Thursday, May 29, 2008

Diese Alte und Neuen Kirche

"Canyon Lake was quite pretty in the early morning," I thought as I panned the camera out from the deck and into Turkey Cove. It was my last day here, before I headed north to Fredericksburg. The highlights of the Texas shoots had to do mostly with being in the outdoors. My shoot the day before was a bit different because it was in an RV park. One could dismiss it this as “hick-ish” or something such, with the boar head hanging in the main office and the trailers parked underneath the oaks. I instead thought of it as refreshing. They used the natural lay of the land, did not cut down vegetation unnecessarily and offered great tent ground, shaded RV areas and little cottages, without any fuss. Mostly importantly, the people were good people. But this day I was at a simple condominium-type lodging and applauded the owner on the great view.

There were scores of emaciated little white tail deer all over. I counted 14 in one group. They scavenge for food and are protected by the government and managed I'm not sure how.

The hills and roads that curve through them are easy to lose your way on. It is mostly residential and the routes do little loops. It was a little fun, climbing the steep inclines that would be a newbie clutch driver’s worst nightmare, and there were some great views. All the same, I was very happy to be on my way.

First, I made a stop in New Braunsfels at Doug’s BBQ. That sliced beef BBQ sandwich was the best of the Bar-B-Que that I had in Texas. Doug had been in the business for years and said he wouldn’t serve anything that he wouldn’t eat himself. He continued to talk about the struggles of the restaurant business and also how each of the businesses depended on the favor’s of one another, especially in the age of WalMart. His most dependable employees were both elderly women, one in her 70’s and one in her 80’s. “Kids just don’t want to work these days.”

Fredericksburg is a historic town which is quite alive. It has scores of historical buildings, all Texas limestone and most of them with historical registry interpretive plates and thoroughly maintained. It proudly displays the German heritage of the town in the architecture, colors, food and efficient accessibility.

It was settled by liberally-minded German settlers in the mid 1800’s. The area became a safe-haven for Germans, pro-Unionists and abolitionists. This liberal character is noticeable in the impressive organic co-op, non-Starbucks cafes, and ‘live and let live’ atmosphere. The latter, however, I find to be more of a Western trait. It is distinctive from the North in that there need be no qualifiers, no explanations, for what you do and who you are. Whatever floats your boat!

Being I had some time before I checked into the ranch, I thought I’d make the half an hour drive to a nature park called Enchanted Rock.

One knock on Texas is that everything seems to be privately owned! You might see an awesome rock out-cropping, dense oak grove or creek bed that called for examination. But one quick look showed you the barbed wired blocking off access.

As the track weaved in characteristic Hill Country fashion, the gigantic pink granite behemoth began to show itself! Distinguishing itself from the surrounding khaki-colored limestone, this volcanic dome would not let you forget it was once a great engine of magma! Driving closer I got the knee-rocking anticipation of climbing to the summit! Like a water dog on a path to retrieve fowl from a swamp, I whined and was out the door.

You pay the small entrance fee at the Conservation Corps office and park in one of two lots. This area was very well maintained but did not feel restrictive in the least! The park is so popular with climbers and the like that it sometimes shuts down. But this Texas heat must have been keeping people at bay! Perfect! The beauty of extremes in temperature is that the masses choose not to venture out in it. I highly recommend that those are the times to venture out! If you can handle it, that is. I was told that the current heat of this week brought the temperatures as hot as the hottest days of the last Texas summer!

There were paths with arrows that pointed to the top of Enchanted Rock. I chose to be a little more adventurous. Through years of gravity, great boulders of rock had rolled down the slopes, creating tremendous boulder fields. This seemed a more exciting path!

I weaved through the cacti and relished in the giant sun, bringing every color to its most vivid and producing thermal currents upon which vulture after vulture soared over your head. The further I got, the more inventive I was having to be. When I have gear, I will sometimes leave it below, scout a path to check its practicality and then return to retrieve it.

The video camera comes with me, everywhere I go. I always feel compelled to capture this and capture that. It is fun, but often means that a journey anywhere will take more time than it would otherwise. I've a included a wee "action shot" as I'm always "working."

Some passages necessitated crawling. While I’d rather climb over, this was just not possible at times. I’d sometimes stop to take pictures, do video spots, get a drink, enjoy the rocks and succulent plants and then repack everything and begin again.

In one fissure, I found I had to first push my gear through and then crawl behind it. As the boulder sloped off to the right, it was necessary to keep my bag to the left to prevent it sliding down into the vegetated slope below. It was not life-threatening in the least but could just present itself as a major inconvenience should something go the opposite of my intentions.

Once through I had to scale more boulders and leave the gear behind. Alright! If I had all day I would continue this way. But I was turning this 20 minute climb into something that would probably take an hour. But boy would it be that much more fun! However, my lodging appointment called and I had expensive gear with me.

Towards the top you reach the dome and climb up it as you would the roof of the Metrodome. As many hikers know, once you reach the crest, you think you will see the top, but instead, more to climb!

The top is often anticlimactic. Beautiful view, cooling wind and level stone beneath you. At the top I was alone except for a couple meditating. I kept my distance from Phoenix and Astra and looked about. Even on this bare rock face, little ecosystems would develop in the pockets of the rock. Yucca, cacti, grasses and little trees blew in the wind. Amongst them was a little black swallow tail butterfly, quite enjoying himself, fluttering into the wind, then tucking back into the shelter of the grasses, and then fluttering back again. I laughed with the little guy for a short bit.

Time was calling and I descended. On my way down I remarked at the layers of rock that had fractured and slid down the slope. I could only guess that this occurred from episodic lava flows million of years ago, cooling upon the surface of its predecessor below. Much like the chocolate casing on an ice cream cone.

The Back 40
I entered the code and the metal gate, with long horn silhouette at its center, swung wide. The proprietor met me on the drive and we conversed. At the conclusion of our convo, I asked her what eating establishments were her favorites. She mentioned one of the Bavarian restaurants and also asked if I had ever heard the song Luckenbach Texas. “Why certainly!” Well, on Wednesday they have open pickin. That settled it! I was heading there. She mentioned that there is coffee cake awaiting me in the fridge and sped off back to her house. I dropped off my gear in my cottage and head to Luckenbach.


The town of Luckenbach is very small. If you were not purposefully looking for it, you would pass it. But I saw the road with its namesake and eased down. You came into a shady grove with roosters crowing and two corrugated metal shacks. One was a dance hall, the other was a bar. The bar was full of paraphernalia of all kinds. Collections of trucker hats, license plates, police patches, and bumper stickers. All of which seemed to be aging for many a year. Covering much of the walls were autographed pictures from musicians and celebrities. The most notable were one of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, easily blending in with the rest.

There was a very, very casual feel in the place. It had a service window awning pushed open to the people seated outdoors. There were two gentleman trading tunes on acoustic guitars and a small perimeter of people appreciating the time. A black and white dog named Buck sat under a table.

I had a seat at the bar, ordering two beers for myself and one for one for the already sudds crooner. They sung cowboy tunes and Willy tunes, as well as some of their own. And although neither of them knew the tune Big River well enough to play it, they loved it and gave their props to Minnesota.

Being at the center of this was kind of like being at the last scene of every Dukes of Hazard episode you’ve ever seen. If you’re my age, you know exactly what I mean!

It was cozy. Open to the early evening sun, the roosters, the happy regulars and newcomers, one feels right at home. However, I knew it was time to go when I was approached by a woman from New Jersey. She saw my camera and had to let me know that although she didn’t get to take pictures as a ‘job’ her’s were something that my work should definitely see. At that moment I just couldn’t happen to find my business card for some reason (wink, wink). I finished my Lonestar, tipped my hat to the gents and then head back to Fredericksburg.

In town I ordered some Suerbraten, Spatzle and a German Beer, to get some authentic coverage of this establishment and pay my respects to the ethnicity of the first settlers. Best go German!

The ranch was nearing night as I checked in. Packing a pipe I sauntered down an old creek bed, with the outline of the barbwire fence pressed up against the blue horizon. Fireflies were beginning to bespeckle the night. I walked to the further edge of the property, on the banks of the one of the ranch’s ponds. There happened to be a hammock stretched out between two oaks. The smoke rose up through the branches and the sounds of frogs, crickets and livestock performed a Texas lullaby.

Aufwierdersehen Fredericksburg

I spent my time shooting the last property. At my own pace, I shot the old German cottages. While this was an actual homestead, with a small house built in 1860 and surrounded by more recent additions, they all followed the traditional layout. There was a living room with a hearth, a pantry area and a loft with a bed. Most were constructed from old limestone bricks.

In town I hit the old and new Catholic Church. Both having two of the most respectable towers in the town, they were very easy to find. I went into the old, turned the very old latch of the wooden door and saw the plain white walls, simple blue stained glass window and sparse alter. It was simple and what I was expecting. I knelt with other parisioners, said three Hail Mary's and thought about how these kneelers had nothing but some fabric covering them. Not at all comfortable to the knees.

I genuflected and departed. On the way out I caught site of a "Prayer for Rain," something that made me all the more aware of how crucial water is down here.

Next door was the newer church. Finding the door open, I entered. My eyes widened and heart beat deeply. I was not expecting this. Ornate iconography everywhere. Statues, intricate and illustrious stained glass and highly vaulted ceilings enscripted with Latin. Once again I said my three Hail Mary's and this time visited the statues in the front. Saint Anthony stood at the front, next to Mary. Hmm, more resemblances with my namesake! Ciao, Santo Antonio de Padua! Aufwierdersehen Fredericksburg!

On my way out of town I stopped at the Admiral Nimitz & National Museum of the Pacific War. It celebrated the man committed to a life in Navy since he was a teenager. He was opposed to the use of the atomic bomb and while frustrated that MacArthur was given the fame and honorary position of handling Japan's surrender, he made certain that the Navy and Marines
were given equal attention and credit in the procedings. The museum mirrors these wishes. In it you will find a plaque honoring every single vessel of the U.S. fleet. He wanted every man that served under him to receive due recognition. There is also a Japanese Peace Garden, donated by Japan and a thorough coverage of the Pacific campaigns.

I will very much miss Texas and glad that I will be returning at some point soon!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cowboy Capital of the World

Sunday saw an hour and a half drive to Austin. First stop was the capital. Hailed as the 7th biggest building in the world in 1888, it still stands as the biggest state capital in the U.S., although it is smaller than our nation's Capitol in D.C. It's a nice walk, over a bridge, under the boughs of rich foliage and up to the face of this tall, tan structure. Through one of the entrance doors, you walk down the corridor and out into the rotunda. Three balconies rise in succession overhead, and far above that is the dome, with 'Texas' spelled out at its zenith.

There are pictures of the former governors on the walls of the rotunda. I grabbed a shot of the memorable Ann Richards and paid token respect to our current President. A tall painting of Davy Crocket, the frontiersman-politician, stands in one of the wings. I did some video, capturing everything from the building to the Seguay tours running around the grounds. Before I left I made a stop at one of the more notable issues of contraversy in the state, the Ten Commandments on the capital grounds. I had to stop and question their right to be there.

Since you hear so much about the Austin music scene, I had to head down to the Warehouse district. The strip has many bars, restaurants and tattoo dens. No need to worry if you've forgotten your cash, there is an ATM every ten feet or so. (As in many instances, I was busy with my video camera, so do not have pictures.) Grabbing a good collection of shots representative of the area, I had to catch an Irish pub and hopefully some music. Knowing the music mainly comes at night, I was happy to find a piano player in the bar. Grabbing a Guiness or two I listened to this player of mostly blues tickle the keys. I encourage everyone to tip musicians. They depend on it and, furthermore, its a way to be a part of the experience! I popped my tip in the jar and, while doing so, requested some Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton. Then came that Chicago sound.

With Guiness helping the thought, I floated back to Chicago in the 20's, watching the little, fat, Waller, run up to the piano between cinema films. He'd be thumpin' that piano and rolling his big eyes and hamming it up, to the howls of laughter of all the Black children. You could here the evolution of the marching band music of WWI, transform itself into the syncopated thump. It was these first Black musicians, playing in whorehouses, providing that 'thump' for the business upstairs. Thus the birth of Jazz.

Well, this player of the keys was good in his own right. Playing southern blues, with a jovial nature, he seemed happy. I found it quite odd that he went from playing this to one of my favorite Sting songs, Fragile. He had the nuances of each of the musicians he played in his fingers. I tipped him on the way out, thanking him for his work, and left that establishment to the tune of 'Popsicle Toes.' While I didn't catch the 'hippest' joints in Austin, I had a thoroughly fulfilling and personal musical experience in this 'Capital of Live Music.'

With a happy soul, I came a across a 'dime museum' of the bizarre and had to take it in. I was more taken by the nostalgia of the place, tucked into the small shopfront. I looked smirkingly at the shrunken heads and mermaids, felt sorry for the three-eyed cow, and puzzled over the 'authentic' mummy.

From there I shot to the shooting location of Austin City Limits, filmed not much, and then cruised to the 'best' BBQ joint in Austin, the Salt Lick. Not actually in Austin, but some 30 minutes away in Hill Country, the Salt Lick is a family-style barbecue joint tucked into the hilly, oak-covered hills of Driftwood. You couldn't ask for anything better. You pull into a giant, gravel lot, being directed with a cowboy-hat-wearing, gun-in-holster, authentic sheriff. You find a spot in the lot, which is large, and by the number of cars, feel that you are at a state fair. Walking through the 100 degree air, across the lot that has been baking in the sun all day, with the throngs of happy Mexicans and gringos, you get in line, make your reservation and are handed a buzzing coaster. You can take a seat at the tables underneath the oaks as you wait.

Once inside you have many options.I went for the family style. Then came the plate of meats, coleslaw, mashed potatoes, beans and bread. The experience was accentuated by the atmosphere. Seated in a heavy wooden picnic table, inside a structure feeling every bit a ranch hall, with stone and mortar foundations, no air conditioning and dim light equivalent to oil lamps. The sweat on your brow was caused by equal helpings of Texas heat and Texas feast. I held myself to one plate, yet the ribs, sausage and pork were trying to seduce me.

Monday's shoot took me into on of the deeper realms of Hill Country. Climbing out of the Tapatio canyon on Deep Hollow, I weaved through the ranch land. Ranch upon ranch upon ranch. I was leaving Boerne, named for one of the first German settlers of the area. Hill Country owes much of its heritage to those first determined souls from Deutschland.

Pulling into the ranch, I felt a happy anticipation which does not normally come in shooting properties. Horses, cowboys and hilly ranch land were all around. I got the gear together and head in. Breakfast was being served. A young, smiling cowgirl was the first to greet me and she was first to break the very sad news. The day before, one of the staff members had died in front of everyone. He was a central figure and the place was in a state of grief, understandably. Her kindness, smiling brightness and apologetic goodness towards me, made it all the more sad. I met the owner and he said that he was really sorry but he didn't think he could ask his fellow employees to act happy in front of the camera at this time. He, also, was very apologetic for the inconvenience. He also explained that the poor man's wife was an employee there as well. I shook his hand, gave him my deepest sympathies and went about my way. The surrounding and great goodness of these people made it so difficult to leave. I rolled down the ranch land with spirits mixing with the storm clouds above.

Passing back into the heart of Bandera, named for the flag that once denoted the land separating the Americans and Spanish, I stopped for a cowboy's breakfast. After all, this was the "Cowboy Capital of the World!" The main stretch read with storefront signs of Cowboy this and Cowboy that. Antique stores and Indian jewelry stores. Eating at the Old Spanish Trail looked like the right choice. Boy was I right! Packed with happy breakfasters which included cowboys with spurs, Indians donning choker necklaces and flowing gray hair, and your average joe in sandals. I opted for the buffet. A tray of a great egg concoction, sausage, potato patties and biscuits and gravy. I ate and gazed up from my biscuits. There was a John Wayne room, bedecked with tons of his movie memorabilia. There were two lever-action repeating rifles hanging on the wall, an instrument my heart still lingers heartily for! There was also a man, dressed up in the most authentic-looking, 19th century cowboy garb you could imagine. His mustache was as bushy as his beard, and sandy with age. I would learn his story, later.

I was smitten with Texas and falling in love. This place filled my senses! I thought of the life the cowboy. It was a life devoted to the land. Sure, you'd have to earn your respect, starting in the back of the drive, where the dusk choked your lungs and stung your eyes. The flies and cattle smell stayed with you and your seasoned pards' would give you hell. But they'd see how you were the last one to the sack and the first one to rise. You held your head strong into the wind loved your horse. In time they'd stop calling you 'Skinny' and refer to you as 'Slim.' It was a place where your character - how hard you worked, how you treated others, your horse and were true to your word, was all that mattered. No politics, no fashion show and nothing but the stars above. It sure helped that you were one helluva shot with your Winchester!

I sipped my perfect cup of coffee. Spare me the Starbucks, the Dunn Bros, the $6 cup of joe! A good diner coffee takes the cake! And this was cowboy coffee! I drank the cup which recalled my dream the night before. I was somehow at my Grandpa's old cafe/diner/bar, the NIRA on E. 7th street, but instead it was deep down on 61. I drank a cup of NIRA coffee, and thinking about how happy I was, drinking his coffee. But I went out the door into the gray day, to wake up to the gray day in Texas. That cup of coffee came with me.

Being that the Antique stores were so popular here, I visited a gigantic one that recalled the old one's in Winona. I spoke to the owner, proud of his German heritage and who felt obliged to say Minnie-Sota more than once.

I was about to head out of town when I saw a small leather shop. I approached it, then changed my mind, then changed my mind again. I was so happy I did. It was owned by a couple in their 40's. He was recently retired Marine of 20 years, she was a New Yorker who had moved there. We spent a great deal of time talking about art and people. I learned a lot about the history of the place and Texas in general. We talked about the fascination that Europeans have the cowboys and how tightly people hold onto their preconceived notion of Texans. She talked about an Israeli film crew that had come to the shop and were really quite rude. The woman kept asking why Texans always wanted to shoot everything, and kept on and on about it. The three of us laughed at the irony of that statement.

They were fabulous leather workers and had only been at it for over a year. Holsters, saddles, leather roses, bracers, and, most popular in Texas, beer cozies! As we talked more about art and how often artists get stuck with orders that are never picked up or paid for and how you end up making things more for yourself than for sale, we all got quite excited and soon they showed me all such things. Soon the intricate bead work she made came out, he brought out a gorgeous knife he had made. They were two of the friendliest and kindred folk I could have met. I hope to keep in touch.

The last shoot was of another golf course. But it was nice to be outside, in places with tremendous views of the canyon below. They were nice enough to buy me lunch, before I head to Canyon Lake.

Canyon Lake is a body of water created by regulating the flow of the Guadalupe river. What results is a lake with 80 miles of coast. Since water is drawn from the bottom of lake, the outlet water temperature is in the 60's. This area is most popular for tubing, where businesses make money on renting tubes and selling water socks.

The area also has a small dinosaur tracks museum, highlighting the footprints of carnivorous tracks (thin and V-shapes) and those of plant-eaters (larger and more rounded), left in the limestone. It takes but a moment to pay your $3 and walk through the park and leave. Besides, you'll be hard pressed to find that much more to do in the area.

The lake does look pretty and boasts cleanliness and coolness. The river does the same. Thinking of those 100 and 90 degree days, you can understand why this area would be popular.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Welcome to Hill Country

Returning down into Myrtle Beach I was able to witness some of Bike Week, part deux. After the first week of Harleys, there is a pause and then Sport Bikes take over. Since it’s a predominantly African-American crowd some have referred to it as Black bike week.

Personally, I would have liked to spend more time with this week than the Harley’s. The sport bikes are not nearly as offensive, noise-wise. When they accelerate there is that high pitched wine, but it comes nowhere close to hurting you the way a Harley can.

Wrapping up my gear for travel in my cigarette infused room, I hit the sack around midnight. Intending to rise around 4 to get to the airport in time, I was instead brought to consciousness at 3 by the sounds of extreme regurgitation. Not a new sound to my ears, I was instead thinking about my car. It was situated strategically below the railing from whence our fellow regurgetator was spewing forth. I would hate to return it all messy. So, just in case, I got my gear together and hit the road. The contents of that lads stomach had accumulated very close, but not quite on, the car.

The flights were fine and whilst I had a few hitches this day, I kept reminding myself that the lack of sleep was detracting from my objectivity, and tried to pull it into shape!

Austin. Right away you can sense the liberal culture so pervasive here. The colleges, transplants and music scene must really push a progressive mindset. Heck, Whole Foods was born here! Could that happen in any conservative quarter? However, like New Orleans in LA, Austin is anomalous in this very conservative state.

It’s been fairly warm here. The last few days have been over 100 degrees and today was about 105. I had to enjoy it with the windows down. Air conditioning is standard. I was thinking, that down here, people might spend more time on average, in cooler, environmentally controlled quarters than we do in the north! Not sure, but something to think about.

My first stop was to Hut’s. The best burger’s in Austin, so I’ve heard, and soon discovered in must be a certain truth! The place was small and packed with happy youth and families. Old license plates, football banners and aged knick-knacks were pasted everywhere. But the import thing was, the food! The menu had over 20 different kind of burgers and they all looked fantastic. I asked the tender to point out the general favorites and his as well. I went with the Sink (grilled shaved ham, burger, lettuce, onions, tomato, mayo, jalepenos), peppered onion rings and a chocolate shake. Heaven. You must visit! And as I ate it up, I thought at how proud LBJ would be of me, as I was heading to his library next.

President Johnson’s library is the most visited of all Presidential libraries in the nation. It celebrates a man who suffered much criticism in his own time and whose great deeds are still overlooked.

Following the assassination of JFK and being handed the Vietnam war were two pieces that never left the social conciousness. But as far as social and liberal good, you could think of none better. His many programs for the poor and the under-educated, along with his civil rights legislation were ground-breaking then and now. Texans should be proud that their traits of bravado were so prevalent in this man. He wanted what he wanted, and would be damn sure that it got done! He pushed these bills through Congress. Few others could have done what he did. He was even responsible for the creation of the public television!

The museum is free to the public. You walk through a great historical time line of events that occurred during his lifespan. It did a good job of placing him the context of American politics. You see his associations with people like FDR, Humphrey and JFK. You also get an idea of the impact the Vietnam War and how much he did for Civil Rights.

Up the stairs you see the cavernous space above you and the story after story of his personal documents. In one room is an actor playing out LBJ as a Senator and in another is a robotic version, providing stories. In both cases is celebrated, the wit and warm humor of man. He quoted another American humorist who said, “I am affiliated with no organized parties, I am a Democrat!”

It really was one of the best museums I’ve seen. Perfect for the short attention span and does such a good job in delivering the essence of the man. You really feel like you know him now and will forever hold him in your heart.

Friday, May 23, 2008

USS North Carolina

My jaw dropped and hung that way as I drove through the parking lot near the giant battleship. It was thrilling to see its immense size and signature 16 inch gun turrets fore and aft. The striped paint scheme, designed to make it difficult for submarines to identify the lines of the vessel, helped to add different routes for the eyes to follow.

The tour was a self-guided one and you went the direction of certain arrows. I instead walked about randomly and where there were no people. I walked the fan tail, looking at the wood on the deck of the ship, the single pontoon plane, crane and 40mm gun turrets. I then walked up the port side of the ship, discovering that you had to weave around the big 5-inch gun turrets in order to reach the forward deck.

The superstructure extended straight up and you had to crane your next to view it. The radar was spinning and flags of every color and sign dressed up the metal hulk. I climbed the stairs and towers, peaking in everywhere I could find accessible. I had to check the helm and what instruments I could.

I then climbed down and went below deck, through the hatches and examined one of the berths. This one in particular was for sailors of the 4th division. These men manned the 40mm guns, one of the same my grandpa was a Gunner’s Mate with.

I found the 16-inch gun turret (those are the really big ones) that you could climb up into. To ascend up into the hulk you must climb a step ladder. Although the gun itself was immense the space inside the turret was minimal. It presented a kind of numbness to my mind, Dials and knobs, indicators and toggles switches with purposes unknown. Metal, metal and more metal with small hatches separating the crew compartments from the others.

One of my greatest disappointments was my feeling of complete ignorance. While it’s great to wander on your own across this great metal playground, it would be great to have an interpreter there explaining things. There were occasional signs which were helpful, but I could find no staff. Instead of dummies there were blank white forms in the shapes of people, wedged into positions. This cheapness bothered me and scared little kids. But I suppose it gave you some reference.

I spent the most time in the 16 inch gun. People came in and out but I waited for some lone quiet time to reflect. I was somewhat dumbfounded by the operation. I remember grandpa telling me of the six or so giant cylindrical powder bags they would put in the spanning tray (I think that’s right?) behind the giant projectile. The bags would then be rammed into the barrel, the big metal door shut and then they would fire. The concussion rising you up in the air for a moment.

The compartments were something out of a clausterphobic nightmare. While the majority of the turret was composed of metal forms you had to duck around and knobs, sights and all that other stuff, the loading compartments of each of the 3 barrels were contained behind separate hatches. While not a clausterphobic person, I looked at some of these and thought ‘that can’t be right!’ The space was minimal and jagged metal gears and whatnot stuck out from everywhere.

Well, I looked, filmed and took pictures. I tried to soak it all in. One thing that held my attention was, the fan that pumped in air. It had this tone to it that made me wonder, did my grandpa hear that same humm? So, I let the camera catch the low tone for a while, just so I would have record of it. I also looked through one of the gun sights and include a picture of it here.

It was all very much worthwhile but it left me wanting to know more. I wish my grandpa was with me to explain things and if anything, it made me kind of lonely. Overall, the thing that stuck with me, besides the unpleasant thoughts of the cramped gun stations, and the wonderful hum of that turret fan, was… the smell. I breathed in deeply in the room below the 5-inch guns. Packed with shells, it gave an oily odor that I know has lasted the ages. I smelled this same smell in the 16-inch turret. The kind of thing I know would bring back memories and I almost felt as though they brought latent ones back within myself.

Before I left, I had to jump up into one of the 40mm quad stations. One either side of the guns there were seats you could sit in and operate cranks. The left side crank pitched the guns up and down and the one on the right rotated the whole quad. I sat on each side and cranked, watch the barrels go up and down and then on the other side, whipping whole array in a circle. I looked up at the feeders, where you would drop in giant clips of 4 into the gun, and remember grandpa talking about the misfires that you would have to throw over the deck before their fuse ignited. And of course the one that he dropped on his foot at a time he was a loader. Finally, imagining the days he lead his crew, I took a final glance around and head for the shore.

My last task was to sit on a shell for a means of size reference.

If you are ever in the Wilimington area of south-eastern NC, I suggest you give it a look.

Have a good one!