Monday, December 19, 2022

Henderson Depot

 I've noticed that the posts I write about museum visits tend to be the least read, and that's saying a lot when only a handful of my 750 posts have managed to claw their way up into the lower 2-digit page-hit level. (My last museum post just barely made it halfway up the 1-digit ladder!) But then again, it's my blog so I'm going to do another museum post so you'll have to turn it off, tune it out, or just plain ignore it.

And I will try to keep it short. (But we'll have to see how that goes!)

As I was heading home after a week of making myself dizzy hiking the same 5 miles of trail in Martin Creek State Park I passed through Henderson Texas, and prominently displayed on my map was the Henderson Depot Museum. A click on the map-bubble for the museum showed that it had opened not quite 30 minutes ago. (Ain't technology great?!)

Being a sucker for all things railroad - and trying to be a little less isolationist - I decided to swing by and see what the parking lot looked like, congestion-wise.

Turns out it was just my kinda parking lot. Mostly, but not completely, empty.

Just enough vehicles that I won't be the only one in there and on display, being judged the whole time by the staff, (one of the curses of introvertism) but not so many that I'd be mingling too closely with the other patrons. (OK, we can blame a little bit of that on introvertism but these are is still COVID times! No matter how many of us are trying to ignore the facts.)

So I decided to check it out and tied down my train - OK Yeah, I don't really have a train (I wish!) so in reality I parked The Van.

Speaking of trains,

with the exception of its name, the depot, which I'll get to in a moment, and this single caboose, which was locked up and inaccessible, both doors (I tried) there wasn't much railroad to this museum. 

Disappointing to a train-geek, but not a disaster to a history-nerd.

Like many of these community style museums funding and exhibits are mostly through local donations and volunteer labor. Yes, that can make things a little quirky but I've visited several of these types of museums that have turned out to be be really interesting. And since they tend to focus on local stuff, I have often learned things I'm not likely to come across otherwise. 

For instance, where else would I learn that the handful of houses located just outside the entrance to the State Park I had been staying at are sitting on the site of Harmony Hill?

Quite a little town in the mid 1800's that, in addition to nearly a dozen shops and a furniture factory, included a Masonic Hall, a race-track (horse) and a number of thriving taverns. (apparently even the Mercantile did a booming "adult beverage" business out the back door on race days!)

An assortment of butter-making equipment

At $3 a pop, $2 for seniors, this museum certainly isn't supplementing its funding at the door. In fact, when I pulled out the single $20 bill I carry folded up between my credit cards, where it will stay for months, even years, since I pretty much always use cards for everything, the woman at the front just waved me on through saying it wasn't worth dealing with the change. (I offered my card but she didn't want to mess with that either. - I know. I know. I've got so much charm and good-looks I'm dangerous! - See! I told you I'm dangerous! At least one of you just laughed so hard you nearly choked!)

The museum is called The Depot because that's what they started with, but now they've expanded and most of the inside displays are housed in a new building while the depot itself is used mostly as a community gathering space and class room.(They actually have another classroom in the new building too which tends to suggest a lot of school field trips.)

The new building houses an eclectic array of exhibits

that tell and illustrate the local history

as well as the lifestyle


of anywhere from a couple centuries to a couple of decades ago.

And yes, when I saw this dress, which was apparently worn by one of the early 20th century school teachers, I had to look behind it to see if they had pinned up the fabric back there.


Like this outfit displayed elsewhere in the museum, what you see is what you get.

Those were some svelte women!

But as this 1930 photo shows, not everybody was skinny back then! - Just more of us than today - - -

Outside the main building some displays, such as an open-air, steam-powered saw-mill and this carousel, are fenced off waiting on the slow process of volunteer-driven restoration.

 Others, like this typical 5-room dogtrot home, are open and ready for self-guided exploration.

I'm not sure what it says about me, but when I walked into its 1900's kitchen I was struck by how comfortable I felt in there and that got me to looking around and thinking, and I decided I could manage very well, and happily, in a space like this.

No soft-close drawers, automatic ovens, exotic counter-tops and back-splashes. All the things that, based on the house hunting and renovation shows of today, we just can't live without!

There's also a complete cotton gin sitting on the museum grounds and this is the two- cylinder Anderson oil engine that ran everything in the gin through a series of leather belts.

You can get a sense of the scale of this thing from the cut-down milk jug and the pails.

Those two tubes on the top are the cylinders,

each of which produces 55 hp!

Elsewhere on the grounds are an assortment of 'town' buildings such as the doctor's office, a general store, and a printer's, along with a covered area full of old farming tools and implements, but in a (clearly failed) attempt to keep this post short I'm going to skip all that.

Except for this.

This is the remnants of a small broom-making shop opened in 1933 by Jesse Rogers, 20 years old at the time, after completing a course at the Austin school for the blind.

Here he supported himself, and eventually his family, making brooms, whisk brooms, and mops by touch day after day right up until he died in the mid 1980's

Anyway, I think there's a lot of value to be found in these little community style museums and though posts about them don't seem to generate much interest, whenever I can force myself into one of them I expect I'll continue to spit into the wind - I mean post about it.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Cheating or Really Intelligent Use of Resources?


A few months ago I included this photo in a post.

In that post I mentioned that this tree, which is laying across one of the trails on our property, has been slowly settling and now I can't get under it without ducking. I also mentioned that for now, instead of doing something more permanent to resolve the issue, it would be just one more place where I'd have to learn to duck while doing my laps.

Well apparently I don't learn very well.

 A few days ago, with weighted pack on my back and head down as my little feet chugged along trying to keep up with the brisk pace, I ignored the need to duck and for my insolence promptly got knocked flat on my ass.

There was an exceedingly loud crack as my skull was driven back into my neck. Like an encore this was followed with stars, some one-sided, less than family-friendly discussion, and a healthy dose of dumb-ass-you-deserve-it pain. But yet again, with some unfathomable stubbornness, I just carried on without doing anything about the situation other than resolving to do a better job of remembering to duck.

Then yesterday, after making it past the spot unscathed on my outbound trip, that damn tree reached out and dope-slapped me upside the head again on the return trip. Thankfully it was just a light, glancing blow this time, but unless I was ready to start wearing my hardhat and a neck-brace when doing laps, clearly something had to be done about this!

Soo - - - Nope, trusty pruning saw, which even though it hardly ever refuses to start when I need it to, is 10 inches.

Tree: about 14 inches.

Damn! The math, even new math, or whatever confusing crap they're experimenting on our kids with nowadays, just doesn't want to work.

No problem.

I have two chainsaws, both of which are large enough for the job.

But neither one of them is a Stihl, (Ever notice that almost all the people on those off-grid shows that rely on their tools for survival have Stihl chainsaws?) and both of them fight me in different ways.

The small one's carb is all out of wack (I suck at carburetors!) so it is very difficult to start and then keep running.

The big one starts fine, though it idles like crap, but I can't seem to keep the chain properly adjusted. If I don't stop every couple of minutes to re-tighten the chain it throws itself off the bar creating a hell of a mess.(Yes - the chain gets all tangled up too, but mostly it scares the crap out of me every time!)

Besides, with 2-stroke fuel and bar-oil both these saws are stinky and messy and noisy and heavy.

But hey!

I've got a 6 ounce roll of surveyors tape sitting right there on my computer desk! (Doesn't everybody?!)

So back up over the ridge with tape in my pocket

And, with a surplus of intelligence and trail-smarts, problem solved!

I left the tails long enough that even if I'm leaning wearily into my pack with head down as I crank out the steps I'll be able to see it in plenty of time to duck.

At least that's the plan - - -

This is a 34 second video, with narration, of me successfully negotiating the downed tree this morning on the outbound trip.

If that's too long for you here's a 14 second quick-action version of the inbound trip. (Actually I hope one or both of them actually works. I haven't figured out how to test the embedded videos. Maybe after the post is published?)

Now y'all might be wondering why I put up with a less than perfect trail. Why don't I just put on my big-girl panties and get out there and clear things out properly?

I do go out there maybe once a year and trim some of last year's growth back, but not by too much. You see, I'm under the delusion that all the weaving and twisting and turning and ducking a less than perfectly cleared trail forces me to do is better for me. That it works a broader range of muscles, improves my flexibility, and keeps my sense of balance tuned up. (If I'm wrong please don't tell me! Just leave me with my happy delusions.) 

Alright. Much as I'd like to ignore it and leave y'all thinking I'm a genius, here's the reality edit: 

I wrote this a few weeks ago and in a perfect world I'd be able to say that was the end of it, but - - - well - - -

Just to remind me that I'm not quite as smart as I think I am, over the next couple of weeks I picked up a few more divots in my head.

Not on that big tree! That fix has been working great. But apparently, now that I don't have to worry about the big stuff, there are a few smaller obstacles in head's way that feel like they can make themselves bashly (brashly?) known.

Fortunately the small stuff - such as this one which, even though it's right at eye-level where it can hardly be missed has still clipped my hat off a few times - doesn't hurt quite as much, but it is still annoying.

So, if a fix works once it should work again - right?

I hope so!

And since I'm not quite as dumb as I look, I've stashed a supply of head-knocker-tape in my GPS case where I can quickly get to it whether I'm stopping to pick up my hat, busy rubbing the pain out of a new head-divot, or laying flat on my back wondering what the hell just happened. 

Monday, November 28, 2022

Not For The Squeamish

 No, seriously, if you are squeamish about squishy things or the reality of survival, stop reading now, close this post without going past the first photo and just leave it alone.

I have walked thousands of miles, maybe getting on up into double digits of thousands of miles, of trails, and over the past 20 years, a thousand or few more miles on the trails around the property.

During those miles I have stumbled across a lot of things that go on in the natural world, including a fresh, as in still warm and steamy, eviscerated moose-kill in Alaska while hiking back to the trailhead (It wasn't there on my outbound trip just a few hours earlier.) that scared the crap out of me because I didn't know where the bear (The distinctive tracks were clearly evident) it belonged to was.

But after all these years and all those miles, I still haven't seen everything.

Just the other morning as I came along the trail across the bottom of the largest ridge on the property, unable to see the barn on the other side of the pond because of the fog which made things slightly spooky anyway,

I was stopped in my tracks by this.

No, I didn't stop quite as close as this. It's just that after I got my phone out and swiped it alive I put my foot in the frame for scale.

Based on the the size and a couple of tufts of fur scattered around the perimeter I'm guessing this was a rabbit.

I've come across kills and carcasses on a quite a few of my treks, but never one quite like this.

In fact this one is the complete reverse of the norm.

Normally one of the first parts of a kill gone after by pretty much any predator is the belly because it's a soft entry-point. And usually, because of the high nutritional value-to-effort ratio, the first parts consumed are the organs. Including, actually especially, the stomach and intestines which contain highly concentrated nutritional value that is easily digested.

Why this stomach and intestines were left laying there when the rest of the animal was missing (Yes, I looked for it) I have no idea, and given that in all my years wandering unleashed in nature this is the first time I've ever seen anything like this other than at a human hunting camp I don't expect that I'll ever see it again.

Yes, perhaps a little cringe-worthy, but an intriguing mystery and a fascinating anatomy lesson. I've seen all sorts of drawings of stomachs. Everything from cartoonish Pepto adds to anatomical pictorials, but I have never seen the real thing laid out so clearly before!

OK, so I'm actually a little squeemish myself, but I love learning new stuff! 

Monday, November 14, 2022

I Spent a Week There One Afternoon!

 I'm not opposed to hiking the same trail over again - and again - and again. After all, the light is rarely the same from hike to hike and I always seems to find something new to see along the way.

In fact, to illustrate my point, when doing my laps around the property just this morning, (Nov 9) laps I have done literally thousands of times over the past 20 years, I came across something in the middle of one of the trails that I have never seen before, anywhere! (I'll probably get around to posting about it sometime, but it won't be for the squeamish!)

Besides, a bad day out in the open on a trail is way better than a good day on the couch, 

But I have been in a bit of a rut lately where I'm feeling a little burned out on my usual camping and hiking haunts.

So I went poking around in the wrinkles of my maps and found this new-to-me place.

Martin Creek Lake State Park over in the East Texas Piney Woods

At 286 acres not an especially large State Park, but it does have some trails, so I figured what the hell, let's give it a shot.

All I've got to lose is a couple mortgage payments worth of fuel, which we can spare since we put mortgages behind us long ago, and a week's worth of time.

Having never been there I hadn't had a chance to compile my usual list of best-OK-bad campsites, so when it came time to reserve my site I sat down with the campground map and rolled the dice, hoping I didn't come up craps!

People seem to find lakeside sites attractive, but to me they are often exposed, busy, and noisy (Boy wasn't that the truth in this case! - something I'll get to in a moment) inside-loop sites back up to other inside loop sites and also tend to be a little closer to the neighbors on either side than outside sites, if there's a choice I give 50 amp sites (the green ones in this case) a wide berth because the 50's attract larger rigs which tend to have multiple air-conditioners, outdoor entertainment systems droning and flickering on well into the evening, hugely annoying fairy lights blazing brightly all night long, roaring water-heaters trying to keep up with long showers or loads of laundry, and yappy lap-dogs, and those sites close to bath-houses and dump stations - well, need I say more through the din of idling engines and overly tired kids screaming around the feet of parents desperately trying to avoid getting tangled in the dump-hose and splashing used bathwater and shit all over themselves, or the constant slamming of the bath house door?

So based on the fact that it is an outside-loop site away from the lake shore and 50 amp-ers, a long ways from the dump station, just about as far from the bath-house as I could get, seemed to have just a little extra gap between it and the adjacent sites, - and it was available - I blindly picked site 44.

 Which turned out to be a damn good toss of the dice.

As advertised, it is set a little apart from the sites on either side, in fact separated from one by a steep gully and both by untamed brush and woods, backed up to thick woods behind that shielded the site from the lake, and with a nice light and sound damping woods buffer in the center of the loop between me and the 50 amp-ers on the far side.

My own little private corner for the week, albeit one with little solar potential!

Yep, still loving my 200 AH's of BattleBorn lithium ion batteries.

Being September in Texas it wasn't exactly cool, (That doesn't happen until well into October and then for only a few tantalizing days at a time.) which makes my compressor-fridge, my largest battery consumer by far, work hard at sucking electrons, but I arrived on a Sunday afternoon with a full charge from about 6 hours of driving the nice open, sunny roads, never plugged in, and my batteries still had enough charge left to carry me for one and a half to two more days as I rolled back out onto the sun-drenched roadways the following Friday.

In addition to campsites, including primitives over on the island, which is reachable by a foot-bridge,

this park also has screened in shelters with bare concrete floors for camping without the flapping fabric and snarl of tent poles,

"cottages" with adjacent water-points, a couple of iron beds, and even air-conditioning,

and if that's still a little too much like roughing it for you, there's  a couple of ADA accessible, two bedroom, kitchen and bath with running water, cabins.

But I'm only interested in the camping.

So once I got set up, which consists of parking, popping the canopy up, and unfolding the camp-chair, I used the remainder of the afternoon to go on my ritual first-time-here campground-stroll intending to compile my best-OK-bad list of campsites for future reference, (If I take a horizontal photo of a campsite number post it's a best, if I don't take a photo it's an OK, if I take a vertical photo it's a bad) but I ended up putting the camera away because in the context of this campground I was already in the best site and (other than the caveat coming up in a moment) there were no particularly bad sites. For instance, site 73 here is an inside loop site, but as you can see there is a solid buffer of trees and brush between it and site 80, another inside loop site on the opposite side.

So what's this "issue" I've hinted at a couple times?

Yeah - well - I suppose the line between hum and roar is subjective.

For the most part the trees around my site did a pretty good job of knocking the noise down to a persistent but acceptable level,

but there were a few times after the sun went down that it sounded like a convoy of heavy trucks, with maybe a tank or two thrown in for good measure, was easing up the loop-road towards me.

with their lights on!

I don't know why power plant managers feel the need to burn up a fair portion of their output, a portion that we as consumers have to pay for, (Even if you live completely off-grid, the cost of electricity is embedded in the goods you buy) but every power plant I've ever seen at night is lit up this way.

And you see that bright light in the center of the photo? (Well that was a dumb question! How could you not?) It seems to be a big-ass spotlight aimed across the lake directly at the State Park, Unless it's purely for the annoyance factor I have no idea what it's purpose is, but when I turned away from taking this photo from the lake-shore

 I could actually see the spotlight casting a shadow of my shoulders and hatted head on the tree behind me.

Now what in the blue-balled hell is the sense in that?! (No, not that kind of blue-balls. With all the stuff that's been going on in the world the past few years I'm just assuming hell has frozen over so it must be damned cold there!)

A question I'm sure the unenlightened who chose a lakeside campsite and are now trying to sleep with the undampened noise and that light shining in the bedroom window all night would like an answer to.

But it, the power plant, is a complex and busy place that, every time my hiking took me to a particular vantage-point on the island, 

provided an hour or so of voyeuristic entertainment.

But I was kinda surprised at the somewhat primitive coal-handling processes.

I guess I was expecting something more like a grain-bin type operation.

Dump the coal into a pit under the tracks, use augers, legs, and conveyors to move the coal to a storage area and more augers and conveyors to move it from there to the boilers.

Instead there are dozens of bulldozers, water-trucks and these heavy tractors, each pulling two earth scrapers, making endless loops following each other up, around, and down the pile as they constantly reshape and shift the stash of coal.

But enough of the industrial revolution. What about the hiking?

Well, as I stated before, though it has three different loop trails this park isn't all that big.

The longest loop is 1.5 miles and the shortest is 1.1 miles. AND, with the exception of a couple very short ups or downs, the terrain is as close as you can get to flat.

If I linked all three loops together into one hike and added in crossing the large day-use parking lot (I counted 87 vehicle&boat-trailer parking slots and at least that many car slots, thankfully mostly empty during the week I was there)

to get to and from the bridge to the Island Trail, it was just over 5 miles of putting foot to ground.

I'm close enough to 70 now that I can reach out and push the gate to that septuagenarian decade open so it's ready for my entry, and it's likely that at some point in my future, which is charging at me with the speed of a toddler towards an untended cookie jar, 1 to 2 mile loops will be my physical limit, but for now I'm still going strong,

so what I did was link the three loops together,

make a stop back at The Van for a civilized snack, 

then turn right around and do the trails all over again in the other direction.

Unlike the 3+ MPH pace when doing my workout laps on the property, my average hiking speed tends to hover slightly below the 1.5 MPH mark, so combined with a Spanish lesson or two, some reading, some sitting around staring into space while my mind free-flowed, (or just lay there in a puddle of healthy mindlessness.)

the 10 miles gently filled out the day right up to dinner time very nicely.

So that was my routine there at Martin Creek Lake State Park for five consecutive days. Tracing the same three loops, the only three loops, around and around, first in one direction then the other. And to add some almost unbearable drama, I would also change up the order that I hiked the loops. 

I'm not saying I was eager to leave Friday after one last familiar trail-circuit before the weekenders started packing the place like a desperate chipmunks cheeks, (There were, of course a few people in various campsites and some others fishing near the boat-launches, but I ran into absolutely nobody out on the trails all week.) but I was ready to leave.

I'm not ready however to strike this place completely off my list. It wasn't that horrible. And it could have its uses in the future. But I probably won't be coming back in what you might consider the immediate future.