Is it January?

One thing about being Midwest natives spending the winter in Florida is that the weather messes with our minds.  Seeing Valentine’s Day candy in the store still strikes us as odd when it feels like summer.  Shouldn’t we be seeing Back to School sales?  Nope…and before you know it, there will be Cadbury Creme Eggs on the shelves at Publix!

And seeing I love Cadbury Creme Eggs, that’s a good problem to have!  😉

Since our last post we’ve had a change of thought on our trailer brake maintenance.  After pulling one of the hubs on the trailer for inspection, I saw that the electromagnet was wearing unevenly.  Likewise, the inside of the hub that it was riding against was also worn in a similar pattern.  Checking the prices on new hubs and brake parts led me to find that none of those items were very expensive.  As a matter of fact, entire axles were relatively cheap.  When we were weighed at the RV-Dreams rally, we were just under our maximum allowed weight for the fifth wheel.  If we replaced just the brake parts and hubs, we would still have 5200 pound axles under the rig.  After a little more research, we found we could upgrade both axle and spring assemblies to 7000 pounds Dexter axles for not much more money.  We have a local axle shop here in Melbourne taking care of that for us. We also will be upgrading to heavier duty 16″ wheels and G-rated tires.  That will all take place in Mid-February.

Our friends Rod and Mary had us over to their house for shrimp and rice stir fry one evening.  We had a nice evening by their pool with wine, food and frisbee tossing to their dog Gracie.  😃   It’s always fun being with them!

Last Wednesday, we headed over to the Tampa RV Show.  We knew Bill and Kelly were going to be there, and seeing our friendship developed through our blogs, Facebook and Messenger, we felt it was time to meet these two in person.  Their adventures can be seen at bkamericanodyssey

Here we are with Kelly and Bill in the center, and fellow RV-Dreamers Cindy and James on the right.  We hung out on and off throughout the day and ended up grabbing dinner together afterwards.  What a great time!  We ended up talking so long that we decided to get a room in Lakeland on the way home, as it was three hours back to Melbourne Beach.

One thing we were going to be giving up by going to the RV show was an evening launch at Cape Canaveral.  Well it turns out that someone failed to warn a pilot that he/she was flying into the rocket’s path, so the launch ended up being delayed a day.  Bad luck for NASA, but good luck for us!  Half of our park seemed to flock across A1A to the beach to watch the launch.

The Atlas V did not disappoint!  Even though the Cape is 30 or so miles north of us, we could see the ship rise off the pad quite clearly.  It took several minutes for it to pass by us to the south and east, and we were able to see the first stage burn out and the second stage ignite.  We even saw a couple of shooting stars!  Once the ship was just about out of sight, the low rumble of the launch finally reached our location.  It’s amazing the difference between the speed of light and sound!

 Last Sunday, we made it back down to Summer Crush Winery, as we were meeting friends who were staying in Ft Pierce.

Phyllis and Bernie are renting a condo on the inlet, and they are really enjoying being here!  Phyllis was the secretary at the school Diana taught at for many years.  It’s always a good time when we get together with these two!

If you remember from past posts, Summer Crush is a Harvest Hosts location.  We first discovered it when we stayed there last year on our way to the Keys.  Diana noticed an Airstream parked out back and was trying to figure out who it belonged to by scanning the crowd.  At each of these events, the suggested donation to get in is $2 per person for a local charity, which can also be covered by a $5 raffle ticket.  When Gary the owner announced that the winner was staying with them through Harvest Hosts, Diana scooted over to their table to introduce herself, as it’s always nice to meet other RVers.

Meet the Franchi family!  Their blog, Paperdoll Pioneers, chronicles their adventures.  It turns out that the prize they ended up winning was two tickets to see John Ford Coley and Terry Sylvester (former lead from The Hollies) at a Summer Crush show in mid February.  Since they were traveling and wouldn’t be here, they gave us the tickets!  Thanks guys…we will pay forward your generosity down the road.  ❤️

Yesterday, friends of ours from Amazon stopped by to say hi!  Cassie and Joe worked in packing with us and were also at the same campground we were at near Campbellsville. They are currently staying south of us in Sebastian. We showed them around the park and caught up on what’s been happening with them.  We forgot to get a photo, but we will be sure to when we get together over the next few months. That’s about it for now.  We have been busy with spring and summer trip planning.  At least I think spring and summer are next.  We are still finalizing those plans, so be sure to stay tuned!

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Busy Winter in Florida!

When we first got to Florida in December, after several months of working hard at Amazon, we initially thought we would just kick back and relax a bit.  In a sense, we’ve done that…but we have also used the time to get several much needed projects completed.  Diana has been taking care of paperwork, and preparing some very delicious meals.  I’ve been tackling many of the maintenance projects we’ve needed to get done, which I’m about halfway through.  We have made it a point to head to the beach as often as possible, so as to not miss any good beach weather.  So far, the weather has been extremely kind to us!

On New Years Day, we headed one hour south to Summer Crush Winery (formerly Endless Summer Winery) in Fort Pierce for their New Years Day celebration.  We visited them last year as part of the Harvest Hosts. They have made a few improvements and are bringing in some big name acts, so we plan on making a few more trips down there.

This is our 4th of the last 5th New Years that we’ve been in Florida, and it still seems surreal to us seeing people in summer clothes in January.

The Uproot Hootenanny Band provided the lively entertainment for the day. 😎. The base fiddle player reminded me of our friend Greg Young.  I kept looking to see if his wife Cori was in the audience.

We also made a separate trip to Fort Pierce to pick up Honeybell tangelos from our favorite fruit stand, Ace High.

Their harvest was a bit smaller this year, due to the effects of Hurricane Matthew, but what was left was delicious!

We also visited the National Navy SEAL Museum in Ft. Pierce. SEAL stands for sea, air, and land. This is a very well done collection on the property of the original training grounds for the Navy’s elite frogmen.  Outside there is watercraft, some of which you can go inside. There is also an obstacle course that children are able to explore under their parent’s supervision. Inside there is a very educational movie on the history of the SEALs, and several exhibits of weapons and gear that they have used through the years. Be warned that the movie at the beginning is about two hours long. We didn’t plan for this, so we were rushed to see the actual displays as a result. When we got back to the car we discussed how military museums leave us with mixed feelings. We certainly honor this elite military team and all of our nation’s service men and women, and we appreciate their defense of our country’s freedom.  We also feel uncomfortable when war is glorified or presented in an action/adventure sort of way, as we found in a few instances here and at a few other facilities. If you find military museums to your liking, this one is worth your time.  Our admission was $10 per person.  They are open Tuesday through Saturday 10-4 and Sunday 12-4, and are closed on Mondays.

One of the maintenance items we’ve taken care of thus far are front brakes on both vehicles.  The Escape was just a matter of taking the front wheels off, removing the calipers and replacing the pads.  The truck was a bit more involved, as the left front caliper that my friend Rod and  I replaced last January was defective and not working properly.  It consistently read 20 degrees hotter than the other side, and there was more wear on the inside brake pad. Luckily it was still under warranty, so I changed that out as well.

I also washed and waxed the fifth wheel.  Waxing is a bigger job than it sounds on a 2007 rig, as the Fiberglas sides had oxidized a fair amount.  The system I used included an oxidation remover, which required a lot of elbow grease!  It’s done and it looks fabulous.  If you don’t believe it, just ask me. 😉 (My mom would have said, “Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back.” 😀Diana)

In addition, our auto-slider Pullrite SuperGlide hitch needed some maintenance.

The biggest issue was that the old tracking roller (the one to the left with the smaller nut) had come loose.  Had it fallen out, we could have lost control of the trailer.  The new roller (to the right) has a castle nut and cotter pin to prevent that from happening.  Other than that, it needed a few minor adjustments to tighten up some of the play in the hitch travel.

Oh, and then our refrigerator decided to quit on us.  A few quick readings with a multimeter showed that it wasn’t getting any 12-volt power.  Luckily it turned out to be a blown fuse.  😀.  Thank goodness it wasn’t a fried circuit board, as this run over $100, and there are two of them.

The only maintenance projects left are to replace the rear brake shoes on the Escape and all of the brake shoes on the trailer.  That should be finished up in the next week or two, which leaves us the rest of the winter to play!

Stay tuned to see what we are up to next!  😎😎

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Christmas Eve – Cocoa Beach Style!

Dawn broke at the North Pole on Christmas Eve and the place was in an uproar.  Santa had issued a red alert, as it seems his Santas at malls all over Florida had deserted their posts, leaving children across the Sunshine State standing in line with their last minute lists.  We decided to join in the hunt for the wayward St. Nick stand-ins!  We drove north through the towns of Melbourne Beach, Indialantic, Satellite Beach and Indian Harbour Beach.  We even checked with the tower at Patrick Air Force Base, to see if they saw any reindeer on their radar.  Nothing.  Where could they be?

We continued on to Cocoa Beach when what to our wondering eyes did appear…

…but a bike, a surfboard and Santa in all his gear!

That was our first clue that we might have this in the bag.  We followed him until he turned onto the main drag.  As our toes hit the sand, we found those jolly men.  Every Santa in Florida was here hangin’ ten!

For the past several years, Cocoa Beach has held the Surfing Santas event on Christmas Eve to benefit two local organizations, a local cancer charity called Grind For Life and also the Florida Surf Museum.  This year’s event played host to somewhere in the vicinity of 800 surfing Santas, along with thousands of spectators!

There were even a few elves!


It looks like that one Santa just got out of bed!

Above the roar of the surf was the song Mele Kalikimaka being sung by this singer with a ukulele.  The gentleman with the red shirt between the two turquoise surfboards was the minister who delivered the invocation.

Diana spotted this good looking guy in a Ron Jon shirt trying to take photos of the festivities…

…and then she got a selfie with him.  😉

These young ladies were sporting this year’s Surfing Santas shirts.

“It’s the white button at the bottom, sweetie!”

In order to be able to drink all day, you must start in the morning…

…and bring along a few friends! 

When Santa got word up at the North Pole that we had found the Florida Santas, it didn’t take him long to decide what to do.  As we headed towards the car, we spotted him under a beach umbrella.

I guess if you can’t beat ’em…join ’em!

Merry Christmas to y’all, and to y’all a good night!

Love and peace,

Diana and Jim


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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!

Recharging in Florida

After leaving Nashville, we headed south to Melbourne Beach, Florida to spend the next few months.  We knew that once we were done working at Amazon, we would need to recharge, relax and get warm.  On all three counts, we were correct!  In hindsight, we were glad that we left Kentucky when we did, as the weather turned much colder after we left (it is 15 degrees in Campbellsville as I write this, as compared to 72 degrees here in Melbourne Beach).  We’ve toughed out a winter in Michigan and know what it takes to do it. Even if it was just until Christmas, we really didn’t  want to do that again.  On top of that, Diana’s back is better, so we are both very happy about that.

On the way down, we logged our very first ‘Wallydocking’ experience in Cullman, Alabama. 

For those of you unfamiliar with this term, here is what it is all about:  If you’ve ever driven by a Walmart, you’ve probably seen RV’s and trucks parked out at the far end of the lot.  Where local ordinance allows, Walmart allows people to park overnight.  It’s best to check with the store manager, and it is only proper to buy your groceries from them in return.  We popped out our bedroom slide room (it only extends 21 inches) and slept just fine.  The best part for us is that we didn’t have to pay a campground fee that night, since we were just traveling through.  We had plenty of water for our showers, our furnace kept us warm, and Diana was even able to bake blueberry muffins in the oven!  Although we had overnighted off-grid at several Harvest Hosts locations in the past, this one stop really hooked us on the idea of boondocking more in the future.  Many of our fulltime RVing friends spend significant amounts of time off-grid in beautiful locations in the western U.S., and we would like the capability to be able to do that.  More on that later in the post. 

Later in the trip, we returned to Golden Acres Ranch, a Harvest Hosts location in the panhandle of Florida that we have visited twice in the past.  We loaded up on their Mayhaw and blueberry jelly, as we had run out about three months ago of our purchase from the previous visit.  While we were there, a couple of their goats gave birth…one to twins!

They were adorable…standing up to nurse and falling back down, as their wobbly legs wouldn’t support them.  😃

It’s always good to see their Great Pyrenees dogs that roam the property and protect the livestock. They remind us so much of our Golden Retriever, Dakota. We are convinced he must have had some of this breed in his bloodline.

We also used our Passport America membership and saved 50% on four nights worth of camping at two locations on our way down. Those were both full hookup sites spaced between our Walmart and Harvest Hosts sites, so our battery was able to be recharged and our tanks were able to be dumped. While staying at our last location just south of Ocala, we visited with Diana’s brother and also our niece and her family.

We arrived back at Melbourne Beach Mobile Park on December 11.  Instead of fighting Orlando traffic, we tried something a little different.  

We went north 15 miles to Silver Springs, then straight east to I-95 near Ormond Beach, then south to Melbourne Beach.  Except for a little traffic near Daytona Beach, the route was a breeze.  It definitely beat going through Orlando!

Oh, it is so good to be back in Melbourne Beach! The wild and wonderful Atlantic Ocean on the east side of the park…

…and the peaceful Indian River Lagoon on the west side.

It’s a great place to catch not only sunrises and moonrises, but also sunsets and moonsets.   😃 This was the full moon rising over the Atlantic the other evening.

So I spoke earlier about doing more boondocking (camping without being connected to electricity, water, or sewer) this year.  Let me go into a bit more detail on that.  Our rig is currently set up as it came from the factory, meaning the off-grid electrical system consists of one 12 volt deep cycle battery powering most of the lights, the water pump, and the furnace blower.  All of our light bulbs are incandescent or fluorescent. When off-grid, the refrigerator can run off propane, as can the water heater.  Our fresh and waste water tanks generally last a few days without any conservation efforts.  In essence, we wouldn’t really need to do anything different if we were alternating between boondocking and full hookups.  But, as many of our fulltime RV friends have done, we want to enable ourselves to stay off-grid a bit longer.  Our first thought was that we would be limited by our tanks as to how long we could boondock, but there is nothing saying we couldn’t go service our tanks at a dump station and head right back to our same boondocking campsite.  That makes our limiting factor electrical. First and foremost are replacing those incandescent bulbs.  We bought 10 pack of T-10 LED 12 volt bulbs for $20 at Amazon.  We also replaced the bulb in our 120 volt lamp near our recliners. On top of that, we bought a Kill-o-watt 120 volt meter and a Bayite 12 volt multimeter to allow us to do an energy audit to see just what our needs are.  Our battery is the same one that came with the rig when we purchased it in 2011, so it is definitely near the end of its lifespan.  The energy audit will allow us to figure out how big of a battery bank we want to get.  After that, we want to string some days together off the grid before we decide what future upgrades we want to make.  We would like to run our computer, charge our iPhones and iPads, and maybe watch a little TV.  Not a lot more than we currently are able to do, but enough to warrant some sort of upgrade. We also purchased an Oxygenics shower head to conserve water.

We plan on doing a bit of traveling after we leave here, so we are also using this time to do some maintenance.  I definitely want to pull all the wheels off on our vehicles and check the brakes and bearings.  The fifth wheel also hasn’t been waxed in a while, so I’ve started on that.

Look at that shine!  We use Meguiar’s Marine/RV Fiberglas Restoration System.  With our rig being a little older, the oxidation remover really does the trick on the dull, chalky look.  The secret is to work in the shade, as direct sunlight tends to leave an uneven finish.

Besides…we have other things we want to be doing in the direct sunlight.  😎

So that’s a little review of our trip to Florida and a peek into what we have planned the next few months.  Diana has been busy mailing Christmas cards, and I have put up lights and other Christmas decorations. As they say, “Home is where you hang your lights!” Wishing all of you Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and an adventurous New Year! 

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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; the link will take you to her post about this day…a must read!  We have 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!

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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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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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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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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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