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Bluegrass on Green Grass, Hospitality, and a Steam Engine
It was COLD in Petroleum this morning, so I stayed in the tent awhile before riding on down the rail trail to Cairo.
Someone across the trail had placed a bunch of ceramic ducks in very realistic poses on a grassy area. There was an adult and seven, cute ducklings. Then these ducks started to move in very realistic ways. They were real, and tame from eight feet away.
In Cairo, the Scoop Ice Cream Parlor had dozens of ice cream scoops in the window and only six flavors of ice cream.
The R. C. Marshall Hardware (and museum) had over a dozen functional models of oil pumping equipment throughout the store, all connected by a single 'cable', to demonstrate use of a single power source. They also had a galvanized bath tub tipped up against a wall, with a sign in it:
Cold 25 cents
Warm 50 cents
Private buck fifty
At the campground office, Danny's girlfriend Karen met me, unaware that I had made reservations. She was camping and would have shared her space. She invited me and two co-workers for a dinner of Hamburger Helper. We couldn't quite finish it off.
The nearest Internet connection was at the Harrisville Library, a half-dozen hilly miles from camp. After sending off a message, I had pictures to unload to a CD. The librarian had no equipment, but called the local Radio Shack store. Yes, they could do it, but giving directions to someone with a bicycle would be hard. The manager arrived at the library with his personal computer just 10 minutes later. Soon, I had everything offloaded onto two CDs, one to mail home and one to keep with me and add to.
With the Bluegrass Weekend beginning in the next hour, riding Sarah back would make me late. For the first time, I asked for help. The second pickup driver, a guy in his twenties, took me to the top of the big hill above camp, and I coasted down. Whee!
The amphitheater was 2 minutes from my campsite by bike. It had 8 terraced grassy ledges - plenty large enough to set up camp chairs. This evening had three groups, with the Lonesome Whistle appearing again tomorrow evening.
Before the music started, I rode around the area. I struck up a conversation with a guy on a bridge who had been just looking off into the woods. For 45 minutes, we chatted. Russell is a singer, and would be performing later. His group was on the road most of the year in an old Greyhound bus. It was his family's only source of income.
It turned out Russell is the leader of the Lonesome Whistle. His wife Becky is the left-handed base fiddle player. And their 11-year-old son Wes has been doing solos with them since he was 8, although now with his voice changing, it is interesting. The banjo player is a fun-loving guy that joined them about a year ago. He started on stage with them after only a day of practice.
It is getting scary here. A West Virginian has recognized my Michigan accent! Didn't know I had one.
I bought 5 bananas yesterday. Last night, the raccoons didn't get any of them. At a campsite a couple hundred yards away, they got five pounds of bacon out of a cooler that had the lid bungee-corded on. I ate all 5 bananas today.
At the afternoon concert, Mrs. Cisco, the lady who recognized my Michigan accent, came up behind me and invited me to dinner. With her husband and their three teen-age daughters, I had great conversation as well as tasty chicken and corn-on-the-cob.
I would also play volleyball with them later. School kids and old folks were all included. When a little kid got beaned, Mrs. Cisco said "It'll be OK --- I'm a doctor." She wasn't, but it was effective.
Becky of the Lonesome Whistle told of a time before she traveled with the group. Russell came home from a road trip to discover Becky was planning to start a new business. She would sell fresh eggs. "You don't know how to do that", he said. "Yes I do" she said. "I've already got one chicken and two roosters!" Russell said "Well, that proves it. You don't need two roosters." "I do" she said "when one of them spends a lot of time on the road!" She's been touring with them ever since.
I would have gotten out of camp sooner, but the people in the trailer in the next campsite insisted on feeding me breakfast. Those scrambled eggs, bacon, biscuits, and milk sure were good. Then they sent me away with a slice, and the rest of a loaf, of fresh homemade banana nut bread. I put it on the back rack where the sun would make it warm when I was ready for it.
The plan was to ride the trail back to West Union, then pick up county roads back to Weston. When I got to West Union, I rode/pushed Sarah up to the courthouse on the highest ground. I sat down in the shade across the street, got out my map and my jar of Jiff Chocolate Silk Peanut Butter, and dug into both.
A woman in a pickup truck came by asking about a place not on her map. She thought a bike tourist might have been there. I hadn't. She wanted to know where I had been, and where I was going. She offered to drive me to Weston. It was hot, so I accepted.
She didn't go the way I planned, but a longer way using the "4-lane" and the interstate. In West Virginia, a "4-lane" is like an interstate, except there are no overpasses or underpasses - traffic just comes in from side roads like old-style highways. The hills going up were miles long. I enjoyed the scenery, and felt very glad about having a ride.
In Weston, I gave her the rest of my banana-nut bread. The piece I had was wonderful, but so was her generosity.
I stayed in the county park just outside of Weston. It has a swimming pool, and I was able to get a shower. I put my tent by a little stream that wanted to gurgle, but couldn't. I was the only tent camper, and a travel trailer was almost out of sight.
The road to Cass was over some hilly, curvy mountain roads where, in places, the natural maximum speed was under 30mph. Campgrounds in the area were full as Showshoe Mountain was hosting the National Archery Championships.
The Cass Scenic Railroad and town are a state park. When I arrived, the steam engine and train had left the station.
I saw the slide show about the lumber industry that created Cass a hundred years ago. They used Shay train engines, designed by a guy near Traverse City, Michigan. They could climb 10% grades around tight curves on track that was not permanently laid. Each wheel was a drive wheel, connected with a gear to a drive shaft. No engine, past or present, can do what Shay does. If a part breaks, they make a new one from models in their shop.
I arranged to leave my car in their parking lot for the next couple weeks while I ride down the Greenbrier River Trail and return on WV-92.
I rode down the trail a couple miles to a free campsite. Riding on gravel using headlights takes some concentration, and you can only look away from the surface for a moment without riding into the shadow beyond your headlight.
Finding this campsite after dark was a challenge. It was an unmarked clearing with a picnic table, just past a bridge over a creek running into the Greenbrier River. The up-side was --- I had it all to myself.
Today was forecast to be a hot day. At noon, I got on the train that climbs Cheat Mountain to Bald Knob, the second highest place in West Virginia. The 34-mile round trip takes 5 hours.
Each car has a roof and railing, but is otherwise open. Benches ran back-to-back the length of each car. There were not enough seats for everyone, but it wasn't long before more people were standing for a better view.
I met a fireman (one who transfers coal to the firebox in the engine) from a scenic railroad in Kentucky. I said I wasn't getting my money's worth in smoke. He said a lot of smoke meant the fireman was doing a bad job. When the fireman lets the fire get too low, then piles on a lot of coal, it smothers the fire.
They try to keep the steam pressure between 195 and 200 pounds. Too little and the engine struggles. Too much and the relief valve opens and wastes energy. A proper job is to throw nine half-shovels, in a precise pattern, then take a 5-minute break. On our trip, the fireman would shovel about 9 tons of coal.
If you've seen old steam engines, up front is the smokestack which, due to corrosion, is a disposable item. Behind it are two domes. The one farthest back collects condensate from the steam and returns it to the boiler to be heated. The other one was a surprise to me - it holds sand. When 18 tons of engine is not enough to keep the wheels from spinning, sand is dribbled on the wheels for traction. More modern trains use sand, but it is stored elsewhere.
The wood hicks (called lumberjacks in Michigan) lived in a camp in small buildings - and later, in bunkhouses on rails. They often worked from sunrise to sunset for $1.50 a day, which was pretty good pay a hundred years ago. Once every eight or nine months they would take a vacation, come into town, spend all their money, and return to the mountains to get back to work.
The saw sharpener got a separate place, and it had larger windows to help him see his work. He had above average pay, and frequently got tips from the wood hicks. That often made his job worth more than the job of foreman.
Wood hicks got 3 meals a day. The cook had rules, like NO talking at the table. Less time eating meant more time working. Break a rule - you don't eat. Don't like it - you find another job.
You must wash your hands before eating. Once a month, you got a bath. Because of fleas, ticks, and other bugs from the woods, after your bath you covered yourself in kerosene. Anyone who used tobacco chewed it or sniffed it - flames were a bad thing.
The Cass General Store once sold everything anyone needed. Now it was a restaurant and tourist store. I had dinner there.
I packed everything on Sarah and rode a couple miles down the Greenbrier River Trail. I used the same campsite I was at last night.
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