Friday, October 25, 2013

RonnieAdventure #0071 - Missouri, 2013 Part I

Continuing eastward on Highway 54 from Fort Scott (Kansas), Nevada is the first town in Missouri. Originally the town was called "Hog-Eye," but the residents felt the name was degrading; so the town's name was changed to "Nevada City," and later to just "Nevada."

During the Civil War, Nevada became famous for supplying the Southern Army with "bushwackers," which was a term used to describe the pro-Southern guerrillas that would hide in remote places and ambush Union troops as they rode past. Proportional to its population, Nevada sent more men to the Southern armies than any other town in Missouri. Therefore, in retaliation, on May 23, 1863, Union Troops arrived in Nevada and gave the residents 20 minutes to rescue their belongings before they burned the town down. The Vernon County Jail was one of only two buildings to survive the fire and is now used as the Bushwacker Jail Museum.

The Vernon County Courthouse was built in 1908 using local Carthage Limestone and is a beautiful example of a Romansque Revival Style building. The W.F. Norman Corporation building, constructed in 1898 (not pictured), is also located in Nevada and the company is the only remaining manufacturer of metal ceiling tiles in the United States.

Local residents also like to point out that Nevada is the birthplace of John Huston (Hollywood actor, director, screenwriter and film producer) and it is the place where Frank James lived after his brother Jesse was killed in 1884. Frank's house is still a private residence.

Osage Village State Historic Site is just east of Nelson and once contained over 200 lodges for an estimated population of 2,000 to 3,000 Osage People. There is very little to see at the site because after the site was excavated, for protection the building foundations were covered with dirt and now all that is exposed are several bedrock outcrops that were used for mortars to grind nuts and grains.


Just north of  Springfield we stopped at Fantastic Caverns - "America's Only Ride-Thru Cave," where you ride through the cave in a Jeep pulling a trailer. (Kids nowadays just have it too easy! I remember when we were young, if you wanted to see a cave you had to put on a hard hat and knee pads, obtain a carbide lamp, and crawl through a lot of small, tight passageways. Now that was a lot more adventuresome than riding through a cave in a Jeep!)

Picture from Web (Photographer and date unknown)

After lunch at Lambert's CafĂ© (famous for the waiters throwing hot rolls to customers), we toured the Smallin Civil War Cave. This cave has been featured in numerous magazines and has a nice walkway that is elevated above the level of a flowing stream. The cave contains blind Cave Salamanders (Eurycea lucifuga), and blind Bristly Cave Crayfish (Cambarus setosus) that you may see as you get deeper into the cave. There are also starfish and other fossils embedded in the cave ceiling.

We also drove past the Wilson's Creek National Battlefield, but it was closed.

Arriving in Branson, we decided to stay for a few days to visit some of the shows and attractions. (A person could spend considerable time and money attempting to see everything!) The shows included  "Joseph," and "Shoji Tabuchi," and attractions included "Titanic - World's Largest Museum Attraction," a half-scale replica of the ill-fated ship. (When visiting the Shoji Tabuchi Theatre, be sure to check out the "restrooms" -- they have been featured in numerous magazines and travel videos.) If you have ever wondered what happened to Trigger and Buttermilk (Roy Rogers and Dale Evans stuffed horses) after they closed the Roy Rogers Museum in California, wonder no more because they are safe in the White House Theatre in Branson. Roy's son also performs part-time in the theatre. We also toured the Table Rock Dam Visitor Center and went on the Showboat Branson Belle Dinner Cruise, where we saw a performance by "The World's Only Aerial Violinist." Branson was a nice stop and everything was very enjoyable!

Friday, October 18, 2013

RonnieAdventure #0070 - Kansas, 2013 Part I

After visiting with some of my Kansas cousins, we headed eastward to El Dorado (Kansas). Since my Grandfather and Father had been in the oil business before I was born, I had really wanted to visit the Butler County Historical Society complex, which is Home of the Kansas Oil Museum. Unfortunately, the museum was closed, so I had to settle for a walk around the perimeter fence to view the outdoor exhibits.

Leaving El Dorado we followed old Highway 54 across Kansas. The trip was not very fast because there are a lot of agricultural businesses along the road and the road winds through a number of small picturesque communities; however, the drive was actually quite pleasant and a nice change from the Interstate Freeways that we typically travel on during a vacation.

In Eureka we drove down Main Street to look at the old historic buildings and learned that Greenwood County is the "Grand Princess of the Prairie, Center of Everything." Well, now I can say that I've been to the "Center of Everything."

The Greenwood Preservation Society is restoring old buildings in the County and the Eureka Hotel is now open for special occasions. The "Big House" (now a sports bar and grill) is just down the street and one block off of Main Street is the old historic Christian Church that was established in 1862 and later combined with another church to become what is now know as the Christian and Congregational Church. And yes, they still ring the church bells on Sunday morning.

A little farther down the road we came to Yates Center, "The Hay Capital of the World." I'm not quite sure how Yates Center became the "Hay Capital of the World," as I remember mowing some really large hay fields in South Dakota when I was growing up on the farm. Anyway, Yates Center has a beautiful town square with a central courthouse surrounded by brick streets and quaint shops.

Downtown Iola has some unique architecture and the town is also the boyhood home of General Funston. In the 1800s Funston explored the Arctic and then returned 1500 miles down the Yukon by canoe. He ventured to Latin America and served with Cuban Insurgents before fighting in the Spanish-American War. In 1901 he captured the commander of the Filipino Army, for which he received a Congressional Medal of Honor, and at 35 years of age he was promoted to Brigadier General in the regular army.  In 1914 he was made a Major General and commanded Vera Cruz as the military Governor. In 1917 he died at the age of 51.

The town of Fort Scott is located near the eastern border of Kansas and is the location of historic Fort Scott and the first U.S. National Cemetery. Fort Scott was established in 1842 and is the only Mexican War era fort in the National Park System. Although the Fort was abandoned in 1873, the buildings and site were purchased by local residents for other uses. The National Park Service purchased the site and buildings in 1978 and restored the Fort to it original design.

At the turn of the century, the site was used to produce bricks and had a production rate of 100,000 bricks per week. Consequently, there are still 14 miles of paved streets in Fort Scott that were laid with bricks made at the site. Some of the bricks were also used in construction of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and some Fort Scott bricks were used in construction of the Panama Canal.

The town of Fort Scott is also know for holding three Guinness World Records. One record is for laying the fastest mile of pennies in the World (2 hours, 23 minutes, and 1 second), the second was set by a local resident that ate the most McDonald Quarter Pounder Cheeseburgers in 3 minutes, and the last was for the longest continual line of coins being laid (the line stretched 40.32 miles).

The local Visitor's Center offers 50-minute narrated trolley tours of the area for a small fee, which includes a drive-by of numerous restored Victorian homes and mansions, the U.S. National Cemetery, some of the 20 historic Fort Scott buildings, the parade grounds, and five acres of restored tallgrass prairie. The trolley driver has an amazing knowledge of historical dates and events, which makes the trip even more enjoyable. Fort Scott was definitely worth a stop.

Friday, October 11, 2013

RonnieAdventure #0069 - Long Beach, Los Angeles County, California

Rancho Los Cerritos was originally a 300,000 acre land grant gifted to Manuel Nieto in 1784 as a reward for his military service; but the ranch was reduced in size to 167,000 acres in 1790 because of a dispute with the Mission San Gabriel. When Manuel died, his ranch was divided into six parcels, with Rancho Los Cerritos retaining about 27,000 acres.

In 1843 the Nieto family sold the ranch to a mercantile business man in Los Angeles, who only used the ranch for a summer home; however, the new owner made lavish gardens at the Ranch and imported a number of unusual trees, some of which still exist today.  Then, in 1866 the Ranch was sold to Flint, Bixby & Co for $20,000. Three years later Jotham Bixby purchased the property and started raising sheep to provide wool for the growing California market. Unfortunately, the sheep industry soon started to decline, so portions of the Ranch were sold for other developments, and the Cerritos adobe fell into disrepair through general neglect.

In 1930 the house was remodeled and the grounds were redesigned on a smaller parcel of land. Then, in 1955, Rancho Los Cerritos, consisting of the house on 4.7 acres of land, was sold to the City of Long Beach for a public museum. The museum is now open from 1:00 to 5:00 PM, Wednesday-Sunday, and is a great way to spend an afternoon when visiting Long Beach.

Although Long Beach residents probably hate driving to work in the fog; when you are from the desert and just visiting the area, the fog can be quite enjoyable.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

RonnieAdventrue #0068 - Route 66, Barstow to Victorville, San Bernardino County, California

Old Route 66 from Barstow to Victorville (California) is one of the few remaining sections of "The Mother Road," as referred to by John Steinbeck in the Grapes of Wrath. This famous road was originally called The National Old Trails Road, but was changed to Route 66 in 1926. The original Route 66 ran from Chicago to Los Angeles, but most parts of the road were paved over and incorporated into the Interstate Road System about 50 years ago. So, when I was passing through Barstow and saw a Route 66 sign, I decided it was time for a RonnieAdventure!

First stop was the Mojave River Valley Museum, which is small building, but crammed full of historic artifacts with everything from Father Francisco Garces travels in 1776 on through the pathfinders, pioneers and miners. Outdoor displays include a Santa Fe Drovers Car (one of only two still in existence), a caboose, an iron-strap jail, a 130-year old log cabin and blacksmith shop, and a host of old mining equipment. There are also additional outdoor exhibits across the street at the Barstow Centennial Park.

Just on the outside of Barstow there is a road sign pointing toward Hinkley, which is the town Julia Roberts made famous in the movie Erin Brockovich. Between 1952 and 1966, PG&E used cooling water that contained hexavalent chromium in their cooling towers and stored the water in unlined ponds, ultimately contaminating the town's ground water. We decided to continue on to the next town, rather than stop for a glass of water.

A few miles later we arrived at the Sage Brush Inn, which was a true roadhouse because it was between Barstow and Victorville in a remote area of the Mojave desert that had few laws to contend with. The owners were very protective of the younger waitresses, but rumor has it that the older women were allowed to earn a few extra dollars socializing with the miners. The building is now a private residence.

The Bottle Sculpture Ranch is another private residence, but the owners are friendly and invited me to come in and take pictures. In addition to the bottle trees, there are some unique works of art on display.

The Iron Hog Saloon has been under the same ownership since 1944 and is the roadhouse that Julia Roberts stopped at in the Movie Erin Brockovich when she met the PG&E employee that shredded certain incriminating PG&E documents.

Also along the road there are numerous vacant retail buildings, gas stations, houses and other buildings. At the Polly Gas Station site, the building has been demolished, but the sign is still posted with 1950's prices. There is even an old truss bridge just outside of Victorville that is still used as part of the highway system.

Victorville is home to The California Route 66 Museum, which a popular stop for people that remember flashing neon signs, boiling radiators, Burma-Shave signs, burlap water bags, motels that looked like wigwams, and Nat Cole singing "Get Your Kicks on Route 66." The museum is a fun place to visit; but, unfortunately, we had to get back on the Interstate and make it to LA before the start of rush hour traffic.