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Luck abounds if you do find a four-leaf clover

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Like the discovery of a heads-up penny or the act of tossing spilled salt over your left shoulder, finding a four-leaf clover is considered good luck to those of us with a superstitious bent. But while your chances of stumbling upon the penny are 50-50 and you can toss that salt any old time, what are the odds of finding the four-leaf clover?

About 1 in 10,000.

Dr. John Frett, professor of Landscape Horticulture and Director of the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens, was quoted on marthastewart.com as saying the 1 in 10,000 chance is for a
typical group of plants that represents the statistical norm for the population. On the other hand, in 2014, a woman in Sydney, Australia, happened upon 21 of the lucky clovers in her front yard.

So there’s that.

One website devoted to clovers warns against buying imposters. The real deal, according to clovers.com, comes from the White Clover plant, or the trifolium repens. The site even includes diagrams to educate the public on genuine versus fake four-leaf clovers.

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A history of roads in Virginia: Getting organized for better roads

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An early Virginia roadway crew stops work to pose for a photograph.

Two governors in this period gave strong support to the mushrooming good roads movement. They were Andrew Jackson Montague, the state’s chief executive from 1902 to 1906, and his  successor, Claude A. Swanson, who served until 1910. Their recommendations to the General Assembly in 1906 helped set the state government’s course in road development for the years ahead.

Meeting in Richmond, the legislature created the first State Highway Commission, giving final approval to the legislation on March 6, 1906. A state highway commissioner was appointed by the governor with General Assembly confirmation. Legislation required that the commissioner be a Virginia citizen, as well as a “civil engineer and a person well-versed in road-building.”

Legislation also dictated that the commission was to include three professors of civil engineering, one each from the University of Virginia (U.Va.), Virginia Military Institute (VMI), and what was then Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute at Blacksburg. These commission members were chosen by the boards of visitors at the respective institutions.

Gov. Swanson appointed Philip St. Julien Wilson, a Powhatan County native and a civil engineering graduate in the class of 1886 at VMI, as the first commissioner. Wilson was 38 and serving as assistant city engineer for Richmond at the time of his appointment.

Joining Wilson on the first commission were William M. Thornton, dean of the engineering department at U.Va.; Col. T. A. Jones, civil engineering professor at VMI; and Col. R. A. Marr, dean of engineering at Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute.

The law specified that the commissioner “shall have a general supervision of the construction and repair of the main traveled roads in the state; the Commissioner may recommend to the local road authorities of any county, and to the Governor, needed improvements in the public roads; he shall supply technical information on road building to any citizen or officer in the state, and from time to time publish for public use such information as will be generally useful for road improvement.”

While the counties kept the responsibility for actually making the improvements, they now had a new state agency to which they could turn for help. For example, they could apply to the commissioner for civil engineering advice, and if he concluded that a proposed project would be permanent and on a main road and that it was practical, his office would prepare detailed plans and specifications and, at the county’s expense, assign a civil engineer to supervise construction.

The 1906 legislature also established the state convict road force as a source of labor. “All prisoners convicted of a crime and sentenced to either hard labor on the public roads or to imprisonment in jail and all persons imprisoned in jail for the non-payment of fine and costs, shall, when delivered upon order of the superintendent of the penitentiary for such purpose, constitute the state convict road force,” the statute read.

For some years before, convict labor had been available to the counties for road work, but not more than half of the counties used it. After the 1906 legislation, the convict labor was channeled to roads that would benefit the whole state.

The commissioner also encouraged county officials to look beyond their own borders to the importance of working toward a coordinated, statewide highway system because still, to the frustration of early motorists, an improved road in one county might shrink to a rutted trail or disappear entirely in another. Boat or train remained the most certain means of traveling long distances in reasonable comfort.

In the commission’s first annual report to the governor and General Assembly in October 1907, Wilson shed light on the first year’s operation:

“This department being newly established some time was necessarily required for organization and preparation for carrying out the provisions of the law to the best advantage,” he wrote. “Efforts along this line proved that men in the state who were familiar with the work of permanent road improvement were difficult to secure.  Competent engineers and foremen are obtainable, but comparatively few with any experience in modern highway construction, and without the services of such men road work cannot be carried on to the best advantage.”

Moreover, he added, “Much preliminary work had to be done by the county authorities before they were actually ready to begin work. The problem of raising the necessary funds to defray the counties’ portion of the expense was, in most instances, a difficult one, and met with many obstacles and delays. The machinery and equipment furnished by the counties has been, in several instances, very inadequate for the proper handling of the work.”

For some months, he wrote, “great difficulty was experienced in securing prisoners from jails for service in the state convict road force, and the number of convicts in the state penitentiary who, under the law, were available for road work was very limited. As a consequence, the organization of the first force was not completed until October 1906, and it was not until well on in December 1906, that we were able to put to work as many as five forces of about 50 men each.”

Wilson observed that while criticism had been voiced in several quarters “about the undesirability, even inhumanity, of using convict labor on public works, all of which may have been justified,” the fact was that “the men in the road camps seem satisfied, and many have expressed to me a preference for this work to remaining in jail.”

The commissioner, after barely more than a year on the job and engaged in what had become largely a mission of public education, also commented on the inadequacy of funds available for road maintenance. It was a problem that had plagued the turnpikes a century before, and it would continue for another decade. “This is a matter of the greatest importance, as even the best constructed roads require frequent, though not expensive, attention to keep them in good condition and to prevent the extensive and costly repairs that the lack of such attention will necessitate,” he wrote. “I would suggest than an amendment to the law be made to the effect that state aid will be extended to the construction of a road only upon condition that the county applying for such aid agree to make suitable provision for the up-keep of the improved road.”

The first improvement project completed with the help of the commission was the road between Williamsburg and Jamestown Island. Most of the road was surfaced with gravel and a mixture of sand and clay; about two miles were macadamized.

The General Assembly in 1906 had appropriated $16,000 to support the fledgling road program for the period from July 1, 1906, when the legislation became effective, to Feb. 28, 1908. It was to pay the salaries of the small staff—the commissioner, his assistant, a bridge engineer, a draftsman, a clerk, and a stenographer—and to furnish the offices and to purchase supplies.

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Cancer in cats: signs to watch for

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Did you know that cancer is one of the leading causes of death in cats? Or that cats who are exposed to the feline leukemia virus are likely to develop certain types of cancer? Luckily, in most cases this disease can be successfully treated if diagnosed early enough.

To this end, it’s important to be on the lookout for any changes in your cat’s appearance or temperament. If you notice any of the following signs, bring your cat to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

• Lumps that change in shape or size
• Sores or injuries that won’t heal

• Bleeding or discharge
• Sudden weight loss
• Coughing or difficulty breathing
• Bad breath
• Difficulty urinating or defecating
• Chronic vomiting or diarrhea
• Uncharacteristic lethargy

If your cat is experiencing these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have cancer. However, it’s important to get them checked out by a veterinarian to be sure. Early diagnosis can mean the difference between life and death for your feline friend.

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A beginner’s guide to horseback riding

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Are you going horseback riding for the first time? To ensure you have a fun and safe experience, it’s recommended that you take a riding lesson. However, it doesn’t hurt to know the basics beforehand. Here’s what you should know.

Gearing up
Riders need sturdy shoes or boots with a slight heel, pants and a riding helmet. The horse should be outfitted with the proper saddle, bit, bridle and reins.

Getting on

Always approach the horse from the front, never from behind. Use a mounting block to make it easier to climb onto the horse or get someone to help you. Get in the saddle by taking the reins in one hand, fitting your foot into the stirrup, gripping the pommel of the saddle and finally swinging yourself up onto the horse.

Sitting in the saddle
Sit up tall, but don’t be stiff. Ideally, there should be a straight line from your shoulder to your hip and through to your heel. Keep your weight equal on both sides of your body.

Riding the horse
Direct the horse to move by giving it a tap or nudge with your heels, depending on how it’s trained. Stay relaxed and keep in sync with the horse’s rhythm, allowing your hips to swing with its gait.

Horses have four gaits: walk, trot, canter and gallop. For your first time, you might want to go at a walk the entire time. However, if you’re feeling comfortable, you could advance to a trot by lightly tapping the horse with your heel.

Turning, slowing down and stopping
Gently tug the left or right rein to turn in the corresponding direction. To slow or stop the horse, pull back gently on the reins.

Getting off
To dismount, take the reins in one hand, remove your feet from the stirrups, then grip the pommel and swing your leg up and over the horse before sliding down to the ground.

These are the basic things you need to know for your first day riding, but always be sure to listen to your instructor. They know their particular horses better than anyone.

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Seniors in the United States: a statistical portrait

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Seniors make up a growing proportion of the American population, and their numbers are projected to more than double by 2060. Here are some interesting facts about our aging population.

• As of 2016, 15 percent of the American population was aged 65 and over, which amounts to about 46 million people. By 2060, this number could escalate to 98 million people.

• In 2017, life expectancy in the United States was projected to be 76 years for men and 81 years for women.

• The life expectancy gap between men and women is narrowing. In 1990 there was a seven-year gap, but now it’s down to slightly less than five years.

• Older adults are working longer. In 2014, 23 percent of men and 15 percent of women aged 65 or older were in the workforce. By 2022, this number is expected to reach 27 percent for men and 20 percent for women.

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A history of roads in Virginia: The Auto Age Begins

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Pulling autos out of the mud was a sideline business for many Virginia farmers.

In Springfield, Mass., in September 1893, what generally is accepted as the first American gasoline-powered automobile was given a short road test by its builders, brothers Charles E. and J. Frank Duryea.

That same year in Washington, the Congress established the United States Office of Road Inquiry, directing the Secretary of Agriculture “to make inquiries in regard to the system of road management throughout the United States,” to investigate methods of road building and to assist in disseminating information about the nation’s roads.

Good roads societies were organized in many states, and in Virginia this movement dates at least to 1894. It was then that the Young Business Men’s League of Roanoke took leadership in forming the Virginia Good Road Association. Local meetings and statewide conventions were held, and enthusiasm grew swiftly.

In September 1895, the Duryea brothers established the first American company to manufacture gasoline driven cars, the Duryea Motor Wagon Company. In 1904 the Ford Motor Company produced 1,695 cars, and by 1907 had increased its production to 14,887.

The last decade of the 19th century was called the Gay ‘90s, and the daring new mobility was a part of the mood. What is believed to have been the first automobile of any kind operated in Virginia was driven along Norfolk streets in 1899, powered by kerosene. Eleven years before that significant event, the world’s first commercially successful streetcar system had begun in Richmond. The state’s population had grown to 1,854,184, and while the population was about 85 percent rural, Richmond could count 85,000 residents.

Throughout Virginia, as throughout the nation, the public’s delight with the automobile was mounting by leaps and bounds. But in most places, the roads weren’t ready for this “horseless carriage.”

Next up: Getting Organized for Better Road

Produced by the
Virginia Department of Transportation
Office of Public Affairs
1401 E. Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23219
VirginiaDOT.org

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Celebrating french fries

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French fry lovers, it’s time to mark your calendars — Saturday, July 13 is National French Fry Day. To get you primed for the event, here are some interesting facts about french fries.

Everyone has a favorite cut
Fries come in all shapes, sizes and cuts: curly, wedge, crinkle-cut and shoestring, to name a few. According to a National Today survey, America’s favorite is the straight cut, with 21 percent preferring it. Curly fries follow close behind at 20 percent. However, there are a lot of regional variations. July 13 is the perfect day to plan a local french fry tour to sample the many types available.

Not everyone shares equally

It’s not unusual for people to share their fries, although women are particularly generous. A 2017 Canadian survey by the McCain Company found that 63 percent of women share their fries, while men are a little more protective of theirs, with only 43 percent saying they like to share.

There’s more than one way to dress a fry
Fifty-five percent of Americans say they prefer ketchup on their fries. The second most popular dip is ranch dressing at 15 percent, followed by cheese sauce at 8 percent, barbecue sauce at 7 percent and mayo dead last at 4 percent.

French Fry Day only comes once a year, so don’t miss out and be sure to stay on the lookout for deals offered by local restaurants.

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