Sunday, August 21, 2016

2016-25 Renfro Valley Kentucky


many excellent local musicians 

Renfro Valley Kentucky

the Old Barn, the Big Barn sits behind it

Campground:  Renfro Valley campground.  $14.50 PPA half off rate for 3 nights.  $29.00 for 3 nights full rate (Thur/Fri/Sat).  Full hookups w/cable tv and good free wi-fi signal.  Haven’t had tv reception in weeks so it’s a real treat.

a village of shops are near the Old Barn, but many are closed

Distance traveled:  130 miles

Weather:  On and off rain showers this whole week

Hal Rogers Parkway, formerly known as the Daniel Boone Parkway still goes through the Daniel Boone forest and all those Appalachian Mountains.  The parkway’s name was changed because Hal Rogers got the funding through congress, forget about the historical names that make up the area.  Well, it must have cost a fortune to build the mostly two lane parkway through the mountains.  What stunning views as the road travels up and over those ancient Appalachian chain, the oldest mountain range in the continental U.S.  With every rise and fall through deep valleys and heavily forested mountains the roadway was forged through solid rock.  Shear walls of stone cleaved through each mountain pass creating solid canyon like walls on either side of the highway.

I’ve arrived in Renfro Valley home to the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and of course the Renfro Valley Entertainment Center.  They’ve been enjoying live music in the Old Barn Theater since 1939 and I’m sure to be able to catch a few great shows while here as well.

historic Lodge, currently close for sale/for lease

many of the shops are closed, with others only open
on nights with shows

After setting up for the week I discovered that my two year old Tv died.  Ekk.  Out of warranty and didn’t really cost that much to begin with, I decided to check out new Tv’s at Walmart.  Found a nice flat screen tv by HiSense and it’s a “smart Tv” just like my smart phone.  Is everything going to be smarter than me?  After setting up the Tv and checking out all the features, I discovered that with it’s built in wi-fi I can easily stream movies and tv programs from my cell phone or laptop computer.  With a good 4g signal the streaming is really smooth.  The remote control even comes with built in Netflix, Amazon, Vudu and You Tube.  I don’t currently subscribe to any of them but can easily set up an account in the future.  Another bonus while setting up the new Tv was that I found a wire connection directly to the built in stereo receiver and large speaks that sit just below the Tv.  So now I’m able to have full surround sound through the built in stereo speakers and all the wiring is hidden.  Fancy that.

In many counties in Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee they have what’s known as dry counties where liquor is not sold in stores or restaurants.   Renfro valley is in one of those counties and it shows.  Although the area could become a much larger tourist attraction, without the ability to sell alcohol many businesses won’t move into the area.  This could easily become another Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge tourist area.  Right now, all that’s in the area is the Renfro Valley entertainment center.  The historic log cabin lodge/restaurant and cabins is closed and what a stunning facility it is.  The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame just misses the mark in many respects and gets very little tourist traffic except for school kids outings.  Other than that, there’s not much in the area.  Most of the businesses in the small towns have all closed, leaving empty store fronts and little traffic.

While at a local truck stop diner I notice two women with a child eating lunch between puffs of smoke billowing above their table.  A truck driver, bent over texting on his smart phone and talking through his headphone setup, smokes a cigarette and sips on his coffee as he waits for his lunch.   The air a blue haze thick with the smell smoke.  Something I haven’t encountered in years on the road as most states have outlawed smoking in public places.

I-75 just north of my exit has been closed all morning south bound, due to a major traffic accident.  The north bound lane just closed also to enable clean up crews to tow away the crashed vehicles.  Hwy 25 in front of the Renfro Valley complex that I’m staying at is a mass of slow moving vehicles as an alternative to I-75.  The on and off rains over the last couple of days and this morning was surely a contributing factor to the accidents.

Jerry and Nancy Ensor

and what great home style cooking
corn/okra/tomatoes and two grilled pork chops... yum

After taking a detour around I-75 since it was still closed down, I headed into Lexington Kentucky to meet up with former co-workers Nancy and Jerry Ensor at Ramsey’s.  It’s a great local restaurant chain that specializes in good home style meals and even has a listing of the freshest in-season vegetables available.  I had a corn, tomato, and okra dish that was very tasty along with two honey glazed grilled pork chops that were the best I’ve had in years.  So nice to catch up with former workers who have been such good friends over the years.

I attended three shows in Renfro Valley

The same evening, I attended the first of three shows I’ll be going to in Renfro Valley.  Lots of very good country music performed by their troop of professional musicians and singers.  All shows I’ll be attending are in the Old Barn as the large Big Barn is reserved for 1st rate acts that are scheduled throughout the year.

a Minnie Pearl Impersonation

He's been playing in Renfro Valley since 1957

banjo playing at it's best

arriving from Nashville singing
Hank Williams 

the Emcee and great singer

The Gospel Jamboree and the Saturday evenings main event the Renfro Valley Barn Dance were both great.  What a pleasant way to be spiritually uplifted but through the sound of music and good old country gospel singing.  The Barn Dance is not actually a dance in that they have no dance floor.  Perhaps in the past they may have had a dance floor.  It all started back in 1939.  One fiddle player has been playing Renfro since 1957.  As a child he had walked up to John Lair, the owner, and asked if he could play on stage.  John said if he learned how to play the fiddle, he’d let him play on stage.  The rest is history.

Lots of really good old time music from Loretta Lynn,  Waylon Jennings, Patsy Cline and the great Hank Williams were all spotlighted.  One singer from Nashville was even featured on stage.

In between all the rain we’ve had this past week, I’ve enjoyed some great music, visits with my Kentucky friends who are planning on moving to Texas to follow their daughter and family next year, and I’ve even enjoyed watching lots of tv shows with the cable connect at the campsite.  So maybe it’s not been much of a week of exploring the surrounding area, but none the less, I’ve sure had my fill of good ole country music.

an abandoned home right next to a Hardy's restaurant parking lot 

campsite at Renfro Valley, just a short walk across a
parking lot to see the shows in the Old Barn



Sunday, August 14, 2016

2016-24 Kentucky, Prestonsburg Country Highway 23


5 mile road through Ginny Wiley State Park


West Virginia to Kentucky

Campground:  Jenny Wiley State Park Resort.  $22.50 after small senior discount.  50 amp elect and water.  Large pull-thru site.  The lodge is currently closed due to a fire in April.  Smoke damage and water damage from the sprinkler system.  Full hookup sites are also available they are back-in sites.

I’m traveling along the Country Music hwy 23.  Along this route many of the great county and western singers lived.  Rv-ers will love this 4 lane divided highway with it’s grassy median in-between and rugged forested mountains running along the boarder between West Virginia and Kentucky.

Jenny Wiley St Pk is always a nice stopping point as it has a number of amenities many state parks down have.  In Kentucky if it’s listed as a resort park, it has a golf course, lake, campgrounds, cabins and lodge with restaurants and of all things a Theater.  Where college students and some local actors put on plays all summer long.

There seems to be some kind of disconnect this year with the recent fire and temporary closing the main lodge for repairs.  Much of the staff here at the campground and up at the conference center where they’ve moved the dining hall temporarily, haven’t a clue as to what’s going on in the park.  I asked a number of workers about what play was on this season and no one knew what the show was for sure or what dates it was playing.  Of course you can be assured, I’d find out.

It was time for laundry and washing the truck yet again.  Amazing how a light rain while driving down the road will throw up dirt all over the truck.  After the chores were done, I headed out to the Mountain Arts Center known locally as MAC for some info on local activities.  With a very helpful young lady as the front desk I learned that their summer Grand Ole Opery season had just finished up, but on Friday they have an open mike night with many local musicians coming together for free entertainment.  So here’s my schedule for the rest of the week:

Wednesday:  Visit Loretta Lynn’s Home place “Butcher Holler” and the Coal Miners’ Museum in Van Lear Kentucky.

Thursday:  Pikeville KY, Front Porch Pickin, 7pm.  A free outdoor concert next to the U.S. hwy 23 Country Music Highway Museum.

Friday:  Prestonsburg KY, Mountain Arts Center, Free concert.  Country, folk, Bluegrass.  7 pm.

Saturday:  Jenny Wiley Amphitheatre for the play “9 to 5”.  8:15 pm

Sunday/Monday:  no tours, relax at campground

I love exploring old abandoned sites as you may know.  In Prestonsburg they have an old bridge (1928) that apparently means a lot to the community as it is featured on their sign coming into the town as well as a mural in town and a park where the bridge is located.  As I was driving down a residential street I came across the original entrance to the bridge and had to stop and get a few pictures.  The entrance to the bridge is now flanked by a couple of newer expensive homes.  I walked up to a small set of steps leading to the bridge which is fenced off.  The fenced gate which has a lock on it did not deter me from going further as the chain link on the gate has been pealed back.  Obviously begging me to enter the site.  Even with a no trespassing sign, I had to go through the gate and get some up close pictures of the bridge.  I walked to about the middle of the concrete and steel bridge and could see quite a bit of deteriorating concrete posts holding up the bridge.  Wonder how much longer it has before falling down.  But as you can see, I got my pictures.  Note:  The town is considering fixing it up for pedestrian traffic only if cost is within reason.

Archer Bridge also called the Rainbow Bridge

would I go through onto the old bridge?

of course I would

The next day, after going into Paintsville and stopping at the U.S. Country Highway Museum for some information I headed over to Van Lear and Butcher Holler and the home of Loretta Lynn, where she grew up to become known as the Coal Miners Daughter.  I’d been there before and tours weren’t available today, so I hung around Webb’s Grocery store which has been in operation since 1900.  It was originally a coal mining company store and I believe is now owned by Loretta Lynn’s family.  While there I talked to a few locals.  They don’t particularly like President Obama as they say he killed the coal mining industry in Kentucky.  The grocery store is near the end of Butcher Holler and provides a fair amount of grocery items for the locals in this remote part of Kentucky.

Butcher Holler, old mining town store

Back at Jenny Wiley State Park, after having lunch, I stopped by the old swimming pool.  It’s been closed for years and has quite the abandoned look to it.  Of course I had to check it out and get some pictures.  The huge parking lot was empty except for my truck parked in front of the steps leading up to the swimming pool.  With no one around and not being able to get any good pictures through the fence, I had to climb up over the fence to get in and take some shots.  Once inside another gate was locked and closed, but walking around the back side of the main buildings, I found an open passageway and walked right on through to the now empty pool.  It was kind of exciting being in a restricted area getting pictures just for you.  I would never do it if it wasn’t for my readers you know.  What a rush as I retraced my steps and climbed back over the fence, down the grand steps, hopped into my truck and sped away back to the campground.

you bet I climbed over that fence

Well I made it to Paintsville and some “Front Porch Pickin” over at the hwy 23 museum and visitor center.  There were three groups of musicians performing mainly folk and bluegrass music with plenty of space out front for dancing.  These Kentuckians love to dance.  One form of dance is called clogging or as one gentleman said it’s like freeform square-dancing by yourself.  Many of the folks had cleats added to the bottom of their shoes for aiding in tapping out the tunes they were dancing too.  The main crowd would be considered elderly by most accounts, but I was pleasantly surprised to see some younger late teens, early twenty something’s who made a point of dancing with many of the elderly folks.  It’s definitely a social gathering place as many folks come around and greet each other with the warmest of hugs and  sharing of family gossip.  I must admit many were not good dancers or at that age where just a simple shuffle is all they could do, but there they were, out on the dance floor having a great time.

Paintsville, Front Porch Pickin

Kentucky folk love to dance

One day I drove deep into one of those Hollows in search of an Appalachian folk art center in the community of David.  It was listed on one of the tourists maps.  Found out the art center had been closed for three years but they let me in to see what was still unsold.  Not much so I didn’t get any great folk art for the camper.  Though the drive along the narrow winding lane leading further and further into the hollow was pretty exciting.

While attending the free Open Mike night at the MAC center, two men who were sitting behind me started to discuss medical issues.  One guy had just come from the doctors office and said he was able to finally get the doctor to admit that he has black lung (caused from working in a coal mine for years).  He said the doctor said he’d be submitting the information to a review board.  The other man who also has black lung disease was awarded compensation based on 60% non functioning lungs.  He told the other guy that if he was awarded anything he’d get $2,300 per 1% of disability.  Sounded like a one time settlement.  And yet folks in the area still want the coal mines reopened because it means jobs.

Prestonsburg, MAC center, free Thursday night entertainment

The MAC center is a great venue for local musicians and I enjoyed all the performers.  Of course there were a few standouts including one young lady who played the mandolin and sang with a clear powerful voice.  The audience really showed their appreciation.  The only gripe I had with the whole evening was the a/c.  It was so darn cold in the place I could barely concentrate on the music.  I kept rubbing my arms all evening trying to warm up.

With temperatures in the 90 degree range, it’s been a let’s stay inside during the heat of the day kind of week.  No Tv so lots of reading….

Next stop:  Renfro Valley Kentucky

Saturday, August 6, 2016

2016-23 West Virginia


Weston West Virginia
Gallipolis Ohio
PT Pleasant West Virginia 

travel expenses for July 2016

  • A Strange Week of Exploring Nut Houses, Mothman creatures, UFO’s and history as far back as 1749

West Virginia foggy mornings

Campground:  Walmart parking lot.  Free

corner of Walmart parking lot

Campground:  Krodel Park campground.  $130 weekly rate for seniors.  ($18.57 per night).  Full hookups, 50 amp service.  Good Verizon 4g signal, approx 10 over the air TV stations.  Nice lake for fishing with walking paths around it.  A rebuilt fort and historic log cabin on site but not open to the public.

Distance traveled:  128 miles

It took some doing to figure out a route from my campsite in Pennsylvania as the first route google gps had me going included a 10’ 1” height restriction entering Greensburg.  The second route suggested would take my on an extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike that has tons of construction.  I opted for the lesser of them all and took a rural route.  Roads were narrow country lanes with quite a few jogs between each section, but overall so little traffic that it turned out ok compared to the other choices.

Pennsylvania to West Virginia 

I did spend one night in Horner West Virginia at a Walmart parking lot.  Even though the day was rather warm and stayed that way till past 10 pm, I was able to get the best nights sleep I’ve had in years.  Somewhere in the middle of the night it cooled off and apparently was perfect as I only got up once or twice in the whole of the night.  Very rare indeed, as you may understand with age many of us have to get up more often than we’d care to admit.

Now you’d think with just an evenings stay in a Walmart parking lot I wouldn’t find anything in the area to visit.  But you’d be wrong.  Having picked up a brochure at a rest stop along the way, I discovered that the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was only a couple miles from my overnight stop.  So Sunday afternoon I went to the loony bin.

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, almost a 1/4 mile in length

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was constructed between 1858-1881.  It is the largest hand cut stone building in North America and is said to be only second in size to the Kremlin in Russia.  They have multiple tours from the 1st floor tour which I took, a 4 floor tour which included restored doctor’s apartments, nurses quarters and Ward F where deviant patients were kept, the criminally insane tour, and multiple paranormal tours.

front reception room

Built before and during the Civil War, it had it’s starts and stops.  West Virginia hadn’t been declared a State when it was started and Virginia dropped funding for the facility during the war.  A Union General took a troop of soldiers to the nearby bank where much gold belonging to Virginia was held.  The General took out a considerable amount of gold at gun point and they were able to complete the buildings.  A military hospital and other facilities were included as the needs arose.

back side of main building

back side main building, center

ambulance drivers were housed here overnight

where convicted prisoners were evaluated to
determine if they were insane

side view of exercise yard and main building

It was kind of a creepy tour provided by guides that are dressed in white hospital uniforms.  My tour guide a young lady played the part well as I kept wondering if she would “commit” me at the end of the tour.  Needless to say, I was on my best behavior.  Learning about the mentally insane, each floor up contained the more insane and dangerous patients.  The first floor housed the mild cases as well as many who were imprisoned such as women and children when a husband no longer wanted to be married.  The man could declare his wife insane and have her committed along with the children.  The woman having no rights.  As long as the husband paid for their care, they were committed.  Often the man had a mistress or possibly inherited money and decided he no longer wanted the obligations of marriage.  He wasn’t permitted to divorce the wife, but could declare her insane.  Some of the women did end up going insane.

originally housed the kitchen

unrestored sections of the building

during the years of overcrowding

my tour guide

old nurses station

4 gargoyles were installed by the stone masons to ward off evil 

not restored section of 1st floor

Patients came from all over the surrounding states, some who were declared insane were transported in cages on trains in the baggage area, away from the other passengers.

As I mentioned, the first floor tour is where the less dangerous clients stayed and were treated.  Some being able to go into town to work before coming back at night.  Homeless children were often left here as well and often put to work in the farm fields or dairy farm at very young ages.  Nurses would often hide some of the children to keep them away from having to do hard labor as often as possible.  The place was totally self sufficient.  Having it’s own dairy farm, extensive gardens for all their fruit and vegetable needs.  All maintained by the patients who were capable of such activities.  Of course they also had many patients escape.

1st floor restored section

1st floor restored hallway

1st floor sitting area, restored

From housing it’s original 250 patient limit, it eventually expanded to well over 2,500 patients in the same space.  Often two people to a bed sleeping in shifts with beds placed in the wide corridors .  Eventually the asylum was forcibly closed in 1994 mainly due to changes in the treatment of mental illnesses and fewer patients.  I wonder how many didn’t survive the “treatments”.

Though the treatments were barbaric by today’s standards,  The facilities were designed to provide as pleasant an atmosphere as possible.  White linen tablecloths in the dining room.  Flowers and nice seating areas.  Exercise courts, outdoor activities were encourage for patients that could be trusted.  Classes, art, and other activities were routine.  Of course many of the niceties were quickly abandoned as the facility became fully utilized or should I say over crowed.  

Still it is not easy to hear the stories of the mentally ill and what they had to go through during the many years of experimentation that took place trying to find solutions to aid in the healing process. A most unusual tour, one I would have never thought I’d encounter… ps they did let me go at the end of the tour.  Or did I escape?

museum exhibits of some patients

probably homeless and abandoned,
kept here as child labor

patients art work

crate used to transport insane on trains

experimental treatments

experimental treatments

ice cold shock therapy

Distance Traveled:  158 miles

Point Pleasant West Virginia, bridges over two rivers 

Point Pleasant West Virginia.  Now how could I not stop and spend a while in a place named Pleasant.  I found a park that has a senior rate which still isn’t the cheapest I’ve paid, but with full hookups and an easy pull-thru site,  I’m a happy camper.

I’ll be chilling out for the week with just a few tours in the area.  Today I had another eye appointment for my Glaucoma.  I needed to have the eye pressures in both eyes checked.  Turns out they were in the normal range of 13 and 14, showing that the past laser surgeries are working well.  The doctor was even able to see the laser drilled hole in both eyes and confirmed they are open and functioning properly.  Isn’t technology wonderful.

This must be the week for bizarre stories.  In Point Pleasant, there’s a museum called Mothman.  The story goes that back in November 15th, 1966, the town had it’s first sightings of Moth Man out near the old Virginia Ordinance Works, now called the TNT building.  It’s where dynamite and ammunitions were manufactured during WWII.  At least 8 people have been confirmed as having seen the creature they call Moth Man.  Standing over 6 feet tall and having wings and glowing eyes.  During this time sightings of UFO’s were also reported.  Over the next 13 months, people who encountered Moth Man started to have dreams at night.  One woman saw Christmas packages floating in the river.  Others had bizarre dreams all seeming to be warning of pending disasters.  13 months after the first sightings, the Silver Bridge which goes from Point Pleasant over to the Ohio side collapsed in December 15th, 1967.  Numerous vehicles crashed into the river killing all passengers except 5 who survived as the bridge sank like dominos into the river…. Christmas packages were seen floating down river.  After the bridge collapse most reports of bad dreams and warnings waned.  Though similar sightings have been reported around the world before major disasters occurred.  One being Chernobyl, the nuclear plant meltdown so the stories go.

By the way, after the bridge collapsed in 1967, the U.S. Congress enacted a law requiring all bridges be inspected regularly for defects.

After checking out the museum, I went to a local diner in town and met the owner who told me first hand accounts of the Moth man as well as numerous sightings of UFO’s.  She said she and friends saw flashing lights in the sky and her friends said it was from UFO’s.  She didn’t really believe the lights were from UFO’s.  It wasn’t until her brother told her he and his wife saw a UFO land in their backyard before silently moving on.  The next day, the Charleston WV newspaper reported multiple sightings of UFO’s in the area.  Charleston and Pt Pleasant aren’t all that far from each other.  After that, the owner of the diner said she became a believer.  A girl friend of hers and the girls boyfriend went for a joy ride one evening over to the TNT area to see if they could see the Moth Man.  Figuring they’d have a laugh, drink a beer and leave.  Before they even had a chance to open a beer from the six pack they were carrying, they saw the Moth Man come out of a large door of the old munitions building.  They said he came out sideways and then flew off.  The young couple got out of there as fast as they could.  It’s interesting to hear the stories from first and second hand accounts and not just something written on a placard in a museum.  Did I mention a movie was made from the stories with Richard Geer as the lead actor.  

flower, at campground

old signs in downtown Point Pleasant

lots of history surrounding this area

Barber Shop Awning

many bridges over the Ohio River

stunning murals along the flood walls surrounding town

I've been in this area once before
and reported on these murals, they are holding up well

murals along flood walls

flood walls, entrance to river park

rail road bridge and tug boat

That’s enough of the spooky stuff.  This area is loaded with history with it being the location where the Ohio river and Kanawha Rivers meet up.  A French explorer arrived here in 1749 and claimed French sovereignty over the Ohio valley, even burying a plaque to that effect. The English were already settling the area and refused to leave.  In 1770 Colonel George Washington came through the area and called it a Pleasant Point.  The Germans and Scotch Irish moved in and after a number of Indian battles with Chief Cornstalk leading the Shawnee Indians was killed.  A whole community of Frenchmen moved here thinking they had purchased land in the area.  After arriving they discovered the land deeds were bogus.  Eventually having to purchase the land a second time in order to stay.

The Ohio River and Kanawha were major means of travel through the area and the area continued to grow and prosper.  Today one can see barges traveling up and down river pushed by large tug boats.  Many barges are anchored along the river banks waiting to be filled with supplies or unloaded.  On the Ohio side of the river I noticed a few dry dock areas for repairing barges.

Another day I visited the River Museum in Pt Pleasant.  A very talkative sister (one of two at the museum) told me lots of stories including the fact that growing up in Pt Pleasant, she knew the characters that dressed up as “Mothman” to scare the locals in the area.  So it was really just a hoax after all.  

water tower in Ohio
The River museum has lots of displays of river boats, steam boats and tub boats along with more stories about the collapse of the bridge over the Ohio River.  With the two small communities on either side of the river, almost everyone in the area knew someone who died in the collapsing of the bridge.  So much so that on the Ohio side of the river, they did not put up a memorial to all those who died until 25 years later.  It was just too much for them to relive.  On the second floor the museum has a tug boat simulator and is used to re-certify boat captains in the area.  Kind of neat to find a simulation training device as that was what I was a logistics manager for with the Naval Training Systems Center in Orlando before I retired.  They let me try out the simulator and I have to admit, I crashed the tugboat.  Opps.

So as you can tell I haven’t had that much to explore in this area, just a few local sites to explore.  Didn’t even get over to the County Fair on the Ohio side of the river.  But there’s always another adventure on down the road, and that’s where you’ll find me next week.

Tug boat simulator
Additional Photos:

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum 

Point Pleasant West Virginia and Mothman Museum

Point Pleasant WV and River Museum