Places to go and things to see by Gypsy Bev

Archive for September, 2013

Shenandoah Airship Trailer Museum

Shenandoah Airship Trailer Museum in Ada, Ohio

U.S.S. Shenandoah Airship Trailer Museum in Ada, Ohio

In a remote corner of southeastern Ohio, those interested in history will feel fortunate to stumble upon U.S.S. Shenandoah Trailer Museum. This small, but very nice, camper trailer nearly overflows with historic memorabilia, which the Rayner family began organizing for display back in the 1980’s. Rayner’s Towing Garage in Ada, Ohio has a fantastic collection of items related to the Shenandoah Airship crash back in 1925, and the historical marker out front explains the story of the crash. Commander Zachary Lansdowne had been warned not to take this particular flight due to the rapid changes in Ohio weather during September. But on its tour of midwestern state fairs, he wanted to fly the immense 680′ zeppelin over his family home in Greeville, Ohio where his mother was living at that time.

USS Shenandoah Station Memorial Post Card

USS Shenandoah Station Memorial Post Card

Bryan and Theresa Rayner were eager to share their knowledge on a recent visit to their museum. Theresa, who works at the local post office, attempted to have a commemorative stamp made on the 80th anniversary, but that wasn’t possible due to government disaster regulations following 9/11. Therefore, for the 85th anniversary, the post office did have a commemorative post card developed. Part of the airship landed on the family farm of Bryan Rayner, who developed his interest way back at the age of three when he went with his grandfather to take people to the crash site at their farm.. Unfortunately, Bryan recently suffered a severe heart attack and now joins those who died in the Shenandoah crash.

The walls are covered with pictures and stories of the 1925 crash of the famous airship, Shenandoah. There were actually three places where major sections of the airship fell to earth. The stern section of the ship crashed  near Ava and a memorial can be seen from I-77, heading south, between the Buffalo and Belle Valley exits. The control car crashed on nearby Andy Gamary Farm, while the bow section drifted a bit farther south to Sharon, Ohio along State Route 78.

The Shenandoah was built for naval purposes and not designed for luxury travel. Frequently while on its missions, it would be tied to a naval carrier in the ocean. When released it could float away above the clouds. By lowering a “spy car” just below the clouds, it accomplished its missions of reconnaissance on enemy ships and subs.

Display showing the skeleton of the famous Shenandoah airship

Display showing the skeleton of the famous Shenandoah

The skeleton of the ship was made of aluminum girders with the fabric covering coated with silvery aluminum paint. Inside the ship there was actually a long walkway, along which the crew could sleep and eat. There were twenty gas cells with their outside covering being made of cotton and the inside made of “goldbeaters skin”, the stomach lining of oxen.

Pieces of Shenandoah: oxen stomach lining, aluminum and wood frame

Pieces of Shenandoah outside fabric, oxen stomach lining, aluminum and wood frame

Pieces of all these parts are available to see and even touch inside the museum. Most are behind glass, but they feel it is important to have young people especially, be able to touch the original pieces to gain a better feel for their historic importance. The Rayners took items to local schools in Noble County to share the story with the children over the years. They even set up a 12″ walkway, which was the actual size of the walkway inside the airship, for children to duplicate the experience of the limited space inside.

One of many glass cases filled with memorabilia

One of many glass cases filled with memorabilia

Glass cases are packed with memorabilia that has been gathered from many sources. Some items have been donated to the museum and others have been purchased. Old 78 records with songs about the Shenandoah, such as “The End of The Shenandoah”, have been collected. Sheet music of “The Wreck of Shenandoah” can also be viewed. A large collection of rings made from pieces of the airship fill a special exhibit case. Some were purchased as gifts for Bryan, who had a real passion for keeping the memory of the Shenandoah alive.

You might be surprised at the number of visitors who have toured the U.S.S. Shenandoah Trailer Museum from all over the United States, Canada, England, Australia, and New Zealand. Over the years many, who actually lost family members in that crash, stopped by to leave a piece of history and view the grand collection of memorabilia. On the 2013 anniversary of the crash, Commander Zachary Lansdowne’s granddaughter and family visited the museum.

This is one of those times when an individual or two have made a real difference in the world by keeping alive the stories and events of the airship Shenandoah.

The U.S.S. Shenandoah Trailer Museum can be found in Ada, Ohio just off I-77. To visit the Shenandoah crash site, take I-77 to Exit 28 , Belle Valley. From the west side of the interstate, take Hwy 821 North 5 miles to Ava. The monument is on the north side of town on the east side of the road and well marked. Rayner’s Garage and the Shenandoah Trailer Museum are on the south side of town. The museum has limited open hours.


End of an Era: Morrison’s Store Sycamore Valley, Ohio

Morrison General Store in Sycamore Valley, Ohio

Morrison’s General Store in Sycamore Valley, Ohio

Driving down the long steep Creighton Hill to Sycamore Valley, thoughts of years gone by began to creep into the mind. At the bottom of the hill in a beautiful tree-filled valley sat the little town of Sycamore Valley, Ohio. Located in Monroe County, this small town has a rich history centered around their meeting place, Morrison’s General Store.

Shelves at Morrison Store

Shelves at Morrison Store

Built back in the 1880’s, this was the supply center for most of the people of that valley. No other towns were close by so at Morrison’s General they found not only groceries for the family, but also feed for their livestock at an adjacent feed mill. Included on the shelves were everything needed for the home, farm, and even boots and hats for the farmer. When looking through the old ledgers for the store, total sales for the month of December, 1943 totaled $1,429.32. An unusual sign on the scales inside summed up the philosophy of the store:

We have no quarrel with those who sell for less They know what their merchandise is worth.

Warm Morning Meeting Place

Warm Morning Meeting Place

Even though there was a gas light at the entrance, inside the store was dark and gloomy cheered only by the friendly folks of the Valley. Many remembered coming to the store two or three times a week to get everything they needed for their family. No matter if you needed eggs and cheese or nuts and bolts, this was the original one-stop shopping center. One man said he came from the age of three to the store where his mother met with some other ladies for quilting. This was a time when folks would gather around the old Warm Morning wood stove, prop up their feet and share the latest Valley news.

Sycamore Valley Post Office

Sycamore Valley Post Office

Sycamore Valley Post Office

Sycamore Valley Post Office

The store here in Sycamore Valley also served as a one-pump Ashland gas station as well as the post office, which served over 100 addresses at its peak. Inside you can still see the post office boxes where mail was kept for pick-up. While there Morris, the last postmaster, told about his 34 years running the post office. Morris’ dad owned the store previous to that time.

Times were rough in the Valley and keeping the store open was a difficult encounter during the best of times. Finally, the store was closed but the post office continued for several more years. Morris did sell candy, pop and a few small items until it finally closed in 2008 when the government shut down many small post offices.

Old Bridge Abutment

Old Bridge Abutment

Across the narrow road, this concrete marker was the vertical support for a bridge that went across the creek. The store owner kept his cattle on the other side of the little creek and the bridge was firectly across the road in front of the store door.

Leaving Sycamore Valley, long time residents of the area told stories about going back up the steep Creighton Hill to the ridge top. When someone was wanting to buy a car back even in the early days, Creighton Hill was the test site.  If it could make it up the hill, then the car was worthy of being purchased. The speed with which it climbed the hill determined its price! This was one of the original test strips for automobiles.

At times it is interesting to explore what used to be, but we are certainly lucky to have the improvements that we have today – electricity and indoor plumbing come instantly to mind.

Sycamore Valley can be found in Southeastern Ohio on the perfect Gypsy Road Trip. After leaving I-77 in Ohio at exit 25, you will enjoy a scenic route of twists and turns. Better get out your road map or GPS (if it can get a signal) to find the way.

90th Birthday Words of Wisdom “Family first and always”

Luella's favorite photo of herself

Luella’s favorite photo of herself

How does it feel to be 90 years old? “I love it!” exclaimed Luella Polcyn of Coshocton, Ohio as she celebrated her 90th birthday with family and friends.  Now ninety candles on a cake could cause quite a flame, so they wisely scheduled the party at Three Rivers Fire House – just in case!

When she blew out the candles at her 80th birthday party, someone asked her what she had wished for. She quickly replied, “I wished everyone of you would be at my 90th birthday celebration.” Now she wants a repeat performance at age 100.

Luella began school at the age of four, walking with her brother Charles along the narrows of Wills Creek to school at Tyner in Guernsey County, Ohio. They walked about a mile each way in all kinds of weather to get their education at this one room school.

The family moved to Colorado when she was ten. Seven people fit in that 1928 Olds – their first car with glass windows – with the trip taking seven days. She graduated from high school at the age of sixteen in Colorado Springs before going to Blair Business College. That was quite the education for a young lady at that time.

Some of Luella's grandchildren look over her 90th birthday cake.

Some of Luella’s grandchildren look over her 90th birthday cake. She still likes sweets!

Her first job at sixteen was a waitress at a restaurant. They were allowed to eat one free meal a day including dessert. Luella has always had a sweet tooth and dessert is sometimes her entire meal these days, but then she just couldn’t resist having ice cream on her pie…two desserts. That time her sweet tooth got her fired, even though it seemed to her that they had plenty of each.

At a carnival in Colorado Springs, she met the man who was to be her husband, Louie Polcyn, and was married in 1942.  Two years later, Louie was off to WWII and stationed in Burma where he was a mule skinner. While he was at war, Luella worked at the Nabisco Cracker Company for 46 cents an hour. Somehow with the $30 Louie sent home from his military pay each month, and her working at Nabisco, Luella saved $1,000, which was used for down payment on a house. They also bought a Model A Ford about that time, and she remembers that the gas prices were 10-12 cents a gallon.

Luella's family made this quilt especially for her birthday.

Luella’s family made this quilt especially for her 90th birthday.

At the age of 50, Luella found a job that would change her life. Her children were raised and she began working at Frontier Airlines. Now she was traveling to places she had previously only dreamed of – Rome, Russia, Mexico, Portugal, Alaska, and many more. She was footloose and fancy free.

Now Luella enjoys relaxing at home so a beautiful autumn leaf quilt was made by members of the family – one square at a time. Luella has made many quilts over the years and all the family has enjoyed a gift quilt for some special occassion – birthday, graduation, wedding, new baby and the list could continue. So today they thought it fitting to reward her wtih a quilt they made especially for her. Each person who assisted wrote their name on one of the leaves. Before the party was finished, everyone in attendance had written their name and good wishes on the back of the quilt. Now on a cold winter’s day, Luella will be surrounded with the love of her family and friends.

This 90 year old lady has seen many changes over her lifetime. Some would automatically expect that all the new technology would be the biggest change, but Luella says that is not so. To her the biggest difference in today’s world is how people treat each other and have lack of consideration for another person’s life. She never thought she would see the crime we have today.

Luella surrounded by her children: Gladys, Randy, Greg, and John.

Luella surrounded by her children: Gladys, Randy, Greg, and John.

Her greatest accomplishlment in life, however, is her loving family. Their love of children shines through with every addition to the family, and there have been plenty of those. Besides her four children, who came to the celebration from Colorado, Hilliard, Ohio, and Coshocton, Luella has 13 grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren, and 7 great-great-grandchildren.  She tells everyone, “One thing you should never forget – family first and always.”

Willcox, Arizona “Where the Spirit of the West Begins”

Dragoon Mountain Valley

Dragoon Mountain Valley

After a long, slow trip through the mountains, the town of Willcox, Arizona seemed like an oasis in the desert. Situated in a valley surrounded by the Dragoon Mountains, Willcox is the perfect place to stretch your legs on a walk through their beautiful town and even give yourself a tasty treat.

The town has been around since 1880, but at that time it was known as Maley, a whistlestop for the Southern Pacific Railroad. It was named Willcox years later after General Orlando Willcox, who arrived on the first train to stop there. Today that railroad heritage plays a big role in the town’s celebrations.

Rex Allen Museum

Rex Allen Museum on Railroad Street

The town is especially famous for country western signer, Rex Allen, whose statue and museum are highlights there. Rex Allen really was a cowboy, and became the last of the singing cowboys of movie fame. The Rex Allen “Arizona Cowboy” Museum holds memorabilia of  his rodeo, record, movie and television activities. This hero of the wildwest always wore a white Stetson hat while joking around with his sidekick played by Buddy Ebsen and later Slim Pickens. The Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame is also located inside the museum.

Rex Allen Statue

Rex Allen Statue

Rex Allen’s statue across the road has hidden meaning. Inside that statue is a bronze heart complete with arteries symbolizing that Rex Allen’s heart will always remain in the Willcox area. At the foot of his statue, the ashes of Rex’s horse, Koko, are buried, while Rex’s ashes were scattered around the base of the statue. Koko was billed as “the most beautiful horse in the world” after appearing in 30 movies with Rex Allen. They traveled together over a half million miles in the US and Canada. So it is fitting that Koko rest nearby in the green grass of Horse Heaven.

Stop by Willcox Commercial, the oldest continually operating store in Arizona. Having been in operation since 1880, one of its earlier customers was Geronima, who had a sweet tooth and often stopped by for a pound of sugar. Rex Allen and Tanya Tucker, who also grew up in Willcox, shopped here as well.

Old Chestnut Tree in Park

Old Chinese Elm Tree in Railroad Park

Two giant Chinese Elm trees stand in the vicinity of Rex Allen’s statue. These trees were planted back in 1928 when dirt was brought in to fill in a spot where water gathered every time it rained. They became the center piece of Willcox’s first city park – now called Railroad Park. A friend in New Mexico uses this small park area as a relaxation stop in their travels. Sitting under one of these giant trees while peering up through their branches at the great open sky, gives one a peaceful feeling.

Motherload Antiques and Espresso

Motherlode Antiques and Espresso

Down the street is an interesting Motherlode Antique Shop with Espresso and many fine treats. This was the perfect place to sit out on the porch and visit with the locals while enjoying ice cream and cookies.  Right next door is The Dining Car where you can get some delicious Big Tex BBQ. Everyone was very friendly and offered suggestions of places to visit in the area…and no one seemed in a hurry.

Roses line City Hall on Railroad Street

Roses line City Hall on Railroad Street

The Willcox Town Hall, a former Southern Pacific Railroad Station, features a block long row of beautiful rosebushes that make a stroll along Railroad Avenue a scenic, scented adventure. This is a great place to take a walk after that delicious ice cream cone.  In Willcox, you definitely want to take time to smell the roses.

Willcox is located in southeastern Arizona just off I-10 between Bowie and Benson. Take the West Airport Exit and enjoy the spirit of the west that still exists there today.

Shenandoah Crash Recollections with Ed Lehotay

USS Shenandoah airship

USS Shenandoah airship

Step back 88 years to September, 1925 as we visit an observer, Ed Lehotay, a lively 97 years old. He and his family actually saw the giant Shenandoah airship that fateful morning before it crashed in nearby Ava, Ohio.

USS Shenandoah was the first of four US Navy rigid airships built at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey.  It made the first airship crossing of North America at speeds of up to 69 mph.  On its 57th flight, this “strongest airship in the world” was on a publicity tour of Midwestern State Fairs when it was caught in a thunderstorm in the rolling hills of southeastern Ohio.  Surprisingly, 29 of the crew of 43 survived the crash.

Ed Lehotay at 97 years of age

Ed Lehotay at 97 years of age

Nine year old Ed Lehotay recalled September 2 as being a dreary day with the threat of a storm in the air. They had gone to bed about 10:00 that night in their family home on Patton Hollow Road just south of Cambridge. Their house shook in the terrible storm with torrents of rain pouring down. As the lightning flashed and lit up the sky, their father had noticed a large airship pitching back and forth like a bucking horse directly over their house. His father woke the whole family at 4:00 in the morning on September 3, 1925. The children’s eyes were wide with wonder at the huge airship over their house being lit up by the lightning.

The Shenandoah moved slowly just over the rooftop. Their family was shocked to see the 680′ long airship with a diameter of nearly 80′ so close, rolling from side to side. That’s as long as two and a half football fields!  When the sound of the roaring engines combined with the rolling thunder, the noise was unforgettable. From the living room window, the family watched the airship as it drifted across the road, over the barn, and up the hill nearly touching the top of their cherry orchard. The crew threw the spider lines from the airship in hopes they would either get tangled in the tree tops, or perhaps someone would be able to reach them and restrain the airship.

Ed and his family would never forget the sight of the USS Shenandoah (ZR-1) on that eventful morning. As the squall line continued to pummel  the zeppelin, the ship eventually broke in half with part of it landing near Ava, Ohio in Noble County, and the rest being scattered about ten miles farther, with many of the crew falling to the ground along the way.

Rings made from Shenandoah's aluminum frame

Rings made from Shenandoah’s aluminum frame.

People made a beeline to the crash location in the continuing rain. Ed begged his family to let him go to the site, but they felt there would be too much confusion there for a youngster. Instead his brother drove to Ava through the mud roads in his new Willy’s Baby Overland. Once there they saw people cutting up the fabric of the airship for raincoats. Even though it was raining, people still needed drinking water so a local farmer, fearing his well would go dry from so many users, began charging for water – something rare in those days. Another young entrepreneur brought thirst quenching bottles of pop to sell at the site. Many took pieces of Shenandoah’s aluminum frame as souvenirs.  Ed’s brother brought him a piece of aluminum, which Ed melted in their forge and fashioned into rings. His dad put on one of those rings with a diamond shape on top, wore it every day and was even buried with it on his hand.

Shenandoah Memorial in Ava Ohio

Shenandoah Memorial in Ava Ohio

Today the Shenandoah Memorial stands near the place of the crash. Originally, the memorial was back in the woods at the actual site of the crash, but today it has been moved where people can visit it more easily. It consists of a small metal replica of the Shenandoah airship inside a tall granite archway , which is surrounded by swirling metal storm clouds. A bronze plaque lists names of those who lost their lives in the crash.

At the southern end of Ava, there is a USS Shenandoah Memorial Trailer Museum beside Rayner’s Garage. Bryan and Teresa Rayner have saved many pieces of memorabilia regarding that crash in 1925. Bryan has a special interest since his family owned one of the farms where pieces were found.

A local high school in Noble County carries on the historic memory of this event by having their high school sports team called the Shenandoah Zeps.  Their logo is a sleek dirigible.

How wonderful it would have been to view the Shenandoah in all its magnificence as it glided through the sky. Thanks to all those who help memories of the  famous airship and its crash still live on!

To visit the Shenandoah crash site, take I-77 to Exit 28 , Belle Valley. From the west side of the interstate, take Hwy 821 North 5 miles to Ava. The monument is on the north side of town on the east side of the road and well marked. Rayner’s Garage and the Shenandoah Trailer Museum are on the south side of town. The museum has limited open hours.

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