Nashville, Nostalgia, and Nudie’s!

Got your attention, did I???

When we prepared to head south out of Campbellsville on Friday, we pointed Henry, Clara and Edsel towards Nashville, Tennessee.  We really didn’t have any plans, other than hang out with Jodee, Bill and their fluffy dog, Tessa. Jodee writes a blog about their travels called On the Road Abode.  We’ve been following them since 2014 and love reading about the cool places they find. 😃. Just before we left Kentucky, Jodee asked if we would be interested in going to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.  Being country fans (along with most other types of music), we said we were in!

We arrived at Two Rivers RV Park in the afternoon and got settled in.  That night, we all went to John A’s, a restaurant just up the road.  The food and the band were good, and our waiter Jared was a hoot!  Diana’s and my alma mater…the Western Michigan Broncos…were on the TV, playing in the MAC Championship.  We ended up winning, finishing our season 13-0 and are going to the Cotton Bowl to play Wisconsin on January 2. Woohoo!!!  This has been an especially memorable season for us, as our friends Karen and Bill’s son Billy is on the team.

On Saturday, Jodee’s husband Bill wasn’t feeling well, so it was just three of us heading downtown.  Our first stop was the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Like Western’s coach, we wore every bit of WMU cotton we could find, hoping to send good vibes to the selection committee…as they were deciding what bowl our team would be playing in.  It worked…we ended up in the Cotton Bowl! 😀

Inside the building, we saw this plaque on the Ford Theater.  That’s Henry Ford, playing his fiddle.  He loved to take Model T road trips with friends and camp out,  playing his fiddle around a campfire.  Seeing as I grew up about three miles from where he did, I guess we have a lot in common.  Better take up fiddle playing!

Inside the museum, there were displays that paid tribute to the many stars of country music.  Some displays went beyond the stars, depicting the genre in American culture.

Here is a Pontiac Bonneville owned by Webb Pierce.  It was customized by Nudie Cohn.  More on him later in the post.  Yes, that’s a saddle for a console and those are real silver dollars adorning it.

This particular display was about Johnny Cash.  I found it interesting that the boots he performed in for two years were too narrow for his feet.  Bill and Jodee’s friend from high school, Bill Miller, recently opened another museum entirely devoted to Johnny Cash just a block away from the Hall of Fame.  Jodee wrote about her and Bill’s visit the day before here.

This is Dolly Parton’s original manuscript of the lyrics for the song Jolene.  I always enjoy seeing these, as there are often words crossed out that the artist decided to change. This particular one impressed me, as she virtually made no corrections.  Dolly had a very clear vision of what she wanted this song to say.

And who can forget the black Trans Am from the Smokey and the Bandit movies.  Burt Reynolds driving and Sally Fields in the passenger seat. We were all singing ‘Eastbound and down, loaded up and truckin’…’

There was a huge display on when Bob Dylan came to Nashville in 1969 and recorded his album Nashville Skyline.   This was the album that gave us Lay Lady Lay, and included vocals by Johnny Cash and guitar work by Charlie Daniels.  It was fascinating that during such a turbulent time in history, Bob Dylan was writing country songs.  The album is considered to be one of his best.  I was so focused on this part of the museum, I forgot to take photos!

The actual Hall of Fame rotunda had plaques for each star that were inducted into the hall, very similar to the plaques in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  The band around the top of the room had the words Will the Circle be Unbroken  from the often recorded Christian hymn of the same name.

Once we finished up at the museum, we headed over to Nudie’s Honky Tonk.  This bar/restaurant/music venue/museum was just opened by Jodee and Bill’s friend Bill Miller…the same person who opened the Johnny Cash Museum.

So you might be wondering how Mr. Cohn got his name?  Well, he was born Nuta Kotlyarenko in Ukraine, and when he passed through Eliis Island when immigrating to the United States, the immigration official changed it to Nudie Cohn.  Nudie was a tailor, first working in New York and later in Hollywood, California.  He is the one credited with putting country music legends in rhinestones.

Here is Nudie with his custom Eldorado Cadillac; one of many cars he had customized with tooled leather, chrome pistols and rifles, silver dollars and longhorns above the grille.

Nudie’s Honky Tonk is located on Broadway, right in the heart of downtown Nashville in the building that used to house the Lawrence Brothers record store.  The three story tall structure has three performance stages.

The 100 foot bar is the longest in Nashville.  Not sure if you can make it out in the photo, but…

…it is covered with 9,465 silver dollars!  I didn’t check the rest of the bar, but this section was all 1881 Morgan silver dollars.  There is a lot of coin in those coins!  I’m sure Nudie would have been proud.  😃

All along the walls were display cases with Nudie suits that belonged to stars such as Hank Williams, Elvis, Porter Wagoner,  Merle Travis and Hank Snow, to name a few.

Above the entrance were the two bucking broncos that were on the Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors shop in North Hollywood from the 1960’s through the 1980’s.

And there, hanging above the main stage, is Nudie’s custom Eldorado.  Just fabulous!

The food and drink were outstanding, as was the music.  This is definitely a must-stop if you come to Nashville!

So here’s a toast to Nudie, some great Nostalgia, and to Nashville!

Moving on from Kentucky

It’s often been said that a fulltime RVers plans are set in Jello…

Our packing jobs at Amazon had been going well, up to this week.  We were working four 10 hour days, followed by three days off.  The work was somewhat tedious and monotonous…no surprises there…but we were ok with our duties.  We were definitely sore, but nothing we were overly concerned about.  Things picked up with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and we were really worn out.  Still we kept pushing.  On Tuesday morning, Diana wasn’t feeling well…it turns out she hurt her back…and went home.  I worked out the day, but pretty much settled on the fact that we should move on, as it wasn’t in our best interest health wise to stay to the end.  Diana had never worked in an industrial environment before, and she was amazing.  Kelly, the CamperForce human resources director, called her a natural.  :). I spent my career in a shop setting, so I knew my way around.  All was well with our managers…they actually came to us for assistance daily…so no issues there.  We just were concerned that lugging totes with two cases of canned pet food in them while being so tired was jeopardizing our health.  We knew it was going to be hard work going in, and it definitely was.  When we let Kelly know, he offered for us to return next year, which was incredibly kind.  Amazon’s Campbellsville management team loves CamperForce, as they work so hard and are reliable.  If finances ever dictate that we need to return, it is nice to know that offer is out there.  That wasn’t our motivation this time, as we just saw Amazon as something we wanted to experience.  The money was a nice bonus, though!

So on Wednesday night, we met up with our friends Linda and Steven at Campbellsville University’s dining hall.  They treated us to dinner (thank you!!!) and we discussed the events of the week.  We have gotten together with them four times since we arrived here, and have thorouly enjoyed every minute of our time with them.  Jodee and Bill hooked us up, and the six of us…er, seven (can’t forget Fluffy Dog) spent Thanksgiving together.

 

And we can’t forget Tessa!

So…what’s next?  Well, first stop will be a weekend in Nashville, meeting up with Jodee and Bill again!  I’m sure there will be a couple of bloggers reporting on that one.  :)    From there we will be heading back to Melbourne Beach, Florida for three months, and we are looking forward to seeing our friends Rod and Mary (and Gracie) again!🙂   After that, we will be exploring some new territory for us, so be sure to stay tuned to what that entails.

That’s our update to what’s been happening.  We really enjoyed our time in Kentucky, and really appreciate the opportunity that Amazon afforded us.  CamperForce is a great program, and the people we worked for were thoughtful.  We definitely knew were appreciated.  This state is beautiful, the cost of living in the Campbellsville area is very reasonable and the people are warm and friendly.  We would definitely come back here, even if we weren’t working for Amazon.

Amazon Box Man!

Hello everyone…Box Man here!

I have my Super Box Man cape on, ready to fill your Cyber Monday orders!  Diana and Jim are going to be helping me, along with thousands of other Amazonians.  They will be back soon with a new exploRVistas post, but would love it if you could do your Amazon shopping through this link today. I really want to see them work hard on Cyber Monday!  There are bunches of things on sale, and you don’t have to battle the crowds at the store!  Remember, if you buy through this blog, it doesn’t add any cost to your order in any way.  It does help them with the cost of the blog, so shopping here is a fun way to do that.  Plus, I get to see them go faster!  As always, thank you for shopping Amazon!

Search and shop Amazon HERE🙂

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Tebb’s Bend and Perryville – so far away, yet so close to home

Diana and I visited two Civil War battlefields over the past few weeks.  Both were humbling experiences, to say the least. All total between the two sites, 1400 men died and 7000 were wounded…all within a matter of hours.

The first site we visited was Tebb’s Bend, a sweeping curve in the Green River that had…and still has…a bridge across it.  We had been passing by the sign daily on our trip from our campground in Columbia, Kentucky to our seasonal job at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Campbellsville, and our thirst for all things historic made us pause to see what had occurred there.

Michigan 25th Infantry campsite

In the early 1860’s, Kentucky was officially a neutral state… though in reality was brother against brother.  With both US President Abraham Lincoln and CS President Jefferson Davis being born within its borders, Kentucky was seen as a vital prize needed in the quest to win the war.

1907 steel truss bridge at Tebb’s Bend, removed and reused as a trail feature

Even though the battle that occurred at Perryville was by far the largest in Kentucky and put the state in the Union column, the skirmish at Tebb’s Bend was very intriguing to us.

Confederate Brigadier General John Morgan had a hand picked cavalry of 1000 men.  His goal was to raid Louisville, cross the Ohio River into Indiana and head east to take Cincinnati.  He moved up from Tennessee into Kentucky in June, 1863.  His men camped in Cane Valley on the evening of July 3rd.  We currently drive through that parcel of land every day on our way to Campbellsville.

2015 steel truss bridge over the Green River at Tebb’s Bend

Morgan knew he needed to get across the Green River, and the easiest place was the wooden bridge on the Campbellsville Pike, now known as Tebb’s Bend Road.  Waiting for him at that bridge were 260 men from the 25th Michigan Infantry, led by Colonel Orlando Moore.  

The forested and hilly terrain the battle was fought in

One of Morgan’s men rode to the Union line under a flag of truce with a message from Morgan, demanding that the Union force surrender.  Colonel Moore replied to the soldier “This being the Fourth of July, I cannot entertain the proposition of surrender.”  The soldier rode back to the Confedrate line and the fighting immediately commenced.  Even though the Union soldiers were outnumbered four-to-one, they repulsed eight attacks by the Confederates over a three hour period.  The South counted losses of 35 killed and 45 wounded, while the Union soldiers had 6 killed and 23 wounded.  Of particular importance is the fact that the Michigan sharpshooters took out 24 of Morgan’s officers.  Realizing he wasn’t going to make it through the Union forces, Morgan again sent men forward under a flag of truce to request permission to collect and bury his dead, which Moore allowed.

Confederate Cemetery, Tebb’s Bend, Kentucky

Today, the mass Confederate grave sits at the end of the battlefield tour. The Union soldiers were interred at Lebanon National Cemetery in Lebanon, Kentucky, just north of Campbellsville.

Rebel flag, along with the Confederate Stars and Bars

Feelings still run deep here, as the grave is still visited by folks loyal to the Confederacy.

Monument inscription

The inscription on the monument reads ‘In Memory of the Confederate soldiers of Gen. Morgan’s command who fell in the battle at Green River Bridge. July 4, 1863.  They have not been forgotten by their countrymen.’

What really struck a chord with us was the sign by the road in front of the cemetery.

Michigan Historical plaque, Tebb’s Bend, Kentucky

A Michigan Historical Site, similar to so many we have seen in the Wolverine State, erected outside its borders.  To top it off, Colonel Moore had assembled his men at Kalamazoo, where Diana and I had met while in college there.

Inscription on the south side of the plaque

At the bottom of the plaque is a Holland-Zeeland connection, two cities where I spent the majority of my career.

Stand of white pine trees

On the northern edge of the cemetery was a line of white pine trees, the state tree of Michigan.  The smell from the pine needles was unmistakable to us.  Were they planted as a symbolic reminder of the impenetrable Michigan line of men who fought here?  It would be pretty hard to think otherwise, as there were no other white pines in sight. My feelings were running pretty deep as we spent time reflecting on this piece of Kentucky soil.

One week later, we took the scenic back way from our campsite near Columbia to the town of Perryville, Kentucky.  It was here, eight months prior to the battle at Tebb’s Bend, that the State of Kentucky was tipped into Union control.  Kentucky State Parks oversees the 745 acre Perryville Battlefield State Historic Park.  

Confederate memorial at the mass grave – Perryville, Kentucky

The battle that took place here was massive.  Over 60,000 Union troops assembled here, although only 22,000 engaged in the battle.  The others were unaware it was happening, due to the acoustic shadow of the hilly terrain.  16,000 Confederate troops were also involved.

Split rail fence rows, along with pathways throughout the battlefield

During the five hour battle, just over 500 Confederates were killed and 2600 were wounded.  The Union army lost over 800 men and over 2800 were wounded.  While it was considered a Confederate win, the South ended up having to retreat…as they had completely spent their ammunition.  When they realized there were 33,000 more Union soldiers in the area, they had no choice but to do so.

One of many cannons at Perryville

Aside from power lines and modern barns in the distance, the views seen at Perryville Battlefield are virtually the same as they were on that day. Even our weather conditions were as they were back then.  As we stood there and read the interpretive signs, we tried to imagine this dry soil being so covered with men’s blood that the soldiers had trouble retaining their footing.

As we were departing the battlefield, we came upon yet another Michigan Historical marker.

Inscription on the western side of the plaque

It was there that we learned that the Second Michigan Cavalry was from Grand Rapids.

Inscription on the east side of the sign

Again, reading this sign brought home what had been a distant war to me in my mind.  None of my ancestors fought for either side.  Michigan seemed a world away from Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Fort Sumpter.  While my paternal grandfather served in World War I and my dad in World War II, those were against foreign aggressors.  This was a war amongst ourselves.  I pondered the forces that existed within the nation that brought the populace to these battlefields.  It was humbling to think the country could divide the way it did.  I thought to myself while standing out there; could this happen again?  To say it couldn’t would be ignoring history.  It’s important that we visit places like Perryville and Tebb’s Bend, so we remember the lessons from our past and work together for our future.  Kentucky state motto says it best, as is posted atop their historical markers:

Kentucky state motto

United We Stand – Divided We Fall.

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Keeneland

As stated in our previous post, most people think of horses when they think of Kentucky.  The area in and around the city of Lexington is covered with picturesque equestrian farms.  Horses are revered here, with some of the barns they are housed in being more beautiful than the mansions that surround them.

Queen Elizabeth II keeps breeding stock at Lane’s End Farms, seen in the above photo.  She has visited here several times since the 1980’s.  The entire area is a picture of serenity, complete with rolling meadows, miles of well-maintained fences and narrow, winding roads.

So when Diana’s cousin Reed replied to a Facebook post I had made….saying for us to basically hurry up and get there because the ponies were running at Keeneland….well, we were intrigued.  We had no idea what Keeneland was, but we knew if Reed was excited about it, we would be in line to have a good time.  :)


The name Keeneland encompasses several aspects of a gorgeous 147 acre piece of Lexington farmland that was once owned by a gentleman named Jack Keene.  In the 1930’s, Mr.  Keene was a key individual behind the organization of the Keeneland Association.  This was a non-profit horse auction and racing entity that was interested in promoting the world of thoroughbred horses.  The facility was opened in 1936, and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.  The Breeder’s Cup was run here in 2015, which was won by American Pharoh in his last race, which made him the first horse to ever win the Grand Slam (the Triple Crown and the Breeder’s Cup).  The picturesque track was used as a backdrop for most of the scenes in the movie Seabiscuit, as it has changed so little since it opened in 1936.  The sales side of the Keeneland Association runs the world’s largest horse auction in January, September and November.  And the racing side hold meets in April and October.  This year’s fall meet ran from October 7 through October 29.

On Saturday, October 15, we drove from Campbellsville to Versailles, Kentucky to meet up with Reed, his wife Emily, and Diana’s cousin Jerry (Reed’s brother) who was also in town for a visit.  From Reed and Emily’s home, we drove some of Kentucky’s narrow, curvy roads to Keeneland.  Along the way, Reed and Emily bought us lunch at Wallace Station Deli and Bakery…very tasty.  Thank you both!

Our first stop was the paddock.  That’s where the horses are paraded around, one at a time, for the bettors to examine each race entrant.  Reed filled us in on how to read a race program, how to place a bet, and so on.  This particular entrant is named Luvthatmustang.  As the horses came around, I spotted a horse named Vanilla Score that was not favored at all…having 12 to 1 odds.  Still, the horse seemed ‘bothered’ to me.  That, and the fact I like vanilla…well, I dropped $2 each for it to win/place/show. 

Holy cow…that’s my yellow horse in front on the backstretch!  Danged if my horse didn’t come in second, which was just fine with me.  😎  I came away with enough money to play the rest of the day on the winnings, which was nice!

Following are a few photos from the day:

The manicured hedge spelling out Keeneland in the infield.

The bugler calls the horses to post in the gate.

The lead horses returning from the start of one of the races.  These are the horses that accompany the racers to the gate to help keep them calm.

Headed to the wire!

Emily and Diana discussing their mutual love of teaching during a break in the action, while Reed checks his race program.  

Reed and Jerry deciding who to place their money on.

This was definitely a huge social event with people dressed every which way.

Lots of coats and ties…

…but also plenty of folks dressed casually.

All in all, it was a great way to spend a beautiful day.  Thanks to Reed for taking the mystery out of thoroughbred racing for us.  😀  We look forward to returning to Keeneland again someday!

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There are pre-Black Friday deals at Amazon…time to get your holiday shopping done early by clicking HERE!  

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Maker’s Mark Distillery

When the State of Kentucky is mentioned, one of the first things to come to mind is horses.  There is one horse for every twelve people within its’ borders.  But not to be overlooked is Kentucky’s chief export, bourbon.  There are 1 million more barrels of this uniquely American whiskey than there are residents living in the Bluegrass State.  In fact, they even outnumber the humans and horses combined!  Even if you never take a sip of this sweet whiskey, the story behind it is fascinating.

The immediate question that comes to mind is: Why is there so much bourbon and whiskey being produced in Kentucky and Tennesee?  Well, the answer to that is the water quality.  Both states have a layer of limestone that filters the ground water, and there is virtually no iron in it.  Iron content is highly detrimental to producing whiskey.

So what is it that makes bourbon bourbon, and not just whiskey?  Well, a number of legal requirements must be met.  It must be 51% corn based, made and aged for a minimum of two years in new, charred oak barrels and be made in the United States. Also, the distilling process must not allow the product to exceed 160 proof when leaving the still, not enter the barrel more than 125 proof, and be at least 80 proof at bottling. No additional flavoring may be added, and only water can be used to lower the proof. With these stringent standards, a distiller must become creative to make their product stand out from the others.  One of the best at marketing and producing a unique product is the Samuels family, crafters of the brand Maker’s Mark.

To understand the history of this brand, you have to go back a long way.  Founder Bill Samuels, Sr. was the 4th generation to distill bourbon in the family.  He actually was the 6th, but the first two didn’t pay taxes, so his wife Margie said they didn’t count.  In 1953 he purchased the run down Burks Distillery, just northeast of Loretto, Kentucky, for $35,000.  That operation had the distinct honor of being the oldest producer of bourbon in the world, beginning back in 1805.  While it isn’t clear if any of the buildings from that original operation still exist, some of them are definitely old.  The roads to get to the property were (and still are) narrow and winding.

Setting the stage for Maker’s Mark, a number of events took place.  When the bourbon industry resumed operations after Prohibition, their offerings were anything but smooth…as the product was rushed to the thirsty consumers. In fact, Margie was reported to have said “That s*** will blow your ears off!”  When the U.S. entered World War II, President Roosevelt shut the bourbon industry down to preserve grain for the war effort. Bill Samuels, Sr. had been pressuring his father for some time to consider changing the family recipe, but was met with the reply “They’ll drink what we give them.”  The T.W. Samuels Distillery in Deatsville, Kentucky was sold out of the family in 1943, and Bill Samuels, Sr. was out of a job.  When the distillery resumed production under a different name after the war, the whiskey had acquired a burned smell and taste.  Even though Bill was no longer with the company, he wanted to distance himself from them…and that was the impetus for purchasing the Burks Distillery.  He ceremoniously burned the family recipe, and as the story goes, set the curtains in the living room on fire in the process.  :)

So with bourbon requiring a minimum of two years of aging, the question of how to come up with a new recipe was raised.  Samuels developed seven different concoctions using variations of wheat instead of rye, as the latter tends to impart a spicy note into the product. Margie proceeded to bake loaves of bread from each one.  The loaf that tasted the best to them was the one that used red winter wheat. 

With the recipe in hand, they had to come up with a name for their bourbon.  This is where Margie stepped in and set them on the path to success.  She was a collector of English pewter, and she knew each pewter maker had their own distinctive mark on the bottom of each piece.  She developed the round maker’s mark with a star to signify the Star Hill family farm and distillery, and the ‘S IV’ to commentate that her husband was a fourth generation of Samuels to be a distiller.  She designed the label and lettering to look hand crafted, lending authenticity to this new brand.

Spelling whiskey without an “e”, is a tip of the hat to the Samuels’ Scottish heritage.  From there, she designed a unique bottle to the bourbon industry, combining both square and round elements, similar to a cognac bottle.

To top it off, she insisted on hand dipping the neck of the bottle in red wax to add a distinctive look.  At first, Bill didn’t like it, as he felt it made it too difficult for his customers to open the bottle.  When Margie insisted they use it, he had a pull tab made that would withstand the 350 degree wax that allowed its easy removal. The dripping wax now carries a U.S. patent.

With all the pieces in place, production commenced.  The first barrel, proudly displayed in the distillery, was filled on February 26, 1954.  The first bottle was filled on May 8, 1958.  Since then, the aging process has been extended to between 5-3/4 and 7 years, depending on when the tasters determine the barrel is ready.

On Friday, October 21, Diana and I drove up to Loretto for a tour of the distillery.  We really didn’t know what to expect, as we had never been to one.  What we found was a setting very similar to the wineries of northern Michigan, only with a quaint, historic twist.  

Nestled into the hills of Happy Hollow, the Samuels’ Star Hill Distillery is downright charming.

This is the same building shown in the sepia-tone photo at the beginning of the post.  It’s the actual distillery that Bill Samuels, Sr. purchased back in 1953 and is a National Historic Landmark.

All of the buildings on the property are painted chocolate brown, and the windows are outlined with red shutters….the same color as the sealing wax…with cutouts of the Maker’s Mark bottles in them.

Stepping inside the distillery building, one of the first things you see is the roller mill ….

…that reduces the grain from what is seen on the left to the smaller jars on the right.

From there, it is mixed with spring water and put into large, century old cypress vats.  Yeast is added to the mash, which generates carbon dioxide and heat, and the mash is allowed to ferment for three days. Maker’s Mark has its own strain of yeast that is 150 years old, and is a closely guarded secret.  We were invited to dip our fingers in and taste the mash, which our tour guide said tasted like warm beer.  I stopped just short of my mouth and asked him “is it gluten-free at this point?”  He replied “No, it’s not.”  I had to take his word on the beer comparison…but boy did that room smell good!   The higher alcohol content further down the line would take care of the gluten…and any impurities from my tour-mate’s fingers.  😀

The mash is then introduced into the still, which seperates the alcohol from the mash through heat.  It is then distilled a second time in a still referred to as a doubler.

From the doubler, the alcohol runs into these spirit safes, which are large copper receivers.  There is a hydrometer in the glass portion of each safe that measures the alcohol content of the spirits entering the receiver.  The stillman’s job is to know when to seperate the undesirable heads and tails (the first and last portions of the run) from the pure spirits in between.  He or she uses only the hydrometer and a thermometer to do so.  The name spirit safe comes from Scotland, where the tax man held the only key to the padlock at the top…thus keeping the distillery workers from siphoning off pure spirits before the government had a chance to tax them.

At this point, the product is referred to as white dog….or what most of us would have called ‘white lightning’.  Samples are diluted for the tasting panel and, if the batch passes muster, it is put into the barrels for aging.  Remember from earlier in the post, these are new American oak barrels, and they are charred or toasted to a selected degree to allow the spirits to blend with the flavors of the wood.  That is required by law.  

The barrels are stored in huge warehouses, called rackhouses.  At Maker’s Mark, they rotate the barrels from to top to the bottom of the warehouse throughout the aging process, so the differations in temperature can be evened out.  Some of the bourbon evaporates through the pores of the barrel staves, which is referred to as the angel’s share.  Judging by the sweet aroma of the rackhouse, there are some very happy angels in Kentucky!

In specialty products, such as the higher end Maker’s 46, fully aged bourbon is poured into previously used Maker’s Mark barrels that have different seared French oak staves in them.  The bourbon is then aged an additional nine weeks to bring out a different flavor.  It’s even possible to order a special batch for yourself under their Private Select program, which uses a combination of 5 different types of staves they have available.  Oh, my… 😀

Once the aging process is complete…again, determined by a panel of tasters… it’s off to the bottling line!

First step is to unload the bottles and put the boxes on a conveyer for use at the other end of the line.

The machine then flips the bottle over and rinses the bottle out with none other that Maker’s Mark.

The bottle is then filled…

…then capped…

 …and labeled.  It is here that I should mention that the Margie Samuels-designed labels are printed and cut out on the property, using an archaic Chandler & Price printing press and a hand operated die cutter.

Now, the magic happens:

Four women, standing at four seperate stations, hand dip each bottle with the distinctive wax.  If the wax drips onto the label, it is rejected. I had visions of Lucille Ball and her friend Ethel and their famous bit wrapping chocolates in a candy factory.  😃

The bottles are then run through a chiller to set the wax.

From there, they are returned to their boxes and sent on ther way!

Our next stop was the tasting room.  We were given 4 samples:  Maker’s White (which is basically White Dog, diluted to lower the alcohol content), Maker’s Mark, Maker’s 46 and a version of Maker’s  Private Select that was made for Keeneland Horse Track in Lexington.  Maker’s White isn’t really a bourbon…as it hadn’t been aged…but it was pretty smooth.  Maker’s Mark is sweet, smelling a bit like caramel and vanilla.  It is smooth as it hits your palate, and it is warm on the back of your tongue. The other two were very good, albeit a touch heavier.  We can see why Maker’s Mark has such a loyal following.

After a quick trip to the gift shop…. where anything Maker’s Mark was available, including being able to dip your own bottles in wax….we were on our way.  After we left the distillery, we made our way into the town of Loretto, to see what was there.  There wasn’t much to see, until we drove to the other side of town and our jaws dropped. 

There was a campus of at least 20 giant, chocolate brown rackhouses in front of us, with more under construction!  I guess if a company ages their product for an average of 6 years, they have to store a lot of barrels!  Very impressive.

So cheers to a really fun day at Maker’s Mark!  We didn’t know what to expect, and we thoroughly enjoyed our tour.

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Joining the Amazon CamperForce

When we decided to retire, become fulltime RVers and travel North America, we knew we would want to supplement our retirement savings on occasion.  That would be accomplished through ‘work camping’, which involves some sort of work being done in exchange for a campsite. Our jobs the past two summers at Wild Cherry provided us a free place to stay in a fabulous location for two easy days of work each week.  Many of these campgrounds offer fulltimers additional compensation after a certain number of hours to entice us rolling retirees to come and work for them.  Recognizing the work ethic this segment of society has to offer, several companies that have nothing to do with camping are jumping on this bandwagon.  One of the biggest examples of this is the online retailer, Amazon.com.

To pass along a little history, Amazon.com was founded as Cadabra, Inc in 1994 by Jeff Bezos in his garage in Bellevue, Washington.  

One of his lawyers misunderstood the name to be cadaver, so Bezos changed it to Amazon, as the Amazon River was “exotic and different.”  It’s also the biggest river in the world, just as he hoped his company would be.  Furthermore, he noted that it was at the top of the alphabet, thereby appearing at the top of an alphabetized list.  The company went online in 1995 as a book retailer (I remember that!) and eventually began selling everything from A to Z with a smile, as indicated in their logo.    

I wonder where he got that idea?

Amazon survived the dot com bubble burst and turned a profit in the fourth quarter of 2001.  The company went public with an initial public offering of stock at a price of $18 a share in 1997 (actually equal to $1.50 after three stock splits early on) and is now trading at $822 a share.  It is mind boggling to think that a person who would have invested a mere $2000 in the company in 1995 would be a millionaire today from just that one transaction!  In 22 short years, the company has over 100 billion in annual revenue (2015) and over 250,000 employees in 16 countries….and it all started in a garage.

With that kind of explosive growth, logistics come into play.  Fulfillment centers (known from here out as FC) need to be placed near airports that are serviced by shipping companies, and also near a stable workforce.  Campbellsville, Kentucky was a perfect choice, as a 1998 closing of a Fruit of the Loom textile plant left a fairly new building vacant and over 800 workers unemployed.  It was also very close to the Louisville airport (airport code SDF), also known as Worldport, United Parcel Services main hub.  The new FC in Campbellsville opened in May of 1999 and was named SDF-1…or the first FC to ship out of that airport.  Being centrally located in the United States, SDF-1 played an important role in Amazon’s success.

Amazon started offering items other than books in November of 1999.  It wasn’t long before consumer buying habits started shifting from brick-and-mortar stores to buying goods online.  In 2005, the term Cyber Monday came into existence, referring to the first workday after Black Friday, when many people sit at their desks and do their holiday shopping instead of their jobs.  The Amazon FCs started feeling the pinch, and armies of temporary employees were brought in to help with the increased workload.  In Campbellsville’s case, many were bussed in from Louisville and housed in local hotels.  As is often the case with temps, quality and attendance issues arose…and sleepy little Campbellsville was having to deal with a segment of society that tend to cause problems.  

In 2008, the FC in Coffeysville, Kansas began a pilot program to hire work campers to help with the holiday rush, known in Amazon circles as peak season. That program has since been expanded to several other FCs…including Campbellsville…and has been given the name Amazon CamperForce. The upside for the company is that the majority of these workers are retired and have a great work ethic and attendance.  The only drawback is that they tend to want to change the Amazon way of doing things, as they come from careers in which they did things differently.  That fact is stressed at orientation, saying “it’s a job, not a career”.  The company sends recruiters to RV shows around the country to recruit new workers each year.  We put our names on the list at the Tampa RV Show in January, after reading the accounts of several friends and family members who had done it in the past.  We already had ties with the company as advertisers through our Associates account (located at the bottom of each post), so we thought it would be fun to see what makes the place tick.

We arrived on October 8 to find a newly remodeled facility.  Our friends Peg and Michele who worked last year pointed out that the building is vastly improved, and is much cleaner.  The regular workers (known as Amazonians) seem genuinely happy that we are there, probably because the CamperForce can be counted on to get the job done without too much drama.  Our first morning was orientation, led by a very entertaining and informative gentleman named Kelly Calmes.  That was followed by safety school in the afternoon.  The remainder of the first week was 5 hour work days in our departments, meant to harden us for the 10 hour days that were to follow.  We were assigned to packing, which I will talk more about in a future post.  


Looking pretty good at 6:15 AM for Breast Cancer Awareness Week!

For now, I will leave it at this:  our first week went really well. We found the work, the environment and people enjoyable.  We are amazed at the process, and I kept finding myself looking back to my career in manufacturing and thinking ‘THIS is how we should have done things’.  Granted, their system is not perfect…but when you consider that almost every package they deliver is on time and correct, it’s pretty darned slick.

And it all started in a garage just a mere 22 years ago…
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Always in our hearts

Leelanau….a peninsula, a county, a state of mind.  It is a place we’ve written about extensively over the past couple of years. Not only has it been our landing for the past two summers, it has been a place we’ve known well for most of our lives.  A place of indescribable beauty, this finger of land has woven its way into our souls like no other could ever hope to.  We have traveled most of the United States and Canada as a couple and are confident in making that statement.  The friends we’ve made there share that sentiment and our love for the region.  It’s a place where people don’t lock their doors, as the only things stolen are the iconic M-22 highway signs…as visitors want to take a piece of the region home with them.  

With that being said, our goal has always been to return to the places we’ve traveled to and experience them more fully in our retirement.  We must move on for an extended period and begin our journey through North America. The difficulty in doing so is immeasurable, but comfort lives in the understanding that we’ve already found our eventual summer roost, and that we will most definitely be back in the future.

The past few weeks have been a flurry of activity for us.  Following the Harvest Stompede, our fellow RV-Dreams family members Bob and Kathrun stopped in at Wild Cherry for a few days on their journey westward from Nova Scotia. We met them at the rally we attended in Goshen, Indiana in September, 2014.  You may recall that we toured San Antonio with them earlier this year.

We pretty much ran the wheels off the Escape during the time they were here.  It’s always great seeing them!

We also made a quick trip to Kalamazoo to see our college friends and go to a Western Michigan University’s football game.  Our friends’ son, Billy, made the team as a walk-on this year, and while he has yet to see playing time, he has gained a wealth of life experiences being on the team. We are so proud of him for working so hard to reach his goal.

Western won over Georgia Southern 49-31 and extended their record to 4-0, having beat two Big 10 schools along the way.  They are now 5-0, having just beat their arch rival Central Michigan 49-10. Go Broncos!

After Kalamazoo, we stopped at my sister and brother-in-laws home on Long Lake near Harrison, Michigan.  

It’s always good seeing Judy and Dale!

Dale took Diana and I out with their ATV on the land they just bought near them. It was fun checking out the many two-tracks that run through the property.

When we got back to Leelanau, we had a house warming at Lane and Patti’s new home that they are building.

Our friends Camilla, Rod and Mary were there also.  The house is still under construction, but some of us are leaving…so the party couldn’t wait.

Patti and Lane had to open their gifts before the sun set, as the electrician still needed to hook up the lights!

On Wednesday, fellow RV-Dreamers Cori and Greg stopped by to meet us.  They were traveling through Michigan, so we invited them to the Wild Cherry potluck that was happening that evening.

We have been following Cori’s blog, The Restless Youngs…but this is the first time we had met them.  They are super people, and we enjoyed getting to know them!

On Friday, we hooked up and said our goodbyes to our friends at Wild Cherry.  

Paul and JoAnn gave us a thoughtful going away present, which was very sweet of them.  We want to extend a sincere thank you to Wild Cherry’s owners, Jim and Sandy, for their friendship and hospitality the past two years.  They are a sweet couple and we wish them well with the resort. We definitely plan on taking them up on their offer to return in the future!

So what’s next for us?  Well, we are stopping in Grand Rapids for a week to take care of health and hair appointments.  We are also dropping off a few things at the storage room.  We made a quick run to Indiana on Saturday to see my Aunt Marge and Uncle Ed, as it is going to be awhile before we get back this way. From Grand Rapids, we are headed to Campbellsville, Kentucky to work the peak season at Amazon.  We are looking forward to the challange!  From there, we are planning to return to Melbourne Beach for the winter, then it is a ‘jello plan’ to head west.  More about that as we get closer to that time period.  We are excited to see what the future brings, so we hope you stay tuned!

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link doesn’t add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Harvest Stompede

It began with a limerick:

A Gerwurstraminer from Shady Lane

Can be enjoyed in the sun or the rain

It sure beats a beer 

that is brewed south of here

And the view from their deck is insane!



Last October, the Leelanau Peninsula Vintner’s Association held a poem contest on Facebook and I won with that entry.  Of course, I was the only entrant.  😉  The cool thing was that I won two free tickets to any event that the LPVA was hosting over the course of the next year.  With one event left before the year was up, we decided it was time to get on the wine trail!  The two day event was called Harvest Stompede, which kicked off with a series of foot races through one of the local vineyards on Saturday morning.  After the races, the wine trail opened with 22 vineyards featuring one of their wines along with a food pairing.  All of them offered additional tastings of between three to five pours.

Our friends Patti and Lane also had tickets. Since we all had commitments on Saturday, we decided to visit the trail on Sunday.  Lane was gracious enough to drive, which we really appreciated!

First stop was Black Star Farms.  The netting on the vineyard in the photo above is used this time of the year to keep the birds from eating the ripe grapes.  This has been one of Diana’s and my favorite wineries on the peninsula for years.  We’ve stayed at their inn as our mid-winter getaway several times during our careers, including one magical night between Christmas and New Years Day when we had the entire inn to ourselves. 

For the Stompede, Black Star was featuring tomato braised beef meatballs with a creamy parmesan polenta paired with their Red House Red.  Unfortunately,  I had to pass on most of the offerings for the day, due to my gluten allergy.

Next up, we stopped at Ciccone Vineyards.

This winery is owned by Silvio (Tony) and Joan Ciccone…known to many as the singer Madonna’s dad and stepmom…but around here as pretty darn good winemakers and a sweet couple.  Tony has been making wine since he was a kid in Pennsylvania.

One of the things I have always enjoyed about this location is walking into the kitchen area for the food pairings.  Joan usually has some Italian dish going that smells like so many of my childhood friends’ homes back in Detroit.

This time around, she made her famous Oriental salad paired with their Gerwurtztraminer.  I really missed the smell of marinara, but it never hurts to change things up.  😀

Patti wanted us to see the amazing view from Ciccone’s barn, so we walked up the hill to check it out.  Our friend, Mary, has done the flowers for weddings here and has told us how great of a venue it is.

This cavernous building plays host to wedding receptions and other events.

This is the view looking east out of one of the windows.  That’s the west arm of Grand Traverse Bay with the Old Mission Peninsula beyond it.

This vista looking west from a tent they had set up outside the barn.  They are definitely on the top of the hill.

As we were walking around, we saw Tony talking to some people who were also checking out the view.  It was a nice opportunity to speak to him one on one about his vineyard.

Here’s Lane and Tony discussing the different varieties that he grows on the property.  

This particular type of grape is used to make Gerwurtztraminer, which is one of my favorites.

Tony also told us we were welcome to come pick grapes with him in a few weeks. Hmmmm….might have to consider that one.  

He says he puts complete strangers at one end of each side of a row and that they know each other’s life stories by the time they get to the other end.

We enjoyed getting the chance to speak with him in his little slice of heaven.  😀

Next up…or should I say down the hill…was Chateau de Leelanau. 

Their tasting room is in a barn with several other businesses right alongside M-22.  I do have to say that the atmosphere is not what you would expect from a winery, but they definitely have their winemaking down pat.  

For the Stompede, they were pairing a smoked beef brisket and cheddar slider with a choice of one of their Tractor Pull hard ciders.  I thought the cider was very tasty.  The slider looked yummy!  We sampled some of their other wines and thought they were very good.  I’m glad Lane put them on our tour.   😀

From there we dropped down the peninsula to Shady Lane Cellars.


This was the subject of my limerick! Their patio is a great place to spend a summer evening, especially when they have a musician performing. 



Their offering was a BBQ chicken flatbread paired with their 2014 Pinot Noir Rose.  We sampled a few of their other wines, including their outstanding 2013 Blue Franc. They have what we feel are the best reds on the peninsula, and their whites are also excellent.

Our next stop was Brengman Brothers Winery.

This is a beautiful location and a premier wedding venue.  As a matter of fact while we were here, we ran into our friend Julie and her daughter Maren, who is having her wedding reception here next year. 😀

The tasting room is just gorgeous!

They were serving chips and spinach dip paired with a choice of their Runaway Hen White or Brengman Brothers Vignoles.  
After Brengman Brothers, we headed over to Longview Winery.

Winemaker and owner Alan Eaker has an outstanding cherry wine and also a very interesting cherry mead.  We ended up buying a bottle of each.

Here he is serving up his son’s roasted salmon chowder which was paired with his Dry Riesling.  Lane said the chowder was simply outstanding.

From there we drove up to Bel Lago Vineyards and Winery.  

Bel Lago means ‘beautiful lake’ in Italian, as this winery sits high on a hill above Lake Leelanau.  Their winemaker, Charlie Edson, is well respected in the area for his skills in producing quality wine.

For the event, they served a smoked cherry barbecue pulled pork with cherry tortilla chips paired with Bouquetti.  Lane pointed out that someone was watching the number of people coming in the door and bringing out just enough fresh servings of food as they entered.  Very nice.

Diana and Patti were definitely having fun!

After that, we zoomed up to Laurentide Winery. Named for the continental ice sheet that shaped this region 10,000 years ago, this winery pays tribute to the earth the vines grow in.

That’s co-owner Susan Braymer holding a bottle of the day’s featured wine, Sauvignon Blanc.  Her and her husband Bill have worked very hard to perfect their wines and it shows.

Susan’s food pairing was her creamy cucumber soup, which was served chilled.  When I asked her if it was gluten free, she replied that it definitely was. Woohoo! My first gluten free pairing of the day!  Thank you, Susan…it was delicious!

At that point the clock was ticking towards the trail’s 5 pm ending, so we made one last stop at Boathouse Vineyards on the way back to Wild Cherry Resort.

This is one of Diana’s and my favorites.  Their 2014 Pinot Grigio (sold out) was my all-time favorite, and their 2015 is extremely close!  Their lawn extends down to The Narrows, which is the channel between North and South Lake Leelanau.

Their pairing for the day was a blackberry brie tartlet served with their 2013 Pinot Noir.

When we were done, we plopped into their Adirondack chairs and called it a day.

Even the clouds seemed to smile and wink at us, as if to say “great job!”

If you ever get a chance to experience a Leelanau Peninsula wine tour, by all means, do so. If driving is a concern, half price tickets are available for designated drivers (food only), or you can book a limo or van through one of the local tour services. More information on the events being held throughout the year are available at lpwines.com.

A Very Busy Summer

If it seems like our posts have been a little spread apart this summer, you are correct in that observation.  Our plans for our time in Michigan this year included a few renovations with our rig and finishing up Diana’s mom’s business.  We also hoped to spend more time just enjoying Leelanau and sharing our discoveries here on exploRVistas. We did accomplish what we had planned, but there were a few obstacles thrown in to make life interesting.  Top that off with an extremely full resort and…well…there wasn’t much time for writing!  Things are settling down though, so here’s a summary of our past few months.

After spending the last half of April and the first week of May in Grand Rapids (doctor visits and working through Mom’s business), we headed north to Wild Cherry Resort near Lake Leelanau.  We knew that we had two renovations we wanted to get to this summer…new carpeting and a new kitchen countertop and sink.  Before I could get to either of those, Diana and I were looking at our entry steps, as there was a loose piece that needed some attention.  As we were inspecting them,  Diana noticed several cracks in our frame.  That lead to having quite a bit of welding done to our rig, something I covered in detail on our post, A Solid Foundation.  When I was finishing up that job, I noticed that one of our leaf springs was completely worn out.

That’s the new spring on top of the old one.  I purchased four new springs and, with the help of my neighbor Tom, we installed them in an afternoon.  It sure was nice having his help, along with the use of the resort’s tools!  Just about the time that job was completed, we were hit with a doozey of a hailstorm.

A solid 10 minutes of marble to golf ball sized hail.  Both of our vehicles sustained damage, along with all three of our slide room toppers.  Several people in the park lost all of their roof vents, but those of us with MaxxAir covers did just fine.  Unfortunately, my tonneau cover on the truck looked like someone had taken a ball peen hammer to it.  

Thank goodness our insurance covered it all. In the midst of getting the vehicles fixed, I decided that I’d better get going on the countertop, if I had any hope of getting it done this summer.  I used to make them for a living in a factory setting; this was going to require field work.  Fortunately the resort has a table saw in the barn.  Jim let me build the top there and I had it installed in short order.  

We are happy with the way it turned out!
As soon as that project was complete, we called a local flooring installer and started the process of having our carpeting replaced.  I had been worried about a soft spot in our floor that I wanted to fix, so I told him I would remove the old carpeting.  Upon doing so, I noticed that the RV manufacturer had cut a hole in a perfectly good, one-piece subfloor.

Not sure why they did that, but they evidently thought that putting a hundred staples around the edge would hold it in place.  The portion over the heat duct had nothing supporting it.  I removed the board and built a support structure below it with square aluminum tubing.  After re-mounting the board, the repair was as solid as the rest of the floor.  Problem solved.

The carpet installation process took a week, as the installer had to subcontract the binding on the edges that hang off the slide rooms.  That meant cramming our vehicles full of the stuff that normally was in our rig.  We kept the Escape driveable, but the truck was completely packed. Jim let us store our loveseat and dinette on a utility trailer in the barn, which was a huge help.

Again, we were really pleased with the results!  Nothing like soft carpeting between your toes!  😀

So while it’s been a busy time, it’s been a great summer in Leelanau.  Autumn is fast approaching, and there are several things we would like to do before we leave.  Stay tuned to see what’s next!

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link doesn’t add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

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