Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Bridge, A Hamburger, and Three Fat Guys on a Golf Course

Location: Heart of Haynesville RV Park, Mansfield, Louisiana
(click the pictures to enlarge)

I retired from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development after 31+ years of service. One of my jobs was that of a Project Engineer. That title is a little mis-leading. It should be Projects Engineer since they usually have at least a half dozen projects assigned to them.  One of those projects was to remove and replace the U.S. 84 Bridge over the Red River at Coushatta, Louisiana. During my time as a PE, I had about 25 +/- people assigned to me as inspectors on those projects.The inspectors were very good at their job and were trained in Concrete, Earthwork, Asphalt and Miscellaneous inspection. They were a great crew and for some unknown reason, the Department called crews like this, "gangs".  I guess similar to a "chain gang", "road gang". 

The U.S. 84 Bridge over the Red River at Coushatta

There are many memories of that bridge being built but very few pictures. Back then, pictures had to be developed and were very expensive if you took 100 a day like I sometimes do while exploring. One of the first items of work on the bridge was to determine how much load (weight) each steel "H" pile could hold after being driven in the ground. They have to hold the weight of the entire bridge plus whatever extra is added in for safety. The way to find that number on this project was to drive a cluster of piles in the ground, build a frame on a few of them and place a large horizontal steel beam connected to the cluster and going over, but not touching, the test pile that you're going to load. A large hydraulic ram is placed between that steel beam and the test pile. The ram will push down on the pile while it is being resisted by the pile cluster and horizontal beam. You then measure how much the test pile goes down under different hydraulic loads. Those hydraulic loads are then converted to weight to determine the length and number of piles to be used on the bridge. The hydraulic load is increased incrementally over about a 24 hour period with measurements taken before and after the load is placed. The pile will usually only move a fraction of an inch.  To take such small measurements, a short ruler is attached to a small mirror, then the mirror/ruler is attached to the test pile. In front of the mirror/ruler are two thin piano wires that are stretched tight and connected to something other than the pile being loaded. The first wire is very close, but not touching, the ruler and the second one is a few inches farther away. To take a measurement, you would look at the ruler and move your head up or down until you saw the reflection of only one piano wire (the two wires would be lined up one behind each other) and then you would read the ruler where the wire(s) crossed it. When the pile goes down under loading, the ruler/mirror attached to the pile will go down with it, but the wires would stay in the same place since they are not attached to the pile being measured. With this system, you can measure the movement of the pile to at least 1/32nd of an inch. 

The first pile to be measured was to be in the bottom of the river. A "coffer dam" has to be built before driving and measuring the pile. A coffer dam is built out of temporary interlocking steel sheet piles driven in a shape where they encircle the area where you are going to drive the permanent piles. Once you have encircled the area with the sheet piles and built a strong frame inside, you can now pump out the water to expose the river bottom. Once you dig out the mud at the bottom, you're ready to drive the test pile and load it up. The location of the test pile set-up was a few feet above the bottom of the river. The coffer dam is constantly leaking so water pumps are going all the time to prevent the coffer dam from flooding. It is loud and wet in the bottom of any coffer dam and this one was no exception. Once the loading of the test pile began, there would have to be a person from the bridge contractor to perform the test and one of my guys watching the pile for the entire time. Although I wasn't required to be there, I decided to take the midnight to noon shift. Lots "may" have been drawn to see who got what shift and I "may" have rigged the outcome of that drawing, but it's been so long ago, I "may" not remember. So, picture this clearly now. In the middle of the night, sitting in the bottom of a coffer dam, a few feet above the river bed, water leaking and spewing from almost every joint of the sheet piles, the constant sound of the water pumps and you have to measure the movement of a steel pile down to the 32nd of an inch. Aw, the life of a State-worker. Sometimes, we did things other than just lean on a shovel.

When my shift ended at noon, my replacement brought me a hamburger from a local burger place in town. I had never had one from there but it was great. It was the best burger I've ever had and I get one every chance I get when I'm in Coushatta around noon-time. I mean it, it is the best burger I've had in my entire 58 years of living. The place has been around for quite a while. It is not a sit-down restaurant. You order what you want and stand around until it is ready. There are a couple picnic tables to eat at, but most people eat it in their cars, or take it with them. Great place. It is a reminder to never, ever, judge a book by it's cover or in this case, the hamburger by the building. 

Bailey Burger place. :)

I got one of the Bailey burgers yesterday before playing a round of golf with two of the guys I worked with before retiring. One is retired and the other is still a few years away from retirement. Both reached positions that are the highest they could achieve. These guys were promoted based on the quality of their work and their character. I would trust both of them with anything I own and am proud to call them friends. It was a good day, thanks guys.

Steve Walker on the left, Andy Long on the right.

I'm not sure why both have a leg out of the cart. LOL

Beautiful day with some of the trees in their fall color.

No drought here.

We had the course almost all to ourselves. 

I was very lucky in my career to always have good people around me. Besides the dozens and dozens of inspectors, maintenance people, lab technicians, business people, trainers, designers, Engineers, surveyors, right-of-way people, traffic specialists, mechanics, electricians, sign specialists and others that I worked with, I was extremely lucky to have three ladies that took care of me. They were the Administrative Assistants that worked with me over my career. Tena Chadwick, Joy Fields and Pat Sanchez were the three ladies that told me where to be and when to be there. All three were excellent at their jobs and were liked and respected by all the people that worked with us. They are three more friends of mine. Because we are best friends, Pat and I retired on the same day. We worked together probably 15 years or so before retiring. I like retirement, but sure miss the people. 

Ya'll take care of each other. Cya down the road.   

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Getting Things Ready to Roll and an Old Border

Location: Hearth of Haynesville RV Park, Mansfield, Louisiana
(Click pictures to enlarge)

If I clicked all of the buttons correctly, the look of the blog should have changed. Let me know if it's good or bad. You will also notice a "tab" on the left below the picture of Freedom and Liberty that says "Campgrounds". That page contains pictures of each campsite I've lived in since getting Liberty. It took awhile to find the pictures and confirm the dates, but I think it was worth it. As I was doing it, memories of each site would come back. As I've said in previous posts, it is hard for me to remember each and every place because I was moving so fast. The memories tended to blur together until I separated them with these individual pictures. There is room for many more page tabs so if you have any suggestions for the contents of a tab, leave a comment about it. 

I've been in the same campground for 3 weeks.This is the longest time I've stayed in one place since April of this year. Every time Freedom and I leave to go somewhere, Liberty hollers out in a sad voice (that only I can hear :), "hey, I have wheels too." The planned date of pulling out will be after Thanksgiving. One of the recent things I've done in preparation of traveling is to get Freedom serviced. I took her back to the dealership where I bought her and they checked her over, changed the oil, and rotated the tires. They said everything looked good, but I've gotten cynical over the years and will take a wait-and-see attitude. 

While I was in Logansport, I went by the old boundary marker. It is suppose to be the only old international boundary marker remaining within the continental United States. It is a marker for the line between the old Republic of Texas and the United States. It dates back to when Texas became an independent nation in 1836. It's just a concrete marker, but signifies a lot more than that.

The following picture is of a visitor I had while I was emptying my tanks. I hadn't seen anything exactly like it before. It had wings but didn't attempt to fly and was walking around like it was drunk. It resembles a red wasp but I hadn't seen one that long before or with blueish wings. When I cropped the picture, I left in a piece of my water hose for size reference. Maybe a queen wasp? I don't know, but it isn't around any more and I hope none of it's relatives are either. 

Ya'll take care of each other. Cya down the road.    

Monday, November 17, 2014

Some Pre-trip Preparations and a Lunch Date

Location: Heart of Haynesville RV Park
(click pictures to enlarge)

One of the reasons I came here for was to vote in last weeks election. I'm very satisfied with the way the election turned out both locally and nationwide. I feel like it was a crucial day for our country, time will tell. Another reason was to visit with my family doctor. He is a good doctor that keeps up to date on all of the latest medical things. He has doctored all of my family while the kids were growing up. He is the type that will visit with you and is never in a rush. I started seeing him about 6 or 7 years ago. I rarely get sick and except for a time when we thought I broke my arm, I never had an appointment with him for myself. But he and I knew each other because when my kids were growing up and any of them went to the doctor or hospital, we usually all went. There were times when one of the kids would be in the hospital bed and the rest of us would be sleeping in the chair, on the couch or on a pallet. It was just something we did so nobody would be alone. 

There are some other things I still need to do before heading west but the main thing is Thanksgiving dinner with the family.

The following are some pictures from a lunch date I had with my two girls:
This is where Olivia threatened me with her fist if I didn't give her some chips and dip.

This is after she had her lunch of baby food. I wonder if she will associate the taste of that baby food with the smell of the mexican restaurant?

Mom, he wants to take more pictures!

Like Mommy, like daugther

Mommy, that crazy old man is still taking pictures of me.

Ya'll take care of each other. Cya down the road.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Back to School and Back in Mansfield

Location: Heart of Haynesville RV Campground
(click picture to enlarge)

It's been a while since I've posted. Sorry, but when I get back to my hometown, it is hard to post about things because the things I do here seems like "normal" things instead of "exploring and stuff". I wasn't sure about using the word "hometown". Although I have lived in Mansfield, Louisiana and this part of Northwest Louisiana for almost 32 years, the word hometown is hard for me to say. I grew up while moving around this great country and so I got used to answering the question, "where are you from" with an answer like "nowhere and everywhere". Oh well, I guess everybody has to be from somewhere. Or as in a quote from a movie, "no matter where you go, there you are". Add a comment if you know the movie. :)

I arrived back at the Heart of Haynesville RV Campground on Sunday, November 2nd. I stayed here for a couple weeks last month and although it is a bare-boned campground, it is a convenient location for me to do the things I needed to do. As you know, I don't need or use a lot of the special things some campgrounds have and promote. I usually prefer state parks with at least electric at the campsite. Water and sewer connections at the campsite is nice but not necessary since I usually only stay 3 to 4 days and my tanks will last that long. I do have full hookups at this campground since I knew I would be staying a week or so. This campground is more like a work camp than an RV campground. There are no picnic tables or firerings. However, it does serve my purposes for now.

Besides Thanksgiving with the family and seeing friends, there are several things I need to do before getting back on the road. One of the most important things was to visit with my daughters 3rd grade class at Carrie Martin Elementary School in Plain Dealing, Louisiana. I guess I was her "show and tell", LOL. 

The town of Plain Dealing is located in north Bossier Parish; that would be "county" for those non-Louisiana readers :). The Caddo Indians had been in the area for generations until they decided on their own or were forced by the non-Indians to leave. The reason for leaving depends on who is telling the tale. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. After most of the Indians moved farther west into what would become Texas; a family named Gilmer, from Virginia, settled in the area around 1839 and started a large plantation, named The Plain Dealing Plantation. The name came from their old plantation back in Virginia. In 1888, the Railroad came through town and a train depot was established. It was an important railroad stop that was used to haul the local crops and livestock to market. The depot was named Guernshein after one of the large stockholders in the Railroad. That name didn't last long before it was changed to Plain Dealing. The town was incorporated two years later in 1890 as Plain Dealing instead of Guernshein. One interesting fact about Plain Dealing is that it holds the record as the hottest recorded temperature in Louisiana with 114 degrees on August 10, 1936. Some of those type of records are questionable, but it's possible it may be true. 

The class has been following my blog and if any readers have noticed comments from or to Mrs. McMillan's Class, that's them. I was invited to visit their class to see if they had any questions. Yes, they had a few questions, about 20 or so. I was glad to answer any and all questions and would have stayed longer but they had other classes to attend.  It is a great class with many very smart questions. Some of the Parish Supervisors were visiting the class a while back and noticed the map on the wall. My daughter, who thought up the idea, explained about the kids following the blog and they thought it was a great idea. They said it was like a "virtual field trip" for the kids. It was a good visit and a good day. 

This is the map on their wall where they have been tracking my stops. They will have to come up with another idea of tracking or get another map because my next trip will be out west and the map will be getting a little crowded.

My daughter, Brittanie, and her 3rd grade class. Each child has a distinct personality and you can see it in the way each child holds themselves for this picture.  

A picture of Brittanie and the crazy ole traveler that stopped by for a great visit with her inquisitive class.

On my way back to Mansfield, I was having withdrawal from not being around any water source for a while so I stopped by the Red River boat ramp next to the Shreveport-Barksdale Bridge. 

A couple of 2-legged benches near the river. A nice place to spend some time just sitting and watching the river go by. 

I also brought each of the kids a small bag of Cheetos in response to one of my posts back in August which they questioned my healthy eating habits LOL.
Grilled zucchini with a "dairy" product in the background.  

Ya'll take care of each other. Cya down the road.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Travel Statistics, a few Pictures and some Thoughts

Location: South Toledo Bend State Park; Near Hornbeck, Louisiana
(click pictures to enlarge)

Today was mostly a lazy day. I drove around the area a little bit looking to see what could be seen. I'm glad I did because the road I had planned to take tomorrow was in bad shape so I'll be taking another road even though it is a little longer. Talk about bad roads, the following picture is on the road leading into the State Park. I can tell it's been like this for a while. It is located in a curve on a hill so as I leave I'll be hoping no one is come down the hill very fast because I'll be in their lane. Both areas have grown by about 20 square yards just since I've been here. It is shameful. 
This is the bad area on the hill. I'm going downhill in this picture but tomorrow I will be climbing this hill in grandma gear while traveling in the opposite lane. You can see the next bad area at the bottom of the hill in this picture.

This one is rough but not on a hill. I'll ease through it tomorrow. Notice the State Park sign on the left. 


I figured up my travel statistics today. It has been a while since I figured them so here they are:

It's been 29 weeks since I hit the road, I've traveled a total of 15,771 miles with 8,725 miles towing and 7,046 exploring. I have been through 24 states and have stayed in 62 different campgrounds. Of those 62 campgrounds, 32 were state parks or parks owned by some type of government. On average, I traveled (towing) about 143 miles between campgrounds and 114 miles while exploring the area. I moved to a different campground about every 3 to 3 1/2 days. 

That is a lot of stuff packed into a very short period of time.

I've seen the mist rising from the valleys as I watched down from above while driving the Blue Ridge Parkway through the Smoky Mountains. Freedom and I pulled Liberty across the rough cut Alleghenies and Appalachian where you could see the coal almost pouring out of the mountain sides. I saw the heavily wooded Adirondack Mountains all the way from New York to Maine.  

I've seen the Atlantic Ocean from the Outer Banks of North Carolina all the way up the coast to Acadia National Park where you can see the first sunrise in America and some beautiful sunsets over the bays.

I've seen Civil War battlefields where the south won some and the north some others, but on all of them, thousands of people gave their lives for what they believed. I saw the place where General Lee surrendered to General Grant that ended that war. You can feel the vibrations from both the battlefields and Appomattox. Those vibrations are coming from hallowed ground.

I've seen all 5 Great Lakes and will always remember the awe I felt as I looked on the bright blue waters of Lake Huron, the pictured rocks of Lake Superior, the storms coming in over Lake Michigan, the peaceful Lake Erie and the sunsets over Lake Ontario.

I've seen where the Mississippi River begins it's 3 month journey to the Gulf of Mexico, where it passes through a dam my father worked on in Minneapolis and I watched it pass by from at the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. I watched towboats pushing their tows up and down the river at all hours of the night and day. I remember sitting outside in the dark night and hearing the towboat coming up the river with only its running lights on. From a distance you can barely see them when all of a sudden they turn on their bright spotlight in search of the next navigation buoy. Once found, they turn the spotlight off and everything is pitch black again. It is surreal and peaceful all rolled up into one.

I've seen the Garden of Stones they call Arlington Cemetery and that sight will stay with me forever. I've seen the soldiers that have dedicated themselves to guarding the Tombs of the Unknown. Those soldiers who do it day and night, rain or shine, cold or hot. Arlington is a special place, a somber place.  

I've seen houses and towns that I lived in as a child. Memories would flood back as I gazed upon places I hadn't seen in many decades. Places that my children and their children's children will never see except in some of the pictures I've put in this blog. I've written a few stories in the blog that even my children have never heard. Stories and memories that will be lost to time after my sister and I leave this world because we are the last of our branch of the Goza's and Holts. 

As much as I've seen, it is only a small fraction of the things yet to be seen. I hope and pray I can continue for a long, long time.

Ya'll take care of each other. Cya down the road.