A Vagabond Life

Our view can change when we want it to!

Category: History

August and On the Road

August was a road warrior month for the Vagabonds. We put in over 2,500 miles and drove from the North East to the Central South US. Our month began in Burlington, Vermont and ended in Bertram, Texas, along with a couple of side trips to St. Louis and New Orleans. Hurricane Harvey shut down Houston and that caused a 400-mile detour, but we are in Texas now and plan to stay through the winter.

We left the easternmost part of Maine in the first days of August, traveled across the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and on to the western edge of Vermont and the city of Burlington. The city sits on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain and is close to the location of the first naval battle of the Revolutionary War. The Battle of Valcour Island in 1776 pitted 15 outgunned Colonial force ships against 25 British ships. The Colonial force was under the command of Brigadier General Benedict Arnold, who later defected to the British. Arnold’s armada didn’t win the battle and lost 11 ships, but the action did slow the British advance.

Lake Champlain Burlington, Vermont.

The Champlain Canal connected the lake to the Hudson River in 1823 giving Burlington an important international shipping route. The town became an industrial center for trade and specialized in lumber, boatbuilding, textiles and machine shops. The industrial revolution brought prosperity and wealth to the northeast and that lasted through the 1900s.

One of the beneficiaries of the nation’s industrial wealth was Electra Havemeyer Webb, wife of polo champion James Watson Webb of the Vanderbilt Family. Electra’s in-laws owned property on Lake Champlain just south of Burlington and in the early 1900s transformed it into a model country estate. The elder Webb’s collected paintings of Monet, Manet, and Degas, but Electra preferred Americana, and by the time she was 40 years old had established one of the finest collections of horse drawn carriages, weathervanes, pewter, circus figures, and just about everything uniquely American. She even acquired the steamboat Ticonderoga that had once cruised Lake Champlain and had it moved by rail to the property.

Electra’s Americana collection is housed at the Shelburne Museum on the Vermont property along with her in-law’s vast art collection. The museum and grounds are now owned by a non-profit organization and open to the public daily. We spent two days touring this amazing place.

After Vermont, we traveled south to Boston and spent a day seeing the historic sites. We had been to these sites several times in the past, but this visit was more meaningful because I had just finished reading Bunker Hill by Nathaniel Philbrick. If you’re into early US history, the accuracy and detail of Philbrick’s books put you there.

The next stop was RI for a cousin’s family reunion and celebration of Rose Marie Ferri’s 85 birthday – along with celebrating August birthdays for everyone in the family. My sister put on a wonderful spread and was a tremendous host, as usual. We all had a great time catching up with cousins, aunts and uncles and extended family. Rose Marie was thrilled!

After RI, Daria headed back to Texas by plane (cheater!) while I drove the camper with the dog west to St. Louis and then south to Texas. My reward was being able to spend time with Thomas, Jess and the three grandsons. I can’t get enough of those three boys! In the meantime, Daria was in Texas for Ashley’s baby shower. It won’t be long now until we meet Evelyn Rose!

I stayed in St. Louis long enough to see the solar eclipse, then hightailed it down to New Orleans to see a college roommate. Hurricane Harvey delayed my trip west to Texas by a few days. I managed to get to Texas by going north and across to Dallas, then drop down to the Austin area. It was an exhausting month, but Daria and I (and Angus) are all together in our little 19-foot trailer again.

July’s Journey through Northern New England

It’s hard to believe we’ve been on the road for 12 months. After 25,000 miles, the Vagabond tour reached far into New England and the furthest northeast one can go in Continental US.

July travels began by visiting family at Camp Wulamat on Newfound Lake in New Hampshire. It’s an old boys camp from the 1920s that converted to a family camp after WWII. This is my boyhood summer stomping ground. After 53 years, my sister still vacations here each summer with her family and stays in the same barebones cabins that have been on the property for 90 years. Little changes at Camp Wulamat. The biggest change this year was a wall mounted light switch in the toilet room (there’s just a toilet). It replaced a pull string light that was installed in the 1940s.

We traveled northeast to Maine where we visited friends. Richard and Diane were our neighbors in Arizona over the winter and were fantastic hosts in ME. Diane kept us well fed, and we slept in a real bedroom in a real house! Our side trips with Richard and Diane took us to the LL Bean store (a must for any ME tourist) and to the rocky Maine coast where we went to see the site of the first ME settlement in 1607, which became Fort Popham, a military coastal defense site dating back to the Civil War.

No visit to Maine is complete without a trip to Acadia National Park. We know this is true because every tourist in the state was at the park the same day we were there, at least that’s what it seemed. The scenery was spectacular despite masses of people who had no clue what a crosswalk is used for.

The next day we had a wonderful lobster and steamer lunch with friends Cindy and Kris at their lovely cottage on Penobscot Bay in Belfast. Their warmth and hospitality was truly amazing and we lost track of time – the wine may have had something to do with that.

Having seen the coast, we spent the next week camping in the interior at Great Pond Recreational Area. This is one of those military good deals. It’s a family campground for service people and their families located about 50 miles northeast of Bangor. The camp is nestled among thousands of acres of rugged land owned by the Navy, and it’s on a large mostly undeveloped lake. Nice and quiet!

Our last week in ME was spent in Lubec, one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever seen. The town rests on the Bay of Fundy where the largest tidal changes in the world occur twice a day. Lubec is a historic town in that at one time it was the sardine capital of the world and sported the world’s first sardine canning factory. The waters were fished out by the 1960s and the town has since declined. Now it’s a budding artist community and a center for lobster fishing.

Lubec is also were you’ll find the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, farthest eastern point as one can travel in the continental US. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge connects the town to Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada. We couldn’t resist saying the Vagabond Tour was international so we crossed the bridge and spent a pleasant day touring the island and visiting FDR’s summer home.

Eastern Maine is also home to Wreaths Across America. This military friendly organization provides millions of Christmas wreaths for Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. The family who owns the company provided a free concert for military personal including retirees. Daria and I enjoyed an evening on the lawn listening to Kansas play their hit songs from the 70s and 80s.

The last two days in July, we traveled west along scenic Route 2 through New Hampshire and past Mt. Washington before entering Vermont. Our destination was Burlington on Lake Champlain, and more specifically, the vast Shelburne Museum south of the city. That’s all for now!

 

The Land of Lobsta and Chowda

Last munth, we went to da fish maaket and bought lobsta, chowda and clamcakes. We took it back to ouwa campa and had a wicked feast!

If you haven’t guessed where we are, I’ll give you a clue. It isn’t Alabama. Okay, here is another hint. When you try changing lanes on the highway, putting your blinker on doesn’t help.  In fact, it causes the car a quarter-mile back to step on the accelerator and pass before you can move over.

We’re in New England – my boyhood home! I was born and raised in Little Rhody (Rhode Island). Yes, RI is small, but it has a lot of charm. We’re back visiting family, friends, and eating all the fresh seafood we can get hold of. For those who think I married a girl from Texas to compensate for growing up in the smallest state in the nation, you can forgetaboutit!

I’m proud of my New England heritage. Everyone knows it’s the Super Bowl Champion Capital of the World. Each season NFL teams compete to see who will lose to the New England Patriots. It’s also home to the famous Boston Red Sox and Fenway Paak, the oldest ballpark in major league baseball. We have Bruins hockey, the oldest NHL team in the US, and the Boston Celtics, who hold the most championships in the NBA.

Our first NE stop was on the border between Connecticut and Rhode Island. We had the distinct pleasure of spending the weekend camping with my cousin Mary Ann and her partner Dennis. My Aunt Elaine also came for a day (aunt is pronounced “au” like taunt, not “a” like ant). We had a blast catching up and telling old stories.

I reminded Mary Ann when I was a toddler she and my sister thought it was a good idea to leave me alone at a playground hoping someone takes me so they wouldn’t have to babysit anymore. I didn’t know what to do and started running around screaming until a neighbor stopped me and walked me home. The experience traumatized me for life! (not really).

Our next stop was Fourth Cliff Family Recreation Area about 50 miles south of Boston on the Atlantic Ocean.  This area was the mecca for shipping and shipbuilding in the 18th and early 19th centuries. During WWII, the area was part of the Harbor Defenses of Boston. It consisted of an early radar, fire control towers, and artillery batteries. Today, it’s a recreation area for military personnel and their families. The 270-degree water views afford some the best scenery and gorgeous sunsets on the east coast.

July 31 marks our one year anniversary on the road! We’re preparing a special blog in celebration.

 

End of May and on Our Way

The Vagabonds are heading due north after two months in North Carolina. It was a wonderful two months in the state we’ve started to call our second home. We lived in the Tar Heel State for three years while on active duty in the Marines; two of our children were born in North Carolina and the third just married a special young lady from New Bern. It all adds a little turpentine to the Ferri bloodline.

We were privileged to take care of our new granddaughter for two weeks in May while Nick and Ashley were on their honeymoon hiking the Appalachian Trail. Laini is six years old going on twenty-three. We had many interesting discussions with her about how things work. One concept she brought up was the difference between a woman who is pregnant and a woman who is going to have a baby. The two are quite different according to Laini. We decided to leave that one to her mom.

Virginia Beach was our first stop North. We stayed at an RV park on a Navy base situated on the ocean just south of Virginia Beach proper. Our campsite was on one side of the sand dunes and a beautiful sandy beach on the other. Staying on military bases along the coast is special because it’s restricted. That means the beaches are uncrowded on weekends and often deserted during the week. Angus loved being off his leash to splash around in the water and chase sand crabs.

The next stop was West Point, home of the Army’s military academy. We’ve never been to the academy and were excited to take the tour. The place is awe-inspiring. Words cannot describe how impressed we were. The manicured grounds and majestic granite buildings remind me of an old New England ivy league college.

Pride runs deep at West Point. The fortunate few that are accepted into this and any one of our nation’s military academies have a lot to be proud of, and a lot of responsibility ahead of them.  We were fortunate to meet up with my cousin and his wife and family. Stephen is a 1995 West Point graduate. He provided us with an insider’s view of life as a cadet.

The camping area at West Point is deep in the woods overlooking an idyllic round pond that’s stocked with rainbow trout. A few stone cottages dotting the pond’s perimeter brings out the charm. Some of the tall oaks and elms have been here since Washington’s time. It’s a peaceful and serene place. Who could ask for more?

Well, being an American, of course we want more. There’s no internet access or cable TV. How does the Army expect this Marine to survive?

April Wedding Bells

Nothing can be finer than April in North Carolina for a wedding!

Mr. and Mrs. Richard Ferri are proud to announce the wedding of their son, Nick Ferri, to the vibrant and beautiful Ashely Zaytoun of New Bern, North Carolina, on April 29, 2017. The ceremony took place on Wrightsville Beach and the reception was at the Ironclad Brewery in Wilmington. Family and guests traveled from as far north as Maine, as far south as Florida, and as far west as California.  There was plenty of food and wine and the DJ was outstanding!

The ocean provided a perfect backdrop for the wedding with clear skies and a gentle sea breeze that accentuated the romantic setting. Beachgoers were lounging about adding to the moment with many young woman wearing what passes for a bikini today, and a couple of fellows strolling around and posing briefly for the cameras in their brief Speedos.

Ironclad Brewery was an ideal receptions site for this down-to-Earth couple. The drinks were cold and plentiful and the meal catered by Mission Barbecue was superb.  Frankie Hill from BTA Entertainment was the best DJ we’ve seen at any wedding. She didn’t miss a beat, pardon the pun. We danced and sang and toasted the night away. Everyone had a great time! The adventuresome bride and groom are spending their honeymoon hiking about 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

Wilmington is a charming port city situated in the southeastern part of NorthCarolina between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear river. The port was vital to the Confederate States of America and served as a focal point for resupply during the Civil War.

Fort Fisher lays at the mouth of the Cape Fear river and was a Confederate stronghold from 1862 to 1864. The largest sea to land battle of the war took place at Fort Fisher from January 13th 1865 – January 15th 1865. A massive naval bombardment from more than 50 Federal ships lasted for two days followed by the largest sea to land troop assault of the war with over 8,000 Union soldiers and Marines storming the fort and overrunning the Confederates. The siege of Fort Fisher was the beginning of the end for the Confederacy.

Today, the area surrounding Wilmington is a perfect blend of natural and social elements – great geo-physical location, a moderate climate all the year through with clearly distinguishable four seasons, the historic preservation district, annual festivals such as the Azalea festival and numerous other recreational activities, as well as a great place for a spring wedding!

 

March Travel Madness

We’ve been extremely busy of late, traveling through several states, from Texas to Alabama to North Carolina, life on the road couldn’t be finer. The temperature could be a little warmer though, but at least there is no snow, and if we only had bright 80 degree days, we’d probably be soaking up too many rays.

We left Tucson in mid-February and stopped in Texas for a couple of weeks. It was great to see Ashley and Jeremy again. The mother to be is doing fine! We also took the opportunity to drop off winter clothes and picked up more summer stuff. It was interesting to look again at the stuff we decided to keep in storage rather than sell or give away. In retrospect, we kept too much! What were we thinking?

By early March we were back in the Florida panhandle staying at the Blue Angels Recreational Area on Perdido Bay near Pensacola, Florida. This is the former site of Bronson Field used primarily for dive bomber, fighter, and seaplane training during WWII. Baseball great Ted Williams was among those trained at the base. The airfield is still in use today but only for model airplane enthusiasts. One of several seaplane ramps is pictured below.

Our next stop was Panama City, Florida. We camped at NSA Panama City, a US Navy base that supports fleet activities. Among the units on base is the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center where the services conduct experimental deep diving techniques. Did you know this is the 100th anniversary of the Mark V dive helmet and the 40th anniversary of women divers?

Our timing at NSA Panama City coincided with the final round of a unique competition among civilian engineers and scientists who work on base. Participating units receive $15,000 to design and build an improvised explosive device (IED) detector robot that searched for and neutralized IEDs. We were in attendance for the final detect and dig-up competition. The DoD pays about $150,000 for each robot it buys for use in the fleet. The winning team in this competition was able to build two robots for one-tenth the price.

The next stop was on the east coast of Florida near Kennedy Space Center. Again our timing was perfect. We were there for the launch of a SpaceX rocket. This was the first rocket launch we’ve seen and it was nothing short of incredible. It was calm and clear when the rocket lifted off at 9 PM. The plumb was so bright it was like a mini sun! We were amazed at how slowly the rocket climbed into space, not Fourth of July fireworks. The rocket plumb remained clearly visible for several minutes until the first stage burned out. If you haven’t experienced this, put it on your bucket list.

Visiting Florida gave us the opportunity to visit with family and friends. The luck of the Irish kept us safe in Boca Raton as we partied-down with my sister Karen and her husband Rick.  Everyone had a great time – and we stayed up past 10 PM!

We’ve recently moved up the east coast to North Carolina where Nick and Ashley’s big day is April 29! It will be lots of fun, and we’ll get to spend time with a lot people we haven’t seen in a long time.

Day 121: The November Blog

We intended to blog more often than once per month. Where does the time go? Here’s what we’ve been up to since leaving Corpus Christi in mid-October.

We first stopped at our old stomping ground in Medina, Texas, where we caught up with friends and attended the wedding of Tim and Gali Showell. It was a gala country wedding with Travis Klaassen performing the ceremony.

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Medina is also building a new fire house and we saw the building being framed. This was a long time coming. I was in the fire department as a board member five years ago when a new fire house was in the wishful thinking stage. Communities like Medina have no local government funding for their departments. All the money comes from the local community and an occasional grant from the forestry service. Kudo’s to Medina!

We headed west after leaving Medina. How far west was still unknown at the time. We needed to decide where to spend the winter.  Wherever we ended up was going to be on US soil, have a reasonably warm climate, and decent shopping. We turned the trailer toward the setting sun and off we rolled!

One of our favorite stops along the route was in Fort Davis, Texas. This mountainous area is a blend of drop-dead gorgeous scenery, frontier military history and recent space-age technology.

Fort Davis was formally a rough-and-tumble boarder settlement originally known as Chihuahua.  The military post of Fort Davis was established on the site of an earlier Indian village called Painted Comanche Camp. The National Park Service calls Fort Davis one of the best surviving examples of an Indian Wars’ frontier military post in the Southwest. From 1854 to 1891, the fort protected emigrants, mail coaches, and freight wagons on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road and on the Chihuahua Trail. This road was also used extensively by prospectors heading west seeking their fortune during the California Gold Rush. Now it was our stop west.

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Old becomes new about 20 miles northwest of Camp Davis at the site of the McDonald Observatory. The site is part of the University of Texas at Austin, College of Natural Sciences. Davis Mountains offered some of the darkest skies in the continental United States. The first telescope was erected in the late 1930s and much more has been added since.

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Today, the observatory offers a wide range of state-of-the-art instrumentation for imaging and spectroscopy; the 0.8 m Telescope, the 2.1 m Otto Struve Telescope, the 2.7 m Harlan J. Smith Telescope, and the 10 m Hobby-Eberly Telescope; 1 m node of the globally networked Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope (LCOGT), one of two robotically controlled 1.2 m MOnitoring NEtwork of Telescopes (MONET), a 0.51 m telescope dedicated to optical aeronomy, and one of four globally networked Robotic Optical Transient Search Experiment (ROTSE) telescopes. The observatory also operates one of the first and most productive lunar ranging stations. Don’t ask what any of this means but it’s all very impressive to look at!

Heading west for a few more days and we found ourselves in Tucson, Arizona. There is a lot to see in the area and we were told temperatures rarely get into the 30’s. So, we decided to say here for the winter. That being said, the last two nights have been near freezing!

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Another attraction of Tucson is that Las Vegas is less than a one day drive. The Arizona state highway from Tucson to Vegas goes through beautiful desert and mountainous terrain and the scenery is spectacular.  This makes visiting my parents very easy and we traveled to them over Thanksgiving week. The food alone was worth the trip (just joking of course!). The Care Package my mother gave us to take back only lasted a few days. We plan to bring a bigger cooler next time.

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Day 20: A Short Military History of NAS Pensacola

Naval Air Station Pensacola is known as “The Cradle of Naval Aviation.” It is home to the Navy’s first flight school established in 1914. In keeping with the long tradition, all Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard aviators pass through Pensacola to receive their initial primary flight training. I went through primary here in 1981. NAS Pensacola is also home to the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron – more commonly known as the Blue Angels – and home to the incredibly awesome Naval Aviation Museum.

The areas military importance didn’t begin in 1914 with the establishment of a flight school. It goes back much further and is important to the early history of the nation.

Spanish explorers discovered the strategic importance of Pensacola in early 1500s and established the first colony here in 1559. By 1698, Spain had built fort San Carlos de Austria. The fort changed hands a few times over the hundred years. It was besieged by native Indians in 1707 but not taken. The French took it 1719, and then British colonists took over in 1763 as part of a property exchange with France.

Spain sided with the American rebels during the Revolutionary War and recaptured the area and fort in 1781. They planned to stay for a while and by 1797 had completed San Carlos de Barrancas, a brick fortification. The British took San Carlos de Barrancas in the War of 1812 after the Spanish left it defenseless.

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Fort Barrancas on NAS Pensacola

The British subsequently abandoned the fortification. General Andrew Jackson found it in ruins in 1814 when he arrived with 4,000 troops. Jackson didn’t stay either. The Spanish returned to the site in 1817 and rebuilt Barrancas bigger and larger than it was before. That structure still stands today on NAS Pensacola property. Spain ceded the fort and all Western Florida to the United States in 1821. Jackson found himself in Pensacola again, this time as the territorial governor of Florida.

The area became a thriving shipbuilding community in 1825 with the opening of the Gulf Coast Navy Yard. This region is home to an abundance of live oaks that were used to build ships. This ultra-dense wood was used to build the USS Constitution, also known as Old Ironsides. No iron was used on the sides of Old Ironsides. The wood is so strong that cannon balls bounced off. The Naval Live Oaks Reservation near Gulf Breeze is a testament to this phenomenal resource. The land was purchased in 1828 by the U.S. government and is the only federal tree farm in existence.

The Civil war put Pensacola back into play in January 1861. Florida did not initially secede from the Union and confederate forces were moving in from the west. Fort Pickens was now the center of military defense for the area. It’s a massive fortification on the barrier island at the mouth of Pensacola Bay. Short on troops, Lieutenant Adam Slemmer spiked the cannons at Fort Barrancas to make them inoperable and consolidated his forces at Fort Pickens. That same day Florida seceded from the Union and Commodore James Armstrong surrendered the Navy Yard to the Confederacy.

Lieutenant Slemmer did not give into the confederates. He instead bombarded the mainland rendering the Navy Yard useless. A truce was put in place for a while, but in October 1861, Confederate forces unsuccessfully attacked Fort Pickens. Union forces seized Pensacola in the spring of 1862 and reinforced the fort. They held it until the end of the war.

The Navy closed the shipyard in 1911.  A hurricane in 1906 destroyed much of the shipyard and naval vessels in port as well as the nearby town of Woolsey where workers lived. Iron had also replaced live oak in shipbuilding by this time.

Pensacola had a resurrection in 1914 as the Pensacola Aeronautic Station. The navy recognized the importance of aircraft in naval warfare and established the base to train aviators. There were 38 naval aviators and 54 airplanes in Pensacola by the outbreak of WWI in 1916. Two years later, the base trained 1,000 aviators and housed hundreds of land based aircraft, seaplanes and balloons. During WWII, the based trained 1,100 aviators per month.

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NAS Pensacola in the 1940s

In June 1981, I arrived in Pensacola as a young Marine 2nd Lieutenant ready for initial flight training. After 18 months and a lot of hard work, Daria pinned on my wings of gold. Nearly 30 years later, Daria and I were privileged to pin those same set of wings on our son, Marine Captain “Nick” Ferri. It’s an honor for our family to be part of the rich heritage surrounding historic NAS Pensacola.

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