Phannie

Phannie
Photo taken at Winchester Bay, Oregon

Monday, July 24, 2017

Smoke Gets In Your (Our) Eyes

At the KOA Journey RV Park, Butte, Montana...

As near as I can tell, we seem to be heading toward the Pacific Northwest. I suppose our thinking is that a number of bucket list items remain in the western U. S., many of which we didn't fulfill on our last sampling of the area a couple of years ago. So, regarding this list, we've 1) expertly toured Hannibal, Missouri, thanks to friends Ed and Marilyn, 2) toured the Ford Museum and assembly plant in Michigan, 3) toured the Amish areas and RV manufacturing mecca in northern Indiana, then we headed for 4) Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills, so those things are certainly checked off. 

Then, we thought, since we're already this close, why not head toward Montana and check off some more items? First on the list in that area was to travel the Beartooth Highway toward Yellowstone. We have visited the park itself (not adequately), but had never driven what is supposed to be "the most scenic highway in the U. S." So, off we went, ending up a couple of days later in Billings, not far from the scenic route that begins at Red Lodge, Montana.  We had a nice, shady (and expensive) spot at the Yellowstone River RV Park, and our Internet TV streaming came in handy, as the satellite antenna was useless underneath the trees:


Alas, our experience on the Beartooth Highway was not to be. On the appointed day, we noticed that visibility was not very good in Billings, but we drove to Red Lodge anyway, hoping things would clear up. They didn't. We were told that the smoke from forest fires in Canada had drifted into this area, and the visibility was truly terrible. It didn't improve after three days, so we reluctantly returned to Billings, pulled in Phannie's slides and set out for Glacier National Park, hoping things would look better there.

This is not the first time our traveling plan had been thwarted by forest fires. We passed up Glacier in 2015 because of the fires there, so we're a bit apprehensive this time, too. 

We can't help but be grateful for the life we have in retirement wherein we can travel wherever our whims take us, but knowing that this freedom of opportunity is only temporary. Meanwhile, we intend to make good use of this blessing, so stick around; we can't wait to see what we do next. 

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.

I would rather own little and see the world than to own the world and see little of it. --Alexander Sattler

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse and the Black Hills

At Heartland RV Park, Hermosa, South Dakota...

For many years, I wasn't one hundred percent sure that Mount Rushmore and its environs was a 'must-see' for me, and Sandy felt the same. In fact, I'm not sure that we would have stopped here this time had we not been traveling sort of in the vicinity. Our reluctance was probably due to the vast amount of information, both written and pictorial, that already exists and is accessible with a few computer keystrokes.

I'm thinking differently now. I would offer that there is no substitute for being there and seeing with one's own eyes. It's not that the photos and the writings aren't a worthy substitute; they certainly are for those who aren't able to visit in person. But a photo cannot convey what it's like to view an American icon like Rushmore while watching an eagle fly by or seeing the waving of a nearby flag or the rush of a fresh-scented breeze through the pine forest. 

Rushmore is such a place. And so is the Crazy Horse monument and the Black Hills region in general.

Viewing the mountain from the visitor center is a treat. It is awesome, without question. A photo hardly does it justice:



I won't go into the genius and the effort of Gutzon Borglum in bringing these giant sculptures to life under such impossible odds, but the story is told quite well here via exhibits and videos. If you happen to be headed here, you will also find that a visit to the Borglum Museum in Keystone to be quite worthwhile.

Having our traveling friends John and Bobbie Jo with us was an extra treat, and we've enjoyed a lot of merriment along with the good sightseeing:



We also visited the Crazy Horse Memorial worksite nearby, and we're glad we did. This sculpture almost defies the imagination; It consists of Chief Crazy Horse mounted on a horse, and the entire sculpture is many times larger than the faces on Mt. Rushmore. It has been under construction since 1948 under the supervision of Korczak Ziolkowsky and is far from completed. Ziolkowsky's descendants are continuing the project after his death, and the effort is receiving no government funding. The rather large visitor center provides a steady flow of funds toward the effort, but it is a shame that most older folks today will not live to see its completion. Here is what the finished sculpture will look like:



And here is the project as it stands today. Take a look at the large cranes, barely visible at the top of what will be Crazy Horse's arm to get some perspective of its size:



We also enjoyed a scenic drive around highway 87 through the 'needles,' an area of vertical rock spires that inspired the name:




I'm afraid Phannie's hips and roof would be left behind if we tried to take her through this tunnel; John's pickup would barely fit:



So, we say goodbye to the Black Hills, glad to have had an opportunity to visit this beautiful area. 


Stay tuned; we'll know where we're going next when we get there!


Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.


I had rather own little and see the world than to own the world and see little of it. --Alexander Sattler

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Miles and Miles of Miles

At Heartland RV Park, Hermosa, South Dakota...

After the challenging first day of our trek westward from Indiana, things settled down, and the next two days proved totally uneventful. We were making close to 400 miles a day, purposely doubling our usual 200-mile daily travel limit in order to hasten our journey through mostly nondescript Iowa and South Dakota. (Sorry, residents thereof; I'm sure these are wonderful places to live.)  We had never driven through either state, and we found that we hadn't missed much except maybe a billion green cornstalks that were beginning to show their tassels nicely.

On the positive side, I-90 gets the award for the smoothest and most pristeen U. S. Interstate highway we have traveled. I suppose its need for repair is low because of the paucity of traffic that uses it. Here is a photo of I-90 in South Dakota taken through Phannie's windshield:




I can't remember the last time I saw an interstate highway with so little traffic on it.

Owing to the unchanging flat topography around us, these long driving legs would have proved incredibly boring, had it not been for our heaven-sent Sirius XM radio. Fortunately, I rarely get tired when driving Phannie. The big bus just floats along, silent except for a little wind noise. (The rear engine can be heard only faintly from the cockpit.) The plush captain's chairs provide plenty of legroom, allowing a seated posture much like an easy chair in one's den. There is none of the torture of sitting with my long legs stretched out horizontally in front of me. With all the creature comforts accessible, like a bathroom, fridge and unlimited snacks, I can drive some pretty long legs in Phannie without very much physical impact at all.

We arrived in Sioux Falls, South Dakota with enough daylight left to do a little exploring, so we checked out the falls on the Big Sioux river, from which the city of Sioux Falls, of course, gets his name. It was a very pretty location where the falls looked great flowing over the pink quartzsite:



As we neared Rapid City on I-90, we began to see more and more signs advertising Wall Drug, a place I had heard of for decades but never visited. I knew I would likely not get another chance to see what is the big deal, so we exited I-90 and drove the few blocks into downtown Wall, a rather small little burg bustling with hordes of tourists. There was ample parking available, even for Phannie and Mae; so, after parking, we strode over to Main Street and stared at the block-long complex that is Wall Drug:



I'm not sure what we were expecting, but it wasn't exactly this. The original drugstore has obviously expanded and taken in several other stores beside it, having now grown to a monstrous 76,000- square-foot, western-themed, mall-like affair, selling everything imaginable that might appeal to a tourist. There are also restaurants and a soda fountain and, oh yes, a pharmacy. The place was packed with people, so we went out back to the kids' area, where I snapped this pic of Sandy in a mid-1800s version, I guess, of Phannie:



We didn't buy anything at Wall drug, but at least we can say we have been there. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the place is the history of how it came to be:

In 1931, a pharmacist named Ted Hustead bought the drugstore and tried to make a living from it in Wall, a tiny town of 231 people in South Dakota. Things weren't going all that well until his wife came up with the idea of giving free ice water to travelers heading down the nearby highway toward Mt. Rushmore. This freebie proved to be a hit with thirsty travelers, and Hustead began advertising heavily on billboards in South Dakota and surrounding states hundreds of miles distant. Due to its almost cultish following, some visitors have taken it upon themselves to erect signs in many different parts of the world displaying the mileage to Wall Drug. 

The drugstore, huge as it is today, is still a single business entity, and they still give free ice water and sell coffee for five cents a cup. It is one of the largest tourist attractions in the northern U. S., hosting some two million visitors a year from many different nations. 

I'm not sure why.

After our brief stop at Wall Drug, we quickly covered the 71 miles to the Heartland RV Park, our destination near Rapid City, where we met up with Bobbie Jo and John, RVing pals from Texas. More adventures to follow!



Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.



I had rather own little and see the world than to own the world and see little of it. --Alexander Sattler

Monday, July 17, 2017

Sometimes Things Don't Go So Well

At Sioux Falls KOA, Sioux Falls, South Dakota...

For any readers who don't have an RV but are thinking of acquiring one, you're probably looking at that prospect with great expectation and excitement, and you may not have given much thought to any difficulties that may come your way. That was how I thought back then, so count my voice as one of experience. While this life will be wonderful, it is undeniable that there will be days when nothing goes right. This was to be one of those days.

We pulled out of Shipshewana at the crack of dawn (for us)--about ten a.m.--congratulating ourselves on our early departure. I was a little nervous about Mae, our new toad, not having towed a CR-X before and having a couple more hoops to jump through than the HHR in order to tow her correctly. Like the pilot I am, I prepared a checklist to make sure that I had followed the manufacturer's instructions, especially since there are some frightful warnings in the owner's manual about ruining the car's transmission if one doesn't follow the steps exactly. Furthermore, I couldn't imagine how the drive train of an all-wheel-drive car could be designed so as to be towable anyway. 

As I put Phannie in gear and released the parking brake with a whoosh from the air brakes, I looked intently at the visage of the little car in Phannie's rear video monitor to see that all was well. I'm not sure what I was expecting to see, but I've found that if I expect the worst, then anything better than that is a win! Thankfully, the CR-V remained intact as I nudged the accelerator and felt a slight reassuring bump as the towbars reached their full extension and locked. At that point, being one with Phannie, Mae followed obediently and perfectly as we picked up speed through the Amish farmland. I guess my expectation was that the car would simply fall apart in a pile at the first tug on its bumper and, when everything seemed to go well, I smiled and gave a nod to Dan's Service Center in Elkhart where the tow package was installed. They must know what they're doing, I thought.

We hadn't gone ten miles until I heard a beep from the tire pressure monitor and saw the red warning light flashing. It showed that the pressure in Mae's right rear tire had gone below the 27 psi low threshold limit. I watched it a few more miles and noticed that it had dropped to 25, so at least I knew it wasn't a fast leak. I remembered a travel plaza located about 15 miles ahead on Interstate 80, so I decided to go for it. In about five more miles, the pressure had dropped to 24, and by the time I reached the turnoff, it had dropped to 23. Getting out and taking a look at the tire, I saw that it had begun to develop a belly, so I knew it had to be changed. Back in Phannie's cockpit, I gave a quick call to CoachNet, who informed me they couldn't help me because I had only signed up for the basic plan when I renewed a few months ago, so the tow car wouldn't be covered. The young girl on the phone said that she noticed that I had had their premium plan for many years and wondered why I had not continued that with the last renewal. I told her that it had been an oversight and offered to pay the extra on the spot. She said I would have to get my account upgraded with customer service on a business day. This didn't make me particularly happy, and I may have have had some impure thoughts at this point. It would have been nice if someone at CoachNet would have told me about this when I renewed over the phone; I suppose I had forgotten that they have a premium plan for covering coach and car, but if they had mentioned that when I renewed, I would have caught my error and purchased the plan I usually get. They need to make an allowance for elderly clients.

At this point, I had two choices: 1) Call around myself and try to find a mobile roadside service provider or 2) change the tire myself and drive into Elkhart to have it repaired or replaced. Since time was rushing by, and we had a very long leg to travel, I elected to change the tire. 

Now tire changing is not something to which I am accustomed; in fact, I haven't changed a tire on anything in about 50 years or so. Being mostly in management positions throughout my career, I usually had 'people' to do things I didn't want to do. But there I was, poring over the CR-V's owner's manual, trying to find out some basic information--like where to find the spare tire. This education took about 30 minutes as I opened the car's compartments in a sort of scavenger hunt to find the spare tire, jack and lug wrench and trying to glean from the manual's diagrams where to place the jack underneath the frame. (I never did figure that out; it just wasn't clear in the manual; fortunately, the location I chose was apparently okay.)

After much groaning, creaking of joints, huffing and puffing and (horrors) perspiration, I finally got the lugnuts loose and changed the tire, after which we drove to Discount Tire in Mishawaka, not too far from where we were. They had the Bridgestone tires in stock, but that they couldn't get to it for an hour and a half. I bought a new tire, not wanting to trust the old one any longer.

So, the delays keep piling up and, by then, I was worried about our reservation that night in Iowa City. I didn't see how it would be possible to make it before dark, but I was willing to try.

It was not to be. The traffic on I-80 was bottled up in Chicago, and we spent an hour there to go 2.5 miles. I had to call and tell the destination park what had happened, and they were very nice about it.

As the sun was setting, I decided it was time to stop driving, so we picked a park near the Interstate short of our destination. Unknown to me, it was located at the end of the dustiest dirt road I have ever seen. By the time we reached the park, Phannie's rear cap was covered with dust, and Mae was so dusty that I couldn't remember what color she was. When we got to our site--the last one available in the park--we found that it was not satellite-friendly. But this was fine, as we were really too tired to watch TV; we just went to bed. The lot was also grossly unlevel--so much so that Phannie's levelers didn't have enough travel to correct it, so we spent the night thinking we were on a ski slope.

I decided to take Phannie and Mae to get them both washed in the morning, as they were dirty enough to be embarrassing. The next truck wash on Interstate 80 was in Altoona, so we headed there, enduring the smirks and glances from one driver after another as they passed us, probably thinking that we had been off-roading or something. So, I spent about 50 dollars, with tip included, at the truck wash for the mistake of picking the wrong RV park, which wouldn't have happened at all had the day gone the way we had planned it. 

Now I don't know if you counted all the things that went wrong on this departure day, but there were many, many of them. Fortunately, days like this are rare indeed, but they do happen. It's how well we handle the problems and our reaction to them that makes something positive of the experience. Oh yes, and Xanax would help, if you have any.

One more thing: This is the second time we have caught a leaking tire before damage was done to Mae, thanks to our monitoring system. If you don't have one of these, you might want to give that some more thought. 

The next leg takes us to Sioux Falls, South Dakota on our way to Rapid City. Stick around and see what we do next. We're not even sure ourselves. 



Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.


I had rather own little and see the world than to own the world and see little of it. --Alexander Sattler



Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Studebaker Museum and Oliver Mansion in South Bend

At the Shipshewana RV Campground, Shipshewana, Indiana...

(Before we get started, I might mention that the "Best of the Best RV Parks" page has been updated with several new listings. There is a link to it in the right hand column of this blog. Be sure and let me know if you find a park that should be included.)

While we were waiting for our appointment to get the new tow package installed on the new Mae, we spent some time touring the Studebaker museum and the Oliver mansion in South Bend. These were very interesting, and they took us back to our youth (Studebakers were still being built when we were kids; the last one was built in 1966), and our tour of the Oliver mansion gave us a glimpse of the lives of the wealthy around 1900. I've always enjoyed the historical period of the mid 19th century to the mid-20th, so I'm always ready to go on tours like these.

I think Sandy looked good in this 1950 Studebaker convertible; don't you?



We gained an appreciation for the industriousness of the Studebaker family (they changed their name from Studebecher when they immigrated to the U. S. from Germany) and their ability to transform a wagon-making business into an industrial giant that turned out 500,000 cars a year in 1950.

Studebaker built horse-drawn carriages in addition to wagons and one of the more interesting displays was that of carriages that served four presidents: Grant, Harrison, McKinley and Lincoln:



On a sad note, two of the carriages were the very ones in which presidents Lincoln and McKinley took their last ride on the occasions of their assassinations.  Here is Lincoln's carriage:



And here is McKinley's carriage:



Below is another Studebaker that I hadn't heard of--a child's hearse. According to information in the museum, it was not uncommon in the early 1900s for funeral homes to have white hearses for children's funerals. The white color was to symbolize the innocence of the children, and we found this quite sad, having lived through the loss of a child ourselves. Of course, advances in medicine within the rest of the 20th century resulted in a dramatic decline in childhood fatal diseases, and these hearses eventually disappeared:



This was my favorite of all the Studebaker cars--the 1950 Commander Starlight. I still think it was a unique and interesting design for 1950:



The car below was the very last Studebaker car built, having been assembled in Canada on March 17, 1966. The company didn't go out of business, however; they were well diversified by then and did a significant amount of manufacturing for the government. The company's divisions were ultimately absorbed by other firms, however, and the Studebaker name disappeared from the business world in 1969.



One of the historic homes we viewed in South Bend was Tippecanoe, the residence of Clement Studebaker. We didn't have time for a tour, but we did manage to get this photo of the 30,000 square foot house:

We were able to get a tour of the Oliver Mansion next door to the Studebaker Museum. It was a glorious architectural wonder:



J. D. Oliver, who built the house in the late 1800s, was the son of the inventor of a process to manufacture cast iron plows that had the durability and performance of much more expensive steel plows. Plow sales mushroomed in the fast-developing country and the company eventually diversified into manufacturing tractors and other farm implements. With no income tax then in place, the family accumulated great wealth, and J. D. built this house as a place to raise his four children. Building the house took almost three years, and the family moved in on January 1, 1897. 

The home has 38 rooms occupying 12,000 square feet and was the first house in South Bend to be wired for electricity. The only problem was that electricity was very unreliable in 1897, so Oliver built a power plant to serve the house, his factory and other homes of family members; any excess electricity produced he sold to the city. The house was very high-tech for its day, having an intercom, forced-air heat and a central vacuum. 

The Olivers and the Studebakers lived on the same street, and some members of the families intermarried and worked in the others' respective companies. Here are some more photos of the house:


The house style is listed as "Queen Anne Romanesque," because of the turrets and stonework

The house felt very warm  and inviting for such a large residence.

The Olivers dined very formally; a button to summon the butler was imbedded in the floor beneath the dining table.

The piano is a 1930 Steinway concert grand. I would have loved to play it.
One of the reasons I was eager to tour the Oliver house was because of the manner in which it was bequeathed to the historical society. The heirs donated not only the residence but all of the furnishings as well, including the spices in the cupboards and even undergarments in the chests of drawers. The docent giving the tour told us that it took two years for the society to catalog the thousands of artifacts.

With this post, we'll be saying goodbye to northern Indiana for now. It was a very pleasant two-week stay, and there are still things we didn't see, so we will hope to return. That seems the way it is most everywhere we go; there is so much to see and so little time. I think this quotation from Alexander Sattler best describes what motivates us in our current fulltime, nomadic lifestyle: I had rather own little and see the world than to own the world and see little of it. I like this quotation so much that I'm going begin using it as an additional tag line in every post underneath the short prayer of appreciation that you find there.

We will always remember this as the place where we said goodbye to our original tow car, Mae I. So long, little red car; you have served us well, and we hope you find a good home. We are heading west from here, meeting friends in South Dakota. From there, who knows?


Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.

I had rather own little and see the world than to own the world and see little of it. --Alexander Sattler


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Peaceful Stay in Northeast Indiana Among the Amish

At Shipshewana Campground South, Shipshewana, Indiana...

If we had to pick somewhere to go through the rigors of trading cars and outfitting a new toad, it would be hard to find a prettier or more peaceful location than this. Because of the influence of the large Amish and Mennonite population, rural areas such as that around Shipshewana (an old Indian name) are bucolic havens of impossibly green cropland, dotted by well-kept farms, barns and silos. The black horse-drawn buggies used by the Amish and Mennonites are everywhere, with special lanes set aside for them at the edge of some of the highways.



In town, stores have special parking areas for the buggies as their owners come in from the country to buy the things they need:



Due to the quaintness of the area and the availability of quality goods--especially furniture, in this area--produced by the Amish, LaGrange county is a haven for tourists, who contribute handsomely to the economy of tiny Shipshewana (pop. 628).
There are neat hotels and restaurants here--even live theater at several venues within 50 miles. We attended one play with an Amish theme, and it was quite good.

If one is intrigued by the prospect of returning to simpler times, the Amish lifestyle has much to recommend it, considering its lofty tenets of honesty, humility, hard work, family orientation and frugality. However, their desire to be separated from worldly excess (based on a Biblical passage in Romans that tells Christians they are not to be "conformed to this world") is among the things that pique the interest of the carloads of curiosity-seekers who often clog the roadways that the Amish share precariously in their horse-drawn vehicles. The downside to living as we did a hundred years ago, besides the clash of cultures, is that, well, we would live like we lived a hundred years ago. For those accustomed to modern conveniences, it would be quite a shock to become Amish. That is the reason few outsiders join the movement.

While there is plenty of information available on the Amish and Mennonite sects via the Internet, here are a few things of interest that I found:

  • They settled in America in the 17th century from what is now Germany, Switzerland and Holland to avoid religious persecution.
  • The Amish and Mennonites were named after early leaders--Jakob Amman and Menno Simons.
  • Most adherents do not drive motorized vehicles in favor of horse-drawn conveyance. The most conservative do not use any powered equipment for farming, preferring instead to use horses or mules for cultivation. 
  • The Mennonites are considered the lesser conservative sect, many of whom use some modern conveniences, but most do not travel by car or other motorized vehicles.
  • They avoid public education, using home schooling or community-based one-room classes. The education generally goes through the eighth grade. Religious services are often held bi-weekly in members' homes.
  • Their rationale for living an agrarian lifestyle and limiting formal schooling is a fear that exposure to more worldly pursuits and higher education would subject their children to temptation and detract from their devotion to God and dependence upon Him for guidance. They answer criticism about limiting education by explaining that the education of their youth doesn't end at the eighth grade; it merely reverts to practical learning on the farm or via apprenticeships.
  • Their birthrates are several times higher than the U. S. population as a whole, most having 5-7 children. (Remember, they have no TV.) Having a large family is considered a gift from God.
  • Ninety percent of the children remain in their sects and adhere to their strict religious practices. It is rare for outsiders to join and, among those who do, one-third return to their former lives.
  • They tend not to buy medical insurance; they do seek professional medical care--usually from doctors familiar with their ways--but they pay the fees in cash. They use homeopathic medical remedies to the extent possible, but they do obtain prescription medications when necessary, and they have their children vaccinated. They do not seek heroic means to extend life artificially. 
  • They tend not to participate in social security.
  • They celebrate Christmas and some other national holidays, but not Halloween.
  • They do not believe in using force of any kind to attain an end; therefore, they do not participate in the military or in any police force, nor do they run for political office or file lawsuits. Crimes of violence are almost unknown among them.
  • When Amish men marry, they grow a beard; single men do not. Women wear kapps, or bonnets, usually white. They base both of these things on Biblical references.
  • Simple and plain clothing is worn in keeping with their belief in humility and modesty. Men usually do not wear belts, favoring suspenders instead.

If I have misrepresented any of these facts, I'm sure someone more familiar with the subject will correct me. And, in case it's not clear, I view these folks with great admiration. However, living their lifestyle would be quite difficult for me--spoiled, undisciplined and unaccustomed to hardship as I am. I would also have some difficulty with the pacifism part--not that I would unilaterally do harm to anyone, but I there is not much I wouldn't do to protect my family or my country.

The Amish like to eat, and they make a lot of good stuff that is widely sold to tourists in the area. We found these pretzels to be really good at Jo Jo's in Shipshewana:



We found some excellent marinated chicken breast at Yoder's Meat and Cheese Shop here in Shipshewana; in fact, I would characterize it as the best ever! We are loading up on this stuff for the freezer!

While I'm on the subject of food, we have sampled a couple of the insanely popular buffet restaurants nearby--the Blue Gate here in Shipshewana and the Essenhaus in Middlebury and found them wanting.  Now, before I'm branded a heretic, let me say that there's nothing wrong with their food; it is fresh and plentiful, but it is so boring! Both restaurants, which are inexplicably packed with diners most of the time, offer the same basic things on their buffet: Fried chicken, roast beef, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, canned corn, noodles and green beans. Of these, the fried chicken was clearly a standout, but everything else? Meh. One problem is that they seem never to have heard of spices up here. Being from Texas, I enjoy spicy food. Frankly, I'm fine with enough Scovill heat units to at least make it interesting, but I prefer the burn to be only slightly less than that required to sear the membranes inside my mouth. Around here, a grain of hot pepper would die of loneliness; I guess the all-you-can-eat buffet lines are the draw. My advice is to skip them unless you need a fried chicken fix.

One curiosity that appears in several small towns in the area is the placement of life-sized statues in front of certain businesses. Here is a very life-like postman in front of the Middlebury post office:




Our CR/V will be getting a new Blue Ox base plate and connections installed at Dan's Service Center in Elkhart. With all the RV manufacturers in the area, this large shop stays frantically busy all the time. It took about a week to get an appointment. While we're waiting, we plan a visit to the Studebaker Museum and the Oliver Mansion in South Bend. That'll be in the next post.


Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Mae Gives Up the Ghost in Amish Country

At Shipshewana Campground South, Shipshewana, Indiana...

Yes, the old Mae is gone. After serving us faithfully for the past six years and 135,000 miles, the little red HHR has been put out to pasture. It was not due to neglect on my part, as I have maintained her fanatically with all factory recommendations, even changing the oil before it was needed. In fact, she was still running fine when we bade her goodbye. It's just that she had developed an engine control issue that more or less stranded us three times lately, and the repairs by three different Chevrolet dealers' service departments failed to fix the problem permanently. The repairs were not cheap, but that was not so much a consideration as the erosion in our confidence regarding her reliability. We just find ourselves traveling in remote areas too often to be wondering if we will get back to civilization. 

Bidding Mae goodbye for the last time was a little sad, but especially so for Sandy, who gets terribly attached to certain inanimate things that have been around for a long time and that have served us well. I'm not sure what will happen if we ever trade Phannie for another coach after her having been our home for this long. I don't think it will be pretty. 

But we must keep moving forward, mustn't we?  Meet the new Mae:


Yes, we kept the old name for the sake of continuity in the title of this blog. It is a 2014 Honda CR/V--the last model year these cars could be towed four wheels down. Having been impressed by the rabid recommendations of so many RVers who owned them, we found this used one that had been driven only 2,700 miles; it is about as new as a 'new to us' car can get! We're very happy with it, and the towing modifications will be installed next week in Elkhart.

In the meantime, we're enjoying the beauty and the slower lifestyle here in Amish country. A few days ago, we had the good fortune to meet up with club friends Hank and Shirleen, who joined us at the Essenhaus Restaurant in Middlebury for lunch. We really enjoyed our time with these fine people:


We've been quite busy getting the car shuffle done, but we'll be back soon with some of our adventures here in Indiana.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Ford's River Rouge Complex

At Shipshewana RV Campground, Shipsewana, Indiana...

We caught a shuttle bus that Ford runs between the museum and the factory, a journey of about ten minutes. We disembarked at a very nicely appointed visitor center near the F-150 assembly line, where we were directed to five different stops. The first two stops were in small theaters in which we were shown films about the history of Ford Motor Company and, in the next theater, how a Ford F-150 pickup is assembled. The second video was an incredible experience of sight and sound, complete with lasers, surround sound that we felt in our seats and even gusts of wind at some points. I will tell you that if Ford was trying to demonstrate its complete immersion in the latest technology, they succeeded. 

After recovering from the theater experience, we were ushered into the factory, where we walked about 1/3 of a mile around the perimeter on a wide catwalk that looked down on the assembly line below.

Unfortunately, I can't show you any photos of the assembly area. Ford was adamant about no photos being taken there, reinforcing this admonition several times during the tour, even telling us that we should not even take a cell phone or camera out of our pocket lest it be confiscated. There were security guards everywhere that seemed ready to enforce this rule.

We were allowed to take photos outside the assembly area, and they had a newly-minted F-150 nicely positioned for that purpose:



Nearby was an F-150 chassis that we were able to see up close:



I was able to download from the Internet an inferior photo of the assembly line, but it hardly matches what we were able to see from the catwalk:



Let's just say that, for someone who had never seen an automobile assembly line before, I was flabbergasted that such an enormously complicated industrial ballet could be dreamed up by the mind of man. There are so many thousands of actions that must happen at exactly the right time to the incomplete vehicles gliding inexorably around the plant, each on its own wooden platform. In general, two workers were stationed on either side of the truck, installing or fastening several items before the truck moved beyond their work station. If any action was omitted, or if some required part wasn't timely in reaching the workers' bins, the line would have to be stopped, much to the consternation of the supervisors, I'm sure. 

But no stoppage occurred while we were watching. The employees seemed very intent on performing each task quickly and thoroughly, and a fleet of tugs looked like ants, pulling around trailers full of parts that somehow arrived at just the right time at the right workstation so that no bins ran out of parts for the workers to install. 

I left almost dizzy as to how this incredibly complex wonder of industrial engineering came to be so that a brand new F-150 would roll off the assembly line every single minute for 20 hours a day. The assembly of a truck requires only 30 minutes from the time the first part is installed at the beginning of the assembly line until the finished vehicle rolls out the door under its own power.

From the third floor of the visitor center, we could look out over the vast 2,000-acre River Rouge industrial complex that Henry Ford built after he acquired the land in 1917 for fifty cents an acre. Again, the next two photos are from the web and not of good quality, unfortunately:



Ford sought the land specifically because a navigable river was on one side and a railroad spur on the other. 



It was via these transportation assets that Ford was able to realize his dream of creating a self-sufficient industrial complex where he could bring in and process raw materials that would be used in onsite facilities like a steel mill and glass plant, among others. The factory had its own electrical power plant whose generators were operated by nine gigantic coal-gas fired engines having 6,000 horsepower each. Having almost total control over the entire manufacturing cycle meant much better planning, economy and flexibility. At one time, the facility had 16 million square feet of factory space in 93 buildings, employing 100,000 workers.

Ford's facilities have been spread out to other locations nowadays, and the giant facility has been downsized, but it was for a long time the largest manufacturing facility in the world.

With this bucket list item completed, we will be leaving Michigan for Shipshewana, Indiana (on the recommendation of RV friends John and Bobbie Jo), where we will spend a few days in Amish country awaiting the end of the July 4th holiday before we start our trek westward. It's just too difficult to find RV spaces during holidays. When the weekend warriors have all gone back to w*rk (I still can't bring myself to spell out that awful word), things will get back to normal, hopefully.

We were so glad to get back to some halfway decent roads. Most of the highways we traveled in Michigan were in horrible shape, leading me to wonder how much stuff has been jarred loose in Phannie and Mae. Poor things!


Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Greenfield Village

At Harbortown RV Resort, Monroe, Michigan...

The Greenfield Village entrance is next door to the Henry Ford Museum. Once you enter the main gate, you are transported back in time more than a hundred years. Visitors wander afoot along the streets in the village or avail themselves of a ride in a vintage Model T, a city bus from the era, a horse-drawn wagon or a steam train. All of the village employees are dressed in period costumes and, after a while, you begin to think it's around 1920!


The Model Ts, each of which has a driver employed by the park, are very popular with tourists. We didn't ride in one, but the dozen or so vehicles available were never idle. These are actual cars made in the early 1900s and not replicas; they must receive a lot of mechanical attention to keep them going with such heavy use. It surprised me to learn that Ford produced 15 MILLION of these cars between 1908 and 1927. In 1925, the factory was producing nearly 10,000 cars a day that sold at a price of about $260. Amazingly, there are 200,000 of these cars still in existence today.

One of the first stores Sandy visited was a hat shop, painstakingly reproduced from an actual building:



I think it completes her ensemble, doesn't it?

Henry Ford had his family home disassembled from its original location and rebuilt here in Greenfield Village. I failed to get a photo, but he was fanatical about detail. He even ordered a nationwide hunt for the same dishes and kitchen stove used by his parents.

Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were good friends, and Henry had his employees build an exact replica of Edison's Menlo Park, NJ facilities. Here is a photo of his lab:


With Edison's thousand or so inventions and Ford's automobile revolution, it is incalculable how much contribution just these two men made to our country.

There are a number of other structures in the village, including replicas of the first house in America with electric lights, Robert Frost's and Cartier's houses, a church, a foundry, a wagon wheel shop, a railroad depot, a working railroad roundhouse and a grist mill, among others. Here's a photo of the roundhouse:



There's a grist mill on the property:


Grinding Stone inside the grist mill:


Beautiful flowers are everywhere:


There was even a machine shop in which kids were allowed to make a brass candlestick on a lathe under the careful supervision of a village employee:




After a while, we got tired and decided to tour the rest of the village in a 1917 Model T bus:




The driver was a wealth of information on the park:



Greenfield Village is also a working farm, with farm animals, vegetable gardens and even a wheat field:



It is said that Walt Disney may have gotten his idea for Disneyland from his visit to Greenfield Village; I can certainly see why that could be true.

Naturally, this was not nearly all there is to see of Greenfield Village; those with more energy in their batteries could do much more. But we are grateful finally to have seen this bit of Americana from the early 1900s. I think it would be very enjoyable and useful for older kids, many of whom don't know much about U. S. history, thanks to the educators who seem concentrate more on social upheaval than the unparalleled marvel that is this country, evidenced by places like this.

Thanks for being our guest on this trip! The next post will cover Ford's Rouge River truck assembly plant!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Detroit and the Henry Ford Museum

At Harbortown RV Resort, Monroe, Michigan...

After a very enjoyable visit with Ed and Marilyn in Hannibal, we made our way to Monroe, Michigan with overnight stops at Champaign, Illinois and Fort Wayne, Indiana, where we didn't bother to unhook Mae. After leaving Indianapolis northbound, we began to notice the terrible condition of of I-69. From Toledo, I-75 wasn't much better. In the Detroit area, roads were mostly awful; a large percentage of the city streets were in desperate need of repair. Many of the streetlamps are not functional due to their wires having been stolen. We had read of the decline of this once great city after the population's migration away from the rust belt, but we weren't quite prepared for the derelict that it has become. I suppose this is inevitable when a city's population shrinks from 1.8 million in 1950 to around 650,000 now and the city government doesn't shrink along with it. Detroit has been plagued with bloated worker rolls, bloated pension plans and corrupt leaders for decades, even having to declare bankruptcy in 2013. (Since I try not to discuss politics here, I will refrain from mentioning the political party that has been in charge all during this decline, but you can probably guess.)  Accelerating the decline is the ever-increasing Muslim population in this area, where the largest concentration exists in the U. S. Some of these areas look like a middle eastern slum neighborhood where many storefronts have signs written only in Arabic. Many other signs have both English and Arabic lettering:



In certain schools there are girls-only proms with Islamic religious themes, and anything Christian--including any acknowledgement of Christmas--is prohibited. In a number of areas, almost all women wear a hijab. 

So what brings us here to Beirut-on-Lake-Erie? Well, I'll tell you: The Henry Ford Museum complex, that's what. This has been a bucket-list item of mine for as long as I can remember, and I figured that we had better go while we can.

We picked out our RV park in Monroe, Michigan, which is about 25 miles from Detroit. That's about as close to that blighted area as we wanted to roost, and we found Monroe to be quite a pleasant community with lots of friendly residents. We set aside three days to visit the Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village and the Rouge River Assembly Plant, but this wasn't nearly enough time to see everything in this enormous complex. However, given our diminished level of stamina at this stage of our lives, it proved to be just about right, endurance-wise. 

Fortunately, the several thousand acres that surround the vast Ford Motor Company empire have largely escaped the death throes of Detroit and some parts of Dearborn, its official address. We felt relatively safe in the Ford corporate area, and the museum complex is kept spotless in its bucolic setting of manicured grounds and trimmed trees. This is in almost jarring juxtaposition to nearby dilapidated city buildings and pot-holed roads, whose street corners are rife with beggars. 

I realize this paints a somewhat bleak picture of Detroit, but it is what it is, and I see no reason to try to describe it differently from what we saw. Fortunately, the drive from Monroe to the museum was accomplished via a GPS route that, thankfully, was not unlike what we would see in any other major city. It was when we strayed from this route that we felt, shall we say, uncomfortable. There are, of course, more affluent areas, but we decided we didn't want to risk transiting the Beirut-like areas to reach them.

Having slogged through the negatives, for which I apologize, let's talk about the wonder that is "The Henry Ford," as it is known locally. Here is the original main entrance:


Outside of the Smithsonian, it would be difficult to find a more remarkable collection of the industrial and cultural icons of America. I'm not going to expend a lot of electronic ink gushing about this place because I have only so many keystrokes to make before the post's length approaches tedium for the reader. I think the best thing to do is to present a summary of our visit in three posts, the first of which is this one describing our impression of just the museum.

The heart of the complex is the welcome center, around which there appears to be ample parking at a cost of six dollars:


You enter to a welcome desk where a smiling person greeted us, answered our ill-informed questions and pointed to where we should proceed from there, which turned out to be the ticket counter. The transaction was handled quickly and smoothly and produced tickets good for one entrance to three of the four attractions on any sequence of days of our choosing. In other words, we could see the three things we wanted to see on any day we wished, but we could only see each one once. We chose to see the museum on the first day, Greenfield Village on the second and the Rouge River plant tour on the third day. The cost for this, at a senior rate, was $100 for both of us, including the six dollars for parking. The attraction that we chose to omit was a series of giant-screen movies on subjects such as robots, aircraft carriers and national parks. These would probably be interesting, but they didn't fit our schedule.

While I'm talking about our schedule, let me acquaint you with a mistake I made in planning this stop. Thinking that three days would be enough to see what we wanted to see turned out to be an error; I should have reserved a week, and I would have had the benefit of a rate reduction at Harbortown if I had. When it became clear that we needed more time to see everything, it was impossible to get because I hadn't factored into the equation that this was during a July fourth weekend, when every RVer in Michigan would be trying to find a camping spot at this park and every other one in the state. Our fate was sealed: We would have to depart as scheduled, and our destination would have to be somewhere outside Michigan. In my view, the number of parks in the lower part of the state is woefully inadequate. But we couldn't find any space in upper Michigan either and, since we don't do boondocking, we decided to retreat back into Indiana. Oh, well; we hear that the upper peninsula is better seen in the fall anyway, so that will have to be another trip.

Hmm, I seem to have digressed. Now let's get back to the Henry Ford:

Here are a few photos of the exhibits we saw, just to give you a very small sample of what is available for viewing. Planes, Trains and Automobiles were among thousands of things to see, plus an aluminum house that was to be mass-produced in an aircraft factory! Well that didn't fly, if you'll excuse the pun, but you'll just have to see the museum to find out the reason!







I won't even try to tell you how much more there is to see, but we thought it was entirely worth the cost and the hassle of getting here. Everything is very professionally presented and well documented, so if this isn't on your bucket list, perhaps it should be.

The next post will cover Greenfield Village.


Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.