Friday, November 22, 2013

Looking Back -- November 22, 1963

We haven't yet been back a month, and have been busy unpacking and cleaning the RV and getting ourselves back in "Texas Mode."  

As soon as we returned, we began to see newspaper and magazine articles as well as TV programs precipitated by the upcoming fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.  I have watched with interest to see how history depicts the late president and the events of that day, and how those accounts compare with my own recollections.

In November of 1963, I was a new bride living in an apartment in Houston prior to my husband and I returning to Austin to finish school at The University of Texas.  Since I was not working at the time, a neighbor and I often met in one of our apartments to have lunch and watch the long-running soap opera, "As The World Turns."  That is where I was at noon on November 22, 1963.  I remember vividly the announcer breaking into the program to say that shots had been fired in Dallas and that the president had reportedly been hit.  Then not long after came the news that President Kennedy was dead.  

I went home, shaken by what had just happened, but even more by my neighbor's reaction. When she first heard the news, she said, "I hope they killed the son-of-a-bitch."  I don't remember her name, but I will never forget her words.  They say our country lost its innocence that day.  From my perspective, that is true.  I know I did.  The unthinkable had happened; the country had lost someone whom many regarded as a champion who appealed to the best in our nature.  I had also learned that someone I thought to be just a "regular person" with little or no interest in politics could have the fervent hope that a man she didn't know at all would die from an assassin's bullet. 

History will continue to be fascinated by President Kennedy, and the world will have differing opinions about what kind of president he would have been if he had served out his term in office.  And I wouldn't be surprised if, on the one hundredth anniversary of his death, people were still arguing about whether or not he was killed by a lone gunman, or if one of the 100+ conspiracy theories might be accurate.  

I expect that we will never know the answers to those questions, but I do know that, as Pearl Harbor was a defining event in my parents' lives, the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the horrors of September 11 have been defining events in my life.  Each changed me in ways I could not have anticipated.  I am not nearly so innocent or naive as I was in 1963, or on September 11, 2001.  

History has revealed that President Kennedy was by no means a perfect man.  However, I do think he tried to appeal to the better side of our nature.  Perhaps we remember him not because of what he did, but of what he encouraged us to do and be.  History may judge him harshly in some ways, but I will continue to measure our country's leaders and my fellow citizens by his words, "...ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."      

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Back to Texas

We said goodbye to Great Plains State Park on a glorious Saturday morning and headed south.  Our friends Steve and Gail pulled out at daybreak bound for Memphis; Rocky and Sheri left shortly after we did.  Our “rally recovery” camp site was beautiful, and the companionship was even better. 

At mid-afternoon, we pulled into Lake Arrowhead State Park outside of Wichita Falls, Texas.  The campground has large sites with nice, big grassy “yards.”  The park is known for its prairie dog town, which has expanded to include most of the park.  Fortunately, we were able to find an area where there are few of the little critters.  Otherwise, the dogs would have driven us crazy trying to catch one of them!  We’re lucky that we only hear their sharp little warning cries in the distance but don’t see them.

We took a nice walk through the mesquite thickets, then John spent most of Sunday repairing a blown fitting on one of the water hoses in the basement.  Thank goodness it didn’t fail until we were in camp and having a chilled beverage so we heard it and could shut off the water before it completely soaked everything stored below.

A short drive on Monday, brought us to Fort Richardson State Park in Jacksboro, TX.  The park is spacious, with good walking trails and a thriving population of whitetail deer.  The dogs are having a great time.  

On the way in, we were famished for good Texas BBQ, so we stopped at Dairy Land Drive-in.  It’s a trueTexas small-town cafe, and the BBQ was excellent!  Strengthened by our sumptious lunch, we were able to set up in camp in time for Happy Hour.  

Before leaving, we toured the restored Fort Richardson.  Built in 1867, it was a federal fort established after the Civil War for the occupying U.S. Army troops that enforced federal reconstruction laws and protected settlers from raiding Indians.  Seven of the original structures can be visited.  We especially enjoyed seeing the authentically restored military hospital.  

It contains the original medical equipment used by the army's physician, as well as the original bottles that held medications used at the time.  The devices on the table in the foreground are splints that were used to treat broken arms and legs.

Tuesday was glorious, sunny, and crisp.  We had a good walk and John took one of our RV tires into town for a new valve stem.  Early Wednesday, we pulled out bound for East Texas.  By happy hour, we were parked outside of Jefferson in Brushy Creek Corps of Engineers Park on Lake O' The Pines, one of our favorite campgrounds.  The dogs have had a great time splashing in the lake and carrying their packs on our daily four-mile walks.

On one of our day trips into nearby Marshall, we were reminded why it's always good to know where you're going when traveling in the RV.  This overhead obstruction with only a 10' 8" clearance appeared with no warning at all.  Judging by the scars on the structure, a lot of trucks didn't stop in time!  Fortunately we were in the Tracker, so it wasn't a problem for us.....this time. 

Before we left Austin this year, we invested in some "insurance" to prevent just this sort of calamity.  We bought "Co-pilot Truck" software.  This allows us not only to have a reliable GPS system on board, but to program in our RV's height and width.  The program (We call the voice "Mr. Rogers" after that long-ago children's TV host.) patiently instructs us which way to travel to avoid low clearances and other hazards.  We'll use it tomorrow when we leave on the last leg of our homeward journey back to Austin by way of Hamilton for a quick visit to the farm.

Friday, October 18, 2013

On to Ok-La-Ho-Ma

We left Hutch on Tuesday morning and made our way south, helped along by a brisk, really brisk, north wind.  John got us to the Oklahoma border, then I took over the driving at the Oklahoma Welcome Center.  With a little help from my friends, I handled the rig all the way to our new campsite in Great Plains State Park west of Lawton.

This is a beautiful little park with full hook-ups and 50 amp service at several of the sites.  We are camped here with two other couples who attended the HDT Rally in Hutchinson.  It’s probably the first time this park has seen three HDTs in a row.  

As you can see, the campsites have enormous “yards,” with plenty of grass and trees.  The park is 1100 acres and the sites are nestled between granite outcroppings on one side and the lake on the other.  It’s a little off the beaten path, but well worth a visit!  

There are miles of trails through the granite boulders.  We had planned to hike some of them,   but that will have to wait for another visit.  While we were out exploring we visited the ruins of the Gold Bell Mine and Milling Company.  Beside the ruins, we saw where a couple of large snakes had shed their skins, and decided that tramping through the boulders wouldn't be such a good idea.  

The history of the mine was recorded on this sign at the site, and it seems the "gold rush" in this area was a hoax.

On Wednesday evening, we traveled to Meers Restaurant in the small town of Meers, Oklahoma.  Actually, the restaurant is the town.  It has been featured on the TV program, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, hosted by Guy Fieri on the Food Network.  It’s not a diner or a drive-in, so we decided it must qualify as a dive.

The restaurant is unique, and its menu offers something for everyone.  With our friends, Rocky and Sheri on the right and Steve and Gail on the left, we sampled ribs, BBQ chicken, chicken fried steaks and an enormous hamburger that covered an entire pie plate.  The food was good, the prices right, and the home-brewed beer cold.  Here we are with the remains of our feast, some of which went home with us.

But our adventures didn’t end there.  On Thursday, the park began to fill up.  The space next to ours was taken by a family with two young girls about 9-10 years old.  In addition, a young hound that lived in the neighborhood came by to visit.  The dogs and kids wanted to play, so we let ours of leash to enjoy themselves.  For 30 minutes or so, the back yard was filled with whirling dogs and squealing children. 

Just as we thought they might be getting tired, the hound took off into the bushes, followed by the other dogs and kids.  Before we could stop them, all four dogs were happily swimming and splashing in a small pond located just beyond the campground.  But that wasn’t the worst part.  The area surrounding the pond was thick with cockle burrs (pronounced cuckleburrs by all true Southerners)!  Fortunately, Colt spent most of his time swimming in the pond and only got a couple.  Kota came back with quite a few, but Rue was absolutely to bottom and head to tail.   

After we managed to get the dogs out of the pond, the girls helped me to de-burr Kota and we started on Rue.  She had over 100 burrs matted in her fur, and the girls soon lost interest.  it took both Rue and me a couple of hours to get them all out.  Rue did her part, but many of them she couldn’t reach.  She lost quite a bit of coat in the process, but she is now burr-free.

Thursday night we shared dinner with our friends.  Gail made a great pot roast, and after dinner we sat around the campfire and visited for a while before turning in.  Friday dawned cold, windy and rainy, and we were very glad we had opted not to travel.  

Sheri and Rocky hosted dinner Friday night in their lovely Teton fifth wheel.  After a fantastic dinner, we all retired to pack up for our departure Saturday morning.   It has been a great 2+ weeks of pre-Rally, post-Rally and recovery-Rally companionship.  Happy travels to all!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Fun at the Fair Grounds

Our first week in Hutchinson was spent on the grounds of the Kansas State Fair in very close proximity to 15 or 20 of our good friends who pull their fifth wheel RVs with heavy duty trucks (HDTs).  Several people were preparing for the HDT Rally to be held October 6-12, and the rest of us were just hanging out and helping when we could.  

We were all squeezed in behind the administration offices of the Kansas State Fair because the Good Sam RV Club was holding its own rally in the regular KSF RV Park.  (The Fair Grounds, with plenty of parking and facilities for seminars, is apparently well utilized when they are not holding the Fair.)  Not only were there a dozen or more RVs snuggled up together, there were hundreds of flies buzzing around each.  The jar in the foreground is a very smelly "fly trap" which worked very well, than goodness!

Never mind the crowded conditions, we all had a great time which continued when we moved to the regular RV park last Sunday.  

This is a great location for us.  The grounds are large, fenced, and have lots of grass and trees.  What’s more, personnel here don’t care at all if dogs are on- or off-leash, so all of us get plenty of exercise.  They stay on their tie-outs while they are in the RV area, but when we go for walks they can run as far and fast as they like.

We’ve been busy with things besides laundry and happy hour.  For instance, last weekend was a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeo held on the KSF Fairgrounds.  John and I took some time last Saturday evening to attend the festivities.  Although not large in terms of crowds, the rodeo stock was excellent, and the competition fierce.  

Kansas is a place where they’re not afraid to pray for the safety of the livestock as well as the competitors.  They also honor our country’s flag; there was hardly anyone in the stands who was standing with a hand over their heart when it passed by.   

We saw individual and team roping events,

steer wrestling,

barrel racing,

bronc riding, 

and of course bull riding.  

 (I don't know how this cowboy kept his hat on!)


We were especially impressed with the hard work of the two men who protected the cowboys after they dismounted (or were bucked off) the bulls.  They may be dressed like clowns, but they are anything but.  While others scrambled for safety, they put their lives on the line more than once.

John carried a camera as well, and got some great human interest and behind-the-scenes shots.

We’ve had several challenges since we got here, and most of them involve Rue.  First, late one afternoon on our walk with the dogs, we thought we had lost her.  She was hot and thirsty after chasing balls.  We were on our way to get water, but she just couldn’t wait.  One minute she was with the other dogs; the next minute she nowhere to be seen.  

We called and called, then saw Kota and Colt peering into a culvert.  Rue apparently smelled water in one of the many small drainage culverts on the fairgrounds. I knelt down to look inside, but couldn’t imagine she had entered the culvert because the opening was only 13 inches in diameter.  (I measured it later.)  She was so far in that I couldn’t see her, but could hear her lapping.  

We were really panicked, because it was getting late and the culvert wasn’t like the ones you see under a road with an opening on either side.  This one had only one entrance; the other end emptied directly into the underground sewer system!  Frantic, we started calling her.  After what seemed forever, the lapping stopped and the back end of a dog emerged from the culvert.  Rue shook herself and casually trotted off to join the other dogs as if nothing had happened.  We were so glad to see her that we couldn’t even be mad.

Then, on Thursday of last week Rue tore a toenail (chasing a squirrel, we think) and it became infected.  We made a quick trip to the Central Kansas Veterinary Center on Sunday (they are a 24/7 facility) and got antibiotics to treat the infection.  She is much better; the swelling is down, and after a week she hardly limps.  Here is a picture of Rue soaking her foot so it will feel better.  

We’ve had a great time here in Hutchinson.  The dogs have had a good time as well.  One of our friends has four youngsters who thoroughly enjoyed walking them around the campground.  Here are Emalee, Abigail and Claire with their four-footed friends.  

John Michael took a turn leading them as well, but when I was ready to take photos, he was "helping" his dad under their truck.

The grownups spent some of their time in seminars.  Many of them dealt with the HDTs and how to maintain them and our RVs, communication on the road and related topics.  There were also other topics of interest to retirees or soon-to-be’s.  Our friend Dale gave a great presentation on having your documents in order in case of an emergency or health issue, and John did a session dealing with issues related to long-term care insurance and who does or does not need it.

A lot of our time was spent in enjoying meals together.  Pot lucks, pizza and BBQ dinners, breakfast, and "Cooking with Jay" where we learned a lot about food preparation and safety, and enjoyed the fruits of Jay's labors.

And, again this year Danielle taught line dancing classes so we could have fun as well as keep in shape after all that eating.

But much of our activity centered about the trucks.  You couldn’t walk through the campground without seeing guys leaning on, working on, or working under them.  

Here is a shot of the heavy duty trucks lined up for their annual portrait.  

It takes about two hours to get them all into position so we can get a good shot from the top of the stadium at the fairgrounds.  Several of them carry “Smarts,” or Smart Cars, on the back of their trucks so they won’t have to “double-tow” a car behind the RV.  Motorcycles and a Suzuki also hitch rides on the truck bed.  The Smarts and other vehicles that “ride” are also in the picture, along with their people and dogs.  

The HDT Rally concluded on Saturday, but we still have a dozen or more rigs that are taking it easy for another day or so before moving on.  We’ll miss all of them, but look forward to meeting again next year.