Saturday, March 7, 2009

Ride to Collins Ole Town, Oconee Heritage Center, Issaqueena Falls, Stumphouse Tunnel, and Oconee State Park


Well, there were snow, ice, and below-freezing temperatures earlier in the week, but today we had temperatures ranging from 55 to 76 degrees. We had had this ride planned for a week ago, but it rained all weekend, so we postponed it.

Oh, by the way, “we” is the motorcycle group we have formed at church. We’re just getting started, but have had several meetings and rides. The group is patterned after the South Carolina FaithRiders.

Anyway, we started out at 9:30 from Easley, and the three of us spent the day riding and stopping at several sights within about fifty miles. As I said, the temperature was ideal, the humidity is still low, and the roads turned out to be clear and dry. There was only a trace of sand and salt on the roads from the previous cold weather.

There were scads of motorcyclists out, along with convertibles, bicycle riders, and all other manner of vehicle. Our ride was along an easy route with few tight twisties.

The three of us ride quite different bikes. One fellow, Ken, rides a Honda Goldwing. It is quiet and smooth as silk –- a comfortable ride. Ken is the most experienced rider in the entire group, having clocked fifty one years of riding dirt, enduro, flat track, and street bikes. Another who rode is Steve who rides a Honda VTX1300. He has ridden for about thirty seven years. Of course, I am the newbie, riding my Ninja 650R for only about two years now. I led the ride this time, so I am sure we got some odd looks due to the mix of bikes. Oh well, let them look. We had fun.

We started out at 9:30 AM. The temperature was about 55 degrees. I wore my usual light gray/dark gray/black two-piece leather suit, armored vest, bicycle shorts, lightweight polypropylene-Lycra underwear, boots, and helmet, but wore my Shift Carbine summer gloves for the first time this year. My light balaclava, neck warmer, and grip heaters were enough to keep me warm enough at speed in the morning. By the way, I advocate the bike shorts to help keep the bottom padded and comfortable. They don’t have heavy seams like conventional tighty-whitey underdrawers have, so are more comfortable for the long haul, and they are most certainly better than bunching boxer briefs.

We headed west on SC-93 through the town of Liberty and toward the town of Central. Here there lives a retired man and his wife who have constructed a small 1930s-era town on their property. They call it Collins Ole Town. Mr. Roy Collins and his wife Pat welcome visitors ranging from school children to seasoned citizens. Mr. Collins was a forester working for a college nearby that you may have heard of -- Clemson -- for almost twenty years, then retired for a political appointment.

He is a very good host, spending two hours with the three of us, explaining his life, his collections, and his philosophy. He is soft-spoken and gentlemanly, but matter-of-fact. He refers to his town as a hobby gone awry, but he is pragmatic about it, saying that as a retiree, he can work on something, but if he doesn’t finish it, that’s OK. The town is situated very close to a busy railroad and several long, fast freight trains passed while we were visiting. I enjoy trains, too. A barn-side Coca-Cola sign is also shown in this view toward the tracks.

The structures include a one-room schoolhouse much like the one he was educated in. It is filled with antique desks, books, and classroom materials. The piano is in pitch, so I played a little tune – ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus. The mimeograph reminded me of school days, being a fast low-cost way to make copies before Xerography was invented. Mr. Collins looked up all of the schoolhouses that were in existence in Pickens County in 1934 by consulting a booklet published at the time. There were dozens of schools scattered around the county.

Next, there are a couple of sheds with farm tractors and implements inside, then a blacksmith shop so filled with equipment and artifacts that you couldn’t get into it.

The General Store, further on, is packed with products and displays, mostly from the early part of the twentieth century. Mr. Collins says he collects anything that is “older than he is,” and quips that that is getting harder and harder with his advancing age. The outside of the store is encrusted with old advertising signs of all types and sizes.

He also has a working example of a product marketed by Honda, the Kick N’ Go scooter from the 1970s. I am surrounded by Hondas today, it seems! Anyway, the scooter has a spring-return chain drive and a one-way clutch that changes the force applied to the bar behind the platform into high rotational speed at the rear wheel. You can buy a Kick N’ Go at the on-line auction sites, but beware of purchasing one advertised as being in mint condition, as reproduction decals are also available. This little cousin of our motorcycles looked as though it would be fun to ride. Too bad I am so big and it is so small –- I didn’t want to risk hurting it by taking it for a spin.

Mr. Collins showed us some round wooden boxes there in the store, and asked us what we though they were for. We didn’t have a clue. They are cheese boxes. Cheese rounds came in them like the ones shown below, except smaller in diameter.

Outside the General Store is a vintage gasoline pump, Crown Silver brand. You can see our reflections in its globe.

Next up was the barber shop. It is filled with vintage equipment, though bloodletting equipment was notably absent, having been phased out of the barber’s duties several hundred years earlier.

In a back room, was a permanent wave machine for the ladies. The electrically heated clips caused the hair to become curled, but the risk of burns was multiplied many times over today’s hand-held curling iron. What women went – and go -- through to have curly hair!

There was a sorghum molasses mill and boiler, used every year, a Ford Model A pickup truck nearby, and another shed full of farm implements.

Mr. Collins also operates a sawmill, making most of the lumber used in his little town. The lumber is stacked drying in various places.

Here, he is explaining heart pine to a couple of us.

The last building is a hotel, the Collins Hill Inn. It has a wide, inviting porch with a passel of rocking chairs along with a swing suspended by chains from the ceiling. This hotel is really a banquet hall with a couple of rooms above it for guests. The Collins put on feeds for up to about sixty people. There is a small gift nook in one corner, a warming kitchen on the main floor, and a commercial kitchen in the basement. As Mr. Collins offered us an apple fritter, he said that it was his wife who prepares the deserts. Naturally, I asked if she had baked these. He said, that no, he had baked them himself. Renaissance Man, indeed! He looked thoughtfully at the one he was munching, and opined that it was a little different and especially tasty this time. I agree. I could’ve eaten the whole plate full.

Mr. Collins says that he has plans for a chapel yet, and then his town will be complete. As the visit was winding down, we looked out the window of the hotel at the other buildings we had visited and at our trusty steeds patiently waiting in the paddock for the next leg of our journey.

If you go, do note that there is a short stretch of gravel road on the way into Collins Ole Town, so use your best gravel riding techniques.

Our ride continued about fifteen miles through the towns of Central and Clemson, then following route SC-28 to Walhalla, SC.

The Oconee Heritage Center is housed in the 1892 Old Walhalla Tobacco Barn that has gone through several transformations in its life. It had been a furniture store at some point, and to make the front of the building more presentable, an addition was put on. This addition has a basement, and when excavating for it, the foundation of the main building was undermined, causing the front wall to collapse, and the second floor to fall. The main building was put back together, but with its second floor mostly removed.

The Heritage Center preserves and promotes the history of the county. Inside, the Center has interesting displays of local history, archaeology, and heritage, separated into seven time periods.
  • Era One (Prehistory - 1783)
  • Era Two (1783 - 1861)
  • Era Three (1861 - 1876)
  • Era Four (1876 - 1929)
  • Era Five (1929 - 1945)
  • Era Six (1945 - 1972)
  • Era Seven (1972 - Current)
The Director and Curator Nick Gambrell is a quiet, pony-tailed young fellow who got us started on our tour of the center. Another fellow who was working at a table in the lobby, noted that we were riding motorcycles, and related to us his tumble from his bike wearing only a tee shirt, jeans and a helmet. His ankle was just healing up from the road rash, without benefit of a skin graft, and his broken collarbone was pretty well mended as well. I told him of my “off-road” experience, and recommended ATGATT.

The center is entrusted with two dugout canoes rescued from being buried along two upstate rivers, the Chattooga and another one whose name I do not recall. One of the canoes is thirty two feet long and was dated about 1760, the other is not yet dated. The canoes are soaking in vats of preservative chemicals so that one day they may be dried out and put on display.

There is a section explaining the right-of-way of the Blue Ridge Railroad that included Stumphouse Tunnel that we are slated to visit later in the day.

After we had perused all the displays, we went a few blocks down the street to the Steak House Restaurant. This is a locally-owned place on the main street. When out on a ride, we try to patronize places that are out of the ordinary, and preferably, extraordinary. This one is definitely different –- a steak house that doesn’t specialize in serving steak.

The story here is that it was a steak house, but one day in 1973, as Gloria Yassen rode by the Seigler's Steak House, she saw that it was closed. After inquiring, she found that the restaurant was for sale. Gloria and husband Abed (new to the USA) decided to take the plunge and purchase the business and building. In April 1973, they opened for business. T-Bone steaks and grits were staples on the menu in those early days, then short-orders like fried flounder and hamburger steak were added.

They have a varied menu, much like any meat and three in the south. I had a bowl of scalloped potatoes that were tasty, and they recommended the "Arabian Rooster" fried chicken breast to me as being great, so I tried a piece. It was good fried chicken, but as they say, “If it tastes good, spit it out” to maintain a healthy heart. Therefore, I try not to eat fried foods, and peel the skin off when I do eat them. Well, I peeled off most of the skin, and ate the rest (except for the bones). I know, I should eat vegetables and fruit at every meal, but everything is à la carte and I wanted to spend less than that. All together my bill was $4.50.

The owner Abed as sitting a corner booth overseeing operations, but I didn’t have a chance to talk with him.

As we were walking back to the bikes parked a few doors down, I recalled my thoughts of more than a year ago about getting an alarm system for the bike, since motorcycles are relatively easy to steal. I got one a few months back, a Scorpio SR-i500. It is an older model, but seems to have the features of the newer ones. There is a remote that arms and disarms the alarm, and it is this remote that is different in the newer versions. The remote also receives a signal indicating that the alarm has been triggered.

The alarm sounds on the bike if someone jostles or tips it, if someone turns on the ignition, and if someone comes too near. The jostle and tip functions are triggered by accelerometers inside the alarm housing, so they work without having to pay attention to mounting transducers separately. The proximity function requires their SN-5 Perimeter Sensor. This emits microwaves that detect nearby mass and causes the unit to chirp, then alarm if the intruder persists. I also have the RID-5 remote ignition disable relay that prevents the engine from firing when the alarm is armed, but can also shut down the engine if someone grabs the motorcycle and tries to get away. You depress (Southern talk would be “mash”) a button on the remote that makes the alarm chirp, and after a delay, stops the engine.

The alarm with built-in sounder fit easily under the seat, mostly behind one of the seat cowlings of the bike, the proximity sensor attaches with Velcro to the top of the battery so it is positioned under the seat, and the cutoff relay is tucked away under a seat cross member. Almost all of the meager underseat space of the 650R remains open for packing your toothbrush (and not much else) for a trip.

All in all, I am pleased with the unit. It is built to automotive standards for circuitry protection and robust electrical connector design. The proximity feature particularly, makes my bike a little less vulnerable to a casual thief: He might be scared off before he even touches the bike if he trips it. Its range extends a bit from the bike, so even when someone comes near but doesn't touch, the alarm chirps.

One problem: I keep forgetting about the alarm when I approach the bike, so I end up triggering it myself. I expect that I’ll remember eventually…and I can always say I am just testing it when I forget.

Back to our ride.

We continued our outing by going further along SC-28 about six or seven miles to Issaqueena Falls and Stumphouse Tunnel. The two are only a few hundred yards apart, and are reached from one short stretch of tight-turned, downhill side road. The surface is good, but oncoming traffic might encroach on your lane, and you certainly don’t want to risk encroaching on their side. Low gears work well here.

The entrance to Issaqueena Falls comes first on the road. The parking lot is all gravel, so bring your kickstand pad so your bike doesn’t topple over while parked. I made mine from thin aluminum, but a 4” square electrical box cover works well, too.

The parking lot is rather randomly laid out, but we found a place along an edge to park in line. I didn’t want to carry my helmet, so I fiddled with the cables under the seat to lash it to the side of the bike. This requires unlocking and removing the seat, threading the cable through the helmet buckle, then replacing the seat – a bit of a hassle.

The above photograph shows the differences in the three bikes we are riding this day: Small, medium, and large!

That done, we walked to the falls. It had been rainy here so the falls were a bit fuller than in the other times I have come here. The winter vegetation was a bit drab, but the sunny day compensated. There is an overlook a few hundred feet downstream of the brink, so I walked down there and snapped a few pictures. Some other visitors climbed down to other vantage points beneath me. I’ll go down there some other time.

According to the Oconee County website, legend has it that the falls is named for an Indian maiden, Issaqueena, who, warning the white settlers of an Indian attack, was then chased by Indians and appeared to jump over the falls. She was actually hiding behind the falls, tricked her pursuers, and survived. The Park is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to sunset. Since I have not yet begun to make movies with my digital camera, you can see a little Flash animation of the falls on this website as well.

Stumphouse Tunnel is a short distance from the falls, but we mounted up and rode there so the bikes would be closer when parked. We made the short walk up a slight grade to the tunnel entrance. We felt the coolness of the underground space spilling down around us. It felt good to me, though I was the most heavily dressed of the three of us. The others might have been a bit chilly. We brought flashlights so we could walk into the tunnel, but their meager light was almost swallowed up by the darkness. The tunnel is incomplete because the Blue Ridge Railroad ran out of money during its construction. You can walk in as far as an expanded steel barrier that keeps visitors out of the remainder of the tunnel due to the danger of rock falls.

Again according to the Oconee County website, the tunnel is 1,617 feet long and was started in 1852 to connect Charleston to Knoxville and eventually on to Cincinnati. The Civil War and the lack of funds brought construction to a halt. While there were various efforts by the Blue Ridge Railroad to revive the tunnel, none of them came to pass and it stands today as a monument to the efforts of pre-Civil War engineering.

The tunnel measures seventeen feet wide by twenty five feet high and about mid-way in, there is a sixteen by twenty foot airshaft that extends sixty feet upwards to the surface, causing the cool breeze. The tunnel leaks from the ground above it and condensation adds to the dampness inside.

In 1951, Clemson College bought the tunnel and used it to cure the South's first bleu cheese. The tunnel's environment was later duplicated at Clemson, and the cheese making that Clemson is now famous for, was moved there. The tunnel still belongs to Clemson University, but is maintained and managed under the South Carolina State Parks System.

Though we didn’t hike there, the Blue Ridge Railroad trail leads to two other tunnels that were built for the railroad: Middle, and Saddle. Middle Tunnel is the closer and the only one of these two that can be entered. The tunnel was back filled with dirt, but a small hole has been dug that allows entry. The third and furthest tunnel, Saddle, is totally submerged in water with only the top of the entryway still exposed.

After we walked into Stumphouse as far as we could, we turned around and made our way out and downhill back to the bikes. I again forgot that I had set my alarm, so I demonstrated the chirping sound for everyone within earshot. Just testing, you know.

The exit from Issaqueena Falls/Stumphouse Tunnel requires a sharp right turn that is on a steep upgrade with a limited view of oncoming traffic. I was a bit apprehensive about this, but did fine. Perhaps more than a year of riding has improved my technique since I first exited the Whitewater Falls road.

We rode just a few miles and reached the entrance of Oconee State Park. We paid the entrance fee and motored to one of the picnic areas. Steve had left us to attend a family function later in the afternoon, so only Ken and I entered the park. The picnic area is on a small lake, so we walked down to its edge and took in the view. It was a beautiful, warm, spring afternoon, and we enjoyed the quiet and solitude of the place.

Big and small together in the parking lot.

We walked back to the parking lot, and decided that we would skip stopping at our last scheduled destination, the World of Energy at the Oconee Nuclear Station. We will pass right by it, but will save it for another time. By the way, the Oconee station has generated in excess of 425 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity so far, more than any other U.S. nuclear station. Oconee unit 1 began commercial operation in 1973; units 2 and 3 in 1974.

We rode back down SC-107 and SC-28, then turned left at SC-183 in Walhalla. We took this all the way through Pickens and picked up SC-8 to Easley.

We spent about seven leisurely hours riding and looking at the sights. We parted ways at the church and each turned toward home. It was a great day to be out in God’s creation.

Here are some photographs at Issaqueena falls taken in September of 2008 when the foliage was full.

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