Nick Russell

Jumping Joe

 Posted by at 12:14 am  Nick's Blog
Jul 232018

We have always loved exploring small town museums and have spent many delightful hours doing so over the years. Maybe it’s some kind of voyeurism to be able to look into the lives of people you never knew, in a community you’ve never been to before. We always come away feeling like we know some of those people.

But our visit to the small Ludlow Heritage Museum in Kentucky was a bit different, because we actually have a connection to the community and the people who lived there. As I said before, my great-grandfather, John Sanders Stephens and his wife Laura lived in Ludlow and raised their family there. So we were looking forward to learning more about the town, and hopefully finding some information on my ancestors from Ludlow. Little did I know the story we were going to come up with!

Due to limited volunteer staffing, the Ludlow museum is only open on Saturdays for a few hours. We pulled up to the museum right at the 11 AM opening time to see somebody with a key in the lock. Terry said she hoped they weren’t already leaving, and I told her that I planned to chase the man down if he was. As it turned out, I didn’t have to go to that extent because Mark Mitchell, president of the museum, was just arriving.

Mark is a very friendly man with a keen interest in the history of Ludlow, and in genealogy. When I told him why we were visiting he really went out of his way for us, showing us all kinds of city records and periodicals and giving us free run of the archives to do any research we wanted to.

Like all small town museums, there were displays on local businesses that served the community and citizens who had served both the town and their country.

And, of course, there was a display honoring Ludlow’s firefighters and police officers.

Ludlow was originally established as a genteel retreat from the nearby big city of Cincinnati, but that all changed when the railroad came to town in the late 1800s. The railroad brought industry to town, but also an influx of laborers, hard-working people who built modest homes and thrived in the riverfront community. One exhibit at the museum is dedicated to the railroads, with displays of the large tools used to maintain the equipment.

On a more personal level, I found this check drawn on the First National Bank of Ludlow interesting, because my great uncle, James A. Stephens, was the president of that bank.

This page from the city directory includes an ad for Stephens and Snyder, the real estate and insurance business that James A. Stephens was also a partner in, along with being the City Treasurer for many years.

While I found that information very interesting, it was something I learned about my grandparents while we were at the museum that made the whole trip worthwhile for me. Emma Stephens was the only sister of James A. Stephens, and she married my grandfather, Joseph Russell in May,1892. I was very young when my grandfather died, so I never knew him, but Grandma lived a few years longer and I do remember her.

What I did know of my grandfather, learned from my own father’s perspective, wasn’t all that positive. At one time he owned a large commercial painting company in Toledo, Ohio, and expected all of his sons to follow him into the family business. I remember my dad pointing out the tall smokestack at the old Willy’s Overland factory in Toledo and telling the story of how he and his brothers climbed to the top and painted that tower when they were young men working for their father.

It didn’t take my dad long to decide that the life of a painter wasn’t for him, which caused a rift between him and my grandfather that was never mended. So my image of my grandfather, right or wrong, was always of a stubborn “my way or the highway” kind of guy.

But while we were at the museum I learned about another side to the man, somebody who became somewhat famous for his time and known as Jumping Joe Russell. A while back I had come across a newspaper clipping from August, 1889 telling how at age 16 he had jumped from the 101 foot high Cincinnati Southern Railroad bridge across the Ohio River on a one dollar bet. At the time, I just figured that was teenage foolishness that he quickly grew out of. As it turns out, I was wrong.

His own father died while he was still a teenager, and apparently young Joe decided that he could make a lot more money jumping off of bridges to help support his family than he ever could working as an unskilled laborer. In those days the average hourly wage for labor was 15 cents per hour, while a machinist made 24 cents an hour, and a carpenter as much as 32 cents.

Back then there were people who actually went around the country organizing bridge jumps, charging people to come and watch a daredevil jump off of a high bridge. The jumper got a portion of the proceeds, and I’m certain there were many wagers won and lost on the outcome of a jump. And according to several newspaper reports we found, Joseph Russell was rather successful at it. In August, 1890, a year after his first bridge jump, he won $500 jumping off the 169 foot high Cumberland Bridge in Pineville, Kentucky. He won the same amount in a jump from the Kanawa Bridge in St. Louis that same month. At a time when the average wage was six dollars a week, that was a huge sum of money! A newspaper article says that Jumping Joe was scheduled to go to New York City to meet with famous bridge jumper Steve Brodie to jump from the Brooklyn Bridge for $1000, but there is no record as to whether or not that event ever took place.

Of course, like everything in life, people’s opinions of bridge jumpers differed greatly. Anybody with a few years on them and some common sense probably thought it was insanity, or at least foolhardiness, not to mention not something “decent” young men would do. But if you were a girl from a small town on the Ohio River, it probably seemed daring and romantic. My grandmother Emma was just such a young woman when she fell in love with handsome Jumping Joe Russell. Her parents didn’t approve, so the starry eyed couple did what young lovers have done since the days of Romeo and Juliet. They eloped!

A newspaper article at the museum tells the story of how the bridge jumper made the jump of his life in May, 1892, when he stole away 17-year-old Emma Stephens, who was described as “pretty but giddy” and “one of Ludlow’s fairest girls” and a “foolish little girl.” Later in the article she is described as “a blonde of the purest type and as handsome as a flower.”

The newspaper is not as flattering to the young man from across the river, describing Jumping Joe as, “in addition to being a great bridge jumper, also entitled to all around distinction as a go-as-you-please liar.” (Yep, I can see the family resemblance already.) I love the flowery way they wrote things in those days, not trying to hide their bias in any way. The article went on to say that the combination of Joe’s talents won the heart of “little Emma, who believes Joe to be immeasurably greater than anybody who was ever allowed to live since the death of Adam.” The story also said that Emma’s parents were greatly distressed and planned to deal harshly with the young swain who had stolen their daughter.

I guess things worked out in the long run, because I know that my own father spent a lot of time with Emma’s family on summer vacations from school while he was growing up.

So obviously there was another side to the man I always thought of as the no-nonsense businessman who wouldn’t take no for an answer. He was quite the daredevil, and rather romantic in his younger days. Who knew?

And all of this leaves us with one burning question; why do I, the grandson of the great Jumping Joe Russell, have such a phobia about bridges? Maybe deep down inside I really want to jump off of one of them. Lord knows, more than one person has suggested I do just that!

Congratulations Jeff Hubbard, winner of our drawing for an audiobook of Ken Rossignol’s The Chesapeake: A Man Born to Hang Can Never Drown. We had 49 entries this time around. Stay tuned, a new contest starts soon.

Thought For The Day – On the other hand, you have different fingers.

My Old Kentucky Home

 Posted by at 12:02 am  Nick's Blog
Jul 222018

Except for the eight weeks I spent at Fort Knox for basic training when I first joined the Army, way back in 1971, and several visits during our RVing days, I have never lived in Kentucky. Yet I feel a strong affinity for the Bluegrass State for some reason. Maybe it’s because I read so many stories about Daniel Boone when I was growing up.

My family has had a connection to Kentucky going back several generations. My great-grandfather, John Sanders Stephens, lived in Ludlow, Kentucky and raised his family there. Ludlow sits on the bank of the Ohio River, just a stone’s throw away from Cincinnati, Ohio. Like many of the old river towns it has seen better days, but there is a movement underway to revitalize things. Most of the old buildings along the main street are home to small stores and shops, and all over town beautiful old brick homes are being restored.

On a previous trip through the area we had driven by my great-grandfather’s old house, which was occupied at the time, but we managed to take some pictures from the street.

Even finding the house was quite an accomplishment for us because the street address listed in my great-grandfather’s obituary doesn’t exist anymore. It was in the middle of an intersection. But on a visit to the Kenton County Library in Covington a few years ago, Miss Terry discovered the original plat maps for Ludlow and we learned that after a massive flood in the early 1900s the streets were realigned and new house numbers were assigned to many of the homes there. Working from those plat maps, we were able to find the old family home.

Things had changed when we went to Ludlow on our recent trip. We found the house sitting empty with a For Sale sign out front. Figuring that anybody who saw us prowling around would think we were potential buyers, we parked the van and did some exploring.

Looking in the windows I was able to get a couple of photographs. When great grandpa Stephens died, way back in 1919, his funeral service was held there in the living room, which was the custom in those days.

I remember my father talking about going to visit his grandparents when he was a child and a tornado coming through Ludlow. He said they all went outside in the pouring rain and down some stairs into the basement of the house for shelter until the storm passed. Here is the entrance to the basement they all went down.

The old house has been neglected and definitely needs to be refurbished. Just for the heck of it, I called the real estate agent listed on the sign, and she told me the house was under contract. I hope whoever buys it restores it.

Great-grandfather Stephens had four children, three sons and a daughter, Emma, who was my grandmother. Two of his sons became railroad men. Henry was an Engineer on the Southern Railroad, and another son, John, was a car repairman for the B&O Railroad. James, the youngest son, became a mover and shaker in the small riverfront community. He was the president of the First National Bank of Ludlow, he operated a real estate and insurance company, and was also the City Treasurer from 1909 to 1931. The building in the top picture is a flower shop now, but it was the bank during the time James was president, and the building in the bottom picture, which is right next door, housed his real estate and insurance agency.

Ludlow has a small historical museum but every time we came through town in the past, it was closed. As it turns out, due to a lack of volunteer staffing, it’s only open for a few hours on Saturdays. We made it a point to go back on a Saturday so we could check it out. Tomorrow I’ll tell you about that and some very interesting things I found out about my grandparents when they were young. Some of it really blew my mind, as folks used to say.

Today is your last chance to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Ken Rossignol’s The Chesapeake: A Man Born to Hang Can Never Drown. It’s a collection of adventures in prose from around the Chesapeake tidewater region told by an erstwhile and eclectic collection of bards, poets, and tale-tellers. Fans of short stories will enjoy this fourth book in the Chesapeake series and the valuable history shared about the Chesapeake region. 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 this evening.

Thought For The Day – I’m still finding out who I am, but I know I’m not who I was.

It Is A Small World

 Posted by at 12:02 am  Nick's Blog
Jul 212018

Our reasons for being in the Cincinnati area were threefold, to do some book promotion, to meet with my author friend Carol Ann Newsome for a discussion on books and publishing projects, and to do some genealogy research.

We started the day we were scheduled to meet Carol Ann by visiting a place called Monmouth Street Antique Gallery in Newport, a 14,000 square foot place filled with all kinds of interesting and unique antiques and collectibles from days gone by.

I had not planned to buy anything, but you may recall that after I acquired my first antique cabinet radio a while back I came across the second one that was even better, and bought it, too. Something I like as much as antique radios are the old hand cranked wall telephones, and one hangs in my office above my second radio.

While we were at the antique mall I came across this old Lincoln Telephone and Telegraph Company phone at a price that was just too good to pass up. So, following the rule that if one is good, two is better, I bought it to keep my first phone company. It has some scuffs acquired over time, just like the scars I’ve picked up over the years, but a little furniture polish should hide most of them. I wish it worked that well for my scars.

There was a yarn shop a block or so down from the antique mall, and while I was putting the phone in the back of the van Miss Terry stopped in there. With the phone safely secured, I joined her and we looked around for a little bit. It was getting close to the time we were supposed to meet Carol Ann, so I pulled Google up on my cell phone and asked for directions to Boswell Alley in Cincinnati.

This gave us the first of several small world reminders we would have that day. When the woman behind the counter at the yarn shop heard me, she said that Boswell’s was in her neighborhood across the river in Cincinnati. She asked if we lived there, too, and I told her no, we were meeting a friend for lunch. She asked who that was and I told her Carol Ann Newsom, and she said she knew Carol Ann from her days in the art scene, and even had one of Carol Ann’s paintings hanging in her house. Think about that. With well over two million people in the Cincinnati metropolitan area, what were the chances of meeting somebody in a small shop across the river in Kentucky who knows our friend?

Miss Terry had removed a shaft switching setup from one of her big Glamakra looms because she didn’t want to use it in that configuration. Don’t ask me what a shaft switching setup does, because it’s very confusing and way above my pay grade. At any rate, she found a buyer online who lived in, of all places, Cincinnati. So instead of having her pay for shipping, we said we would bring it with us and she could meet us to pick it up. We agreed to meet her and another weaving friend of hers at Boswell’s a half hour before our scheduled lunch with Carol Ann.

While I loaded the equipment into the back of their SUV, the women showed Terry some handmade shuttles and perns and said they got them from a place called the Weavers Loft in Indiana, about 30 minutes west of Cincinnati. As it turns out, we know Barbara, who owns the Weavers Loft. Back during our RVing days Terry bought a small loom and yarn from her and even took a one day class at her shop. That was our second small world incident for the day.

Located in a beautiful old brick building, Boswell Alley is a typical neighborhood pub, one of those places that remind you of the old Cheers television sitcom, where everybody knows your name.

We had an excellent lunch there while visiting with Carol Ann, discussing writing techniques, book promotion, writers’ retreats and workshops, and how the self-publishing industry is constantly changing. If you are not familiar with Carol Ann and her excellent Dog Park mystery series, you really should be. Not only is she one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, she’s a fine author who knows how to tell stories that keep you coming back for more. The first book in her series, A Shot In The Bark, is free on Amazon.

Carol Ann knows how much Terry and I love history, and that we spent a lot of time wandering through old cemeteries in our travels around the country. She had sent me a link to historic Wesleyan Cemetery in that same neighborhood in Cincinnati, suggesting that if we had time, we might want to check it out. Founded in 1843, Wesleyan is the oldest continuously operating cemetery in Hamilton County, Ohio. It was also the first cemetery in the area to accept African-American internments.

The historic cemetery was vital in what became known as “The Escape of the 28”, which was one of the largest escapes of runaway slaves in the history of the Underground Railroad. It happened in 1853 when an abolitionist farmer named John Fairfield led 28 fugitive slaves through Cincinnati to Wesleyan Cemetery in broad daylight, posing as a funeral procession. From there they made their way north to freedom across the border in Canada. Unfortunately, the cemetery has seen better days and has fallen into disrepair, with many headstones toppled and vandalized.

After our lunch with Carol Ann, we decided to drive to the Weavers Loft so Terry could invest the money she got from the shaft switching device in more yarn because, as any fiber addict can tell you, you can never have enough yarn.

We had a nice visit with Barbara, and then took the long way back to Newport, crossing the Ohio River and driving winding State Route 8 along the river. 

Passing through nearby Covington on our way back to the hotel, we made a stop at the Kenton County Library, which has an excellent genealogy section. A very nice lady named Elaine, the chief researcher in the genealogy department, helped me look up some things on my family history, and in the process she helped me get through one of the brick walls I have been dealing with for a long time.

John Sanders Stephens was my paternal grandmother’s father, and I have learned a lot about him and his family in my research. I also knew that my paternal grandfather’s father, Richard G Russell, had lived in Cincinnati and served in the Union Army during the Civil War. But I didn’t know much else about him, except that he died in 1890. Elaine discovered that he was buried in the very same Wesleyan Cemetery that Carol Ann had told us about earlier that same day. Yes, it is a small world, isn’t it?

All Elaine could find was the section number of the cemetery, but not the actual plot he was buried in. We went back to Wesleyan hoping we might actually locate his headstone, but as I said before, many of them are missing. We were not able to find his grave, but it still felt good to know we were somewhere close to yet another link from my past. We would find even more links while we were in the area, including a couple of startling discoveries about my grandparents. I’ll tell you about them in another blog.

Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Ken Rossignol’s The Chesapeake: A Man Born to Hang Can Never Drown. It’s a collection of adventures in prose from around the Chesapeake tidewater region told by an erstwhile and eclectic collection of bards, poets, and tale-tellers. Fans of short stories will enjoy this fourth book in the Chesapeake series and the valuable history shared about the Chesapeake region. 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 thought growing old would take a lot longer.

A Visit To Sin City

 Posted by at 1:11 am  Nick's Blog
Jul 202018

Back when we were teaching at Life on Wheels we spent a lot of time in southern Kentucky since one of our venues was at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. So it kind of felt like old home week when we were visiting our friends Tom and Barbara Westerfield just south of there in Franklin.

When we left them, we traveled north to Louisville on Interstate 65, then turned east on Interstate 71 for another 75 miles or so before hooking up with Interstate 75 for the short drive north to the Ohio River. This was only the second or third time we had ever taken Interstate 71, and I’m not a fan of it. Most of the way it’s a four lane divided highway, with quite a few hills and curves and lots of 18 wheelers in both lanes to keep you from making very good time. And, of course, Interstate 75 is a madhouse just about every mile of the way from Northern Michigan all the way down to Florida.

We had reservations at the Comfort Inn in Newport, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati, Ohio. We were really pleased when we got there to discover they had upgraded us to a king suite on the fifth floor with an amazing view of the Cincinnati skyline across the river.

There was always a lot of traffic on the river, everything from small pleasure boats to barges, and even paddlewheel tour boats. Just sitting, watching it all go by was interesting and relaxing.

While it’s a clean, friendly community full of beautiful old homes and commercial buildings these days, Newport has quite a history, and it was not always pretty. Settled in the 1790s, the city’s strategic location on the Ohio River made it important both as a shipping point and as a military base. In 1803, a military post called Fort Washington moved there from Cincinnati and was renamed the Newport Barracks.

During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate recruiting officers were kept busy in Newport. The city was also a frequent stop for runaway slaves who knew if they could make it across the river to Ohio from there, they stood a good chance of escaping the slave hunters who were always hot on their trail.

When the Volstead Act brought prohibition to the United States in 1919, Newport became popular for its speakeasies, brothels, and gambling halls, earning it the name Sin City. Today Monmouth Street in Newport is home to interesting restaurants, shops, and boutiques, but back in the day it was the epicenter of corruption. No matter what your vice was, you could find it there.

We had dinner at two places on Monmouth Street, Mad Mike’s Burgers & Fries, which claims to have the best burgers in town. The portions were generous and the food was okay, but nothing to write home about, in my opinion. But right next door, Strong’s Brick Oven Pizzeria was outstanding. We’d go back there again anytime.

Newport’s wild and woolly days are long gone, and today the city has reinvented itself as a family friendly tourist destination, featuring the Newport Aquarium and the Newport on the Levee entertainment complex, with restaurants, a comedy club, pubs, and concerts.

Newport has a lot of neighborhoods that seem to be entities unto themselves, with their own corner stores, restaurants, taverns, and other small businesses.

We spent a lot of time just driving around the neighborhoods admiring the local architecture. There was a time when the big money financiers from across the river in Cincinnati built stately homes in Newport, though these days many of them have been converted to apartments and things like law offices.

This house was the boyhood home of old time television personality Durward Kirby, who was the sidekick on the old Garry Moore Show, and later on Candid Camera.

Some of the side streets are pretty narrow, and I wouldn’t want to drive an RV through them.

We had a good time in Newport, even if it’s no longer Sin City. Or maybe because it isn’t. But visiting Newport wasn’t our main reason for being in the area, and I’ll tell you about some of that in tomorrow’s blog, as well as about a series of coincidences we encountered that show we really do live in a small world.

Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Ken Rossignol’s The Chesapeake: A Man Born to Hang Can Never Drown. It’s a collection of adventures in prose from around the Chesapeake tidewater region told by an erstwhile and eclectic collection of bards, poets, and tale-tellers. Fans of short stories will enjoy this fourth book in the Chesapeake series and the valuable history shared about the Chesapeake region. 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 – Apparently I snore so loud that it scares everybody in the car I’m driving.

Jul 192018

Any experienced RVer will tell you that one thing you have to take along with you on every trip is Jell-O. No, not the kind you eat, though that’s pretty good, too. I’m talking about the kind of Jell-O you need when plans change. In the RV lifestyle, nothing is ever set in concrete. You can plan to be someplace at a certain time, lay out your route, make your campground reservations, and at the last minute something can happen that changes everything. It could be a breakdown somewhere along the road, it could be bad weather, it could be an illness, or sometimes you just decide to do something else. That’s why you write your plans in Jell-O. Unlike concrete, you can shake it up and change things around anytime you want to.

We may not be RVing anymore, but Jell-O is still a part of our lives. A good example was a recent road trip. When we left Tuscaloosa, Alabama, we planned to go up to the Cincinnati, Ohio area to do some genealogy research, visit with an author friend of mine, and gather some stories for the blog. But then we learned that our dear friends Tom and Barbara Westerfield were staying in Franklin, Kentucky, just a few miles north of Nashville, so we shook up the Jell-O and went to see them first.

Driving through Nashville is never any fun, whether you are in an RV or an automobile, and we had our share of road construction, traffic slowdowns, and crazy drivers as we made our way through the city. But soon enough, all of that was behind us and we reached our destination.

Back when we were doing our Gypsy Journal rallies, Tom and Barbara were always there to help out with the 1,001 tasks large and small that need to be handled to make for a successful RV rally. Whether it was helping get all the RVs parked upon arrival, assisting with registration, printing out name badges, and even presenting seminars, if it needed done, we knew Tom and Barbara would make short work of it.

They were staying at a place called Dad’s Bluegrass Campground, which was just off the interstate, so we booked a room at the nearby Comfort Inn. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Tom and Barbara, and it sure was nice to get together with them again.

After visiting for a while in their RV, we drove into Franklin to get a bite to eat. Tom and Barbara had recommended the Brickyard Café, which is housed in a beautiful old building on one side of the courthouse square. But when we got there we discovered we were too early for dinner and had an hour to kill. No problem, we decided to walk around town a little bit and then come back.

Incorporated in 1820, Franklin is a charming small town, full of friendly people. The courthouse square is lined with boutiques, small gift shops, restaurants, and an antique mall. I could walk around the place for hours, stopping in at the little businesses and chatting with the owners. And apparently we weren’t the only people who found Franklin a great place. Back in 1968, country music stars Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash were married in Franklin.

The original Old Jail and Jailers’ Quarters, built in 1835, is now the home of the Simpson County Museum. Visitors can take a tour and see charcoal drawings and graffiti left on the walls by Confederate soldiers who were held prisoner in the jail during the Civil War. The museum’s archives are a genealogist’s treasure trove, including old court documents, tax records, marriage records, wills, deeds, and family histories for Simpson, Allen, Logan and Warren Counties in Kentucky, as well as Robertson and Sumner Counties in Tennessee. Also available are family Bibles, census records, funeral home records, maps, pictures, an obituary file, and memorabilia from the past.

We wandered around town for a while and got back to the restaurant just as they started serving dinner. The food was delicious, and the company even better. We all agreed that we need to get together again the next time Tom and Barbara take an RV trip through this part of the country.

It’s Thursday, so it’s time for a new Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Ken Rossignol’s The Chesapeake: A Man Born to Hang Can Never Drown. It’s a collection of adventures in prose from around the Chesapeake tidewater region told by an erstwhile and eclectic collection of bards, poets, and tale-tellers. Fans of short stories will enjoy this fourth book in the Chesapeake series and the valuable history shared about the Chesapeake region. 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 don’t play hard to get, I play awkward to want.

DNA Test Needed

 Posted by at 12:06 am  Nick's Blog
Jul 182018

As I said in yesterday’s blog, we took a road trip to visit family and friends and do some genealogy research, along with gathering lots of stories about interesting places to visit for my blog readers. Rather than cram too much into one very long blog, I will be talking about the overall details of our trip in the next few blogs, and then I will post blogs dedicated to some of the interesting places we visited along the way.

We left Florida on Friday, July 6 and made the 640 mile trip to Tuscaloosa, Alabama in one day. That’s a very long day in an RV, and it was even long in our Chrysler Pacifica. Or maybe I’m just getting too old to do that anymore.

Part of the problem was that our GPS decided to take us on the scenic route about the time we passed Fort Benning and Columbus, Georgia. I spent some time there when I was a young soldier learning how to jump out of perfectly good airplanes, and I wasn’t all that fond of the place back then. I’m still not.

We eventually made it to Tuscaloosa and checked into the Hampton Inn near the University of Alabama campus, then drove a couple of miles to my son’s house. Travis and his pretty wife Geli greeted us with hugs and kisses that made all the long miles worthwhile.

Travis is a fine young man, even though he looks pretty intimidating with his beard and tattoos. And while I hate to say it, I’m thinking about having a DNA test to find out if he’s really my kid. People say he looks like me, but I’m just not convinced he’s really mine. You see, my son is a gardener. He absolutely loves growing things. I, on the other hand, don’t have a green thumb. About the only thing I’ve ever been able to grow is a belly. A really big belly!

Travis had all kind of things growing in his garden, including tomatoes, cantaloupe, peppers, and several kinds of melons.

And not only does he grow all these things, he eats them! Travis and his wife are vegans, if you can believe that. Me, I’m strictly a meat and potatoes guy. Fried dead meat, barbecued dead meat, baked dead meat, if it’s meat and it’s dead, I will eat it. Not Travis. He tried to get me to eat some kind of burger made out of soy or beans or some such nonsense. He even had bacon and sausage with no meat in them. And what the hell is hummus? I tried to explain to him that those fake foods are like taking a pretty lady on a date and finding out at the end of the evening that she’s really a guy under all that makeup and lipstick. It’s just not the same. Like I said, I think a DNA test is in order.

Okay, while I don’t eat vegetables or other things that gardeners raise, I do make a few exceptions to the rule. One of them is watermelon. We picked this one from the garden and cut it up to eat. It was really delicious and beats anything you’re ever going to buy in a grocery store.

While we were in Tuscaloosa we discovered a really good pizza place called Pyro’s. This restaurant is really cool, because you pick all of your favorite items such as meats, cheeses (regular and vegan), and vegetables, even your sauces, from the options in front of you like you do when going through a Subway sandwich shop. Except at Pyro’s you can have any amount for a fixed and very reasonable price. Then they cook it right in front of you in a wood fired oven!

Did you know vegans eat pizza? They do as long as there are no animal products in it. This was Geli’s veggie pizza.

At least Miss Terry had the good sense to request pepperoni on hers. I’d show you my pepperoni pizza, but some fat guy ate it before a picture could get taken.

The food was so good at Pyro’s that we went back another day while we were in town. They have several locations in different cities in the South, but unfortunately none of them here in Florida that I could find.

Here’s something else about the place that really impressed me. An automatic hand washing station. How cool is that?

You just stick your hands in these openings and they are automatically washed and then rinsed for you. What will they think of next?

While we were in Tuscaloosa we visited a couple of antique malls and at the first one Terry found a vintage ricer with the stand and pedestal, something she’s been looking for for a long time. And then at the next place they had another one! And believe it or not, a third one at another shop! She was thrilled, to say the least.

We spent several days in Tuscaloosa with the kids, and really had a good time. And since they’ve got a couple of dogs and some cats, Terry and I managed to get our puppy and kitty fixes, too.

In tomorrow’s blog, I’ll tell you about our trip north from there, and a stop in southern Kentucky to meet up with longtime RVing friends Tom and Barbara Westerfield.

While we were off playing, some of my author friends were busy working. My pal Mona Ingram just released a new light romance titled Love on the Half Shell. It’s about the mayhem ensues when a 12-year old decides to find a husband for her mother. Mona is an excellent author and I guarantee you’re going to enjoy it.

Thought For The Day – I keep my enemies close because you can only throw a rock so far.

Just A Short Post

 Posted by at 12:02 am  Nick's Blog
Jul 172018

Just a short blog post today. Terry and I got home last night from an eleven day road trip that took us from our home in Edgewater, Florida to Alabama to visit my son Travis and his wife Geli, and then just north of Nashville to meet up with long time RVing friends.

From there we traveled to the Cincinnati, Ohio area for several days of genealogy research, which was very productive and taught me something fascinating about one of my ancestors.

When we left there we took a drive along the Ohio River, traveled through West Virginia on what has to be the worst road I’ve ever driven, and on down south through Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, and back home.

I’ve got a lot to share with you about our latest adventures, enough to fill several blog posts, but right now I’m worn out and too tired to type much. Stay tuned, the next few days’ blogs are going to cover a lot of territory!

Meanwhile, here’s another one of our funny signs to start your day with a chuckle.

Thought For The Day – If you don’t make an audible noise of discomfort when you get up off the couch, you’re too fit to be my friend.

The Branded Hand

 Posted by at 12:02 am  Nick's Blog
Jul 162018

While it may seem odd to say that we enjoy visiting the dead, we have found some of our best stories while exploring cemeteries. After all, what better place could there be to learn about history than where those who made it are laid to rest?

On a trip to Muskegon, Michigan, we discovered the inspiring story of Captain Jonathan Walker, the man with the branded hand.

Walker was born on March 22, 1799, on Cape Cod in Barnstable County, Massachusetts. He grew up on the water and worked on fishing boats as a young man, married and fathered eight children, eventually becoming captain of his own vessel and enjoying at least moderate success

Looking for other opportunities, in early 1837 he moved to Florida and took on a contract to build a railroad. In those days it was common for slave owners to rent their slaves out as laborers, and Walker had several of them working for him. A staunch abolitionist, like many New Englanders, Walker found slavery repulsive, and while they were in his employ the slaves stayed at his family’s home, ate at the same table, and were treated as equals.

This quickly raised the ire of his neighbors, who did not appreciate Walker’s actions and let it be known that if he did not change his ways there would be consequences. By 1844, Walker and his wife Jane had grown weary of the attitudes of the pro-slavery citizens of Pensacola and decided that they did not want to raise their children in a place where slavery was the accepted practice. They moved back to Massachusetts, but once he had his family settled, Walker returned south to retrieve a small sailing sloop he had left behind.

As he prepared to sail back home, several of the slaves who had worked for Walker begged him to take them with him. Knowing that helping slaves escape was a serious crime, Walker still could not bring himself to leave them behind. So on June 22, 1844, he set sail along with seven fugitive slaves, intending to drop them off in the Bahamas, where British law would ensure their freedom.

Unfortunately, Walker was ill, and soon after leaving Pensacola his conditioned worsened. But rather than turn back to seek medical help, which would have resulted in his passengers being returned to bondage, the determined Yankee seaman continued onward.

Somewhere near Key West they were discovered and taken into custody by a Navy ship. Arrested and returned to Pensacola, Walker was locked in chains and thrown into a dank jail cell, where his physical condition worsened as mobs called for his lynching. But while many were eager to see him punished, Walker also had friends in Pensacola who came to his aid and tried to intervene on his behalf.

Facing the death penalty for his crimes if he even survived long enough to stand trial, Walker’s case soon became a nationwide cause. Abolitionists in the North demanded his release, newspapers took up the debate pro and con, and funds were raised to help his destitute family survive in his absence and to cover Walker’s legal expenses.

When he was finally brought to trial in November, 1844, Walker was convicted of four counts of slave stealing, sentenced to another 15 days in jail, forced to stand in the pillory for one hour while slave owners pelted him with garbage, fined $150, and the letters SS, standing for Slave Stealer, were branded into the flesh of his right hand. He remained stoic, never uttering a sound as the hot branding iron was applied to his skin.

But if Walker thought his ordeal was over, he was wrong. He remained in a cell while friends up north raised the money to pay his fine and court costs, and when they were satisfied, he was informed that he would still not be released because he was now going to be tried for the theft of the other three slaves who had been with him.

Disheartened with the news, late one night the prisoner tried to escape but was recaptured before he ever got out of the jail. As the months dragged on, Walker refused to apologize for his so-called crimes and he continued to speak out against the evils of slavery.

His second trial was held in May, 1845, and the judge instructed the jurors to find him guilty. They refused to do so, instead ordering a $45 fine and his immediate release. Even then, Walker remained in jail until another $2,000 was raised from supporters up north and he was finally set free.

Physically weakened and scarred emotionally as well as physically, he returned to New England where he received a hero’s welcome. For the next several years Walker appeared at abolitionist events across New England and the Midwest, where he received standing ovations and cheers whenever he stepped up to the speaker’s podium. Many times he shared the stage with escaped slaves, who told of their own suffering at the hands of cruel masters.

Those letters SS that had been burned so cruelly into his flesh took on another meaning to the anti-slavery crowd. Instead of a Slave Stealer, to them Jonathan Walker was a Slave Savior. John Greenleaf Whittier celebrated Walker with his popular poem The Branded Hand.

In 1850, Walker moved to the Muskegon, Michigan area, where he and his wife operated a fruit orchard, and he continued to be active in social reform movements for the rest of his life. Through the years his courage and dedication to his fellow man had not been forgotten. When he died in May, 1878, at the age of 79, a monument was erected in his memory and Frederick Douglass read his eulogy, calling Walker “a brave but noiseless lover of liberty.”

Today visitors to Evergreen Cemetery in Muskegon can stop at Walker’s monument to pay their respects to a man who suffered so much in a vain attempt to save others from bondage. His monument includes a hand branded with the letters SS, reminding us for all time that there are causes that are worth going to extreme measures for, no matter what consequences one may face.

Thought For The Day – We’re going to need a bigger rock bottom.

Jul 152018

Yeah, that blog title got your attention, didn’t it? I know it sounds pretty harsh, but unfortunately, it’s true. Everybody’s kids are going to die. Yours and mine, and everybody in the world’s kids. Just like the rest of us.

But let me explain where I’m going with all of this. I was in an online conversation with a mother who contacted me, absolutely furious because of an incident that happened while they were staying at a campground at Table Rock Lake in Missouri. If you haven’t been there, it’s a beautiful reservoir with great fishing, boating, and camping.

This woman and her family were there in their RV and apparently her four-year-old son picked up a lead fishing sinker. The mother immediately freaked out because she knew her son had contracted lead poisoning. She called paramedics to tell them he had been injured, and she said when they got there they pretty much laughed at her. She said they told her he wasn’t going to die from picking up a sinker, fishermen use them all day long and nobody has died from sinker poisoning yet. Not finding any satisfaction there, she took her child to an emergency room. The intake nurse there told her there was not an issue, but she insisted on seeing a doctor. She said they made her wait nine hours before a doctor finally brushed her off and said if she was concerned, go home and wash his hands. She just can’t believe how many medical professionals are just ignoring her concerns for the child’s safety.

Almost immediately, another woman chimed in to say that her daughter had picked up a goose or duck feather at a campground where they are staying, and she took her to urgent care because she was afraid she might get avian flu. She also got no sympathy. They told her to wash the kid’s hands and get on with her life. That woman said she told her husband they are selling the RV because she will not allow her children to be in an environment where they can be exposed to things like that that could harm them.

You would think these two mothers are extreme cases, but you’d be wrong. I also heard from somebody staying at a campground we have frequented often who was enraged because somebody’s dog took a dump while he was walking it. This man wasn’t upset because the dog owner was one of those clods who just ignore it and kept walking. No, he picked it up in a paper bag and deposited it in a trashcan just like he was supposed to. But the RVer who contacted me was in a tizzy because the ground wasn’t sanitized afterward. He told the pet owner he needed to put bleach or something down on the grass to sanitize it, and when he just laughed at him and walked away, he went to the office insisting something be done. They told him if it was picked up, there was nothing else they could do. He said he tried to explain to them that whatever bits of feces might be left are now going to contaminate the whole area, get into the water system, and spread E. coli to anybody who comes near that part of the campground. When he got no satisfaction, he said he and his wife packed up and left so they would not be exposed to a biohazard like that.

If you are one of those people that are worried about the Russians or the Koreans or whoever blowing us to bits with their nuclear weapons someday, don’t sweat it. They don’t have to. We are raising generations of weak little wimps who will probably die the first time they sneeze and eventually we’ll all be gone anyway.

Kids need to get dirty. Kids need to get cuts and scrapes. Believe it or not, kids need to get sick once in a while. That’s how you build an immune system.

I grew up in a generation that fell off of our bicycles and skinned our elbows and knees and laughed about it so our friends wouldn’t think we were babies. We shared a bottle of soda, drank from the same garden hose, and one friend of mine and I pricked our thumbs with a knife blade and mixed our blood so we could be blood brothers, just like the Indians we saw on the movies did. None of us died from it.

If you’re a parent who loves their child and provides for them, and tries to protect them from life’s evils, God bless you. We all know there are too many parents who don’t. But if you are so overprotective that you want to keep your child in a bubble, you are not doing them any good. Because whether you wrap them in a little cotton cocoon or let them run and play and be kids, either way they’re going to die. Hopefully, not until they have wonderful lives and live to a ripe old age. But it is going to happen. Let them have a normal life until then.

Thought For The Day – Don’t take life so seriously. None of us are getting out alive anyway.

Jul 142018

Note: In answer to several requests, this is a repost of a 2010 blog.

I have just two things to say about our visit to Canyon de Chelly National Monument – “Awesome!” and “If you have never been to this natural wonderland, put it at the very top of your travel plans NOW! You won’t regret it!”

I have been to the Grand Canyon, Zion, the Salt River Canyon, I’ve seen Canyon Diablo and a lot of other natural wonders of the Southwest, and in my opinion, none of them are as impressive as Canyon de Chelly! I only wish I had discovered this magical place years ago.

Canyon de Chelly (pronounced d’Shay) is located at Chinle, Arizona, on the Navajo Indian Reservation, and has been inhabited by native peoples for nearly 5,000 years. At the canyon’s mouth, the colorful rock walls are only 30 feet high, but deeper in the canyon, the cliffs tower over 1,000 feet above the valley floor.

Eons of natural land uplifts and the river cutting through the bottom of the canyon created the colorful sheer cliff walls that draw visitors today. The canyon’s reliable water sources and rich soil provid a variety of resources, including plants and animals, that have sustained the native peoples who have lived in Canyon de Chelly for thousands of years.

Ancient Puebloans found the canyon an ideal place to plant crops and raise families. The canyon’s first inhabitants built pit houses that were eventually replaced with more sophisticated homes as more families migrated to the area. Later homes were built in alcoves to take advantage of the sunlight and natural protection. Their communities thrived until the mid-1300s, when the Puebloans left the canyon to seek better farmlands.

Over time the Hopi, and then the Navajo, settled in Canyon de Chelly, where they continue to raise families and plant crops just as the “Ancient Ones” had. Several Navajo farms and hogans are visible from the canyon’s rims.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument was authorized in 1931 by President Herbert Hoover, in large measure to preserve the important archeological resources that span more than 4,000 years of human occupation. The monument encompasses approximately 84,000 acres of lands located entirely on the Navajo Nation, with roughly 40 families residing within the park boundaries. The National Park Service and the Navajo Nation share resources, and continue to work in partnership to manage this special place.

Access to the canyon floor is restricted, and visitors are allowed to enter the canyon only when accompanied by a park ranger or an authorized Navajo tour guide. Tours of the canyon floor can be booked at the National Park Visitor Center and at hotels near the canyon and in nearby Chinle. The tour guides charge different fees, depending on the type and duration of the tour chosen.

From Memorial Day through Labor Day, park rangers lead at least two hikes weekly. A signup sheet is available at the Visitor Center for the first 15 visitors.

Hikes are moderate to strenuous and are not recommended for those who have had recent surgery, have respiratory problems, knee injuries, or difficulty climbing stairs. Hikers must be prepared to walk through sand, mud and water. Some of the canyon’s trails feature slick rock and uneven surfaces, with descents of 200 to 600 feet. Hikers should dress comfortably in layers, wear good hiking shoes, pack snacks, and carry plenty of drinking water.

The only trail accessible to visitors without a guide is the White House Ruin Trail. The trailhead is located about seven miles along the South Rim drive. Be aware that the mile long trail is rocky, and steep in places, but well-maintained and not too difficult for anybody in reasonable health. Plan on 30 minutes to an hour to get to the ruins, depending on your fitness level. The White House ruins are some of the oldest in the canyon, dating from about 1060 A.D. Archaeologists say that at one time the ruins had over 80 rooms, though only about 60 remain today.

We had been advised not to take our 40 foot motorhome to Canyon de Chelly, and I’m glad we didn’t. There are two campgrounds, one is the free Cottonwood Campground, which is best suited for small (under 30 feet) RVs, though we did see a couple of larger rigs that had somehow managed to squeeze in. But between the small spaces, tight turns, and trees close to the roadways, there is no way I’d take our motorhome in there.

Spider Rock Campground, about nine miles from the National Park Service Visitor Center, is privately owned, and it looked pretty run down to us. About the only amenities you’ll find there are lizards, porta-potties, and dry camping

We drove our van to Canyon de Chelly, and after a stop at the Visitor Center, we took the seventeen mile long South Rim Drive, which offers seven overlooks, each one more magnificent than the one before. Each overlook gave us a different perspective on the canyon. Our first stop was the Tunnel Canyon Overlook, which gave us nice views of the canyon, which is very green year around due to the river that flows through the bottom of the canyon.

At our next stop, Tsegi Overlook, we saw this farm, which is owned by a Navajo family who lives in this dramatic wonderland. Can you imagine what it would be like to wake up to these kinds of views every day?

It is very had to choose just one, but if I had to pick, my favorite view in Canyon de Chelly is of magnificent Spider Rock, which towers over 800 feet from the canyon floor. This rock formation is sacred to the Navajo people, who say that Spider Woman lives on top of the rock, and it was this deity who taught the first Navajo women to weave, creating a tradition that has been passed down from mother to daughter for generations.

Navajo mothers tell their children that if they misbehave, Spider Woman will carry them away and take them to the top of the rock spire to live until they learn their lesson.

I wish I had room to show you all of the wonderful photos we took at Canyon de Chelly, but there are just too many. And it doesn’t matter, because the photos just don’t do this natural wonder justice. You have to see it for yourself to believe it!

Canyon de Chelly National Monument is located about three miles from Chinle, Arizona, which is 75 miles north of Interstate 40 via US Highway 191. This is a good two lane road, and can accommodate any size RV. The Park Service Visitor Center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for Christmas Day. We saw a 36 foot motorhome and a fifth wheel in the Visitor Center parking lot. The North and South Rim Drives and the White House Trail are open all year. The drives are paved roads, accessible by passenger vehicles.

If you’re like us, one trip to Canyon de Chelly National Monument will not be enough, and you will find yourself returning again and again.

Thought For The Day – There’s a spider in my bathroom sink. Well, it’s his sink now.