Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Fort Dodge, IA - Grillin' and Chillin'

Here we are in Fort Dodge, IA for a few days to visit my brother who lives there. He’s been talking for months about a ‘free’ grill that he got from a friend of his and now we know why it was ‘free.’ He’s spent hours on it trying to get it to work like it should. And he’s spent more money than I would have spent buying the ‘perfect’ parts. Sometimes ‘free’ is not ‘free’. Jack thinks his friend saw him coming. But, he wanted to cook us a meal on it. Well, yeah, after all that work, let’s eat!! Here are the two guys looking at the grill. Wow! Don’t they look like they know what they’re doing? (Maybe I’ll order out.)
Meanwhile, we’re in Kennedy Park outside Fort Dodge. Very nice campground and a very nice park: public golf course, picnic tables, nice trails, bird blind, dog training area, boat landing, fishing. Just a nice all around park. Here’s our site, with trees and a nice bit of real estate. My only problem with the campground is that you can’t reserve a spot. I’m not excited about getting all the way to the campground and not finding a spot. Now what? The next campground is 20 miles away at least. We figured that getting there on a weekday would get us a spot with full hook-ups. And, it did. However, by Thursday, every full hook-up spot was full and a lot of the electric only spots were too. Popular local park but we saw license plates from Washington, Florida and other states here also. It’s a local secret that has gotten out. Maybe, everyone’s positive reviews of the park are working TOO well.

We got there about noon and called our friends to find out where they were. They weren’t too far away and were coming in soon. I drove our car over to save a spot for them. They came in 2 hours later and we greeted them. Haven’t seen them since last September. Lots of phone calls and e-mails but it was nice to see them in person. They just got back from Alaska and have kept up appraised of all their adventures.
Here’s a view of the lake through the Memorial section of the park. Lots of dedicated trees and lots of stones for Fort Dodge members of the military, both living and dead.
Nice river running through the park.
We came across a tiny baby bunny on the trail. Can you see it there in the lower right hand of the picture? We wondered if it was injured and that is why it didn’t hop away. Or, maybe it’s too young to know that it needs to hop away from humans. I hope it moves before something gets it.

Beautiful flowers along the trail. Oh, these are weeds, not flowers? Yeah, but they are still beautiful. Nothing prettier than an Iowa weed.
We also invited Jack over for dinner. Looks like I’m trying to talk to Jack and he’s giving me the old ‘ Whatever.’
We were there three days, sunny, warm and all around pleasant days.
Then, just as we were leaving, a storm came up. Actually, it rained all night, sometimes light, other times it was a downpour and kept us awake - the rain drops were that big, that loud and that insistent. Here is the radar showing where we are, the blue dot and the weather that has just passed over us. BTW, the weather was coming from the southwest and we went through the whole long section of this ‘weather.’ That little red section - right over us for a while - it seemed like a long while. In fact, we decided that, since we had only 90 miles to drive, we would wait until the rain ended. Who wants to bring in slides, pull up levels and pads in the rain?
We had lakes in the park when the rain let up for a while. Can I go fishing here? Our campsite was high and dry, luckily we were not in a ‘puddle.’
In a lull, we pulled our slides in - very slowly to let the water drain, picked up the pads, hitched up the Jeep and were on our way. We saw an RV circling looking for a spot (must have had a miserable time driving here in the downpour). We flagged it down and offered our campsite. ‘Circle around and come in as we’re leaving.’

We had some rain on the way but not too much and, when we got to the next campground, it was mostly dry - they had not had much rain at all.

Here’s a picture of when we were heading out of the Fort Dodge campground, looks like it is truly a ‘Lakeside’ Golf Course.
‘There are two kinds of people who walk into a room. Those who say ‘There you are’, the other says ‘Here I am’.
                                        Pauline Phillips (Dear Abby)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Fort Dodge, IA - Iowa, Here we Come

We’re finally on the last leg of our East Coast trip, leaving Indiana, traveling across Illinois into Iowa. It was a pretty uneventful drive but it was fun to drive across the Mississippi River and see our first sign for Iowa.
Our first stop was in Swisher, IA, where Gary’s sister, Dawn and her husband, Tom live. We really don’t see them often and this was a good time to visit. Their son, Adam, who goes to school in Iowa City, came in for dinner. We’d like to think that he came over to see us but he was carrying a laundry bag and mentioned that he had no food in his own refrigerator at the campus. Oh, well, it was fun to see them all and spend some time there.
The next morning we headed on up to Fort Dodge, where my brother lives. On the way, we also stopped by Colfax Cemetery where Gary’s parents are buried. The corn looks tall and healthy in this part of Iowa. Looks like a good crop coming in this year.
‘It is true that I was born in Iowa, but I can’t speak for my twin sister.’

                                                        Pauline Phillips (Dear Abby)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Elkhart, IN - Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Not only does Elkhart have quite a few RV factories, parts suppliers, renovators, service facilities, but it is the home of large Amish and Mennonite communities and has a cool information center, Menno-Hof, explaining their history in America and their beliefs and differences. ‘It presents visitors with the history of the Anabaptist movement from its Zurich, Switzerland courtyard beginning in 1525; to persecution in dungeons by Catholic and Protestant authorities; to the 17th century streets of Holland; and lastly to their final journey to freedom in America, where they were the first church to call for separation of church and state in over 1,000 years. The original information center, a barn constructed in 1986 by the hands of volunteers, was replaced in 1998 by a new facility.’

I really don’t know much about the Amish nor Mennonite way of life but learned a lot here in this information center. I was particularly intrigued by this chart which compares the two different groups in several ways: Mission, Education, Business, Technology, Dress and Transportation. The Amish are in the top row and the Mennonites are in the bottom row. The first comparison is in the Amish way of building boundaries and keeping the world at bay: most Amish were children born in to the community. The Mennonites have chosen to encounter the world and many of their members come from all walks of life and from many different cultures. Secondly the Amish usually go as far as 8th grade while the Mennonites continue on and many go to college and get advanced degrees. The volunteer in the center when we go there actually taught English in a NC college. The third comparison is that the Amish stay with farming while the Mennonites often go into business and other professions. I think that you can probably figure out the last three.
The had a section on Mennonite jokes.
The building itself was quite amazing since they put the red barn up in a day
using wooden pegs and not nails. They had to make these pegs first.
And, here is the long view of how they fit in and hold the building together.
I liked this descriptive piece too. Buggies cost between $2,000 & $3,000 depending upon the style and community. They are usually made in some Amish-made shops> Interestingly, these same shops which produce the very plain buggies also make ornate carriages and sleigh for the rest of America and the world. Buggies are usually ’traded in’ for reasons other than wear - usually because a family is growing larger and needs a larger buggy or because the kids have left to form families of their own and the parents need to ‘downsize.’

The horses, costing between $300 and $1500 are usually trained in their gaits by professional trainers and then bought by the community. Seldom do the Amish or Mennonites train their own horses. Their horses average about 10 mph and a good horse can travel about 20 miles without stopping. The useful life of a horse is about 15 years. Interestingly, the Amish can also travel by train, boat, bus and other hired vehicles - they just cannot drive a motorized vehicle. We saw lots of bikes in the area also, sometimes whole families were out for a ride. And, others were out doing errands with baskets on their bikes which were full.
I love the sound of gaited horses clip-clopping along the roads. We learned at Menno-Hof that the Mennonites and Amish do not train their own horses but buy them already gaited from professional trainers. Watch those horses with their buggies in back, such high steps, such beautiful gaits. Wonderful. But, to use the public roads where there are trucks, cars, RV’s and semis, they must not only put an orange triangle on back of the buggy, they must also have rear lights and turning signals operated by a battery. And, note the license plate. Makes it much safer for all concerned. Most parking lots in the area, had lines for the motorized vehicles and a hitching rail for the horse-drawn vehicles.
When we returned to our campground we saw a bunch of older, extremely well-cared for RV’s. They were here for a ‘rally’ at the RV Museum on Saturday and Sunday. They all parked together and you could almost imagine this was a campground back in the 60’s - until your saw the Prevost’s and the Winnebago Tours.
We enjoyed our stay in Elkhart and actually had planned to stay for a week. However, we decided to divide this week between Elkhart and Fort Dodge, Iowa where my brother lives. We wanted to spend a little more time than ‘zip in and zip out’. So tomorrow we pack up for a short trip to Swisher, IA where one of Gary’s sisters lives for a night and then on to Fort Dodge.

‘The trouble with life in the fast lane is that you get to the end pretty fast.’
                                John Jensen

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Clarksboro, NJ - Independence

And, why are we back in Philadelphia? Good question - and I wish I had a good answer. The plain truth is that I was reviewing my old blogs and realized that I had not ever published this one. So, now that it is September and we are in Altoona, IA doing boring things like errands and RV and Jeep maintenance, I thought I'd put this in for you to read.

You can’t visit Philadelphia without visiting Independence Hall. In fact, judging by the number of people we saw on our trip into the city, that is probably the primary reason that most people visit the area. Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell along with Franklin Court are our goals today. We drove into town today at the advice of our campground. For $18 you can park right under the Visitor Center and start your visit right away.

However, first things first. Our first stop was at Bielers Bakery in the Reading Terminal Station. Bielers is one of about 100 different booths in a foodie mecca in the heart of the city. Office workers, tourists and people who live in Philadelphia all meet here for breakfast, brunch, snack, lunch, take-home - you name it, we’re all here. We read about Bielers on Yelp and thought our day would be better after a stop here. Not knowing the Philadelphia ropes, I had actually packed sandwiches for lunch. I’ve learned the ropes - next time, we’ll eat lunch here.

But the donuts were pretty special. We actually got to see some blueberry fritter dough being made. Here hands are blurred as she moves fast to knead the dough.
But the donut case is a picture of delight. How many different kinds of donuts are there? What kind do you want? By the way, there was a line at least 5 people long every time we saw this place.
Well, I wanted a warm blueberry fritter and, for good measure a warm plain glazed donut. Gary chose a cold crumb cake. Good but, it’s all in the warmth and next time he’ll get a blueberry fritter. (And, yes, I gave him half of mine. Remember, I had the warm glazed donut too and also shared that with him. I can only order 2 donuts if he eats half.)

We also stopped in to see the Liberty Bell in Independence Hall. The line was long but it went fast. Before you actually got to the Bell, there were lots of posters of information about it. We were impressed with this picture of 25,000 soldiers and officers from WWI.
But the bell it self is pretty impressive.
So, how did it get it iconic crack? Well, it arrived in America in 1752 but when the bell was mounted on a stand to test the sound, the rim cracked at the first strike of the clapper. It was repaired several times but the crack grew and the bell never really sounded like a bell - more like a thud. So, it became iconic with the crack.

We also visited the Assembly Room of the Philadelphia State House where the delegates voted on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. This is not my picture since there were too many people in our group to get a good picture, I took it from the National Park Website. By the way, those green cloths - not for decoration - but for warmth. There was no fireplace in this room, and in the winter, it got cold. They draped those cloths over their legs - you know they didn’t have long pants and wool hiking socks.
The story is that Franklin stood at the end of the voting on the Constitution and, pointing out the sun on the back of the chair where Washington sat as the presiding officer, said that he had long thought about whether it was a rising or a setting sun. Given what the delegates had just done, he knew it was a rising sun.
We also visited what used to be George Washington’s Presidential house in Philadelphia. Here is what it looked like when he was in it.
They actually excavated the house and have made a partial reconstruction of it and have turned it into an exhibit. It is called: President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation and it explores the paradox of slavery and freedom at the nation’s first executive mansion, in which Presidents George Washington and John Adams lived during their terms and where nine enslaved people served the first president. (Adams had no slaves.) In one of our nation’s great paradoxes, President George Washington brought at least nine enslaved Africans from his Mount Vernon home to live and work in the President’s House, which stood just one block from Independence Hall.
The exhibit has pictures of several of these slaves and on TV screens each has a moment to tell about themselves. A very moving, thought-provoking part of the Independence Hall area.
Very moving.

Next a visit to the Philadelphia mint which makes most of the coinage in America. Denver also makes some but the lion’s share comes from Philly. The first coins were made by hand and it took the mint 3 years to produce the first million coins. That would take 30 minutes today. Pretty fast. No wonder I couldn’t see what was going on - it was a blur. The tour is self-guided and you walk by windows that look down on the production floor. Here are huge rolls of metal (if unrolled - 5 football fields long) waiting to be made into coins in even larger machines. If a coin falls on the floor - does an employee get to keep it to use at the casino? Is it put into a hopper for the next tourist to swing by? Are you kidding? Absolutely not. It is recycled.

Off to Franklin Court but first a stop at Christ Church Cemetery where Franklin and his wife Deborah are buried along with other Declaration of Independence signers. Cool cemetery, very old. Check out the pennies thrown on his stone. Oh, yeah, some dimes and nickels too.
I was especially intrigued by the last occupation this guy had. Safecracker? And, his family put it on his stone?
The original house and other buildings that Franklin built as apartments have all gone now but the NPS has rebuilt them and has a printing press in one of the buildings where they will demonstrate how Franklin made his living. Pretty good demonstration about how time consuming and high maintenance printing was then when you had to find each little piece of type, set it, ink the press, run a single page through and then hang it to dry. No wonder, each piece was so expensive and not many people had access to printed goods.

Actually, Franklin made his living with his printing but he made his fortune with his witticisms and publishing of Poor Richard’s Almanac. He did so well that he was able to retire at the age of 42 and spend time with his other interests like electricity, politics and statesmanship.

The Franklin Museum had lots of information about him but it was geared towards a visual generation, lots of cute cartoons, games and things to touch and move - all designed to make Franklin pertinent and reachable to a new generation. Here’s the kind presentation of the fact that Franklin used a kite to ‘swim’ across a lake:
On the other hand, Franklin might not have been so smart: in the patio behind the homes that Franklin had built were these two holes: one for his water well and and the other for his privy pit. Pretty close together.
Since we had walked a lot in town today, we didn’t have to take our usual walk when we got back to the RV. However, we have been taking walks around the area and found a very nice townhome development with friendly people. One couple even stayed in the campground before they bought their home here. But every driveway had a 2x4 at the bottom to even out the huge drop between the driveway and the street. Gary kept theorizing that they were going to put another layer on the road sometime but these boards have been here for a while. You tell me.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Elkhart, IN - RV'ing in Style

We are still wending our way back to Iowa for September but we still have two more stops: one in Elkhart, IN and the last one in Iowa. Well, we actually have two stops in Iowa: one at Gary’s sister’s home in Swisher, IA and one at my brother’s home in Fort Dodge IA. But, we hit Elkhart on the 20th of August after an uneventful trip down the Interstates. (We heard on the news later that someone is taking pot shots on this Interstate but no one knows who. Shots have been taken but no one has been injured. Why would someone do this?)

Elkhart has lots to offer tourists: a flourishing Amish community with all its crafts, foods and farming, a nice trail wending through town along the river and quite a few RV factories that offer tours. We chose the Newmar factory for a tour and thoroughly enjoyed it. Of course, we couldn’t take pictures inside just as we couldn’t take pictures inside the Winnebago factory where we toured several years ago. This tour takes you right to the assembly floor where you see the chassis come in, the shower enclosure added (first, since it’s so big) and then all the way through to the final dusting and cleaning.

I was intrigued by the way they move the RV’s through the factory, not on a moving assembly line but on big pillows. Yep, they put 4 big air bags under the RV and then 4 guys can push it to the next station. When they are finished with what is done at that station and want to move it to the next station, they pump up the air bags, move it and, when it is in place, they let the air out of the air bags so the RV won’t move on the factory floor while they are working on it. Pretty cool and we actually got to see this happen.
But the most fascinating thing here was that we were so close that we could see the screws that they screwed in. We could reach out and touch the actual RV as it was being worked on. We could ask any question we wanted and just walked along the actual assembly line looking at each separate RV in progress to see what was being done at each station. There goes the plumbing and the electricity, there are the walls, the doors, and, hey, there are the windows. Well, not so simple, there were many more steps than all that but that’s the idea.

Pretty neat factory tour. Have we bought a new Newmar? Whew, we got away without opening our wallets.

And, Newmar is not the only factory in this area. We drove past many factories in our journeys around this area. And, RV shops, and RV renovators and RV parts dealers. You name it, it’s here.

There’s also a cool RV’ing Museum in the area and we had to stop there. We wanted to see the past models of the RV that we are living in. What did people travel in back in the early 1900’s? And, I do mean the early 1900’s. The first one they had a model of was a trailer hitched to the old black Model T - as you can see in the picture. I’ll bet you think it looks kinda like an early hearse. Well, it did to me. All black, room to lie down in, a door in back and a viewing window on the side. Actually, it was a pretty cool trailer.
But here’s another variation of the same model and, right next to it was a description from some brochure that must have gone with it. So, read the description and then find all the parts in the pictures I’ve got here - except for that sheltered shower-bath compartment. The sign near the RV says ‘The shower bath is supplied with water which is warmed by the engine which flows by gravity from the tank under the roof.’ They’ve thought of everything.
Here’s the cool kitchen section which is on a drop-down door on the left-hand side of the sleeping compartment. You’ve got your handy-dandy two-burner stove, cute little cubbies for food on the top shelf, a dozen eggs and whatever kitchen tools you need, like the egg-beater on the shelf.
And, what could be more comfortable than this sleeping compartment which is partly inside the trailer and partly on the two legs which drop down from the back door? Of course, you’re partially sleeping outside but then people have been doing that for years.
Here’s a good view of the right-hand side of the trailer with the three commodious drawers for clothing and the stylish hats which every good camper had to have. And, see, there’s even a desk for writing your journal of your trip.
There were even two pictures showing people setting up camp.
Every good camper needs a good pair of white spats. Ya gotta have white spats while camping. Gary, himself, has 5 pair - and a brown pair for hiking. While I have high heels and several long skirts.
There is a second story with a balcony overlooking the RV’s in the museum and I took this picture from it.
Here’s an example of an RV from 1931.
Lots more sophisticated. I was continually amazed at the ingenuity, inventiveness and pluck of the early RV designers and those who bought the campers.
I thought the stove was the crowning touch in this model.
And, another one.
I am intrigued by how much this one looks like the first one we saw, on the Model T.
Now, when you think of Mae West, do you think of RV’ing? Probably not but she had her own RV on the set. One of here ‘perks.’
We had fun looking at all these RV’s and imagining traveling and camping in them. I can just hear Gary’s questions when I propose an RV trip to Yosemite and Yellowstone in 1907.

        ‘Hey, honey, let’s travel out to Yellowstone and Yosemite. I found a great deal on a ‘trailer.’ It’s got a shower, a kitchen, a desk and 3 drawers for our clothes. Let’s go.’

        But, Sweetie, what kind of roads will we be driving on?

        Uh, they will be mostly mud with lots of ruts.
        Do you have a map?
        Sure, here it is.

        Will there be any road signs?

        Well, uh, we’ll just keep head west.

        How will we find gas along the way? It’s OK here in the city but what about the desert and the mountains?
Manufactured in 1911, an S.F. Bowser Model 102 “Chief Sentry” pumped gas on North Capitol Street in Washington D.C., in 1920. The Penn Oil Company’s pump’s topmost globe, today prized by collectors, survived only as a bulb. Photo from the Library of Congress        
        Uh, gee, maybe we can carry some with us.

        Will we be able to buy some food along the way? Will there be grocery stores along the roads? I know you have questions, but won’t it be fun? Oh, and don’t forget to bring your spats.’

        ‘No way, sweetie pie.’

Nope, we’ve got to admire those early travelers. They were intrepid adventurers and we owe them a great debt. It’s so easy to travel these days and to travel in luxury. There are roads, gas stations, motels, grocery stores, parks with hook-ups and so much more to make travel easy and pleasurable.