Adventure before Dementia
Seen on the back of a camper along I-75
Tuesday, February 26, 2019: Departing Travelers RV Park in Alachua, Florida following a pleasant overnight stay. Kit and I found our way back to I-75 South and ninety minutes later we pulled off in the town of Bushnell for a Walmart resupply stop. After two hours of retail therapy and walking around time we were back on the road under drizzly skies and a temperature of 71 degrees.
Heading south, we were surprised at the number of RV’s heading north…these likely snowbirds must live in a more temperate climate than we do, as it would be insane to think of returning to Maine in February!
At 1527 hours, we pulled off the highway and made our way to Country Aire Estates, the seasonal resort of some very good Maine friends, and our new home for the next week or so.
In residence are Jeff and Catherine, the proud owners of a beautiful brand-new Class A Motorhome!
Jeff, a fellow old car nut, got me interested in Ford Model A’s, and I in turn piqued his interest in RV’ing. After all, what are friends for if not to encourage each other to spend gobs of money on retirement toys!
Oh, in the photo above note the photographers creative use of the shiny new windshield to mirror the swaying palm trees…unfortunately some dork wearing a miner’s headlamp photobombed the picture!
Kit and I were fortunate to score a nice camp spot right next door to Jeff and Catherine…
…and at a very attractive weekly rate. Actually, it was competitive with most military campgrounds!
Their new rig is a Pace Arrow built by Fleetwood, a decades old manufacture of quality RV’s.
Built on a Freightliner chassis, this 34-foot diesel pusher supplies 300 HP through an Allision transmission which motivates the 26,000-pound luxury coach to highway speeds with little effort. The air-suspension provides a smooth ride to the motorhome’s contents and occupants as well…
…. a fact I was able to verify when Jeff invited me to ride back one day to the dealership for some warranty work.
With the coach in the shop, we spent the rest of the morning in the dealers lounge before the girls drove down to accompany us for lunch at a local Plant City, Florida dining institution…Fred’s Southern Kitchen.
Where we met and visited with the matriarch, Mom.
Fred’s was established in 1954 as a small takeout diner housed in the family’s gas station. Word of mouth spread, and the station was converted to a full restaurant.
Today, Mom is on site most days to greet customers and oversee the staff of family and friends who are still serving good old homestyle southern fare.
On another day the four of us visited the Pioneer Florida Museum and Village in Dade City. This very nice museum is the home of many historic structures that were moved to the site saving them from demolition…including The John Overstreet House, a typical home of the mid 1800’s.
Other buildings of significance include an implement shed where…
…a couple of volunteer steam mechanics are restoring an early farm tractor.
And a display building which was full of historic artifacts such as these woodworking planes…
…and a variety of hand sewn quilts, which was of interest to Catherine and Kit.
A rather unique artifact in the same building was a hand sewn US flag from the 1770’s…
…that was said to be the first American flag flown in battle at Fort Stanwix, New York.
The beautiful grounds of the museum feature mature native Live Oak trees draped with Spanish Moss.
Which isn’t a moss at all, but rather a flowering plant that lives in a host tree. A cash crop for poor southern farmers, Spanish Moss was collected…
… cleaned, and baled for sale to manufacturers of furniture, insulation panels, and pads for evaporative (swamp) coolers. Kind of ironic that a natural fiber grown in the humid southeast was used as a medium for coolers in the arid southwest.
Spanish Moss also played a role in the burgeoning auto industry. In fact, Henry Ford specified Spanish Moss be used in the seat of his iconic Model T, an example which is also on display at the museum.
Mechanically unchanged for almost twenty years, The Ford Motor Company produced over 16,000,000 of these 20 horsepower automobiles. A rather cantankerous beast, the Model T had manual brakes on the two rear wheels and unique driver controls. A lever below the steering wheel controlled the engine throttle and three primary pedals on the floorboard…
…controlled the cars direction of movement. The right one is the brake, the center pedal puts the car in reverse, and the left one shifts the car into a low, neutral, or high gear selection. Model T enthusiasts today call this strange pedal configuration the ultimate theft deterrent.
Also, on the museums grounds is a one room school house furnished with period artifacts.
The sight of the furnishings in this early school room brought me back to the days when I was in the 1st grade at a rural elementary school in Bonita, California. As an attempt to relive the past, I reenacted a typical school day as I recalled it.
Yea, I wasn’t a very good student…as my 1st grade teacher wrote on one of my report cards found amongst my mother’s papers; “William is too fidgety and doesn’t pay attention”. Explains a lot, huh?
The museum also features a railroad engine from the early days of logging.
This 4-6-0 Ten-Wheeler was built in 1923 and in service for over fifty years hauling Swamp Cyprus logs to lumber mills throughout Florida.
The attached flat car held three huge logs of Red Tidewater Cyprus totaling an estimated 80,000 board feet of lumber. The oldest tree is estimated to be 524 years old before being felled in swampland near Dade City back in 1961.
Jeff is a railroad buff, both full scale and model, so it made perfect sense to capture him at the controls of the museums steam locomotive.
Or, for that matter to spend time with the museums nice scale model railroad layout, which wasn’t open on this day due to a lack of volunteers.
However, the very pleasant museum manager, located the buildings keys, and got the display up and running much to our delight.
Even allowed Jeff, a model railroader in his own right, to help run the layout…a truly enjoyable experience!
Another interesting display at the museum was one of early agriculture.
Florida, which by the way is the Spanish word meaning Land of Flowers, is the flattest state in the union. That, and its year around tropical climate, make it fertile ground for growing citrus…so, it’s no surprise that orange groves cover much of this state.
But other crops of note include, vegetables, strawberries, and grapes…which led us on another road trip!
To the Lakeridge Winery and Vineyards located in Clermont, Florida…
…which is the self-described “Birthplace of American Wine”, with historical connections to French settlers making the elixir of life in the mid 1560’s.
As a family business, with a total of 777 acres in cultivation spread throughout Florida, Lakeridge is the largest winery in the state.
The wine is produced in their state-of-the-art facility under rigorous conditions of quality and cleanliness.
The highlight of any winery tours is the complimentary sampling.
Which allowed Jeff and I to pick up these two “wine imbibing” and therefore, uninhibited chicks, and take them home…
…where we uncorked our bounty…
…and enjoyed a campsite barbeque of steak, chicken, and all the fixings.
And since a combined love of fresh home-made style pie seems to be a common trait, most meals ended with a pie of some sort such as this example made with locally grown strawberries!
Speaking of food, which I seem to do a lot of on these trips, we were able to hook up at local restaurants with other Maine residents that seek environmental sanctuary in Florida during Maine’s long, dark, and cold, snow-season.
Spent one very pleasant afternoon with fellow Sage friends, Pat and Sterlin at Cheddars…
…where we embarrassed ourselves by gorging on stacks of their famous onion rings.
And yes, we ordered a main course as well…and yes, we all carried out to-go boxes of food for later…and yes, it was as good as it looks!
On another day, we went up to Plant City and met our old friends from Brunswick, David and Betty.
Who Jeff and Catherine had not had a chance to meet before but quickly struck up a conversation about growing up in 1950’s Maine…and as it turns out, Catherine and David had some distant relatives in common…small world!
Yea, visiting with good friends and eating good food is a prime hobby of the blue hair set. In addition to all the above, we participated in a good old-fashioned Pig Roast at the RV park on one afternoon, and an Ice Cream Social on another day. Below is a photo of Catherine using her banana phone to order up another round of ice cream sundae’s!
In addition, a local Dade City restaurant we checked out was “The Black Eyed Pea”.
I was tempted to request their signature dish until I noticed the southern favorite Fried Green Tomatoes on the menu.
Which I enjoyed alongside my Blue Cheese Burger…some good eatin’ there!
Jeff and Catherine also purchased a new car to tow behind their new motorhome, in the RV’ing vernacular this “towed car” is known as a “toad”. And it is an essential component to fully enjoy an unencumbered exploration of America. After all, disconnecting a large motorhome daily to drive about the countryside is a bit onerous, and not very efficient.
So, one of the days we were visiting, Jeff and I took his toad to the dealer in Holiday, Florida to have some detail work accomplished. On the way over via state roads, we came to a small traffic jam crated by this incident.
Yep, it is what it looks like…a pontoon boat separated from its trailer and sitting on its gunnels while the jackknifed tow truck was still attached to the trailer but heavily damaged…someone’s day on the water just went south, probably because he had just visited the Trinity Releaf store up the road.
With the car service completed at the dealership, and still having some daylight left, Jeff suggested we drive over to nearby Tarpon Springs to have a look around.
A tidy little gulf side community of 22,000 folks, Tarpon Springs is renowned for their Sponge Industry and not the namesake fish. The quaint downtown area features the usual gaggle of tourist shops and eateries.
The area is honeycombed with miles of saltwater canals which allow homeowners to keep their boats safely tied up in their backyards while having access to boating on the Gulf of Mexico.
Also, a causeway juts out from Tarpon Springs and leads to a pleasant seaside park…
…on an undeveloped barrier island…
…suitable for swimming in the warm waters of the gulf.
Before leaving Tarpon Springs, we sought out a local institution…Rusty Bellies Waterfront Grill.
Where the special was fried Grouper, known in these parts as Rusty Bellies due to their coloration.
An excellent meal enjoyed on an open-air wharf overlooking a Mangrove forest where Brown Pelicans were at rest in the branches.
Another great day on the Florida Gulf Coast!
Dade City hosts a monthly car show and we, or at least Jeff and I, were fortunate to be in town at the right time!
So, while Kit and Catherine walked about the nice and compact downtown area, we enjoyed looking at the local’s collector cars such as this nice Hot Rod…
…which you can see is for sale! Awfully tempting…after all, I do have a two-car garage at home!
Then there was this nice example of a clean 1955 Chevy resto-mod…
… that Jeff is admiring.
A relatively new form of car customization is the Rat Rod, an example of which is this very well engineered vehicle.
A custom fabricated frame supports a pickup cab and box, dual rear wheels and powered by a…
…Cummins Turbo Diesel power plant.
Another classic vehicle of note was this beauty!
Car Nuts will immediately recognize it as a 1963 Corvette coupe, an iconic and very valuable generation two model of Chevrolets, and Americas, true sports car. The split rear window configuration was not popular with the motoring public due to limited rear visibility, so 1963 was the only year with that roof design. In fact, some owners later replaced the split rear windows with a 1964 era single window…which ironically, significantly reduced the value in the current collector car market.
It’s no secret that the state of Florida is a retirement mecca for a substantial population, mainly (pun intended) from cold weather states such as, well…Maine. The state is tax friendly, it enjoys a low cost of living, the weather is mild, and there are rivers, lakes, and oceans accessible to all areas of the state. These facts lead to the unusually high number of golf cart’s one sees on the public right-of-way’s…many of which are designed to resemble 1950’s era classic cars. Then there are examples such as this handmade custom golf cart.
Built over the course of a few years by a retired long-haul trucker. He started with a gas-powered golf cart chassis, and hand fabricated the cab, hood, and bed to mimic his work tractor. Everything is operational…the engines exhaust even exits through the twin chrome stacks! All in all, an incredible engineering accomplishment!!
However, my personal favorite show car was this WWII vintage military Jeep owned by a member of our rapidly disappearing Greatest Generation.
Tony was drafted into the US Army right out of high school and served in Europe as an infantryman, occasionally riding in a similar Jeep. Jeep’s came about their name due to the Army’s designation of the little 4X4 vehicle as a General Purpose (GP) Staff Car. Tony is a spry 92 years young and as sharp as a tack…it was a pleasure talking to this American Hero and hearing some of his stories.
Of course, there were other interesting features of note in downtown Dade City, such as the County Courthouse, built in 1909 and on the National Register of Historic Places.
Tradition has been that on Valentines Day each year the County Clerk conducts complimentary weddings on the front portico of the historic building to anyone with a valid marriage license.
For the most part during our stay the weather has been absolutely delightful…warm and sunny. However, one early morning I walked out to the truck and encountered frost!?!?
But that quickly melted with the rising temperatures…didn’t even have to use my snowbird ice scraper that I’ve been carrying around for the past eleven winters.
And last, but not least, the famous Florida sunsets could be enjoyed most evenings from a variety of vantage points, such as this shot from a side street in our temporary home of Country Aire Estates.
Well, this has been an unusually long journal, but there was so much to see and do, and our hosts Jeff and Catherine kept us on the go to many interesting sights and attractions…thanks again guys!
So, until next time…Goodnight!
Kit’s Bit’s: We have thoroughly enjoyed the last couple of weeks here in Dade City. Very nice town with a good mix of restaurants, shopping, and RV/Double-wide parks for Seniors from the cold north. There were lots of friendly folks in the park as well as many activities to keep everyone busy. We explored the surrounding area and were able to get an idea of what it’s like to be a “Half-timer” in this area. We enjoyed all the places and, of course, all the people we met up with, both old and new friends.