Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Friday, November 25, 2011

Back to Branson

Three years had elapsed since our last visit to Branson, and we thought that would be a good trip to stretch Phannie’s legs a bit and see a few shows.  The Barkers—Bubba, LouAnn and BreAnn decided to join us for this escapade, so we knew we would have a good time.

We had never seen any Christmas shows in Branson, and we got word that this may be the last season for a couple of the longtime stars.  Shoji Tabuchi is retiring, and Andy Williams has been diagnosed with cancer, so we thought this might be the last time we could see these entertainers.  As it turned out, we didn’t get to see Andy Williams, as he was undergoing treatment in California; however, his Christmas show was still terrific.  He left word that he will be performing again next year but, at 84, you have to wonder.  The Lennon Sisters have now joined his show and the Moon River Theatre will be their new home in Branson.  (Yes, they’re still going—well, half of them, after 50 years!  Two of the sisters retired, and one was replaced by a younger sister, Mimi.)
The Lennon Sisters
 Andy Williams’ show was very entertaining and professional, as expected, and I enjoyed seeing the Lennon Sisters again.  These gals are really showing their age, but then, so am I!  They still sound good, though!  I hope Andy’s illness is short-lived and that he is able to do his show as long as he can.  Gotta give him kudos for hanging in there and thumbing his nose at the aging process…pretty inspiring, if you ask me!

I confess to a bit of sadness as I see the aging entertainers with whom I grew up.  I wistfully yearn for a return to the simplicity, innocence, hopefulness and national pride of the fifties and sixties.  Those were great decades, and I’m afraid I don’t fit in very well in many aspects of life in this new century.  While I marvel at the advances in technology, communication, transportation and medicine, I am perplexed at what passes for culture, music, discourse, justice and political leadership.  Never before have I questioned if our country will survive in a form that I will recognize.  But I remain optimistic that at least some of our mistakes will be corrected before long.

I also wonder if Branson will survive after all the old stars die off.  You wouldn’t know it, judging by how the place is growing, but I have a hard time envisioning the next generation of gray-haired folks making the trek there to a "Lady Ga-Ga" Theatre.  There’s just something not right about that.

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself.  Our travel legs from Fort Worth to Texarkana and then to Branson were uneventful, and I was glad to have the chance to drive Phannie through the rather benign Ozark foothills to get comfortable with her power management in an uphill/downhill situation.  I was very pleased with the performance and smoothness of the Caterpillar engine and Allison transmission.  I found that leaving the cruise control engaged, even on moderate inclines, resulted in very comfortable downshifting at the appropriate RPMs.  Soon after acquiring Phannie, I had the Cat techs confirm that the engine computer was set to “soft cruise,” allowing somewhat flexible parameters for holding cruise speed.  This helps to avoid engine lugging, hard shifting and high RPMs to hold an exact speed.  In soft mode, the computer is content to allow cruise speed to vary appreciably when going uphill and downhill.  Neat feature. 

Going downhill required a bit more attention, as I had had the Allison techs reset the transmission to downshift only to 5th gear instead of 2nd when the engine brake is applied.  This requires me to control the downshifting manually if the downhill grade is steep and a gear lower than 5th is needed.  I prefer it that way, however, as I was always alarmed at the huge RPM spike caused by the automatic downshift to 2nd when the engine brake was applied.  I wondered why this default setting would be used in the first place, but settled on my belief that the coach builders have designed it that way to keep inexperienced drivers out of trouble.  This assumes such a driver would be unable to discern that downshifting might be a good idea when embarking on a steep downhill grade and would mindlessly let the rig achieve escape velocity or burn up the brakes instead.  This is another of those dumbing-down techniques by manufacturers—much like their wholesale reliance on idiot lights—that I often rail against with utter futility.      

We stayed at the Stagecoach RV park in Branson, which was not up to our usual standards and too far from the strip.  We got a good deal with Passport America, but the inconvenience wasn’t worth the 50 percent price reduction.  In fact, it could even be said to be silly, considering what it cost to drive Phannie to Branson and back.  It just shows how much people can be influenced by a bargain, no matter how much irritation they will endure to get it.  Sometimes I wonder about myself.

The girls did some shopping (surprise!) at every conceivable opportunity, and I was relegated to chauffeur’s duty while Bubba watched football to the extent possible.  We got some pretty fair barbeque at Famous Dave’s and a so-so steak at Montana Mike’s.  We had never tried either of these before and the one visit was probably enough.  One favorite eatery was the Dessert Station, where we got a good burger and excellent desserts.
Shoji Tabuchi was a very slick and professional production with a good deal of talent variety which was needed, in my opinion.  While Shoji is a talented violinist, it doesn’t take too many violin solos before I begin to yawn.  It was almost worth the price of admission to see the theatre’s bathrooms, which were something to behold.  Imagine a men’s bathroom so large that it has its own billiard room! 

Shoji Tabuchi

On our last day, we toured Big Cedar, a fabulous lodge complex on Table Rock Lake not far from Branson.  We had a wonderful breakfast at the Devil’s Pool restaurant and walked around the beautiful setting.  What a find!  Unfortunately, we will have to return to check out this place further.  Sandy said this discovery was probably the best part of her trip.  Looks like that cinches our return!

The trip back to Fort Worth had to be re-routed due to weather.  Even though we missed most of the thunderstorms, we did encounter some rain in the Tulsa area.  This was the first rain encounter with Phannie, and she did just fine—no leaks anywhere that I could see.

The only indignity suffered was with Mae, who looked much like a mud pie.  The road spray from Phannie definitely took its toll on the usually-pristine little red car. 


  1. When I was first introduced to driving in the Rockies, (you know, them big hills out west?) I was advised that, "If you have to put 'er down in third gear to get up the hill, then you don't want to come out of third gear gettin' down the other side".
    I'm paraphrasing one of my older brothers here, who was in the business of buying and selling whatever kind of bus he could get his hands on, including used transit buses. I went out in '79 and drove for him a spell. Fun times.
    Of course, I didn't have my "air ticket", but don't tell anybody.

  2. I have always been a bit concerned about those RPM spikes, as well. I never thought about having it reprogrammed, as I was assured that it was perfectly safe the way is was.

    Now I might look into at least having it restricted to 4th gear. Thanks for the idea:)

  3. Our V-10 seems to downshift really well, going down a gear at a time with the brake hit, but of course the Dynamax isn't nearly as big as Phannie. Interesting observations about the future of Branson with the coming generation.

  4. I can remember watching the Lennon
    Sisters( all five or was it four) on the Lawrence Welk show!..does that make me old?

  5. Oh how I remember the Lawrence Welk Show and the Lemon Sisters. My grandparents watched them like they were the best thing since white bread.
    Glad you all had wonderful time. We haven't been to Branson yet. Hope to make it there next year. Thanks for the heads up on the travel time of Big Cedar. Enjoy your weekend.


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