Monthly Archives: August 2019

Avenue of the Saints

Our intent was to follow the Avenue of the Saints from SAINT Louis to SAINT Paul.  Ruth and I mostly succeeded, leaving the first Saint in Missouri on July 15.  If we continued on the Avenue, we would drive 563 miles of 4 lane highway to the 2nd Saint in Minnesota in 2 days.  Was it 4-lane?  Not all the way.  Was it worth it?  One must decide for oneself.  Was it beautiful?  Yes, in a Midwest US kind of way.  When I returned to OR-WA, however, I ran into a friend who moved to the Northwest long before I did.  Ernie had just returned from visiting friends and family in Pontiac, IL, so we chatted about our trips.  He told me that as a much younger man he was in Portland when he had a life-changing thought.  I am surrounded by natural beauty here no matter which direction I go in, so why am I returning to Illinois?  He didn’t.  Instead he ignored tsunami and earthquake warnings, married, put down roots, and now contents himself with annual visits to The Midwest.   Will I travel the Avenue of the Saints again?  Only if I have to.

The Avenue of the Saints was scheduled for completion in 2008.  Is it?  Not quite.  Is anyone doing anything about this?  Not to my knowledge.  There are no updates on the internet.  The best source of information, which I’m still reluctant to use, is Wikipedia.  It has lots of dry facts about the Avenue but no recent updates.

In Missouri, the Avenue follows old US Highway 61 all the way to inconsequential Wayland, the end of MO.   It’s consistently 4 lane and seems like an Interstate.  The only town of any size we skirted was Hannibal.

In Iowa we followed 218 all the way to Floyd.  The Avenue of the Saints in Iowa is 282 miles long.  As in Missouri, there were many Saint signs like the one above to sight.  We went through Iowa City, where we spent a nostalgic night, passed Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, and Cedar Falls, where we got lost.  We rejoined 218 north when we found it, and only stopped in Nashua to see The Little Brown Church in the Vale and the lake created by damming the Cedar River.

From Floyd to Austin, MN we were on 2-lane highway.  This is the still incomplete part of the Avenue if you’re desiring 4 lanes.  The towns we passed through were typical of the Midwest.   In Austin we visited the Spam Museum, and I’ve been defending this stop ever since.  We traveled about 20 miles on I-90 to connect to I-35, which took us to the Twin Cities.

Travel goal accomplished.




Cardiff’s Different Castle

Cardiff Castle is like no other European castle of my experience and very much worth seeing.  It’s different in 5 ways.  It’s completely urban being in the middle of the city, it’s opened for long hours (6 pm in the summer and even later if you take a ghost tour), it contains the Regimental Museum of the Royal Welsh, a fairly typical and really old castle structure, and the jaw-droppingly ornate rooms created by the 3rd Marquess of Bute shown below.  Fodor‘s once called Cardiff Castle “an odd but beguiling place” getting it exactly right.

Unless you’re really into military museums, you will find the Regimental Museum of the Royal Welsh the weakest part of this experience.  I did even though I found it worth a browse.  Part of it contained a display called “Firing Line”, which reported on Welsh involvement in the Battle of Waterloo with 2 regiments, one cavalry and the other infantry.  Welsh soldiers have served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  Although this regiment’s legacy goes all the way back to 1689, it wasn’t officially formed until 2006 when a reorganization of the British Army occurred.  Over time The Royal Welsh has gained 244 battle honors, and Cardiff Castle’s medal room shows a lot of the ones it has won among the 6,000 total.  Forty-three Welsh soldiers have been given the Victoria Cross, Great Britain’s highest honor.  There’s lots of information about and artifacts from the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879.  One of them is a Zulu headdress worn by Cetswayo.   This is all downstairs under the gift shop and welcome desk and 3 Compass.

The castle itself, which sits atop an artificial hill, dates from 1081 and Norman invaders.  The original Keep was made of wood but it became stone by the 1130s.  Once larger than it is today, most everyone, including me, felt obligated to climb the stairs and continue to its top for the view.  It was a heady experience and, overall, 4 Compass.

The real 5 Compass treasure here is the 3rd Marquess of Bute’s spectacular rooms in the Castle Apartments.  This Marquess was something of a rebel and Renaissance Man.  He was, for example, a lifelong Catholic. Born in 1847, he became the Marquess at the age of 6 months and an industrial magnet when Wales was an economic powerhouse.  Some say he was the richest man in the world for a time.  The guard who showed Ruth and me around got stars in his eyes when he spoke of the Marquess and his wife’s real home on the Isle of Bute, which still exists.  The man called it the greatest Victorian mansion in Great Britain.  The Marquess’ Cardiff Castle was just an occasional residence for him, a landed gentleman, scholar, and lover of architecture.  The overdecorated rooms that he created are truly spectacular.  Not all of what I saw was the work of this Marquess.  For example, many of the stained-glass windows, like the one featuring Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, date from 1931.  The 3rd Marquess, nevertheless, clearly spent a fortune and a lot of time turning several of this castle’s rooms into Gothic revival fantasies, the most outrageously ornate and out of control one is the Arab Room.  Fodor‘s called this project a “bizarre mishmash of styles”.  I call it an unforgettable travel experience.

The family owned this castle until 1947 when the 5th Marquess gave it to the people of Cardiff.



A 5 Compass Birds of Prey Center


This is a Western screech owl.  Tate Mason was holding him on his gloved hand as Ruth & I entered the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise.  If this screech owl has a pet name, I don’t know it.  I suspect he does not, but Tate was full of information about him because he had just finished a demonstration that centered on this cute, little bird.  We had missed his talk entirely.  Tate realized we were latecomers, so he patiently, expertly answered all of our questions about this tiny charmer, told us that he has a degree from Boise State, and then we learned that young Tate is the Director of this World Center for Birds of Prey.  He asked where we were from and informed us that the Oregon Zoo shares their mission to help endangered bird species, which we did not know.

Ruth and I tried to visit the World Center for Birds of Prey last year but were defeated by road construction.  This year we made it and I was stunned by the number of people there.  The Center sits atop a hill on West Flying Hawk Lane outside Boise.  It moved here in 1984 to become the main home of the Peregrine Fund and help get this falcon and, subsequently, other endangered birds like the California Condor and the Aplomado Falcon off endangered species lists.

By the early 1970s Peregrine Falcons were mostly absent from the eastern US due to a pesticide that has since been banned, and they were facing extinction.  Dr. Tom Cade went into action and the Peregrine was removed from the endangered species list in 1999.  Meanwhile, this Center’s bird rescuers learned a lot about species recovery.  New York State now has up to 2,000 Peregrine Falcons soaring about with several of them spotted in New York City.

Today interested visitors to the World Center for Birds of Prey can watch a live video feed featuring California Condors in their breeding facility, which is part of a 7,200-square-foot interpretive center where anyone can learn more than they will ever need to know about falcons, condors, eagles, etc.  A teenager named David, who volunteers here and is very knowledgeable about birds of prey, took Ruth and me behind the scenes to see the 5 rescued birds used 4 times each day in demonstrations here.  Anyone can see them in their cages if they know where to look. These included a Harpy Eagle and a Swainson’s hawk.  The center, David proudly told us, now has 12 hatched condor eggs among the 16 it has been watching.

The World Center for Birds of Prey calls the California Condor stunning and rare while Ruth and I winced at its appearance.  We learned that the best place to actually see one in the wild is at the Grand Canyon.  This bird is recovering.  Their number has grown from a paltry 22 to 488 according to the experts at this exciting Center near Boise.


Mack Fever

While in Allentown, PA in spring, 2019, Ruth and I went to the Mack Truck Historical Museum.  This museum is constantly changing what visitors see.  For example, the big show we saw called “Building America” was ending the next month.  In other words, the ancient tour bus I was looking at might no longer be where I saw it.   This 28 passenger sightseeing bus made by Mack was once used in Chicago and New Orleans and is now the oldest operational Mack vehicle in existence.  Perhaps the curators will find a permanent place in this museum for a history-making people mover.

Mack closed its main Allentown facility in the 1980s, so Allentown is probably no longer the truck capital of the world, but its main museum remains there.  I do recommend this tour at 11 Grammes Road for anyone who delights in industrial tours.  It’s in a Mack building that once contained corporate offices.  Tours are limited to 10.  The last one is at 3 pm.   It’s all free but donations are welcomed.  If getting there by GPS, use the address above to avoid ending up in a yard waste site.  

Mack is without a doubt North America’s oldest trucking company.  “The Mack Museum was born as a non-profit corporation in 1984 and provides a unique special service.   It honors Mack’s local history by preserving truck build records, service and parts information, engineering drawings, photos, memorabilia and maintains a collection of vintage Mack truck models.  This is all here, so if you bring in a model and serial number, there’s a good chance this museum can answer unusual questions about its products by digging into these archives.

The Mack Brothers Motor Car Company was incorporated in 1905, the year 4 Mack brothers began building railroad passenger cars.  They moved their facilities from Brooklyn to Allentown where the company remained until 2009.  In that year Mack’s headquarters moved to Greensboro, NC, but this American business icon does retain manufacturing plants in Lower Macungie, PA near Allentown and in Hagerstown, MD.

The four siblings built and introduced their first heavy-duty, 5-ton truck in Allentown, and a 5th brother went to work in their Mack plant in 1910.  World War I followed the Panic of 1911 when the brothers were unfortunately trying to expand, but then Mack became the US’s primary supplier of military vehicles to the Allied powers and their outlook improved.  British soldiers in this war named these trucks Bulldog Macks, so the bulldog became the company’s symbol.  In World War II, Mack built 35,000 military trucks for the war effort and Sea Wolf planes for the army.  Mack made fire trucks between 1911 and 1990, only ceasing this operation during WWII.

Today Daimler produces more trucks than Mack under the Mercedes Benz and Freightliner brands, but many big city (New York, for example) refuse trucks are made by Mack, which is introducing an all-electric version this year.  Their large vehicles are familiar sights on highways and at construction sites.  Mack trucks have become movie stars thanks to the Cars and Transformer series.  Like other vehicle museums, Mack tends to focus on temporarily displayed classic Macks that are on loan from loyal, company-loving fans.  This museum reminded me of the devotion lavished on the Harley-Davidson Motor Company by long-time enthusiasts.


ps   The eagle baring, flag-waving Mack truck above participated in the 31st annual Rolling Thunder–Ride for Freedom rally in Washington DC and was also temporarily on display outside the Mack Truck Historical Museum when we were there.


Seattle’s Boat Center

Those who want to get in touch with Seattle’s maritime heritage would be wise to begin at The Center for Wooden Boats on Lake Union just north of downtown.  The best place to park is in an up-to-4-hour slot nearby if one is available.  When I asked a staff member why The Center focuses only on wooden boats, she said they are “more alive”.

The Center for Wooden Boats got started in 1978, a project for Dick and Colleen Wagner.  Ruth and first visited it a few years ago but decided to wait to talk about it because it was beginning a new project, the Wagner Education Center, which opened in March, 2019.  This understated building is a 2-story gem designed by Olson Kundig, a Seattle based architectural firm with an office in New York City and great success.  One of its current projects is a redo of the Seattle Space Needle.

Over time The Center for Wooden Boats, a community based organization that is not in most tourist literature, has become a combination nautical museum, boat building facility, and a place to obtain a free sail.  Anyone who wants to can get on Lake Union for free each Sunday.  For more than 25 years volunteer skippers and crew members have taken passengers out on Lake Union year-round, rain or shine.  Be warned.  I once saw a funny shirt for sale that proclaimed, “Seattle Rain Festival:  January 1st to December 31st.”   If you get in line and don’t make it onto a boat (3 to 8 are used each week), you can rent a rowboat or become a member.  Members skip the line and, of course, a sunny summer Sunday afternoon would be the best time for a free sail.  Rides last for about an hour and many types of boats are used.  Sailboats, canoes, kayaks, pedal boats, and SUPS are also available for renting after your sail or if you don’t get on.  If you feel you lack nautical skills, The Center for Wooden Boats can help you learn them.  Private lessons are possible.  Ruth and I weren’t there on Sunday this time, but we really enjoyed the current but temporary exhibit by marine photographer Neil Rabinowitz and the many wooden boats on display.

We also enjoyed seeing boats being built.  The Wagner Education Center has increased the # of new boats that can be constructed here from 1 to 7, no experience required.  It takes only a week, a tuition payment, and a kit to build your own boat.  This endeavor is taken very seriously.  Ruth and I felt invisible as we watched instructors and boat builders craft each craft.  The kits come from Chesapeake Light Craft in Annapolis, Maryland, and builders can choose which type of boat they make.


ps  This photo is in the current exhibit, and the boat is the Lamberson Dinghy, a NW crafted creation using white oak and mahogany.