Back on the Road 2015

Over four years ago, I started this blog, with the goal of sharing what we see in the world.  Let me reintroduce myself for those who recognized that I’ve been missing for a long time.

We live on the road.  I don’t mean that we travel a lot, I mean we literally live on the road, travelling from location to location, on mostly a weekly basis.  Most RV’rs travel from park to park, but they stay awhile, we don’t have that luxury, we have places we have to be.  We also aren’t typical RV’rs because we still work, in fact, it is our work that keeps us moving.

Our goal as we travel is to seek out the best there is to offer in any location.  Sometimes it is while we are vacationing, other times, it is just another port of call.

This last week was a great example, we were in Attica, Indiana.  It is a small, idyllic community with lots of green grass, old growth trees, and right now, water.  The Wabash is over the banks, in fact, the other day, you could practically fish from the McDonald’s parking lot, and it is a half mile away from the river.  There isn’t much to do in Attica, but the people are awesome.

Some things we do everywhere we go, they are necessities of life.  I visit the local library for wifi, do our laundry at the local Laundromat, shop in the local grocery store, mail from the local post office, eat in the local restaurants.  This week, I even got my haircut at a local salon.  Not much else to offer here in Attica.  But just down the road is a little gem that we recommend to everyone.

In Covington, Indiana, just off the 74, at exit 6 is a restaurant called The Beef House (16501 North S.R. 63).  It isn’t small, it isn’t quiet, but it is homemade and delicious.  Several times a year, they run a dinner theater, the restaurant is big and efficient, the food is fresh.

How do I know?  First, the place is always busy, so the turnover in food happens fast.  Second, you can see right in to the kitchen as you wait in line for a table or visit the salad bar.  Third, and I think most important, the cuts of meat are displayed in the front case, you see the cooks come by and select what they are cooking next.beef house rolls

The beef is good, the salad bar is fresh and plentiful, and the rolls and desserts are well known.  The waitresses practically push the rolls on you, always offering more and more, to the point that almost everyone leaves with a bag.  They are that good.  I did my best to confine my selection to two, and even with that, I was over full when we left.  The food is well worth a visit.

We have a lot of friends who visit Indiana through the year, The Beef House is always on the recommended stop list, you should add it to yours.  Photos courtesy of The Beef House.

(update:  we had posted we were going to the restaurant on FB, some friends saw that and just came by to tell me what a great meal they had, said they had been coming to the area for 15 years and never knew about, now they know.  I love when we can make an impact like that!)

On the Road Series: Northeast 4 – New River Gorge National Park

IMAG0665New River Gorge National River is a National Park, who knew?  I found it by accident on my map as we looked for something to kill time with in West Virginia.  The bridge and the whitewater rafting is what attracts most to the area.

The bridge is impressive, built of steel in the late 1970’s, it is taller than the Eiffel Tower plus two Statues of Liberty.  Viewing it from the river side is particularly impressive.  The area played an important role in the industrial revolution, it hauled coal on the railways from the mines tunneled in to the mountain there.  People came from all over for the jobs that were available in the area.

The Park Service has taken ownership of 70,000 acres, but for once, they haven’t shrunk the value of the area.  I am not one to criticize the National Park Service, I love the properties they have preserved for the future.  What they have done differently with this one is to continue to allow use of the river for commercial purposes and there is even hunting on NPS land.  That makes great sense to me.

So when you visit, plan a trip with a whitewater guide, take the “Bridge Walk”, be sure whatever you do, you get near the water and look up.  Look at the land that was used to fuel the Industrial Revolution, and look at the way nature has reclaimed it.  Appreciate the value that land offers, no matter the season, it always takes care of itself.

On the Road Series: Northeast 3, Coal and Beer

IMAG0655Coal is the lifeblood of this Pennsylvania landscape we are in, anthracite coal to be exact.  There were millions of tons of coal buried in slants under the landscape and many worked hard to remove it.  One of the best places to view the process is the Pioneer Tunnel in Ashland, Pennsylvania.  We stopped at the local museum first to look through the exhibits and see what was to be seen.  They do a great job of sharing how the coal is formed and how it is different than other coals.  The fields of coal lay under the mountains in this area in a vertical slant, much of what is extracted is done from underground.

The Pioneer Tunnel piles you in to a Loki and takes you down the tracks, 1800 feet in to the tunnel, the tracks stop.  There are many veins of coal that you pass under in this tunnel that was actively worked until 1931.  There are offshoots that you can walk down to see the chutes that have been dug both high and low from the tunnel to extract the coal.  The process is dirty, dangerous and back breaking.  Over 31,000 men have died in the industry since the process began.  While the press plays up the big explosions and collapses, the majority of men were killed one or two at a time doing industrial work.  Our prayers for all of them.

Not far from Ashland is another Pennsylvania treasure.  The Yuengling brewery, founded locally in 1829, it is the oldest American brewery.  The story starts five generations ago when a German immigrant named David came over to the new country.  He wanted to build a brewery to support his family, so he looked for a place with a strong German culture, at that time in Europe, men, women and children in Germany drank beer.  He wanted to replicate that formula so he had built in buyers.  He landed in Pottsville, where the original brewery still stands – well, almost original, as was common in those days, the first one burnt down.  What I loved about the place was the sense of history, the world has not been scrubbed and polished, the doors still swing on pulleys, the basement is still dug out and accessible, there is no security at the door making sure you follow every sign.  It feels small, it feels personal, it was awesome.

The fifth generation still heads and owns the brewery today, there have been five male born descendants that have headed the company…the current one is 71 years old and he has four daughters active in the industry, but no sons.  A change is afoot.  Over the last fifteen years, Yuengling has expanded tremendously from it’s humble origins, there are now two additional breweries that each make 1.7 million barrels a year, in addition to the original.  Yuengling can be purchased in 18 states and is continuing it’s expansion.  Pretty impressive for a local brewery.

There is one more thing in Pottsville that the locals are proud of, perhaps more than the brewery even.  That is the Pottsville Maroons, a professional football team who won the championship in 1925.  Perhaps you’ve heard of them, they go by the Washington Redskins now.



On the Road Series: Northeast 2

IMAG0628Maps have always been one of my favorite things, whether coloring in a map for school; drawing a map for directions (a side note here, if I drew it, don’t trust it); following a map, whatever the reason to have a map, it must be a good one.  Our first order of business was sleuthing through a local cemetery to find some relatives.  We thought we had some good information, turns out, it wasn’t that good.  We could have used a map.    The cemetery was in Sunbury, PA, originally founded in the early 1700’s.  Most of the headstones were worn by the weather, so impossible to read.  It is always interesting for those of us who grew up in the west to come east where everything is older.  Our states and landscapes had been viewed by just a few when whole generations were being buried in the east.  We were successful in only finding a single headstone that was on our list, and that was with the help of the internet.  Amazing how a new technology can link us to something almost 300 years old.

By the time we had stopped exploring the plots, we had come upon dinner time.  A local suggested the Hotel Edison.  Right there in Sunbury is a shrine to Thomas Edison, the first commercial building in which he wired his new-fangled light bulbs in 1877.  There were many other items in the hotel that he had invented, it was quite the history lesson.  It wasn’t quite dark, so we added a “speed tour” to our list of topics for the day.  The Rand-McNally map has three items listed in pink in our area today (we assume these are places of interest), so we set out to see the pink dots around Sunbury.  First stop, Fort Augusta.  An outpost of the British to protect the colonies during the French-Indian war…yes, that is before the American Revolution.  They’ve built a small scale version of the Fort on the property where the original Fort stood.  Next, the Jacob Priestly House, across the river from Fort Augusta, this is the home of a leading nineteenth century scientist.  The man who discovered oxygen and many other things, including the concept of photosynthesis.  It is said that Priestly’s thought process was so out of wack and controversial, that he was run out of England.  Last pink spot for the day was the Susquehanna University campus, a quaint little campus near the Susquehanna River that was founded in the mid 1800’s.  Beautiful place, but with tuition and room and board at over $50K a year, I doubt I will know anyone who attends.

I really enjoy speed touring, it is a combination of sleuthing, speeding and hanging out with the people I enjoy the most.  We may not get the full experience, but it is always a good time.


On the Road Series: Northeast

IMAG0646In 1962, the small town of Centralia, Pennsylvania began to burn.   It still does to this day.  This area of Pennsylvania is known for its’ coal production, and that coal lies under the surface of the ground.  A fire lit to burn garbage, lit the coal on fire, there has been no way to extinguish it.  Some roads have crumbled, but for the most part, the government came in and bought out the residents of the town to relocate them.  Most left gladly, there are still about 10 residents who stayed.  The rest of the town is abandoned.  The homes have been razed, there is a section of highway that has been detoured, but the streets and sidewalks remain, if you hadn’t heard why the town was gone, it would look like an alien plot.

If given the chance, find the highway that has been detoured, it is covered with graffiti and has an otherworldly feel.

Spreading the Word…

In Dayton, Tennessee last week we were treated to some Gospel music sung by some friends of ours, Jim and Sheryl Hallengren with the Salt of the Earth Vocal Band.  Apparently, Gospel music is the thing round these parts, they have a unique way of spreading the Word, because, you see, they sing Gospel at McDonald’s.  Yep, you heard me right, McDonald’s.

For the past thirteen years, Gospel has been played right there at the local McDonald’s every Thursday night.  When we walked in to see our friends, the place was packed.  Speakers were set up through out the restaurant, the performers were in the Play Room.  For the first hour, anyone who wanted came up to sing.  Most brought sheet music and stepped up to the microphone with a little trepidation.  They were accompanied by a keyboard and lead guitar played by two old timers who seemed to know every song.  Occasionally, a bass guitar also joined in.  Some sang timidly, others sang with gusto, all sang proudly.

Our friends are part of the Salt of the Earth Vocal Band, they started around eight and played for an hour.  Accompanied by the Apple laptop, the vocals were strong and beautiful.  The trio consists of Jim and Sheryl and Mark Travis from Knoxville.  Check out their page on Reverbnation, my favorite was I Bowed on My Knees.

So very cool to know some very cool people!


Apple Pie and Cowboy Boots

Apple pie and cowboy boots are about as American as you can get in these here states, but the definition of them changes when you are on the top of a mountain inTennessee. 

Apple pie is not your mother’s recipe.  It’s not the apple pie that my daughter K makes with Jack Daniels sauce and a cream cheese crust that my friends beg for.  You won’t find it baking in any oven.  More like, cooking in a still.  Apple Pie is moonshine.  The stuff that began the racing that later became NASCAR, the 110 proof liquid that Revenue Agents all over the Appalachia hunted for.  It comes in quart jars and many flavors, but Apple Pie is the most popular where we were.  Other flavors you can find in the jars are watermelon, blueberry, peach, strawberry – all of it a little different, but very tasty.  

When drinking ‘shine, don’t get your cups or glasses out, those offering a sip from their jar will be offended.  Moonshine is the original party drink.  It is served in quart jars and passed around.  No germ-a-phobes allowed in the drinking circle.  It is a drink to be shared.  You don’t get to pour your own in a cup – it is strictly bottle material.

Cowboy boots are another all-American tradition, but those I saw over the weekend weren’t made for work, they were made for dressing up the daisy dukes that the girls were wearing.  Girls from 8 to 80 were wearing daisy dukes and cowboy boots on the mountain in Tennessee.   It is a sight to see.  It applies to all sizes and shapes, not necessarily a good application, but it is done.  And of course, age doesn’t matter.  One of our friends called it the “50 yard fake-out”  The boys would see someone shapely in her daisy dukes and cowboy boots and think what a fine girl that was, only to find that she was someone’s grandma, or worse, under-age.  It’s kind of a game to be able to guess someone’s age, and of course, boys aren’t immune from wearing cowboy boots with their shorts too.

Just another one of the many things you can see Trippin’ the Americas

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Today was our fun day,   I’ve talked Big in to letting us have one each road trip.  So, we started out at 5:00 a.m. – that’s Eastern time, or Fast time around these parts.  So last week when we were on the west coast, that would be 2:00 a.m.  Oh, dark thirty is a better description.  Gordon Andretti, aka Big, he thinks of himself as an Italian off-road driver,  drove down the mountain – fast.  We hit Chattanooga in time for our scheduled appointment on KDEF, channel 12 for their morning show to promote the event this weekend.

Breakfast followed at the City Café – it was all I could do not to order pie for breakfast, they looked awesome.  The rest was great too – you’ll find it attached to the Days Inn right on the main drag in to town.  And then we were headed to the Chattanooga Choo-Choo.

What a cool little place that is.  The hotel rooms are made from the train cars.  You can dine in the dining car, and we assume the Club Car is for drinking.  But since it was 7:30 in the morning, we didn’t check that out.  The old depot is beautifully restored and the grounds meticulously kept.  Lots of pictures taken there.

One of the things I love about traveling is that we get to bring JE with us.  Oh my gosh, that kid keeps me laughing.  He is the quickest wit and loves to pose for pictures, check him out on the brick railroad offering a pedestrian a ride.

We followed up the Chattanooga Choo Choo with a trip to RockCity.  While it is right on the edge of Chattanooga, it is actually on Lookout Mountain in Georgia.  A quick trip up the mountain and we were there when the gates opened. RockCityis a private garden established during the depression and opened to the public at that time.  It is famous for it’s advertising campaigns, which remind me of Wall Drug inSouth Dakota.  You see “SeeRockCity” signs all over the place.

The gardens were actually pretty cool, and the rocks are incredible.  They’ve got a thing for gnomes though, so we counted all that we saw – ended up being 76 that we found, when we asked the lady at the gift shop if that was all of them, she just shook her head and said, “Y’all were only supposed to count the ones in the Valley.”  But that’s just not our style, if we’re gonna do something, we’re gonna do it big!. JE sang songs like “Gnome-body knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” and “Gnome, Gnome on the Range” – he keeps me in stitches.

I have to say our “Fun day” was awesome, we saw some very cool things, when we came back and told the crew what we did today, it was amazing how many of them had never been there.  That’s pretty typical of locals, they never see the things that are closest to them.  Don’t let that happen to you, if there is a “tourist attraction” go out and see it.  Report back here and you can guest blog all about it.  We’ll also put it on our list of places to see.

Dayton, Tennessee

Our home for the next few days is 35 Pitts Gap Road, Graysville, Tennessee.  Last April 27th, it was also the home of one of the largest tornado cells to come through the area in over 50 years.  The mountain top doesn’t look the same.  The tornado cut a swath 1.5  miles wide and 30 miles long.  Our friends, Kenny and Julia, were in its’ path.  Their home and shop were directly hit, with them inside.  When we were here just after the tornado, Kenny described it for us.  Now Kenny is an excitable man, but to listen to how he tells the story really brings it home.  My friend Charlene shot the video, and when she showed it to Kenny and Julia, they said, “Oh my gosh, we sound like country bumpkins.”  They are anything but, these are two of the hardest working people you will ever meet.  They single-handedly host an event on the top of the mountain for 3000 people several times a year, in addition to working, living and surviving the tornado.

They are finally getting their world back together, four months after the tornado.  They just bought a home and moved out of the camper they’ve been in since early May.  They finally have running water again and a real toilet.  A place to put their things, except they don’t have any things.  All of it blew away in the tornado.  Their home, shop, livelihood went away with the wind.  Their next door neighbors, Debbie & Fox, died.  The ladies just up the hill died too. 

The mountain is starting to show some life.  As we drive around, you can see new homes being built, brush being cut down, paths being cleared.  But it doesn’t look the same.

The top of Brayton mountain has a number of roads that lead to it.  We’ve driven them all, and each has a little bit of charm to it.  If you take Pikeville Road down, you end up in Graysville, there is a spot along the way with a “Deaf Child” sign and the trees grow over the road just before the hairpin turns – if you listen close enough, I swear you can hear the banjos playing in Deliverance. 

Another road off the mountain is Leggett Road, it will drop you in Sale Creek which is where the Fuller family runs the show.  There are several businesses in town with the name Fuller in it, but my favorite is the combination Propane-Convenience Store-Children’s Clothes-Tanning Booth-Video Shop.  You just can’t get more diverse than that.

The New Harmony Road will drop you in to Dayton, home of the Scopes Trial.  They have a historical county courthouse and in the spring is the Strawberry Festival.  Our favorite restaurant there is Bimbo’s.  Everything they serve is massive. And for barbecue, Momo’s is the best – but I’ll talk about them more this weekend.

There are two more roads coming in one from Dunlop.  Dunlop’s only business is the McDonalds, or at least the only business I’ve ever noticed.  And then a road that connects up from Hwy 111, called Jones Gap Rd.  That’s what we came in on.  With the semi-truck, we have to pick our road carefully. 

The people of BraytonMountain are as down to earth as you’ll find anywhere.  They are the kind of folks you can count on for anything.  I’m proud to call them my friends.

Travel Notes Iowa to Tennessee

Another long day in the Taj Mahauler, but it’s what we do.  We made a decision to stay on the 34 across Iowa until we got to the 74 in Illinois.  This turned out to be a time-consuming decision.  But, of course, the problem still relates back to the I-29 being closed along the Missouri River.  The 34, as it turns out, is two-lane, and 55 mph.  We have decided that Iowa is the second longest state to get across, right behind Texas.  It doesn’t matter what road you choose, it’s going to take a long time, because there are no diagonals.

Last year, we were returning from Hannibal,MO (where Shoeless Joe is from  – think Damn Yankees!) when we entered Iowa at Keokuk.  It took us all damn day to get out of the state.  Every intersection we came to, we made a decision, left or straight – because all we cared about was that we continued North and West.  We traveled some interesting country roads, right through corn country.  There were lots of barns with quilt squares on them and we ended up in Eldon,Iowa at the American Gothic House.  You know which one I mean, it’s the one the two old people are standing in front of with their pitchfork.  It’s amazing what you can find when you aren’t looking.

The route we were driving yesterday took us through Nashville on I-24, our goal being to stay out of the traffic, Big chose Old Hickory Trail Road to connect on to I-40 on.  Let’s just say that the route didn’t save any time.  We ended up on a hilly, four lane road right about the time all the kids got out of school.  It was crazy, and there was tons of traffic.  We won’t try that “shortcut” again.

Dinner last night was one of those places you happen upon and don’t want to forget.  Squealin’ Bob’s 2nd Act Deli.  Bobby Price is a barbequer of the best kind,  he started when he was 12 and has perfected his craft.  In 2008 he bought the 2nd Act Deli.  We had a terrific bbq platter with all the fixins’ and added catfish, just because we could.  It was all delicious. Sparta,Tennessee was where we stopped, hiding behind the Bank of America is where you will find the restaurant.  Bobby served the meal himself. You can find it at 22 Mayberry Street.