a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!
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It wasn’t the best news I’d ever received. Cynthia gave me a prescription for a low dose of medicine. Not wanting to be on any medicine, I asked, “What can I do to lower my blood pressure on my own - without meds.”
“Exercise and lose the extra weight.” She said. “I’m working on that.” I told her. “What else can I do?” I asked. “Quit smoking...” She said, “I did that almost nine years ago.” I explained.
“Good for you! Now switch to a more healthy diet.” She said, “Cut down on the salt, alcohol and caffeine.” “Caffeine? As in coffee?” I queried. “Yes. Cut way down or switch to decaf coffee.” She replied. I hung my head and pouted, “Decaf? What’s the point?” She rolled her eyes and continued. “Avoid stress.” She said. I rolled my eyes, “Decaf stresses me.”
“Cut down on fats and red meat. You don’t need to eat red meat more than once a week.” Seeing my delicious steaks, hamburgers and roast beef slipping away from me, I asked, “Cut down on red meat? What am I supposed to eat? Cardboard?” “Eat more chicken and fish.” She said.
“I already eat a lot of chicken - and salmon once a week.” I explained. She responded, “Keep doing these things; we’ll keep an eye on your blood pressure. Get it back down where it should be, then we can get rid of the meds.”
I’ve read the brochures on hypertension. She didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know - what she did tell me is that it’s time to start applying that information to MY lifestyle. I also knew for all the healthy things I was eating and doing, the unhealthy habits were taking their toll - it was time to cut out the...ugh...fast food.
As I left her office, I took inventory of what she just told me. “Diet, exercise and lose weight. Avoid stress. No smoking, get rid of the salt, alcohol and caffeine. Cut way back on red meat, eat fish and chicken instead.” My eyes lit up.
“Chicken? She just told me to eat more KFC.” I said aloud. Okay, maybe that’s not exactly what she said, but that’s what I heard and I love Kentucky Fried Chicken!
I was laughing about that as I got in my car and drove away, headed for KFC. One last hurrah if you will, just like Fat Tuesday, before Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Season. It would be like my last supper; a celebration of my new heathy diet...that starts tomorrow.
I started to reminisce about the first time I ever tasted KFC. I was about eleven or twelve years old; we lived in Madison, Wisconsin. My brother Dan worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken at the corner of Monona Drive and Davidson Street - about four blocks from our house.
My brother Gerard and I would walk by the restaurant and look in the front windows. A time or two we knocked on the window to get Danny’s attention. “You guys can’t be knocking on the windows when people are sitting at the booth.” Danny told us, but we didn’t mind - those people weren’t bothering us.
We didn’t have any money, but we knew if Danny saw us and waved, we could run around behind the store to the back door. Danny would come out and give us each a piece of chicken. Needless to say, that was a real treat.
We’d walk back home, eating our chicken right down to the bones, then lick our fingers clean, too. I sometimes wonder if that’s where the Colonel got his slogan. “When I grow up and get a job,” I told Gerard, “I’m going to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken every day.” Those eleven herbs and spices had me, hook, line and sinker.
A few years later, my family moved to Ottumwa, Iowa. My dad was a member of the Rotary Club. It seemed like every time the Rotarians were working on a project, like cleaning up trash from a highway, planting redbud trees in a park, setting up for Oktoberfest, or other such community service, I was recruited to be a Rotarian for the day, too.
I didn’t mind helping, especially because Dale Gottschalk was also a Rotarian, and Dale happened to own the KFC in Ottumwa. It wasn’t uncommon for Dale to bring several buckets of chicken for the workers when the work was done. I was glad to be a worker!
By the time I turned 16, I had already been working for a couple years and had my own money. I bought a motorcycle, then got my license. My little Kawasaki 400 quickly learned the way to KFC at the corner of Richmond and Ferry Streets. Mmm.
As I was driving to KFC that day after my check up, two little people showed up on my shoulders. On the left was a little southern gentleman wearing glasses. He had white hair and a white goatee. He was wearing a white suit with a black southern style string bow tie. “It’s finger lickin’ good.” He said to me, with a drumstick in one hand and a red and white bucket in the other.
On my right shoulder was a little nurse practitioner with a blood pressure cuff in one hand, shaking a little amber vial of pills like a rattle in the other. “How about a nice green salad with grilled chicken, instead?” She suggested.
“Aw geesh!” I said, in a confused state of mind. “Willpower man, willpower!” I turned the car toward a restaurant where I could get a nice hot bowl of oatmeal and some dry wheat toast. Besides, it was only nine in the morning and KFC doesn’t open until ten or eleven, I suppose.
Several KFC free weeks later, my wife and I were on a road trip passing through Kentucky on I-75 making our way to Florida. The big blue square billboard listed the gas stations and restaurants at the next exit.
“Look honey! A KFC at the next exit and we could use gas, too.” “Do we need gas yet?” She asked, I answered, “Not for about fifty more miles, but when traveling cross country it never hurts to be safe and have plenty of fuel in the tank, ya know!”
She looked at me, shaking her head in disbelief that such words would come from my mouth. I’m one who refuels when the gas light comes on...and has been on for awhile. Sometimes quite awhile...
“We’re eating at Cook Out tonight, remember?” She reminded me, “BBQ, great hush puppies and Fresh banana shakes?” I complained, “Why can’t we have KFC tonight? I haven’t had it for a long time.” She continued, “Unless you want to stop in Corbin, 20 miles down the road and eat there...” “What’s in Corbin?” I mocked, “A restaurant that serves the best rabbit food this side of the Mississippi River?”
“Probably,” She said adding, “that and the restaurant where Colonel Sanders first served his Kentucky Fried Chicken.” My eyes widened. “Really?” I asked. She replied,“I suppose we could eat there tonight and have Cook-Out another night, if you want to...” This was a no-brainer as far as I was concerned. We drove on, turning off at exit 29 and drove into the little town of Corbin, Kentucky, my mouth already watering.
Some reviews on the restaurant and museum said the location seemed to be in a seedy part of town. There were several small shops in the area, some weren’t real well kept, but I didn’t care. I really wanted to go to this KFC. It didn’t seem bad to me at all and it certainly wasn’t a dangerous area.
I smiled ear-to-ear when we pulled into the parking lot, which sported a modern sign with a marquee and the famous KFC bucket on top.
The restaurant itself was really cool. It looked more like a house with several tall peaks and a dark shingled roof. It didn’t look anything like a modern, or even an older style KFC. As a matter of fact, it still has the old neon sign over the door that reads “Sanders Cafe.”
The main part of the building where we entered was the original building. The the modern KFC restaurant on the other side has been replicated to look like part of the 1939 motel complex. It was the original part that had me interested.
Harland Sanders started out operating a gas station. He would feed travelers in the garage, eventually opening a cafe. His fried chicken was what his guests loved. It became so popular he couldn’t keep up with demand, and in those days you just didn’t make extra food anticipating to sell it. He found a way to modify a pressure cooker and fry his chicken under pressure in far less time, and kept the chicken very tender.
The really cool thing to me - a guy who loves to cook, especially with pressure cookers - is that his original cookers are still there. His kitchen is still intact. The museum features a room that was made correct to the period, showing the style of rooms Sanders rented. His office also was on display. I was really enjoying the whole experience!
We went to the modern side where the current KFC restaurant is located. There were more cases of old memorabilia; cooking utensils, one of his white suits, and a case with a model of Harland Sanders original motel and cafe buildings the way they were when he was running them. I took it all in.
We got in line at the counter. Melissa ordered a one-piece chicken breast dinner that came with an extra wing - free! I was going to order the twelve-piece bucket with a quart of potatoes and gravy, coleslaw and a mountain of biscuits. After all, this could be my last supper - at least my last KFC for a really long time.
Well, I was going to, until a little southern gentleman in glasses with white hair and a white goatee showed up on my left shoulder. “It’s finger lickin’ good.” He said to me with a drumstick in one hand and a red and white bucket in the other. On my right shoulder was a little nurse practitioner with a blood pressure cuff in one hand, shaking a little amber vial of pills like a rattle in the other. “How about a little moderation?” She suggested.
“Aw geesh!” I said, “Just give me the two-piece dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy and coleslaw.” The cashier repeated my order, “...is that correct?” She asked. “And an extra biscuit. I want an extra biscuit.” Melissa and the nurse practitioner both glared at me. “Okay,” I conceded, “Skip the extra biscuit and that’ll be it.” We chose to sit in the dining area that was part of the original cafe.
I swear, the chicken was fresher than I’ve ever tasted, the biscuits more flakey. Even the potatoes, gravy and coleslaw were better than usual. Maybe it really was, or maybe it just seemed better because I hadn’t had KFC for a long time. Truthfully, it was great food combined with the ambiance of the historical setting that made it extra special and delicious.
When I was finished, Melissa gave me her extra wing. I devoured that, then I licked my fingers and said, “I think I’m going to order one more piece of chicken.” “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Melissa replied. I offered my rebuttal. “Cynthia said I should eat more chicken. I’m doing it for health reasons, under professional medical direction.”
My wife rolled her eyes saying, “I seriously doubt that’s what she meant and you know it.” She slid a small paper sack toward me. “Eat this instead.” She said. “What is it?” I queried. “It’s a chocolate chip cookie. It came with your meal.” I grumbled, “I’ll bet Colonel Sanders never served chocolate chip cookies!”
After cleaning my hands with the traditional KFC wet-nap, I went back to the newer side of the restaurant. On a park style bench sat a life-size figure of Colonel Sanders. He posed casually with his right leg crossed over his left and his left arm stretched over the back of the bench.
I sat next to Harland to have my picture taken. Just before I stood up, I told him, “I’ll be back, my friend.” The colonel said, “I’ll be here.” I smiled at him.
Although it may not be the healthiest, no one can deny his chicken is finger-licking good. Even if this was to be my last supper - what a way to go!
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As my wife and I continue to drive all over the country, we are starting to notice the annual jacking up of gasoline prices to coincide with the coming of Memorial Day weekend, the kick-off to the summer travel season.
Every year the big oil companies have another excuse as to why the prices of gasoline were raised: a natural disaster, foreign issues, government problems, OPEC raised the barrel price of crude oil, OPEC lowered the price of crude oil, causing a rise in gasoline prices, less swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano. My favorite is always; “Prices went up because of increased demand.” Really? Because of increased demand?
Did the coming of Memorial Day catch you off guard? With thousands of employees in the industry, not one person put up a post-it note in their cubical to remind them, “Memorial Day will be the last Monday in May this year. People are going to start traveling for the summer. Make more gasoline.”
The oil industry could learn a lesson from the sausage makers around the world. These people know Oktoberfest is going be celebrated the first weekend of October, so they make more sausage for brats. They never get caught off guard, running short of brats - and they don’t jack up the price of these delicious sausages for Oktoberfest.
Big oil companies have charged more for nothing for years!
Take for example, the coming of unleaded fuel in the 1970’s. Unleaded fuel was always more expensive then regular leaded fuel. Why? Lead is not natural to gasoline - it’s an additive.
Obviously I know about the environmental impact of burning lead in your gasoline, but big oil companies charged more to not add tetraethyl lead? Hmm.
A thinner nozzle was used on the unleaded fuel pump handle, the new car itself had a much smaller opening on the fuel filler neck that would prevent the larger regular fuel nozzle from fitting. Some people didn’t want to pay for the higher priced fuel and punched out the smaller hole, making it big enough for the larger regular fuel nozzle to be inserted.
Another issue with unleaded fuel was the smell of the exhaust. Ick! When you pulled up behind a car burning unleaded fuel, the scent of the exhaust would get in through your fresh air vents or open windows. The putrid smell of rotten eggs would cause you to wrinkle you nose and gag a bit. It was nasty, no doubt about it.
I wonder what ever happened to that nasty stench? Did the fuel refineries find a way to eliminate it? Did it go away - or did we just get used to it, accepting it as the new “norm?” Hmm.
I apologize, I’ve digressed from the subject of this story. It was supposed to be about Memorial Day.
Originally, the holiday was called Decoration Day. It was used to decorate the grave markers, remembering those who died in the Civil War - both Union and Confederate soldiers.
As time went on, the day was used to decorate the graves of those who died in both World Wars as well. It became inclusive of those who died in Korea and Vietnam, and eventually all soldiers who died in any conflict while serving in the US Military branches.
Memorial Day didn’t became an official federal holiday until 1971. Unfortunately to some, it has become just a paid day off work. How sad.
Recently, Melissa and I went to visit the graves of her ancestors and relatives on her grandma Lucille’s side of the family, who are buried at the Coatsville Cemetery, not far from Lancaster, Missouri.
It is a quiet country cemetery, surrounded by farm fields, with markers in straight rows across the hilly knoll. The grass wasn’t real tall, but would soon be ready for a cutting. There were many older deteriorating stones, some had broken and fallen.
The really old markers were worn by elements of weather over the years. Distorted wording, carved into the limestone, was hard or impossible to read. Sometimes we could make out a year that would indicate the ones who had died in the Civil War.
Although this cemetery was old, very small, and located on a narrow gravel road out in the countryside, it was not a forgotten place. Some of the graves had small American flags near the base. Others were marked with flowers and other such decorations. Someone had taken the time to raise fallen stones, propping them up against the remaining base. It warmed my heart seeing this sign of respect for the long dead.
Among the older stones were a few newer markers for those who had passed more recently. This was still an active cemetery.
There are cattle guards at the driveways entering the cemetery, but a broken down farm fence surrounding the perimeter would allow animals - wild or livestock from nearby farms - to cross into the grounds. Still it was clear someone had been taking care of this site.
There was a very big cedar tree on the grounds the last time we had visited. It was now gone. In its place a trickle of smoke was still rising from the burning stump. I would guess the tree either died, or maybe it had been struck by lightning.
There was a new, tall flag pole that was not there the last time we were.
I wondered, who removed the tree? Who put up that flag pole? I wondered further, who maintains this lot? I assumed it must be maintained by the county.
We continued to walk around looking for headstones bearing the name Veatch; Melissa’s relatives.
A lady pulled into the cemetery, driving a Polaris Ranger. She approached us and was friendly in the way she inquired why we were there. She told us her husband, a farmer working in the field across the way, called her from his tractor to let her know there were people in the cemetery.
We learned her name was Sara Morrow. She and her husband are the caretakers of the Coatsville Cemetery. She explained her son, who died at a young age in the late nineties, was buried here and pointed to his marker.
There was a sadness in her eyes and voice as she spoke of her son. She is still grieving her loss. I felt her pain.
Melissa told her we were looking for Veatch graves. She pointed to a headstone then told Sara, her great-uncle, Lala Veatch, (pronounced l?-lee) owned the 80-acre farm on the hilltop just beyond the valley. Sara said, “Oh! I knew Lala. I still remember his laugh.”
Melissa mentioned she still has relatives that live in the area - “Lyle and Pat York. Pat worked at the post office.” She said. Sara’s eyes lit up. “I saw Lyle just last week!” She said. The two women made a connection. Melissa had grown up, visiting this and other country cemeteries each year around Memorial Day, brought by her grandparents and then her parents. It had become a family tradition to remember their ancestors and pass along the stories while walking amongst the graves.
Sara stayed and chatted with us for twenty minutes or so. She gave us a good education on country cemeteries. Being on the board of directors, Sara had learned the man who kept the grass mowed, would no longer be able to do so. She and her husband had assumed the lawn care for the grounds.
“The county does not provide any funding for these old cemeteries - at least not in Missouri.” Sara said, adding, “The only funding we have is from donations, and we spend a lot of our own money to make improvements.”
Those improvements included the new flag pole, planting new trees, buying flags to make sure all veterans’ graves are marked with an American flag for Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Larger flags to fly across the front of the cemetery. Raising old tombstones and placing them on new concrete bases to preserve them and more. “We’re trying to raise enough money now to replace all the old fencing around the perimeter.” She said.
Her passion for keeping this cemetery well-kept was heart felt.
Often times when delivery trailers, customers will give me a tip. The tip is generally fifty, or one hundred dollars. We are not rich people, but we are not starving either, so when we get these tips, we give them to others who may need the money.
I remembered there was a one hundred dollar bill in the car we hadn’t given away yet. Listening to Sara talk, I smiled thinking, we just found a good use for that money. Melissa was thinking the same thing. Sara expressed great appreciation for the gift. One would have thought we had just given her thousands! We, in turn, expressed our gratefulness for the work of the Morrow’s in keeping the cemetery nice.
This Memorial Day, when you’re out visiting loved ones who have passed, please look for a donation box at the cemetery. If you don’t find one, please take the time to call your county and find out if the cemetery maintenance is funded or done by donation. Find out who maintains the grounds, send them a donation and a note of gratitude for their hard work.
I don’t notice the exhaust fumes from unleaded gasoline anymore. Did they go away, or did I just get used to the scent - taking it for granted, accepting it as the new norm?
Let us never forget what we are to remember on Memorial Day. The veterans and loved ones who lay to rest in the small Coatsville cemeteries around our great nation. Let’s take time to seek out and support the Morrow’s all over our country, who take care of these cemetery grounds.
To all who served our country, sacrificing their lives for our freedom, Thank You! You are remembered this Memorial Day and always.
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I’ve spent a lot of time over the years exploring Colorado. What a beautiful state! It wasn’t uncommon for me to journey there six, eight or even ten times a year. Being a Denver Broncos fan, I went to a lot of home football games; always making time to venture into the mountains while there.
The number of trips to Colorado tapered off, then quietly came to a halt as I found a new hobby - flying skydivers. The experience of taking jumpers to 10 or 12,000 feet reminded me of being in Colorado. The air is cold and thin at that altitude, the sights are spectacular and oh, the thrill!
Each flight was an escape from the hassles and burdens of everyday life. It was like a mini trip to the far away state I dearly loved. Flying skydivers consumed many of my weekends during the season. I love flying airplanes, but still, I held onto my passion for the Rocky Mountains.
Melissa had told me of her trips to Colorado before we met and how she fell in love with the San Juan Mountains around Ouray. Her description of the area re-kindled my yearning to return to Colorado. We talked about it and committed to go someday.
One day we packed an overnight bag, jumped in the airplane and flew to Front Range Airport, just outside of Denver. We rented a car and drove to Georgetown, a favorite place of mine. We explored the Gunellea Pass over the historic mountain town together, had a wonderful dinner at the Red Ram, listened to some great music, and stayed the night at the Mountain Inn.
The next day we had talked about continuing west to Ouray, but the drive was too long. We just didn’t have enough time. “We’ll explore the mountains around Georgetown now and go to Ouray on our next visit.” We decided...but didn’t seem to get back that way.
Several years later, we planned to go to Ouray for our 8th annual honeymoon trip. Our plans to head west made a 180-degree turn and we ended up out east, exploring New England instead.
The next year I had a late December business trip taking me to southern California. Melissa would travel with me and on our return trip we would go through Colorado to be in Ouray for Christmas. But, that business trip was postponed; we changed plans and spent a memorable holiday with family in Austin, Texas.
The trip to California was rescheduled to February. The third time is a charm. On our return, Melissa and I finally made it to Ouray, together.
We arrived from the south, coming in on the Million Dollar Highway. Carved out of the mountain, the ledge twisted and turned, following her lines. To the right was the solid rock mountain with no shoulder; to the left there were no guardrails and no shoulder. The road dropped off a cliff, falling deep into the valley below. There was no room for error. Twenty-five miles per hour never felt so fast. It was breath-taking for sure.
That early evening, Melissa and I stopped at O’Briens Irish Pub - a quaint little place to relax and enjoy a pint of cold brew. We sat at a tall table with high stools in the front window to enjoy the mountains and the scenic Main Street of Ouray, Colorado.
People passing by on the sidewalk would stop to look at the menu, posted in the storefront window right next to us. It seemed they were coming to visit us at our table, but being separated by the glass. Eventually, I started having fun with them, knocking on the window, waving my hand, motioning for them to come on in.
Some of the people looked at me like I was a weirdo and scurried on past to avoid making eye contact. Others waved back, laughed, then walked on by. A few groups came inside, we greeted and welcomed each of them to O’Brien’s as if we worked there as hosts.
One group that came in seemed more friendly than the others, returning our salutations. We shared a brief conversation, then they took a seat at a regular short table across from us on the other side of the entrance. I assumed them to be man and wife and maybe an adult son, or a friend.
We finished our pint and started for the front door. As we passed the table of three, the man stretched out his arms and said to us in a sincere spirited voice, “It was so good to see you guys again!” For a moment I thought he was going to hug me! “It was good to see you as well. Maybe we’ll run into you again soon” I said. We shared a good laugh then Melissa and I left.
As we we crossing the street to go check out the Ouray Brewing Company. I told Melissa, “I should have got their names. They seemed like the kind of people we would enjoy hanging out with.”
We spent that night in a small one-room log cabin at Riverside Cabins and Motel, on the edge of town. The rustic room featured a full size log bed, with a set of log bunk beds to the side. The table was a log shelf mounted to the wall. A log style bench rounded out the furnishings.
The door handle was a rope that went through the door, lifting a board latch on the inside. There was no TV, nor telephone. One single bulb on the ceiling provided sufficient lighting. The room was heated by an electric wood stove. It was simple. Just what we wanted and we loved it.
That evening we took advantage of the amenities offered outdoors. We sat in the hot tub, in the cold night air. The steam from our breath was lost in the steam rising from the hot water. Looking up at the sky, the stars were giving way to a nearly full moon that was rising over the ridge, lighting the snowy tops of the mountain range surrounding us. The tranquility I was experiencing was humbling.
When we got out of the hot tub, I didn’t want to put my shoes on, so I stepped quickly across the snow packed ground to the shower house. My wife showing more sense than I, put on her shoes. The ground was freezing cold, yet the short walk in my bare feet was exhilarating and worth it.
After a nice hot shower we returned to out cabin. We turned up the heat, cracked the window open to enjoy the fresh mountain air and the sound of the stream running just outside our cabin. Melissa and I took the big bed. June Bug, our dog, slept on the bottom bunk and Edgar Allan, our cat, claimed the top bunk where he could keep watch over his loyal subjects below. By the morning we were all in the big bed together. Needless to say, we slept very well.
The next day we went to the Ouray Ice Park in Box Canyon. It was amazing to watch athletes of all ages, in full safety gear, climb the walls of ice. With a pick in each hand and special boots with cleats, they made their way up and down the vertical walls, tying off on climbing ropes.
While we were walking back to our truck a SUV pulled up along side us. “Are you going to be at the pub later?” The driver asked. Melissa and I looked at him, then at each other. Not having any idea who he was, we assumed he had mistaken us for someone else. Then MeIssa’s eyes widened, “Hey! It’s the people from O’Briens last night.” She said.
We stood at the side of their vehicle enjoying some conversation. When a car pulled up behind them, we said our farewells and they drove away. “I can’t believe I forgot to get their names again.” I told Melissa, adding, “They really seem like cool people. The kind we would hang out with to a share a bottle of wine.” Another missed opportunity.
Later that afternoon, Melissa and I were walking up and down Main Street. Exploring store front windows and occasionally entering a shop. We were discussing the beauty of Ouray, admiring the view of the mountains, when a man said, “Well, hello again!”
“Hey!” I said. It was the man and woman from O’Brien’s, without their friend this time. The third time is a charm and I wasn’t going to miss another opportunity. I learned his name was Keith Boos and his wife was Martha Claudine. They were visiting from Louisiana. We exchanged contact information and had another nice chat. We would have asked them to dinner, but we had to start for home yet that day. We said our farewells then went about our way.
Keith had explained the young man with them was a guide. When we ran into them earlier that day they were just coming down from the road to Yankee Boy Basin. Melissa and I had also driven that road that day. It is a very narrow, steep road. Though often only wide enough for one vehicle, it was a two-way road with no guardrails and steep drop offs into deep valleys below. There were plenty of sharp turns and blind corners. It was another Colorado mountain pass where the driver had to pay attention to the road.
Melissa told me a story of the time, years ago, when her dad drove them up that road in a rental car. He had taken off on his own early in the morning, then came back to get his family and drive them up the road. She told me she recalled an open meadow or field at the top of the road. I wanted to go there.
The day we drove it we could only go so far, then the road was closed for snow. Determined to drive all the way to Yankee Boy Basin, I told Melissa, “We’ll come back another time and drive to the top.” She agreed, that’s what we needed to do. Melissa’s birthday in May would be a good opportunity to do so.
May soon came. We started out west on a trip with our Scamp. The journey would first take us to Winona, Minnesota where Friday morning we attended our youngest daughter’s college graduation ceremony, then celebrated Friday night around a campfire.
Saturday morning we went to Lark Toy Company, in Kellogg, Minnesota for our youngest granddaughter’s first birthday party. By Saturday night, we were in Waterloo, Iowa spending the night with our kids and grandkids.
Sunday morning after church, we drove to the cemeteries near Coatsville, Missouri, to visit the grave sites of Melissa’s ancestors, then on to the Lake of the Ozarks for a four-day “working visit” with my brother Dan at their house on the lake. It had been a full trip already, and we were just getting started!
Thursday evening, we were finally on our way to celebrate Melissa’s birthday and Mother’s Day in Ouray Colorado.
On the drive over, I was already thinking about the challenge of driving up to Yankee Boy Basin. I had Melissa tell me the story again, about her Dad driving up there and then going again with her family. This time, that mountain would be mine!
After a tour though town, we started up the road to Yankee Boy Basin. The Subaru worked hard to pull the Scamp up the steep hills. Along the way, we stopped and set up our Scamp at the Thistledown forest service campground. What an amazing site we found!
Our campsite was right on Angel Creek. The cool mountain air rushed through the pine and aspen trees. The water in the stream rushed over the rocks. It’s an odd thing, how two loud sounds can bring about such peace and contentment.
After we set up, we continued up the road toward Yankee Boy Basin. The winding road was awesome! There is one place where the road is under construction for repairs. The mountain creek waters flow over the road surface. Melissa told me not to cross the water. I assured her, this is a place where the road has a paved dip for the waters to cross. It’s designed for traffic to pass through. She made me get out of the car to inspect the road for holes or erosion.
I did and returned to report “The road is fine. The water is two-inches deep and I’m going through.” We passed safely. We found places where the road runs under an overhanging mountain cliff. It was single lane with a straight drop off over the cliff to the south. A deep groove along the north wall of the mountain allowed water to drain. If one veered off the road either way, they would have a serious problem. To the north, the ditch would high-center their car. To the south...well, let’s not talk about what that result would be.
We continued on until we came to a fork in the road. To the left was Governor Basin - not recommend for any vehicle travel. To the right, Yankee Boy Basin continued. We veered to the right.
A short distance later the road became more narrow and rugged, there were signs warning, “High Clearance, Four Wheel Drive Vehicles Recommended.” I tried to distract Melissa by pointing out something the other way, but it was too late; she already saw and read the bright orange warning sign.
I maneuvered the Subaru around several large rocks (or small boulders as Melissa called them) embedded in the road. She suggested we should turn back. “You’re going to tear up our car,” She said. “Nonsense!” I replied, while carefully going around another rock. “If your dad could do it in a Toyota Camry, I can do it in my Subaru!” “OUR Subaru.” She corrected me, then justified, “Dad did it in a rental car. In 1995. This is our car and I don’t want you to damage it. Please turn around.”
“Fine! I’ll turn around.” I said in protest. I was silently thankful for her resistance because just ahead was a deep dip with a lot of big loose rocks. I wasn’t sure the car would have cleared them. Silently, I justified, “There is no way those rocks could have been there when Phil went through in a Camry. No way!”
As I backed the car up I grumbled aloud, “But let the record show, you are the fun-hater who stopped me!” “That’s fine with me,” She said, adding, “I’m the smart fun-hater who saved our car!” Hmfph!
We headed down the road, back into town. I pulled into a parking space in front of O’Brien’s just to make sure Keith wasn’t there waiting for us. He wasn’t, so we drove to Riverside Cabins where we had stayed on our previous trip.
I inquired about renting a Jeep. The owner told me the rental rates then asked, “Where are you wanting to go with the Jeep?” “Yankee Boy Basin.” I replied, then explained how far we got in the car.” He chuckled, “Then you don’t want to rent a Jeep today. You’ll only get about a quarter-mile past that point before you run into snow. You can’t get to the top right now.” I left, feeling defeated, but had to agree with him.
We headed back up the road to the campsite. I told Melissa, “The colors here will be beautiful in the fall. Maybe we should come back to Ouray for our annual honeymoon trip this year.” She said we should consider that, suggesting “We could bring the truck next time and camp out of the back and backpack through the mountains.” I agreed, then said to myself, “Yes, that would be fun! In our Toyota Tacoma. A high clearance, four wheel drive vehicle!”
Yankee Boy Basin, we shall meet again...next time at the top. After all, the third time is a charm!
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With the same confusion or disorientation one would experience when pinching themself to be sure they weren’t dreaming, I thumbed through the pages of my calendar book. “Yes! I knew it! There it is right there. March 21st was the first day of spring. This is supposed to be spring!” It hasn’t always felt like it.
We traveled a lot of miles during the month of April, covering 25 different states and seeing nearly as many various looks of spring.
We started with a trip to Washington, near Seattle. On and off we hit rain, snow, sleet, sunshine...and so on. At our destination in Sammamish, the weather was beautiful - just as one would expect in the spring. We completed our business there and returned home.
Leaving Minnesota, Sunday night, on a solo leg of the trip, I saw cars and trucks scattered like litter in the ditches, all the way from Duluth to the Twin Cities - dozens of them! I knew it was bad when I saw a state maintainer, pulling one of those big trailers with the huge wing plows, off the side of the road. The big truck slid off the highway on the right side.
Once in the grip of the deep snow filled ditch, the massive powerful truck was just as helpless as the passenger cars. A four-wheel drive truck in the center median shot snow high into the air while spinning his wheels trying to get un-stuck. “Stop spinning your wheels!” I wanted to tell him. “You’re just digging yourself in deeper.” I know this for certain. I’ve been there before as well.
I pressed on slow and steady toward my destination, Ottumwa, Iowa, then on to Kansas City, arriving safely. I returned home the following day to get Melissa and head off on our next leg of this journey. While passing through St. Paul, a large chunk of packed snow and ice flew off the top of a semi trailer. It hit my windshield, not just cracking it - but literally smashing the glass.
With the help of the good people at City Glass in Duluth, I was able to get the windshield replaced the same day and my car was ready to head out to Florida the next morning. The weather was beautiful. One would never know a big storm passed through here just a day before.
Crossing southern Wisconsin, the weather changed again. We pressed on through a nasty winter storm. Large state plow trucks worked three abreast with the same precision pilots would use while flying in formation.
One truck cleared the left lane. With his wing extended, he pushed the snow into the center lane. The truck in the middle lane caught the ridge of snow from the first truck. His big blade pushed the pile off to the right, then his extended wing caught the snow and continued pushing it to the right. The wave of snow kept growing.
The largest truck was in the right lane where he caught the pile and continued its progress, pushing it to the right. His big wing finally pushed the snow completely off the highway. It was amazing to watch them work so well together, clearing all three lanes simultaneously.
Eventually, the three trucks formed into one single file line, then exited the highway to the right. In my rearview mirror I could see them crossing the bridge overhead. I assume they were going back to clear the westbound lanes in the same fashion.
A large amount of traffic had built up behind the group of trucks. Most of the vehicles seemed content to drive on the freshly plowed roads behind the posse of big trucks. But there were also those who seemed bothered by the nuisance of these three maintainers taking up all three lanes.
The road ahead featured a plowed center and right lane. The left lane was unplowed and covered with heavy snow and slush. We were in the center lane, driving about sixty miles per hour, moving consistent with the flow of traffic.
A four-wheel-drive Chevy pickup went speeding by us in the left lane. His custom exhaust system was loud, deep and throaty. It seemed to say, “Out of my way, you pathetic little Subaru! I’ve places to go and you’re bothering me.”
He wasn’t very far past us when his tires lost their grip on the road. The truck, doing about 80 mph or so, was now sliding sideways down the road. Deep snow pushed by his tires was creating a cloud of snow - a white out. I couldn’t get into the right lane as there were cars there. I feared his tires were going to find some dry pavement and shoot him into our lane!
I felt like a NASCAR driver, pressing through a smokey crash. All I could do was maintain my position and pray to pass through unscathed. Soon, I passed the nose of his truck, perpendicular to my car, just inches away. His headlights shining directly into our car as we went by. We missed him. My prayers were answered.
Melissa and I were discussing how lucky that foolish driver was, and how the good Lord was looking out for us. While we were having this conversation, the idiot went flying by us again, in the still un-plowed left lane. Wow. I told Melissa, “Some people just don’t know how to drive in this springtime weather.” “Alabama plates.” She replied.
We made it to our destination. The tall palm trees on the lush green boulevards said, “Welcome to Florida.” The weather was mild for Floridians, but to a couple from northern Minnesota, the 79 degree temperature combined with the humidity was mighty warm. Fortunately, there was a good breeze to cool us and provide comfort. We visited the people we needed to see, then found a motel and called it a night.
The next morning, we headed out early. We drove north past St. Augustine, then found a pet friendly public beach. We wanted to take June and Edgar for a morning walk along the sandy shores of the Atlantic Ocean to enjoy this spring morning Florida style.
It appeared lots of people with dogs had the same idea. June was curious. Edgar was flat out nervous! When one large dog easily slipped his collar and came charging toward us, I quickly reeled June in while Melissa snatched Edgar up into her arms.
“Don’t worry, he’s friendly.” The owner called out to us. “He won’t hurt you.” That was no comfort. I wasn’t worried about us, I was worried about Edgar and June. The dog continued to charge, especially toward Edgar. June wanted to defend us, but I kept pulling her leash, turning so that I would stay between the attacker and June, Melissa and Edgar.
June growled, drawing the attention of the much larger dog. He started sniffing aggressively at June while I tried to shoo the beast away. The owner finally reached us, slipping the loose collar back over his head and pulling him away.
He made me angry. Sure, he had a leash on his dog, but that collar fit about as tight as a hula hoop around the waist of a skinny kid! Melissa and I agreed, there were too many animals on this beach to have June and Edgar there. We started for home.
Our next leg on this spring journey took us to the far east side of Pennsylvania and right to the Delaware River that divides PA from New Jersey. As we passed through southern Wisconsin, we couldn’t believe this was the same road we traveled during a winter storm just a few days before. Today it was gorgeous weather.
As we crossed Illinois into Indiana, the rain started. It rained and rained. As a matter of fact, it rained for the next 750 miles, all the way to our destination. I don’t mind driving in inclement weather. Sometimes, I really like it as it makes the drive more challenging, breaking the monotony of the white lines as they flash past the car going down the highway. I smiled. “April showers bring May flowers...right?” There were no flowers...yet.
The final segment of the April tour, would take us to Mobile, Alabama, where we would meet up with Melissa’s parents, then travel together to Austin, Texas.
In Austin, we visited Uncle Kenny and Aunt Gail. Their yard was overgrown with what looked like unruly tall grass. Kenny explained, we had just missed the beauty of the Blue Bonnets in full bloom, a spring treat in Texas. He needed to let the seed pods dry before cutting them, in order that Mother Nature could scatter them for next year’s crop of flowers. It seemed spring arrived in Texas before we did.
On our way home, we avoided I-35 until we were north of Dallas. It was fun driving the backroads along the state highways, seeing the colors of the Texas hill country in their fresh spring greens.
The further north we traveled, the less leaves we would see on the trees. Soon we saw only buds and the trees farther north were still dormant from winter. As we traveled, Melissa checked the weather online. “It looks like we got about three inches of snow at home last night.” “Snow? Three inches you say? I thought it was spring?” We shared a good laugh over that.
When we arrived at home a day later, the new snow was gone. There was still a small amount of snow in the ditches. In the yard, small patches remained where snow had drifted. Water in the ditches flowed swiftly down to streams and creeks, then on to Lake Superior.
In the month of April, Melissa, June, Edgar and I had traveled over 17,000 miles and saw many different interpretations of “spring.” From the west coast to the east coast, from the far north to the deep south. This was the first time I have ever experienced spring in so many different parts of the country.
I thumbed through the pages of my calendar book. “Yes! I knew it! There it is right there. March 21st was the first day of spring!” There was new life and new growth everywhere we looked. It is springtime all across America!
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To others in the car it’s just plain annoying - but to an old radio guy there is a nostalgic romance in listening through the static to hear the show on a far away AM radio station. It requires focus.
You have to turn your head just a little and lean your ear toward the speaker. Where others hear noise, we hear a radio program. We continue to listen because it takes us back to the good old days, bringing a warm and fuzzy feeling.
I was on I-35 southbound for Ottumwa on a Monday morning. I tuned the AM dial to 1040, where Van and Bonnie were doing their morning show. A show that is iconic to central Iowa. Soon, Bob Quinn came on with the farm and market reports. Van. Bonnie. Bob. These legendary radio names put me on a fast track down memory lane.
I thought about the days when I was a young boy. No matter where we were, Dad would tune into “News Radio 78 - WBBM Chicago.” I asked him, “How can you hear the man through all that static.” “Hush!” Dad would say, “I’m trying to hear this.” Without a doubt, he is the one who taught me this art. Ah, those were the good ole days!
I started thinking about Dad’s radio stations in Port Washington, Wisconsin. WGLB AM and FM. I was there the day they were installing their new ITC Cart machines. It was the latest technology for recorded commercials.
It was a cartridge that looked like an 8-Track tape, except it only had one channel. The “cart” as it was called, only had 70 seconds of tape, for a 60 second commercial - 40 seconds for a 30 second commercial, and so on.
The machine left an electronic mark on the tape, which would cause the tape to stop at the very beginning of the recorded message. It was “self cueing.”
Once I started working at the radio station, Dad would often remind us younger broadcasters how easy we had it. “When I was your age, we had three-inch reel to reel tapes for playing commercials and we only had two reel to reel players. When you played a commercial set, you had thirty seconds to rewind one tape, load a new reel and cue up the next commercial. We didn’t tolerate dead air. You just had to do it.” You could feel a warmth in his eyes as he reminisced. “Those were the good old days.” He said as he walked away.
Dad retired November 8th, 1989. For his final morning show I arranged for a variety of special guests to join him on the air via telephone. One of those guests was Ben Hardman. Ben was Dad’s broadcast instructor from a school called Institute of the Airways, which went on to become Brown Institute and today is Brown College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Dad graduated in 1947 as their 55th student.
The two of them, an instructor and his student, talked of the old days. Ben said, “You kids had it so easy with your reel to reel machines. When I was your age, Dan, our commercials were recorded on an actual strand of steel wire. They were such a booger to use. But ah, those were the good old days.”
Another guest on that morning show was Vic Landau. Vic had worked with Dad for many years at many different stations. In 1989 he was still working for WHO in Des Moines. That caused me to resume listening to the morning show with Van and Bonnie.
I again drifted off, thinking about my friend Tracy Songer. We went to high school together. After high school, I went to work for my dad at his radio stations, KLEE and KOTM. Years later, Tracy went to work for KISS-FM, the competition. Still, we always remained friends.
Tracy has a son, Emery, who is the same age as my daughter Delaney. The two were in the same elementary class and always seemed to be the last two standing in a spelling bee, math quiz, or a history bowl.
Delaney would call me after school. “Guess what, Dad?” “What’s that, Sweetie?” I asked. “I beat Emery Songer in the spelling bee today.” She proudly announced. “That’s awesome, Delaney! What was the final word...”
On days when she didn’t call me, I would ask her, “How did your math game go today?” She would sigh, “He won...” “Well, you’ll get him next time.” I would reassure her. Thinking of those days made me smile. Tracy and I were friendly competitors in radio, why shouldn’t our kids be the same in the classroom?
Emery went on to pursue a career in radio. I remember listening to him on sportscasts and play-by-play, thinking, “No way can such a young guy sound so good - as good as the seasoned pros!” Emery was doing well.
I was really proud for my friend Tracy the day he announced on Facebook that his son, Emery, landed the position of Producer for the Van and Bonnie show. That’s not an easy position to get - he clearly had to earn it! I was equally proud of my friend’s son for his hard work!
I thought about how much radio has evolved and changed over the years. In my days of radio I saw the compact disc replace the vinyl records. I saw the computer replace the cart machine, and many other changes. I wish Emery could have known the good old days.
I pondered more and began to question: what were the good old days?
For Ben, they were strands of wire. My Dad saw the good old days on reel to reel tapes. I knew them as days of the cart machine. Emery... What will the good old days be for Emery?
I have no idea what the next generation of recording devices will be, but I am sure of this; Someday, Emery will tell a young broadcaster, “When I was your age, we had to play our commercials from a computer screen! Those were the good old days!” Yes. That’s what he’ll tell them.
The next time you look at a young person and wish they could have experienced the good old days, smile, and remember: these ARE their good old days. These are Emery’s good old days. It will take many, many years before he can realize it.
Along with my wandering thoughts, I was still listening to WHO Radio, hoping maybe Van or Bonnie would say to their producer, “Hey, Emery, what do you think?” And I would get to hear my friend’s kid on the radio.
An announcer finished his sportscast and gave a plug, “This morning’s sports have been brought to you by the Ely Minnesota Chamber of Commerce...”
Ely, Minnesota? Hey! That’s just 60 miles up the road from my house!
It is a small world, getting smaller - and today will soon be one of the good old days!