Nick Russell

The Waiting Game

 Posted by at 12:40 am  Nick's Blog
Aug 292018

Terry and I were up early yesterday morning because we had two appointments scheduled for 9 a.m. here at the house. Someone from Davis Brothers Heating and Cooling was coming to do the semiannual maintenance on our air conditioner, and a crew from Tropical Garage Doors was coming to install our new insulated garage door.

Of course, we know schedules can always get thrown off track, so I wasn’t too surprised when just after 8 a.m. someone from Tropical Garage Doors called to say they had run into a delay and wouldn’t be able to make it until about 1 p.m. I told her no problem, as long as they can finish the job in one day, and she assured me they could.

Right on time a young man from Davis Brothers showed up to service the air conditioner and introduced himself as the son of the people we bought our house from. He was really impressed with all of the improvements we’ve made to it in less than two years. It only took him a half hour or so to do the service on the air conditioner, and then it was just playing the waiting game until the garage door crew arrived. I don’t wait well.

As it turned out, it was 2:30 before they pulled up, apologizing because they had run into problems with the earlier installation. There were just two guys, but they didn’t waste any time at all unloading the materials for the new door and then getting to work.

When somebody from their company came out and originally took the order for the new door, he said that we would have to take down the two sections of paneling that we had installed next to the door because they would need to do some framing. As it turned out, that wasn’t necessary, and they installed the new track and assembled the new door pretty quickly.

It probably took them about two hours, and here is an inside view of the finished job.

They did a good job of fitting and trimming around it. Notice that there are no light leaks around the door now, like there were with the old door, below.

It should do a better job of keeping it cool in the garage and keeping the bugs out. With the ill-fitting, banged up old door, any time we were in the garage at night with the lights on, bugs came flying in around the open edges.

Here’s what the new door looks like from the outside. The previous one was gray, to match the trim on the house. I’m not sure if we will paint this one gray or wait until we paint the whole house and figure out what we’re going to do then. It definitely needs some sprucing up.

In other news, adhering to my belief that if one is good, two is always better, my second vintage Speed Graphic camera arrived yesterday. Both were bought on eBay, though from different sellers. The first arrived in three days and was in excellent condition. This one took over three weeks and needs some TLC. Judging by the serial number, it looks like it was made in 1947.

I found a home for it on one of the bookshelves in my office.

If you like to save money in your travels (and who doesn’t?), RVing author Jerry Minchey has a new book out entitled Secrets of RVing on a Dime and a Dream: Frugal RVing on $1,000 a Month or Less. It’s got some good money-saving tips in it, and best of all it’s free today only on Amazon. Download your free copy while you can.

Thought For The Day – Women, if you want to really freak your husband out, just smile prettily at him and ask, “Well, do you notice anything different?”

Aug 282018

Note: I have had several requests for a reprint of this article, which first ran in the Gypsy Journal in 2007.

A while back I was taken to task by a reader for using the term “gal” in the Gypsy Journal. In reply, I wrote that I refuse to be politically correct. I’ve tried it, but facts are facts. I’m a dinosaur.

However, in my constant search for self-improvement, I have given the matter a lot of thought, and decided that yes, I can make some changes to reflect the kinder, gentler Nick some of you seem to expect. I don’t think I’ll become a flaming liberal anytime soon, but maybe by adopting a more enlightened vocabulary I can move a step or two out of the Stone Age.

Henceforth, I will strive to use the following terms to replace the crude ones I was known for in the past.

When an RV salesman is trying to push an overpriced unit on you and swearing that it will carry three times the rated payload, he is not “lying through his teeth.” He is just being “ambivalently truthful.” That line he is feeding you is not pure “bull s**t.” He is, in fact, disseminating “bovine scatology.”

The lady in the rig parked next to me is not a “dumb blonde.” She is a “light-haired detour off the information superhighway.”

I will no longer refer to my mother-in-law as a “nag.” She is, in fact, “verbally repetitive.”

My weird cousin is not an “airhead” anymore. He is now “reality impaired.”

The nice mountain folks of Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia will no longer be referred to as “hillbillies.” From this day on, I shall call them “Appalachian-Americans.”

When my fellow RVers sit around the campfire and extend Happy Hour into the wee hours of the morning, they do not get “drunk” or “tipsy.” They get “chemically inconvenienced.”

The folks in those big fancy Prevosts factory bus conversions who look down on the rest of us because we didn’t spend in excess of $500,000 on our RVs are really not “snobs.” They just have a physical malady known as “nasal elevation” and also suffer from a psychological problem described in textbooks as “financially inflated egos.”

That noisy little dog in the campsite next to us that never shuts up is not a “yappy little mutt.” He is a “vocally expressive canine of diminutive size.” His owner, who never has the courtesy to make him be quiet so the neighbors can enjoy their camping experience, is not a “rude jerk.” He just suffers from “cranial-rectal inversion.”

That portly fellow in the diesel pusher across the way does not have a “beer gut.” He has developed a “liquid grain storage facility.” He does not get “falling-down drunk.” He becomes “accidentally horizontal.”

When I see an old geezer with a gal (excuse me, young woman) half his age, he is not a “cradle robber,” he just prefers “generational differential relationships.”

The owner of that tire shop that ripped me off when I broke down in Needles, California a few years ago is not a “damned crook” after all. He is actually a businessman who practices “negative marketing.”

Now in return for this effort on my part, I expect some concessions out of Miss Terry and the other people around me to describe my own very few shortcomings and imperfections.

I am not “balding,” I am in “follicle regression.” Nor am I a “bad dancer.” As it turns out, I am simply “overly Caucasian.” Regardless of what Miss Terry claims, I do not “get lost all the time.” I just enjoy “investigating alternative destinations.”

My occasional “gal” comments aside, I am not a “male chauvinist pig. The truth is, I have “swine empathy.”

And last, but certainly not least, when I bend over and my jeans sag a bit, what you are seeing is not “butt crack.” This is best described as “rear cleavage.”

Thought For The Day – I’m not antisocial. I’m just pro leave me the hell alone.

Is It Monday?

 Posted by at 12:27 am  Nick's Blog
Aug 272018

For some reason it seemed like a very long weekend to both of us, and more than once we found ourselves checking our cell phones for the date or asking each other what day it was. I guess that’s one of the great things about being semi-retired. Except for the occasional doctor’s appointment, we don’t have to be anywhere at any special time.

The problem with that, of course, is that it’s really easy to fall into a rut and not get anything accomplished, because if you don’t do it today, you can do it tomorrow. In spite of it being such a long weekend for us, Terry and I both managed to avoid that, and did get quite a bit accomplished.

She got all of her paperwork caught up and then finished setting up a rug project on one of her big Glamakra looms. It’s taken her a while to get it accomplished because she had to reconfigure the loom. Being a self-taught weaver, relying on instructional CDs and online resources, sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to get things right, but Terry always manages to do it somehow or another.

As for me, I spent a lot of time working on my new John Lee Quarrels book, knocking out about 2,500 words on Friday, 1,500 words on Saturday, and 5,100 more yesterday. That puts me at right about the halfway point, give or take 1,000 words or so. I’m trying to make up for lost time when my head was so foggy from the pain in my back and the meds I was taking. It’s hard to focus on a computer screen when you can hardly keep your eyes open.

Somebody said there was going to be a rocket launch at 11:30 Saturday night, so Terry and I went down to our fishing pier to see it. But either I got the wrong information or the launch got scrubbed, because nothing happened.

That’s okay, it was still nice to be down there near the water for a while. There was a gentle breeze keeping the mosquitoes away, it had cooled off very nicely, and there were a ton of fish jumping all over the place. I told Terry that if I had my cast net with me, and my back could have taken the strain of twisting as I threw it, it would probably be pretty easy to catch enough for Sunday’s dinner. We didn’t see any dolphins, but we did hear at least one huffing just out of the circles of light from the pier.

Speaking of my back, I was able to figure out how to look at the MRIs that were taken last week, and Terry and I and our friend Jim can all see what looks like very acute bulges in three of the discs in my lower back. I will confirm that with a visit to the doctor today. The suspicion all long has been that the bulging disc(s) are pinching some nerves back there. So if that’s what the problem is, the next step is to figure out how to deal with it and come up with a plan of action.

It may have been a slow weekend, but this week is going to be pretty busy. I’ve got an appointment with my doctor about my back today, and tomorrow morning someone from Davis Brothers is coming to do the semiannual service on our air conditioner. He is supposed to be here at 9 AM, which is the same time a crew from Tropical Garage Doors is supposed to arrive to install a new garage door.

Then I may have some more medical stuff going on later in the week, depending on what the interpretation of the MRI results tell us. That’s okay, after our long weekend at home, I’m looking forward to getting out for a while, no matter where I’m going.

Congratulations Dennis Neal, winner of our drawing for an audiobook of Birdsongs, the first book in my friend Jason Deas’ excellent Benny James mystery series. We had 49 entries this time around. Stay tuned, a new contest starts soon.

Thought For The Day – Once you have seen a woman take her bra off without removing her shirt, you’ll have a much better understanding of why they should be in charge.


Aug 262018

When I was a youngster I had a couple of uncles who were volunteer firemen. Sometimes we would go down to the fire station and they would let me put on a big fireman’s helmet and climb on the fire trucks, but that was all I needed of that.

I had a cousin who was badly burned in a fire when she was a child and it made me very aware of the damage it can do. I could never see myself running into a burning building like firemen do, when our natural instinct is to turn and run away from the danger. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the men and women who do it.

When we were in Cincinnati, Ohio, we stopped to check out the Cincinnati Fire Museum, which is housed in the old Engine Company 45 firehouse downtown. The museum has a lot of interesting exhibits, including an old horse-drawn fire wagon, firefighting equipment, and vintage fire trucks. Besides honoring the history of the fire service in Cincinnati and the surrounding area, the museum also teaches important fire prevention programs to thousands of schoolchildren each year.

Cincinnati has a long history of dealing with fires, starting back as early as 1794, when a farmer started a fire to clear his land and it got out of control, burning more than 100 acres. Another notable fire happened in 1823 when a nine-story steam mill on Cincinnati’s riverfront burned.

In those days fires were fought by the people around when they broke out, and since most structures were made of wood, the local citizens began to see the need for more organized fire prevention and firefighting.

The city had already taken some steps in that direction, including passing an ordinance in 1802 that required all homeowners to own a black leather fire bucket, and mandating that all men ages 16 to 50 were required to respond to help fight any fire that happened near them. Failure to answer the call when needed could result in fines and other penalties.

By 1829 there were nine volunteer firefighting companies and seven brick water cisterns in the city. This might seem like a good thing, and it was in many ways, but over time the fire companies themselves became a problem. Competition to be the best got out of hand, and in 1850 alone, police responded to at least six major fights between different volunteer fire companies. During the melees at least two people were shot and many more suffered injuries that required medical treatment. There were also two arsons connected to the rivalries, one burning down the Engine Company 2 firehouse.

These problems contributed to the city deciding to form the country’s first professional fire department, made up of all fulltime employees, on April 1, 1853.

Even with a professional fire department Cincinnati still saw its share of terrible fires. On December 11, 1880, firemen responded to a blaze at the. P. Gay bucket factory. It would turn out to be a tragic day when five firefighters were killed trying to extinguish the inferno. This was, and still remains, the single deadliest day for Cincinnati firefighters. Four years later the notorious Courthouse Riots broke out when angry citizens went on a rampage that left 56 people dead, over 300 wounded, and the city’s courthouse and jail burned to the ground. Then, the next year, on May 21, 1885, a major fire at the five-story Sullivan Printing Company killed 15 employees who were trapped on an upper floor. This remains the deadliest single fire incident on record in Cincinnati and led to a push for regulations requiring improvements in building construction and safety.

These days, while most cities have followed Cincinnati’s lead and have professional fire departments, about 70% of firefighters in this country are still volunteers, especially in rural areas and small towns. And due to improvements in fire safety and construction requirements, statistics say that only about 5% of the calls they answer nationwide are for actual fires. 64% of calls are to render medical aid, as firefighters have also evolved into emergency medical technicians.

Again, Cincinnati was one of the first cities to distribute first-aid kits to their fire companies, way back in 1917. By 1929, all firefighters were trained to provide emergency first aid. In 1982, all Cincinnati firefighters were also certified as emergency medical technicians.

Displays at the museum include leather fire buckets, fire helmets, and a huge drum that was used as a fire alarm in Cincinnati back in the early days. But the museum is more than a place to see interesting old firefighting equipment.

There are also exhibits on modern firefighting techniques, the training firefighters go through, and how hard one must work to meet the qualifications to become a firefighter. There are interactive exhibits, and kids can even slide down a real fire pole. That’s a memory they won’t soon forget!

The museum also has a Safe House as part of their fire safety education program. Visitors are taught not only how to prevent a fire, but how to protect themselves and escape if there is one. In different rooms of the house, fire and burn hazards are demonstrated, along with an explanation of how each can cause a fire and what can be done to prevent it from happening.

The next time you’re in the area, make it a point to visit the Cincinnati Fire Museum. You will come away with a greater understanding of, and respect for, the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to respond when any of us have a fire emergency.

The museum is located at 315 West Court Street, just three blocks north of the Cincinnati Convention Center. It is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. The Museum is closed on Sunday and Monday. Parking is limited to passenger cars in that area of the city, so leave your RV at a local campground when you visit. For more information, call (513) 621-5553.

Today is your last chance to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Birdsongs, the first book in my friend Jason Deas’ excellent Benny James mystery series. 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 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 – This just in…. Life’s not fair. Get over it.

This Month’s Q&A

 Posted by at 12:02 am  Nick's Blog
Aug 252018

I get a lot of questions from blog readers about RVing, what’s happening in our lives since we hung up the keys, writing and self-publishing, and all kinds of other things. While I try to answer all of them individually, sometimes I also share some here.

Q. At one of your rallies in Ohio there was a vendor that was from a local RV repair shop. He fixed a problem with my air conditioner and told me how to do it the next time myself to save on a service visit. All this time later the problem has come back. And for the life of me, I cannot find the instructions he had me write down. Do you remember the name of the company and how to contact them?
A. That would have been Kevin at Cruising America RV Repair. Their website is and their phone number is (419) 852 – 0791.

Q. I remember that you installed all LED lights in your Winnebago to replace the florescent tubes. Did you find it was worth the expense?
A. It was definitely worth it in my opinion. The LEDs provided much better light, used a lot less power, and were not as hot as the regular florescent bulbs were.

Q. Stop teasing us! Did you buy that hot looking Mustang that you had a picture of in yesterday’s blog?
A. No, I started to write the check and that’s when I became aware that when your wife says “do whatever the hell you want,” she doesn’t really mean “do whatever the hell you want.” Seriously, a car like that is only a dream for me. Its way out of my budget, and I don’t see how we can squeeze much more into the garage.

Q. I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old fart, even though my wife says I am, but please tell me that once school is back in session things will be a little more peaceful at the campground? At least during the week? Every day it’s screaming kids and barking dogs. I didn’t expect fulltime RVing to be like this.
A. Traditionally things do slow down once the kids go back to school. But be aware that campgrounds can still be busy on the weekends as long as the weather cooperates. Some people like the sound of kids playing and enjoying the great outdoors, and I do, too. But there’s difference between doing that and being allowed to run wild in a campground.

Q. I hear a lot of bad things about Camping World on different RV forums online. I’ve only dealt with them once and I really had no complaints. What are your thoughts on them for service and RV parts and supplies?
A. When we first started fulltiming, Camping World was our candy store. And while they always have a nice selection of RV accessories, it didn’t take us long to learn that we could buy just about anything they had at a lower price from independent RV parts dealers or online. We have had RV service done at Camping World locations in Arizona, Alabama, California, and Oregon. Never once did we have a satisfactory experience with their service departments. The work was always substandard, required return visits because they didn’t do things right or took shortcuts, and we learned later that we could have had most of it done at less expense somewhere else.

Q. Having spent most of the hot summer in Florida, do you miss the Pacific Northwest now? Do you wish you and Miss Terry had settled there instead? I know you really liked the Oregon coast.
A: We do love it up there, and we miss it, no question about that. But the coast is not open only for RVers and we will see it again. We will just stay in hotels or some other rental accommodation. As for our decision to settle in Florida instead of there, we are still happy with our choice. We can stay inside and enjoy the air conditioning here. And while we have had some marvelous times up in that area, I have spent some cold, damp summers and winters on the Pacific Northwest coast. I prefer this.

Q. We just bought our first RV, a 36 foot Class A gas powered motorhome. It did not come with a spare tire. Is that common for RVs?”
A. Most big motorhomes don’t have a spare tire because of the difficulty in mounting one somewhere, and the fact that due to their size and weight, most RVers are not going to change a tire themselves on the side of the road.

Q. I know you took one trip a few weeks ago, but do you and Miss Terry have any other summer travel planned?
A. Just like when we were RVing, our schedules are always in Jell-O. So while we don’t have any immediate plans yet, that could change by this afternoon or tomorrow, or next week. There’s a lot to be said for whimsy and impulse.

Q. Do you still sell your 8-in1 CDs with the books on free campgrounds and fairgrounds camping and RV dump stations and RV repair people and all of that? My copy has saved me hundreds of dollars in the last six years, but I’m wondering if it’s time for an update? Is it available for download or do I have to wait for the CD to be forwarded to me from my mail service?
A. Yes, it is still available and I continue to do updates as people tell me of them, like always. There is a link on the left side column of the blog where you can order it. Delivery can be by regular mail or we can email the files to you.

Q. Do you ever think you’ll put on another Gypsy Journal RV rally? We sure do miss them and all the fun we had. Maybe you and Terry and John and Kathy Huggins from Living The RV Dream can go together and sponsor one someplace there in Florida.
A. Rallies are fun, but they are also a tremendous amount of work. While we miss putting them on and seeing all of our friends, I think we’re done holding rallies. We kind of like this semi-retirement of ours.

Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Birdsongs, the first book in my friend Jason Deas’ excellent Benny James mystery series. 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 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 – Please don’t invite me to outdoor events. It’s hot and I’m fat.

One Step Closer

 Posted by at 12:45 am  Nick's Blog
Aug 242018

As I said before, I have been switching most of my health care away from the Veterans Administration and onto private sector healthcare providers now that I have Medicare and a good supplemental plan.

After years of asking, and sometimes almost begging, I finally gave up on the VA healthcare system ever giving me an MRI for my back issues and last week asked a civilian doctor how I would go about getting one. Within 48 hours I had one scheduled, which took place yesterday afternoon. Talk about good service!

I’ve only had one MRI in the past, and because I’m somewhat claustrophobic it wasn’t very pleasant. With the help of a Valium pill provided by my doctor, I got through that one, but I sure was glad when it was over. This time around they used something called an Open MRI and only did the lower half of my body, focusing on the back. No Valium this time around, but because I wasn’t totally enclosed in the tube (it was open on the sides so I could look out) it wasn’t too bad. They sent me away with a CD to take to my doctor on Monday for their review. Back at home, I tried to open it on my computer, but kept getting a message saying I didn’t have the proper software to do so. Hopefully, once the doctor sees it we’ll be one stop closer to dealing with whatever is wrong back there.

Since I had been very good at the MRI facility, on the way home Miss Terry stopped at Hankster’s Hotrods, which is a dealer in classic cars in Daytona Beach. It’s like going into a car museum, except you can drive one home if you want to. And if you can afford it.

I was all for taking this nice little ‘66 Mustang GT-350 fastback home with me, but there is that part about affording it that I mentioned above. And as big as our garage is, there are limits. At least that’s what Miss Terry tells me. But a guy can look and dream, right?

Many years ago, when I was a young man just starting out publishing my very first weekly newspaper, one of my advertising customers was a self-made millionaire many times over. He owned several businesses and always drove a very nice car. In fact, his was the first Rolls-Royce I was ever in. Come to think of it, I believe it was the only Rolls-Royce I have ever been in.

At any rate, we talked a lot about business and what it took to succeed, and I learned a lot from him. And one thing I remember him telling me was that we should set goals for ourselves and we should reward ourselves when we reach them. He said it could be a goal as simple as selling another $250 worth of advertising that week, and the reward being “if I hit that goal I’d go out and have a nice dinner this weekend.” Or, to pick out something I wanted, a new shotgun, a motorcycle, a classic car, or whatever; then figure out how much extra advertising I had to sell on top of what I was already doing to be able to afford it. He said to take a picture of what it was I wanted and look at the picture and say “Just two more sales today and two more sales the next day and I’ll buy that shotgun” or “If I can bring in an extra $10,000 this year over last year I can buy that motorcycle.” It’s amazing what a motivator that can be. I’ve had the shotguns and the motorcycles and the cars to prove it.

Now, if I can just sell an extra 25,000 books on top of expected sales by the end of the year, I’ll be driving that sporty little fastback! I wonder how many more books a bigger garage costs?

Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Birdsongs, the first book in my friend Jason Deas’ excellent Benny James mystery series. 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 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 difference between living life and merely existing is choice.

Ohio Tobacco Museum

 Posted by at 12:02 am  Nick's Blog
Aug 232018

It’s a product that has fallen out of favor with the public over the years for good reason, but for generations tobacco was an important cash crop for small farmers and sharecroppers just trying to make a living. The Ohio Tobacco Museum in the friendly little Ohio River town of Ripley, tells the story of the important role locally grown White Burley tobacco played in the early economy of southern Ohio.

The museum is located in the handsome two-story Epsey family brick house from the 1850s. Mr. Epsey, the head of the family, was employed by the Heavy Munition Works in nearby Cincinnati. The company manufactured the three cannons that were installed in Ripley to protect it from Confederate raiders during the Civil War.

The home’s rooms each follow a theme related to the tobacco industry. Displays in the History Room cover the origin of White Burley tobacco and what tobacco farming was like in the early days along the Ohio River. The Tobacco Farm Room covers the process of raising tobacco from when the seeds are planted, through harvesting and producing the finished product. The Stripping Room explains the process of handling tobacco after it’s cut, from curing it in open-air barns to preparing it for sale. There is also a large replica of a tobacco barn, and all of the rooms display equipment used in tobacco farming.

More rooms on the second floor display all kinds of tobacco memorabilia, along with displays of cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and ashtrays.

Other buildings at the museum include one that displays large farming equipment, tobacco sleds, scales, and tobacco presses. You don’t have to be a smoker or a former smoker to appreciate learning about the history of an industry that once was so important. This is the only museum in Ohio that covers the tobacco industry, and it’s well worth a stop the next time you are exploring southern Ohio.

The Ohio Tobacco Museum is located at 702 S. 2nd Street (U.S. Highway 52) in Ripley and is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays 1 to 4 p.m. April through December, or any time by appointment by calling 937-392-9410. There is no admission fee, but donations are gratefully accepted to cover overhead costs. There is a bus parking area that would accommodate a large RV, but call ahead to be sure there is room.

It’s Thursday and that means it’s time for a new Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Birdsongs, the first book in my friend Jason Deas’ excellent Benny James mystery series. 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 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’m not listening, but keep talking. I enjoy the way your voice makes my ears bleed.

The Legend Of Old Rip

 Posted by at 12:12 am  Nick's Blog
Aug 222018

Note: This story is from my book Highway History And Back Road Mystery II.

Sometimes we go out in search of one story, and stumble upon another one we never expected to find. So it was with the story of Old Rip, which we discovered in Eastland, Texas.

It all began back in 1897, when the good people of Eastland were laying the foundation for a brand new courthouse. It was decided to place a time capsule in the cornerstone, to be recovered at some distant date. A Bible, the current edition of the newspaper, some trinkets, and a bottle of whiskey were placed inside the time capsule. At the last minute, a local man dropped in a horned toad that he had captured. Today animal rights activists would have stepped in to save the creature from being entombed in such a way, but this was a different time, and the cornerstone was sealed with the unfortunate toad inside.

Time passed, as it always does, and 31 years later, in February, 1928, the courthouse was in disrepair and scheduled for destruction. In those days, there weren’t many diversions in a small community like Eastland, so most of the town’s citizens turned out to see the time capsule opened.

According to witness accounts of the time, somebody pulled out the flat, shriveled carcass of the horned toad and set it aside. But all attention was quickly focused back on it when somebody exclaimed “It’s alive!”

As unbelievable as it sounds, they said the horned toad started to twitch and twitter as the sunlight hit it, and then it began to hop about. Skeptics said it was impossible, but the people who were there swore it was true, and quickly dubbed the miraculous animal Old Rip, after literary figure Rip Van Winkle, who sat down to take a nap one day, and woke up twenty years later.

Old Rip became a national sensation, and an instant celebrity. Newspaper reporters and curiosity seekers rushed to Eastland to see this amazing animal. He was taken on a tour of the nation, and even went to Washington, D.C. to meet President Calvin Coolidge.

Apparently, life as a celebrity was much harder on Old Rip than the years he spent buried alive in solitude, and on January 19, 1929, he died. When you have a famous horned toad like Old Rip, you don’t just throw him in the trash, or bury him in the back yard. Eastland’s citizens were not willing to just forget their newfound mascot, so they had him embalmed and placed him in a velvet-lined box, which was displayed in the courthouse lobby for all to see.

You might think that this would be the end of the story but you can’t keep a good toad down, and Old Rip’s adventures weren’t over yet. In 1962, John Connally was campaigning for Governor of Texas, and on a stop in Eastland, he posed for reporters holding the body of Old Rip. Well, he did until a leg broke off in his hand and the rest of the famous horned toad hit the marble floor of the courthouse lobby. Apparently, the gaffe didn’t hurt Connally’s political ambitions, because he went on to win the election.

And still, the story of Old Rip wasn’t over! In 1973, persons unknown kidnapped him from the courthouse lobby and a small ransom was demanded for his return. Not willing to give in to criminals and terrorists, County officials ignored the ransom demand, and a few days later an anonymous tip said that Old Rip could be found in his display box at the county fairgrounds. He was returned to a showcase in the courthouse lobby, where he rests today.

Now, is this just another Texas tall tale? I don’t know, but a statue of Old Rip sits in a small plaza on Main Street, a couple of blocks west of the courthouse, along with a sign telling the story of the most famous horned toad ever.

If you’ve never been to Eastland County, Texas, but this story sounds vaguely familiar, it may be due to the fact that in 1955, Old Rip was the inspiration for a Looney Tunes cartoon titled One Froggy Evening, which tells the story of a frog that is rescued from a cornerstone and was so happy he sang songs to celebrate. The story evolved into the character of Michigan J. Frog, the official mascot of the Warner Brothers Television Network.

The next time you’re driving along Interstate 20, from Abilene to Fort Worth, take a break and get off the highway in Eastland, and stop by the county courthouse to pay your respects to Old Rip. But keep a close eye on him… you never know when he might come back to life again!

Thought For The Day – Cancel my subscription because I don’t need your issues.

Aug 212018

Yesterday blog reader Richard Sullivan wrote to tell me about an incident that happened while he was backing his motorhome into their site at an RV park. He said he was doing just fine with his wife guiding him as he backed up. Then two little boys came out of nowhere and ran directly behind the motorhome, close enough that one of them slapped the fiberglass on his way past. Richard said he slammed on the brakes as his wife waved frantically for him to stop, and fortunately, nobody was injured.

The kids were from a campsite across from them and two spaces down, and once they were parked Richard went to the site and told the parents what had happened and that they really needed to keep a better eye on their children. The parents’ response was that he should mind his own business. Richard said he told them it almost was his business because he almost ran over their kids. The mother told him maybe he should learn how to drive his RV. With that, Richard left, shaking his head.

We’ve had that happen to us a time or two, and once it was close enough to make both of our hearts stop for a second before we realized nobody was hurt. There is absolutely no excuse for it. Irresponsible people like this shouldn’t be allowed to have children, or pets, or RVs either, as far as that goes.

These vehicles are huge and it takes a lot of concentration and care to maneuver them in the tight confines of an RV park. There are lots of blind spots and you can’t be too careful. It only adds to the problem when unattended children or animals pull stunts like this.

When backing up any vehicle, especially something as large as an RV, you can never go too slow. Take your time, make sure you can see your ground guide, and follow that person’s directions. At the same time, be aware of the front of your vehicle as you are backing into a site. More than once I’ve had children, adults, and even other vehicles approach the front so closely while I’m concentrating on the back that I have had to stop and wait for them to get past.

As for the parents who allow their kids to run wild in a campground without any kind of supervision, and then want to argue with someone who tries to make them aware of the danger their children are in, what can you say about idiots? They’ll probably never learn and will pass on the same bad parenting habits to their children.

For those of you who like printed books over the e-book versions, the mix-up that slowed things down was corrected and the paperback versions of Big Lake Fugitive and Mullets And Man Buns are now available on Amazon. Thanks for your patience.

Thought For The Day – Singing in the shower is all fun and games until you get shampoo in your mouth. Then it becomes a soap opera.

The Creek Pocahontas

 Posted by at 12:04 am  Nick's Blog
Aug 202018

A couple of days ago in my blog Where The Trail of Tears Ended I told you about the hardships so many Native American suffered when they were forced to leave their homelands and relocate to what is now Oklahoma. This is a story from those days about a brave young Indian woman whose courage and compassion should not be forgotten.

We’ve all heard the story of Pocahontas, the beautiful Powhatan Indian princess who saved the life of Indian captive John Smith in 1607 by placing her head upon his to shield it when her father raised his war club to execute him. While it makes a good tale, many historians have suggested that the story is pure romantic fiction.

But in March of 1818, during the First Seminole War, a well documented act of compassion did take place that history has long overlooked.

Milly Francis (sometimes called Malee) was the daughter of Josiah Francis, better known as the Prophet Francis, the religious leader of the Red Stick movement in the Creek Nation. Born in the Upper Creek villages of Alabama around 1803, by all accounts Milly grew up to become a pretty young woman who was popular with everyone who knew her.

That time period was one of harsh struggle between the Indians and white settlers who wanted their ancestral homelands. Prophet Francis led his warriors against the United States army and white militiamen in the Creek War of 1813-1814, a futile effort to preserve the Indians’ way of life.

Prophet Francis (sometimes called Hillis Hadjo) fled to Florida with his family and the surviving members of his tribe after Andrew Jackson defeated the Creeks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, in 1814. War weary, homeless, and starving, they settled on the Wakulla River, hoping to live in peace. But peace would not come to them.

Always pressing forward, settlers demanded access to Indian lands in Florida, leading to the First Seminole War. Francis and his followers joined the new conflict and took part in several battles. Ordered to suppress Indian resistance at all costs, Andrew Jackson invaded Florida in March of 1818, and established Fort Gadsden on the former site of a British post on the Apalachicola River.

Soon afterward a young soldier named Duncan McCrimmon strayed from camp and was captured by two Creek warriors. Taken to the Prophet’s village on the banks of the Wakulla River, after he was interrogated about any information he might have about the strength of Jackson’s army, his captors prepared to execute him.

When Milly realized what was about to happen, she begged her father to save the young man’s life. While he was sympathetic, the Prophet explained that under Creek law, the young man’s fate was in the hands of his captors. He suggested that she speak with the warriors who were busy preparing to kill McCrimmon, but warned her that it would probably do no good. One of them had lost two sisters in the Creek War and was thirsty for revenge against any white soldier.

Undeterred, Milly went to the warriors and pleaded for the man’s life. One was willing to allow their captive to live, but the other stubbornly refused. Only blood could atone for the loss of his family members. Fifteen year old Milly would not give up and eventually convinced him that killing this young soldier, who was not much more than a boy, would not bring the warrior’s sisters back. McCrimmon’s life was spared and he was eventually ransomed by the Spanish commander at San Marcos de Apalache (Fort St. Marks) for 7 1/2 gallons of rum. He rejoined his own forces shortly afterward.

Days later the Prophet was lured aboard the USS Thomas Shields, a Navy warship, to discuss surrender and he was turned over to Andrew Jackson, who had seized the fort of San Marcos from its Spanish garrison. Jackson had what many have called a psychotic hatred of all Indians, and he immediately ordered that the Prophet and another Red Stick chief, Homathlemico, be hanged. Milly watched as her father was executed. Jackson, who had ordered the hangings, remained in his tent and did not witness the event.

Milly, her mother, and sister were ordered to Fort Gadsden to begin their return to the Creek Nation in Alabama, making their way on foot across today’s Apalachicola National Forest with only what they could carry on their backs.

By the time they arrived there, the story of how she had saved Duncan McCrimmon from death was spreading across the country. Newspapers called Milly the “New Pocahontas” and the “Creek Pocahontas.” Dismayed by her desperate plight, people began donating money to help Milly and her family. Duncan McCrimmon himself, now discharged from military service, traveled back to Fort Gadsden to deliver the money and to ask Milly to marry him.

While Florida legend claims that they married and went on to raise a family on the Suwannee River, that is not true. Milly thanked McCrimmon for his generosity, but gently declined his marriage proposal, explaining that her actions that day on the bank of the Wakulla River had been born of compassion for a fellow human being, a frightened boy in a terrible situation, and not because of any romantic interest. They parted as friends, and Milly returned to the Creek Nation with her mother and sister, where she eventually married a young Creek man. Unfortunately, her story does not have a “happily ever after” ending.

Widowed in 1836 when her husband died of fever while serving with the Creek Brigade against the Seminoles in Florida in the Second Seminole War, Milly Francis also lost at least two of her children to disease and famine. She walked the long Trail of Tears when her people were forced to march overland to Oklahoma Territory during the Indian Removal. She arrived at Fort Gibson, in present-day Oklahoma, in early 1838 and built a dirt-floored log cabin on the site of today’s Bacone College in Muskogee, Oklahoma, where she lived in poverty with her children, eking out a living any way she could.

It appeared that things might improve a few years later when Lieutenant Colonel Ethan Allen Hitchcock, a grandson of Revolutionary War hero Ethan Allen, was sent to Indian Territory to assess claims that corrupt Indian agents were cheating the people they were assigned to help. He met Milly and heard her story, and vowed to do something about it. He petitioned the War Department to do something to help Milly, and after two years of debate, in 1844 Congress approved a bill to give Milly a pension of $96 per year. Congress also awarded her a special “medal of honor” for saving the life of Duncan McCrimmon. But it then took another four years for the money and medal to actually be sent to Oklahoma. By then it was too late. Milly Francis died of tuberculosis in 1848.

Today this monument, funded by students in the 1930s, marks her gravesite on the campus of Bacone College in Muskogee, Oklahoma.

A second monument honoring the Creek Pocahontas is at San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park in St. Marks, Florida, and a historical marker at Fort Gadsden Historic Site in Eastpoint, Florida also tells her story. You can learn more about the life of this amazing woman in the book Milly Francis: The Life & Times of the Creek Pocahontas, available on Amazon.

Congratulations John Berquist, winner of our drawing for an audiobook of Big Lake Burning, the sixth book in my Big Lake mystery series. We had 71 entries this time around. Stay tuned, a new contest starts soon.

Thought For The Day – Some days I have no idea what I’m doing out of bed.