Stories from the e-mail file.  For a number of years I would send out e-mails to family members, mostly about growing up in Wynnewood, Oklahoma and some about living in Alaska, others are political comments, religious comments etc.  Most are of no redeeming social value what so ever.

1.  Wynnewood Cotton Gins

2.  Security

3.  Getting Smarter

4.  Good Saturday

5.  Another Week

6.  Dry Spell Over

7.  Swamp News

8.  Monday Morning

9.  Early Morning

10.  North Country

11.  Installing gauges in truck

12.  Alaska Trip Recommendations

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Beep, beep.  This e-mail contains nothing of any value. beep, beep (remember the sound the trucks make backing up) Warning
 
  Fall was in the air, the ground was white as were the leaves of the many large trees growing in Wynnewood, Oklahoma.  The window and door screens at the house were white and everything in sight was like wise coated with the new white layer.  Snow?  Not quite, just the fuzz and lint emitted by the numerous large cotton gins in town.  It was September and the cotton crop was being harvested.
  Growing up in the Cultural Capital of the USA, at times I wasn't sure that when I died, did I want to go to heaven or just return to Wynnewood.  It was just that kind of a place to be a kid, just like Huck Finn growing up in Hannibal Missouri.  Only thing was the Washita River (pronounced Wah sha taw) was several miles from town, normally, and required a bike ride to reach it.
  Every time I visit Wynnewood, which is seldom anymore, I wonder where they gin all the cotton we wear today.  Not too many cotton farmers remaining in the area.  Cotton, if you have never been around it much, is very hard on the soil.  Long growing season and badly depletes the nutrients from the dirt.  It tends to be very labor intensive or very costly to use the modern machinery to harvest and transport the cotton bolls to some location to be ginned into a usable product.  Would have to suspect most of our cotton comes from some other country these days.  When we are in Mexico, especially where irrigation is available, we see large fields of cotton growing.  Cheap labor is the key to profitable cotton farming.
  Dealing with some recent health problems has gotten me thinking about growing up in Oklahoma and does that effect my health now?  I remember that we used to go with the idea that if something didn't kill you within 15 minutes, it was probably safe to use and be around breathing the fumes, etc.  This was the philosophy we followed on breathing the air containing the cotton lint, the fumes from the large oil refinery in Wynnewood, the poisons and other chemicals we used on the farms and around the house.
  I know that Pat's mother, Vi, has said on several occasions that she feels Jess's using chemicals around the camps where they worked was what caused the onset of his Parkinson's disease.  From what I have read she could very well be correct.
  Even though I know it will never happen it would be of interest to me and I am sure others for some one to do a study of the health of people living in Wynnewood.  As I think back to the problems some of my buddies I grew up with have had, David had a heart attack at age 20, Leonard had to have a bypass surgery at age 45, Jimmy died of cancer at age 16, Johnny died of Parkinson's or MS at age 24, and on down the list of names.  The one thing most of these guys had in common, other than running around with me and each other was where they lived in Wynnewood.  Wynnewood is built on a hill rising up from the Washita River Valley, the hill running generally north to south and probably a total rise of a hundred feet give or take.  The prevailing winds in the area are out of the south in the summer and out of the north in the winter.  Because the refinery was located on the southwest corner of town most of the fumes released in the refining of petroleum products stayed on the west side of the hill and moved to either the south of town or the north.  We lived on the east side of town and believe me the fumes got terrible there sometimes also.  But all of my friends mentioned above lived on the west side of town or north or south of town on that side getting the constant blast of chemical fumes.
 
  Many times I remember Dad saying that it smelled like money to him.  The refinery fueled the economy of the area so no one ever said anything that I ever heard.  After farming died in the area as the main source of income for most people, the refinery was seen as a gift from God.  Still is to most of the folks living there.
  There is no doubt in my mind that the refinery plays a big roll in the health of the local population but it is a slow change and easy to ignore.  In this, Wynnewood is no different than other towns in the US or around the world for that matter.  Mexico City, with an estimated 26 million people is a perfect example of pollution at its finest.  Great city, better yet a grand city but you need to take your own air with you when you visit.
 
  As a kid I am sure I went to school more than I remember doing.  We got out of school everyday at 4:00 and I was free to run and jump most days till 6:30 when supper was served at the house.  Dad ran the auto parts store till 6:00 and Mom would have supper on the table when he walked in the door. (just like I do for Patti now)  On the weekends after the chores were done or church was over, I was again free to find my own entertainment.  Most evenings when the weather was nice, after the dishes were removed from the table for Mom and sister Barbara to wash (women's work in those days)(ah, the good old days) I was free to leave home to be with my friends.  We would usually find something to do, being it kick the can around town, liberating watermelons from trucks on the way through Wynnewood, hanging out trying to look cool at the local RexAll Drug store, and hundreds of other diversions of life.
  We had seasonal activities also, sledding if we got a snow that winter, attending sporting events at the high school, bike riding around the area, going hunting or fishing on our bikes or going down to the cotton gins to play.  Back before legal liabilities became such a big thing, no one seemed to mind us being in the buildings and around the place.  Just "don't break anything" was the usual admonishment from some employee.  Just watching all the cotton wagons lining up to unload was a pleasant event at times.  Trucks and tractors would be line up for seemingly miles down the road waiting their turn.  Some of the farmers would get bored and would let us kids drive their trucks and tractors in line while they went somewhere to relax.  I would guess I was 8 or 10 years old when I first got to drive in the line.  Many of the black farmers would bring their cotton in with horse or mule drawn wagons.  They would let us kids hop on with them and visit.  The wagons were unloaded with a giant vacuum cleaner like machine.  A large flexible hose, two feet across, was lowered into the wagon and the cotton was sucked out into the main gin building.  Sometimes we kids were allowed to get down in the cotton wagons and direct the suction hose around.  (I think these workers may have read the story of Tom Sawyer and white washing the fence)  During the season they ran day and night seven days a week.  When we got bored we could always go hang out at the gin. (kids of today just think they know how to have a good time)
 
  The cotton storage buildings were huge, most approximately the size of a football field, some with railroad tracks running through the center  and out the other end to the next building.  My guesstimate of the number of these building there in Wynnewood would be around 50 give or take back in the late 40s or early 50s.  If the weather was bad these buildings were great places to play football, softball, bike ride, have rock fights, etc.  But as the soil in the area was depleted and the price of cotton fell due to the increase in synthetic materials like rayon and nylon, the building were not maintained and soon started to fall apart.  They were so wide that it didn't take much deterioration of the roof rafters for the building to collapse.  The last time I was in Wynnewood, there was either one or two of the old building remaining and they are on their last legs of standing.
  A cotton bale weighs approximately 2,000 pounds.  They would be stored until the gin could sell them and then they were loaded on railroad flat bed cars and shipped out.  The gins had specialized equipment for moving the bales and loading them on the rail cars.  Many used tractors with long "gin" poles sticking out the front with a winch cable to lift the bales.  At the end of the winch was a large claw that the operator would drop down onto the bale and it would grab the bale and he could then pick it up and move it.  Some of the operators would let us kids help place the claw on the top of the bale and then ride on the bale as he moved it. (hanging on for dear life as the bale swung on the end of the cable.)  Then once it was placed on the rail car we would unhook the claw and the operator would head back to the storage building for another.  We would have to run back.  Great fun.  Suspect this activity may have been the main reason for the formation of OSHA and its safety standards of today.  This and child labor laws.  Some of the operators would give us a nickel (enough to buy a soda with) or a free chew of tobacco.  Even though it made me throw up every time for years I kept at it until I could chew and spit with the best of them. 
 
take care
joe b. (getting old and the good old days are upon him)

 

2.  Security


  It is impossible to watch TV or read the newspaper without being bombarded with information about security.  Since September 11, it has been a much talked about subject.  I just hope more is being done about the subject than just talk or making surface changes.  To listen to the man that used to be head of security at the airport in Tel Aviv that now works as a consultant for Logan Airport in Boston, we haven't made many meaningful changes.  His general comments are that the USA likes to talk tough about making meaningful changes to airport security but doesn't want to offend the traveling voters using the airport services.  Remember the main job of our elected officials is to get reelected and to keep their plush positions.  As actor, movie producer, Mel Brooks said in one of his movies, "It is good to be the King."  Think maybe that line came from the History of the World, Part 1.
  Security has always been around.  It has just never effected so many Americans before this time.  I remember the first time I ran into it in a way that stuck with me.  This was in 1961 when I was starting my sophomore year at college in Ada Oklahoma. (35 miles away from the cultural capital of Wynnewood)  That year the college had 9 new students from Panama.  These were the first and only foreign nationals at East Central State while I was there.  What struck me as odd was seeing for the first time, young people accompanied everywhere they went by armed bodyguards.  I had classes with several of this students.  The bodyguards would walk them to the classroom door, would take a quick look inside, the student would then enter and the guards would remain outside the door until the class was over.  Out of class these 9 kept to themselves and I never saw them on campus other than for class.  Never did know why they needed such protection and from whom.
 
  When I attended USC in Los Angles, the situation was the same except it involved Iranian students arriving in limousines, guarded by Iranian bodyguards.  I got to know some of them and most indicated some kinship to the then ruler of Iran, the Shah.
 
  In Ouray while affiliated with the sheriff's department, we would rent out ourselves as personal security consultants. (bodyguards)  You were expected to be available instantly but yet not be obvious.  It paid extremely well and at one point in time I entertained the thought of doing it full time.  There is a school in the Aspen area that is a bodyguard training facility.  Privately run and very expensive.  Tends to serve as an employment agency at the same time.  If you want to work for the rich and famous that visit Colorado, then it helps to have graduated from that school.  Some of the newly rich and famous folks that wanted an obvious bodyguard would request that we show up in uniform.  As deputies we all automatically had concealed weapons permits by law and could carry class 1 weapons. (full automatics)  The really rich (old money) wanted you to blend into the woodwork when you worked for them.  They also required you to sign a secrecy agreement that you would never discuss working for them or who you saw or what you heard said.  At one of the big wedding a number of us deputies worked as security, perhaps at times we got a little carried away.  We were instructed to make sure no one but invited guests were allowed on the owner's property.  In addition to checking guests arriving by car, we also had to check those arriving by helicopters.  The father of the bride had chartered most of the helicopters in Colorado for the day to ferry guests from the Montrose airport directly to the ranch where the wedding was taking place.  It was fun to require some of the rich and famous to fork over identification to prove they went with the invitation.  I think more of the well known country western singers use their real birth names than do the well known movie actors. 
 
  Some of these folks made some sputt about being required to show ID.  "Don't you know who I am"? was a regular quote from some.  My standard reply was,"I'm not interested in who you look like, I want to know who you are."  You have to keep in mind I am the same person that didn't know who the movie producer Oliver Stone was when I met him at the Ridgway rodeo.  I can mention his name since I wasn't working for him that day.  The ultimate country bumpkin must come to his mind if he ever thinks about that day.
 
  Anyway security has expanded in this country from an individual need to a collective need of all of us after September 11.  The above all came to mind last night when I heard Dan Rather read that the Bush administration had announced that all National Guard troops would be pulled out of all airports on March 27th.  Strikes me there would only be three groups that would consider that issue important, terrorists, guard personnel and the airports.  Did that really need to be announced on national TV?
 
  I remember how after the 100 days war with Iraq, it was revealed that Iraq got much of their military recon information from watching CNN news.  Also much of their communications from military commanders in Baghdad to the field troops were carried over US phone lines and satellites.  Of course the commanders had to pay long distance charges to the US phone companies so I guess it worked out OK. 
 
  Sometimes I truly believe that the book by Joseph Heller, Catch 22 wasn't such a farce as I first thought when I read it 30 or 40 years ago.  In addition to a lot of loony nonsense in the book, the gist of it was that a group had formed a private army, fully equipped that countries could hire to fight wars for them.  Sometimes two rival countries would both hire this private army and the army would then fight themselves.  We are not far from that scenario right now in Afghanistan.  The USA paid for and designed the cave systems that the Taliban are using to hide and gave them many of the weapons they are using to fire at American troops and our allies.  By helping them run the Soviets out of Afghanistan, we allowed them to capture many Soviet weapons also.  Of course, parts are not easy to come by on old Russian weapons.  You can bet the missile that brought down the US helicopter, killing seven Americans, wasn't designed or built in Afghanistan.  Most of the Afghans on both sides of the conflict are equipped with rifles designed by the Soviet designer Anatole (?) Kalashnikov (sp), rifle version 47, better know as an AK 47.  (AutoKalashnikov)  When first issued to Soviet troops, this marked the first time all foot soldiers in a major army were given fully automatic rifles. Widely thought to be the finest combat shoulder arm ever devised.  To borrow the slogan of Timex, the AK 47 will take a licking and keep on ticking.
take care
joe b., feeling secure (at least here in my house)

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3.  Getting Smarter

As I have mentioned on several occasions before, as a kid growing up I had this idea that I would get smarter as I got older.  Seemed to me as a kid the grown ups had all the answers or at least they claimed they did.  Forget now how many times I had to write, "The word of the Wise is sufficient."  Even while writing this a zillion times I wondered who got to decide who was wise?  Guess my teacher that made me write it was the one that would decide.  Sometimes I think that my "smarts" reached their zenith in my mid 30s.  Been downhill ever since.  A few items I may be better at but not many.
 
  Just this morning, for example, I decided to change out a couple of the kitchen electrical outlets.  Added or replaced outlets 100s of times in my life time.  First go to Home Depot and buy the outlets.  Bring same home.  Plug a light into the outlet to be replaced and turn on.  Go out to the breaker box, locate the one that says "kitchen outlets", and turn it off.  Return to kitchen and verify that the light has gone out.  It is now safe to work on replacing the outlets.  Change the first one, all goes well.  Move tools to the second outlet, remove cover plate, grab old outlet and pull it out of box, quickly recognize that tingling sensation and pain running up your arm, turn loose of outlet and wildly shake arm into the air all the time dancing around the kitchen yelling loudly.  Calm down and go find the cat, Elliott, that was a witness to the show.  Convince Elliott that it is OK to come back into the kitchen.  Return to breaker box and find second breaker that controls some of the kitchen outlets.  Replace outlet.
 
  I do have a good excuse though, don't we always.  My electrical test meter is at the house in Stuart.  Actually have two but haven't seen my good one  in years so have to assume it is in storage in Colorado.  Remember one time my father in law, Jess, told me that he had used power tools for 40 years before he managed to cut the end of his thumb off with a radial saw.  While hanging the outside Christmas lights over the weekend, I was driving a nail into the eve and turned to say something to Pat.  Not at all a good move.  It has been at least 10 to 15 years since I have had such a black thumb nail.  I had forgotten how important my left thumb is to me in doing lots of stuff.  Couple of more days and it should be recovered enough to use it some.
 
  December is certainly one of the better months for me.  I love the Christmas season though I admit I don't do as well with the weather so balmy.  Don't remember ever having a white Christmas while growing up in the cultural capital of America, Wynnewood Oklahoma.  After 35 years of snow on the ground in Alaska and in Colorado, I miss not having any.  Have you ever heard a Christmas song about sand and sunshine?  No they are all about snow and winter time.  Ouray had by far the best Christmas snows.  Sometimes it seemed that the flakes were so large you could almost hear them hit the ground.  Plus it was warm enough to go outside and enjoy.  (see how I have already forgotten the drudgery of shoveling the white stuff)
 
  Now that December has rolled around again it is time for me to start considering my choices for new years resolutions.  This is one of those times it is so good to be me.  The only hard part is deciding which of the many areas I want to work on improving.  Plus I get to decide myself.  Suspect Pat might pick a totally different set of resolutions I should be considering. 
 
  Perhaps as a family we should start a new tradition.  Sort of like exchanging gifts, except we could exchange resolutions.  We could draw names and then that person would receive, anonymously I should add, five resolutions of needed improvements.  This was probably already tried by the Hatfields and the McCoys.  Bad idea.

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4.  Good Saturday

Nice day.  And productive also.  Pat and I got most of the lights hung on the house here in Crystal River this morning, ventured to Home Depot to buy a Christmas tree and she is now off down town looking for some other decorations.
 
  What is so wrong with tossing dwarfs?  Seems that Florida has a law that prohibits, in any place that serves alcohol, the throwing of dwarfs.  Now I am sure your reaction is the same as mine on this.  This is something that needed a law to address?  Apparently some legislator felt it was a problem and got a majority of the state legislature to agree with him.  Now then the interesting part is that a Tampa radio DJ that goes by the name of Dave the Dwarf on his rock and roll show has filed a law suit against the state claiming that the law is discriminatory.  It only keeps dwarfs from working in bars in the game of people throwing.  You can still toss fat people, tall people and any other but not a dwarf.  His legal argument is that dwarfs have the same mental capacity as average height people and they should be able to decide for themselves if they wish to be tossed or not.  I have this funny idea that he will win his law suit.  Singling out any group of citizens for different treatment is headed for trouble in this country.  Suspect they will have to criminalize the tossing of all people if they want to stop dwarf tossing.
 
  Also read that the American Civil Liberties Union has their underwear in a bunch again over the government's plan to try foreign terrorists in military courts in the country where they are caught.  I can't imagine the extra cost and tying up our federal court system to bring foreign caught terrorists to this country for trail.  Talk about a set up for more terror and demonstrations that we would see here in the old US of A.  I am not sure but what the rules for military trials don't give just as fair a trail as does a civilian one.  Military trials seem to cut out a lot of the legal wrangling that we see in civilian court rooms. If a person is found guilty why should the punishment be allowed to drag out for years and years?
The terrorists sure didn't worry about the rights of the people they killed on the airplanes or at the WTC attack.  I guess I don't understand why foreigners in this country are given the same rights as is a citizen of the USA.  While we have all read in the Bible that we are to turn the other cheek to an adversary, I don't believe I have ever read where it says you should stick out your neck so he can chop it off.
 
  Brand loyalty is so important to companies.  They promote slogans that they hope you remember and identify with as you shop.  Everything from sodas to cars to who knows what.  It is hard for a company to get people to switch.  For at least 30 years I bought only Craftsman hand tools from Sears.  Lately I have switched over to buying hand tools from Home Depot.  They have a store brand called Husky.  What caused me to switch?  Home Depot Husky tools have a life time guarantee. (just like Sears)  However Home Depot came up with a slightly different twist.  They also guarantee Sears and Snap On tools even though they don't sell either.  You can take a broken Craftsman wrench into Home Depot and they will give you a new Husky wrench for free.  Was enough to convince me that Husky must make good tools.  So far I have been impressed. 
 
  Sometimes it is hard to stay with a brand of product.  Farm tractors come to mind.  Growing up I was always partial to J.I. Case tractors.  One of the farmers I would work for was Roy Rice.  Roy had a large farm about 35 miles NW of Wynnewood outside the town of Maysville.  Roy mainly grew alfalfa for a money crop and then he did some row cropping for animal feed for his farm.  The years I worked for Roy he maintained three tractors in working condition, a John Deere Model 80 diesel, a Minneapolis-Moline G904 propane and a J.I. Case diesel ( about a 90 HP) with an enclosed cab with air conditioning, stereo, power steering, etc.  Normally Sammy Harris, Randy Rice and myself would work for Roy during different times of the year that he needed extra help.  He paid on time, furnished us with room and board and his wife was an excellent cook.  Up at 4:30 AM, breakfast at 5:00, chores done by 6:00 and then a foot race to the tractors.  First one there always took the air conditioned Case.  The other two could fight over the Deere and the MM.  Normally the second one would take the MM as it had an electric starter.  The Model 80 Deere had a gasoline "pony" engine that had to be started first and then this little engine would turn over the large diesel engine and soon it would start.  Normally once you got the Deere running, it was not shut off.  Too big a process to get it started again.  Sometimes we would use one of the other tractors to pull it and get it started.  Also after a day on the Deere it was easy to see why farmers called them "popping Johnnies."  Two cylinders, about the size of dinner plates moving about 800 to 1,000 RPMs but they would out pull the two bigger, more modern tractors.  They had a strange rhythm when they were idling along or not under much of a load.  Always sounded to me like it was going to die at any moment.  Suspect part of my hearing deficit is due to that tractor.
 
  Also spent some time with an old Ford 8N.  Interesting little tractor.  Four cylinder gasoline engine, 25 horsepower give or take as I remember them.  Still see them around the farms being used.  One of those tractors that farmers just keep rebuilding and using for small jobs.  My first tractor to use was an old Massy-Ferguson, don't have a clue to the model of it.  It started on gasoline and then you switched it over to run on kerosene.  Had two fuel tanks.  Was built sometime during the 30s and was not real dependable, at least the old one we had on the farm.
 
  Then later I drove a Fordson Major for awhile.  As I remember this was one of the English built Fort tractors.  All I really remember was that the owner of it told me that hydraulic oil was cheaper than new hydraulic hoses.  It leaked like a sieve.  Today the EPA would impound it for being an environment hazard.  When Patti and I owned the farm in Oklahoma, one summer we rented a Case crawler tractor to doze some of the blackjack oak brush.  It was a fun tractor that was easy to drive.  Was also the one I mentioned that I dozed up the bumble bee nest with on the back side.  However in the line of crawlers, it is hard to beat an old yeller Caterpillar.  Put a few hours on one when we lived in Alaska.  What a feeling of power those things give you.
 
  Anyway most of the brands of tractors that I was familiar with during the 60s are now gone or at least have a new name.  Big consolidation of brands took place in the 80s.  White Motor company bought up Oliver, Cockshutt and Minneapolis-Moline.  Ford bought up New Holland.  The German company Deutz bought up one of the brands but I can't remember which one.  Fiat bought up Allis Chalmers along with Hesston Manufacturing.  Only John Deere seemed to be strong enough financially to hold off take overs.  Farmall changed hands as did Massey Ferguson, Case and others.
 
  take care
  joe b.  thinking about the good life on the farm

 

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5.  Another Week

For the first time in many months the temperature outside the house is lower than inside.  Forecast for last night was for a record setting low.  Projected to reach 52 degrees inland from us.  The close proximity of the Gulf has a moderating influence on our temperatures.  The drop in air temp should lower the gulf water's temp and cause the fish to become more active.  The fish behave much the same as I do when the temps get too hot.  Time not to exert too much effort on either's part.  They try to find a cooler spot (deeper water) the same I look for an air conditioned one.  With the north wind yesterday, our humidity dropped significantly, the sky was blue and it felt good to be outside.  Normally if we get a blue tinge to our gray sky we feel fortunate.  The humidity has the effect of holding in the pollution created.  This can be seen when a person turns off a ceiling fan that has been in operation for several months.  The leading edges of the blades will be covered with stuff, sometimes a quarter of an inch thick.  This is in a house that is shut up all the time with the air conditioner running.  Makes me curious what the insides of our lungs must resemble from the air.
  Florida - Makes me wonder.  First we cannot figure out how to vote in an election, then we cannot figure out how to count ballots and now we are finding that we have been teaching terrorists how to fly airplanes.  Pilot training is big business in Florida.  Many, many foreign students attend Florida Flying Schools.  Cost is about half of learning in Europe or Asia, a good climate for learning (no having to beat the ice off the tie down ropes in the mornings) and being the state is so multicultural, foreign folks can usually find a "home" group of people to worship with, socialize with and speak their home language.  Whether you are German or Saudi, Florida can make you feel at home.  A number of the east coast areas of Florida have French language radio stations as well as French language newspapers for the large number of Canadian "snowbirds" from the eastern provinces.  There are over 400 physicians, originally from India, practicing in the Tampa area.
  The St. Pete Times had an article in it this morning interviewing a man of middle east ancestry asking the question of how long do you have to live in this country to be considered an American.  He had lived in the Tampa area for over 40 years, he and his four brothers had all been in the US military, all had become US citizens but this past week he and his family faced a lot of discrimination for their Arabic heritage.  Too often, I feel, we look at a person that appears to be of Asian heritage, middle eastern heritage and we think foreigner.  Not in a favorable manner either.  Too often, we as a group, only consider whites and blacks as true Americans.  Many of my friends that consider themselves to be Native Americans would add a different twist to that story.  Sure hope it isn't going to take several hundred years for the newly arrive immigrants to fit in and be accepted as Americans.
  I liked brother in law Ivan's comments about how the churches of this country have a major obligation to help solve "our" problems with intolerance of others.  We have all heard it said that the most segregated time in America is on Sunday Morning at 11:00.  The next time you are in church look around, I hope you see some people that are not the mirror image of yourself.  Chances are you won't, I don't.  And what does joe b. do about it?  Absolutely nothing but complain that no one is doing anything about it.
  Looks like it may be a good day to go fishing.
take care
joe b

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6.  Dry Spell Over

Strange how even a small hurricane can make a person totally forget the long dry spell we have had here in Florida.  Hurricane Gabriele is due to hit the coast somewhere south of the Tampa area sometime today.  Since we are north of that area, chances are slim that we will see much of the heavy rain and wind.  The rain falls the heaviest on the south and east side of the storms.  With the rains of the last week or so, most of the soon to be effected areas are already water logged and so this storm will lead to wide spread flooding.  Today's newspaper had a page on this and past storms.  I was surprised to learn that the fourth most deadly hurricane to occur in the USA hit in New England in the 1920s.  Would never have guessed that.  The Galveston Texas storm of the 1920s came in number one with a loss of lives exceeding 8,000.  At least TV has done one good thing for all of us coastal dwellers.
  We are under a heavy cloud cover at this time so it will be awhile before it gets light.  Pat just took off for work so I need to plan something to do today with my time.  My air machine continues to shorten the time I need to sleep.  Most mornings now, I am awake shortly after 5:00 AM and lie in bed waiting for Pat's alarm to go off at 5:30.  As attractive, sweet and charming as my dear wife is, she is not someone that you should awaken before her alarm go off.  A different person if that should happen to her.
  With all the tragedy in NY and DC still unfolding, I have tried to give some thoughts to other items in my life.  The terrorist attack can completely envelope a person's thinking but life for the rest of us still must go on.  With good old 20-20 hindsight, I just wish that the USA had been as diligent at promoting democracy around the world as the communists were at promoting their beliefs on the way a government should function.  I still remember hearing Lyndon Johnson speak about the domino theory of communism in southeast Asia.  If North Viet Nam is allowed to remain, soon all of south east Asia will be communist.  Of course they remained and as we can all see, the rest of south east Asia didn't become communists.  Most remained dictatorships, then and now supported by the USA.  One of our governments main propaganda against Cuba was their attempt to spread communism through out Central and South America.  I just wish we had been as active at trying to spread democracy to the people of the world.  If we had, perhaps the situation in the middle east and the resulting terrorism could have been avoided.  There really isn't a true democracy in the middle east other than Israel.  I don't know if there are any of the 47 countries of the world, with a majority of Muslims, that enjoy a true democratic form of government.  Most of the Arab countries of the world that we support, treat their citizens in a manner that most Americans would find totally unacceptable.  Only the few at the top realize the benefits of all the oil they sell.  As long as their leaders can blame us for their problems, the people don't turn on their own leaders, the real problem causers.
  If anything good can come out of the attack on NY and DC, I hope it forces us as Americans to realize that we are all of one race, the human race.  People of every ethnic background, skin color, gender, religious background, etc. bled red blood, hurt and died in this attack.  If nothing else, we Americans have got to get along and do a better job of supporting each other and seeing to it that all have an equal chance to enjoy the American dream.  Enough of my preaching.
  When a person retires, besides never getting a day off, finds that small decisions can become larger.  Yesterday, while at the store to shop for shampoo, I came face to face with enough choices to confuse.  Since I tend to be a "price conscious" shopper (on some items) an artificial price of $1.50 was set by me for a bottle of poo.  This limited my choices somewhat.  However I could still pick from most colors of the rainbow.  My shower is sort of a light tan tile so the color was important.  Then it was a matter of deciding what I wanted my hair smell to resemble.  Did I want to smell like a pear, an apple, a banana, mountain spring fresh, and many other choices.  I considered how I thought of myself and decided that in reality I was a mango man.  Nice color, golden, and at a price of $.94 for 15 fl.oz. it seemed to fit the bill.  One poo containing a "coal tar" product sold for $7.95 for 12 oz.  I am not sure that anything contained in coal tar is something I want to put on my head.
  It would appear that soon I am going to have to reformat my entire hard drive on my computer and start over.  Still believe it was the copy of Internet Explorer ver. 6 that did the evil deed to my operating system.  Not even sure how I got that program on my machine.  Suspect it came up and asked me if I wanted to upgrade and I said yes.  It seems to have trashed out my Windows and made it very unstable.  Turns out that ver. 6 was a beta test version and many folks reported problems with it.  I had to get ver. 6 off my computer and go back to ver. 5 but the damage was done.  Hate to start over, especially with the problems that I had with my cable modem internet connection for awhile.  Considering the possibility of taking the processor to a computer shop and having them check out my chips at the same time and have them do the reformatting.
take care
joe b

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7.  Swamp News

News is probably somewhat of an exaggeration, more like joe b. reminiscing about his childhood and other items of little general interest.  This Wednesday has already started out to be a good day.  Humidity is down somewhat today, about 75%, but only because the temperature is up.  Forecast is to be in the low 90s by mid afternoon.  I have had a good learning experience and it is only 11:45 AM.  This is that no matter how hard you push on it, a number 2 lid will not fit on a number 8 Tupper ware container.  They look like they should fit but no way.
      Patti is off to work again today.  Takes me a few days to get used to having the house to myself again during the week.  Does have some advantages, I can leave the lid up all day if I want, shower when I feel the urge, throw my dirty clothes in the floor (at least till about 4:00 PM) and then shape up time.  It is hard to imagine how slovenly I could become without her help and guidance.  With both daughters out of the house it has placed the full burden of care on Patti.
      I also have additional time to fall back into childhood memories of growing up in the cultural center of the universe.  While some of my memories include my brother Bill and sister Barbara mostly I think of childhood as me being an only child.  With the two siblings being older, they and I led different lives.  Do remember that they would be around on occasions to torture me somehow.  Sister Barb claims they made me a stronger person and that was their only purpose in the treatment.  Remember a couple of times that Barbara got very angry with me over some small oversight on my part.  One night, it had to be before 10:00 PM as that was her curfew time, her date for the evening had just walked her to the front door and as they stood there making small talk I decided to be a part of the group.  I turned on the porch light and while leaning on the side of the open door proceeded to play paddle ball. (the paddle with the rubber ball with a rubber band connecting the two). This guy, don't remember who he was, finally gave me a quarter to go elsewhere.  Always one keen on being aware of where I wasn't wanted took the quarter and vanished.  Still, to this day, don't understand the behavior of Barb when she later came into the house.  Something had greatly agitated her I guess.  Maybe something the guy said but she took it out on me.
 The other time was not too long after I learned to read quite proficiently and found this book on her desk.  So I read it, very interesting.  How was I as a young brother to know that the name "Diary" was not the name of a newly published novel?  When I started to give a book review of this epic tale, Barb again exploded into uncontrolled hysteria mostly aimed at me.
      Barb, as she developed into a young adult, had a strange habit develop in her life.  This being hat shopping.  Now as any of you know, Barb is not a wearer of hats.  Perhaps a warm winter cap as appropriate but not the kind of hats worn by women of my mother's generation.  Hat shopping became a major part of her decision making process.  When she was in a quandary as what to do in any given situation, she would go hat shopping.  All day long sometimes.  Trying on one after another.  Going to a different store and repeating the process.  When she finally made a purchase, you knew she had solved her problem.  As far as I know she never wore any of the hats she purchased.  The entire process never make any sense to me but it worked for her.  As a male I guess I was just not intended to understand such goings on of the female mind.
      As many of you know from my past e-mails of growing up in Wynnewood, that Saturdays were one of my very favorite days of the week.  This was when most of the farmers and ranchers would come to town to spend the day, shop and see friends.  In the years, when I was a pre teen, our parents owned an auto parts store on main street.  This was one stop many of the farmers and ranchers would visit almost every week to pick up any need parts or products for their machinery on the farm.  The store had a large recessed area in the front that led to the large double doors going into the business.  Along the sides of the recess were stools, benches, chairs and overhead was a large circular fan.  This was one of the favorite gathering spots of a number of the men.  Many of this group were outstanding story tellers.  A major form of information, history and entertainment prior to TV.  Many the hour I would spend squatting over in the corner by the door listening to these most amazing tales that a ten year old had ever heard.  One of my all time favorite story tellers was a rancher by the name of Hack Wilburn.  He and his wife, Marie (a school marm) owned and operated a ranch on down the road east of where we lived.  Hack was the stereotypical cowboy.  He dressed and looked the part at all times.  When Hack was in a standing position with his ankles touching, I do believe a full grown hog could have run between his legs.  He was the most bowlegged individual I have ever known.  Hack was born in Indian Territory, prior to the state hood of Oklahoma and had lived and ranched around Garvin County all his life.  Since he was a child he had spent most of his time on horse back and therefore the shape of his legs.  They had molded to body of his ride.  He was in his late 60s when I got to know him well.  Anytime I needed a horse for any purpose, I could borrow one from him if we didn't have one at the time on our place.  Some of ours were not well trained like the mounts from Hack's ranch.  He made his living buying and selling and raising cattle and horses.  A trained horse from his ranch was a thing of beauty to watch work cattle.  It is hard to believe that an animal as large as a cutting horse can move so quickly until you are ridding one, not paying attention, and a cow bolts and your horse follows leaving you setting in thin air, for a moment prior to hitting the ground.
In one of my future e-mails I will try to relate some of the tales I remember from the front of the store.  Some may have been true and others I have heard, slightly different, from different story tellers.  Sort of like I tell people, lots of my true stories really are.
take care
joe b.

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8.  Monday Morning

Every time I send out an e-mail with Outlook Express I wonder how many extra people will receive the note.  Last time I sent one out to Pat's siblings the program somehow added a friend's name from Ouray.  Sure makes me careful as to what I say.
    We got back from Stuart late yesterday afternoon.  Friday morning saw us heading down to see Jodi and John for the weekend.  It is just about a four hour trip from Crystal River to Stuart.  We can get on the turnpike about 35 miles from here and ride it to the Stuart area.  Friday night John and I headed out on to the water about 9:00 PM to do some fishing.  Had a lot of fun and caught a number of fish.  Caught my first snook on a fly rod that evening.  Wasn't exactly a world record but would have been enough for breakfast had we kept it.  The season is close to keeping them now but 99% of the time we do a catch and release type fishing anyway. 
    As we departed the dock and headed out into the bay and inlet area, I was thinking that so much of life we just take for granted.  As John put the boat up on plane in the darkness, we were both assuming that the water continued on and on ahead of us in the same general configuration or conditions.  You don't expect to have holes or peaks to be unannounced in front of you.  Likewise we expect life to be much the same.  I assume my life today is going to be much the same as yesterday but there could be some surprises.  Just like there could have been some obstacle waiting in the darkness for us.  Some boat anchored without lights or some other surprise.  But there wasn't last time or this time so I have to assume there will not be one next time either.  This is why it is so important that everyone follows the generally accepted rules of the road.  Don't pass on curves or hills, don't anchor without lights on the mast, wait your turn in line.  Like the book said, all the stuff you learned in kindergarten.  Now as we all know there are going to be some acts of God thrown in just to keep life interesting. As in when the garbage truck was turning into the Brooksville subdivision and the steering linkage broke resulting in the truck running over the Rolling Acres sign that announced where you were located.  Of course some maintenance would have prevented the situation.
    I can remember driving my snow machine down many a frozen river or winter trail without a head light.  Normally I tried to keep them working but they would choose to go out at their own timing.  One trail in particular, across from the village of Koyukuk, that crossed and island and then split, one trail headed up river to Galena and one headed north up the Koyukuk River was fun to drive in the evenings.  With the moon light on the snow it wasn't really too dark so when the headlight ceased working it wasn't a big concern as I roared through the aspen groves, up and down creek beds and across lakes.  Coming into one particular birch grove of trees something told me to slow it down.  After coming to a stop, I grabbed a flashlight and shinned it ahead.  Sure enough lying across the trail, about three feet off the ground was a fallen birch tree.  At that height it would have first removed my windshield and secondly me from the machine.  I had ridden that trail dozens of times before without incident but this time was different.  The meaning of all this?  Wear your seat belt, wear a life jacket in boating, floss every day, live a good life and bad things can still happen to you and people you care about.  Don't do these things and you can almost guarantee that something will happen of an unpleasant nature.
    We did a lot of house looking in the Stuart area while there this weekend.  Major prices for homes.  Made Ouray look not quite as bad as before.  The Stuart area seems to be caught up in severe price escalations at this time.  Whether or not homes are selling for the asking prices or not is another question.
take care
joe b.

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9.  Early Morning

Looks to be another day in paradise or no changes in the swamp from last report.  We did get one small rain but not enough to not still water the yard out of the canal.  Rained about enough to get the driveway wet was all.
    Have been prowling around the net this morning, while Pat is on the phone with Jodi.  Sure nice to be able to use the phone and surf at the same time.  Selene is due over this way sometime today.  She said morning her time so it will be at least mid-afternoon for me.  Her schedule and mine have been different since we went to Mexico.  She thrived on the Latin schedule of dinner at 10 PM and the discos starting at mid-night.  I never made the time switch successfully.  She never changed back.  It is a good thing as most of her summer classes start at 6PM and go till 10 PM.  Some of the engineering classes run till 2:30 AM.  So her idea of morning and mine are some what different.
    Back to the surfing the net, I was just on the site, newsminer.com which is the Fairbanks newspaper site.  It has some fun information at times. Tends to give the cranky old gold miner version of the news.  It has an arctic cam that can be viewed.  It was 5:30 AM there and the sun was just coming up, a beautiful view of St. Catherine's Catholic Church, the Chena River Bridge and my all time favorite hardware store, Sampson's.  Brother in Law Dale and I have often talked about Sampson's.  It has been in the same family since the gold rush days, I have heard.  Over the years they have dragged other buildings in close and connected them to make more room.  They have absolutely everything know to mankind in the hardware line of stuff.  Much of it is well over fifty years of age.  Nothing is ever thrown out and they would let me as a customer, wander through the back rooms for as long as I wished.  I don't think I would be exaggerating to say that there were at least 20 rooms on the back of the main store.  Parts for old mining equipment, old gas lamps, oil heaters, cook stoves, gas refrigerators, and on and on.  Don't remember ever going there and not being able to find what I wanted.  The closest I have seen to Sampson's is a place Dale took me to in Bellingham called Hardware Sales.  It is similar but generally newer, smaller and cleaner than Sampson's.  For some reason when Dale and I get together, we tend to end up at hardware stores, just to prowl.  Wilma and Pat never seem to want to go with us for some reason.  Probably afraid that they would get too excited.
    At least a couple of times a week I hop on the sites for the Fairbanks paper and the one out of Montrose Colorado  (montrosepress.com).  Used to check out the Rocky Mountain News out of Denver but haven't recently.  Think it was RMN.com but not sure.
    I find it totally fascinating to be able to sit here in the great swamp land and via my computer can read what laws are being considered in the Alaska Legislature.  What committees they are in, past votes taken and all sorts of other stuff.  Can watch bears munch a few salmon in season.  What ever a person wants seems to be available twenty four hours a day on the Internet.
    This time I hope this only goes out to those in the families.  I keep two group files set up in my address book.  One called Joe's and one called Pat's Family.  Somehow after I typed in the addresses of Pat's the program, Outlook Express. decided to add all the names in my address book to that group.  I am sure I hit some wrong key to cause it but I have no Idea.  Sure a lot of folks I had to e-mail to tell the to disregard the previous as I didn't really consider them to be family.  Pat's family folder has been checked a couple of times and now appears to be staying with just the names I put into it.  Good thing that I blind carbon copy myself on most of these to the normal AOL e-mail account plus that way I also get the pleasure of hearing, "you've gots mail."
take care
joe b.

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10.  North Country

Just got an e-mail from niece Jo Ella Miller letting all of us know where she was headed.  Off for several weeks of work in the Yukon Territory of Canada.  Jo Ella just recently graduated with her Master's degree in Theology from a college in Vancouver B.C. and is affiliated with the Anglican Church. They, a group of folks, are off to work with some of the local churches in the Whitehorse area.  Sounds like a good trip for her and her companions.
    This reminds me of when I was somewhat her age, slightly younger if that was ever possible, and headed north to work in Nome Alaska as a 5th. grade teacher.  I remember the thrill of leaving the cultural capitol of America, Oklahoma, and heading off north to be on my own for the first time.  Just below the thrill level sat the fear level. (what am I doing?)  In the final days of college I had interviewed with a couple of Oklahoma school districts and with the FBI.  One of the Oklahoma schools had offered me a job teaching 6 classes of high school history for the princely sum of $3,600 a year.  $300 a month before taxes.  The only problem was that my car payment was $225 a month.  $75 just didn't seem to be enough to live on after paying for the car.  Right at the end of the semester, I got a call from the superintendent offering me the job in Nome at twice the salary.  After the bleak college years I couldn't imagine how I was ever going to spend all the money Nome was offering.  Only took about three paychecks to figure it out.  Ever since it has not been a problem at all spending the entire amount earned plus some usually.  My first plan was to drive my new 64 Chevy to Anchorage but after driving a far as Montana, to see sister Barbara and husband Allen in Missoula where Allen was attending law school somehow I decided to fly the remainder of the trip.  I had my dog with me so I put him in a crate and flew him back to Oklahoma to mom and dad, parked my car at the farm of Allen's parents and headed north on Pacific Northern Airlines out of Seattle.  Arriving in Anchorage, the town was still in rubble from the Good Friday earthquake of four months prior.  Parts of the airport were shut down awaiting demolition and rebuilding.  My flight to Nome didn't leave until the next morning.  Since I didn't feel that I had money to spend on a hotel room that night it was off to look around for a flat spot to get some sleep.  Lots of people sleeping in the airport as many of the hotels were still closed from the earthquake damage.  Early the next day I boarded another Pacific Northern flight on a four engine Constellation aircraft.  I am sure this plane was much older than I was at the time.  About thirty to forty five minutes out of Nome the pilot came on the intercom and announced that he was going to be shutting down one of the engines due to some problem.  He assured us their was no problem unless he had to shut down another one, especially on the same side of the airplane.  I still remember that I was setting by a window on the port side, left for you land lubbers, and watching the propeller slowly coming to a complete stop as the pilot shut off the fuel to it and feathered the propeller into the wind.  Later, after living in Nome for several months, I learned that this particular plane seldom made it to Nome or back to Anchorage with all four engines still functioning properly.  About Christmas of that year, 1964, they replaced the plane with some other and it wasn't long before Pacific Northern as gone from the scene as well.  Must have been about this time that Wien Airlines started coming into Nome.  Believe that Alaska Airlines is now the major carrier into Nome.  The next year I moved on to the village of Marshal located north of Bethel on the Yukon River.  That year Alaska Airline, still flying Cessna 180s, took me from Fairbanks to McGrath to Bethel where I caught a Wien Grumman Goose to Marshal.  The Goose was an amphibian and therefore landed in the Yukon and the post master came out in his river boat, tied up along side the plane and loaded passengers, and unloaded passengers, mail and freight and the boat returned to the village and the Goose went on its rounds of other villages.  This was my first experience with a "big" river.  The Yukon is over 1/2 mile wide at Marshal.  I had always considered the Washita (pronounced Wash A Taw) River  just out of Wynnewood Oklahoma to be a big river.  This river and the Arbuckle Mountains of southern Oklahoma were my ideas of large and impressive land forms until I made it to Alaska for the first time in 1962. Of course that year when we flew to Nome to see sister Barbara we were on a Fairchild F-27 and even from the altitude that plane could reach the Yukon looked somewhat small.  Mount McKinley however towered above us off the left wing when we departed Fairbanks.  F-27s were such a treat to fly in as a passenger.  Cannot imagine what it was like to have to fly one of those underpowered beasts day after day.  Never could find anyone that would let me fly one of them.
take care
joe b.

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Installing Gauges in Truck

 

          gauge install05092003.jpg (125078 bytes)  Several weeks ago I decided that I needed to install some gauges in my 2002 Dodge pickup with the 5.9 Cummins engine.  After reading information on several of the forums on the Internet, I decided to go with an exhaust gas temperature gauge (EGT), a fuel pressure gauge (FP) and a turbo charger boost gauge (boost). Future plans are to add a temperature gauge for the automatic transmission but I have to find a spot to locate the gauge.

           

The boost was chosen mainly to try and increase my fuel mileage when driving, the EGT to make sure when pulling loaded that the exhaust manifold temperatures remained below 1,300 degrees which is were turbine damage starts from what I have read and the fuel pressure gauge was to monitor the fuel lift pump pressures which can be a problem with this engine model.

 

            After checking several sources on the internet and in catalogs, I chose to go with  www.genosgarage.com , a business located in Georgia.  They carried several brands of gauges and I chose Di Pricol for the EGT and boost and a Westach for the fuel pressure. (mainly because I wanted an electric FP gauge and the Pricol was mechanical.

The gauges arrived in good time, delivered by UPS and contained both installation instructions from the manufacturers and from Genos’ technicians with some common sense do’s and don’ts.

 

           EGT probe05092003.jpg (128357 bytes) After reading the directions many times, unusual for me to do, and going out to stare at the engine, I felt I was ready to tackle the job.  Picked up a 1/8NPT tap to put the threads in the manifold after drilling the hole.  This was somewhat nerve wracking as I knew if I screwed this up I was looking at an over $500 bill to get the manifold replaced. Some folks told me to put the probe in the exhaust pipe but most recommended the exhaust manifold for truer readings of temperature.

 

           EGT tap205092003.jpg (124491 bytes) Out came the drill, with a new pilot point bit of the recommended size.  Put a big blob of bearing grease on the drill area to catch metal drill shavings and went at it.  Was much easier than I had anticipated.  Lowered a pencil shaped magnet into the hole to pick up any of the shaving that had fallen into the manifold.  Next took the 1/8NPT tap with lots of grease on it and tapped the threads into the hole.  Used the magnet again to clean out any loose metal.  Screwed in the fitting and then the probe.  The probe needs to end up about ½ way into the manifold but not touching the bottom of it.  Tap the threads and try it, then tap some more until you get it where you want it.

 

           Boost tap05092003.jpg (125486 bytes)The boost installation was quicker.  It uses a hollow bolt that replaces one of the bolts in the aluminum intake manifold on the driver’s side of the engine.  Only caution was to be very gentle when tightening the bolt (18 ft. lbs max) to keep from snapping it off.  Then attach the small plastic tubing and run it inside to the back of the gauge.

 

           FP Sender05092003.jpg (126127 bytes) The fuel pressure gauge was easy but time consuming to install.  I had purchased, along with the gauges, a 18 inch long rubber hose that was designed to screw on to a test valve on the injection pump and then to the FP sender.  The FP sender had to be mounted to something attached to the engine so that it would shake at the same resonance of the engine.  Once the sender was mounted, it was a matter of running a wire to ground and a wire to the back of the gauge inside.

 

           gauge install205092003.jpg (124399 bytes) All three gauges require a 12 volt  power source for both night lights and for proper operations.  It has to be a power source that is only on when the key is on.  This I found a place to tap into the power directly in front of the driver at floor level.  Not sure at all what the wire was also powering but it works just fine as the gauges draw very little power.

 

            Good instructions came on how to remove the plastic cover on the A pillar where the new gauge mount will go.  The new one actually mounts over the original factory one after all the tubes and wires are pulled through there and attached to the new gauges.  The new mount comes only in basis black so I got some spray paint that matched my dash and put several coats on it and let dry.  I was pleased with the way it turned out and all three gauges worked the first time.   Total working time was somewhere around four hours.

 

12.  Alaska Trip Recommendations

Alaska recommendations and other thoughts

 

While my recommendations are what my wife and I enjoy doing on our trips, to/from Alaska, others will have different preferences.

For a first or second time trip to the Great Land, I consider it to be a “get acquainted”  venture.  Alaska is so large, covering so much territory, that it is best looked at and thought about as being at least five different areas to visit.

It has been written that if a person drives on all the paved highways of Alaska they will see approximately 5% of the state, add the gravel roads and the total seen goes up to about 10%.  To many people, visitors and residents alike, this is what constitutes Alaska to them.

The vast interior of the state, centered around the Fairbanks area, is the Alaska of Jack London, of the gold miners of ’98, of the severe winter weather and the hot dry summers.  It is the area of the state, in most parts, under laid with permafrost which brings large boggy areas, stunted tree growth and many rivers and creeks.  Gold was what made this part of the state famous and the remnants of this mining activity are still visible today.  This is the area of numerous hot springs, Chena, Manley, and Circle to name three.  Most of the rivers in this area are slow moving, some very large and long such as the Yukon.

The old miners claimed that to really understand Alaska you had to spend a winter living on the banks of the Yukon and if you did survive, you would never be able to leave Alaska ever again, at least not in your mind.

South Central, the Railbelt, the Banana Belt are all names used for referring to the area of the state around the Mat Su Valley, Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula.  Anchorage developed as a service center to the military build up during WWII, the Mat Su was a planned farming, homesteading community and the Kenai came about more as a commercial fishing area and later as a playground for Anchorage.  In my opinion Anchorage is just another large city that could be anywhere and fit in fine.  The similarities to Seattle are great IMHO.  It is just smaller in size, has about the same climate due to the Japanese ocean current and is dominated by the military presence.  A strange situation is that Anchorage is the largest Alaska Native village in the state.  More indigenous people live there than any other town or village in the state.

 Even though during my working years in Alaska I had to spend a great deal of time in Anchorage, to me it is so un-Alaskan that I never grew to like or enjoy it.  People living in other parts of the state tend to make fun of Anchorage residents for thinking they are living the Alaska life style.  The standard comment about Anchorage is that the best thing about it is that it is only a 20 minute flight to Alaska from there. LOL

In Anchorage a visit to the Alaska Cultural Center is a must.  Anchorage is a good place to stay to make day trips to the Mat Su Valley, including Independence Mine State Park north of Palmer. We especially enjoyed staying at the Anchorage RV Park (now closed and turned into a mall)  We now stay at the Homestead RV in Palmer and do day trips from there.

We like to watch the float planes land and take off at Lake Hood and at Merrill Field, where my wife got her pilot’s license.  Anchorage has some beautiful bike/jogging trails, nice parks scattered throughout town, shops and several campgrounds.  Night life is abundant, everything a person could want I would say.  A club, for every taste or lack there of, is open somewhere in town.  There are two universities located here in town, U of A, Anchorage and Alaska Pacific U, a private school.

South East, the panhandle, is the coastal region from Ketchikan up to about Haines/Skagway. A land of giant trees, fiords, rain forest, fish and lots of wildlife.  The summer of 2004, we took the ferry trip, for the first time from Skagway to Bellingham Washington.  What a great experience.  Somewhat costly with the RV along, but well worth the cost to us.  Since it is public transportation and not a cruise ship, it is somewhat plain in décor but very comfortable.  Our cabin was fine and the food served on the ship was good and reasonably priced.  Highly recommended trip, at some time, for visitors.

West Central is best known as a commercial fishing area, both sport and commercial  exists here.  This is the area around Dillingham up toward Bethel.  Over all this is a region that very few people ever visit as tourists.  Very few Alaska residents will ever venture out this way either.  Alaska residents, as a group, really don’t travel much in their state.  Many will claim they do but what they mean is that they drive around all the road systems in the central part of the state.  Some might even venture off the roads in a boat for short trips, while others, especially bush pilots will wander the state.  It has been my experience that to find an Alaska resident that has been to Barrow, to Kotzebue, Nome, Bethel, Dillingham is virtually impossible.  When Alaska residents get vacation time, most head outside to where they have family or head to Hawaii. 

Most Alaska residents live in the Banana Belt region of the state and Alaska’s population is the most mobile of any state.  According the US Census data between 1995 and 2000, the last official census date, over 56% of the population moved either into or out of the state.  A politician’s dream come true.  The state’s population is much like a parade.  The section of the population that considers themselves to be Alaska Native don’t fit into this movement in and out so the non-native group would actually be much higher on moving.  Much of this is due to the movement in and out of military personnel as well as those up for a couple of years of adventure.

The Kenai Peninsula gives me mixed feeling.  As Anchorage has grown in population over the last 40 years that I have been going there, more and more of this population growth uses the Kenai as a playground.  On summer weekends, the roads and campgrounds can resemble a Los Angeles freeway and I find the crowds are not what I love about the state.  The Kenai has some of the most beautiful rivers, lakes, glaciers, forests and mountains anywhere on the road system.  For many years we owned property on the Kenai River, just up stream from Soldotna and finally sold it because of the crowded conditions both on the roads, in the stores and on the river.  Some visitors feel that the Kenai was the high light of their trip, so again different strokes.  The boat tours, the fishing and photo ops are outstanding.   A visit to the Kenai is mandatory for a first time visitor though to check it out for themselves.  Some people fall in love with a town or spot and go back repeatedly on future trips.  Homer is our favorite place on the peninsula, especially camping on the Spit.  Combat fishing at the Russian River is one of those experiences that some fisherman enjoy and others are appalled.  The fish caught there are fine eating and not too hard to catch a few red salmon.

The last and most diverse part of the state, to me, is the Arctic and the Bering Sea coastal areas.  Much of this area has not changed for time gone by.  People still hunt and fish, gather wild plants and berries, speak an ancient language that isn’t European in origin .  The land of the Eskimos, the polar bears, seals, whale hunting still takes place, for food in the homes and many others that come to mind when one thinks of Alaska.  Very few tourists or residents ever visit this part of Alaska.  I am always surprised at people that will visit Alaska 3, 4, or 5 or more times and never travel to see the north and western parts of Alaska.  To even come close to understanding what Alaska is all about, a trip to the Arctic/Bering Sea region is mandatory at some time in ones life.

All routes to and from Alaska are long.  The majority of the roads you will be on are paved two lanes that I would rate from good to very good with some areas of road construction.  Just slow down in the construction areas and where the frost heaves have damaged the roadway.  Some folks try to drive at Interstate speeds and damage their RVs, which always seems to come as a surprise to them and they try to blame it on the roads.  Most of our trips on the Alaska Highway have been round trips from Alaska outside to the lower 48 and back.  Most of our trips ended up going through Oklahoma to visit my parents and then on to Florida to visit with my wife’s folks.  We have used the East Coast route, up through New York, over into Canada and across, we have used the West Coast route through California but most of our trips have been through the central parts of the US.  We have family in Bellingham so when we go see them we use the western Canadian highways to get to Dawson Creek but other wise we normally swing over to Colorado and north crossing the border at Coutts/Sweetgrass.  We have never had much of a delay there as we have run into north of Bellingham trying to cross the border.

Things to see and do on the way, excluding the lower 48 places.  Drumheller, AB has one of the finest dinosaur museums that I have ever visited.  It is located just west of Calgary and worth a visit.  In Calgary, sort of a cowboy town in many ways, there are lots of places to visit, such as the former winter Olympic site, etc.  In Edmonton you have the “mall” which on one trip we spent 3 days there as our daughters loved the water park, and all the other things to do.  Not like any other mall I have visited as I read it is the number one visited tourists attraction in Alberta.

To the west are the national parks of Banff and Jasper, just spectacular.  Sharp jagged mountains, many glaciers to view and photograph, lots of wildlife to view.  Just south of there is the Waterton Peace Park which is the Canadian part of Glacier Park.  Radium Hot Springs is worth a visit.  (I enjoy hot springs)  Then on north to Dawson Creek and the start of the Alaska Highway.  The Rocky Mountains are off to the west the entire trip until you get into Alaska.  Very low elevations and no bad passes to have to cross.  We like to stop in Liard Hot Springs for a day, Watson Lake and the other towns along the way.  Whitehorse is fun and lots to do there with great campgrounds available.  The  summer of 2004, we found the campgrounds filling up by 4:00 PM and I plan to make reservations, on future trips, the day before.  Some people claim you don’t need reservations anywhere, but I differ in opinion, after the 2004 summer.  Prior to that I might have agreed with them. It was so hot that summer in the Yukon and Alaska.  It was 94 degrees F when we stopped in Whitehorse and the same when we pulled into Fairbanks.  Lots of RV air conditioners going. There is always some place to spend the night but it may be a pull off or a store parking lot. Since we don't care for either of those places to "camp", we make reservations as soon as we know when we will be at a place.

In Fairbanks ride the riverboat Discovery, drive out to Chena Hot Springs, Photograph the oil pipeline, visit an old gold dredge north of town, pan for gold, visit the Ester area west of town, tour Alaska land (now called pioneer land) spend some time at the museum located at the University of Alaska.  Just enjoy the frontier atmosphere and attitudes of the locals here.

Then south on the Parks Highway, stopping in Nenana for a short visit and on to Denali Park.  Continue on south to the Mat Su and to Anchorage.  Then to the Kenai Peninsula, to Soldotna, Homer, Seward, do some fishing, touch glaciers, etc.  Then back to Anchorage for a day or so and on to Glennallen and south to Valdez.  A stop to visit Chitna, is fun along the way.  Valdez has several boat tours if you haven’t already done enough on the Kenai.  Not a bad tour in Valdez.  You can no longer tour the oil loading facility across the water from town due to security. Valdez is one of the most non-tourist spots on the water IMHO.  It can get somewhat crowded during salmon runs from all the fisherman but you don’t get the large crowds of people from Anchorage for the most part as they are all on the Kenai fishing.

Then start heading back north to Tok and back to Whitehorse.  A side trip to Dawson City is fun.  It gives you a taste of a long gravel road, somewhat like the Alaska Highway was before it was paved.  The trip to Skagway is just outstanding for scenery and   a visit along the way at Carcross is enjoyable. (good camping available)  Ride the train in Skagway, walk the shops and spend a couple of days and head back to the Alaska Highway or take the ferry over to Haines and up the Haines Cutoff to Haines Junction and back down the Alaska Highway or the Cassiar Highway if you want to do the western route back south.  Stop and see the bears and salmon at Hyder/Stewart on the way.

Alaska is so large it is impossible to see it all.  We owned and tried to wear out 5 airplanes plus numerous RVs and boats trying to see the state.  My wife and I are both pilots and have flown, over/to, many places in Alaska. With our jobs we traveled extensively throughout the state.  For 17 years I averaged 3 to 5 air flights a week, many with me as the pilot.

Travel guides and books – While the Milepost is still the best book for a mile by mile description of the trip, watch the ads/narrative descriptions, as they are written by the business owners and some have very active imaginations of what they would like to have their business resemble.

Bell’s Travel guide is good, smaller in size.  For camping I prefer the Church book of Alaska Camping, very honest reviews of the campgrounds.  Anything else you can read about Alaska before you go will help you be prepared for what you see or where to go to see what you want to see.  After your first trip you will know what you want to do and see much better.  Are you mainly interested in the history of Alaska, the wildlife, bird watching, hiking, boating, mountains, glaciers, fishing, etc.?

As you can tell I love Alaska, after living there for over 25 years, and still consider it to be home, even though I have come to accept that it is doubtful that I will ever return to live there, just to visit in the future.  Now if we could take our grandsons with us it might change things. Not much of a chance of that happening.

Campgrounds we like and enjoy:

  Jasper NP – Whistlers CG run by Parks Canada – Large and beautiful, rustic setting, lots of wildlife wander through the CG

 Yoho NP - Kicking Horse Cg -Parks Canada

  Whitehorse YT – Hi Country or Pioneer CGs

  Tok – Sourdough CG and Tok RV Village, our current favorite one

  Fairbanks – Rivers Edge CG (in 2009 it was needing some TLC) Santaland Cg, in North Pole is now closed.

  Anchorage – Anchorage RV Park (closed for commercial development)  Ship Creek is probably the best remaining CG in town.

  Palmer - Homestead RV Park is now our choice of a place to stay in the Anchorage area.

  Portage Glacier - A very nice federal government campground located here.

  Homer – Heritage RV on the Spit is nice by has gotten too costly IMHO.  Some campers enjoy the city owned campground. No utilities.

  Homer Spit RV Park - Private, at the end of the spit. Need reservations at times of salmon runs.

  Valdez – Sea Otter CG (on the water( now closed by the city owners) and Bear Paw CG. (they have two parks and the adult one is very nice and on the water)

  Seward – Stony Creek CG – Nice, of the large gravel parking lot type campground as are many in the north.

  Trail River CG - North of Seward, newly refurbished and fits all sized rigs, US Forest Service

  Carcross YT – Montana Services CG – new and in 2004, the rates were $11.60us for full hook ups.

  Skagway – We stayed at the Garden City campground – All three in town are OK and are all somewhat crowded during the summer.

  Paxson – the forest service or BLM campground just a few miles in on the Denali Highway is one of our favorite places to camp.  No services but beautiful and some times full of mosquitoes .

Liard Hot Springs Campground – fills up early in the day during the summer.

White River Campground – YT – great views and an excellent salmon bake on site. (now closed - 2009)(open summer of 2011 by new owners)

Any of the Provincial or Territory operated campgrounds are good and tend to be in scenic areas.  Very few with hook ups but normally not needed in a normal summer. (weather wise)

Any of the campgrounds run by Parks Canada are excellent.

 

Some recommended books, to read before hand and to take:

The Milepost –  Mentioned above..  While it is becoming bloated with advertisements, it is still the most information available on Alaska Highway travel and the approaches to the highway.  I currently have 32 yearly editions, of it in my collection.  And will be getting the next one as soon as published.

Bell’s Travel Guide – www.bellsalaska.com – smaller in size, family operated business, good web site. Many of their publications of specific areas can be obtained free of charge at northern businesses.

Church’s  Guide to Alaskan Camping – www.rollinghomes.com – most honest descriptions of campgrounds that  I have found. 3rd edition just published – updates on their web site.

Frommer’s Alaska Guide book – current edition – lots of good information

Alaska for Dummies – one of the standard “dummies” series which I enjoy.

While I have several hundred books about Alaska and northern Canada, the above are the ones I go over just before a trip north and take with me.

 Have fun in the great land, it truly is appropriately named.

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