On the road again – our theme for October after having stayed put all spring and summer in Otis, Massachusetts…
We scurried around the first few days of the month, getting ready for final departure from our site at the Klondike RV Resort. We didn’t winterize the RV ourselves – several of the folks there use and recommend a mobile RV company so we signed up for his services. But we still had work to do – put the patio furniture and clothesline away, take down our signs, flags, and solar lights, sprinkle moth balls inside the shed to keep out critters. Our last major item was putting a huge tarp over the top of the RV but still allowing access inside if needed. Three hours later, after competing with the occasional gusty wind (originally predicted as a mild breeze,) we finally got it secured but we’ll figure out a way to make it easier next time. With all the snow typical for the area, the more protection we have over the roof to prevent leakage, the better. By the time we were finished tying the tarp down, the Legacy looks like it is entangled within a huge spider web.
Our last Sunday was pretty special. We kicked off the day by meeting Klondike friends Bob, Cindy and Diana for breakfast at Hillbillies, a small restaurant out in the country that several folks had recommended to us. We enjoyed not only a very good breakfast but the company as well. We then headed off to the First Congregational Church in Lee, and were overwhelmed at the end of the services when Barbara, who had originally welcomed us in the spring, gave us a huge send-off (and a loaf of tasty banana nut bread.) Anyone in the area looking for a very welcoming church – stop in and meet the folks there.
We spent our last night at Klondike in the clubhouse parking lot, having gotten permission to pull our Mountain Aire fifth wheel there for the night while we made sure all systems were operational before we hit the road the next day. Lucille took advantage of being close to the club’s washers and dryers, doing several loads of last minute clothing and bedding. Louie and Anne made a special trip to wish us safe travels – we’ll miss them and all the rest of the friends we made this past season.
Our first destination was Lackawanna State Park north of Scranton, Pennsylvania. This park was recommended by Dave and Mary, who had stopped here on their way to see us earlier in the summer. All the sites have electric only but there are several water spigots within the campground area and a dump station on the way out. We’d picked out our site online, and other than having to jockey back and forth a bit because of the narrow road, we got backed in and settled in shortly, just in time for the rains to set in for the next couple of days.
During our five-day stay in the Scranton area, we visited the Anthracite Heritage Museum, the Lackawanna Coal Mine and Steamtown National Historic Site, just barely scratching the surface of all there is to see in the area. We also got in a bonus visit with Brian and Bonnie, on their way back to Connecticut after attending a family funeral in Virginia. We arranged to meet them at a Perkins Restaurant where we enjoyed an early supper, giving them a chance to rest up a bit before the final leg of their journey home.
The Anthracite Museum and Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour are in the same area and share parking lots – there is room for RV parking if you are just passing through. Both are excellent stops and worth the time with minimal entrance fees. We coordinated our museum visit around our coal mine tour reservation time (made there in person.) The following is just a smattering of what we learned from both the museum and the coal mine tour.
Our coal mine tour started with getting into cars that went down into a tunnel then we got out to walk in the mine itself, with our guide Kyle. We learned that anthracite is hard coal, burns longer and cleaner than bituminous which is soft coal. Ninety percent of the anthracite is mined in Pennsylvania. In this particular area, it is strictly strip mining, especially since an accident in 1959 when somehow the tunnel digging got too close to the Susquehanna River. The river broke through, causing a vortex that flooded the mine with the loss of twelve lives. The docent from the museum remembers waiting to hear if her uncle made it – he did but he was totally covered in black. This accident ended this type of mining here. Be sure to watch the video about this in the visitor center.
There are several veins and layers in the mountain but not all were mined by the same companies which sometimes caused problems. If a company wasn’t scrupulous about mining practices, they put everyone at risk, no matter what vein they worked in.
Lighting was originally provided by oil lamp (similar to one birthday candle), then by carbide which still wasn’t very bright. Eventually electric lights were installed. Kyle showed us examples of the earlier lighting – how in the world did someone work with so little lighting??? He also told us that there are two types of gases – methane, which was detected first by canaries, then by a safety lantern. The other type is black damp which hovered on the bottom, again using the safety lantern to detect it. If miners saw rats, then the air quality was safe - rats were miners’ best friends.
As late as 1911, 35% of a family’s income was produced by their children. They went to work in or for the mines as young as six years old, starting off as slatepickers, then doorboys, muleboys, laborers, helpers, and then eventually real miners. Kyle’s grandfather started off as a nipper (doorboy.) He lost the use of his left hand when he fell asleep and the doors he was supposed to be opening when he heard the coal car approaching slammed into his hand. He was patched up and returned to work the next day, working in the mines in various capacities over the next 45 years. Here are some sample wage rates paid at the Continental Mine in 1902: nipper, 11 cents; laborer 18 cents; mule drivers 13 cents; slate picker 6 to 9 cents; engineer $78/month.
Until the coal cars were pulled by mechanical means, mules were used, usually blind from some sort of genetic problem. They were less apt to spook when blind. Mules were more valuable than the boys leading them. Sometimes mules and electric trams were used in the same mine. The trams were powered by exposed electric conductors. On display is a mule hat that protected its ears from being electrocuted by the rail above. The mules pulled about 45-100 tons/day, which probably explains why their life expectancy was only about three to four years.
The air shaft, which had a ventilation fan that moved about 22,000 cubic feet of air, also functioned as an emergency exit, with a hoist holding four to five people – it looked smaller than a phone booth but in emergency, we’re sure no one complained about the close quarters.
Steamtown National Historic Site is located in downtown Scranton, where you can also visit the Trolley Museum that shares the parking lot. However, there was so much to see at Steamtown, after spending most of the day there, we ran out of ‘steam’ and had to pass on visiting this other museum. Established in 1986, Steamtown is the only place in the National Park System where the story of steam railroading is told. A large collection of standard-gauge steam locomotives and freight and passenger cars can be found on the forty acres of the Scranton railroad yard of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad it occupies.
The locomotives that are part of the display vary in size, based on what their purpose was and what terrain (mountainous vs. flat plains) they’d be traversing. On display when you first enter the parking lot is the Union Pacific Big Boy - the largest locomotive at 132’ 10” long - longer than Wright Brothers first flight - amazing. We also saw a steam-powered derrick car that can lift up to 150 tons and learned that the first refrigerated car was built in 1851 to haul eight tons of butter from New York to Boston.
Besides taking in the informative movie in the theater, we took the ranger-led tour of the locomotive shop – wow! They are in the process of restoring several locomotives – each one a very lengthy, detailed and expensive project. It may take up to several years to get a steam locomotive back on the rails. They meticulously reproduce and hand-craft every replacement part so that it is as near authentic as possible. What a great opportunity for skilled volunteers to be able to get a piece of history back up and running!
The re-created roundhouse is quite impressive with a raised walkway affording us opportunities to view work in progress. We also saw demonstrations of the 90-foot-long turntable as it turned engines from the yard to back into their respective bays. It is now powered by motors but is so well balanced that if power is lost, with a little manpower, it can still be operated.
We bought tickets to take a ride on the Scranton Limited, a short excursion ride lasting about thirty minutes that allowed us to experience a commuter ride as well as giving us a good overall view of the rail yards. The ranger’s talk helped us visualize what it was like when the rail yards were still operational.
Factoid: November 18, 1883, in railroad history, is known as the Day of Two Moons. Standard time was first instituted in the US on this date - engineers across the nation sounded whistles at noon to signify new railroad time.
From Scranton, we headed for Fairlawn, Ohio, to visit with friends Rich and Linda. There wasn’t a convenient campground to their home that they could recommend for our two-day stay, so we ended up staying at Walmart. Rich and Linda had checked with the manager prior to our visit. Good RV overnight parking etiquette is for one night only but the manager had no problem with our staying there two nights. We parked where directed, stayed hooked up to the truck, kept our slides in except at night, and then only extending the one in the bedroom – we try to be good neighbors. And of course, we supported the Walton family while there.
Our visit with Rich and Linda was a lot of fun but went by way too quickly. The four of us enjoyed dinner out at Rockne’s one night but it’s always hard to beat Rich’s meals – lunch and dinner were fabulous. (Harry and Marie – we sure did enjoy his shrimp bisque – wish you were there!) Linda brought us to a metro park for a nice hike to walk off some of those calories, and then Rich took us on a driving tour of his old stomping grounds and to check out Portage Lakes State Park, one of the locations we’d considered stopping at. All that sightseeing got us hungry for some wonderful frozen custard at Stoddard’s, an ice cream stand that has been there for generations. We said our goodbyes to Rich and Linda our second night there because we knew we’d be on the road early the next morning. We’ll see them in Frostproof, Florida in the spring.
Next destination was the Elkhart, Indiana area for about week. First up was getting some repairs and routine maintenance done on our fifth wheel’s Mor-Ryde suspension system. We had an early Monday morning appointment so we spent the night before in their parking lot, complete with 30 amp electric. They had us out of there just after 4 pm on Monday, after they determined they had gotten all our available cash…Oh well – all part of maintaining our permanent home, albeit on wheels.
After we got sprung from Mor-Ryde, we drove a short distance to the Elkhart County Fairgrounds in Goshen where we’ve stayed several times before. The price is right, sites are spacious, full hookups, and it’s conveniently located near all things RV-related.
Not only is that area home to many RV manufacturers, but several surplus stores carrying RV supplies can be found nearby. The fifth wheel’s automatic step had conked out while parked over the summer. Larry was able to use chewing gum and baling wire (wink-wink) to get it temporarily working. Success at the second surplus store we tried – we found a brand new motor at more than half off the price elsewhere – the step is back operational now. At the same place, we finally found a replacement ring that fits under the microwave turntable. You’d think that should be an easy find but not when this particular microwave hasn’t been made in years – success again! At another place, we found replacement light switches, considerably discounted. The only high ticket item we bought while in the area was a new sink cover and we got that directly from Newmar, but that wasn’t from lack of looking elsewhere first.
How many remember the Golden Age of Automobiles, when Packards and Studebakers and Auburns and Duesenbergs were traveling on the roads, alongside the Fords and Dodges and Chevrolets? Did you also know that Indiana was also known as the automobile capital of the country many, many years ago? We got quite an education visiting both the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend and the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum in Auburn.
A little history about the Studebaker family….Members of the family came from Germany in the mid-1700s. They were in the blacksmithing trade and brought their metal working craft with them, essential in building Conestoga wagons. In 1852, two of the descendants, Henry and Clement, opened the H & C Studebaker blacksmith shop in South Bend, building the first two horse-drawn farm wagons. In years to come, they would build wheelbarrows and tools for the gold miners in California and hundreds of wagons for the North during the Civil War. By 1876, the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company was the largest producer of horse-drawn vehicles in the world. The original founders resisted building autos but the new generation of leaders saw the future in cars. In twenty years, Studebaker was transformed from a family-owned wagon works to a successful auto corporation. During 1913, they became the third largest producer of automobiles, following Ford and Overland. During this dual phase of wagon and auto manufacturing, autos were assembled in Detroit and wagons in South Bend, but after horse-drawn vehicle manufacturing was discontinued in 1920, automobile production moved to South Bend.
The Studebaker Museum consists of three stories of beautiful wagons, cars and trucks, most of which have been restored. One exhibit was the Studebaker Junior Wagon that could be ordered with optional sled runners, shafts for goat or dog hook-up or a regular wagon handle. There is so much to see, it took us almost ninety minutes to view just one floor!
In 2005, the National Parks Service designated eight vehicles in the museum’s permanent collection as “National Treasures.” One of these on display is President Lincoln’s Barouche, the one that took him and his wife and friends to Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865, the day of his assassination.
Some highlights we learned…they built quality trucks continuously from 1929 to 1963. They produced military trucks, aircraft engines and the Weasel, a tracked personnel and cargo carrier during World War II; after the war, they were the first established automobile company to come out with all new styling. The 1947 Studebakers were nicknamed “Which-Way-Are-They-Going” cars for their similar front and rear stylings; the bullet-nosed front end was introduced in 1950. They joined forces with Packard in 1954 but had a hard time competing with the Big Three. With growing demand for practical transportation, they dropped all their existing models by late 1958 except for the Silver Hawk and the newly-introduced Lark. The most amazing thing to us was that they built a test track across the top of the factory roof. It’s no longer there but the pictures are something to see. They celebrated their 100th anniversary as a road vehicle producer in 1952. Interestingly, Ford, Buick and Cadillac did not reach their 100th birthdays till 2003.
The years all these beautiful cars were made were truly the golden age of automobiles, which was impressed on us again when we visited the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum – beautiful cars but probably not very practical in today’s age of fuel economy. This is another three-story museum but what is unusual is that this is the original company administration building of the Auburn Automobile Company, now a National Historic Landmark.
A little history about the company...Charles Eckhart and his son Morris founded the Auburn Automobile Company in 1900. In 1919, Morris, now running the company with his brother Frank, sold controlling interest to a group of Chicago bankers. In 1924, E. L. Cord, a dynamic auto sales executive, joined the company as general manager, bringing the inert company back to life. He introduced the eight-cylinder Auburn at a popular price and with aggressive ad campaigns, sales were increased. He purchased the company through stock options, becoming its president within two years. In 1926, he purchased the Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company, located in Indianapolis, commissioning engineer Fred Duesenberg to build the world's finest motorcar. The nation's most expensive luxury car, the Duesenberg Model J, was introduced in 1928. America's first front-drive production car, the Cord, was unveiled in 1929.
When the stock market crashed in 1929, the Auburn Automobile Company's financial position was sound enough to weather the crash. However, by the time 1937 rolled around, tastes had changed, economic times were hard and there was internal corporate turmoil - all leading to production ceasing in 1937.
Level One is the company showroom where Auburn and Cord products were displayed in the 1930s – it now features several beautiful Auburns, Cords and Duesenbergs. Level Two features the archives and education center – an extensive research facility serving restorers, students, authors, historians and others.
On Level Three are several galleries. One features cars of the Auburn area from 1903-1924. At least ten different brands of motorcars were manufactured in this area in the pre-WW I era – some we hadn’t seen before. How many have heard of Unions, Models, Handy Wagons, Zimmermans, Blacks, Kiblingers, Imp Cycle Cars and McIntyres? There is a Hall of Technology, highlighting the technologies developed by Auburn. Also on this floor are the design studios where clay models were created. The original company offices are also located here. One gallery is devoted to Auburn’s competition during the classic era, 1925-1948.
Some other factoids: Tire treads weren’t invented until 1908. In 1909, $800 could buy either a Model 251 McIntyre truck or a Steinway baby grand piano. A two-story, six-bedroom house from Sears cost $725 and the average wage of a union tradesman was forty-five cents an hour.
Indiana is now known as the RV capital of the world. What we didn’t know was that the state was one of America’s most productive regions committed to automotive commerce and prior to 1925, attained automotive status similar to Michigan’s today.
After our week’s stay in the Elkhart area, we headed south to Huntsville, Alabama and the military campground at Redstone Arsenal. The Huntsville area is our old stomping grounds, pre-retirement days. We still see a few of our medical professionals there for annual visits. In between our appointments, we spent a lot of quality time visiting with so many of our friends we’ve known over the years but there always are more friends to visit than we have time for.
Our next stop was back to Camp Carr in Rincon, Georgia, where we’ll be staying on and off through the end of the year. It was a particularly long travel day but we got a very early start and headed out just as dawn was breaking. We’ve driven this route from Huntsville to Rincon so often but it’s always scenic. The most memorable part of the trip is the 13% grade we have to climb out of Scottsboro up Sand Mountain – a climb we wouldn’t make if we were unfamiliar with the roads but one that we know is doable, just not at record speeds.
We’re now at Camp Carr, waiting to move to the Christmas tree lot in Savannah where we’ll be working till just before Christmas – stay tuned to read about this newest adventure.
Coming up: January, we’ll be in Brunswick, Georgia working with Dave, Mary and the rest of our Habitat friends there. February – heading south to Palmdale, Florida to goof off for a month or so before we start heading north and west.