The month of May got off to an exciting start – we (both of us, Shelley, the truck and our home on wheels) hopped on the ferry from Lewes, Delaware to Cape May, New Jersey. The Cape May-Lewes Ferry doesn’t require reservations but they are recommended on weekends and during summer. We were leaving on a Monday and decided we’d take our chances – if we had to wait for the next ferry, no big deal – we’re retired!
A word about the ferry and our ride…The Cape May-Lewes Ferry has been in operation since July 1964. Since then more than 11 million vehicles and 34 million passengers have made the crossing, with up to 100 cars and 1000 passengers boarding the ferry on just one of many crossings made between Delaware and New Jersey every day. The ferry cuts miles from driving up the Atlantic Coast by letting its operators do the driving over the 17-mile and 80 minute crossing of the Delaware Bay. There is a 60’ length limit--we had about eight feet to spare with our combined truck and RV length. After driving in and paying our fare at the ticket booth, we were directed to one of about fifteen lanes to park and wait. Once the incoming ferry has docked and all vehicles are off-loaded, the ferry personnel begin the orderly loading of all waiting vehicles. Large trucks and RVs are loaded in one of the center three lanes on the ferry and cars are parked either there or on any of the four outside lanes, two starboard and two on the port side.
Once parked, passengers are free to leave their vehicles and join others on the upper deck, either inside with windows overlooking the bay, with comfortable seating in the lounge with a snack bar and gift shop nearby, as well as restrooms, or on the outer decks. The day we crossed was extremely windy so we opted to stay indoors. The ferry was doing a lot of rocking and rolling because of the wind and wave conditions so it was much more comfortable inside. Meanwhile, Shelley remained safely secured in the truck. Larry checked on her halfway through the crossing and she was sound asleep, taking all the rocking and rolling in stride. She really is a good traveling companion.
After our exciting ride, we disembarked at Cape May and continued heading north, picking up the Garden State Parkway, a toll road with reasonable tolls for our truck/RV setup. We arrived at Maple Lakes Campground in Jackson, New Jersey, around 4 pm. Our original plan was to stay there for a week, tour nearby Philadelphia, and then continue on north. As we were checking in, we didn’t get a warm fuzzy feeling about the campground and decided to stay just three days and visit Philadelphia another time. Maple Lakes could be nice if it was kept up but it is the dumpiest place we’ve ever been in.
We did a little sightseeing while in the area…The Forest Resource Education Center (FREC) provides conservation education programs promoting tree benefits and forest stewardship to groups of all ages. 45 of the 660 acres in Jackson are utilized by the New Jersey Forest Tree Nursery to grow seedlings for reforestation across New Jersey. The nursery, opened in 1982, was once the site of a quail farm. Concrete buildings on the property are former quail coops. The nursery grows 300,000 seedlings annually for reforestation just for New Jersey. The nursery manager lives in a house built in the early 1700s – he said the foundation was starting to crack from all the sand and gravel trucks going by on the main road close to the house. Back in the 1700s, the road was dirt and there was very little traffic.
The FREC also has seven miles of trails for hiking and nature watching and an interpretive center free of charge to schools, youth organizations and civic groups. In the course of walking one of the trails, we saw several men climbing trees. They were attending a tree climbing school, two days per week for five weeks, learning safety, what knots to use and how to tie them, how to climb, prune and cut trees. There is a specific stand of trees being used for training. From our perspective, they were pretty high up in those trees.
Afterwards, we found St. Vladimir’s Russian Orthodox Church – absolutely beautiful. We missed seeing the interior by one day. You can take a tour on Tuesdays, as well as browse through the flea market on the premises--sounds like it would have been interesting.
Time to hit the road again, destination Branch Brook Campground in Thomaston, Connecticut. Traffic on the Garden State and the New York State Thruway was picking up – we were driving through some very populated areas. We had sticker shock crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge - $20.25 toll for us – ouch! We arrived at Branch Brook mid-day and were glad to be out of traffic and back in familiar territory.
After a day or so to get settled in and get laundry and errands caught up, we started visiting both our families. Our first Sunday there, we had a cookout at nearby Black Rock State Park at which Lucille’s brother Ray and his family joined us. There is plenty of room for the girls to fly their kites and enjoy the sunny day as the adults visited. On Mother’s Day, we planned to have another cookout there, this time with Larry’s mother, brothers and their families, but Mother Nature had her own plans that day—rain and lots of it so it was not only damp but the picnic area soggy. Sister-in-law Bonnie graciously allowed us to use their home for the cookout. Bonnie comes from a large family and is used to hosting large crowds—twenty members of the Tillotson family met there that day.
In between family visits, we did a little sightseeing. The New England Carousel Museum in Bristol houses one of the largest collections of antique carousel pieces in the country. Signage is well laid out for a self-guided tour of the Golden Age of the Carousel and docents are available for questions. One of the docents cranked up the Wurlitzer organ that played the music for carousels. It was fascinating to see it in operation. Formerly powered by pumping the large bellows by hand, today electricity activates the bellows that provide air first to a master hose that then powers the drum on which the music paper roll turns. When the metal roller senses a perforated hole in the paper roll, a smaller hose powers the appropriate instrument playing one or several notes. We watched the bass drum play when the roller reached a particular strip of holes.
Upstairs is the shop in which carousel pieces are restored to their original beauty. Factoid: artisans intricately carved only one side of the horse or other carousel animal – the side facing out as the carousel turns. Not many people would see their craftsmanship if it was facing inside so that section was left for artisans-in-training to carve. Another factoid: how many remember the ring that you could try to collect as the carousel went round and round? That practice was originally started centuries ago to help knights in shining armor train by developing their skills with a lance while riding a horse. Interesting. And finally, did you know that since the inside circle of the carousel is smaller in circumference than the outside, the inside horses are smaller and closer together.
Also found upstairs is the recently added Museum of Fire History, containing hundreds of pieces of fire fighting equipment and clothing, all from the collection of just one individual. We trailed behind a school’s field trip and we were jealous. They got to ring the bells and sound the sirens.
After enjoying a wonderful lunch at the locally recommended Two Brothers Pizza, we visited the American Clock and Watch Museum, also located in Bristol. It is difficult to describe all the different varieties of clocks, watches, and timepieces we saw there – what a fabulous collection, mostly from Connecticut and New England but also from other clock manufacturers within the United States as well as Europe. We spent a couple of hours viewing the many exhibits located in several rooms and two levels. The first exhibit tells you all about Connecticut clock making and its part in the Industrial Revolution.
Prior to 1800, almost every product was made by hand. A master clockmaker produced about twenty clocks per year. It was labor-intensive to make every component of the clock movement and engrave each dial by hand. The high costs associated with this meant that only the wealthy could afford to purchase clocks. (Fast forward to today and how inexpensive a digital watch is – less than $5!) In 1793, apprentice Eli Terry relocated to Plymouth with a dream that one day everyone could own a clock, not just the wealthy. Clockmakers began producing clocks with wooden gears to make the final product more affordable. Since wood was a plentiful resource, Eli saw an opportunity in these wood components as a way to realize his dream. He improved the designs and standardized the components so that they were interchangeable. By combining these advancements with the available waterpower, he increased production to about 200 clocks per year.
Enter two Waterbury businessmen – Levi and Edward Porter, who approached Eli Terry with a proposition that they would provide financial support and promised to buy all his clocks if Eli could produce 4,000 clocks in three years. This proved to be a pivotal event in the mass-production of clocks.
Year one found Eli Terry and his assistants Silas Hoadley and Seth Thomas developing the water-powered machinery, patterns and gauges necessary to fashion the gears in quantity. Year Two, he and his employees produced 1,000 clocks; during the final year of the contract, they produced the remaining 3,000 clocks. By completing this contract, they not only changed the clock industry but also influenced the way that many other American goods were produced.
Cottage industries were started for making decorative features such as hand-painted dials and stenciling. Increased demand led to the need to outsource the production of many of the clock components – such as springs and movements parts. Employment opportunities were abundant. The growth of the clock industry also influenced the development of companies that utilized clock works and timing devices in the manufacture of their own products. From timing devices for artillery to simple wind-up toys for children, the industry’s impact and influence became apparent. Amazing, isn’t it, that a clock played such an important role in the Industrial Revolution.
There are hundreds of clocks on display there – rooms full of grandfather clocks, wall clocks, mantel clocks, watches, time keeping devices, clock tower mechanisms. One of the grandfather clocks had mercury in its weights, possibly because it was a heavy material. We were fascinated watching a fully operating clock tower with the gears easily visible, watching the individual gears slowly turning as the second hand ticked away.
The carousel and clock museums are well worth the price of admission. Both are an enjoyable, educational and entertaining way to spend a day.
One afternoon we visited the Lock Museum of America in Terryville. Located across the street from the former site of the Eagle Lock Company, this small two-story building houses more than 23,000 kinds of locks – vault locks, door locks, padlocks, handcuffs and early time locks as well as a cannon ball safe (so named because of its shape). Locks and keys manufactured by nearly every lock company in the United States are on display in some of the rooms. One lock would squirt tear gas if the proper combination wasn’t chosen. There was also a mechanical display of a cutout lock mechanism with a key being inserted and rotated so we could see how the tumblers were activated by the key’s configuration. (The museum was interesting but after the first thousand or so locks, our eyes were starting to glaze over.)
One highlight of our stay in Thomaston was reconnecting with longtime friends, Louie and Anne. We became friends during high school and would often double date, going to local dances and drive-in theatres. Somewhere along the years, we lost contact. With help from Lucille’s brother Roger, who was part of the same gang hanging around together, we made contact with them before we got to Thomaston, making plans to visit with them during our stay there. We joined them for dinner at their home one evening and were delighted to spend time visiting, catching up on over 20 years of our respective lives. Louie’s dream is to some day buy a fifth wheel and hit the road, at least part time, so the next night, they came to visit with us at our home on wheels. We thoroughly enjoyed seeing them and have made plans to visit with them again at their camp in Massachusetts, not too far from where we’ll be workamping for the summer.
Another highlight was seeing niece Ashley’s school band at their concert at the newly reopened and renovated Palace Theater in Waterbury. Ashley attends the Waterbury Area Magnet School (WAM), adjacent to the theater. The evening was WAM’s last musical event for the school year and consisted of three parts. The first part was their orchestra, with the string quartet performing first. The full orchestra then performed another piece and the last selection was a very spirited contemporary piece of music with an electric bass guitar, electric violin and drums. It was fascinating to watch the young man whom we’d earlier seen playing his traditional violin in the string quartet bring the house down when he played the electric violin – what a transformation.
The second part of the concert was the choral group who were a delight to hear, especially when one of the members would sing a short solo piece. There was one young man that had an absolutely beautiful voice. We were lucky to spot him leaving the theater at the end of the evening and told him how much we had enjoyed hearing him sing. His mother was nearby and was beaming.
Last was Ashley’s group – the band. They played five very different pieces, all done well but they rocked the house with Oyo Como Va – a great finale to a wonderful evening listening to some very talented kids - 6th graders up to freshmen.
The time had arrived for us to leave Thomaston and report for work at Lone Oak Campsites in East Canaan. We arrived on a Monday, getting set up on our campsite just before the rains came in. We met with George, our team leader, the following morning, completing necessary paperwork and learning that our workweek would be from Wednesday through Sunday, giving us Mondays and Tuesdays off. We just get to work and already have time off-wotta deal! We took advantage of this free time to pick up a few groceries and get a little familiar with the nearby towns of East Canaan and Canaan. We stopped at Freund’s Farm Market and bought an already producing tomato plant that we’ve transplanted to a larger pot in hopes of having homegrown tomatoes later in the summer. We also bought a pretty hanging basket loaded with red, white and blue verbena that we’ve placed in our ‘front yard’ on a wrought iron holder we’ve been carrying around and never used since December 2003. Lucille knew that one day there’d be a use for it!
Lone Oak Campsites celebrates its 42nd birthday this year. This is a well-thought out family-oriented resort. If you have time, check out their website for more information and pictures. In 1964, Abraham (Bucky) and Rosalie Brown converted acres of dairy farming land to a campground after having read an article that farmers were developing some of their land as campgrounds as extra income. (To hear son Peter tell it – Bucky is such a people person, he couldn’t get rid of the cows fast enough!) Bucky and Rosalie ran the campground until 1993 when they sold it to sons Peter and Barry in 1993. Peter, Barry (and Barry’s wife Jacolyn) are very involved in the day-to-day operation of the campground with a staff of over 70 people during season and a skeleton staff the rest of the year.
Lone Oak is open from mid-April to the weekend after Columbus Day in October. Their busiest season, though, is from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Several of the Workampers will be here for the entire season – because of prior commitments, we opted to come in mid-May and leave after Labor Day. There are fifteen Workampers here this year, with eight rigs and a few sites for more. (Lone Oak has had Workampers here for about ten years but this is the largest crew so far.) A section of the campground is designated specifically for Workamper sites – we’ve all got 50 amp service, full hookups, cable TV, and free wifi at our sites. Campfires are permitted and fire rings provided. Gardens are fine – we’ve spotted two so far.
There are 500 campsites – about half in the woods and the others in a grassy meadow. Seasonal campers lease about 300 of the campsites, both in the woods and the meadow, with their campers or park models staying on site year round but only occupied when Lone Oak is open. Of the remaining available rentable sites, about 75 or so are here as part of camping specials during the less-busy shoulder seasons. Spring Fling runs from opening day till Memorial Day; Fall Finale from Labor Day to closing in October. Recreational vehicles or tents remain on site and for one set fee for either of the two specials. Campers can then come in on any and all weekends within the specials’ period. Weekday stays must be paid. These specials appear to be very popular based on the number of unoccupied campers we see during the week.
Every weekend Lone Oak has a special theme, whether it’s holiday-related or made up. A sampling of some of the themed weekends: Mothers’ Day, Jurassic Park, Tag Sale, July 4th, Christmas in August and Birthday Celebration. Activities abound every weekend: exercise classes, flag football, pool tournaments, games, music for adults in the lounge, DJ music for younger people in the rec hall, karaoke, bingo, face painting, softball, dodgeball, basketball games, water balloon toss, scavenger hunt, performing magicians – and this was just the first weekend we were there. There is something for everyone and all ages. There are two heated swimming pools, a hot tub, two private fishing ponds and the Blackberry River that can be fished. If you can’t find something to your liking, chances are they haven’t thought about it yet – they welcome suggestions.
All the Workampers were invited to a get-to-know-you luncheon one weekday. The Browns were there as were the team leaders of the various departments. We heard a little history of Lone Oak and were introduced to the team leaders and their responsibilities. After our interview last October with Jacolyn, Barry and Peter, we left with a good feeling about them as well as their campground. As the Workampers were introducing themselves and in some cases, talking about other Workamping jobs they had had, our good feelings were justified. We’re looking forward to a busy and interesting summer.
This summer’s Workamping crew consists of: Ron and Nancy; Pete and Carrie; Lisa and Jerry; John and Maureen; mother-daughter team Mary and Kathleen; Rick and LaVerne; and solo RVer Mauvis (who is still in awe that anyone would want to hire seniors). Lisa is the campground’s landscaper (quite talented judging by the beautiful flowers throughout the park); Ron, Pete and Rick work both maintenance and security; Carrie, LaVerne and Lucille work in the office; Nancy, Maureen and Mauvis work in the store (now that’s a busy and hectic environment during weekends); Mary and Kathleen have gotten kudos on their housekeeping skills throughout the park; John and Jerry work security; and Larry works maintenance and RV repairs, as does Rick.
The Memorial Day holiday weekend was quite busy for the entire staff and we’re happy to say – we’ve survived working our first holiday at a very busy family resort. Close to 200 families checked in, most of them arriving late Friday afternoon and early evening. Lucille worked that evening and got lots of experience checking in campers. Between routine maintenance tasks, Larry was kept busy helping the onsite RV Service Technician with repairs requested by both seasonal and weekend campers.
While we are here this summer, if our work schedules permit, we’ll attend services at the nearby First Congregational Church in East Canaan. It’s a beautiful old building, built around 1822. The pipes on the organ are stenciled and handpainted and have been restored to their original colors and designs – a work of art by themselves. The church members we’ve met so far are very friendly. In fact, just a couple of days after attending our first service, we received a welcome card from the pastor. The weekly service is also a great place to hear about local happenings, like the Memorial Day parade in Canaan.
We are typically going to be off Mondays and Tuesdays and we’ve already taken advantage of the free time to see some of the area. After hearing about the parade, we just had to attend – it had been a while since we’ve been somewhere that celebrates Memorial Day with a hometown parade. Canaan is a small town, so the parade was also small but very meaningful. We lucked out and found a spot from which to watch the parade that was right at the parade’s end – the war memorials. A few speeches were made, the band played patriotic tunes and the finale was a twenty-one gun salute.
Nearby is the Beckley Furnace, the centerpiece of the Iron Heritage Trail found in northwestern Connecticut, southwestern Massachusetts and eastern New York. This area comprises the Salisbury Iron District and includes blast furnaces, lime kilns, forgers, iron mining, and mill sites. For 190 years, this area was a major producer of iron. Eighty percent of the cannon made in the colonies during the war with Great Britain were produced in this district. Due to the growth of domestic and international railroad systems following the Civil War, the iron works started producing railroad car wheels.
Why this area? Several key ingredients are required and the natural resources needed to produce pig iron were abundant here – wood for the smoldering of charcoal fuel, lime as a flux from local carbonate bedrock, and flowing water to power the furnace blast. Charcoal provided the high temperature needed to reduce iron ore to molten iron. Blast furnaces were loaded at the top where workers deposited cartloads of ore, lime and charcoal into the upper shaft – a process taking place about every twenty-five minutes.
The Beckley Furnace is now a designated Connecticut Industrial Monument. It was originally put into blast in 1847, operated until the winter of 1918-1919 and yielded an average of eleven tons per day, operating year round, twenty-four hours a day. At this site, you can see the restored forty-foot furnace, giant slag piles (now being taken over by Mother Nature), salamanders (chunks of iron weighing tons that resulted from seepages in the furnace), and the only remaining furnace turbine in the district. The Blackberry River flowing nearby provided the waterpower for the turbine.
Just down the road from the furnace is the Land of Nod Vineyard and Winery, family owned and operated and offering wine tastings on weekends and holidays. Among their varieties, they have two wonderful fruit wines – a raspberry that is good by itself or accompanying a meal and new this year, a blueberry/raspberry – a sweet dessert wine. Of course, we bought some and are anxious to try them both.
Lone Oak is close to Massachusetts so one day we took a ride to Pittsfield and back for a WalMart fix, as well as to fuel up. Diesel prices were on the average 15-25 cents a gallon cheaper there than here in the Canaan area, a significant savings and worth the trip. Shortly after crossing the state line, we stopped at a reconstructed covered bridge. The marble on one of the pillar foundations is the same marble, quarried from nearby Sheffield, which is found on the Washington Monument – what a neat factoid to discover!
In the short time that we’ve been here, we’ve visited with fellow Workampers at a couple of campfires, getting to know each other better. We all have different work schedules and other than the orientation meeting, we probably won’t often be free all at the same time. We managed to rustle up six couples to have dinner at Kati O’Casey’s American Bistro in Canaan celebrating two recent wedding anniversaries – our 35th as well as Rick and LaVerne’s 12th. The company was great and meal wonderful, a little pricey to do often – but hey-- how often do you celebrate 35 years of marriage! What a great way to end the month.
Coming up: in the area for the rest of the summer – check back to read about our travels, experiences and adventures.