Sunday, April 28, 2013

On the Road for a Year - Part Six

SPREADING WING - Full of 442 pages of true stories. Part one, life growing up in the Ouachita Mountains of Wing, Arkansas under pioneer conditions in the 1940's and 50's, and part two, traveling the world on a shoestring.  Available at and Amazon Europe, book form or Kindle. More than two chapters can be read free on the Kindle version at Amazon. Contact me for a signed, personalized edition. Also available in ten other locations in SW Arkansas.

We drove through Maryland. The leaves were not quite at their peak yet, but we saw it a couple of years later, backtracking I must admit, which we try to avoid. The second time around, Maryland was as glorious as New England was now. Moving into West Virginia, it was a hard trip. But we soon got on the new high tech corridor now through these mountains. It's hard to imagine the hardships of the pioneers, traveling here. We camped at Broken Wheel Campground, and the name seemed appropriate. West Virginia is a poor state, very rich in natural beauty – and coal.

The old grist mill on a rushing brook at Babcock State Park, which of course we pictured, is a great photo attraction. We have seen photos of it, all over the country. The New River Gorge is actually very old, and the World's longest single arch steel bridge spans it, 867 feet above the river below. The coal seam is about three quarters of the way to the top, and it's easy to mine. Just drop the coal to the valley below, haul it off. Many sky divers gather at the New River Gorge bridge each year, to risk killing themselves. I just don't have that urge.

This was a backward, isolated area for so long, before this high tech corridor we came down. Travel was hard for these friendly people, who speak so much like the Arkansas hill people of my youth. The slang is so similar, it's amazing. I know they never visited back and forth much, over these mountains. The New River is also a top white water river.
The RV would not start after a stop at Hawks Nest, the first of a string of automobile troubles. It had to be towed 40 miles to have a new ignition switch. Thanks for the tow, Good Sam!
Arriving at Beaver Dam, Kentucky, we were having battery problems. We spent the night. A large party seemed to be scheduled for tonight, so we went downtown. We were walking down the street, surrounded by hundreds of people. The music started to kick in. Every single person there, and I mean every one, stopped and started tapping a foot. Everybody except us. Now if that's not a bit weird. Then, the music really kicked in, and again, every single person, except us, just literally danced onto the street! Not together, really, just dancing. We looked around for the movie cameras. Surely we were on a movie set.
When we got back to the RV park, a track with small race cars roared to life. Naturally, we had to go look. These were kids driving these cars. But they were very loud and very fast! I knew these kids didn't even have a driver's license yet.
On down the road a ways the next day, what we thought was battery problems turned bad. Alternator problems. It was Saturday, and new one was hard to find, but I was determined to do it myself. We pulled into a truck stop, and I got my tools out. I discovered a guy in the truck stop that used to be a mechanic, but now he was just working there at odd jobs. He started supervising me, and kept coming out at intervals to keep me on the right track, for a good part of the afternoon. He would not take pay, but we left some for him anyway, when we pulled out the next day. We have stayed in touch with him over the years. A good man.

We traveled on, crossed the mighty Mississippi, and before we knew it, we were in Arkansas! Home. But still a long way from Arkadelphia, so we camped at Newport. A lady came through the camp, inviting all the campers to a large dinner and party their church was throwing a mile down the road. We were the only ones that actually went, we never miss an opportunity to mix with the locals. They treated us like royals, we had a large meal, and lots of fun. We finally drug back to our RV, worn out. The emergency phone rang. My sister Jan's husband, Bill, had just died. We loaded up and headed out. We normally do not drive that RV at night. The headlights are dim. But we drove through the night, and arrived at Little Rock, parked our RV at Barbara's sister Frances' house, and drove to Fort Worth. I first met Bill Workman when I was a teenager. He was a weightlifter, an Air Force man, and had just retired a few years before. His retirement was cut short. Hard to believe he was gone.

After a couple of weeks of visiting family, we realized we had new passengers now. Hundreds of ants. we loaded up at Little Rock and headed east. We stopped at Selma, Alabama, and learned more about the Civil Rights movement. At Montgomery, we visited Frontier days. A mountainous Mountain Man took a shine to Barbara, and physically, I didn't really see much I could do about it. I did have a gun in the RV, but I held that as a last resort. Fortunately, I managed to steal her away when he was not looking, and we moved on to Georgia Quickly.

At Andersonville, we spent some time at the Civil War POW Camp. That was a nightmare place. Not enough food, bad water, little cover from the elements. Actually, It was just a big field with a palisade wall around it, guards all around, trained to shoot to kill if anyone got within 10 feet of the wall. Young boys with big guns usually guarded it, the men were needed in the war. A creek running through it was the only source of water, and It was quickly contaminated with human waste. Thousands from the north died there.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

On the Road for a Year - Part Five

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We're heading south. The big news today is, Barbara's 50! The second biggest, we're back in the good old USA! After months of french TV, no TV, Loonies, and Kilometers, things of the USA are good to be back to. Canada was a wonderful place to be. We'll miss it. We decided paint and flower stores must do well, from the look of their houses and yards.
We picked up our mail at Elsworth. One letter. Pulling into Bar Harbor RV Park, the welcoming sign said, “Make noise, we evict you. No second chance.” We kept quiet.
I left the emergency brake on again, burned it out. Well, maybe, there's just enough space for one more adjustment. It's cold. In the low 40's.

At Acadia National Park, there's lots of good views, when the fog allows. The wind will just blow you down. A car pulled in next to us at an overlook near the summit. Two young kids jumped out, just started running pellmell down the mountain, disappearing into the fog. The mother went ballistic. Though she didn't know, the mountain is a dome. No cliffs, that we saw.
It's Sunday morning. Lots of fantastic looking churches, but most are deserted. We decided to go to Bangor. “Paul Bunyan Days” seemed to be over, the town was deserted. Barbara found a gift shop, just had to see it. I leaned against the car and waited. A motorcycle cop drove by. Then, two or three runners. Must be some sort of small race. To make a long story short, by the time Barbara was shopped out, more than 1000 runners, walkers, and limpers came by me.
We went back to Ellsburg. Barbara had a mail package from Kinley. Kinley can really do a birthday package up right!

Passing through Freeport, we stopped at the giant LL Bean store. I asked what time they closed. She said, “Do you see any locks on these doors?” Seems they had closed three times in their history. Fire, President Kennedy's death, and for the death of LL Bean.
The highway rose slowly, then we passed through The Notch. It was very windy there, and we could see Mt. Washington, the home of world record winds. 230 MPH. Past The Notch, headed down, the mountain bloomed. It's hard to compete with Sugar Maples in the Fall.

We asked a man at a store in Ammonoosuc, “Where can we find a moose?” He told us where to be at daylight, we were, and the moose was there too. Barbara was no longer mooseless!

Heading west into Vermont, we began to see covered bridges. We decided to search for a maple syrup farm Barbara had heard about. After we drove forever, it seemed, on a dirt road, a farm ahead was promising. The sign said, “We're not it. Directions, $10.” We finally found it. 40 gallons of juice equals one gallon of syrup. There are four different qualities of syrup, depending upon how early in the season it is taken. Maple syrup can actually be made in Arkansas, but it is difficult to time when the sap starts to rise, with all the warm weather we have in February.

September 28 – We start our longest move, through Massachusetts and Connecticut to the KOA in Plattskill, NY. We found out upon arrival that our tour of New York City had been canceled, the driver of the bus had quit. After a day or so, it was now on. The driver and guide were both former New York City policemen. We visited the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, and were shocked when we reached the top of the Empire State Building. Skyscrapers just stretched almost to the edge of our vision. Coming down, we flew through ten floors in seven seconds. To me, that's free fall. Then Times Square, Rockefeller Center, NBC – and then headed for home. They gave a prize for the oldest woman on the bus, and since most of our companions were old, Barbara asked about a prize for the youngest. That idea was unpopular. New York was a good place to see, not one I would want to live in.

At Starlight camp, we were on top of a mountain overlooking the Amish country. Farms seem to have 20 or 30 acres. Dozens of giant hot air balloons were taking off at daylight. They make good use of their land. We went to an Amish Farmer's Market the next day. Shoofly Pie, fresh squeezed apple juice. Barbara was about to take a picture of two Amish men, playing checkers. They waved it off, no pictures. They were making a living off the tourists, and I thought that was a little odd. We overate chocolate at Hershey. Horse and buggy rigs were just everywhere. The simple life has it's attraction, taking life directly from the land. Many of their harvesting devices were familiar, from Wing, many years ago.
We moved to Gettysburg, and toured the battle site. So much pain and death on these fields. The last man to fall on Pickett's charge fell right here, by these bushes. We left out on a dreary morning, somehow appropriate. Past a statue of an officer on his horse at the crest of a hill, past thousands of crosses standing in straight rows. We don't want to glorify war, but we must pay tribute to these brave men. We were glad we saw it, even more glad when we left.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

On the Road a Year - Part Four

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Herr. Gunter, sorry, but I deleted your e-mail by mistake. Send me your details, and I will try to do better this time.

Checking out at Antigonish, the lady at the desk recalled our last name. She had seen a segment about out daughter, Kinley, on Dateline NBC following the Arkadelphia Tornado of 1997. Small world!
Next stop, Peggy's Cove. Swiss Air flight 111 had just crashed a few days before, off the coast. The sea and air search was still going on, and relatives were at the shore, putting flowers into the sea. All the natives nearby were standing, hats off, heads bowed.
In Halifax, we saw the harbor where the world's largest pre-atomic explosion occurred. Two ships collided, and were burning. Thousands came to the harbor to watch. One ship was totally loaded with TNT, and exploded with a blast so big, it hurled a cannon barrel 12 miles. 2000 were killed.
The Tidal Bore was a really neat thing. The Bay of Fundy lies between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and has a funnel shape. We were near the apex of the funnel. Partially because of the shape of the bay, and partially because of the timing of the tides, the difference between high tide and low tide is the greatest in the world. Up the two rivers that run in at the apex of the bay, the effect in magnified even more. We were on one of those rivers. When the tide came in, it was so fast a wall of water two feet high was out in front. Many people paddled canoes far down the river, and rode the tidal bore back up. That was really something special to see. At harbors along the bay, fishing boats had to go and come at high tide, or they would find themselves on the sea floor. They had to change the departure and return time each day, with the changing of the tides. It was not unusual to see a wharf, 50 feet above a boat lying on the bare sea floor.
Leaving Nova Scotia behind, we traveled along the bay to St. Johns, New Brunswick. We went to a Mall that had lifelike sculptures of ordinary people, clustered about in different positions. Barbara just loved to station herself in a position among them, then move and speak when somebody came by. It sometimes scared the wits out of folks. But that's just Barbara. Get her out where she will never see anybody she knows, and she can be a totally different woman. St. Johns was where many Tories moved to after the Revolutionary war. It has a reversing waterfall, where the rising tide quickly overcomes a tall waterfall when it rolls in.

I loved to walk out on the sea floor at low tide, with scattered pools around, just full of sea life. Any rock turned over hides starfish, urchins, and numerous other sea animals I didn't recognize. One has to pay close attention to the tide, however. If one gets far out and the tide comes in, it can quickly surround you and cut off escape. Once, I walked a quarter of a mile or so out. When I started back, the tide was starting to come in. It chased me all the way back.

At St. Andrews, close to the Maine border, we booked a whale watching trip on the tall sailing ship Cory. We only saw two whales. Just as it happened, son Corey was in Seattle at the time, to speak at a Photographer's Convention, and looked out to sea and saw a whale. Now, how would I say this: We saw a whale on the east coast from the Cory, while Corey saw a whale on the west coast. Did you follow me on that?
As it turned out, the crew of the Cory was as interesting as the whales. The deck hand was a tall, slim woman. Barefooted, she climbed like a cat to the top of the mast and handled those sails and ropes like the professional she is. She climbed all the way to the top just to take our picture. Her face was very weather beaten, the effects of hundreds of voyages. She is an illustrator in the winter, and in summer, she makes three trips a day, seven days a week, May-September. The Captain built the ship himself in New Zealand, and sailed it around the world in six years. But those two don't even come close to being the most interesting of the crew. “Bear” Ledger is an Acadian folklorist, a story teller, and a musician. He tells his folklore in poem and in song. He plays the accordion, bagpipes, and fiddle on ship, and plays eight other instruments. He just starts doing his thing, on deck, whether anyone is around or not. But we are all soon there, listening. His dream is to travel to Louisiana, to visit his cousins, the Cajuns, and compare his folklore to theirs.
We went through Passamaguoddy Bay, through the Bay of Fundy. We passed Rosevelt's cottage, where he used to take his mistress. A small rocky island appeared to have a snow covering. But it was bird waste, from the thousands of birds who made it home. The Bay of Fundy is a major Natural Reserve of Life.
Barbara was recruited as Captain, for a time, and got to sail the ship. She asked about the life jackets. The captain told her, “This is the North Sea. If you fall overboard, you'll be dead in three minutes. You don't need a life jacket.” I was recruited to haul in the Jib Sails at the end of the trip. Now, where's the fairness in that? Barbara's steering the ship, I'm wadding up sails. But, the Captain seemed to enjoy her company more that mine. Can't say I blame him. Barbara's a fun girl.
A friend of mine from McCrory was a saturation diver in the North Sea for an oil company. A french company nearby averaged losing a diver a day, for a time. A dangerous job, but it pays well. He was all about danger. He came to McCrory where we lived at that time and began piloting a helicopter spraying crops. He clipped the tail rotor off once on a power line. Without a tail rotor, a helicopter just goes round and round in the direction the blade is turning until it crashes. He broke his leg. The upside was, I could always beat him at tennis while he wore a boot.
The Bay of Fundy was one of the great natural wonders we experienced. If you ever go to Maine, go up just a little farther and book a trip on the tall sailing ship Cory. It's a great experience.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Catfish are Calling

SPREADING WING - If you are a Kindle person, you can join the Kindle Lending Library program, with a yearly fee, then you have access to thousands of books you can read for free. Of course, most of you  Kindle people are computer savvy enough that you already know that, but it took me a long time to figure it all out. Spreading Wing is in that program. I'm an old man. I'm much more concerned with getting Spreading Wing into the hands of a lot of people, giving it a good start, than I am about making money. Writing, really, seems to me to be something one does for the love of writing. At least, it seems that way to me. Have you seen a lot of ads on this blog? Spreading Wing, full of my stories, is all I promote here.
     One's legacy is important. I already have three offspring carrying the name Pat. What better legacy can a man leave than that? If I was a total, no good, sap-sucking bum, would Barbara allow her only son to carry my name? Would  my children name their children after me? I can catch a lot of catfish, but that's a pretty questionable legacy, unless The Great Depression comes back. I want my stories to be my legacy, too. What Barbara and I, and the generations around us, do will be alive as long as my stories are read. If my stories are not interesting, and fun to read, they will die with me. To me, it's very important that each generation's stories be passed on down. Good stories.
BUY SPREADING WING ON  OR  AMAZON EUROPE - BOOK 16.95 OR KINDLE - 6.99.  442 pages of true stories.  Read the first two chapters and more on Amazon Kindle free.

The Catfish are calling

Pardon me for interrupting my series of posts about our year's travel. I'll get back to it in four days.
Hope you enjoy reading.

     Every year about this time, I get this restless feeling. It seems about the only way to get over that is to get in my aging, 14 foot flatbottom boat, (bought it 40 years ago, used, for $70.) fire up the old 5 horse motor, and hit the river. Well, I caught up a batch of bait, (crawdads) a few days ago, and I was ready. But the River was  not. Too high and fast. So, I headed to the lake yesterday. I'm not your typical fisherman you see on most lakes. I don't fish for bass. Most fishermen I see there set in that boat all day and cast, and cast, and cast, and if they get one or two, they're happy. I'm a meat fisherman. I guess that goes back to the post depression days I grew up in, when we really badly needed the meat. As I've told you, we ate only salt pork meat, an occasional chicken, and what we got from the forest and the river.

     I started out as a small boy bringing in "mud cats." They don't get very big. When I was large enough to walk to, or actually, I walked/ran to the river, two miles away, I sometimes brought in a mess of  channel, blue, or flathead cats. They get much larger.
     In the early years of our marriage, my catfishing days were in full swing. It was the single largest point of contention between Barbara and I. On a regular basis, I was on the river all night, running my lines every three hours. The need for the meat was lessening, and I was having more and more trouble justifying all that time, effort, killing all that bait, as well as justifying it to Barbara, especially since it took so much of the time away from family that we had started, that I just quit after awhile.

     During those early years I caught a lot of catfish. I got very good at dressing a catfish. The most I caught in one night was 78, down near the Mississippi river where there is no legal limit. The fastest I have dressed a catfish is 17 seconds. I slept under a poncho on the river bank when it rained all night.three times.

     When our children were grown, I began to miss catfishing more and more. I finally made a deal with my soul. If I was not going to eat it, or use it for bait, I didn't kill it. and like the Indians, I usually thank the fish for giving it's life for my food before dressing it. It's not hard to find needy people when it comes to a mess of catfish to eat, or a church fish fry. I have not yet caught the big one, three 25 pounders about tops it out, though I have struggled with one or two in the last few years, once for three hours in the rain, never landed them, that were much larger. They get big. One of my ancestors reports seeing 300 pound catfish on the ferry crossing the Mississippi river, back in 1858. I know that 40 pound cat is out there, waiting for me, somewhere beyond that next bend in the river.

     Anyway, let me get back to my trip today. I planned to catch a batch of small bream for bait, but when I got to the Lake, I found they were not really biting yet, too early. Water's still too cold. Well, I had a batch of crawdads and a couple of boxes of chicken liver, so I just made do, and set out my lines. I seldom spend the night on the water anymore

     30 minutes before daylight, I headed out. Halfway to the lake (twenty miles or so) I heard a noise behind my car. I stopped and discovered the nut had come off the ball that my trailer hooks onto, and my trailer was dragging by a safety chain. I managed to tie the trailer and the car back together with a piece of trotline string and some bailing wire.  Didn't look real good, but it got me there and back, with the help of my flashers and about 20 MPH. Seems the catfish found the water still too cold yet to stir much, most of my baits were still on. But I did catch 6 catfish, averaging about 3 pounds, enough for about six meals for Barbara and I,  the largest being about 7 pounds. But I had fun, and I know things will pick up as the water gets warmer.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

On the Road a Year - Part Three

SPREADING WING - Don't forget about our BEST FAMILY STORY contest! See the March 28 post for details. Come on guys! Get those stories in to me! Don't make me have to make up a bunch of stories, with made up names, just to keep from looking bad! I'm begging now!
Barbara and I will be coming to Eastern Europe in late May, landing in Berlin. We're getting a hankering for the road again, and in honor of so many loyal readers in Russia and Germany, that's the direction we're headed. More details later.
Barbara said the name of my current story sounded like I was trying to pedal something, what with "Free for a Year" and all, so I changed it, because she was giving me the LOOK. Thanks to all my loyal readers, now from 57 countries! Who woulda' thunk it! ( Barbara didn't think much of  "thunk" either, but that's just who I am. An aging hillbilly. A little too late to polish up this old man!)


The Confederation Bridge into Prince Edward Island was the longest marine bridge in the world at that time. It was very high, also, and you already know how that affects me.
We camped near the middle area of the island. The full-time RV'ers there called us “babes” in full timer tongue. When I started to tell one of them about our motor problems, he waved it off. “Just fix it, and move on down the road. Don't worry about it, it will mess up your trip.” I told that to myself many times, later, going on down the road.

We unloaded the car, and set in to see the north half of the island. We soon passed something like a Forestry Festival, although I couldn't figure out how their very short gnarled trees up on that end of the island could be a big thing to them. I guess, If that's just all you've got, you learn to appreciate them. Climbers with spikes on were running up very tall poles to the top, to try to ring their bell first. I don't know where they could have found poles that tall.

We stopped at an Irish Moss Interpretive Center. Irish moss is used as a thickening agent in many foods. When a Nor' Wester” blows that moss in toward shore, they hitch their horses to a rake, and horse and man wade that freezing surf, raking that moss ashore, carrying it off by the truckloads. Tough horses, tough men. They also trap lobsters, and grow potatoes. Their specialty, Seaweed Pie, is not real good, not real bad.

Traveling along the very windy north coast, Elephant Rock was advertised ahead. A man and two women manned the tiny booth where they charged a small fee for the attraction. The man was taking my money, and I could tell he was very embarrassed. He told me,”I want to apologize for my appearance. I broke my dentures.” I just took mine out, handed them out the window, and told him, “Here, use mine until I get back.” The women died with laughter, and he loosened up some. He didn't take my dentures, thank goodness. Elephant rock was out in the sea, and it looked the part, somewhat. The trees were down to about head high on this coast, and it was extremely windy.

At the far north east corner of the island, something very neat was happening. Two seas met, rolling in to meet each other at a tiny strip of land, that extended far out. That little strip was just filled with hundreds of strange little birds. Occasionally, they flew, but always returned to that narrow strip. I guess they were feeding there. Many different kinds of wind driven devices were being tested there. These were hardy, hard working people along this north coast. Beautiful in summer, but we could just imagine what a horrible place it must be in the winter. 

We moved down to Charlottetown, in the middle of the southern half of the island. We saw a high wire act with a man juggling running chain saws.
The southern part was more touristy, very beautiful. Taller but still short trees allowed one to see vast areas. Every view was like a post card. We saw Ann's house, of “Ann of Green Gables.” Along the coast, lots of lobster traps, light houses. Many, many potato farms. Summertime in the south of Prince Edward Island was literally like living in a post card. As I said that day, “If farmers have a special Farmer's Heaven, This is what it would look like. Maybe more like Farmer's Hell in a few months.”

Goodbye, Prince Edward Island. Prince Edward Island didn't go quietly, or easily. We got lost on the way to the ferry, got on a bad, tiny road, meeting one large load of dirt after another. We entered the belly of the huge ferry with minutes to spare.
Our last glimpse of Prince Edward Island came as the ferry pulled out and the fog rolled in. Prince Edward Island, I want to see you again. But I probably won't. There's far too much world ahead yet to see to ever backtrack.

Entering Nova Scotia, we traveled to Antigonish, a Scottish town. We unloaded the car and went for a drive. Along the south coast, we could see out over hundreds of miles of open ocean, which allowed the wind to drive huge waves into the rocky shore, all producing a loud booming sound, with water thrown up very high. We were very impressed with this, and took photo after photo. But when the photos came back, it was just water splashing on rocks. The majesty was all gone. You've just got to see it to appreciate it.

There were no beautiful farms along this coast. Just small, shabby fishermen's houses. We will travel a loop around the north Cape tomorrow. Leaving and returning in the darkness.
Thursday, September 10 found us seeing one amazing, beautiful scene after another. Traveling along the north shoreline, we saw very blue sea, rocky coastlines, pounding surf, and magnificent mountains that just dropped suddenly into the sea. One of the world's most beautiful scenic drives. Each new scene became more beautiful than the last, something we had thought impossible.

Cutting across the mountains near the end of the island, meat eating pitcher plants were growing everywhere in mountain bogs. These plants do not get enough nourishment from the bogs they thrive in, and any insect that strays into the inside of the pitcher is held fast by a sweet, sticky substance, and absorbed.

Returning again to sea level, we came upon a very beautiful cove, and stopped for lunch. There we ate one of our most memorable meals. Not that peanut butter sandwiches were particularly memorable to us by now, but the beach and surf contained thousands of round rocks, softball size. The surf just rolled them all in, accompanied by a loud roaring noise, and then they rolled back out again. Over and over. The setting was capped off by a magnificent waterfall. My words just can't do justice to this little place in the world. If God ever decides to add a new wing to Heaven, he could do well to travel the Cabot trail first, just to refresh his memory.

Continued, four days. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

On the Road for a Year - Part Two

SPREADING WING  - Available at and Amazon Europe - Book or Kindle form.
Sudbury is a city with no living trees within miles, except for tiny replants. A giant nickel mine is located there, and the fumes from the plant just killed everything except the people. (Maybe I should say, the remaining people?) But, they had the most fantastic hands-on science center I have ever seen. I wondered if that giant company had built that as somewhat of an apology? I could have stayed in there for days. I even got to give a colonoscopy to a dummy. Not a live one. Before we went the way of the trees, we headed out.

In Ottowa, we toured the Parliament Building, and Barbara got recruited to participate in some sort of play about their government. Outside, a Mountie sat at attention on his horse, full uniform, and Barbara tried to get him to get down and get his picture made with her. He didn't even blink at her, so she just hung onto his leg while I took the picture.

Moving on into Algonquin National Park, we had just sat up camp when a French speaking family walked by. The kids started chasing a chipmunk which ran right up into our camp and into a hole by Barbara. She started talking to them, the parents yelled, “Americans!” and the kids fled in terror. You would have thought they had yelled “Rattlesnake!” but then, they don't have any of them up there. I guess they just have to have something to fear.
I got up really early to drive around for look wildlife, while Barbara slept it. I got a good look at, and several good pictures of, a moose in all it's glory. Barbara was jealous. It would be many weeks before she saw one.

Quebec City is a walled city, from times past. The people seem to look different from others we have seen, but a lot like each other. I've noticed this before in isolated places. Those French speakers would not speak English to another Canadian, and were very standoffish until we told them we were Americans, then they warmed up and spoke English well.
Barbara started reading the Bible through that day, and finished it on the trip. Gives you some idea how long that trip was. 

We discovered Expo Quebec was going on, something like our Arkansas State Fair, but very different. I found a parking spot in a man's yard nearby for a small fee. Then, the man said we had to leave our car keys with him, in case he had to move cars around. Now, that was not something I was accustomed to doing at our state fair, so finally, I just took everything of value out of the car, put it in a big backpack, and carried it around all day. When we got back at the end of the day, he was still standing right beside our car, guarding it. I felt bad, and I could tell his feelings were hurt, but he was nice about it.
We saw a lot of new stuff at that Expo. Cheese sculptures, sand sculpture, all very intricate, chickens with feathers down to the end of their toes, milk cows with giant udders, and a woman diving from a 40 foot tower into a play pool of water six feet deep.
When we got back to the RV park, and were loading up, Barbara drove the car up the ramps onto the car dolly. Those french women screamed with amazement, then they all came over and hugged her! You would have thought she had just dived off a 40 foot tower or something! Trying to drive out of the park backwards, because I couldn't read the sign, I got hung up between two trees. All those people turned out and started directing me, in French.

Moving on out the St. Lawrence Seaway, we blew a tire on our car dolly at Bic. The man at the only station had only one tire that would fit, and there were no other possibilities anywhere around. But he still gave me a cut-rate deal. I'm not really sure if he just liked me, or he was helping me to get on out of there, but we always got very fair treatment at the hands of French-Canadians. Little did we know, they were about to save our necks in a major way, a little bit farther down the road.

Farther along, we left the seaway and headed inland, across the mountains to the Acadian Coast of New Brunswick. The Acadians were kinfolks of the Louisiana cajuns. Traveling across the mountains, I started hearing a strange noise in my motor. It got worse. As we got out of the mountains, it would barely run. We entered Caroquet, a very isolated little town out on a peninsula. I rolled to a stop, literally, right in front of the only truck repair place we had seen in days. I went in to talk, and they could barely speak a little English. Finally, they figured out I was having motor troubles. They came out. The motor access was right beside the driver's seat. They took their shoes off,  so as not to make any mess, spread out a cloth around the whole area, and opened it up. The diagnosis was a thrown rod, and I knew that would cost a couple of thousand at home. He suggested they could tie that rod up, and we could limp on home one cylinder short. “Can you fix it?” I asked. Yes, they could. It would take all day tomorrow, and they would have to bring in extra help. I didn't want to face all those hills ahead short one cylinder, so we went for it. They brought out an extension cord, said we could live there for the duration.
Barbara and I went to an Acadian Village the next day, set up like their pioneers lived, and the people dressed the part. Their pioneer life on this cold coast made ours look like a cakewalk. The English had pushed the Acadians up to this lonely, cold coast many years ago.
Back at the RV, they had finished up. The total bill, when changed into dollars, was about $700. They had been extremely nice and helpful throughout, and after paying the bill, I wrote a very nice letter of recommendation, so that other travelers would know they were really good people. We said goodbye, and headed on down the road.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Free for a Year - Part One

SPREADING  WING -  Thomerson Drug in Gurdon and Prescott Flowers and Gifts now sell Spreading Wing. They join Two Rivers Grocery in Wing, Danville Gifts and More, Scooter's in Sheridan, Hastings Book Store in Russellville, Barnes and Noble in Little Rock, Bonnie's Cafe in Watson, Julie's Frames in Malvern, Covenant Books in Arkadelphia, and of course,, book or Kindle, and Amazon Europe. You may contact me at  for a signed and personalized book.

I was kidding with Barbara one day. “When we get out of the studio, let's buy an RV, rent out our house, and travel for a year.” To my great surprise, she didn't even need to discuss it. She just said, “Okay.”

We put our house up for lease. Luckily, Rhower BF Goodrich was just about to open up in Arkadelphia. We leased it to them for a year, to be used by their executives coming into town to train new employees, as a sort of hotel. We bought an older model RV, 32 feet long. We also got a dolly to pull our car on. Barbara began to pay our major bills off, a year in advance. Everything else was on automatic withdrawal. Our house rent would pay for our lodging. We sold the business to Kinley and Mickey. We would be free as a couple of birds!

The first day out, I began to learn how to drive that big rig. I saw right off that, in making a left hand turn, the trailing car would be thrown out into the far right lane. I had to learn to take over both lanes when about to make a turn on a four lane road. Many months into the trip, I would pay the price for that little problem. The big rig caught a lot of wind. On the interstate to Memphis, seemed like every big truck that passed us was blowing us into the ditch. And, I could not back that long rig very far, with the car on. I had to have half a football field to turn around in. Our plan was to travel a couple of hundred miles to a destination, hang around until we had seen it, then move on.
We only traveled to West Memphis that first day. I had enough of that new stress by then. The second day out, Barbara made one of our best moves of the trip. She bought roadside service Insurance.
It was on special for $69.95. It would quickly pay for itself, as it turned out. We camped near St. Louis that second night, and I ran into a lady I knew from Arkadelphia in the park. That never happened again.
We decided tomorrow, Sunday, would be a good day to see St. Louis. That proved to be true, and we toured many large cities on a Sunday after that. The St. Louis Arch proved to be one visit Barbara regretted. The trip up and down proved to be very crowded, claustrophobic, and the arch swayed. Although we did have a magnificent view from the top, she was so sick by then, she didn't care. I had trouble getting her in that tiny car for the ride back down. We learned another lesson that day. Mark where we park the car well. We almost never found it.
Our next stop was in the driveway of our friends, Cheryl and Wes McGowan, in Hannibal. One of our less expensive stops.
Moving on to Chicago, we camped a few miles outside. We toured the Field Museum. We saw the two lions who killed scores of railway workers in Africa, and actually shut down the project until a Great White Hunter brought them down. At the Museum of Science and Industry, we saw many more amazing sights. Then we spent lots of time just driving around seeing the sights of Chicago. Lost, most of the time.
The next day, driving through Indiana headed for Michigan, our RV just shut down on us. The RV, fortunately, was old enough that a semi-shade tree mechanic could work on some things. I made a lucky guess, pulled the car off and bought a new fuel filter, and it worked.
We arrived in Holland, Michigan just in time for the Blueberry Festival, just the first of many special events we would run onto, by accident, that year. Holland is all about wooden shoes, tulips, and people who came from the real Holland. We also got to watch diving pigs at the Michigan State Fair.
After detouring inland from Lake Michigan to see the Gerald Ford Library, we drove on up through Michigan along the lake on a cold day, for us. We realized northern people are just different. They swam in Lake Michigan on that cold day, in droves, while we stood shivering in our coats watching them. Those pore' people just have no summer, and they just work with what they get. They even acted like they enjoyed it.

We took a ferry over to Mackinac Island and spent a fun day in a society with no motor vehicles. Even the UPS man drove a horse and buggy. Someone clued us in on a neat little trick. Go into the Library, pick up a newspaper which keeps you from loitering, walk out back, and you will see the very best view of the island.
The bridge into Canada was very tall, and driving over it in that tall RV was scary. Trying to get directions from a native, he told us, “That won't be hard to find. Hell, Ontario don't have but one damn road.” That proved to be almost true. Roads are very hard to maintain in the winter, and road crews work hard on their “One damn road” all summer. People seen to get impatient with the many long traffic delays on that road. Once, we were stopped in a long line of backed up cars. A northern redneck (yes, the South does not have the market cornered on rednecks) got out of his car and yelled, “Hey! What's the trouble up there?” Someone yelled back, “They're moving the bodies out of the road.” The redneck shut up.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Spreading Wing Chapter One - Conclusion

My brother, Harold, was born in 1931. He was Dad's helper when Dad was in his prime, and he says Dad was much a man. Afraid of nothing, or nobody. When the well at the barn went dry, the mules and other stock needed water. Dad climbed to the bottom of the well on a rope. He lit a stick of TNT, climbed back out. BOOM! We now had water. Once a mare with a colt were in the barn lot with the mules. Mules don't like colts. The mules hemmed the colt up by that well, and the colt jumped into the well to get away from them. Harold saw Dad lasso the colt's leg, and he pulled it out. By himself. Later, the mules caught the colt again, kicked it in the head, and killed it.
Dad and Uncle Arthur had earlier gone in together and bought some land in the Rover "Slashes," then Nimrod Dam was built, and the government took the "Slashes" and other rich crop land. The drought persisted. Soon it became hard to feed a family. Years later, Dad showed me how to build quail traps and rabbit gums, and described little tricks for catching fish when the need is great. Those tricks stay within the family. I still use one occasionally. He told me, "If a person saw a rabbit cross the road, chased by less that two people, we knew times were getting better." After the rains returned, I never again knew of a Gillum eating a wild rabbit. Memories of bad experiences with rabbit fever during the bad times lasted a lifetime. Much had been lost to the Gillum farm, under Dad's watch, through no fault of his own. Dad's solution to the situation was, just work harder and longer. The depression mindset never left my dad as long as he lived. Never buy food that we can grow, or reap from the forest. Buy flour, salt, sugar. That will about do it. Borrow money as a last resort. Store up extra food every year, the rains can go at any time. Always work as hard as we can, every day, except Sunday.

      A large building that was constructed earlier by John Wesley and his boys for storing food they produced, for long periods of time, was perfect for Dad's needs now. It was finished around1920. Dad put a German coin in each concrete step leading down into the cellar. He brought those coins back from WWI. Had it not been for the two headed monster, that building would probably have soon become obsolete, and the Gillums would most likely have bought more and more of their food, like most people of the time. But with these facilities in hand, I think Dad just went back to what he knew worked in his boyhood during the good times, and we stayed there. Grow and store your own food. Living like the 1920's in the 1940's and 50's. Everything considered, it was a good life. Everything, except for the fact that we worked our butts off. All my siblings, and I mean every last one, as they graduated from high school, found themselves spreading wing and moving on to the rest of their lives, far from that farm. This large building had several different compartments, each perfectly suited for its purpose. A smoke house was always filled with three hogs we butchered each fall. Very little was wasted. The hogs produced large tins of lard, lye soap, sausage, mince meat and head cheese. The well cleansed intestines were even used for storing sausage. Everything was used but the squeal. An insulated potato house held hundreds of pounds of potatoes, with lime on them to prevent rotting. Those potatoes had six inch sprouts on them by the time we ate the last one in the spring. The woods were searched for fresh poke weed, "pokesalit'," in the very early spring. Mom later grew it in her garden. The cellar underneath held hundreds of quarts of canned food put up by my mother as she labored over that hot wood stove each summer. Sometimes close to eight hundred quarts per year. Shelves above the cellar held many gallon cans of sorghum molasses. The house was underpinned, and piles of sweet potatoes were stored there. The barn held tow sacks full of peanuts.

      All this, of course, was done in the spare time, working around the really big jobs of putting up enough hay and corn for the livestock. Plus, working the money crop, mostly cotton. That money crop began to play out on that overworked land, and a cotton gin became hard to find, about the time I was born. I remember riding a load of cotton to the gin only once. I must have been around two. In my memory, it seems that gin just sucked my cap right off my head, but I don't believe Dad would ever have let that happen. Power of suggestion, maybe. I have dim memories of a man kidding with me, and he must have said something to that effect. Cattle became, more and more, the main money source as the cotton crop diminished.

     Two milk cows not only produced plenty of milk, but cream, butter, and cottage cheese. During dry years, bitter weeds were about all that was left for those cows to eat. That milk was bitter. A yard full of chickens, usually ordered from Sears and Roebuck, or produced by our own "settin' hens," produced plenty of eggs, and mom was a master of wringing the necks (I remember seeing three or four headless, bleeding chickens flopping about the yard at one time) and producing a great Sunday change of pace meal, fried chicken. One just never knew when the preacher would be dropping in for Sunday dinner, and she was always prepared.

     My older brother, Harold, was at first the family wild meat provider. Fish and squirrel, mostly. The deer had pretty well been killed and eaten around Wing by then. I took over that job at a very early age. Harold went off to college when I was about four, and although Dad was usually far too busy working to teach me how to hunt and fish, Harold helped me some. Dad gave me time and the freedom to wander the hills, bottoms, and the river. I soon figured it out on my own. Never again was Dad's family to be stalked by hunger, as when the two headed monster prowled the land.

      This was the world, and the mindset, that I was born into in 1944. The shadow of that monster was ever present, hovering over me, until the day I also found myself spreading wing and leaving the farm, in 1962.

Monday, April 1, 2013


Spreading Wing is available from Amazon, US and Europe, book form or Kindle.  See earlier posts for locations around Arkansas where it can also be bought. For a personalized, signed edition, contact me at, $20 with shipping.
To introduce you to Spreading Wing, I'm posting chapter one. This chapter is an overview for part one of the book, and explains why things were so very different for the Gillum's of Wing.

Things were different on our farm in Wing, Arkansas in the 1940's and 50's. But before I tell you how things were different, let me relate to you the historical and natural events that, combined with human nature, produced the mindset that brought about WHY.

I was born in 1944. I was a child of The Great Depression. Now, I know it's generally accepted that the depression ended before my time. Maybe with the great buildup toward World War II. But those who say that didn't live on our farm, and they didn't see what was in my daddy's heart. It wasn't the Wall Street crash, Black Friday and the like, that hit those country folk so hard. No, the money was not the main thing. Country folks were already accustomed to living off what their land could grow, and what could be reaped from the forests and the river. The real problem was, when the money left, the rains just chased along behind. And the hot sun brought its rays to bear and never let up. Dad often told me, the temperature topped one hundred degrees F. on one hundred days in 1930, though I can't verify those exact temperatures. And, Dad had no thermometer or radio. That could have been an estimate. And, 1930 had the driest July ever, one hundredth of an inch. Seeds lay dormant in the dust. What few seeds found enough moisture to sprout, and begin to grow, just wilted and shriveled under that unforgiving sun. The two headed monster. The depression, and the blistering drought. Six consecutive, very hot, dry years, with a record high temperature of one hundred twenty degrees F. in 1936, just allowed no time for country folks to recover, and they occurred at the peak of the depression.
When that two headed monster finally pulled out of Wing, a piece of it just curled itself around my Daddy's heart, and lived there forever.
My Grandfather, John Wesley Gillum, and his wife, Martha Jane Tucker Gillum, arrived in Wing in 1898. They had a wagon load of young'uns' in tow, and more to come. They did well at Wing, which was then in its heyday. The Gillums added more land, more livestock, and sharecroppers. Grandpa's new business venture, producing larger and stronger work mules, did well. John Turner, The Postmaster and store owner at Wing, and Bob Compton, a stock trader and Grandpa's friend, were involved in this venture. Two prize Black Mammoth Jacks, (male donkeys) who were purchased for three thousand dollars, were the heart of this business. King Leo was purchased out of Texas, for one thousand dollars. He won first place at the Arkansas State Fair, no small accomplishment in those times. All of my few sources seem to remember all about King Leo. Although records (Not many families have a donkey in the family records) show Pizo, also a Black Mammoth Jack, was purchased from Spain for $2000, I can find little mention of him. Pizo, oh Pizo, where did you go? A recent report indicated an early death for Pizo. A mule is a hybrid, produced by the crossing of a male donkey and a female horse.(mare.) Since there is considerable size difference, even for a Black Mammoth, I wondered how this was accomplished. So I asked. Turns out, it's just as simple as can be. Dig a trench for the mare, and the jack will pretty well take it from there, with a little steering of his valuable-as-gold member by hand. A huge barn was built for this enterprise, costing one thousand dollars. Now, that may not seem like so much, but at the turn of the century, it was considerable. By comparison, The three bedroom house I was raised in cost five hundred dollars.

At the peak of his success, John Wesley died, in his early sixties, in 1922. Grandma Martha Jane called Dad back from the oilfields of Oklahoma to run the farm. Grandma and Grandpa both had said Dad was a better horse trader than Grandpa, and that's quite a statement because Grandpa was a pro. I'm sure Dad considered this an honor, getting that call. Martha Jane had other strong and capable sons, and some were older. Dad was now twenty nine, a veteran of World War I, and a strong, hardworking man in his own right. Dad once told me he took a job in the boiler room in the oilfields, one that nobody had been able to hang with. It was just too hot there. Dad took the job, drank only lukewarm water from the boiler, and made it fine. Many years later, I had a little experience in the hayfield that convinced me Dad was onto something there. I was placing the hay and tromping and shaping the hay stack, Dad was hauling the hay to me. It was very hot. The cold, cold springs in the creek were nearby, and I started running and jumping in that cold water between loads. By the end of the day, I thought I was going to die. My hardest day ever in the hay fields, and I had many.

Things continued to go well, under Dad's watch, for a time. Dad bought a car, and spent most of his time supervising the sharecroppers, rather than actually working the land himself. He went in with Uncle Homer, and bought a new herd of cattle. But it was not to last. The two headed monster reared it's ugly head, and things started going bad. Dad soon did not even have the money to put in a crop of his own. Cattle prices went to nothing, and the cattle had to be ranged out into the mountains, so they could find forage, or sold outright. The sharecroppers could not borrow money to put in their own crops, unless Dad signed their notes. He did, and the sharecropper's seed just lay there in the dust. They had to walk, and Dad held the notes. Dad sold off timberland to the government, at fifty cents to two dollars per acre. He had to sell at least eighty acres. He had no money to hire a lawyer to negotiate a better price, so he just had to take what the government would give him. Grandma still had some money, and when she found out about the sale, she insisted Dad buy it back. But it was too late. The deed was done. That land would become a part of the Ouachita National Forest. Those sharecropper's notes took many years to pay off, but Dad finally did it. A Gillum always pays his debts. Those notes extended the tenure of the depression for us many years. Dad had to put his car up on blocks out at the barn. He could not buy gas. That car sat there, a rusting hulk, until well after I was born. A monument to better times, long gone. Someone once commented on that car, and asked Dad what happened to it. "The depression hit it," Dad replied. My older brother Harold, a small boy at that time, seeing a rusty spot showing up on the door, asked, "Is that where it hit it?" Dad never had another automobile until 1947.

Continued next post