|That's it, just ahead. The Ohio River surrounds it.|
|The Island Bell - waiting for final passenger boarding call - me.|
The modern day town of Parkersburg, West Virginia is the jumping off point in our time machine visitation. Specifically, dock where the stern-wheeled “Island Belle” picks up supplies and passengers. Although the ship appears to be a coal or wood burner from the past, it is really a modern diesel-powered ship. A round-trip ticket costs $9.00 per adult. However, as I stepped onto the gangplank wearing a pair of Levi’s, city hiking shoes, boonie hat and photographer’s vest loaded with my notepad, pens, extra memory cards, short lens with my Nikon 80~200 f/2.8 attached to my Nikon D2x, I still couldn’t help but mentally visualize a scene from the old movies of the riverboat days or a page from Mark Twain. The river ways were the Interstate Highway system of those days.
|Approaching the landing took only Captain's skill as swift current wanted to push us downstream.|
I couldn’t wait to start taking photos, but I needed a subject or two. I had but a few images so far, but wanted lots more. Always take more than you need, is my photography motto. Some you will want to delete, some you can improve upon in post editing and some will be just great as is, while others will remain simply snapshots. It doesn’t matter. I’m not doing it for the money, but for future memories and maybe someone’s education along the way.
My own pioneer instincts told me to sniff the air for the smell of burning wood. Ah, over to the left is where I would find the encampments. At the landing, I walked up the dirt and gravel road and made way for the camps of the mountain men. I saw these two beautiful horses pulling this wagon of school children up rise in the road at a pretty fast pace so that they could make it to the top and give the kids a thrill, I guess.
|Horse-drawn wagon rides were popular for the visiting school kids on a field trip.|
Of course, this was a Friday and many folks had jobs and paychecks to earn back in the 21st Century. Maybe the constant threat of forecast rain over the course of the weekend kept the campers at home. At the moment, the weather was perfect – just perfect.
I had come prepared to spend the entire weekend there if things worked out. At the moment, I was a bit disappointed by the turnout, but determined to make the best of it all. Not having that many subjects, I still did my best to capture the flavor of the event. I still had a good time.
|The Gunsmith's camp. Living the reality of those times.|
My first stop of interest was at the camp of a gunsmith. This gentleman actually hand-crafted flintlock guns in his shop at home using the methods of the pioneer times – no power tools unless the power was man-power.
|Gunsmith discusses craftsmanship and the art of pioneer gun making.|
He seemed to be a quiet and deliberate man very committed to his craft and as any craftsman should be, proud of his work. His desire to share this with others is a true testament of his character. I’m sure you’ve heard it 1,000 times, but in this case its true. They just don’t make ‘em like that any more.
|Powder horn and lead-ball pouch always at the ready for defense or game.|
I couldn’t take my eyes off of one of his pieces. Of course, he had hand-made a reproduction of a flintlock rifle that could have been carried in the Revolutionary War against England. It was a beautiful piece, but THIS one could have actually been there.
|This flintlock rifle could have been carried in America's Revolutionary War. It carries the date 1762.|
I had to move along. I didn’t want to monopolize this kind man’s time and there was much left to see.
Next I wondered into the campsite of a woodworker and his family who had been coming here for many years and had the souvenir medals given by the organizers to show for it. As he carved faces into pieces of wood with his pocket knife, his wife and young son strung trade beads. This was cool that the entire family was there to represent that not just the men-folk traveled West in those days. Every family member had a job to do or chores to do to help the family to survive. Fathers would teach their sons and mothers would teach their daughters. There were definite roles to be performed and as today, there were always exceptions as there were no rules or laws out in the wilderness.
Drifting along at a snail’s pace, savoring the aromas of hardwood fires mixed with cool off shore river breezes, I stopped to admire a huge trap large enough to bag a bear – and so it was, as I was later informed. Although it had been permanently rigged to never slam shut on some unsuspecting young-un, it was impressive enough. As I bent down to examine it closely, it’s owner walked over with a big grin on his face. ”Ya like that? Do ya?”
|Mountain man poses at his abode with rifle and walking stick nearby.|
“I had to fix it so that it would never close. I couldn’t actually display it otherwise.” I could see on the bottom where he had a piece welded on, but otherwise it looked ready to go.
We talked a long time about the today’s times relative to say the 1830’s and why so many decorations on his hat. He was surprised at that question since I wore many pins on my boonie hat from my visit to the 25th Anniversary of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. with a group of veterans.
He just said, ”They’re memories.” As he pointed them out one by one and told each one’s short story I snapped a photo. The four of clubs had a bullet hole in it, but not in his hat. This story turned out to be a mountain man’s marksmanship challenge with a muzzle loader.
I could have talked with him all day. As it turns out, he’s a member of a local muzzle-loaders club not 25 miles from where I live. I’d seriously like to bump into him again. Very interesting, knowledgeable and fun to hang out with that day.
As the skies started to darken over and the wind picked up carrying a slight chill, as one mountain man to another, there was a storm front moving in. Well, it was predicted by 21st Century experts. I guess they have to be right sometimes. I looked up at the skies, then looked for shelter somewhere – just in case – but I still had some time, but not much.
By now, some of you are curious about how the rich people lived and why this place was called Blennerhassett Island. It was because of some politically connected rich guy who made a fortune, bought the island, set up his little empire away from the poor people and their impoverished ways. He later got into some legal trouble, was exonerated, but never regained his fortunes and died somewhere around New Orleans, broke. The local historical society located the original plans for the house and archaeology departments of local universities located key points of the original foundation. Money was raised and the house was actually built on the mainland, then moved by river barge and set-up in it’s current location – for the tourists.
|The Blennerhassett Mansion - rebuilt from original plans on reconstructed on original foundation remnants.|
The wind began to seriously blow, flags were flying straight out and darker and darker the skies became.
|Storm's a-comin' and it won't be long.|
As we all rushed for the last boat back to port for the day, visiting time ended, the leading edge of bad weather began to announce itself by huge water droplets banging down on bare heads and sun hats. This could get ugly in a hurry. It was a good thing theIsland Belle had an enclosed salon which served soft drinks and snacks. I’m sure it was the only allure for the kids on the boat who would have rather played in the rain.
It was really coming down hard now as I protected my camera valuables underneath my photographer’s vest even as I crowded inside with the school kids. Good cameras can withstand a lot of abuse from temperature, dust and wind, but rain isn’t one of them.
|The National Ensign always flies on a good ship, even in bad weather.|
|The pouring rain made music on the Ohio River.|
The rest of the day was sadly, pretty normal. We docked, slowly walked down the gangplank back into the 21st Century to our waiting modern automobiles with air conditioning, power steering, brakes, and cruise control – finally back to our real world. Somehow, having visited the past – for only that short time in relative terms – I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I had actually been there all along. (almost)
|The village ducks. God love them all.|
Another great day-trip .. a one-tank day trip. Until next time ..