Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Travel Tuesday: National Model Aviation Museum

Believe it or not, but nestled in central Indiana, just an hour north of Indianapolis, is the National Headquarters for Model Aviation and its adjacent Museum. It's on most maps and located on the outskirts of Muncie, and it's a hidden jewel of the area.

It's not huge, but it's a great way to kill an afternoon or a nice detour if you are traveling across the state.

The history of flight and model aircraft goes back much further than you might expect. See that butterfly thing in the lower middle? That's a re-creation of a 2000+ year old Chinese child's toy. An elastic-y leather strap was attached to the upper antennae of the paper butterfly and twisted tight. When you let go, it would untwist and helicopter off on a short flight.

Model aviation used to be a bigger deal before TV. If only these shops could replace a few "Game Stops" our kids would be better for it, I think.

As you can see, there's a lot of variety in style and size. If it ever flew for real (and sometimes if it didn't), someone made a model of it.

Here the kids could try their hands at controlling model aircraft. It's a lot harder than it looks.

After the museum, we went out onto the runways where a couple small groups were flying. We weren't there for a huge flying week, but as I hate crowds this suited me just fine. There were enough people around to justify the restroom facilities and a guy selling italian sausage out of a trailer. We plopped down at an empty table under a tent and ate a bag lunch. No one seemed to mind.

Above are some of the WWI models from the group that was flying.

We watched a guy flying a model Thunderbird (F-16) through an entire show's worth of maneuvers. It even had a real jet engine. We also saw a plane lose parts and its owners hop in a truck to go hunting through the nearby cornfields for the pieces (they found them). Before leaving, the kids went off to the side and flew the super cheap gliders they bought in the gift shop.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Travel Tuesday: Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine, WV

After lunch at Wolf Creek Indian Village, we again pointed north, and our next big stop was the town of Beckley in West Virginia. Beckley was and still is a coal mining town, and this particular mine is no longer worth the effort, especially considering the richer veins in the region, so it's been turned into a tourist attraction known on most maps as the Exhibition Coal Mine.

Not only is there this nice museum packed with history, there's a miniature town behind it which you can visit within the price of admission and the coal mine tour. Admission was one of the pricier things we did this summer at $20 for me and $12 for kids under 12, but I got a military discount, so that helped. The kids weren't very interested in the town part and breezed through faster than I could get my camera out. They were mostly excited about going on the mine tour, where they got to ride on modified rail cars.

Like most subterranean caves, the temperature is 58 degrees, and there's not much moving around by the tourists to create one's own heat, so dress warmly.

Our guide was a former miner and overflowed with fascinating stories from his own experience. Despite having diminished lung capacity and bad knees, he felt he'd had a good life and was quite upbeat. One lady in our group kept badgering him that he should sue the big coal company for his "disabilities," but he seemed mostly bewildered because he felt everyone at his age (68) was falling apart, it was just how that varied.

Pictures are kind of sparse because it's hard to take photos in a mostly pitch-black cave. Some of the interesting facts we learned were that the mining companies tried to introduce new and helpful equipment all through the early part of the century, but most of it broke down quickly and ended up becoming landmarks in the twisting tunnels. After trying the new machines, miners often returned to the old faithful method of extraction- crawling in a 24" high tunnel with a candle and a small pick-axe and dragging a sled on their leg. The vein in this mine was only about 18" thick, so anything much higher was a big waste of time and energy.

Also, coal mining was seasonal. They could only go in when the air was good, and on moist spring days, ventilation was sluggish. And at any time of year if the air got bad, it usually took at least 2 days to air out enough to go back in. Canaries were not for gas detection as most people think these days. All birds are sensitive to oxygen levels and they will be affected before people, and canaries were used because their near-constant singing was easier to notice if it suddenly stopped. If the canary went silent, the miners had about 20 minutes to evacuate before the low oxygen would start claiming human casualties.

Above is an example of what is known as a "kettle bottom," which claimed the majority of lives lost in coal mines, and still do today. These widow-makers are petrified tree stumps that would slip without warning from the ceiling. They were nearly impossible to detect until they slammed down on an unsuspecting miner's head or legs.

Among the attractions nearby, there is also a tiny children's museum. Admission is included with the coal mine, or you can go in separately. As children's museums go, it's pretty sad, but we occupied 30 minutes or so waiting for our turn to go in the mine.

At the gift shop we got some yummy fudge (because when I think of a coal mine, I instantly think of fudge as well), and something I found intriguing merely by it's title: Pepper Jelly. And yes, it is yummy, especially mixed with cream cheese and put on crackers. For a buck we also got a tiny glass bottle of coal.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Travel Tuesday on Monday: Wolf Creek Indian Village, VA

I have been remiss in my duties reporting on all the places we visited this summer, so I'm going do several this week. Enjoy the smorgasbord.

Heading up I-77 out of Charlotte NC, we stopped for the night just inside Virginia, and bright and early we headed north once more and our first stop was Wolf Creek Indian Village. It's not far off the highway, but the dense trees make it easy to miss the turn-off. Then you follow a side road under a canopy of trees to a shaded parking lot and picnic area and this unassuming museum and gift shop.

The admissions people told us the place is mostly frequented by school field trips, and it being summer, the staffing was relatively low, but we were more than welcome. Hours are 10-5 Monday - Saturday, but as most of the exhibits are outdoors, it can close for inclement weather. Most of the springtime it is closed for restoration and also because it is so close to a stream which often overflows as the snows melt. The walk to the village itself was nearly 1/4 mile and mostly downhill. Not terribly strenuous, but definitely not handicap accessible.

There was only one lady staffing the village at the time we were there, but she was very accommodating and patient with the little ones. She took us from structure to structure and explained the function each had within village life, and each also had a hands-on activity. First she showed the kids how to make clay beads. After everyone had created one, they were given a choice of beads previous groups had made and she had baked in the small kiln. The ones my kids made would be fired and given to visitors who came after. She strung them up on long dried grass necklaces, too.

Next came clay stained "tattoos" in traditional tribal symbols.

The central meeting house could accommodate the whole village of 100-150, but I imagine it was standing room only, and probably the kids were left out.

One structure was dedicated to the way they made household items like baskets and bowls. Here the kids helped weave a basket and got braided grass bracelets.

Nicholas started to get a little restless with all the items and descriptions, and as I apologized for him, our guide brushed my concerns aside and invited him outside. Here she showed how they were making a stone bowl for cooking. The process basically is pounding a big rock with a little rock, and Nicholas was in his element while she told us about how they used some native plants. In particular, the grasses they let grow tall in the center of the village could be burned when the mosquitoes got bad and the citronella-like scent would drive them away. Even more importantly, she showed us the power of the common plantain weed to relieve insect bites. If you tear off some of the leaves and rub the raw, moist edges on a bug bite, it neutralizes the reaction immensely. For the rest of our vacation, this came in so handy. And it grows almost everywhere north of the sandy soils of Florida. Try it sometime!

Our last stop (besides the small river outside the village) was a hands-on display of cutting tools. The kids learned how to drill holes in wooden poles with arrowheads used like drills, and how to saw with the jawbone of a deer (the bones they use here come from local roadkill). We also learned how they made their weapons and some other specialty tools.

And that was pretty much it. We saw everything in a little over an hour and we all had a blast!