Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Montpelier, VA

On Saturday, I met my friend Nancy at Montpelier, James Madison's home just down the road from Rob's. It was a beautiful day and we got there early to partake in the house tour. I was surprised that there weren't more visitors as our group was relatively small.
We weren't allowed to take photos inside the house which has just been restored to the Madisons period as after Dolley sold the house, it was dramatically altered. Madison referred to Montpelier as, "A squirrel's jump from heaven." The house was never damaged from the Civil War but was once used for a court marshall for deserters who were tried and executed here.
The temple was added in 1809 and sits over the ice house. Madison used the temple as an outdoor study.
A couple of ladies were cooking outside the same as the slaves used to and had made a delicious gumbo. I was curious to know if the Cowboy Charcoal was available back then as it did blend in with their other period cookware.
This bronze statue of James and Dolley was only commissioned in 2009; I thought it had been there for years.
Nancy and I were delighted to find a 'conker tree' or 'yellow buckeye'. It's a Horse Chestnut tree and drops these nuts every autumn. We filled our pockets while explaining to other visitors how the game is played after which they picked them up also to take home for their kids.
A beautiful dutch barn at the back of the gardens.
The Madison's graves. Across the way was the slaves cemetery with the ground covered with periwinkle foliage and the white granite head and foot markers.
 We were puzzled by this gravestone and others like it until a tour guide explained that they were racehorse graves that belonged to Marion Dupont, the daughter of the Duponts who bought the house from Dolley Madison. Battleship was the only American horse to ever win the British Sweepstakes.
We finished the day with a slave tour since Montpelier had over 110 slaves and currently there is excavating going on where their housing used to be. They were treated very well here and Paul Jennings was Madison's favorite who was with him when he died. 
After the tour we drove to a local winery, Keswick, where we paid $8.41 for half a glass of wine. When I commented on the tide being out, the lad indignantly spluttered that I had 4oz. More like 4 gulps. The wine was wonderful but the ambiance was not, especially having been sullied by that young whippersnapper, so I shan't go back there again, and I won't post any photos. (Please imagine the sound of a loud raspberry now.)
Sunday was a rainy morning but Rob very kindly changed the oil in Stuart. I stayed out in the rain with him but since there was little I could do to help, I snapped a couple of images.
Later we went to Lance and Nicole's as Hilary their babysitter was flying back home during the week and I'd promised her some photos of her and the kids.
I'm especially proud of this one, the lighting and expressions were perfect.
After ice cream and goodbyes, it was back to Rob's where I prepared the conkers for battle. To be quite honest Rob and I were complete rubbish at aiming at each other's nuts so we gave up, and I did have the rules a little wrong. Whatever. Here is an awesome page I found on conker facts and the proper rules. Let me know when you want to wage a Conker Conquest.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bicycles and Cars

From now until after October 9th my blog is going to be a little neglected. Posts will be shorter and less frequent. This is because I have a 100 mile cycle ride that day and really need to focus on that rather than writing and photo editing, which tend to take up quite a lot of my spare time during the week. I am also giving a presentation on my urbexing photography on November 3rd so need to prepare for that also. So apologies in advance but my will be unaffected.
So, last Saturday Barb and I took part in the Rappahannock Rough Ride which was a 12 circuit of hills down in Washington, VA. The scenery was spectacular and the roads were peaceful. There were only a few hundred participants and so for the most part we cycled alone.
At the start.
Hey, Barb, you're facing the wrong way!
 The first hill is always the hardest and this one was no exception. We tolled on and passed other grunting riders and some who were shoving their bikes in front of them up the incline. Not us! We stayed on our pedals and pushed! There's nothing like the sweet joy of cresting a hill and we were lucky as we were going to feel that a few times on this route. Yes, a hint of sarcasm was included there.
The views were amazing and the air was sweet which was a bonus since we were gulping a lot of it.
 I somehow managed to take this shot of me peddling.
 This was the last hard hill and was a good half mile. We still stayed on our bikes and I was proud to say that I didn't get off once during our ride. We and a few others also took a wrong turn somewhere so we ended up peddling over 16 miles of hills which was great.
The village of Washington is very pretty. It's set in the hills and is noted for being the oldest of the 28 towns and villages by the name of Washington in the U.S. and was surveyed by  the man himself in 1749. I can verify that the courthouse is equally quaint and charming as I attended my court hearing there for reckless driving a couple of years ago,  and came away with points and fine slashed, due I think, because of the very pleasant conversation I had with the judge whilst standing in the 'dock'.
Barb and I noticed on the way into the village an abandoned building so we decided to explore that on the way out. It was a small motel place and we found out from some brochures left there that it had once been the 422-acre Sunnyside Farm, an organic farm which appears to have gone out of business after 2002. David Cole, the venture capitalist and former America Online executive-turned-sustainable-agriculture-advocate turned it into a showplace of organic farming, animal husbandry and genteel comfort. By 2002, between the initial purchase price, additional acreage, barns and machinery as well as offices, a grocery store and a leased 10,000-square-foot restaurant and retail operation in nearby Sperryville, he had spent more than $20 million which he never managed to recuperate by the looks of it. The motel part we were exploring was used for tenants or guests.
On Sunday Rob and I went to Lance's for a BBQ and I got to see his awesome 1967 Chrysler New Yorker, the same car as the Blues Mobile.
 It's in pretty good condition and he spun it around the front yard to raise some dust.
Too soon, the weekend was ended and Rob and I wrapped it up with some more My Name Is Earl and popsicles.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Somerset Steam & Gas

Sunday was another beautiful day and perfect for a steam and gas convention. I was excited as today I would be seeing plenty of tractors, vehicles I'd not really noticed until I met Rob, but vehicles that I'd grown to love.
The place was filled with engine noise, smoke and chatter, it was hard not to be drawn in by the atmosphere. Not knowing where to go first, we simply headed for the biggest machinery.
Big iron steam engines trundled past while others remained stationary and used their engine power to operate hay bundling machinery, log sawing plants or simply just to let off lots of steam, smoke and piercing whistles.
As one of them clattered past, I detected an English accent and moved closer to listen. Rob immediately called out and asked the gentleman driving if I could have a ride and before I knew it, I was up and driving the great beast.It was brilliant and a lot easier than driving a tractor, except for the wood shoveling into the furnace bit, but I didn't have to do that. Rob also climbed up for a spin and after a turn around the field we jumped down to go and meet other equally friendly people.
At the tractor pull, I was called over by a gentleman operating the weight machine that hooks up to the tractor pulling. 
Medford asked if he could see the photos I was taking and I was happy to oblige. I met his wife and friends by the weigh bridge and chatted for a while. Gordon Shelton who helps with this event also has another event in October which he's helping to organize. The Stafford County School Fair is the first fair at the school and is resurrecting the old fair for the first time in about 30 years. Gordon is looking for helpers and vendors who would like to take part.
I also met another new friend called Bill when I walked across a field to photograph a Farmall tractor.
Bill has his own collection of over 100 tractors and industrial vehicles. He used to be a regular contender in the tractor pull but gave it up when his wife sadly passed. It was wonderful to hear that he's slowly getting involved again with the fairs and regenerating his interest.
This guy was having a rest inbetween pulls on his tractor.
Adding weights to the tractor. Some of these tricycle style tractors would lift at the front so needed to be weighted down, although there is a weight restriction in the event.
Rob and I stopped to admire a Massey Ferguson 50 and the owner came over to chat. They both started talking about engines and transmissions and my eyes slowly glazed over as I understood less and less as the conversation progressed. I broke away and left them to their happy musings.
I had to admire this photographer and his dedication to getting the perfect shot. I would've loved to see his photos.
This tractor won a few awards. Note the weights on the left.
Gordon leveling out the course after a tractor pull.
This guy was stamping souvenir pieces of cedar wood which were selling like hotcakes. We got one and plan to start a collection.
And now for photos of my favorite tractors. Overall I fell in love with the Farmall tricycles and Case came a close second.
Not sure why this John Deere was tied to the pole like a dog.
A very cool old car that drove around the fields.
Even some of the kids were driving around on their tractors.
This stall made gorgeous ice cream and I had the best creamiest peach ice cream I'd ever tasted with big fresh chunks of fruit mixed in. I also had my first ever snow cone, blue raspberry.
As the day wound down, we watched tractors and steam engines being towed away on trailers. It had been a fabulous day which flew by too fast but we'd met some lovely people and seen wonderful antique machinery up close making for a memorable experience which I can't wait to repeat next year.