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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Learning Civil War History through reenactments

I just made plans to attend the Old Settlers Day and Civil War Reenactments in Waynesville, Missouri, on July 30-31.

The reenactment is a first for the event and promises to be educational. Visitors will be able to check out Cavalry and Infantry drill demonstrations, weapons and artillery inspections, period dance and music, a period Church service and more.

Interested in the pre-Civil War years? The Kickapoo Trace Muzzleloaders will have a pre-1840 encampment that pays tribute to the mountain men pioneers. Festival goers will have the opportunity to black powder shoot, throw tomahawks, practice fire starting and attend trapping, dutch over cooking and blacksmithing exhibits.

It's the kind of festival that will attract kids of all ages. Sounds like a great event to learn and experience a part of our American history.

If you've not been to Waynesville, it's on I-44 midway between Lebanon and Rolla.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Aviation History at the Commemorative Air Force in Brownsville TX

Life as a writer offers many advantages. Invitations to experience new things seem to fall in my lap and I love it.

Last winter I spent a couple of months going through file cabinets that contain the history of the CAF (Commemorative Air Force). Tom Santos, the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) wing commander, asked me to help. What a project - lots of work, lots of stuff to throw away, but loads of fascinating material to sift through.

I felt like I was living history one document at a time. Shirley Metzger, a former member, kept meticulous records and donated them to the RGV wing. Many documents are tattered, worn and torn but the information is timeless.

Where do I start to share with you? Maybe a sampling of members from the 1960s when the CAF was a new organization then known as the Confederate Air Force. Their mission is "education, such that generations of Americans will value and support the contributions of military aviation in assuring our nation's freedom."

The early rosters included many well known names. Following are a few examples:

Leroy Gordon Cooper, USAF, Astronaut
James H. Doolittle, Lt. General USAF (Ret.)
Joe Engle, USAF, Astronaut
Signed by President Franklin Roosevelt
Joe Foss, Brigadier General, USAF, Former Cmdr, SD Air National Guard, Former Governor, SD
Don Pdro Santa Cruz, Commandante Spanish Air Force, Chief Test Pilot Hispano Aviacon, Sevilla, Spain
Alan B. Shepard, USN, Astronaut
John G. Tower, US Senator
Charles E Yeager, Colonel USAF, Commander 405th Fighter Interceptor Wing - Clark AFB, Philippine Islands
Christopher Doll, RAF, Battle of Britain Ace

In the correspondence we found a letter signed by President Roosevelt. Written to a Brownsville TX supporter in 1932, he addresses the issue of Prohibition:

"...With regard to the prohibition question, you may rest assured that the Democratic Party stands very firm in opposing the return of the saloon."

Tennessee Ernie Ford
Col Jimmy Doolittle
Tennessee Ernie Ford, a famous recording artist and TV personality, frequently attended the Rio Grande Valley's annual airshow.

Famed WWII fighter pilot Jimmy Doolittle became one of the CAF's early members. During the war, he rose from Lt Colonel to Brigadier General, skipping the rank of Colonel. The accompanying article in the Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, TX) shows Doolittle accepting the rank of Colonel from the CAF.

We also discovered a number of cartoons featured in their various publications. Although it was lots of work, it was a fun project. I feel honored to have touched some of the history of the Commemorative Air Force!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Transportation, industry and Prohibition changed Fond du Lac, Wisconsin's history

Lake Winnebago
In 1835, the new Military Ridge Road would pass through Fond du Lac and connect forts in Wisconsin to Fort Dearborn in Illinois. The next year an Act of Congress established the Territory of Wisconsin.

By this time sturgeon had inhabited the earth for approximately 100 million years. The Menominee had fished on Lake Winnebago for several hundred years before European settlers arrived. In 1835, the new Military Ridge Road would pass through Fond du Lac and connect forts in Wisconsin to Fort Dearborn in Illinois.

The city's location at the head of Lake Winnebago took advantage of the natural harbor and industry skyrocketed. Transportation routes by water, rail and wagon served the needs of manufacturing companies.

Horicon Marsh
The first school was built in 1843 and the first railroad came to the community in 1852. By the early 1900s, the city had seen the rise and fall of major railroad, construction and milling businesses. Fond du Lac once led the state in the production of barley for the flourishing brewery industry even though by 1915, Prohibition was nipping at its heels. Carrie Nation spoke at a tavern in Fond du Lac where she proclaimed that every German in Wisconsin should be blown up with dynamite.

On a lighter note, in the 1920s, the city negotiated with the New York Yankees to come to Fond du Lac to play an exhibition game with a local team. Unfortunately, they never reached a deal. Adults enjoyed frequent boxing matches at the armory.

So what did kids do? They flocked to the circus when it came to town. In 1924, the Moose Circus gave a birthday party for Babe, a twelve-year-old elephant, on the steps of the courthouse.

After the stock market crash, life changed for all Americans. Banks closed, businesses failed and people lost their jobs. According to, about half of the city’s families were on some form of relief. By 1933, nearly one-fourth of the country was out of work. Fond du Lac and the state of Wisconsin suffered. Wisconsin reported 269,000 out of work in 1932.

After WWII, Fond du Lac grew and  thrived.  Today Mercury Marine is its largest manufacturing company and the city brings many tourists to town through a busy calendar of events. Whether it's the hiking, birding, water activities, children's museums, eating or shopping, you'll find plenty of great experiences in Fond du Lac.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Transportation changes everything

When I visit a new area, I am fascinated by the local history. When I spent a week in Pulaski County MO (I-44 runs through it), I learned a tiny bit of its history.

Waynesville prospered and declined based largely on transportation routes. The Wire Road, the stagecoach route and Route 66 each contributed to years of growth. War has played its role with the Civil War (the Stagecoach Stop became a Union hospital) and WWII (the construction of Ft. Leonard Wood).
Old Frisco Caboose in Crocker

The railroad in southern Missouri contributed to a long period of decline for Waynesville. Each new and better mode of transportation ushered in the downfall of the previous mode. In the Ozarks, the lay of the land and the conditions of the soil determined the new railroad routes.

The original plan in the 1850s by the South Pacific Railroad Company called for the tracks to be laid roughly along the stagecoach route. The Civil War added to the woes of the company and when the construction began after the war, the company reorganized and became the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway Company - known as the Frisco.

A change in the proposed route - to the top of the plateau rather than through the valleys - moved the railroad north and created new towns. Dixon and Crocker grew rapidly. The towns are proud of their history. The Crocker Museum is in the old train depot. A caboose is the main attraction in the city park.

However, when Ft Leonard Wood was built, a railroad became a necessity in the area. Today you can see an old railroad bridge spanning the hills near Route 66 and Devil's Elbow.

1941 railroad bridge from below

Scenic view of the railroad bridge on the old Route 66

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Rocky Mountain National Park

Moose in the park last spring
Fox last spring
We visited Rocky Mountain National Park twice in the past year. Last May we stayed in Granby and spent a couple of days exploring the south end of the park. Trail Ridge was still closed and snow-covered. It snowed several days while we were there but we saw moose and totally enjoyed the mountain experience.

Grand Lake just south of the park
A couple of weeks ago we spent an afternoon driving through Estes Park and Big Thompson Canyon and on into the other end of the park. Again Trail Ridge was closed and the snow-clad mountains glistened in the sunlight.

Favorite season? I think it would be impossible to decide because the park has its own magnificence throughout the year. If you have never visited the park, or if it's been a while, plan a visit. It is truly an inspirational experience.

Bear Lake region

Ice on the lake

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The National WASP Museum in Sweetwater, TX

The Women Air Service Pilots of WWII have long inspired admiration. In the last several years, I played a role in publishing two books about these fascinating women (Windshift by Joyce Faulkner and Someday I'll Fly by Rebecca Evans).

When we recently traveled through west Texas I eagerly anticipated a visit to the National WASP Museum in Sweetwater. We visited on a day the museum was closed but thanks to Carol Cain, the associate director, we had the opportunity to tour the facility.

Just seeing the planes they flew and realizing the courage it took to pull targets for soldier trainees enhanced my respect for their skill and nerves of steel. Although long denied the status they deserved, it was awesome to see a museum dedicated to their feats.

Target pulled behind planes

Located off I-20 west of Abilene, a stop at the museum is well worth your time. Take the time to browse through the personal histories of the women pilots and note the names of the thirty-eight who gave their lives during the war.

Monday, March 14, 2016

A trip through Texas, New Mexico and Colorado

West Texas
Earlier this month, we made a quick trip from Brownsville, TX, to Loveland, CO - okay, it's in no way a quick trip! Even though we went to say goodbye to a favorite aunt, we found fascination in the trip along the way.

Traveling through Texas is an experience in land diversity. We passed through the beautiful hill country to the agricultural landscape of west Texas, to the mountain ranges and plateaus as we passed into New Mexico.

It was our first time to drive through Roswell, and yes, we saw a few little green Martians. The town knows how to capitalize on its claim to fame.
A Martian at Domino's

We drove through huge ranches in eastern New Mexico where we had the road to ourselves for many miles - occasionally we'd pass a pickup. Cacti and tumbleweeds. We reminisced about the old cowboy movies of our youth and pictured John Wayne, Glenn Ford and others chasing the bad guys through this barren landscape. The foothills and rocky terrain made a perfect setting.

Although we seemed to drive forever, we finally reached Trinidad, CO. We remembered it from years ago as a small town with little to do. It now has an old downtown with plenty of shops and restaurants.

We reached Loveland in the late afternoon and met our sons and grandson in Ft. Collins for dinner. Again, what we remembered as two small towns is now a continuous metropolis. We shared a delicious dinner at the CooperSmith's Pub in the Old Square.
View from the Stanley House
in Estes Par

After we said our goodbyes to our aunt, we celebrated her life by taking a ride into her beloved mountains. The Rockies mean home and family to us and our wish is to perpetuate that love and connection in our grandchildren.

Elk grazing in Rocky Mountain
National Park
Whenever you have the opportunity to visit Rocky Mountain National Park, you will be entranced by its magnificence. Beautiful in all seasons! Although the day was cool, the ice on Bear Lake spoke of cold.

We returned to have a dinner at Dunraven in Estes Park before saying goodbye to our cousins. The day gave us more precious memories to share before we headed back to Brownsville.

Rocky Mountain NP

Eastern Colorado and western Texas can seem endless but the fascination took over again when we discovered cotton fields. We had no idea that cotton grew in west Texas but we passed many fields, some interspersed with oil wells.

With three days driving each way, we arrived home tired but so thankful for the experiences we shared with family.

Well worth a mention, our trusty Honda Ridgeline passed the 200,000-mile mark on our way home. It still feels like it's new!