Wednesday July 23rd
Off to Wheeler, New York, and "The Property." A section of woods on the side of one of the Southern Tier's beautiful hills. My Dad and his wife have kept this property near where they lived before moving to Iron Station, North Carolina. Each year they take their Class A motor home up for a few months of peaceful Town of Wheeler country living. Undisturbed by cell phone access, electricity, and running water. It's their presence at "The Property" that provides the overall excuse for making the Great Northern Expeditions each year.
The GPS-generated route guided me first back through Shellesburg, Pennsylvania, a quaint small town with one of those inviting, eclectic main streets that celebrate the entrepreneurship of small town America. It also happens to be Route 30. No more rain along the route, though skies were overcast. And fog clung to the tops and sides of the mountains nearly all of the way.
From Route 30, toward Bedford, the GPS guides me up through Pennsylvania's beautiful mountains to Route 15 that leads into New York State.
The quality of the photos snapped through the car windshield doesn't do justice to the views. No help for it, though, since it's illegal to stop to take photos on these roads. A sensible precaution.
But maybe these will give you some idea of the natural scenery available along Central and Western Pennsylvania's highways.
The entrance to "The Property. Neither Town, County, nor State maintenance extends beyond the gate.
The Property is full of potential, and a beautiful sight. That doesn't mean it can't be improved upon. Here Arlene admires a hanging basket of flowers she's placed to lure hummingbirds into a feeder for them attached to the window of the motor home. It works! The birds stop first at the flowers, then zoom over to the feeder at the window of the motor home.
Here on the right is the Mobile Studio parked in its usual spot, to the rear of the motor home. Weather was rainy for the past few days, so the ground was just a little spongy. It won't last!
In case you might somehow have the notion that facilities at The Property are limited, here's clear evidence they aren't. You don't need electricity and running water to make things comfortable. This fire pit, covered with an incredibly heavy iron plate, serves to contain the campfire, and also to generate more hot water than anyone could use. A welcome commodity on a chilly morning. Or, a hot morning, for that matter.
Here's Dad and Ms. Dixie enjoying the view of the woods from the front of the motor home. And preparing to make Morning Toast. The engineering of the tarps, outdoor cooking facilities, rainwater collection arrangements, chairs, and walkways must be seen to be appreciated. This photo doesn't do the complexity of the rigging anything near justice.
Thursday July 24th
Speaking of outdoor cooking facilities, one of the treats available when visiting "The Property" is Dad's morning toast. This photo on the right provides a close-up view of the Coleman propane stove, coffee maker, paper plates, margarine. And most important, the carefully engineered toaster itself. That's the toaster on the stove, partially covered in aluminum foil.
To make proper toast, the toaster device is heated to just the right temperature. Right around 4,000 degrees, I'd guess. Then a thick slice of home made bread is leaned up against the opening in the aluminum foil. Once enough smoke has risen from the bread, it's done. Not charred. But "nicely browned."
No matter what that toast looks like, it's delicious! And, it's not simple to make. Last year I bought myself one of those camp toasters, attached some aluminum foil, and tried several times to make camp toast over the Aliner's stove burners. It didn't work. Somehow I was able to burn the slices of bread even blacker than Dad burns his. No small accomplishment in itself. But it didn't taste anything like Dad's morning toast.
Though at times it takes some professional assistance to make things all work properly .....
Today began with a bird rescue mission. I emerged from the Mobile Studio around 7:00 a.m., hoping for some of that coffee and toast. No Dad! I walked out toward the fireplace area to the south of the motor home. Pictured here in an earlier photo. Still no Dad.
I called quietly, since Arlene wasn't up quite yet, and Dad emerged from the woods toward the back of this photo. With Dixie in the lead, looking very pleased with herself.
Dad was carrying a small bird, and admonishing Dixie to ignore it. He said he heard a rumpus in the woods and went over to investigate. Dixie had caught a small bird. He ordered her to drop it. Which, of course, she did. But only after clamping her jaws down on it in one last defiant bite.
The bird was still alive. Barely. It appeared to be a baby woodpecker. One of the large ones plentiful in this part of the country. Dad took the still breathing bird to the woodpile, out of the reach of the dog. And placed it on a flat piece of wood.
Dad then heated a couple of paper towels -- I'm not making this up! Here's the photo! -- and put them over the bird, in the hope the warmth would help to revive it.
No happy ending to this story. The little bird breathed its last in spite of the warmed paper towels. To everyone's disappointment.
Visit to Downtown Bath
Off later on this morning for Bath, New York. A drive of ten minutes or so. In search of a laundromat, an internet connection, and electricity for this elderly laptop whose batteries now last only about an hour between charges.
I found Bath much as it was last year, only more so. Judging from my observations while driving slowly around the streets I knew so well as a child, and from several conversations with current inhabitants of the Village, Bath's economy now relies heavily on the provision of social services to a variety of client populations. Judging from office signs around town both the County and the State are involved in this work. The most important provider, however, is the huge Veterans Administration facility a few miles northwest of the center of town. I didn't have time to visit that facility. But remember it well from 50 or so years ago when I visited each weekday on bicycle to sell newspapers to the "Old Vets" living there.
Now, judging from the people walking slowly around town, and sitting on benches in public places, the VA clientele is younger, and more diverse. I spoke with one well-informed man sitting in front of the town library who told me he's at the VA now participating in a vocational training program. He's learning the printing trade. He arrived in Bath right after completing a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program in Ohio or Illinois, if memory serves. He described the rehabilitation and vocational programs now offered at the VA, and gave his impressions of the Village of Bath. He was a careful observer.
In addition to the VA clientele visiting the Village, there were a surprising number of physically disabled people walking about downtown, and on the side streets. As well as what appeared to be unemployed adults. I was surprised by the changes in Bath. It's no longer the village I remember from my childhood. Maybe that's true for every village and town in the United States. But it seemed to me that the degree to which Bath now relies on the provision of social services for its economic survival has changed the overall character of the town. And changed it dramatically.
My first stop was the town library. In the hope of finding a reliable WiFi connection.
The building pictured on the left used to be the town library. It never looked this good in the 1950s. A big old townhouse donated long ago to the Village for use as a public library.
It was chuck-full of books, though. And was managed by an all-business middle-aged woman, Miss Louise Lair, who somehow approved of small boys who liked to read. Even impudent small boys. Miss Lair wouldn't stand for any nonsense. But if you just wanted to read, she would help.
Ms. Laiir even allowed me to hide my bicycle and fishing gear back under the steps when I made day-long detours to the library when I was supposed to be fishing in the nearby river. I never gave a thought then to how the family would have worried had they gone to the river fishing hole to find me. Though I learned just this year that the librarian had kept my parents informed about the whole thing. What a remarkable person she was.
Well, the building now houses the Steuben County Historical Society. And the Library has moved just next door to a more modern building, donated by a later Bath resident, Henry Dormann. That's the entrance to the new library you see in the photo on the right.
After visiting the new library, and failing to connect to their internet system, I couldn't resist going to see if the old building was open. It was. And there I met Mr. Bentley.
Mr. Bentley had been a long-suffering but very capable music teacher at Bath's Haverling High School from 1955 to 1960, the year I graduated from that institution. He was kind enough to say that he remembered me, though that's unlikely. And I certainly hope he didn't, given my behavior then as a student.
Mr. Bentley was born and raised in nearby Painted Post. Where he returned upon retiring from a distinguished teaching career at Ithaca College. He now volunteers his time to the Historical Society. It was a pleasure to meet him after all of these years. And to hear his description of the changes in the Village of Bath and the County. I wish we had more time to talk. As it was, I made him late for his next appointment with all of my questions.
Repair of the Nightlight Lantern Project
To say Dad is a determined, persistent person is only to state the obvious. His very survival has depended on it for most of his life. Sometimes, though, that determination reaches heights that surprise even those of us who've known him for decades. Here's one example: The Nightlight Lantern Repair Project.
The first two years I was able to visit The Property with an Aliner, first in 2006 with a rental, and then last year with the Mobile Studio, Dad hung a kerosene lantern on a tree not far from the Aliner's door. A night light. I remembered it fondly. The same lantern both years. A big-box store special that couldn't have cost more than several dollars. But it did the job!
This year he planned to hang that lantern again while I visited. On the same hook, on the same tree. The lantern, though, had seen better days. It would smoke, but not light. Even full of kerosene. Dad decided to fix it.
Tools were assembled, measurements taken, and the wick eventually withdrawn for replacement. Well ... tools. Actually, whatever was at hand.
Wick replacement, however, turned out to be more difficult than anyone could imagine. Soon it was clear to everyone observing that this lantern had not been made with the expectation that it would be repaired. Certainly not anything as complex as a wick replacement. Obvious to everyone, that is, except Dad. He was determined to fix it. And scoffed at my suggestion that I go to the store and buy a replacement.
Dad continued to work on the lantern throughout all of that day, and even well into the night. Most of the night, in fact. A replacement wick proved too wide and thick to fit. Whittled down to size it fit, but tended to disintegrate into a stringy mass.
By noon or so of the next day, Dad did indeed have the lantern working. He fired it up. It flamed, and then flamed some more! Impressive in its way. But hardly the soft, dim light required of a night light.
Within a few minutes the flame had spread outside the glass globe, and threatened to reach the fuel supply that the bottom of the lantern contained. It was quite a sight!
Dad finally decided it might be better to put it out -- if possible -- before that happened. And did so. He'd made the light work! Work well, in fact. If a bit too well for safety's sake.
Determination. Perseverance. Don't give up. Ever! Even if you'll celebrate your 86th birthday in just a few days.
The Lounge Chair[s] Project
Another example of determination and perseverance. One that started long before Dad and Arlene left Iron Station, North Carolina for the annual drive to The Property. Dad decided, quite reasonably, to build a lounge chair that he could use at The Property. Comfort, stability, and portability, seemed to be the construction criteria.
All of which makes sense. However, another, larger criterion came into play. That was the importance of using materials at hand rather than buying new ones. The material at hand in this case turned out to be one of those early- and mid-Sixties lawn chairs made of thin aluminum tubing and webbing of even thinner multi-colored synthetic material. Like the lantern, these were inexpensive to buy and most certainly were not intended to be used for more than one or two seasons.
Well, Dad had at least one of them left over from an earlier era. One that had been repaired with Duct Tape a number of times, and even rewoven. He decided to make this material-at-hand the basis of his new lounge chair.
He added a foot brace to the bottom.
He braced the under-structure with strips of wood available from the woodpile. Holding the whole thing together with a combination of screws, Duct Tape, and wood glue. Making sure the new footers -- well ... new to this project, anyway -- were wide enough to give it the necessary stability.
Neighbors in Iron Station, however, worried about this project. And in a remarkable demonstration of neighborly generosity, presented Dad with a new, very durable, lounge chair. For him to take to "The Property" this year.
Dad was very touched by their gift, and took that chair as well on the Trip North. After some modifications, of course. The photo on the right shows him taking full advantage of their generous gift. Set up in a spot nearby with a different view of the woods.
But to nobody's surprise who knows Dad very well, the original lounge chair project was not to be abandoned. After so much effort it had to be made to work.
So, it too went in the truck and up to "The Property." Where it's now placed in a different location. One with a different view of the woods. And under the delicately engineered awning at the side of the motor home. With bug netting that can be raised and lowered for those times of day when biting insects find the energy necessary to climb the hills to invade even that part of the country.
I must admit. Both chairs are very comfortable. Both have Gibraltar-level stability. Both serve their purpose and make Dad's stay at The Property even more comfortable.
Friday and Saturday, July 24th and 25th
Two more days during which I could enjoy the hills and country air I remember so well from my youth during the 1950s. And enjoy Dad's and Arlene's company. Friday night we were able to persuade Dad to go out for a fish fry dinner at Club Valentine in Bath. A real treat. And on Saturday Dad and I laed around The Property while Arlene visited relatives in Pennsylvania. It was a great time.
Late Saturday afternoon I drove down to Bath in search of a health food restaurant that offered take-out dinners. The closest I could find was a Pizza Hut on Route 415. We had a take-out pizza from there last year. Somehow they manage to make their pizzas taste better than at other Pizza Hut restaurants. And, of course, they are more healthful!
It's easy to go to bed early up there, given the quiet and clear mountain air. Arlene returned around 8:00 p.m., and we talked for a while. I'm not sure Dad and I left enough pizza for her dinner .... Good thing she'd eaten before leaving!
Tomorrow, Sunday, I'm off mid-morning for Raystown Lake, Pennsylvania. A Corps of Engineers campground named "Seven Points."