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The following is a modified version of a post that I made some time back on the JREF forum. Because I have been the victim of a smear campaign suggesting I was lying about where or how I obtained volcanic ash I decided to document in detail how I came to buy this stuff. The original post appears here.
Some of you might be caught off guard by all the commentary regarding volcanic ash. How exactly did I come to work with this weird, exotic stuff?
Well, just so we have it on record and right out in public, I’ll tell you. Several years ago I began a sort of study to find out if there was a mineral powder that could be added to epoxy to create a useful putty. It’s foolish to pay epoxy prices for mineral powder diluants. Think of it as a sort of high-grade “Bondo.” Eventually I found that fly ash, a byproduct of coal burning, was an outstanding material for this purpose. But until I came upon fly ash, I had bags and bags of mineral powders in my basement. I have a friend who works at System Three epoxy near Seattle; he even gave me some tech-grade mineral powder additives.
Once when I was at Wal-Mart, I came upon this:
A product called Spill Magic. Believe it or not, I bought it not to absorb spills, but to mix with epoxy! Freakish, I know…
Frankly I can’t remember how it worked out as far as adding to epoxy goes, as I settled on fly ash soon enough. Fly ash mixed with epoxy makes an excellent filler putty, which adheres well to the surfaces it’s applied to and can be sanded after hardening.
Some time passed, and I became interested in the dermals business, late in 2004. As I’ve detailed elsewhere, I built a wood box to contain these mineral powders and soils for testing.
Late in 2004, Rick Noll was made aware of my tests through the Seattle Museum of the Mysteries. He met me there, and photographed a number of my test casts. He then proposed that my tests needed to be “documented”, which means that he wanted to videotape me doing various tests. In reality, this means that I would create content for free so that he could profit later by marketing the footage to television or including it for sale on his own DVD. I began corresponding with him about my tests. Rarely did I get any kind of answers from him, though I had understood him to be a “casting expert”. But I thought it wise to keep him abreast of what I was doing.
Eventually it occurred to me that materials besides fly ash should be tested, as the casts containing purported dermal ridges were made in natural soils. I tested various natural soils. Now, for some reason, Noll began to start suggesting that industrial contamination might be a cause of these plaster cast ridges, and that fallout from Mt. St. Helens might be the source of casting artifacts seen in Pacific Northwest casts. The “proposal” in the following e-mail is his script to “document” my tests. Here are two excerpts from an e-mail I sent to Noll on January 26, 2005:
My second concern is the “focus” or “direction” of your proposal. It is obvious to both of us that rather spectacular casting artifacts can occur in fly ash. I am certainly willing to demonstrate that on video. But since fly ash does not occur in nature I have been doing tests with natural clays and soils. To me it is interesting but ultimately not relevant to Bigfootery if the effect only occurs in fly ash. So far, my tests show casting artifacts occurring in natural soil, but not to the same pronounced effect as in fly ash. I would be more game to focus on showing that these casting artifacts can and do occur in natural soil. I sort of gather that you may want to present this as a “fly ash” effect. I don’t know enough about inorganic chemistry, soil chemistry, or volcanology to be confidant in suggesting that PNW casts might be “puckered” due to Mt. St. Helens fallout.
Italics mine. As you can see, it was Noll himself who suggested to me that Mt. St. Helens fallout might be involved!
And later in the same e-mail:
I believe that you may suspect that industrial contamination of soil could be at the root of causing cement to “pucker”, and you may be right. But currently my focus is to determine if capillary action or “wicking” is the cause. Why do I suspect this? Simply because I have never seen “puckering” effects to occur from casting non-porous surfaces. I suspect that fly ash produces a stronger effect simply because it is so finely divided, whereas natural clay-like soils are more clumped. The greater surface area of finely divided particles provides a stronger “wicking” capillary action.
So please forgive my long digressions but better to straighten things out before they turn into a conflict. So to summarize; I am willing to demonstrate casts I make in fly ash but I would rather focus on casts made in natural clay-like soils. Your idea of collecting the soil at the source is a good one. At this time I do not suspect industrial pollution to be the cause of puckering cast artifacts. I’m not sure I would be willing to go along with this line of reasoning.
From a second e-mail sent by me to Rick Noll the same day, January 26, 2005:
OK, I’ll bite. But could you please follow up on your video suggestions regarding both Mt. St. Helens ash and industrial waste. I am certainly willing to discuss on camera experiments done with FLY ASH but I am not competent to speculate on Mt. St. Helens ash or Industrial waste because I have not done experiments with either. I have no idea if the clay sample I took from the Duwamish river is contaminated or not.
I think I spend too much time on the Internet.
It’s obvious that Noll is the one trying to “direct” the course of my investigations, based on his ideas about Mt. St. Helens ash and “industrial waste”.
Here is a portion of an e-mail I sent Noll the very next day, January 27, 2005:
Well my understanding of fly ash is at a beginner’s level but you bring up some interesting concepts. I believe all fly ash comes from coal-fired power plants. Many coal fired plants are in the Southern US. I think since the 70’s with EPA regulations most plants now have electrostatic precipitators that remove most ash from entering the atmosphere. Still, some must escape, and it has to fall somewhere. A couple of summers ago Dana & I camped overnight in Ape Canyon. We didn’t see anywhere near as much ash on the southeast side as we did coming in from the northwest. I wish now I would have grabbed a soil sample!
As you can see, I’m still reacting to Noll’s notion that fly ash is an “industrial waste”. Note that I freely admit to Noll that I’d been to Mt. St. Helens; Ape Canyon in particular. The Forest Service posts signs in the area, and if memory serves, includes in pamphlets the phrase “Don’t be a pumice picker”. When you get to the Plains of Abraham at the top of the Ape Canyon cliffs, you start seeing big chunks of dark pumice, just like you might expect to find in Hawaii. Not pleasant to try to sleep on! But no, I didn’t take any pumice chunks, or any volcanic ash. First of all, Dana and I were there months or years before I became interested in the whole “dermals” business. And, despite the oozing self-righteousness of Melissa Hovey, frankly I don’t think it would have been much of a “crime” to have taken a few pounds of ash anyway! A big Ziploc bag full wouldn’t have put much of a dent in the 0.3 cubic miles of ash produced in the 1980 eruption… But the bottom line is, I DIDN’T TAKE ANY ASH OR PUMICE ROCKS, AND I EXPLICITLY TOLD NOLL THIS IN JANUARY, 2005!
I can’t prove that Noll made these suggestions about “industrial wastes” and “Mt. St. Helen’s volcanic ash”, as I believe my computer has purged inbound e-mail from that long ago, and I wouldn’t post his e-mails to me without his permission anyway. But as you can see, Noll is going into “director” and “script writer” mode very early on. Noll’s game is not science, which is open-ended and honest discovery, but production of cinematic product to be packaged and sold.
After I tested fly ash, I began to test the other mineral powders in my basement to see what would happen when cement casting compounds were poured over them. Indeed, I eventually made a test cast using Spill Magic.
I obtained rather spectacular desiccation ridges in this cast. This was in January 2005.
Here is an e-mail I sent to Rick Noll on January 31, 2005:
I just finished an experiment that produced the most intense “dermals” yet! I carefully tested how well fly ash “wicked” water by sprinkling little bits of fly ash into small water droplets. It wicks water very well. Then it dawned on me to try something that I had kicking around the house that I had not tried before; a product called “Spill Magic” which I got in the auto section of Walmart a couple of summers ago. It is sold as a spill cleaner, mostly for motor oil spills but it wicks water even better than fly ash. I poured out a few grams of powder and dropped on a blob of Hydrocal B11 slurry. Holy cow! The most intense “dermals” yet! Dude, you gotta see this! I am truly convinced now that the effect is due to “wicking” of the substrate into which the cement is poured.
Guess what “Spill Magic” is made of? The label says ‘Amorphous aluminum silicate”. That’s pumice! Pumice wicks water like a mofo! Time to get some Mt. St. Helens ash and test it! I think your intuition was correct; volcanic soils may very well produce the conditions in which “wicking” occurs and may be the source of some “dermal” casting artifacts.
The company’s website spillmagic.com is working so I assume they are still in business. I hope Walmart still has it.
As you can see, I’m now beginning to think that Noll may have been right all along about a potential causal relationship between volcanic ash and casting artifacts.
But by this time I had run out of Spill Magic. I went back to Wal-Mart for more, but they were out.
As I noted in my e-mail to Noll, I simply figured out what Spill Magic actually contained:
I must have googled the term “amorphous aluminum silicate” which gives READE’S website as the first hit, at least every time I’ve tried it.
Pumice! Yeah, I didn’t have to buy Spill Magic–I could just get some pumice! I can’t remember what I did next: I’m sure I searched the Internet for a source of pumice in Seattle. Eventually I found Seattle Pottery Supply. My memory is that they told me that they labeled their pumice as “volcanic ash.”
Indeed, this is exactly how Seattle Pottery Supply identifies their product:
In retrospect, it all makes sense, as Spill Magic works its magic because it’s an effective DESICCANT.
Sometime during this period, I discovered a remarkable interview with Jimmy Chilcutt. In this question and answer interview, Chilcutt suggests that CA-19 was made in “volcanic ash dust”:
Just about every one of them that had dermal ridges was cast in a creek bed, or in real soft soil. I think one of them…was in volcanic ash dust, and it’s the clearest actually, it’s the best print. The best cast.
Note that this is Chilcutt’s suggestion, not mine. I have NEVER claimed that Onion Mountain is composed of volcanic ash. But his statement tied in with what I had been finding with my own tests with volcanic ash. So I sent Chilcutt an e-mail. I cc’ed Jeff Meldrum, Owen Caddy, Dana Fos, and Rick Noll. Here is part of that e-mail:
I found an online interview recently that interested me. A man named Jon Olsen posted interviews with you and Jeff Meldrum on his “Angry Monkey Reader” website. I did not see when the telephone interview with you was conducted. One element of the interview caught my eye. You mentioned that one particular cast that contained what appear to be dermal ridges was made “in volcanic ash dust, and it’s the clearest actually, the best print. The best cast”. Which cast was this? Was this Green’s 1967 Onion Mountain cast? I spoke at some length with Jeff Meldrum in Bellingham about this cast but I don’t remember him mentioning that it was made in volcanic ash. I have seen a bunch of photographs of the area where the cast was made and it was a fresh road cut with very fine powder, so clearly the substrate had essentially no organic matter mixed in. Whether it was volcanic in nature I can’t tell from the photographs.
The reason I bring this up is that my tests with Plaster of Paris in volcanic ash have produced ridge artifacts that I believe closely resemble the ridges seen on Green’s cast. I got my volcanic ash from a pottery supplier here in Seattle. When I called to ask them if it possibly could have come from Mt. St. Helens I was told that no, it came from Hawaii.
Why did I mention Mt. St Helens to Chilcutt? Because it occurred to me that since Onion Mountain and Mt. St. Helens were both in the Cascade range, that perhaps they had similar geology. If I was testing Mt. St. Helens ash, perhaps it might be similar to what Chilcutt was now suggesting CA-19 was made in. As you can see by the tone of my e-mail, at this point I’m speculative and questioning. Remember, it was Noll who suggested that I test Mt. St. Helens volcanic ash in the first place…
But lets repeat a critical portion of this e-mail I sent to Chilcutt: I got my volcanic ash from a pottery supplier here in Seattle. Now the clincher; This e-mail was sent on June 27, 2005! This was months before Melissa Hovey’s encounter with Rick Noll at the Bigfoot conference in Jefferson, TX and almost a year before Melissa Hovey began her bizarre series of posts on Bigfoot Forums.
Here is further proof that Seattle Pottery Supply sold volcanic ash and volcanic ash from Mt. St. Helens at least as early as 2002:
Inside the front cover of catalog 111 we see the date; 2002:
Here is a scan of page 16 of that catalog:
Some time ago on an internet forum, I began to interact with Melissa Hovey regarding casting artifacts. At the time, I rather naively thought she wanted to duplicate the tests I had been doing. Thus, I publicly suggested she obtain some volcanic ash at a pottery supply store for testing. She did not do so, and instead obtained something else entirely. At one point claiming it was Tricalcium Sulfate and at another point Tricalcium Phosphate; products I had never tested and totally different chemically than pumice, which is mostly oxides of silicon and aluminium. She further asserted, publicly, that Tricalcium Phosphate is “full of iron,” an egregious error, and one that exposed her rather pathological ignorance of basic chemistry.
At this point I could see the battle was lost; I would never be able to meaningfully direct her to reproduce these tests. It was obvious that she was woefully ignorant of one of the basic tenants of science; to reproduce a test, you need to use the same methods and materials. If she had tried this in an academic setting, her paper would probably receive a “see me after class” notation in red pencil…
I stood by and watched as Melissa began a series of ever-more escalating claims about what she claimed I “had told her to do.” I suspected at this time that Melissa Hovey was lying, as I had no recollection of “saying” many of these things I was alleged to have said.
Unfortunately, I had also deleted most of my forum “PM” mail, so I had no way to prove that I never said the things she claimed I said.
Over time I witnessed Melissa Hovey make ever-more exaggerated claims, many of which implied that I was lying about where I got my volcanic ash. The implication was that I had obtained volcanic ash directly from Mount St. Helens, an illegal act, according to her.
And now we get to the really interesting part, which is to review the statements that Melissa Hovey and Rick Noll made in 2006:
( Melissa October 29 @ 2006)
“Are you going to tell me to Learn to Walk before I run ?? I can not use VOLCANIC ASH – as it is illegal to ship. How you come into contact with Virgin Volcanic Ash is beyond me.”
Then, two days later, Rick Noll weighs in:
“My understanding is that it is against the law to sell volcanic ash, at least from Mt. Saint Helens.”
Wow! That’s coming from the guy who had suggested to me that I study the stuff? I had various interactions with Noll following this, and I eventually concluded that he is simply not an honest and forthright person. Oh yeah, there’s that elk cast thing, too…
Being that ash from Mt. St. Helens was blown hundreds of miles away, it’s obvious you don’t have to get it from Mt. St. Helens itself. But hey, it’s a nice, backhanded way to imply that I’ve done something illegal…
I suspected that if I remained silent on the matter Melissa’s hubris would eventually get the better of her, and she would eventually make a mistake. This is part of the reason why my friend Dana and I obtained the bag of volcanic ash from Seattle Pottery Supply and saved the receipt:
I waited for Melissa to “cross the line.”
Indeed, she eventually did “cross the line” and publicly claimed that I was lying about where I had obtained my volcanic ash:
This is a demonstrably false claim, as my receipt posted here proves. Thus, Melissa’s claim amounts to libel and defamation.
Melissa Hovey claims to have called Seattle Pottery Supply and claims she was told that they didn’t have this stuff. Unless Hovey recorded the call, we have no way of independently verifying what was asked and what was answered, and by whom. Even conceding the possibility that whomever Hovey spoke to told her they didn’t have volcanic ash, that person was mistaken. When Dana and I bought our sample, there was plenty in stock, and this was just a few days after her ludicrous claim that Seattle Pottery Supply didn’t have volcanic ash. Much more likely of course, is that Hovey is either grossly distorting the nature of her phone call conversation or flat out lying.
This kind of hearsay, second hand, reportage seems to be a pattern with Hovey. The usual form is something like this; “I called this expert person on the phone who wants to remain anonymous because they don’t want to be associated with Bigfoot, and they told me such-and-such”.
This is not how historical, or in particular, scientific research is done. Real research includes names, credentials, questions asked, and answers given, in written form, and dated.
The facts that I’ve presented on this page totally falsify Hovey’s claims. Seattle Pottery Supply sold volcanic ash years before I was involved with this investigation. I e-mailed several people in 2005 advising that I had purchased volcanic ash from a pottery supply store here in Seattle. I purchased volcanic ash days after Hovey make her bizarre public claim, saved and posted the receipt.
In retrospect, after reviewing e-mails I sent to Rick Noll, I find it hard to imagine how Melissa Hovey would come to launch her attack on me about such an esoteric subject as the availability of Mt. St. Helens volcanic ash, unless Noll forwarded her the e-mails I sent to him.
The great and strange ending to this whole pathological event is that Melissa Hovey ends up buying volcanic ash from Seattle Pottery Supply for herself!
After all the implications that I’ve broken laws, after all the bullshit about selling volcanic ash being illegal, after the explicit JREF claim that I’m a liar, here we have Melissa Hovey buying the stuff herself! What is this woman’s major malfunction?
Why, you might wonder, didn’t I present all this way back in 2006, on that internet forum? Because I quickly discovered that rational discourse with this individual is impossible. Dr. Anton Wroblewski discovered the same thing, and departed as I did.
Further input from others can be found within this Bigfoot Discussions thread.