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Adventures in the Villa

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Airstream Club

2022-11-03 to 22-11-07 Borrego Springs, CA, and home to Redlands, CA…

We are attending the regular November Rally of the Airstream Club. All day Thursday and Friday the Airstreams pulled in to the RV park and we soon had about 35 rigs attending…

This is a nice park, with concrete pads and the weather is beautiful. Only downside is that this tree totally blocked my satellite dish, so I had to connect to park cable; this is always sub-optimal…

Mornings typically start with coffee provided by the rally host. mid-day we walked, chatted with neighbors, read, and, on Saturday, watched College Football!

Evenings found us gathered in the Rec Room for Happy Hours or Dinner…

But Monday eventually came, and we headed home…

It’s about 60 miles of driving through the desert still before we get back to civilization…

We arrived at the RV storage lot in Mentone Beach, parked the Airstream, loaded all our stuff into the truck and drove home to Redlands, where we unloaded all our stuff into the house…

After greeting our son and the dog the first thing I wanted to see was the wine cellar… The past 7 weeks were the busiest delivery season for the wine industry. Sixteen boxes awaited me. (and 7 more boxes arrived in the next 3 days…)

So we are home. 51 days and 5,700 miles…

An enjoyable time was had by all…

Next adventure: San Clemente State Beach, December 1-6…

2022-10-26 Mountain View, Missouri – Final Day of the Caravan

We set out this morning for a long drive to tour the Timber Charcoal Plant…

We see lots of industry and businesses alongside the road on our travels, and we rarely know what they are…

This is the Timber Charcoal Plant…

It has rained for the past 24 hours, and the sawdust covered dirt parking lot stuck to my truck’s tires…

The plant uses waste product from lumber mills. This is wood recently brought in from a mill that makes pallets, so all the scraps are about four feet long. It is all hardwood, usually oak, pecan, hickory…

Our tour was led by the owner, the third generation of his family owning this plant. His nephew works here, making it a 4th generation operation. He mentioned many times how they are not getting rich owning the plant, but all the employees have full health care, retirement plans, and good pay. They set production goals for the week (40 hours of work) and generally they finish by noon on Friday; they all get paid for their 40 hours, and they get to go home early…

When he was asked if his children will take over for him, he equivocated… I got the impression that he wants better things (college, profession) for his children, but he was still proud of what he has accomplished here…

These funny concrete and stucco buildings are the kilns. They burn the wood at about 260 degrees F. This places tremendous stress on the concrete and steel structure…

These giant pipes are part of the air cleaning system. They exhaust the smoke from the kilns and send it to be cleaned, so that air pollution is greatly reduced…

The kiln on the left is under construction – you can see the wood formwork for the concrete…

The roofs of the kilns are reinforced concrete, but the intense heat cracks the concrete and the roof will collapse. Therefore they build a steel exoskeleton atop the kiln to hold up the roof…

Here you can see the rows of kilns with their steel doors…

This kiln is being loaded with wood. The bundles are left with their steel straps on…

The wood will be stacked wall to wall and floor to ceiling…

This is a close-up of the steel door jamb, totally warped by the heat…

Another kiln under construction, steel door frame in place…

This what a fully loaded kiln looks like after it has been burned and cooled. It is about 25% of the original volume.

This plant produced high quality chunk charcoal; sizes will vary… (charcoal briquets use lesser quality charcoal that is mixed with water, paste, and sawdust, then formed into cute little uniform size briquets…) This piece of charcoal is almost 100% carbon…

This shows the steel ceiling supports of the steel exoskeleton above… warped from the heat, but still capable of holding up the roof…

Everything – equipment, buildings, people – are covered with soot… (no photographs of people allowed…)

The finished product, ready to be bagged. Smaller pieces are screened out, larger pieces are broken up…

The charcoal is bagged and the bags are put on pallets. They sell their product to many different resellers, so all the bags are proprietary, and the plant name is not mentioned. That way each brand can claim they are the best, and no one knows that it all comes from the same plant…

Their charcoal is sold to serious home BBQers, competitive BBQers, and professionals, such as BBQ restaurants…

We dusted the soot off our shoes and headed back to the campground…

We stopped for lunch in the town of Eminence…

We had a typical Ozarks lunch with another of our caravan friends…

We relaxed for the rest of the day. Tonight is the Final Banquet of the caravan, held at the campground clubhouse (or Pickin’ Shed, as they call it here in the South…).

The clubhouse is about 1000 yards from most of the Airstreams. Most caravaners chose to drive…

Once inside we had a little entertainment, then our final caravan meal, a nice catered affair…

Then more entertainment… This Final Banquet is a longstanding caravan tradition. In the olden days people dressed up in dinner jackets and formal dresses. We are much more casual today. This is all planned by a committee of caravan volunteers…

After much celebrating we returned to the Villa and an enjoyable time was had by all…

We returned to the Villa. End of Caravan – we depart at 0 dark 30 tomorrow, heading for Texarkana, TX. An enjoyable time was had by all…

2022-10-25 Mountain View, Missouri

We traveled back to Mountain Grove to visit the Missouri State Fruit Experimentation Station…

They were ready to welcome us!

This place is what it says it is: they do research into many types of fruits…

So they showed us the fruit of their vines…

We had a lovely tasting of their wines…

After the tasting we toured the winery…

Not exactly a large facility. But, after all, they are just doing research…

Next stop: The wine store… We exercised great restraint…

Next door is a small brewery.

We all had lunch there. It is sort of a hobby brewery: family run, only open on occasion. Today they served us tacos. Not really Mexican food; just Missouri food (beef, cheese, tomatoes) served in a tortilla… Taco sauce served on the side…

We returned to the campground. We enjoyed Happy Hours together…

And then we had a little entertainment…

This was a local group that had spent some time in Hollywood recording their music, mostly for movie soundtracks… But they live here now, playing these types of gigs…

On a side note:

This electric organ is in the clubhouse. These hymn books are properly placed. One might think they hold church services here now and again; however, when I picked up one of the books it was almost stuck to the rack, and it clearly had never been used, or even opened before… Apparently, they’re just props.

So we returned to the Villa. An enjoyable time was had by all…

2022-10-24 Mountain View, Missouri

After the two-day cold snap we had about a week ago the foliage colors have definitely changed…

After a quiet morning we gathered our chairs to watch Mule Jumping…

Meet the mule: Pedro…

Here he jumps…

He is a champion in Missouri – he has jumped 60″!

He only made it to 56″ today. He really likes the roar of the crowd, and he is very proud of himself when he makes a high jump…

After all the excitement of the jumping mule we had a rest in the Villa. Tonight is dinner at the Viadel Winery, the same place we had lunch yesterday…

The winery is normally closed on Monday, so we had the place to ourselves…

The meal consisted of Bruschetta salad, Lasagna, Pizza (see our comments from yesterday…), and garlic-buttered breadsticks, which are made from their pizza dough that I so enjoyed yesterday…

The vineyards are still looking good…

We managed to get one last picture of the caravan group…

We returned to the Villa. An enjoyable time was had by all…

2022-10-23 Mountain View, Missouri

Mostly free day today… We drove 4 miles down the road and had lunch at Viandel Vineyards…

They opened at 11:00 am and we were there… Its a rather rustic place…

Of course, I couldn’t help but notice the absolutely useless and non-compliant disabled access parking and ramp…

All of their wine is made from grapes grown on the property…

We had a nice table outside. It was a little cool, but nice nevertheless…

We tasted six of their wines – two dry (one red, one white) four sweet – Grape, Blueberry, Blackberry, Apple. The sweet wines were made from Muscato grapes, infused with the fruit flavors, but no added sugar. They tasted like I would like to pour them over ice and add some 7-Up on a hot day… The dry wines were from grapes unknown to me. We ordered a very nice fresh bruschetta to enjoy with the tasting. Then we ordered glasses of the red wine and two of their small artisanal wood-fired pizzas. It was great lunch. We will come back here with the entire caravan tomorrow night for dinner…

We returned to the Villa. We are seeing some mild autumnal colors all around us…

An enjoyable time was had by all…

2022-10-22 Mountain View, Missouri

Fun day today! We drove a few miles south to the town of West Plains, and stopped into the Presbyterian Church…

We weren’t here for a church service; the church offers its facilities to community groups for various things…

Our time here started with lunch. We (there are 57 of us…) were fed Thanksgiving Dinner by a local Amish family. There is a Amish community of about 20 family is West Plains and the surrounding area. This family of eight (including six kids) prepared and served Turkey, stuffing, beans and corn, potatoes and gravy, salad, fresh rolls, and pie for dessert…

It was lovely…

We then heard from a local historian about the Ozarks culture and history in this area… This bearded man in the next photo was the originator of this caravan, and his family has been here since the early 1800s; they left Tennessee when it got to be too crowded: They had seen a human footprint down by the creek that was not part of the family… He is a retired Judge…

We migrated to the church sanctuary, where the local high school choir was assembling…

This group is all seniors, and some of the best singers in the 100 person choir…

The best part? They sang all showtunes! South Pacific!, My Fair Lady! Who could ask for anything more?

They were great and it was lots of fun to hear them. I hope these experiences give these kids a leg up as they leave school and grow into productive citizens…

As we left the church we enjoyed the historic downtown, although most of the businesses have all moved into strip centers along the highway that bypasses the town…

Our evening was free… Happy Hours and sunset ensued…

An enjoyable time was had by all…

2022-10-21 Traveling from Mountain Grove, MO, to Mountain View, Missouri

Travel days all start the same. People hitching up, catered breakfast in the clubhouse, then the Drivers Meeting…

And then we hit the road…

Within 30 minutes we had all arrived at the campground on the outskirts of Mountain View, MO.

Happy Hours and Pizza Dinner topped off the evening, and a little Bourbon tasting might have happened…

As the sun set we returned to the Villa…

And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2022-10-20 Mountain Grove, Missouri

Quiet Morning…

Then we drove about 20 miles south. Over dirt and gravel roads, and fording raging rivers…

We finally found the Topaz Mill, built 1895.

Buried deep in the hills of Douglas County is a nearly nonexistent town called Topaz. Serene scenery and a gushing spring say you’ve arrived, after traveling a crunchy gravel road. Perhaps some of those same stones carried locals who, in the past, brought their wheat to be ground at the town’s mill. 

Nowadays, things are much different.  Instead of finding dry goods or flour, getting a haircut or posting a letter, as local folks once did, visitors find something else. They discover a picture of the past. Because the town’s former general store, barbershop, and mill have been preserved and show a way of life once common – but now long gone – in the Ozarks.  

Today, Joe Bob O’Neal and his wife, Betsy, are the caretakers of Topaz and live on the property. They eagerly share their unique destination with the world, giving tours and time to anyone who wants to come learn.

The area’s first mill was built around 1840, but Joe Bob shares that its modern history actually goes back much deeper, and ties to Henry Schoolcraft.

“In 1818, 1819, Henry Schoolcraft and Levi Pettibone were the first travelers to document their travels through this part of the country,” shares Joe Bobl. “On Nov. 20, 1818, according to their diaries … he came across a spring that was mammoth size and it flowed out of a rock ledge and ran about 200 yards and ran into the river, and doubled the size of the river. Everybody says that was Topaz spring.”

The first mill at Topaz was thought to have been built around 1840. No one knows for sure what happened to that one, but it was only the first phase of the community, which evolved greatly in the late 19th century. In the early 1890s, the post office was commissioned, and in 1895, the current mill was built.

Unlocking its door today unlocks a whole new world – but really, one that’s old.

“The equipment that’s in this mill, with which to make flour, came from Great Western Manufacturing in Leavenworth, Kansas,” says Joe Bob. “I have the receipt here for when this equipment was bought, dated May 2, 1903. I’ve had people tell me this is the most valuable piece in the whole building because they’ve never seen anything like this.”

In addition to the original mill equipment, a black and white barber chair sits and waits for customers who will never come. On the wall, faded lettering still advertises haircuts and tonics for a quarter and a dime apiece. Outside, the spring roars.

Joe Bob shares the relevance and role of the mill and town years ago, which history shows was likely a hub in the area. It was likely quite populated in the past. However, time was not kind to Topaz, and by the 1940s, the town had nearly disappeared. One of the last remnants at that time was the store. Part of that was in response to changing times, ease of travel and less need for the community’s amenities.

In the 1950s, Joe Bob’s family purchased the mill. His grandparents and aunt and uncle were dairy farmers near Republic, and were in need of a good water source during a time of drought. They discovered the property, and moved to Douglas County. An interesting fact: Joe Bob’s grandfather actually worked in mills, similar to the one at Topaz, when he was a young adult.

“I didn’t realize this until just recently, but he would’ve know everything about this mill because he would have used it,” says Joe Bob.

Maybe it was the personal connection to milling. But whatever the reason, the O’Neals opted to keep the old store and mill around. Eventually, restoration happened and over the years, visitors began stopping by.

“My uncle, if he was around here, and somebody came looking for the place, he’d stop what he was doing and give them a tour just like I do,” says Joe Bob.

Growing up, Joe Bob spent summers at Topaz. In 2013, he and Betsy moved there from Kansas City.

Today, the O’Neals welcome visitors to Topaz, and give tours so others can learn from the store and mill.

The fact that the mill equipment is all intact is amazing…

The mill pond is fed by a 10 million gallon per day spring… Water runs down these concrete sluices (built in 1992 to replace the rotting wooden sluices), and feeds the mills turbine. Yep – a turbine. No silly water wheel here!

Where the water fills the shaft and drives the turbine…

This is just like the turbine that drives the mill. Joe Bob saws it been here at least since the late 1940s, and he doesn’t know why…

Joe Bob gave us the history of the place. One of the reasons the town died, and the reason towns like this died all over the country, was that the homestead act that gave settlers the rights to settle here allotted each farmer 40 acres. That could support a family in the mid-1800s. But as farming methods and equipment improved, some farmers bought their neighbors’ parcels and many farmers sold out and left. So instead of having ten families per 400 acres you now have maybe two or three… Huge population drop…

Inside, Joe Bob explained what each piece of equipment was and how it works.

As built, the mill could process corn meal and refined flour. All Joe Bob does today is make cornmeal about once or twice per month… The refined flour making process is extremely complex, so he doesn’t bother…

We returned via a different route – no rivers to ford…

That evening we were treated to musicians playing bluegrass music…

We returned to the Villa; an enjoyable time was had by all…

2022-10-19 Mountain Grove, MO

Today we visit a unique business: Seeds…

From the website:

“At Baker Creek, our mission is to provide the seeds of a sustainable food supply for everyone and keep heirloom varieties alive for future generations. We believe that farmers, gardeners and communities have the right to save their own seed, and in so doing preserve seed diversity and food security in an age of corporate agriculture and patented, hybridized or genetically modified seeds. All the seeds we sell can be saved, shared and traded, and we encourage people to save their own seed.

“Charitable giving is a foundation of our business. Working with non-profit organizations, a significant portion of our annual profits goes toward providing food, emergency aid, sustainable development and education to people in the U.S. and abroad. We also provide free seeds to hundreds of community and educational groups each year, because we believe that everyone should have access to nutrient-dense, delicious food, season after season.”

Founder Jere Gettle started Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. in 1998 as a hobby; it has since grown into North America’s largest heirloom seed company.

Baker Creek offers one of the largest selections of 19th century heirloom seeds from Europe and Asia, and our catalogs now feature about 1,000 stunning heirloom varieties.

The headquarters is in Mansfield, Missouri, and it includes trial gardens, greenhouses, a pioneer village and a seed store, all on the homestead where Jere started the business as a teenager. We also operate a seed store in Petaluma, Ca.

It’s about a half hour drive to Baker Creek…

We have arrived…

There are all these old buildings, some utilitarian, some used for their festivals…

They offer Vegan lunches in the restaurant…

This shows you how cold it was (and is today) here…

The seed store…

We learned the history and story of Baker Seed…

Since this entire enterprise is all about plants we all enjoyed a vegan lunch together – it was quite good… So good that I didn’t take any pictures…

But we did take a group photo to sum up our caravan…

After the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company we drove a short distance to the other side of Mansfield, to another old time location…

This is the farm house that Laura and Almanzo built, at the farm they called “Rocky Ridge”…

The house was built over a period of about 30 years, so it is quite a hodge-podge of rooms and features…

But there is another house on Rocky Ridge… We walked along a lovely path for about 3/4 mile to the Rock House…

Their daughter, Rose, a very successful writer and journalist, bought a kit house from the Sears catalog and had it built here, so that her parents could live in a modern house… Laura and Almanzo lived here about seven years; they preferred the old farmhouse, so they moved back… In later years, Rose bought them a house in town so they would be closer to services in their old age. They didn’t like that either… They moved back to the farm house…

We walked back to the Museum and enjoyed looking through the memorabilia… Pa’s fiddle is here, some of Mary’s Braille books are here… (If you don’t know the “Little House” books, none of this makes sense… Sorry…)

After this day of exhibits we returned to the Villa. Happy hours ensued, followed by an Ice Cream Social.

An enjoyable time was had by all…

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