Saturday, August 30, 2014


Before we get to the title of this post an update of our travels. We stopped just west of Chicago in a nice county park, (not Cook County) where we stayed for 3 nights. Time for laundry and resupply, as there is a Costco and the last Trader Joe's that we will see for some time. A beautiful campground as you can tell by the photo.

Most readers probably know that most all RV's today have air conditioning, so why not tents?

Most of the states in our country have motto's or a saying that is particular to that state. California's motto is "Eureka". Illinois and Oklahoma have the same motto, "Stop, Pay Toll". There are so many toll roads in the Chicago area that they are difficult to avoid. Luckily the GPS can guide you along the roads that don't require a toll, though you have to use some common sense and avoid areas you would rather not spend time in. Another observation about Chicago and this part of Illinois is that there are a lot of large stores, markets and malls that have closed up. Their parking lots are growing weeds and the one or two business that remain have just a few cars parked it front of them. I didn't notice this in Iowa, Nebraska or Colorado, so what gives?

Now for the war story.

On June 4, 1944, the US Navy captured a German submarine off the coast of Africa after her crew failed to scuttle her. The U-505 was the first enemy ship captured by the US since the War of 1812, and the first of six U-boats to be captured during the war. To protect military secrets (including the breaking of the German Enigma codes), the capture of the U-505 was classified, the ship was renamed and hidden, and the crew was interred in a special POW camp and their existence was concealed from everyone, including the International Red Cross and the German Government.

The U-505 left for what would be her last combat mission, near the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. The US Navy knew from Enigma intercepts that U-boats were in the area, and dispatched a hunter-killer task force, consisting of the escort carrier Guadalcanal and the destroyer escorts Pillsbury, Pope, Flaherty, Jenks and Chaterlain to hunt the Germans. On June 4, the task group made sonar contact with a submerged sub--the U-505. Wildcat fighters and Avenger torpedo bombers were launched from the Guadalcanal, and the destroyer escorts attacked with depth charges and Hedgehogs. An oil slick soon appeared, and then the damaged U-505 surfaced. The Captain of the sub ordered his crew to open the valves to flood the sub and sink her, and then abandon ship. For some reason, though, the scuttling valves were not all opened. When a boarding party from the Pillsbury reached the U-505, they found her empty, entered the sub, and captured her. The Navy then towed the U-505 to Bermuda, a journey of 1700 miles.

I had read a book about a year ago written by Hans Goebeler titled "Steel Boat, Iron Hearts".  The author was a crew member on the U-505 when it was captured and the book was about his service on board. After the war and after being repatriated, Goebeler eventually became a US citizen, residing in the Chicago area.

No, I didn't go to Chicago to meet the author, but to see the submarine which is located at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.  For many  years the sub sat rusting away in the Portsmouth Navy Yard and it was to be used for target practice, but luckily in 1954 it was donated to the museum and towed through the Great Lakes to Chicago.  It was put on display outside of the museum where over the years it suffered further damage due to the elements.  Then 2004 it was moved inside to a specially designed, climate controlled underground location in the museum.  Much restoration work was done on both the inside and outside of the sub before being placed on display. 




The above photo shows the sea strainer, which opens the sub to the sea.  When US Navy personnel from the Pillsbury boarded the sinking sub, they found this open and water flowing in. They did the smart thing and put the lid back on.

There is a lot of other things to see at the museum including, trains, planes and automobiles.  Many of the displays are interactive and a great learning experience for both children and adults.


We are now in Sault Ste Marie in the most northern part of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, or the U.P. as the locals call it.  We took two days driving from Chicago as not to put any stress on the 500 mile drive.  From our campsite in the city, we look across the St. Mary River to Canada and watch the lake freighters as they transit between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.

After the holiday weekend we will be heading across the International Bridge into Canada. While we wait for the Labor Day holiday to pass, we will bide our time here.


Monday, August 25, 2014


We spent three nights at Saylorville Lake, just north of Des Moines in some muggy mid-west weather. No rain, but hot and humid. From camp one can ride their bike into the city, which I did on one foggy morning. The city is so bike friendly that there are bike paths galore. The next morning I convinced Cathie to take a ride around the city, so we drove into town and rode many of the trails. Des Moines is a really beautiful and clean city, with parks and a great riverfront trail on both sides of the two rivers, the Des Moines and the Raccoon, that join in the downtown. Not much open for breakfast, but we managed to find the Ritual Cafe a vegetarian cafe run by a bunch of tattooed ladies that was pretty good.


Continuing on the Lincoln Highway theme, we reconnected with Hwy 30 and continued east. We crossed the Mississippi River at Clinton, Iowa and settled at Thomson Causeway, another great COE campground in the small town of Thomson. With a riverfront campsite, we opted to spend 4 nights instead of the planned 2. Also, once again, as with most of the trip so far, there is a great bike trail here that follows the river for 62 miles.


The Great River Trail is just part of the Grand Illinois Trail that covers more than 500 miles. Yes, I would like to, but it will have to wait. I rode most of the River Trail, but just like everywhere else, the weatherman doesn't always get it right. Supposed to have had clear skies in the morning, so I left around 6 am. After 35 miles or so, the skies opened up. First strong winds, then lightning and thunder and before I could find shelter, rain. Not the little might get you damp kind of rain, but soak you through in 1 minute rain. I managed to make it to a convenience store and for the price of a cup of coffee, they let me hang out until the rain stopped. Back on the bike to try and finish the trail but within two miles the skies became unfriendly once more. This time I found a restaurant and called Cathie for a rescue.

The next day, with the weatherman once again promising clear skies in the morning, I convinced Cathie to ride with me to Fulton, the next town downriver for a cup of coffee. It was a 15 mile round trip ride and we intended for it to be a leisurely one. We arrived in Fulton unscathed and found a nice little neighborhood cafe. While enjoying the coffee, Cathie observed that the sky to the west was looking mighty dark. "Not to worry", I said, "it's a long way off". We left the cafe and rode up on the river levee for some photos and then started back to camp.

Things went just fine till we reached about the halfway point. The wind started blowing pretty hard and then the rain started, sideways rain. Real heavy sideways rain. This was accompanied with lightning and thunder all around us. You know the system for telling how close the lightning is? After you see the lightning you count, one thousand one, one thousand two and so on until you hear the thunder, each one thousand representing a mile. So after the next flash of lightning I counted, "one thou" BOOM! With no place to take cover and riding on our lightning attracting metal bikes, we just rode faster, like we could outrun it. I've have never seen Cathie ride that fast. By the time we got back to camp we couldn't be any wetter, but we made it. Don't know if Cathie will be going on anymore rides with me though.


This is the first attempt at a selfee on the river levee in town. Windmill Head didn't like it, so we took another.

There are yellow painted marks on the path to direct you on which way to go. For instance this means, turn right.

Whereas this means to go straight.

Similar to yellow arrows one follows on the Camino de Santiago in Spain

Of course any visit to the Mississippi, one must go see the barges traversing the locks. Tugs, push up to 12 barges up and down the river. When going through a lock, some locks will not accommodate 12 barges, so they must be separated and half are pushed through at a time, which takes over an hour. When loaded the barges draw 9 feet, so the COE keeps the river dredged just deep enough to accommodate them.

Notice this tug with it's bridge that can be raised and lowered on a hydraulic lift.

We saw some beautiful sunsets on the Mississippi before continuing east and stopping near Chicago for a few days.

We leave the Mississippi drive on our last segment of the Lincoln Highway as it passes through Chicago where we will park for a couple of days.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


We've been hold up in a really nice city campground in Papillion, Nebraska called Walnut Creek. Papillion is a fast growing city just south of Omaha. The city campground is in a large park with walking and biking paths around a small lake. The campground portion as 40+ sites all with electric hookups for $16 a night. Lots of grass and room between campsites.

We discovered Papillion and it's campground when we were in the area in 2011. With bike paths leading all the way into the city of Omaha, all of which paved and separated from the roadway, it is a great place to ride. Many of the trails are on the top of creek and river levees and have mileage markers embedded in the pavement every 1/10 of a mile. So, I get up early and sneak out while Cathie sleeps and explore the trails, usually finding a place for coffee along the way.

Of course with a with all the bike riding one must regain their strength, so it was off to Big Mama's Kitchefor lunch. Located in what was once the cafeteria at the Nebraska School for the Deaf, Big Mama's has been a tremendous success. It's been featured on several programs on the Food Network including, Diner, Drive-ins and Dives.  It's become so popular that it is a stop for many tour bus companies.  When they arrive, Big Mama comes out of the kitchen and gives the group some details about how she started her restaurant.


I had the oven fried chicken, while Cathie opted for the same, but hers came smothered in country gravy. Now for more miles on the bike.

We took the short drive down to Lincoln, the state capitol, for a look at the capitol building.  Started in 1922 and completed 10 years later, the building came in just under the budget of 10 million.  We took a short guided tour and learned a very interesting fact about Nebraska's state government.

Nebraska's government started out much like any other state newly joined, in 1867 with the American union of states.  But, unlike all the others, it hasn't remained that way.  Following a referendum vote in 1934, Nebraska became the only state to operate with only one legislative body.  The 49 Senators who carry out the lawmaking duties are elected on a non-partisan basis.  There were arguments on both sides before and during the election, but today the general agreement is that the system is less expensive to operate, and that it more responsive to the needs and wants of the state's citizens.  Now, wouldn't it be something is the Federal Government operated in the same fashion.


Behind the Judges bench in the Supreme Court is the following inscription:

Since I had been riding so many miles on my bike, Cathie figured we could afford another lunch at Big Mama's Kitchen, as Friday's special was Chicken Fried Steak.  I reluctantly agreed.  We both agreed however that the Friday Special was much better than the Oven Fried Chicken that we had on our first visit.

To prevent any more meals with Big Mama and after a week in Papillion it was time to move on.  We our way back to the Lincoln Highway and headed into Iowa.  Our first stop and where we currently are for the next 3 nights is Saylorville Lake, just north of Des Moines.  We are in a very nice Army Corps of Engineers Campground.  Since it's a Federal Campground the Geezer Pass comes into play and we get to stay for $10 a night, with electrical hook-up. Once again there bike trails abound and it looks like a ride into the city is in the works.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


Ok, you ask, what's in Skidmore? Well it's not what's in the small northern Missouri town, but what happened there. Every town has it's characters, some good, some bad. Skidmore had a bad one, in 46 year old Ken Rex McElory. McElory had numerous run-ins with the law and was charged with various crimes over the years. He was never convicted of his crimes as he had a habit of intimidating witnesses against him.

In 1980, one of McElroy's children got into an argument with a clerk, Evelyn Sumy, in a local grocery store owned by 70-year-old Ernest "Bo" Bowenkamp and his wife, Lois, allegedly because a younger McElroy child tried to steal some candy. McElroy began stalking the Bowenkamp family, and eventually threatened Bo Bowenkamp in the back of his store with a shotgun in hand. In the ensuing confrontation, McElroy shot Bowenkamp in the neck; Bowenkamp survived, and McElroy was arrested and charged with attempted murder. McElroy was convicted at trial of assault, but freed on bail pending his appeal. Immediately after being released at a post-trial hearing, McElroy went to the D&G Tavern, a local bar, with an M1 Garand rifle, and made graphic threats about what he would do to Mr. Bowenkamp. This led to several patrons deciding to see what they could legally do to prevent McElroy from harming anyone else. Nodaway County Sheriff Dan Estes suggested they form a Neighborhood Watch.
On the morning of July 10, 1981, after his appeal hearing was again delayed, townspeople met at the Legion Hall in the center of town with Sheriff Estes to discuss how to protect themselves. During the meeting, McElroy arrived at the D&G Tavern with Trena. As he sat drinking at the bar, word got back to the men at the Legion Hall that he was in town. After telling the assembled group not to get in a direct confrontation with McElroy, but instead seriously consider forming a Neighborhood Watch Program, Sheriff Estes drove out of town in his police cruiser. The citizens decided to go to the tavern en masse. The bar soon filled completely. After McElroy finished his drinks, he purchased a six pack of beer, left the bar, and entered his pickup truck. While McElroy was sitting in his truck he was shot at several times and hit twice, once by a center fire rifle and once by a .22 rimfire rifle. In all, there were 46 potential witnesses to the shooting, including Trena McElroy, who was in the truck with her husband when he was shot. No one called for an ambulance. Only Trena claimed to identify a gunman; every other witness either was unable to name an assailant or claimed not to have seen who fired the fatal shots. The DA declined to press charges. An extensive Federal investigation did not lead to any charges.
In 1988 a book, In Broad Daylight was written by Harry MacLean, which I read at the time. I was intrigued by the authors description of the town and the surrounding area. I specifically remember his description of the mud on the roadways left by the farm tractors. Later a movie of the same name was made starring Brian Dennehy as McElroy. Dennehy played a great villain in the movie. At the time I told myself that someday I would like to pay a visit to Skidmore. Well, now was the time. About 100 miles south of Omaha, we took a drive down to get a look for ourselves.

The population of Skidmore had declined in the ensuing years as has the town. The grocery has closed, no gas is sold at the service station, and the D&G Tavern is no more. Farming is still the main source of income in the area with corn and soy beans the main crops. At as we drove toward town, mud from the tractor tires was evident on the roads
In 1980 on the television show Dallas, J.R. Ewing was shot at the end of the season. CBS played up the next season with advertisements asking, "Who Shot J.R?"  Around the same time, after Ken Rex McElroy was shot, some one had T-shirts made up which on the front said, "Who Shot K.R?" and on the back said, "Who Cares".



You can buy the book In Broad Daylight on AMAZON

Sunday, August 10, 2014


We left Poudre River Canyon and headed out onto the plains. If you recall from your history and geography lessons in school, the plains start where the Rockies end. My reason for visiting the plains is because they are flat and I like flat when it comes to riding my bike. Sill alongside the Cashe La Poudre, between Winsor and Greeley, Colorado is one of Colorado’s many bike paths. The paved trail meanders beside the river, through farm land and the suburbs for 21 miles. So starting out in the cool of the morning I rode from the Greeley end for 19 miles and returned. Along the way I saw white pelicans, beaver, wild turkey, prairie dogs, a snake and the ever present rabbit. At an elevation of just under 5000 feet, I knew I had ridden 38 miles. The next morning I opted for a shorter segment with a stop for coffee at the halfway point.


We pulled up stakes and continued our way east into Nebraska. The plan is to drive from North Platte, Nebraska to Chicago on US Highway 30, the Lincoln Highway. America’s first coast to coast highway, from New York to San Francisco, was first envisioned by Indianapolis businessman Carl Fisher, the man also responsible for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Miami Beach. With help from fellow industrialists Frank Seiberling and Henry Joy, an improved, hard-surfaced road was envisioned that would stretch almost 3400 miles from coast to coast over the shortest practical route. The Lincoln Highway Association was created in 1913 to promote the road using private and corporate donations. The idea was embraced by an enthusiastic public, and many other named roads across the country followed.  So we will be driving slow, exploring small town America and looking for remnants of the old highway.

Our first stop along the highway is Gothenburg, the Pony Express Capital of Nebraska. Founded in 1882 by Swedish immigrant Olof Bergstrom while working for the Union Pacific got the idea that a town was needed where Gothenburg now stands. Bergstrom traveled back to Sweden to convince his fellow countrymen to migrate to the United States, to build a new town in the west. He was very persuasive and by July of 1885 the town had a population of 300 and was incorporated.

As is common with small towns in the mid-west, many have camping facilities in their city park. Gothenburg was no different with 15 campsites with electrical, for $15 a night. A very nice shaded park with grass all around. Some towns offer the campsites for free.


After setting up in camp, we checked out the pony express station in it's original building. The building was originally used as a trading post and a ranch house, but in 1931 it was dismantled and reassembled in it's current location in the city park.

Heres another little tidbit of information about the town. Nebraska is corn country and the area surrounding Gothenburg is no different. There is a hugh rail shipping facility in Gothenburg owned by Frito Lay. Most of the corn in a 100 mile radius is trucked to Gothenburg and then shipped by rail to Frito Lay factories throughout the western US. So if your are eating a Frito in San Diego, the corn used to make your chip came from Gothenburg.

In the evening there was a knock on the RV door as the camp host was providing us with the location of the storm shelter, in the women's restroom. She informed us that there was a storm warning for severe thunderstorms. She said if we heard a siren we should head post haste to the shelter. She suggest that we bring a blanket with us. Later in the evening we could see the storms approaching with the clouds lit up with the lightening. Not like a thunderstorm that we experience in California, but a good mid-western thunderstorm with lightening that never stops flashing and hail that comes in 50 cent sizes.  The rain on the roof was so loud it was doubtful that the siren would be heard.

We survived with no damage and if the siren sounded, we slept through it.