Nick Russell

Mar 192019

I’m back with more questions from blog readers about RVing, what’s happening in our lives since we hung up the keys, and all kinds of other things. While I try to answer all questions individually, I also share some here occasionally.

Q. We have a Verizon MiFi Jetpack and have been considering changing carriers. This is our only access using it for phone and internet. The phone is for my wife and I use a TracFone. We both use the MiFi for our internet. Our concern with changing to another carrier is what kind of connection capability is there when we travel. The MiFi has served us well in that regard but the cost to add another phone for me is astronomical. I was wondering if you had your Consumer Cellular on your recent trip to Arizona and, if so, how did you fare regarding access? I can’t remember if you got it before or after your trip.
A. We switched to Consumer Cellular after our trip to Arizona. Consumer Cellular uses both Verizon or AT&T towers and you can choose which one to go with when you sign up. Both have very similar coverage areas, so I think you’ll be fine.

Q. Okay, call me forgetful, but what is the name of the wonder spray that you and Greg White both use for electronics and rusted stuff and things like that? I know it’s not WD-40, you guys both said it was better than that.
A. It’s called Strike Hold and everybody should have at least two cans around. We keep one under the kitchen sink and a couple more in the garage, and it has never let us down.

Q. We are looking at a used Alfa See Ya! motorhome that looks very nice at first glance, but when we get close to it we notice a bunch of what I can only describe as acne looking blemishes on the outside. The person selling it is not the original owner, but he said he was told that’s common for this brand of motorhome and not to worry about it. Have you ever heard of this? Is it delamination? Should we walk away and look for something else?
A. This is quite common with Alfa motorhomes and we have seen several like you described. I have been told it was caused by a problem with the resin mix when the fiberglass was formed. Whatever the reason, given that and the fact that Alfa is no longer in business, I would be looking for something else.

Q. My husband had a stroke in late October and died three weeks later. We had been fulltiming for almost two years when he went down. Since then I have been parked in my daughter’s driveway, and I am bored to death. I want to get back out on the road and travel but she insists that as a 64 year old woman, I am foolish to even consider it. She says I will be a third wheel in any group of RVers and easy pickings for every crook and con man or worse in the country. I know how to drive our 32 foot motorhome and can handle all of the hooking up and stuff. What do you say, Nick? Am I foolish or should I go for it? By the way, my daughter and I have a poor relationship at best and she has told me I need to sell the RV and get an apartment someplace.
A. We know many solo RVers, both male and female, and as long as that’s what you want to do and you are physically and mentally capable of handling it, I say go for it. And don’t worry, you won’t be alone. There are some excellent groups for single RVers, including Loners on Wheels (LOW) and Wandering Individuals Network (WIN). As I’m sure you learned in your time on the road, RVers are some of the friendliest people around and like to include everybody, so don’t worry about being a third wheel. Get out there and have some fun!

Q. It’s been a couple of years now since you and Miss Terry hung up the keys and gave up the fulltime RV lifestyle. Do you have any regrets about that decision?
A. No, we always told ourselves that the day it stopped being fun was the day we would look for something else to do. That day came, and though we miss our many friends from the RV world, we are quite content with our new life here on the Central Florida coast.

Q. We want to go to Alaska this summer but won’t be able to leave until mid-June due to doctors appointments we have scheduled. We live in Georgia so first we have to get across the country before we ever even enter Canada. That’s about 3,000 miles and since we don’t like to drive more than 250 to 300 miles a day, that would probably put us at the border north of Seattle sometime around July 1st. Then it’s a couple thousand more miles to Anchorage. Do you think that gives us enough time before bad weather sets in?
A. A lot depends on how long you want to be in Alaska and what you want to see and do while you are there. You can certainly drive to Alaska and back in that time, but as to how long you will have to experience all that is up there before you need to head back south, I can’t really say. Sometimes winter comes early and sometimes it’s a bit delayed. Either way you’re going to have to hustle.

Q. We have two dogs, an Akita and a Doberman mix. Two different campgrounds have told us we can’t stay there because our dogs are too big. Can they do that? Is that even legal? It feels like discrimination to me.
A. Any business owner can refuse to do business with whoever they choose, as long as they don’t discriminate based upon race, gender, sexual orientation, and things like that. As for a campground, they have every right to limit the size and breed of dogs they will allow. In fact, some companies that insure campgrounds require them to follow company-mandated size and breed limits.

Q. Based on a recommendation from a friend, I bought your three e-book box sets of the first three John Lee Quarrels and the first three Big Lake books and love them. How many more are available in each series and do you plan to continue them?
A. I am currently working on Sweet Tea And Jesus, the sixth book in the John Lee Quarrels series, and I have a lot more of them planned. Big Lake Wedding, the 15th book in the Big Lake series, came out in mid-January. I will be releasing Big Lake Ninja, #16 in the series, this summer, and there’s more to come after that.

Q. We’re looking at a 1998 Bounder gas powered Class A that a man has had sitting in his side yard for at least six or seven years. The tires look weather checked on the outside but have lots of tread left and he said they are fine. There is a mildew smell inside that he assures us will clear up if we just open it up and air it out, and it needs a very good cleaning. The ceiling has a lot of what looks like water stains to me. It wouldn’t start because it needs new batteries and the inside lights don’t work. He was asking $5,000 for it and my husband offered him $3,500 and he accepted it real quick. My husband assures me we can clean it up and be on the road within a few weeks and we will save a ton of money. I’m not so sure. All I see is headaches ahead. We have not paid him yet, we’re supposed to do that when our tax refund comes. What would you do?
A. I would run away from that accident waiting to happen as fast as I could. It’s going to be a money pit and that $3,500 you can buy it for is only a drop in the bucket compared to how much it’s going to cost to attempt to get it serviceable and safe.

Q. We plan to become fulltime RVers sometime in the next 6 to 8 months. Right now we’re sorting through everything we are going to keep and take with us and deciding what to do with other things. We have a house full of very nice furniture, but neither of our children needs or wants any of it. My wife says we should store it for the day we get off the road, which we have no foreseeable plans to do, and I think we should just sell it and buy new furniture if we ever decide to stop full timing. Any suggestions?
A. We know many fulltimers who had to make the same decision, as we did ourselves. And like many people, we stored some things for the first year or so. And again, like many fulltimers, we realized that for what we were paying in storage fees we could buy all brand new furniture down the road sometime if we ever decided to hang up the keys. Imagine what we would have paid for storage over the 18 years we were on the road. And when we did stop fulltiming, that furniture would have been very old and frazzled.

Thought For The Day – Why do we put round pizza in a square box and eat it in triangles?

Mar 182019

Note: This story was a reprint of a past blog post requested by RVers who will soon be headed east after wintering in Arizona.

Hollywood and pulp fiction have glorified and made him out to be a hero, but in truth Billy the Kid was a ruthless runt who killed not only for money, but just for the thrill of killing. More then one unlucky cowboy met his fate when the outlaw took offense over some imagined or unintended slight.

There is at least as much myth as fact in the legends about Billy the Kid, and much of the truth about his life has probably been lost in the dusty pages of history. Henry McCarty was born not in the West, where he gained his dubious fame, but in New York City, in 1859. When he was a child the family migrated to Kansas, where his father died. Later Billy and his mother moved to New Mexico, where she married William Antrim in Santa Fe on March 1, 1873. Soon after, they moved to Silver City, New Mexico. Billy’s mother died of tuberculosis in Silver City on September 16, 1874, when he was 14 years old.

By the time he was 15, Billy was already on his way to a life of crime. He was arrested for stealing a bundle of laundry, and promptly escaped from the Silver City jail and fled town. Some legends claim that Billy killed his first man when he was 14, when he insulted Billy’s mother. However the first recorded victim of the Kid’s bloodlust was a blacksmith named Cahill, whom Billy killed two years after his mother’s death.

Billy used several aliases during his career, including William H. Bonney, and his stepfather’s name, William Antrim. Billy was a hired gun in the Lincoln County War, where his reputation with a six shooter was built. He was a known as a hot tempered bully, but he had his supporters, and many people around Fort Sumner, New Mexico considered him a friend.

Fort Sumner started as an Army post in 1862, and after the military left in 1868, the town moved a few miles north. Fort Sumner was a favorite haunt for Billy and his gang of outlaws and killers, and it was here that Billy was killed by Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett on the night of July 14, 1881, at the home of Pete Maxwell. Billy the Kid was buried in the old Fort Sumner Cemetery, located a couple of miles from town, in a grave with two of his outlaw pals, Tom O’Folliard and Charlie Bowdre, and forever since, Fort Sumner has been tied closely to the outlaw’s legend.

Billy’s tombstone was stolen in 1950, and its location remained a mystery for 26 years until it was recovered in Granbury, Texas. Thieves struck again on February, 8, 1981, when the tombstone was again stolen, and later recovered in Huntington Beach, California. De Baca County Sheriff “Big John” McBride flew to Los Angeles and recovered the headstone and returned it once again to Fort Sumner. This time the elusive tombstone was set in concrete and iron shackles, and a steel cage was erected around the grave to discourage souvenir hunters.

Today Fort Sumner is a small community that earns its living off local ranchers and tourists who are drawn by the legend of Billy the Kid. A statue of the outlaw stands on the main highway through town, and two private museums contain displays about Billy the Kid.

Ed Sweet, a congenial horse trader who made his living going from house to house peddling apples, sweet potatoes, homemade brooms, and mattresses, was a lifelong collector of anything old. As he made his rounds, Ed was always on the lookout for something he could swap for his goods, and with money tight, many an old timer was more than happy to barter worthless “junk” for whatever Ed was selling. Over time, Ed assembled a huge collection of Old West artifacts and antiques, and in January, 1953, he opened the Billy the Kid Museum in Fort Sumner.

The museum started in a one room building, and over the years Ed and his wife Jewel continued to add new items and expand. Ed passed away in 1974, at the age of 70, but the museum that grew out of his collection continues to serve as his legacy.

One favorite exhibit is a .44 Winchester rifle owned by the outlaw, along with documentation of its authenticity. Other Billy the Kid items on display include the door from the Maxwell home that the outlaw came through the night he was shot, and two curtains from the bedroom in which he was killed. Billy was reportedly a good dancer and singer, and the museum has the chaps and spurs he liked to wear to dances around Fort Sumner.

Along with Billy the Kid exhibits, the museum has a huge collection of artifacts from the Old West and Fort Sumner, including cannon balls, guns, furniture, documents, saddles, a horse-drawn frontier hearse, wagons, and a wonderful collection of antique cars.

The museum also has a nice gift shop. There is plenty of parking at the museum, and the Sweets also operate the nearby Valley View RV Park, a small but comfortable park large enough to handle any size rig. The museum is open daily, and admission is $5, with discounts for children and senior citizens.

A half mile or so west of the museum and cemetery is the Fort Sumner State Historical Monument, where you can tour the old fort’s grounds and learn about the reservation where Navajo and Apache Indians were interred under horrible conditions for resisting encroachment onto their lands. The monument charges a small admission fee. Parking was rather limited for large RVs during our visit.

He was not the dashing figure he has been portrayed as, but eastern New Mexico is as steeped in Billy the Kid’s legend as its sand was soaked by the blood of the outlaw and his victims. A visit to Fort Sumner is an interesting stop if you want to learn more about the outlaw and his times. Fort Sumner is located on US Highway 60 in eastern New Mexico. The Billy the Kid Museum is on the highway about two miles east of downtown. The Old Fort Sumner Museum, grave site, and Fort Sumner State Historical Monument are about five miles further southeast on a well marked road.

Congratulations Garry Foster, winner of our drawing for an audiobook of Chesapeake 1880 by my friend Ken Rossignol, a tale of life in the Chesapeake Bay region as the industrial revolution changed the world forever. We had 58 entries this time around. Stay tuned. A new contest starts soon.

Thought For The Day – If you’re paying $3 for a bottle of smart water, it isn’t working.

Mar 162019

In yesterday’s blog I said that my cousin Beverly had never seen an alligator in the wild. She’s only lived in two other states in her life, Ohio and Arizona, neither of which are prime gator habitat. But this is Florida, baby, and any body of water bigger than a birdbath probably has an alligator or two in it!

Yesterday we took her to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, our go to place when we want to introduce visitors from out of state to some of our local critters. It was a beautiful day, with temperatures in the mid-80s, so we knew that we wouldn’t see as many alligators as we have other times. Most of them would probably be in the water trying to keep cool. But we’ve never been there yet when we’ve gotten totally skunked.

And sure enough, within a quarter-mile or so of turning onto the Black Point Wildlife Drive we spotted this little guy. As gators go, he wasn’t all that impressive, but I still would not want to find him hanging out in my yard.

It wasn’t long before we found another smaller gator, also in the water. I told Beverly we would probably see some that were a lot bigger than that before we were done.

And we did! Now that’s a respectable alligator!

This is another big one, but kind of camera shy and not willing to show its face.

Now this fellow, on the other hand, didn’t hesitate to give us the evil eye. I’ve got to admit, there’s kind of a thrill in seeing an animal in the wild that will kill you if you get too close. Not that we were going to do anything stupid like that! We stayed inside the Explorer where we belonged.

Here’s another big one. I wonder if this is the alligator equivalent of a mug shot?

The Wildlife Refuge is home to all kinds of animals, not just alligators. There are plenty of snakes, along with foxes, bobcats, turtles, and armadillos. And birds. Lots and lots of birds.

This handsome fellow had no problem posing for a picture.

I guess if it’s Friday night at the Wildlife Refuge, one has to do a bit of preening to get ready for the evening’s activities.

We have seen a lot of Brown Pelicans here but these American White Pelicans are harder to spot. Among the largest birds in North America, they have a 9-foot wingspan and are similar to their cousins, Brown Pelicans, in shape, but are much larger. They are usually found inland feeding in shallow lakes and do not dive from the air to catch fish like Brown Pelicans do.

We knew there was a rocket launch scheduled for yesterday afternoon and someone told me it would be about 4 o’clock. When we left the Wildlife Refuge we drove through Titusville looking for a good place to pull over and watch the action. Then we discovered that the launch window didn’t even open until almost 7 PM, and we didn’t feel like hanging around for close to three more hours to watch it.

As we were heading out of town we stopped at the new location for Kayaks By Bo, where we bought our Old Town Predator kayaks in December of 2017. They were right downtown but have moved to a very nice building right on the water. This is a great family run business and they have always treated us very well. Tom, the father, told me they are going to be installing a kayak launch ramp to make it easy for customers to take a test paddle right there before purchasing a boat. When we were kayak shopping they took us to the water and let us paddle several different models until we found the ones that were just right for us.

Tom also told me they are going to start having bioluminescence paddling tours in the upcoming weeks. That’s very high on our bucket list and I told him that we definitely want to take one. From the videos I’ve seen of them, it’s almost a magical experience.

Back at home, it turned out that it was good that we didn’t wait for the rocket launch because there were a long series of delays and it looked like it would be scrubbed. But finally, sometime around 9 PM, they got it off the ground. The rocket was carrying an Air Force GPS satellite and Terry and I went out in our yard in time to see it heading for outer space. I’ve never really been into rockets and things like that, and I’ve never watched even one of the Star Wars or Star Trek type movies and TV shows, but it is always a thrill to see a rocket lifting off.

Be sure to enter our new Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Chesapeake 1880 by my friend Ken Rossignol, a tale of life in the Chesapeake Bay region as the industrial revolution changed the world forever. To enter, all you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.

Thought For The Day – When telephones had wires, people were free.

On The Go

 Posted by at 1:01 am  Nick's Blog
Mar 152019

We were on the go all day yesterday, from the time we got out of bed until sometime close to 8 PM, when we finally managed to settle into our recliners and relax in front of the boob tube for a while.

I started the day with an appointment with Doctor Rob Kent at Coastal Pain and Neurology Center in Ormond Beach. It was a follow-up to the injections he gave me back in December in my sacroiliac (SI) joints and in a facet joint to help ease my back pain. Since several doctors have told me I’m not a candidate for surgery, I know the problem is never going to go away. But between the injections, the medical marijuana oil, and regular visits with Meloney Thomas, my chiropractor at Coastal Integrative Healthcare, things are tolerable and I’m able to function pretty well. As I told Dr. Kent yesterday, compared to a year ago when I was hobbling around on two canes and eating pain pills like M&M’s just to take the edge off, I feel like a new man. I still have some bad episodes now and then, but if I could just maintain this level I would be happy.

Beverly called while we were in the doctor’s office to say that she just got a phone call informing her that she had an appointment for an MRI in Port Orange at 2:15. This was the last step needed before she can start her infusions for her rheumatoid arthritis. It was a little after noon then, so as soon as we were done with the doctor we were on the road headed back home to change vehicles and pick her up. My Mustang, purchased in early December, still has less than 500 miles on it and we had driven it to my appointment. It was 35 miles back home, and Terry kept assuring me that we had plenty of time. I knew we did, but when you’ve got a new Mustang you have to drive a little bit fast, right? No really, you do.

We were home long enough for a potty stop, then we loaded Bev in the Explorer, since getting in the low-slung Mustang would be just about impossible for her, and we went back to Port Orange for her appointment. It only took about an hour from the time we arrived until she was finished, so we decided to go to Culver’s for a late lunch/early dinner, or as RVers call it, linner.

We first discovered Culver’s when we were fulltime RVers and have been to their restaurants all over the country. When it comes to fast food, they can’t be beat in our opinion.

Beverly had never been on a pier over the ocean, so once we were done eating, we went to Sunglow Fishing Pier to cross that off her bucket list. It was a beautiful day with a light wind blowing, just enough to keep it comfortable. I was surprised that with Bike Week going on the beach wasn’t very crowded. I did get a couple of pictures looking North and South from out on the pier.

I even got a picture of a couple of beach bunnies. Or maybe in this case, pier bunnies?

After hanging out on the pier for a while we decided to head back home, but not without a stop at Dairy Queen in New Smyrna Beach for dessert. Terry had a buy one/get one free coupon for Blizzards, so that’s what we got. We really like their Strawberry Blizzard with Ghirardelli chocolate chunks.

With our tummies more than full, our last stop was at Publix supermarket to pick up a few things. By the time we got home it was after 7 PM and we were more than ready to call it an evening.

We have to be up and at it again this morning, since Terry and I both have fasting blood draws at LabCorp here in Edgewater. When we are done with that, if the weather cooperates, we may drive down to Titusville and give Beverly a tour of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. She’s never seen an alligator in the wild, and I think it’s about time she did, don’t you?

One final thing before I close today. On our way home yesterday, the odometer on our 2005 Ford Explorer hit 137,000 miles, and that doesn’t include the 50,000 plus miles we towed in behind our motorhome. And it’s still running great. I guess they really do build them Ford tough!

Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Chesapeake 1880 by my friend Ken Rossignol, a tale of life in the Chesapeake Bay region as the industrial revolution changed the world forever. To enter, all you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.

Thought For The Day – I am responsible for what I say. I am not responsible for what you understand.

Mar 142019

Not every story we have come across in our travels is a happy one. Some of them are downright tragic. Such was the case of Steven Stayner, a young boy from Merced, California who was kidnapped on his way home from school in 1972, at the age of seven.

For seven long years the poor child was sexually and mentally abused by a monster named Kenneth Parnell, who had a long history of crimes, including child molestation and armed robbery. For years Parnell told the boy that his parents no longer wanted him and had given him custody of Steven, that his new name was Dennis Gregory Parnell.

During at least part of that time the two lived in a cabin located just a few hundred feet from Steven’s grandfather’s residence, but he never knew it at the time. For 18 months Parnell’s girlfriend, Barbara Mathias, lived with them and took part in the sexual abuse. Meanwhile the boy’s family and law enforcement agencies had searched everywhere for him, finding no clue as to his whereabouts.

That all changed when Parnell kidnapped a five-year-old boy named Timothy White in Ukiah, California on February 14, 1980. Not able to witness the new arrival being subjected to the same abuse he had suffered for so many years, two weeks later, on March 1, 1980, Steven escaped, taking Timothy with him. Carrying Timothy on his back, they hitchhiked to Ukiah and made contact with the police. Probing his memory for his true identity, though he couldn’t remember his last name, he was able to tell officers, “I know my first name is Steven.” When asked why he had escaped and brought the boy with him, Steven told police that he did not want him to have to endure the things he had gone through for so many years.

Parnell was subsequently arrested, but due to a glitch in the law and failures on the part of the legal system, he was not charged with sexual abuse of the two boys, only kidnapping. Unbelievably, he was only sentenced to seven years, and was paroled after five. On February 9, 2004, Parnell was convicted for attempting to purchase another young boy to be his next victim. He died in 2008 of natural causes while incarcerated on those charges.

Unfortunately, Steven’s return to “normal” life was anything but normal. He had been allowed and encouraged to smoke and drink while he was with Parnell and had trouble adjusting to a home life where things like that were not permitted. Though he saw a counselor for a brief time, he did not continue. At one point his sister Cory said that he stopped going because their father didn’t feel it was necessary. He was teased at school until he dropped out and began drinking and rebelling to the point where he was kicked out of the family home.

In 1985 he married, and fathered two children. He devoted much of his time to teaching children about personal safety and speaking to groups about child abduction and sexual abuse. He was working in a pizza parlor when he was killed in a motorcycle accident on September 16, 1989. He was 24 years old. Over 500 people attended his funeral, including Timothy White, the boy he had rescued, who was then 14 and served as one of his pallbearers.

Unfortunately, the string of tragedies doesn’t end there. Wanting to help other children just as he had been helped, White also spoke about child abuse and safety, and became a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy. He died from a pulmonary embolism at the age of 35 on April 1, 2010, leaving behind a wife and two young children.

In 2002, Steven’s older brother, Cary Anthony Stayner, was sentenced to death for the murders of four women in Yosemite National Park in 1999. He remains on death row in California.

Today the Steven Stayner Missing Children’s Memorial in Merced’s Applegate Park honors Steven Stayner and Timothy White. The statue depicts the two of them as they were at the time of Timothy’s rescue, and is devoted to all missing children. A book and a movie, both titled I Know My First Name Is Steven tells the story of the boy’s abduction and ordeal.

It’s Thursday and time to kick off a new Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Chesapeake 1880 by my friend Ken Rossignol, a tale of life in the Chesapeake Bay region as the industrial revolution changed the world forever. To enter, all you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.

Thought For The Day – The days that break you are the days that make you.

William Jennings Bryan

 Posted by at 12:40 am  Nick's Blog
Mar 132019

In the small town of Salem, Illinois, located at the junction of U.S. Highway 50 and Interstate 57, we learned about one of America’s greatest political figures from a century ago.

Born in Salem on March 19, 1860, William Jennings Bryan went on to become an attorney, newspaper editor, congressman, and influential public speaker. He was known as “The Great Commoner” and “The Silver-Tongued Orator” and ran for president of the United States in a then-unprecedented three campaigns.

Bryan spent the first years of his life living in Salem, where he attended Salem public schools. Bryan’s first ambition was to become a minister, but he eventually decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a lawyer. He left Salem to study law at the age of 15 and never lived there permanently again, though he often visited his hometown during his busy career.

After leaving Salem, Bryan lived in Jacksonville, Illinois, then moved to Nebraska, becoming editor-in-chief of the Omaha World newspaper. He published a weekly sixteen page newspaper called the Commoner, with a circulation of 285,000 for 23 years. He also wrote fifteen books, edited two collections of orations, and produced dozens of pamphlets. In 1922, his first radio address is estimated to have had an audience of sixty million listeners. His controversial views gained him both many supporters and many critics.

Bryan entered politics and was elected to Congress as the U.S. Representative from Nebraska, in which capacity he served from 1891 to 1895. While in Congress, Bryan supported many important pieces of legislation, including Prohibition (which made the buying and selling of alcohol illegal), women’s suffrage, and an amendment to the Constitution preventing schools from teaching evolution (the theory that man developed, over millions of years, from apes). This last topic would later lead to William Jennings Bryan’s most important public appearance. But Bryan had loftier goals.

Before attending the 1896 Chicago Democratic Party convention, Bryan visited Salem, where he told a friend that he felt that he could receive the Democratic party’s nomination if he could obtain the opportunity to speak to the delegates. His prediction proved most accurate.

Bryan delivered a speech accusing the nation’s wealthy business and political leaders of supporting the gold standard for paper money, at the expense of the average worker. “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold,” he said.

The “Cross of Gold” speech received more applause than had been given any other speaker at the convention. Even those defending the gold standard applauded Bryan. His words made Bryan famous nationwide and won him the Democratic party’s nomination, just as he had predicted. But the Chicago speech probably was the high point of Bryan’s political career. Although he won the presidential nomination that year, again in 1900, and a third time in 1908, Bryan never succeeded in being elected President of the United States.

While celebrated as a champion of the common man, Bryan rubbed shoulders with such notables of his day as Leo Tolstoy, Buffalo Bill Cody, Winston Churchill, the kings of England and Norway, Czar Nicholas II of Russia, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Willa Cather, and U.S. Presidents Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, and Calvin Coolidge.

Bryan served as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, but he resigned in 1915 as World War I approached because he opposed Wilson’s foreign policies, which he believed would draw America into a war against Germany. Like his earlier prediction about the 1896 Democratic convention, this too proved accurate.

William Jennings Bryan held deep religious beliefs, and those beliefs influenced everything he did. He crusaded against Darwin’s theory of evolution, that mankind evolved from apes, being taught in public schools. In 1924, the state of Tennessee passed the Butler bill, which made it unlawful for any teacher in a public school to teach any theory that denied the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible or teach instead man descended from a lower order of animals.

The new law was tested in court when Dayton, Tennessee school teacher John T. Scopes was charged with teaching the theory of evolution in a high school biology class. Famed attorney Clarence Darrow represented Scopes, while William Jennings Bryan prosecuted the case, which was tried in July, 1925. The issues of the case were controversial and complicated; the academic freedom of teachers vs. that of students, free speech vs. parental rights, governmental authority vs. individual rights, separation of church and state, and the roles of religion and science.

The trial was the media sensation of its time, covered in print and on the radio worldwide. Bryan’s dramatic arguments won him a conviction, and John Scopes was fined $100. William Jennings Bryan was a good man and liked Scopes as a person. He even offered to pay Scopes’ fine if he needed the money. The Tennessee Supreme Court later reversed Scopes’ conviction on a legal technicality. The trial was the topic of the dramatically inflated stage play and movie Inherit the Wind.

On July 26, 1925, five days after the close of the Scopes Monkey Trial, William Jennings Bryan died quietly in his sleep. News of his death triggered an outpouring of grief from the “common” Americans who felt they had lost their greatest champion. A special train carried him to his final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery. Thousands lined the tracks to bid a tearful farewell to the beloved orator.

His boyhood home at 408 S. Broadway in Salem has been preserved and is a museum filled with memorabilia of Bryan, his politics, and the turn-of-the-century era in which he lived. The home is located next door to the building that once housed the Bryan Bennett Library, which he helped found.

A statue of William Jennings Bryan stands in a park on Broadway (State Route 37) a few bocks north of his boyhood home. The statue was created by Gutzon Borglum, the famed sculptor of Mount Rushmore. It originally stood in Washington, D.C., where it was dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt on May 3, 1934. In 1961, it was moved to its present location in Salem.

Thought For The Day – Sometimes the questions are complicated, but the answers are simple.

Mar 122019

Note: This is an update from a story in my book Overlooked Florida – 30 Great Florida Destinations You Shouldn’t Miss!

On a trip to the Florida Keys we stopped to pay a visit to an old time movie star.

Sitting in a cradle at a small marina next to the Holiday Inn in Key Largo was the African Queen, the small wooden boat made famous in the 1951 Humphrey Bogart/Katharine Hepburn movie of the same name. The years had not been good to her and she was in pretty bad shape, but this grand old lady had a colorful past indeed!

Built in England in 1912 and originally named the S/L Livingstone, the thirty foot long open-hulled steam launch spent its working life hauling cargo, big game hunters, and missionaries on the rivers of Central Africa. When director John Huston was searching for a boat to be used in filming the movie The African Queen, the veteran river boat fit the bill perfectly.

Making the movie presented many challenges. The co-starring role of missionary Rose Sayer was originally offered to Bette Davis in 1938, and David Niven was to be cast as hard drinking boat captain Charlie Allnut. Filming was delayed too long and then World War II interfered and the movie was shelved until 1947, when Davis was again to star, but she had to pull out of the project when she became pregnant. In 1949, Davis tried again to take the role of Rose, but by that time the spot had been given to Katharine Hepburn, who would star opposite Bogart.

Filming in Africa, the cast and crew faced obstacles that ranged from illnesses like dysentery and malaria, to bacteria-filled drinking water, poisonous snakes, and wild animals. Everyone involved was sick for much of the filming, except for Humphrey Bogart and John Huston, which they boasted was because they basically lived on imported Scotch throughout the filming. In an interview after The African Queen hit theaters, Bogart said, “All I ate was baked beans, canned asparagus and Scotch whiskey. Whenever a fly bit Huston or me, it dropped dead.”

Health hazards were not the only problems director Huston faced in making the movie. In an interview with the New York Times, he said the local natives he hired to help the crew often would not show up because many of them thought the filmmakers were cannibals.

Because the boat was too small to carry all of the cameras and equipment necessary, parts of the boat were reproduced on a large raft in order to shoot close-ups of Bogart and Hepburn. Interior scenes were filmed in London, as were most of the scenes containing secondary characters.

For all the hardships in making the movie, it was worth it; in 2007 the American Film Institute ranked The African Queen as the #65 Greatest Movie of All Time.

Just like the glory days of Hollywood, the African Queen boat had seen better days. When we saw her she was in a dilapidated condition, looking like she is just waiting for the next heavy rainstorm or strong wind to fall completely apart. The sign at the boat said it could be reserved for cruises, but it was obviously an old sign. The only trips it was capable of then were down Memory Lane.

In 1992, the African Queen was added to the National Register of Historic Places. And after a lot of work, today the newly restored historic movie icon is back in service, offering daily canal cruises which depart from the Marina Del Mar marina, which is part of the Holiday Inn Complex at mile marker 100 in Key Largo. Passengers can choose between a 90 minute cruise that departs from the Marina Del Mar and travels down the Port Largo Canals to the Atlantic Ocean before turning around to return; or a two hour cruise that departs from the Marina Del Mar and follows the canals to the Pilot House Marina and restaurant to enjoy a specially prepared three course menu before boarding the historic boat again for the return trip to the Marina Del Mar.

For more information about the African Queen, or to book a cruise, visit

Thought For The Day – I love being married. It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.

Mar 112019

Definition of potpourri – 1: a mixture of flowers, herbs, and spices that is usually kept in a jar and used for scent. 2: a miscellaneous collection. The second definition above pretty much describes today’s blog, a collection of miscellaneous thoughts and info that I’m sharing because I really don’t have anything else to talk about today.


One of the best upgrades we did to our Winnebago Ultimate Advantage was to replace the original Norcold with a Samsung residential model. It was a lot cheaper than an RV refrigerator, had a lot more capacity, was much more efficient, and we didn’t have to worry about the darn thing burning our RV to the ground. I can’t tell you how many RV refrigerator fires I have seen and heard about over the years. The latest was just the other day in Apache Junction, Arizona. Longtime reader Bob Derivan sent me this picture of the aftermath of a fire at Superstition Buttes RV Park. Bob said it only took the fire department five minutes to get there, but by then it was too late. In 10 minutes, this was all that was left.


I said in yesterday’s blog that I hoped to get a lot of writing done over the weekend but that computer hardware and software problems got in the way. With all that taken care of, yesterday I was able to get at it, and I knocked out 5,270 words in my new John Lee Quarrels book. I’m closing in on the halfway point now and I really like the way it’s going.


Several readers have asked about our new adjustable bed, wanting to know what we thought of it so far, the brand name, and what kind of mattress we are using. We really like it. It’s called a Maximize bed, and we are using the same Night Therapy Elite 12 MyGel® Ultimate Memory Foam Mattress we have been using all along.


I have also had people asking if we have had a chance to get the pontoon boat or our kayaks in the water lately. I wish I could say yes, but we haven’t. Between unseasonably hot weather, our trip to Arizona to pick up my cousin Beverly and bringing her back here and getting her settled in, along with ongoing problems with my back, it just hasn’t been possible. I really hope to remedy that situation very soon.


And finally, during the course of this week’s contest I have been forced to mark three different people’s entries as spam and block them from ever entering again because they refused to obey the rules. It clearly states one entry per person, and that you have to use your own real name. All three of these people were repeat offenders who entered multiple times, often using different names but the same email address. Sometimes someone will mess up and enter twice, either because they didn’t remember entering the first time, or their entry was waiting approval and when they didn’t see it they entered again. We can work around that, and I always give people a second chance, contacting them and explaining how the contests work. But when people completely disregard the rules and try to gain advantage over the other people who entered, they are gone. I work hard to make this a level playing field for everybody and have no patience for people who think they can get away with nonsense like that.


Congratulations Penny Cooper, winner of our drawing for an autographed copy of Terry’s popular cookbook, Miss Terry’s Kitchen. We had 168 entries this time around. Stay tuned, a new contest starts soon.

Thought For The Day – FEAR has two meanings – Forget Everything And Run or Face Everything And Rise. The choice is yours.

Just Hanging Around

 Posted by at 12:15 am  Nick's Blog
Mar 102019

Sometimes, no matter what you plan, life gets in the way. Yesterday was a good example. I really wanted to get a minimum of 5,000 words done in my new John Lee Quarrels book, Sweet Tea And Jesus. But as it turned out, that wasn’t going to happen.

When I sat down at my desktop computer to begin working, one of the sides of my old Logitech headset broke off while I was putting it on. That wasn’t a big problem, because when I ordered my new Dell laptop a few months ago, I also ordered a different USB headset/microphone that is supposed to work very well with my Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium 13 dictation software. When they arrived, I stuck it in the carrying case with the new laptop and forgot about it.

I dug the headset out, plugged it into the computer, and thought I would start working. I was wrong. I was talking normally but I couldn’t get anything to appear on the screen. No error message, it just wasn’t working. It took me a few minutes to remember that I had to add the new headset to my Dragon profile, and once I did that it worked fine. Well, duh!

However, it didn’t work fine for very long. All of a sudden, I started getting an error message saying that the add-in for Microsoft Word had been disabled, and once again I couldn’t dictate anything at all. Thinking maybe the new headset was the problem, I unplugged it and plugged it in again. Still nothing. Then I plugged it into my laptop and it worked just fine. The next step was to reboot the computer. That didn’t help either.

I did some research online, and one suggestion was to reload the Dragon software. I tried that, and still no luck. I even called my buddy Greg White, who I’m convinced knows everything there is to know about everything. As it turned out, he didn’t know about that. It really sucks when you find out your idol has feet of clay.

I kept trying different things I found online, and eventually one of them gave me step-by-step instructions on how to go into the Microsoft Word set up and reactivate the add-in. Once I did that, everything was working fine again. But by then it was pretty late in the day so I didn’t get more than about 500 words done. That’s a far cry from what I had hoped to accomplish, but today is another day, right?

Meanwhile, Miss Terry was busy hanging around. No, I don’t mean she was goofing off and wasting time, because she never does that. She’s like the Energizer Bunny and she’s on the go nonstop from the time she gets up in the morning until the time she goes to bed at night. Her idea of hanging around was hanging stuff on the walls.

A while back when we were wandering through one of the antique shops in St. Augustine, I came across this really neat airplane propeller and decided it would look good hanging on the wall in my office. We picked it up right before our trip to Arizona and it’s been standing in a bedroom corner ever since. It looks even better now that Terry hung it on the wall.

On another outing, this one to Renninger’s Antique and Collector’s Extravaganza in Mount Dora back in January, we picked up these two framed displays of nautical knots. We have decorated our living room in a beach/nautical theme and thought they would fit in well with it. Both of them needed some sprucing up, and the glass on the larger one (top) was filthy inside and out. Once Terry was done with the airplane propeller she took it apart, cleaned everything up, and hung them in the living room. I really like them, and I think they look pretty good there. Though they may look a bit crooked in the picture, they aren’t. I’m just a bad photographer.

I hope to make up for lost time today and get some serious writing done. There are never enough hours in a day for everything we want to do.

Today is your last chance to enter our Free Drawing for an autographed copy of Terry’s popular cookbook, Miss Terry’s Kitchen. I don’t care if you can’t even boil water, if you follow her recipes and directions, you’ll be the hit at any campground potluck dinner or with your own family every time they sit down at the table. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn this evening.

Thought For The Day – I was going to give you a nasty look, but I see you already have one.