Summer Vacation 2015 – Day Three – Trains, Ruby’s, and Urban Flooding

monday-morning-cornholeThe coffee pot finished brewing around 8:00am. The sun was beating down while Tara made some oatmeal and poured us some orange juice. By this time, Dad & Cindy were sitting on their front porch sipping on some coffee, so we decided to join them for breakfast.

Dad was getting cornhole out for Chase. In no time, we were slinging bean bags first thing Monday morning. Everyone agreed that this “sure beats typical Monday mornings”. After a few tosses, we had a plan for the day. After lunch, we were going to ride a train, see Ruby Falls, and then go downtown for dinner.

After some sandwiches and salads, everyone packed into the van and I pointed it south toward Chattanooga. We arrived at the Tennessee Valley Railroad depot just in time for the 1:15 Missionary Ridge Local. As we walked toward the depot we were able to see some really cool train cars parked out front. The was a train whistle blowing in the background as we walked into to buy our tickets.

tennessee-valley-railroad-we-ready-to-go-for-a-train-rideWhen we walked inside there were two younger gentlemen talking on radios. They were both dressed in black and white, one with a train conductor hat – complete with a pocket watch. Ticket prices weren’t bad at all, only $17. I thought this was a great deal for a once in a lifetime experience for Chase and Chloe. Tara had never been on a train, so she wasn’t sure what to make of all this. As we walked out to the platform, we could see one other couple in an otherwise (very) empty train car. I felt sorry for a moment, then remembered it was only 1:15pm on a Monday.

come-on-ride-the-train-ride-itAs we boarded we chose the open-air car instead of the air-conditioned one, besides we’d have the entire car to ourselves! As the conductor came and punched our tickets the train started to move. Nobody could hide their smiles as the whistle blew and the sounds of a train on the tracks filled the empty car. After a moment, the tour guide came over the loud speaker to inform us our next stop was at the East Chattanooga station and Tennesee Valley Railroad Repair Yard and the “Turntable”.

tennessee-valley-railroad-old-bridgeWhen the train reached full speed, I started moving around the car snapping pictures and reading some of the informational plaques. It turns out, our car was built in the 1940’s (or maybe it was the 1960’s) and had been restored with all the original furniture – including luggage racks and bathrooms. Clearly this was a coach car, but I could definitely see the appeal of traveling by train. It was really neat to see the “hidden countryside” which included a river, bridges, and experience the thrill of going through a (very dark) tunnel.

tennessee-valley-railroad-repair-shopAs we approached the East Chattanooga sub-station, we could see all kinds of different trains including some steam engines! The conductor was back on the intercom system telling us we’ll be stopping for a tour of the repair shop and to watch the engine on “the turntable”. With the whistleblowing, we slowed into the station and were instructed to exit our car and follow the conductor. When all (eight) of the passengers were on the platform the conductor started his talk about the repair shop, the specifics of the engine, and introdcuded our engineer all while unhitching the engine from the passenger cards. As we started walking forward, the conductor waved to the engineer and he started moving the engine forward as well. We walked 50 yards toward the turntable stopped as the conductor walked onto this huge circular platform with train tracks in the middle. On one end was a small building not much bigger than an outhouse. The whole thing looked like a bowl, and it was plain to see why it was called the turntable. As the engine slowing creeped forward to a hault in the middle, the conducture activated a motor and the entire turntable began to spin until the train engine had done a 180 degree turn.

tennessee-valley-railroad-enter-tunnelWe were given a short tour of the repair shop and told to board our car so we could make our way back. This time I took Chase and Chloe and stood at the back of the car. There was nothing but a gate to hinder the view back to the depot. As we passed by the river and went through the tunnel again, I could help but think how refreshing this was. Even though our ride lasted an hour, the contrast from the (sometimes crazy) interstate system with its cookie-cutter exits and fast-food chains, left me feeling notstalgic about taking the train for the next family vacation.



Summer Vacation 2015 – Day Two – Broken Arms and Bratwurst

Around 7:30am we all walked into Cracker Barrell for some much-needed coffee and bathrooms, but what we all really wanted was a shower! Check-in wasn’t until Noon, so we had a lot of time to kill. After breakfast, we drove to Wal-Mart to stock up on groceries and ice, then to an O’Reilly Auto Parts for extra fuses, and finally we topped off the van then headed back to Cracker Barrell. After everything was packed we headed for the campground.

We arrived around 11:40, a little early, but most everyone had cleared out. We checked-in and drove to our campsite. It was a relief that there were no issues this time. When we pulled up to A16 and A17, we saw that the people in A17 were still here, their vehicle was gone. Their gear was thrown about the campsite and it appeared that they were making no attempt to check-out on time.

harrison-bay-state-park-campsitesSince our campsite was A16, I went head and started backing in and setting up. Dad parked on the side of the camp road and headed back to the A-Frame to see why A17 still had a camper on it. While he worked on that, I worked on getting camper’s A/C running. It was already 88 degrees and the newly renovated campsites have fresh asphalt making for a heated campsite setup.

Out of nowhere, an old Ford F-350 whipped into A-17 and Bubba himself started throwing gear into the camper. Dad was back from the A-Frame by this time. He pointed at Bubba and said, “They’ve been at the hospital all morning, his daughter fell and broke her arm. She had to have surgery.” Dad walked over to him and asked if his daughter was going to be alright and if he wanted any help tearing down. Bubba declined but thanked him for the gesture.

beautiful-sunset-from-night-oneAn hour later and we had both our sites setup. It was around 1:30 and nobody was in the mood to do anything except shower and chill in the A/C. So, that’s what we did the first afternoon. Settled in and then we made beer brats, beans, and some salad for dinner. After an uneventful afternoon (and evening), we all went to bed early. Personally, I haven’t slept this good in a loooooong time…


Summer Vacation 2015 – Day One – Camp Cracker Barrell

For our 2015 summer vacation, we reserved a campsite at Harrison Bay State Park near Chattanooga, Tennessee. My folks drove from Green Bay and we drove from Enterprise to “meet in the middle”. I wanted to record each day in the event that we wanted to “relive” the fun. 


Duck Camp – 2013

Photos (and a video) from my annual duck hunting trip to Green Bay, WI.

The weather started out cool, however by Wednesday, the ice on the bay was getting thick. I was able to hunt with my Dad, cousin Ryan, Uncle Jon, and my best friend Chris.