Wellington, Christchurch…

February 9, 2013

John and Jane in New Zealand

After leaving our friends the Ramsons in Masterton, we gassed up and drove west to Wellington, only 120 KM or so, but along the way is a twisty curvy two-lane mountain road that makes it somewhat tricky? But we managed to survive it, about a two-hour drive. We had tickets for a tutorial tour of the Te Papa Tangarewa Museum,
Imageso we drove directly there, and parked underneath in the Museum’s parking lot. This is an AMAZING museum! It has 5 accessible levels of exhibits, covering many facets of New Zealand history and society. We learned a lot about Maoris there, and how the Waitangi Treaty meant something different to the British settlers and the Maori natives at the time of its signing.

We saw Giant Trolls from The Hobbit, which is currently a Kiwi craze. The Trolls are guarding the museum entrance, larger than life fiberglass figures. Pretty cute!Image

One display that really touched me as much as any other was one called “Refugees.” In this exhibit are testimonials and photos from refugees from many of the world’s countries in great turmoil and strife. These people have somehow made their respective ways to New Zealand, and are sharing their stories. Like children from Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, you name it. The sad part is that they became refugees because of political actions taken by individual politicians and governments with very little empathy for the consequences of their actions on the little people, the children, their parents, etc.

ImageWell, we coulda spent the whole night there and maybe another day or two as well, but the durn place closed at 6! So we stayed until then, and then met Bruce Green (Dave from Tauranga’s brother) at our hotel, and together we walked out to a harborside restaurant and had a nice Asian meal. Architect Bruce designs commercial buildings, and seems to be quite good at it; a few examples of his work are evident in the downtown Wellington skyline. After dinner, we all jumped into Bruce’s car and he drove us to the top of a hill overlooking the harbor and the Wellington downtown district. It was warm enough to do that in shirtsleeves that evening, but by the next morning, it had started to rain, and did so as we flew down to Christchurch from Wellington.

We’ve all heard of Christchurch’s recent quake history; there was a large 7.1 quake in September 2010 that caused quite a lot of damage but few fatalities; Then, in February 2011, a 6.3 magnitude quake struck much closer to Christchurch’s heart. 185 people were killed in the quake, and essentially the entire downtown region of Christchurch, every store, building, cathedral, etc, was rendered unsafe. We had visited Christchurch in late 1990, and the big cathedral that we remembered? Well, it’s now being “deconstructed” for possible future restoration. Two years after the 2nd quake, the whole area is still a demolition/construction zone, and probably many years will pass before the physical scars are all healed.

ImageBut there is hope! Christchurch has implemented a “Restart” program, where new stores and other businesses are being built of container boxes. We visited the Restart business district and were quite impressed! Inside this “Simply New Zealand” shop, we engaged Teresa, the proprietor, in a conversation about what had happened, how she felt about the future. It turns out that her original store, like so many others, was totally put out of commission. But within a few months, she was offered the opportunity to open one of the Restart container-based stores. For those doing business in the Restart zone, business
Imagecan be brisk, as the stores are a tourist draw, not to mention a draw for residents who simply need the stuff carried there. So Teresa said she could have left completely, but decided to give it a try, and likes being a part of the resurrection of the downtown district, and she’s excited about the future. There she is with Jane, after she sold me some socks made of Merino Wool and Possum fur. They’re great!

We stayed overnight in Christchurch and then headed off by train to the West, stopping at Arthur’s Pass for a couple of days. A beautiful lodge on a sheep station high in the Southern Alps. To find out more about that adventure, tune in to future installments! ;-) 


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Yep, there she is, a replica of “The Spirit of St. Louis,” the plane that Charles Lindbergh flew solo over the Atlantic back in 1927. (I shot the pano at the St. Louis History Museum) With backing from a group of St. Louis businessmen, in pursuit of the coveted $25,000 Orteig prize for the first solo flight across the Atlantic, Ryan Airlines of San Diego put together Lindbergh’s airplane in 60 days from receipt of order! (Imagine that?) Then, on a foggy morning May 20, 1927, Lindbergh took off from Curtiss Field on Long Island, and landed at Le Bourget field in Paris 33 hours later. Interesting detail about Lindbergh: As he took off, he had gone sleepless for 33 hours before. So when he landed, his poor body had gome 66 hours without sleeping. How did he stay awake? A couple of things contributed: 1) The Spirit of St. Louis was an inherently unstable aircraft, meaning he couldn’t relax his attention from the controls at all. 2) The plane’s windows were open, a constant breeze blowing through the cockpit, helping to keep our man awake. At the Museum, there were some interesting news clippings relating Lindy’s courtship of Anne Morrow (be sure to look at it full-screen so you can read the captions), and also the passport he carried to allow him to set foot on French ground! Check out our gallery for more details, kinda interesting…

Of course, you can’t visit St. Louis without seeing the Arch. There’s Jane, framed by this 600 ft. high monument in the background. The weather for that day wasn’t exactly gorgeous, so we decided not to go to the top. In fact, the Mississippi was overflowing its banks on Monday, at a height of ~31.5 feet, with a flood level of 30 feet. It was expected to rise to 35 feet by midweek; we were outta there on Tuesday evening though, got to miss that particular climax! But we walked down by the waterline and it was amazing to see how the river was covering things that used to be above water level, like the parking lot behind that fence there?

Our last day in St. Louis favored us with excellent weather. I took a shot of historic Market St., right out of our window of the Drury Hotel:

That majestic building to the right there is the historic old Courthouse where the famous Dred Scott trials began. Reading up on this case at the St. Louis History Museum was pretty interesting; I’ll share a little of my findings here. Dred Scott, originally had been a slave in the slave state of Missouri. Then he moved with his owner into the free state of Illinois and then the free territory of Wisconsin. When he returned to Missouri, thinking he was a free man, authorities returned him to slavery. He sued, in the case of Dred Scott v. Sanford, but the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled against him:

“In March of 1857, the United States Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, declared that all blacks — slaves as well as free — were not and could never become citizens of the United States. The court also declared the 1820 Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, thus permiting slavery in all of the country’s territories.” Referring to the language in the Declaration of Independence that includes the phrase, “all men are created equal,” Taney reasoned that “it is too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration. . . .”

Well, all good things come to an end, and so it was with our visit to St. Louis and the mid-South we enjoyed for the two weeks we spent there. But on our way to the airport, we stopped in at Ted Drewes’s famous Frozen Custard shoppe for a little cool refreshment. I don’t want to make anyone jealous, so I’ve withheld photos of the actual custard concoctions we imbibed there, but Mmmmmmmm!

If you followed the weather at all during the time of our trip, you probably heard about the twister that damaged the Lambert Field terminal in St. Louis? Well, here’s a photo of the plywood windows at Terminal C, where the twister blew out most of the glass on the street side of the terminal building:

You can see more details in our daily galleryBut despite the damage, we were able to take off, and as we soared over the Mississippi, got this last view of the Mississippi Mud:

As I write this last installment of the blog for this trip, it’s now May, and a week has gone by since our return. But it was a great trip, we enjoyed everything we did, why we even received our new American-made vacuum cleaner the other day, and it works just fine! Thank you for your support. 🙂

Finally leaving Nashville, we headed North, and entered Kentucky, staying overnight at Paducah. Along the way, we drove through the “Between the Lakes” park in Tennessee; you can see some distant images of Bison (not much compared to our Bison sightings you might recall from South Dakota, but hey, this is Tennessee! 😉 ). Check out our gallery for more details, as usual.

Now, many have wondered how two people can successfully co-exist in a single small automobile for extended periods, and still be friends. Here is just one of example of how that works. You can see the barn through the window? The Driver (me) thought “Hmmm… Looks like a target on that barn?” But the Photographer (Jane) said “Hey, that looks like a QUILT!” Did the discussion stop there? The next photo answers that:

You see, any possible dispute was averted by turning the car around, and getting a decent shot of the barn, which maybe DOES look  like a quilt, kinda sorta? Well, Kentucky didn’t prove to be too photogenic, but we enjoyed our stay in Paducah. It’s situated at the confluence of the Tennessee and Ohio rivers, and is noted for its Quilting Museum and annual Quilt Show. In the morning, we headed over towards Missouri to the west. Along the way, it was obvious that the recent heavy rains had taken their toll:

But dauntless, we plowed on, intending to cross the Mississippi on the Hwy 51 bridge. But STOP! The bridge was closed, must find alternate route.

At this point, the rain was REALLY pouring down, to the point where you could hardly see taillights ahead only a little distance. We veered north towards Cairo, and found a crossing there, letting us into Missouri. We were interested in finding the Bollinger Mill, near Millersville. This was very interesting to Jane, who’s descended from Bolingers (with ONE “l”) and Millers. At Bollinger Mill is one of 4 covered bridges in Missouri. Alas, we were not to be able to see the mill or the bridge, as the road to it was flooded out:

We were of course disappointed not to be able to see the Bollinger Mill and covered bridge, but Mother Nature rules, we were out of luck there. So we headed on north and finally reached St. Louis and our hotel there, the Drury, about 4:30 or so, time to relax a bit and then walk on over to Busch Stadium (about 3 blocks from the Drury) to pick up a baseball game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds:

Our hotel, the Drury at the Arch, is right next to that brown skyscraper you can see to the left of the Arch. Serendipity came to us as game spectators at the Busch: We had picked a pair of seats online a few days earlier. The weather was really iffy for the game, with a high likelihood that the game would be called on account of rain. But it got off to a dry start, and the weather held through about the sixth inning, then it began to rain. Here’s where the serendipity comes in: We, by chance, were sitting under an overhang that shielded us from rain falling just ONE row in front of us! We kept dry, those with “better” seats forward were starting to leave, or breaking out their umbrellas and rain slickers. The game outcome, 3-0, was decided in favor of the Cards by one swing of catcher Yadier Molina’s bat, a 3-run homer, of which I just happen to have a photo:After Sunday night’s game, we spent two more days in St. Louis, which will be reported later…

For people into Country Western, Nashville is “Where It’s At,” where lots of very famous musicians and performers got their start, where “Grand Ole Opry” has existed forever. We started our Nashville tour with a trip to the old Ryman Theater, where Grand Ole Opry used to be staged before moving to its newer venue in Opryland. Here’s Jane in front of the Ryman:

Wait! Who’s that on the mike? Looks like John himself, taking over the stage? 😉 The Ryman was and is a great venue for performers, it is said to have “perfect” acoustics, second only maybe to the LDS Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. (Where most Country Western folks are NEVER gonna perform, no doubt!)

But not to let the moment pass, John took the opportunity to cut a Ryman CD of his own, right there in the Ryman recording studio. Hey, for $15, ANYONE can be a star! Though the CD itself, a recording of “Amazing Grace,” won’t make the CM charts, it was fun to try anyway.

The Ryman is a big old theater with pew-like wooden seats, no doubt stimulating a move to a larger more comfortable venue. Here’s the sound engineer’s view of the Ryman stage:

After leaving the Ryman, we strolled over to the Hatch Letterpress Print shop, a printer who uses truly ancient printing methods to create posters and flyers that really personify the Country Music genre, for at least one example: 

We were to see some brilliant examples of the Hatch printing process later on in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and you can follow our visit in our daily gallery as well.

Next day we headed down to Lynchburg, the site of the Jack Daniel Distillery. It’s one of the largest distillers on Earth. We learned there that Whiskey can only be called “Tennessee Whiskey” IF and only IF, it’s been filtered by charcoal in the distillation process.

We took the guided tour of the Jack Daniel Distillery, and along the way, had our picture taken with Jack himself, though Jack has actually been dead for 100 years. AND, Jack was only 5’2″ tall, so the sculptor took some liberties with height in creating his replica of the Man. Jack Daniel Distillery creates most popularly the Old No. 7 label, and we also made acquaintance with “Gentleman Jack,” distinguished from #7 by going through another stage of charcoal filtering in its process.

One thing about this region of the “mid-South,” it was a hotbed of Civil War hostilities; many lives from both the Union and the Confederacy were lost in battles nearby. One good example we found as we visited, later in the day, the Carnton Plantation, near Franklin. You can see images telling some of this fascinating story in our gallery; take a look if you’re interested.

Friday night, we took in a “taping” of Grand Ole Opry, which was broadcast worldwide on Saturday night. The show starts at 7:00 PM and ends around 9:15 PM, give or take. A lotta fun. One of the stock headliners is Little Jimmy Dickens, shown on the monitor above. Jimmy, who brought down the house with some VERY funny lines, is 90 years young and still going strong. Amazing. The show was fun to see; you can share other experiences of ours in today’s gallery, wouldn’t you know? 😉

Next day, we went to the Country Music Museum and Hall of Fame, and spent 2-3 hours there. Much is recanted in our gallery. Shown here is a wall covered with gold and platinum records, flanked by Tammy Wynette on the left, Hank Williams on the right. There’s certainly more to see in our gallery, but one overriding theme I took from these exhibits and also from Graceland in Memphis, was a pattern that seemed quite repetitive: Young talented musician gets discovered, starts reaping TONS of money, so much that it’s impossible to live with comfortably. So great ostentatious displays of opulence, extreme mood swings and life swings, premature death. Sad, repetitive story, can be applied to Elvis, Tammy Wynette, Hank Williams, etc. Just take a look, for example, at Elvis’s “Solid Gold Cadillac,” on which he spent today’s equivalent of ~$2M to get a car with TVs in the back seat, gold-plated fixtures on the exterior, and the paint. The Paint? 40 hand-rubbed coats of paint containing DIAMOND DUST, ground-up opalescent pearls. Here’s the front end of this modified 1960 Cadillac Fleetwood convertible:

All the same, it’d be fun, just once, to face one of those screaming audiences that used to cheer Elvis, Hank, or Tammy on, and of course, I’d be MUCH smarter about using all that money? On the other hand, I might have trouble making Ns meet?

Why, I might just have to keep my money in the Second Fourth Bank, if this photo gives me any guidance? See ya later.

Leaving Fayetteville behind us, we had to spread our trip to Memphis over 2 days; we hate long drives on the schedule! So we stopped overnight in Mountain Home, AR. Not much to show there, nor to describe. But on the way down from there to Memphis, we came to a pretty little river sight on Martin’s Creek, site of a Civil War battle of historical note. Here’s a shot of a lovely old mill and Ed, a fisherman casting his bait out into the Creek here:

Read a little more about the historical significance of this spot in today’s gallery. After leaving that spot, we rolled on into Memphis around midday on Monday the 18th. That afternoon, we visited the Rock and Soul Museum, where we learned a lot about the origins of Blues, Jazz, and Soul music. It was interesting to see how the medium of music acted to dispel racial barriers as musicians of both white and black skin managed to overlook their differences to eventually be able to make great music together. But the Rock and Soul Museum got into some early beginnings of just music sharing amongst the early Negro sharecroppers:

A lot more stuff to see in the gallery, for example the sound control board Sam Phillips used to make Elvis’s first recording, My Happiness. That evening, we hopped out to Beale Street, running right by our hotel on Peabody Place. For a Monday night, it was hopping!

But of course, no one should visit Memphis without paying homage to the King himself. This man had to be one of the most phenomenal musicians to ever exist. He recorded at least 141 Gold, Platinum, Platinum plus records and albums, and made so much money it must’ve been tough to figure out how to spend it all. But he tried hard to spend, and to support needy people, related to him or not.

One quote from John Lennon: “I wasn’t really interested in music until I heard Elvis sing.” If true, this means that without Elvis, there would’ve been no Beatles! Pretty strong influence.

Elvis had plenty of money to buy or do just about anything he wanted. The public may not be aware of just how generous he was as a donor to worthy causes, often on a very personal level, with little to no fanfare.

In our daily gallery, you can see much of the interior of Graceland, Elvis’s mansion that he bought in 1957 at the age of 22, keeping it until his death 20 years later. You can see his Convair 880 4-engine jet, the “Lisa Marie,” and inspect some of Graceland’s interior rooms.

We had an interesting visit to the STAX Museum. STAX was a recording company that early on, published some really heavyweight performers. But due to various nefarious dealings, it went bankrupt in 1974. In recent years, it has been revived as a museum and a new music school. But definitely the most profound visit we had before leaving Memphis was to the National Civil Rights Museum, built on the site of the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Just to set the stage for the basis for this movement, witness the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year old black boy whose crime against the White race was to say “Bye baby” to a white woman who sold him candy in a grocery store:

And the reason Emmett had to be killed?

The scary part of this is/was, some of this kind of attitude exists even to this day, though maybe in more covert and subtle ways. More images detailing more of the story and the struggle, are posted in our gallery; Take a look, they won’t bite! 😉

Before leaving Memphis, we toured the Cotton Museum, the site of the old Cotton Exchange. Memphis was the center of Cotton harvesting and distribution for the nation. At the Exchange, they brokered, bought and sold this fibrous commodity in all its ways, shapes and forms. Though we toured the museum for an hour or so, we (as usual) got more information from the Museum’s curator vis-a-vis how Cotton is doing these days, what current problems, prices are, the difference between a “module” and a “bale,” the many applications of cotton, including everything from fine sheets to dynamite. The U.S. now ranks 3rd in world-wide cotton production, trailing #1 China, and #2 India. Any surprises there? 😉

As this entry is being penned, we’re about to leave Nashville. More on our Music City visit when next we meet!

Before we left Branson on Saturday morning, we wanted to look at just one more museum: “The World’s Largest Toy Museum,” is at least how it’s advertised and hyped:

After entering and looking around through all the shelves and aisles of this unique place, we decided that it really shouldn’t be called a museum, it should be called a collection! It has unbelievably large collections of every which kind of toy you can imagine: Matchbox cars, dolls, trucks, games, yada yada. Jane opines that if it deserved the title of “museum,” its exhibits would be historically arrayed, but that’s just not the case. There’s just a pot pourri of different goodies, arranged in no particular order, not even appearing to be catalogued. Not that it wasn’t fun to visit – Here’s Raggedy Anne swinging away:

There was a sort of a “Christian” theme about the toy exhibits, with little Bible quotations in front of racks of Matchbox cars, and most exhibits. Also, an old-time author, Harold Bell Wright, who wrote “Shepherd of the Hills,” was eulogized in a little worshipful video showing continuously in one part of the “museum.” Jane enjoyed discussing the scene with the day’s manager.

After we left the Toy Museum, we went for one last time down to Branson’s waterfront, where I made an exciting discovery. Now I know where Costco’s Kirkland Chickens come from!

In our gallery for the day, you can see evidence of a delightful little side visit we took to “Dogwood Canyon,” where the sun favored us for awhile, and we caught a nice break with some good Missouri scenery. (Last before getting into Arkansas).

Fayetteville, home of the You of Ark (Univ. of Arkansas) beckoned to us not only as a reputedly beautiful city, but also an old college friend of mine, Chuck Caldwell, spent his career there as an E.E. professor at the University. At the risk of dating myself, I won’t say exactly how many years it had been, but many it has! 😉 So Chuck met us for dinner at Herman’s restaurant, a local hangout for good Q and other meaty delights. Here we are:

After dinner, Chuck led us out to the Fayetteville airport, where his Rutan Defiant homebuilt (a 20-year project) is hangared. Right now, many of the plane’s parts were out for painting, but Chuck expects to have it airworthy again by the end of the month. If you check out today’s gallery, you can see Chuck alongside this twin-engine machine, and you’ll also see a photo of Bill & Hillary Clinton’s first home, on the U of A campus, AND what was perhaps Bill’s favorite store in town?

By now, we’ve left Fayetteville far behind, spent some quality time in Memphis, and we’re now housed in Nashville. So there’s more to come, more to come! Gotta run now, Jane’s Birthday is tomorrow…

We’d been hearing of Branson, MO, for many years. It was touted and hyped as the be-all, end-all of entertainment. A place where you could go hang out as long as you want, and never run out of fun, interesting things to do, or be entertained by. Thus were we motivated to take up the Time-Share promo offer to spend a few days there, as I mentioned in the first blog installment. Given all those expectations, our first impression of the place came up way short. Frankly, as we rolled into town on Hwy 76 Country, the Main Street of Branson, the place looked like a cross between Las Vegas and a strip mall! Cluttered, inconsistent, no-sign-ordinance streetscape, looking really junky, mile after mile. There’s even a “Hollywood Wax Museum” with a HUGE King Kong climbing its turret! But, there we were, and as we settled into our aforementioned HoJo for the night, we just weren’t sure about how our short visit was gonna turn out. Better, as it happened…

We hit our first show at 10AM on the 14th. It was a “John Denver” show, showing at a smaller venue within Branson’s iMax complex. A small but enthusiastic crowd witnessed a great show put on by Mr. James Garrett, who had been a friend of John’s while he was alive, and who knows ALL of Denver’s songs and their histories.

The performance was very personal; Garrett let the audience take photographs, sing along with the songs (of course, you know I just hated that! 🙂 ), and he took and honored all requests. Plus, his own singing was augmented by some great accompaniment, with Randy Plummer on Bass, Jim Glaspy on Banjo, and C.J. Newsom for a feminine touch.

We left the show, which had gone on for an enjoyable 2.5 hours, very impressed with the performance we’d witnessed, and our feelings towards Branson were starting to grow. Our next show just added to the feeling. Next day at 2PM, we attended a performance of “Shake, Rattle & Roll,” just an amazingly good song and dance performance of songs from the 50s and 60s, put on by a large ensemble cast. Very exciting, very high energy performance, just made you want to jump out of your seat (and we did at times!). And our final show was a performance of SIX, a vocal ensemble group of 6 Hughes brothers, who make ALL of their own sounds on stage. Sometimes this means that a couple of the brothers are making strumming and drumming noises for some pieces, but when they’re all singing, I said to Jane they sounded like a turbo-charged Barbershop Quartet! Really an amazing performance, in front of a large audience of roughly 2,000. See today’s gallery for teasers on the latter two groups; no photos were allowed in those two performances!

James Garrett mentioned that there are currently 151 acts being actively performed day in and day out in Branson. If you think about the numbers, this means that there a helluva lot of entertainers making a living in that fair town. Judging from our random sample of three acts, I’d have to say there’s a very high quality level associated with these performers who make their respective livings there in the town. My conclusion: Branson has the highest number of singers per capita of any town on Earth! 😉

On the way down to Branson from St. Louis, we had wanted to stop at the Baker Creek Seed Store, near Mansfield, to pick up some heirloom tomato seeds. Well, they were closed when we first came through Mansfield (where the Wilder home stands), so after our John Denver show, we headed back up Northeast again to try to catch it. But darn it, we got there too late, again! However, we managed to eke out a good experience from the trek anyway. We checked out the Pioneer Village at Bakersville, and the friendly and not-so-friendly animals in residence. Check out the gallery for more images?

Amish horse and buggy traffic was heavy around Bakersville, and they have equal right-of-way to automobiles, so you have to be on the lookout at each dip and curve of the road:

In case you’re wondering about the Time-share “opportunity,” well, we managed to resist the salesman’s heavy pitch, even though he tried his level best to make it irresistible. Sigh… Wouldn’t want THAT job!

So we’ve left Branson now, went from there to Fayetteville, AR, and then on to Memphis, TN. Stay tuned?

Hello all ye faithful followers of Blogazzette; it’s been a long time since any new posts have appeared here. (Like December 2009?) I’m sure that you’ve all been doing ample things to fill the void, but there were some who said we never shoulda come home? 😉 Since then, there have been a surprising number of ongoing hits on the site, most notably for the entry from Asheville, NC, where we took our readers into the Biltmore House, replete with forbidden photos.

But that was then, and now is now. As it happened, we were still on our Prius journey, driving along somewhere in Mississippi, when the iPhone (AKA car phone) rang. It was a timeshare dude, touting a really special deal for visiting Hilton Head, SC. Well, that was easy to shrug off, we’d already been there, done that, end of discussion – Wait! How about Branson, MO? Why, for $139.00, you can have 3 days/3 nights at Branson, show tix, etc. We hadn’t been there, and it sounded intriguing, it was a weak moment, and we bit on it. We paid with a credit card, and had until May 2011 to honor our reservations. So about a year later, they started calling to ask when we were coming, yada yada, until finally we relented and decided to take them up on it, scheduling our trip both to Branson and a broader sweep of the Midwest, namely Memphis, Nashville, and St. Louis as well. All these places we’d never visited before, so we’re sorta filling some of our U.S. touring “Punch List” through this trip.

The PLAN for blogging our trip involved making our way to Branson, in Southwestern Missouri about 250 miles from St. Louis, and during our 3-day stay there, we’d avail ourselves of the wi-fi service of the Howard Johnson hotel where we’d be staying. That just didn’t happen. HoJo was a NoSho on wi-fi. So, we’re a little late getting off the dime, got some catching up to do.

On April 12th, we set forth on American Airlines (hey, what’s Advantage Mileage FOR?) from SFO to St. Louis, rented a car, and drove to a Holiday Inn Express right across the street from the Lambert airport. Although our sleep there was good, I felt the sign on the window didn’t bode well for us had our quarters been swept by fire? I suppose the idea is that if a fire does break out, and you can’t escape through the room door, well, you can just smash out the window with a convenient chair leg, and then make your escape, right through the window! Sounds simple enough, right? Only one small problem. Outside the window, there’s no fire escape, no ledge to stand on, nothing. All there is is a sheer FIVE-STORY drop to the pavement!

Now, those of you who’ve followed our adventures before know that we’re suckers for out-of-the-way, unusual museums. I mean, we’ve gone to the Jello Museum, the Desi and Lucy Museum, the Salt and Pepper Shaker museum, and even the Towing Museum. No doubt about it, we’re hooked on museums. So imagine our surprise, driving SW through Missouri along i44, (which tracks the old Route 66 through that area) when the following billboard loomed up ahead:

Jane said, “You won’t believe this. Look at that, a Vacuum Cleaner Museum!” I shook my head, immediately resigning myself to the fact that we’d visit that museum, no matter what! As it turned out, due to local sign ordinances, the place was VERY difficult to find off the freeway, but after asking around a bit, a local native told us just where we could find it, “Right over by that big water tower, can’t miss it.” What we found was the Tacony Vacuum Factory and Museum, of St. James, MO. This place is actually a working factory on its second floor, with more than 150 employees engaged in producing American-made vacuum cleaners under their own and other labels. AND, there’s a museum at the ground level, housing a massive collection of vacuum cleaners and other cleaning implements dating back to about 1910. The guy who collected all these machines, Tom Gasko, has been collecting them since he was 6; he’s now 49, so he’s had LOTS of years to put his collection together. Well, we reviewed a fabulous collection of cleaning instruments, from yesterday to modern times, and wound up buying one for ourselves, to be shipped upon our return. See today’s gallery to see how it all played out. There, you can see a photo of Tom Gasko himself, a photo of our very own new vacuum cleaner, AND, the official vacuum cleaner of Air Force One!

Further down the i44, we decided to drop into Mansfield, MO, to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. We got there too late in the day (4PM) to take in everything before their 5PM closing, but had a brief docent tour of the house built by Almanzo Wilder for his darling little (4’10”) wife Laura.

From the time the Wilders moved to Missouri near Mansfield in 1894, over the next 20 years Almanzo built their dream house. Every stick of this place was cut, hammered in, and painted by Almanzo, including all the furniture inside, everything. It’s a tribute to his skill that most of his original work is still intact, and showing there in the house. Quite impressive! Again, you can check the gallery for more images. Of great historical significance is the fact that this house was the place where Laura Ingalls Wilder began her writing career at the young age of 65, penning all of her “Little House on the Prairie” books here as chronicles of her own early life. Laura and Almanzo’s only daughter Rose also grew up to be a noted author, and did much of her writing in this very house.

Out of Mansfield, we traveled forth into the Ozarks, finally winding up in Branson for the night, more about which later. 😉

Happy New Year!

January 1, 2010

Hello, all ye faithful blogazzette followers! We wish you all a very Happy New Year, and to add a wistful note, we’re still not fully accustomed to the static existence of living in one place and not moving along the road from day to day! But life does go on, and alas, that wonderful trip described in our blog is now a memory, or a series of memories, which the blog attempted to encapsulate. Just to make it easier for people to read, especially newcomers who didn’t come along for the ride in the first place, I’ve put together a PDF “Blogbook,” which upends the “last in, first out” format of the blog to give you first things first, in the logical chronological order. You could print this thing out, but be warned that it’s ~180 pages long if you do so. If you’re using your computer to view it, you should be able to just click on gallery links to see associated photos with each blog post. Here’s the link to Blogbook1.PDF, which is a large file, over 30MB in size. (Password is “john-jane”) Please e-mail me at <jareed@me.com> if you have any troubles? Thanks for viewing, and for following along, friends of the road!

California Bloggin…

December 1, 2009

Well, we’re back at home now, trip over. But still… It isn’t easy to interrupt that old adrenalin flow that courses through one’s veins with every new day of discovery on the road? But coming home into California hasn’t passed without incident, as you’ll see. We arose early on Thursday morning, jumped into the Prius, and enjoyed a seemingly short ride (the time change gave us an extra hour!) from just west of Phoenix over to Palm Desert, CA, our Thanksgiving date with Jane’s sister and brother-in-law. We figured by now that we had just about had it with museums, having seen myriads of them along the way. Even junkies can get saturated, right? So imagine our surprise, when we stopped in for gas at Chiriaco Summit on the way into the Coachella Valley (where Palm Desert, Palm Springs, etc. all lie), to see yet another museum, this one dedicated to General George S. Patton! Luckily for our schedule, it wasn’t open, but since they’d have a hard time hiding big tank-sized exhibits inside, I managed to snap a Patton Tank on exhibit:

A Patton Tank on exhibit at George S. Patton Museum, Chiriaco Summit, CA

After fill-up, we finally dismounted our faithful Prius in Palm Desert, and sat down to an end-of-trip toast right there at the dinner table:

Toasting the end of our trip at Thanksgiving in Palm Desert

Ahhh… And a nice dinner was had by all, for sure! And by the way, HAPPY THANKSGIVING to you blog followers, while we’re at it. Thanks for the fun support you’ve given us along the way for this trip, it’s made the experience even richer and more fulfilling than it would’ve otherwise turned out.

Jane’s brother lives over the San Jacinto Mountains in the town of Fallbrook, not far north of San Diego. In good weather, one can figure about 2-2.5 hours to journey over there. So we planned that trip for Saturday, and headed out in the morning, over Highway 74, the most direct route over the mountains. But… As we drove along, the overcast turned to rain, and the roadside signs started saying “Chains Required.” We didn’t have chains, but figured we could keep going anyway, right?

Heading up Hwy 74 at about 5,000 ft in the snow...

We trudged along a little further, but were soon repelled by the logic that it just plain wasn’t safe to go much further, what with narrower roads and higher altitudes ahead. So, we turned around, and on the way back down, I found some solace in the beautiful scenery unfolding down in the Coachella Valley:

A panorama of Coachella Valley, from Palm Springs to La Quinta, from Hwy 74

As you can maybe get a sense in the gallery, some of those desert scenes were absolutely breath-taking, comparable to many of the beautiful scenes we’ve encountered heretofore on our trip. But what the heck, I’ve gaped at a lot of beauty along the way, this left me agape as well. But be sure to take a full-screen view of that pano when you’re in the gallery, it’s kinda purty, I think.

Sunday morning, as more pious people were perhaps in Church, I instead went down to Living Desert off Portola Avenue, at the south end of town. I suppose you could say I was a Cheetah?Of course, if you had a face that only a mother could love (like that Turkey Vulture over there), you might find solace in my punful humor. I always think of these guys when I hear those luggage announcements on airplanes regarding “carrion” items?

Well, all good things must come to an end, as inevitably must this marvelous trip of ours. We had originally planned to spend Monday night with some old college friends from La Canada Flintridge (the longest city name in the U.S.), but as Jane and I were both feeling a bit puny from the cold I started, we opted instead to just visit them for lunch, and make our final goal, HOME, in Los Altos. So we did that, had a nice lunch, and headed off later than we should have to the west and north. La Canada Flintridge is just west of Pasadena; it seemed that the whole area had cleaned itself up for our visit. The air was as clean as I’ve ever seen it, and the local mountains seemed close enough to touch!

Mountains west of Pasadena: Santa Suzannas? Close enough to touch

We did indeed reach home around 9:30PM, for about the longest day’s drive of our entire trip. Now we’re regrouping, and coming to grips with local realities, incumbent upon our return. So I guess this is the last post of this blog, and again, I want to THANK YOU all for your interest, and hope that you’ve gotten some benefits from this thing called a blog. I know I’ve personally found it rewarding, and I’m sure we’ll both refer to the blog time after time just to recall our many experiences. See you around!