Category Archives: Americana

Sorghum

Sorghum harvest,
Wellsburg, W.Va.,
October 2016

The day we harvested sorghum
it did not matter if the sorghum
grew on red or blue land.
The cane was green,
the community a rainbow
of calloused hands and smiles.
The sky voted for life,
the sun for abundance,
the sap for a sweet finish,
its excess cooking off
over the wood fire, late into the night,
our differences as steam
rising to the October moon.

A veteran for peace

Walter S. Nicholes slid into the school bus seat next to me, nodded and asked me where I was from.

Walter is from Shaker Heights. He is a World War II veteran. He served in the Merchant Marines; entered the academy in July 1942. He saw the world but not much of the war. When the D-Day landing was going on, Walter was in the Mediterranean.

View a slide show of the D-Day Conneaut, Aug. 19, 2016, morning events.

That’s one of the reasons he and his son came to Conneaut on Friday morning, Aug. 19, 2016. Walter wanted to experience the war he had “missed” as a Merchant Marine. The re-enactors, the machinery of war, the uniforms, the invasion – they would all serve to give him a taste of the fighting to which he and other Merchant Marines had been party by supplying and transporting the troops.

Walter also wanted to bring a message to this event.

“To reveal to the public the full costs of war, and to end the use of wars as U.S. foreign policy,” Walter tells me.

He gives me his business card with contact information and the website and mission of the group to which he belongs, Veterans for Peace.

Five minutes later, the bus arrives at Conneaut Township Park, and Walter and his son are soon lost in the interpretive signs, the encampments, the souvenir stands and the events. I don’t see him again.

Some might say Walter is an anomaly in this place, just as much as the World War II equipment and soldiers are anomalies and anachronisms in a place where people come to relax and have fun.

There is tension in this park when D-Day Ohio brings its D-Day Conneaut Invasion to Conneaut every summer. There is the tension of facing down the enemy, of seeing the Germans as humans just like you and me. Of looking at the bayonets, and tanks, and guns that claimed the lives of Americans and made mothers weep rivers of tears and fathers grieve alone in the barns and pubs of our nation for decades to come.

There is tension in making the transition from talking to re-enactors who are bankers, teachers, machinists and engineers when they are not in uniform, to the real soldiers, the World War II veterans who come on canes and in wheelchairs, with wives and sons by their sides, to be honored, remember, let their stories mingle with the other billions of words that have been spoken about this war.

Walter hopes war will never happen again, at least not for money or power. He is not a pacifist, but he is no lover of war, either. And as a veteran, he has every right to speak his mind on the subject. After all, Walter S. Nicholes put his life on the line to defend that right.

He did his duty back in 1942; and 75 years later, is still doing it.

Thank you, Walter S. Nicholes. Thank you for serving; thank you for sitting next to me on that bus. I am honored to meet you.

Fletcher Bridge

 

Fletcher Covered Bridge, Harrison County, W.Va.

 

West of Clarksburg, W.Va., a few miles off U.S. Route 50, is the Fletcher Covered Bridge. I first visited this bridge in April 2012 and scouted it as a location for a night-time, Night Crossings image.

The opportunity arose in October, 2013, when I was in Clarksburg during the day on an assignment.

I drove to the bridge and arrived before dusk, giving me plenty of time to set up the tripod and find the best angle. Once night fell, I went to work in the dark countryside. The road that passes by the bridge, although a narrow, two-lane country byway, was heavily traveled, but no one stopped to see what I was doing. Even the neighbors didn’t bother to venture out and check on the flashing and arcs of LED lights around the bridge.

While I had planned to do a view from the end of the bridge opposite of the road, I could not get the framing that I wanted. So I opted for the road-side of the bridge, which is still in use but did not receive any traffic that night.

The 62-foot bridge is a multiple king post and was built by Soloman Swiger and L.E. Strum.

Located in Harrison County, it spans Tenmile Creek.

The bridge was built for just $1,372 back in 1891. It’s said that the stone for the abutments was quarried at the top of a hill near the bridge site.

The red bridge was restored a few years ago. Allegheny Restoration and Builders of Morgantown charged the state $447,000 for the work, which included replacement of some structural timber and the attractive red siding and roof.

It was a pleasure to photograph this short entry in the nation’s gallery of covered bridges.

 

A 65th anniversary

 

Henry Ruppenthal enjoyed celebrity status as a teenager as a result of being a cooperative weather observer for Morgan County, W.Va. He holds a clipping of a class field trip at which Henry was the speaker.

Henry Ruppenthal enjoyed celebrity status as a teenager as a result of being a cooperative weather observer for Morgan County, W.Va. He holds a clipping of a class field trip at which Henry was the speaker.

Last month marked a 65th anniversary for Henry Ruppenthal III of Wheeling, W.Va.

It was the 65th anniversary of his becoming a cooperative weather observer. At the time, Henry was living in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., where his father was the county’s only professional photographer and camera shop owner. His dad heard about the job opening and encouraged his son to apply.

Henry was accepted and, with a little help from his father, soon found his picture and story in national newspapers. He became somewhat a celebrity in his hometown, and was called upon by teachers at his school to host field trips to his observation station and explain his important work as a weather observer.

Although he was just shy of his 12th birthday when named to the post, Henry proved that he could make accurate observations and complete the monthly reports that were required. For years, he faithfully checked the guages and thermometers at 6 p.m. and recorded his findings. He even did a weather report for the local radio station, which eventually took over his job when Henry moved away from the Eastern Panhandle.

Henry’s story will be in a future issue of Goldenseal Magazine. It was a pleasure to catch up with him in Wheeling several weeks ago and look at his scrapbook. Amazingly, he still has all his weather records from 65 years ago. One to keep up with technology, Henry is in the process of digitizing them.

You can learn more about this fascinating man, who grew up just a short distance from the Berkeley Castle, by visiting his website, http://www.ruppenthalweb.com/Henryiii.htm

A working man’s room

Traveling across West Virginia, writing and photographing as I go, I am compelled to stay in economical accommodations. I look for rooms that cost under $50 a night, all taxes included.

And so it was that began my autumnal pilgrimage in Bridgeport, where the clerk asked me if I wanted a “Working Man’s Room” or a “Nice Room.” After inquiring about the price and noting the nearly $40 premium for a nice room, I went for the Working Man’s Room. After all, this was a working trip.

The thing that immediately struck me was the shabby condition of the hallway leading to the room. It must have been built before brooms were invented.

The room itself was, well, working class. It should have been gutted years ago and everything updated. Rather, stop-gap repairs were done as necessary using materials salvaged from other rooms, I would guess.

The bathroom was particularly interesting — it was the first time I’d seen the walls of a plastic shower stall cracking and broken, patched with caulking and otherwise feeble attempts to keep the moisture from invading the unit below.

The room obviously had plumbing issues; a large section of the wall had been removed to access the pipes and, rather than re-seal that section, the piece of wallboard was just resting against wall. I found out that by moving it and looking down the hole, I had a nice view of the plumbing in the unit below.

The carpet was stained and ripped, one section was missing. My socks stayed on my feet the whole time, and after showering, I made a path from the shower to the bed using my dirty clothes to protect my bare feet from the oil and gas field residue.

Speaking of the shower, the fixtures were so worn, the bathtub continued to fill with water even when the flow was redirected to the shower head. And I soon discovered that the control that mixes the hot and cold water did not work when it was turned to shower. It was either all hot or all cold.

The lighting was dingy, which was probably a good thing. It keeps guests from fully grasping the despair of the place.

Since I was in the working man’s section of the motel, I had to contend with the late-night revelers and the early risers, whose paths began to cross around 3 a.m.  

 When I called my wife with an update about the trip thus far and state of the accommodations, she warned me not to take my bag of clean clothes into the room and DO NOT bring home any bed bugs. I hadn’t even thought of that possibility.

It appears as if I escaped Bridgeport without any hitchhikers on my clothes or body. Two two nights later, in Marlinton, I was able to rent a room for the same amount of money at the Greenbrier Grille and Lodge. I enjoyed accommodations that were clean and smelled fresh. Although not modern, the room and its furnishings were very nice and the workmanship top notch. The shower was incredible.

 The depot at Marlinton is a short distance from the Greenbrier, a comfortable lodge with very reasonable prices.

I highly recommend the Greenbrierier if you are ever in Marlinton and need accommodations or a place to eat. The waitressing staff was very friendly and helpful. Be sure to order their hand-cut french fries; they are so good! The brown rice veggie burger was excellent, too. However, avoid the thick pancakes for breakfast. They are so thick, they reminded me of a three-layer cake without the frosting and had me longing for Buckwheat cakes from Melanie’s in Aurora.

One other great feature of the Greenbrier — there is an assortment of ducks that hang out on the river next to Lodge’s deck. For 50 cents, you can purchase a bag of corn and feed the ducks (proceeds go to an animal shelter). And no, I didn’t see duck on the menu!