hoag, the friend, was a very particular friend of the general and she had requested him to do all he could to discover my whereabouts.
The sergeant marched us into the General’s presence and when he and his staff saw us, they simply roared with laughter and Davidson and I both joined in.
After the General regained his composure he said, “well, young men, you are a handsome pair.  What command do you belong to, and who is your tailor?  Why didn’t you report to the Benton Barracks as you were ordered?”
Davidson told him we couldn’t find the barracks, that we hunted all over the city for them.  This explanation caused all of them to laugh again.  Well, we were turned over to the sergeant and taken to the barracks, made to throw away our Mardi Gras suits, and put on uniforms.  Then we were escorted back to headquarters where we received our discharge after an examination by the Army surgeon who reported that we would never be fit for service again. 
We received transportation to Covington.  I told General Halleck that I would be in the service again not withstanding the surgeon’s report, and would report for duty again.
This seemed to please him and he said that if I went into the service again, he would give me a commission, which he did three months later.
When I arrived at home I was looked upon as one arisen from the dead, as I had been reported killed at Wilson’s Creek.  Our family had given up all hope of my ever returning, and my unexpected appearance caused great surprise.  I was reduced to a shadow of my former self, and pulled down the scales at 110 pounds; when I enlisted, my weight was 164 pounds. 
Very few of my old friends recognized me and when I would inform them, they could hardly believe that I was the same big, strong boy who, a few months previous, had marched away, in the strength of youth – strong and vigorous manhood. 
The long road to Peace on Earth

Life at home seemed tame and commonplace, and I longed for the excitement of the tented field, and to be once again with my old comrades; to share in their dangers and rejoice with them in time of victory. 
My mother was very much opposed to my entering the service again, and did all in her power to prevent me.  In order to get away from home without too much friction, I was compelled to use quite a lot of diplomacy, and I am afraid that I was practicing just a little deception.  When I did leave, those at home thought I was to get a position of some kind that would not bring me in contact with active service in the field.
I notified General Halleck that I had fully recovered and was able-bodied and ready for service.  I also reminded him of his promise in regard to the commission, which promise he fulfilled to the letter.
I left Covington bound for Cairo, Illinois.  There I met two companies of the Fourth Cavalry and had quite a reunion.  I reported to General Grant and he ordered me to report to General H.  J.  Smith, at Columbus, Kentucky.  At that place I was attached to Colo.  Baker’s Engineer Corps, in which I served until 1865.
I was with Thomas when he made his notable march through Kentucky, and finally brought up at Nashville, Tennessee.  I was at first and second battles of Nashville, the second fight at Franklin, also Vicksburg and Shiloh.  We took Our Mountain and had many skirmishes too numerous to mention. 
It would be a long story to tell of all my experiences in my second service.  Suffice to say that I was quite willing to take up the life of a civilian again, and no one could have rejoiced more that I did when the war was over and peace spread her white wings over the land.  The sentiment of “Peace on Earth, good will to Men” was welcomed by all.

The memoir does not end there.  It describes Hampson's failed efforts to establish a tugboat business in Pensacola though he loses two boats to the stormy weather of the Florida Panhandle.  All is not lost, however, he meets Alice Knapp and soon they marry.  H and Alice head to Texas to try their luck at farming, but Texas didn't work for them either, so they headed up to Salida, Colorado with little -- what else -- Thomas Jefferson Hampson, my grandfather, in tow.

They would have three other sons and one daughter in Colorado, and also a little success in the silver mines.  He retired to Bonanza, Colorado and contributed occasional pieces to the Salida Record.  

He died in 1930, 59 years after the sweaty horse galloped into the little town of Covington, Kentucky with its rider shouting the news that Fort Sumter had fallen and the great war had begun.   

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Boeing Boeing

The agreement this past week between Boeing and one of its labor unions, the International Association of Machinists, was truly a blockbuster deal and elegant too.  It's not only a cool deal, but an instructive one.  It demonstrates just how quickly the aircraft industry can move and why we in the Northwest are fascinated by Boeing, its employees and its business.

The deal is full of interesting merits.  Its economics and politics are very good news for our region. However, it also reveals a characteristic of the airframe manufacturing business that makes us in the Northwest skeptical when we hear good news.  We have come to know just how violently Boeing can lurch from strength to weakness in no time at all. 

Here's what happened last week.  Boeing agreed to extend its contract with the Machinists -- there are nearly 28,000 in the Puget Sound area -- from September, 2012 to September of 2016.  The company also made a commitment to manufacture its new 737 MAX at Renton, Washington, where nearly 6,500 have been manufactured in the past, rather than move the plane's manufacturing to another state, presumably a non-union state, as the company had threatened.  In return, the union agreed to dismiss its complaint with the National Labor Relations Board that came from Boeing's decision to place a second Dreamliner production plant in Charleston, South Carolina, a non-union state.  The union claimed that the move to Charleston was retaliation for strikes in 2005 and 2009.  The NLRB agreed with the union in April of this year and this action elevated the issue into the national political atmosphere when Republicans claimed it was an example of how the labor unions really call the shots within the administration and that the NLRB is out of control.

The economics of the deal seem great both short and long term.  First, a signing bonus of $5,000 will be distributed to 28,000 Puget Sound Machinists once the contract is approved.  The vote is expected in mid-December, a nifty $140,000,000 falling into the Christmas-time retail of Puget Sound.  That will be followed by other bonuses in the 1st Quarter of the new year.  Those will be good ones.  Boeing's profits were up 31% in the 3rd Quarter and the 4th Quarter earning expectations are somewhere around four and a half bucks a share.  Investors loved this.  Boeing was at $61 a share just before Thanksgiving and closed December 2 at $71.30.

The politics seem equally good.  Candidate for governor Jay Inslee and other Democrats will not be forced to defend a regulatory tactic that weakens a hometown employer in the middle of a recession.  The NLRB will be old news and people in South Carolina finally get to exhale. 

Boeing is getting its work bench tidied up at the end of the year in anticipation of truly competing for $4 trillion in new aircraft orders it expects in the world market over the next 20 years.  The company finally delivered its first lightweight 787 Dreamliner a few weeks ago, though three years late.  The company delivered its revamped 747-8F, announced in 2005 and finally delivered in October.  The new passenger version is going to be ready early in 2012.  Finally, its decision not to build a brand new composite version of the 737, but rather follow the Airbus lead and add new, fuel-efficient engines to a more efficient redesign means that the basic line up is all ready to go. 

The 737 is the most important piece.  Boeing expects the total number of commercial jets flying will double between now and 2030, to more than 39,000 planes.  Of that number, 33,250 have not been built.  Finally, and most significantly, it expects that 23,000 of those new planes will be aircraft like the 737 -- that's two trillion dollars worth of airplanes.  The big aircraft, like the 747 and the sexy ones, like the 787 Dreamliner, are relatively small parts of the overall market.  The mules of the air are Boeing's 737 and the Airbus A320, nearly 13,000 of them flying today.  At any moment, 1250 737s are in the air along with some 600 A320s.  One day, we all assume, China will have a mule as well, competing for that two trillion dollar market, and perhaps others.  So a solid head start is an important part of gaining market share.  It's like coming out of Spring training with your line up firmly set.

Airbus was first out with a new engine option, the A320neo at the Paris Air Show in June.  It was the star, making the plane slightly more competitive than the 737 on fuel use.  Airbus announced 500 orders for the plane at the show (another 500 orders have rolled in since then) and the Associated Press declared that Boeing was being "trounced" by the Europeans in Paris.

A month later Boeing decided not to build a completely new aircraft.  It decided to follow the European lead by adding fuel-efficient engines and other design changes that will regain the Boeing lead in fuel efficiency.  The result, the 737 MAX, will bring back the leadership position for the home team and position the company as a healthy competitor for the most critical element of the new market.  Not said is whether the company has enough confidence in the hard won experience in composite technology it gained with the Dreamliner, or whether it simply heard that its customers that they weren't ready to take on the kind of risk they took on the 787.  Perhaps Boeing is simply ready to share the market with Airbus and risk another competitor, China let's say, coming in with something truly new and terrific.

However beguiling the good feelings about this deal, the idea of peace in the valley cannot stand up to the violence of doing business in the air.  There are many examples that point to a conclusion that a great position at a given time is not necessarily cause for celebration but, rather, cause for terror. 

In the mid-sixties Boeing was well-positioned.  People were abandoning sea and rail travel in favor of airplanes.  And Boeing had lots of those and a great position in space work to go with them.  The 707, the 720, the 727 were all flying high  -- the 727 was the first aircraft to sell a thousand units.  In 1965 it introduced its most popular aircraft, the 737, and it was building the King of the Skies, the 747. 

But as fast as the demand was rising, it fell at the end of the decade. Along with the fall in demand, the supersonic transport was voted down in the Senate -- Boeing couldn't do it without help -- and the space program went from national darling to near complete shut down in a year. Boeing went 17 months without a sale of a commercial aircraft.  Layoffs followed -- 25,000 in 1969, 40,000 in 1970 and another 25,000 in 1971.

This higher, faster, farther company went on a troubling diversification program -- rail commuter systems in Chicago, San Francisco, West Virginia.  There was a crazy program at Boardman in north central Oregon -- intensive farming and solid waste recycling for Portland.

For us, we wondered where our company went. 

T.  Wilson (it stands for Thornton), then the CEO of the company, told me once that he was standing in the middle of a garbage cluttered field in Oregon, looking down at a tennis shoe, sticking half in and half out of the ground.  He said he kicked at it absently for a time, then focused on something really important to him:

"I thought we built airplanes at this company," he said to himself.

Another period where Boeing seemed well-positioned was in the middle of the 90s when its acquisiion of Northrup and its merger with McDonnell Douglas made it, at one time, the world's largest commercial airplane manufacturer, the world's largest space contractor and the world's largest producer of military aircraft.

The great heavyweight was, in fact, a real Palooka at the start.  The management team, led by Phil Condit of Boeing and Harry Stonecipher from Mcdonnell Douglas, led their 1998 annual report this way:

"Financially, 1998 did not turn out the way we planned."

By 2002, the company's stock was at $30/share, down from $60, even after a massive $9 billion stock buyback program. 

The struggles with the merger continued after Condit left, leaving the abrasive Stonecipher in charge, creating an atmosphere that led to the corrosive labor-management environment that this deal may have closed out. 

So, good for Boeing.  Good for the Machinists.  Good for the retailers.  Good for a cool deal that smacks, at the moment, like real cooperation in a town that welcomes it.