Friday, October 15, 2010


Kentucky is a surprising blend of history, beautiful landscape, and more history. Okay, I’ll admit it. There are more pick-up trucks containing a dead deer here than other places. And it can be a little difficult understanding waitresses with twangs so thick, you’d swear they have a mouth full of grits. But the people are friendly, even to weird Californians, the food is great, and prices are reasonable.

Speaking of good food, we ate lunch at China Moon, one of the best Chinese restaurants I’ve ever eaten at. It’s in Louisville (pronounced here as “Lu-vul) and overlooks a wooded area. If you’re ever in that area, it’s well worth a visit. Try the sweet and sour chicken, the crab and goat cheese wontons, or the beef broccoli. De-licious!

This is the fall, and what would a trip to America’s heartland be without a visit to a pumpkin farm and apple orchard. We spent the day with our son, Gary, and daughter-in-law, Marcella, who moved from California to Kentucky seven years ago. Huber Farms is about a 30-minute drive into the Indiana countryside. The fields of corn have turned to gold. Tall brittle stalks make a clattering sound in the wind.

Gary & Cella at Huber Farms

I thought that corn was harvested in the summer, when the ears were picked. But around these parts, the kernels are allowed to dry naturally on the cob. Then they’re harvested and used to make products like cornmeal and cornflour, which are used to make everything from cornbread to corn fritters. Fields are demarked by black fences, rather than the white fences seen in most parts of the country. The barns are black, too, often displaying a decorative quilt on one of the outside walls.

Rick & Colleen at Huber Farms
Why black paint on the barns, instead of the familiar red color we’re all familiar with? While I couldn’t get a definitive answer about the black fences, I did find out that the barns are black to attract heat needed to properly dry the big tobacco leaves that hang in racks inside.


Donuts, fudge, apple cider, hand-dipped caramel apples, popcorn, and cases filled with baked goods awaited us visitors. The donuts were made with fresh cider and were hot from the deep fryer. Rick ordered a ½ dozen and consumed most of them on the spot! He bought another ½ dozen to take home. (Okay, I had two, but they were very small. Honest!) There were gift shops, piles of pumpkins, baskets of apples, hayrides, and just about everything else fall-related that you can imagine.

Fall is my favorite time of the year. Between the pumpkin fudge, pumpkin bread, apple cider, and hanging around all of the Halloween decorations and scarecrows, I’ve received my much-needed “fall-fix!”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Luck of the Irish !! ?


Their loss was our gain????

Most of our trip has been winging it. We pull off the road for the night when going any further isn’t an option. There have always been places to stay without any problem, since most normal tourists are home this time of the year. The exception had been in the Fort Smith area, near the big motorcycle gathering, and even then, we were able to land a nice place for the RV.

What we didn’t know was that (in typical Rick and Colleen style), our timing was OFF in the area of Kentucky we needed to stay. That’s where our kids, Gary and Marcella, live in a rural suburb of Louisville. The closest RV park was in Kentucky’s capitol, Frankfort, a historic, cosmopolitan town where a university is located.

I began making phone calls looking for a place to spend the next several days and soon learned that virtually all of the hotels, campgrounds, and RV parks were booked solid. The World Equestrian Games were being held in nearby Lexington, a real coup for Kentucky, since this was the first time they had ever been held in America. The event occurs (usually in Europe) every four years, so it’s really the Olympics of horse-related competitions. Good news for Kentucky’s economy; bad news for the Fliedners and Shamu.

I finally called the Elkhorn RV park, and they had one empty place left, though it didn’t have the proper amperage and few hook-ups. Plus, because of the horse games, the price was nearly double what we had been paying elsewhere up to this point. “I’ll call you back after I talk it over with my husband,” I said, no sure what to do. But our chances of getting anything else were just about zero. I called back and the line was busy. I was sure it was someone else grabbing the last place, but continued to phone until I got through.

“You’re very lucky,” the reservation clerk said. “I just had a cancellation, and it’s everything you need.” I grabbed it!

Rick and I celebrated. What a lucky break. Someone was surely looking out for us….

The campground was lovely and had a slow-moving river skirting the property. It was quiet (hooray!), shady, and had tons of amenities. When I went into the office to check in, the clerk brought up the fact that we were lucky to find anywhere in the entire area. Then she said, “You know, the reason the folks cancelled their reservation was because the husband was killed in an auto accident yesterday.”

Elkhorn campground near Frankfort, KY

Shamu in Elkhorn

Shamu in Elkhorn

Pond / Stream next to Elkhorn

Waterfall on Stream in Elkhorn

Gulp. “You mean, the guy who booked the spot we’re renting is dead?” That was our lucky break? Oh no! How creepy is that!

“Afraid so. Good break for you, though.”

I felt so guilty. But whatcha gonna do? We stayed at the campground, surrounded by horse people, horse trailers, and bunches of families, for the next 5 days. Life can be so strange.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Wild Goose Chase



From the time I was a child, I heard stories about my grandfather, James Polk Salyer, a rough-and-tumble Kentuckian who played a mean fiddle and was half-Cherokee Indian. He was born in Salyersville in the 1880s and worked in a sawmill just outside of town, until there was an explosion that killed one or more of his family members. With the sawmill out of commission, he decided to leave Salyersville and head to Texas, where a building boom was underway and jobs were plentiful. That’s where he met my grandmother, a Texas belle of considerable wealth and education. Not many girls were college graduates, like my grandmother was. The family was prominent, and grandma used to talk about growing up with the Connelly children. I haven’t checked this out yet, but supposedly, she went to school with one of the Connellys who was related to the Texas governor, John Connelly, who was in the car with the Kennedys when both he and the president were shot by Lee Harvey Oswald.

The bottom line is that no one has ever done the family’s genealogy, though my late Aunt Maureen had visited Salyersville over a decade ago. She didn’t actually do any research, but was told at City Hall that most of the Salyer descendents live “up the canyon,” and that most were partially Cherokee Indians. Maureen never followed up, and I have been dying to know just how much Native blood my grandfather had coursing through his veins.

By the look of his portrait and few fading photos left from him taken in the 1930s and 40s, grandpa was definitely part Native American. The fact that my grandmother was disowned by her parents when she married him also fit into the story. After all, he was part Indian AND he was poor.

Grandpa died at a relatively young age – sometime in the late 1940s, I’m told. So, that was the sum total of what I knew about him. Surely, Rick and I reckoned, if we looked through the Census materials in Salyersville from the 1880s through about 1910, we would be able to find a reference to James Polk Salyer. We hit pay dirt at the Salyersville Historical Society in the tiny, aging town situated in the beautiful backcountry of Northeastern Kentucky. They have photocopies of the microfilmed Census Records and copies of miscellaneous records all the way back to the town’s founding in the early 1800s. There were Salyers there, all right, but (just as my Aunt Maureen had been told on her visit), most remaining Salyers lived outside of the immediate area in a place known as Royalton…further into the mountains in a canyon. Sometime in the mid-to-late 1800s, the Royal Bank of Canada bought up the forests in those Kentucky hills and opened a saw mill. Was that the SAME saw mill where grandpa had worked? Yes! There had been an explosion around the turn of the century, when a steam engine had blown up. The puzzle pieces began to fit together beautifully.

The historical research center ... lotsa history.

Magnificent Salyersville, Kentucky

We scoured through volumes of materials searching for James Polk Salyer and, much to our surprise, there was no mention of his birth. He wasn’t mentioned in the 1880 census, and together with all of the other town data, the 1890 census had been destroyed when the City Hall burned down in 1892. And then I found him! James Salyer, born 1885 in Royalton. And he was the only James Salyer in the entire census! We searched the death records, and his name wasn’t listed. Hooray! We had finally found him. His father, mother, and several other family members were interred in the Robert Salyer Cemetery located somewhere in the hills. We were given the GPS coordinates and headed for Royalton, about a 20-minute drive along narrow roads that wound through deep canyons and colorful deciduous forests. We followed the directions given by our car’s GPS deeper and deeper into the woods, until we dead-ended in someone’s front yard. There was no place to turn around—a steep cliff on one side of the skinny road, a garden on the other side.

The woman whose yard we had to turn around in was actually very nice and took time out from picking green tomatoes in her garden (as in, fried green tomatoes) to direct us to a burg called “Gypsy,” where she believed Robert Salyer and his wife and a couple of their children were buried. And yes, she was a Salyer! Rick inched the car between the sheer drop and the woman’s plants, finally managing to get turned around.

The crowded roads around Gypsy, Kentucky
Obviously, our GPS wasn’t working properly – as we discovered over and over again on our trip across country), so from here on, we would have to find our way around by stopping and asking directions. The people in the hills were actually very nice, albeit a bit curious about the small red car with California plates invading their very rural neighborhood in search of a Salyer burial ground. Amazingly, they waved at us!

We stopped several times to ask for help were directed to continue up a narrow road to a hillside, where we would park and walk another 1,000 feet uphill to the little cemetery. A man in a pick-up truck was soon following us, so we nervously turned around, thinking we had gone the wrong way. Turns out his name was Jerin Salyer, and when I told him what we were looking for, he said that Robert Salyer was an ancestor of his. “Me, too! I said, enthusiastically. “We could be distant cousins!” He was as excited as I was and offered to guide us the rest of the way.

About then, three men riding by in a small off-road vehicle stopped to see what was going on. We talked about the local history, the Salyers, and the Cherokee Indians who had lived in the area. They confirmed that most of the “folks in them hills” had Indian blood in them. They suspected they were all part Indian, though “back in them days, no one talked about them things.” Jerin told me about one of the Salyer family members, our great, great grandmother, who was buried in another area. The four of them decided to give Rick and I ride to all of the gravesites.

They told us to park nearby, and then Jerin asked, “Which one of Robert’s children are you related to?”

“James,” I answered. “How about you?

“James,” he said, obviously puzzled.

Huh? How could that be? If my grandfather and his grandfather were the same man, was James married to a woman BEFORE he left Kentucky? I was confused.

“Is YOUR grandfather, James, buried here in Kentucky?” I asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, matter-of-factly. “And he was the best damned stone mason in these parts.”

Rick and I exchanged glances. “Oh no,” I whispered. After getting all of these nice people involved in this hunt for what I thought was my great grandfather’s grave, we realized that there must have been two different James Salyers. Both had been born in Salyersville around the same year, in the same town. But my James is buried in California! What are the odds of that?

Rick and I apologized, thanked them, and slinked back to our car, tails between our legs, embarrassed beyond words. They had made such a big fuss over us, thinking we were all relatives. If there had been a hole to escape into, we would have gladly crawled inside.

I still don’t understand why there’s no record of my grandfather in the genealogical records in Salyersville. Rick came up with a possible solution – if he was born after 1880, he wouldn’t be included in the 1880 census. And if he had left Kentucky before 1900, he wouldn’t be in that census, either.

Our departure from the Gypsy area was very uncomfortable, and no one knew quite what to say. (Er, thanks anyway…. Er, sorry about that….) As we drove away, we noted the four men shaking their heads, puzzled no doubt by the crazy Californians who came to the hills on a fools’ errand.

With little else going on in that remote area, at least we gave them something to talk about!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Jackson, Tennessee ... lunch !



You never know what you’ll find along the highway, and Casey Jones Village was one of those fun surprises where you have to stop. Remember the old musical Disney cartoon about Casey Jones, whose actual name was John Luther Jones, the famous railroad engineer who died in a train wreck in the late 1800s. I didn’t realize he was real person, did you?

Colleen in front of Casey Jones house.

The village is located just off of Highway 40 in Jackson, Tennessee. There’s a railroad museum, Jones’ house, several shops and one of best restaurants and country stores I’ve ever visited.

A Real country store !
Jackson was once a bustling railroad town, and the “Old Country Store” was (and still is) a place you can pick up just about anything you want. Today, the merchandise is more about tourism, and less about things like pickle barrels and yardage.

We ate lunch in the restaurant, which was an unusual experience. This was the “real deal,” about as country as it gets! Lunch was a massive buffet of biscuits, gravy, greens, all sorts of beans, fried chicken, corncakes, cobblers, and just about every fried sort of thing imaginable. The fun part was that because it was a buffet, we were able to taste bits of the various dishes, without having to guess at what we would like and not like. Surprisingly, the food was delicious, though I suspect much of it was made in the old fashioned way – using lard (ugh).

REAL Country Cookin'

We bought a few jars of locally made jams, and I found a dynamite necklace for $9.00!! Most of the candies were made by the Amish and looked delicious (though we actually used our nearly non-existent will power and resisted buying more sweets).

Back on the road this afternoon, heading to Kentucky.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Nashville .... not so much !


Leaving Memphis – More Calamities!

Did I mention that we stayed in a lovely, very quiet RV park on the edge of the Mississippi River? Okay, then did I mention the name of it was Tom Sawyer RV Park? That’s really a laugh, as Mark Twain (Sam Clemens) lived in Hannibal, Missouri, and I doubt that his book’s character would have had much to do with the Memphis area!

Never mind that. We settled in quiet night of t.v. and munching. No traffic noise, no airplanes overhead. And then, out of nowhere, came the roar of a dozen deep-throated car engines. It began about 8:00 p.m. and continued until close to midnight. Little did we know that there was an auto race track less than a mile from the RV park. It was on the other side of a large stand of trees on the other side of the levee. It sounded like it was two feet away! ARGH!!!

Time to Hit the Road Again

Just about the time you think you’ve worked out all of the bugs in getting Shamu ready for the road, something else happens. Yesterday, Rick had to fix some sort of wire thingy connecting the car to the RV. Then, this morning, I really screwed up when pulling in one of the slide-outs. We had been leaning a little to one side while parked in Memphis, and I didn’t notice that the bathroom door had swung open while I was pulling in the bedroom side slide. I heard a kind of crunching noise, but didn’t see anything from where I was standing. So, I continued, until I heard a really big crunch. I stopped, stepped into the bathroom, and saw that the door jamb and door were hanging loose from the wall. The open door had caught on a kitchen cupboard knob, and the force of the motor that pulls in the pop-outs had forced the door jam out, nails and all!

Now, my first thought was how was I going to tell Rick that I broke the RV! Maybe I could fix it, and he would never have to know. He was outside hooking up the car, so I threw my hip into the door jam, pushed and pounded it back into place. I had to confess my goof, however, because the accident left a gash in the wood bathroom door. Plus, the door was out of whack and wouldn’t close properly. He took the news better than I thought he would….

When leaving Memphis, I thought I had pushed the right sequence of buttons to pull up the jacks, but, alas, I messed that up, too. Thankfully, the RV has an alarm light that lets the driver know before putting the beast into gear.

Then, while we were on the highway heading towards Nashville, we head a flapping noise. It was a bit windy, and the last time we hit wind, the canopy that covers one of the pop-outs had become partially “unfurled.” This time, however, Rick discovered that the door that covers the gas tank was opening and closing in the wind. Worse, the entire lock mechanism was simply gone! Good grief! Did it fly off into some poor driver’s windshield? We’ll never know. Rick used his ever-ready duct tape to close the door, and we still don’t have a replacement lock and will have to order one from the manufacturer.

When we arrived in camp, he discovered that the wires on the Honda CRV (our towed car) were crossed, so that when we turned right, it blinked left! We tested the wiring configuration before leaving home and still can’t figure out what happened. 

Fun & games in Nashville !  
Of course, Rick had to make another trip to Camping World and some other stores looking for parts. Then, more time for him to make the necessary repairs.

No complaints about the campground in Nashville. Little did we know that we were staying in the area that had recently been flooded. The clerk at the counter said that the area had been under more than 6 feet of water. The Grand Old Opry was down the street. It had reopened the day before we arrived. The mall surrounding the Opry, all of the souvenir shops, the restaurants, and the magnificent Gaylord Opryland Hotel were all still closed because of the damage caused by the wall of water that washed through the entire valley.

So, there was little left to do in Nashville. Because I’m not really a country music fan, we decided to skip touring the Country Music Hall of Fame. Instead, we drove around Nashville in search of something else to do and wound up running shopping errands. Wish we had stayed another day so we could have toured a couple of the plantations.

At least we got a good night’s rest. Off to Kentucky tomorrow.