Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Soaring temps spur classic experiment

August in Eastern Oregon invariably means high temperatures. With thermometers topping 100 degrees, most folks seek a way to escape to cooler climes. For an East Oregonian photographer in August of 1967, the intense heat of the concrete canyon of downtown Pendleton created the perfect scenario to attempt to prove or disprove a classic “just how hot is it” experiment.

EO photographer Virgil Rupp wanted to know if it was indeed hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk on August 14, 1967. Rupp first enlisted an assistant, Elaine Alkio, a 1967 graduate of Pendleton High School. She donned a bikini, armed herself with a couple of eggs and a box-opening knife (having no kitchen implements at hand), and began scouting for a promising “frying pan.” Almost immediately a crowd — consisting mostly of men — formed, and a dispute broke out over whether concrete or asphalt would better serve the experiment.

Alkio gamely cracked her first egg amidst helpful advice. “Higher!” someone called. The egg splattered upon hitting the pavement.

“I’ll just scramble it,” Alkio said.

Another egg was cracked as the crowd grew larger. It splattered too. But, wielding her improvised spatula, Alkio showed onlookers that, with patience, you can indeed cook an egg on a sun-scorched patch of concrete. Rupp’s article, however, did not say how long it actually took for the eggs to cook, or what the eggs looked like when they were done.

The average air temperature of 102 degrees Fahrenheit during that week translates (according to internet research) to concrete temperatures north of 140 degrees. But in a 2013 NBC News article by Rob Lovitt, even at air temperatures of 128 degrees in Death Valley, despite monumental efforts by visitors to the state park there, eggs would not cook on pavement. Concrete and asphalt are poor conductors of heat, and cracking an egg onto either surface will cool it below a temperature sufficient to cook the egg. And it makes a huge mess, park rangers lamented.

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