Down The Road with Dave Volk - 2016 (3)

March 10, 2017


Most years I do not do a blog for the trip home as mainly it just involves hours on the road as I wearily plod my way back to South Dakota. However, this year was different and I wanted to share my travels back to the plains from Florida.

Becky and I leave Longboat Key at 5 am to try and avoid the rush hour around Tampa, which we do and only catch a little congestion at Orlando. Then it is straight north along Interstate 95 and the Atlantic coast. We pass St. Augustine and Jacksonville and head into Georgia. Our destination: Charleston, South Carolina.

I had visited Charleston just once before around 16 years ago. Absolutely loved the city. Wonderful, friendly people, great food and outstanding Civil War history and it is nice to discover it hasn't changed.

Our first visit is to the Confederate Museum, located in a beautiful old Masonic Lodge. It is run by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). I've always wondered why they feel the need to put United in their name as I would assume that was understood, however, I do not proffer that question to these ladies. I had a run in with the UDC many years ago while at a Treasurer's convention in Mobile, Alabama. We were on a bus tour and our guide was a member of the UDC. Her first drawled words were: "Now, down here we do not call it the Civil War. It is called the war of Northern aggression." Which I thought was funny and laughed. She glared at me and said: "Sir, I was not trying to be humorous." OK then.

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Anyway, it is a small but well-done museum expertly managed by the lovely ladies of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

We then go to the Old Slave Mart Museum. It was once a large series of buildings, which had a 'selling floor' at the front of the warehouse. In the rear was a series of pens where the slaves were kept until auction day. They would be brought in weeks early so they could be healed, cleaned and fattened up. Must admit that it was a disturbing feeling to stand on the selling floor, where human beings were inspected, poked and prodded before being sold. It was also where a small child or even a baby might be torn away from their mothers if they were not sold together.


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USS Yorktown
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Ft. Sumter

The next day we go out to Patriot's Point, which is where the South Carolina Maritime Museum is located in the WWII aircraft carrier Yorktown.

We then catch the ferry out to Fort Sumter where, on April 12th 1861 the first shots of Civil War were fired. Captain Anderson, the Union commander of the fort would withstand a constant barrage by the Confederates batteries for 34 hours and on April 14th he surrendered the fort and he and his men were transported to New York. Amazingly no one on either side was killed during the engagement. Anderson would return when the war ended and re-raise the American flag over the rubble of what now was Ft. Sumter.


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Becky & Jet

Back at Patriots Point we discover a new exhibit called the Vietnam Experience, which was a well-done replica of a basecamp in Vietnam. Hadn't thought of or seen hooches, outdoor toilets or mess halls in a long time. While I am showing a map to Becky of where I was stationed in Vietnam a vet volunteer comes up and we start visiting. As we are leaving we say to each other: "Welcome home brother." We Vietnam vets say that often to each other. What a strange greeting for a war that ended over 40 years ago, but somewhat of a legacy of our homecoming.


The next day we are up and headed north to Ashville, NC. It is a gorgeous day and a beautiful drive up through the Blue Ridge Mountains. Our destination is the Grove Park Inn which is a wonderful, old hotel located in the mountains. Massive fireplaces in the lobby, incredible views and almost old world ambience. It still has elevator operators in red jackets for God's sake! Great history with a 'Who's, Who of famous people who have stayed there. Definitely on the agenda for another visit. 

We then continue north and had planned on staying at famous Paducah, KY but weather is so good and traveling so easy we go all the way to Mount Vernon, IL. Nothing too noteworthy here except that we are close enough to St. Louis to find a pretty good rib place for dinner.

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Dave at Grove Park


We are up early and headed across Missouri. If I-90 across southern Minnesota is the boringest road in America, I-70, from St. Louis to Kansas City is the 2nd most boring. However, the weather is again beautiful and, without getting too sappy, Becky and I like each other and travel well together.

I have made it a point, on my returns, to stop at St. Joseph, MO. Great town with some excellent museums. It also has the house where Bob Ford shot and killed Jesse James, who was living under the alias of Tom Howard, on April 3, 1882. Bob Ford and his brother had struck a deal with Missouri governor that if they killed Jesse they would receive $10,000. After they did the deed they got $1400 each and the governor kept the rest. Some things never change. 

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World's Largest Ball of Twine

However, the real attraction here is the Patee House Museum, which is one of the best Old West museums, I have seen. Two floors packed with rich history including the original office of the Pony Express, which was started in St. Joe.

As we are getting ready to leave the museum and begin our final leg of the journey up Interstate 29 to Sioux Falls I discover the Holy Grail for all road travelers.....the World's Largest Ball of Twine! Eat your heart out Clark Griswold.

It is just 4 ½ hours to Sioux Falls so we soon see the familiar view of home. Always a welcome sight after a long trip. During our travels we go through 11 states and travel over 2,000 miles. As always when making this road trip I am struck by how diverse and beautiful our country is. Hope you all have had a good winter and let’s Think Spring!!! 


December 13, 2016


We are off "Down the Road" at 8 am Saturday and have a beautiful day to travel as we head south to our first stop......Branson, MO.

B5I2 Hughes 250It is easy to describe the road trip from Sioux Falls, SD, to Branson, Missouri...long and boring.   However, it is very difficult to describe Branson itself.   After hours on the road across flat, often dark, non-descript prairie all of sudden you are in the middle of neon overload.    We arrive after dark and all of sudden are bumper-to-bumper down the main drag of Branson festooned with huge, brightly lit hotels and entertainment venues.

 Perhaps it's just the holiday season...but this glitzy mecca reminds me of Frank Capra's movie "It's A Wonderful Life."   Here is a town that just a number of years ago was a sleepy berg of 11,000 and now looks like the bling of the Vegas strip.   And, lest we forget, this is very similar to what happened to the bucolic Bedford Falls, which transformed into the Sodom and Gomorrah of Pottersville if George Bailey had never born.   (I apologize if you have never seen this movie, but it's a great Christmas flick and so...what's wrong with you, why haven't you seen it? Can't miss it as it plays almost 24-7 this time of year.)

I am probably being a little unkind to Branson.  For the short time we were actually there it seemed like a fairly family-friendly city filled with warm helpful people.    However, it remains starkly strange and seemingly out of place nonetheless sitting out here on the plains.

All that being said --  the Titanic exhibit is excellent.   This is the fourth exhibit I have seen across the country and this is one of the best.   As with the other exhibits, at the beginning of your tour you are given a ticket with a Titanic passenger name and history and at the end you find out if that passenger survived.   In the past I always got some 3rd Class passenger from Latvia or Czechoslovakia and was pretty well assured of going right to the bottom with the great ship, however, this time I got lucky as my Titanic passenger was the 1st Class Bedroom Steward Henry Etches.   Even though just a steward, he is still from 1st Class and hence his chances of surviving are greatly increased.

However, my joy at my luck is short lived as I see that my friend Becky's passenger is one Margaret Murphy, a 22 year-old immigrant from Ireland who, sadly, is in steerage.   I give Becky a brave smile and wish her well on the voyage.......for she's no doubt going down!

As I mentioned the exhibit is excellent, filled with actual artifacts, replications of different state rooms, etc.   We get so caught up in the experience we even agree to have these cheesy, fake pictures taken.

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Recently we were in Denver and went to the Colorado History Museum and they had an exhibit called "Awkward Family Pictures."   It is hilarious as you look at one dorky family picture after another.   We decide that the picture of Becky, with arms spread wide over the bow of the ship, has enough dork in it to be considered for the next round of awkward family pics.

At the end of our Titanic tour I am proven right.  Henry Etches, my passenger, survives that deadly night and stays at sea for the rest of his career.   However, the big shock is that Margaret Murphy also survives and has a wonderful and long life in New York, dying at her summer home on Long Island.   I take all of this as good mojo for our trip.


As earlier mentioned, my trips to Florida never seem to follow the itinerary I initially lay out and this one is no different.   It is pouring rain as we travel down through Kentucky and so we push past Fort Campbell and on to Paducah.   Seems like all of my blogs have me in this town for one reason or another, and just for the record I have never yet visited the National Museum of Quilting.  Some lights just don't draw this moth to its flame.

Next, we find out that my friend Patsy, in Nashville, is ill so we will bypass that stop and head directly for Atlanta arriving at Skip and Margaret's place late in the afternoon.    I almost always stay a few days here as by this point I am getting a little road weary.   I mentioned in my first blog that Margaret has fought and beat some cancer lately.   I am amazed not only how great she looks but she shows me pictures during her treatment and she looked great throughout this ordeal!   I had a similar cancer and once my puffy face lost my eyebrows and eyelashes I looked like a troll in search of a bridge to live under.

Kennesaw-House 250One of the many nice things about having Becky along is she hasn't seen a lot of the museums that I have already visited.   She is also a Civil War buff so we are off to see some 'War of Northern Aggression' sites (that is after all what the Civil War is called down here.)   The first one is the Marietta History Museum housed in an old hotel called the Kennesaw House, which is located near a railroad track.

From this hotel, in April of 1862, a Union spy James Andrews and a band of Yankee raiders stole the train known as "The General" and headed north to Chattanooga.   The Western & Atlantic Railroad was a vital link from Atlanta to Chattanooga and their plan was to tear up track, burn bridges and cut off Chattanooga from B5I2 General 192supplies.   Once completed a Union general was poised to invade and take over Chattanooga.

Quite frankly their plan might have worked except for the incredible tenacity of a mild mannered conductor of The General, William Fuller, who gave hot pursuit.   First on foot, then by push car and finally with another locomotive.   His dogged tracking kept the raiders from doing much destruction and did not allow them time to take on provisions.   Finally, 87 miles north of Atlanta, The General was out of both water and wood and Andrews ordered his men to scatter.   They were all soon rounded up.   Most of the spies were involved in a prisoner exchange although Andrews and his first in command, Sgt. Scott, were hanged.    A Sgt. Brown escaped.    Both Scott and Brown were awarded the first Congressional Medals of Honor in the history of that storied award.   Andrews, however, was a civilian so was not eligible for the medal.

B5I2 Dave.Train 250In addition to the Marietta Museum there is also an excellent museum of trains in Kennesaw, which houses The General train.
Marietta also has a "Gone With the Wind Museum", which is a huge disappointment.   Consisting mostly of large movie posters from around the world it has a few molding costumes and is dominated by a gift shop where they peddle cheap rip-offs of GWTW memorabilia.   It is run by two ladies who act like your presence is a bother.   I am sure if these ladies were to see my bad review their comment would be:   "Frankly, Sir, we don't give a damn."   Anyway, it doesn't do justice to Margaret's Mitchell's great book and Selznick's great movie.

While the wonderful town of Savannah looks inviting, the thought of unloading the car, unpacking and then re-packing and re-loading the next day seems a tad daunting so we opt for heading straight for Longboat Key and the warm sands of the Gulf of Mexico.    Long drive...but we are delighted to be where we are supposed to be warmly complete with an 83-degree temperature.
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I hope to catch the places we missed on the way down on the way home and will write of them if I do.

Have a very Merry Christmas and a healthy and happy 2017!!! 



Postscript:   I have traveled by myself a lot over the years and have never found that to be a problem.    I've always been fortunate to make friends wherever I have gone so have never felt real loneliness for very long.    However, must admit that there have been times, when I've seen something incredibly beautiful or incredibly interesting and wished someone had been there to share it with.   I rediscovered that on this 'Down the Road' and was so glad Becky decided to come along.


December 1, 2016 

FamilySix years ago I started a blog detailing my annual fleeing flight from frozen tundra of Dakota to the warm beaches of the Gulf of Mexico.   In that first blog I reminisced about some 'Road Trips' from my youth.

The long rambles with Mom and Dad and my four, irritating and smelly brothers.    Also remembered were my college road trips, which were filled with great friends and cold beer.   My journeys to Florida these past years are different in many ways from those long ago adventures except for my level of excitement to be once again going...'Down the Road'. you are welcome to come along.


One nice (make that "great") addition to my annual trek south is that for the first time I will have a co-pilot as my friend Becky will come along.   In addition to driving help it will be nice to have someone to share my trip with........also I like her a lot!  


College BuddiesAs before, my first blog will mostly deal with my tentative itinerary.   As in the past this will be just be a WAG (wild ass guess) as weather and whim always seem to influence the schedule.


First stop will be a totally new experience as I am headed to Branson, Missouri!  To those in the know on Branson you are probably thinking I am headed for a good old dose of Country Western (C&W) music, and, you would be wrong.


During my cowboy years in Pierre (25 years) I became quite a fan of the honky tonk subculture.  Had many a great time spent at the Longbranch, Silver Spur and Hop Scotch.......their air blue with cigarette smoke, dim lighting and that slight whiff of stale beer.    Although the best part of those establishments was that pure country gold that poured from the jukebox.    Hank, Patsy, Waylon and Willie and the boys.  I only need to hear Patsy Cline's "Crazy" and it all comes back.    Also, always loved the titles of C&W songs:   "If I'd  Shot You When I Wanted To I Would Be Out By Now."  Pure poetry then and now.


That notwithstanding I would not drive to southeast Missouri to some Country Music mecca for the music.   No,Titanic 400 my reason is far and away from that and actually has to do with the Titanic.    I have always been totally enthralled with anything related to that great doomed ship and word is that Branson has an incredible exhibit and museum devoted to her.    Don't know why I have this fascination with this particular tragedy.   If I believed in reincarnation I would hold that I had been there April 14th 1912.  One of my few recurring dreams is of being in freezing water and looking up at a huge ship's hull looming above me.   For those veterans of my blogs I am sure some you are thinking that it didn't take long for me to go 'trip weird.'


After Branson, the trip becomes a little more familiar to past treks.    I will head south to Nashville, TN.    I always made it a point to stop there to see my friend Harlan Matthews, who was State Treasurer and US Senator, and his lovely wife Pat.    We sadly lost Harlan a number of years ago but still love seeing Patsy and listening to hear beautiful southern drawl.


The only detour I might make is a stop at Fort Campbell KY.   My old Vietnam Division the 101st Airborne101st logo Division is stationed there and thought it might be nice to visit, see the base museum, and drop off some of my Vietnam books at camp library.  Will be a trip down memory lane to just bask in a key location for this storied Army division.   I know few veterans who don't maintain a special bond with the unit they fought with in war.   I might even meet some brand new Screaming Eagles; shake their hand, thank them and wish them well.   As an aside I should mention that Becky's father was in Bastogne, the key

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Belgium town that the 101st doggedly held onto that frozen December in 1944 a stand that helped break the German offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge.  His artillery unit was attached to the 101st throughout the war as he was still with them when they liberated the Eagle's Nest, Hitler's Bavarian mountain retreat at the end of the war.   I visited there a few years ago and there was a huge fireplace that was pocked with all of these chips gouged out of it.   The guide said that American soldiers took hammer and chisel and chopped out souviners.   I would like to think_that SSGT Jack Hunt, of Sioux Falls, SD, got one of those keepsakes.

From Nashville it's off to Atlanta where I will stop and see my dear friends Skip and Margaret.    Like many of us at this point of our life Margaret had a health scare this past year, however, she whipped it as I knew she would.    Although
her husband Skip is a former airborne ranger from Vietnam, who has two Purple Hearts,
Dave.Becky 250Margaret is much tougher.   I mean to give her a big hug as we cancer survivors also have a special bond.


I think from there we are going to run over to Savannah.   A gorgeous southern city that I can never get enough of.    After Sherman burned Atlanta and marched to the sea the city fathers of Savannah saw what he had done and pretty much went out and gave the Union general the keys to the city, so the city did not experience the horrible destruction that so many cities in Georgia and the Carolinas sustained at the end of the war.

After all of that it is straight south to Florida's Casa Del Mar, my home by the sea.   With cold drink in hand we will plant our feet into the warm Gulf of Mexico sand and await our sunset.


Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! As always feel free to comment or make suggestions as we go 'Down the Road'.

(I enjoy hearing from you while I am on the road.   In addition to being emailed the Blogs will be posted on Facebook and you can message me through that, or just send an email.  As in the past I ask your indulgence for my grammar, usage, tense, etc.   My books are scrubbed by any number of people smarter than me but the Blogs are kind of done on the run)

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If you'd like to read Dave's "Down the Road" blogs from previous years click on the links below:

Down the Road - 2013

Down the Road - 2014

Down the Road - 2015