Nick Russell

Sep 212020
 

At one time Fort Smith, Arkansas was a wide open town where gamblers and prostitutes, bootleggers, and Indian traders all flourished on the traffic that came up the Arkansas River and across country headed for the Indian Territory of Oklahoma. This was the last bastion of civilization, the home of “Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker’s Federal Court, a wild place known as “Hell on the Border.”

Any trip into Fort Smith’s colorful past should begin at the city’s historic Miss Laura’s Visitor Center. Built just before the turn of the last century, in 1896, as the city’s unique Riverfront Hotel, the ornate Victorian building soon became widely known as “Miss Laura’s,” the premier bawdyhouse in the rough-and-tumble part of Fort Smith along the Arkansas River.

One of seven houses of ill-repute in the red light district located between the river and the railroad tracks, two important sources of business, Miss Laura’s Social Club was known as the “Queen of the Row” in the wild border town. The building was purchased in 1903 by Laura Zeigler, a prostitute who had moved to Arkansas from Vermont. She raised the money necessary with a $3,000 loan from a Fort Smith bank. It is said that her bordello was so successful that she paid off her debt in a matter of months.

Laura Zeigler turned her business into the classiest house on the “row.” Her working girls were not allowed downstairs unless they were fully dressed, and they received regular medical checkups, the results of which were tacked to the appropriate bedposts. Miss Laura hired only the best looking prostitutes, and charged accordingly. While the competition’s standard price was one dollar, Miss Laura’s girls charged three times as much.

Customers were greeted in the house’s elaborately decorated parlor, where they enjoyed a cigar and brandy while chatting with the ladies, then they made their selection and headed upstairs to the private rooms.

Miss Laura was a gracious hostess, but she did not suffer fools well, and a Smith and Wesson revolver sits handy on the nightstand of her bedroom in her private suite across the hall from the parlor.

Miss Laura’s competition all but disappeared in the winter of 1910 when a fire raged through the row and destroyed five of the bordellos. Flames were licking at Miss Laura’s gingerbread porch when the wind shifted and saved her business.

Miss Laura sold the brothel to Bertha Gale Dean in 1911 for $47,000 and left town. The bordello continued to be known as Miss Laura’s, and even though legalized prostitution ended in 1924, Miss Laura’s stayed open into the early 1940s, doing a steady business with soldiers stationed at nearby Fort Chaffee. Local laws required that every working girl have a monthly examination by a doctor and post her health certificate, just as Miss Laura had instituted from the very beginning.

Following the death of Bertha Dean, in 1949, the building was bought and sold several times and began to deteriorate. It was saved from the wrecker’s ball in 1963 when a local businessman purchased it and remodeled it as an upscale restaurant. In 1992 it became Fort Smith’s Visitor Center, but the building was heavily damaged by a tornado four years later. It has been completely restored to its original beauty, and today Miss Laura’s is the only former brothel on the National Register of Historic Places.

Visitors to Fort Smith can take a free tour of the old brothel and marvel at the handsome wood trim, stained glass windows, and beautiful textured wallpaper. If you did not know it’s history, you would believe that the building had been the home of a prosperous banker or merchant.

Downstairs, Miss Laura’s private suite has been totally restored, as well as the reception parlor across the hall.

Most of the bedrooms upstairs are now used for office space, though one is open and decorated as it was during the brothel’s working days. Above each door the occupant’s name is etched into the frosted glass. Our tour guide told us that since having the glass replaced when a girl left was too expensive, her replacement just took on her working name.

Several showcases display artifacts from Fort Smith’s past, including tokens given to customers and local politicians that could be exchanged for a girl’s services during their next visit to the bordello. Women visitors are given their very own health certificate, a copy of one a working girl was required to post on her headboard back in the day.

Miss Laura’s is located at 2 North B Street, near the U.S. Highway 64 bridge over the Arkansas River. The Visitor Center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and is closed on Sundays. For more information, call (800) 637-1477.

Congratulations Julian Banks, winner of our drawing for an audiobook of Big Lake, the first book in my Big Lake mystery series. We had 54 entries this time around. Stay tuned, a new contest starts soon.

Thought For The Day – Be careful when you follow the masses. Sometimes the M is silent.

A Launch Is Coming!

 Posted by at 12:05 am  Nick's Blog
Sep 202020
 

No, not a rocket launch at Cape Canaveral. SpaceX was supposed to launch a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 60 Starlink satellites on Thursday but the launch was scrubbed due to strong currents that would make it difficult for the company’s rocket landing platform to hold its position in the Atlantic Ocean. There was talk of sending it up on Friday, but that was delayed, too. They’ll get it up sooner or later, and hopefully I’ll be outside watching.

The launch I’m talking about is that of my new book, The Good Years. It’s the second book in my Tinder Street family saga, and it is being formatted now and should be back to me sometime late today or tomorrow. I’ll give it a look through and make sure everything is okay, and hopefully be able to upload it to Amazon Monday or Tuesday.

I’m always excited about getting a new book out. Yesterday was spent doing the preparations that go along with a new release. I wrote the blurb to describe the book that will appear on Amazon, worked on my author’s newsletter, which will go out as soon as it is live, and did some other behind the scenes promotion efforts.

I’m not the only person with a new book. My dear friend Mona Ingram just released Choosing Love, the eighth and final book in her Love in a Bottle Series, and it is available at all major e-book retailers. Mona is a fantastic author with a dedicated following. I think if you read one of her books, you’ll be a fan, too. Check her out at https://www.monaingram.com/ Mona is also a generous author and you can find many of her books free at this link.

A few months ago I told you about some heavy PVC we were putting in on the canal bank next to our house to hopefully build a type of seawall to keep any more of our yard from eroding away.

Between my bad back and the hot weather, I was never able to finish that project. Talking to a friend who knows a lot more about these things than I do, he suggested replacing the PVC with 4×6” pressure-treated lumber and bolting everything together with stainless steel bolts and nuts. I had a couple of fellows come over to do the job for me, and here it is. Those uprights are in deep enough that they’re not going anywhere.

We will be placing a porous ground fabric down, then will get fill dirt delivered on Tuesday. Once it is raked into place, we will top it off with a few inches of topsoil to bring the ground back up to level.

The county owns the canal, and about once every other year or so they send somebody out to cut the weeds down. As you can see, it’s been a while.

One of the neighbors suggested planting ferns as a groundcover to also help against erosion, but when I called the local nursery yesterday to ask about their availability, they suggested perennial peanut instead. It’s a relative of the peanut family, low maintenance, and does a good job of spreading quickly and providing good groundcover against erosion, and also has pretty yellow flowers. I’ll keep you updated as the rest of the project goes along.

I am trying to build up my presence on the BookBub website, and I would appreciate your help. Please consider going to my author’s page and following me there. It’s quick and easy and there is no cost. And If you have reviewed any of my past books on Amazon, cutting and pasting the review to my BookBub page would help me tremendously. The link is https://www.bookbub.com/profile/nick-russell?list=author_books. Thank you.

Today is your last chance to enter our Free Drawing for an audiobook of Big Lake, the first book in my Big Lake mystery series. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn this evening.

Thought For The Day – If we are ever in a situation where I am the voice of reason, we are in a very bad situation.

Sep 192020
 

When Helen Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, in 1880, the world was a very different, and sometimes harsh place. People with physical challenges faced a hard life under the best of circumstances, and a child growing up handicapped often had a very limited future.

Helen Keller was born into this world as a healthy child, but at the age of nineteen months, she became very ill, and though she recovered, the ordeal left her both deaf and blind. Helen was the daughter of a well to do family, and her father, who had served as a Confederate officer during the Civil War and was forever after known as Captain Keller, refused to accept the fact that he would not find someone to help his daughter escape her dark and silent world.

By the age of six, Helen was almost untouchable, described by many as “half-wild.” Her father took her to visit noted inventor Alexander Graham Bell, who helped arrange for a remarkable young woman named Anne Sullivan to come to Ivy Green, the family home in Tuscumbia, as Helen’s teacher.

Anne Sullivan was a dedicated and stubborn teacher, one more than capable of dealing with this undisciplined child. She was also immediately filled with love for her new charge and dedicated the rest of her life to caring for then seven-year-old Helen.

Anne Sullivan’s methods were unorthodox, and there could have been a power struggle between the parents and teacher that might have hampered Helen’s education. Fortunately, Helen’s family was willing to allow the teacher to do what she thought necessary to break through the walls imprisoning their child.

Anne’s first step was to remove Helen from the family home and moving herself and the young girl into a smaller building next door that Helen’s parents had lived in when she was born. Anne pushed Helen in a stroller for hours before finally taking her into the house, convincing the child she was far away from her family and home, and forcing her to rely on her teacher for everything. Then Anne Sullivan set to work to break through the silence.

Working day and night with Helen, Anne tried one method after another to reach the child. The miracle breakthrough came at a well in the back yard, when Anne pumped cool water over one of Helen’s hands, while repeatedly tapping out an alphabet code of five letters in the palm of her other hand. The scene was repeated over and over again as the young girl struggled to escape her world of silence.

Suddenly the signals connected, and Helen understood that the tapped code letters meant the cool liquid flowing over her hand, and remembered water from her first days before illness had struck. “Waa waa” she uttered excitedly. Communication was established, and by the end of the day, Helen had learned an astonishing thirty words!

From that point on, there was no stopping Helen Keller. She quickly learned the fingertip alphabet, and within six months, she knew 625 words. By the time she was ten years old, she had mastered Braille, as well as the manual alphabet, and even learned to use the typewriter. By age sixteen, Helen could speak well enough to attend preparatory school and college. She graduated ‘cum laude’ from Radcliff College in 1904, Anne Sullivan staying by her side throughout her school years, interpreting lectures and class discussions for her.

Once locked in a prison of silence and darkness, Helen Keller dedicated her life to improving conditions for the blind and deaf around the world. She wrote numerous books and became an accomplished public speaker. She lectured in more than 25 countries on five continents, and wherever she appeared, she brought new hope and courage to millions of blind people.

Anne Sullivan, the teacher who would not give up on Helen, became known as the “Miracle Worker” and spent the rest of her life working with her student and friend.

Today, Ivy Green, the Helen Keller home and birthplace, is a museum to the brave young girl who grew up to inspire so many. The simple white clapboard home was built in 1820 by Helen’s grandparents, David and Mary Keller, and originally sat on a 640-acre tract of land. Untouched by the ravages of the Civil War, today the home is maintained to the smallest detail in its original state, and though the grounds have shrunk considerably, several outbuildings still remain, including a cooking shack, the separate small cottage where Anne Sullivan took young Helen to begin working with her, and the famous well pump where child and teacher finally managed to make a connection.

Inside, the house is furnished with many Keller family furnishings and items. Each room holds hundreds of Helen Keller’s personal mementos, books, gifts from admirers, photos of Helen at different stages of her life, and her clothing. One museum room contains books written by Helen Keller, her Braille typewriter, a handsome bust of Helen, and toys she played with as a child.

The grounds at Ivy Green include outbuildings and the Lions International Memorial Garden, which gives some idea of the millions of lives that Helen Keller touched. The estate is nestled under a canopy of 150-year-old English boxwood, magnolia, mimosa, and other trees. Roses, honeysuckle, and other flowers scent the air with a wonderful fragrance.

During June and July, William Gibson’s famous play The Miracle Worker, based on Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan’s lives, is presented on the grounds on Friday and Saturday evenings. Tuscumbia also holds a Helen Keller Festival in June of every year to celebrate Helen Keller’s accomplishments, with children’s activities, a parade, arts and craft shows, an antique show, a car show, vendors, and other special events.

A visit to Ivy Green is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about Helen Keller, her teacher Anne Sullivan, and about the accomplishments Helen made for the benefit of the blind and deaf.

Tuscumbia, Alabama is located about 50 miles west of Decatur, Alabama, and Interstate 65. There is limited room to park a large RV at Ivy Green, so you would be advised to park at a local RV park and drive your tow vehicle. Ivy Green is open Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 888-329-2124.

Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Big Lake, the first book in my Big Lake mystery series. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.

Thought For The Day – Happiness is a choice. You can be happy at any time, just choose to be.

Sep 182020
 

Traveling around the country in a motorhome for over 18 years, we met a lot of people. Many of them were casual acquaintances, some became our close friends, while others were chance encounters, like ships passing in the night. But the one thing that always impressed me from coast to coast and border to border was how truly nice most people are.

Maybe this was because it was before politics divided the country so bad, I don’t know. But it seemed like whether they were young or old, black or white, or however you describe people, the majority of the ones we met were all open and friendly. I miss that.

When we were building our MCI bus conversion we were in Casa Grande, Arizona for a week or so and I needed to replace the starting batteries. The big heavy 8D batteries that came with the bus were pretty much shot so I went down to Walmart to get some new ones. Since the bus would no longer be used for commercial service and we had removed the original massive air conditioner, I planned to just get two regular size heavy duty batteries.

When I paid for the batteries, the clerk said if I had the old batteries, they would give me $5 each as a core charge. I actually had the batteries in the back of our pickup truck. A friend had helped me load them, hoping Walmart would just take them off my hands and trash them. So I went outside with a large flat rolling cart, put the new smaller batteries in the back of the truck, and tried to muscle the old heavy ones onto the dolly. Each battery weighed 130 pounds and they were way too heavy for me. I thought that maybe with the tailgate down I could slide one end off and onto the dolly and then swing the high-end down.

While I was pondering that, a husky young man in a pickup truck pulled into the empty space next to me. He was a typical Arizona farm or ranch kid, maybe 17 nor 18 years old, wearing jeans, a T-shirt, well worn boots, and a straw cowboy hat. He asked, “Do you need some help, sir?” I told him I sure did, that I needed to get those batteries off the truck and onto the cart, and I would appreciate it if he would give me a hand. I expected that he would take one and I would take the other, but instead, he grabbed one of the big batteries and easily lifted it out of the truck and onto the cart, and then the other one.

“There you go, sir,” he said. I was thinking to myself, what a great kid! We always hear about the lazy kids that are too busy playing video games to get off the couch, and the ones that are out raising hell and spraying graffiti on things, but this nice kid was doing a kindness for a total stranger.

I pulled out a $10 bill and offered it to him as thanks, and he said, “No, sir, I couldn’t take your money.” I told him he deserved it and he said, “Oh, no, sir! If my grandpa was having a problem, I would want someone to help him.” I think I was about 48 years old at the time and told him I wasn’t old enough to be his grandpa, but maybe his father.

The young whippersnapper said, “No, sir, my father’s young. My grandpa’s old like you.” I thanked him for his time and pushed the cart back into Walmart, all the while muttering under my breath about the little smart alec. Grandpa indeed!

But not all young people are that disrespectful. We were in a Kohl’s store in Clermont, Florida and I wanted to buy new shoes. We had been there a couple of weeks earlier and I had seen the shoes I wanted. But when we went back, they had rearranged the store and I could not find the shoe department. It was close to Christmas and the place was busy. Try as I might, I couldn’t find what I was looking for. Then I saw a young man in slacks and a button-down shirt with a tie and said, “Excuse me, can you point me toward the shoe department ?” He took me across the store to the shoe department and I immediately saw the shoes I wanted and picked them up, but they were the wrong size.

He had started to walk away and I called him back and asked, “Do you know if these come in a size 9W?” He looked at several boxes of the shoes and said he didn’t see any, so I asked if they might have some in the back room. He shook his head and said, “I really don’t know. You’d have to ask one of the employees.” I apologized and told him I thought he was an employee, and he said, “No, just a guy waiting for my wife to get done shopping.”

Another time, we were in southern Indiana and left our motorhome at a campground while we went out looking for a place that sold kayaks in the area, as we were just getting interested in them at the time. We tried to find the place, but we couldn’t. It was about 5 o’clock on a summer afternoon, and I pulled into a convenience store and went inside. There was a man in his late 20s working at the counter, and a couple of young women were standing around talking to him.

I asked if he knew how I could get to such and such kayak shop. He told me sure, just go down the road about 4 miles to the Johnson place, turn left down the winding road to the bluffs, whatever that was, then turn right by Jesse Smith’s place. In another mile or so the kayak shop would be on the left. By then my eyes had glassed over and he looked at me and said, “You ain’t from around here, are you?” I admitted that we weren’t, and he said, “Okay, don’t worry. Girls, watch the store.” We went outside and he said, “Follow my pickup.” He led us several miles down a series of winding country roads until we came upon the kayak shop. He made a U-turn, honked and waved, and went back to work. That’s country hospitality for you.

Of course, sometimes those chance encounters can make you laugh so hard you bust a gut. In cool weather, if we’re not going anywhere, I like to get comfortable in a sweatshirt and a pair of sweatpants if all I’m doing is writing. We were staying at The Great Outdoors RV resort in Titusville, Florida and I wanted a new set.

We went to the local Walmart, and while Terry was shopping I went to the men’s department and was looking for sweatpants and a sweatshirt. I couldn’t find any, but I saw a very large African-American woman who looked to be in her late 40s or early 50s wearing a blue Walmart vest. “Excuse me,” I said, “do you have sweats?” The lady put her hands on her hips and said, “Darlin’, I got sweats, I got chills, I got night terrors, and I got hot flashes. Pick whichever one you want.”

I laughed so hard I had tears running down my face. And she helped me find exactly the sweats I was looking for, too.

Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Big Lake, the first book in my Big Lake mystery series. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.

Thought For The Day – Why am I the only naked person at this gender reveal party?

Sep 172020
 

Many people think that the money from subscriptions is how a newspaper survives, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. At best, subscription income covers the cost of getting the paper delivered, and not always even that. Many newspapers spend a lot of money managing a circulation department. In fact, several of my newspapers were free because it was both cheaper and more profitable to give them away than to sell them. Newspapers survive on advertising. Without advertising dollars, no newspaper or TV or radio station can make it.

Early in my newspaper career, up in Grays Harbor, Washington, there was a man who owned a large mobile home dealership, as well as a lumberyard, building supply store, and other businesses. His name was Bob, and I really wanted his business. In fact, I needed his business!

Bob always advertised heavily on the radio and with the other newspaper in town, but he would shake his head when I would come into his office and tell me, “Nick, I like you, and I consider you a friend, but nobody reads that free rag of yours.”

I never believed in giving up, so I called on Bob every week. In fact, I made a point of calling on Bob every Monday afternoon, sometime between 3 and 3:30. I did this for several months and never missed a week, and I always got the same answer. “Nobody reads that little paper of yours, and you’ll never convince me otherwise.”

Over time I became such a regular at his office that I was running late once because the drawbridge across the river in Aberdeen became stuck in the open position and I couldn’t get there. I finally turned around and went back to my office, and about 4 o’clock, I got a phone call from Bob, asking if I was okay. He was worried that I had not shown up on schedule.

Bob and I became good friends. He was a very successful businessman and a mentor to me in some ways. We would meet for lunch once in a while, and he invited my wife and me to his house for a cookout several times. But try as I might, I could not convince Bob to buy an ad because “nobody read my paper.”

One weekend I was at the grocery store and I happened to bump into Bob’s daughter. We chatted for a few minutes, and she reminded me that the coming Wednesday was her dad’s birthday and I was invited to a birthday barbecue at the family home. I promised her that I would be there.

That’s when the wheels started turning. Wednesday was not only my friend Bob’s birthday, it was also the day my weekly newspaper hit the street. So I decided to convince Bob that people really did read my newspaper.

Now, Bob was a prankster with a great sense of humor, and I had been on the receiving end of his practical jokes a couple of times, so I decided he was due for some payback. I would kill two birds with the same stone by showing him that people did read my paper. I always carried a camera, and I had several pictures of Bob I had taken at one time or another, including one of him sitting in his vintage Cadillac convertible.

This was in the days before cell phones, and most calls to Bob’s office went through the secretary out front. But I had his personal phone number. Not many people had that private number.

My newspaper hit the streets bright and early Wednesday morning, and the back page was covered with a picture of Bob sitting in his old car smiling. The 72-point bold red headline said, “Happy 60th Birthday Bob.” Under that in smaller, but still large type, was the message “Bob doesn’t believe anybody reads my newspaper, so please do me a favor and call him at this number (the private phone number on his desk) and tell him that Nick Russell said happy birthday. A man only turns 60 once, and it’s important to me that you help make Bob’s day.”

It was probably about 10 that morning when my secretary said Bob was on the phone and wanted to talk to me. I told her to tell him I would have to get back to him in a little bit. At 11 o’clock, Bob called again, and I was too busy to talk to him. I finally took his call about two in the afternoon, and Bob laughed and said, “You SOB, you put that in the paper, and I haven’t been able to get a damn thing done today because the phone is ringing off the hook. I finally had to unplug it, and now they’re calling the switchboard!”

I told Bob that I had no idea how that could possibly be happening since nobody read my little newspaper. The next issue, and for all the rest of the time I owned it, Bob always had at least a full-page ad in my newspaper from one of his businesses, and sometimes several.

Oh, and by the way, the barbecue was delicious, and so was the birthday cake.

It’s Thursday, so it’s time for a new Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Big Lake, the first book in my Big Lake mystery series. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.

Thought For The Day – I want to be 14 again and ruin my life differently. I have new ideas.

Sep 162020
 

The world exists in many dimensions, limited only by our own imaginations. At the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures in Tucson, Arizona, the big and the small exist side by side, each a reflection of the other, scaled up or scaled-down, depending on your point of view.

Created from the imagination and dedication of its founders, Patricia and Walter Arnell, the museum is a fascinating collection of miniature buildings accurate to the tiniest detail, a world of whimsy, and a trip back in time and to the land of fairytales, all in one. Male or female, young or old, no matter who you are, this wonderful museum will captivate you.

Patricia Arnell’s interest in miniatures began when she was a young girl in the 1930s and received her first miniatures, a set of Strombecker wooden dollhouse furniture. But it wasn’t until the Arnells moved to Tucson in 1979 that she began collecting in earnest. The Arnell’s became very active in the miniature community, and as their collection grew, they dreamed of a way to share it with more people. They envisioned an interactive space where the entertaining and educational aspects of the collection could be enjoyed by everyone; a place that would be enchanting, magical, and provide a rich sensory experience.

The concept of “the mini time machine” was born out of the notion that a visitor would be seemingly transported to different eras by the stories and history of the pieces in the collection.

The museum’s artifacts are organized into three main areas; the Enchanted Realm, the History Gallery, and Exploring the World.

The Enchanted Realm is a magical place and the pieces displayed in this gallery reflect that. Here you will find woodland creatures, snow villages, fairy castles, and a witch’s compound. If you don’t believe in wizards and elves when you enter, you may be by the time you leave.

The gallery includes a fine collection of Kewpie dolls, the creations of artist and writer Rose O’Neill, who started illustrating for magazines such as Collier’s and Harper’s Bazaar while still a teenager. O’Neill conceived the idea of the cartoon-like dolls for a feature in the December 8, 1908 issue of Ladies Home Journal. She had no idea how quickly they would capture the hearts of the nation. Before long, Kewpies were appearing in comic strips, on postcards, plates, pillows, cereal and Jell-O boxes, and countless other products. The dolls quickly became a worldwide phenomenon, making O’Neill a millionaire practically overnight.

I am a fan of artist Thomas Kinkaide and was delighted to see several of his Christmas cabins in the collection.

The pieces in the History and Antiques Gallery reflect different time periods and have historical value and significance. One of the oldest miniature houses in the United States, circa 1775, is part of this collection.

One of the miniature houses on display is a mansion called Lagniappe, a French Creole word meaning “a trifle extra.” The name is a modest description of this stunning re-creation of the fine homes built throughout the Virginia tidelands during the 18th Century. Each room features a particular decorating style and period, such as the Spanish Renaissance Room, the Ming Dynasty Room, and the American Empire Bedroom. The Brass Room is filled with almost all brass furnishings, and the floor, walls, and fireplace are trimmed in brass.

Master miniaturists use many of the same tools and techniques as craftsmen and artisans producing full size work. Wood is cut with precision saws, turned on lathes, or carved with chisels. Metal is snipped and soldered. Clay and porcelain are shaped by hand and fired in kilns. The only difference is in the scale of the equipment – miniature art requires miniature tools.

Whenever possible, a miniature is made from the same materials as its full-sized counterpart. Wood, stone, fabric, even glass, and precious metals are used in the tiny buildings and their furnishings.

A true masterpiece of miniature art reproduces exactly its life-sized counterpart down to the smallest nail or stitch. Producing miniature textiles requires special care since ordinary threads and stitching often look out of scale when used in a miniature. Miniature rugs that reproduce the patterns and textures of finely woven carpets are especially challenging. Traditional needlepoint typically employs thread counts of anywhere from 5 to 24, while in contrast, a miniature rug might have a thread count of 30 or 40 in order to look realistic.

The Scottish Regency mansion dates back to the 1950s or 60s and is a copy of an earlier miniature on display in an English museum.

Is it possible for a miniature house to be haunted by a miniature ghost? You might think so after hearing the story of the reproduction John Bellemy made of his own stately home on West Newton, Massachusetts in the 1880s. While it’s not known if Bellemy’s actual house was haunted, it seems that the miniature might have its own tiny poltergeist. While in museum founder Patricia Arnell’s original display room, the house was routinely disturbed in the middle of the night. Miniature chairs in the office would be found moved across the room and in the kitchen, a tiny toast rack would be moved from the stove to a spot on the floor beneath the table. How did that happen? Nobody has an answer to the mini-mystery.

Once the purvey of the wealthy, collecting miniatures became popular with people of all social classes by the mid-1800s, with railroads crossing the country and industrialization reducing the price of manufacturing and delivery.

A typical kit for a miniature house would include all of the necessary patterns, colorfully printed paper for interior and exterior walls and the roof, and detailed instructions on the right materials to use and how to assemble everything. While the finished house might not be to exact scale, it didn’t matter to the new miniaturists proudly displaying their first completed projects.

The R. Bliss Manufacturing Company started out making screws and clamps in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and expanded into the toy business. Combining their expertise in woodcraft with new inexpensive lithographic printing, they began creating simple wooden forms into colorful blocks, pull toys and doll houses. Advertised and sold through catalogs, the Bliss toy catalog was considered as important to children of that era as the Sears Roebuck catalog was to their parents. While not to scale and often a hodgepodge of different styles, Bliss houses have a distinctive charm that makes them popular with miniature collectors.

The Exploring the World gallery displays examples of how miniatures are used in other cultures, with items from artisans representing the U.K., France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Japan, Thailand, and Spain, among others.

Miniatures also have practical applications. Architects have used scale models of their buildings to sell their designs to clients, often spending hundreds, even thousands of dollars to produce these small three-dimensional examples of their work. Theater and motion picture directors use miniature models to create set designs and lighting to see how the action will look before cameras and crews are brought in. Occasionally a scale model is actually used in movie and television shows. Special effects artists have used miniatures to stand in for everything from ancient castles to spaceships. Such classics as Ben Hur, Citizen Kane, The Wizard of Oz, King Kong, and Star Wars all used skillfully created miniatures.

If you have an interest in collecting or creating miniatures, the people at the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures say you don’t have to be a master craftsman or spend years building a huge collection to join the growing community of miniature enthusiasts. The world of miniatures welcomes anyone with even a casual interest in this unique art. One way to get started and meet like-minded people is to visit a local miniatures club or attend one of the many events sponsored by national miniature groups, where you will find workshops and demonstrations, and see a wide variety of tools and miniature supplies offered by vendors.

And don’t be surprised if you do come away from a visit to the museum with a newfound appreciation for and interest in the miniaturists’ art. After seeing the museum collection of over 275 miniature buildings and thousands of finely crafted furnishings and accessories, it would be hard not to be.

The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures is located at 4455 E. Camp Lowell Road in Tucson and is open Wednesday – Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays, Tuesdays, and major holidays. Admission is $10.50 for adults, $8.50 for seniors over age 65, $7 for students and those ages 4 -17, and children age 3 and under are admitted free. The parking lot at the museum is not appropriate for RVs, so park your rig at one of Tucson’s many RV parks and drive your tow vehicle or dinghy. For more information, call the museum at (520) 881-0606 or visit their website at https://theminitimemachine.org/

Thought For The Day – Spiderman wears a mask. So can you.

Sep 152020
 

I have a problem with my wife and I just don’t know what to do about it. I know what I should do about it, but that’s not going to happen. You see, my wife is the best cook in the world, and she makes wonderful treats all the time. It’s something she loves to do, and I love to eat everything she makes, as my waistline proves. That’s the problem. I should exercise at least a little bit of willpower, but I have none.

It’s been a while since Terry made some of her delicious cinnamon rolls, but yesterday she decided it was time. Actually, she decided the night before, because she made the dough up and put them in the refrigerator to rise overnight. We had some for breakfast yesterday morning, and I would say they were delicious, but that would an understatement. We did take some to the neighbors across the street, but that still left plenty for me. Cholesterol be damned, I’m going to go have another one!

We go to the grocery store every two or three weeks, and yesterday afternoon it was time because we were out of quite a few essentials, including chocolate milk. We got to Publix at about 3 PM, and it wasn’t very crowded. We were pleased to see that everybody in the store, customers and staff alike, were wearing masks. Maybe people are finally getting the message.

My ego got a little bit of a boost when I smiled at a young woman with a child, and she said, “Even with the mask on, I can tell you’re smiling. You have smiling eyes.” Talk about making an old man feel nice!

Back at home, we carried the groceries in, and Terry put things away while I answered a bunch of emails and looked for a photograph that Elizabeth Mackey could use on the cover of my new Tinder Street book. I wanted something like an old Model T, but the best thing she could find and get the right to use was a 1931 Ford. It was gorgeous, and I loved it, but the book runs from 1920 to 1925, so, unfortunately, it did not fit the time period.

But longtime reader Donald Hann posted a picture of a 1925 car for me and told me where he found it. It was at an antique automobile dealership and museum in Pennsylvania, so I called to inquire about getting the rights to use the photo. The president of the company told me that I was more than welcome to use it, and when I offered to pay him, he said just to send him a copy of the book. How cool is that? So here is the finished cover.

Terry finished proofing the last part of the new book yesterday, and I made her corrections and sent it on to proofreader number two. I’m looking forward to getting this one behind me so I can start my next Big Lake book. I’ve missed Sheriff Jimmy and the people in that quirky little mountain town.

And finally, here’s a chuckle to start your day from the collection of funny signs we see in our travels and that our readers share with us.

Thought For The Day – If you believe all this will end and we will get back to normal just because we reopen everything, raise your hand. Now slap yourself with it.

Another One Done!

 Posted by at 12:01 am  Nick's Blog
Sep 142020
 

Yesterday afternoon I finished The Good Years, book two in my Tinder Street historical family saga. I started working on it on July 16 and it came in at 103,289 words. Now on to the proofing/editing stage.

Things should go quicker with this book because we tried something different this time around. During the writing process, after every two or three chapters, I would print them out for Miss Terry to proof and edit. Then I would make her corrections and send it on to my second proofreader to do her thing. When she sent it back, I made her corrections and it went to proofreader number three. So, most of the book has already been edited and proofread. Before I publish it, all three will take another look at the final manuscript. However, there should not be too much for them to deal with, so I think it will go faster.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Mackey, my excellent cover artist, is busy creating a cover for the new book. Unless something totally crazy happens, it should be out before the end of the month.

This is my fifth book this year, and I plan to release another book in my Big Lake mystery series by Christmas. A relatively new author I met online, who is just finishing her first book, asked me how it was possible for me to turn out so many books in such a short time. I told her that this is my business, and I approach it as a business. I usually write anywhere from 4 to 6 hours a day. I also spend another couple of hours a day on promotion, and anywhere from 2 to 3 hours a day on research. That’s seven days a week, and doesn’t count my daily blog, which runs anywhere from 500 to 1,000 words or more.

It’s like any other small business. If you want to succeed, you put your nose to the grindstone and you keep it there. I seldom take a complete day off. Maybe two or three times a month, at most. Between Florida’s hot, humid summer and COVID-19 self-isolating, it sure has made it easy to get a lot of work done!

And finally, here’s a chuckle to start your day from the collection of funny signs we see in our travels and that our readers share with us.

Congratulations Tim Miller, winner of our drawing for an audiobook of Dead Letter by Catherine Bender. The first book in the M. Falcon mystery series, it’s the tale of amateur detectives in their golden years with a treasure trove of unexpected skills and unconventional tactics, including a sweet wheelchair bound grandmother type who is a master computer hacker, a semi-retired actress who seizes the opportunity to live her dream of being a super spy, a homeless veteran, and other blue hairs who are not content to rock their lives away in boring retirement. We had 59 entries this time around. Stay tuned, a new contest starts soon.

Thought For The Day – I lived on a houseboat for a while and started a relationship with the girl next door. But eventually, we drifted apart.

September Potpourri

 Posted by at 12:45 am  Nick's Blog
Sep 132020
 

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

***

After reading yesterday’s blog, I Played Hooky, two people told me I must be confused because I wrote about seeing dolphins, manatee, and an occasional small shark from our dock on the Intercoastal Waterway. They said in looking at a map of the area, we are on the Indian River, and rivers are freshwater, not saltwater. Not exactly correct. Wikipedia explains it in part by saying: The Indian River is a 121-mile long brackish lagoon in Florida. It is part of the Indian River Lagoon system, which in turn forms part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. The Indian River extends southward from the Ponce de Leon inlet in New Smyrna Beach in Volusia County southward and across the Haulover Canal and along the western shore of Merritt Island. The Banana River flows into the Indian River on the island’s south side. The Indian River continues southward to St. Lucie Inlet. Brackish water is a combination of freshwater and saltwater, which explains the sea life we have, along with alligators.

***

Something else that comes up now and then on the same subject is that I call it the Intercoastal Waterway, but the correct spelling is Intracoastal. That is true, but around here, the locals say it and spell it Intercoastal, so I do, too. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

***

Someone who read Tinder Street, the first book in my historical family saga, wrote to tell me that they were disappointed that I referred to a Negro doorman in the book and that I should have said African American. No, that scene took place in 1917. There was no such term as African Americans in those days. That term had not been invented yet. They were Negroes. I write the way it fits the book and the character, and I’m sorry if that offends anyone, but it is what it is.

***

Speaking of books, if you enjoy easy reading mysteries, my pal Donna McNicol has some great deals going on for a short time. You can get all three of her C’Mon Inn mystery books, Paradise Down, Paradise Dead, and Paradise Drift, as well as book one of her Klondike Mysteries, Not a Whisper, and her romance, Home Again, for just 99¢ each today and tomorrow. That’s a lot of excellent reading for next to nothing.

***

Today is your last chance to enter our Free Drawing, for an audiobook of Dead Letter by Catherine Bender. The first book in the M. Falcon mystery series, it’s the tale of amateur detectives in their golden years with a treasure trove of unexpected skills and unconventional tactics, including a sweet wheelchair bound grandmother type who is a master computer hacker, a semi-retired actress who seizes the opportunity to live her dream of being a super spy, a homeless veteran, and other blue hairs who are not content to rock their lives away in boring retirement. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.

Thought For The Day – If these last months have taught us anything, it’s that stupidity travels faster than any virus on the planet, particularly among politicians and bureaucrats.

I Played Hooky

 Posted by at 12:19 am  Nick's Blog
Sep 122020
 

I have been working hard on the second book in the Tinder Street saga and I should be finishing it sometime in the coming week. I thought it would go quicker than this, but as with the first book in the series, there was a lot of research to be done. It’s important to me that if I describe a certain car or a certain business that was in Toledo, Ohio in the mid-1920s, that it really was there. Just yesterday I was researching the qualifications to become a schoolteacher in Ohio in 1925. That took me down a rabbit hole and cost me over two hours of my life!

I love what I do and never really think of it as work, but sometimes I just have to get away from it for a while. The other day was one of those days. I told Terry I needed to play hooky and get out of the house for a little bit, so we want down to our dock and soaked up some saltwater air.

We live 800 yards from the Intercoastal Waterway, and our long fishing dock and boat launch played a big part in our decision to purchase the home we did.

We love sitting out here, just enjoying the views up and down the river.

Not to mention the animals. There are always birds sitting on the pilings, there are usually some pelicans around, occasionally we will see a skate, which is a cousin to the stingray, and we’ve even seen a few small sharks. And that doesn’t include the manatee who hang out here in the wintertime, and the dolphins. It’s very seldom that we go down to the dock and don’t see dolphins playing in the water.

There were three of them out there this time around, and one started swimming toward the dock, but then changed its mind and turned around and went in the other direction. They stayed far enough away that I wasn’t able to get a good picture of them as they rolled up out of the water.

It was a hot day but there was a breeze blowing and we were sitting on a bench with a cover, so we weren’t getting the direct impact of the sun. That’s a good thing because it was somewhere around 90° and the humidity was in the 70% area. That sounds terrible, but again, the breeze off the water made it comfortable.

Because of the manatee, our section of the Intercoastal Waterway is a no-wake zone. I’ve seen what a boat propeller can do to manatee, and it is not pretty. But, of course, there are always people like this jackass who believe the rules don’t apply to them, speeding through the area and totally ignoring the law. Why are people such jerks?

Back home, we had a package from Amazon waiting for us. Miss Terry had ordered a new bed cover, and I think it looks pretty nice. How about you? While the color is right on the bedcover, for some reason, the color of our wall is way too dark in this picture.

I’ll be back at it today. I’m getting so close to the end of this book that I can see it coming at me. It will be nice to get this one out of the way, and then I can jump back into the Big Lake series and knock one of those out before the end of the year.

Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing, and we’ve got another great prize this week. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Dead Letter by Catherine Bender. The first book in the M. Falcon mystery series, it’s the tale of amateur detectives in their golden years with a treasure trove of unexpected skills and unconventional tactics, including a sweet wheelchair bound grandmother type who is a master computer hacker, a semi-retired actress who seizes the opportunity to live her dream of being a super spy, a homeless veteran, and other blue hairs who are not content to rock their lives away in boring retirement. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.

Thought For The Day – When this virus thing is over with, I still want some of you to stay away from me.

23 Years Ago

 Posted by at 12:51 am  Nick's Blog
Sep 112020
 

I know that today marks 19 years since the terrible 9/11 terrorist attacks on our nation. We must never forget that terrible day, or to honor those who were lost. 9/11 memorials will be all over the media today, and rightly so. But I want take you back four more years further in the past to a day that is very significant in our lives.

23 years ago today, Terry and I had our first official date. We had been casual acquaintances for a long time, since the business she ran advertised in my newspaper for many years, and I always admired and respected her. My marriage had ended and I swore I was never going to get involved with anybody again, telling all my friends that I had been shot twice and married twice, and you can get over shot quicker than you can married. As for Terry, she always wore a big ring on her finger and I just assumed she was married. Well, as it turned out I was wrong on all counts.

I have written about how it all began before, and you can read about it at this link from a blog a couple of years ago. Over time our business acquaintance and a casual friendship began to look like there might be more to it, so I asked her if she would like to go to a movie. Nobody was more surprised than me when she said yes. How could the prettiest woman in Show Low, Arizona, be willing to spend an evening with me?

Over the years I’ve done a lot of things, including being a soldier, being shot at, jumping out of perfectly good airplanes, and winnning my first and only stock car race. But none of that scared me more than the drive to Terry’s house to pick her up that evening. So much so that I had to stop at my secretary’s house, halfway there, to throw up. Seriously, I was that nervous.

We went to a movie, and the instant comfort we had always had with each other was there. So much so that we spent most of the movie scrunched down in our seats, our heads together whispering back and forth to each other. I am sure we must have bothered the people around us to no end.

After the movie, we went to get a bite to eat, and we ended up sitting in the restaurant and talking until dawn. We were both shocked at how fast the time had gone.

Two weeks later we had our second date, and it never ended. We have been together ever since, only spending two or three nights apart, when Terry was in the hospital with radiation implants during her cancer ordeal and they would not allow me to stay with her. And every day just keeps getting better. I love you, Terry.

Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing, and we’ve got another great prize this week. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Dead Letter by Catherine Bender. The first book in the M. Falcon mystery series, it’s the tale of amateur detectives in their golden years with a treasure trove of unexpected skills and unconventional tactics, including a sweet wheelchair bound grandmother type who is a master computer hacker, a semi-retired actress who seizes the opportunity to live her dream of being a super spy, a homeless veteran, and other blue hairs who are not content to rock their lives away in boring retirement. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.

Thought For The Day – A happy marriage is a long conversation which always seems too short.

Sep 102020
 

Maybe I’m just weird, but while most young boys my age were lusting over Annette Funicello or Sky King’s niece Penny, I was in love with Morticia Addams, the matriarch of the Addams Family, on our old black and white television.

Maybe it was her high cheekbones, or the long black hair, or those octopus legs; whatever it was about the woman, I was in love. Or at least lust. And though she was probably the original Goth girl, Morticia had a soft side to her. Who can forget her lovingly feeding her African Strangler plant, which she named Cleopatra?

I think Morticia would have felt right at home if she were to visit the Darlingtonia Wayside, which is located a few miles north of Florence, Oregon.

The small day use wayside is the perfect example of the kind of surprises awaiting you when you get off the busy interstate highways and travel America’s two lane roads. The wayside has picnic tables and restrooms and a path that leads to an interesting botanical garden that is home to the interesting Darlingtonia californica, also called the cobra lily.

These interesting carnivorous plants have yellow-green hoods and 10 to 20 inch stalks that are hollow tubes. A sweet smelling nectar attracts insects into a hidden opening in the stalk that is bordered by a large mustache-shaped appendage beneath the curved hood. Once inside, the insect becomes confused by transparent areas that appear like exits and moves deeper and deeper into the depths of the plant, where it is trapped by sharp downward pointed hairs until it tires and drops into a pool of liquid at the bottom. Bacteria in the liquid decomposes the victim and it is then absorbed by the plant. Tell me Morticia wouldn’t love these things!

These surprisingly beautiful plants, which are found in bogs in northern California and southwestern Oregon, flower in May and June, with hanging yellow and red blooms. The erect seed pods remain through summer and into early fall.

The next time you find yourself on the Oregon coast, stop and check out the Wayside. It will not accommodate large RVs, but smaller Class C or B vans would not have a problem.

It’s Thursday, so it’s time for a new Free Drawing, and we’ve got another great prize this week. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Dead Letter by Catherine Bender. The first book in the M. Falcon mystery series, it’s the tale of amateur detectives in their golden years with a treasure trove of unexpected skills and unconventional tactics, including a sweet wheelchair bound grandmother type who is a master computer hacker, a semi-retired actress who seizes the opportunity to live her dream of being a super spy, a homeless veteran, and other blue hairs who are not content to rock their lives away in boring retirement. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.

Thought For The Day – I bought a new stick deodorant and the instructions to remove cap and push up bottom. I can barely walk, but when I toot the room smells lovely.

Sep 042020
 

For the last month or so, every so often when I would turn on my Dell desktop computer, it would not fully boot up. It would start the process and then go to a blank screen. Usually when that happened it would take two or three attempts before the computer would finally come on.

Then, starting three or four days ago, it would start to boot up and then go to a blue screen that would give me one of several different messages. One message was that there was a Registry Error, another message was that there was a Kernel Security Check Failure, or a Kmode Exception Not Handled message, or a System Service Exception, or an APC Index Mismatch.

When that happened, the computer would automatically restart itself, and more than half the time it would go right back to that same screen blue screen, although always with one of the other messages mentioned. Or, if it did start up, I might be able to work for five minutes to two hours, and all of a sudden I would get a message that said Windows failed to load and I would have to start the process all over again. To add to that, a few days ago when it crashed, it wiped out my email program. When I got the mail set back up, I had lost all recent emails from probably the last 10 to 12 days. They were just gone.

When I got up Wednesday morning, the computer was again playing these silly games, and I fooled around with it for over two hours with no success. By then we had to leave to go to Jacksonville for an appointment Terry had at Mayo.

The good news is, the trip to Mayo and back was easy, as was her appointment. She has to go back in six months for another follow-up, but everything seems to be fine in that department.

We got back home somewhere around 5 o’clock Wednesday afternoon, and for three hours I fought with the computer, trying to get it to load. Only once in all that time did it actually load up and work, and that only lasted for about 15 minutes. By then, if I had any hair, I would have been pulling it out.

Fortunately, one of my neighbors, a young man named Mike Smith, does some computer repair on the side. I texted him, and he asked me to drop the computer off on his porch and he would come out, sanitize and pick it up, then take a look at it. We are both aware of COVID 19 restrictions and we both have some health issues, so we were not going to talk face-to-face. Mike kept the computer overnight and was working on it again yesterday. When I talked to him in the afternoon, he said that it did not seem to be a hardware problem, but rather an operating system issue. He had some other things to take care and then he would start reloading it. I am sure glad I back everything up religiously!

I didn’t post a blog for Thursday because I was just too worn out and frustrated to deal with it. I don’t use my laptop very often, usually just when we are on trips, and when I got it out I could not get Microsoft Word or any of my Office 365 apps to run. They kept giving me a message that my subscription was expired. I knew that was wrong, because Terry and I share a subscription and it still has a year to go. I spent a couple hours trying to find a solution to that problem online and got nowhere. Finally, after being on hold on the computer for close to another hour, someone from Microsoft tech support came on. As it turns out, when I first bought the computer it came with a year of the business version of Microsoft Office, and when that expired, I switched to the home edition Terry and I share. But the business edition never got deleted, which I why I was getting the error messages

The tech very patiently talked me through how to delete the business version and then to activate the home version. When he got that done, I thought I was good to go and thanked him for his time. But then when I started trying to get some work done, I could not get the ribbon bar across the top with all the different tools to appear. Fortunately, I was able to go online and do some research and get that problem fixed.

But wait, there’s more! The next issue was that my Dragon Naturally Speaking program would not recognize my digital recorder. So, I had to delete the program from the laptop and reinstall it.

Long story short, even with all the delays, frustrations, and headaches, I was able to knock out another 2,000 words in my new Tinder Street book by the end of the day, and to write this blog.

Mike tells me that he hopes to have my desktop computer back to me sometime today, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Thought For The Day – It’s finally September. Only 47 more months to go and this year is over!

No Thursday Blog

 Posted by at 11:34 pm  Nick's Blog
Sep 022020
 

Posting from my phone. No blog today, Total system crash on my computer, will not even start. After hours of fighting it I give up. Dell tech support worthless. Hopefully I can get it resolved and working for Friday’s blog. Fortunately my data is backed up.

Sep 022020
 

We love getting off the interstate highways and taking the two-lane roads whenever we can. As I have said many times before, a Denny’s or a chain hotel at an interstate exit in Kansas is no different than one in Michigan or California. But the two-lane roads will take you to the real America. Small towns where you can sit in a diner on Main Street, where the waitress will call you honey or dear, and by the time you finish your lunch, you will know who is cheating on who, who just bought a new pickup truck, and who’s out of work. You will meet friendly people, see things you never imagined, and learn a lot about history in these small town gems scattered from border to border and coast to coast.

Just off of busy U.S. Highway 17, a short drive north of the Newport News/Norfolk metropolitan area, we discovered Gloucester Village, Virginia, and stepped back in time.

Scenic Gloucester County has played a role in American history from the very start. Revolutionary War patriots gathered at the Gloucester Courthouse that’s still in use today. Fed up with British rule, in 1774, the county’s citizens vowed to boycott English goods, with their heavy import taxes, and authorized a tea party on the York River. A year later the Gloucester Militia was organized, and it’s 850 members defeated Lord Dunmore at Gwynn’s Island, in 1776. In 1781, British officers in Gloucester surrendered their army to the militia just one hour after General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, 20 miles away.

The Gloucester Militia fired the first shots of the Civil War in Virginia, on May 7, 1861, when a Union gunboat tried to enter the York River. Two years later the militia had been absorbed into the Army of Northern Virginia, leaving behind a handful of boys too young to serve, along with old men to protect Gloucester Courthouse, as the village was called in these days. Union troops met little opposition when they moved into Gloucester Courthouse on April 7, 1863. They seized any supplies they could find and burned the village store, county jail, and several mills and barns before marching away.

Today Gloucester Village honors it’s past with a historic courthouse square dating back to the late 1600s. A number of old buildings have been preserved in a parklike setting in the center of town, along with a monument to the county’s war dead.

Strolling along, poking our heads into the old buildings, browsing the many interesting shops, or having a meal in any of the excellent restaurants along Main Street has given us several relaxing and fun afternoons. Though it has a lot to offer visitors, this is not a tourist trap by any means. We never met a shop owner, store employee, or restaurant staff member who did not welcome us and treat us like friends and neighbors.

Nearby you can rent a kayak or paddleboat or venture out onto U.S. 17 to shop in every chain store imaginable if that’s your pleasure. For us, we just preferred to avoid all of that and enjoyed the slower pace of Gloucester Village.

Thought For The Day – Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing about. – Benjamin Franklin

Pioneer Grave

 Posted by at 12:07 am  Nick's Blog
Sep 012020
 

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

In a tiny roadside park sandwiched between U.S. Highway 26 and the Burlington Northern railroad tracks on the eastern edge of Scotts Bluff, Nebraska, sits the lonely grave of Rebecca Winters, one of the thousands of pioneers who set out in search of a better life in the west and never made it.

But unlike so many of her fellow travelers who succumbed to disease, injury, and Indian attack on the westward trek and were often buried in unmarked graves, Rebecca Winters’ final resting place is commemorated with a metal historical marker and a gravestone in tribute to the respect she earned from her family and fellow pioneers. Her story is a prime example of the hardships and perils that faced the early settlers making their way westward. Rebecca Winters was born in New York state in 1802, the daughter of Gideon Burdick, who had fought in the Revolutionary War.

Rebecca, a very warm and caring person, and her husband Hiram were among the earliest members of the Mormon Church, being baptized into the faith in June of 1833. In those days of intolerance, Mormons often faced severe persecution at the hands of non-believers, and the Winters family was no exception. They were forced to relocate several times, seeking new homes in Ohio, Illinois, and Iowa. Finally, in June of 1852, the family joined with other members of the Mormon Church to make the trip west to Utah, part of the great exodus to the new land where they hoped they could live in peace.

The frontier held many perils for the hapless immigrants making their way west. Flooded rivers could sweep a wagon away and pull its occupants under. Bears, wolves, and rattlesnakes sometimes lay in wait of the careless trespasser, and there was always the threat of marauding Indians. But the biggest danger was cholera. The dreaded disease killed thousands during the course of the westward migration. Somewhere along the Platte Valley, several people in the Winters’ wagon train contracted the disease, among them Rebecca. She died on August 15, 1852.

Usually, when an emigrant died, their graves were hidden by their family, often dug directly in the roadway, and wagons were driven over the grave to destroy all signs of its presence. This may seem callous to us, but there was a practical reason for the practice, as it reduced the chances of wild animals finding and disturbing the grave. There was seldom time materials to erect any sort of grave marker.

Rebecca Winters was a rare exception. Her husband and a close family friend, William Reynolds, went to great lengths to preserve her grave, a testament to how well she was loved by all who knew her. They dug an unusually deep grave, then lined the bottom with a layer of planks from abandoned wagons. Rebecca’s friends and family couldn’t bear the thought of dirt touching her, so her body was carefully wrapped in blankets, and a second layer of planks was placed over it.

After the grave was filled in, William Reynolds chiseled the words “Rebecca Winters, Age 50” into a metal wagon rim. Reynolds’ daughter Ellis held a candle for him to see by as he worked into the night. The rim was bent into an oval, approximating the outline of a tombstone and embedded over Rebecca’s grave. Their sad chore done, the family and their companions continued on their journey west, finally settling in Pleasant Grove, Utah.

The crude grave marker that William Reynolds fashioned stood through decades of prairie winters, fierce summer storms, and wildfires, and in 1899 it led to the rediscovery of the grave by a team of surveyors planning a route for the Burlington Northern railroad. The tale goes that, out of respect for the grave, the railroad’s original route was changed slightly to protect it, and the tracks were laid a few feet away from the grave.

At the end of the twentieth century, expanding rail traffic and an increasing number of visitors to the gravesite raised concerns for visitor safety, and the railroad contacted the Winters family descendants for permission to move the grave to a safer, more accessible location. The family agreed, and on September 5, 1995, a team of archaeologists from the Nebraska State Historical Society opened the grave, with 65 members of the Winters family looking on.

Rebecca’s remains were removed to a new site only 400 yards away, just off Highway 26, where she was again laid to rest in a beautiful mahogany casket on October 14, 1995. Some 125 of Rebecca’s descendants were on hand for the solemn ceremony, including her 16-year-old great-great-great-granddaughter, also named Rebecca Winters. Also attending the service was the great-granddaughter of William Reynolds, the man who had chiseled the metal marker at the original burial, 143 years before. Today the wagon rim still stands over the grave as it has for 168 years, a tribute to a much loved pioneer woman, and the respect in which she was held by those who knew her.

Thought For The Day – Never let the sadness of your past or the fear of your future ruin the happiness of your present.

One Out Of Three

 Posted by at 1:55 am  Nick's Blog
Aug 312020
 

Living about 35 miles from Cape Canaveral we see a lot of rocket launches from right here at home. So many that sometimes we forget to go out and look until we hear them lift off. When we do, it’s always a bit of a thrill.

There were supposed to be three rocket launches this past weekend. One was scrubbed due to failure to launch, and the other two were scrubbed due to poor weather. Finally, a little after seven last night, a Falcon 9 with an Argentinian satellite went up. I believe it was the one that was supposed to launch on Friday.

It was a strange launch because I couldn’t see anything when I went outside. I thought it was due to cloud cover, but as it turns out it was because the rocket was programmed to go south along the coast instead of north in our direction. It also explains why I couldn’t hear the sound of the rocket lifting off or the reentry as much as I normally do.

At any rate, I guess one out of three isn’t bad. The news last night said they hope to get the other two rockets off soon but they did not have a date yet.

Aside from that, it was just another day of writing for me, and I knocked out another 5,000 words. I’ll say one thing for self-isolation, it really does help my productivity level!

In addition to everything else she does to keep our home on an even keel and me out of trouble, Terry has also been busy planning some new weaving projects that she’s excited about. She showed me the patterns she designed on her computer and I was impressed. But then again, everything about her impresses me.

I am still trying to build up my presence on the BookBub website, and I would appreciate your help. My goal is 500 followers, and thanks to so many of you who are always happy to help, I am at 422 now. Please consider going to my author’s page and following me there. It’s quick and easy and there is no cost. And If you have reviewed any of my past books on Amazon, cutting and pasting the review to my BookBub page would help me tremendously. The link is https://www.bookbub.com/profile/nick-russell?list=author_books. Thank you.

And finally, here’s a chuckle to start your day from the collection of funny signs we see in our travels and that our readers share with us.

Congratulations Marquita Graves, winner of our drawing for a four-book set of audiobooks from my pal Carol Ann Newsome’s popular Dog Park mystery series. We had 62 entries this time around. Stay tuned, a new contest starts soon.

Thought For The Day – Somewhere out there, there is a tree tirelessly producing oxygen so you can breathe. I think you owe it an apology.

P2106 Code

 Posted by at 12:13 am  Nick's Blog
Aug 302020
 

No, it’s not a secret code, just one that doesn’t really say much. A couple of readers have asked me what I found out about the problem we had with our 2005 Ford Explorer that I wrote about in Friday’s blog post Well, That’s Not Good.

As I wrote in that post, Thursday afternoon we were sitting at a traffic light, and just as it turned green, the Explorer lost power for two or three seconds, and the Engine Safe Mode message appeared on the dashboard and then was gone. It continued to run okay, so I took it to Leon’s Automotive in Edgewater, where we get all of our work done, and even though it was closing time, Rebecca plugged a code reader in and got a P2106 code. The vehicle was running fine and she said she’d do some research and get back with me Friday to see what the code means.

When I talked to her the next day, she said the P2106 trouble code is one of several codes that indicates that the Powertrain Control Module has detected a malfunction and is limiting the operation of the Throttle Actuator Control System. In layman’s terms, there was a boo-boo somewhere.

I told her that I had not driven it since I left the shop, and she said the problem is that the code only gives a general idea of which system to look into, but not any specific part. Since the Explorer is running fine and the message has not returned, they would basically have to just start replacing parts. And since they can’t duplicate the problem, it could run into a lot of money for parts and labor, possibly $2,000 or more, and there’s really no way to know if they accomplished anything.

Given the age and value of the Explorer, Rebecca said that while they would be happy to do the work if I wanted them to, they didn’t advise it. That’s what I appreciate about this small family-owned business. They don’t take advantage of customers. Sure, they could make a bunch of money in a hurry, but they would rather have me as a customer who comes back again when I have a problem because I trust them.

Rebecca said since the problem was there and gone so quickly, it may have been a temporary glitch that won’t return. She suggested I drive the Explorer for a while and see if it happens again. So yesterday I drove it two or three miles, and there was no lack of power or any other problems. It may have just been a little hiccup in the computer system. We’ll continue to drive it and see what happens, but we probably won’t take it very far from home for a while, just in case.

After I drove the Explorer around for a while, I opened the hood of my Ford F-150 pickup and turned the battery disconnect switch to the On position and took it for a ride. I have not driven it in two or three weeks, and installing the battery disconnect switch has definitely solved the problem of the battery going dead when I’m not using it. It only takes a moment to engage or disengage it when I’m using the truck and parking it, so it’s no hassle.

I drove down by our boat ramp and fishing dock, and there were five trucks with boat trailers parked there and a lot of people out on the water. I sat there for a few minutes and saw a couple of pontoon boats and a center console going by. It’s just a little hot for our blood yet, but I’m sure looking forward to getting out there myself.

Back at home, I cranked out a couple more chapters in my new Tinder Street book, a total of 5,750 words by the time Terry called me for dinner. My original plan was to do one book for each decade, the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and so on, although the first book started in 1916 and ended in 1920. However, that book was around 103,000 words, and I’m just over 80,000 words in the new book now, and I’m only up to 1925! So I’ve got to decide if I want to make this book much bigger than the first one or break the decade up into two books. That really doesn’t fit the plan I started out with, so I have to give it some thought.

And finally, here’s a chuckle to start your day from the collection of funny signs we see in our travels and that our readers share with us.

Today is your last chance to enter our Free Drawing for a four-book set of audiobooks from my pal Carol Ann Newsome’s popular Dog Park mystery series. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn this evening.

Thought For The Day –Never ask woman eating ice cream straight from the carton how she’s doing. Just don’t.

Katy Trail State Park

 Posted by at 12:07 am  Nick's Blog
Aug 292020
 

On one of our trips through Missouri, we discovered one of the most unusual state parks we ever visited, a narrow 225-mile long corridor that stretches across the state from east to west. Along the way, Missouri offers people of all ages and interests unique recreational opportunities. If you are a hiker, bicyclist, history buff, or nature lover, you’ll love Katy Trail State Park.

The park is built on the former corridor of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT) Railroad (better known as the Katy). When the railroad ceased operations in 1986, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources acquired the right-of-way through the National Trails System Act. In 1991, the Union Pacific Railroad donated an additional 33 miles of rail corridor from Sedalia to east of Clinton, and additional purchases and donations have been added.

The trail winds through some of the most scenic areas of the state. Much of the trail closely follows the route of the Missouri River, so hikers and bicyclists often find themselves with the river on one side and towering bluffs on the other. The route travels through many types of landscapes, from dense forests to wetlands, deep valleys, prairies, pastureland, and gently rolling farm fields. Flowering dogwood and redbud adorn the trail in the spring, and in the fall it is colored with the deep reds and oranges of sugar maple, sumac, and bittersweet trees.

Wildlife is abundant along the trail. Bird lovers will see everything from nuthatches to hawks, chickadees, and even bald eagles in the winter. Because it is located along the Missouri River Flyway, migrating birds and waterfowl, such as great blue heron, sandpipers, and Canada geese are sighted frequently.

History buffs will find plenty to see and do along the Katy Trail as it wanders through the mostly forgotten small towns that once were busy stops along the railroad corridor. The route will take you through the area known as Missouri’s Rhineland, with its rich German heritage, and through towns that were caught in the horror of the Civil War.

The section of trail between St. Charles and Boonville has been designated as an official segment of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, and the entire trail is part of the American Discovery Trail.

Information kiosks located at stops along the trail provide information about the history, and plant and animal life along that section of the route. While some energetic adventurers set out to travel the complete route of the Katy Trail, most people take it a little bit at a time, exploring one segment for a while and then returning at another time to experience another portion of the park. Hikers and bicyclists share the trail with horseback riders in some areas, but except for near the towns, most of the trail is little traveled and not crowded.

For most of its route, the Katy Trail is fairly level and not very strenuous, making it popular with families with small children. Trailheads spaced along the route provide parking areas and other amenities. Many communities also offer services to trail users.
Traveling the Katy Trail from east to west, the route begins in St. Charles, one of the most historic towns along the route. Originally a French settlement dating back to the mid-1700s, St. Charles was the state’s first capital. The original Capitol is now part of the First Missouri State Capitol State Historic Site.

The trail follows the Missouri River westward here, through the scenic limestone bluffs of the Weldon Spring Wildlife Area. The Klondike Quarry area east of Augusta is known for its white quartz sandstone, which was used in manufacturing glass.

Marthasville, established around 1800 near the site of an early 1763 French trading post, is a good stop along the trail. Daniel Boone, famous for his pioneering adventures in Kentucky, spent the last years of his life in this area, and his gravesite, a mile east of Marthasville, is only a short distance from the trail.

As the trail winds its way west, the sandstone and limestone bluffs are spectacular, towering as much as 250 feet over the trail. Be sure to stop in Hermann, known for its German heritage and vineyards, and the Deutschheim State Historic Site.

Further along the trail, Jefferson City is the capital of Missouri, and tours are available of the impressive Capitol building, perched high on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River. Jefferson City is also the location of Jefferson Landing State Historic Site.

As the trail approaches Rocheport, you will see more spectacular bluffs and Native American pictographs (rock drawings) that were mentioned in the journals of Lewis and Clark as they traveled up the Missouri River. A rare surviving pictograph can be seen above Lewis and Clark Cave on the trail.

Rocheport has many houses that date from before the Civil War. The only tunnel on the MKT line was built at Rocheport around 1893, and trail users today can pass through the 243-foot long stone-arched tunnel.

Boonville was one of the few towns that successfully made the transition from being a major river port to a booming railroad town. Reminders of this golden era can still be seen in Boonville, including the MKT depot, which has been restored and serves as the headquarters for the Boonville Chamber of Commerce.

Between Boonville and Sedalia, the landscape changes as the trail passes through rolling hills, deep woods, and river bottoms. This is where the route begins to be more challenging, and bikers can expect to have to pedal more strenuously here.

Much of the route from Sedalia to Clinton is through land once dominated by prairie. Although most of the land has been converted to farmland, prairie plants such as big bluestem or compass plant can still be seen along the trail.

The Katy Trail State Park ends in Clinton, the seat of government for Henry County. But a trip along the Katy Trail is only the beginning because it introduces visitors to so much of the best of central Missouri that most will find themselves returning again to explore even more that the region has to offer.

For more information about Katy Trail State Park, call the Missouri Department of Natural Resources toll-free at 800-334-6946.

Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is a four-book set of audiobooks from my pal Carol Ann Newsome’s popular Dog Park mystery series. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.


Thought For The Day – I’m on two diets. I wasn’t getting enough food on one.

Aug 282020
 

I’ve been dealing with some cabin fever after all these months of staying home self-isolating. We leave the house to go to medical appointments or the grocery store when necessary, and that’s been about it. Yesterday Terry had a dental appointment, so we thought we would kill two birds with one stone and go to the grocery store from there.

Since only patients can go into the office, I sat outside in our 2005 Ford Explorer with the engine running and the air conditioning on cold and read my Kindle while she was inside. I’m not sure how long her appointment was, probably 45 minutes or so, and I kept a close watch on the temperature gauge to make sure the Explorer was not heating up, but it always stayed well below the halfway mark. When Terry came out, we decided that before we went to Publix, we would drive over to the beach and see what was happening there. Sometimes just a few minutes on the beach is all I need to get my head right.

Soon after we left the dentist’s office, I stopped at a traffic light, and when it turned green, I stepped on the accelerator, and there was a noticeable lag in power, and a warning message came on the dashboard that said Engine Safe Mode. But just as quickly the message was gone and it was back to full power. The entire episode only lasted a matter of seconds. We drove a little over a mile across the South Causeway to the beach, only to find that it was closed for vehicles, probably due to high tide. So we started back home, and then a little icon came on the dashboard that looks like a wrench.

I had Terry Google Engine Safe Mode, and it said it could be anything from an O2 sensor to a timing chain or transmission problem, and to take the vehicle to a garage as soon as possible. Well, that’s not good. Terry called Leon’s Automotive in Edgewater, where we get all of our work done, and even though they were about to close, they said if we could get there, they would plug in a fault code checker to see if it gave off any codes.

We got there about two minutes before closing, and Rebecca came out and plugged the code reader into the port under the dash. She said if the SUV was running okay, to just go ahead and go home, and she would call me in the morning after she researched the code. Okay, no problem, off we went.

We decided to skip Publix and just went home, and the Explorer had plenty of power. The only noticeable thing we could see was that when we stopped at traffic lights, the air conditioning would not blow as cold as it had been. It wasn’t warm by any means, just not as cold. And as soon as we started moving again, it was once more ice cold. It was a couple of miles home, and we got there with no problem. Once home, I turned off the engine and then restarted it, and the little wrench icon was gone. I went out an hour or so later and started it a second time, and again the wrench icon was gone. So I will wait for Rebecca to call and tell me what the code reader thinks is going on.

Terry and I were talking about it on the way home, and depending on what the problem is, we’re not sure what we’ll do. The Explorer has been a very good vehicle for us for over ten years, and even though it’s got a lot of miles on it, and has been towed almost that many, we like it. However, it feels like it’s starting to nickel and dime us, and we don’t like that. Depending on what needs to be done and what the cost is, we have to decide how much more money we want to put into it. It’s paid for, and it’s a comfortable vehicle to drive. In fact, even though we have three other vehicles, it’s the one we usually drive around town.

Some people say it’s a lot better to spend a few hundred dollars in repairs as opposed to making payments on a new or newer car. Buying something to replace it is not going to happen. So, depending on what is wrong and the cost of repairs, we may be down to three vehicles instead of four. We’ll know more soon, hopefully.

Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is a four-book set of audiobooks from my pal Carol Ann Newsome’s popular Dog Park mystery series. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.

Thought For The Day – The way things are these days, it’s beginning to feel like the future is a thing of the past.