Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tuesday, 31 July

Wow! We actually took the motorhome off the blocks and drove it today. This is the day we scheduled to visit my cousin Bill in a little village called Rock Springs. We had arranged to put YumYum into doggy day care tomorrow, and since Bill would not be available until after lunch, we set out to find the place today so we could go straight there tomorrow. That turned into an expedition. The address we were given was on Mine Street, so Gene found Mine St. on a Baraboo map and off we went. Mine St. turned out to be in a warehouse wilderness with no pet boarding in sight.

Jean called but got an answer machine, so we went to McDonalds to get Cokes. Another call made connection and we got directions to find the place. Following directions got us back into town, but nowhere near the pet place. A visit to a convenient veterinarian gave us another set of directions that were just as confusing. We did find a turn which we had missed the first time through, and we finally found the spot. It turns out there is another Mine St. that is in the county and thus not on the Baraboo map. That all put us about and hour later than we planned, but we will be able to drive right there tomorrow.

 Next we drove to Rock Springs but Bill wasn't there yet. So Gene drove out into the countryside to look for a couple of farms from his youth. The first place he found was the farm, run by his aunt and uncle, where he spent a couple of weeks every summer. It is in other hands now, so we didn't stop.

Pressing on, we drove around until Gene spotted a familiar driveway. Proceeding up a long, gravel track, we wound around behind a hill until we came to the remains of a deserted farm.

This was the location of the farm his grandfather worked until he retired, and then was operated by another aunt and her children (one of which is Juanita, where we are staying). Gene lived with them for several months after his parents separated. He walked that almost a mile-long driveway to get to the main road where the one-room school was located.

The farm has long since been abandoned and the only building remaining that he remembers is the barn. One of the outbuildings has been modernized and is occasionally used as a hunting cabin. The grounds, though, are well-maintained and the grass is mowed.

After leaving "the old homestead," we drove back to Rock Springs and found a shady place to make and eat a little lunch before proceeding to Bill's again. This time he and Joyce were home and we spent the afternoon in pleasant conversation. At the end, he took us on an extended tour of Rock Springs and vicinity. Even though the village is losing population (especially after a flood 4 years ago), I found there was more there than I had remembered.

He also pointed out which which of the houses in town had been the one our grandfather built and lived in after he retired from farming.

Even though Gene had visited them many times as a child, he could not remember where it was. Then it had a unique pebbledash finish (that's stucco with lots of little pebbles pressed into the surface) that would have made it easy to spot; but the house had subsequently been covered with vinyl siding which made it look very like the other houses on the street.

On the way back to Baraboo, our noses told us it was time to dump the tanks. Gene had found a public dump station on a previous trip so that was our next destination. The dump went smoothly until Gene was bringing the last bucket of water into the motorhome when he bumped it on the bathroom door and the handle came off. At least two gallons of water spilled and ran over the entire floor. After much cussing and squeegying and moving the van so the water would drain toward the door, we got it mostly cleaned up. Some of the water ran under the cabinets and dripped out under the Roadtrek all the way back.

A delicious sandwich and chocolate malt helped our spirits, and we got back to Juanita's house in time to back in and hook up before it got dark. Another pleasant conversation with Juanita and we were ready for bed.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Monday, 30 July

Still in Baraboo, and the temperature is getting hotter. We decided to start the day by walking downtown to take the tour of the Al. Ringling theater. Turned on the air conditioner to keep the doggy cool and headed down the hill.

The Al. Ringling theater (we showed you the outside yesterday) was built in 1915, and has been in continuous operation ever since. It is generally felt to be the first of the beautiful movie palaces. No expense was spared to create an elegant experience. Much of the decor took as its inspiration well-known public buildings in Europe, primarily pre-revoution France.

The building is filled with Baroque art work, such as this frieze from the lobby. The ceiling is painted with cherubs playing among the clouds. There are seven boy cherubs, supposedly representing the seven Ringling brothers, and one girl cherub for the lone sister. She is holding another boy cherub to represent an eighth brother who died as a child.

That is just a small example of the way the whole building is decorated. Much of the original stuff is still there, and what little has been replaced has been replaced with top-quality goods. The building is in very good shape, though there is still a lot of restoration to be done. It is all taken care of these days by a volunteer organization, depending to a large extent on donations.

This is the chandelier in auditorium. The ceiling is very high and domed. Originally (and hopefully eventually) it was decorated with clouds and cherubs, similar to the lobby. This chandelier weighs half a ton, which puts it pretty much in scale with the rest of the building.

Unlike most movie theaters, there are boxes instead of a balcony. The boxes still have the original chairs. They could put up to 6 chairs in a box, but that would be very crowded indeed. Also unique to this theater, the fire curtain is painted with a scene, supposedly of Marie Antoinette and her maid being greeted and serenaded by some of the French courtiers.

The orchestra pit includes a "Mighty Barton" theater organ that includes drums, birds, and other sound effects as well as a full complement of pipes. It was designed for use in silent films, and could also be used with an orchestra or to accompany live theater. It either is used in the pit or can rise about five feet, as shown here. We got a short demonstration of its capabilities.

While circus money paid for the whole building, there is no reference to circuses in it. The building was meant to be a gift to the people of Baraboo by the Ringlings in appreciation for their help and support while they were developing their circus. It was not an any way to be an advertisement for the circus.

One of the things that made the tour interesting to Gene was the fact that as a child he saw movies in this theater. Saturday matinees lasted all afternoon and cost seven cents. That got him out of his mother's hair for a while. As a child, of course, he paid little or no attention to the grand and impressive decorations, or the quality of the construction. It was just the movie theater to him. Didn't every town have one? <censored> years later he marvels at the artistry of it all.

After the tour, we had another big lunch at the Little Village Cafe, and walked (struggled) back up the hill in a sunny day that had gotten into the high 90's. That led to a long nap in the air-conditioned motorhome. We made plans for the rest of the week but didn't venture forth again for the rest of the day. Tomorrow, we head out to visit another cousin.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday, 29 July

Settled in at cousin Juanita's place in Baraboo. She was working in the morning, so we took a walk downtown. Gene was born here, and lived in town off and on until he was 12, so he knew a bit about the town; or at least what it was like 65 years ago.

Baraboo was founded in 1847. The most famous citizens of the town were the Ringling family.  There are late 19th Century connections everywhere. Like all old, small towns, there are some interesting old houses. Some are big and fancy, probably former Ringling properties; others are more modest but in an interesting style. You can see houses from just about any period after the mid-19th Century until today.

Gene pointed out the church he went to and one of the houses he lived in near downtown. The later was a modest home, half a block from one of the fanciest Ringling mansions (long since become an Elks lodge). From there he would walk a couple of blocks on a Saturday to spend the whole  afternoon at the movies. This was in a real movie palace where he saw a feature, a western, a newsreel, one or more shorts, and cartoons for the princely sum of 7 cents.

The Al. Ringling theater was built in 1915 and is considered (at least locally) to be the first of the great movie palaces. It featured extensive classical decor, with lots of fancy work. It had, for its day, a large stage and the largest screen in the state. There is an orchestra pit, and a large theater organ that rises up from the pit. There are individual boxes with chairs instead of a balcony. They presented plays as well as movies and it was fully-equipped for live theater. Not that any of this meant anything to little Gene. It continues to present plays and movies and has since it was opened in 1915. We hope to get a tour of the inside in the next couple of days.

After walking around downtown for a while, we stopped for a delicious lunch at one of the few places that was open on a Sunday. By the time we got back to the motorhome, we were tired and lay down for a short rest. Juanita came home from work about that time and said she was going to lay down, too. A couple of hours later she woke us and asked if we wanted to see Devil's Lake. This is a state park three miles outside Baraboo. She took us on a tour of both the north shore (where Gene got a bottle of sand for his collection of beach sand) and the south shore, where Gene had never actually been.

Devil's Lake from the south shore
The whole  park covers a lot of ground and is quite beautiful. It is the most popular of Wisconsin's state parks. Then she took us on a longer tour of the area outside Baraboo, ending with a visit with her daughter and son-in-law.

Finally, Juanita said she wasn't hungry so we stopped at a grocery and picked up a few things for a light supper in the motorhome. Juanita went in to turn in early (she actually hadn't taken a nap after all) and we looked over some information about local attractions she had given us. We had our light supper at about sunset and were ready to turn in ourselves. There still is a lot to see in the few days we have here in Baraboo, so keep tuned.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Saturday 28 July

A beautiful morning. This campground is a keeper. We dumped the tanks and got underway about 11:00 o'clock (which seems to be our usual starting time. This part of Illinois does not seem to be strongly affected by the drought. True, we saw some badly dried corn fields, but there were more that looked healthy; and the soybean fields are all green.

There are moments of real beauty

We took the interstate to Bloomfield, but a little ways north of the town we shifted over to Illinois 215. I say shifted over because the road pretty much parallels I-39, often running right alongside it. We prefer to travel the local roads rather than the interstate. They are slower, and they don't have rest areas, but you get more of a sense of the area. You are driving close enough to the fields to read the brands of seed they have planted, and you drive through the small towns so you see what the locals see close up. There is a lot less traffic, and practically no trucks. And driving a little slower gets you better fuel mileage. So why be in a hurry?

We drove past a number of wind farms. These consisted of dozens of very large aerogenerators. They often stretched from horizon to horizon. Today there was no wind, so the giant arms were still. But when they are working they must generate a great deal of electricity.  Eventually we got to an area that had countless numbers of them; then went over a small rise and saw that the road descended down a ridge to a broad plain below. The generators were poised on the edge of a plateau where the wind would be strongest.

The weather was not quite as hot today, in the 80's. Still plenty hot enough for us, but the high oil warning light did not come on. That would seem to indicate that the problem was heat-related.

After a pleasant day's drive, we arrived at Gene's cousin Juanita's house in Baraboo, WI, about 6:00pm. We arrived just as she, her friend, and her granddaughter were about to head out for the evening. They shifted cars, we backed into her driveway, and they were off. We plugged in and got settled. I expect we will see them in the morning. Gene considers Baraboo his home town, though he didn't spend that much time here, and moved away 65 years ago. Still we are looking forward to exploring his old stomping grounds.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Friday, 27 July

Yesterday's post got written today because we couldn't get online last night. We are working with our new Mifi and don't have the systems all worked out yet.

Today dawned cool and overcast. We discovered the folly of parking too close to the Walmart building, since we woke up surrounded by delivery trucks. After picking up some supplies, and checking the tires and fluids (oil level appears to be alright) we headed out about 10:00. No particular destination today, but from talking to Vic and looking at maps we figured we should be able to get to Illinois by the end of the day. Same off and on problem with the oil light.

Southern Ohio has the Hocking Hills --- western foothills of the Alleghenies of West Virginia (we live in the eastern foothills).  Once we got past the hills, we were in the Midwest. The land is flat and we drove through large fields of corn (with some tobacco and soybeans). Scattered widely across the landscape are clusters of farm buildings, houses, barns, and sheds.

It was cool when we started but it warmed up as the day progressed, though not as hot as yesterday. The day's work basically consisted of Gene keeping out of the way of the trucks and Jean figuring out the best and shortest way forward and around the few cities we encountered. We managed to avoid the interstate for about half of the day, but eventually end up on I-70 west of Columbus. We stopped at the first rest area in Indiana to walk the dog and have a light lunch. It was kind of a dismal scene for people from central Virginia. It was flat, flat, flat; the temperature was 90 degrees; and the only available shade was a small picnic shelter. The coolest place to eat was in the motorhome with the side door and a couple of windows open to catch the bit of breeze. We finally caught Gene's cousin Juanita on the phone to let her know we were on the way and expected to make Baraboo sometime tomorrow. We had a pleasant conversation and got the arrangements, such as they were, all made.

As the day progressed, large thunderstorms developed. Here on the billiard table, you can see them for miles. At one time we counted four separate storm systems in sight ahead. We got some rain from one of them, the rest thankfully went around us. One, to our south, looked like a real buster, with rain falling so heavily that you couldn't see through it. Luckily that one missed us, too.

As we approached Illinois, the temperature was getting hot again and we decided we needed to be where we had access to electricity. So Jean pulled down the big book and found a couple of campgrounds in the Champaign area.  She settled on one and phoned ahead to secure a spot. It turned out to be a small, very pleasant place, near Champaign but out in the country. Very quiet, with large spaces. It was unique in that our space was arranged as a pull-in, back-out spot. Jean went in to the office to register and came out with a receipt and a cucumber. A real down-home operation. We love it. We pulled in, hooked up, started the a/c, and fell onto the bed for a needed nap. Woke up about 2 hours later, in time for a pleasant supper.

Not as exciting as yesterday, but satisfying nontheless.

Thursday, 26 July

Here we are, off on the Big Trip. The one we have talked about for over a year. We being Gene and Jean, along with YumYum, an elderly Shih Tzu. We got away about 11:00, an hour later than we had planned, but about the time we usually get away on the first day.

The weather is hot, very hot. YumYum lies curled up at Jean's feet, right under the vent for the a/c. Our goal for the day is to meet Vic Cardi in Jackson, Ohio. That's a long day's drive so we press on. As we get into the mountains, we get an occasional warning light for the oil. We have never gotten that before, and we just had the oil changed at a local truck repair place.

We stop for lunch at Tamarack, in Bekeley, WV. The plan is for us to go inside to eat, and YumYum stays in the motorhome with the a/c running. The generator will start, but it won't run. That's the same problem we had in Virginia Beach on the last trip. So we start the engine, and Jean stays in the RV with YumYum while Gene gets a couple of sandwiches and drinks to go.

After lunch, we shut down the engine to let the oil drain down so Gene can check the level. While waiting, Gene bleeds some of the air out of the propane tank like they did in Virginia Beach. After bleeding air for 5 or 10 minutes, he tries the generator again and it runs this time. The check of the oil level is inconclusive, so we refuel at the Travel Center and press on.

The oil light comes on from time to time, and we can't associate it with anything, so we just keep going. We notice that when it comes on, there is a message on the digital display that says, "HI." It appears that there may be a little too much oil in the engine, but it only shows up occasionally.

As we approach the Ohio River, we get a call from Vic that he is experiencing a strong storm, which he expects will catch up with us before long. About 5:00 the sky gets very black, the wind comes up, and the heavens open up. We cross the river surrounded by lightning flashes and driving rain (but luckily the wind has dropped). The storm continues, albeit at less intensity all the way in to Jackson and while we are having dinner with Vic at the Bob Evans. The rain ultimately continues until about 11:00, but the temperature went from 100 to 70 degrees in minutes.

We determine that it is too wet for us to park at Vic's, so after talking until about 11:00 (way too late to find a campground), he goes home and we head for the local Walmart. No power, but the night is cool enough that we don't need to try the generator again.

We expected a long, boring drive to Ohio but the day provided ample problems and excitement for this old pair of Jeans.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


After leaving Alan's, we stopped to get groceries --- we are back to doing our own cooking. Fuel was running low, so we kept an eye out for service stations that have diesel. Since our route took us through residential areas, we didn't see any. When we finally spotted one, we went in and took on 15.5 gallons at $3.99. Afterwards, all the diesel we saw was $3.89!

When we got onto the Hero islands, we found that the North Hero State Park campground was closed for the season. So we checked in at Grand Isle State Park on South Hero. It's a very nice campground with widely-spaced grass sites. After checking in we continued to drive north to look over the countryside.
The Vermont countryside is scenic rural anywhere you look.

We drove north as far as the North Hero State Park and then back down to the bottom of South Hero. When we returned to the campground, we walked down to the "beach." It is coarse shale with a scummy edge. No sand to collect here.

When we left the next day, there was a line at the dump station. So what's the rush, we're on vacation, right? On the way off South Hero, we couldn't resist this antique store:

Our next destination was Montpelier, the capitol of Vermont. We managed to find parking for the motorhome downtown, right next to a parking space that provided a charging station for electric cars. Montpelier is an interesting combination of the latest technology in the midst of interesting old buildings.

Late in the afternoon, we drove out to Morse Maple Sugar Farm, just north of Montpelier. They are members of Harvest Hosts, a group of farms and vineyards that allow RVs to park overnight on the property for free. These places all have farm stores or tasting rooms, and RVs taking advantage of their hospitality are encouraged to visit the stores and buy something. We did, and spent more than if we had stayed in a campground, but we got a number of things to use as presents.

Our parking/camping site at Morse Farm

Besides buying some things from the store, we saw a video about sugaring, then tasted the various grades of maple syrup and determined our favorite. We now consider ourselves maple syrup connoisseurs.

Next morning we spent some more time in downtown Montpelier, including breakfast at the Skinny Pancake, a crepe restaurant, and a little more shopping. Time to head back to Virginia; but our route took us down Vermont 100, a beautiful, winding road through the forests and parts of the Green Mountains. This drive in itself was worth the trip to Vermont. But we will have to go back again, because we breezed right by a beautiful waterfall before we were aware of it.

Leaving the mountain road at Rutland, we bent our course toward New York and I-81. Checking our resources, we found no campgrounds in the northern half of Pennsylvania near I-81. Gene had looked up a Passport America site (half-price camping) but didn't write down enough information and they weren't in the book. Jean found something in the FMCA Atlas and made contact. It was hard to find and we wound around in the countryside for a long time. Finally, after two wrong turns, we found it and got a site. Surprisingly, it was almost full of big trailers (mostly people working in a nearby gas drilling field). It was very quiet, deep in the woods, and quite pleasant. Light supper, and then to bed with the a/c running for the first time since Virginia.

Next day we had breakfast, dumped tanks, and were on the road by 9:50 (early for us). Basically it was follow I-81 and try to keep the speed down to a fuel-sipping level (more or less). Ran through some rain in Lynchburg and home at 5:45. It's hot here!

Burlington, VT

We headed out of New Jersey, following interstates for a way, but shifted over to Rte. 4 after Albany. Unless we need to make time for some reason, we prefer the secondary roads. They are slower, which helps us conserve fuel, and you get to see more of the countryside. The towns they go through slow you down a little, but are also interesting. You get to see how the locals live.

We found ourselves basically following the Champlain Canal without being aware of when we had crossed the Hudson River. At Lock 2 (just north of Waterford, NY) we pulled off the road and had lunch by the canal. Quiet and pleasant.

We reached Burlington at about the 5:00 rush hour (of course). There was heavy traffic for much of the way in, but we found Alan's with just one slight missed turn. We sat on the deck overlooking Lake Champlain and visited until Valerie got home from work, then walked downtown for dinner in a good Mexican restaurant. We walked back and continued to talk 'til about 11:00.

Breakfast on the deck, our favorite place. You can watch the wind patterns on the water, and see the boats as they come out of Burlington Harbor for a day on the water. Then we relaxed and got online for a couple of hours; Jean paid a bill and I went through the accumulated email. The three of us (Valerie had to go to work) walked downtown for lunch at a sidewalk cafe.  Downtown Burlington has been converted to a pedestrian mall about three blocks long. Today the weather was beautiful and the streets were crowded, with lots of buskers.

Downtown Burlington. This picture was taken on an earlier trip, after some rain.
We did a lot of walking while visiting Alan. Every place we went was about a mile from the house. There is a hill involved, so a round trip makes for good exercise, though not strenuous. An ideal situation. Would that it would be as convenient to get our exercise in Forest. At home we have to drive for 20 minutes to get to a good place to walk.

Next morning we walked to near downtown for a late breakfast at a new diner. Then Alan painted the upper deck railing while I made a couple of blog entries. Jean walked downtown to shop. About 4:00 Alan and I returned the scaffold to his house in Colchester and ran some errands, including a trip to North Beach for me to collect a bottle of sand. I have a new hobby of collecting some sand from  beaches wherever we stop, whether we spend some time on the beach or not.  Then we picked up Jean and went to Staples to get a card reader so I could download pictures off my camera. After Valerie got home from work, Alan picked up some Thai food and we had a pleasant dinner on the deck.

Next morning, after a breakfast of fresh fruit and fresh-baked muffins on the deck, Alan and I went off to his barn to collect the three boxes of stuff I stored with him when the house in Williamsburg was sold. We managed to combine two of the boxes into one (very heavy) which enabled us to store them under the bed in the Roadtrek. We used the empty box to organize all the clutter in front of the third seat.

Alan showed Jean how to get to North Hero Island (our next destination) and about 10:40 we bid a reluctant farewell and headed out to see the Vermont countryside.