American Locations 5 – Merchant’s Millpond

The trip is from New River, West Virginia, to Stinking Creek, Tennessee, by way of Long Key, Florida.

 Merchant’s Millpond State Park, North Carolina


We drove east on Hwy. 58 away from Occoneechee State Park to Hwy. 1, which we took south out of Virginia into North Carolina. We turned east onto Hwy. 158. It was a pleasant sunny drive through more open farmland. There are still a lot of tobacco farms in North Carolina. There are also a lot of solar panel arrays, many more than I’ve seen in most states. This far south with abundant sunshine they must make good sense. East on 158 took us nearly all the way to Merchant’s Millpond State Park. We turned south onto Mill Pond Road into the park.

The park is in a small swamp.

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We walked the trail from the campground to the visitor center.

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We found these distinctive purple berries all over North Carolina, which are called beautyberries.

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When we first arrived there were several people at the campground for the day, but by evening we were the only campers. There weren’t even any rangers. Kind of spooky spending the night alone in the swamp. I sat out by a fire and enjoyed the silence and dark solitude.

Early the next morning I took a 3 mile hike through the swamp.

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Not all the trail was through swampy water.

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Boardwalks were numerous and in good repair.

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This twisted pine caught my eye.

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There were primitive sites for back-country camping.

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There were roads on which you could drive into the swamp.

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The main attraction was the swamp itself.

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Late that morning we packed up and left.


Next Location – North River


American Locations 4 – Occoneechee

The trip is from New River, West Virginia, to Stinking Creek, Tennessee, by way of Long Key, Florida.

 Occoneechee State Park, Virginia


The next morning we drove out of Babcock State Park heading southwest on Hwy. 41. It was another nice drive through the mountains, until we turned onto I-64, which we took a short ways southwest to I-77. Before getting onto the Interstate we stopped for breakfast at Biscuit World. I had seen this restaurant chain all over West Virginia and was curious to try it. They served strictly breakfast, and true to their name they had many different biscuit meals to choose from.

We drove south on I-77 out of West Virginia into Virginia. We exited east onto Hwy. 58 and had one of the most enjoyable drives of the trip. This two-lane blacktop road winds up and over and around and under rich open countryside of rolling hills and green pastures. A wonderful drive.

Eventually the road straightened as we came out of the hills onto flat plains of rich farmland. Leaving this rural area, we continued east through Danville and across the Roanoke River, where we turned south onto Rte. 364 into Occoneechee State Park. We got a site within view of the river.

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After resting up from the drive, we walked down for a better look.

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In this photo the Hwy. 58 bridge we’d crossed over the Roanoke River can be seen.

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That night we had a clear sky over the river to enjoy.

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The next morning we explored the grounds where a small plantation had once been, but there was not much left of it.

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Before leaving, we drove by the marina.

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Next Location – Merchant’s Millpond


American Locations 3 – Babcock 2

The trip is from New River, West Virginia, to Stinking Creek, Tennessee, by way of Long Key, Florida.

 Babcock State Park, West Virginia


On the second day I went on a 5-mile hike all over the park. I hiked up from the campground.

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I found a pond.

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I came across good overlooks such as this.

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One part of the trail took me straight down the mountainside on steep stone steps.

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Past an overhang where the trail had collapsed. You can see part of a railing on the ground.

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So I had to scramble across on my own. The trail became a goat track across the face of a cliff.

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I descended to the creek I had hiked along with my wife the day before, which led back to the campground.

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Where I crashed at my site for the rest of the day and relaxed with a camp fire that evening.


Next Location – Occoneechee




American Locations 2 – Babcock

The trip is from New River, West Virginia, to Stinking Creek, Tennessee, by way of Long Key, Florida.

 Babcock State Park, West Virginia


Finished at the New River Gorge Bridge, we backtracked northeast on Hwy.19, then drove southeast on Hwy. 60, the route we had taken up into the mountains from Charleston. We turned southwest onto Rte. 41 into Babcock State Park. This is a beautiful park high up in the Appalachian Mountains.



There is an old grist mill the park has kept in operation that has been much-photographed, and is one of the most iconic images of West Virginia.

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We hiked several short trails.

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Along a mountain stream.

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High up on a mountainside.

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Across a footbridge.

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To a mountain lake.

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We liked the place so well we spent 3 nights.

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 Next Location – Babcock 2

American Locations 1 – New River

The trip is from New River,  West Virginia, to Stinking Creek, Tennessee, by way of Long Key, Florida.

 New River Wilderness Area, West Virginia


In September of 2017 I and my wife began another road trip. We drove northwest from Cincinnati up I-71 to West Lancaster, then turned south east on Hwy. 35. We passed through rich farmland until we crossed the Ohio River at Point Pleasant into West Virginia. The terrain grew steadily hillier as we continued mostly south to I-64. Then we headed east into Charleston, where we picked up Hwy. 60. This twisting curving two-lane road followed the Kanawah River high up into the Appalachian Mountains. A good scenic drive to begin our trip.

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We stopped at a small dam in the river to stretch out legs. This is where the Kanawah River joins the Gauley River to form the New River.

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We didn’t drive very far beyond this point before stopping once again to view a waterfall.




As we continued winding through the mountains we passed the Mystery Spot. This looked like the kind of roadside attraction that were popular in the mid-1900’s. Sadly, we didn’t stop to check it out. We did stop at Hawk’s Nest State Park.

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We checked out the lodge, which gave a good view out over the New River valley.

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In this photo you can barely see the New River Gorge Bridge.

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We continued east on Hwy. 60 from Hawk’s Nest State Park to Hwy. 19, where we turned southwest. This led us to the New River Gorge Bridge.

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We took a walkway down to a viewing platform below the bridge.

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That gave a good view of the valley the bridge spanned.

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It is an impressive structure. Here is an entry about it from the National Park Service site:

When the New River Gorge Bridge was completed on October 22, 1977, a travel challenge was solved. The bridge reduced a 40-minute drive down narrow mountain roads and across one of North America’s oldest rivers to less than a minute. When it comes to road construction, mountains do pose a challenge. In the case of the New River Gorge Bridge, challenge was transformed into a work of structural art – the longest steel span in the western hemisphere and the third highest in the United States.

The New River Gorge Bridge is one of the most photographed places in West Virginia. The bridge was chosen to represent the state on the commemorative quarter released by the U.S. Mint in 2006. In 2013, the National Park Service listed the New River Gorge Bridge in the National Register of Historic Places as a significant historic resource.

Bridge Construction

The West Virginia Division of Highways chose the Michael Baker Company as the designer, and the construction contract was awarded to the American Bridge Division of U.S. Steel. In June 1974, the first steel was positioned over the gorge by trolleys running on three-inch diameter cables. The cables were strung 3,500 feet between two matching towers. Cor-ten steel, with a rust-like appearance that never needs painting, was used in construction.

Once a year the bridge is closed and the local population has quite a party:

On the third Saturday of October, the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce hosts “Bridge Day.” On this one day a year, the famous New River Gorge Bridge is open to pedestrians and a wide variety of activities—great views, food and crafts vendors, BASE jumping, rappelling, music, and more—draw thousands of people. Bridge Day is West Virginia’s largest one-day festival, and it is the largest extreme sports event in the world.

The first official Bridge Day was celebrated in 1980 when two parachutists jumped from a plane onto the bridge. They were joined by three additional parachutists, and all five then jumped from the bridge into the gorge. Today, the event lures hundreds of BASE jumpers, cheered on by thousands of spectators. “BASE” stands for Building, Antenna (tower), Span (arch or bridge), and Earth (cliff or natural formation), the four categories of objects in which BASE jumpers jump from. For more information, visit the Official Bridgeday website, or call the New River Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 927-0263.


I ripped off two images from the Bridge Day site, to give you an idea what the event is like.




After visiting the New River Gorge Bridge we were ready to proceed to our campground. It had been a full day driving.


Next Location – Babcock


I am a flanger operator.  Does anyone know what that means?  I operate a flanging machine.  Does anyone know what that is?  I didn’t, 42 years ago.  Ken, the human resource guy who hired me, explained it this way.  “Imagine making a steel tank (the storage kind, not the military kind).  You roll a flat sheet of steel into a cylinder and weld the ends together.  Easy.  So how do you make the ends?  Each tank requires two ends.  How do you fashion them?  You could cut a circle of steel for each end to fit, then weld the circles onto the cylinder.  But all that would be holding the tank together at the ends would be weld.  Not strong enough.  What would make it stronger?  If each end had a flange that would fit snugly down into the tank, and then welded to it.”

A flanging machine spins metal.  As the metal spins, a forming roll shapes it around an inside corner roll.  Once completed, the edge of the head is machined, or cut.  Sounds simple.  Ha.

flanging machine


There are no automatic controls.  No computer assist.  You are in control of the vertical, you are in control of the horizontal.  It sometimes feels like you are in the outer limits when you are operating the damn thing.  Every variable is up to your judgment.  There are a thousand and one ways to scrap material you are working on (and I bet I’ve only learned half of them yet).  So if you want to be a flanging operator you have to love a challenge.

Here are some of the specs you have to maintain while forming tank ends.  The diameter, inside and outside.  The circumference, inside and outside.  The overall height.  The thickness.  The size of the inside corner.  The straightness of the flange.  The length of the flange.  The radius of the dish.  The cosmetics.  The overall shape.  And then there are the machining details:  square cuts, bevels (inside or out), tapers (inside or out), bore-ups, and any combination of them.

But the posts won’t only be about the work.  Also about the workers.  Since I already mentioned Ken, the human resource guy who hired me so very long ago, let’s start with him.  He got fired not long after I started.  Not because he hired me.  Well, maybe, a little bit.  I started in July of 1973.  Back then people drank on the job.  Whiskey, mostly.  Roy H., the flanger operator who trained me, was a heavy drinker.  As were a lot of people on third shift.  The third shift foreman was one of the heaviest.  And they weren’t discrete about it at all.  The office people would arrive in the morning to find empty beer cans and whiskey bottles throughout the shop.

One day not long after I started (I worked second shift, from 3pm to 11pm, while Roy, after training me, went to third, from 11pm to 7am) I saw Charley F., the maintenance supervisor, trying to break into Roy’s locker.  Was he actually keeping liquor in his locker at work?  Charley must have thought so.  Knowing Roy, he probably was.  Anyway, I warned Roy what I had seen.  Of course I did.  The guy had trained me, was a union brother, and besides, he was so likeable.  I thought if he knew they were on to him, he’d be more cautious.  Not Roy’s style.

It all came to a head one night at lunch break.  Which on third shift is at 3am, hardly a time most people would choose to eat lunch.  The plant supervisor, the maintenance supervisor and the human resource director, Ken, made a surprise appearance about half-way through lunch.  They caught Roy and two others in a car drinking.  The trio was fired on the spot.  One guy I wasn’t going to miss, he was a rotten son of a bitch.  But the other guy was young, hired about the same time I was.  I heard he started crying.  I can’t blame him, his wife had a baby about two months prior to this.  And of course, I hated about Roy.

But that wasn’t the end of it.  Since two of the guys were such long-time employees our union, United Steelworkers, took the case to arbitration.  Of course it was a lost cause, they were caught drinking on company property during working hours, by irreproachable eyewitnesses.  But somehow during the proceedings Ken got tripped up in some lie.  I don’t know the details, but he was under oath.  So he lost his job, too.  Maybe if I hadn’t warned Roy, Ken might not have lied in court.  Who knows?  I liked Ken, he took a chance on hiring me.  He was just collateral damage.  The third shift foreman was also fired, of course, which was done much more easily, since he wasn’t in our union.  And the drinking stopped.  Or at least third shift became more discrete about it.


Brighton Corporation has always trained their own flanger operators.  The reason being flanging machines are rare.  Unlike welders, machinists, pipe fitters, whatever, no trade school turns out flanger operators.  So Brighton must give them on-the-job training.  This is very time-consuming.  And costly.  When I was hired, no production times were kept on my work for 6 months.  They knew it would take at least that long for me to get up to speed.  And they knew I was going to scrap a bit of metal learning how to operate the machine.

This situation is a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, it is such a lengthy costly process that once I am trained, once I am turning out quality work at an acceptable pace,  they do not want to lose me.  They have invested a lot of money and effort in me, so they want me to stick around.  A good situation for me, since a lot will be tolerated and excused to keep me happy.  On the other hand, if I get pissed off and desire to quit, my options are quite limited.  Whereas a welder or machinist can work anywhere in the country, there is very little demand for flanger operators.  I heard there is a plant in St. Louis, but I never checked it out.  So once trained, we are stuck with each other.  Hence 42 years of employment for the same company, a rare event nowadays.

When I was hired way back when, at the age of 21, I received four weeks training.  The first two weeks I stood behind Roy H. and watched.  I was also sent on numerous errands to find this, fetch that.  Of course, inevitably I was sent to the basement (no such place) to get a bolt stretcher (no such tool).  More about harassing newbies in another post.  But there was a practical side to these errands.  I was learning the layout of the plant, and where things were (or were supposed to be).  But mostly, for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 2 weeks, a total of 10 days, for 80 hours, I watched.

Then the next 2 weeks I ran the machine, while Roy watched.  I realize now how nerve-wracking that can be, since I have trained numerous operators myself.  That’s another post.  But Roy wanted me to learn the controls, without screwing up the material or the machine.  He smoked a lot of cigarettes those two weeks.  I hate to consider it, but I might have contributed to his drinking, which soon got him fired.

The month ended without me scrapping any metal or destroying the machine.  Roy happily went off to third shift (for a short while) and I was all on my own on second.

This is the kind of machine I trained on.  It’s a Blue Valley flanger.  Very primitive by today’s standards, but remember this was over 40 years ago.  Flanging machines have become much more powerful.  3-8-blue-valley-flanger-model-4-hydraulic-bottom-roll-adjustment_151719187478

This is how it operates.