Friday, April 26, 2013

At The Factory

Airstream Factory, Jackson Center, Ohio

When we bought the Mary Joan III it didn't have solar panels or an electrical inverter. The Mary Joan II had both of these and Sarah and I have come to depend on them because it gives us the freedom to boondock for extended periods. We found that we could go for five days without the need to run the generator to recharge the batteries. With the panels we have just installed we should be able to extend that a few more days since these solar panels will provide 290 watts rather than the 160 watts that we had on Mary Joan II. The inverter allows us to use the coffee grinder, computer and cell phone battery chargers, television and vacuum cleaner.

We discovered a few problems that needed to be repaired under warranty. Most of them were minor but one was critical. Airstream has added a new feature on our trailer. In addition to the power receptacle near the rear of the trailer, they have placed a second one at the front to make it easier to run a generator mounted on the bed of the tow vehicle. This arrangement requires a circuit board and relay to detect which receptacle is being used and to send the power from that receptacle to the power distribution panel. That circuit board and relay failed soon after we bought the trailer leaving us with not 110 volt electricity. The minor issues were related to improperly calibrated holding and water tank sensors. These sensors let us know how full the tanks are.

We chose to come to the factory since it is on our way home from Kentucky and we can stay in our trailer each night after the workers have finished for the day. They pick up the trailer at 7 AM from the "Terra Port" and return it at 4 PM. They have a very comfortable lobby with free coffee and reliable WiFi. There is also a small parts and supplies store where I bought LED lights to replace some fluorescent and halogen light bulbs. These will help us conserve energy and make our new solar panels that much more useful.
In the Terra Port

Mary Joan II being taken inside

Mary Joan III in the work bay

While waiting for the work to be completed we work on the blog and edit pictures. We also meet other Airstream owners who are having work done on their trailers and motorhomes. Sarah and I enjoy meeting these very friendly and interesting people. They come from all parts of the United States and Canada and they all have wonderful stories to tell and hints, tips about RVing in general and Airstreams in particular.
Spacious and comfortable lounge area
Factory tours are given every day at 2 PM. The tour begins in the lobby and is directed by Don, a long time Airstream employee. We took the tour the first time we came to Jackson Center so we didn't go again. But, we enjoyed  listening to Don's introduction each day. While his talk was basically the same, he always changed it slightly and added minor details that we hadn't heard before.
This early Airstream was completely restored.
In the nearby town of New Bremen is the very interesting Bicycle Museum of America. Just 18 miles to the west, this quaint little town is worth the trip if you are having work done at the factory or just passing through this part of Ohio. On the recommendation of other Airstream owners who had gone we decided to make the short drive. We arrived at the museum just as it opened and at the same time as another couple. The four of us were the only visitors in the museum.  Jim was at the desk this morning. After playing an introductory video for us, he gave us a narrated tour of the museum making sure to highlight the most significant items in the museum. We spent two hours looking at all the bicycles and bicycle memorabilia and learning about the history and development of the bicycle. Not only were many of them technical marvesl, in many cases they were also works of art. Sarah's only disappointment was that there wasn't a bamboo bicycle in the exhibit.
Bicycle Museum of America
Jim gave us a wonderful tour
The 1,000,000th Shwinn came off the line in 1916
Beautifully executed wooden frame
c. 1890 Columbia Military Bicycle
Lock on the Miami & Erie Canal

Just outside the museum is a preserved piece of history. The Miami & Erie Canal passed through the center of New Bremen. Constructed between 1825 and 1845, the canal connected the Erie Canal to the Ohio River. In the center of town is a small park wherein there is a lock and portion of the canal that has been restored. It was interesting to read about how important the canal was and what economic benefits it brought to the town. 

Here is link to the town website with information about the canal.

We hope to have all of our repairs completed today and continue on our way home. We plan to stop in Cleveland to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Return to Louisville

Sarah, Becca and John in the river front park, waiting for the show.
 Our son John and his wife Becca live in Radcliff, Kentucky just south of Louisville. John is stationed at Fort Knox, but he will be deployed to Afghanistan in a few weeks. We could not pass by without spending some time with the young couple.

The drive from Nashville to Louisville was very pleasant. It was a warm clear day and the redbud trees were beautiful against the pale spring green of the trees. As usual we stayed off the highway and enjoyed the pleasant rolling landscape as we traveled north.

We stayed at a pleasant campground in Elizabethtown that was a short drive from John and Becca's apartment. They came to see the new trailer and stayed for dinner. We discovered that the celebration leading up to the Kentucky Derby, Thunder Over Nashville, was happening the weekend that we were there. Thunder Over Nashville is huge party on the riverfront in the downtown area. Beginning 11AM,  the city provides musical entertainment and an airshow during the day. Then the largest and most elaborate fireworks display happens soon after dark. Finally for those with more stamina and a desire to party can continue at the many clubs and bars on 4th St.

Happy Couple

Watching the eight barges bearing the pyrotechnics being towed into position we knew we were in for a major fireworks demonstration. We were not disappointed. Four barges went to the west and the other four remained close in front of us. The display was loud, bright, colorful and continuous. Each of us were amazed at the intensity of the show. We were on the south side of the river and the wind was from the northwest. The result was that we were showered with soot from the burnt gunpowder. At one point the fallout actually irritated our eyes. It was a small price to pay for such an amazing fireworks display.
More than a half million turn out for Thunder Over Louisville

Mammoth Caves is just an hour south of Elizabethtown so we decided to spend the next day visiting the national park. We signed up for the Snowball tour that took us more than 200 feet below ground in an ancient underground riverbed. Unlike Carlsbad Caverns, this cave lacks the dramatic colors of stalagmites and stalactites. But we were impressed with the gypsum formations, the smoke writing left by early explorers of the cave. Mostly, we were impressed with the immensity of this system of over 400 miles of continuous caverns.
Gypsum "Snowballs" on the ceiling of the cave

Smoke writing left in the 1860s
We shared one more dinner with Becca and John. It was nice seeing how settled into their new apartment they are. Becca has done a nice job making their small space feel comfortable. We said our goodbyes fairly early because John has to report for duty very early each morning. And, we have an appointment for some minor warranty to work to be done on the Mary Joan in Jackson Center, Ohio where Airstreams are manufactured.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

On Our Way to Nashville

Just outside of Birmingham, Oak Mountain State Park was a convenient place to stop for the night. Since we didn't leave Florence Marina until late in the day, we appreciated the short drive to Oak Mountain because it left us with enough time to enjoy a 4 mile hike that afternoon. The GPS and Google Maps got us to the campground with no problem. After unhitching and getting leveled, and connecting water and electricity we needed to go to town to buy food for our cat, Dot. This time Google Maps directed us to another entrance to the park that required us to ford fairly deep water at a causeway. It was no problem for the truck, but it would have not been possible to take the trailer across. Just happy it didn't do that on the way in.

I have a colleague who worked with me for a few years who is now living just north of Birmingham. Despite the short notice, she invited us to her home for dinner the next evening and offered to let us park in her driveway. After doing laundry Sarah and I drove into downtown Birmingham with the Mary Joan in tow. Since it was Sunday, we had no problem negotiating the city streets and even finding a place to park just a block from the art museum. I'm glad we didn't have to plug the parking meters because we occupied four parking spaces.

We arrived at Brian and Nicole's home early in the evening. Their beautiful home sits high on a mountain with spectacular views of the tree covered Alabama hills to the north. We shared stories, caught up on family happenings and enjoyed a wonderful dinner. When Brian and Nicole offered us the guest bedroom, we retorted that we were the perfect house guests because we brought our house with us. We saw Nicole and Brian's two delightful young girls off to school said our goodbyes and continued on our northward journey.
Nicole, Brian, Sarah and Abigail
On our way south in January we passed through Nashville, but in late January it was too risky to spend much time and the weather, while better than Massachusetts, was not free from winter hazards. This time we could stop and enjoy the city. 

Conveniently located just 25 minutes from downtown Nashville, we set up camp at the Army Corps of Engineers campground at Seven Points. Besides being in the perfect location, the price could not be beat. With our National Parks Golden Years pass we enjoyed a 50% discount that resulted in our paying just $12 per night for a waterfront campsite with water and electricity. 
Beautiful campsite at Seven Points Campground on J. Percy Priest Lake near Nashville, TN

There are so many venues offering live music in Nashville on any given day making choices difficult. We turned to the internet to peruse the booking calendars of the clubs and theaters, determined who was playing then used Youtube to listen to a sample of the music each performer plays. We love technology.

For our first evening out, we went to The Station Inn where we enjoyed the bluegrass and old time music of "New Monday". The atmosphere of the Station Inn is very relaxed, with performers sitting at nearby tables or at the bar. A guest mandolin player sat at the table in front of us (sorry I can't remember his name) and Ashley Campbell, daughter of Glenn Campbell, sat at the bar. The Station Inn serves good pizza, but its adult beverage menu is limited to beer.
Old Time Music at The Station Inn
Ashley Campbell with New Monday

A little to the northeast of Seven Points Campground is The Hermitage, the home of General Andrew Jackson and seventh President of the United States. The story of his life is told well at this beautifully restored and preserved historic landmark. 

Visiting the many homes of former presidents, like we have done, has greatly increased my determination to read a well researched and documented biography of each of our presidents. The history most  my generation learned in grammar and high school does not tell the complex stories that are the true lives of these men and the women that shared their lives. Discovering the manifold aspects of their personalities and the times in which they lived helps put modern social and political difficulties that our current politicians deal with in a perspective that helps me understand them better. The truth be told, however, it is difficult to refrain from becoming a cynic when comparing today's leaders with those of our past. 
Andrew Jackson's Home, The Hermitage

Rachel and Andrew Jackson's Tomb
Most of Jackson's enslaved people chose freedom. George, Jackson's personal attendant stayed and was "rewarded" with a grave next to Jackson's tomb. 

It happened that a major fund raising concert to benefit the Country Hall of Fame was happening during our stay. We were able to get tickets online the day we arrived. Prior to the show we ate at The Silly Goose. Sarah had the Grouper and I had the chicken with red lentils. Great food. 

The concert, All For The Hall, was held at the Bridgestone Arena. I was a little concerned about the size of the arena and being too far from the stage. My fears were unjustified. Our seats were on the first mezzanine just to the right of the stage. We had wonderful views and the acoustics were better than I would have expected for such a large space. Keith Urban, along with Vince Gill,  hosted a three hour plus concert with both contemporary and classic country musicians such as Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson  Sheryl Crowe, Roseanne Cash and Hank Williams, Jr. among many others. It was non-stop energetic music.

Host Kith Urban. We couldn't see his wife, Nicole Kidman, but we knew she was behind and above us because he frequently gestured to her when he was playing accompaniment to the main act.
The indomitable Hank Williams, Jr.
Willie being Willie

The next morning we drove to Franklin. It is a small town about 20 miles south of Nashville. I heard it was a pretty town with lots of antique shops and boutiques. It was also the site of what was described as the most important battle of the Civil War "about which nobody knows".That piqued my interest and certainly described my knowledge, so off to Franklin we went. 

Having visited Gettysburg and Andersonville, I anticipated that the visit to the Battle of Franklin historic site would take a couple hours, leaving us time to browse a few of the many antique shops in town. Sarah and I could not have been more amazingly mistaken. There are visitor's centers associated with each of the three sites that comprise the current historical site that tells the history of the Battle of Franklin. 

In our travels, we have enjoyed many fine tour guides at parks and historic sites who were supremely knowledgeable and caring about their given territory. But we have never experienced any group as passionate as the people here. They not only gave the who, what when, where and why, but also the emotional and lasting effects of the compelling stories they recounted. 
Carnton Plantation
Offered by the owner to be used as a hospital for Confederate casualties. Blood stains on the floors are a vivid reminder of the horrors of the Civil War. 

The main story is of the Confederate Army winning a battle but losing the war. That grandscale irony was juxtaposed with small scale personal ironies and life altering experiences of the families affected. How the name Carnton Plantation forebode one of today's functions of the place. How a young man left his home to fight and survive numerous battles, only to lay injured and dying on the battlefield yards from his home and die his father's arms in that home. How a six year old girl witnessed the most horrific sights and smells of war and death and dying yet went on to become a strong independant woman and an accomplished artist. 
Built in 1826 by Randall McGavock a first generation Irish immigrant, Carnton comes from the Scottish word "cairn" which means pile of stones, usually used to mark a sepulchre.  Now it is the burial ground for thousands of dead soldiers.

After visiting the Carnton Plantation, we had a nice lunch at the Franklin Mercantile Deli then visited the Carter House and finally the Lotz house. If you visit, I recommend that you start at the Carnton Plantation then procede tothe  Carter house and finish at the Lotz house in that order. The Carter and Lotz houses are just a half mile from Franklin center and would be a pleasant walk. 

The Carter House.
Numerous bullet holes in several buildings tell the story of the horrible battle that occurred here.

J.T. our guide of the Lotz House.
Our heads were "full" when we left Franklin. We drove north into Nashville to the only Trader Joe's in the Nashville area.  Along the way on the Hillsboro Pike we passed many mansions that would challenge those of Newport, RI in their grandiosity. I could only presume they were the homes of music celebrities and recording studio executives. 

The next show was at the Belcourt Theater to see Billy Bragg. The venue was small and intimate. Once more, we were treated to fine music. Billy played some old hits and many songs from his newest title. With Woody Guthrie as a major influence, those who are not of a liberal mindset might not appreciate his on stage political comments. For us, however, he was preaching to the choir. We bought a couple CDs that Billy graciously autographed for us.
Billy Bragg

We are now facing the next difficult decision of where to spend our last evening in Nashville before moving on to visit our son and daughter-in-law in Kentucky. Stay tuned.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Mary Joan III

While waiting at Traveler's Rest for the transaction to take place that would allow us to take possession of the Mary Joan III , it was necessary for us to travel into Dade City a few times. This route took us past an interesting looking restaurant at a crossroads some distance from the town. We took a chance and went to the Pearl in the Grove on our last night in Traveler's Rest. We couldn't have been more delighted. The service was impeccable and the food was wonderful. Sarah had the Pappardelle Pearl and I had the Pork Belly Roulade, together with the fine 3/III Zinfandel and the Creme Brulee for dessert we left very happy. Chef Curtis Beebe was very courteous and attentive. 
Chef Curtis Beebe at Pearl in the Grove

We are now traveling with the Mary Joan III. Hopefully, this will be the last in the series. She is 3 feet longer and much more luxurious than any of the previous iterations. The added length and weight is noticeable. Negotiating intersections requires more planning and concentration. Accelerating and braking are significantly affected by the additional 1,700 lbs. 

With a few days before the new owner of the MJII would arrive, Sarah and I went to Cape Coral to visit with her aunts and uncles, Marge, Sally, Ed and Jim. We enjoyed going to the farmer's market and making delicious meals with the produce we acquired there; homemade mozzarella cheese, fresh basil and delicious tomatoes allowed us to make a wonderful caprese salad. Revisiting the Prawnbrokers restaurant was a treat. 
Farmer's market in Cape Coral
Aunt Sally, Uncle Jim, Aunt Marge and Uncle Ed

At the marina near Marge and Ed's was a sailboat that Ed said was for sale. He believed it was being sold as abandoned and could be purchased for the cost of its storage. I concluded that it was a Gozzard, which is a very well made passage capable boat. It was unusual in that it was a ketch. The rumor was that it was available for $12,000. Sarah instantly became enamoured and insisted we investigate further. She seems to have amnesia about what it takes to restore a classic boat. Fortunately, the rumor was just that. The boat is not for sale.

The TV (tow vehicle) passed 45,000 miles and was due for an oil change. Sam Galloway Ford in Fort Meyers gave good service and the best price yet on an oil change. 

Now we are truly on a northerly heading. Leaving Cape Coral, we stopped at O'Leno State Park just north of Gainesville. The oldest state park in Florida, O'Leno's attraction is the San Juan river. This crystal clear river ripples through the park over rock and through small pools until it abruptly ends in a large pool. The river then descends beneath the earth and emerges several miles away at River Rise. 
A rose by another name

Sculpture depicting CCD worker
Now that was a stimulus package that put people to work

The San Juan River where it disappears below ground

The next day brought us to Georgia Veterans Memorial State Park. While I was completing the registration process, Sarah learned that the park had a Frisbee Golf course. We bought a couple "drivers" in order to try our hand at the game. After settling in at our campsite, we took off for the course. We played the game with just our "drivers". It was a lot of fun and I think we are hooked. We just need to complete our club selection.
B 29

Andersonville, Georgia is a place I have always wanted to visit. We came close last year but couldn't quite get it onto our itinerary. This time I was determined to visit this hallowed ground. Also known as Fort Sumter this place was a POW camp for captured Union Soldiers at the time of the Civil War. Intended to hold 6,000 prisoners but designed for 10,000, at its peak, it held nearly 32,000 Union prisoners on 16.5 acres of land. Thirteen thousand prisoners died during the 14 months that the prison existed. The National Park Service has created a POW museum here. The museum is well executed. The architecture successfully evokes that of a prison. Inside, the ordered nature of the exhibit that depicts the stages a POW experiences during his or her capture allows the visitor to understand that ordeal. We saw more than one person who was emotionally overwhelmed. 
The architecture at Andersonville evokes that of prisons everywhere

Looking west across Fort Sumter. The white stakes on the right indicate where the walls were and those on the left demarcate the death zone.

 With so many prisoners, the guards were continually in fear of a prison break. The guards were mostly very young and old men who were unable to fight in the war. In order to maintain control, a death zone of about 8 feet was demarcated within the tall wooden wall that encompassed the open air prison. Any prisoner entering the death zone would be shot by anyone of the guards stationed in towers that were positioned every 100 feet along the wall.

Clean water was difficult to obtain since the stream that ran through the middle of the camp was polluted before it even entered the prison. During a terrible storm, lightning struck the ground and water was released from a spring just inside the death zone. It came to be called Providence Spring.

At first prisoners used sticks with cups attached to gather water from the spring, eventually they were allowed to divert water from the spring into the prison.

We could not tour the National Cemetery because an internment was taking place. Sadly, we left Andersonville and headed for Florence Marina State Park.

On the way to the state park, we passed through the town of Plains, the home of President Jimmy Carter, 39th president of the United States. We stopped to visit the Jimmy Carter Center. Plains is not unlike so many small towns through which we pass on the back roads. Except for the signs informing us of its most famous citizen, it would have been just another pretty small town. 

Jimmy Carter's Class Room

Given the biggest headline of the day, North Korea's nuclear threats, the exhibit that discussed Carter's negotiations with Kim Jong-Il caught our attention. While Carter clearly blindsided President Clinton, the "treaty" he negotiated but George W. Bush rejected, could have prevented our current fears. 
Nobel Peace Prize
Plains Georgia
Brother Billy's Gas Station

At Florence Marina State Park, for the second time during our travels through the south, we were forced to take shelter when a tornado warning was issued for our area. Living in an aluminum trailer is not comforting when the warning is issued. We took shelter in the concrete block bath house until it was certain that the threat had passed.

Before continuing our migration north, we left the MJIII at Florence Marina State Park and drove back 8 miles to Providence Canyons State Park. We learned about this place from another camper at Georgia Veterans Memorial State Park. Sometimes called the Grand Canyon of Georgia, it is an amazing place. Unlike the great canyons of the southwest that are tens of thousands years old, these canyons were carved in just 160 years. Farmers cleared the land and erosion began and continued until it was unstoppable. The result is canyons 150 feet deep.
Poor farming practices that began in the early 19th century allowed erosion to create these 150 foot deep canyons to develop in less than 150 years.
Abandoned cars now part of the landscape

Our next campsite is at Wind Creek State Park in Alabama. It is a huge campground. With over 600 campsites, it is the largest in the Alabama park system. We were assigned site B15 that is right on the water. As usual, the setting is beautiful.

Wind Creek State Park
We don't know where we will go next, but stay tuned.