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April 2019

2019-04-27 – Airstream Caravan Travels – Springtime in Kentucky; Dairy Farm Tour in Bowling Green, KY – Day #3

The caravan set out today to tour a dairy farm.  But not just any dairy farm!  We visited the Chaney’s Dairy Barn just south of Bowling Green.  It was not like any dairy I had ever seen before, and I have seen one or two…

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The Chaney family has owned this land since 1886, and they started a dairy here in 1940.  They have exclusively Jersey cows – the light brown ones…

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We started the tour at the gift shop – cafe – ice cream parlor; we boarded the farm wagon for the trip to the barn…

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I was shocked to learn that they are currently milking 60 cows (out of a total herd of about 120 or so…).  They have about 55 acres of land.  Wow!  I thought all dairies milked hundreds if not thousands of cows!  The next thing we learned is that they have no milkers – no people wrangling the cows into the barn, no one attaching the milking machines, no one.  They have one herdsman, who is in charge of all the cows, and one robotic milking machine, made by Lely in the Netherlands… The herdsman is the niece of the farm’s owners…

The cows spend all their time hanging out in a comfortable barn…

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When they feel the “urge” to get milked they wander over to the robotic milking machine and get milked!

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The next cow in line is waiting patiently…

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When the milking is complete she moves on…

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During the five-six minutes it takes to complete the cleaning and milking process the cow is weighed, the milk production is analyzed, and the herdsman gets lots of data to ensure the cows are healthy and happy…

They even have automated back-scratching machines and a “Rumba”-like robot which sweeps the feed lane and pushes the feed up closer to where the cows are eating… Amazing!

Then the real story comes out.  The cows and the milk don’t pay the bills here.  Like many dairies, they barely break even on the milk and often lose money.  That is why many small family dairies are closing down and selling out.  The Chaney family figured out a way to keep the family farm, and its inherent lifestyle:  Us!

Yes, Agri-tourism is a big thing here.  By offering tours, plus the cafe, playground, gift shop, ice cream, and other related things the family can make a living and keep the farm.  The next generation is starting to establish the ability to process their milk themselves, so that they can sell their own cheese, ice cream, and, yes, milk.

The Chaney family were delightful people and they really have a passion for these cows.  It was a fun tour!

Rather than ride the wagon back to the cafe, we walked…

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We did, of course, have lunch and some ice cream…

And then we moved on.  The only distillery in Bowling Green closed up shop and moved to Nashville a few months ago, so a few of us drove about 10 miles south to Franklin, KY, to the Dueling Grounds Distillery.  So named because several famous duels took place near here on the Linkumpinch Dueling Field in 1826.

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Tennessee Representative Sam Houston gravely wounded General William A. White, a veteran of the Battle of New Orleans, in a pistol duel.  In a convoluted turn of events, White was the stand-in for Nashville Postmaster John P. Erwin.  Patronage politics were at the root of this affair of honor.  Andrew Jackson of Tennessee had promoted another candidate for Nashville postmaster against Erwin.  Jackson encouraged Houston to thwart Erwin’s appointment.  Houston wrote to President John Quincy Adams, that Erwin “is not a man of fair and upright moral character.”  He also attacked Erwin in a speech on the House Floor.  When Houston returned to Tennessee after the 19th Congress (1825–1827), Erwin dispatched Colonel John Smith T., a professional duelist, to deliver a challenge to Houston for besmirching Erwin’s character.  That challenge was rejected, but General White then proceeded to challenge Houston directly, who reluctantly accepted.  Houston was tried for attempted murder, but was acquitted on the grounds of self-defense…

Anyway, this is as good a reason as any to name your distillery “Dueling Grounds” and to name your Bourbon, “Linkumpinch”.

We had a great tour!  Unlike Jack Daniel’s, where the process is controlled by computers and two guys sitting in a control booth, these guys at Dueling Grounds really make the Bourbon!   We saw them adding corn, then wheat, then malted barley to the mash cooker, we saw them punch down the fermenting mash, we saw them transferring the fermented liquid to the still, and we saw their manual bottling line.  (Their barrels are stored off-site in a borrowed facility…)

Adding wheat to the mash cooker…

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The fermenting mash…

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The three fermenters…

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The still.  Clear ethyl alcohol drips out of the still like a weak stream of water from a small faucet.  (At Jack Daniel’s, it pours from their 90′ tall stills like water shooting out of a fire hose!)  They distill the whiskey here twice, to clarify and purify it, and to increase the alcohol content.

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They have a very small production – three 250 gallon fermenters each produce about 50 gallons of clear whiskey.

The clear whiskey is placed in new charred oak barrels and aged a minimum of two years.  Since this distillery is quite young, their current Bourbon has been aged just two years.  They have plans to age some barrels 5, 7, and 12 years…

Most of the flavor in Bourbon is imparted by the barrel.  The clear whiskey (“White Lightning”) is not very pleasant to drink.

Tour over, we returned to the tasting room…

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We tasted their whiskeys and some of their fruit liqueurs.  Purchases in hand, we headed back to the Villa…

We were able to relax a bit in the afternoon, then we had another GAM.  Afterwards, we walked about the park.  We found baby Canada Geese…

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And we found a puppy raiser for CCI – Canine Companions for Independence…

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Our son has a Service Dog, professionally trained and certified by CCI, a great organization that provides service dogs to those who need them for free… This couple has raised 12 puppies, each for about 18 months, then has turned them over for professional training…

This evening we had another Drivers Meeting; we travel tomorrow to Bardstown, near Louisville, for various activities at Churchill Downs before the Kentucky Derby on Saturday…

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And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2019-04-26 – Airstream Caravan Travels – Springtime in Kentucky; Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY – Day #2

After raining all night we awoke to a lovely morning.  We carpooled to the National Corvette Museum.  Not only were we Airstreamers doing this tour today, but it was the 25th anniversary of the museum and hundreds of Corvette owners were coming to gather as well…

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Even our campground was not immune to this invasion of Corvettes…

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The museum is located only a quarter mile from the Bowling Green Assembly Plant, where Corvettes have been made since 1981.  Unfortunately, the plant is closed for re-tooling; rumor has it that the newest model Corvette will be revealed at this event this weekend…

(Spoiler Alert:  Yes, the new C-8 Corvette, with a mid-engine configuration, was revealed at the Museum on 4/27/19!)

This yellow structure is called the “Skydome”.  It contains a large exhibit hall inside, as an addition to the main museum.  More about the Skydome later…

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We gathered in front of the museum for a group photo, then went inside for a tour.

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The exhibits started with a display of a 1953 Corvette, showing its innovative framework and chassis design.  Note how light the structural framework is.  These cars were clearly designed for performance, not for safety…

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We proceeded through the exhibits, seeing the Corvette design evolve.  The first years were difficult, and very few cars sold in 1953-1955, but the 1956 model caught on and sales sky-rocketed.  However, they have never reached the 1,000,000 cars per year that were originally envisioned…

The 1956 – 1962 years (Model C-2, as the aficionados call it) are my favorite Corvettes…

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This is the interior of the Skydome:

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A particularly interesting exhibit centers around an event that happened a few years ago…

On February 12, 2014, a sinkhole (40-foot-wide and 25-foot-deep) opened under the floor of the Skydome area of the museum.  Video from the museum’s security camera shows the collapse occurring at 5:38 AM local time.  Since this did not occur during visiting hours no one was injured although much of the Skydome area concrete floor collapsed.  Eight rare and one-of-a-kind Corvettes, portions of the display stands and rails, large concrete floor slabs, boulders, and dirt fell into the sinkhole, causing serious damage to all eight of the Corvettes.  The Corvettes involved had an estimated value of a million dollars.  The remaining 20 cars in the Skydome were immediately removed from that area.  All eight of the Corvettes were recovered from the sinkhole.

Exploration in the sinkhole discovered a cave passage 80 feet below the Skydome floor and that this previously unknown cave had an unstable area in its roof that collapsed.  Apparently, when the museum was built, a large storm water retention basin was dug adjacent to the Skydome, which altered the flow of ground water under the museum.  This change in geologic activity contributed to the cave collapse.

The Skydome reopened after repairs were completed on September 3, 2015.  The eight Corvettes are displayed in their original location at the time of the collapse, although only three of them have been repaired/restored.  The other five were deemed too damaged to be repaired, so they are displayed is their “as found” condition…  It is a remarkable thing to see!

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We continued to look at the displayed until lunch happened…

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After lunch we visited the Historic Rail Park, located at the historic L & N train depot…

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It was great fun…

There were model railroad exhibits that little kids really love…

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There were historic exhibits inside the museum; but the best part was the train!

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We were able to go through all the cars…

First was the engine (with the engines and generators removed…). We also could go into the cockpit and sit in the engineer’s seat.  No steering wheel!

This is the Post Office car…

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The dining car…

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The kitchen…

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We saw a 3rd class Pullman sleeping berths, the 2nd class “roomettes”, and the private bedrooms in 1st class.  Finally we saw the private car of the L & N president, with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a dining room and a parlor, plus observation platform at the rear.  This car was used by Herbert Hoover during his presidential campaign.

We also saw cars that are not on display; a caboose…

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And a hospital car, used to transport injured troops from WWII and the Korean conflict…

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We returned to the Villa in time to prepare for the first GAM – Get Acquainted Meeting.  As luck would have it, we already knew these four couples…

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And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2019-04-25 – Airstream Caravan Travels – Springtime in Kentucky; Bowling Green, KY – Day #1

Beautiful day in Kentucky!  The 2019 Springtime in Kentucky Caravan starts today!

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We spent the morning rearranging the supplies and tools in the truck, running errands, and buying groceries… I also spent quite a bit of time planning our return trip home in June…

We turned in our emergency forms to our caravan leader, and we were given our “Drivers’ Manual” in exchange.  This is a three-ring binder containing all the information we will need for the next three weeks – schedule, driving directions, names and contact information about all the caravaners, financial data, GAMs, and caravan rules.  The first thing I normally do when I get the manual is enter all the contact information into my phone – we do a lot of text messaging on the caravan;  it is frustrating to get a text message and having to respond, “Who is this?”…

At 3:00 pm we all gathered for our first meeting.  We shared brief introductions – there are five couples from California, only one of which we have previously met.  Caravaners are from all over the country – Washington, New York, Florida, Texas, and everywhere in between.  (No one from Kentucky… However, the leader who was supposed to be here IS from Kentucky, but he has had health issues and needed time to recover, so we have a non-Kentuckian as our leader…)

We were dismissed from our meeting in time for us all to carpool into downtown Bowling Green for dinner at 440 Main, one of Bowling Green’s best restaurants.  We arrived early enough to enjoy some adult beverages before dinner.

Soon we were all gathered for dinner.  The service was good, especially considering that the servers had to wrangle requests from 50 people at once.  And the food was excellent; I had salmon, Lynda had chicken.  Dessert was cheesecake with raspberry sauce.  I only had a bite or two, but it was excellent, too.

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After dinner we returned to the Villa.  It was starting to rain as we hurriedly walked to our campsite.  Ir continued to rain lightly all night long…

And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2019-04-24 – Airstream Caravan Travels – Traveling from Tuscumbia, AL, to Bowling Green, KY;

Today we check in to the RV Park where the Springtime in Kentucky caravan starts.  We are one day early, but we like to arrive before the crowds…

Last night we caught a nice sunset in the window of the Villa…

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We left Tuscumbia, AL and headed through the countryside to find the 65 north…  At about 11:30 we met up with two other caravaners at the Cracker Barrel in Franklin, TN…

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After lunch we traveled north into Kentucky!

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Lots of green in this neck of the woods!

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We pulled into the KOA in Bowling Green, KY, ready to check-in…

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We added another state sticker to our map… Number 39!

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It’s a nice park, with a lake and a good supply of Canada Geese…

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We played a little chess before Happy Hours…

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So Happy Hours happened – there are about 10 Airstreams here a day early…  And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2019-04-23 – Airstream Caravan Travels – Traveling from Huntsville to Florence to Tuscumbia, AL, and Frank Lloyd Wright…

We pulled out of the RV park at the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville and drove to Florence, AL.  We are here to see the Rosenbaum House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (FLlW)…

First, another bridge; I think this is the one millionth time we have crossed the Tennessee River…img_8002img_8005

We arrived in Florence and parked the Villa in the office complex across the street from the house, where the Visitor Center is…

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We walked across the street for our tour to begin…

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The cantilevered carport roof…

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They have the same “sprite” in their front yard that I have in mine…

Rosenbaum House:

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Terhorst House:

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These Sprites are 1/2 size reproductions of similar Sprites (hundreds of them) originally designed and built for the FLlW-designed Midway Gardens complex in Chicago.  Midway Gardens was a restaurant, beer-hall and event venue complex; the business failed after prohibition was voted in, and the complex was demolished; all the ruble, including hundreds of Sprites, was bulldozed into Lake Michigan as land-fill…

We were greeted by our tour guide, and we heard the history of the house…

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The owner of this house across the street gifted this lot to his son, along with some of the money to build the house.

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The son and his wife had three sons at the time, and this was the perfect place to raise a family; the lot (at that time) had a fine view of the Tennessee River, but the trees have now grown up to obscure it…

Frank Lloyd Wright was hired for $1,100 to design the house. It was 1,500 sq. ft., and it included three bedrooms and two bathrooms, Living Room, Dining area with built-in table for five, Study, and a tiny “Workroom” – what we would call a kitchen, if we could conceive of such a tiny space being a kitchen.

The house is a classic “Usonian”, a concept named by FLlW to designate the houses that were simple in design, and suited to middle class Americans.

Usonian houses were characterized by their lack of attics and basements, radiant heat in the exposed concrete floors, and simple wood detailing that can be beautiful yet economical due to the ability to be made by machine.  The houses all had tiny “Workrooms”…

The house was built and the family moved in.  They soon found the house a bit cramped, especially when a fourth child arrived.  So they hired FLlW to design an 1,100 s.f. addition, containing a guest room and bath, a new, much larger “Workroom”, a Laundry-Service room, and a large Playroom-Dormitory for the four boys.  Somehow they still managed to get along with the Dining Room table for five…

FLlW designed many pieces of furniture that are still in the house – simple, beautiful, and elegant, using simple materials like plywood.  As usual, the chairs were impractical and uncomfortable, but they are beautiful, and that’s all that matters.  (A chair similar to these from another house recently sold at auction for $35,000!)

The house was sold to the City of Florence in the late 1990s for $75,000; the City spent several years and over $600,000 restoring the house, which was opened to the public in 2002.

The walls of the house, inside and out, are board and batten, using cypress wood from Louisiana swamps, and pine battens.  (We saw cypress trees growing out of the water on our swamp tour…)  Cypress is extremely resistant to wood rot and termites – it is an excellent building material!  Unfortunately, the walls also contain battens of pine; when the house was sold to the City it was found to be infested with termites.  When the termites had destroyed the pine they settled into all the books… But the cypress wood is still intact!

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The board and batten walls; on the interior side all shelving, tables, and doors have horizontal lines that match the battens…

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The second cantilevered carport…

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This tiny balcony in the center of the photo below is off the Master Bedroom…

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The Living Room and Study have these beautiful French doors opening onto the terrace…  You can see through the house to the narrow clerestory windows on the opposite side of the room…

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We thoroughly enjoyed touring this house.  It is beautifully restored and maintained, and we were able to see all the rooms, with all the furniture, as if the family were still living there.  Furniture not designed by FLlW is mostly designed by Rae and Charles Eames…

After our tour we walked into downtown Florence and walked the four blocks of Court St.  Upon the recommendations of the Rosenbaum staff we had a lovely lunch at Odette…

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After lunch we walked back to the Rosenbaum house where we had left the Villa.  We drove to Tuscumbia, about five miles away, and parked at Heritage Acres RV Park.

This is a very basic, all gravel place, with no trees – good for satellite TV reception.  Full hook-ups including cable are all very good.  We wanted to refill one of our propane tanks, but when I went to take it off the Villa I found that it had been locked using a cable and a padlock.  Could I find the combination to the lock?  After tearing apart the trailer and the truck I finally found it, 1 1/2 hours later.

Well-deserved Happy Hours ensued, and an enjoyable time was had by all…

2019-04-22 – Airstream Caravan Travels – Traveling from Chattanooga, TN to Lynchburg TN, and Jack Daniels, and on to Huntsville, AL…

We prepared to leave for traveling to Lynchburg, TN, this morning.  Then we realized that Lynchburg is in the Central Time Zone and we were still in Eastern time in Chattanooga.  So we had an extra hour to kill.  But we left relatively early, and had a nice drive across Tennessee.  (The highway even dipped south for a few miles into Georgia before it turned slightly north back into Tennessee…)

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We soon arrived in Lynchburg, and …

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This is their fully restored antique truck, from all the way back in 1980…

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Signage on this truck shows Jack Daniel’s motto:  “All Goods Worth Price Charged.”

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The tour began by hearing an explanation of what Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey is:

The law defines Tennessee Whiskey as: a spirit manufactured in Tennessee; made from grain that consists of at least 51% corn; distilled to no more than 160 proof (80% abv); filtered through maple charcoal prior to aging; aged in new charred oak barrels; placed in the barrel at no more than 125 proof (62.5% abv); and, bottled at not less than 80 proof (40% abv).

Except for the filtering through maple charcoal, this defines Bourbon.  In other words, Tennessee Whiskey is Bourbon filtered through maple charcoal.  Jack Daniels calls this process “Mellowing”.

We started at the Rick House, where they burn the sugar maple; we moved on to the water source, deep inside this cave:

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Here is a statue of Jack Daniel standing on a granite boulder; you know, Jack on the Rocks…

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This building was the headquarters office used by Jack Daniel’s up until 1958; it was here, in about 1905, that Jack kicked the company safe one morning, broke his toe, and died a few years later from gangrene, at the age of 61.

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The owners of the company in 1958 (four brothers who had inherited the business) sold the business to Brown-Foreman for $20,000,000.  It is still owned by Brown-Foreman today.  Brown-Foreman also owns Early Times, Old Forester, Woodford Reserve, Canadian Mist, GlenDronach, BenRiach, Glenglassaugh, Finlandia, Herradura, Korbel, and Chambord.

This is the Still House; it contains four giant 90′ tall stills, which produce the clear corn whiskey:

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The sour mash waste, after it is distilled, is piped over to this facility, where it is sold to local farmers as cattle feed; it still contains 6-8% alcohol.  Talk about contented cows!

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This is the Mellowing House, where the clear whiskey is dripped, drop by drop, over a 10′ tall stack of charcoal, a process called mellowing…

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The bottling lines are always my favorite part of these tours… This is a small line dedicated to their Single Barrel Whiskeys.  It dates from 1970 and seemed to me to be very non-automated – there is a lot of work done manually, like putting on labels, hanging tags around the neck, and putting the bottles into the cardboard boxes…

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Finally, the tour over, we head to the educational part of the tour:  the tasting.  This is strictly for educational purposes only, since drinking whiskey in this county is forbidden…

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We were given five sample with which to get educated.  It totaled about one ounce; we were told about how each type is made and what the differences are.  The funny thing was that both Lynda and I found the Rye to be terribly sweet, yet the “honey” version had very little taste at all.  Our guide checked it out and found that the two samples were switched!  It mattered little – we didn’t like either of them… I found that I liked Gentleman Jack, while Lynda preferred the original…

After the educational portion of the tour we walked through one of the old barrel rooms…

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After the tour we could return to the Visitor Center.  While you cannot buy whiskey in this county, you can buy souvenir bottles here.  The bottles were filled with some sort of brown liquid…

We walked 1/2 mile into downtown Lynchburg, and enjoyed lunch at Bottle House BBQ:

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We returned to the Villa and drove to Huntsville, Alabama…

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They are building McMansions here, too…

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We parked at an RV park at NASA’s Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville…

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The RV park is very nice.  And cheap!  I wish we had RV parks in California like this for $20 per night…

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For dinner this night we met up with friends we met on the Nor’ by Nor’ East Caravan; they will also be joining us on the Kentucky caravan in a few days…

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Dinner was great!  Pork Belly appetizer and Crawfish Fritters, with a nice bottle of an Oregon Pinot Noir!

And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2019-04-21 – Airstream Caravan Travels – Easter Sunday and moving from Asheville, NC to Chattanooga, TN

We had a leisurely morning.  It was cold!  41 degrees!  We had a little hitching up to do; at about 9:30 we pulled out of the RV park and drove 5 miles into downtown Asheville.  We parked at the Visitor Center (it was closed), and walked towards the First Presbyterian Church.  It is Easter!

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By the time we were approaching the church we noted that we were over one hour early.  And we were cold!  So we stopped into Mayfel’s for brunch.  The Crab Cakes Benedict was great!

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Brunch over, we walked the 3 short blocks to church.  We were none too early.  This is not a “five minute church”.  We always worry when we attend a church as we are traveling that we are sitting in someone’s favorite seat!

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We didn’t take these photos while we were there – I stole them off the internet…

This was a lovely, VERY traditional Easter Service; organ, orchestra, choir, and the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus at the end.  We were invited to join the choir to sing!  (Not just us – everyone was invited…).  It was very nice…

We slipped out after the final singing and walked back to the Villa.  We pointed the truck west and we were off.  Quite a late start for us, but the weather was beautiful, and we had no reason to arrive at our destination (Chattanooga, TN) at any particular time…

The freeway out of Asheville; different than all the other southern states we have seen…

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It was great to see blue sky again!

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We pulled off the 40 Interstate to the 74.  No trucks!  It was a beautiful freeway for awhile…

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And then we entered the Nantahala Gorge… Two lane road, sharp turns, and a raging river!

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We stopped to take it all in…

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Eventually we reached Murphy, NC, where we stopped to do a little grocery shopping…

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Soon we were in Tennessee…

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The small roads continued, with views of rivers and lakes…

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We reached Chattanooga and the Raccoon Mountain RV Park at about 6:00…

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The park is in a canyon, with views of mountains all around…

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Time to affix the sticker for the new state!

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Happy hours and dinner ensued, and an enjoyable time was had by all…

2019-04-20 – Airstream Caravan Travels – Asheville, NC and Biltmore!

Today we went to see the Biltmore Estate, right here in Asheville.  We arrived, parked, and walked about 1/2 mile to the see grand vista over the front lawn:

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This is the largest privately owned house in America.  Yes, it is still owned by the Vanderbilt family, the 5th generation since George Washington Vanderbilt II had the house built between 1889 and 1895.  The house is a Châteauesque-style mansion, and it measures over 178,000 sq. ft.  It is one of the finest examples of mansions of the “Gilded Age”.

We walked down the lane adjacent to the lawn, then stood in line in the biting cold while we waited to be admitted at the appointed hour.  At least we had something interesting to look at…

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In the 1880s, at the height of the Gilded Age, Vanderbilt began to make regular visits to the Asheville area. He loved the scenery and climate so much that he decided to build his own summer house in the area, which he called his “little mountain escape”.  His older brothers and sisters had built luxurious summer houses in places such as Newport, Rhode Island, and Hyde Park, New York.   (See my blogs from the summer of 2017…)  Their father, William Vanderbilt, had died unexpectedly young, so his massive fortune was inherited by his many children while they were in their 30s; they all went on a building spree, spending all this money.  But George Vanderbilt did not get along with many of his siblings, and he was considered a black sheep of the family, so he had no desire to build his house near theirs.  Vanderbilt bought almost 700 parcels of land, including over 50 farms and at least five cemeteries; a portion of the estate was once the community of Shiloh.  A total of 125,000 acres were assembled.  Archives show that much of the land was in very poor condition, and the farmers and other landowners were glad to sell.

Vanderbilt hired Richard Morris Hunt to design the mansion, with Frederick Law Olmstead hired to design the grounds.  Olmstead turned the 8,000 acres directly around the mansion into luxurious parks, woods, meadows, and gardens.  The rest of the land was made into commercial lumber forests.

Construction of the house began in 1889. In order to facilitate such a large project, a woodworking factory and brick kiln, which produced 32,000 bricks a day, were built onsite, and a three-mile railroad spur was constructed to bring materials to the building site.  A separate village (Biltmore Village) was built to house many of the workers and their families and to attend to their daily needs.  A trade school (Biltmore Estate Industries) was opened to train the local youths in making hand-crafted wares.  Biltmore Dairy was built to provide milk, butter and other foods to the newly formed community.  Construction on the main house required the labor of about 1,000 workers, including 60 stone masons.  Vanderbilt went on extensive trips overseas along with Hunt to purchase decor as construction on the house was in progress. He returned to North Carolina with thousands of furnishings for his newly built home including tapestries, carpets, paintings and prints, linens, and decorative objects, all dating between the 15th century and the late 19th century.

George Vanderbilt opened his opulent estate on Christmas Eve of 1895 to invited family and friends from across the country who were encouraged to enjoy leisure and country pursuits.  George married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser in 1898 in Paris, France; their only child, Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt, was born at Biltmore in 1900, and grew up at the estate.

The appointed hour arrived; we were allowed into the house.  They have an excellent audio tour which allowed us explore at our own pace.  Also interesting is the way the tour has been “curated”.  The audio tour makes it seem like the butler has greeted us in the entry hall, and he is going to escort us through the house, introducing us to other house-guests and servants  and showing us the many features of the house.  We are all here for one of the famous house parties, and the gala banquet is tonight.

All the rooms are populated with manikins with clothing recreated to match period photos of the Vanderbilt family. (Yawn)

The house and the family have an interesting history:

The family occupied the house from 1895 and into the early 20th century, living their lavish lifestyle.  Then, in 1914, to combat the impact of the newly imposed income taxes, and the fact that the estate was getting harder to manage economically, Vanderbilt initiated the sale of 87,000 acres to the federal government.  Before the sale was finalized, Vanderbilt unexpectedly died (of complications from an emergency  appendectomy); his widow completed the sale and that property became the nucleus of the Pisgah National Forest.  Still overwhelmed with running such a large estate, Edith Vanderbilt began consolidating her interests and sold several separate businesses that had been established when the house was built: Biltmore Estate Industries in 1917 and Biltmore Village in 1921.  Edith intermittently occupied the house, living in an apartment carved out of the former Bachelors’ Wing, until the marriage of her daughter to John Francis Amherst Cecil in April 1924.  The Cecils went on to have two sons who were also born in the house.

In an attempt to bolster the estate’s financial situation during the Great Depression, Cornelia and her husband opened Biltmore to the public in March, 1930, at the request of the City of Asheville, which hoped the attraction would revitalize the area with tourism.  

After the divorce of the Cecils in 1934, Cornelia left the estate never to return; however, John Cecil maintained his residence in the Bachelors’ Wing until his death in 1954. Their eldest son, George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil, occupied rooms in the wing until 1956. At that point Biltmore House ceased to be a family residence and continued to be operated as a historic house museum.

Their younger son William A. V. Cecil, Sr. returned to the estate in the late 1950s and joined his brother to manage the estate (which was in financial trouble) and make it a profitable and self-sustaining enterprise like his grandfather envisioned.  He eventually inherited the estate upon the death of his mother, Cornelia, in 1976, while his brother, George, inherited the then more profitable Biltmore Dairy, which was split off into Biltmore Farms.  In 1995, while celebrating the 100th anniversary of the estate, Cecil turned over control of the company to his son, William A. V. Cecil, Jr.  After the death of William A. V. Cecil in October 2017 and his wife Mimi Cecil in November, their daughter Dini Pickering began serving as board chair and their son Bill Cecil is CEO.  The Biltmore Company is still privately held.

Today, the estate property is 4,300 acres.  The property is run as an “amusement park” for tourists who love gilded age estates.  There is a hotel and an inn, restaurants, a winery,  several gift shops, a nursery, and every other thing that tourists love.  (No roller coaster.  yet…)  The main house and the views are well protected, but it is clear that they want you to come and stay a week and spend lots of money along the way…

Biltmore has 250 rooms in the house, including 35 bedrooms for family and guests, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, 75 servant bedrooms, three kitchens, and 19th-century novelties such as electric elevators, forced-air heating and cooling, centrally controlled clocks, fire alarms, and a call-bell system.  The principal rooms of the house are located on the ground floor.  The largest room in the house is the Entry Hall.  (Just like my 1905 house in Redlands…)

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(My center table is smaller, with fewer flowers…)

The Winter Garden always seemed like a strange place to me, but I’ve never spent a winter in Asheville, NC.  The skylight is marvelous:

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The Banquet Hall measures 42 feet wide and 72 feet long, with a 70-foot-high barrel-vaulted ceiling. The table can seat 64 guests, overlooking the triple fireplace that spans one end of the hall. On the opposite end of the hall, on the upper level, is an organ gallery that houses a 1916 Skinner pipe organ.

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To the left of the entrance hall is the 90-foot-long Tapestry Gallery, which leads to the Library, featuring three 16th-century tapestries. This room serves little function except as a place to showcase the three tapestries.  We did hear on the tour that the family took tea here in the afternoons…

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The two-story Library contains over 10,000 volumes in eight languages, reflecting George Vanderbilt’s broad interests in classic literature as well as art, history, architecture, and gardening.  The second-floor balcony is accessed by an ornate walnut spiral staircase, and the balcony includes a passage behind the fireplace.

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The second floor of the house is accessed by the cantilevered Grand Staircase of 107 steps spiraling around a four-story, wrought-iron chandelier holding 72 light bulbs.  The Second Floor Living Hall is an extension of the grand staircase as a formal hall and portrait gallery.  Located nearby in the south tower is George Vanderbilt’s gilded bedroom with furniture designed by Hunt.  His bedroom connects to his wife’s Louis XV-style, oval-shaped bedroom in the north tower through a Jacobean carved oak paneled sitting room with an intricate ceiling.

The remainder of the second floor contains various elaborate bedroom suites for family and close family friends and other honored guests.

The third floor has many guest rooms for couples, families, and single women, each given names that describe the furnishing or artist with which they were decorated.  The rooms all have connecting doors so that they can be configured into suites as needed…

The fourth floor has more than 20 bedrooms that were inhabited by housemaids, laundresses, and other female servants.  Also included on the fourth floor is an Observatory with a circular staircase that leads to a wrought iron balcony with doorways to the rooftop where Vanderbilt could view his estate.  Male servants were not housed here, however, but instead resided in 40+ bedrooms above the stable complex.

The guest rooms for bachelors were on the second and third floors on the opposite end of the house, adjacent to the service courtyard and stables complex.  It contains the Billiard Room, which is equipped with both a custom-made pool table and a carom table (table without pockets).  The room was mainly frequented by men, but ladies were welcome to enter as well.  Secret door panels on either side of the fireplace led to the private quarters of the Bachelors’ Wing, where female guests and staff members were not allowed.  The wing includes the Smoking Room, which was fashionable for country houses, and the Gun Room, which held mounted trophies and displayed George Vanderbilt’s gun collection.

The basement level featured activity rooms including an indoor 70,000-gallon heated swimming pool with underwater lighting, a bowling alley, and a gymnasium with once state-of-the-art fitness equipment.  The service hub of the house is also found in the basement; it contains the main kitchen, pastry kitchen, rotisserie kitchen, several walk-in pantries, walk-in refrigerators, the servants’ dining hall, laundry rooms and additional bedrooms for staff.  The sub-basement contains the heating and air conditioning systems, giant water heaters, and massive storage rooms.

So after two hours of fun we returned to the truck… We did get to drive through the entrance court and the formal gates…

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Unfortunately, due to the severe rains, a few of the estate roads were closed, and their signs pointing us to the exit were faulty.  But after driving around in circles for 45 minutes we made our way out.  The views along the way were pure North Carolina:

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I had been to Biltmore many years ago, on a tour given via the AIA convention.  We had the regular tour, then a special tour just for us architects, where we saw the attic and roof structure, the servants rooms, several un-restored guest rooms, the bachelor quest quarters, and even the sub-basement.  After the tours we were given free access to return to any of these spaces for the rest of the day.  It was marvelous…

None of the gaudy details and goo-gaas impress me (that’s why I am not posting hundreds of photos of every room…); what interests me the most is the incredibly complicated program that Hunt and Vanderbilt worked out.  Remember, Vanderbilt was not even married when the house was designed and built.  The complexity of the separate areas for family and guests, male and female servants, separate circulation hallways and stairs so that the servants could move about the house relatively inconspicuously – all this is so very complicated in a house of this size.  I love this stuff!

The plantation Big Houses were nice to look at, but they were only 3, 6, or 8 rooms to a floor, with no bathrooms, no servants quarters, no kitchens, no mechanical systems – just simple boxes.  The complexity of  a great house like Biltmore, with 250 rooms and multiple stairs and circulation spaces… Wow!  It was great fun to see…

We returned to the Villa in the rain, and had a relaxing afternoon and evening.

And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2019-04-19 – Airstream Caravan Travels – Columbia, SC to Asheville, NC…

We had a little unexpected excitement this morning when I went out to start to prepare to hitch up:

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The rear window/hatch of my camper shell had shattered.  There were no signs of foul play, no rocks, nothing missing out of the truck.  The most valuable thing in the truck are extra bottles of bourbon, and they were all fine.

The nearest SnugTop dealer is in Oklahoma City – we will not be getting this replaced any time soon…

But we had plastic sheeting and duct tape; a few minutes later, with a lot of help from the VanZanens, we are ready to go:

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We are driving today from Columbia, SC to Asheville, NC.  This is somewhat northwest, and it is a fine interstate highway all the way.  Frankly, I’m getting a little bored with these interstates here in the south – they look like they just cut a giant swath through hundreds of miles of forest; and they all look alike – like this:

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In any case, we were traveling along all nice and comfortable and some time around noon, somewhere south of Spartanburg, it started to rain.  Hard.  Very hard!

But the roads were good and the traffic kept moving most of the time.  Eventually we came to the North Carolina border:  (Trust me on this…)

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By 3:00 pm or so we had arrived in Asheville; we backed into our spot, hooked up electricity, and huddled inside while the rain pounded on the roof and the skylights…

Finally around 5:00 pm the rain started to slow a bit; We checked out the RV park, and bought some coax cable so we could reach the cable connection…

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We added one more sticker…

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The vistas around the park are lovely.  This is the first time we have been in hills and mountains…  (Sunday we will drive through the Great Smokies!)

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The cherry trees and the dogwood trees are in bloom, although the rain has washed off all the cherry blossoms onto the ground…

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Happy hours and dinner of several days’ worth of left-overs ensued.

And an enjoyable time was had by all…

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