The Adventures of Billy Possum


Billy Possum Rides Again, Part II

By Bill J. Castenholz

Copyright 2003, Castenholz and Sons

Monday, September 8

“Do we have a problem?”

“Your bag tests positive for nitro-glycerine.”

The inspector didn’t appear to be too concerned. But it did mean that he would have to go through everything in the bag. I restrained my first impulse: to jump up and down and yell “ridiculous.” There are many products which can test for nitro-glycerin, including Mike’s medicine. He wasn’t coming with us on this trip, but he has handled these bags many times. And the airport testing machines are very sensitive. So, out of the bag came the tools: screw drivers, socket wrenches, drift punches, a flashlight, a hammer, combination wrenches - you name it, it was there, all of the tools needed for a major overhaul on the side of the road And the ones I use daily at home have to go to and from the car each time we make another leg of this great journey. What a great way to start a trip!

Finally we were through the baggage check. My wife and I passed through the personal screening just fine but Miles - he’s 14 years old and one of our twelve grandsons - got the real checking over: shoes off, arms held out to the sides, complete check with the magic wand that the security people use.

The flight left as scheduled and we arrived at Midway Airport in Chicago, got our bags and waited just a few minutes at the curb before Elaine picked us up.

After dinner we arrived in Chesterton. Ascher was visiting his son in Florida and was not due back until Tuesday evening. We had planned to remove one of the front tires from “Bomber” that evening. It had a slow leak. But we were too tired so we decided it could wait until the next morning.

Fixing the leaking tire in Chesterton.

Looking for a leak in the tube.

The following day we went to the garage and put the battery charger on Bomber and took off the front wheel with the leak. Back at the Yates’ house we took out the tube. We used the adjacent lake as a tub to check the tube but we couldn’t find the leak. So we put in the new tube we brought along. We didn’t have any further trouble with that tire.

Bringing “Bomber” out of the garage in Chesterton.

Back at the garage we installed the wheel, pushed the car out into the open, sprayed some ether in the carburetor, and the engine came to life. It felt good driving “Bomber” back to the Yates’ home.

The closest I have ever been to my Grampa.

That night Ascher arrived home after I went to bed, but the following day we (all 5 of us) drove up to Muskegon. It would have been too crowded in “Bomber“ so we took the Yates’ car. First to the Hackley Library where we were helped by one of the docents. Lots of Castenholz family history. Then to the Hackley Hospital. I was born there. Finally to Evergreen Cemetary. After looking and looking, we found the Castenholz Plot. There was my grandfather’s stone, my grandmother’s, and three of his brothers, their wives and his sister. Although my grampa had died 3 years before I was born, in my mind he was bigger than life. And there we were, only six feet between my feet and Grampa. I knew Gramma - I thought she walked on water.

Just resting!

We stayed in Muskegon that night and went back to Evergreen Cemetary, took some pictures and then across the street to Oakwood Cemetary where Grampa’s oldest brother and family were buried. Enough of the dead. When Miles wrote to his folks that evening he addressed the card to “The Living Castenholz’.”

Shipshewana. Finally we found a vehicle that “Bomber” could keep up with.

After viewing Muskegon Lake, a nearly closed bay adjacent to Lake Michigan, and with a prominent lighthouse at the entrance, we returned to Chesterton by way of Shipshewana, an Amish village in north-eastern Indiana. If you haven’t been in the Amish country you are missing something. These people have insisted on a more simple life, rigorously avoiding the snares of our complicated modern society. In many ways they are to be greatly admired.

Day One (of the Bomber Road Trip), Friday, 12 September

Leaving Chesterton.

The following morning, Friday, I got up early and lubed Bomber. The manual suggests chassis lubrication every 500 miles. I try to do it about every 1000. We had breakfast, said our good-byes to the Yates and drove off into the sunset. Actually it was only mid-morning. We had again been treated as part of the Yates family and been deeply honored by their warm hospitality.

“Bomber” with a real bomber at Grissom Air Force Museum.

A B-58 “Hustler” at Grissom Air Museum.

Only a few hours into our drive, we took the Grissom Air Museum turn-off. As we drove in, one of the museum staff suggested we drive out onto the grass where the airplanes were. We snapped several pictures of “Bomber” under the wing of their B-17. Another of the fabulous airplanes on display was a B-58 “Hustler.” I have always been fascinated by this supersonic bomber, ever since reading Fail Safe, the Cold War novel about a tiny computer component failure that sent nuclear armed bombers to Moscow. Inside the museum Miles and I sat in the cockpit of a phantom jet.

Jeanette and I had not told Miles that I found a listing for a bluegrass concert in Richmond, Indiana. Richmond lies about midway down the eastern border of Indiana. We arrived in Richmond late in the afternoon, took a motel, and drove to the Glenn Miller Shell at the park. The City of Richmond puts on four concerts a year, free to the public. And this was the one bluegrass concert of the year. Miles has so much natural talent with the guitar as to be scarry. Our hope is that he diligently develops that talent into a virtuosity.

An evening open-air Bluegrass concert in Richmond, Ohio.

Two groups played at the concert. It was the banjo player in the first group, a young lady with a beautiful voice and an incredible talent with her instrument, that captivated us. Miles doesn’t express himself very enthusiastically, but we heard him on the phone to his parents telling them how great he thought she was. Our mission of having Miles exposed to some really fine bluegrass was highly successful.

Day Two, Saturday

Indiana or Ohio? Miles wasn’t sure.

Now Miles knows where he is.

Crossing the Ohio River at Cincinnati.

Our second day on the road was fairly leisurely. From Richmond we drove directly east into Ohio, then turned south, crossing over the Ohio River at Cincinnati. After dinner we drove some of the back roads of Northern Kentucky and stopped in Williamstown for the night.

Day Three, Sunday

This Sunday brought the only rain we saw on the whole trip. But the rain soon passed and we began looking for a church. Looking for a church in this part of the country isn’t hard at all. Deciding which one to go to is. It seems there’s a church on every corner of every town.

This became another leisurely day, and our progress was minimal. I think we only traveled about 40 miles, stopping in Georgetown. This was our first experience with a Microtel motel. It turned out to be one of the nicer places we stayed and at one of the best prices, too. I think it was brand new and the rates set to attract new customers.

Day Four, Monday

Georgetown is just outside of Lexington, so our first stop was the AAA office in Lexington. At Jeanette’s insistence, I had signed up for Triple-A towing service. I didn’t think this took any of the adventure out of the trip, but it did give my wife some peace of mind. I figured we ought to get our money’s worth, so we went to AAA and got a bunch of maps and travel guides. Actually we hadn’t planned exactly what route we would take from Chesterton and Athens and it turned out that we drove through several states we hadn’t expected to pass through.

Transylvania University.

In Lexington we came to the very beautiful campus of Transylvania University. We explained to Miles that this is where Dracula went to school.

Relaxing in Berea, Kentucky.

We stopped in Berea, south of Lexington, for a picnic lunch and a browse through one of the local antique (read “junk”) stores, before driving to Hazard for the night. This turned out to be a fabulously scenic drive, one of the nicest on the trip.

I just had to ask the motel manager if this was the home of the Dukes of Hazard. He said they were from Hazard County in an adjacent state.

Dinner at the Ponderosa turned out to be a treat for all of us, but Miles did especially well. In addition to the dinner that was served, the “salad bar” had everything you could imagine, including several great desserts. We all left a bit uncomfortably stuffed.

Day Five, Tuesday

Kentucky was breathtakingly beautiful.

Entering Virginia.

Leaving Hazard, we traveled due-east, entering Virginia before turning south and stopping for a picnic lunch in Norton. We found a large vacant lot between several buildings on the main drag of Norton. Jeanette prepared lunch and, as we ate we noticed a new car agency across the street. For a long time we noticed one of the people at the agency staring at our car. Then he and another man from the agency crossed the street and, apologizing for disturbing our lunch, asked us where we were from and the other usual questions. After a few minutes they left but than the one man returned, bringing us caps for Miles and me, and a carrying bag for Jeanette. For the rest of the day we were identified as being from Norton, Virginia.

The fellow from the auto agency had suggested we go through the little town of Appalachia. It was interesting but that road also took us to Stony Gap. There, we went to one of the most interesting houses. It had become a museum but had been built by one of the early pioneers of the town. It was three stories of incredible woodwork - a real showplace.

That evening we stayed in Kingsport, just inside the border of Tennessee. This trip was a far cry from the first part, where we were pushing to get to Chicago in time to get Mike on a plane. As it was turning out, traveling 100 to 200 miles a day was very comfortable. And, without any time pressure to get to our destination of Athens, the trip was very relaxing - so far!

Day Six, Wednesday

The Model A Ford is a much more common car than the Chevrolets of the same vintage (1928-1931). But these were the years when Chevrolet was surpassing Ford in number of vehicles sold. Why did so many more Fords survive? Most of the Model A Fords were built as all-steel bodies. Chevrolets bodies consisted of a wooden frame covered with steel body panels. Through the years the wood rotted and the Chevy bodies simply fell apart.

From our motel I had telephoned a fellow in Greensboro, North Carolina, who made replacement wood for early Chevys. Our plan was to possibly drive to Greensboro and see him. But there was a small problem: Isabel, the gigantic hurricane that was headed up the East Coast was due to pass close enough to Greensboro on Thursday to make the weather there very nasty. I asked how the weather was in Greensboro and this fellow said it was beautiful now but tomorrow heavy rain was expected with 25 to 30 mile-an-hour winds.

If we could get to Greensboro well before 5pm, and then drive away from Isabel’s path after dinner, we could see this fellow’s work.

So, leaving Kingsport we headed east, through Johnson City and then to Elizabethton. My wife and I had once been in Elizabethton, when our son John and his wife Pam lived there. John was in the missionary aviation program at Moody Bible Institute. He learned to fly there and also completed the engine and airframe licensing program.

The covered bridge in Elizabethton, Tennessee.

Another view of the covered bridge.

Miles enjoying the ducks and geese at the park in Elizabethton.

By the time we arrived in Elizabethton, common sense had again returned and we realized going to Greensboro was crazy. So we relaxed, went to the old covered bridge in town to take a picture, and then had a picnic in the park next to the river. The scraps from the picnic went to the huge flock of ducks and geese that hung around us all during lunch. The afternoon was spent in a book store and a couple of antique stores in Elizabethton. At the book store I parked “Bomber” in front of the local Ford agency. As usual, several people clustered around the car and I “apologized” to the agency people for parking my Chevy in front of their Ford store.

Entering North Carolina.

Late in the afternoon we leisurely drove south to Spruce Pine, a quaint village just inside of North Carolina. We couldn’t find our usual super-low budget motel but after lengthy negotiations, we stayed in the Pinebridge Inn. It really was fabulous. It had formerly been a school campus. The next morning, after a very nice continental breakfast Miles and I spent an hour shooting baskets in the gymnasium before we drove off.

Day Seven, Thursday

Leaving Spruce Pine on the way to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Spruce Pine is a couple of miles off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. We entered the Parkway and the world changed! The 50 or so miles we drove on the Parkway were perhaps the most beautiful miles we have ever driven in “Bomber.” Traveling near the crest of the mountains, the road, only one lane each way, wanders through forests nearly forming tunnels for the road, real tunnels, spectacular views, frequent turn-offs for viewing the country and even visitors centers with helpful “rangers” to provide directions and explain the terra and fauna. And all the way, the roadside grass was freshly mowed. It was simply gorgeous.

On the Blue Ridge Parkway. Everywhere we looked it was beautiful.

A picnic spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We picnicked for lunch in a turnoff. There must have been an acre of grass - all beautifully mowed.

Exiting the Parkway at Asheville, we again headed due south, leaving North Carolina at Tuxedo. Fortunately we didn’t see any effects of Isabel at all, even though the hurricane was raising havoc at the other end of the same states we were passing through.

Entering South Carolina.

That night we stayed in Simpsonville, just outside of Greenville, South Carolina. We unloaded the car and then went for an evening ice cream. The Baskin-Robbins employees were surprised to see my T-shirt. It said “So Many Chocolates” on the front and “So Little Time” on the back. On the sleeve was “Baskins (31) Robbins, Pacific Palisades, California.”

Day Eight, Friday

The battery had been sending us a message recently and this morning it said “you want to go? Good. Push.” Fortunately there was a slight slope to the parking lot and Miles pushed the car to an easy start. But we had been warned. Throughout the day we selected parking places where we could push the car if the battery wouldn’t start it. That was necessary only once and we thought “Fine. We’ll be storing the car for the Winter in Athens, Georgia and in the Spring we will buy a new battery. No real problem.”

Just like his cousin Wilson, Miles made a new friend on the trip.

Miles enjoyed the fountain and cooled off at the same time.

In Los Angeles regular was $2.08/gal. Look at the price of regular here in South Carolina!

Hartwell Dam and the Savannah River. The left bank is South Carolina, on the right is Georgia.

The drive from Greenville to Athens headed south-west. The scenery was beautiful - lush green everywhere. It was in the afternoon that we reached the Savannah River on the North Carolina-Georgia border. Hartwell Dam forms a beautiful lake on the river, and we parked and walked up to the dam. On one side fishermen were enjoying their time on the lake, on the other side of the dam we looked down three or four hundred feet to the river. The bridge into Georgia was just downstream, and a few minutes later we were in the car charging across the river.

Entering Georgia near Hartwell Dam.

Shortly after we stopped for dinner I noticed the temp guage was indicating “Cold.“ At first I didn’t pay any attention but then I noticed the amp meter was not indicating its usual reading when the lights are on. I always drive with the lights on. The 15-amp fuse at the back of the light switch had blown. I put another one in and it promptly blew when I turned on the lights. A couple of fuses later it was obvious that we had a short in some wire. In either the “Lights” or “Park” position, the short caused the fuse to blow. We stopped to check things over, with no success and made the decision to complete the trip to Athens and fix the problem later. Our plan had, from the start, been to arrive in Athens before dark. But time seemed to be getting away from us.

We arrived in the outskirts of Athens just before dusk, but finding our directions would take us some time. And time we didn’t have. I pulled over to the side of the road to figure out the next step. Immediately a car pulled up behind us and two fellows quickly walked up besides our car. “Did you really drive this from California?” I could tell this could take a long time. But my wife told them we were having a problem with the lights and we had to hurry. They asked where we were going and my wife told them we were looking for a certain corner with a Bell's Market. “That’s where we’re going - follow us.” The astonishing thing was that the market was several miles away. We got on a freeway, drove several miles, got off and shortly arrived at the market. Our “friends” turned into the market, we turned the other way at the corner and, with only a few blocks to go, found ourselves in a forest with homes along both sides of the road. And we could hardly see, it was, by now, so dark. You really don’t realize how tense things are until you relax. It was a great relief to pull into Darwin & JoAnn’s driveway. My wife pointed out that sometimes we meet angels unaware. It was hard to dispute that.

JoAnn suggested I phone a fellow she had talked to, about storing “Bomber” for the winter. It turned out that George was a very serious car collector with a large building to store them in. We made arrangements to see him the next day because he indicated that he would be willing to store our car in his building.

Saturday, 20 September - Tuesday, 23 September

We met George at his office and he took us to his car building. It was spectacular. Lined up were Fords of every year from 1928 into the 1940’s. Everyone was in show condition. One, I think a late 1940’s, had 12 original miles on it. George said he purchased it from a Ford executive. The 12 miles, he said, were driving it onto and off of trailers when it went to be shown. Along with the cars were the expected paraphernalia: signs, gas station stuff and what-not. Very impressive! George said he could make room for our car and assured us that the security was adequate. My thought was, that if someone was planning to take any cars, “Bomber” would be the last to go.

Deducing that if the fuse blew with the light switch in either position, Darwin had crawled under the car and found what he thought to be the problem, broken insulation on the tail light wire. With a multimeter, we were able to establish the short was there and so we cut the section of wire from midway on the chassis to the tail light, put a new wire in its place, and soldered the spring loaded end on to the wire. Voilà, no more wire problem!

JoAnn is my wife’s sister. JoAnn & Darwin’s kids are my kids cousins. Jenny, one of the cousins lives in Atlanta. She and two of her boys spent part of Saturday with us in Athens. When they left, Miles wanted to go with them. I don’t know what you call the relationship between grandchildren of sisters. But I do know these kids really enjoyed each other. As Miles said, it was very strange that he was going home with a family he had never met before that day. But he had a great time with Jenny and her family.

Sunday we attended the University Church where Darwin & JoAnn regularly attend. It was in a very old but very enchanting house. The house had been added onto over the years and was really quite large. The church met in the porch, which had been glassed in, providing a beautiful scene of the lush green foliage outside. In addition to the congregation meeting together for a service, afterwards there were several group meetings. We attended the one discussing the sermon. Naturally the pastor didn’t attend this one. The discussions were lively and it was obvious that the pastor was held in the highest regard.

During the service my wife and I were introduced by Darwin, who mentioned that we had driven there in our 1929 auto. This prompted me to add “This only confirms your belief that everyone in California is crazy.” I should mention that the California Gubernatorial Recall and election was only a few days later. Hmmm, now there’s a choice! Vote for a used-car salesman or a very short actor, an adult film actress, the publisher of “Hustler,” a billboard model, a retired meat packer, a comedian (maybe that describes most of them), a gay rights attorney, a railroad switchman/brakeman, a cigarette retailer or a middleweight sumo wrestler. Yes, maybe everyone in California is crazy!

After church, we went to lunch. I’ve been to a lot of nice places. This was awesome. Converted from a fabulous Southern mansion, everything about the place was great. Buffet style is nice. As my wife’s T-shirt says “Life is uncertain - eat dessert first!” Kings and Queens have lots of responsibilities. We have far fewer responsibilities - but we seem to be living like royalty.

I phoned George on Monday (our last day before flying home) to coordinate meeting him and putting “Bomber” in storage. George had a little surprise for us. He said he really didn’t have room for our car in his building. “Sorry.”

A phone call, a rather long one of negotiation, and we found a storage facility that we decided to use. But the battery was dead. I don’t mean nearly dead. I mean dead-dead. There wasn’t enough juice to give even a weak spark. So, off to the Kragan Auto store for a new battery. I would rather have purchased the battery in the spring but the car didn’t even sputter when I pushed it down the road. With the new battery “Bomber” roared to life and off we went to storage.

After a drive of several miles we got there and the fellow said that what we had agreed upon, regarding the deposit, the boss didn’t like. Well, after a bit of discussion, I agreed to their deposit, went through the gate, put the car in the storage room and proceeded to remove the new battery. As I unfastened the battery cables the storage manager mentioned the lock I would have to buy. “Wait a minute! What other surprises are there?” At that point I think the manager realized there had been too many surprises and he said he would relinquish the deposit but we would have to buy a lock. It was ours to keep when we left. We both relaxed, I paid the rent, and we went happily on our way, sans “Bomber.” We did take the new battery, which Darwin will occasionally recharge through the winter.

Monday evening we drove to Atlanta to pick up Miles. It was the first real rain we had seen on the trip. It poured.

Bill & Jeanette, JoAnn and Darwin.

Tuesday morning was another beautiful day, but the end of a brief, but thoroughly enjoyable visit with JoAnn & Darwin. There is something very special about family!

We loaded our bags into JoAnn’s car and the five of us headed to the Atlanta Airport. Wouldn’t you know, along the way we had a flat tire. We were having a “car trip” after all.

We said goodbye to Darwin & JoAnn, passed through security without even a search of our bags, and enjoyed our flight home. 550 miles per hour covers distance a lot faster than 45 mph. And I really enjoy flying. But it doesn’t compare to the open road with “Bomber’s” proud hood pointing somewhere new!