Dec 20, 2010

The House I Grew Up In

The Devenpeck House as it appears today in Google Maps' street view.  There used to be a large porte-cochère on the right side that was severely damaged in an ice and snow storm in the 1960's and had to be removed.
My father, Harold Richard Mead, was a dentist.  As was a common practice in the first half of the 20th century, his offices were in our house.  In fact our neighborhood, commonly called "upper Union Street" in Schenectady, was full of residences in which doctors and dentists maintained their practices.  The house in which I was raised has an interesting history.  And the way in which my parents became the owners is also worth telling.

Our home was built by Lucas Devenpeck at what was then 901 Union Street.  Mr. Devenpeck was a prominent citizen who owned a coal merchandising company.  The home, completed in 1904, was built by the Hanrahan Brothers' construction firm.  I met one of the Hanrahan brothers in the 1950's and he told me that the firm built the Devenpeck house to be a shining example of what their firm could achieve.  It was built of rare, glazed "Roman brick" and was the first private residence in Schenectady to incorporate steel support beams in its construction.  It had five operational fireplaces, each of which was spectacular in its own right.  The one in my parents' bedroom was surrounded by hand painted Dutch Delft tiles.  The fireplace in the entryway (which served as my father's waiting room) was flanked by two sculpted plaster lions' heads.  The woodwork in the house was equally stunning, with beamed ceilings of oak and cherry and matching wainscot, all hand made and finished like fine furniture.

Mr. Devenpeck left the home to Union College when he passed away.  In 1936, the college auctioned the home.  My father's practice was located at 619 Union Street.  My mother was expecting her first child and this house looked like the perfect candidate for locating a dental practice and raising a family.  My parents submitted an offer in the sealed-bid auction.  They were soon notified that their bid was the second highest and that the high bidder was a local physician.  Soon, however, they were told that the high bidder had withdrawn his offer because he had decided to move to Europe.  My parents were thus the highest bidders.

The Schenectady Gazette described the transaction on February 4, 1937: “Dr. Harold R. Mead, dentist, of 619 Union Street, has purchased the Devenpeck property at Unlon and Gillespie streets from the trustees of Union College. The sale was made through the office of E. J. Ryon and Son, local realtors. Dr. Mead and family will move into their new home within the next 10 days. A. H. Ryon is authority for the statement that this is one of the finest built homes in Schenectady. The dwelling was constructed about 33 years ago under particular-specifications and only the finest of materials were used. Dr. Mead will continue his practice of dentistry at his present location, 619 Union Street.”

My father had his practice in our home until he sold the building in 1960. Since that time it has served as a business location, first for a realty company, then as an orthopedic center, and then as a child care consultancy.  Our family was the last to use the building as a private residence.

I have identified the Devenpeck house in the Wikimapia site.

Dec 19, 2010

The Dog House has Heat!

With the addition of the ceiling, we're able to heat the Tajmadog
Last week we had several days during which the morning low was around 15 degrees.  I felt sorry for Sheila and Goldie because I didn't yet have a ceiling in the Tajmadog so the wind howled through it even with the doors closed.  Well, that situation has ended.  Yesterday, Monty Love came up again and we installed R-19 insulation above the ceiling and then put up 1/2" plywood.  This closes in the building, even though I haven't quite finished insulating the walls and installing the wallboard.  I can do most of that myself, but I definitely needed help to get the ceiling up.  Goldie and Sheila approve.  And last night, I ran a small "dairy heater" and kept the dog house at about 60 degrees.  This is major progress...
Goldie is nearly as large as Sheila!

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Dec 10, 2010

Great Moments in Automotive History

The same 1932 Plymouth about 40 years later!
In August 1965, I drove my 1932 Plymouth coupe from New London, Connecticut, to Norman, Oklahoma, to report to my new duty station.  I had been given orders to report to the Naval ROTC unit at the University of Oklahoma.  To make the trip even more interesting, I had to go by way of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I attended a two-week-long training session at Marquette University.

I decided to stay on secondary roads as much as possible, partly because the little Plymouth could only sustain about 55 miles per hour comfortably, and partly because I wanted to experience the old Route 66 as it would have been experienced in the 1930's.  Some people accuse me of being a nostalgia buff.

On a hot August afternoon, I cruised into Claremore, Oklahoma, in need of gas.  After passing a sign that informed me that I had arrived in Claremore, the birthplace of Will Rogers, I pulled into a Gulf station.  An elderly gentleman came out into the hot sun and asked if I wanted a fill-up.  I told him I did and asked him to check the oil and water as well.  This was, after all, a time of full-service filling stations. 

As the man was filling the gas tank, he noticed the New York license plates on my car.  "Did you drive this car all the way from New York?" he asked.  I told him that I had actually started in Connecticut, driven to New York, then to Milwaukee, and was now on my way to Norman.  He looked at me in disbelief.

"This is your day to get a free tank of gas," he said.  I looked at him curiously.  "Any damn fool that would drive a car this old on a trip that long gets a free tank of gas!" was his response.  Then he proceeded to check the oil and water.  And he really wouldn't take payment for the gas!
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Nov 27, 2010

Major Progress on the Taj-ma-dog!!

Today, my friend Monty Love came up to help me put the vinyl siding on the dog house. It's really starting to look good. After I took this picture, we put a doggy door in the entrance door that opens to the porch. The wiring is completely finished, which makes it convenient when we're using power tools. I hope to continue with the siding tomorrow...
And here's the result of Sunday's effort:

Great Holiday Snack Idea! (So simple, an engineer can make it!)

I made this turkey-cranberry roll-up snack for the gift shop on Friday and again today.  Mary Ann and I saw the idea on TV.  They are easy to make and delicious!  The recipe is here.  Enjoy...

Nov 12, 2010

Host of Christmas Past -- 2010

This weekend, Fayetteville again hosted its annual "Host of Christmas Past."  This is a street festival held on and around our courthouse square to promote shopping in Fayetteville.  We have lots of boutique shops.  Mary Ann is involved with Fayetteville Main Street, the organization that sponsors the event.  Even though we are not "on the square," Ebabe's Gifts has a good turnout on the day of the celebration.  The "Host" celebration includes music, drama, free movies in our art deco theater, and lots of food vendors.  It also includes yours truly as a Town Crier.  Here are a few pictures for your enjoyment:

Oct 27, 2010

Autumn at Ebabe's...

With the last cool front to pass through, I believe Fall has fallen.

Oct 6, 2010

Congratulations to Tom and Sarah

Sarah and Tom Wood are proud new parents. Sarah is my Godchild, so I guess that makes me a Godgrampa. How cool is that?  John Patrick Wood arrived - all 7 pounds, 11 ounces of him -  at 6:51 AM on October 6th. What a great day! Congratulations to Jim and Sheila and Tom's parents and all the new aunts and uncles as well. God bless you all!

Sep 27, 2010

Ebabe's Celebration...

On Saturday, 25 September, Ebabe's Gifts celebrated their 2nd annual Customer Appreciation Day. We set up tents in anticipation of the predicted bad weather. It rained all morning and Bob got drenched making final arrangements of tables, coolers, power cords, chairs, etc. But the weather cleared just in time for the appearance of Les Copeland and John Tidball, AKA The Rocket Men, who played and sang until around 1:30 PM. Then it was time for Microwave Dave and the Nukes to entertain until 4:00 PM. The crowds weren't great because of weather and ball games, but those who stayed seemed to enjoy themselves.

Sep 14, 2010

Where Do Old Motorcycles Go???

Well, they don't die and go to heaven.  They get restored by dedicated lovers of old bikes and get driven across the country on the first Ab Jenkins Memorial Motorcycle Cannonball Run.  And today they had their lunch break at Rocket Harley-Davidson in Huntsville.  Monty Love and I drove out to see the bikes and riders, a few of whom I knew from Great Race days.  Here's a slide show:

Sep 10, 2010

Car Daze...

Within the last week, there have been three remarkable events that are car-related.  I'm always fascinated by some of the things we humans dream up to occupy ourselves, and these three events top my list for the recent past:

First, there were the Duesenberg Drag Races held last weekend in conjunction with the annual gathering of the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Club in Auburn, Indiana.  The correct official name of this crazy event was the "Ab Jenkins Memorial Duesenberg Exhibition of Speed."  The club actually got permission to close down the runway at nearby Kendallville (IN) Airport for a few hours so that Duesenberg owners could let their cars stretch their legs in a competitive setting.  It had to have been quite a sight to see these magnificent monsters (420 cu. in. dual overhead cam straight eight engine) roaring down the runway.

The sister car to the Duesenberg shown here used to reside in my home town of Schenectady, New York:
It belonged to Perry Egbert, who was the Chairman of the Board of the American Locomotive Company at the time -- early to mid 1950's.  This car was the so-called Model SSJ, a short-wheelbase (125") supercharged Model J.  There also had been an earlier Model J Duesenberg in Schenectady.  I researched it in the early 1960's and learned that a gentleman named Jimmy Roberts who lived on Regent Street had owned one in the 1930's and -'40's.  I visited Mr. Roberts and he told me that he traded the car, a 1929 Model J Murphy-bodied roadster, toward a 1949 Lincoln.  The dealer gave him $900 for the Duesenberg.  Today these cars often sell for upwards of $1,000,000 in restored condition.

The second event of note started this morning in Beijing, China.  It is the 2010 Peking-to-Paris Rally.  This is a timed endurance rally involving over 100 vintage vehicles.  The oldest is a 1907 Itala, a car identical to the one that won a competition in 1907 to see if motorcars could make it from Peking to Paris.  In 1907, seven cars started and five actually completed the grueling 9,000 mile grind.  

You might want to bookmark this site and follow some of the competitors.  In this picture of the cars gathered near the starting point this morning, you can see a 1932 Model PB Plymouth coupe, car number 42, which is identical to the car I drove in four transcontinental Great Race events here in the U.S.  I have to admit I'm a little biased in their favor.  The car is being driven and navigated by Marius Winkelman of the Netherlands and Victor Silveira da Conceicao of Portugal.

And the third event also started this morning, but a long way from Beijing.  The Motorcycle Cannonball Run started at 8:00 AM in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.  In this event, some 70 participants, riding motorcycles built before 1916 are attempting to go from Kitty Hawk to Santa Monica, California, arriving by Sunday, September 26th.  These gentlemen will be stopping for lunch at Rocket City Harley Davidson on September 14th and I certainly plan to be there.  It turns out that I know four of the participants because of my involvement in the Great Race.  Corky Coker, of Chattanooga, is driving a 1907 Thor motorcyle.  Wayne Stanfield, another old Great Race participant, is riding a 1915 3-speed Harley Davidson.  John Hollansworth is driving a 1914 Indian.  And Frank Westfall, who rode a motorcycle in the 1998 Great Race, is riding a 1914 Henderson Model D.  This will be a fascinating rally to watch and their Web site is extremely well designed.  Don't miss it.

I pray for the safety of all the hardy participants.

Sep 3, 2010

Hurricane Recollections...

As I have been watching the progress of hurricane Earl traveling up the east coast, I've been reminded of September, 1964.  That year, I was an active duty Navy Lieutenant serving as Executive Officer of the USS Maloy (DE-791).  The Maloy was the last Buckley class turbo-electric destroyer escort left in active sea service.  She was three months shy of 21 years in continuous active service.

The Maloy had been equipped with some very non-standard sound detection equipment.  We were stationed in Groton, Connecticut, and assigned to the US Navy's underwater sound lab.  We also did normal Navy operations when we weren't doing research and development work.  The ship spent most of her time commuting between Groton and Bermuda, since the waters surrounding Bermuda were ideal for much of the work we were engaged in.  Maloy was scheduled to depart for project operations in Bermuda on 1 September, 1964.

Wikipedia describes what was going on in the Carribean, starting a few days earlier:
A tropical wave that exited the coast of Africa on August 15, 1964, moved westward, not organizing into a tropical depression until around 890 miles east of Barbados on August 20–as reported by a Navy reconnaissance plane. It continued west-northwestward, quickly strengthening to a hurricane the next day with a minimum central pressure of 993 mb. Early in the afternoon of August 22, Cleo crossed Guadeloupe as a 115 mph Category 3 hurricane. The hurricane continued to strengthen as it moved through the Caribbean Sea and reached its peak intensity of 155 mph on the August 23 while south of the Dominican Republic. It maintained that intensity for a day, bringing heavy rain and winds to Hispaniola. As Cleo passed south of Haiti on August 24, it veered northward momentarily, enough to move on to the Southwest Peninsula of Haiti. The circulation of the hurricane was greatly disrupted by the mountainous terrain of the island, quickly weakening the hurricane.

Cleo weakened to a Category 1 hurricane before hitting southern Cuba on the August 26. It crossed the island quickly. Shortly after emerging from the north coast of Cuba, Cleo restrengthened to a hurricane, having weakened to a tropical storm while over Cuba. Cleo managed to intensify to a 100 mph Category 2 hurricane before hitting the Miami, Florida area on August 27. It weakened to a tropical storm while over Florida on the 28th. The center moved offshore between Jacksonville and St. Augustine, Florida, before moving back onshore near Savannah, Georgia on August 29 without any increase in intensity. Its northward path along the Florida coast was unusual for the month of August.

Cleo continued to weaken as it moved through the Carolinas, drifting through as a tropical depression. After bringing heavy rain through the area, Cleo exited into the Atlantic Ocean near Norfolk, Virginia, and quickly intensified to a tropical storm again on the September 1. The following day, Cleo became a hurricane again, but it remained well offshore and did not cause any further damage. Cleo finally dissipated on September 5 northeast of Newfoundland.

Needless to say, Maloy got tangled up with Cleo.  It was a very unpleasant ride.  In the Northern Hemisphere, the semicircle to the right of the path of forward motion is known as the "dangerous semicircle." The areas with the heaviest rain, strongest wind, and highest wind are located in this semicircle.  As luck would have it, we ended up in the dangerous semicircle of hurricane Cleo.  In order to keep the wind and waves on our bow for stability, we had to proceed through the eye of the storm. 
I was awakened for the mid watch at about 11:30 PM.  I had been strapped in my bunk to avoid being thrown out.  When I stepped on the deck of my stateroom, I noticed there was quite a bit of water sloshing around that had leaked in around the porthole.  I dressed and started toward the bridge, only to realize that someone had left the white lights on in the wardroom, so my night vision was ruined.  I turned them off and proceeded up the ladder toward the bridge and recall that the wind noise was so loud I could barely hear the officer I was relieving, Lt. James L. "Jay" Allen.  I couldn't see anything looking out toward the sea, but I read the illuminated windspeed gauge.  It indicated a steady wind of 115 knots with gusts to 135!  That really got my attention.  As my night vision returned I noticed something that appeared to be floating well above the level of the bridge.  I pointed it out to Jay Allen and asked what it was.  He said it was the foam on a wave!  The waves were well above our level and we were 35 feet above the waterline.
At one point, we lost fire in one of our two boilers, but we made it out of the storm and arrived safely in Bermuda a couple of days later.
We spent the next several days in Bermuda shackled to a buoy because hurricanes Dora, Ethel, and Florence generated rough seas that prevented us from doing our assigned mission.  On 21 September, we were ordered to return to New London (Groton).  We got underway.  Unfortunately, once again, Mother Nature had something up her sleeve.
Again, from Wikipedia:
Hurricane Gladys developed from a westward moving tropical wave on September 13. Later that day, it became Tropical Storm Gladys. Conditions were favorable for intensification, and Gladys became a hurricane on the 14th. Hurricane Gladys remained a minimal hurricane for the next 3 days, until the 17th when it rapidly became a 145 mph hurricane. After its peak Gladys steadily weakened to a Category 1 on the 21st. It passed within 150 miles of the Outer Banks, but it turned northeastward in response to the development of a low pressure system over the Great Lakes.

Once again, Maloy found herself in the dangerous semicircle and once again, we were forced to proceed through the eye of the storm in order to safely exit the other side.  We lost a strut bearing and a suffered a few other elements of minor damage.
Months later, as we were preparing for a Board of Inspection and Survey in preparation for decommissioning the ship, one of my crew members penetrated the hull with a paint scraper.  We put a caisson around the leak and proceeded to repair the hole.  When we were inspected, the ship was declared "unfit for sea."  The hull, originally only 3/8" steel, had deteriorated in many locations over its 21-year lifespan.  When we finally had to steam to Philadelphia to decommision the ship, we were escorted by an oceangoing tug for safety reasons.  I have thought many times over the years how fortunate we were to have survived these two storms.

3-1-2014 -- I recently found this YouTube video that captures the kind of violence the sea dispenses on a ship in this kind of storm.  Maloy, at 306 feet in length, was somewhat smaller than the ship shown in the video.

Aug 14, 2010

Nice Car Show (In spite of the heat...)

I attended the 10th Annual Ardmore Car Show today.  That's Ardmore, Tennessee.  It's put on by the Ardmore Quarterback Club for the benefit of the local high school football team, the Tigers. I had heard about this show last year.  My friend Richard Wright told me it was a really good show, and he was right on.  It was very impressive.
A 1931 Model PA Plymouth sedan.  This car is a year older than the roadster I'm working on.  Unfortunately, this car had a small block Chevy engine and Mustang II independent front suspension -- very non-traditional.
I drove over in time to be there at opening time of 10:00 AM.  The parking lots were almost full.  I walked quickly, looking for early '30's Mopars and early hemi engines.  I found a few early Chrysler products and only one early hemi -- a 331 hemi out of a Chrysler.  It was in a 1936 Plymouth.  There were remarkably few traditional hot rods, although they had over 1,000 cars registered.  The vast majority of builders seem to lean toward small block Chevrolet engines and independent front suspensions.  A traditional rod will usually stick with the solid front axle suspension and will employ a souped up flathead Ford or early hemi V-8.
Nonetheless, it made for an enjoyable couple of hours.  I left before I roasted too badly.
This '56 Ford Sunliner was one of my favorite cars at the show.  The restoration was stunning!

Jul 24, 2010

A Gathering of Plymouth Fans...

Dan and Dennis discuss a fine point of restoration.
On Saturday I went to Dan and Deron's shop to meet three visitors with a common interest - Plymouth cars of the early 1930s.  Patrick Dolan, a fellow from Indiana, had acquired a 1932 Plymouth roadster similar to mine.  He and I met through the forum site of the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA).  Over a period of several months we realized that we share many common challenges in restoring one of these cars.  Patrick and two colleagues, Dennis Williams and Don Feeney, both from Ohio, decided to come south.  We all met at the Shady's shop on Saturday morning.
As usual, the Shadys were most gracious and eager to share their collective knowledge of early automobile construction.  After several hours of discussion on the finer points of body construction, and specialized tools and techniques, the visitors and I headed out for lunch, after which we came up to the house to see my '32 coupe.  They left with a few parts they needed and a whole lot of knowledge.
Patrick and Dennis on left, Don in foreground observe Deron and Dan in
discussion of the roadster rumble seat lid construction

Jul 23, 2010

Boys Day Out...

Monty's MG Midget (In-process)
Today, Monty Love and I went on a junket to Chattanooga.  Monty is restoring an MG Midget and wanted to visit a company that reconditions and manufactures parts for these cars.  He had been considering purchasing an adapter kit that they manufacture that allows the use of a Nissan 5-speed transmission in place of the original MG 4-speed.  So we started the day heading for Rivergate Competition in Sale Creek, Tennessee, just a few miles north of Chattanooga.

We arrived there around 10:30 AM, after our obligatory boys' breakfast at Hardee's in Monteagle.  The owner of Rivergate and his wife were leaving for the weekend so we didn't stay too long before heading back to Chattanooga to visit Coker Tire Co. and Honest Charley Speed Shop.

On the way into town, Monty and I decided to get some lunch and trusted the GPS to find a local barbecue restaurant.  We ended up at Shuford's Smokehouse.  For such a serendipitous find, it was nothing short of spectacular barbecue.  I have since looked it up on the Internet and learned that it has a five-star rating and has been featured on Turner Television's Blue Ribbon, Best of the South TV show.  After a delicious break, we headed to downtown Chattanooga to Coker Tire Company.

Perhaps a little background is in order.  During the several times that I completed the Great Race antique car rally, members of the Coker family were always a part of the event.  Corky Coker, who now runs the company that his dad Harold started in 1958, was a major force in Great Race competition.  He also sponsored the Great Race and was a major part of its management for several years. His team provided free tire repair services for those of us who had flat tires during the competition.  In 2004, during an overnight stop in Jackson, Tennessee, Corky's crew had changed a tire for me that I wanted to have checked out.  Monty and I had brought it to Chattanooga.  As soon as we got to Coker Tire, we dropped the tire off and went next door to Honest Charley Speed Shop.

Honest Charley's has been around since 1948.  Corky Coker acquired the company a few years ago after the original owners had passed away and the company had seen better days.  It has become a viable business again, selling hot rod parts and components largely over the Internet.  As Monty and I were looking at some items in the store, one of the staff asked if we cared about seeing "the collection."  Actually, that was one more reason I had wanted to visit Coker Tire.  Corky and his father have assembled a remarkable collection of vintage automobiles, many of which are from the first twenty years of automotive history.  This period fascinates me.

A wall full of motorcycles!
Monty and I were soon ushered in to a cavernous room.  One wall was covered with heavy duty shelves that housed a magnificent collection of vintage (really vintage!) motorcycles.  On the floor of the room were several rows of cars ranging from early twentieth century rarities to more recent sports cars.  There were even several commercial vehicles - buses and trucks.

I follow Corky's blog and knew that he had recently acquired a pair of rare Mercers.  For those who have never heard of the Mercer, it was a car built in Trenton, New Jersey, that was a major competitor of the more widely recognized Stutz Bearcat.  The cars were only built from 1909 through 1919.  Very few survive.  The Mercer Model 35R so-called Raceabout was capable of over 90 miles per hour.  In 1910, the company stated that it could be driven "safely and consistently" at over 70 miles per hour.  I got to see Corky's 2 (!) Mercers.  The collection is amazing for its breadth with names of marques long forgotten - National, American, Lozier, Thomas, and so on.

American Underslung
(Note the axle above the frame!)
Our host was a gentleman named Mike Goodman.  He asked me a few questions and when he realized that I had known Corky through the Great Race he said, "Corky's here and will want to see you.  Let me go tell him you're here."  He disappeared, only to return with Corky accompanied by another long-time acquaintance, Wayne Bell.  Wayne and Corky were preparing a car to participate in an antique car rally this weekend in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  Wayne is a colleague of my friend Andy Jattuso and was one of the first Great Race participants I had ever met.  I  introduced Monty and the four of of us had a great conversation.

Corky's son-in-law Greg Cunningham is also a Great Race veteran (and Winner!) and was working on the car headed to the rally.  We got to chat with him as well.  When we got done visiting the collection, we joined our guide Mike for a few minutes at the Red Lantern, a pleasant eating establishment next door.  Not long afterwards, we had to say our goodbyes.  I picked up my wheel and tire and we headed home.  What a great day!

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Jul 17, 2010

Crazy Acres...

In early 1969, my brother Bill and his wife Joni decided to look for a larger home. They, along with twin sons Mark and David, were living in Slidell, Louisiana. They had decided to look at property further east, especially along the Mississippi gulf coast around Bay St. Louis, Waveland, and Pass Christian. Ultimately they decided to build a new home in a tiny private development community on Menge Avenue, north of Pass Christian. Menge Avenue was a sometimes gravel, sometimes mud road that had it's own exit (Exit 24) on Interstate 10. And within a half mile of that exit was the gate announcing Lazy Acres. Bill and Joni bought the lot at the entrance, and though their house faced Lazy Acres Road, their driveway exited onto Menge Avenue.

Richeliu Apartments after Hurricane Camille. T...Image via Wikipedia
Richeleiu Apartments after Camille

Not long after they started construction, in August of 1969, Hurricane Camille came ashore into Bay St. Louis, killing 143 people in and near Pass Christian. Eight of those killed were at the Richeleiu Apartments in Pass Christian. Twenty-three people are known to have stayed in the Richelieu Apartments during the hurricane, of whom eight died. The three story apartment building was completely destroyed, but the contractor who was building my brother's house bought tons of bricks from the demolished structure. Bill and Joni's house was built using those bricks. The storm destroyed the framing that had been completed on their house, wiping the slab clean, but that was soon rebuilt.

A recent image of Bill and Joan's home (courtesy of Google Maps)
In mid-1970, the Meads -- Bill, Joan, Mark, David, and Dino (a part poodle) moved into the new house. What set the Meads apart was that they were young and had two young children. Mark and David were 9 years old. It didn't take long to become acquainted with all the neighbors, most of whom were grandparents many times over. Lazy Acres was made up of 6 homes, all of which were very nice. There was also a pond and a three-hole golf course. To describe the neighbors as interesting would be a gross understatement.
Next door to the Meads lived Claude and Peggy Duke.  Claude was an attorney who for many years had been the Attorney of Record for the Orleans Levee Board. Founded in 1890, the Orleans Levee Board was the body in charge of supervising the levee and floodwall system in Orleans Parish, Louisiana, which is intended to protect the city of New Orleans from flooding. The Orleans Levee Board was a major governmental entity that functioned independently of municipal government in and around Orleans Parish, Louisiana. Claude Duke had enormous political clout and knew every influential politician in the very political state of Louisiana.  His obituary in the New Orleans Times-Picayune in January 1996 provides some insight:
"As a member of the Old Regulars political organization, Mr. Duke was elected
to the state House representing the 14th Ward in 1932. After serving one term,
he won a Senate seat from the Uptown area in 1936.

In the Senate, Mr. Duke was a floor leader for the city's legislative delegation and forged a close relationship with Mayor Robert Maestri. In 1940, he joined the Maestri administration, serving as an assistant city attorney and one of the mayor's closest advisers.

During his term in the Senate, Mr. Duke also began a lasting friendship with then-Lt. Gov. Earl Long.

When Maestri was voted out of office in 1946, Mr. Duke dropped out of public life until 1957, when Gov. Long named him president of the Orleans Levee Board.

Shortly after assuming that post, Mr. Duke entered the New Orleans mayor's race, challenging longtime incumbent deLesseps "Chep" Morrison, who was seeking his fourth term. The year before, Long had defeated Morrison in a bitterly contested governor's race.

Mr. Duke ran with the backing of the Regular Democratic Organization, which had struggled for years to regain the political clout it lost when Morrison took office in 1946.

Although Morrison easily won re-election, Mr. Duke remained as Levee Board president through 1960, when Gov. Jimmie Davis replaced him with Gerald Gallinghouse. But Mr. Duke remained a member of the board for another eight years, reappointed by Davis in 1960 and by Gov. John McKeithen in 1964.

During Mr. Duke's tenure, the Levee Board donated the land that became the campus of Louisiana State University in New Orleans, now the University of New Orleans.

After leaving public life a second time, Mr. Duke was chief counsel to the Mississippi River Bridge Authority for several years."

Peggy Duke had been married and divorced prior to marrying Claude. Her first husband had been Louisiana Governor Huey Long's Lieutenant Governor. The story I heard more than once was that Peggy's divorce settlement in 1935 was $1 million cash.  Both Peggy and Claude loved the Meads from the very start.  They were very outspoken, extremely colorful individuals.  Peggy had the vocabulary of a sailor.  I recall pulling into the Mead's driveway one Friday afternoon.  One of the neighbors had passed away that day after an extended illness.  Peggy was working in her garden when she heard me pull in.  She stood up and peeked out from under her poke bonnet.  At the top of her lungs, she announced, "Uncle Bob, the old bastard finally croaked!"  There was never any doubt where she stood.

Next to the Dukes lived Harvey and Viginia Blankenship.  They were a quiet couple who tended to their own business.  They wintered at Lazy Acres and spent their summers at a home in Minnesota near the Canadian border.  I don't know how they had made their fortune, but there was little doubt that they were financially secure.

Beyond the Blankenships was the home of Bill and "Jack" (I believe her correct name was Jacqueline) Harrison.  Bill was the individual who had bought the land and developed Lazy Acres.  The prevailing story that was was that he had been bird hunting in the area a few years before and had seen some surveyors.  Inquiring what they were surveying, he was told that they were involved in determining the right-of-way for the new interstate highway that was to be built.  Bill immediately purchased as much land as he could in the immediate area and made a handsome profit selling some of it to the government when the final interstate right-of-way was determined.  He developed Lazy Acres on some of the land adjacent to the interstate.

Bill Harrison's grandfather had been a furrier in New Orleans.  In the nineteenth century, Louisiana furriers did their own trapping and tanning of hides.  The elder Mr. Harrison had obtained long-term leases on thousands of acres of swampland in which he could trap beaver, otter, nutria, and other fur-bearing creatures.  This was in an era before anyone considered surface and subsurface leases, never dreaming of the enormous wealth that lay below the swampland.  When gas and oil were discovered under some of the leased property, the Harrisons became very well heeled indeed.

Bill and Jack were devout Catholics and had several children.  On most weekends their sizeable home was a hive of activity with plenty of family members of three generations involved.  They also had a lovely swimming pool that other Lazy Acres residents could "join" and use.  For a while, I dated their daughter Susan, who lived in New Orleans and spent weekends with her parents, so I got to see the Harrisons fairly often.

Next to the Harrisons lived Mal and Marie McIlwain.  Mal was the owner and CEO of McIlwain Cadillac of Metarie, Louisiana. In the 1970's, his was the largest Cadillac dealership in the state.  Marie had been Mal's secretary.  After his first wife passed away, he and Marie had dated and eventually were married.  Mal was an active amateur radio operator and could afford the very latest state-of-the-art radio equipment.  He collected so-called "QSL cards" from hundreds of radio amateurs every year from all over the globe as evidence of his devotion and skill.

The last house on Lazy Acres Drive was seldom occupied.  It belonged to a congressman, whom I believe was from Connecticut.  I don't recall his name, as he and his wife were only there infrequently.

The Great Wall of McIlwain
Lazy Acres supported an active social calendar. All the residents, with the exception of my brother's family, could afford to entertain in any style they wished. Cocktail and dinner parties were frequent and sometimes lavish.  And the liquor flowed freely for those wishing to imbibe.  On one occasion, the McIlwains and the Harrisons were dining together.  Bill Harrison, having had a few drinks, informed Mal McIlwain that Marie wasn't exactly the brightest lady who had ever showed up at Lazy Acres.  Mal was outraged and let Bill know it.  Thus began the great wall war.

Mal and Bill shared a circular driveway that went around the swimming pool and pool house. Not long after the comment about Marie, Mal hired surveyors to determine the exact location of the property line separating his and Harrison's property.  Mal informed Bill Harrison that he could no longer drive on Mal's portion of the circular drive.  Mal also had determined that about four feet of one corner of the pool house was on McIlwain property. He demanded that Bill either move the pool house or cut the corner off and remove it from Mal's land!

Bill offered to deed part of the pool house to Mal or to buy the tiny acreage under the corner of the pool house. Mal would have no part of it. Part of the pool house would have to go. Then the best part of the drama played out.

One day some workmen showed up and began digging a trench about four feet from the property line on Mal's and Marie's property. They soon poured a concrete footing for a wall about forty feet long that would establish once and for all that the Harrisons and the McIlwains had gone their separate ways.  The side of the wall facing the McIlwain's house was beautifully finished with stone veneer and shelves for plantings.  In fact, it was a work of art.  The side facing the Harrisons was an example of masons gone crazy.  Mortar oozed out of joints and drooled down the concrete blocks with ugly irregularity.  No one attempted to make it pretty, and it was far enough into Mal McIlwain's property that no one could refinish or paint it without trespassing.  And as long as I lived on the gulf coast and visited my brother's family, the wall remained as a testimony to two rich men's bickering.

Is it any wonder that my late sister-in-law Joni always referred to their neighborhood as "Crazy Acres?"
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Jul 5, 2010

Visitors from the North!!!

Mary Ann and I just enjoyed 3+ days enjoying a visit from our Iowa family. Her daughter, Tori, our son-in-law, Todd Glade, and our grandkids Taylor (11 years old) and Trevor (8 years old) arrived Thursday evening from Des Moines. What a treat! We got to do lots of "grandparenty" stuff.

Friday, I took them over to Point Mallard, a water park in Decatur, Alabama. There was plenty of sun but the temperature was tolerable. Everybody got their fill of water slides. That evening, we all went to the Burritt Museum on top of Monte Sano Mountain overlooking Huntsville for a City Lights and Stars concert. By coincidence, one of the performers was Microwave Dave Gallaher who was joined by his group. Dave is an old family friend and knew Tori as a little girl. It made the concert extra special. And the weather couldn't have been more perfect.

Microwave Dave does his magic

Saturday, the girls stayed at the house and helped out in Ebabe's Gifts when Mary Ann opened the store. We boys went down to Dan and Deron Shady's shop to visit the hot rod. The high point for Trevor was undoubtedly a ride in a 1965 Corvette that was being test driven. He was beaming from ear to ear!

In the afternoon, all the Glades and I did the Jack Daniels plant tour up in Lynchburg, about 40 miles north of our home. I think we all had a good time, but Trevor didn't think too highly of the smells emanating from the mash tanks. Our guide's name was Randy "Goose" Baxter. To describe him as colorful would be a gross understatement.

We came home and cleaned up and then proceeded to a delightful dinner at "The Restaurant" in Kelso, Tennessee, one of our favorite places to dine. And to make the evening even more special, we were joined by Microwave Dave Gallaher, who happened to have the evening free. Later, we all came back to the house for coffee and dessert. It was a long but very special day.

Sunday, July 4th, started out with a late, relaxing breakfast and a casual lunch, after which we headed back to Huntsville. We had gotten tickets to a limited engagement of a Star Wars travelling exhibit that is spending several weeks at Huntsville's Alabama Space and Rocket Center. The exhibit was impressive with hundreds of artifacts from the making of the Star Wars movies. We later toured the rest of the museum, got to ride in a simulator that was built by my employer, Camber Corporation, and even got several rides on the "Space Shot" amusement ride. Then it was off to dinner at Jason's Deli and home to watch a movie -- Star Wars, of course!

Luke Skywalker's Landspeeder!

An exhausted crowd crashed after doing the fireworks thing to celebrate our nation's birthday. All in all, a wonderful weekend. We are so blessed...

Jun 23, 2010

A Long-ago Fishing Experience

In the 1950's and -60's Louis A. Wehle was the Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of the Genessee Brewing Company of Rochester, New York.  His longtime passion for outdoor sports led his company to sponsor an annual statewide fishing contest that promoted conservation and sportsmanship, as well as the firm's beer.  And each year they published a book describing all the record fish that had won prizes in each category along with the sizes and weights of the winning fish, the location where they were caught and the date, the names of the winners, and so on. 

And so it was in one of these record books that my friend Hal Johnson and I noticed that for 2 consecutive years the champion brook trout had come out of a lake!  It was a lake that neither of us had heard of -- Pharaoh Lake.  It was the summer of 1961.  I had come home from my final midshipman cruise.  We had a couple weeks to kill before we had to return to school.  The time was perfect for us to pursue a record-breaking trout.

We got a New York road map and located Pharaoh Lake.  It was not too far north of Brant Lake which was accessible by car.  After a couple days assembling our camping gear, the three members of the expedition -- Hal, myself, and Nipper (Hal's wonder dog) -- left for Brant Lake in Hal's tricolor '55 Dodge.  Our plan was to spend a week at the lake, eating our fill every day of fresh-grilled brook trout.  Part of that plan came true.  We spent a week in the wilderness.

My recollection is that we hiked about 4 miles from where we parked until we reached the southern end of Pharaoh Lake.  Much to our surprise, there was a gentleman who lived in a shack near the lake and had two very rickety-looking row boats for rent.  We rented the better looking of the two.  I think it cost us $2.00 for the week.  We loaded our gear and Nipper into the boat and rowed about halfway up the lake, camping on the western shore in a beautiful cleared campsite.  I don't think we slept much that night in anticipation of the incredible fishing that awaited us.

For the next 5 days we fished all over that lake using every kind of lure known to man.  We tried plugs and spoons and flies and live bait.  Deep, shallow, trolling and not trolling.  I think we caught 2 small sunfish.

Contour Map of Pharaoh Lake

After 5 days, we gave up.  We decided to head back to civilization.  We returned our boat and started down the access trail.  Not far down the trail, we encountered a jeep driving up to the lake.  It turned out to be driven by the son of the boat man.  Their last name was Hastings.  (After my friend Hal Johnson read this entry, he reminded me that the old man's name was William Hastings.  His address was Star Route 5, Hagaman, New York.)  We told the Jeep driver our sad tale of fishing with few results.  He responded, "Hop in.  I'll show you where the fish are!"  He was the fisherman who had caught the record trout the previous 2 years!!!

We went in a boat with him to near the center of the lake.  He pointed out certain landmarks that helped him pinpoint the same location every time.  He told us to put down 100 feet of line with 2 ounces of lead and some live bait.  As soon as the sinker hit the bottom, I had a bite.  It was a nice sized brook trout.  And then another, and another...  And Hal was catching them just as fast.

The gentleman told us that this was a spring-fed lake and that this was the location of a large, cold spring.  It kept the fish cold and it stirred up food.  We caught our limit in very short order.  Soon, we were back at his father's shack to thank our guide and see him off as he headed down the trail.  We set up our campsite for another day and ate our fill.  The lake looked a lot better that evening.  Life was just about perfect.

Pharaoh Lake at Dawn

Jun 14, 2010

Congratulations to Our Champions (Again!)

For a second year, the Ebabe's team has become their league champions.  Mary Ann and I are honored to be fortunate enough to be associated with this team.  The girls, all between 7 and 9 years old, and the coaches, are dedicated beyond belief.  So last Tuesday, after their victory in the final tournament game (a "squeaker" at 16-3), we made sure there was enough pizza and soft drinks for a proper celebration.  After all, they went undefeated!

Go, Ebabe's!!!

Jun 1, 2010

A Great Lawn Team!

My friend and long-ago colleague, retired Marine Colonel Tullis J. Woodham, Jr., sent me this photo. His daughter, Jan, and her husband, John, made these for the good colonel in 2003. What a marvelous gift!