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The Heartland

I’m thrilled to be in Whiteside County, Illinois, camped directly on the Mississippi River.  After years of seeing the local place names on maps and in historical documents about my ancestors, I’m finally actually seeing the landscape here and visiting my ancestors’ graves.  That’s been the case with all the locations I’ve visited, but for some reason this one in particular has really called me.

View from my front door.

I’ve camped on or very near numerous bodies of water: Lake Ontario in New York, Lake Dunmore in Vermont, Mohawk River in New York, Clear Fork River in Ohio, and Lake Lenwood in Wisconsin.  But the mighty Mississippi is downright magical.

I’m so close to the water that I can hear the frogs plopping in for a dip all night.  In the evenings, the geese come to feed – it seems like hundreds of them.  I watch their little tails go straight up in the air as they dive for dinner.  And there’s always something  – don’t know what – coming to the surface and making a splash and a swirl.  I can hardly believe my good fortune in getting a front row seat for all the action.

The trip here from Wisconsin was relatively short at only 200 miles, so I only had to make one stop. But it was a memorable stop because about an hour past it, I got that sinking feeling in my stomach when I realized that I had left my credit card sitting on top of the pump.  After much gnashing of teeth and hurling of four letter words, I finally calmed down and decided to return the next day to fetch it, and take the opportunity to use the wifi at the local Starbucks since there isn’t one near my campground.

As it turned out, I truly enjoyed that drive.  While my RV GPS had routed me the long way around to stay on interstates as long as possible, the shortest route by car was an hour and a half of zig-zagging on two-lane country roads.  It was a gorgeous sunny day, so I put the convertible top down to soak it all in.  It was classic heartland landscape, but instead of “amber waves of grain”, there were endless corn stalks, interrupted occasionally by a farm house, a silo, a barn, or a few cows.  I passed through very few towns – maybe two – and saw very little traffic, except for gigantic farm equipment which took over the road here and there.

As I drove along, I tried to imagine what it looked like when my ancestors first arrived.  According to the county history books, Clark Abbot and his family were only the fourth to settle here.  Clark married Betsey Jennings Crouch in Vermont, then moved to Chautauqua County, New York in the mid 1830’s, and then Illinois in the early 1840’s.  They established a large farm and Clark was a prominent citizen until his death in 1880.  He and Betsey are buried in the little town of Fulton, just a few miles south of my campground along the Mississippi.

Henry Ustick, head of the other ancestral family which settled here, was born in Washington County, Pennsylvania, and moved to Ohio after serving in the War of 1812, where he married Abigail Young.  He brought his family to Illinois in about 1848, using a land patent from his military service.  He and Abigail are buried near Morrison, the county seat.

One of the things I like to do, if I can, is to identify the location of the land my ancestors owned.  Usually, the land has been completely developed, but I have a feeling that here in Whiteside County, the land is still being farmed.  That will make it a lot easier to envision what it was like 160 years ago – I don’t think it’s changed much!

Goodenough in Wisconsin

It’s hard to believe I’m in Wisconsin in late September in 90+ degree heat.  When planning this part of the trip way back in the spring, I was concerned that it might be too cold!  Last year, I saw frost in upstate New York in early October, and I was hoping to avoid that.  As it turns out, no worries there!

Earlier this month in Ohio, temperatures were in the 40’s at night – delicious sleeping weather! I tend to have an instinctive urge to make soup when the weather turns cold (don’t we all?),  so I went out and bought the fixins for two different kinds of crock-pot soup: split pea with ham, and a black bean and veggie soup.  Once here, though, considering the weather, I made the soups but then froze them for later.  Who wants soup in this heat??

It was a long haul from Ohio to my Wisconsin destination – about 500 miles – and it involved driving through Chicago, which was a source of some angst before the trip.   My main concern was the possibility of getting stuck in a major traffic jam, and not being able to make it to my scheduled stop in a reasonable amount of time.  As you know, I plan all my stops, and I never want to be in a situation where I have to choose a stopping place on the fly.

It turned out just fine.  Here’s a picture of the scenery on the highway through Chicago:

Chicago Skyline en route to Wisconsin

I’m liking it in Wisconsin.  I went to college here (Beloit College), so it certainly brings back happy memories.  The campground is quiet, and my site has a lovely lake view:

Lake at Wisconsin campground
Wisconsin campsite

So I’m here to research my great-great-grandfather Darwin Erasmus Goodenough and his family.  Unlike the other research locations I’ve visited, this time it’s only one family group, one surname, and one county, which makes everything so much easier.  And I’ve never camped so close to all the important places; I’m about five minutes away from the courthouse, the library, the town where the Goodenoughs lived, and the cemetery.

While reviewing my digital Goodenough surname file in preparation for my research here, I ran across this cartoon which had been in my father’s genealogy files:

Newspaper clipping of Goodenough joke. Source unknown.

My parents both had a great sense of humor, particularly my mother.  They enjoyed the teasing about their surname – they saw it as a conversation starter because those who hear the name for the first time usually make a comment of some sort.  Sometimes it’s “Oh, that is so CUTE!!”, but mostly it’s “Is that spelled the way it sounds?  Really??”

You can imagine the jokes I’ve heard about my surname throughout my life. I had a tough time with it as a kid, because I saw it as a put-down.  I wasn’t great, fabulous, or exceptional – I was just good enough, which is what the above cartoon is implying.  As an adult, though, I took my parents’ cue and went with the flow.

And then, my wonderful ex-husband set it all right when #1, he gave me the name Roberts, and #2, he put a different spin on the standard joke, by announcing during his speech at the wedding reception that he’d told his mother, “Mom, I finally found someone good enough!”  Now THAT made me smile!

While doing some newspaper research this week, I stumbled upon this little gem from 1890:

“Humorous”, The Daily Times, Davenport, Iowa, 29 January 1890; digital image, Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com : accessed 25 Sep 2017), citing original, p. 2, col. 3.

Nothing like a good joke – er, Goodenough joke – to feel that connection with my ancestors!  Evidently, Goodenough jokes have been around for a long time.

As I got out of my car at the cemetery, this was the first headstone I saw:

Junk Gravestone, Newark Cemetery, Young America, Wisconsin

which makes me extremely grateful for being Goodenough instead of Junk!

Fall Schedule 2017

During the fall, I’ll continue my trek west; by the end of the season my RV will be in storage and I’ll be on my way to Seattle and then England for several months.  I’ll be driving more miles after Labor Day than I have all year so far.  For more info, see the post called Long Term Schedule.

Here’s the fall route, showing all the stops along the way:

Fall 2017 Route, Ohio to California

As I started to write this post, I realized I’ve already written a post called Fall Schedule – in 2016.  I began living in the RV at the end of August last year, so it’s been one full year since I retired and started life on the road.  Time has truly zoomed by!  It doesn’t feel at all like it’s been that long, but at the same time my former life seems in the distant past.

Next Monday, I’ll drive from Ohio to Washington County, Wisconsin, where my Goodenough line settled in the mid-1800’s.  This line migrated from New England to upstate New York, and ultimately to Wisconsin.  My father’s grandfather, an itinerant carpenter, was born there, married in Iowa, and settled in California.

At the end of September, I’ll travel to Whiteside County, Illinois, where my research will focus on the folks from Ohio (or their descendants), who went there in the first half of the nineteenth century, as well as my ancestors from Vermont.  I’ll be staying at a campground directly on the Mississippi River which I’m excited about!

After Illinois, I’ll have a break from researching for a bit while visiting a cousin in Missouri, and then I’ll binge-drive to the warmth of Phoenix as it starts to get colder in the north.  With the RV in short-term storage,  I’ll spend a week in Mexico with a friend at the end of October, and then we’ll travel together in the RV from Phoenix up to Fresno, California, arriving around November 7th.  Many members of my Goodenough family lived there in the early twentieth century.

Leaving the RV at the Fresno campground, I’ll drive my car to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving with my kids and my favorite uncle.  My daughter will then spend a few days with me in Fresno during the week after the holiday.  Once she leaves at the end of November, I’ll be spending most of my time working through the logistics of putting my RV and my car in storage, preparing to leave the U.S. for five months, and then flying to Seattle in mid-December for the Christmas holiday.

Whew!!   It’s hard to imagine saying good-bye to my RV in just a few months, and I don’t feel ready.  I have just under 5 more weeks to enjoy my genealogy research before I hit the whirlwind of the long drive to Phoenix, the vacation in Mexico, and then the holidays.  I have a feeling that after all the genealogy research and solitude of these months heading west, I will welcome that whirlwind when it comes!

Heading West

I’m excited to finally be in Ohio, the farthest west I’ve been since I started this RV trek.  It’s a bit of serendipity that my ancestors settled near Columbus, the state capital, because that’s where all the genealogical goodies are!

Several branches of my father’s family converged here in the very early 1800’s.  The Beers and Young families came from Morris County, New Jersey, soon after the Revolutionary War, and the Usticks came from Washington County, Pennsylvania a few years later.  Members of my family were the first permanent white settlers in Knox County, according to the local history books.  More on that in a future post.

For the next two weeks, I’ll be staying at a campground about an hour north of Columbus; my campsite is directly on a sweet little river.

View of the river from my campsite

I spent last week in Pittsburgh at the annual conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, which was fantastic!  It started with “Society Day” on Wednesday, which was full of terrific topics on managing a society.  The conference wasn’t as crowded as others I’ve attended, which was great, considering that all the excellent national speakers were there.   It was a packed schedule, going from 8 am to 6 pm each of the four days.  I took advantage of several lectures on research in Ohio – perfect timing!

Before leaving Albany on August 28th, I drove my car down to Newtown, Pennsylvania to see my son Kyle, who arrived there from Seattle around August 15th.  Thanks to my dear friend Agnes for putting me up (or is it putting up with me?) for a couple of nights!

The trip was also my last opportunity to offload more stuff into storage, and my little Mini was packed!  I had two huge garbage bags full of clothes, which must have weighed 50 pounds each, plus several tubs of genealogy files.  I did finally finish my scanning project, so I no longer have to lug around all the original paper files.

Kyle and I had a terrific visit.  He was on the road by himself for his birthday earlier in the month, so we had a belated celebration by going out to a nice dinner near his apartment in Warrington.  He started his new job the day I arrived, so I visited him at his office the next day, and that night we went shopping for some work clothes for him, followed by another dinner out.  I miss my boy!!

I recently reconnected with Kris, a very close friend from graduate school.  We were roommates and did everything together – same two majors, same classes, same parties.  She’s lived in Virginia all these years, and I honestly don’t know why we didn’t stay in closer touch.  But after a four hour phone conversation, which wasn’t even long enough, we decided we had to see each other before I left the area, so we met at a hotel in Wilmington, Delaware for a night.  What a blast!  I just love her!  Here’s a picture:

Chris and Kris!

So now I’m heading westward into unfamiliar territory.  With no distractions, I’ll be able to delve into my family’s history in each new location.  I’ll post details of my fall schedule soon!

Fosket Brothers: North and South

Every last one of my ancestors lived in the northern states once they arrived in this country.  They ALL, on both sides, lived in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and all over New England, and then some of them went west.   But NONE of them went south.

At least I thought so until now.

For many years, I’ve been researching the ancestry of my mother’s grandmother, Sarah Fosket.

Sarah Ann Fosket, my mother’s maternal grandmother

I’ve traced her Fosket line back to her grandparents, Alexander Fosket and Sarah Ann Evans, who married in Troy, New York in 1837.  Alexander and Sarah had at least four children, but for the purposes of this post, I’m focusing on just two of them, Alexander E. and Alonzo.

Some descendants of Alexander Fosket

Sarah Fosket’s father, Alonzo, was a soldier in the Union Army during the Civil War.  He enlisted in Michigan and mustered in at St. Louis.  It’s still a mystery to me what a  New York City man was doing out there!

Alonzo Fosket, Missouri Infantry

I have few records and even fewer clues for Alonzo’s parents, Alexander and Sarah.

There’s a family in the 1840 U.S. Census in Albany headed by “Alex Fosgate” (as you know, the 1840 census only names the heads of households).  The surname isn’t quite right, but the ages were correct for both Alexander and Sarah, and for their first child born in 1839.  There was also an older woman in the household, but of course I had no idea who she was, and I wasn’t even certain that this was the correct family.

I haven’t found the couple in any other census record.  They didn’t own land. Records are scarce.

Both Alexander and Sarah died young.  Sarah died when she was between 30 and 40 years old.  Alexander was a 45 year old widower when he died of consumption in New York City in 1858, leaving four children under 18.  The three youngest children were raised by one of Sarah’s sisters; the oldest, Alexander E. Fosket (Alex Jr.), was nowhere to be found until 1870 when he was in New York City, a single man, boarding with strangers.  He then purchased a house in Brooklyn in 1873.

One of the unusual facts about Alex Jr. was that his first child, Henry, was born in South Carolina in 1872 (see above chart).    And his wife was born in Germany, not South Carolina.

I couldn’t make sense of that: Alex Jr., who was single and living in New York City in 1870, suddenly traveled down to South Carolina where he married a German woman, had a child, and then came back to Brooklyn to buy a house in 1873? I filed the information to be considered later.

There’s a confederate soldier in the Georgia Infantry by the name of Alexander E. Fosket, who was ultimately taken prisoner by the northern army.  There is quite a bit of correspondence between the Northern and Southern generals regarding his release.

Alexander Fosket in the Georgia Infantry

This didn’t fit with anything else I knew about the family, either.  Why would a guy from Albany and NYC enlist in Georgia?  Surely it was another man with the same name.  I filed the information to be considered later.

There’s a death notice in an Albany newspaper about one Amelia Fosket, a resident of Albany, who died of cholera in 1849 at age 62 while visiting her son in Colleton County, South Carolina.  I had no idea who she was, but thought this could somehow be related to the other southern connections – you never know.  So I filed the information to be considered later.

Joel Munsel, Annals of Albany (Albany: J. Munsell, 1869), 373.

Now I’m finally in Albany, researching at the New York State Library, which has all of the Albany City Directories on microfiche.

The directory for 1841 lists three people at the same address:  Amelia (a widow), Alexander, and Sarah Ann.  There’s only one Fosket family in Albany.

Do you know the feeling when you’re staring at the new discovery on your screen, mouth slightly open, and you can hear the loud “CLICK” in your head as all the puzzle pieces fly together and connect as though a magnet is pulling them to the center?  That’s how it was for me.

The Amelia living with Alexander and Sarah Ann in 1841 is surely the older woman in the 1840 census record, and the same woman who died in South Carolina while visiting her son.  It’s also highly likely that she’s Alexander’s mother.

When Alexander died in 1858, Alex Jr. was about 19 years old.  I think the young man chose to go live with his paternal uncle in South Carolina, while his younger siblings stayed in New York City and lived with their maternal aunt.  Then the Civil War started, and Alex Jr. enlisted in the Confederate Army.  He was, after all, a southern boy at the time.

Why Alexander enlisted in Georgia when he was living in South Carolina is as much a mystery as the question of why Alonzo enlisted in Michigan when he was living in New York City.  But that’s what happened.  So you hear stories about the Civil War, where brother was fighting against brother, and it turns out to have happened in my family exactly like that.  I plan to examine the activity of each company in great detail to see if the two brothers were ever on the same battlefield, opposing each other.

Of course, I stayed up until all hours that night looking for the Fosket son/brother/uncle in South Carolina, and I found him.  Fosket is an old New England name, not a southern name, so there was just one candidate:  Don Alonzo Fosket, a.k.a. D. A. Fosket.   The fact that he was born in New York, and that his name was Alonzo, were both big clues that he belongs to my family.

Evidently, Don Alonzo was a rascal who stirred up trouble, was tried for murder multiple times, but was also a contractor for the U.S. Postal Service, and was elected Coroner of Edgefield County, South Carolina in 1870.  It’s going to take a lot more research to figure him out.

I also found a Miss Amelia Fosket in South Carolina who was born in 1819, and traveled with Don Alonzo from New York to Charleston by steamer just after Christmas in 1871.   I believe she is a sister to Don Alonzo and Alexander Fosket, named after their mother.

Here’s my working hypothesis now for my Fosket family:

Expanded Fosket tree with new relationship hypothesis

It’s amazing how one little line in a city directory could pull all of the other records together into a scenario that makes sense.  As is often the case, this new discovery raises more questions than it answers, but the important thing is that it moves my research forward.  One step at a time.

 

 

 

 

Albany, New York

For the last two weeks, I’ve been at this lovely little campground on the Mohawk River in Schenectady called Arrowhead Marina and RV Park.  It’s about a half hour drive from Albany, my primary research target.  Here’s a visual:

View of Mohawk River from Arrowhead RV Park office.
My camp site at Arrowhead

The campground is beautifully maintained, with lots of grass and trees. The sites are a bit too close to each other for my taste, but thankfully the neighbors are all extremely quiet.  I try to take a long walk every day; there’s a nice little walking path across a bridge over to the other side of the river.  I took this photo of the campground from over there:

View of the campground from the other side of the river

The day after I arrived, I drove (in my car) to Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia for a follow-up lung scan, about four hours away.  It was excellent news:  my lungs are completely clear!  Whew!!  Now I’ll just have annual scans to screen for lung cancer.  After the appointment, I visited with my friends Agnes and Cindy in Bucks County, and then drove back to Schenectady the next day.

The agenda for the rest of the week included catching up on all kinds of things:  my online classes, my personal bookkeeping, my travel planning, this blog, scanning my genealogy files, and preparing for my Albany research.  It’s amazing how much time it all takes, and I’m so glad I scheduled a month here!  I tend to procrastinate on a few of these items (i.e. bookkeeping, scanning, classes), so I told myself I couldn’t do any more research until I caught up with everything else.

During the second week, I spent six full days going to various archives, libraries, courthouses and historical societies.  We have slews of ancestors throughout the state, but my primary research focus is to solve a couple of mysteries about ancestors on my mother’s side, who lived in Albany, Troy, Clifton Park, and various locations in Rensselaer County in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s.  Much more on that later!

I’ll be making another side trip to Bucks County again next week, which will be my last opportunity to offload excess baggage in the RV.  I won’t be back there again until next May, but I also need to consider the fact that my RV will be in storage in California until next October. So, if I think I’ll need something next summer and fall which is currently in the RV (perhaps for the cruise, for example), but that I won’t be taking to England, then I need to leave it in storage now.  Jeez, it makes my head hurt!

But here’s the real reason I’m going to Bucks County for another visit:  my son, Kyle, is moving back to Newtown!  He received an offer he couldn’t refuse – he’s going to be a real estate agent for The Cosack Team with Fox and Roach.  Kyle graduated from college last year and then drove out to Seattle, where his sister has been living for many years.  Although he enjoyed it there, it just wasn’t a fit for him.  He’s beyond excited to start this new career!

If you’re wondering whether or not Kyle’s news has an impact on my long term plans – you bet it does.  I’ve made no decisions, but I certainly need to consider where my kids are living when I ultimately settle down.  We’ll just see how it all plays out!

Fun in Vermont!

I loved my time in Vermont!!  I may not have gotten a lot of research done (see previous post), but I had a ton o’ fun and the area was stunning.  Here’s a picture of my campsite:

My campsite at Waterhouses Campground, Lake Dunmore, Vermont

I stayed at Waterhouses Campground and Marina, which was very wooded and you had to go over a sweet little stream to get to my site:

Stream going through campground

But the best part was Lake Dunmore – the campground is also a beach and marina:

Beach at Waterhouses
Marina at Waterhouses
Lake Dunmore from Waterhouses Marina

No wonder I was a little distracted from my research work, right?!?

My best friends from childhood, Carol and Debbie, came to visit me for three nights.  It was so exciting for me to have guests and I love being with my sistas!!  There’s a little restaurant on the water called Paddler’s Pub, which is part of the marina, and we had some great times there having cocktails and a couple of meals.  And we had fun just hanging around the campfire, too.

Campfire at Waterhouses

We also rented a pontoon boat for a day.  Our childhood home was in Massapequa, Long Island, New York, in a section called Nassau Shores, which was on the Great South Bay.  Deb actually lived in a house right on the water.  So we all were familiar with boating from a young age, but none of us had driven one in many years.  It was quite an adventure and a memorable day! Here’s a picture of me on the boat:

Chris on the boat at Lake Dunmore

During my last weekend there, I visited some very old and very dear friends in Burlington.  I’ve known Jeff since I was 20 years old, and his wife Dawn for almost as long, but I haven’t seen them in decades.  I actually introduced them, and it was great to see them still so happily married after thirty years.  Amazingly, it felt natural and comfortable to be with them, even after all this time.  I love them!

They took me out to a fabulous dinner, and then we watched the sunset on Lake Champlain.  From there, you can see the Adirondack Mountains in the distance – it’s just lovely.  Jeff took an amazing photo:

Sunset on Lake Champlain, Burlington, Vermont. Photo by Jeff Schneiderman.

Jeff is a professional wedding photographer and took a picture of me.  I usually avoid having my photo taken and hate all pictures of me, but I guess this one isn’t too bad (not a comment on Jeff’s skills – I’m talking about the subject!):

Christine Roberts taken by Jeff Schneiderman.

So, you can see why I loved my time in Vermont, and why I have to go back!

Research in Vermont

I’ve been yearning to go to Vermont for over five years, since I first communicated with the wonderful folks at the Town of Orwell over the Christmas holiday in 2011.  I was researching my 3x great-grandparents, Clark Abbott and Betsey Crouch, who were pioneers in Whiteside County, Illinois in the 1840’s.

The records in Illinois weren’t clear about their places of birth.  Betsey died two years after arriving in Illinois, so she didn’t live long enough to be named in any census record. A Whiteside County history book stated that she came from New York and he from New Hampshire. Most of Clark’s census records state his place of birth as Vermont, but one says New Hampshire.

Clark and Betsey’s gravestone in Whiteside County, Illinois

One day, I was googling Clark and Betsey for the hundredth time, and finally got a hit.  Someone had posted an index of marriages in the little town of Orwell, Vermont, and there they were, married 6 October 1833.  That’s when I wrote to the town clerk.

Clark Abbott and Betsey Crouch Marriage Record, Orwell, Vermont

The clerk’s office was amazing, sending me stacks of information which provided the names of Betsey’s parents, Captain John Crouch (War of 1812) and his wife Sally Jennings.  After further research, I was able to identify Sally’s parents, Joseph and Faith Jennings of Hubbardton, Vermont, both born in the mid-1750’s and settling in Vermont after the Revolution.  From there back, the Jennings line has been fairly well researched by others.

Joseph and Faith Jennings Gravestone, Mountain View Cemetery, Hubbardton, Vermont

But I still didn’t know Clark Abbott’s parentage, or Captain John Crouch’s, so these were the puzzles I hoped to solve during my stay in Vermont. Unfortunately, I didn’t make near as much progress as I would have liked.

I originally scheduled two weeks in the area, which was cut short by two days because of my “Adirondack Adventure” – instead of arriving on Sunday the 16th, I arrived on Tuesday the 18th of July.  And then my best friends from childhood came to visit, which was fabulous (more on that in the next blog post), but it also meant fewer days for research.

It took me a while to figure out where the records for Orwell can be found.  Land and vital records are at the Town level in Vermont, and probate records are in one of two probate districts in each County.  Orwell is in Addison County, which was created from Rutland County in 1785, and its Probate District is the Addison District of Addison County, which suffered from a fire in 1852 in which all the probate records burned.

Fortunately, the little town of Orwell wasn’t annexed to Addison County until 1847, and by then my ancestors had either died or left Vermont.   Since Orwell was still in Rutland County in my time period of interest, the probate records should be located at the Fair Haven Probate District.  After more digging, I discovered that the Fair Haven Probate District Court was closed a few years ago, and combined with the Rutland District Probate Court.  So I trotted off to the Rutland County Courthouse, where I was told that they only had records for the past ten years, and that anything prior had been transferred to the Vermont State Archives.

Dontcha love a good treasure hunt?!?

By the time I sorted all this out, I had one research day at the Vermont State Archives.  The best part about my day  was handling documents from the time of the Revolutionary War, seeing familiar historical names in correspondence, and touching the same piece of paper that my ancestor touched when he signed his name.  It literally gives me goosebumps.

Signature of Joseph Jennings in 1794
Signature of Joseph Jennings in 1811

I still haven’t solved any mysteries regarding Clark Abbott – I have no idea where he came from.  But I do have a candidate for the father of John Crouch, and I have a few new leads to follow.

It was absolutely thrilling to see the gorgeous countryside, visit the cemeteries, and imagine what it was like when my ancestors lived there 200+ years ago.  As my stay in Vermont came to an end, way too soon, I consoled myself with the reassurance that I can come back any time, and I most definitely will!

My Adirondack Adventure

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, this one sums it up:

Getting ready for a ride! Wheeeee!!

Yep, the truck overheated going up a 12% grade on State Highway 9N heading east into Elizabethtown, New York.  So it turns out that my anxiety and my hand-wringing were well founded, and I should have heeded those instincts more closely!

On the way up the hill, I knew the engine wasn’t happy, but the gauge wasn’t showing it was hot.  I was chugging along, trying to maintain 25 mph, and got to the top where I thought things would calm down a little.  Then the engine just stopped.  You know how the power steering and brakes go out when the engine stops?  Scary.  I felt lucky to be able to get over to the side of the road and park on the teeny tiny shoulder, before the highway made a big downhill run which might have been disastrous.   I have to admit that my heart was pounding.  Some of you have called me brave to do this?  HA!

And once I’d pulled over, I looked at my phone to make a call – and there was no cell service.  Murphy’s Law at work.

The good news is 1) I was able to unhook my car, which might have been impossible because I was on a downhill slope which can create too much forward pressure on the hitch, 2) I have a roadside assistance policy for the RV with Good Sam, which includes towing, and 3) I’m in a gorgeous part of the country – there are worse places to break down.  Always trying to look at the positive!!

As planned, I had taken the scenic route, which starts on Route 3 out of Carthage, NY, and winds through the Adirondacks to Saranac Lake.  From there, I took Route 86 and then 73 to Keene, and then got on 9N to Elizabethtown, headed for Vermont.   I was doing really well and feeling rather cocky that I’d made it across the Adirondacks, when I hit that steep grade.   I thought I would at least be able to make it to the town to stop and get checked, but it was not to be.

Actually, I made it to Elizabethtown with my car, and fortunately, Verizon cell service worked great there.   It was probably about 10:30 am when I broke down, and about 3 pm by the time the tow truck got to my rig and hooked me up, ready to head about 40 miles to Saranac Lake – back the way I came.

The RV arriving at the shop.

I felt fortunate to find a room at a cheap hotel right near the garage.  There was no mechanic on duty yesterday, but I walked over to the shop this morning (Monday).  The long-awaited call came at 6 pm this evening, reporting that they had to replace a clamp.  The engine had severely overheated, and the old clamp failed, which released the hose and all the anti-freeze.  They test-drove it, and the engine is just fine now.  Whew!!  It certainly could have been far worse.

So now the question is:  which route do I take to Vermont?  Well, I did my research, and found a terrific resource – an e-book  for $25 called Mountain Directory which outlines all the above-average grades on roads across the country.  And yes, that little stretch of road where I got stuck is in the book.  So I was able to plan my 100 mile trip tomorrow to avoid steep grades, and I’ll know better for next time.  Wish me luck!!

Breaking New Ground

When I left Pittsburgh, I realized that from then on, I’d be traveling on roads and staying in campgrounds which are new to me.  Most of my routes this year  – Georgia to Bucks County to Pittsburgh – have been routes I’ve traveled before, and I’ve even stayed in the same campgrounds.  But now, I’m breaking new ground, going into upstate New York and Vermont.  And this makes me just a little anxious on travel days.

The thing is, I never want to get into a situation where I might take a wrong turn, and get stuck.  I have to study my route closely to avoid it.  And Eric taught me that I always have to know my escape route – I can’t pull into a place without knowing how I’m getting out – so I work very hard in advance to minimize the possibility of a mistake.  Thank goodness for Google Earth!

For every trip, I plan where I’m going to stop.  If you’re in a car, you just go until it’s time to stop for gas, and you find a gas station, right?  Not so for me and my rig – I have to know EXACTLY where I’m going to stop.  You can’t always tell from the road whether or not there’s an exit route once you pull in to the pumps, so I need to do major reconnaissance.

I know about how many miles I can comfortably go on one tank of fuel, so I plan my gas stops accordingly.  And, my general rule of thumb is to drive about 120 miles (2 hours) before I need to stop for a stretch and a bathroom break.  So when I start out a day of driving, I have to know how much gas is in the tank, and how many miles I can go before needing fuel. Then I can decide whether that first stop should be a rest area or a gas station, or if I’ll need gas sooner than my normal two hour stretch.  Once I know that, I search my route on Google maps to see where I’ll be in about that many miles.  And then I look in that area for a place to stop.

This process is more difficult and time consuming than it sounds.  My objective is to find a gas station near the highway with an approach to the pumps which is parallel to the station’s building rather than perpendicular.  Or, if it’s perpendicular, it has to have a pump at the end of the row which would allow me some sort of exit strategy – either going around the back of the building, or another driveway to the street.  Here are some examples:

Gas station with poor RV access

Above is a gas station layout which I would never want to stumble into by accident!  I would have to enter the pumps nose first, perpendicular to the building, and then pull up pretty far to get the RV’s gas tank to line up with the pump.  Then when finished,  I would have to try to turn sharply enough so I miss the building and any cars parked in front of it, while at the same time hoping that the RV’s rear end and towed vehicle don’t crash through the pump.  Not a good option for me!

Below is one that would be OK.  The pumps are perpendicular to the building, which isn’t ideal, but the gas station is roomy and on a corner.  I could probably pull into the far pump and then exit out the other driveway.

Perpendicular approach with an exit

The configuration below is the one I prefer.  See how the entrance and exit is so easy when the approach to the pumps is parallel to the building?  But it’s amazing how long I have to search sometimes to find one like this on my route.

Parallel approach

Rest areas are easy – as long as they’re available along the way, they’re perfect for me.  They always have an area for trucks, and I pull in right there next to them!

That’s me feeling very safe at a rest area between two trucks!

In addition to scoping out rest stops and rest areas, I carefully examine the map to make sure I know exactly what exits to take, and where to turn.  No wrong turns allowed, cause I can’t easily un-do it!   I download campground maps from the website so I’m very familiar with exactly where I need to go to register, where I can unhook my car (need a straight and flat spot), and where to find my campsite.

Sometimes a campground is remote enough that neither Google Maps nor the GPS can find it.  For example, the address for  my campground in Lowville, Lewis County, NY was a highway name and a town, and, alternatively, latitude and longitude.  Google Maps recognized the campground name, but when looking at the satellite image, there was no campground to be found.  When I plugged in the latitude and longitude, there was still no campground.  After playing around with it for a while, I found it up a side street, two turns off the main highway.   So I don’t just rely on the GPS – I spend the time to do my research.

This system has worked very well for me so far.  Since leaving Pittsburgh, I traveled about 300 miles to Hamlin Beach State Park near Rochester, New York, for four nights, and then another 200 miles to Lowville, Lewis County, New York where I’ve spent the past week, all without incident.

Today, I’m planning my 200 mile trip to Salisbury, Vermont.  I have a GPS which is specifically programmed for RV’s.  Supposedly, it will put me on the best route to avoid low bridges and other big-rig hazards, and it has a preference for interstates.   The GPS tells me that the best route from here to Vermont is along Route 3, which is a scenic route through the Adirondacks, past Lake Placid.  I’ve gone through much hand-wringing, trying to decide whether or not to take the chance that my rig will struggle with the hills on that route.  The other alternative is to go way south and then north to stay on interstates, which is longer but seems much safer.

Well, I’ve decided to be brave and take Route 3.  I’m leaving at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning (Sunday, July 16th).  I’ll report back and let you know how it goes!