May 29 - June 2 - Independence MO
Independence was one of the places we really wanted to visit as long as we were in Missouri anyway. Home town of Harry Truman, and the eastern end of the Oregon Trail. Truman was arguably one of the best presidents the country's ever had, quite an accomplishment for somebody who claimed he never wanted the job. He ended World War 2, desegregated the US military, started the rebuilding of Germany and Japan, faced down the Russians at the start of the Cold War, fired General MacArthur, and was in office for the greatest economic resurgence in American History. Not bad for somebody who never went to college and failed at every business he ever tried. A man of great common sense, incredible determination, complete integrity, absolute devotion to his family. He'd probably never be electable today. Al actually sold him a newspaper (on a dare) back in (he thinks) 1952 in Muskegon, MI when Truman was on a whistle-stop train tour promoting whoever was running for election then.
Mon 5/29 - On this day, Missouri had the cheapest gasoline in the country, and in Missouri, the cheapest gas to be had was in Ozark, about 20 miles north of Branson. At 2.46 a gallon, we just had to stop and fill up. Imagine our delight to also find a Russell Stover Candy Factory Outlet Store at the same exit. We filled up there, as well.
Being from the Oregon Coast, we are greatly impressed with the way storm clouds develop over the plains. By mid-afternoon, there were some spectacular clouds ahead of us as we drove west on I-70. Lightning was flashing up, down and sideways. We could actually see the whole storm - front to back, end to end. And we had to go directly through it. Torrential rains. Just as we got thru the storm, the phone rang - it was our RV park in Independence, checking to make sure we were OK. Nice touch. We talked to them again as we tried to actually find the park - the GPS guided us to their mailing address, which is NOT the park entrance. The Campus RV Park is smallish - just 30 RV sites - and is somehow connected to one of the derivatives of the Mormon Church. The Utah-centered church, the Kansas-centered church and a "reformed" version called "The Community of Christ" all have facilities adjacent to the park. In any event, it's right in town and very convenient, friendly and quiet. And all those churches play their bells off and on all day. Neat sounds.
Tue 5/30 - The Pioneer Trails Museum is located just a half-block from the RV park, so we walked over to take a tour. The gal at the desk convinced us to take the covered wagon tour of town, so we did that first, and she called the wagonmaster, who detoured from his route long enough to pick us up. In an hour, we covered most of the major sites (from the outside, anyway) and learned a lot about the town, including much about the little-known skullduggery that occurred during the Civil War. After being dropped off again at the museum, we went back to Plan A. The Trails Museum is all about the folks who settled the West - Independence was the start of the Oregon Trail, the Santa Fe Trail and the California Trail. Most everybody who settled in the west before the railroads got through came through Independence. As many as 1,000 wagons a month left here. Rough way to travel - 15 miles on a good day, taking 5 months to get to Oregon. It's amazing that only 9% died along the way. We walked back home for lunch, and then relaxed before trying to find dinner. We wound up at an all-you-can-eat steak buffet named "Wally's", not the best decision we've ever made. We'll do better next time. After dinner, we drove into Kansas City to try to see some of their world-famous fountains, supposedly all lit up and quite a sight. Downtown KC is a construction zone, most of the fountains are not running, let alone lit, and then it started to rain. We came back home, stopping at a convenient grocery store to stock up on ice cream and a bottle of Bailey's to salve our disappointment.
Wed 5/31 - The Truman Presidential Library and Museum is a few blocks from Old Town Independence, and we made it our first stop of the morning. The main part of the library deals with the events that shaped the world during the Truman presidency, and how Truman responded. It's hard to conceive of the really major historical things that happened in those 7+ years - the end of World War 2, the use of the Atomic Bombs against Japan, the Berlin Blockade, the Marshall Plan, the Korean War, the end of American isolationism. Reading the Truman correspondence is fascinating. Al had read a Truman Biography when he was a kid, but about all he remembered was that he didn't have a middle name - the "S" in Harry S Truman wasn't short for anything. It's fun to see how many places the "S" gets a period and how often it (properly) doesn't. The library also includes a great exhibit on Truman's life, both before and after the presidency. And a traveling exhibit of a 1/12 scale model of the entire White House fills one whole wing of the building. Post library, we had a late lunch in the old town, and then went to the local Verizon Wireless store to see about adding internet access to our Verizon wireless contract. Most of the evening was spent trying to get the air card to work. Never did.
Thur 6/1 - First stop of the morning was the Verizon Store to trade in the air card for one that was "guaranteed" to be compatible with our laptop. Then back to the RV to see if it would work. Only took an hour and a half on the phone with tech support. It's still an open book. But now we do have internet access of a sort when there's no wi-fi available. After lunch, we toured the Truman Home, the home Harry and Bess moved into when they were married, and returned to after the presidency. It was actually Bess's home - Harry couldn't afford to buy a house, so they moved in with her Mother (and her Grandmother). They lived there the rest of their lives. Bess lived there for about 10 years after Harry died, and refused to let anybody change anything. So today, you tour the house pretty much as it was when Truman died. Factoid: When the Trumans moved out of the White House, they insisted that the official portrait painted of Bess was personal property, and they carted it back to Independence. It hangs in the home. The one in the White House and the one in the Truman Library are both copies, although copies made by the original artist.
Fri 6/2 - The other place we really wanted to visit in Missouri was Hannibal, childhood home of Samuel L. Clemens and the inspiration for the Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn novels he would later write. So we drove from one end of Missouri to the other (it's not really all that far) and arrived mid-afternoon at the Mark Twain Cave and Campground, across the road from the Mississippi River, just south of Hannibal. That's for our next report.
Al's Highlight - If there's such a thing as a superficial Truman immersion, this was it, and it was great. Historians keep debating the Truman presidency, and it keeps getting better and better reviews. One of the fascinating displays in the library is a video montage of people quoting Harry Truman. It included every president and presidential wanna-be from Eisenhower to Bush & Kerry. Reading the accounts (and his letters) of his decisions around dropping of the atomic bombs is really insightful. Independence is very proud of Harry Truman. Justifiably so. Even if he was a Democrat. :-)
Judy's Highlight - I really loved that wagon tour of Independence. We learned more about the city and its history than we could have picked up from any ordinary source. The guy who drove the wagon is a fascinating story teller - his facts deviated very little from other sources, but were related with extraordinary wit and detail. Taking a bumpy wagon ride through town in midday heat is not usually our idea of a fun outing, but we're both glad we got talked into this one!
Highlight #2 - I love thunderstorms, and we had a spectacular one every evening in Independence. Better than a movie! And the evening rain kept the temperature down to bearable levels.
Click here to see a slideshow of some of our pictures from this leg of the trip.
Stay tuned . . .