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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Old Houses Tell Stories: The Clayton Home in Fort Smith, AR

I love old houses and the stories they tell. I want to know about the children that grew up within their walls, who the parents were and what they dreamt about. I wonder what life was like for a daughter of the family or for a servant girl.

Fort Smith’s Clayton Home offers a glimpse into the life of a 19th-century family.  Appointed by President Grant, William H. H. Clayton served as prosecutor in Judge Parker’s federal courtroom.


The house, built in the 1850s, became the home of the Clayton family in 1882. While the Claytons raised their seven children (six daughters and one son), Clayton handled thousands of cases. In a 14-year period, he set a record for the number of murder convictions.

Touring the home is a trip back in time. As you enter the house, a beautiful wood staircase draws your eye and takes your breath away. The home, restored to its original glory, is a study in elegance. From the candelabras and kerosene lamps to the dining tables set in fine china, one can imagine Mrs Clayton bustling around, directing servants in their duties.

I imagined days filled with lessons and evenings with music, and children sliding down the banister when no adults were in sight. Then I pictured the family dressing for a formal dinner or the children being hustled to bed while the parents entertained.

I tried to imagine the servants' thoughts as they stood behind the guests at dinner. 

Wherever your imagination takes you, the home gives you insight into the lives of a well-to-do family of the late 1800s.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

My agricultural visit to Webster City, Iowa produced a great respect for farmers

United Coop Test Plot

Yes, we knew Iowa is an agricultural state and that Iowa farmers produce much of what we eat. We knew that farming today is nothing like when our ancestors farmed. We didn't know that it takes at least 1,000 acres to support a family, or that a new John Deere sprayer can cover 1,000 acres a day in auto-drive and air-conditioned comfort for the operator.

The state's agriculture involves much more than the cornfields people see as they drive along the freeways. We learned about crops, technology, scientific testing, equipment and diversity.

We visited a United Coop test plot that analyzes crop growth to determine yield with different fertilizers and weed control products. Farming is specialized and scientific. Today's farmer likely possesses a degree in an agricultural-related field.

Iowa picnic
Iowa is the top pork producing state in the US. Over 6,000 farmers market close to 50 million hogs per year. As representatives spoke to us, we acquired new information about the pork industry. I hadn't realized that pork is the world's most consumed animal protein or that pork producers plan based on global needs. At the present time, Japan, Canada, Mexico and South Korea are the leading customers for Iowa pork (taken from Iowa Pork Facts

By 2050, with an expected population of 9 billion, the world will need 60-70% more food. Although the profit margin per animal is tight, the farmers make their money by volume. Each hog is kept approximately 6 months before taking to market. They are fed locally grown corn and soybean meal.

Woolstock Equipment
It's a synergistic relationship. Crop farmers need manure for fertilizer and hog farmers need corn and soybeans for feed. Ten hogs (from weaning to market) provide the nutrients for an acre of soil. One hog consumes 9-10 bushels of corn from birth to a market weight of 275 pounds.

Governmental regulations protect the consumer and Iowa farmers work hard to follow the guidelines and raise the healthiest animals. As with every other consumable product, regulations raise the costs of production. The farmers need the latest scientific and technical knowledge, disease control methods and genetics to keep their businesses profitable. The focus on providing the best of care for the environment and their animals impressed me.

Iowa's two major crops are corn and soybeans. Farmers need the latest advances in equipment to maximize their time and production.

Today's John Deere

We visited Woolstock Equipment to see the latest John Deere tractors. Then we visited Vern Ratcliff to talk about the equipment from the "old" days. Most of us who had parents or aunts and uncles on farms, recalled riding on the tractors built in the mid 1900s. What a far cry from today.

I wondered what my uncles would think of tractors about 10 times larger than theirs, with GPS, automatic controls and air conditioning. I'm sure my Uncle Joe, a Kansas farmer who thought man could never reach the moon, wouldn't believe in the possibility. How could he even imagine a tractor where he could set the GPS, push a button and sit back in air-conditioned comfort on a hot summer day while the machinery planted or sprayed crops, row after row, with no waste and no error.

1940s era tractor

On a trip back to yesteryear, we discovered the Doodlebug, a motor scooter made in 1946-1948, and then rode in a new tractor that could cover 1,000 acres in a day.

I realized that farming is an exciting industry with its constant advances and growth.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Petit Jean Memories by Joyce Faulkner

My husband John holding Rosie

A trip to Arkansas in August could seem like a visit to Hades for those unacclimated to heat and humidity. However, there are places that should be on your bucket list this time of year regardless of the weather - and Petit Jean State Park in central Arkansas is one of them.

For me, it is a mixture of natural beauty, history, and myth. However, it is a picnic basket of memories for my husband, Johnny.

It was a gradual climb at first. Warm rain created a thick
mist that made our morning drive mysterious and beautiful. Then as the mountains rose up before us, the well-maintained road curved to the left and then back around on itself and we found ourselves in a thick forest of old growth trees. Johnny perked up at this point, remembering childhood visits to the woods with his parents and siblings. He talked about climbing on the rocks and about a waterfall and swimming and canoeing. The way he told it, it sounded like a family paradise. Of course, for fair-skinned, red-haired girls like I was, it would have been a recipe for scraped knees, sunburn, and mosquito bites but I kept my concerns under my hat.

A visual treat up on Petit Jean
As we made the next curve, we got our first glimpse of the glorious cliffs of Petit Jean. And Johnny directed me to pull over and park so we could look out on the deep ravines. It was the very definition of breathtaking. I was still taking pictures when he hustled me back to the car to see the next overlook and the next. We had to see Petit Jean's grave and the lake and the display of Winthrop Rockefeller's antique car collection. We had lunch at the historic Mather Lodge overlooking Cedar Creek Canyon.

Aside from the obvious activities of camping and fishing, Petit Jean State Park had other surprises. We learned about Petit Jean, a young French girl who dressed as a boy to follow her explorer lover to America. We weren't up to speed on our Indian lore, but there was at least a day's worth of Native American stories.

Enjoying the valley floor
There are ghosts and bears to brighten up your nights and tales of the waves of pioneers who either passed through or built homes in the region.

If you find yourself on a road crossing through central Arkansas, here's a site that will help you get the most out of your adventure.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Pulaski County History Crawl

Old Stagecoach Stop

Roubidoux Creek, a Cherokee encampment
Last year I spent a week in Pulaski County, Missouri. On I-44 between St. Louis and Springfield, MO, the county had been more of a "drive through" than "stop and enjoy." After several visits, that has changed for me. I love the historical diversity - from Ft Leonard Wood and the Trail of Tears to Route 66. One can learn much about westward expansion by stopping in Waynesville and visiting two museums; the Pulaski County Museum and the Old Stagecoach Inn. Both are on the Waynesville Square.

See my first post about how transportation changed the area's fortunes time after time. /blogger.g?blogID=4011652436090282560#editor/target=post;postID=7635003712882864784;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=44;src=link

I found the area so full of history that I created a Pulaski County History Crawl that is scheduled for September 30 - Oct 2, 2016. I'm looking forward to seeing the experts from the area light the fire of discovery in the attendees. If you're interested in history, love to blog or post on Facebook, or share stories, we'd love to have you as part of our adventure!

McClure Amphitheater overlooking Fort Smith, Arkansas by Joyce Faulkner

McClure Amphitheater

While in Arkansas recently, Pat and I visited this stone amphitheater which was once part of Camp Chaffee near Fort Smith -- and is now a stunning feature of the new Chaffee Crossing community. As the story goes, Colonel George W. McClure  was charged with training a rowdy group of soldiers who loved visiting the bars in Fort Smith. Tired of dealing with the results of the young soldiers' parties, the Colonel decided to put them to work building a training facility on the side of a hill overlooking south Fort Smith.  Sure enough, Worn out from the heavy work in the Arkansas heat, the men began spending their evenings in their bunks.

The Amphitheater was built with native stone.

The army used the completed amphitheater as a classroom for any number of military topics including map making and reading. As time passed and Fort Chaffee's mission changed, the facility wasn't used as much and fell into disrepair.

Rehabilitated after sixty years and developed as a venue for weddings and other events, the site is beautiful and historic. Maintained as a City of Fort Smith park, it is a special place with a magnificent view of Ben Geren Park and South Fort Smith. 

Whether you are a citizen of the area or just passing through, it's worth the short drive to enjoy it. 

The address is: 7201 Massard Road, Fort Smith, AR 72916.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Cleveland's Free Stamp by Joyce Faulkner

Cleveland from the lake front

I used to work in Cleveland. I remember it as a beehive of activity during the day but at night, we all headed for the suburbs -- literally emptying out the town. The citizens were warm and friendly and full of fun. Lots has changed since 1994. Improvements at the lakefront have revitalized the city and will continue to do so in the future. New buildings have either replaced old ones or squeezed into tiny bits of unused land. Old classics have either been refurbished and repurposed or await their turn for a refresh. The one thing that hasn't changed at all is the warm and friendly folks who work and live in the area.

When we visited Cleveland, I wanted to show my doubting-Thomas friend Pat Avery why I have such affection for the little city on Lake Erie. And just as I knew she would, she fell in love with the angles and curves and the high-arching bridges and Terminal Tower and the U.S.S. Cod, a submarine museum. Looking from the Lakefront Park, the buildings are a mixture of old and new, glass and brick, soaring and squat. The cityscape sparkled in the afternoon sunlight. And as Pat snapped image after image for her giant database of travel photographs, she heard--as I did--the windy whispers of dramas yet to be written and performed in Playhouse Square.

As a newbie to Cleveland lore, Pat was eager to find the best places to photograph -- and Cleveland has so many. I was excited to share with her MY airport -- where I learned to fly enough to write Windshift. Burke Lakefront Airport is still fun to explore what with its Women's Aviation displays and that devilish crosswind that challenges pilots as they land and was the inspiration for the name of my novel about the Women's Air Service Pilots.

Then there are the Flats. The area exudes fun and generational mischief now, but there are lots of stories about industry and the mob and Elliot Ness and murder and resurrection. Partiers sit on the docks provided by restaurants sipping their drinks and pondering the important moments of their day. We joined them to watch a drawbridge groan as it rose  to allow boats docked on the Cuyahoga River (the one that caught fire back in the 1960s) head out to Lake Eerie for evening cruises. As we paused to toast the sinking sun, my favorite moment of the day came to mind -- our visit to the old courthouse where Sam Sheppard was both convicted and freed. Not too far away, on the grounds across the street, sets the infamous "Free" stamp.

The Free Stamp

Note: The Free Stamp is a sculpture created by Coosje van Bruggen. It was commissioned by Sohio in 1985 shortly after I began work at East Ohio Gas in Cleveland. It was intended for their headquarters building which was being erected on Public Square. The stamp was designed to stand upright with the lettering of the stamp hidden from view. A Sohio employee said that the message was a reference to the Civil War-era Soldiers and Sailors Monument which would be located across the street.
However,  BP acquired Sohio before the sculpture was installed and the new management didn't like the artwork or the message. There was a bit of a three-way brouhaha between BP, the city, and the artists -- and the piece ended up in storage
In 1991 before I was transferred back to Pittsburgh, BP donated the piece to Cleveland. Modified to lie on its side, Oldenburg reportedly said that it looked as if a giant hand had picked up the sculpture from its intended location at the BP Tower and angrily hurled it several blocks, where it ended up on its side.
I have always thought the sculpture was a gas. I was busy and didn't visit the site often over the years -- or even thought about it. However, as Pat and Johnny and I quickly snapped pictures of the piece, I got tickled. Johnny had just retired and we could go anywhere and do anything we wanted for the first time -- and one of the first places we visited was a Rubber Stamp monument to freedom.

Willard Park (Cleveland park). (2016, March 16). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 01:32, August 25, 2016, from

Would you like to be a Civil War re-enactor?

Ladies' styles

Have you ever wondered why people get involved in Civil War re-enactments and other period events? After visiting with several folks at the recent Old Settlers Day in Waynesville, Missouri, I realize the reasons are as varied as the people.

Wayne Issleb as General Grant
Several ladies explained that they love making and wearing their costumes. For accessories, they like to shop at the encampment tents and pick up gloves and other sundry items. Since I don’t sew, I admired their skill in making dresses with such intricate designs.

“I am involved in this period of history because it’s such an important part of our nation’s unity,” Wayne Issleb, who portrays General Ulysses S Grant, said. “Families divided, states at war with each other; we cannot imagine this in modern times. The Civil War brought the nation together.”

A couple of other re-enactors also spoke of preserving history, both of the war and of the period.

President Lincoln (Lance Mack)
addresses attendees
When I asked if re-enactors choose special characters, Wayne answered, “I portray U. S. Grant because he is such an important part of the Civil War. People enjoy hearing from him and his point of view as Commanding General.”

Wayne does approximately 20 events a years. That’s a huge commitment.

“A re-enactor needs to study the Civil War, why it took place. They learn the life and the daily routine of a soldier of that time. They invest in period clothing and a uniform, and they join a local re-enactment group.

Sometimes they want to portray a relative who fought in the war, learn where he’s from, the battles he fought in, and even if he survived. It’s always interesting to portray an actual person.”

A couple of the re-enactors spoke of preserving history, both of the war and of the period. We watched one gentleman make and fly turkey-feather kites.
Union troops march into Waynesville

Some are simply fascinated with the North-South division that existed in Missouri before and during the war. Others love studying the strategies employed by both sides.

In any case, re-enactments present a visual and auditory experience of the scope of battle. The first time I saw a Pearl Harbor re-enactment at the Brownsville CAF Air Fiesta, the timing and the noise taught me something a history book never did. I was struck by the noise, how long it took the planes to circle and the color of the sky as bomb after bomb exploded.

Re-enactments take time and physical space. It’s one thing to drive a mile and think that troops marched the path. It’s completely another to watch – and listen to – them march that distance. Think, then, of the undeveloped land, lack of roads and modern conveniences, not to mention lack of food. It boggles my mind to read that troops march through states – or countries – and then engage in battles.
On the battlefield

If you and/or your children haven’t seen a re-enactment, it’s well worth your time. The Pulaski County Museum and Historical Society sponsored this year's event and next year is already in the planning stage. For current information, follow their Facebook page at

Many of the reenactors were from The 8th Missouri Militia Cavalry (check out their Facebook page for more information

The Kickapoo Trace Muzzleloaders also demonstrated frontier skills.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Fort Smith History Defined by the Arkansas River

Old fort remains overlooking river

The Arkansas River begins its journey in Colorado and flows through Kansas and Oklahoma before it reaches Arkansas, where it finally flows into the Mississippi.

Many cities along the way can trace their history to the Arkansas, which is the sixth-longest river in the US. It is the second-largest tributary of the Mississippi. In 1803, the Louisiana Purchase brought it into the US.
Fort Smith began as a military post at Belle Point, the junction of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers. The 1817 post overlooked Belle Point and the Oklahoma Territory across the river. Although the original fort closed in 1824, the Army moved back in in 1838 to supervise the ending point of the Federal government’s Cherokee and Choctaw resettlement policies. Known as the Trail of Tears, the forced journey left thousands dead along the way.

As I stood at the overlook, my heart ached for all those who made the march and those who never completed it. I had recently visited a Cherokee campsite in Pulaski County, Missouri, ( and learned about the various routes the government chose. I didn’t know until Fort Smith, that removal by river was also a major route. In any case, thousands suffered the loss of their homes and history.
Cherokee Nation

While some of the Cherokee stayed in and around Fort Smith, the majority moved on the Oklahoma territory. The Cherokee Nation is now centered in Tahlequah, Oklahoma (

Today, the Fort Smith National Historic Site maintains the grounds where only the foundations of the old fort remain. When you visit, take the time to walk the trails – to the overlook of the fort and Belle Point. Then walk down to the Trail of Tears overlook at the river’s edge.  It’s not a history to take pride in, but it is a part of our heritage that we need to know, part of the 19th-century belief in Manifest Destiny.

Just over 60 years later, Fort Smith played a major role as a starting point in the 1889 Oklahoma Land Rush, which provided the race-to-claim-land settlement of the territory.

During this period the Federal government appointed Fort Smith as a Federal District, determined to bring law and order to the town and the Wild West. That’s another story for another day!