Monday, September 28, 2015

The Many Attractions of Colbert County, Alabama

From Heritage Acres RV Park, Tuscumbia, Alabama     With almost five weeks until our Gulf Shores rendezvous, we had time to kill after saying goodbye to Gary and Shelia, their children and grandchildren and Sue and Ricky on Saturday. We left Pin Oak Campground on Sunday morning. We gave some thought to stopping around Pickwick Landing for a few days but with the bitter taste of being without internet still fresh in our mouths, we opted to keep going until we could be sure we'd get a strong cell and internet signal.

I convinced Wayne to go to the Shoals area of North Alabama to visit the home of Helen Keller.  I had never been there even though I grew up in nearby Huntsville. I called Heritage Acres RV Park in Tuscumbia to be sure they had a place to accommodate our big rig. They did and we reserved two nights. The park was not much more than a gravel parking lot filled with year-round working age campers who appeared to live there. We settled in and shook a bit of the Natchez Trace dust off the step covers the first afternoon. I spent some time that night researching area attractions and selecting the ones I wanted to see and then putting them in a kind of priority list.

Early the next morning we were up and rolling. Last week's warm, sunny days have succumbed to overcast skies and much cooler temperatures. That's a good thing as we will take Lexie and Ozzie for this super full day of touristy trivia.

Our first destination is Ivy Green, the birthplace home of Helen Keller. I remember my sixth grade teacher's lesson about Helen's difficult early youth, circumstances surrounding "the miracle" itself and the important contributions Helen would go on to make in the lives of so many. The 1962 movie, "The Miracle Worker" reinforced and brought visual importance to what I already had learned about this great Alabama woman.

Ivy Green, built on 640 acres of land owned by Helen Keller's grandparents. The home is among beautiful 150 year old boxwoods, magnolia, mimosa, ivy, roses, honeysuckle and smilax.
This property is now included in the National Register of Historic Sites. 
There were no other visitors to Ivy Green while we were there and we enjoyed the guided tour. Almost all the furnishings in the home are those used when Helen and her family lived there, including the locking sugar chest, dining table set, silver service and the dishes on the table.

Helen broke almost all the family dishes as a young child. These few survived.
The room in the picture below was never actually Helen Keller's bedroom but that of her grandparents and later her parents. Most of the personal items, the dresses, rug and quilt were Helen's.

The bed covering was a "rag quilt" given to Helen as a gift, as was the rug. 
Just the main house is included in the guided tour -- the smaller house, kitchen and cooks quarters, grounds and other outside buildings are seen at one's own pace.

The next two pictures are of Ivy Green Cottage, built in the yard near the main house by Helen's grandfather for Helen's mother and father as a bridal cottage. Helen was born here on June 27, 1880.

One room of the small house where Helen was born.
Not sure if the furniture here was actually in the home at the time. 
Either the room in the picture above or the one below is the room where Helen was born. At the time of her birth, her grandparents occupied the main home while Helen's family lived in this small two room cottage.

The other room of the small house. 
The building behind where Wayne is standing is kitchen and cook's quarters. It was not uncommon to live like this in the south where cooking went on all day, starting in the early morning and lasting into the evening. Meals were prepared here and brought into the main house for serving.

Kitchen and cook's quarters.
Imagine how hot that wood fireplace made that little building in the southern summer. Ugh.
The picture below is of the actual well pump where Anne Sullivan first made communication with Helen when she was six years old. Miss Sullivan pumped water across one of Helen's hands while spelling W-A-T-E-R into the palm of her other hand.  This became known as "The Miracle" and by the end of that day, Helen had learned seven words. 

The pump
Ivy Green isn't the only attraction in this area. There are so many significant things to see in the connecting towns of Muscle Shoals, Florence, Tuscumbia and Sheffield, in fact, that we would have to hurry to get through my short list in the one day we have planned.

Cypress Moon Productions Production company and recording studio is housed in this former Naval Reserve building along the banks of the Tennessee River in Sheffield. This is the old Muscle Shoals Sound Group. The building was deserted and the doors locked the day we drove by but tours can be scheduled.

Many internationally known artists recorded gold and platinum records here.
The building now houses a film production company with the historic recording studio still in use.
Important recording artists who created gold and platinum records here included James Brown, Joan Baez, Jimmy Buffet, Bob Dylan and The Oak Ridge Boys.

The Muscle Shoals Sound Studio Museum (photo below) was closed and in process of renovation. It is one of the most photographed locations in the area. The Rolling Stones, Cher, Bob Segar, Rod Stewart, Paul Simon, Art Garfunkle and others recorded some of the most popular American hits of the 1970's in this building.

The session musicians who played backup music here were dubbed "The Swampers"  and referenced in the lyrics of Lynrd Skynrd's  hit song "Sweet Home Alabama".

Where it all began... 
FAME, established in 1959, was the first successful professional recording studio in Alabama. Arthur Alexander's 1961 hit, "You Better Move On," cut here, launched the famous Muscle Shoals sound. R&B classics by Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Clarence Carter, Otis Redding and Etta James drew world-wide attention to this location.

Pop artists Liza Minelli, Tom Jones, Little Richard and the Osmonds recorded here along with country music legends Mac Davis and Jerry Reid.
Releases from this inauspicious building have sold more than 300 million copies worldwide.
Tours are conducted twice daily: 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
All these sights and history are just part of the story here. Wilson Lock and Dam, with one of the highest single-lift locks in the world is here. It dates back to WWI.  Other noteworthy sights include the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, beautiful Spring Park with it's famous Light and Water Show is free to the public, blues legend W.C. Handy's birthplace home and museum, a Frank Lloyd Wright designed house, silent movie landmark, The Ritz Theatre, Belle Mont Mansion, the tiny old Coldwater Stagecoach Stop, Tuscumbia's Railway Depot and so much more.  All these things we passed up though as we had one last important stop.... a dog cemetery.

Key Underwood Coon Dog Cemetery at Cherokee is "the final resting place for more than 300 of man's best friend" according to the Colbert County tourism brochure. Located deep in an area known as Freedom Hills, a fellow buried his faithful coon dog, Troop, back in 1937.  The rest is history. A "coon hound only" cemetery, headstones bear names like Patches, Preacher, Flop, Bean Blossom Bommer and Tex. Our friends, Marcella and Landon, told us about their visit a few years ago. I had to see it and to let Ozzie and Lexie wander among the small graves, rock and wood headstones and artificial flowers.

The first dog buried here. Troop 9/4/37

Ozzie thinks, because this is a dog cemetery, that it's okay to pee on the headstones. 

Lexie hiding in the artificial roses. 
On our ride back to Tuscumbia from the coon dog cemetery, we happened upon a sign for the Rattlesnake Saloon that we had heard about from friends. The quick and dirty history of Rattlesnake Saloon is that a couple of guys wanted to add a saloon to an already built "lodge" on an old family farm, so in 2009, they built a lean-to shanty in the side of a hill. It took 49 days to construct and has been featured in magazines and music videos according the advertisement.

As luck would have it Rattlesnake Saloon was closed (our visit was on a Monday) so we have nothing to show for our visit.  Oh well.... maybe next time.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Family Golf Vacation At Natchez Trace

From Natchez Trace State Park, Pin Oak Campground, Lexington, Tennessee       We've zigzagged all across Tennessee this summer and we're not stopping now -- traveling from east to west Tennessee this time. Our destination is Pin Oak Campground in Tennessee's Natchez Trace State Park where we will join Wayne's brother, Gary, his wife, Shelia, friends Sue and Rick, children Mindy and Kelly, their husbands and children for family camping. This is almost the same crowd we camped with at Montgomery Bell State Park campground in late April and we look forward to it all.

The campsite we reserved was near Gary and Shelia and had nice afternoon shade but those shading trees also blocked our satellite view. With Auburn playing LSU Saturday evening, it's critical to have access to television. We relocated where we won't be close to the others at all but we do have certain priorities.....

Our Pin Oak Campground site, complete with dogs.
Both Wayne and I have been looking forward to playing golf with Gary since before our April visit when he and I both came down with head colds and didn't get to play. On Friday, four of us found our way to private Pine Tree Country Club in nearby Lexington that allows out of town visitors to play. This would be our first of several rounds at this nice, friendly course.

Gary's grandson, Grant, was our fourth. Because he didn't play golf, photography duties fell to Grant. Many thanks to him for making these golf day memories for us.

Him (L) and me (R)
By the end of the day, Grant was hooked on golf. He will retrieve his dad's unused clubs when they go home Sunday and we will all play again next week.

Wayne's golf game is improving but I still hit twice for every hit the guys make. Even starting from the Ladies Tees, I'm the drag on the group. Doesn't matter, I never get discouraged and continue to love playing. I just hope everyone doesn't get tired of waiting for me to hit.... and hit... and hit.

On Saturday, an afternoon hamburger cookout preceded the Auburn v. LSU football game. Our site had late afternoon shade but the sun beat down hot on us until well after halftime. Shelia brought along her snow cone machine and it was a hit as I watched the making of two dozen snow cones before I stopped counting.

Watching the game.
Shelia, Rick, Sue, Wayne, Kent, Gary and Grant (L to right) 
Despite the preseason rankings, Auburn is not playing well this year. In the end, LSU was just too good and Auburn suffered the loss but it didn't dampen our family camping spirit.

Audrey and Ella.
Making and eating flavored ice to keep cool.
Audrey, Ella and Natalie found a bit of shade. 

Kent and Grant throwing Frisbee

Making snow cones and watching our team take a beating. 
Gary, Grant, Wayne and I returned to Pine Tree Country Club again Monday and on the way, stopped in at The Lunch Box, a downtown Lexington, Tennessee eatery. I forgot the names of the sandwiches we ordered but I remember that everything was deeee-luscious!

The Three Stooges
Grant, Wayne and Gary. 
It's been a really long time since Wayne and Gary have enjoyed this much time together on the golf course and I could tell Wayne was loving it. The weather was nice, a bit warmer than I would have liked, but cooler than it could have been.
Wayne with his trusty driver

Gary pleading with the King Cobra for good hits! 
 Gary spent the morning reviewing the basics of golf with Grant. Now it's time to put it all together....

It looks so easy...

I feared Grant would become frustrated with golf but we all reassured him that he wouldn't regret taking up the sport. He has such a wonderfully positive outlook. I've heard since that he is practicing every day and that Gary is taking him to the driving range on occasion.

We returned to Pine Tree for a third and final round of golf later in the week. Grant and his family had long left the campground but we were joined by a new forth, Gary's friend, Rick.  I don't know if I made much progress in these three rounds, but I sure had a good time.

Shelia and Sue brought sewing materials, machines and ideas to the campground and were busy making Christmas gifts while we played golf. Here's proof.

Last and yes, least.  It's been awhile since I posted pictures of Lexie and Ozzie so I snapped these to share...

Our little Lexie rarely looks at the camera.

Ozzie always looks at the camera
Family vacation has been such a good thing. We're looking forward to the next time.....

Monday, September 14, 2015

Our Bottom's Rubbing

Damage done to the slide bottom by the "rub"...
From Buddy Gregg RV, Farragut (Knoxville), Tennessee It was late Friday when we reached Buddy Gregg RV in Farragut (Knoxville), Tennessee but with enough time for the service personnel to take a look at our rubbing bedroom slide.

We described the problem and the tech suspected a minor adjustment to the roller might do the trick. Yay!

But it was not what Dan, our tech, first thought. Oh no, it was worse -- naturally. Murphy's Law you know.

Fortunately, there were two options for a fix -- one complex and labor intensive that required removal of the entire bedroom slide, fix the roller and refitting the slide with 20+ hours labor. Our second option was to fix the roller, repair the damage to the slide bottom, mount metal slats to it with 8 hours labor. Guess which we chose.

Dan would do the repair Monday so we parked in one of the service campsites and had the weekend to knock around Knoxville. I sent a text to Sandy and Dave, who were still in Franklin, to tell them again how much we enjoyed our visit in Waynesville and to let them know of our decision to leave early for the repair. To my surprise, Sandy replied that they too, were headed to Buddy Gregg and would arrive Sunday. O happy day! We made a plan to meet them at Buffalo Wild Wings for Sunday afternoon football.

Sandy and Dave.
Photo take at a Franklin, NC area waterfall.

Sandy and Dave have two Weimaraners -- Molly (L), a rescue and Daisy (R)
Sandy and Dave are having a satellite mounted to their new coach and they've discovered a leak to be repaired so they will be on a day or so after we leave. We enjoyed visiting with them again Monday morning. We also spent time browsing the new coach inventory at Buddy Gregg.  No "new coach" fever for us though.

We did a short downtown Knoxville visit Monday afternoon. Some of the highlights....

One of Knoxville's most ornate public places, the L&N Terminal building had stained glass and tile laid in designs of Oriental carpet patterns. It was built in 1905 and cost $107,000 to build. It's opening coincided with the opening of the rail line from Louisville and Cincinnati to Atlanta. The L&N Building had a prominent role in a Pulitzer prize winning novel, A Death In The Family, set in 1915. This and other Knoxville "walking tour" buildings are described at this Knoxville Heritage site.

The gold colored tower in the next picture is Knoxville's Sunsphere, constructed for the 1982 World's Fair. It became the official symbol of the fair but fell on hard times after the thrill of the Fair. The Sunsphere is one of just two remnants of the entire event. The Sunsphere has closed and reopened for the public a few times. Details of it's history are at the World's Fair Park website.

The brick and blue glass building in the next picture has little significance to anyone, I'm sure, except Wayne. It was here, in 1965, that he had his physical examination for entry into military service. It was not a University of Tennessee property at that time, of course.


It took all day but our slide repair was finished at the day's end, just as Dan said it would be. The repair bill was just under $1200 and was mostly labor costs.  I can't say enough about the quality of Dan's service on this job. Always eager to explain what he was doing, Dan was also willing to hear our questions and answer them. He took dozens of pictures of the process and eagerly shared them with me.

Dan, the dynamic tech. 
Tuesday morning before we left, Dan returned to check on the slide operation. Several weeks later, I received a text asking if it was working to our satisfaction.  That's customer service!

In preparation to leave, Wayne discovered the curb side tag axle tire was low again. He's had several people look at the nagging problem and they seem to focus on the valve stem, but it keeps leaking. Buddy Gregg's Service Center does not do tire repair so we waited to get it checked in Crossville as we will be traveling right through there today.

It was middle afternoon when we pulled into Best One Tire Service in Crossville.  In just under two hours, the fix was made and we were ready to roll once more. Turned out a single nail had made a double puncture in the tire causing the slow leak that's been a headache for almost a year.

With the tire off. 
Already late in the day, we called Spring Lake RV Resort and assumed our rightful place in site #5 for an overnight stop. Next morning we were off and running again. We are headed to Natchez Trace State Park where we'll camp for about 10 days with Gary and Shelia, et ux at Pin Oak Campground.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Latest Discoveries About The New Truck

Yet another discovery about the new 2015 Ford F-150 Lariat we bought in July. The odometer operates while it's being towed.

This is the trouble with getting old. Wayne and I often don't know what we don't know. Since we researched the "odometer and towing" issue seven years ago and learned that our Ford Escape and then our Ford Edge didn't accumulate miles being towed, we naturally assumed the truck would be the same.  But that's not the case.

We looked down to see the computerized gauge after a recent trip and saw the truck was getting 999.9 miles to each gallon of fuel! Wow! That's some mileage! Oops. We began to wonder and sure enough, the miles are piling on while we tow the truck behind the motorhome.

That's going to cause one of two things for us.  Either we will get rid of it right away or keep it for a very long time.  Adding our motorhome tow miles to our "run-around-town" miles and this baby is going to become a high mileage vehicle long before it's time. If we keep it forever, that might not be such a big deal, but it's trade-in value is dropping with every tow.

Let's see now... we're going to southern California this winter and on to Alaska next summer..... Hummm.

November 2015 Update: Operator error caused the mileage problem. The owners manual was not clear about it but a final step in the towing set up is to touch the start button. In doing this, the mileage does not accumulate.   

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Labor Day Week In Waynesville, North Carolina

From Creekwood Farm RV Park, Waynesville, NC      

The view going through the Smokey Mountains.  It's why I love this life. 
Fortunately we were able to secure a reservation at Creekwood Farm RV Park which was a pleasant place to spend the long Labor Day Weekend, notwithstanding the dozens of children on bicycles being followed by dogs on leashes. The site we were assigned (near the clubhouse) was too small for our rig so we were moved into one that I really liked much better. It faces a little creek that runs along the edge of the property. Everything is neat and well kept here. The campground management has arranged a Labor Day potluck dinner and live entertainment for Saturday night. When that night came around, Wayne and I were especially glad we were relocated as the music was L.O.U.D.

Creekwood Farm RV Park on Johnathan Creek.
We are but a stones throw from the North Carolina entrance to Smokey Mountain National Park but we didn't go into the park this year. Experience has taught us that our most enjoyable visits into this popular national treasure come during much less crowded times -- not during holidays.

When I posted on Facebook where we were, I learned that a second cousin, whom I'd never met, lives nearby in Greenville, South Carolina.  We met up with Rob in Asheville for lunch at The Noodle Shop, just off the square near the Vance Memorial.

Rob and me. Absolutely no resemblance for these second cousin French Canadians. 
Downtown Asheville is an active Sunday afternoon place. We'd never heard of a "pedal bar" but were fortunate enough to catch this glimpse of this one. For more information.....check out the Amazing Pub Cycle. It seems a bar is in the center of this contraption. Participants pedal to provide power to the rig. Music plays all the while...

Pedal bar.
After a delicious noodle lunch, Rob was off to tour the Biltmore House with a friend.  We walked the dogs and enjoyed the warm afternoon.

Pop and the fur kids. Ozzie (L) and Lexie (Front) 
Many people have recommended we see the Biltmore while we are in the area, so we drove out to see what would be involved for the tour. Wayne stayed with the dogs while I went inside to check it out.  A huge line was formed at the $60 per person ticket window. A nice lady asked if she could answer questions for me. I must look like I need help, but anyway, I proceeded to ask for details.  She said six hours (minimum) is recommended to tour the home and gardens. Add a couple of hours for dinner in one of the several restaurants too.  Add 45 minutes each way to and from the campground and you've got yourself a good ten hour day going here.

I asked about accommodations for the dogs and learned they are welcome in the gardens but, of course, not inside the home. The Biltmore kennels were closed, as are other local kennels, due to an outbreak of dog flu. Wayne confessed that seeing the Biltmore isn't really on his bucket list but he will go if it's something I want to see.  I only took a minute to decide we will save the Biltmore tour for another time and perhaps with friends to make it a more enjoyable day. We will make advance arrangements for the dogs.

A quick look into my History Now app and we zip around Asheville for other notable sights, including McCormick Field, where "The Bellyache Heard Round The World" caused baseball great, Babe Ruth, to collapse as he disembarked the train in Asheville. For detail reports and pictures, click here and here.

So much for Asheville....

Back in Waynesville, we found ourselves camped just a few miles from Franklin where friends we made while at Buddy Gregg RV (Knoxville) a couple of months ago, were camped. We planned a rendezvous with Sandy and Dave at  Haywood Smokehouse where we encountered some kind of delicious southern barbecue, campfire taters, smoked mac 'n cheese and creamy coleslaw. Sandy and Dave came from Franklin on their Harley-Davidson today and would stop by our campground for a short visit after lunch. We are working hard to convince them to join us on the Great Southwest To Alaska Journey.  The only photo is the one below. I asked the waitress to take a picture and this is what I got.  Cute. Real cute.

Sandy and Dave (left) had just bought a new coach from Buddy Gregg RV when we met them in early August.
They are full-time RVers from east central Florida. 
Then there's Golf....

There's a public golf course at Lake Junaluska, just a few miles from our campground. One overcast afternoon we took a ride over to play nine holes.  It was the first golf course I've played that had a gravel cart path.  Our play stunk really bad but we had a good time. Here are a few pictures...

This must be the photo point they used for their ad and brochures.
In addition to the poor cart path, the course itself was scraggly and cramped. We found ourselves playing the wrong holes at least twice. Seems the course had originally been 9 holes but was stretched to 18. The online price for play was wrong and the cart rental fee was per person not per cart, as advertised, making what was to be an inexpensive short game, a much more pricey round of golf on pretty poor grass.

We stayed only seven days at Waynesville and we didn't make the late afternoon trip to the nearby field known for the regular gathering of elk. Something else that will have to wait until the next visit, I guess.

The coach's small electric bedroom slide has developed a "rub" that's worrisome so we decided, at the last minute, to return to Buddy Gregg in Knoxville to have it checked. Hope it's nothing major.