Saturday, April 4, 2009

Unexpected: Slot Cars, a Very Old Church Pipe Organ, and [Soon to Be] Turtle Stew

It was a beautiful spring day today. Our motorcycle group at church rode a planned ride toward the south of here.

So far, our fledgling group has ridden in places other than the mountains to the north because we have been trying to avoid cooler weather and the potential for there being slippery conditions from ice, snow, or sand. You may recall that the roads in South Carolina can be very twisty, especially entering the Blue Ridge, but elsewhere very sweeping and in some places very straight. The latter is the terrain we covered today.

Our group consisted of five initially, then four as one dropped out to continue on to a sporting event his kids were participating in. There was Jim on a Honda Goldwing, another Jim on his Harley Davidson, Sue on her Honda Shadow 750 Ace, and Steve on his Honda VTX 1300.

I have to tell you that Sue has been riding some eighteen years now, and is the most senior of our group. It is impolite to divulge a lady's age, but suffice it to say that she is ten years my senior. She keeps up pretty well, and is quite a trooper. I hope I am still able to ride in another ten years.

The ride today is pleasant; our intention being to spend some time in the beautiful outdoors, eat lunch, and return. It will be only about one hundred and fifty miles. The weather was certainly perfect: fifty degrees at the start, seventy-five degrees at the end, low humidity, moderate winds, and very sunny. South Carolina frequently has days like this. That is one good reason to live here. The other reasons include good motorcycling!

We stopped for a while in downtown Abbeville. The downtown section has been fixed up over the years and is quite attractive with a very large grassy square in the center. This historical marker describes some of the surroundings.

This is what the square looked like in 1910:

The opera house is a historic structure that is still used for legitimate theatre productions.

The Abbeville County Confederate Monument stands in the square. It was erected in 1906 by the Daughters of the Confederacy of Abbeville County. Remember that South Carolina was the first to secede from the union at the start of the Civil War, and first mass meeting to consider doing so was held here. The last cabinet meeting of the Confederacy was also held here, so in a sense, both the beginning and the end of the Civil War occurred in Abbeville.

The monument shown is actually Abbeville's second Confederate monument. The first was erected August 23, 1906 but was damaged by fire from a Christmas tree display on December 28, 1991. The damaged marker was donated to the Southern Culture Centre by the local United Daughters of the Confederacy chapter. The current marker was erected on December 14, 1996. It was hand-carved by Italian sculptor Dario Franco Rossi.

The monument photos are by Brian Scott of Greenville, South Carolina.

Inscriptions on the monument read as follows.
South Side:
"The world shall yet decide,
In truth's clear, far-off light,
That the soldiers who wore the gray, and died
With Lee were in the right!"
"Brave men may die - right has no death;
Truth never shall pass away."
"Come from the four winds,
O breath and breathe upon these slain,
That they may live."

East Side:
"On fame's eternal camping ground their silent tents are spread
And glory guards with solemn round the bivouac of the dead."

Erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy of Abbeville County, 1906. Dedicated to the soldiers of Abbeville District.

East Base:
The first mass meeting for secession was held at Abbeville, S.C., Nov. 22, 1860.
The last cabinet meeting was held at Abbeville, S.C., May 2, 1865.

Various shops surround the square. Sue found a jewelry store that she liked. We guys spread out a bit to see what else there was.

The menfolk walked down a side street to find Trinity Episcopal Church. It is the oldest standing church in Abbeville. Though it is quite old -- erected in 1859 -- there are churches in Charleston South Carolina that are a hundred years older. We went into the church and heard organ music. The organist was practicing for the Easter service coming up in a couple of weeks. Trinity has a pipe organ whose parts were purchased from England when the building was new. It is very rare, a Baker tracker style, and is being rebuilt presently. It was shipped to Charleston for assembly there, then disassembled for the wagon trip out into the wilderness here. Meanwhile, the church has a very nice electronic organ that provides music for worship services. Episcopal churches almost invariably use traditional-sounding organ music. There is a historical marker nearby that describes the church. That website also tells of several other nearby historical markers.

Some information about the church, from their website:
"Trinity Episcopal Church was founded in 1842. Thomas Parker is considered the founder. The congregation worshiped in the Court House until a small white clapboard building in 1843 on the site of the present building.

"In 1858, members of the vestry, whose names appear on the pews they occupied, felt the growing and affluent congregation needed a larger building.

"George Walker, a Columbia architect, was chosen and he designed the building in the French Gothic Revival style which was appropriate as Abbeville was named for Abbeville, France. The total cost, including the organ, was $15,665.00.

"The cornerstone was laid in 1859. The walls are solid brick, using brick made on the premises, and covered by a cement-like exterior, called "rough case". This was a common Victorian practice to cover bricks that were porous. All interior woodwork was done by local craftsmen and is grained in the manner of the day. Graining was a decorative device of the day -often called faux bois or false wood. The steeple is 120 feet tall and in spite of local lore, no one was killed during its erection. The large gold cross atop the spire had long dominated the Abbeville skyline.

"On November 4, 1860, not quite three weeks before the fateful Secession meeting was held in Abbeville, the service of consecration was held. On November 22, the Secession meeting was held and the old South was gone forever.

"We assume that all the windows at the time the church opened were like the one on the south side of the nave just in front of the balcony. This is stenciled on glass and was a good substitute for colored or stained glass during the mid-nineteenth century. The children's window, next to the new organ was given by long-ago children in the congregation. The diamond-paned windows were given by nineteenth century vestrymen. We have no information about the Tiffany-styled windows above and beside the entrance doors.

"The large chancel window was a gift from a "Greenville church" and was ordered from England to be placed at the time of consecration. Unfortunately, the window did not arrive until 1863, having run the blockade in Charleston harbor. It was not the Trinity window ordered for this church and the story is that it was to have been sent to a northern church. Since it was wartime, the window was kept and the wall altered to fit. The Epiphany window, next to the Baker organ, was given by members of the Lovell and Cheves families and was installed in 1941 when Trinity was closed and services, with the exception of funerals, homecomings, etc., were not held in the church.

"The bell in the steeple was given by J. Foster Marshall, an early member of the Trinity congregation. During the War Between the States, the Confederate government wanted the bell for war materials, but it was found to be made of unsuitable metal and will peal out again when repairs are made to the tower.

"At the request of the congregation, only two people are buried in the church garden. Foster Marshall and his wife, Elizabeth, both longtime and long ago benefactors of the church. Marshall was killed in 1862 at the Second Battle of Manassas.

"The congregation began to dwindle after World War I and ceased to hold regular services in the early thirties. In the late 1940's, former members, now retired, began to come home to Abbeville and were successful in reopening the church. The first full-time vicar was appointed in 1954, and regular services have continued.

"There is a beautiful old cemetery a short distance behind the church. Many veterans of Confederate service are buried here, as well as six Confederate soldiers who died of illness having been taken off the train in Abbeville. There is also one Union soldier buried here."
A nearby historical marker:

This is the facade of the Baker tracker pipe organ that is as old as the church. The pipes on the front are decorative show pipes and do not speak. The actual pipes are behind the facade. Tracker means that the keys are attached by means of wooden links to the flap valve beneath the pipes. (Modern pipe organs use electrical connections instead.) Note the objects under plasting sheeting to the right of the organ. Those are the rebuilt pipe chests awating installation.

As we walked out of the church, another unusual thing caught our eye. On the corner across the street is the former Trinity Street Motors automobile dealership that now houses a slot car shop called Slots of Fun. Clever name. One track is an eight-lane affair with banked curves that was popular some years ago, and they have two other circuit tracks and a drag race track as well. There was crowd inside, a mix of kids and adults, working on cars and preparing for a race. I thought all of these places had gone by the wayside, but not here in little Abbeville!

Track photos from their website:

The owner, Don Berni:

As I walked out of the slot car shop, a man and his two children saw me and asked if I had dropped out of a spaceship.

I said that I had not. Rather, that I had ridden in on a motorcycle parked a block away. The father turned to his son and told him that if he were ever to ride a motorcycle, this is the way he would have to dress -- armor plus leather. The boy listened wide-eyed as I described why that was important. The words "blunt trauma" and "road rash" seemed interesting to well they should. Maybe he will remember this quick lesson if he takes up riding.

By the way, the two kids were dressed in Revolutionary or Civil War-era clothing, so I was not the only unusually dressed person about the area. I asked why they were dressed such, and they said that they were taking part in a reenactment to be held in Ninety-Six South Carolina, about twenty miles east of Abbeville, later that day. There are quite a few groups and places here that do these Revolutionary and Civil War reenactments, so there is a demand for period dress, weapons, and other accessories such as cooking and camp equipment. In fact, there is a store right on this street, a few doors down from the slot car track, that sells some of these things. It is called Mercers 96 District Storehouse. I didn't have time to go in, but it looks like they sell lots of the things you might need to become a pioneer or soldier. Their outside clock doesn't work or had not been wound lately, though. It was not ten minutes to eight when we visited.

Another interesting place to visit some time is the Ice Shack ice cream shop. They also sell hot dogs and sandwiches. They advertise that they have a public restroom, probably so people stop in to use the facilities then stay for some eats.

Abbeville and the surrounding area has many other historic sites. See the Old 96 District website for more information.

As I walk back to where our bikes are parked, a group of mostly Harley riders swoops into town and parks on the opposite side of the square. They dismount and walk somewhere down the side street, possibly to the ice cream shop. As they do, another group comes through town. This one is also mostly Harleys but has one sport-touring bike amongst them. They continue on without stopping. Our group is the smallest we have seen so far.

We gather up and ride a couple of miles outside town to the restaurant we have picked to eat at today. It is Yoder's Dutch Kitchen, run by an Mennonite family. We arrive just about noon. Perfect timing. They serve cafeteria style and make most of their dishes from scratch. I had a fried pork chop, mashed potatoes, and green beans swimming in ham juice. Their Dutch apple pie is also home made and totally covered with that crumbly sweet stuff. I had a piece. I couldn't was calling to me from the desert counter. They give you a good-sized piece, too. You can buy an entire pie to take home with you. (I was tempted, but I think the motorcycle ride might have destroyed it.) If the server sticks a toothpick into your food when she serves it, you get a little discount. I don't know what prompts her to do that, but I was grateful that she did. Every dollar counts these days.

My companions had a variety of foods: cabbage roll, fried chicken, greens (yuck), creamed corn (also yuck), macaroni and cheese, corn bread, chocolate pie, and iced tea -- sweet of course (this is the South, after all).

We paid the bills and waddled back outside. A nap under some nearby trees would have felt good. The temperature had climbed into the high sixties, so I took off a layer from under my suit and put away the balaclava and neck warmer. We rode another thirty miles or so to the junction of SC-81 and SC-72 and stopped at a gas station so Sue could fill up.

About the time we got parked, a raft of motorcycles started going by. This group was made up of mostly Harleys and one, lonely sportbike. There had to be a hundred of more bikes all together. They used the [illegal] technique of starting the group through the intersection traffic light and continuing to flow through it against the light until all had cleared. I don't know who the group was, but our little group paled in comparison with it. (Pay attention to those fellows on the right, watching the bikers pass by. We'll hear about one of them in a minute.)

But first, something that is probably not original with me: Why do Harley riders frequently dress like pirates in black leather and do-rags while sportbikers look like Power Rangers? Is there a rule book somewhere that I have missed? For me, I'll go the Power Ranger direction every time -- better protection and good looking as well. Harley riders, why don't you try it?

After most of the bikers had passed, we turned our attention to our other surroundings. There was a man with a cane, poking around with it in the trunk of his car while another fellow looked on. (He was one of those I mentioned earlier who were watching the parade go by.) After a little while, he closed the trunk and walked over to a bench in front of the gas station to sit for a spell. I couldn't help but ask him what was in his trunk. At first I didn't understand what he said, so I cupped my ear and asked him to repeat himself.

He said, "I have a turtle in there." "A turtle?" I exclaimed. He said, "Yes," and did I want to see it? "You bet I do, sir." Well, the man, whose name is Robert, got up and walked back to his car, opened the trunk, and extracted his turtle.

Here it is:

Yep. That's a turtle all right.

Now, lets put this into proper proportion:

Yes! That's REALLY a turtle. ...and he looks a bit menacing here...

Upon further investigation, Robert said that a friend had caught this snapping turtle and had given it to him. He intended to make turtle stew from it. The reptile had impressive claws and occasionally struck out to bite anything that it thought was near enough to catch. I didn't get too close despite the taunting of my, um, "friends" to do so. Robert said it would be good eatin', and asked whether any of us had ever had turtle. I had eaten turtle soup -- called snapper soup -- in the famous Philadelphia restaurant Old Original Bookbinder's. It is a heavy, brown soup that tastes a little like thick gravy. They offer you some sherry to flavor it.

Robert instructed us on proper handling of large, long-clawed turtles, then put the animal back into his trunk.

We returned to our bikes for the last leg of our journey.

We cruised on mostly country roads until we reached Easley again. It occurs to me that some of the town names we passed through today were rather unusual: Cheddar, Honea Path, Due West, Buck Stand, Iva, Gluck, and nearby Ninety-Six. I'll have to do some research to find out how these names came to be.

The day was perfect for riding in every way. God gave us the opportunity to have this time together in His creation.

Here are some flowers that were blooming today.

We make it back to the church, and part ways. I fill up, then ride a few more miles before going home. I don't want to stop. There are many others out on their scoots today, and I am pleased to be one of them.

I wonder how the turtle tasted...


Rogers George said...

Interesting post! I've heard that every part of the turtle tastes different, so I guess it doesn't taste like chicken.

You have good taste in blog backgrounds, btw :-)
Also--I hope you read the post in my blog two above the turtle one. It refers to the turtle.

Steve Williams said...

Slot Cars! I was talking to my future brother-in-law today about them and a lot of memories came flooding back. And Lionel trains too.

We have those big snapping turtles around here and I give them a wide berth when possible. I helped one across a busy road with a stick once.... let him grab it and dragged it across.

Love the ride you posted about here. Makes me wish I could depart somewhere tomorrow morning!

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

Bucky said...

@ Rogers George
Telling tales out of school are we?

@ Steve Williams
Come on down to South Carolina for a ride...and some slot car racing, maybe.