Tuesday, October 27, 2020

2019-02-06: Finally Completing the Texas Counties After 13 Years!

YAY!! It only took me 13 YEARS to complete!! Being a Florida resident, we were traveling around in an RV and when we got to Fort Davis I remembered my sister telling me about this Geo treasure hunting game. Well our DataStorm satellite gave me coordinates wherever we were parked. So without a GPS, my son an I made 3 attempts hiking the trail before finding the cache on April 18, 2006. You can read all about that in a blog post here: http://awaywego.us/adventure_archives/04-19-06.html

Continuing West to California, north to Alaska, east to Maine, and then back to Florida, I would not see another Texas cache until July 2007 when I became a truck driver. Picking up some caches here and there as long as I can find Big Rig friendly caches, my last Texas cache as a truck driver came in April 2010. That started a dry spell as I would not step foot in Texas again until November 2015. (That's all in my original blog linked above.)

When I first arrived back in Texas this time, my wife and I were in Jasper (East Texas) for 6 weeks until her company transferred her to Lubbock. We were there for 3 months and then transferred again to Crane for 18 months. From there she went to Killeen. My new job had me working in West Texas, then down to the Rio Grande Valley. So I pretty much covered the state! (You can read all about that in this blog.)

I had the final 3 Texas counties: Hood, Dallam and Sherman. Hood was SW of Fort Worth and just a few hours away. But Dallam and Sherman Counties were WAYYY up in the top west corner of the panhandle. We just did not have time for them on that caching run while we were in Lubbock. I knew they would be haunting me and I almost had to leave them behind.

I finished surveying the wind farm project in the Rio Grand Valley (yeah my work involves a GPS also!) on January 25th and they wanted me to start in Missouri last Monday on the 28th. YIKES! No way I can grab those unless I took the REALLY long way around. Well as luck would have it, the last minute they told me to hold off on going to Missouri. So I decided I'd better run up there quick while I have the chance before they assign me my next project location.

A couple days ago I hit the road. Going north up I-35, I stopped for gas in Alvarado, Texas. Nearby was a large cemetery with two geocaches. I found them both (GC5ZMG5, GC5QRGJ). I mean you can't pass up a cemetery cache when you're that close right!

Then I finally arrived in Hood County and Acton Cemetery. Acton had four caches, one of which was for a famous resident; Elizabeth Crockett (GC6XKHC). Acton Cemetery is also the location of Acton Historical Site which is the smallest Texas State Park. The park basically consists of the grave of Elizabeth P. Crockett (1788-1860), widow of Alamo Hero David Crockett, and two of his children. In 1911, a statue and monument were erected to her memory and made a state park.

Acton (formerly called Comanche Peak) was named in 1855 by C. P. Hollis, the first merchant in town. In spite of the early name, Acton had few Comanche raids. After erecting a building for church and school, early pioneers selected this plot for a cemetery. The first person buried here was Mrs Wash Hutcheson in 1855.

A few more quick caches along the roadside before arriving up in Dalhart, Texas for the night and checking into the hotel.

Yesterday morning I'm up and out just before dawn. Dalhart has some creative caches in town and I wanted to get to them before the local muggles would hinder my search. The geocaches were called "The Valve of Life" (GC4YDEY), the "Denver and Rock Island Switch" (GC55P4B), and the "Dalhart Volunteer Fire Department" (GC58BMN). Combined they have well over 1000 visits and over 600 favorite points! And they get me one of my last two remaining counties!

Now the road to get to the tri-state corner, which I'll get to in a moment, goes into New Mexico before back into Texas. I already had that county for New Mexico, but I didn't want to pass up this cemetery. Clayton Cemetery contains the grave of "Black Jack" Ketchum (GC1KD22). Thomas Edward Ketchum (October 31, 1863 – April 26, 1901), was an ordinary cowboy and cattle driver who later turned to a life of crime. Black Jack Ketchum became one of the most famous outlaws in the region. He was captured when he single-handedly attempted to rob the same train again at the same place and in the same way that he, his brother Sam and others from the gang had robbed it just a few weeks earlier.

The train conductor, Mr. Frank Harrington, saw Tom approaching the moving train. He recognized him, grabbed a shotgun, and shot Tom in the arm, knocking him off his horse. The train continued, and the next day a posse came out and found Tom beside the tracks, badly wounded. He was transported to medical facilities at Trinidad, Colorado and his right arm had to be amputated. He was nursed back to health and then sent to Clayton, New Mexico Territory, for trial. In 1901, Black Jack was sentenced to death and hanged at Union County Court House for all his crimes and his last attempted train robbery. Black Jack's last words were: "I'll be in hell before you start breakfast, boys! Let her rip!"

Next up is a physical cache at the NW corner of Texas bordering New Mexico only (GC2VPKZ). You don't really notice it on most maps because it's just a slight overhang of about a mile where New Mexico goes over top of Texas before bumping into Oklahoma. So you have that marker and then about a mile to the east is the tri-state marker connecting Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. And that is a virtual geocache pictured below (GC9374). I just had to wear the black hat for that one!

So now I'm kinda zig-zagging between Texas and Oklahoma picking off the Oklahoma border counties as well. A quick roadside cache (GC4J62V) and a cemetery cache (GC146NC) for Cimarron County. Then I dive down into Sherman County, Texas for my final of the 254 Texas counties (GC4JYTD)! WOHOO!! My second completed state and it ONLY took 13 years to do so! LOL

Picking up seven more cemeteries and two quick roadside caches in Oklahoma before I get to the Shattuck Windmill Museum virtual geocache (GCGBM4). There are windmills of all kinds dating back to the 1800's. A whole lot smaller than the 300' turbines of today!

A few more quick caches yesterday after that and I found the nearest hotel just as it was getting dark to stretch out and relax.

This morning I grabbed a cache (GCMHHX) here in Altus, Oklahoma for Jackson County before crossing the border into Texas. Continuing southbound on US-281 towards Killeen, TX, I spotted this world's largest rocking chair and a virtual cache (GCGYEB).

One more geocache to show you on my drive back home today. This simple bird house looking geocache was easy to find (GC6Q8PT). The tricky park was getting it open to sign the log. After a few minutes I figured it out this gadget cache and had my hands on the prize.

So I completed my Texas Counties on February 5th, 2019! YAY!! That brings my total counties to 1024 with Texas and Florida completed. Hopefully by years end my job transfers me to a solar project in Virginia where I can work on another state. Stay tuned for what's coming next...

Sunday, October 25, 2020

2018-12-25: Christmas 2018 Road Trip from Texas to Florida and Back Again

Hello and welcome back to another entry of AwayWeGo's Geocaching Adventures. One of these days I might actually catch up in my writing to the present time. I'm starting to gain some ground. In this blog I take you back to our Christmas roadtrip in 2018. This year we decided to drive from Central Texas to Central Florida to spend Christmas with the family.

It's a 1200 mile drive to get there and since we're leaving out on the 22nd, we'll be spending way too much time on the boring I-10. We do make some detours in Louisiana to go geocaching and pick up some new counties. But the return trip however is when we stick to the backroads the majority of the time! So here's some of the highlights:

Our county first stop was in Vermilion Parish, Louisiana at the Old Mason Cemetery (GC1NR88) in a town called Abbeville. From the historical marker: "On this site was the first of our town's Masonic cemeteries and served Masons and Protestants alike. It has been virtually unused since 1905, although the latest tombstone reads 1954. The earliest recorded death was in 1868. A. G. Maxwell donated this land to Abbeville Lodge in 1869. The first master of the lodge, Dr. W. D. White was buried here as was several of his children. Restoration of the cemetery began in 1997 by dedicated volunteers under the auspices of the City of Abbeville, current owner of this sacred soil."

Continuing east on US-90, we stopped for a quick roadside geocache (GC1NKPH) in New Iberia to get the county of Iberia Parish. Then another cache (GC2KNG5) in the town of Franklin to claim a find in St Mary Parish. Also in St Mary Parish, I stopped for another geocache (GC2HH84) in the town of Amelia near this overpass which had all these vines growing up the columns.

Next on the list was a geocache for Terrebonne Parish in the town of Schriever, Louisiana. The Ducros Plantation (GC28MJ2) is a 12,600 square foot home dating back to 1802. Supposedly the Ducros House is haunted. It is not certain, but there is said to have been a young child who accidentally drowned in the adjacent well nearby as well as the house being home to the natural deaths of many of the previous occupants. The most common activity reported are unexplainable sounds. Foot steps heard in the main hall by the carpenters restoring the plantation and Richard himself has heard a strange dragging noise on the upper gallery. All reports have been during the day. No one has spent a night at Ducros since the early to mid 70's. From the vantage point of the public street I couldn't get a very good photo of the house.

The last geocache for this day in Louisiana was for the Lafourche Parish at the St Joseph Cemetery (GC2V8NJ). The first burial here is that of Marie Madeleine Gaudet (1732-1801). After a half-dozen burials, this cemetery was established in 1817 on the site of the original St Joseph Church, a mission of Assumption. The Calvary-Grotto Shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes, erected in 1883, still stands near the Menard Street entrance. Several historic graves are located here.

We drove all the way to Lake City, Florida the first day. Then on Christmas Eve down to Umatilla, just in time for a family get together. Later that night we checked into our hotel on Cocoa Beach, Florida. Christmas Day we awake to a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean. After another day with family in Merritt Island, Florida, it was time to hit the road westbound and return to Texas.

We had more time to get back to Texas so we spent more time on the backroads geocaching and picking up new counties. A couple of stops on Wednesday the 26th in Alabama with one being this huge Live Oak tree (GC7BA7T). It can be found listed on the Alabama Forestry's list of Alabama's Famous & Historic Trees. This publication states this tree was a recognized meeting place when the town of Geneva was first settled. People gathered under this tree for meetings and information of the development of the area.  The Big Oak was measured by the Eastern Native Tree Society in 2009. Measurements recorded were, CBH-22'9", Height-69' and Spread-163.5' x 154.5' making it #94 on the listing. We arrived here after sunset and it was already getting dark. That made it difficult for us to get any decent pictures. Though you can see plenty of photos on the cache page.

Thursday the 27th found us in Mississippi. We picked up several new counties in Stone Co (GC7JGP7), Amite Co (GC311DZ), and Wilkinson Co (GCP29Z). The most interesting geocache of the day was found in Centreville, MS. A virtual cache called "One For The Road" (GCJA19), it is of an old Colt .38 Revolver imbedded into the road from the days of the Works Progress Administration was constructing the original road in the 1930's. Nobody knows the real story behind the gun but there are many tales told. The most common is of a man who found his wife with another man, shot them both, and tossed the evidence into the newly poured concrete. Then there's the bank robber, another a moonshiner, and even a war protester. But we'll probably never know the true story of the revolver in the road.

We ended the night at a hotel in Alexandria, Louisiana. After getting settled in the hotel I made a run for pizza to bring back for dinner. I passed by this place and saw the shapes in the darkness and knew we had to come back in the morning for a better look.

That begins Friday the 28th. On England Drive in Alexandria is this Memorial Park (GC3XCW6). The England Airpark was once England Airforce Base until is was closed during the Clinton administration. The A-10 Warthog was the primary fighter stationed at England, and it is prominently displayed in this awesome real life airplane display area. There are 5 aircraft here on display. This geocache also gets us the Rapides Parish as a new county.

Our next stop was in Grant Parish and a town called Colfax, Louisiana. Reading the historical markers around the courthouse, the first one of interest was about the fire water. The marker reads: "The Famous Burning Well of Colfax. Visitors to this spot were once greeted with a curious site, a burning well. In 1899 a driller named L.B. Hart completed an artesian well at 1103 feet. The water was salty, and it bubbled with gas. Hart struck a match near the flow and promptly got his beard singed when the bubbles ignited. During its lifetime the well ebbed or flowed in response to the levels of the nearby Red River. With the advent of each new eruption someone would light up this unusual landmark. Thousands of tourists remember Colfax by the image of its famous burning well. Ripley once featured it in his "Believe It Or Not" as a well that spewed both fire and water. During WWII visiting soldiers would write back home describing this local wonder. In 1959, a new courthouse displaced the towns old attraction. An artificial fountain with a gas flame was erected, but it could not possibly evoke the awe of visitors as the real one had once done."

Another marker describes a dark time in the towns history. "The Colfax Riot. On this site occurred the Colfax Riot in which three white men and 150 negroes were slain. This event on April 13, 1873 marked the end of carpetbag misrule in the south." At the cemetery, an obelisk there reads: "Erected to the memory of the heroes Stephen Decature Parish, James West Hadnot, Sidney Harris who fell in the Colfax Riot fighting for white supremacy April 13, 1873." I was actually surprised this was still standing considering the political climate of modern times (GC7962B).

After a few more stops we finally made it back home in Killeen, Texas. A weekend to rest up from the trip before heading back to work in South Texas. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed the roadtrip! See you next time...

Sunday, October 4, 2020

2018-11-11: A Visit to the World Famous Barney Smith's Toilet Seat Museum

On this Sunday, back on November 11, 2018, I made a visit to a place that I have heard about for several years but never got a chance to visit. This past week I saw posted on some Geocaching groups that the world famous Barney Smith's Toilet Seat Museum (GCB6A8) is coming to an end. And a few geocachers were planning on meeting up there to help Barney Smith pack up his collection.

So on this Sunday's 360+ mile drive back down from Killeen to Roma, Texas, I drove down to Georgetown and hopped onto I-35 southbound. I made my usual stop at Duncan Donuts and grabbed a few other roadside and parking lot geocaches along the way to break up the time. Nothing really worth mentioning specifically as the locations didn't have anything of interest to see.

Finally I arrived down in San Antonio to a residential neighborhood and find Barney Smith's house. Behind his house was a detached garage that he turned into his "museum." Born in 1921, Barney was very creative and artistic in his youth. As he got older though it became time to earn a living he entered the family business and became a plumber. Once after a hunting trip his father mounted some deer antlers to a piece of wood for the wall. That wasn't creative enough for Barney. So he mounted his onto a toilet seat lid. After all these years and 1400 lids later, his museum has been visited by curiosity seekers from all over the world.

Back in 2002, a virtual geocache (GCB6A8) was setup at the museum to help enlighten geocachers of its existence. Since that time there have been over 1,000 geocachers stop by to visit Barney and his toilet seat lids. At the time of my visit there were 12 dedicated to geocaching which acted as a log sheet for cachers from all over the world to sign.

Some of his more famous and special lids include this one below. A portion of the letter from a retired Navy Commander on the other side reads: "I twice visited Saddam's underground bunker in the Green Zone and was permitted to bring back souvenirs. One item was a ceramic portion of a bunker commode, which I gave to Mr. Smith for one of his famous plaques. The bunker was 3-stories deep and designed to withstand nuclear, chemical, and biological attacks. It was bombed twice by coalition forces by conventional bombs and was not damaged.

"The paper money bill was an old 5 Dinar note used before the Iraqi Freedom War. The round plastic pieces are called "pogs" and were given out by the Army and Air Force Exchange System in place of metal coins to customers frequenting their Base Exchanges in Iraq. On one side is the denomination, 5, 10, or 25 cents and on the other side images depicting military related scenes."

Another one includes this piece of heat shield debris from the Space Shuttle Challenger which broke apart just 73 seconds after liftoff on January 28, 1986 killing all seven crew members aboard. And another dedicated to the Space Shuttle Columbia.

And then you have the "Million Dollar Seat" in which is mounted 10 "pucks." Those pucks were donated by the Federal Reserve Bank in San Antonio. They are the remains of a $1,000,000 in currency which has been taken out of circulation, shredded and compressed. So if you ever wanted to be sittin' on a million bucks, this would be the seat for you!

Also in his collection is the actual seat from the airplane which carried the body of Aristotle Onnasis, the second husband of JFK's wife Jacqueline who was most likely aboard the plane and may have sat on the seat. Others include pieces of the Berlin Wall and barbed wire from Auschwitz. And another coated with ash from the Mount St Helens volcano eruption.

Barney even has a book out called "King of the Commode" and is available on Amazon.

UPDATE: Barney Smith passed away on July 23, 2019, shortly after he got to see his collection on display in its new home at the "Texas Truck Yard" located in The Colony just north of Dallas, Texas. There's a new geocache located there and is now on my bucket list (GC8E7WA).

So if you're ever in Texas where everything is bigger, you must visit the world's largest collection of toilet seats. Just remember to only use the ones marked for public use when you need to take care of your personal business!

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