Is it just us, or does it seem like we just updated our September travels and here it is time to tell you about where we went and what we did in October???
After a quick overnight visit with friends Russ, Freda, Charlie and Barbara at the South Sandusky Corps of Engineer campground in Illinois we headed to Nappanee, Indiana, home of Newmar Corporation, maker of our fifth wheel. At the time we bought our rig, Newmar guaranteed their RVs for three years--this was our last appointment before our warranty expired. They provide hookups at their courtesy campground for their customers so we set up that weekend in preparation for our early Monday morning appointment.
And early it was – our technician, Elvin, showed up at 6 am and by 6:30, we watched our tail lights go down the road to the shop. We then dropped Shelley off at doggie day care at a nearby vet clinic, grabbed a quick breakfast, and then headed out to our appointment to get new tires installed on the truck. By late morning, the truck was sporting all new ‘shoes’ and we were back at Newmar’s customer lounge killing time. Larry went out to get something out of the truck and noticed one of the new tires was going flat – not good! The tire company came to us this time and took care of the problem – a leaky stem valve that should have been checked before we left their shop.
In the meantime, we had called friends Larry and Mavis, whom we had met and worked with for ten weeks at Desert Haven Animal Refuge earlier during the year. They live nearby and came to visit us. We enjoyed an early dinner at a nearby restaurant before they had to head back home.
Newmar would need our rig for one more day to finish up the work, so we decided to leave Shelley at the vet overnight. The temperatures were pretty warm for early October and it was more comfortable for her to be at the vet rather than sweltering in the truck, as pets aren’t allowed in Newmar’s customer lounge. Norm and Linda Payne arrived to get work done on their motor home so after they got settled, we enjoyed talking to them over dinner that evening. It was great spending time with them, hearing about their travels, sharing information. We felt we already knew them as we’ve been following their website for several years.
After two days, all work was finished on our rig so we made plans to leave on Wednesday. While Larry was checking the rig to make sure it was ready for a lengthy trip, he noticed a tire going flat, on the RV – oops! In the process of changing it, he noticed that the wheel bearing on one of the other wheels was wobbly – oops, again! A quick call to Dexter Axles in nearby Elkhart and he got an appointment for that afternoon. Their technician had us fixed up in about an hour – we caught him on a good day – he didn’t charge us anything – good news.
Even after our late start, we managed to drive about 200 miles before stopping for the night at one of the most RV-friendly WalMarts (Fremont, Ohio) we’ve seen so far. The manager was on his way out to his vehicle and welcomed us with a handshake, telling us how much he loves to have the RVs in his parking lot (and probably spending $ in his store).
The next day, we continued on our eastward trek, logging another 400 miles. We typically try to limit our driving to around 200 miles or so, stopping mid-day. But we had checked with Branch Brook Campground in Thomaston, Connecticut, with whom we had reservations for two weeks, to see if we could arrive a day earlier than planned. Our final overnight before getting to Thomaston was at another WalMart, this one in Buckhorn, Pennsylvania. Early the next morning, the rains started. We made a quick dash for breakfast at a nearby Panera Bread Company, checking our email on their free wireless while we enjoyed some delicious bagels, before we got back on the road for our final leg to Connecticut.
We got to Branch Brook Campground mid-day and shortly after getting parked and set up, the heavens opened up. It rained for nine days straight, with about 9” over a 36 hour period and an additional 6” the rest of the week. We kept an eye on the nearby brook but the area had had a drought all summer, so water levels were low. Luckily, we experienced no flooding but other parts of New England were not so fortunate.
Soggy weather did not slow us down, however. The first night, we enjoyed pizza at John’s, our favorite restaurant when we dated years ago. We were fixtures there every Friday evening back then and John’s has always been one of our first stops when we get back in town. The place hasn’t changed much and the pizza is as tasty as ever.
Our primary reason for being in Connecticut was to visit with our families. We spent time with Larry’s mother Vivian; had dinner at his brother David’s one evening, along with sister-in-law Jeannette and nieces Jessicca, Ashley and Mikkalyia; saw his brother Bruce and wife Dani a couple of times; enjoyed a pizza one night and dessert another with brother Brian, his wife Bonnie, daughter Cindy and her fiancé Steve, son Raymond and his wife Fran and their daughters Felicia and Lea Renee; visited with Larry’s Aunt Blossom and her granddaughter Annie; met his cousins Lisa, Michael, Reggie, Josh and Christopher for breakfast. Lisa and Josh, from upstate New York, were in town for the long holiday weekend – posting our agenda on our website pays off! We would have kicked ourselves had we missed seeing them all. One beautiful Sunday (the rains had finally stopped!), we made a quick trip to Rhode Island to visit with Larry’s brother George and his wife Marsha.
Lucille’s youngest brother, Ray, and wife Tracy, daughters Katie and Jessie, live nearby. Lucille’s sister Yvette flew in from Georgia our second weekend there to attend a high school reunion. She stayed with Ray so we all enjoyed a cookout at his place one evening.
A secondary reason for our trip to Connecticut was to visit Lone Oak Campground in East Canaan, located in the northwest corner of the state. Lone Oak hires Workampers to help at their 500-campsite resort. We had called in advance and had an appointment to meet with the owners--Jacolyn, Barry and Peter. After speaking with them during our informal interview, Peter gave us a tour of the facilities. We were impressed with their layout, how they treat their guests and employees as family, all the activities they provide for guests of all ages. We left with a handshake and a promise to call us by the middle of November if we would be a good match for their resort next summer. Niece Cindy will be getting married June 2006, so we plan on being in the area anyway. (Note: Jacolyn called as promised and offered us positions for next summer. Whoo-whoo!)
One beautiful fall morning, we took a ride on the Naugy, a restored train that travels a 20-mile route from Thomaston to Waterville and back. Opened in September 1849 from Bridgeport to Winsted, the original Naugatuck Railroad was one of the most profitable lines in the nation, bringing materials into Connecticut factories, and carrying brass products, machinery, bearings, clocks and manufactured goods out to the world. In September 1996, 147 years after the first train chugged north from Waterbury, the new Naugatuck Railroad started operation. Volunteer members of the Railroad Museum of New England staff the Naugy. Our train had three cars powered by one engine, all vintage. The conductors are all volunteers and walk up and down the aisles pointing out bits of history, either about the train or its surroundings. As our conductor was passing by, keeping his balance, he told us their motto was ‘swing and sway, the railroad way.’ There were several empty seats in our car so we could change seats often based on which side had the most interesting view. The leaves were colorful but hadn’t quite peaked yet. Thanks to the recent rains, the water level of the Naugatuck River was impressive as we chugged alongside.
Our two-week stay quickly came to an end—time to hit the road again, heading south this time. Just off I-84 and on our way is The Golden Age of Trucking Museum. We had picked up a brochure at a visitor’s center and saw that they had tractor-trailer parking, so we figured we’d have no problems with our truck/RV combination. It is an easy off, easy on side trip from I-84 and well worth the stop. The late Richard Guerrera founded the museum in 1998. His antique trucks are permanently displayed there. In addition, other vehicles are on loan to the museum for one year, then rotated out so others may get displayed. The primary focus of the museum is to highlight the golden age of trucking, the 1950s, but trucks dating back to the turn of the century are displayed. Most of them have been lovingly restored and look like they can just roar out of there and start hauling goods. The museum is currently home to over 35 antique vehicles and two antique boats. There is an extensive display of antique pedal cars, license plates and toys, along with photographs and memorabilia.
Our next destination was Berea, Kentucky, where we spent four days touring the Folk Arts and Craft Capital of Kentucky. Our first stop there was the Kentucky Artisan Center, which showcases the crafts, music, literature, history and heritage of the area. The center also provides information and has brochures on the nearby artisan studios and cultural sites.
Churchill Weavers, located in Berea, offers free self-guided tours of its loomhouse to see the entire weaving process. They also have a gift shop on the premises, in addition to an outlet room where discontinued Churchill items are available at bargain prices. We resisted the temptation to purchase any of the beautiful woven products.
Warren A. May is a woodworker whose retail studio and hand workshop is located on the square in Berea. He is a maker of fine wood furniture as well as Kentucky mountain dulcimers. We had the pleasure of meeting him and learned he has made over 13,000 dulcimers over a 30-year period. He gave us a quick lesson on strumming the dulcimer, as well as helping Lucille understand beat and tempo. We walked out with several music books as well as a baby rattle in the shape of a dulcimer that is often used as a simple musical instrument, nicknamed an ‘egg’.
One beautiful fall afternoon, we toured Berea College. “Founded in 1855 as the first interracial and co-educational college in the South, the College promotes understanding and kinship among all people, service to communities in Appalachia and beyond, and sustainable living practices which set an example of new ways to conserve our limited natural resources.” Wow! We couldn’t wait to tour the college and see all this first-hand.
Brandon, majoring in child education, led us on the historical tour of the college. He told us that Berea charges no tuition and only serves students with financial need. All students participate in the nationally recognized Labor Program. Students are required to work between ten to fifteen hours each week, while still carrying a full academic load. This labor helps to defray costs associated with running a college but also gives them invaluable experience in their chosen field if their job is related to that field. The college offers a high quality liberal arts degree but they also have a nursing program as well as a science program. Berea College offers an outstanding education to students who normally would not be able to afford to attend a college.
The cost of education, at approximately $21,000 per student per year, is provided by the college from endowments, gifts and scholarships. Fees and other expenses (room and board, books, a current model laptop that is the student’s upon graduation) are covered by student work in the Labor Program as well as other grants and scholarships.
For the current student year, there are over 1,500 undergraduates, representing 40 states, the District of Columbia and 71 countries. 73% of the students come from the Appalachian region and Kentucky; 22% of the enrollment are minority students; 7% international.
Anna led the crafts tour. Her major is communications so being a tour guide is a great fit. Students participate in traditional community service, stewardship of natural resources, and preservation of regional culture and traditions. Anna took us through the various shops: woodworking, broom making, weaving, and wrought iron. Students learn these crafts and are happy to answer questions from visitors. Items made from these shops are sold at the Log House Crafts Gallery located downtown and are available as well from their online catalog. Proceeds are funneled back to the college, helping to offset expenses. When we toured Churchill Weavers, signs posted along the tour discouraged talking to the employees because conversation is distracting. Here at Berea, questions were encouraged – we could get answers to the many questions that popped up as we watched the student/artisan at work.
Overall, we found our tours of Berea College very interesting. Their no tuition concept flies in the face of the high tuition costs at colleges everywhere but Berea has been operating this way for over 150 years and it works!
Time to move on, all of fourteen miles, to Renfro Valley, where the Escapees arranged a mini-get together called a HOP (Head Out Program). HOPs are smaller than the Escapades and are scheduled around a specific event – like the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, NM, or the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. John Lair, a radio announcer for a weekly musical event called a Barn Dance in the Chicago area, started the Renfro Valley Entertainment Center 66 years ago. He saw that musical folks would come up from the country to perform at the Barn Dance and entertain the city folks. He felt that if he built a place in the country, the city folks would come to see the country folks playing in their home area. Thus Renfro Valley Entertainment Center was born. New owners Don and Vera Evans are restoring some of the buildings and making improvements to make it a world-class musical venue. Shows are put on most weekends throughout the year with special holiday events. Loretta Lynn, Bill Monroe, Ricky Skaggs, etc…have played here. This particular weekend showcased the Fiddlers’ Festival. We had tickets for Saturday’s seating of the festival as well as tickets for two different shows, one on Thursday evening, the other Friday evening.
After checking into the RV park and getting our information packets from the HOP hosts, we met for an informational happy hour with fellow Escapees/HOP attendees before enjoying an all you can eat fried chicken feast. The first show that evening was the Classic Country Show, with country, bluegrass, and gospel music from the past. The stage musicians were quite talented as were the musical guests and the comedians. Before the show started, we listened to a group of musicians from Michigan called Just Jammin’ that included a hammered dulcimer. Pam Bowman made that dulcimer play music we never thought it could play – awesome.
Day Two was free till that evening so we drove out to Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. We had lunch at the lodge there (a dish called Kentucky Brown – toast covered with thin sliced ham, turkey, cheese sauce, and a fresh tomato slice with grated parmesan – yum).
This state park is located in the Daniel Boone National Forest. Known as the “Niagara of the South,’ the falls form a 125-foot wide curtain that plunge 60 feet into a gorge below. It was a great day for a short hike – the weather was cool, the sun was out, the leaves were beautiful, and the falls were spectacular. We were able to see them from several different viewpoints.
That evening’s show was the Barn Dance, which featured the same musicians from the night before, but more contemporary music.
We had tickets for the Saturday performance of the Fiddlers’ Festival. We arrived as Just Jammin’ was finishing up. Most of the acts following couldn’t hold a candle to Just Jammin’s talents, so when the festival broke for lunch, we walked over to the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum and spent time there. The museum’s goal is to educate visitors on Kentucky’s musical history and music fundamentals. The Hall of Fame honors Kentucky’s greatest musical achievers. Among those honored are: Loretta Lynn, Ricky Skaggs, Rosemary Clooney, Tom T. Hall, The Judds, and Dwight Yoakam.
Before we knew it, the Renfro Valley HOP came to an end. We thoroughly enjoyed our first HOP and will plan to attend another sometime in the future. Fellow SKPs (Escapees) make you feel welcome no matter where you meet, no matter the size of the event.
Time to hit the road again – destination Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville, Alabama, where we’ll be camp hosting the month of November.
Next on our itinerary:
Key West, depending on campground availability after Hurricane Wilma
Fort Myers, Florida (Habitat for Humanity build)