Take Me To Your Pilot – Quick Trip to Atlanta

Davenport, IA

While staying here outside Davenport we received a call from our son, Kevin.  Kevin is a pilot for a regional airline flying routes for Delta Airlines.  It turns out that he would be piloting a flight that would be stopping in Cedar Rapids, less than 70 miles from our location, on Monday.  The flight would then continue back to Atlanta where Kevin lives.  He could get us stand-by tickets on the flight to Atlanta and we could return on another flight the next day.  We have never flown with him as the pilot so we jumped at the opportunity.

Monday morning we packed a few things in a backpack and headed out.  Along the way we approached the exit for West Branch, IA, the boyhood home of our thirty-first President, Herbert Hoover.  Who could pass up an opportunity to visit Hoover’s boyhood home, complete with a museum!  Since we had plenty of spare time, we stopped in to check it out.

Hoover’s boyhood home

The Hoover Presidential Library and Museum

While most people remember Hoover as the guy who got the blame for the Great Depression, his real accomplishment is the relief effort he organized to bring food to a starving population in Belgium during WWI.

Hoover (on the right) supervising relief supplies in WWI Europe

After a very enjoyable tour of the museum (even Pam thought it was worth the stop), we continued our journey to Cedar Rapids and the Eastern Iowa Airport.  The flight from Detroit to Cedar Rapids was delayed in Detroit due to mechanical issues, but finally arrived about an hour late (after switching to another aircraft).

Landing at Eastern Iowa Airport

Taxiing to the jetway

Completing the post-flight check

After all the passengers exited the plane, Kevin came out to greet us.  The captain had flown the plane in from Detroit so Kevin would be at the controls going to Atlanta.  We never flew in a commercial flight where we knew someone on the flight deck and found it a bit strange to know Kevin was at the controls.  But he is good at his job and the flight, including the landing in Atlanta, was flawless!

Our pilot for this flight

Hey, there’s a pilot shortage!

Today we flew back to Iowa (Kevin had the day off) and returned to our motorhome after a pleasant , albeit brief, visit in Atlanta.  Tomorrow we cross Iowa into Nebraska for a visit to Omaha and Lincoln.

More on that later . . .

 

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The Quad Cities

Davenport, IA

After a long drive from Indianapolis, we finally crossed the Mississippi into Iowa, our first time in the state with the motorhome.

We drove south about seventeen miles along the west bank of the river to an Army Corps of Engineer Park, Shady Creek Recreation Area, where we will stay for the next few days while we visit the Quad Cities (Moline and Rock Island, IL and Davenport and Bettendorf, IA).

The Mississippi is lined with small COE (Corps of Engineers) Parks, and Shady Creek is one of the nicest, with electricity and paved sites.  Some, including ours, have a decent view of the river.

Looking our  window with the river in the background

The morning after our arrival we drove into Davenport and stopped at a visitor center.  We knew John Deere has its headquarters across the river in Moline but learned that their Harvester Plant is there also and gives tours.  The information we read said that you needed to sign up for a tour at least 48 hours in advance, but we headed across the river to see if they accommodate walk-ins with the afternoon group.

Once at the Deere Visitor Center we found out that there were two slots left on the next tour beginning in a half hour.  So we had some time to look at displays in the visitor center, including the latest harvester.

The S690, powered by a 530 hp diesel engine, is yours for a bit under $700,00, but it’s so popular you’ll have to wait about eighteen months for delivery!

Seems there is a farmer ready to move this model out of the showroom!

He looks a bit familiar

Using beauty to sell this beauty!

John Deere Harvester Works is the largest, most modern combine manufacturing facility in the world.  It is approximately 90 acres under roof (that’s nearly 4 million square feet),  much t9o large to tour on foot.  So the tour is conducted on a small tram pulled by a John Deere lawn tractor.  A retired worker sits in the first car facing visitors while another retiree drives the tractor.  Everyone is given headsets and the tour guide talks over a radio, a great feature as some areas of the plant produce quite a bit of noise.  Photography is not allowed in the plant but we did find a photo of one of the trams on the Internet.

John Deere products have a great reputation for quality and this tour shows how that reputation is earned.  Quality is on display at every station.  A harvesting machine is an extremely complicated machine and it was fascinating to watch all the steps in its construction.  Don’t miss this tour if you pass through the Quad Cities.

The next day we parked the Jeep at the visitor center in Davenport and rode our bikes across the nearby Government Bridge to visit the Rock Island Arsenal.

The path in Davenport with Centennial Bridge in the distance

The Upper Mississippi has a series of dams and locks created to insure water depths sufficient for shipping and to eliminate rapids.  One of the locks and dams, Center Lock and Dam 15, is located on the southwest side of Rock Island.  We stopped at the small visitor center there and watched a nice video on the history of shipping on the river.  As we exited the video the ranger alerted us to something coming down the river into the lock.  Check out the small speck in the photo below (we only had the phone with us so no good zoom).

The tiny speck at the end of the arrow is a swimmer, while the speck that is a bit larger is a paddler in a kayak.  Former Navy officer Chris Ring is swimming the entire length of the Mississippi River to raise awareness of fallen service members.  His mission is called “Swim For Their Sacrifice.” He is swimming the entire 2,552 mile length of the river by the end of November.  At this point he has completed over 700 miles and is averaging fourteen miles a day.

Chris was not permitted to swim in the lock so he climbed out of the water and walked its length before re-entering the river.  But his companion in the kayak did stay in the water and went through the lock.

Swimmer Chris Ring

After watching Chris Ring swim off into the distance we took a ride around Rock Island.

The Rock Island Arsenal comprises 946 acres on Arsenal Island, originally known as Rock Island, on the river between the cities of Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island, Illinois. It lies within the state of Illinois. The island was originally established as a government site in 1816, with the building of a small fort.  It has manufactured military equipment and ordnance since the 1880s and is now the largest government-owned weapons manufacturing arsenal in the country.   It is designated as a National Historic Landmark.  Things were pretty quiet on the island as it was Saturday, so we just enjoyed a bike ride through the facility before returning to Davenport.

We’ll stay here for a few more days before moving on to Nebraska.  More on that later . . .

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A Brief Stop in Indianapolis

Indianapolis, IN

We left Louisville and headed north on I-65 toward Indianapolis  where we then got on     I-74 and headed west.  Since we needed  few things at Camping World we decided at the last minute to stop for the night at Lake Haven Retreat, an RV park just off the highway where we stayed during a visit to the Indianapolis area two years ago.  Since it is only about 130 miles from Louisville we arrive around noon, leaving the afternoon free.  We took advantage of a pleasant afternoon and  drove the Jeep into the city for a bike ride along the Central Indiana Canal.

The Central Indiana Canal was originally planned as a 300 mile waterway to connect the Wabash and Erie Canal to the Ohio River during the brief canal-building craze of the early 1800s (short lived due to the creation of railroads).  The only part of the canal completed was in Indianapolis and during the past few years a downtown section of this canal has been renovated.  It is now part of the cities park system and is lined with very nice shops and condos.  A biking-walking trail runs along both sides and connects with other trails running through the city.

We rode the canal path from its beginning on 10th Street to where it joins the White River Trail and followed that trail up-river for a few miles.

As we rode back toward the city we could see Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL Colts, in the distance, so we crossed back over the White River and headed in that direction.

Lucas Oil Stadium

The Old Washington Street Pedestrian Bridge over the White River

As we circled the stadium we spotted a sign advertising a tour beginning in a half hour.  So we purchased two tickets and looked around the Colts Pro Shop until the tour began.  Our tour guide left much to be desired but we did enjoy the tour, which took us from the press box high above the field, to the Colts’ locker room.

The view from the press box

The stadium has a retractable roof (two huge panels that retract) and a large window at one end framing the cities skyline, that also opens.

Our view with the roof and window closed

A picture on game day with the roof and window open

The Colts’ locker room

Quarterback lockers (Andrew Luck’s is on the left)

A retired player checks the turf

Indianapolis is a beautiful city with many cool things to see and do.  We need to come back some day and spend some significant time exploring some of these things.  But we want to keep heading west, so that will have to wait for another time.

Next up is a visit to the Quad Cities.  More on that later . . .

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Back on the Road – A Stop in Louisville

Louisville, KY

OK, again it has been a while since our last post during a visit to the Thousand Islands in Northern New York.  Since then we returned to our former home town of York, PA to complete some yearly medical visits, spend some time with our daughter, and visit friends.  Now we are back on the road heading in a westerly direction.  When we heard that doggy friend Cody (oh yes, and David and Karen) were going to be in the Louisville area, we decided to make that our first stop.  So after a long two day drive (with an overnight at a Cabela’s in Charleston, WV), we arrived at the South Louisville KOA in Shepardsville, KY.

We had a decent site right next to David and Karen.  David is from Louisville and has many relatives in the area.  So the next day he invited us to join them for a visit to a newly acquired house on a lake south of Louisville owned by his nephew, Eddie.

Eddie’s family weekend retreat

The house and nearby Nolin Lake are alive with activity on weekends, but things were pretty quiet during our mid-week visit.  Eddie was there doing some maintenance and offered to take us for a cruise around part of Nolin Lake in his pontoon boat.

Karen, David, and Cody (the cute one in the middle) enjoy the breeze

Captain Eddie at the controls with the crew relaxing in the background

Pam and one of  her favorite buddies enjoy the cruise

The next day Cody rested in their RV while the rest of us went into Louisville for a visit to the Hillerich and Bradsby Company, makers of the famous Louisville Slugger baseball bat.

Giant “Louisville Slugger” in the entrance

J. F. Hillerich opened a woodworking shop in Louisville in 1855.  During the 1880s, Hillerich hired his seventeen-year-old son, John “Bud” Hillerich.  Legend has it that Bud, who played baseball himself, slipped away from work one afternoon in 1884 to watch Louisville’s major league team, the Louisville Eclipse.  During the game the team’s star, Pete “The Louisville Slugger” Browning, mired in a hitting slump, broke his bat.

Bud invited Browning to his father’s shop to hand-craft a new bat to Pete’s own specifications.  Browning accepted the offer, and got three hits to immediately break out of his slump with his new bat the first day he used it.  Browning told his teammates, which began a surge of professional ball players to the Hillerich woodworking shop.  Soon bats were the shop’s only product.  Frank Bradsby, a salesman, became a partner in 1916 and the company’s name changed to Hillerich and Bradsby.  By 1923, H&B was selling more bats than any other bat maker in the country, and legends like Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were all using them.

Along the front of the building is a series of home plate shaped plaques with a bat next to them honoring many of the famous players who used a Louisville Slugger.  Below is a photo of the plaque honoring Babe Ruth.

White ash and maple wood is shipped to the factory in a rough pole called a billet.  Originally each billet was placed in a wood lathe and milled by hand.  Now the milling is all completed in seconds by a machine.

A billet on the left and an old lathe on the right

Today the factory turns out 2,000 to 5,000 bats a day for professional and recreation players.  Big league players order 100 to 120 bats a year!

The factory has a nice visitor center with a number of displays. Below David and John test out replicas of the bats used by Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.

A bat looks a bit small in the huge hands of a former little league right fielder!

After a great visit we said good-bye to David, Karen, and Cody as they headed north for a visit to Michigan.  We are continuing to make our way west and have some stops planned along the way.

More on that later . . .

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North to the St. Lawrence River

Clayton, NY

Wow, its been quite a while since our last blog.  It seems that the writer has been a bit lazy busy and has not been very diligent in keeping things up-to-date. But there hasn’t been a great deal to report during the past few weeks either.

In our last post we were in Atlanta visiting with our son.  Now we are in Clayton, NY, which is as far north as you can get and still be in the US.  As we said, not a lot has happened in between worth any pictures, much less a blog post, so we’ll just do a quick update.

We left Atlanta and drove north to Gaffney, SC, home of Freightliner Custom Chassis, manufacturers of the chassis used in most motorhomes.  There is a service center there that does an excellent job providing routine maintenance to motorhomes so we like to take ours there for service.  They are very busy and didn’t have an appointment available for weeks, but you can go there as a “walk-in” which means that they will service your coach if time allows.  So we went there thinking we may have to stay for up to a week, but felt the wait well worth the excellent service.  But they were able to accommodate us right after lunch on our first day there, so our stay was short and sweet.

Our next stop was in our former hometown of York, PA.  We usually make the trip from Gaffney to York in two days with an overnight in a Walmart in Virginia.  But with high temperatures coupled with high humidity, a stay without an electrical connection for air conditioners was not very appealing.  The weather prediction was calling for thunderstorms in the late afternoon as well and, since we don’t drive in the rain, we decided to take three days and stay in a couple of RV parks along the way.  So after one night stays in Wytheville and New Market (both in VA), we arrived in York for an extended stay to visit with daughter Jessica and complete the yearly doctor visits.

But before completing the medical rounds we decided to leave the motorhome in York and drive north in the Jeep for a visit with Pam’s mother, Fran, in Clayton, NY.  So that’s where we are now, staying with Fran in her home just a block from the beautiful St. Lawrence River.  Fran is keeping us busy completing some routine maintenance projects around the house but we have managed to fit in some “river watching” time each day.

There are two main docking facilities in the village, one for small craft and one for larger vessels.  The dock for small boats has a great little park area with a few Adirondack chairs and two rows of benches next to the sidewalk.  It’s a great place to just sit, relax, and watch the boat traffic.

John and Fran enjoy the bench area

The view from the bench area

Nearby is a long dock meant to accommodate larger vessels.  For two nights the dock was occupied by the Pearl Mist, a small cruise ship.

If you’re interested in antique boats, you’ve probably heard of the Clayton Antique Boat Museum, a world class facility located in the village.  With that facility near by there are always a few beautiful old wooden boats going by the docks.

If there wasn’t enough boating activity here, the St. Lawrence Seaway channel goes right in front of the village, so there are often large freighters heading in either direction passing by the docks.

After the strain of watching the boat traffic we usually conclude each day with a stop at the nearby ice cream shop.  Located right across the street from the small craft docks, The Scoop is a perfect place to enjoy a treat while waiting for the sunset.  We are often joined by Fran’s friend, John, as we sit and watch the world go by.  For many, many years John was the local (an only) dentist in the village and he not only knows virtually every resident in town but can also tell you about their family tree going back two generations!

We’ll be here in New York for a couple of weeks before returning to York to complete the medical rounds.  After that we will head west to the land of low humidity, few insects, and wonderful hiking!

More on that later . . .

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Oklahoma to Atlanta

Atlanta, GA

In our last blog we were just finishing our visit to Oklahoma.  We left there and continued our journey east in I-40.  Since, like many people, we don’t like to drive long distances, we set our sights on Russellville, AR, about 200 miles away.

Our first visit to Arkansas

We arrived at Old Post Road COE (Corps of Engineer) Park early in the afternoon and quickly found our site.  The site is a bit low in the back so we had some difficulty getting the motorhome level without lifting the rear wheels off the ground (not a good idea).  With the temperature in the high 90s and the dew point in the  70s we were pretty wet by the time we were settled in for our two night stay.

This park is right along the Arkansas River just below the Dardanelle Lock and Dam.  The dam is not very high as its purpose is not flood control, it is to increase the depth of the river behind it for navigation purposes.

The Dardanelle Lock and Dam

We didn’t do too much during our stay in Russellville as the heat and humidity continued to be oppressive.  We then drove about eighty miles further east on I-40 for a visit to Little Rock and set up in another COE park, Maumelle Campground, a few miles west of the city.

Maumelle Campground

While in Little Rock we decided to pay a visit to the William J. Clinton Presidential Center. First a disclaimer:  The writer of this blog is a Republican who did his best to remain objective during this visit.  Some displays in the center made this attempt very difficult!

The first thing that struck us as a bit odd about this facility was the two rather large, moving dinosaurs next to the main entrance and a large banner announcing a dinosaur exhibit on display for six months.

William J. Clinton Presidential Center

We asked someone about this and were given a lengthy explanation that boiled down to it being an attempt to attract families with children to visit the center.  We inquired as to the connection between Clinton and dinosaurs and found it was the fact that he designated the Grand Staircase-Escalate National Monument as a national monument in 1996 using his authority under the Antiquities Act.  Since 2000, numerous dinosaur fossils over 75 million years old have been found there.  Go figure!

The displays in the center are informative and nicely arranged, but the information was a bit over the top if you are a Republican.  John expected to see a picture of Clinton in a superman suit as it appears he saved the country from the evil Republicans during his time in office. OK, end of rant . . .

Little Rock has a nice biking path along the Arkansas River, but one look at the temperature on the dash of the Jeep in the photo below will explain why we decided not to explore it.

We did take a ride past the famous Little Rock Central High School.  The school was the focal point of the Little Rock Integration Crisis of 1957.   Nine African-American students, known as the Little Rock Nine, were denied entrance to the school in defiance of the 1954 Supreme Court ruling ordering integration of public schools.   This provoked a showdown between the Governor Orval Faubus and President Eisenhower that gained international attention.  Eisenhower ended up ordering army troops to insure the students were allowed into the school and troops patrolled inside and outside the school for the remainder of the school year.

Little Rock Central High School

The next day we continued east on I-40 to Tom Sawyer’s RV Park in West Memphis, AR.  This is a very nice park sitting between the Mississippi River and the flood controlling levee so it tends to flood quite frequently.

We were assigned an end site on a concrete pad with a great view of the river.  We placed our chairs in the shadow of the motorhome and enjoyed watching the barges go up and down the river.

The park is very prepared for the frequent floods.  The office is on wheels and the main electrical boxes are placed about 15 feet up telephone poles.  The photo below shows the laundry room located on the second floor above a concrete room.

Our only full day in Memphis was filled with sight-seeing.  We drove by Graceland and found Elvis had left the building, so we decided not to join the thousand visitors lining up in the hot sun for a visit.  Instead we drove downtown for a visit to Sun Studio, where an 18 year old singer named Elvis walked in one day in August of 1953 to record a song for his mother.

On December 4, 1956, Elvis stopped by the studio while Carl Perkins was there cutting new tracks, with Jerry Lee Lewis backing him on piano.  Johnny Cash was also in the studio and the four started an impromptu jam session. Sam Phillips left the tapes running and the recordings survived and have since been released under the title Million Dollar Quartet.

The Million Dollar Quartet: Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash

We continued into the downtown for a visit to the Peabody Hotel to check out the famous marching ducks.

The marching ducks are part of  a custom dating back to the 1930s.  The general manager of the time had just returned from a weekend hunting trip in Arkansas.  He and his friends, after enjoying an adult beverage or two, found it amusing to leave three of their live English Call Duck decoys in the hotel fountain. The guests loved the idea, and since then, five Mallard ducks (one drake and four hens) have played in the fountain every day.

In 1940, a Bellman by the name of Edward Pembroke volunteered to care for the ducks. Pembroke was given the position of “Duckmaster” and served in that position until 1991. As a former circus animal trainer, he taught the ducks to march into the hotel lobby, which started the famous Peabody Duck March.  Every day at 11:00 a.m., the Peabody Ducks are escorted from their penthouse home on the Plantation Roof to the lobby via elevator. The ducks, accompanied by the King Cotton March by John Phillip Sousa, then proceed across a red carpet to the hotel fountain, made of a solid block of Italian marble. The ducks are then ceremoniously led back to their penthouse at 5:00 p.m.

The Duckmaster

On the roof headed for the Duck Palace

The Duck Palace

Since it was early afternoon the duck march was too long a wait for us, so we headed to nearby Beale Street, famous as the birthplace of the blues.

The King! (that’s a statue of Elvis in the background)

The main section of Beale Streat

Beale Street is lined with bars and restaurants offering live music and a variety of menus.  We stopped in a small park to listen to a band play.  They were pretty average and only attracted a small group of listeners and earned just a few tips.

The sidewalks along Beale Street honor most of the great blues musicians with musical notes containing their names.  The most famous is the recently deceased B.B. King.

We couldn’t pass up lunch in B.B. King’s Blues Club.  After all, he was known as the “King of the Blues.”

The food was just average in B.B.’s club, but the band playing that afternoon was outstanding!

The next day was another travel day.  Atlanta is four hundred miles away, farther than we care to drive in a day, so we thought we would divide that in half and stop after about two hundred miles (our usual one day distance).  But we couldn’t find a good place to stay for a night near the highway and there was a threat of rain the following day, so we decided to just dig in and do the drive in one day.  If you’ve ever been through Atlanta, you know that the traffic is terrible, especially during rush hour.  So we decided to leave West Memphis at first light so we could arrive in Atlanta early in the afternoon.

Traffic in Mississippi

Our strategy paid off as we arrived in the Atlanta area in mid-afternoon (we lost an hour changing time zones) and, although traffic was heavy it kept moving.

Traffic in Atlanta

We arrived at Jones RV, just off of I-85 north of the city and quickly got set up.  The park is not the nicest we have stayed in but it is conveniently located to our son’s home.

Remember that beautiful view of the Mississippi River in front of us from the photo at the beginning of this blog?  Well, that is long gone.  The photo below shows our view here at Jones RV!

While here John completed a couple of minor repairs in the motorhome.  The most important one was to replace the pump in the Splendide washer/dryer.  The impeller (the blade that pushes the water) came off the shaft in the pump while we were in Denver and a call to the company tech line revealed that the only fix is a new pump.

The old pump and the replacement

Replacement of the pump is fairly simple, but getting to it is a bit difficult.  The tech said to just tip it over on its side and remove the thin metal panel on the bottom.  But that would require moving it out to the living area, not an easy task as the unit is quite heavy.  So John just moved the unit out of the cabinet and propped it up with a pile of wood.  He then just bent the metal panel down, giving him access to the pump.  The metal panel is now a bit out of wack but it is not visible so that doesn’t matter.  Oh boy, no more laundromats!

We’ll be in Atlanta until Saturday, then move to Gaffney, SC to get the motorhome serviced.  They don’t have any appointments available for a few weeks so we’ll be “walk-ins,” which means we hope for a cancellation or they are able to fit us in after those with appointments have all work completed.  So our stay there may be brief, or it may not!

More on that later . . .

 

 

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A Visit to Oklahoma City

Shawnee, OK

We left Wichita, KS on Saturday and headed south for a visit to Oklahoma City, OK.  After driving south on I-35 into the city, we turned east on I-40 and continued to Shawnee (birthplace of Brad Pitt), about 30 miles away.  The Heart of Oklahoma Expo Center has a large number of RV spots, many with full hook-ups, at a reasonable price.  We found the main section to be empty, so we selected a site at the far end.  For two of our three nights we were almost alone, with only a travel trailer in a distant site for a neighbor.

All alone!

A pet peeve that many full-timers have with RV parks is that, even with numerous empty sites, the park will assign someone to the site right next to you.  The Heart of Oklahoma Expo doesn’t assign sites, you just pick one and go to the office to pay.  So we thought it was interesting when, for the last night of our stay, someone chose to park right next to us.  Are you serious!  There are about a hundred nice sites in this section of the park and you set up right next to us!  And to top it all off, they were up, slamming their door, and driving away at 6:30 the next morning!

Why ? ? ?

OK, Rant over . . .

We were only in the area for a couple of days but we did manage to check out a few interesting sites.  First, we drove to Norman, a few miles south of Oklahoma City, to visit the campus of the University of Oklahoma.  We were very impressed with this campus with its large open spaces, well maintained grounds, and beautiful buildings.

Bizzell Memorial Library

The Seed Sower Statue

The university seal features the Seed Sower, an emblem of the first university president, David Ross Boyd.  It is said that Boyd walked across the Oklahoma prairies sowing the seeds of education, as well as literally planting many trees throughout the region.  The Seed Sower statue is at the entrance to the South Oval in the center of the campus.

The football stadium stands almost in the center of the campus.  Despite its large size, it fits nicely into the campus without overwhelming its surroundings.

We then drove north for a visit to the town of Moore, just south of Oklahoma City to visit the area destroyed by a tornado in 2013.  Two elementary schools in the area were directly in the tornado’s path.  Briarwood and Plaza Towers sustained enough damage to be considered a total loss. Miraculously no one was killed at Briarwood Elementary but seven third graders inside Plaza Towers’ 2nd-3rd grade annex lost their lives when the structure’s walls collapsed.

Both schools have been completely rebuilt and the entrance of Plaza Towers has a very moving memorial to the seven students killed.  Next to the entrance are seven benches.  The name of each student is engraved on the end of a bench and the stone front section of the bench depicts that student’s interests.

Seven silhouettes of children (three boys and four girls) are engraved onto plaques on the wall of the school entrance as if they were running, walking or skipping.  Each silhouette includes a personal effect that represent items special to the child’s life.

The memorial is very impressive.  While honoring the lost children, it is subtle enough that students entering the building are not constantly overwhelmed by the tragedy.

The next day we drove into Oklahoma City for a visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial.  Thisl Memorial honors the victims, survivors, rescuers, and all who were affected by the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995.  The memorial is located on the former site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which was destroyed in the bombing.

The most moving section of the memorial is the Field of Empty Chairs.  One hundred sixty-eight empty chairs hand-crafted from glass, bronze, and stone represent those who lost their lives, with a name etched in the glass base of each.  They sit on the site where the Murrah Building once stood.  The chairs represent the empty chairs at the dinner tables of the victims’ families. The chairs are arranged in nine rows to symbolize the nine floors of the federal building; each person’s chair is on the row (or the floor) on which the person worked or was located when the bomb went off.  The chairs are also grouped according to the blast pattern, with the most chairs nearest the most heavily damaged portion of the building. The westernmost column of five chairs represents the five people who died but were not in the Murrah Building (two in the Water Resources Board building, one in the Athenian Building, one outside near the building, and one rescuer).  The 19 smaller chairs represent the children killed in the bombing.  Three unborn children died along with their mothers, and they are listed on their mothers’ chairs beneath their mothers’ names.

 

The Field of Empty Chairs

The Reflecting Pool, a thin layer of water flowing over polished black granite, runs east to west down the center of the Memorial  on what was once Fifth Street.  The tree on the far left in the photo below is near the spot where the truck containing the explosives was parked.

The Reflecting Pool and the Western Gate

At the ends of the Reflecting Pool are The Gates of Time, twin bronze gates that frame the moment of destruction – 9:02 – and mark the formal entrances to the Outdoor Memorial. On the eastern gate the numbers 9:01 are etched, representing the last moments of peace, while its opposite on the western gate, 9:03, represents the first moments of recovery.

The Eastern Gate

The Survivor Tree is an American elm on the north side of the Memorial, this was the only shade tree in the parking lot across the street from the Murrah Building.  Commuters arrived early to get one of the shady parking spots provided by its branches.  Photos of Oklahoma City taken in the 1920s show the tree to be about 100 years old.   Heavily damaged by the bomb, the tree survived after nearly being chopped down during the initial investigation, when workers wanted to recover evidence hanging in its branches and embedded in its bark.  The force of the blast ripped most of the branches from the Survivor Tree, glass and debris were embedded in its trunk and fire from the cars parked beneath it blackened what was left.  Most thought the tree could not survive.  Almost a year after the bombing, family members, survivors and rescue workers gathered for a memorial ceremony by the tree noticed it was beginning to bloom again.  The Survivor Tree now thrives, and the Outdoor Memorial design includes a mandate to feature and protect the tree.  For example, one of the roots that would have been cut by the wall surrounding the tree was placed inside a large pipe, so it could reach the soil beyond the wall without being damaged.  The decking around the tree was raised several feet to make an underground crawlspace; workers enter through a secure hatchway and monitor the health of the tree and maintain its very deep roots.

The Survivor Tree

More than 5,000 hand-painted tiles from all over the United States and Canada were made by children and sent to Oklahoma City after the bombing in 1995.  Most are stored in the Memorial’s Archives, but a sampling of tiles is on the wall in the Children’s Area.

Tiles in the Children’s Area

The only remaining part of the original federal building

Later we made a visit to the Bricktown neighborhood for lunch.  Bricktown was once a decaying warehouse area but it has been renovated and now is home to a number of restaurants, bars, and parks.  Top attractions include the mile long Bricktown Canal and the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, home to the Oklahoma City Dodgers, triple A affiliate of the L.A. Dodgers.

Bricktown Canal

A statue of Oklahoma-born Mickey Mantle in front of the stadium

We are now continuing east on I-40 headed for Russellville, AR for a short stay in a Corps of Engineers Park outside of the town.

More on that later . . .

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