“Pinky” A Nostalgic Landmark

If you look for them, you will find unusual things in your community – like a birdhouse attached to a lone telephone pole on the side of a highway. Then there are other larger items that will catch your eye. You might call them oddities. I prefer to think of them as gifts; Life Nuggets which cause me to think: Who put that birdhouse on the pole? And why just one? On this one lonely pole? It has been some time since I saw the birdhouse. And still, the memory of that sighting remains with me.



A Walk on the Wild Side

Life at Ground Level, High Ridge, Missouri

Have you ever wished you could be a fly on the wall and see inside the lives of others, to learn about their secrets, to solve mysteries about them? How do they do that? What does that mean? When will they have those babies? Will they survive? What will their future hold?

Do you watch wildlife from your back window? Squirrels or an occasional opossum might meander through your yard. Are you ever curious about particular aspects of life at ground level? You might see raccoons and skunks, too, but are afraid to approach them. Rumors abound about aggressive raccoons (they’d rather run away from you) and you don’t want to be sprayed by a skunk. And what do you know about rabbits? Or Groundhogs? Seeing them from afar doesn’t give you many answers. Wouldn’t you want to see them up close?

Well, you can walk a bit on the wild side and have a peeking perspective on these creatures if you visit your local wildlife rescue center. Our local Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic had an Open House on October 2, 2011, a beautiful, sunny day.

Emily, the Director, was all smiles and eager to supply any information to visitors. While we were speaking, a butterfly floated between us and chose to land on her shoulder. Both of us admired this small gift that caused us to pause in our conversation and elicited a gentle breath in us – an example of one of those magical moments sent to all of us each day. Do we see these gifts or are we, to our own detriment, just too darn busy to notice?

This Butterfly Knows!

Tables of donated items were selling at too low prices, in my opinion. Many baskets of great gifts were offered by a drawing, $1 a ticket, or six for $5 (again, I didn’t win). Kettle corn, hot dogs and sweet ketchup filled the air with tantalizing aromas. The volunteers were proud to show off their wards. And a human-sized skunk and an unidentified brown animal cheerfully posed for pictures and were good ambassadors for the other harmless creatures waiting inside.

Miss Cheerful Skunk

Miss Brown . . . What?

Clean cages displayed playful raccoons, slow moving ’possums and hyperactive squirrels. There was even a ground hog. All were well supplied with acorns, ears of corn, persimmons, romaine lettuce, carrots and more – a smorgasbord of flavors, appealing to sharp eyes and sensitive noses. And each animal appeared exceptionally healthy.

Awakened From His Sleep and Little Grumpy

And what explains their healthy condition? The dedication of the volunteers, that’s what. In many cases, they rear these creatures from infancy and provide hand feedings every four hours. Food preparation takes an immense amount of time. In the case of the persimmons, because they are so delicate and will turn to mush when handled, each one has to be placed on a large plastic tray for freezing. After they are frozen, each persimmon must be inserted side-by-side, not jumbled up, into a plastic bag and refrozen until time for use.

Cages must be cleaned daily in addition to cleaning the entire facility. Donations of bags of dog food, gallons of acorns, and boxes of newspaper require heavy lifting. Laundering and folding of towels, sheets, and cleaning rags must be done. Shelves of these items line what serves as an office.

Still, all of the volunteers are cheerful and go about their tasks with concentrated focus. I asked one of them, “What makes you do all this hard work?” And back came the simple answer, “Love.” Yep, that is the only answer that makes sense.

Who's Peeking?

Watching the various lovelies elicits questions as to why they are rehabilitating. In many cases, mom was killed by a car and the resident human knew where the nest was and compassionately brought the babies to the center. This can be done with baby skunks, too. They aren’t able to deliver “The Bomb” until they are older, so do your part. Take them to the “Animal Angels”. They will do the rest. The ground hog was hit by a car and has some nerve damage. He will be at the center until spring.

The Ground Hog - A Hit With Kids

I have visited other centers through the years but still learn something new when I visit again. For instance, stop if you see a dead possum on the road. Check to see if it is a female, then check the pouch – babies could be alive in there. Or if that curdles your milk, just scoop mom up and take her to your wildlife center. They will retrieve the babies. Sometimes, babies are not in the pouch but are clinging to her body. Don’t let them starve and suffer in the hot sun. Cultivate compassion. It is a very healing exercise. And, what goes around comes around.

Speaking of compassion – you could learn a lot from these volunteers. A woman brought in what she thought was a baby possum. It was so tiny it was practically a fetus. As it grew, its identity revealed itself. It is a grey mouse. No matter. He is treated no differently than the other patients. He is fed and nurtured, protected and kept warm. A life is a life.

Want to Share?

Our Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic will accept turtles or snakes. For the care of these animals, the Clinic will contact the St. Louis Herpetological Society and will forward the animal to them for specialized care. The Clinic also has access to veterinary care in the case euthanasia is necessary.

Isn't He Gorgeous?

Snakes Are Cool, Too!

I am a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I thought ’possums used their long mandible like a straw and sucked water into their bodies. At ground level view here at the Clinic, I was entranced to see a tiny, pink tongue lapping water. A small fact, but it adds to my understanding of the world around me.

Familiarize yourself with your local center. Know where it is located before an emergency. Learn all you can and get your children directly involved. If you can’t donate dollars, take your newspapers to them. Have a field trip with your kids and gather acorns or persimmons. Set up a lemonade stand and place a sign on it – Proceeds for Animal Charity. And don’t forget to go see their twinkling eyes and beautiful coats of fur and watch their antics as they snuggle with their own kind. Raccoons and squirrels play like effervescent bubbles bouncing off one another. When you watch them you’ll find yourself smiling. You will recognize they are completely innocent and childlike.

Connecting with animals imparts to us those same qualities. We can use more innocence these days. A lot of peace is derived from having a childlike view as we look at a fallen leaf or feel the tickle of a wooly worm as his many feet move across our palm. So, risk opening your heart. When we are thoughtful of animals, it is not only they who benefit.

NOTICE:  Please click on these live links to visit the Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic and the St. Louis Herpetological Society sites. Gather more information and check out the “Wish List” for items you may be able to supply. Keep up with scheduled events.

A Surprise Among Crafters

Byrnes Mill Festival, Rural Jefferson County, Missouri

On my way to the festival on a sunny morning, my eye caught activity off the right side of a curving road. Another Life Nugget had presented itself. I braked and came to a noisy stop on loose gravel. A man and woman, probably spouses, and a few youngsters were clearing brush from a neglected cemetery of very old gravestones.

These people are members of St. John’s Catholic Church located on old Highway 21 in Imperial. Shy and seeming to not want attention for their labors, they continued working as the man spoke with me. This plot of land, with graves dated in the 1800s, lies between two sections of St. John’s Cemetery and was once owned by the Bohemian Society. The Church has now incorporated this section into the Cemetery proper.

It was a delight to see these people of giving spirit, looking not for accolades, simply serving. And sharing this selfless task with children and being role models for them teaches hands-on connection to their community and its past. I will be revisiting this site again.

Citizens Serving

Uplifted, I took to the road again. When I arrived at the Byrnes Mill Park, I was struck by the atmosphere of this little celebration. It was quaint and quiet, homey and small. No flashy fanfare, sound speakers, or decorations; no formal walkways, just people meeting on a natural grassy slope.


But what struck my eye before investigating the fair was perhaps another Nugget. I saw a structure down the hill on the banks of the Big River that seemed to be cut in half – the top half gone. A nearby person said it might be the remnants of an old mill. An old mill? I recently covered a festival at the Licking Mill. I took pictures of this ruin and will add this info to my file for future research. Can anyone in my audience venture a guess as to what this structure was once used?

What was this?

Foundation is concrete - What are the three "posts" inside?











Booths at the fair sported a variety of handmade products. There were eight inch square “Fairy pillows”; rocks and minerals, some made into jewelry; dream catchers; bird feeders; wood lawn decorations and home preserves, cheeses and fresh cobblers.

But I came to see the Alpacas and there they were – Daisy (light tan), Princess (white), Isabella and her baby Blue Boy.

The Girls

Alpacas require special care. They are subject to Meningeal worm which paralyzes them and leads to a suffering decline. White tailed deer are carriers of a parasite, called a slug, in their stool. If alpacas eat the affected grass they become infected. Preventive is a monthly injection of Dectamax. The cost is minimal, about twenty-five cents per animal, yet many owners neglect this treatment. The feet of alpacas consist of two toes in front of a rear pad. The nails must be trimmed regularly.

In Peru and Bolivia, where their mortality rate is higher, you will see more products made from the animal pelts. Alpacas are valuable for their fleece (fiber) which provides more warmth at lighter weight than wool.

If you own alpacas, you don’t have to search out their waste to clean their living areas. They are considerate animals and deposit their “beans” into a community dung pile. Their waste is sold and is good for gardens as it contains no nitrogen. Thus, it is not necessary to compost the waste before application to the soil.

Alpacas are gentle animals and do not attack or rear up and kick people. It is healthy for them to breed and produce on a regular basis with only a two week rest period between impregnations. Gestation is one year.

Owners can enter their animals in competitions where they are judged on their structure and fleece characteristics such as density and crimp, the tighter the crimp, the more elastic the fiber. Award winning animals improves the price for studding or selling.

To me, though, they are objects of affection. They are soft to the touch and are fun to watch as they interact with other “pen pals”. And their tickle-y tongue makes me giggle when I hand feed them.

Cuddly Cuties

These alpacas are from Big River Alpacas in Fletcher, Missouri. Monies raised benefit the efforts to find new therapies for autism. The facility is open for education and holds annual Alpaca Farm Days usually the last weekend in September. There are hand spinner and knitter demonstrations, goat cart rides, opportunity to feed the animals, food and other festivities. Donations are appreciated and many products are available for purchase.

Soft and warm socks, Realistic hand puppets

Alpaca fiber











Another attraction was angora rabbits – oh, so gorgeous – long-eared, long-haired makes them look husky, yet they have small, delicate bones and are fragile animals. Their owner uses a spinning wheel and makes angora products. Mostly though, she just plain loves her animals and showers them with gentle affection.

Spinning wheel used to make angora thread

There were two music groups at today’s festival – Banjo Ben’s Family Bluegrass Band and Miss Crystal and the Codgers (string music). Check YouTube for future videos. The music provides a delightful and peaceful change of pace.

Banjo Ben's Family Bluegrass Band

And if you want to make this kind of music, Brekens Designs can supply custom made instruments and other products.

Hand Made Musical Instruments

The Byrnes Mill Police had a booth manned by friendly, approachable officers. On display were Beanie Babies, gun locks, and children’s coloring books, stuffed bears and more provided free to all.

On the park grounds is a preserved, two story cabin. Inside is a depiction of an era long gone. It is dark inside, candle lit and furnished in the style of the time – very educational and instructive. The cabin will have an Open House on November 5, 1-4pm, and will be decorated for Christmas in the 1800s with homemade gifts, refreshments and Santa.

The word festival is defined as an occasion which can include cultural performances and exhibitions. The Byrnes Mill Festival provided this, and was a low-keyed, pleasant, and peaceful event with opportunity to learn new things.

Please participate in your local events and generate business in your community. Not only are these events enjoyable, they are very educational and lead you into new avenues. Follow through and visit the home sites of the exhibitors. It won’t be long and I’ll be dropping in on the Big River Alpaca farm and meeting with the angora rabbit woman to discover even more.

Have fun learning!

NOTICE:  Follow my Events page for new additions to the schedule. If you are interested in booking any of the above mentioned exhibits that do not have a website, contact me for their information.

More Than a Rally

Trucks and Heroes, Fire and Water

Another day in Herculaneum, Missouri, but this one started out with a bang – that is, multiple sirens and jarring air horns excitedly shattered the clear morning air; strobe lights of red, white and blue and shiny waxed and polished vehicles delighted the eyes; and smiles and waving people from the streets and inside the vehicles brightened feelings of festivity. Today we are all one! Friendliness fills the atmosphere. This was the day of the 18th annual Jefferson County Fire Engine Rally.

18th Annual Fire Engine Rally

Fire services and others (listed below) made for a dynamic and colorful parade that seemed to stretch a mile. On foot, we followed the last truck into the Herculaneum Fair Grounds and gathered before the stage. Chief Bill Haggard, Herculaneum F.D. is also President of the Jefferson County Firefighter Association. He is the kind of man who exemplifies the character of all fire fighters. Theirs is not just a job or simply a career. It is a calling born of an innate devotion to others. And so, the Rally could not start as a simple parade and then on to the fun activities. Chief Haggard began the Rally with a tribute to our nation’s flag presented by the Honor Guard, Shannon Coaley sang with her beautiful voice The Star Spangled Banner and Father Paul Nieman, Jeffco Fire Chaplain, offered a prayer. Chief Haggard called our attention to two pieces of rusted steel on the stage; remnants of the Twin Towers displayed today courtesy of the Desoto FD.

Bagpiper and Honor Guard

Ian Ebrecht played Amazing Grace on his bagpipe and, I swear this really happened – this was a huge Life Nugget (the kind I don’t seek but find each day) – an American eagle appeared high in the sky, floating on air currents above the gigantic American Flag hoisted above the stage platform between two fire truck extended ladders. It stayed there and I filmed it on my tiny camera. Attendees later were heard discussing this. It was, indeed, an eagle!

The Flag, The Eagle and Chief Haggard

The Memorial Bell was rung – one, two, three – one, two, three, four – one, two, three. In remembrance of the 343 firefighters lost on 9/11. Firefighter Baker read a poem and then a moment of silence was shared beneath a blue sky and the soaring eagle.

Chief Haggard, and others like him, teach us the true meaning of days like these which are provided by the sense of community and hard work of these devoted men and women – it is the ethic of responsibility toward one’s fellow man, the sense of duty to serve – and we, as attendees and as recipients of their good towards us, owe that much in return. Throughout the day, this was an exceptionally well-mannered and courteous crowd.

And so, the Rally served the people today. Many booths offered services to the community. Home Depot donated over four hundred wood project kits for children to build. One couldn’t stand long next to that area, the hammering of a dozen little carpenters at a time rattled the brain. Michael Redman with thirty years experience offered his Traveling Weatherman Show – an educational disaster weather program that saves lives. Pat Rimkus of Hawk’s Hollow Equestrian Center, Desoto, advised people of the equestrian assisted therapy program for the disabled. County-wide 911 dispatch was there, as was the Red Cross, Herculaneum PD, Missouri Department of Conservation, Survival Flight Festus, Missouri Region ‘C’ Technical Rescue Team Search Dogs, and others. Information was available about “meth” houses and how to identify them. T-shirts and antique fire equipment could be purchased. St. Louis Fire Sprinkler Alliance had an impressive display of the effectiveness of fire sprinklers in the home or office. The display room not equipped with sprinklers went up in flames in just seconds. Our trusty, fully outfitted firefighters moved in, extinguished the flames and tore down the inner walls and ceiling to smother any smoldering cinders.


Fire Is Out!

Arch Air Rescue and Air Evac LifeTeam helicopters were there. Blaze, the dalmation dog taught children to stop, drop and roll in the case their clothes caught fire. Food booths offered Ted Drewes ice cream, sno-cones, hamburgers, hotdogs, nachos, and sodas.

There were activities for children – a bounce house provided by Bounce St. Louis and games were run by Journey Community Church. Youngsters tested their fire extinguisher target skills and abilities on a performance course – a child entered the “house” by climbing through a simulated window. Then he had to drop to the ground and crawl beneath a tarpaulin, rise out of that and pick up the fire nozzle, strike the large wooden flame with it, and turn and drag the sled with a baby doll on it into safety. Some of the children participated in a Firefighter Dress-Up Show.

Water Target

I Wanna Be a Fire Man!

There were activities for competing firemen – the firefighter challenge, the bucket brigade and the water challenge – each was a timed event and required concentration, hand-eye coordination, physical and mental exertions. Spectators enjoyed watching the men display their skills. Camaraderie between the firefighters was impressive. More seasoned veterans complimented and encouraged the “losing” team members.

Firefighter Challenge

1941 GMC O'Fallon Volunteer Fire Department 1941-1980

This was a well-planned, informational and busy event and, needless to say, a very fun time. The scale made it impossible to participate in all the activities or to visit all the booths. That means returning for the 19th Annual Fire Engine Rally next year, an enjoyable prospect.

Near the end of the day, beautifully engraved plaques were awarded to the winners of the firefighter contests and for other honors. This was their day to shine and to share their activities with the public. They seem to shine most when they are giving of themselves. Let us be proud of these humble men and women in all of our communities who do so much for us all year round.

Water Fight - First Place

Firefighter Competition - Overall Winner

FOOTNOTE:  Trucks from districts far and near included Festus, Antonia, Dunklin, Boles, High Ridge, Mapaville, Goldman, Desoto, Hematite, Fredericktown, Childs, Buffalo, Kinsey, Hawk Point, Jefferson R-7, Union, Mehlville, O’Fallon, Big River, Crystal City, Hillsboro, Saline Valley, Lincoln, Rock Hill, Rock Community, Cedar Hill, Valle, Joachim-Plattin and, of course, Herculaneum. Others represented were Pippin Wrecker Service, Jeffco Hazmat, TIMCO Towing, American Red Cross, Wildland, Herculaneum Police, CERT and Bounce St. Louis. A D.A.R.E. Corvette was there – a vehicle now owned by the Police Department – with a personalized license plate – “SEIZED”.

Desoto Truck and D.A.R.E. Corvette




If any agency or booth represented at the rally was omitted in this article, my apologies – it was unintentional.

Mice on the Run

What’ll They Think Up Next?, Herculaneum, Missouri

On a dark and moonless evening, I unsuccessfully tried to pursue a mouse trail to Amvets Post #42 in Herculaneum, Missouri. At the intersection of Highway 61-67 and Riverview Plaza Drive, I saw a police car pull into the Buchheit parking lot and followed it. Officer Tary saw my confused expression after he gave me directions and took upon himself to escort me. These are the kind of Life Nuggets I find in rural communities where residents haven’t forgotten courtesy and caring, where the pace is not so rat-race, where it isn’t embarrassing or a sign of weakness to go the extra mile for someone else, where bitterness has not replaced empathy. Thank you, Officer Tary, I wouldn’t have found it without you.

As I watched the taillights of the police car disappear into the darkness, I pulled into the Amvets lot, which was packed with cars and trucks. Following the jovial voices, I located an entry door around the back of the building. Paramedic Nathan Allen welcomed me. He gave me a short run-down of the activities that evening and set me loose to learn.

Greeting me from across the room was the center of attention – a long plastic encased box draped in front with a large sign “Gateway Downs Mouse Racing”. So the newspaper ad was true – “Mouse Races”.  I didn’t believe it meant actual mice, but there they were, to the right of the set-up – six occupied cages and six mice exercising on their wheels.

The Track

I had to admire this entrepreneurial endeavor complete with a sound system and lots of spare mice. Excitedly curious, I asked a lot of questions of the owner, Mike Turner. The tiny rodents utilized are called “fancy mice”, deliberately bred to be multi-colored. And Mouse Racing is mostly a “winter sport” with a break at Christmastime. These mice are maintained, fed and watered and no mice are harmed in the pursuit of this activity.

Warming Up

As a child, I had pet mice, so my view is a bit more sympathetic than most people might feel toward them. I was relieved to learn all of the mice in this collection are male. I had envisioned dozen of babies being trampled by the squad, but not to worry.

The current owner’s grandfather was about the first person in the Midwest to introduce this activity in 1988. They now perform for non-profit group fund-raisers such as children’s soccer teams, cancer patients, kidney transplant patients and more at locations like this Amvet Post, Knights of Columbus halls and other private clubs.

There was an atmosphere of carnival in the air as adults engaged in this unusual pastime with child-like enjoyment. Attendees lined up to purchase “Mouse Money”, even exchange, $1.00 U. S. American for $1.00 of Mouse Money. The program comes complete with a “stats” sheet and video screens displaying the odds on each runner by heat number. Just as in horse racing, the odds are arrived at by the amount of money bet on each runner. That is, the amount collected divided by the number of bets on that mouse determines his standing (or his odds) in that race. The most money bet on a mouse makes him the “favorite”, the least money makes that one the “long shot”. If the long shot wins, the pay out is larger. Gateway Downs Mouse Racing has a computer program that tallies these figures automatically. (My! How times have changed!) For instance, pay out for race #3 was $6 for each $2 bet. Of the evening’s take on bets, seventy-five percent is paid back to the people.

Mouse Money

The Official Program is called the Racing Daily News. This is a stat sheet with whimsically cute remarks like:  Pistol Pete is a Speeding Bullet, Hot Pants is On Fire and Dolly is Stacked. There are “Track Picks” for each race and mouse times range from 18.8 seconds to 35.8 seconds. Of course, this is all said in the spirit of fun and good will. The mice picked for a race are simply part of the “herd” and chosen randomly.

Each race was announced with a loud replay of “The Call to the Post”, the traditional start of the race music. That was a cute touch and drew the participants to the “track”. Excitement built and cheering voices were raised. Each mouse was announced and placed in the “gate”. When all were loaded, the gate was opened. Encouraging whoops and yells filled the air. Brags were exchanged, “My mouse is gonna beat your mouse.” Wishing for a win, all eyes were on the mice.

Now, mice don’t run in straight lines on purpose. They are not trained competitors. Some wander a bit, even turn back and go the other way. So there is a lot of hope that turns into sure defeat. But, no! Now the backward roamer redirects himself and passes the mouse in the lead. The people cheer more loudly. Finally, one gets a head on and moves steadily to the finish line. People are jumping by now. Then, YAY! There is a Winner!

Jack Boyd, a Paramedic at Joachim-Plattin Ambulance was kind enough to fill me in on just how the mouse races benefit the community. This evening’s event raised money for the J-P Ambulance Union #2665 – not for their personal use – but so they can finance events like Bar-B-Ques, Chili Cook-Offs, and golf tournaments to benefit burn camps, Christmas baskets valued at $100 and other help to the needy.

Besides mouse bets, entry fees at the door and tickets purchased to win baskets of wine and other donated items raised money toward tonight’s goal. In addition to the wine, some of the donated items were a massage coupon from Massage Clinic, an oil change at Dobbs and eighteen holes of golf at the Ste. Genevieve course.

One of the Raffle Baskets

Attendees tonight were members of Dunklin Fire Department, Joachim-Plattin Ambulance, Herculaneum Fire Department and Festus Fire Department as well as other past emergency workers. The types of people who occupy these positions are service-minded individuals. It pleases them to help others in their critical times of need. Service members also support one another and with the same objective – to give more of themselves.

These types of events take place all over this country while most of the population goes about their daily lives. These are the men and women who sacrifice for others – on the job and in their spare time. They spend their hard-earned dollars donating to suffering people. Sometimes they directly choose a family or children they come in contact with on a particularly heart-wrenching call.

That is the key word you should think of when you encounter one of these angels in blue – heart. It is their heart which motivates them to serve you and your loved ones.

Take the time to participate in their fund-raising events. Help advertise their activities. Go out of your way to show your gratefulness to them. Be aware these people are part of your community and emulate their pay-it-forward ethic. You will be glad you did because you will discover self-sacrifice carries its own reward. And while you’re at it, you may have a little fun, too.

NOTICE:  Contact your local Fire Department and Ambulance Services and ask about their future events. Go to their Facebook pages for information. Tell others and plan to attend. Watch my Events page above for updates. Those are just a few ways you can add your support.

A Licking Good Time

Seeking the Mill, Texas County, Missouri

The day was grey and rainy, but still it was an enjoyable drive to my target town. Licking lies about thirty-eight miles south of Rolla on Highway 63, about 136 total miles from Valley Park, Missouri at Highway 141 and Interstate 44.

Black Angus cattle and some sheep joined yellow wildflowers – tall goldenrod, black-eyed Susans, delicate-petaled sheep sorrel – and cheerfully shone through the grey of the day on my journey. Nearby towns are Houston, Salem and Success, evoking in my mind by-gone days of wagon-wheeled conveyances and women wearing bonnets traveling rough, vegetated land and settling new towns, naming them from their reservoir of experience.

Licking is a typical little town that dots much of America with a few blocks of Main Street, railroad tracks and well-kept homes. It is also a vibrant, growing community. I saw three water towers (there could be more) – one was painted with stitches to resemble a baseball. I should mention Licking got its name from natural salt licks in the region.

Licking Welcome Tower


Easily I found my target, the Licking Milling Company, a beautifully restored building standing proud and larger than I expected. It was the second annual Licking Mill Festival, September 17, 2011. The town’s newspaper website refers to the mill and the celebration, but I was unable to find mention of the type of mill it is. My curiosity led me to drive this distance to find out. Sure, I could have found the answer through research, but I would have missed out on a great adventure. And, part of the allure was the surprise of discovery.



The Licking Milling Company

On the Mill grounds, two brave crafters had set up their fly tent booths and were huddling against the rain. Other than that, I saw little life and wondered if this day wasn’t going to be a disappointment. I need not have questioned for inside was a different story. The place was packed with people and music from a fiddle and a guitar and the scent of food filled the air. Tables of products were displayed. I introduced myself to a woman near the door and things evolved swiftly.

She quickly found the local mill expert, Harold Sullins, and my private tour ensued. Eagerly, I followed Harold to the dirt floor basement and my education began. It is a flour Mill once powered by steam from a huge boiler heated by a cord wood fire beneath. The steam traveled through the top stack to an Atlas Engine Works engine which drove a main line shaft that turned a myriad of pulleys beneath the four Buhr roller mills on the first floor. The engine also turned other pulleys and rollers of other machinery on the second and third floors of the Mill.

Harold inspecting the main shaft

I was impressed with the invention, the heavy iron equipment, the sturdy wood casings, and the amount of intricate technology employed. The genius of the machinery rivals any of today. And, in their day, this was a modern industry equipped with labor saving devices. That is not to say the men who manned the mills did not work. Their job duties were excruciating by today’s standards and there was little in the way of safety devices such as guards around moving parts, railings to prevent a misstep into a rapidly spinning pulley system, or air purifiers to sift the grain and flour dust from the air they breathed.

Many of the men developed a chronic condition called “white lung” – similar to “black lung” coal miners suffer. Years of accumulated flour dust in lung tissues blocks efficient gas exchange in the air sacs. Lungs become stiff and fibrous and coughing ensues. Life is shortened.

Harold, my congenial host, has a day job, owns “a few cows” and his hobby is milling. He spoke of SPOOM – Society for the Preservation of Old Mills – a group that supports the value of our mill heritage and sponsors conferences to promote their goals. If you want to learn more, Old Mill News is their quarterly journal.

The Licking Milling Company last processed corn in 1955 and wheat in the late 1940s. The building was last utilized as storage for a local feed store. It is a structure built from pine wood and is more solid than homes of today. There are four Buhr roller mills on the first floor, each weighs one and a half tons. They stand within a few inches of one another in a row in the center of the room and there is not one iota of floor sag or weakness.

Buhr Roller Mills

This was a production mill. That is, farmers brought their grain to the mill, it was processed and ninety percent was shipped out of town. Ten percent went back to the farmer in the form of flour. In the 1900s the area was dotted with production mills – about every forty-five miles – in Houston, Sherrill, Maple, Lennox, Montauk.

To describe the actual mechanical workings of the mill and the number of processes required to produce flour would take several pages. Concisely, the grain was cleaned, sized, ground, shaken, sifted, bleached, cleaned again and purified. All of these steps apparently did not kill the eggs of the weevils because the duster step came near to the last procedure. This contraption beat the grain against the sides of the container to break the shells of the bug eggs to prevent those critters from showing up alive in flour canisters at home. Finally, the product went on to the packer.

The Sifter

There are three floors to the mill, not including the basement. Lining the walls are narrow, vertical channels. Within these channels were canvas belts equipped every few inches with metal cups which transported the grain in its various processed stages to an upper floor or back down to deliver it to the multiple machines for further processing. The interconnection of all these mechanisms made the mill a true factory and a marvel of invention.

And guess the number of staff to keep all four floors of the mill in operation – meeting the farmers, weighing their product, assuring the product went through its stages, stoking the boiler fire every hour, maintaining the cast iron equipment, troubleshooting problems and resolving them, filling the finished product into barrels – – – – two. Yes, two men. And hey, they probably had to load the shipping wagons, too.

The next time you complain about your job or the conditions at work, be ashamed. You live in the best of times. And they didn’t have health benefits, paid vacations, or any other bonus.

Solid construction, but no insulation against Missouri winters

The rain that day would not relent so the children’s activities did not take place. The quilt contest was moved inside. The fiddler and his partner got cold and moved on. Sunnyside Up, a Bluegrass and Gospel band, took their place. Food was fantabulous and unique – in the coming days, check out Eat & Critique, an exceptional restaurant review blog, to catch my guest post (A Licking Meal) on this mouth-watering fare.

Licking Downtown, Incorporated is the organization founded by concerned residents to save their Mill from demolition. They raised the money to buy the Mill and replaced every window and had it painted. Susie Blackburn laughed when I asked her title. We decided she is the Events Coordinator. The people are not doing all this work for fame, fortune or titles. They do this work because they feel a deep need to preserve their history and to contribute to their community. All the money raised goes to Mill improvements.

These people are average Americans with family and career responsibilities and yet are caressed by winds of the past, awed by back-breaking efforts of their forefathers, and inspired by their ingenuity and resourcefulness. Licking Downtown members and donators are doing their ancestors proud.

Pre-1840 style clothing

Indian Plains Ribbon Dress Worn at Celebrations

In that one day in Licking, I not only learned about milling, but also about making spices and medicines from the roots of local plants. Locals still dig and sell these roots. Purple cornflower is known as “Kansas Snake Root”. Sassafras leaves are used for dry rub steak seasoning. Walnut leaves are good for the kidneys while blue skull cap (a weed) is used in beer and medicines. Dried May apple root is also used in medicine and ginseng root grows here, too.

A resident remembered his mom boiled pine needles to make cough syrup. This generated a conversation among a few older residents who said, “It tasted rough.” The other gentleman said it wasn’t so bad when mixed with his granddad’s Old Crow. “Yeah,” another man agreed, “ya didn’t know if ya had a cough or not and then didn’t care if ya did.”

So, take a short road trip to Licking sometime soon. You will be welcome. People are approachable and friendly and, I guarantee, you will have an interesting story to bring back home.


Notice:  The small town of Licking also has a museum which is sponsoring a Bluegrass Festival on October 1, 2011. Reference their website for upcoming activities and periodically check my Events page above for activities far and near. Sunnyside Up Bluegrass and Gospel band can be seen on Youtube.

Jefferson County & Southern Model Railroad Club

Model Train Lovers

Well, as luck would have it, I discovered another “find” – another nugget in the hills of our beloved rural village of Festus, Missouri. The monthly meeting of the Writer’s Society of Jefferson County coincided with Twin City (Festus and Crystal City) Days, a big spectacular that covers three days of activities.

Festus Main Street Twin City Days 2011

As I exited the Festus Library where our meeting had been held, I saw a small sign pointing to the shop next door, “Train Display”. My interest piqued, I went inside.

An attraction at the fair was a model train display presented by the Jefferson County & Southern Model Railroad Club. The group formed thirty years ago and still has some original members. Most of the men can spout United States train history since the first track was laid on the North American continent. Many of them also know European and English train history.

Did you know during the Civil War, General Price made an attack on the Southern end of a Missouri track to stop iron ore used for forging cannon and gun shot from reaching the North? And sandstone was milled at the Horine Sand Mine? Stupid me. I thought all sand comes from beaches and deserts.

One fascinating tidbit of knowledge I found interesting is Russia made the gauge of their tracks a different size so they could not be infiltrated by German trains – an exceedingly wise and elementary tactic. Oh, for the good old days when national security solutions were so simple!

Tanker Cars

Standard size between rails in the United States is four feet eight and a half inches. Model trains are a one to eighty-seven ratio. In the late 1800s, narrow gauge was used in mountainous areas – two to three feet between rails. In constructing railroad lines in these areas, narrow track was easier to transport to difficult terrain and worked well in limited space and on steeper grades. Ore – silver, gold and tin – was transported in small cars on these tracks.

Passenger trains had names like The Eagle for the Missouri Pacific Line; The Meteor for the Frisco Line; and The 20th Century Limited for the New York Central Line. The heyday of passenger trains was the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, before air travel really “took off” (no pun intended).

Public monies built airports and airlines were not charged for the air miles they traveled. They only had to pay landing fees. In contrast, railroads were not public-supported and had to pay property taxes on every inch of track. Attempting to survive, a money-saving tactic was instituted whereby train companies removed double tracks in order to pay less in property taxes, but it was a futile measure and they lost out in the end. As more people chose to travel by air, railroad ridership disappeared. Since railroads could no longer financially compete they became predominantly bulk carriers.

Model railroaders serve their community by presenting these facts in a fun environment, outside of the school classroom. The opportunity to view these small trains opens the door to education. For example, the variety of town scenery and business enterprise is amazing. Exceptional detail was given to a coal-fired electrical plant, an ore car releasing its load into a dump truck, a sand mill, and a rock quarry.

Dump Truck Ready to Receive Load

Stone Quarry












One of the very best town scenes was a depiction at a lake (realistically complete with a few tossed away rubber tires) of police, average citizens in a boat and scuba divers searching for a drowning victim. As a writer, my mind conjured up a tale around the scene. This was no accident. Soon it would be determined to be a homicide. Let’s see, which one of the “innocent” bystanders would turn out to be the murderer?

Mysterious Goings-On

Using old photographs, club members recreate train cars using stencils and are precise down to the letter. From an original picture, circa 1920s, one of the men built a duplicate depot building of the Festus passenger and freight line that once stood on North Fifth Street between Frisco and North Mill Streets.

Re-created Iron Mountain Car

Old Festus Station (grey building)













The club members say this hobby satisfies various aspects of their personalities and opens up the creative side of their brains. Each man has his own area of expertise – from producing the background art of hills, trees, rocks and sky in the form of painting backdrops to creating three-dimensional mountains, tunnels, crossover tracks and more.

These men and their love for accurately presenting the history of railroading teach the development of travel and commerce across the last two hundred plus years. They have held displays in schools and need more show dates to spread not only the history of railroading, but the charm of it all.

They may present at Christmastime for the City of Festus, but that is not yet confirmed. If you have an organization with a large room for their display, please book them for an event. You would not only be providing entertainment for your clientele, but very interesting education and facts, as well; a retrospective on an era dependent upon dedicated men to be kept alive.

And who amongst us doesn’t just plain enjoy seeing trains meander through towns and mountains and tunnels? Who isn’t mesmerized by the headlight of an engine as it emerges from the dark end of a tunnel? Who doesn’t imagine themselves inside one of those cars and hear that plaintive wail of the whistle and wish we were traveling away to a new adventure?

You can still catch a ride on the Durango & Silverton Railroad in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado and experience the magic and mystery of old-time train travel. Or you could include this display as part of an upcoming event of your own and capture the magic right here at home. Give these guys a shout and acquaint yourself with wistful imaginations as you watch a caboose disappear down the track, heading to . . . where?


NOTICE:       Saturday, February 11, 2012 a model train display will be held at:  Fox Senior High School, 751 Jeffco Boulevard, Arnold, Missouri 63010

Contact info to book for your event:  Bob Miller, President   636-931-5732 bobnjoanstlmo@gmail.com

Pool Gone to the Dogs

Crystal City, Missouri, Dog Day Swim

Any really smart dog knew the day had come and dragged their owners to the Crystal City Pool on September 11, 2011. It was the big day of the Dog Swim. All year they had been planning on attending and they weren’t going to miss it. The people the dogs owned happily followed and provided toys and towels for the animals they love.

It was a bright, sunny day of the waning summer/early fall with the pool water at sixty-six degrees. Not too cold for all the activity that soon would generate lots of heat.

First to arrive was Juno with her pet human, Ann. I couldn’t count how many times that golden retriever made Ann throw a rubber toy into the water so she could fly off the diving board and chomp it in her teeth. Juno worked Ann hard, but both had great fun that day.

Juno Hitting the Water










Among the other attendees was a light blonde, ten month old Labrador with the moniker “Gunny”. His pet human is a female ex-marine and they are a beautiful pair.

The day was dominated by large breeds until three brown dachshunds arrived. I was wrong in thinking they would be intimidated by the size of the other dogs. Those are some confident canines! When they hit the scene, they made it known who the boss is around here! The great beasts, being what they are – great – allowed this bravado and went about their business of enjoying life.

Another small dog arrived named Frankie. He is a convivial character and kept his humans hopping and laughing. He had them trained very well. They never tired of throwing a ball for him and following him around the pool.

Dogs can get their humans to give them names just by their shape or color or demeanor. The tiniest dog, a Yorkie, was dubbed Stuart Little – an ingenious title that brought smiles to all.

The small dogs ran and played with other big dogs outside the water on the concrete surround. It was a delight to watch the antics of five or six dogs of varying shapes and sizes running together in playful abandon. Big dogs in full gallop exuberantly chased a small dog whose turning radius is much sharper. The small dog put the brakes on to inhale the scent of a blade of grass peeking through the fence as the large dogs skittered to a stop eight feet beyond. They’d just get turned around to pursue the short-legged critter when off he’d scamper in a different direction. All the dogs were laughing.

Twenty-one dogs, mostly all strangers to one another, got along famously and relished the moment. What is it people are lacking that prevents them from bonding with strangers and drinking in the good? Why are humans so protective of themselves and full of suspicion? Oh, to be a dog!

Yaps and barks, splashes and sounds of merrymaking filled the air. So much diving and retrieving and soaking-dog-wet-shakes – humans ended up getting wet, too.

How many dogs are in this picture?

In all, twenty-one dogs attended the pool fest. They were proud to pay a $5 admission fee which will go to assist animals who have the misfortune of not owning a human. The Superintendent of Park and Pool, Beverly Sweet, said the Board will decide where the money raised will be allocated. It might be sent to the East coast area affected by the recent hurricane or to our very own Missouri city, Joplin, which was devastated by tornadoes.

In the past, monies have been sent to the Animal Sanctuary (a no-kill shelter) in Missouri and the Humane Society of Missouri in St. Louis for their rescue efforts of puppy mill animals. For two years running, monies were sent to New Orleans for relief efforts for homeless animals.

Animals with their quirky grins and life-loving eyes sure know how to make humans jump through hoops for them. They gave their humans a fun day. Human laughter could be heard on all sides of the pool. Countless ear scratches were given and a lot of “Good Boy!” and “Thatta Girl!” was heard. Those dogs sure know what makes their humans tick and it is obvious how much they love their people.

The next time any of you humans out there address yourself as your pet’s owner, think again. They own you and your heart. Isn’t that a joyful, fulfilling and humbling position to hold?

Buchheit Territory in Herculaneum, Missouri

A Local Standard

Buchheit has been a well-known name in these parts for seventy-seven years. Many words have been written about the family; Rudy Buchheit, the 1934 farmer-turned-entrepreneur; and the country supply store he began in a vacant saloon building. So what more can I add? Plenty.

I have been a customer of Herculaneum Buchheit for about fourteen years now. Each time I return, I find the same magic. Even though a vacant, crumbled concrete lot is across the street from the store, the surrounding hills are densely covered by mature trees and add beauty to the area. On the front lot is a metal farm wind pump. Stop by it and listen to its unique straining, squeaking song. The rhythm slows the pace of my heart. My breathing relaxes as I picture a time in days gone by when wind pumps provided essential, life-giving water to farm animals and crops and country-living families.

Farm Wind Pump With A Song

The store is large yet not so large as to feel like a separate planet of its own like some mega-stores today. The fluorescent lighting is subdued and colors are neutral, lending a peaceful effect. The staff doesn’t fawn. There is no greeter at the door – and need not be. The employees have always seemed to realize as long as they serve customers well the store will remain open for business. Their attitude has not changed over the years.

Saloon Size to SuperStore

Think of any do-it-yourself (DIY) store today and now bring that thought down home. Buchheit has all the building supplies you could need, for both indoors and out; plumbing, electrical, bathroom and kitchen cabinets, patio stones – you name it. But I bet you won’t find a live turkey in a modern DIY store. No, nor chickens or rabbits, either.

City-raised, the first time I went into Buchheit Territory and saw plaid shirts and overalls for sale and heard repeated crows of roosters, I knew I was in for a new experience. As if the hint in the parking lot was not enough. Someone had brought two adult goats along in the back of their pick-up truck. My city dog was beside himself – what are those beasts? I left him in the car to keep watch over those “foreigners”.

Inside, I followed the crows of the roosters and expected to see half-neglected animals, only to find elaborate, wooden shelters for the critters and warming lights to keep the chicks at optimal temperature. They were supplied with food and water, as well. Just to have these animals so close for study and admiration made this shopping experience an adventure. On return visits, I look in on the current populations. These substantial, well-built animal shelters are available for purchase, too.

Other things you won’t find at the big home improvement stores are horse tack, leather cowboy boots, and gun and hunting supplies. And taxidermy! Buchheit serves rural America. Many of the shoppers are local residents and unlike most people in larger, metropolitan areas, are approachable and friendly.

After I took a picture of a huge, plastic horse advertising a turnout blanket, I saw a woman customer and heard her laughing as she was looking at me. I turned and addressed her, “Where else can you find a huge, plastic horse?”

Life-Sized Plastic Sales Horse

She laughed again but otherwise was silent. As I was walking toward her, I saw mounted animal heads, whole fish, foxes, pheasants and ducks on the opposite wall and squealed, “Or those!” and positioned my camera to take a shot of them. The woman was beside me by this time and was laughing again.

Well, I knew she had a sense of humor so I spoke to her. “Isn’t this a fun place?”

She was a cheerful person but admitted she never quite saw it that way. “Oh, but it is,” I said. “Look at those cowboy boots and chickens around the corner and bags and bins of feed for animals. You can’t find these kinds of things just anywhere.”

Still with a smile on her face (her name was Rose), she said, “You know. You are right. I read an article in Countryside Magazine about using your oven for canning and Buchheit is the only place I could find half-gallon canning jars!”

On another occasion, I saw a couple with three baby goats in their shopping cart. I was thrilled and amazed. Of course, I approached them for a conversation. The woman explained, “The babies need to be fed every two to three hours. I just couldn’t leave them at home alone.” What a great policy of the store management to allow our other loved ones to accompany us.

That policy also gave me one of the nicest experiences of my life. I have never been so near a baby goat before – these were about the size of a large cat, with longer legs. They had tiny hooves and were as friendly as any small child or your own pet dog. Each one vied for position to balance their hooves on the cart frame and to paw at my shirt. Their horizontal, rectangular-shaped pupils piercingly searched my face. What fun these little beings were!

The entry walls and doors of Buchheit are covered with orange cards – a promotion they are hosting – Pounds for Paws – for every $1 raised, Buchheit will donate four pounds of pet food to a local animal shelter. Just a promotion? No, I say – that shows heart.

A Sampling of Donation Cards at Buchheit Entry Vestibule

The next time you are down Herculaneum way, stop and shop at Buchheit. You will find the friendly atmosphere comforting and you will enjoy the originality of the place. Prices are below average, too. Just don’t forget to spend a few quiet minutes listening to the rhythmic squeals of the metal wind pump outside – it will cast a spell on you and soothe your spirit.