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Sunday, September 30, 2018

Tennessee Trains, Towns, Whiskey and Tears

Planning to visit Chattanooga, we found that roads were closed for a triathlon beginning in the park we planned to explore. Always flexible, we decided to leave the city for another time and headed west under low clouds that filled the valleys.
Nickajack Lake was a fine stop to stretch and get ideas at the Visitor's Center for places to visit in Tennessee.
Cowan had a little railroad museum in and around the town depot. Unfortunately, we arrived before the museum was open for the day. Check the Cowan Railroad Museum website for current open days and times.
A 1920 Porter steam engine along with a couple of rail speeders are on display outside.
The station board doesn't have any trains listed since passenger service stopped serving Cowan in the 1970's.
This bay window caboose here sports the N C & St L logo. Living in North Carolina, I jumped to the conclusion it stood for North Carolina and St Louis RR. I should have thought about where we are first. N is for Nashville and C is for Chattanooga.
The mainline is still very active with freight operations. Diesel locomotives are staged here to help push trains over Cumberland mountain towards Chattanooga. You can listen to railroad communications on a low power rebroadcast by tuning your radio to 87.9 FM. The engineer waved to us as this helper engine rolled past the museum.
Small towns always draw us off the highway, especially when they are a county seat. We stretched our legs in Winchester, TN where the Franklin County Courthouse boasts a stainless steel tower and clock.
Shops in the square surrounding the courthouse were in great condition. The Oldham movie theatre is now used for live performances.
Making for a walking history tour, the town installed great plaques on downtown buildings. This was one of our favorites.
Long parking spots on the main street made for easy parking. We need to stop again when shops and restaurants are open.

Back in the 1980's, Ernie Boyce,  the Engineering Director where I worked was a big Jack Daniel's fan. We often talked about visiting the distillery together some day. Seeing the distillery was on our way, we went on-line and signed up for a tour. Here's a souvenir photo of our group. Our enthusiastic tour guide is beside Beth.
Jack Daniel's makes just about every ingredient, even the charcoal used in mellowing. Here you can see the wood being readied for burning down into charcoal.

Things get a little hot when charcoal production is underway.

This is where Darren and Tracy sit to watch the fire progress. Note the whiskey container for use as a fire starter.
More modern trucks are parked off site, but this vintage fire engine sits near the charcoal fires.
Jack Daniel stands with us in Cave Spring Hollow where spring water emerges from the ground on its way to becoming whiskey.

The old office contains Jack's desk and the legendary safe that became his downfall. Having trouble with the combination, Jack kicked the safe, hurting his foot. Infection followed leading to the eventual loss of his foot and, eventually, his life.
The distilling building was closed to tours for safety concerns since one of the big stills was being replaced.
Spring water that isn't diverted to whiskey making flows through this pond. The ducks here are retirees from Memphis's famous Peabody Hotel.
Grain is sifted through these big hoppers.
Fermenting takes place in huge stainless steel containers. Later in the tour, where photos weren't allowed, we passed by similar sized tanks where the whiskey dripped through charcoal. Our tour guide lifted the padlocked tank top enough that our noses could confirm without a doubt that it was whisky percolating through.
Barrels of whiskey are aged in big metal buildings like the one near the top of the hill in this photo.
Distillery No 1 is on the building, because it was the first distillery licensed in Tennessee.
Though we took a dry tour, tasting is  available in beautiful rooms like this one surrounded by glass. The distillery is in a dry county and liquor sales aren't allowed on Sunday in Tennessee. Despite these rules, Jack Daniel's can offer tastings for "educational" purposes.
Barrels are made by skilled craftspeople here at the distillery. They contribute to the unique taste of this whiskey and are only used once. Used barrels are in great demand for aging wine, beer and rum. When we were touring the Bacardi Distillery in the Bahamas, they pointed out that the rum was aging in Jack Daniel's barrels.

The tour was definitely worth the $15 charge. Whiskey and legends are a part of the Tennessee heritage worth learning about.
Downtown Lynchburg was within walking distance of the distillery. Cute shops and restaurants are geared for tourism. With 91 degree temps, we opted for an overpriced ice cream.
Leaving Lynchburg, we chuckled at this sign hanging outside a restaurant.

David Crockett State Park was our choice for overnight camping. The Trail of Tears passes through and we had just enough time to walk a segment before sunset.
Shoal Creek splashed over layers of limestone as it passed through the park. Crockett had a powder mill, grist mill, and a distillery along the creek banks.
Campsites had been recently renovated. All were level with nice picnic tables. The bathhouse was new and had showers with entrances separated from the bathrooms. We were in site 56 and paid $36.72 for a site with electricity and water though we didn't need either one.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

First Boondocker's Welcome Stop

After breakfast and conversation with Kay at her lovely home in Flat Rock, we pulled anchor and headed out across the Blue Ridge mountains towards Tennessee. The last rest stop in North Carolina was really a park with nice picnic facilities and pretty mountain views.
Not wanting to take the interstate, we headed west on Highway 19 slipping through the mountains along the Nantahala Gorge. A beautiful sunny Saturday in September had kayakers, rafters and other paddlers out in force. This narrow winding road had the river on one side and a vertical cliff on the other. Avoiding people walking upstream along the roadside with kayaks on their heads while impatient drivers tailgated us proved stressful. It is a road better suited to our old Mini Cooper than a twenty-one foot van.


Stairs lead down to the Nantahala at a pull-off where we stopped to rest.

We took another break in Murphy, a town North Carolina Public Television always mentions in their station identification message "Broadcasting from Murphy to Manteo" (the mountains to the coast). Now we can say we have been to both towns.
Winding through another gorge in Tennessee, we emerged at Lake Ocoee relieved that the road widened enough to have shoulders and even yellow dividing lines!

Stopping at a Ranger/Visitor's Center Beth inquired about an alternate route to avoid gorges.

It was a while before we were "unclenched" from the twisty roads.

Stopped at a traffic light, we caught our reflection in a shiny travel trailer. Doing a little research, we found that the trailer is a kit offered by a company that primarily makes airplane kits. Check out Zenith Aircraft for more info. They have a facebook page for their camper at ZenithAirCamper.
So, it is Saturday night and most campgrounds are filled with people that have to work during the week. What can you do? We've written about Harvest Hosts before, but tonight we are trying something new (to us) called Boondockers Welcome. This is an internet connected group where folks allow you to camp on their private property at no charge. Our first experience was surprising, as the host said they wouldn't be home, but we could park in their driveway anyway and they would let their neighbors know someone would be parking there. It turned out to be a lovely neighborhood surrounded by horse farms in the Tennessee Hills. Our only disappointment was not meeting the homeowners to thank them in person. We look forward to doing more with this group in the future.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Starting West to Missouri

Tonight we're visiting Kay Arnold, a good friend from Michigan who preceded us in moving to North Carolina some thirty years ago.
Kay graciously lets us park in the driveway of her mountain hideaway.
Today marked the start of a new trip.  We are wandering to a rally of Pleasure-Way motorhome owners in Branson, Missouri that starts next Wednesday. Running through our start-up checklist, everything looked good. Beth even packed two different comforters because the temperatures at this time of year will change.

Starting out from Durham, we were in the Greensboro area by eleven. Camping World had sent a flyer advertising free lunch and special sales today at all of their stores starting at 11 AM. Knowing there is a CW store near I-40, we detoured to there and did a quick browse through the store. Not finding anything on sale that we needed, Beth asked a clerk where lunch was. They were just getting grills turned on, so it would be another half hour before lunch was ready. Not wanting to spend thirty more minutes in a CW store, we left disappointed in the gap between glossy advertisements and reality.

Getting to Winston-Salem, we fueled up at Costco and found a Gander Mountain store. Also a part of the Camping World conglomerate, the staff here welcomed us and immediately asked if they could serve us lunch. Again, we didn't find anything we needed, but we were impressed with the cleanliness of the store and welcoming attitude of the staff.

Arriving in Flat Rock about 1500, we offered to take Kay out to dinner. She politely declined, reminding us that it was Friday night and the tourists were in town for Fall. Instead we were spoiled with a delicious meal centered around white bean chicken chili. Chatting until cruiser's midnight (9 PM) we caught up on a few of the events in the two years since we had last visited.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Hurrying toward Florence

Up early, we checked the weather and decided to preempt our exploration and head for home. Hurricane Florence was predicted to be heading toward Durham.

Goodbye site 127.  $33 per night for electric and showers was reasonable for this interesting location.
I would be remiss if I didn't call out Dale and Laurie, the campground hosts at Muskegon State Park. They were always smiling and directed people on the best route to see the sunset, provided discount coupons to local attractions and passed out hot coffee, hot chocolate and donuts on Sunday morning. Thank you!




We pulled in to Tamarack, West Virginia before sunset covering 556 Miles, in 11 hours 23 minutes.

After a good night's sleep we climbed the stairs to the restaurant for a "Trucker Tuesday" all-you-can eat breakfast for half off. Beth asked two drivers walking out how it was and one responded "that breakfast will put a hurt on you." It really was good and we were fully fueled for the trip home when we walked out. Free boondocking, good food, and ever changing craft galleries make Tamarack a great stop.

After breakfast we drove 173 miles to Claremont where Carolina Coach and Marine had our new convection/microwave oven waiting for us. You may recall that the original one had a loose door hinge that squeaked annoyingly with any road vibration. Pleasure-Way authorized a replacement under warranty and we left Carolina Coach without our squeak. 132 miles later we arrived home in time to make supper. This marked the end of the first long trip in the new Lexor covering 4.404 miles where we spent thirty-three nights in the comfort of our movable cottage.

We were very fortunate that Florence veered east and stayed more south of us than originally predicted. Three days into the storm, some of the outer bands caught up with us and dumped about eight inches swelling our little Eno river considerably. There was some minor flooding and a few swift water rescues in Durham, but nothing like was experienced down east.

In the New Bern area, where we still have friends with boats, the water rose to record levels as the slow moving storm blew water up the sounds and rivers over multiple days.
Stern lines were released as the water ascended over the wooden pilings. Several boats ended up on the dock or underwater.
Visiting the marina to check on friend's sailboats, my heart ached for the owners of vessels that were damaged in the storm. The clean-up effort will extend well into the new year. Fortunately, none of our friend's boats received any major damage.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Submarine and Lumber Barons

The day started with a trip to the USS Silversides Submarine museum.

Although the submarine museum was only a few hundred yards from our campsite, it was nine miles by land as there is no bridge across the canal. There is an opportunity here for some entrepreneurial boat owner.

This is a map of our day trip around Muskegon.
Arriving early, we were the first people aboard this WWII Gato Class submarine commissioned in 1941.

Six polished brass torpedo tubes line the front of the forward torpedo room.
Brass gauges and stainless steel controls line the walls of the Control Room. The single wheel on the right is used to steer while the pair of wheels controls the fore and aft planes for controlling the depth and angle of the boat.
This box is a Dead Reckoning Analyzer, an analog calculator used to determine the position of the ship based on course, speed, and track. Beth and I both teach boating safety which includes manually plotting a dead reckoning position, thus our fascination with this instrument.
Dead Reckoning Analyzer: Close-up of course dial.
Dead Reckoning Analyzer: Close up of Latitude and Longitude dials.
Dead Reckoning Analyzer: Close-up of builder's plaque.
The Dive Station contains the valves used to flood and vent ballast compartments. The panel above is called the "Christmas Tree" with red and green status lights.
The communications room was stuffed with radio equipment along with a manual typewriter.
Arguably one of the most important machines on the boat is this large coffee maker.
Meals were served in the crews mess which seats twenty-four. Two cooks and a baker kept the crew fed.
Thirty-six men bunked in the berthing compartment. Each crew member had a permanent, if small, bed. No "hot bunking" was required on the Silversides.
Moving aft, we reached the control panel for the electric engines. Four million watts of power surged through this panel during peak operation. Seawater, metal, and electricity; what could possibly go wrong?
The after torpedo room has berths in very close proximity to the torpedoes. This is one of the few electric torpedoes carried on the sub.
Smaller than the forward torpedo room, eight torpedoes were available, four in the tubes, and four in racks.
A 50 caliber anti-aircraft gun sits on the slanting deck. The boat had a slight port list at the dock.
The USS Silversides sank more ships and took down more tonnage than any other surviving WWII submarine. The conning tower shows their record of 30 Japanese vessels sunk and 14 damaged.
As someone with a career in the photo industry this story, posted in the museum, caught my attention.
As we departed the submarine, this pleasure boat sailed past. It gave us pause to reflect on the freedoms and privileges we have today due to the sacrifices of past generations of sailors like those that crewed the USS Silversides.
The US Coast Guard Cutter McLane shares the museum dock with the USS Silversides.
The 125 foot McClain was commissioned in 1927 and served through the 1960's. Captain Beth stands with the traditional wooden wheel.
Wood was still used in the McClain's construction. Details like these drawers build into the stairs, make it worth exploring.
The bit on the bow is significantly stronger that the little cleats on our sailboat.
Displacing 220 tons with a crew of thirty men, the ship was diesel powered, but still carried one sail for tradition.
The USS Silversides museum is well worth visiting. We were reviewing the forecasted track of Hurricane Florence in the van and considering whether we might need a large anchor to to keep us moored.
One last view from the museum as four classic hot rods arrived and parked in front of the NOAA research vessel Laurentian.
Driving to downtown, we stopped to tour the Hackley and Hume homes. Arriving a half-hour before the tour started, we had time to visit this restored fire station.
And this depression era Victorian home. It was furnished as it would have been in the 1930's with the owner on the first floor and the second floor converted to an apartment.
The main tour is of two amazing Victorian mansions constructed by two lumber barons who were partners in the company. This is the Hackley house.

A shared barn, architecturally divided to match the styles of each house.

To the right is the Hume house. Both houses were built between 1887 and 1889 and have been meticulously restored.

Indoors, we found amazing stained glass windows.
The tour guide was gracious and answered all of our questions. We were the last tour of the day and had the guide all to ourselves. Being in the lumber business, Hackley and Hume commissioned amazing wood carvings throughout the homes.
Furnishing were unique. This chair was returned to the home by one of the descendants.
The Hackley house had more carvings. He was the older of the two partners.
Wood, round details, and stained glass make these homes unique and fascinating. For more information, visit the museum we site by clicking here.
The Visitor's Center was originally built in 1895 as Union Depot to serve the three railroads running through Muskegon.
Next door to the Depot, we thought Amazon Web Services had opened offices in town. Consulting the internet, we learned that the building was a mill for the Amazon Hosiery Company built in 1895, long before a web retailer had been envisaged. The mill is currently apartments with some retail on the ground floor.
Also within view of the Depot is LST 393. Now a museum, this "Landing Ship Tank" served in WWII, including 30 roundtrips to the beaches of Normandy in support of that invasion. The LST 393 web site notes that crew referred to the ships as "Large Slow Targets." The museum, along with another for a big passenger ship were closed by the time we arrived.
Walking around downtown we found more evidence of Hackley and Humes influence. This beautiful school building was built and donated by the pair.
Hackley also built a beautiful library for the citizens of Muskegon in 1888. A historic plaque notes Hackley stipulated the facility be "forever maintained as a library."
Looking for a place to eat dinner, there weren't many options open on a Sunday night in September. We ended up stopping at Bear Lake Tavern, in North Muskegon, about half-way back to the campground. It was a beautiful evening and we enjoyed delicious lightly fried Lake Perch on their patio.
Shadows were growing as we checked out the northern campground in Muskegon State Park. An old block house stands near the top of the hill at the campground entrance. This campground is more wooded than the canal campground, but doesn't have the canal boating activity.
Sand blowing over the road reminded us of the Outer Banks back home in North Carolina.
We parked at the State Park Beach to wait for the sunset. Not many others were out on a Sunday evening.
A flock of terns swooped in and joined the seagulls standing on the beach.
The outer light stands further out on the jetty than the round red light tower we photographed last night.
Dessert in the van was a treat while waiting for the sun to dip a little lower.
Fewer clouds than last night allowed us to see the entire sphere as the water of Lake Michigan rose to greet it.
One lone gull headed inshore after the suns rays were quenched by the sea.

We really enjoyed our time in Muskegon and hope to return some day.

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