I think that most people have heard of Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa, the strange looking structure that is most famous for the fact that it leans…badly enough to be noticed. You would think that the building started leaning as it aged, but that is not the case. Construction started on the building in the 12th century. It was supposed to be a bell tower for the cathedral of Pisa, which is a busy trade center on the Arno River in western Italy, about fifty miles from Florence. As the construction progressed, the tower’s foundation began to sink in the soft, marshy ground, causing it to lean to one side. In an attempt to make the tower stand straight, the builders decided to compensate by making the top stories slightly taller on the low side of the building. The attempt failed, because as they added the extra masonry to that side, the extra weight made the building sink further.
Undeterred, the builders continued to build the tower, finally completing it in 1360. Engineers of this day and age, have said that it is an absolute miracle that the tower hasn’t fallen down completely, because in reality, it just isn’t a sound structure…or so it would seem. The cathedral and the adjoining baptistery also lean slightly, but not as much as Torre Pendente di Pisa, which translates to Leaning Tower of Pisa, which made the city famous.
By the time the 20th century rolled around, the 190 foot high white marble tower leaned a scary 15 feet off the perpendicular. In 1989, one million people visited the old tower, climbing its 293 weathered steps to the top and gazing out over the green Campo dei Miracoli, which translates Field of Miracles, that was just outside. Officials began to worry that the tower was about to collapse, so they appointed a group of 14 archeologists, architects and soil experts to figure out how to take some, but not all, of the famous tilt away.
The first attempt in 1994 almost toppled the tower, but engineers were eventually able to reduce the lean by between 16 and 17 inches by removing earth from underneath the foundations. When the tower reopened on December 15, 2001, engineers predicted it would take 300 years to return to its 1990 position. Though entrance to the tower is now limited to guided tours, hordes of tourists can still be found outside, striking the well known pose…standing next to the tower pretending to hold it up, as cameras flash. Guided tour or not, I don’t think I would go inside the structure, which seems less than safe, considering the fact that it had to be raised to keep it from falling down. The repairs took 11 years and cost $27 million to fortify.
Some challenges are tougher than others, and the challenge to connect San Francisco with Marin County, California rates right up there among the most difficult…at least in 1937. I’m sure there have been bigger challenges since then and even before then, but I think that building what was the longest suspension bridge in the world in 1937 had to be really difficult. The bridge, which was built between January 1933 and May 1937, was to be 4,200 feet long. Its location was probably the biggest challenge the builders faced. The bridge is very close to the San Andreas Fault, which runs north and south directly through the San Francisco area. The bridge had to be built in such a way as to ensure its stability in the event of an earthquake. While earthquakes can happen anywhere in the world, it is such a strange idea to me to build something that depends on solid ground, on a known fault. Nevertheless, the bridge still stands today, and there have been many earthquakes in that area.
The second challenge the builders faced was the tumultuous waters the bridge had to span. The dangers that presented for the underwater construction were grave. The construction teams started their work on the peninsulas, building out over the wind-whipped waters of the San Francisco Bay. With labor and 70,000 tons of steel, they built arms that reached out to each other over the straits, getting closer by the day. Given the strait’s precarious mixture of violent winds, swirling currents, and thick fogs, many thought such a bridge couldn’t be built. Nevertheless, the builders have prevailed against the challenges they faced, because the bridge was completed successfully. In all, eleven men would lose their lives during construction, ten of them on February 17, 1937 when a section of scaffold carrying twelve men fell through the safety net.
I think the biggest challenge, that did not involve the elements, was a city who was skeptical and many people who were simply against a bridge across the San Francisco Bay. Nevertheless, Joseph Strauss, the engineer fought for 16 years to convince the people that the bridge was an amazing idea. He was a very proud man when he, on opening day, triumphantly exclaimed, “The bridge which could not and should not be built, which the War Department would not permit, which the rocky foundation of the pier base would not support, which would have no traffic to justify it, which would ruin the beauty of the Golden Gate, which could not be completed within my costs estimate of $27,165,000, stands before you in all its majestic splendor, in complete refutation of every attack made upon it.”
And so it was that the seemingly impossible was accomplished. The bridge was set to open on May 27, 1937, and by 6:00am, 18,000 people were lined up on both the San Francisco and the Marin county sides. In all, about 200,000 people showed up that day. At the appointed hour, a foghorn blew, and the toll gates opened. The earliest arrivals would have the distinction of being among the first to cross. Many offices, schools, and stores closed to attend the great event. The day was designated Pedestrian Day. The next day, he bridge opened to vehicle traffic. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed the bridge open to the world. By the end of that day, 32,000 vehicles had paid the tolls and crossed the historic bridge. In the 70 plus years it has been open, it is estimated that nearly 2 billion vehicles have crossed the bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge and the views it holds are beautiful, and I am happy to have been one of those people to have crossed it.
When most people think of Gumbo, they think of soup, and I do too, but there is another form of Gumbo, that isn’t quite as nice. In fact, this Gumbo is pretty awful. The Gumbo I’m talking about is the black, sticky, clay kind of mud found in many areas around the nation. Getting crossways with this kind of Gumbo can be a real mess, and in some places, very dangerous. Casper, Wyoming is known to have this kind of Gumbo, and any of us who have come across it can tell you just how bad it is.
My own experience with it was at the Kmart construction site when I was just a kid. My sisters and I were all curious about the new Kmart store going in, and since we lived just a block away, we liked to go over there and check it out sometimes. On this particular day, it had rained, and the dirt hill we had to climb over to get to the site was pretty soggy. I was not put off by that one bit, but perhaps I should have been. I proceeded to climb up the hill of mud, and sunk quickly to my ankles. Thankfully that finally deterred me from trying to go further, and changed my plan instead to trying to get out of there with my shoes…brand new penny loafers, which I had been wanting forever, by the way. In the end, I managed to get out and rescue my amazing shoes, but the shoes didn’t fare as well as I did. They shrunk by about a size, and I could no longer wear them. Man…was I in trouble. I don’t recall if I ever got another pair of penny loafers, or if they went out of style shortly thereafter, but I do remember that mud, and how awful it was. Ugh!! It was not a good day…especially when you add to it the fact that my mother was furious.
My cousin, Tim Fredrick and I share this type of experience. Once when Tim was in Kindergarten at Pineview School, in Casper, Wyoming, which we both attended, by the way, he recalls learning about the stuff of legends…in the form of the mud in the area. For any of you who don’t know it, the mud in Casper, Wyoming is pretty much all Gumbo. Gumbo is so sticky, that believe me when I say, “It will eat your shoes, if you get in there, and you will feel lucky to get out of it with your feet!!” This was the predicament Tim found himself in, when the playground had finally begun to dry after the rain, and because it had developed a thin crust of dry dirt, Tim mistakenly thought it was safe to walk across. Well, as you might have guessed, the crust broke, and that Gumbo mud ate Tim’s shoes. Tim couldn’t move, and if his friends hadn’t been there…some of them larger than he was, thankfully, that Gumbo might have got his feet too, but they pulled him out, just in the nick of time. Ok, I’m exaggerating just a bit, but that mud will get a grip on you and you can’t get out without help. I don’t know how Tim’s mom felt about all that, but my guess is that it was a feeling similar to my mom’s on that day long ago when I was a little kid. When it comes to Gumbo, I think Tim and I will agree…stay away, but it will always win. As Tim said, Gumbo is truly the stuff of legends!!
Our family liked my nephew, Eric Parmely’s wife, Ashley from the moment we first met her. Ashley is an outgoing girl with a great sense of humor, and a practical, common sense way of doing things. We all felt like she fit right into our family from day one. Now, over three years after joining our family, Ashley and Eric have two precious little girls to make their family complete. Reagan is almost two, and Hattie is just a little over one month. In some ways, Ashley reminds me of a younger version of myself. She is very capable of handling those two little ones all by herself, and having kids doesn’t slow her down one bit. When many of the family members got together to hike at Garden Creek Falls recently, Ashley showed up with Reagan in one arm, Hattie in a front baby pack, and the two family dogs on leashes, and believe me, she had the whole situation under complete control, and packing around two little ones by yourself is a big job.
Ashley really has a way with children and animals that is just precious to watch. The family dogs, Ayva and Dixie are so well behaved that the leashes are really not necessary. I love watching such well behaved dogs. They are able to have the freedom to roam a little, but when they are called, they immediately return to their master. They don’t jump on people and don’t stay right in your face, but rather they spend time enjoying the outing and their favorite little girl, my grand niece, Reagan. I’m sure that Eric had something to do with the training of the family dogs too, but Ashley has been around animals all her life. Her family has horses, including miniature horses. Ashley loves them, and I’m sure that living next door to her parents allows her to be a big help to them too.
Ashley has taken that same gentle way with her daughters. Watching Reagan play, you can tell that she and her mom do things together, like yoga, reading, and raising little sister, Hattie. Ashley recognizes Reagan’s desire to help with all the things that need to be done for Hattie, and she patiently allows Reagan to be a big part of it. I love the closeness that Ashley and her girls share, and the closeness she is building between Reagan and Hattie. Reagan wants to be a part of it all, and that is important, so Ashley’s patience with that process is so great.
Eric and Ashley’s lives have become much more busy with the arrival of Hattie, and the construction they are doing in the basement of their home to accommodate the needs of two little girls. I know that their lives are only going to get busier as the girls move into their school years and all the activities that come with that, but for now, they can just relax and enjoy the fun and laughter that comes with being the parents of two little girls. Today is Ashley’s birthday. You are such a great mom. Happy birthday Ashley!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
I was a little girl, when the original Kmart in Casper was built. We lived less than a block from the site, and very much enjoyed watching the construction as it progressed. It was very exciting for my sisters and me…at least the ones who were old enough to be able to play outside. Little did I know then, that the construction site was going to be a bit of a problem for me. It had been raining for a couple of days, but I still wanted to go over that weekend and see what had been accomplished. It so happened that I had just gotten a pair of penny loafers, a shoe which was very popular at that time, and one that I had wanted very badly. I was just a kid, and I never gave thought to the rain in relation to a construction site that we girls had been accessing through the alley at the end of the street. Since they had been doing a lot of digging, there were piles of dirt next to that alley…add rain to that dirt and…yes, you get mud.
A kid doesn’t think of boots…especially in the summer time. I simply waded through all that mud in my new penny loafers….and it was probably knee deep. As much as I dislike mud and dirt these days, I really have to wonder why that mud didn’t bother me. I guess I was on a quest to discover how the construction was going. Needless to say, I went bravely on my quest through the mud to see the new Kmart building. In my recollection, the building was coming along just fine, but my muddy legs were getting uncomfortable, so I headed home…yes, back through the mud.
My mom was not particularly happy with me when I got home that day, and the day that followed was not better, but rather worse. After cleaning me up, she did the best she could with my new shoes, and while they looked pretty good, the next day would bring a problem that I will never forget as long as I live. My super cool, brand new, beautiful Penny Loafers had shrunk, and they no longer fit me. They were made of leather, and I had no idea that they would shrink. I was devastated to say the very least. I assume that my sister, Caryl had a super cool, brand new but slightly used, beautiful pair of Penny Loafers after that.
When I picked my grandson, Josh up from Kelly Walsh High School the other day, we drove past the area where they are tearing up the old teacher’s parking lot for the school renovation project that is going on in several schools around town. Josh said, “When I look at that, it makes me sad?” He hated seeing the school he had known change. I found that a little surprising, in that this is Josh’s first year at Kelly Walsh, but when I thought about the fact that Josh’s older brother Chris has gone there for 3 years, it made sense that he would think of this school as a place he knew well. We continued down 12th Street, and past the swimming pool and he mentioned the building that was the entrance to the pool, and it really hit me.
Kelly Walsh High School has been a part of my life since I was a kid. It first opened in 1965, when I was just 9 years old. It wasn’t long after that that my sisters and I began going to Kelly Walsh High School to go swimming, almost every weekday in the summer. We walked past Pineview School to 8th Street, turned on Sally Lane, crossed the foot bridge to Forest Drive, went up to 12th Street and up to Kelly Walsh pool. It was so much fun to go swimming there every summer, and now the building is gone and the pool will follow. All those years of that pool being such a huge part of my summer…and now it will be gone.
So many changes are about to occur to the school where I spent my high school years. When the work is done, I don’t know if I will even recognize it. After my graduation, my sisters attended there, and then my older sister’s older children, and then when my girls started high school it was at Kelly Walsh, and once again I spent time there. Now, two of my grandsons are there and I am spending time there again. Kelly Walsh High School will always be a part of my life it seems, but it will not always be the school it was. I know it will be a better school when they are done, and I know it is a necessary change, but it still makes me sad too.
For the last eleven years now, my brother-in-law, Mike has been a part of our family. When they married, Caryl moved to Rawlins, which was where he lived. They continue to live there…for now, but when they retire, they want to move to Casper again. Caryl was born and raised here, but has hardly lived here since her first marriage, so it is going to be quite a change to have her and Mike living here. We are all happy about that future plan.
Since they purchased their ranch on Poison Spider Road, Mike and Caryl have been working to tear down the sheep birthing barns and put up new fence around the property. Their plan is to rent the house out for the next 8 years, until they are ready to retire. In the mean time, they are planning to have their dream house built for them in about 5 years. The barn had an area in the back the they will turn into an apartment for them to stay in while they are working on the ranch. It is not going to be a fast process, since they can only work on the ranch on days off and vacations, but they have plenty of time, since that retirment is 8 to 10 years down the road.
Mike has done lots of construction projects for my parents, as well as carpentry, so any finishing touches he does on their own home will not be much of a stretch for him. He is very good at planning out a project and designing everything. I know their home will be great when it is all done. I’m sure their retirement ranch will be a place of refuge for them for many years to come.
Today is Mike’s birthday, and while he is celebrating in in Japan this year, and I’m really jealous, I do hope it’s great. Happy birthday Mike!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
As a little boy, Bob loved trains. When his family was living in the small town of Point of Rocks, Wyoming while his dad worked in the construction business, the highlight of his day was when the trains would go by, because he would run outside, and count the cars on the train. To most of us, that would seem like an odd thing to do, and in fact did seem odd to me, but to a train lover, it is not so strange. Bob got his train set before he lived at Point of Rocks, so I guess it was not the trains there that started his love of trains, but I do know that his love of trains has never left him.
Whenever we are in a place that has any kind of a train display, Bob has to go have a look. The cool thing about that is that we have seen some amazingly great set ups. Some have housed several towns along their route, along with beautiful scenery. It occurs to me that Bob is in good company in his love of trains. I have to admire those people who set up those displays, because that is no easy feat. Those parts are tiny and everything has to line up perfectly or the train won’t run smoothly and you will have wasted your time.
There are not a lot of opportunities for people to ride trains these days, unless you work on one, but each year Bob and I get that opportunity when we come to The Black Hills for our annual Independence Day holiday. Our last day, which will be tomorrow on this year’s trip, we take a ride on the 1880 Train. Yes, it’s a touristy thing, but we don’t care. Riding the train always brings that little thrill of excitement. The train whistle blowing, the smoke from the engine, the scenery, that never gets old, even though we have seen it many times before. We know the route by heart, but that doesn’t matter. We still sit and hold hands, as if we were on our honeymoon. Maybe that’s because the trains have a little but of a romantic feel to them…at least to us they do, and always will.
Today is Bob’s birthday. We have celebrated 39 of them together and I still feel the same way about my wonderful husband. He is the love of my life, and I knew that on that first birthday celebration, before we were even married. He is a wonderful man and I am incredibly blessed. Happy birthday Bob!! I hope your day is as great as you are. I love you very much!!!