Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Upon Ol' WindRock

The first time I was ever on Buffalo Mountain, or Windrock as locals call it, was back in the early 2000s.  I was with a Department of Energy (DOE) group that was inspecting the radio repeater site on the mountain.

As communications manager for the K-25 Plant, or Horizon Park as it's known today, I had the responsibility of buying, distributing, and managing the radio communications system for the security, fire protection, and maintenance departments at the site.  That responsibility put me in constant contact with the government group that engineered all the  communications for the sites in the Oak Ridge, TN area.  It was that working relationship that took me up through WindRock Park, to the radio tower, on a couple of occasions.

Today WindRock Park is very well known to off-road vehicle owners throughout the Southeast.  Slinging mud on the weekends, or any day of the week for that matter, is big business in the Oliver Springs, TN area.  Enthusiast come from hundreds of miles around the Roane, Morgan, and Anderson County area to explore 300+miles of mud and rock trails (some more difficult than others) and some of the best East Tennessee hiking scenery there is.

The "park" is built around 72,000 acres of privately-owned off-road fun! The trails accommodate all types of vehicles from ATVs, SxS (side by side), dirt bikes, mountain bikes, Jeeps/4x4s, buggies and trucks.  Don't have a vehicle of your own but want to ride? Windrock Park offers a fleet of SxSs for rent that even includes helmets!

All this fun can be had for just $18 a day, or an annual permit pass for $88.  Visit more than 5 times a year, and the year pass is a bargain!

Just Google Windrock Park, or Oliver Springs, TN, and you'll see all the places around to stay and other sights to see.

On this day, I took my wife, daughter, and granddaughter on a "day pass" up to see the windmills.  The gleaming white, whirling blades can be seen for miles along the top of Windrock/Buffalo Mountain, especially on a clear day coming west out of Oak Ridge toward Oliver Springs on Highway 62.
We stopped at the "General Store", and while they looked around the t-shirts and other souvenirs, I filled out the computer form.  Be warned, there is only a "Porta-Potty" at the store!

Soon we were on our way up and up, out of the valley, onto the mountain.  The road is part pavement and part gravel with occasional pot-holes, with no guardrails.  This doesn't bother you too much until you hit a stretch with no bushes or trees along the road!
You need to secure a map, especially if you intend to see more than the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Invenergy Wind LLC wind turbines on top.  There are numerous roads splitting off the "main" road.  Some are obviously 4-wheel only, so be careful when and where you venture off the direct route up to the windmills.

On top are approximately 18 wind turbines, some as tall as a 26-story building, that rise 262 feet in the air.  The white blades weigh seven tons, are 135-feet-long, and can be seen for miles as they slowly turn in a gentle sweep. 
To be honest, we never saw more than 5 windmills from the legal side of the "Do Not Enter" signs!  

This is the first wind farm in the Southeast.  TVA started it with just 3 turbines, but soon Invenergy Wind LLC, which is North America’s largest independent wind power generation company, built 15 more and they sell their energy to TVA.  Together, about 27 megawatts of power is generated from Buffalo Mountain.

The original three turbines constructed by TVA in late 2000 and early 2001, are much smaller than the other 15 turbines constructed later.  The original three had a 660 kilowatt or .6 megawatt capacity while the next 15 turbines have 1.8 megawatt capability.

The original three turbines are 65 meters to the hub with blades 47 meters in diameter, and were Vestas turbines.

The newest turbines are called V80s, with a wind turbine diameter of 80 meters.  So when the blades are at the top of the rotation for these wind turbines here you are looking at a total height of almost 390 feet.
Standing near the rotating blades you can hear the distinct "rushing wind" sound.  If you've ever been under a glider aircraft, you'll recognize the sound of air moving over the blades like that of glider wings.  Additionally, there is a slight noise made by the internal turbine gears where the electricity is generated.

They are quite a sight to behold in the distance on top of the mountain, but they are something grand up close!  Windmills have been around for centuries, but today's "green energy" monsters are a spectacle indeed; almost worth the price of admission themselves!
After my granddaughter and I shot frame after frame of the rotating blades, we ventured off on a couple of side roads.  One took us east of the windmills where there is a great overlook with a breath taking vista on both sides; one toward Oak Ridge and the other into the valley north of Buffalo Mountain.  

I will have to warn you, that there were a couple of "butt clinching" moments on some of the rocky dry rutted trails, so a 4-wheel pickup, at minimum, is recommended.  Clearance is minimal on some side roads, so be careful!  You don't want to knock a hole in your oil pan or transmission.  
But all this aside, do enjoy your day on Windrock Mountain!

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Visit With Max Woody

I was blessed with getting to meet Max Woody this past weekend, before either of us passed on.  What a true privilege it was too! 

It was another Saturday "road trip" with my friends, and this one stretched our usual "day trip" limits.  We traveled well over 300 miles in the round trip from Harriman, Tennessee to Old Fort and Marion, North Carolina.  By the time we spent a couple of hours in Max's chair store and shop, it was getting dark by the time we arrived home, and we had left around 8AM.
New location in Marion, NC.
A lot has been written about Max Woody and his legend as a mountain chair making craftsman.  Oops, I messed up, Max says he don't create, he builds chairs! 

I just wanted to write about my 2 hours with the man in his shop.  It will be something I will long remember.  

During the telling of his life and times, I soon understood that he was a man of faith.  A woodworker, like that other carpenter, he cares for the youth of today.  He is a supporting member of groups that reach the young people of the "inter-cities"; showing them the mountains of North Carolina and love of Jesus.

Suffice it to say, Max's chairs are the best; made with no nails or glue.  They outlast their owners and their inheritors. 

His "Colonial-style" chairs are highly sought after, and at one time he was six years behind in orders.  Now, it seems, he just makes them on request, or, as Max says, when people keep calling me about one.  It appears that "the squeaking wheel" gets oiled!
He has been honing his craft for about 65 years now, and though he is slowing down, he still turns out chairs.  The product is the best too.  He demonstrated how he tests the strength of each chair; putting his full weight on each leg.  The chair doesn't move under his weight!
The list of famous chair owners goes on and on, but the ones that stand out for me are John F. Kennedy, Billy, and Franklin Graham.  They recognized the quality of Max's work and the adage "You Get What You Pay For"!

I personally would love to have one, but with both our ages, and the back-order time, I think I've missed the window of opportunity.  Besides, the cost is steep, around $3,000 for a rocking chair, and about a $1,000 for a straight-back chair!  However, the authentic squeak the chairs make when you sit in one makes you want to place an order and hope.  I remember that sound from my youth while sitting at my grandmother's table.  It's comforting...somehow.

The other "best part" of being around Max, besides the smells of his woodworking shop, is his stories.  He don't wait for you to ask, he just spies something sitting on a shelf, or hanging on the wall, and starts right in, "Now there's an interesting story."
He is never lost for a story, because his place is full of items that bring them back to mind.  His new shop in Marion isn't as large, or as full of stories, as his old store down in Old Fort, but it will keep you begging for more stories long into your visit.

Old location in Old Fort, NC

Anyway, if you are ever in Marion, North Carolina, go out on Highway 70 and look for his sign.  He'll be glad to meet you and spend a yarn or two with you!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Photos For The Walls Of Your Home Or Office

Why is it that when people travel, even for short trips, they often take along a framed photo...or two, to remind them of home?  Even when the travel is not for pleasure, let's say going away to college, or a stint in the military, a framed photo of the family helps make that temporary place more homey.  Somehow, that photo reminds us that we are loved and that we always have a place to go back to when our mission is accomplished.

When I began this post I thought I remembered a frame of someone or something sitting on the 2x4 frame of my hooch in Vietnam.  When I went back and looked there were no photos!  
They would have been so comforting to me, even if they reminded me that I wasn't having a bad dream, that all the damp, muggy, dirty, chaos around me was real!  A short retrospective look at anyone or any place might have held homesickness at bay.  Photos are important to us, they remind us of who we are and what we are to others.

My home is filled with framed photos that I've taken of my family, and the wonderful places in and around where I live than make it my hometown.  I have been taking photos since my first camera at Keesler AFB, in Biloxi, Mississippi about 1965.  

Before that I had fooled around with mom and dad's Hawkeye Brownie, but nothing was like the colorful and sharp 35mm slide results from a "rangefinder" camera of that day.  Mine was a Yasica Electro 35 SLR Rangefinder Film Camera*.  I took that camera with me to 'Nam, and through it tried to show folks back home what I was experiencing.  
One time I got into trouble over a slide I sent home where I pretended I was wounded!  Yes, I know, not a very nice thing to do to your mother.  My dad even got in touch with someone, who got in touch with my Da Nang commander.  He chewed me a good one, and I never tried that again.

I suppose I was having a Brian Williams moment!  But, let's not get into that.

The truth is I did get shot at a was Rocket City after all!  However, other than a couple skinned knees I got sliding under my bunk during those attacks, I was never hit with enemy fire.

*I just remembered that the Yasica was given to me by Frank Boyce.  He had bought a new camera at the BX and he just gave it to me.  I took it everywhere I went...much like today!  Boyce was my best friend.  We had gone through Security Police training together, were station at Keesler together, and went to Da Nang; where we parted after a year there, and I haven't seen him since.

Back on my intended purpose for this impromptu blog post, I just wanted to point out that my wife is my biggest fan and supporter.  It's always been that way, and I love her for it.  She has always been in my corner; urging me onward.  It's her applause that filled the need I have inside to be appreciate and to succeed.  She's the one I get the most feedback from regardless of what I'm doing or have done.  No one else tells me what I want to hear...whether it be good or bad.  She makes me focus on what I'm doing.
So, it's no surprise that she has filled the walls of our home with the fruits of my  She's always finding a new one she likes and finding it a place somewhere.  Here are a few more of the ones she and I find special.

Most importantly, to me anyway, is that my wife thinks I'm the world's greatest photographer!  Don't tell her otherwise...'cause I like to hear it, even if she is a little bias.

Now, if you're in need of some framed photos on your walls, just check out my "photo art" website!  You should have known there would be a plug in here somewhere...but at least I waited until the end!

You will find something you like, especially if you are from the Roane County, Tennessee area...if not a picture, maybe a cellphone case, or some throw-pillows!  Thanks for checking it out in advance.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The 100 Year-Old Miller & Brewer Building Burns

Back in 2006 I posted a piece about the old Miller & Brewer Company that existed in Downtown Harriman, TN for years.  The post concerned the old fluoroscopes that businesses selling shoes used to utilize to make the perfect fit.  CLICK HERE for that story!

This is a follow-up to that story to report that the 100 year-old building burned today; actually it's still burning as I write!  It's sad, yes, but the building was an abandon ruin.  Since it could not be saved, as some of us wanted, maybe as apartments, it needed to go.

There will never be another Miller & Brewer, or any kind of department store in its place.  Apartments with a possible restaurant downstairs, is about all it could have ever been.  Yet some guy had held it in siege for many years; storing what other communities ran him out of town over.  Who knows what all that may have been?

Anyway, more than likely, there will never ever be anything else in that space.  It would be a great parking area for downtown, but that seems almost as unlikely.  There will never be a reason to put something there until some young enterprising man or woman thinks up a great idea and puts it into action.  

Harriman is running out of young idea people...everyone has either gotten too old to carry on, or moved away where there are better opportunities.  Towns like Harriman were killed by Walley-World kind of stores and the loss of local industry.  So, it sits slowly fading away awaiting young ideas.

Here are the sad photos from today's fire.  Just a couple of hours after these were shot, the front wall caved inward.  The rest will follow tonight or tomorrow, but some contractor will level the rest.

The slate will be cleaned...waiting for a bright idea!  

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Flash Back To January 31, 1966

I'm reminded by the discovery of the photo below of my last official duties as a Keesler AFB Air Policeman.  I was sitting at the airbase dreading and preparing to go on leave before my deployment to Vietnam, when emergency orders came down for several of us to board a C-47 within the hour.

Within that hour I stood shaking, not having a clue what was coming or where I was going, on the Keesler flight line just outside an olive drab "Gooney Bird".  The same TSgt. that had been drilling us in riot control just weeks before shouted orders.  In full riot gear, we boarded the plane, and it was only after takeoff that we learned we were headed for Greenville, MS; to an abandon airbase where a large group of "civil rights" protestors had taken up residence in one of the main buildings.
Riot gear in those days consisted of our "piss pot (helmet)", a gas mask strapped around our waist, and a "billy club".  No weapons were issued.
I found this in a excerpt in a blog today that gave me more of the story than I had ever known:  

"...a group of fifty Civil Rights activists with the Mississippi Freedom Labor Union occupied one of the empty buildings at the airbase to protest poverty, homelessness and political repression in the Mississippi Delta. The protest took place on January 31, 1966. As the airfield was technically still under USAF ownership, the local police would not respond. Instead, the USAF Air Police mobilized to Greenville. Within thirty hours, USAF law enforcement personnel forcibly evicted the protestors."

I remember peering into the building and seeing blacks and whites sitting around on the floor chanting something about "freedom".  It scared me a little, I admit, but it also shamed me that America had come to that.  What saddened me even more was seeing black protestors vent their anger on black Air Police in the detachment.

This photo was from a year earlier, but shows Air Police in action.
The procedure for removal was to grab one protestor at a time, pass that person to policemen inside a revolving circle of troops.  No one Air Policemen was to ever be stationed at the door longer than it took for them to side-step to their right and be replaced by the next in line.  The circle would briefly open and a protestor would be inserted, or pulled, into the inner circle.  That continued until the building was empty and all the protestors were outside and inside the moving circle.

Several of the black protestors shouted at the black policemen and spit at and on them.  That really burned me, since I knew the black troops and they were my friends.  However, we were trained not to show emotion.

The protestors were loaded on buses and taken off the where I don't know.

My group reassembled and were back on the plane to Keesler within hours of arriving.

This was just one small episode of southern civil rights demonstrations, but there were many and they proved effective.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Road Trip To Cataloochee Valley, North Carolina

Four-thirty in the morning sure isn't as easy on an old body as it was back in my working days, but that's when Judy and I struggled out of our warm beds and prepared for an all-day road trip to Cataloochee Valley, North Carolina; one hundred and thirty-six miles east of Harriman, TN.

First stop heading east was the Sevierville, TN exit off I-40 for some coffee, eggs, grits, bacon, gravy, and biscuits!  That's a must if you are going to last most of the day in the wilderness.  Incidentally, that Cracker Barrel was very friendly and the wait was minimal; unlike the week before at the Strawberry Plains exit where we waited and waited until even the later arrivals had been served, before leaving; walking right past the waitress who had apparently forgot to turn in our order.  I told her, "Thanks for the coffee," and we left, stopping at a Hardee's across the street!
Anyway, at around 7AM we arrived in Cataloochee Valley.  The sun was just peeping over the eastern mountains and illuminating the hillsides on the opposite side of the valley.  At the first field we stopped and waited in the "magic hour" light, but there was no elk to be photographed.  "Where are they," we both thought?

The Cataloochee Valley consist of about three fields in an almost straight line about two to three miles long.  We ventured further west up the valley, passing things I wanted to shoot later when the light was better.  
Finally, we came into the last field, which is much larger than the others.  It's stretches for about three-quarters to a mile and is about three to five hundred yards wide.  That's when we saw the parked vehicles along the last two hundred yards of the field, and across the field, were the elk.  I was amazed at the number, maybe two or three dozen, consisting of mostly cows with three or four bulls.
There was one obviously dominate bull standing tall against a backdrop of fall leaves right in the upper most part of the last field.  We quickly parked and I got out; grabbing my monopole; which turned out to be a minor mistake.  I got some decent shots, but all were, at least to me, sub-par due to "long lens shake".  In retrospect, I should have set up my tripod, but I was excited and was afraid all the elk would scamper away any moment.
They don't scamper away, like the deer all did, because they just aren't afraid of "man"!  They stood proudly and grazed unconcerned; even venturing up to smell the hoods of a couple of trucks parked along the road.
The main road into Cataloochee ends at the far end of this field.  So you have to exit the way you came in, or take a long route back toward Cosby and eventually Gatlinburg in Tennessee.  The road winds forever, at least that's how my wife described it, and is a bumpy gravel road.  However, the views in fall made it bearable, and we even stopped along the way, in one of the many curves where the road widens out, to have a "pickup picnic"!
To me it was worth the early rising and the winding and bumpy roads.  The light, the frost on the grass, the fall colors, and the rising fog in the valleys made for a great adventure.  It's one I won't soon forget, and at least one of us will go back one day.

Lessons learned: 

1.  Return the way you entered (unless you go in from Cosby).  Get off Exit 20 on I-40, which is about fifty miles west of Asheville.

2.  Take the time to use a tripod...the elk aren't going anywhere!

3. Arrived at or near first light.  The elk seem to know you're coming and enter the field right on the sun's cue!

4.  Oh yeah, be sure you have a large memory card or two in your camera.  I heard a couple of people who were having to delete frames in order to continue shooting.  Shoot lots and delete later.  You never know which snap is the frame you will want to sell or frame!

You can see a pictorial tour of my trip by clicking HERE!