Monday, September 17, 2012

Closing the Loop


When we woke up this morning, we took our coffee out onto the back porch of the cabin.  I noticed yesterday when we checked in that Sara had walked around back before we went in.  “Just checking.”  If there had not been a suitable porch, she was prepared to go back to the front desk at the Lodge and request another cabin.

We took our time packing, and didn’t actually get away until about 11 am.  We drove along the crest of Lookout Mountain to the town of Mentone.  At the local gas station the cashier used an old credit card machine, the one where they lay the card on it, lay a three part, carbon paper invoice on it, then slide the bar back and forth to imprint the card information on the invoice.  I hadn’t seen one of those in years!

Mentone Springs Hotel sits right on the edge of Lookout Mountain and has since 1898.  IMG_0009Alice’s Restaurant is there and the whole place looks like it must have looked a hundred years ago.  When we brought out the debit card to pay, out came the mechanical card machine.  Only then did the hostess explain that their long distance lines, internet and cell phone service was down.  At least they had a contingency plan!

Starting down the mountain, there was a sign for a Truck escape ramprunaway truck ramp ahead.  These are gravel traps designed to slow and stop a truck that has lost his brakes.  I hadn’t seen any trucks on Lookout Mountain Parkway, but then I realized that I was driving a truck! 

This corner of Alabama is very familiar to us, having traveled here many times before.  It was a challenge to find new roads to wander, and new routes to travel.  Crossing Tennesee againCrossing the Tennessee River at Stevenson, we reluctantly turned south toward home.  Before we got to Scottsboro, we saw a couple of Model As at a gas station and another coming north on the other side of the divided highway.  It occurred to me that these were the only other Model A Fords we had seen in two weeks of travel.  In years past, it was not at all unusual to see Model Ts and Model As under sheds, carports, in barns or fields.  No longer.  The ones we saw were under power and seemed to be fully restored.  What I saw most were Ford 8N and Jubilee tractors!

Traveling through Guntersville, we decided to go south on Highway 79, a much more scenic route than the used car lots and payday loan places along the main highway across Sand Mountain.  We turned back east on 278 then south on Highway 11 toward Springville.  We closed our loop at Whitney Junction, crossing Highway 231 a quarter mile or so from where we had our first meal on the road nearly two weeks ago.  From Springville we took 174 to Highway 411 and home. 

It was bittersweet arriving home.  We love our place and I hope I never get so complacent that I forget how beautiful it is, and all of the details God worked out for us to be able to live here. 

Some stats:  we were gone 14 days, traveled 1742 miles, averaging 124.4 miles per day.  Our shortest day was 60 miles from Neal, Al. to Joe Wheeler State Park, and our longest was 247 miles from Pensacola to Dothan.  I didn’t keep track of the amount of gas we used, but I did add two quarts of oil.  I don’t think the car was burning any oil, but it did have the normal rear main bearing leak.  Other than the adjusting of the main bearings, the car never missed a beat.  I guess it is ok to tell now, but the rather crude repairs to the rear main bearing consisted of using JB Quick to glue in the broken pieces of babbit that had separated themselves from the cap, including a good sized chunk of thrust surface.  Crude, yes, but it was the only option we had, and it held. 

It did not rain a drop on us while we were on the road, and only once did it even rain at night while we were safe and dry in the hotel.  But ten minutes after we arrived home and the A was backed in the garage we heard thunder, and it began to rain.

We took Nick out for Bar-B-Q and went to visit kids and grandkids.  It felt very funny to drive a modern car again.  I kept trying to mash a non-existent clutch pedal.  It felt good to sleep in our own bed again.

As I sit on our deck, writing this post, there is a touch of fall in the air and some of the leaves are starting to fall from the poplar trees.  This was absolutely the best time of year to make this trip – not too hot or too cold.  We could not think of any way it could have been better – not an exotic or far off destination – not a motorcycle, sports car or modern convertible.  Everything, all of the details, came together!


Final day’s mileage: 182 and enough memories to last a lifetime – or at least till our 50th anniversary!

Lafayette to Desoto


We spent the night in the spare bedroom in the basement at Dale and Jane Ellen’s house.  IMG_0024They purchased a Victorian style home on a dirt road a couple of years ago.  The house even came with its own dogs.  Dale says the house is a little too “girley” for him, so he has laid claim to the barn.

After taking Hanna, Kara and Naomi for rides in the old Dales Grouptruck, we said our good byes and headed north again. We stopped for lunch in Piedmont and I adjusted the brakes, added oil and generally gave the car a safety inspection.  We were not able to stay too close to the state line because of Weiss Lake.  IMG_7073We crossed the lake at Centre and headed toward Little River Canyon.  We stopped at the falls where the National Park Service has built a new, accessible pathway to a viewing platform. 



IMG_7086From there we headed to our third Alabama State Park.  We arrived at Desoto and checked in to our cabin in time for the second half of the Alabama – Arkansas game. Sara wandered out onto the back porch to observe the four deer grazing contently in the back yard.  .IMG_0054











After the game, we walked around the park and ended up at the Lodge for supper.  We spent the evening discussing our trip with the waitress and a couple from Atlanta that had seen the truck on our arrival.

We both were beginning to realize that our adventure was close to being over, and we were a little sad.  I had once told her of a quote from an unknown source: “When a man is at home, he dreams of adventure. When he is on an adventure, he dreams of home .”  This had been very true of a lot of the adventures and trips I had been on in the past.  But this one was different.  Home IS where your heart is, and mine was sitting beside me in the Model A.

Mileage today: 142

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Turning Point


I’ve had several people contact me and say that they have tried, unsuccessfully, to comment on this blog.  I stumbled around until I found the right block to check (I think) to allow people without blogs to comment.  Please feel free – I would love to hear from you!

The cabin at Lakepoint was perfect.  IMG_0004Two bedrooms, with a large living room and kitchen, with a large back porch.  Sara brought in the camping percolator, because the little tiny one in the kitchen only made two cups. We made two pots and sat on the porch and talked.

They had a good buffet at the lodge.  There were literally hundreds of Gold Wing riders, in the parking lot, in the hotel and in the restaurant.  We saw Dewey and Jan as we were finishing breakfast.  He told me that there was a large crowd gathered around the Model A. When we got outside, there were more people interested in the VW than the A.  It took a few minutes to get out of the parking lot, because folks had so many questions, or wanted to tell stories about their cars.

About 10 miles out, we stopped for gas.  Steve and Debbie headed back to Hueytown, and we headed across the river into Georgia.  IMG_0007We really had no business there, we just wanted to be able to say we had been in all of the adjoining states.  After returning to Alabama, we turned north toward Opelika.  Lunch was in an Irish Pub along Railroad Avenue.  I plugged in the address of our next destination into the GPS, and selected “shortest route”.

We followed the old highway out of town, following the route specified. A half mile out,IMG_0021 we were directed down a side road, and within a mile we came to a sign that said “Pavement Ends”.  We traveled the next five or six miles through some beautiful farm country rarely seen by the public.  Too many times I have selected “quickest route”. 

We arrived at the home of Dale and Jane Ellen, old friends from when we lived in Birmingham.  Well, they aren’t really old, but they have been our friends for a long time.  We hadn't seen them for several years, and except for their daughters being all grown up, it was if we picked up exactly where we left off the last time we saw them.

Dale had been a friend when I needed one most.  I had been going through some very rough times in my life.  I was still a police officer, working an extra job and going to school full time.  I was trying to be a good father to my three kids and a good husband to my wife.  On top of all of that, I was struggling with exactly where I fit into the grand scheme of things.  I wasn’t exactly doing a good job at any of them.  I had a lot of questions, and Dale had to have the answers.  After all, he had post graduate degrees in theology. 

I remember asking a question (I don’t remember what the question was, now) but I do remember Dale’s answer: “I don’t know, and it doesn't matter anyway”.  He went on to explain that there are things that must be accepted on faith, and that God would work out the details.  That conversation was a turning point in my life.  I understood, really understood for the first time, that I was a sinner and was not capable of doing anything on my own that would make me good enough to be acceptable to God.  But Jesus had already paid the price required of me, and all I had to do was accept that, and God would work out all of the details.  Because of that acceptance, that profession of faith, I entered into a relationship that had always been available to me, but I had rejected, because I thought I needed to be in control of every aspect of my life.  God has been faithful, even when I haven’t.  I can tell you that He keeps his promises.

Dale’s wife, Jane Ellen, was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given four or five months to live.  I listened last night as the two of them described the emotions of being told that she would never live to see any of her five children married and have kids of their own.  She told  me that she did not understand God’s plan in all of this, but knew he had a plan, and if she would surrender it all to him, he would work out all of the details.  After that surrender, she said she had a peace about it, and knew God was big enough to deal with even this. 

Jane Ellen found another doctor that was able to treat the cancer with surgery, radiation and chemo.  Today, two years later, she is cancer free.  Her story helped me to deal with my own recent diagnosis of cancer.  I have been through some of the same emotions that she has, and I have decided that God will work out the details.

We can’t always know, and we don’t necessarily need to know what is around every bend in order to enjoy a trip, or for that matter, life.  What is important to know, for me at least, is that the God that created the universe has a plan even for me.  I don’t know what that plan is right now, but I know He is capable of working out the details.

Today’s mileage: 92 on pavement, 6 on dirt, and a great trip down memory lane and into the future with some very special friends.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Pride Goeth Before the Fall

I got up before Sara and grabbed a cup of coffee.  I went out and watched the sunrise.  It was almost as impressive as some of the sunsets we have been seeing lately.  Debbie and Aunt Jimmie were sitting on the porch, enjoying the morning, too.  I joined them, and Sara and Steve soon came out.  We sat for the next hour or so just soaking up the morning.

Aunt Jimmie fixed a big country style breakfast as everyone prepared for the day.  After breakfast, I took Aunt Jimmie for a ride in the A, visiting some of her neighbors.  As we prepared to leave for Chattahoochee State Park, Debbie made a comment about following the Model A, and having to be “held back” and that she would be “pushing me” all day.  Sara rode with her in the VW and Steve rode with me in the A.  IMG_7031We wound our way to the park.  It sits almost in the southeast corner of the state.  It was a small park with eight primitive campsites around a small lake. There was a dam at the south end and 50 feet below the dam was the Florida State Line.

As we were leaving, Aunt Jimmie called to see if maybe we had picked up her MIFI card by mistake.  Checking my computer bag found two identical cards.  I had picked up mine – Sara had picked up hers, thinking it was mine.  We started back toward Aunt Jimmie’s house to return the card.  I told Steve that I would, in the past, have gotten irritated by a diversion such as this, but have come to realize that there is usually some purpose, unknown to me that would soon become evident.Sara was experimenting with taking video on her new camera.  Debbie was narrating something about the video being the only reason she was behind me, or she would be “way ahead by now”.  A few minutes later, I stopped at a crossroad and happened to glance in the rearview mirror. 

No red VW was in sight.

A moment later Steve’s phone rang.  The VW had quit on them and they were sitting on the side of the road.  We turned around and found them about a mile back.  We quickly diagnosed the problem as a clogged fuel filter.  I went on back to Aunt Jimmies and found a piece of copper tubing with hopes of bypassing the filter.  I also picked up a few more things that might be useful. The tubing only allowed more trash to pass into the carb, and the engine would not continue to run. 
IMG_0059I had brought a chain – so – we hooked the VW up behind the Model A and pulled it the short distance back to Aunt Jimmie’s.  Steve and I went in to town and picked up several fuel filters.  When we got back, we disassembled the carb, cleaned it and put it back on the car with a new filter.  It started and ran fine.  Debbie stood by, supervising – while eating a large slice of humble pie.

Off again about two pm, we drove toward Dothan.  Our first stop was to get gas. IMG_0072 While we were topping up, a fellow drove up with a Ford Jubilee tractor on a trailer.  He was interested in both the A and the VW.  The Jubilee was built on the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Ford Motor Company, and could be described as a nephew to the Model A.

We stopped in at Porter’s Hardware Store in Dothan.  The store has been in continuous operation for over 120 years.  Most of the stock, all of the fixtures, and some of the people seem to have been there since the beginning!
From there we went north to the town of Abbeville.  This small town has been resurrected by Jimmie Raines, otherwise known as the “Yellow Fellow”.  The store fronts were filled with neon signs, old appliances and porcelain advertisements from the 1930s.  There is an old fashioned soda fountain known as Huggin Molly’s where we enjoyed root beer floats, malts and something known as “Molly’s Half Sister.”

We made it to Lake Point Resort north of Eufaula about dark.  As we turned into the park, I saw a banner for the Gold Wing Road Rider’s Association meeting.  Luckily, there was still a two bedroom cabin available.  After checking in, getting settled and staring to check my e-mail, my phone rang.  It was Dewey, a friend from IMG_0002Birmingham.    
Are you at Lakepoint?”  He had seen us driving away from the Lodge recognizing the truck.  He and Jan came to the cabin for a visit.  Another entry into my collection of small world stories.

Today’s mileage: 130 in the Model A, 24 in a Crown Vic, 2.5 towing a VW!


Hey Deb!  What do you see?
(dead bugs!)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Making up for Lost Time


Since we were lazy yesterday, I guess we felt like we had to catch up today. Actually, we were planning to meet Steve and Debbie, our good friends from  Hueytown.  They were driving their 1965 Volkswagen Beetle down near Dothan to meet up with us and join us for a few days.  They left the Birmingham area about 8:30 am  and headed south on US 31.  The first time we talked by phone about 10:30, they were on 31 in Clanton, we were heading north on 31 in Atmore, Alabama.

We had got up early, had breakfast and packed up the Model A before heading out.  We could have headed directly north out of Pensacola, but we wanted to stay to our “Lap of Alabama” route, so we went back west into Alabama, then north up our panhandle toward Bay Minette.  We got onto Highway 31 there and headed over to Brewton.  We missed a turn there and went 6 miles out of our way before finding the right road.  From there we hugged the state line pretty much to Dothan.

At one point, we had stopped for gas and potty break at a crossroad.  Soon after we got back on the road, I heard a strange noise and saw something fly past the left windshield post.  I slowed down, then stopped.  Only then did Sara notice that the gas cap was missing.  I turned around and we slowly drove back up the highway looking in the weeds for the rusty, but necessary piece of equipment.  No luck.  I pulled the truck off the road a safe distance and we were planning to walk up the highway looking closer.  When I got out, the cap was laying on the running board!  Thank you Lord.  NAPA nor Auto Zone stock them any more!

Soon after lunch, we had a local county sheriff follow us for several miles.  I don’t think I was speeding, as a matter of fact, I KNOW I wasn’t speeding.  Any way after a few miles, he must have gotten bored, because he passed up with a blip of his electronic siren.  IMG_0036

We ate lunch in Florala at Sara’s Big R Diner.  Great food, and we were, again, treated like family.  When we left, we saw Sara’s Bed & Breakfast, and Sara’s Bed & Breakfast II.  Sara is quite the entrepreneur.  Steve called with trip updates and estimated time of arrival.

We had to stop on the side of the road for Sara to take pictures of the cotton fields. IMG_0056 Great timing, Steve called with a progress report of their trip, and directions to our destination.  Every time Steve called, we were stopped.  Good thing – we couldn’t hear the phone ring while moving.

We made it to Debbie’s Aunt Jimmie’s house about 5pm.

Aunt Jimmie is Debbie’s mother’s sister, and actually grew up in Wylam and knew some of my uncles growing up. She is a dear, sweet lady who lost her husband earlier  this year.  September 28th would have been their 70th wedding anniversary. IMG_7002 I wandered around her husbands workshop and immediately felt as if I knew him – and liked him.  There is something about seeing another man’s shop, his hand tools and his patterns that lets you have a window into his life.  Before we left, Aunt Jimmie honored us with a gift of a walking stick made by Uncle Walter.


Vic & Sara with JoAnn, Aunt Jimmie, Debbie & Steve

Today’s mileage:  247

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Little R & R from our Vacation


After spending several days on the road, we had the need and the opportunity to spend a day relaxing and regenerating.  (you thought rest and recuperation, didn’t you?)  Charlie and Dudley both made it clear that we were welcome to stay another day.  We slept in, had breakfast on the deck, caught up on emails and devotional time.


We  didn’t get out until early afternoon. We decided to drive to Foley to have lunch at Lamberts (home of the throwed rolls).   Along the way, in Elberta, we spotted a cafĂ© that we thought would be interesting to try, sadly it was closed.  Roadkill cafe

We had both heard good things about Lambert’s, but neither of us had ever been there.  It did live up to its reputation,both in character and quality of food.

Throwed roll 

And they really do throw rolls!

We drove the quarter mile or so to the outlet malls and did a little looking around, then returned to Gulf Shores to find the Wal-Mart.  I needed a small grease gun for the car, and while I was there, picked up a marine fire extinguisher.  The one I had for the car kind of got left behind because of its size and age, and I had fully intended to replace it before now – it just slipped my mind.

We met Kitty and Leo, our son-in-law’s aunt and uncle, and two of our grandkids third set of grandparents at The Point for supper. 

Kitty & Leo

We had been there before when it was so crowded and so loud that it was impossible to hold a conversation.  Tonight was totally different because, for a long time, we were the only ones in the place. Leo rode with me in the Model A and Sara rode with Kitty back to the beach house where we sat out on the deck and talked (and Skyped with our grandkids) and watched another stunning sunset.

Total mileage on the car today was 65, not bad for a Wal-Mart run!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Returning to The Gulf


We got up early and went out on the balcony at the Admiral Semmes Hotel.  It was cool and crisp as we enjoyed our coffee.  We loaded up the Model A Bayou 2and headed west out of town, then south toward the Gulf.  The roads passed through many pecan groves and over bayous with shrimp boats and tug boats tied up at the docks.  The smells of the Gulf soon became evident and very familiar.  

We turned onto Dauphin Island Parkway and crossed the bridge onto the island. IMG_0038 We got in line for the ferry from Dauphin Island, across Mobile Bay to Fort Morgan.  In 1991, we had hosted a Model T Ford International annual tour in Gulf Shores,  On Wednesday of that week, 175 Model Ts took a lap around Mobile Bay, crossing on this same ferry that evening.  Usually the ferry can hold 30 cars max, but that night they were packing 45 Ts on each run, and ran two extra trips to make sure everyone got across.

Today was much easier, with only about eight cars.  Arriving at Fort Morgan, we unloaded and drove the twenty or so miles into Gulf Shores.IMG_0064  We stopped by the Gulf State Park pier, and just sat for a while, watching the surf.  The State Park Hotel had been right next to the pier, but, sadly, it was totally destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2005.

We drove east along the beach and entered into Florida, and soon arrived at a house owned by friends, Charlie and Dudley.  HouseDudley was away tending to family matters, and Charlie was set to leave the next morning for an ALMS race at Virginia International Raceway (hopefully, the only race I will miss this year!) The house is a beautiful one level, old style Florida house set back off the road among the live oaks on the intercoastalIMG_0030 waterway.  We sat out on the deck with a nice sea breeze blowing and watched another beautiful sunset.  Charlie fixed boiled shrimp and corn on the cob for supper, then we sat on the deck for quite a while, just visiting.

Although today’s drive was relatively short, but by the time we arrived, we were both feeling exhausted.  I think that seven days on the road deserves a rest, after all, this is supposed to be a vacation.  We may take a break here, and leave early Wednesday morning.

Mileage today: 106 by Model A Ford, 3.5 by ferry.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Pair of Human Treasures

When we woke up, Duke / Tip was still patiently guarding the front door of our cabin.  He escorted us to the main house where Pia, the wife of our host and co-owner of the lodge, fixed us breakfast.  We knew we were in the company of a kindred soul when we entered  her house.  There were dozens of drawings done by her kids, lovingly framed and hanging on the wall in the adjoining den.
Gilbertown, Alabama is a town I had only been to once in my life, but  it was one of the places on my short list of MUST visits for this trip.  And this was because of a chance meeting Sara and I had with a couple of wonderful people four years ago.
It was during another of our back roads wanderings, that we passed through this small crossroad town.  As we did, I spotted about a 1920 Center Door Model T Ford being backed out of a garage on a side street.  I don’t pass up stationary Model Ts, and certainly not ones in motion.  We circled the block and came to the garage and introduced ourselves.  IMG_6901 The garage was full of Model Ts and Model As, four of each to be exact.  Plus, there was a whole side room that was dedicated to radio controlled airplanes.   This, I immediately knew, was one interesting fellow.
He took us in the back door of his home to meet his wife.  It was Saturday morning, about 10, and she was dressed as if she was going to church. IMG_0174 The house was spotless, and Sara knew this was one special lady.  No forewarning, no preparation and her husband brought two (im)perfect strangers into her kitchen.  They both made us feel like family.
He had retired from the Air Force in 1970 after 27 years, had flown P-51 Mustangs and had been in WWII, Korea and Viet Nam. I learned later, from other sources, (he would by way too humble to discuss these things,) that after retiring back to his home town, he had paid for a doctor’s medical training with the promise that she would come to Gilbertown to practice. He has funded a pharmacy in the small town, too. 
That day, four years ago, had been his 80th birthday. 
When I called Saturday to ask if we could stop and visit, we were immediately invited to worship with them at the local Methodist Church. IMG_0176 We met them for church and the two of us increased the  attendance by 15%.  Our friend had been teaching Sunday School, and the preacher, Bill, was somewhat of a modern day circuit rider.  He preaches at four different churches every Sunday, each, I would guess, with about the same membership as this one.
After church, we all went to a local restaurant where almost  every person there greeted and hugged our friends.  I really feel honored to know this couple.  I have not identified them by name, not as an oversight, but out of respect for their privacy.
About 2:30, we reluctantly left them and headed down Highway 17 toward Mobile.  A cold front had moved through and the air was pleasant and cool.  There was almost a touch of fall in the air.
We stopped in Citronelle at an old train depot that had been turned into a museum.  citronella depotThe railroad was gone now and the track bed had been turned into a bike and walking path.  Usually, when I see an old building, I try to envision how it would look restored.  Here I saw a restored building, and found myself trying to imagine what it would have looked like a hundred years ago.  I realized that the automobile’s arrival doomed rail travel in a similar way to how the interstate highways affected back road travel in cars.
Arriving in Mobile, we drove up and down Government Boulevard, one of my favorite streets in the state.  Soon we checked into our hotel for the night, the Admiral Semmes.  Out on the balcony, we were eye level with the magnificent live oak trees that line the street.  Then we noticed that the trees were full of Mardi Gras beads, all green to match the foliage!
IMG_6930A little while later, we were picked up by Lee and his wife Linda for supper.  Lee and I work together doing tech inspections on sports cars, and have been good friends for a dozen or so years.  They took us to Ed’s Seafood on the Causeway.  We sat out on the deck, and watched one of the most spectacular sunsets I can remember.
Our friends in Gilbertown will celebrate their 65th anniversary next spring, and Lee and Linda will soon have been married 50 years.  We have some great role models.
Todays trip was 109 miles, but immeasurable friendship.

To find an Old Car, Drive an Old Car


Camping by the Tenn-Tom waterway was a really great experience - until about 5:00 am.  I heard what sounded like a train off in the distance, but it kept getting louder, and LOUDER – until I thought it was going to come through the tent.  Suddenly, it was like an alien spaceship Eli & Tugwas about to beam us up.  Our whole world was suddenly lit up,  Only then did I realize it was a tugboat pushing barges up the river, and had swept us with a very powerful spotlight. Back to sleep, only to be awakened by another at 5:30.  The next one didn’t show up until about 9, but this time the kids were all awake – or at least up – to see it.

We packed up and headed back to Aliceville hoping to find some local restaurant for breakfast.  Lindsay rode with me in the Model A, and Sara rode in the van with J.C., Nick and the grandkids.  I think this may have been the first, on the road experience for Lindsay in one of our old vehicles.  The only place open that served breakfast was Jacks, breaking, by necessity our rule against fast food.

While we were finishing up breakfast, a man  walked up and asked about the Model A.  After the usual dialog, he then asked if I would be interested in a ‘48 Chevrolet four door sedan.  I told him that I wouldn’t, but I might be able to help him find someone who would be. 48 Chevy So when we finished breakfast, saw the kids and grandkids off, we made our way the few blocks to his house.  He said that he had not started the car in a couple of years now, but it looks pretty complete. If you are interested, send me a comment and I will supply photos and his name and phone number.

We drove southeast toward Demopolis, then near Forkland, I saw what appeared to be replica Burma-Shave signs: 





Then, in the next field, a local farmer had all sorts of yard art, including a Tin Man that must have been 60 feet tall!

Tin ManThere were many creative uses for rolls of hay including this big wheel Vega.








We wanted to make it to Gilbertown, Alabama, to visit some folks we had met a few years back (more on them later)  Sara had found a listing for a bed & breakfast in Butler, but when she called, they had no vacancies.  When asked if there were any other lodging in town, the man stated that the only hotel in town was usually full of “social workers” on the weekend, and that he would definitely not recommend it for taking a family.  It took a while for us to figure out just who the social workers were, and then only after we saw the motel and guessed that it rented by the hour!

The GPS listed a hunting lodge in Gilbertown, so we called. The owner said he had a cabin available and it was kind of like a bed & breakfast – only for hunters.  He then told us the current score on the Alabama game, and that he would turn on the air conditioner and the TV in the lounge.

When we arrived, we were immediately surrounded by at least a dozen yipping little dogs, and one very large Boxer mix.  When I went to find the owner, the small dogs soon lost interest and disappeared.  But Duke, as Sara named him, ( we later found out his name is Tip) stayed with us.  (he is laying outside our door now).

The owner, Jake, showed up on an ATV and showed us to our cabin, a very nice, one bedroom with a large bath.  While Sara unpacked and checked e-mail, I wandered over to the lounge to watch the last half of the game.  IMG_0128The “lounge” was about the size of a gymnasium, its walls covered with trophy size bucks, boars and turkeys.  There were plenty of coyotes, bobcats, weasels and beavers everywhere.  After the game, as I walked back to our cabin, I had to dispatch a rattlesnake that was between me and my destination.  Unfortunately it just wasn't trophy size.

Today’s mileage: 139.7 (yea!  The GPS is back)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Camping by the River with Family

Today was an easy day, and after yesterday’s nearly 200 miles, it was welcome. 
We got up and had coffee on the porch of the bed & breakfast in the morning mist.  I spent a few minutes going over the car, tightening nuts and bolts, topping up fluids and just generally looking everything over.
IMG_0001Breakfast was about 9 am in the original house that was built in 1898.  The owner and hostess had prepared quite a spread of sausage, ham and egg casseroles, plus a variety of different muffins and sweet rolls.  We spent a pleasant hour chatting with a couple from Missouri that were down to visit their daughter at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.  It was their first visit on a weekend with an Alabama home game.  We tried to explain to them what to expect, but I’m afraid that any attempt at description would be inadequate.
We left Fayette and headed west, then turned south on Highway 17.  We immediately saw a sign that said: Mobile 245 miles.  We realized that we could stay on this road all the way down to the Gulf.
Stopping for gas in Carrolton, we heard the bells in either the local church or courthouse playing old church hymns.  I’m sure the locals have gotten used to it, but for us it was really special.  At the same station, we struck up a conversation with a man at the next pump.  He was a local rancher, but said he keeps cattle all along the state line.  He gave us a business card and said that if we had any trouble, give him a call, he would find us help. 
Plantation House AlicevilleWe stopped in Aliceville for lunch at The Plantation Restaurant.  It was made in a huge old home on the main highway.  Their lunch buffet was wonderful, with chicken that had been broiled with some sort of honey sauce, catfish that rivaled Swamp Johns, and vegetables that must have been in the garden that morning.
J.C., Lindsay and their kids, Eli, Tessa and Andi met us at the Corp of Engineers campground at Cochrane, about 7 miles south of Aliceville.  They had gone by the house to pick up Nick and bring him along, and brought my GPS charger, too.  The Corp maintains a whole host of Sara campingcampgrounds along navigable waterways throughout the United States.  These seem to be very under utilized, with maybe a half of dozen other campers in the entire camp.  We pitched tents, walked and played with grandkids, had a campfire, cooked out and generally had a great time.  Everyone was really tired when we all turned in.

Andi & CupEli on top
Tessa on fender
Mileage today:70 (SWAG method)

Day Four, Florence to Fayette–the long way


During the night, a line of thunderstorms blew through North Alabama, and I found myself out in the rain about 9 o’clock trying to tarp the cab of the truck, to keep the insides from getting soaked.  The manager at the desk graciously allowed me to pull the Model A around under the canopy in front of the lobby, only blocking half of the fire lane.

By the time we were ready to go, the sun was out and the weather was beautiful,  We headed north out of Florence up Highway 20, and crossed the Tennessee state line.  I had as one of my very loose goals to visit the rooster’s comb looking part of the state in the very northwest corner.  I don’t know why, I just wanted to be able to look at any map of Alabama and instantly say “we’ve been there!”  Kind of the same feeling as looking at Dauphin Island on a map.  We traveled west for a few miles and turned back south to Waterloo.  From there the road followed along the north shore of Pickwick Lake.  The drive was very reminiscent of driving along Lake Garda in Italy.

Hillbilly dinerWe stopped at Hillbilly’s Diner for breakfast.  It lived up to its name, as when we came out there was am old scruffy dog laying under the Model A. 

There are apparently some strange animals in north Alabama, or a taxidermist with a Mangy dogreal vivid imagination. Along with the usual bucks and wildcats there were a couple of unrecognizable heads that defied imagination – and photography!


A few miles on, we turned onto the Natchez Trace Parkway.  This limited access, two lane road goes from Nashville, Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi, and takes a diagonal path across Alabama.  There was almost no traffic, and the old truck was purring like a sewing machine (well, maybe a sewing machine made out of tractor parts). 

ToastWe stopped at a picnic area near a creek and toasted our 40th anniversary with sparkling lemon water gifted to us on our departure by Allison and Robert, our next door neighbors and very good friends.

When we were able to get off the Parkway, we were just over the state line into Mississippi, and the country roads were not marked at all (every one who lives around there knows where they are going!)  We stopped at an intersection to try to decipher the lack of detail on the outskirts of our Alabama map, when a local drove up in a freshly painted 66 Mustang.  We sat in the intersection and talked cars a while, then he pointed us in the right direction for Red Bay.

Swamp Johns outsideSeveral travel books had recommended Swamp Johns for their catfish.  Located about four miles east of Red Bay in an old closed down service station, it was definitely intended for local trade only.  NSwampJohns insideo signs or advertising to lure in travelers,  and everyone seemed to know everyone else.  As usual, the arrival of the Model A broke the ice, and before long we were accepted as part of the extended family.  The catfish was as described and well worth the detour off our route to sample.


We backtracked through Red Bay then turned south on Highway 19.  There was a lot to see, Rose Inn Fayettebeautiful rolling hills, well kept yards and neat little towns right out of the 1930s.  We ended up in Fayette in a really nice bed and breakfast, the Rose House Inn.  We came in and crashed for an hour before getting up and making a Wal-Mart run.  Neither of us were hungry, having filled up on catfish.


Still no GPS to measure mileage, but we traced our route on the map – 194 miles, a full but fun day!