May 10th through May 20th 2015 Journey to Massachusetts, Start of Our Season as Contract Workers for Army Corps of Engineers, Buffumville Lake Day Use, Charlton, MA

Our drive to Massachusetts was primarily freeway, relaxing and easy breezy. As we passed clusters of trees lining the freeway, the web worms were immediately noticeable and had already begun their damage to the local trees. So sad, a giant step backwards that they are just as prevalent as they were when we left Massachusetts 33 years ago.  My last recollection of those pesky worm cocoons  were of me in our Marlborough Massachusetts backyard, gleefully torching them with our bar-b-q lighter and watching them fizzle up in flames.

Bag Worms

Our arrival at Buffumville Dam was uneventful. The gate open, one of the couples already planted in the far site, we pulled into the middle and began to settle LilyPad.  Barely half an hour later the last couple pulled into the site closest to the street.  I was later to learn that our middle site was the prime of all three.  Street side was noisy and had no dish reception, end site had power surges and no WiFi.

Our sites and storage shed

We greeted the other two Contract Worker teams, dogs KatieBug Pug and Casey Corgi sniffed each other and stretched out on the grass while us humans chatted. We are mid-range in age between the other two couples and, after several days together relaxing, it does appear we will all get along splendidly.  A required training day on Friday will start us  off and then we are on our own.  One of the couples worked here three years ago and agreed to be our go-to source should we not be able to reach a Ranger.

Our Fearless Leader, Ranger Jamie, is as we Texans would say, a tall drink of water. Longtime employee, she has had a varied background and is direct, fare and relaxed in her requirements of our duties. Show up for work and do the job to the best of your ability. Our 12 straight hours, two consecutive days a week is our first “paying” job. Our perks include a full hook-up site with all utilities paid, a beautiful park to enjoy on our days off, being close to our New England family and friends, two friendly neighbor couples with which to work and within a half days drive of reaching any New England state we wish to visit.  That and the $5.00 per hour pay, all things considered, this worked out nicely.

Buffumville Lake Park has two pavilions,

Lower Pavilion  Our Round Pavilion

picnic tables with grills,

Picnic area

Volley ball and horseshoe pits,

Volley Ball and horse shoe

a beach, swimming area and a pirate ship,

Swimming beach

flush toilets,

Flush bathrooms

and seven miles of trails around the lake with a 300 car parking lot.

Buffumville Lake Inlet

The toll booth where I work is a cramped dusty cube with two screened plastic sheeting windows, two doors, a small heater and a small musty a/c. There is no way to keep the outside from continuously seeping inside.  It didn’t look this “vintage” in the pictures Ranger Jamie had sent.  John will be cleaning the two stall bathroom facility by the beach and one vault on the dock side of the park and pick up trash. When cabin fever sets in, I will trade my cube for the golf cart, John will take my place and I’ll do trash pick-up, check/restock bathrooms and be the set of watchful eyes around the park.

The gate and the box Toll Booth The Toll Booth Inside

This park is a “carry in/carry out” so whatever you bring in must be taken with you when you leave. No trash cans are available anywhere in the park, not even for our use. We must haul our trash over to the main facility several blocks away. Strange, but it seems to work with the exception of cigarette butts, dog poop and baby diapers left in the bathroom on the changing table. A tad gross but not nearly the worst we have had to clean up in the past so it’s nothing either of us can’t handle.

Buffumville Dam  Ranger Office

It is non-stop busy when the weather is pleasant.  Cars line up to get in so sitting down for a rest is near impossible. Standing on cement for hours does unpleasant things to your back and your ankles tend to swell but our park guests are friendly so the time passes quickly when we are busy.

Our first day of work and we were slammed! Attendance right up there with the busy part of the season. I drove down to the beach to give the “one hour closing” warning after cleaning the bathrooms. A large family was enjoying the beautiful day, sitting on the beach with their whole family, having a Bar-B-Q and continuing their relaxation at our park from the previous days visit.  We struck up a conversation and the husband said he wanted to do what we were doing when he retired. Strange how people see what we are doing and want to do the same. There sits a man in total relaxation, looking at my sweaty windblown self, watching me clean bathrooms and pick up trash, then trot off to stand in a tiny confined cubicle taking money for 12 straight hours, two days in a row with pay being a fraction of minimum wage. Odd that he sees this side of the fence as greener. Five years ago I had a completely different scenario playing inside my head when full-timing was my retirement dream.  If you are thinking this isn’t exactly what I had planned, you would be correct.

For reasons known only to them, the Retirement Spirits chose today to send us a warning, as they have done in the past, that we should be more accepting of our reduced space lifestyle in our rolling box. These “Spirits” intermittently send plagues ranging from slide floors buckling to tanks overflowing and pipes under the sink separating and flooding the floors. Each incident requires us to remove the entire contents of alternating areas of our motorhome, squishing us into an even smaller living space.

At the end of two busy long hot dusty 12 hour days, lungs struggling, back pinching, feet swollen, in a “how the heck is this retirement?!” state of mind, John picked me up in the golf cart and began his “egg shell” walk by hesitating before answering when I requested to go immediately back to LilyPad to ice myself from head to foot.  He smiled as the dreaded words, “Give me a hug” escaped from his lips.  Naturally my reaction was “Oh crap…here we go again”.   Arriving at LilyPad, from outside our front door I could see the water still dripping from the bottom corner of our front slide.  Apparently our sink drain had loosened and all the water from the dishwasher had run out onto the floor under the sink and flowed behind the cabinets to the front of the motorhome.   An “it’s always something” of major proportion.  It took five days to clean it up, dry it out and put everything back.

Water Leak

Our first attempt at a relaxing day off was a drive through town and was interrupted by the local police pulling us over, neither of us immediately understanding the reason. The stolen “Ribbit” license plate we reported last August from a Portland, Oregon La Quinta Inn had come back to bite us in the hind end.  For some peculiar reason, South Dakota DMV decided to ship us another plate with the exact same name. They didn’t tell us that we would probably be stopped if any police happen to run our plates. We drove from Oregon to Texas without any plate at all, no police stopped us. We drove from Texas to Massachusetts with our re-ordered “Ribbit” plates, no police stopped us. In the tiny town of Charlton, Massachusetts, a policeman pulls us over to ask us if we knew our plate was reported stolen. We were told by Oregon and Massachusetts that we were lucky several squad cars didn’t pull us over with guns drawn and hauled us off to jail on a stolen car charge. Yep, just another typical day in our rolling-down-the-road lifestyle. Many discussions were had with Oregon to remove the report. Lengthier conversations were had with South Dakota police to remove the theft from the books, all for naught. Our new “Ribitts” plates, a slight variation of “Ribbit”, has arrived and another “it’s always something” is behind us.

New plates

The pollen counts in New England, due to the late bombardment of snow, have gone on beyond Zebra with the highest counts in history. Already arriving with breathing problems, my lungs “just said no” after two long work days and the stress of major water leakage clean up. We had to quickly find a doctor. Massachusetts has premier doctors and we found our doctor extraordinaire at an Urgent Care facility within a reasonable distance of our Park. Dr. Connors was willing to work with me and discuss my concerns instead of demanding I take what he ordered and not have a say in my treatment. Given strongly worded counsel to “stay indoors”, prescribed two medications to use in nebulizer breathing treatments four times a day, two oral medications and advised to wear a mask if I go outside…UGH, no fun in my future for the next few weeks! My current mantra is, “this too shall pass”. Our next work days will be totally rain soaked, giving me additional time indoors and the continuance of recovery.  John and I will work something out that keeps me indoors more than outdoors for the upcoming weeks.

Another one of our responsibilities is to protect wild life. This morning I drove John to the Park bridge so he could chase off a turtle crossing the road. I am doubtful Mr. Turtle was grateful for us going out of our way, in the rain, to do him this good deed.

Turtle

The local wild life, beyond turtles, is scarce with the exception of one lone turkey who strolls across our front lawn each morning.  Must not be a social guy as he wanders into the forest when he sees us open the front gate.

Local wild thing

The rain encouraged purple Lady Slippers to push themselves up from the thick pine needle covered forest floor and spread out behind our host sites. Hundreds of them have begun to emerge and cover the area. Makes for a pretty back yard of bright spring colors behind our graveled sites.

Lady Slippers

May 5th through May 10th, 2015, Washington D.C.

Arriving at Cherry Hill Park RV in College Park Maryland near Washington D. C. we OK’d the “standard” pull through. In hindsight, that bad decision left us squished into our paved stretch of land with only a narrow strip between us and our neighbors. Taking up most of that narrow strip were two picnic tables on brick pavers, side by side, requiring us and our neighbors to scooch sideways past the tables to reach our cars parked in the rear. Same price as the luxury Las Vegas Motorcoach Resort but that’s where any and all comparisons end. It is a destination park only because of its “Location, Location, Location” to Washington D.C.   They do have many amenities for family camping but only one that we need or will use. Within constant ear shot of the freeway and under a helicopter and airplane pathway, the noise is constant until about midnight.

Cherry Hill Park RV

The amenity we planned to use was the dog sitter who will walk your fur baby while you are away enjoying Washington D.C.   KatieBug focused her attention on extracting goodies from her new puzzle while we set up camp.

KatieBugs puzzle

Originally, I had planned to paint the town red when we arrived in Washington D.C. However, for the past month, my lungs have had plans of their own and I remain highly medicated and must try to avoid all diesel, dust and pollen. Those strict requirements disallow tour buses and excessive walking along the streets of D.C.

Took advantage of the sitter, ignored staff warnings that garage parking was expensive and street parking was impossible to find, didn’t want to set off my lungs with bus fumes so we drove ourselves into the city. Housing along our travels began to take on a vintage New England look.

Row houses on Rhode Island Road

Upon arriving at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, we pulled into street parking ($5.00 for 4 hours) across from the museum and spent several hours wandering the museums multi-level exhibits.  Were we lucky or what!

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Visiting many of these types of museums in past years, the price being gratis and with the amount of superbly displayed and fascinating pieces available, excellent is a worthy description. We arrived ahead of the bus loads of school children and strolled along at a leisurely pace enjoying each section.

The large elephant that filled the grand entrance hall was the main focus of the crowd’s attention. The African section had various stuffed creatures jumping out of wall openings and suspended above our heads.

Entrance  African stuffed

Further into the African section was a highlighted little rodent that science claims was the start of humankind and has the same DNA traits as modern humans.

Begining of our DNA

A display of real sculls, ranging from the beginning of the human race to modern man, was accompanied by a fascinating movie of our origins.

Modern Human Skulls

Always eager to explore fossils, our attention was drawn to the large bones in the distance.

Big fossils

Next section was the fossil exploration with docents exhibiting samples and microscope viewing of specimens from ongoing explorations. Very cool!

FossiLab  Fossil under microscope

Another docent was allowing passerby’s the chance to hold various insects.  Very popular with the boys.  Loved the hissing cockroach!

The Insect Docent

Sparkly flashes caught my eye and we were drawn into the National Gem and Mineral Collection section. At the entrance, The Hope Diamond, donated to the museum by Harry Winston in 1958, the world’s most famous gem. Discovered in India from the Kollur Mine, it weighs in at 45.52 carrots and is estimated to be worth 250 million. Renowned for its flawless clarity, rare deep blue color and notorious history, it is surrounded by 16 white diamonds and suspended from a platinum chain containing 46 more diamonds. The first historical records hint that a French merchant named Jean-Baptiste Tavernier obtained the stone in the mid-1600’s. Recut from the French Blue diamond after 1791, it was slightly reshaped by Harry Wilson between 1949 and 1958 before he made the donation to the Smithsonian. I stood watching as it turned round and round, viewers speaking in hushed tones praising its exquisiteness.

Hope Diamond

On to the next room, one of royal jewels and a display that held my birthstone, the sapphire, some of the biggest I’ve ever seen.

Sapphires

Exiting the side door we stopped to check out the stone heads that stood guard on each side of the door.

Easter Island Stone

At days end we drove back to LilyPad for a relaxing evening once the planes, helicopters and traffic noise died down. Sitter notes complimented KatieBug for being a sweet, very good little girl who enjoyed her mid-day walking adventure.

Next morning we duplicated our form of transportation into the city, same luck with street parking less than a block away from the Smithsonian Museum of American History and  steps away from the IRS Building.

American History Museum

More than a decade of John testifying during IRS audits for the company from which he retired, John thought it appropriate to take a picture of the Washington D.C. IRS building while pointing. After the IRS showed up at our home and asked to enter and talk to me about the company, I think pointing with his middle digit would have been more appropriate.

John and IRS Washington

With busloads of school children only steps behind, we arrived at the entrance of the  museum. Same gigantic structure of a building as yesterday but broken down into smaller sections which became increasingly crowded as the day advanced.

Proudly displayed inside the entrance is Abraham Lincoln’s carriage, the carriage taken to Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. on the evening of April 14, 1865, the night of his assassination.

The carriage, an open barouche model, was built by Wood Brothers in 1864 and presented to Lincoln by a group of New York merchants shortly before the president’s second inauguration.  Luxuriously built with solid silver lamps, door and hubcaps, the steps are connected to the doors so that they lower and rise as the door opens and closes.

Lincoln Carriage

The entrance was filled with small exhibits, famous guitars over the years, TV’s from the 50’s to present, radio’s and record players, card and board games through the ages and a display of attempts to build a better mouse trap.

Building a better mouse trap

American dining habits changed drastically in the 1950’s.  Home cooked meals gave way to TV dinners and ads gleefully claimed “you deserve a break today at McDonalds”.  Fast foods became the latest fad replacing the sit down family dinner.

Dining through the years

In the 1960’s, Julia Child introduced Americans to French cuisine, the European way of dining and offering wine with meals. She told home viewers it was “part of the food chain”. Her kitchen is an amazing collection of every cooking tool, appliance, pot and pan you could imagine being needed to assemble a culinary delight.

Julia Childs kitchen

One of the displays showed Americans moving into Suburbia, the new trend of the 1950’s.  My parent’s first tract home, my first bike and our first TV looked similar to those in the display.  Feeling old.

Early 50s Suburbia

The term “trailer trash”, a derogatory American term for poor people living in a trailer, was used to denigrate white people living in such circumstances.  The term got its start in the 1930’s when families were forced to move from their  homes, no jobs to be found in their towns.  The lifestyle allowed families to travel to areas where work was available. Many stayed together in campgrounds for greater safety.  Although the term “trailer trash” still exist, it rarely applies to the over 1.3 million people today living full time in trailers, motorhomes and campers.  The cost of present day rolling homes of race car drivers and entertainers easily exceed one million dollars.

Trailer Trash

My childhood roots being in California, this scene was included  because my parents traveled frequently through Watsonville, me in the back seat looking out over miles of fields, migrant workers bent over planting or pulling the seasonal crops.  This scene was taken from 1895.  When we drove through the area last year, it looked the same.  Totally drove home the meaning of “some things never change”.

Watsonville 1895

We enjoyed the displays of vintage cars and trains from the 1800’s.

1876 Train

One of the oldest American flags, hand sewn by Mary Pickersgill in 1813 and flown over Fort McHenry on September 14, 1814, is on permanent  display at the Smithsonian.  The flag was raised to celebrate a crucial victory over British forces during the War of 1812. The sight of those “broad stripes and bright stars” inspired Francis Scott Key to write a song that eventually became the United States national anthem.  America’s first flag is attributed to the hand stitching skills of Betsy Ross but historians now disagree as the story was passed down through her family and several facts are arguable.  The flag that became the Star-Spangled Banner was a 30 x 42 foot garrison flag.  Pictures of the flag are not allowed so I pulled one from the internet and included a photo of the attractive art rendition in the hall.

The only flag available for photo's    American Flag

One large section of the museum held the inaugural dress display. Laura Bush’s 2001 Inaugural dress, a crystal embroidered Chantilly lace of ruby-red, in my opinion, was the most attractive gown in the hall. Along with the description of her dress was the achievement of her speaking out for the women in Afghanistan in the first presidential weekly address ever given by a First Lady.

Laura Bush 01 Inaugural Dress

The State China Service section of presidential memorabilia contained one place setting of each President’s dinnerware beginning with Abraham Lincoln. In 1861 Mary Lincoln chose French porcelain with its fashionable “solferino” color and United States Coat of Arms. The place settings were on loan from the White House collection.

State China Service of Mary and Abraham Lincoln

War memorabilia from every war in which the US fought, not displays that were high on my list, was one of the largest sections.  John wanted time to peruse so I sat and watched a few films of the entertainment industry’s contribution to wars.  Artillery, ammunition, food, clothing and several short films along with life-size scenes from “the big one”, historically world war II, dominated the section. One display that did interest me was a vintage sample of the first Army, Navy and Air Force Medals of Valor. None from the Marines as they were originally under the Navy.

Medals of Valor

Another interesting room contained the Philadelphia, a gunboat manned by Continental Army soldiers that was part of a fleet under the command of General Benedict Arnold and the oldest American fighting vessel in existence. It sunk in the Battle of Valcour Island on October 11, 1776 fighting a larger Royal Navy fleet on Lake Champlain.

It was discovered in 1935 with its mast barely 15 feet under the water in Valcour Bay after almost 160 years. It remained there until an amateur military marine archeologist, Lorenzo Hagglund, located the remains and lifted it from the water with slings to preserve its hull. It became part of the Smithsonian’s permanent collection after being bequeathed in 1961.

The Philadelphia

All In The Family ranked number one in the yearly Nielsen ratings from 1971 to 1976 and was the first TV series to reach that milestone. The show broke ground in its depiction of racism, homosexuality, women’s liberation, rape, religion, miscarriage, abortion, breast cancer, the Vietnam War, menopause and impotence, topics previously not considered appropriate for comedic sitcoms.

Encased in glass, Archie Bunker’s chair was an immensely popular item with photo flashes going off continuously. A staple of nighttime TV for John and I as young adults, neither wanted to pass up a chance to view the worn out fabric chair with its grease stained head rest indentation. That one ugly chair induced uncomfortable feelings of the fact that we had reached senior status.

Archie Bunkers chair

Left the museum area to try our luck at finding street parking to visit memorials.  Searching down two blocks availed a spot on the main thoroughfare. Several memorials were a slight wander through tree lined grounds along a paved footpath.

In the midst of dozens of students on field trips, we approached the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall slowing down to read names and reflect on the riddance of a turbulent war that stretched from my childhood through to adulthood. Dedicated in 1982, visitors before us left floral, flag, written poem and stuffed animal offerings along its lengthy pathway.

Soldiers and war heroes who fought an unpopular war and were shunned upon returning, we felt sadness for the loss of life, sadness for the treatment of those who returned and sadness that nothing positive came from a war that lasted from 1955 until April 30, 1975. Few were able to stand in the presence of the engraved black marble wall without tears welling.

Vietnam Vets Memorial Wall

Less than a city block away stood the Lincoln Memorial Building.

Lincoln Memorial Building

The massive columned building held the famous seated statue, Abraham Lincoln, comfortably positioned in his chair, looking as if he were waiting for someone to arrive.

Lincoln Memorial

We had an excellent view of the Washington Monument and its reflection in the Lincoln Memorial Pool from the top of the Lincoln Memorial stairs.

Washington Monument

Homeward bound work traffic overcame us on the journey back to LilyPad but the beauty of the massive columned buildings made the extended travel time through downtown enjoyable.

DC fantastic buildings

More than 19 free museums are available to the public in downtown Washington D.C. and many are large enough for a full day’s exploration. Along with museums are the War Memorials and formidable statue structures that can be seen rising up into the sky from the streets of downtown. Our three day layover was not near enough time for a fulfilling D.C. adventure which means we shall return.

Our plan for our third day was to sleep in, relax in the morning then explore in the afternoon. As John chose our explorations the last two days, today was my choice. There are dozens of churches in D.C. but I was drawn to the description of the “Big Mama”, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Be forewarned, I took an excessive amount of photos of this exceptionally opulent church, enough so that I wouldn’t be craving religious structures in any form, anytime in the near future.

A Roman Rite Catholic basilica with architectural styles of Byzantine Revival and Romanesque Revival, evident at first sight. Building of the Shrine began in 1920 and it opened, unfinished, in 1959 and then was completed in 1961. Built from marble and totally free of structural steel, its imposing façade sits atop a hill.

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

The Shrine has two floor, the Crypt Level below and the Upper Church. They encircle 70 side chapels and all tolled, the church seats six thousand people. The chapels are tucked into alcoves along both levels.

The Crypt Level holds the remains of the only human buried in the Shrine. Bishop Thomas J. Shahan, the founder of the National Shrine, has a marble recumbent likeness as you enter the first of the side chapels.

Crypt Level

Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Byzatine-Ruthenian Chapel, Glorious Mysteries chapels

Blessed Sacrament Chapel     Byzantine-Ruthenian Chapel   Glorious Mysteries Chapels

Everywhere you look there are magnificent religious art scenes to gaze upon while following the free audio tour.

Miraculous Medal

Miraculous Medal

The grandest are the mosaics, glittering of gold and brilliantly polished miniature tiles.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Brezie,  Our Lady of Pompeii

Our Lady of Guadalupe   Our Lady of Brezie   Our Lady of Pompei

Our Lady of Siluva, Mary Queen of Missions, Our Lady of Bistrica

Our Lady of Siluva   Mary Queen of Missions   Our Lady of Bistrica

I love visiting churches. Not only for the peace and tranquility it brings to your soul but for the art work and this colossal shrine to the Mother Mary is loaded with incredibly detailed art work.

Our Lady of Hope,

Our Lady of Hope

Immaculate Heart of Mary,  Our Lady of Good Health

Immaculate Heart of Mary   Our Lady of Good Health

Jesus on the Cross

Jesus on the cross

Mother of Perpetual Help,  Mary Help of Christians

Mother of Perpetual Help   Mary, Help of Christians

Mother of Sorrows

Mother of Sorrows

Our Lady of Mount Carmel,  Our Lady of La Vang, Our Lady of Czestochowa

Our Lady of Mount Carmel   Our Lady of La Vang   Our Lady of Czestochowa

A wall tapestry so fine in detail it appeared, from a distance, to be a painting.

Tapestry

We spent over an hour walking along the Crypt floor before turning our attention to the main church. When we pivoted to face the alter, at that moment, the organ player begin practice and the thunderous chords startled us both.

Main Organ Pipes    Upper Church

Resounding without echo, the chords continued for a full 15 minutes before suddenly dropping into complete silence.

Side organ pipes

The Baldachin Alter stood majestically center stage

Baldachin Altar

Consuming the loftiest expansion of the ceiling, a glittering mosaic of Jesus floated with arms outstretched, glairing down at his followers. Not the calm loving facial expression I was expecting! Must have been done in the days where priests warned their parishioners that sin would pitch them into the fire and brimstone of Hell.

Christ in Majesty

Turning our attention upwards to the ceilings, a stunning mosaic and stained glass sun shone overhead.

Sun Ceiling Upper Church

A circle of saints,  The Last Judgment

Saints Ceiling    The Last Judgment

Our tour was at an end and we both thought viewing all the magnificent religious art was time well spent. A short ride back to LilyPad to pack it all up, get a good nights sleep and leave for Massachusetts, our next  work adventure, first thing in the morning.  A plus this time, we are going to get paid a salary for 12 straight hours, two days a week.  A whole $5.00 per hour! OK, you can stop laughing now…….

April 25th, through May 4th, 2015 Franklin Tennessee, Allatoona Lake in Acworth Georgia, North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh North Carolina

On the way to Franklin we stopped in Lynchburg to visit the Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey Distillery.  Highest selling American whiskey, Jack Daniels is distilled in a dry county, is the only liquor allowed to be sold in the county and only allowed to be sold in their gift shop.

Jack Daniels

Birth records were seldom kept in the 1800’s so the exact date of Jack’s birth is not known but it is celebrated as September 1850.  He died in 1911 and was believed to be somewhere between 61 and 66 years of age.

Youngest of his mother’s ten children, when Jack’s mother died his father remarried and had several more bringing the total to thirteen.  Jack’s father died in the Civil War and Jack despised his step-mother so he ran away from home when he was in his teens.  Taken in by a local preacher and moonshine distiller named Dan Call, Jack began learning the distilling trade as a teenager from Call and Call’s slave Nearest Green, who stayed on with Call after his emancipation.  In 1875, after receiving an inheritance from this father’s estate, Jack founded a legally registered distilling business with Call.  When Call quit for religious reasons, Jack took over the distillery and in 1884 he purchased the hollow and land where the distillery is now located.

The spring water coming out

By the 1880s Jack Daniel’s was one of fifteen distilleries operating in Moore County, and the second-most productive.  1897 he introduced his square-shaped bottles, the shape of the bottle intended to convey a sense of fairness and integrity.

Bottles and his favorite hat Bottles over the years

Jack died in 1911 from blood poisoning.  It is often told that the infection began in one of his toes which was injured early one morning at work.  Kicking his safe in anger because he could not get it open was the tale told until his modern biographer stated that the story is not true.

Jack Daniels was an amazing man.  He dressed in perfectly tailored clothes topped with a dapper hat that became his trademark.  Being short in stature but commanding respect for his fair and honest dealings, his apparel was his way of presenting a professional appearance to the world.

Inside the main hall with Jack

John and I did the tasting tour and concluded that the tour was indeed very interesting, but neither of us cared for the taste of whiskey.   Back on the road again with LilyPad directed toward Nashville Tennessee.

Sampling Tour

 

Arriving in Nashville, my first impression of the Nashville Fair Grounds, where we will spend the next two nights, was not one of shock but certainly one giving off an uncomfortable vibe. With much trepidation we drove up and backed into a spot. Up on a hill and across from the actual fair grounds, its presences was entirely unimpressive. To be exact, it is a big parking lot with a plug and a faucet mounted on posts at the back of the spaces and a hole near the post for your sewer hose. Yes, we have stayed in worse, the Vegas Elks “prison compound” quickly jumps to mind but this makes it to the top five of “Oh crap!   John, what were you thinking?”

Train tracks with after-hour trains surround the area with their “here I come” warnings going off at approximately 11 p.m., 1a.m. and 3 a.m. Annoying blinking blue/red/white/yellow lights were flashing off a huge black 40 foot motorhome that is staged as an extra holding tank for the main poky downtown and is parked squarely in the middle of the sites. Surrounded by police cars, it sits in anticipation of the nightly arrests. A young lady was handcuffed and sitting on a chair outside the motorhome accompanied by a uniformed policeman as we drove up. What a pleasant surprise…free live nightly entertainment! I put my “we don’t call 911” sign up in the window, turned on the TV to stifle the outside noise and we all settled down for the night.

Nashville Fairgrounds

Next morning we walked around the Nashville Flea Market, touted to be one of the top 10 in the country. After an hour of walking, it certainly gave the impression of earning that claim to fame. We had a relaxing lunch with my cousin in downtown Franklin, did our grocery shopping, laundry and packed up for our next double over-niter at Payne Campground, Allatoona Lake, Acworth Georgia.

Lake Allatoona

Break of day exit from the fairgrounds, we pulled into Payne Campground early afternoon and, aren’t we lucky, “it’s always something” and “you can’t fix stupid” hit simultaneously! Our coolant sensor is showing high voltage and needs repair at our next stop as does the transmission pump on Ribbit. Our campground host convinced John that LilyPad would fit around a hairpin turn into what they called a 100 foot long campsite. John bullheadedly spent almost an hour trying, pulling up and back to make it around the turn, me holding back the branches of the tree that were scraping against our sides while the motorhome pushed up against my back. Once again, stuck between a rock and a hard place. John cut back the branches and we switched drivers, me deciding to back out and pull in, backwards, down the wrong way, squeezing into our narrow spot.

Slides out, we relaxed and enjoyed gazing out at the lake. A shot of my moonshine in hand, I sipped to unwind from the ordeal and to sooth my voice from the explicits I yelled in the direction of the no-brainer host that convinced John “you can make it, no problem”. The site narrowly fit LilyPad and Ribbit and was many yards shy of 100 feet in length.

Our site at Payne

Lunch at City Cellar Restaurant in Cartersville Georgia. We are first timers eating shrimp and grits. They were passable but the fried green tomatoes were crisp, full of tomato flavor and awesome. Our waitress said the inside of the Cellar reminds her of the Cheers set and she sometimes shouts out “Norm” just for fun.

City Cellar Restaurant  Inside City Cellar, Cartersville, GA

We walked around the small town, into a few shops, through town center and back to the car for the ride home. One of the shops was a late 1800’s hardware store with all the original shelving and rolling ladder. The quality handcrafted work that went into building the shelving and bins in the store was amazing and the antiques were reasonably priced. And me without a house to stuff full of pretty antique things!

Late 1800s hardware store

The Mellow Mushroom across the street was surprising to see as I didn’t realize that it was a chain. Sad that the one in Texas is closing as we enjoyed eating their pizza and people watching in the “keep it weird” town of Austin.

Mellow Mushroom is a chain

Back to our serene slice of Allatoona Lake to get ready for dinner with a dear friend and her daughter. Trying Shrimp and Grits again, this time they were creamy and flavorful, two thumbs up! Back to LilyPad to pack up and prep for making the journey to Raleigh South Carolina for repairs and visiting family.

Arriving at Cunningham’s in Spartinburg South Carolina early evening, we read the reviews and understood it was populated by mostly long term residents. The friendly manager came by when we called after hours. He offered apologies for the constant spike in the power. Not many park managers would bother to help one-nighters after hours. We switched to 30 amp and shall survive the inability to turn on major appliances all at the same time for this one overnight. Quiet and restful all the way to morning.

Our site at Cunninghams, Spartinburg, SC

Again with the early up and on the road, our transmission pump warning sound loudly buzzing in our ears for the first hour of the trip. Poor Ribbit had to run with its engine on while we rolled until we get it fixed…again.

With a cloud of dust mushrooming around us, we pulled into our next pause for repairs, Raleigh North Carolina State Fairgrounds and RV Park. The area was located just in back of the Hunt Horse Complex and gave way to another “it’s a small world”.

Raliegh North Carolina Fairgrounds

Neither John nor I had ever heard of Cowboy Mounted Shooters. While in The Woodlands, we called a man who was advertising on Workers On Wheels for a couple to farm-sit in Willis, TX. Told him where we had just volunteered and found out he was friends with Ginger, the lady John worked for at Barrington Living History Farm in Washington on the Brazos, TX. The couple’s sport of choice was traveling with their horses as Cowboy Mounted Shooters. After arriving at the fairgrounds site, we noticed that Double L Bar Cowboy Mounted Shooters was producing an event for Cowboy Mounted Shooters this Friday and Saturday night. The sport is fun to watch and one that any age can participate. The adults used blanks to shoot out the balloons, the kids just shot with their pointer finger.  Not the best pictures from John’s cell phone camera.

Competitors Period Dress

blank shots Cowboy Shooter

Another crack of dawn rise to drive LilyPad and Ribbit to the repair shop…anyone beginning to see a pattern here? People think I am kidding when I say, “it is always something” but it is a fact of full-time life in a motorhome, it is always something.

On Site Fleet Maintenance, Raleigh, NC

Back to the fairgrounds for the night, returning in the morning to install the overnighted parts. Rain, rain, rain, then clearing just as the repairs are complete.

Dinner at an amazing vegan restaurant while the rain turned the dusty pollen filled air into a beautiful crystal clear backdrop for a rainbow.

Amazing Neomonde Restaurant

A nice overnight rest, visit with family part of the day and packing it all up to leave in the morning for Washington D. C. and Cherry Hill Park RV.

April 4th through April 24th, 2015 Repairs, Repairs, Repairs and On The Road Again

We are planted here for however long it takes to make repairs. Met up with Tiffin couples in the Tiffin campground that are friends of friends. It is comforting, when sitting for days, sometimes weeks in repair bays, to compare travels, experiences and solutions to commonalities. When you live on a roll, repairs take priority, often times eliminating a leisurely paced arrival to your next destination.

Our Tiffin manufacturer is in Red Bay Alabama and Good Ol’ Boys manage and work the bays. Most of the conversations about our motorhome have had to come from John, something I am not accustomed to, or comfortable with, due to John’s quiet, non-confrontational nature. In my world, Band-Aide repairs are not acceptable as they result in something breaking at the most inopportune moments, usually with astronomical costs.

The laid back work ethics of some Express Bay workers, when you are paying by the hour, are intolerable for me. John, not being one to demand them to focus and stay on task, does not understand my impatience when they repeatedly wander off. They live on Alabama time, a distant cousin of Jamaican time, half the speed of the rest of the country. Standing in the breezeway chatting about weekend benders? Really guys? Save this for your mandatory breaks. Stress, rain, dust and the unpleasant gastronomic dog food odor coming from Sunshine Dog Food Factory up the street remain a constant in our lives for an ever expanding stretch of time.

Waiting for service is like being in suspended animation. Bed covered to keep out the inevitable dust, slides retracted, everyday needs tucked away…location hopefully to be remembered when all is repaired, the household kept in travel mode for the multiple moves to alternating repair bays day after day beginning at 5:30 am and continuing on until 4pm.

Travel Mode

The Tiffin RV park, housing over 100 Tiffin’s waiting for repairs, is made up of row upon row of near identical motorhomes. So much so that one of the new owners we met walked into someone else’s coach to face a shirtless man, not her husband, both of them astonished, red faced and apologetic. This same owner told us she had gone to a safety class giving her instructions on how to exit her motorhome through the bedroom window should the need arise.  I kid you not, she told us that her husband would take the bedspread and hold one end while she climbed out the window, then her husband would shut the bedspread in the window to hold it while he climbed down.  I bit my tongue and smiled politely.  John, tacky daddy that he is, didn’t.

Rows of Tiffins

While sitting at one of the slide repair bay’s, John advanced with a huge forced grin. “Give me a hug” were his first words just seconds after talking to the supervisor. Hmmm. Suspicious and never a good sign. Got my hug, then the news. We need the entire underside of our passenger side kitchen slide replaced as it has snapped and buckled. That is the reason all our kitchen cabinets and drawers are separating.

Our regular repair mode of 5:30 wake time was compounded by the removal of everything in the passenger side kitchen slide from the drawers and cupboards so they can lift the slide out, tilt it and replace the flooring.  Easy right?  Because we have so much extra room to store stuff.

Moving it out Passenger side going down

John felt compelled to pick out every rock and loose screw along the edge to keep himself busy.

Picking out metal pieces and misc screws

After it was removed, we were advised that the repair would take longer than a day.  That afternoon we left LilyPad in the bay and were treated to a night in a king size dog friendly room at Best Western Plus compliments of Bob Tiffin.  Great free omelet breakfast before taking a leisurely drive back to Red Bay.

Overnight in a hotel

And today a new discovery, our kitchen slide on the driver’s side, opposite what is currently being replaced, has broken rollers and the flooring also needs to be replaced. Once we put one side back together, we start taking things out of the other slide…rinse and repeat. Are we having fun yet?

Back in our motorhome, we removed the contents of the other side for the next days repair.  Out, repaired and put back within four hours.

New Flooring drivers slide

Our roof rails needed a tweak (more rivets and then gel coated to secure the replacement made last year) and the wet bay (the floor under the black/grey tanks) is rotting out and must be replaced.

Wet Bay replacement

In another bay, our neighbor went up in the air while our repair man crawled under to fix the newly discovered shorted out sensor in the engine coolant.

Our neighbor going up

When I walked to the back of the motorhome to check on progress, I was surprised to see boots standing inside the back of our engine. My first thought was “maybe we can store something in that empty space”. Then again, probably not.  I doubt I can talk John into crawling under the motorhome to retrieve anything squeezed into that space.

Standing up under our Motorhome Working on our engine

Next bay, another potential repair needed to the back bedroom slide as it is not square to the walls…and the gouge under the fridge slide area appeared again.  Fixed and fixed.

Now, nearly three weeks into repairs, I’m hearing “you need to chill” whenever I explain that the same repair was made last year or that we have just “been here-done that” in another bay. Although exasperating, the silver lining is that if this had been any other brand of motorhome, the cost would have been major.  Tiffin stands behind its motorhomes and almost all of our work is being covered under warrantee. Repairs that are not, are billed at the cost of parts.  Even million dollar motorhomes don’t do repairs gratis six years after purchase.

Taking intermittent breathers, we were able to get away a few times for lunch and dinner with our new friends to chat about life on the road. Saturday we drove to the number one fish restaurant in the area.

Just inside the door

Lash’s Seafood Restaurant has a swampy campy appearance, nothing fancy but as full of atmosphere as a Disney themed diner.  Awesome gumbo but all the other offerings were only mediocre.

Gumbo

I could feel the tension melting away as we sat by the window watching the muddy waters flow past us.

Looking out the window

I usually don’t do the “keeping up with the Jones’s” thing but our new friends have a door bell and I insisted that we needed one. It is set to play “Dixie”. That may not endear us to our Yankee neighbors in Massachusetts, but it will proudly let all who visit us know where our hearts and roots are planted.

Our new doorbell

Our journey to Massachusetts has now been on hold 22 days. Our wood cabinet and drawer repair is done, they replaced the incorrect wet bay tub that was installed when they replaced the wet bay, a new motor for our dishwasher will be ordered (it broke when they took the slide out for repair) and I have heard rumors that we will be done at the end of today. As is the custom here at Red Bay, we will take one entire day to check all repairs before we pay the bill and get ready to roll the next morning.

Early waking up this sunny clear Friday morning.  All is good to go.  Good By Red Bay, see ya next year!  Next stop, Nashville, Tennessee.

March 23rd through April 3rd 2015, Eunice Louisiana, Tiffin Service Center, McKinney Service Center, Bruce’s Body and Paint, HHH Framing and being on hold

Backtracking here just a smidge…John and I went to Sodolaks in Snook, Texas while volunteering at Washington on the Brazos. At the advice of the Travel Chanel, we were instructed to try their Chicken Fried Bacon. I’m not a bacon fan, yes I know, very un-American of me, but they raved about it and John was willing to give it a try. After finishing the plate, John did mention that it would have been more enjoyable if it had been thick cut but my ity bity bite still confirmed that I don’t enjoy bacon. Another item crossed off John’s Bucket List.

Chicken Fried Bacon Sodolacks

Before leaving for our New England journey, the long awaited, albeit 20 years too late, grand opening of the Woodlands Whole Foods had arrived. Our daughter Liz convinced us that we should be one of the first patrons, being 30 year customers of Whole Foods in Houston. We reluctantly arose from our comfy bed at 6:00 a.m. and met Liz in The Woodlands out in front of the store. We stood in line, in the drizzle, to hear the key speaker mispronounce “Galatas Elementary”, and oddly enough, “organic” in the same paragraph. In the parking lot stood a grand old silver bullet RV which was offering free hot coffee/cocoa/tea to the chilled crowd. The company was Allegro Coffee Company and because LilyPad is an Allegro, we had to capture the Kodak moment.

Allegro Coffee Company RV

Selling everything including you home and moving into a motorhome to travel full time puts most of us into the category of “a few cards short of a full deck” which is likely how we can survive living this way. Now we will spend the better part of a month having repairs done to LilyPad before picking up our New England bound trail.

First stop on our journey was Eunice Louisiana for some Cajun spicy tail pinching, head sucking and dancing far into the night. Meeting up with two other Tiffin couples in the land of dang good, slap yo mama spicy Cajun food and Zydeco music, we arrived at Lakeview Park and Beach RV Park late in the afternoon and set up camp. Full Cajun emersion began almost immediately upon arrival. The Tiffin gang came knocking, inviting us to “come with” for dinner at D.I’s in Basile, Louisiana.

Lakeview RV

Arrived just in time to be seated before the entire restaurant filled to overflowing with massive amounts of extended families. The live Cajun music and the smell of blackened grilled oysters was overpoweringly delicious and we stuffed ourselves comfortably before turning our attention to the musicians.

An elderly couple walked gingerly to their table but rose to the floor once the music began. They held onto each other for stability as they danced across the wooden floor, the man’s finger tips tapping accordion cords gently on his wife’s back. You cannot help yourself from having some body part moving or tapping to the Zydeco beat. It is legendary dancing and party music!

D I s

On the way home we passed dozens of flooded rice fields with their first crop being harvested by boats with nets. So many huge juicy crawfish all lying in wait, fattening up before being pulled up, plunged into giant spicy hot boiling tubs and served up with red potatoes, mushrooms and corn to adoring “mud bug” fans across the south. A spicy pinch of heaven. The field’s next crop, already fertilized by the “mud bugs” will be rice.

Flooded fields

Saturday morning we visited Fred’s Lounge, an infamous bar in Mamou known for some of the best Cajun music around, cheap drinks and the ability to start throwing back cold ones early in the morning. The lounge has been hosting its Saturday-morning Cajun music broadcast since 1962 and is live, rowdy and all in French. The plan was to arrive early, suck down a healthy morning beverage, a.k.a. Bloody Mary and spend some time people watching. Several diesel buses outside with engines chugging away, along with cigar and cigarette smoke changed my plans and kept me at a distance but John went in to look around and it was as they say, if you don’t get there by 9 a.m., it’s standing room only.

Fred's Lounge

We were invited to a family crawfish boil by our Tiffin friends to be held at a nearby cousin’s house. The host made a killer jambalaya with the perfect amount of spice and heat. The meat used was his own homemade smoked sausage and pork. His son was busy manning the humongous pot for the crawfish. Bag after bag of crawfish were turned out of the amazing custom crawfish pot that sat in front of their backyard smokehouse.

smokehouse and boiler  dumping the boiler

Home baked goodies closed out the meal with every single bite enjoyed by the group of about 30. Super yummy. Friendly comradery afterwards in a comfortable back yard enclosed kitchen/living room to let it all settle and then back to LilyPad for some outside time for KatieBug before we rest and get ready for our nighttime entertainment adventure.

The parks entertainment for the night was Geno Delafose & French Rockin Boogie at the dance barn. Free entrance for those that were camping here overnight. Beer was only $2.00 and the special was Margarita’s. The two lines of bellies up to the bar never diminished. This was a drinking crowd.

Lakeview Park Music Barn

A jam packed and dimly lit barn waited at the end of the line, those waiting puffing on their cigarettes as fast as humanly possible before entering the no-smoking bar. I had to take out my mask, never fun. The rest of the group had already arrived and saved us chairs. When the musicians were tuned up and started their first set, it was so packed and so loud that I was taken aback at how I could have done this year after year in my 20 and 30 somethings. Near us, after wobbling a few times, a man standing next to a garbage can sprawled out in front of our table and into John’s fast acting arms. Lifting him up quickly, his friends helped steady him against a barn beam.

After only a few songs, our group decided the noise was to overwhelming but I told John I was not leaving without dancing at least once. We squeezed our way onto the dance floor. The music was so loud that my eardrums hurt and I got woozy so we left to enjoy what was left of the night in the quiet solitude of LilyPad’s interior, ears ringing until noon the next day.

Geno Delafose and French Rockin Boogie

We were amazed that throughout the night it was quiet, with no noise from any of the party crowd. It crossed my mind that we might have temporarily lost our hearing from the multiple six foot tall speakers that were blasting sound across the barn’s small dance floor, me being dumb enough to demand a dance only inches away.

Awoke and completed all our household chores before our group of six left for the 29th Annual World’s Championship Crawfish Etouffee Cook-Off. All sorts of crazy mixed among the arts, crafts, home baked goodies and a plethora of Etouffee booths.

All sorts of crazy

We had three cups of Etouffee, then fried Etouffee rice balls, some fig pie, more Etouffee and several ice cold beers while enjoying another less deafening Zydeco band, the Dixie Club Ramblers.

Dixie Club Ramblers

Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse brought the masses of bouncing children to a temporary halt for picture poses being snapped by parents, brightly colored necklaces sporting plastic crawfish dangling from their tiny necks.

Minnie and Mickey

Added to my bucket list is another visit to this festival next year, dragging as many of -our friends and family as possible. Entrance was free, 8oz cup of loaded-with shrimp Etouffee was only $3.00, beer only $2.00 and water/soda only $1.00. The pavilion was covered, had room for lots of chairs and the music was the perfect level. No wonder the state of Louisiana claims the happiest population in the U.S. You can afford to have fun, eat yummy food, dance, party and keep well within budget!

29th ANNUAL WORLD'S CHAMPIONSHIP CRAWFISH ETOUFFEE COOK-OFF crawfish boil

Poking around the historic town area, we came across a small lovely cemetery, Saint Paul, all graves being above ground which is the norm for cemetery plots in Louisiana.

Saint Paul Cemetery

Our campground went from totally deserted weekdays to overflowing on weekends, full of families enjoying the outdoors, lots of kids biking and running, fishing and dashing all over the roads and through campsites. The small lake was surrounded by bar-b-q-ing families, everyone playing music and enjoying the perfect weather. The best part was the real flaming campfires instead of pits of chocking smoke. These Cajuns know how to put heat in their food and build flaming fires! Quiet time is 10:30, strictly enforced and was adhered to all three nights.

Our site was at the end of the row, at the back of the park, near the water and very quiet considering how full the park became on Friday.

Lakeview Lake  Office and pavilion

Monday morning we were off again, Movietown being our overnight. More of a permanent transient housing situation than an RV park. People living in the cabins full time, some with children and only a few places were vacant for short term stays. Clean, quiet, not a destination park but good for an overnight.

Movietown RV

Arrival at McKinny’s RV repair was late in the afternoon so we took an empty space and settled for the night. Early next morning began the sign-ups at the Tiffin Service Center, McKinny’s RV, Bruce’s body shop and HHH Repair.

It started with the explanations of damage and ended with exasperating pleas of “get it fixed correctly this time” for the repeat repairs with Tiffin. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst and take big deep breaths to keep calm…something I didn’t do with the manager. The conversation turned into blood pressure rising frustration when he calmly stated, “we don’t know how you treat this RV so it could be your fault”. The cracking wood on all of the passenger side front slide cupboards and drawers were our fault? Then why did you change the design the very next year to brace up the cupboards? I explained that if it weren’t fixed correctly this time, I would fly back and strangle someone. He said he was going to call security! Hard to imagine how an overweight, gray haired old lady is much of a threat to a full grown man. John poked me several times and I regained my composure.

First stop was for a new front passenger slide topper at McKinny’s who tried to sell us a gray color when ours are cream. Seriously…as if it weren’t bad enough that we live in campgrounds. They ordered the correct color and it should arrive next week.

Next it was off to Bruce’s a few blocks away so he could repair and paint the outside damage from the dumb commercial lawnmower. We packed up a few things to stay in the nearest decent hotel, an hour away in Tupelo, MS, to stay clear of the strong paint odor. We stayed at La Quinta in a nice enough room but the cleaning chemical smell was overpowering so we left to tour the area and hoped the room would air out.

Tupelo is the town where Elvis, the King, was born January 8, 1935 in a small simple house built by his father. First introduced as “The Hillbilly Cat”, then introduced by RCA Victor as “the hottest new name in country music” Elvis songs appeared on the country charts more than 50 times.

Home where Elivs was born

Unless you are a serious Elvis fan, the cost to tour the Museum, chapel and house is a bit steep but to walk the grounds is free. I was interested in seeing the house and the chapel and TripAdvisor pictures of the insides were more than sufficient for me to enjoy the beautiful day. We walked around, read all the in-ground plaques surrounding Elvis’s birth-home and read those posted around the grounds.

In ground plaques Elvis with his first guitar

The chapel, Assembly of God, was also tiny and unadorned. It was said that Elvis enjoyed singing the old African hymns of his childhood, minus, I’m sure, of the gyrating hip action he acquired as he matured.

Assembly of God Church

Near the chapel sat a replica of an old outhouse, one that would have been used by poor Southern families in that time period. The one Elvis’s family used was shared with the patrons of their local church and it was well documented that the Sears Catalogue, not toilet paper, was the wipe of choice.

Outhouse The outhouse plaque

Plaques on the side of the museum gave a description of what it was like growing up poor in the South, written by a childhood friend.

Undercover and on loan from the Tupelo Auto Museum is a 1939 Plymouth, same year and model of the car that Elvis moved with his family from Tupelo to Memphis in 1948.

1939 Plymouth

After taking a few pictures and wandering around, we drove into town and walked through the Tupelo Hardware Company where Elvis got his first guitar for his 11th birthday. His mother Gladys offered him a bike, Elvis asked for a 22 caliber rifle but settled for a guitar at a cost of $7.90.

Tupelo Hardware Company

The store is a step back in time with century old hand made drawers that store screws and drawer handles of porcelain.   Upon entering, the antique glass and wooden cases were filled with assorted hardware items, some left over from decades ago.

Handmade nuts n bolts boxes

We took a leisurely stroll around downtown Tupelo, past the courthouse and noticed guitars were unquestionably a well-used theme in Elvis’s birth town.

Tupelo Courthouse  Elvis Guitar Art

Back to the room, the cleaning fluid odor did not dissipate. Up early next morning, headache firmly settled in my forehead, the horrid squeal of the shower faucet causing me to reconsider another night.  We packed up and will take our chances with the paint smell inside LilyPad for the next few nights.

Picked up LilyPad in the midst of a gusty dust storm swirling round the all-look-alike Tiffin coaches. We pulled up to our space to find someone had parked their car dead center. Between the chemical smell, noisy shower, paint smell, dust and someone parking inconsiderately in our space, I was, for the thousandth time, not a happy camper.

Some described camping in a motorhome as “Glamping”. Those “some” certainly are not living in their recreational vehicle full time. Big storm tonight, the weekend is a total down-time as no one works on weekends. Sunday is Easter. Monday morning we hit the floor running.

February 28th through March 22nd 2015 Texas Independence Day Celebration at Washington on the Brazos State Historical Park, Return to The Woodlands and another “It’s Always Something”

Texas Independence Day Celebration preparation had begun months ago and the final touches were being put in place by our Trustees and all of the staff. The trustees had worked hard and long hours setting up all the fire rings, roping off parking areas, setting out signs, chopping fire wood and delivering it to the proper area. Wrapped up against the wind and cold, they painted the education hall and event hall to house a local Mason’s meeting, windows were covered over to retain the mystic inside from escaping and meeting furniture set to specifics as required. All tasks were completed just days before the celebration.

John was to work at the farm and I was to help in our stocked-full-of-Texas gift shop as extra help.

The gift shop

As it were, the cold drove visitors into the center so I primarily sold hot beverages, keeping things flowing by bagging and refilling the shelves.  It suited me, keeping me happily moving all around greeting the celebration visitors. I was completely spent by the end of the day from all the activity but awoke ready to face the crowds the next day, even with the Texas weather being as uncooperative as possible for such an important celebration.

John helped in several areas on the farm, giving visitors the low down on what life was like in the 1850’s, what part pigs played for survival, the living conditions of Anson Jones’ slaves and his favorite (besides eating the farm cooked meals) was working with the Oxen under the guidance of Bruce, an employee.  Bruce stopped for a drink, 1850’s style, from a farm grown hollowed out gourd.

Bruce taking a water break

The second day was slow so I was able to visit the farm and get a shot of John walking  Slim, a Pineywoods Oxen, out of the farm pasture to the pasture next to LilyPad.

John and Slim down on the farm  Barrington Oxen Team

No rain the first day allowed local musicians to play inside and out.  The Lone Star String Band, a group of professionals, played in the visitors center and down on the farm.

More live music  Lone Star String Band

A giant team of Longhorn Oxen stood by the visitor center entrance and allowed celebrators a photo op.  They stood patiently for hours while people milled around them.

Team of Oxen

Several noted local authors came to sign their books; Sharon with The Burning of Brenham,

The Burning of Brenham, by Sharon

Garlyn with The Donkey Boy, Father Forgive Them and The Rachel Plummer Story

The Donkey Boy, Father Forgive Them, The Rachel Plummer Story, by Garlyn

and Laurie with Magnificent Sam.

Magnificent Sam, by Laurie

Our local bee keeper, Lorelei, brought displays,

Beekeeper, Lorelei

Paula the laundress and Happi the soap maker gave demonstrations,

Laundress demonstration, by Paula Soapmaking, by Happi

our neighbor and fellow volunteer Richard was a period interpreter and was showing off his mug made from real horn,

Richard, our volunteer neighbor

and a whole group of Interpreters shared stories of 1850’s adventures while throwing back a cold one (soda) at the Inn.

Reenactors Relaxing in the tavern

The second day had fewer visitors so John and I were able to take a break and walk the area, visiting some of the farm demonstrators.  Dave the blacksmith was an entertaining fellow with impressive forging skills.  Using period style tools, he fashioned dozens of cooking and hardware items, then used a copper rod to demonstrate the making of a tiny masterpiece.

Dave the Blacksmith  Dave heating the metal Dave with copper rod

The resulting awesomely beautiful copper leaf was presented to me to hang in LilyPad.

My Copper Leaf

In the Barrington Farmhouse, Betty was demonstrating tatting.

Tatting demonstration, by Betty

We wandered to the side field where the Texas Army was headquartered, complete with period tents, furnishings and all participants in period dress.

TX Army Camp Reenactors  TX Army Camp

The camp even had its own blacksmith for repairing wagons and making tools.

Cooking dinner at the camp

Along with their two canon’s which were fired off during the celebration, the group was living as they had back in the late 1800’s. Although they were scheduled to stay the weekend, the chilly soggy weather chased them all back to their “real world” homes.

Texas Army Artillery

An enjoyable celebration even with the never ending dampness that stayed both days.

The event marked the highlight of the preceding three months volunteering. Best part of the experience was the absolutely amazing staff…friendly and helpful…loved being in their company.

Packed up and ready to move on to our “home base”, we said our good-byes and departed, the drive being a few easy hours on smooth roads all the way to Rayford Crossing RV Resort. Home again, home again jiggety-jig.

Rayford Crossing RV Resort

Time to enjoy family and friends, revisit doctors, stock up on supplies and plan our next roadway direction. Our objective, to visit as many family and friends along our route as possible before reaching Massachusetts.

This time our “It’s Always Something” wasn’t even our fault but we are still stuck with part of the cost. Unless we find the exact mower that hit us and they admit to the accident, we will end up paying the $500.00 deductible for which we hadn’t planned. I argued that it would be covered for a car hit-and-run, but they came back with “a motorhome isn’t considered a car”. It would be covered if a vehicle hit a “sticks and bricks” house but they stated “because it is mobile, it is not considered a house”. Tried every conceivable scenario but all my arguments were lost causes. Ah, the joys of paying all that money to insurance companies just in case something happens, then having something happen and finding out you are not totally covered.

46 and one half inches high

Soon we leave the comfort of our familiar surroundings for the first leg of our trip. The music in my head starts softly a few days before our departure, picking up Willie’s smooth crooning words, On The Road Again.  When we leave Friday morning, the song will be pumped up so loud, the windows will vibrate as our wheels creep away from our site.  New England, here we come!

February 20th through February 27th, 2015 Johns Birthday, St. Francis Wolf Sanctuary

The beginning of our third year has brought many insightful realizations to our current way of life. Not surprisingly, I found that 30 days of minimal human contact other than John is my maximum. Spending countless evening hours alone on 300 acres is an overkill of solitude and the fantasy of living among wild things creeping around at night is not as attractive as I had once believed.

As our volunteer stretch draws to an end here at Washington on the Brazos, we begin the arduous task of planning the trip details for our next season of life in our rolling box. Thankfully we are already past the difficult undertaking of applying for, and entering into a contract with, the Federal Government, the Army Corps of Engineers. Our job will be working for Buffumville Dam in Massachusetts and has been finally granted us, paperwork signed, sealed and delivered. We are excited about meeting Ranger Jamie, our new head honcho. If our entertaining conversations with her on the phone are any indication of her personality, we are going to get along wonderfully and a good time will be had by all. Three other couples will be working and living near us for our five month job beginning the 15th of May and ending the 15th of September. We will be allowed to spend an extra week before our tour of duty and an extra week after for no cost. Nice perk!

John’s 68th birthday was celebrated with our daughter driving out to visit us “down on the farm” and a first for John, a trip to Brenham’s awesome creamery, Blue Bell Ice Cream. Decades ago I had taken both kids when on a Girl Scout outing and then again when I was home schooling. John never was able to tag along.

John's birthday at Blue Bell

The tour is now six dollars per person, up from “free” a few decades ago but at the end, instead of a small sample, you get an enormous scoop of one of their 13 flavors. If you can’t decide, ask for a taste of several and you’ll get nice rounded sample spoonful. If you have room for a second scoop it’s only one dollar.

We were very impressed with this little creamery, starting out with one small delivery truck and now standing alongside the big boys, Dryers and Breyers and keeping up with them nicely in sales. Many of the employees that began decades ago have generations of family members that continue to work for Blue Bell.  The day was so dreary and overcast that I took a few pictures from the internet to post.  Below is their first delivery truck.

Blue Bell ice cream factory visitor center

Nikki, our tour guide, was fun and full of interesting facts. She also inserted just enough cheesy dairy jokes to keep us moaning once her words were understood by us all.  Picture of the cow and milkmaid are from the internet.  My pictures had dozens of little kids posing for their parents with not much of the cow or maid showing.

Blue Bell statue

The company is still run by the decedents of those responsible for its rise, beginning in 1907 and continuing on today. Closed on weekends so families can be together, all shifts are home by 8pm. Each of the line positions are rotated every 40 minutes to keep spirits high and the break room is stocked with a freezer full of their awesome blue bell ice cream, as much as wanted for free! No pictures of the employees area are allowed but we received smiles, waves, dances and were shown the contents of what was being poured into vats at each viewing through the tour windows.

Next morning we met up at Cozy Grape Wine Bar and Bistro in Montgomery, Texas for what we hoped was an upscale dining experience before visiting Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary. This small eatery did not disappoint. Local art décor, comfortable seating and wonderfully eclectic offerings like a combo eggs benedict of green eggs and ham, the green being pesto, alongside a crab cake benedict.

Cozy Grape Wine Bar and Bistro

On our way to the Wolf sanctuary, the weather cooled and misted over. We passed a Trail Ride gathering of wagons, horses and cowboys ready to continue their journey through to the Houston Rodeo in spite of the dampness.

Trail Riders

Once we arrived at the Wolf Sanctuary, two barking part Shepard dogs dashed to the fence, taking turns assessing our every move as we opened the gate. Our entrance was adjacent to their guarded territory or we would have been shown their sharp canine protective characteristics along with a few wolf fangs.

The warning

The whole area was covered with warning signs, most advising visitors that poking fingers through the fence would be considered a meat treat offering by the four legged guards.

Wolf Sanctuary

Inside we were met by our tour guide, a young man who had a past working with wild animals in zoos and private facilities across the United States. The wolf side quietly observed our movements but as we looked down the row progressing to the pure dog side, the restless pacing and activity turned hyper. Feeding time began with a wagon rolling out a feast of raw meat to fill stainless steel bowls, all secured to metal wire so the wolves would not grab them and run off.

Wolf feeding time

The wolf pack activity reached a frenzied state with yips and aggressive nipping at those on the bottom of the pecking order. Dinner was carefully slid through the narrow opening in the fence keeping fingers clear of the sharp fangs and took mere minutes to devour.  Next came the clean-up of waste, another carefully choreographed plan using two caregivers, one keeping a watchful eye on the moves of each of the caged occupants while the other picked up.

Partial Wolf side of kennel

After wolfing down dinner, our guide told the tale of how these wild animals came to the sanctuary, some from various now defunct refuges, some from private homes and others by accident. The “by accident” happened when animal control incorrectly labeled dogs that looked like wolves. In Texas it is illegal to own a wolf unless one has the proper sanctions and licenses. Those said to be part wolf by owners are sent to the sanctuary, their fate sealed, spending the rest of their life in a sanctuary as the cost to decipher their lineage is not affordable for the sanctuary.

Tala and Remus  Liam, Wolf

We were able to meet two of the full timers, Tala and Tracker, Tala being the ambassador for the sanctuary, Tracker being “in training”. Tala sniffed us on the first go round, then we were allowed to pet her gently. Note her wolf attribute, paws placed one directly in front of the other when walking.

Tala half wolf  John and Tala

Tracker was much friendlier, stopping to lick several of the visitors and paused for several moments to groom John’s beard and verbalize how much he was enjoying the task.  Sadly the camera refused to focus on John as he was seated next to me and we were told not to rise from our seats during the experience.  A picture of the look on John’s face during the cleaning would have been priceless.  Astonishment is an understatement.  Tracker

After the tour, a walk back to the car in the damp air and soggy grass, a quick stop at WalMart for groceries and to watch the giant masses of birds swarm all over the cars,

The Birds at Walmart

warming up with the heater turned up full blast and arriving at the farm in time to view our backyard sunset. All was quiet except for Chrissie growling at our back window and the sound of our pack of yipping coyotes roaming around the park.  Howling would begin as soon as the sun set and continue on after darkness took over the park.

Sunset in our backyard

January 26th through February 19th 2015 Washington on the Brazos and Burton Cotton Gin

This past month our adventures have been seriously curtailed. Volunteering twice a week, hastily up and back for visits to family in Conroe in-between performing necessary daily chores and fixing the inevitable “It’s Always Something” that breaks around LilyPad on our days off. It is amazing how many things pop up to keep one from venturing outside the immediate Navasota area. We squeezed in just enough detours in the “same old, same old” mix to keep ourselves, what some might consider, sane.

Weather, warm or cold, rain or shine, has not kept groups and families from coming out to visit Washington on the Brazos State Historical Park and all this beautiful 300 acres has to offer. Living in the parking lot avails us the view of visitors going to and fro across the front of LilyPads nose. The influx of people cause Chrissie to growl more often at our back window and this morning she broke out into a donkey braying hee-haw sound after growling didn’t produce the anticipated results. Not one to give up, she is still as determined to get to the other field as the rangers are to keep her out.

Dinner out tonight at our favorite hole in the wall Mexican eatery, Eric’s in Navasota. Returning to Washington on the Brazos and exiting the car to close the gate behind us, realized that it had been badly damaged on one side and was unable to shut properly. Looking as though someone had snagged it and pulled the main bar of the gate out, bowing it substantially. I was concerned as that was not its condition when we closed up the previous night. This is a steel gate and would be difficult to damage by accident.

Our front gate

We slowly and carefully drove through the park with high beams and our 300 lumen flashlight, checking each and every corner of the park. We are alone again, one volunteer couple gone, unable to complete their season due to a family emergency and the other gone for the week to take care of personal business. Uncomfortable feeling, especially when there has been a rash of robberies in our neighborhood, surprising considering the town of Washington is a one blink town. As sunset passed into night, I slept uneasily with one eye open.

Sunset Disappearing

Next night, after escorting a family out of the park after dark, I stayed awake catching up on Facebook family happenings and emails. John was snoring. Sound on the computer was off. 7 knocks, spaced a few seconds apart, on the outside of the rig, starting from the back and working their way to the front. I walked to the front and listened, hearing muffled sounds. Hairs on the back of my neck prickled and I made a dash to the back to wake John. Explained the situation, he said “call 911 and get the bear spray”. We turned on the outside lights and moved our spot light around in front. Not a soul in sight at the front of the rig. All noises stopped as we stood still in our PJ’s waiting for the sheriff to arrive. To our relief, two pulled up with bright headlights and spot lights surveying the area. They checked around the outside and, for the very first time in our years of travel, told us we would be wise to get a gun. Another uncomfortable feeling. Never found out what made the noise although they found three neighboring escaped horses wandering around the farm. Not unless those horses sprouted knuckles did I believe they were the cause of the knocks on the outside of our rig.

Next morning I considered what other protection might make an agreeable alternative. Looking up bear spray, I realized that if I shot it off inside LilyPad I would not only shock the aggressor, but it would completely shut down my lungs! The spray is absolutely not to be used indoors and I imagine spraying inside our box on wheels would compound the negative effects. Hmmm, don’t want a gun, can’t use bear spray…maybe I’ll look into Tasers.

After several consecutive days of rain and cold weather and the possibility of a sunny day in the near future, we planned a road trip to Burton TX, home of the oldest working cotton gin in the country, very much hoping to coincide our visit with a warm sunny day.

Arriving in Burton, another tiny “don’t blink” town just past Brenham, we arrived at the Gin just in time to see a Burton antique car collector pulling into the parking lot to avail her car to a local political hopeful for a photo op.

TX Cotton Gin Museum

Starting with a wander through the museum, the tour is approximately 1-1/2 hours long and very entertaining.

Cotton Gin Museum  Family of cotton pickers

The tour was led by a volunteer who’s family owned cotton fields that used the gin so his experiences with the gin and growing cotton were first hand. In 1914 this two story corrugated metal-clad building was constructed without blueprints by German descendent farmers.

The Cotton Gin  Cotton wagon

Wagons were pulled up to the “sucker” and the cotton was sucked up into the gin.  Tractors were used by the gin after the team was unhooked.

The Sucker  The gin's tractor

This cotton gin is the earliest known survivor of an integrated cotton ginning system that was used to process cotton, from wagon to bail, in continuous operation. The capacity was 7 bales per hour. The bails, by law, had to be a certain size but no certain weight. The goal was to have the bails weigh in at 500 pounds or more or the buyers paid less per bail.

The gin’s machinery was steam powered until 1925 when an oil engine was installed. This 125 HP Bessemer Oil Engine, which ran continuously from 1925 until 1974, still runs once a year to bail local cotton for the Burton Cotton Festival. The gin became a Texas historical landmark in 1988.

Bessemer Oil Engine

Over 60 years of operations, the Burton Farmers Gin maintained an excellent safety record, never having a serious accident with much credit for this fact given to the excellent group of managers.

The battery stands for the gin are known as the “Five-Eighty” meaning there are five Lummus Gin Stands with eighty blades each. The blades are responsible for pulling the cotton lint from the seeds and blowing it on down the line to be bailed.

Battery Stands   Battery Stand and Blade

The bailing turntable had two presses mounted on it allowing one bail to be strapped and pushed out while another was being pressed, tagged and sent out of the gin.  Cotton Bale Press   Rotation Wheel on the press   Cotton bale

Pressed, tagged, banded, weighed and pushed down the ramp, the cotton was either taken away by the owner, stored at the gin warehouse for sale or purchased by a buyer direct from the gin.

The metal tags were an important and necessary part of the ginning process.  From this tag, a buyer could tell where the cotton was grown, which farmer grew the cotton and what crop he was buying.  If he liked the cotton, he looked for this tag at sales.  If he wanted to stay clear, the tag would give him all the information he needed.

Bale tags

The remaining “trash” was blown into a holding container.  If the owner wanted it back, he could pull his wagon up under, dump the contents into the wagon and be on his way, all within a few minutes from the time he pulled up to the cotton sucker.

When the gin first operated, the trash was given back to the farmer to plow into their fields or to use as feed for his cattle. Later, when seed pressing became available, the seeds were sold for oil and the farmers took in a few extra cents for their wagon load.

Cotton trash collector  Cotton Trash

After the tour we saw a movie showing the Burton gin in action and the tour guide gave us a mini gin demonstration, complete with offering ginned seeds for planting and instructions on how to grow cotton.

On our way out, John tried on a cotton picking bag.  The bags held 200-250 pounds of cotton and were dragged through the fields until they were full before dumping them into the wagons.  Another way of life I would not have enjoyed.

John with a cotton picking sack

Our trip back was uneventful save for the awesome sun setting in the distance as we drove the rolling ribbons of asphalt back to the Farm.

Rolling hills road to the farm

January 15th through January 25th 2015, Life at Washington on the Brazos

Started the week off with the  sound of squishy four-legged mucking just shy of the back of our rig, waking our household. It signaled the movement of our Pineywoods cattle crossing from the left pasture to the far right pasture encouraged by our resident town of Washington “Trustees”, aka prisoners who work outside the prison. They had arrived early to do some fixin’ down on the farm.

I am surprised that the state and federal parks where we have volunteered previously have not taken advantage of local soon-to-be-released prisoners to help with the workload. It is a shame, as from what I have seen, they are polite, hard workers, friendly, willing to do whatever is asked of them and they have a guard supervising them at all times.

It is Saturday, our volunteer day and John’s favorite day.  Kelly is in the farm kitchen preparing a yummy chicken stew for the volunteers and staff at Barrington just as Anson Jones wife would have done using the farms poultry and fresh picked veggies and herbs back in the 1850’s.

Kelly cooking lunch

I completely missed our big event this week, photographing the butchering/grinding/salting of the meat of Barrington’s hog.  John was down-on-the-farm in period dress helping while I volunteered in the Visitor Center during the event. No present day items are allowed while volunteering at Barrington so John was unable to get photos but Ginger, one of our rangers, took pictures.

BEFORE YOU VIEW THESE PICTURES, PLEASE NOTE…YOU WILL SEE PICTURES OF A SLAUGHTERED HOG.  BACON, PORK LOIN AND PORK CHOPS COME FROM A DEAD BUTCHERED HOG, JUST AS IT DID BACK IN THE 1850’S.

In keeping with the spirit of authenticity of an 1850’s farm, the hog was killed and brought to the butchering table at the farm.  The public is invited to watch the entire two day procedure.  The process begins with a dip in the boiling pot to scald and help remove the hair.

Scalding pig

The skin is then scraped to remove as much hair as possible.

Removing the hair

Next the hog is hung by the back hock tendons,

Ready for hanging

gutted and beheaded.  The beheading is somewhat gross so I left out the picture of the bloody hog head and entrails in the wheel barrel.

Removing entrails

After being cut up and brined in salt for several weeks, the pieces are put in the smokehouse and smoked for a month.

smokehouse at Barrington

And that, my friends, is how this little piggy goes from a farm animal, to that salty crispy flavorful breakfast food known as bacon.

After two years of living in a box on wheels, loud odd noises become the norm and you attempt to ignore all but the strangest. Early this morning erupted a sound so obviously something gone amiss, not quite the sound of struggling mechanical workings of LilyPad’s many systems, that I grabbed my camera and rushed outside in my PJ’s and slippers. Chrissie, a Texas Longhorn and the only bovine with which I have become familiar, was loudly proclaiming her displeasure two feet from our bedroom window. Deep throated boisterous growling, the closest description of the sound, was stubbornly being displayed. Apparently annoyed that the adjoining pasture was blocked just shy of the back of our rig, she became an opinionated heifer, not willing to overlook infractions of her wishes without comment .

Chrissy expressing her opinion

Special treat this morning.  Ruth, an archeologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife, gave a presentation to all the park employees, volunteers and trustees.  The informational program and subsequent dig was to document any mixed matrix that might be found in the holes to be dug for the sign marking the demonstration kitchen building. The demonstration kitchen was built in the 1950’s to exhibit 1850’s wood fire cooking and Ruth had already determined that the site was most likely compromised.

WOB Demonstration kitchen Excavation site

With the help of our trustees, Ruth carefully dug down 4 inches, deposited the dirt onto the screen, trustees gave each shovelful sturdy shakes until only hard objects remained. The resulting objects were inspected, noted on paper, then deposited into plastic bags for microscopic inspection at a later date.

30 centimeter square Ruth describing the process

Each four inch deep, thirty centimeters square shovel test of screened excavated dirt revealed several pieces of Native American Indian pottery, brick chunks and “flakes” a.k.a. chips from arrowhead construction.

Trustee helping screen Trustee showing finds Pottery piece and brick

Although the dig was halted due to an obstruction, a 1950’s water pipe buried when the kitchen was built, several interesting pieces of history were presented to the group for inspection including a flake of obsidian.

Lots of finds

Our trustees crew work here at the farm on a regular schedule.  We had breakfast with them a while back and because they aren’t given sweets often, I watched them pile their plates with sweets after the meal.  Seeing how much they enjoyed the sweets, I sent two good sized bags filled with goodies over to the shed from which they work, happy to see them enjoying the goodies after all their hard work here at Washington on the Brazos.   For a full two weeks afterwards, I have gotten heartfelt thanks each time I pass them by. Yes, the incarcerations include murder but John and I are with them frequently, talk with them several times a week and have not once felt threatened in their midst. I’ve had lengthy employment positions subjecting me to circumstances far more frightening than volunteering near guarded, soon-to-be-released, criminals.

Another day, another addition to “it’s always something”. A rip and fray of our largest slide out cover will be replaced at Red Bay Alabama later this year, our five solar panels have been increasingly problematic and several nights of wicked winter wind here in Washington snapped and splintered our US and Texas flag pole attached to the back of our rig.  Our dark and deserted-after-six-pm farm is the perfect venue to perform scream therapy and release pent up frustrations into the night air.

Tonight we will escape the solitude of the farm and visit one of our favorite groups, Yelba Latin Fire Band.  Conveniently playing at Bernhardt Winery, John bought tickets for dinner and we bought a bottle of their reserve red wine for the two hours of shimmy shaking Latin music with songs from around the globe.  The band played samba, merengue, cha-cha-cha, tango and a hand clapping, foot tapping assortment of other Latin songs which were enjoyed by the movers and shakers on the dance floor as well as the audience.  This corporate ladder climber turned Latino songbird has showmanship down to a science and encouraged dancing in the isles, an offer taken up by several couples, growing into the majority after dinner.  Amazing music, relaxing fun night.

Yelba Latin Fire Band

I am not sure why this state park is so well staffed during the day and is availed to so many perks not seen in other state parks but John and I are completely enjoying the friendly staff and workers here at Washington on the Brazos. This is by far the most welcoming group of staff with which we have worked since the beginning of our rolling travels.

Traveled to Livingston, TX today and became a Texan once again. Thanks to the new health care laws, I must be a Texan or give up my mindfully fashioned association with the doctors I have enjoyed and trusted for over three decades. I have no intention of driving to South Dakota every time I need medical advice or procedures. Until I am 65, I will put up with the involuntary outrageous monthly charge for major medical. In this instance only, it sucks to be young.

We ended this week by returning to Chapel Hill to stroll through the town and check out the shops.  What appealed to me most was the amazingly ornate 1880’s iron gates attached to two of the buildings.  The eclectic gift shops were fun to explore and the day ended with a relaxing drive back to the farm.

Iron gate in Chappel Hill  Iron gate

December 16th through January 15th, 2015 Fanthrop Inn, Anderson TX, Exploring the Towns of Washington and Navasota

This being the launch of our third year of rolling down the road, weighing this life against “what was”, most days, “what was” wins. That also has a direct correlation to the frequency of my posts. Not in any way wanting to give the impression that this life is one big happy trek through the US, most days are spent just as before, taking care of whatever it is that needs to be addressed on our never ending list.

It has been unseasonably cold here in Washington, Texas. Having only 30 amp increases inconveniences and they have become the proverbial pebble in my shoe. Each 20 degree night is aggravatingly harder with which to deal. We have set up another heating system, one from a you-tube video. Primitive, but it does help.

flower pot radiant heater

Snarkyness has regularly slipped into my vocabulary, so much so that I have purchased a t-shirt that proclaims my ever increasing sentiments.

Sarcasm

Our “it’s always something” is multiplying to the point of financial inconvenience and far above reasonable with each incident. The reprieve of exciting new adventures has slowed to a snail’s pace now that we are volunteering in one place and I am ready to pack up and move into the first thing I see without wheels. Some days this life grows gigantic razor sharp fangs and I can feel them fast approaching my behind.  A sense of humor is mandatory for full-timing existence and often difficult to grasp.

Searching for a hole-in-the-wall diner led us to Filling Station Diner for breakfast. Flies greeted us at the door and stayed to join us for breakfast. Ignoring the lumpy seats we greeted the waitress with smiles and asked for coffee and a pot of hot water. My hot water pot came in the form of a large old plastic water glass, no coffee cup, no coffee for John. The young lady asked for our order, hubby said eggs over easy, pork chop medium and a biscuit. She repeated it back and then asked how he wanted his eggs, if he wanted toast or biscuit and if he wanted grits or potatoes. We smiled and John repeated his order again requesting coffee. When the coffee finally came, it stayed empty more than full. Our waitress came back asking if we needed anything, each time without bringing the pot! Food was just OK and prices were way high for what was served. Nothing here screamed “Y’all come back, ya hear?” Weeks later, we are still in search of a yummy local diner.

Diner

Fanthrop Inn was our exploration destination for today. The Inn is in Anderson TX, 17 miles away from Washington on the Brazos but still a part of Washington on the Brazos State Park. It is a relaxing drive through the fields of cattle country.

Downtown Anderson is one street long and familiar to John and I as we had both volunteered for a Woodlands Bike Club race in the area decades ago, me as corner marshal and John as a sweep car.

Anderson was once the fourth largest city in Texas with cotton and lumber being the draw. The court house stands mid road, streets running along each side for nearly a city block.

Anderson County Building

A few of the buildings are a century old with horse rein iron rings embedded into the cement walks out front. Only a few businesses remain, the Sunshine Seniors Center, a few Antique/Junque shops, a hardware store, the old hotel turned antique shop and unknown transitional businesses with newspaper covering up the windows.

Anderson Hotel turned Antique shop

The Inn is on a quiet dead end street at the other end of town. In its hay-day, the well-traveled La Bahia road abutted its frontal property.

Fanthrop Inn

The house was built in 1834 as part of a marriage condition set by Rachel, his prospective wife, to be completed before their marriage. It grew into an Inn when the couple were constantly having stage coaches stop to ask for shelter after the long jarring ride over the La Bahia road that fronted their home. It didn’t take long for Henry to realize that an Inn would bring in a nice profit.

Tom, the volunteer interpreter at the Inn, is a fascinating story teller who captures your attention with his Texas drawl and his ability to design each of his talks to interest both adults and children, availing a few hands-on tasks for the younger visitors.

As you step up to the breezeway, you disappear into the 1840’s and each area appears as if the patrons had momentarily stepped from the room. The house was built in dog-trot style as was popular during the 19th and early 20th centuries with the men’s card room, dining room and Henry and Rachel’s room on the first floor. Second floor contained the men’s multiple bed quarters, private rooms and private rooms for women with children.

Tom begins the tour with the Men’s Card Room. Poker playing cards are fanned out beside whiskey glasses and hunks of twisted tobacco lay out on table tops. Carpet bags propped haphazardly against walls waiting for their owners to trudge them up stairs for the night.

The Gentlemen's room

Henry and Rachel’s spacious bedroom is across the breezeway with Henry’s office attached to one end.

Henry and Rachel's room  Henry's office

Upstairs is the men’s sleeping room with the capacity of sleeping a half dozen men.  Often several slept together in one bed,

Mens multi sleeping room  Men's sleeping room

and down the hall, private rooms and women with children rooms.

Private room  Female Family Room

Only the cistern occupied the back area as the kitchen had caught fire and had not been rebuilt.

Water Cistern

Kitchens were built away from the house to keep heat out and those built with mud and timber chimneys often repeatedly burnt to the ground.

A long wide dining hall, the largest first floor room in the house, ran the length of the rooms above. Punkah fans attached to ropes were pulled by slaves to keep the flies off the food and cool the room. A huge pantry was at the back of the dining room.

Dining Hall Dining hall pantry

The original corn crib, which Henry had used to make his fortune, still stands out back. Henry was a business man and originally made his money buying the extra corn from local farmers, storing it in his corn crib until winter and selling it back at a profit after they ran short.

Corn Crib

Out front is the carriage house complete with a reproduction of a period stage coach. Pecan and Black Walnut trees shade the picnic tables just outside the carriage house.

Black Walnut and pecan

Tom gives us a demonstration of the period whip used to move the team that pull the coach. He invites us into the carriage and calls out to his team, rocking the coach as if we are on the move.

Fanthrop Inn Coach House Stage Coach

Available on Saturdays and Sundays, the tour made our top 10 “best” list.

After our tour, we walked the town streets and stopped at a log house built by slaves of an Immigrant. The Steinhagen Log House, built before 1860 was hand-hewed by slaves from local timber. The stone, doors and window shutters were all hand-hewed by slaves, the log walls are un-spliced. It became a Texas Historic Landmark in 1965 but little else is known about its inhabitants or its history.

Steinhagen Log House

Back at LilyPad the cold has seeped inside causing us to pull out more blankets and readjust use of anything electrical. Our generator is getting a work-out due to the less than adequate 30 amp connection. We will never, ever again, stay in a place where our site does not have 50 amp.

As the sun goes down, we pass the corner diner, R Place, to check it out for a possible future hang-out.  It is just outside the park gate and the owner is a friendly guy, our age bracket, offering beer, wine, ice cream, lunch and Prix Fixe dinners on the weekends.  We are welcomed in, chat for two beers and a handful of self cracked pecans, joining in on the conversation about turning the back acreage, that abuts the park, into a motorhome park.  As the night sneaks up and envelopes the setting sun, we head home, locking the gate and roping off Barrington’s entrance.  Both of us prepare for another night down on the farm.

R Place