Nininger Moment #21 The Tough Early Years

A number of lessons that Nininger learned in the beginning of his quest for finding meteorites taught him early on that a program of hunting down meteorites would be a rewarding but difficult endeavor. In one of the early chapters of Find a Falling Star, at the beginning of each chapter is a wise saying. Perhaps the one that says it all of Nininger’s quest was this one: “Apply your mind to at least one problem which has never been solved, which in general is considered impossible of solution, but if solved would help out humanity. Do with your life something that has never been done, but which you feel needs doing.” In Nininger’s effort to learn about meteorites, first he found precious little information on the subject. One of the first good tools in the form of a book was one written by Dr. O.C. Farrington called the Catalog of Meteorites of North America (published 1909). Here Nininger was able to read about the recorded falls and finds of the past to the current time of 1909.

In his efforts to locate the fall of November 9th, 1923 that he himself had seen fall, he had located two other meteorites in the predicted area of the fall. The same had been true when hunting down a couple of other leads, leaving him to believe correctly that meteorites were more plentiful than believed to be at that time. These finds were the reward he needed to continue on with the program of hunting meteorites

Often Nininger would take time off and drive down the old rural roads of Kansas in an already old Model T of the time. As he had no place for a spare tire, a good pair of tire tools and patching materials for his car were in order. Often repairing tires in a raw, cold numbing Kansas wind and in ankle deep mud in order to drive to some out of the way farm house to check a lead. Sometimes creeping through mud for hours only to find a common rock rather than a meteorite.

At the beginning of his program he borrowed from the family budget in order to be able to do a field trip, often lecturing along the way for extra money in the area he was an authority in. Usually he would stay at third class hotels and eat cold lunches to keep the costs down and seeing if his idea of hunting and finding meteorites had merit. He often brain stormed of ways to fund his idea, knowing that grants for an untested program would never be given, when money was short for programs considered far more important of that time.

In trying to find out more about meteorites he made field trips to other universities in Kansas thinking he would run into some good resources or a knowledgeable professor on the subject. What Nininger found was an ignorance of the subject. His trip for example to the University of Kansas at Lawrence yielded only a bit of information on the subject dear to his heart. He question both the geology department heads as well as the astronomy department. He found that the professors in the geology department professed ignorance on the subject but worst to Nininger was the total lack of interest in the subject. They showed him an un-labeled meteorite and told him which one they thought it was. Nininger saw that what they claimed to be a iron meteorite was rather a stony-iron which he identified as being a part of the Brenham, KS find. Talking to the professor in the astronomy department he produced a very common slice of an iron meteorite telling Nininger the very basic chemical structure of the specimen. When asked about stony meteorites the professor stated he didn’t know there were any. Nininger often ran into this same type of ignorance in other localities of higher learning. It seem that the geologists felt it was related to astronomy coming from the sky and the astronomers felt that it was more of a geology subject because of the make up being stony or iron.

From 1923 to 1929 Nininger gained both knowledge and experience while he taught at McPherson College. One of the ways he learned more was to visit the major collections of the time. These were Washington, Chicago, New York, Harvard, Yale, and Amerst. Only one other collection on the continent of North America was worth a visit and that was in Mexico City where five of the greatest meteorites of the world were held. But he also needed a way to pay for the program he wished to pursue. This is where the plans to go to Mexico first began and a way to possibly better fund his new program.

The Nininger Moments are articles or books written originally by Harvey Nininger and put into a consolidated form by Al Mitterling. Some of the items written in the moments might be old out dated material and the reader is advised to keep this in mind. Source: Find A Falling Star

–AL Mitterling