Boom Boom Boom Boom! Mobile, Alabama. February, 2020

The Battleship USS Alabama, (BB-60) was one of four 1930s South Dakota class battleships. They were shorter than later battle ships to comply with existing treaties regarding displacement but were equipped with three main turrets with three 16″ guns each. The smaller ships with larger crews were crowded.

The Alabama construction was begun in 1940, launched in early 1942, commissioned in late 1942 and served in the Atlantic protecting convoys to the Soviet Union until it was sent to the Pacific in 1943 where it was primarily used in aircraft carrier task force support but also participated in several of the major battles in the Pacific.

It was decommissioned in 1947 to the Pacific Reserve Fleet until 1962 when she was stricken from the Navel Register.

In 1964 it became a Museum ship at Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile Bay. The Memorial Park also has a collection of aircraft, tanks and the SS-Drum, a submarine from the WWII era.

There are three tour routes through the battleship. One goes way down deep where the boilers and steam turbines drive four huge propellors with more than 130,000 HP at speeds up to 27.5 knots (33 mph). That is pretty fast for a ship that weights more than 46,000 tons. Lots of ladders up and down.

The deep down tour took you to where the ammunition was stored and the bottom of elevators that carried powder bags and shells up to the 16″ guns and to the 5″ guns.

There were also the fire control stations where there were giant gyroscopes that provided a stable platform for the mostly mechanical computers that churned out the when and where to fire the big guns to shoot and hit something 20 miles away while both the Alabama and the target were moving forward and up and down and side to side in the open sea.

Another route leads more through the middle of the ship where most of the crew quarters and all of the support services were. These included berthing areas, messing areas, machine shops, damage control, sick bay, ships store, the barber shop and everything else the 2,500 officers and crew needed.

Lots of big cooking stuff for 2500 eaters.

There were three distinct classes on the ship, enlisted men, non-commissioned officers and Officers. They all had their own service staff, dining areas, ward rooms and quarters. It looked like it would have not been much fun being an ordinary seaman. Some had real berths. Most slept in hammocks hung from hooks when in use and stowed away at other times.

The last route was up many levels from the main deck of the ship to the upper levels where the bridge and combat control center are and levels above that for lookouts.

The battle bridge section where the Captain would have been during combat was enclosed in 16″ thick armor. The door looked like a small but thick bank vault door. All of the movies I remember seeing never looked like that.

From the very point of the bow it looks narrow and menacing. When we drove up to the Memorial Park we though it looked smaller than we expected. But it was not.

The three main gun turrets with three 16″ guns each were immense and the structure under what you can see went all the way to the bottom of the ship. All of the powder bags and shells were stored inside the heavily armored core of the gun turret tower. It appeared that the entire turret tower rotated as the guns turned to aim.

The front armor face of the turrets had 18″ thick armor. I found it interesting that these giant plates were jointed together with joints that looked like woodworking joints for strength.

It was a very big ship. It still would have been a terrifying place to be in a sea battle.

There was a lunch place on site where we had a quick lunch before moving to the hanger building and the USS Drum submarine exhibit.

Lots of familiar airplanes in the hanger.

And right next door, well outside, was the USS Drum (SS-228). 311 ft long, 27 ft wide, 13,000 mile range, 83 officers and crew. All on 13 75 day patrols during the 4 1/2 years it was in service from 1941 to 1946.

The tour started near aft end, down into the sub and moved forward. Susan waited outside.

We toured a submarine in San Francisco. There were alot of people on that tour and the sub really felt crowded, probably like it would have been in actual service.

The USS Drum was empty except for me and a couple volunteer folks doing some restoration work, a never ending job.

The sub had four huge Fairbanks Morse diesel engines that powered generators to charge batteries and drive electric motors to turn the propellors. The forward and aft engine rooms were the biggest spaces in the sub.

Almost as big were the forward and aft torpedo rooms. There were 10 total loaded torpedo tubes and 14 spare torpedos for reloads. 24 total.

Every other space for every function was small and crowded, most had multiple functions. Knobs, dials, pipes, valves were everywhere. Lots of training for the crew to know what everything does.

We have a young friend in the US Navy Submarine service today. He said the submarine school was the hardest school he ever went to. He said one of the hard parts was that everyone needed to know how to do almost every job.

I crawled out of the small sub space back into the sun. We had enough of climbing up and down ladders in tight spaces. Coming back would be worth it for a closer look. Maybe next time.

More Later, Much Love,

Roger and Susan

Bellingrath Gardens and Home, Theodore, Alabama, February 2020.

We look for places like the Bellingrath Gardens and Home to visit. The 65 acres of the Bellingrath Gardens was a very pleasant place to visit on a day that was cool but sunny. We also toured the Bellingrath Home.

Where does something like these gardens and a fine home come from? Well money helps and Walter Bellingrath did pretty well as one of the first distributors for Coca Cola when it was available in soda fountains and then as a major bottler of Coke when it became available in bottles. He and his wife Bessie lived in Mobile and bought a former fish camp south of Mobile on the western side of Mobile Bay and began to develop a summer home. Bessie brought a taste for elegance both in the new home and in the garden spaces. Walter was a bit of a scrounger.

The 15 room, 10,500 sq ft Bellingrath Home was built in 1936 with bricks salvaged from an 1852 home of Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont. The extensive ironwork railings came from the Souther Hotel in Mobile which was being torn down at the time. The flagstone walkways, courtyard and terraces came from sidewalks in Mobile that were made from cast off ship ballast that came from England during the height of the cotton trade. Mr Bellingrath wanted the stone, Memphis wanted paved sidewalks so a swap was arranged. Much of the structure is concrete for durability in the Southern climate. Bellingrath also owned a decorative concrete tile company so his tiles were used in many areas of the home.

They wanted the most modern home possible so they installed electric fixtures and wiring in anticipation of electricity someday coming to the remote area and a large generator to supply power until 1940.

Ultra modern bathrooms (at least for 1935) were installed. The pale green, peach and cream colors look more like something from the 50’s.

The kitchen had German silver countertops, electric and gas stoves and ovens and electric refrigerators and freezers. It reminded us of the kitchen at the LBJ Ranch House we visited a couple years ago but there was no beer on tap.

Today the home is just as it was when the Bellingraths lived there. They were the only people to have ever lived there. All of the furnishings are original. Bessie was a scrounger in her own right and shopped at the “garage” sales of the day and managed to find sets of silver for her butlers pantry, dishes from all over the world and a very nice Tiffany Lamp for just dollars at the time. Today it is worth tens of thousands of dollars.

The front door.

The Formal Dining Room

The Casual Dining Room. There was a third dining room as well.

Your basic Bed Rooms

And Kitchen

The Butler’s Pantry

In 1932, before the house was built, the Bellingraths opened their gardens to the public for a Sunday afternoon to see the spring flowers. More than 4,700 people showed up creating huge traffic jams. By 1934 the gardens were open to the public year round.

Bessie passed away in 1943. In 1949 at age 80 Walter Bellingrath announced the formation of a foundation to oversee the home and gardens. Walter died in 1955 and the home was opened to the public in 1956.

The Bellingrath Gardens are a beautiful mix of open spaces, small focus areas, ponds, quiet sitting places and intertwining paths. They lead past a green house and a hot house through the Rose Gardens, past the Asian Gardens, along side the Great Lawn and the Live Oak Plaza up to the house and down to the River Pavillion. We were about two weeks ahead of full bloom and still they were wonderful.

The Rose Gardens past the bridge.

A quiet spot overlooking Mirror Lake.

Looking down toward the Fowl River.

A terrace and a river side pavilion and boat landing.

We had a nice lunch there as well and as is almost always the case there is a Gift Shop. I found some nice cards and we both spotted something that we would normally never get but it was just so perfect.

A perfect bunny made of dyed fibers complete with carrots.

And a little back pack with more. She is sitting on the dash next to our traveling turtles and dragonfly on a rock.

All this was possible because we took the ferry across Mobile Bay from Fort Morgan to Dauphin Island and then the causeway to the west side of Mobile Bay. Schedules were tight so we didn’t get to spend much time on Dauphin Island.

It was windy with lots of waves.

And a salt water car wash.

Susan and I were on Dauphin Island in 1977. We had a week in the middle of the winter. We headed for Big Bend National Park, the weather was terrible. So we went East to the Great Smokies, it was snowing. So we went south and ended up on Dauphin Island for a day and a half, got sunburned and headed home. That was our first RV trip.

More Later, Much Love,

Roger and Susan

Fort Pickens, Gulf Islands National Seashore, February, 2020

We wanted to go see the Naval Air Museum at the Naval Air Station, Pensacola and the light house there as well. Our friends Bill and Jan Velting from Michigan were staying over at Fort Pickens, a National Historic Site on Santa Rosa Island which is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. That is a long way to see an old Civil War Fort that was part of the defenses of the entrance to Pensacola Bay where there were important Naval shipbuilding facilities and depots.

We made arrangements to meet them at the entrance to the Naval Air Museum, about 45 minutes from Orange Beach. Then we started checking on parking, is there a cafe there and that kind of details and it started looking like there were restrictions on getting in. The more we dug the worse it sounded so we finally called. Because of security issues at the Naval Air Station you had to have a current DOD issued ID to get in. We don’t have one. We checked back with Jan and Bill, they were looking for the same info and came to the same conclusion. Just no way to get in.

Plan B. We were half way there by this time so after a bit of internet searching we chose The Oar House in Pensacola for lunch. We all headed in that direction. It was a nice place on a busy waterway. Food was good.

We decided to go back to Fort Pickens to see what that looked like. Jan and Bill had driven from the campground down to the fort to see what it looked like. It is at the very end of a long narrow sand spit at the opening of the bay.

Fort Pickens was built in 1821 by the US Army using millions of bricks, lots of brick layers and slave labor. It was well armed with large cannons of the design of that era. There were large enough to shoot across the bay opening to bombard smaller forts occupied by the Confederate Army.

The outside walls were vertical with windows for cannons inside the walls. The walls were backed up by arched vaults. The arches we mirrored under the exposed vaults to form the foundations under the sand.

The giant Civil War cannons were out in the open and on circular tracks so that they could be aimed to shoot in the general direction of something. Shooting cannon balls wasn’t very precise.

By the end of the 1800s the fort was obsolete. Modern rifled artillery could easily penetrate even the thickest parts of the masonry walls. So the Army built a new Artillery Battery within the old Fort and equipped it with disappearing 12” guns that could shoot shells weighing more than 1000 lbs at approaching ships 8 miles off shore. That was assuming they could see them in the fog and mist. So there were also observation posts to help see better.

This wouldn’t have been my choice of jobs when the shooting started.

From the Fort walls looking across the bay we could see the Lighthouse at the Naval Air Station (NAS) and the red and white water towers near the Naval Air Museum. That’s as close as we got.

The Blue Angles are based at NAS Pensacola and starting in April the practice at the beginning of each week. This is a popular place to see the airshow. Missed that too.

When we approached the old Fort and the new one inside we couldn’t help thinking we had seen this before. The outside fort looks very much like Fort Pulaski near Savannah that we visited several years ago. It was also a masonry fort held by the Confederate Army. When the Union forces approached and set up their new rifled artillery at what seemed to be far out of range the Confederates felt safe until the bombardment began and the longer range, accurate rifled artillery shells almost destroyed the fort before the Confederates surrendered. The walls of Fort Pulaski are still full of holes.

And the newer inside Artillery Battery looked very similar to the ones we saw at Fort Stevens on the Oregon Coast near Astoria. They should have, they were built using the same basic plans adopted by the Army by the Army Corp of Engineers. The guns were the same. The walls looked the same. Deja Vu all over again.

This is from Fort Stevens.

And at Ft Pickens.

The new guns were much more protected compared to the Civil War cannons.

We went back to Jan and Bill’s campsite. It was a nice campground with electric and water. Sand everywhere with brush and small trees. It was right in the middle of the sand spit, water in either direction just a couple hundred yards away. Jackets on for a cool and windy day.

We met Jan and Bill several years ago at Maumelle COE Park in Arkansas. They are from the mitten part of Michigan and head anywhere warmer and ice free in the winter. We sure enjoyed their company and are very pleased to see them on the road.

More later, Much Love

Roger and Susan

Orange Beach, Alabama, February 2020

We left Vicksburg heading for Orange Beach, Alabama. Orange Beach is just to the east of Gulf Shores, probably a more well known name. Both are on the east side of Mobile Bay on the gulf coast. Pensacola, Florida is about 40 miles to the east. In between are a lot of condos and beaches.

Gulf State Park.

We have been trying to get reservations at Gulf State Park for several years but it always seems when we check there is nothing more than just a few days or maybe a week at a time. It is surprising since it has a campground with 500 full hookup sites. Maybe that was why … it is a popular winter destination. So while in Orange Beach we went to the park headquarters to find out what the secret was. Call on November 1. Last year on November 1, 2019 reservations opened for November 1, 2021 through April 30, 2021. The gal at the desk said it was all booked in just a day or two.

We rode bikes in the park on every nice day and the camp sites were quite nice. Many were large with big grassy areas and trees were all over. 50 amp electric, good park wifi, water and waste hookups at every site.

Maybe 2022 will be our year.

Pandion Ridge RV Resort.

Pandion Ridge RV Resort is just to the north of Gulf State Park. They share a common property line. One of the popular bike/hike trails in the park cuts across the corner of the Pandion property. Our friend Rudy Legett has been here with the Prevost Community for an UnRally and with his friends from the Newell Gurus. Rudy reported that it was a nice park so we signed up for a month. If you sign up for three months it is less per month than for just a single month but it is a new place to us. Testing the water.

It has about 150 sites, each 45 ft wide by at least 100 ft deep. We were in a pull-in corner site along a row of big pine trees that was wider and maybe 125ft deep. Another 20 ft to the trees made it feel very roomy and private. The concrete driveways were wide enough for two cars and there was a generous patio area with a picnic table. There are two swimming pools, a big hot tub, two laundries, two common area gas fire pits, golf carts to rent, two pickle ball courts, two dog runs, two horse shoe pits and a nice sand volley ball court.

Pickle ball seems popular, sort of tennis on a smaller court with paddles and a whiffle ball. So it all goes a bit slower. Lots of pairs of couples playing. You can check out the necessary equipment to play or it looked like many had their own toys.

One of the pools was adult only and at a therapeutic warm temp. It was 4 ft deep, just right for short laps or as we saw many just walking laps back and forth. It looked very familiar. I did that for a few months after back surgery before starting to swim laps at the YMCA in Hastings where the water was in the low 80’s.

We signed up for Feb and got a bonus day. It is Leap Year. Feb 1 to March 1. The price does not include electricity so they charge you for how much you use. When you include that it is just slightly more than the state park.

Almost every morning we walked around the park down every road and one complete loop was just under 1.8 miles. Most of the time we did a few extra roads in the section to get to two miles. If we rode our bikes around the park there was an extra section we did and 2 complete laps was 4 miles, often we did 6 miles and never left the park.

We often rode to the end of the resort and through the woods, across a raised wooden boardwalk that crosses a marsh area and along another trail through the woods to the paved trail in Gulf State Park. One way went around a few lakes, the campground, some marshes, a fishing area, the park store and laundry, the park headquarters, a restaurant and connected to pedestrian/bicycle bridges across the coastal road to the beach. The other way was more remote but went by the community ball fields, a butterfly house, more rustic hiking trails. Either way looped around to cross park trail and back to near where we started.

Either way was almost 12 miles. If we rode through the park campground, which we did more than once, looking for perfect spots it could be longer.

So in a month we probably rode close to 50 miles and walked 40 miles. Susan is my fact checker on this and she agrees this is about right.

Gulf Shores, Orange Beach.

These are side by side communities sharing a very long white sand beach. Gulf State Park along the beach front interrupts the string of beach front condos. At the west end of the long skinny island is Fort Morgan, a military fort dating back to the Civil War. There is a ferry across the opening to Mobile Bay to Dauphine Island. From there a causeway connects to the west side of Mobile Bay.

Heading east the highway follows the coast line and the endless condos towards Florida and Pensacola.

Pandion Ridge is on Canal Road which follows the intracoastal waterway. There were often large tow boats and barges moving one way or the other along the intracoastal waterway from Mobile Bay heading east. Downtown Orange Beach is east on Canal Rd from Pandion Ridge. There is a big shopping center and the old down town which is not at the beach.

Heading west on Canal Road led to connectors to the State Park, Fort Morgan (20 miles away) and the beach. There was plenty of free, easy parking right at the beach. With people watching, sitting in the sun and walking right there. There was a huge beach volleyball tournament one day. There was always wind and kites flying. Some days it was windy enough for the kite surfers. Something to see and do every day.

Some folks I know from Habitat back home have been coming down here in the winter for 20 years. It took a bit to connect with them but we did and we joined Bob and Kathy Hamer for lunch at the Sea N Suds. This is right on the beach, further out towards the water than the condos. It has been a family owned local spot since 1975. Nothing fancy, not real expensive but really good food.

More to come. Much love,

Roger and Susan

Vicksburg, MS, January, 2020

Vicksburg, Mississippi is about four and a half hours from NAC on the Mississippi River. It was a key site during the Civil War for control of the river. The Union wanted to control the river to maintain supply routes up the river and to divide the Confederate states. The confederacy wanted to deny the supply lines to the northern states and the Union.

Most think of the Civil War as something that happened back east or down south. There were significant parts of the war fought “out west” as it was along the Mississippi River.

We stayed at a casino campground. It was inexpensive and convenient. And the Casino had a great cafe for lunch. We followed the driving route through town. Unfortunately not much to look at. Downtown was trying to revive itself but there were a lot of empty storefronts.

There were Confederate cannon emplacements all along the river to guard against ships going upstream and to protect Vicksburg.

Vicksburg National Military Park

We have been to the Gettysburg National Military Park. The parks are similar in they have a driving route around the battlefield area. These roads pass monuments dedicated to the various battalions from all of the different states involved on both sides. Many of these battalions were fairly small, maybe less than 100 men led by a local guy who got a commission in the army. And his militia battalion became part of one army or the other. At Vicksburg there were more than 100 militias from Illinois for example.

All of the monuments were along the Union or Confederate lines. You can see the line of them in this picture. The cannon aren’t the ones that were actually there but very similar. This whole row was cannon emplacements. The entire area is rugged hills. At the time of the siege most of these hills were bare with some areas devoted to small farms.

The Confederate army had fixed positions for their cannon mostly to protect the city. The Union cannon placements were much more mobile and adjustable to re-aim as needed. Confederate cannon fire was quickly returned from several positions as the Union artillery changed their firing direction. This was tough on the fixed Confederate positions.

These Union cannon positions were firing at the Confederate lines where the spire in the distance was located. It is less than 300 yards away. In one location a Union Artillery unit dismantled their cannons and hauled them over rugged terrain to a ridge overlooking the Confederate lines only 100 yards away.

The Shirley House is the only structure in the battlefield to survive the 47 day siege from March 29 to July 4, 1863 of Vicksburg. It has been restored to like it was at the time (with some modern add-ons like gutters and electricity).

With the Confederate positions more fixed and the Union more mobile it was mostly a matter of time before injuries and running out of food, medical supplies, ammunition and resources led the Confederate General Pemberton to surrender to the Union’s General Ulysses S. Grant on July 4, 1863.

This happened at the same time as the defeat of the Confederate Armies under Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg, PA, July 1-3, 1863.

These were critical events that shaped the remaining time of the Civil War.

After the Siege

Federal troops remained in Vicksburg for almost 14 years after the siege ended. It remains largely a sense of perspective if it was occupation or reconstruction. Certainly Vicksburg, largely destroyed by constant bombardment, was rebuilt. With time civil liberties were restored and many freed former slaves moved to Vicksburg to start new lives. While there were efforts to improve schools, housing, food sources and legal aide for all of the poor southern people there is ample evidence to show African Americans were burdened with Jim Crow laws and many other disadvantages that were finally outlawed by the Civil Rights Acts of 1964. And yet even today many of those disadvantage remain in the deep south.

Torpedos Ahead

The Union commissioned a fleet of eight river going iron-clad gunboats. These so-called City Class boats were built in 1861 by James Eads and were all named after cities. These were wooden flat bottomed boats with iron cladding. Powered by steam engines the 512 ton, 175 ft long and 52 ft wide barges could manage a top speed of 4 knots. Her crew of 251 enlisted men and officers manned the boilers and the 14 cannons of various sizes. The biggest were 8″ smoothbore cannons.

The USS Cairo was the lead ship in the class and arrived south of Vicksburg in April of 1862. It led supply boats to the north of the city and with seven other Union gun boats engaged and defeated eight Confederate gunboats.

It returned to patrolling the Mississippi River and on December 12, 1862 while on a mission north of Vicksburg on the Yazoo River to destroy Confederate Batteries and remove obstructions in the river it was sunk by two torpedos (an underwater mine) electrically detonated by volunteers on the river bank. A huge hole was torn in the hull and it sank in fairly shallow water and mud in just minutes. There were no casualties. It sat there and sunk in the mud and silt until it was gone.

Discovery!

In 1956 it was discovered by using recollections of where it was and a simple magnetic compass. It was almost entirely buried in silt and mud which preserved much of the artifacts. A long process of salvage recovered small pieces one at a time until the hull remained. It was a difficult but successful operation to recover the hull in pieces. It has all been moved down to a restoration display in the Military Park under a large fabric structure.

You can get a pretty good idea of what it looked like. A new framework holds the old hull in place.

The massive hole where the torpedoes exploded is easy to see.

Much of the iron clad armor survived and was recovered.

The curved part of the upper structure near the front was actually covered with sections of railroad rail. They used what they had.

They were able to recover parts from the bow to the stern, even parts of the boilers and paddlewheel.

It was an interesting stop. Natchez is not far south of Vicksburg and is worth a visit next time we are this way.

It is time for the beach. Our next stop for a month.

More to come, Much Love,

Roger and Susan

A Short Trip to NAC, January, 2020

Every day at Maumelle we got out and walked. The campgound is full of trees.

And right on the river. There is a big marina just upstream, boat launches, picnic areas and lots of campsites. It is probably very popular and busy in the summer. With our Senior National Park Pass it is only $12/night.

We have about 11 days until our reservations in Orange Beach, AL So options? We thought we could stop at Vicksburg, MS to see the National Battlefield Park. Maybe Natchez. Maybe Memphis. Or maybe over to NAC, Nacogdoches, TX. Friends there to visit. Auntie Pasta’s for dinner. We chose NAC. And then from there Vicksburg and then Orange Beach where we found our reservations actually started a couple days earlier than we thought.

The Mothership

NAC is called the Mothership because that is where all Foretravels have been built and the gravitational pull is strong. If we are heading west in the winter it is pretty much on the way. South and east it is a side trip.

While we were there I got a spare part I needed, fixed a latch on one of the bay doors and talked to the Motorcade Club manager about ways to advertise my VMSpc Kits to the Motorcade membership. We stayed at the factory campground, not many there. They stopped selling coaches there. All previously owned coaches and new ones are now sold through one dealer in Texas and two in Florida. The idea is to concentrate on production. We will see how that works out. There were three coaches left for sale. They were all there placed on consignment by their owners. Many of those that were on consignment went across the highway to Motorhomes of Texas. That pushed their inventory way up.

I met a farmer from central Washington State who farms 6000 acres. They were there for service on their way to Florida for a couple months.

I went to a Stephen F Austin State University Sports Booster Lunch with Mike Harbordt. He and Jackie are big fans of SFA sports especially Basketball. The season is heading towards the final games and both SFA men and women teams are leading their conference. SFA games are on ESPN+ so later in the week we got to watch them on TV.

Susan and I went to lunch on another day with Mike and Jackie and a young lady from the SFA Women’s basketball team. Maria is from Ukraine and Susan thinks she was taller than me. Another day Mike took her to Lufkin, TX about 45 min away to get a Social Security card.

Quiddler

We enjoy playing card games with just about anyone who will play. Douglas and Amanda were about an hour away so we set up an afternoon of Quiddler and supper at Auntie Pastas. We play games with Mike and Jackie (who live in NAC) where ever we see them so we all went there to their home to see the dogs, Charlie and Clancy and to have six for Quiddler.

Charlie is a year old now and about 12 lbs. Clancy is about 1/2 his size and age. They are full of energy and fun.

We will see all of them again in about 6 weeks in Fredericksburg, TX.

After a great game of Quiddler, Douglas and Amanda and Susan and I went to Auntie Pasta’s. Another great dinner, one of our favorite places.

We also had a visit from Chappell Jordan. He too lives in NAC and is a skilled woodworker. It was nice to see him.

Tomorrow it’s off to Vicksburg.

More Later, Much Love,

Roger and Susan

It Must Be Warm Somewhere, January, 2020.

We waited for our new countertop. While we were waiting Susan squeezed in one last Doc appointment. And we watched the weather.

A big snowstorm was predicted for the area around home on Friday the 17th. Predictions were for 8-12″. We got about 6″ in Hastings but there were lots of areas that got more especially south. And the wind came up to create Blizzard Warnings. So we waited for the snowplows to get out and the wind to calm down. And then it snowed some more and the temperatures started going south. Everyone knows what that means but in makes no sense. They were going down.

Heat was on in the coach, refrigerator was on. Everything was loaded and ready to go except for the last of what was in the refrigerator and us.

If we take two longer days (9 hrs including fuel, bathroom and lunch stops) we can get to just south of Kansas City for a Camp Walmart overnight the first day and to Maumelle Corp of Engineers Park just west of Little Rock on the second day where it always seems to be above freezing.

We saw weather south from KC getting worse, in Hastings, getting colder. We weighed options and chose a day to leave. Finished the last minute loading the night before. Turned the heat in the coach up to 70° and turned on the engine pre-heat. This lets the AquaHot heating system pump hot coolant through the engine. This is the same loop that lets the engine heat the AH while we drive for heat and hot water.

In the morning we made coffee, had a quick breakfast, started the coach (engine temp was 99° when it started, outside it was 2°), disconnected the umbilical cord and were ready to go. I moved the coach out onto the driveway and moved the Jeep behind to make the towing connections. Susan did the pre-tow checklist in the Jeep, we tested the lighting connections, right turn, left turn, brakes and tail lights. All good.

Just a couple last minute things inside, last power off, a walk around, lock the doors, lock the barn and a picture.

January Departure, 2020

We stopped at the first rest stop about an hour away and double checked lights, towing connections and did a quick walk around to see if anything was amiss. All OK. Another eight hours through Des Moines and KC to a Walmart we have stayed at before in Raymore, MO. Easy to get in and out of. A mostly cloudy uneventful driving day. We went into Walmart and got a couple gallon jugs of water, had some supper and didn’t stay up very late.

The next morning we woke up to 34°, a bit of wet snow in the parking lot, fog and a misting rain. South was looking a bit warmer but rain all day. Off we went. And it rained all day, never hard, just all the way. A couple times it was on the edge of sleet. There was some icing on the mirrors. This was another nine hour day. The drive through the Ozark Mountains is usually quite nice but today wet roads, truck traffic and the gloom made it a bit more stressful. Finally down I40 towards Little Rock in Arkansas, west on I430 across the Arkansas River and north along the river to Maumelle COE Park on the Arkansas River. It is a place we like to stop, quiet, restful, so far always above freezing.

Maumelle COE, January, 2020

We found a really nice site, #16. It was on high, dry ground. It was still raining but not hard, I drained all of the winterizing potable RV antifreeze from the outside drain lines and hooked up the water line. With outside water Susan flushed all the lines inside until they all ran clear. Then I drained some more from the outside drains to be sure. Then we added about 20 gallons of water to the fresh tank with a couple teaspoons of bleach. And I put the hose away because it was supposed to get close to freezing that night.

It did and it rained almost all day the next day. We went for a walk about noon in a break in the rain, later in the afternoon it appeared to stop raining and we went for another walk.

There was another Foretravel closer to the river.

Dave and Nancy Abel, Maumelle COE, January 2020.

It was Dave and Nancy Abel from Florida. They were here for a while to visit kids who live nearby. I knew Dave from the Owner Forum. First chance to meet face to face.

We spotted another FT at the other end of the park but it was no one we knew. I left a card on their door but never heard back. They were gone the next day when we walked back that way. It is a big park, one lap around the park was close to 5000 steps.

We stayed three nights, time to walk, relax, catch up on blogs and think about what was next.

More Later, Much Love,

Roger and Susan

End of the year, 2019.

Lots of things are coming to an end as this year comes to an end.

All good things.

It is the end of a decade. Who ever thought we would get through Y2K and here we are 20 years on.

Retirement, Finally.

It is time for my third and last retirement now from software development and consulting. The last retirement was 13 years ago when I stopped working for all but one client. They have a large software system that I have written over the years. It is used by many people every day in almost every aspect of their business. They really wanted me to keep on with support and some new work. That worked out to be about 15 hours a month. I have been working with these folks for more than 22 years, now it is time to stop. Lots of changes coming. Time for me to stop.

So as of the end of the year I was done, well almost. They asked me to do a final documentation task. I agreed. Completely done at the end of February. Period.

I will miss my good friends and colleagues there. Steve Knapp had the foresight to begin. Julie Westad has been a constant supporter and guide. John Berger was the steadying hand that made the collaboration endure. Brenda Bey was my everyday partner. We worked closely on each project along the way. She did a thorough job of testing our projects and having the perspective of the end user. She has been constantly learning and improving her own programming skills. In all that we accomplished together she deserves much credit and my appreciation.

Good Friends Standing Down.

One of the amazing things we discovered owning a Foretravel and traveling is all of the new friends we have gotten to know. This really was unexpected. And one of the things that is sometimes hard is when some of them stop traveling.

Our good friends Scott and Carol are hanging up the keys and putting their coach up for sale. They are building a small house behind their daughter’s house and will live there. We will miss seeing them on the road but will be in frequent contact. We plan on stopping to see them in early March.

Ted and Karen are also selling their coach and moving into a townhouse north of Cincinnati to be near their daughter and grandkids. The kids are five or less and Ted and Karen want to be there while they grow up and still think Grandma and Grandpa are cool. So after 13 years of full timing they are taking a break. They assure us that they will meet us at Custer State Park in September for the Buffalo Roundup.

All of these friends are experiencing change as are we relative to them. We are sure these are best choices and good changes for all. They will always be good friends.

So, many changes. Susan and I are moving past 70. We are approaching our 45th anniversary soon. Above all we are grateful to be experiencing every day together. An adventure, each one.

More Later with Much Love,

Roger and Susan

Summer Projects, 2019. Part 9.

And there is always the shop.

Fine Woodworking

We have had a new two sink vanity for the bathroom downstairs in mind for some time. This fall before we left for warmth was the time. We had a collection of pictures of cabinets whose style we liked. One became the basis for some final design and detail adjustments to our tastes.

Downstairs we determined that the outlets in the wall were going to end up right over the middle of the sinks so they needed to get moved further apart, about 12 inches each way. Studs were in the way and there wasn’t enough wire to make this happen. That meant I needed to cut two 12″x20″ holes in the wall from near the original outlet outward on each side. An electrician told me about wire connectors for extending the wire that were OK to leave inside the wall. This was a big help. So I got some of those, made the wires longer, cut new pieces of sheet rock with holes for the new outlets and then installed them and patched up all the joints.

We went to a countertop place in town and looked at countertop material, picked out what we liked. They said once we had the cabinet installed they would come and measure and then it would take about two weeks to get the finished top installed. We bought nice rectangular sinks and single lever faucets.

I sorted through wood, made selections, and started cutting. A couple weeks later, a cabinet with four doors and four drawers was ready for finish. Craftsman style with influences from Stickley and Greene and Greene.

A few days later the finish was done.

With the drawers and doors off we moved it from the shop into the downstairs bathroom.and mounted it in place. Thanks to our neighbor Dan for his help with the moving. The countertop folks came and measured for the top and we were thinking it would be in by the end of the year.

Well the countertop didn’t get installed until Jan 13 which pushed out our window of departure dates. But it all worked out OK.

When we get home we will finish the plumbing, install the doors and drawers, paint the wall and post a finished picture.

And make a small bench like this one for the bathroom as well.

Recycling Stuff.

I hate throwing things away. Blame it on my Dad. I had the three batteries we removed from our coach, two batteries from Ted’s coach and an original battery from our coach from 2001. All charged up OK and held a charge. Their capacities were not quite what they were when new but still good enough for storing power.

Over many years I have been saving cut off pieces of 6×6 posts from Habitat projects. Normally they would just go into the dumpster. I cut some of them up and made a rack for the batteries. Big mortise and tenon joints pegged with dowels, fun to do.

This is more than 1,000 pounds of batteries so a sturdy rack was prudent. The batteries are all charged up. I removed all of the connecting wires while we are away. These will go into the garage and be charged by the solar panels on the roof. If the power in the house goes out, then using a small inverter they will power the refrigerator and some lights for more than two days.

So that’s it from the shop.

More Later, Much Love,

Roger and Susan.

Summer Projects, 2019. Part 8.

Ted and Karen had a seven day Custer State Park pass and you pretty much have to go through the park to get up into the Black Hills. So we all rode together.

Yes, there are Bison in the Black Hills

We drove through all of Custer State Park, followed the Game Trail from one end to the other and saw antelope and all sorts of critters but only a couple bison off in the distance. At this time of the year the Park ranger explained, when we stopped at one of the Visitors Centers, they are further up in the hills and out of sight. Most but not all.

This guy was right next to the Game Lodge Campground just on the other side of a fence that wouldn’t have slowed him down in the least. Good thing that his only interest was eating grass. There was a campground trail on this side of the fence with regular traffic including folks walking their dogs. He was uninterested. No one was walking on the path on his side of the fence. This was a massive full grown bull, about 2,000 lbs. Absolutely stunning.

We drove a bit south from The Hart Ranch and in towards Custer State Park. And then followed the Iron Mountain Highway. This is a really twisting road with several tunnels. These were designed so that as you drove through the tunnel Mt Rushmore was framed as you came out.

Really, there is a tunnel ahead and a one lane one at that.

And another.

And the big giant heads.

And closer. Washington, Jefferson, TR Roosevelt and Lincoln.

We really appreciated the ride with Ted and Karen.

Pretty neat formations. This area is volcanic. It is the highest point between here and the Swiss Alps to the east.

We went out for a drive several times. We followed the Needles Highway one day. Followed the Game Trail twice.

One day we went to Keystone to ride on the train.

It is a frequent task to oil everything. The old steam engines don’t have fancy bearings like machinery today.

The train was made up of old restored cars. Maybe not something we would want to ride across country in but it was fun. The train followed old tracks over a couple big hills and through the woods to Hill City. There was a short stop where the steam engine uncoupled from the train and went to the other end of the trains and reconnected. Once they were all set we went back the same way.

Mark Crick had a trailer full of things he takes on Motorcade trips including tables and chairs and a big flat top grill. So one morning he and Donna made pancakes for everyone.

Marion Braum makes jewelry and has quite a collection of parts so one afternoon a bunch of folks got together in the Club Room and everyone made something. Susan made three sets of earrings.

It is always amazing the different skills and talents that these rallies bring together.

The last day of the rally we had a nice catered dinner in the Hart Ranch Club Room and a Chapter Meeting. Steve Crook was the President of the Motorcade Club at the time and he gave us an update on the Club.

Next Year

The last day we were in the Black Hills (after the rally) we went to the town of Custer with Ted and Karen because there was a good burger joint and we were all craving burgers. And of course the burgers were good. While waiting and eating we were talking about wanting to see the Buffalo Roundup in Custer State Park in late September every year. It all happens one afternoon in just a few hours when the bison are gathered up in the hills ad herded down in an area where there are corrals. They get sorted out, inoculated for this and that, some get sent to market and some get sent to other herds for breeding diversity. They are trying to keep the herd healthy and vital and manage the size.

Whenever we think of it there is no room at any of the campgrounds in the park. We thought at the table if we made reservations that day for one year away for two weeks we would see the bison roundup, see each other and explore the Black Hills in more depth. So we did. And we are in the Game Lodge Campground right near where the big bison at the beginning of this blog was having lunch.

Ted and I talked about posting this on the Owner’s forum. We debated a bit and then did. Within about 4 hours six other Foretravel owners from North Carolina to San Diego, CA. had signed up too. By the next morning the campground for that time frame was full. Something to look forward to.

Whew, that’s enough,

More Later, Much Love,

Roger and Susan