Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Toccoa Territory

Normally, this is a good time of year to go up into the mountains along the Blue Ridge Escarpment, but it has been raining a lot and I didn't think it would be enjoyable or especially safe to navigate the twisty roads with all of the potential hazards they might contain

So I took a really easy route to a place I have been before to view some new-to-me sights.  

I have been to Toccoa Georgia three times before, and there are a lot of neat things to visit there, including a mountain that I climbed, and some military history, and a large railroad trestle, and a pretty waterfall.

This time around, I take a route to get there that I have not been on before.  Still not really exciting, but different. 

Almost into Georgia, but on the east side of the river that separates it from South Carolina, I have to cross the railroad tracks.  When I get to that point, I find this underpass.
One lane.  Have to be careful here. 

A little further on, I run across a lonely church building.  There is no sign identifying it on the road, and the parking lot is empty.  I stop to see it.

The sign by the door says it is St. John's Anglican Chapel.
It looks old, but there is a new foundation under parts of it, and a lot of the exterior has been stuccoed over. 

I see another door around to the side, so I take a picture through the glass.
It is clean, orderly, and well kept inside.  I wonder when it is used. 

I notice a small outbuilding near the back.
I think I could use that about now.

Alas, it is not to be.
Locked out! 

They apparently have running water inside, though.  Clever -- and high-tech -- setup, indeed.

I make other arrangements and head on my way to see some other new stuff. 

Just into Toccoa I spot a gift shop with a large painted rock in front of it.  I stop and go in to see about the rock.  The Dream Givers Art Gallery is run by a friendly woman, Dianne Lawson, and sells all manner of knicknacks, jewelry, artwork, and other neat things all made within about a 60-mile radius of Toccoa.  The shop is located in an inviting 1930's bungalow with plenty of hardwood floors, and craftsman-style details. 

I look over the wares, but I am more interested in the big rock outside, so I ask her why it is there. That is a bit of an odd question, and she pauses a second before answering. She says it is important to her that people not forget about our American heritage and history, especially the sacrifices made by our uniformed military servicemen for our freedom.

I can't agree more, as evidenced by some of my previous posts on this blog:

Motorcycles and Freedom
Memorial Day
Thanksgiving Day
Freedom is Never Free! -- Rally to Ridgecrest, 2011

The painting on the rock includes an eagle and some parachutists. These are references to the Screaming Eagles, the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment trained at Camp Toccoa. (The mascot of Toccoa Falls College is also an eagle.)

The rock has the words to the first verse of the patriotic song "America the Beautiful," by Katharine Bates. The words of that song are worth reviewing. Not many people know them today. I have put into bold typeface some particularly significant thoughts, important in 1913 when they were written, as they are now.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee

And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet

Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved

In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!

America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness

And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream

That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for halcyon skies,

For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till souls wax fair as earth and air
And music-hearted sea!

O beautiful for pilgrims feet,

Whose stem impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till paths be wrought through
wilds of thought
By pilgrim foot and knee!

O beautiful for glory-tale

Of liberating strife
When once and twice,
for man's avail
Men lavished precious life!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain
The banner of the free!

O beautiful for patriot dream

That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till nobler men keep once again
Thy whiter jubilee!
Patriotic, yes, but filled with references to God who has blessed this land beyond measure.

Ms. Lawson asks me about my background.  I tell her that I am an engineer by training.  She says she has been married to one for a lot of years, and she understands.  She emphasizes peculiarly the word "understands."   [Hmmmm.  I wonder what she mans by that.  I have always thought of myself as perfectly normal, and it is the rest of the world of non-engineers who are a little "off."  I may have to think about this some more.]

After I leave the gift shop, I continue on to the Trestle Falls subdivision (at Pushpin B on the map that opens in this link) where there is an overlook (at Pushpin C) for the North Broad Trestle, also known as the Wells Viaduct.  The same tracks that go over that underpass I saw earlier go over this trestle.  I set up my camera on a tripod and wait for a train to pass over it.  A few minutes go by, but do not hear any trains approaching.  Disappointing, so I put on my helmet and gloves to head on my way to find something else new.  

I have recently read a book called R.G. LeTourneau: Mover of Men and Mountains.  It is an autobiography written by a fellow who had grand thoughts about large machinery, including earthmoving equipment and offshore drilling platforms.  He went broke several times in his lifetime, but became very successful later on.  He was a man who was shy and backward in public, but he was quite a devout Christian, and overcame his lack of self confidence to become an inspirational speaker across the country and around the world.  

In the middle of his life, he made the decision to give 90% of his income and 90% of his company's profits to God for His use.  Remember that the Bible requires us to tithe 10% of our income.  This guy tithed 10% and gave a further offering of 80%!  People ridiculed him, said he was odd doing anything like that, and would never make a go of it financially.  Nevertheless, Mr. LeTourneau received spiritual and physical rewards of many times the amount he gave during his lifetime.  

By the way, you don't give to get from God or from others, because sometimes it doesn't work out like that during our earthly lives.  We will certainly be rewarded for storing up treasure in heaven, though. 

Mr. LeTourneau, who lived between 1888 and 1969, was at one point a motorcycle rider, mostly because he could not afford a motor car.  That was back in the early days of motorcycle design.  He learned how to take the bike apart and managed to get it back together a number of times, and it provided a practical schooling in mechanics that helped with his success later on.  

He received more than 300 patents in his lifetime.  His company pioneered electric motor power of large equipment, including wheel drives that eliminated all mechanical connection to the prime mover.  He strived for larger and larger capacity and capability in his machines, recognizing that the more work a man could do with the help of machines, the higher the standard of living would be for all.  His company was the first to use rubber tires for off-road heavy equipment use. 

LeTourneau equipment enabled the Allied forces to build and repair roads and airstrips rapidly, giving Allied forces an advantage that shortened World War II. 

There are several books available describing his company's equipment:
Mr. LeTourneau established technical education courses for his workers, to help them better themselves and thus become more valuable to the company.  He later learned of the Toccoa Falls Institute, later Toccoa Falls College, a Christian school where young people could study and work at the same time to help pay for their schooling.  He was impressed by the character of the students from there, so he decided to build a manufacturing plant in Toccoa. 

At that time, Toccoa was a back woods place with no industry, no skilled labor, no church buildings, no dairies, hardly anything.  His business advisors said he was crazy, wanting to build a facility there; that the effort would be too costly to pay off.  Not deterred, he brought in skilled laborers from his other plants to build a new one, built housing for workers, added churches, shops, and other infrastructure

In fact, he invented steel prefabricated houses, and later concrete houses cast complete "as though laid by a giant hen," according to his book.   

What a benefit and blessing it was to a community when a modern industry brings these things in!  Their entire standard of living increased dramatically.  

The manufacturing plant he erected in Toccoa was the first manufacturing plant built from prefabricated sheet metal panels.  This technique is one based on one of Mr. LeTourneau's many patents, and allowed large buildings to be constructed without major structural steel.  

The steel panels are built like this, taken from that patent:  
I go looking for some of these buildings, and come across the "Famous LeTourneau Hanger" at Toccoa Airport, known as LeTourneau Field


This building is constructed entirely using the prefabricated insulated steel panels, and each seam is fully welded, making a sound structure.  Here is a photo of the wall panels, with a sliding door to the right, built the same way.
An interior view:

The airplane hanger is currently occupied by Corben Sport Planes/Ace Aircraft Company.  They make kits for homebuilt small aircraft called the Baby Ace and Junior Ace.  
I boldly venture into the hanger and into a lighted office in the back.  There I find the current owner of Corben, Mr. Bill Wood and his wife Veda.  I think they are a bit surprised to see me in my riding suit, helmet in hand, but they quickly warm up as I ask them a few questions about the hanger and about their business. 

The plane designs go back to the 1920s.  Mr. Wood bought the company in 1998, and runs not only the homebuilt (actually better referred to as experimental) plane business, but also Foothills Aviation, for the sale of avionics equipment, maintenance, structural modifications, and inspection services. 

Mrs. Wood insists that I look at a few videos on her computer, but surprisingly, not any showing their airplanes.  She wants me to see the short takeoff and landing (STOL) experimental light plane manufactured by Just Aircraft, located about half way between here and home, in Walhalla South Carolina.  (I have yet to visit there, but it is on my list of things to do.

They tell me about the airfield, created by Mr. LeTourneau so he wouldn't have to land his plane on the road -- and for the good of the community.  Two large hills were leveled to make the area flat enough for the runway. 

I ask to snap Mr. and Mrs. Wood's picture, and they move closer to one another for the shot. 

Do you notice in the background those skinny drawers to the left of Mr. Wood in the picture?  Do you young whippersnapper engineers know what’s in them?  I’ll bet not. 

The large, flat drawers are used to store engineering drawings, something not many newly-minted engineers know about, what with CAD systems and the wide-format printers of today.  Back then, the original was drawn with pencil, or sometimes with ink on thin, high-quality paper called vellum, or with “plastic” lead on almost-clear polyester film often known by one of its trade names, Mylar. 
Then, a blueline machine (or in even older days, a blueprint machine) was used to shine light through the drawing and onto a sensitized roll of paper whose image was developed by ammonia fumes.  Cleans your sinuses while you wait!  Now you know.

The Woods are gracious hosts and bid me farewell, inviting me to return at any time.

I take a shot of one of the many planes on the way out of the hanger. 
Neat experience.

The trip home is along US-123, a good road, but not very interesting.  It is quick to use, though, to get back.

Only 176 miles today along this route, but it has been an interesting day of discovery. 


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Stuff in the Road

This has been a banner year for stuff on the road, it seems, and the last few weeks have been no exception. 

You may recall that I have had a run in with a slow Raven
Common Raven -- photo by David Hofmann, Santa Rosa, CA
...and a small herd of goats,

...and some deer.  

Well, I thought I had come across most of the animal hazards out there, but I was wrong.  Some examples follow, all discovered over Independence Day weekend: 

See that dot in the right lane directly above my tank bag?   Click on the image to make it larger if you need to. 
 Know what it is?  It is alive, and sprinting across the road the best it can. 
It is a tortoise (NOT a turtle -- turtles are water dwelling), about 4" wide and 5" long.  He would have been a mighty slippery impediment to hit on the bike.

This is another hazard out there:  
I have pictured just six of around a hundred out riding today as a benefit for a sick child.  At this turn to the left, they are headed up the twisty hill on US-276 to Caesars Head

I have encountered even more bicyclists previously who were participating in the annual Assault on the Carolinas ride.  Those guys have stamina, believe me. 

The bikers have the right to use the road, but it can be dangerous when they are riding several abreast and they are beyond sight distance on the blind curve or rise.  That could make for a bad accident.  Some motorists say that the bicycles should be banned.  I think, instead, that the bicyclists should make themselves conspicuous with flashing LED taillights (even in the daytime), and they should be cognizant that they ought not be riding several abreast when they go over a rise or complete a blind curve. 

This fellow is not a hazard to me, as he explores a rail fence.
A herd of them on the road might be another story.

Right across the street from the snail, however, is a barking dog.  I don't get his picture, but he seems harmless enough as he sits in the mud wagging his tail at me.  He is one of those dogs with bright eyes, and that almost seem to be smiling when happy.  Of course, maybe he is just sizing up his lunch for today, and is happy about that!  His tail is making a mark like a windshield wiper in the goopy mud he is sitting in, and his paws are encrusted with the same red grit.

I am not so happy when he comes over to get a better look at me and jumps up onto my fine white summer riding suit that I'd just treated with Lexol the day before. 
July, 1999
At least he isn't mean.  I think he just wants to say hello and maybe play a little. I don't play with him for fear that I would end up as muddy as he is. 

There is one more hazard I encounter, again from within the animal kingdom.  As I motor along through a stretch of farmland, I spot a white horse running along in the road, his mane and tail flying.  I stop before I get to him, and I can scarcely believe my own eyes. 
Not the horse I saw.  This one is from the Joan Ocean website. 
By the time I get my camera out of the tank bag, a farmer and his dog have managed to put a rope around the horse's neck and lead him off to the side.
The dog seems particularly smug, his tail sailing in a circle behind him as much as to say, "I did a great job, master, rounding up your horse.  Now I am going to go rest a while, and maybe have a little snack.  How 'bout a nice steak for my effort?"  You have a fine rear-end view of both the horse and the dog in the above picture. 

That is the extent of the animal hazards on the list this weekend, but the recent storms have caused a variety of other hazards for my riding enjoyment.

The rain here in South Carolina has finally ended a years-long drought, but the rain has been torrential at times, and it has had its effects on the roads.

Mown tall grass in clumps from the berm can cut down on traction:

Mud washed onto the road is a slick mess waiting to trip you up:
A closer look:

A downed tree makes for a hard stop:
By the way, that tree comes after a blind rise on a curve from the other direction.  It would spoil your day if you came across this just as you breached the rise in that curve.  It is a good reminder that we should always be riding such that our stopping distance is less than our current sight distance.

There is plenty of other debris blown off the trees:

Those wet leaves and roller-like sticks are always a treat.  

And let's not forget about one of the all-time favorites, gravel:
This combination of mud and gravel was also washed out of a driveway.  In a curve, naturally. 

For the animal hazards -- except maybe for the turtle tortoise and snail -- stopping as soon as possible is the best action. 

For many of these non-animal hazards, it is important to steer as straight through them as possible, and with the bike a close to perpendicular to the road surface as possible.  Often, this requires a correction before the hazard, and another afterward, to achieve that goal.

Running at an appropriate speed for the conditions is vital.  There aren't many road signs like this, on one of the roads I have traveled today:

One thing I don't see much of on the road this weekend is Honda Gold Wing motorcycles.  Why do I single them out, you ask?

Well the weekend of Independence Day is the 35th annual Wing Ding, and there are said to be some 12,000 bikes gathered in the Greenville area. 

I have gone out riding two days this weekend.  Now, one day it was certainly threatening weather, but the next day was beautiful, and there was ample opportunity to ride the great roads here and abouts.  But I only saw seven Gold Wings.  One group of three was waiting in a parking lot for another who had become separated from the group, and there were three at the Table Rock State Park visitor center. 

One of the riders at Table Rock chatted with me for a spell, and said that he had observed that many of the Gold Wing riders like to get together and eat, but not to ride.  Boy, if that's true, they are sure missing a good opportunity around here.  He also said that there are more and more trikes, and he opined that some of the older folks riding, even the trikes, shouldn't be. 

Well, this has been a rundown of things you might come up on in your ride.  I managed to negotiate my way through them today without incident.  I was going relatively slowly and continually assessing the road surface before me.  It wasn't the fastest ride I've ever taken, but it was certainly safe. 

More on Road Hazards:


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Not Whistling Dixie

Know what this is? 

Well, yes it is a coach's whistle, but it is far more.

It could be a life saver. 

How?  If you keep one of these on a lanyard around your neck, you have a way to signal somebody if you aren't in plain view.  Like if you have run off the road into a thicket, or tumbled down an embankment.

Not pleasant to think about, but it could happen.  And if it does, it could be vital to your survival. 

That little item can give a loud-and-clear signal with even a light breath. Even if you can't speak or holler. 

It works for hiking and bicycling, too.  I have carried one for several years now.  Fortunately, I have never had to use it. 

And that's not just whistling Dixie

Links to related postings:
Let Somebody Know -- and Give Them This Critical Instruction