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Lighthouses – America’s Beacons of Safety

       Let’s face it, everyone loves lighthouses. They stand tall in quiet majesty guiding all within her glow home to safety. By night, their powerful beacons warn of rocky shores and dangerous waters, while at the same moment providing the prudent navigator the sense of security that he or she is safely on course to his destination.

Lighthouse 2Images and graphic depictions of lighthouses and beacons have been used for decades by churches, and other organizations to symbolically convey similar messages.

barnegat light_opt (2)     

So critical to navigation in early times, lighthouses were manned by light keepers whose sole job was to ensure that the beacon was kept lit since they were flames of some sort. The evolution of the light itself from early flames of burning coal to whale oil, olive oil, and other oils – to vaporized gas is fascinating. There are three essential components to a functioning lighthouse. The burner or light itself, the optics or lens and the clockworks, the means by which the entire system rotates.

       Probably the most important innovation in the lighthouse beacon was the invention of the Fresnel lens by French engineer and physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel in 1823  (pronounced fre-nel rather than frez-nel). The engineering of the Fresnel lens is not for this blog but suffice to say they are still in use today on every single boat and ship with port and starboard running lights, and masthead lights. The first Fresnel lens in a lighthouse increased the luminosity of the light by a factor of 4. It was an amazing advancement for which I am personally grateful

      As a young, green navigator fresh out of school, I was standing watch alone on the bridge of my cargo ship going up the Florida coast. GPS had not yet been invented so I took my position bearings off the flashing lighthouses I could see up and down the coast. (take azimuth bearings off a series of lighthouses and where they cross is where the ship is). lighthouse 4_optWe were only a mile or so off shore with a lot of traffic so time was critical. To distinguish which lighthouse was which on the chart, they would all have different time spans between flashes. In other words, one lighthouse would flash every 1 second; another up the coast every 2 seconds and yet another lighthouse might flash every 1.5 seconds. It was agonizing trying to figure out which one was which. Thus I am thankful that the Fresnel lens was invented so that they could be seen far enough off shore so as to not get in trouble. Plus, my trusty little stopwatch helped figure out which one was which.     

      However, this blog is not about me and my seagoing adventures, it is to inspire you as to the romance and elegance of these beautiful and majestic lighthouses. Lightkeepers and their lonely solitude life are a thing of the past as are many of our functioning lighthouses. Modern era lighthouses are electric and unmanned. Many are mere skeletal towers.

     Many of the old lighthouse structures and homes still exist in the form of small individual museums. Many are funded privately and have wonderful stories to tell. You will enjoy the visit and the trek up the winding staircase to the light with a view of the grand vastness of the ocean and rocky shore.

      There is another whole world to the history of lighthouses should you want to explore further. I recommend reading about the US Lighthouse Service that was established in 1910 under the Department of the Treasury to control and operLighthouse 3ate all the lighthouses in the United States. Previously and as early as 1789, the Treasury Department operated them as the United States Lighthouse Establishment.

Until next time, be happy and safe in your travels and please feel free to comment below.


County Fairs in America

More American than Apple Pie?

      We are rapidly approaching “County Fair Season”. Okay, so there is actually no officially recognized season for county fairs but usually, you can count on them from about mid-July to early October. They are very high on my list of favorite things to do. Fair food is like no other although, in all honesty, I have never tried a deep fried twinkie and sour pickle sandwich with tuna fish dipping sauce. Typhoon Orbitor 240x159I am however addicted to those giant smoked turkey legs, Australian deep fried potatoes, funnel cakes with strawberries and whipped cream, and those 18 inch grilled sausages smothered in fried onions and peppers followed by an invigorating ride on the Typhoon Orbiter !!

      If you have never been to a county fair you are missing out on Americana at it’s best. Word seems to get around about the newest crazy deep-fried inventions each year and they are at most fairs. What is unique about each individual fair is the local touch that Draft Horse 3_optshowcases the different folks and life across America. One of the best county fairs I have ever been to is the Fryeburg Fair in Fryeburg, Maine. I have never seen such enormous draft horses. I am 6’5” and these workhorses towered over me. The combination of power, strength, agility, and grace these beasts have is stunning. They are not something you would normally see at the Orange County Fair in Southernpig race_opt

California, although the piglet races at OC Fair are hilarious. This little piglet must have trained at Churchill Downs because he knew to go wide on the final turn and snatch victory from certain defeat.

      County fairs showcase the talent of locals from little kids to seniors in all hobbies and skills as cooking, painting photography, antique collecting, woodworking, table setting and whatever you can possibly imagine that can be done with your hands and your mind. One fair I attended had an exhibit of aquarium designing. It was for little kids and all the aquariums were the same 10-gallon size. I never knew that superheroes operated underwater. Whatever theme the kids could possibly imagine was turned into a functioning living aquarium with live fish. The talents that everyday humans have that you may never have imagined or thought of is all on display at county fairs. The fair is where we, the folks, get to showcase our love and passion for our respective hobbies in either competition or just to exhibit. County fairs show off the pride and the best in our communities.

     I am continuously impressed with the kids that are involved in 4-H and Future Farmers of America.  The skill and passion they exhibit for the many animals under their care will make you proud of our youth.

firemans muster    Some of the older fairs have unique competitions. The Fireman’s Muster at Fryeburg Fair is a competition worthy of your time when you understand that nearly 75% of firefighters in America are volunteers. The vast majority of small towns and rural communities rely on skilled volunteer firefighters.

      Many fairs lay claim to being the “oldest county fair” in the US. Quite a few of them will be celebrating their 200th anniversary this year so this is a great year to go County Fair hopping. Expect to see some incredible 200-year celebrations and events. Like my Grandma’s apple pie, and your Grandma’s apple pie…they are all spectacular!!

      A great RV trip for late this summer would be a tour of some of America’s oldest county fairs. Here is a partial list of some of them happening in 2017.

York County Fair                York, PA           252 years (1765-2017)       September 8-17 

Three County Fair    Northampton, MA           200 years                     September 1-4

Jefferson County Fair       Watertown, NY        200 years                              July 11-16

Knox County Fair                  Bicknell, IA            217 years                             July 17-22

Steuben County Fair              Bath, NY                198 years                       August 15-20

Fryeburg Fair                      Fryeburg, ME           166 years                         October 1-8

      The exciting news for us RV enthusiasts is that many of the fairs offer RV camping for the fair camping 275x183run of the fair.

      If you are on the road this late summer and early fall, treat yourself to one of America’s oldest and more enjoyable experiences, the good old County Fair. I promise you will not regret it… even if you dig into that deep fried twinkie and sour pickle sandwich with tuna fish dipping sauce.fryburg fair campground 285x177

Until next time, be happy and safe in your travels and please feel free to comment below.

Holding History in Your Hands

Antiquing RV Style

History is an absolutely incredible occurrence, it happens every single day. What you bought and used yesterday, or even an hour ago… is now, in the purest sense, a historical artifact. Antique malls are free museums to the past, that take us back in time to how we used to live, what we made, what we enjoyed, and how an item or piece has evolved or improved over time.

One of my very favorite things to do on RV trips is antique shopping. I am a junk junkie. That might be a little harsh and overstated but I have some items that I absolutely love to hunt for and collect. RV trips are great for antiquing. You get to visit shops all over the country that you might not ever get to visit otherwise. I have come home from trips with an RV full of stuff, and other times come home with nada. Finding a treasure is cool, but the fun is in the hunt.

GPSCan you believe that these two items were used for exactlysextant 2 the same thing?… to determine a position at sea by using celestial bodies. One uses stars, the other satellites. Both determine latitude and longitude. Funny too, both cost about $1,200 today. One at the antique store, the other at your marine hardware supplier.

There are hundreds of thousands of different items to be found in antique stores. Think about the hundreds of toy companies around the world in the last century, each putting out hundreds of different toys, plus new toys year after year. G.I. Joe was my toy of choice. I had them all. All the different soldiers, uniforms, jeeps, equipment and that cool little foot locker that they were stored in. My Dad owned a Rexall Pharmacy. Rexall SignRexall made and branded a lot of their own products with their distinctive orange oval with blue Rexall lettering. We sold baseball and football cards by the thousands. Gee, I wish I had kept my enormous collection of baseball cards. Tobacco products, beer products, liquor products, magazines, books, Sealtest ice cream and milk and on and on. Those staples of everyday Sealtest Milklife 50 years ago are today’s collectibles. My Grandfather was a barber and owned his shop in the little town of Brockton, MA. The stuff he had and used every day is worth hundreds of dollars today. Beautiful colored glass barber bottles for all the different hair tonics, the porcelain, brass and leather barber chairs, brass railings, spittoons, razors, clippers and all the tools of his trade for that period of time. Speaking of history, the great, and only undefeated heavyweight champion of the world, Rocky Marciano, was from Brockton, as was Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Hagler was the undisputed middleweight champion of the world from 1980-87. Do you think those guys memorabilia is collectible? Rocky marcianoAnything to do with gasoline and oil from the old days is prized in today’s world. Porcelain signs, glass oil bottles, old pumps, and gas globes. It is all amazing stuff in high demand.

Esso Elephant keroseneJust about anything and everything are collectible and there is a collector for just about everything. I have been going to antique malls and shops, flea markets, swap meets and yard sales for 30 years. It is pretty amazing the stuff that people collect. The wonderful saying that “Everyone has a story” also applies well to antiques. Every piece has a story and the folks who collect things love to tell the stories, I love to hear them.

Not too long ago, I was at a swap meet and stopped at a stall to look at stuff… and met a very interesting man. We chatted for awhile and he pulled out a very unusual tool, I had never seen one like it. It was brass and fit in the palm of his hand. He slid a thumb switch and a series of razor blades protruded. He went on to explain that up until the 19th century, barbers performed all types of bloodletting for a wide range of ailments in the belief that bloodletting could cure many maladies. It was a practice dating back to the middle ages. As the centuries barber pole 2progressed, modern medicine frowned on the practice yet the public still demanded the service that barbers had always practiced. He also explained as well that the red stripes on a barber pole symbolize the blood, the blue stripes the veins and the white stripes the bandages. Who knew?

A large, clean, well run, antique mall with lots of dealers is a magical place. It can take anyone, young or old, back into time by seeing something from their past. There is untold history in pieces that may never be known. It is a place of imagination where instead of envisioning the future, we envision the past, yet unlike the future, we can hold it in our hands… and wonder what this was.

Take a break on the road occasionally and visit an antique mall, you will enjoy your past.

Until next time, be happy and safe in your travels and please feel free to comment below.

America’s Maritime Heritage

300 Years of Nautical History Right in Your Backyard

      When the colonists first settled in America, as you might imagine, it was a very difficult life. It would be another hundred years or so before any exploration westward would or could occur. Settlements up and down the northeast coast proved hostile when it came to survival and sustenance. Farming the land was difficult as the coastal geography proved rocky with poor soil and harsh winters. Thus, in the spirit of American ingenuity, the brave settlers turned to the sea for survival. There is a reason why the New England states of Maine and Massachusetts are known for their lobster, clams, and cod; while New York, New Jersey, and Maryland are known for their delicious blue crab and oysters.

Moby Dicks_opt 240x180      Here’s an interesting tidbit: Lobster was so plentiful in colonial days and was not considered the delicacy it is today… in fact, quite the opposite was true. Lobster was the main food fed to prisoners in colonial times.

      The fishing industry in New England is a fascinating story of great seamanship and bravery and told well in the 2000 movie The Perfect Storm.

      Boston and New York became the largest ports in the Americas for trade and commerce,Cunard Wharf 300x189dpi_opt vital to the survival of the new settlement and ultimately the survival of the colonies. Britain’s great steamship company Cunard Lines (Samuel Cunard was from Halifax) made the New York waterfront fashionable with the arrival and departures of some of the grandest ocean liners ever to sail the seas such as the RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth. The earlier Cunard fleet of ships actually called on the port of Boston before their move to New York in the early 1900’s. Many of Americas greatest fortunes were built from the shipping industry of the 18th and 19th centuries.

      Long before the invention of electricity and the electric light bulb that lit the world, the light was provided by kerosene lanterns for a period of time. Prior to the discovery of oil and kerosene, our world was lit by whale oil in those same lanterns. The hundreds of years of whaling in America is told in countless communities like New Bedford and Fall River, Massachusetts. Any RV’ers bucket list of trips should certainly include a trip up the coast MobyDick_0_opt (1)240x180of New England in the late summer and early fall. The coast from Rhode Island to Maine has thousands of beautiful old homes of sea captain’s and seafarers. Of particular note on many of these old homes are the beautiful lookouts high on the peak of roofs. These “widows walk” as they are known tell amazing stories. It was very common for a whaling ship to put to sea for many years before returning with a cargo hold of whale oil vital to lighting the country. At the sight of a sail on the horizon, the wives and ladies of seafarers who had not seen their spouses in years would rush to the rooftop in the hopes that the arriving sailing ship was their loved ones returning from sea. Imagine the heartbreak, disappointment, and suffering of families for those who never returned from sea.

      America has always been a maritime nation. The United States Navy was formed in 1775 by the threat to merchant ships from Barbary pirates. Merchant ships were armed to defend themselves and thus America’s Navy was born.

      There are hundreds of tiny maritime museums all across this country. Some tell the stories above, others tell of the great tuna fleets, the shrimping industry, ship construction, boat building, whaling, and the many great stories of bravery at sea. Visit these museums in your travels and you will come away with a newfound appreciation of America’s maritime culture.

      In later blogs, we will talk about the maritime history of the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Northwest. By 1940, nearly 40% of America’s population lived around the Great Lakes as that was where the fresh water was and that is where America’s industrial heartland was. Imagine what wonderful nautical history and stories are to be told there?

Until next time, be happy and safe in your travels and please feel free to comment below.