THE ROAD TO ROANOKE ISLAND
So that was that, the main reason why I was on the Outer Banks in the first place. But there were still plenty of other things to see, and as usual I was running days behind schedule.
I left the Visitor Centre and drove back onto the main road to continue my voyage through the driving rain (yes, it had started to rain again. This was getting to be just like Belgium). The first thing I noticed was a reverse osmosis water treatment plant, the object of which is to convert sea water into drinking water. This is presumably because with the island being about 99.9% sand, there's no underground water table to hold any natural fresh water, and the authorities consider that desalinating the sea water is cheaper than piping it ashore. This was certainly an exciting discovery. I just wish I had more time to spend out here.
The second thing I noticed was one of those public display type of digital thermometers. The temperature that was on display gave me quite a shock. It was apparently a mere 58°F - that's 14 degrees in real money. And what with the wind and the rain, no wonder I'm freezing to death right now.
The third thing I noticed was a Food Lion, which I told you previously is a subsiduary company of the Belgian "Del Haize" (didn't I tell you that this place was getting to be like Belgium?). Seeing as how the food stocks in the car were showing some signs of depletion, I reckoned that this might as well be as good a place as any to build them up a little. I had no idea how long I was going to stay out here and when I might next find some food. This Food Lion was going to play a significant role in the story of my day's adventures, as you will discover later on.
From here, there's a right turning that takes you back over to the mainland again via an enormous bridge. And this was the way I was taking. Not that I was heading back to the mainland (perish the thought - there's many more exciting things to see out here), but because with the Sound being rather wide here, the bridge makes an escalle on an island halfway across. And it was this island that was my next goal, for it was Roanoke Island, for if you know your 16th Century history at all, you will know that Roanoke Island plays a major role in the history of the United States
Roanoke Island has two main claims to fame. I'll talk about the more famous one in a moment, but I just want to make brief reference to the second, a claim that I hadn't realised before I came here. And this is that it is the home of several old and extremely interesting vehicles parked up in people's gardens along here. Now the reason why there are no photographs of them here is because by now it was absolutely lashing down with rain again. Not quite like it was the night Rhys and I picked up Itzé from the airport but not far off. And I had no intention of getting out of the car in this weather to photograph them. But never mind. There are so many interesting things to see and to do out here that, as I said previously, I'll be coming along here again sometime.
But while I was discussing all of this, I missed my turning and ended up driving back over the Albemarle Sound. This led to yet another U turn and another retracing of steps. But I tell you what - there aren't half some impressive bridges around here and I just wish that they had made some impressive places to park to take some impressive photos of them.
Whatever Happened To Professional Standards?
Pulling into the car park of the visitor centre on here, we are, surprise, surprise, able to continue with our second theme above. This vehicle, which strongly resembles a Japanese mini pickup, is in fact a Cushman, which is an American manufacturer of utility vehicles. Now, I was going to tell you where their factory is, but you can see for yourself.
Now you have to remember that my web site is written in a hurry without a spell-checker and I didn't charge myself a cent for it. The existence of typoes is quite likely. Cushmans have professional people doing all this for them, and these people have doubtless charged the company a pretty penny for this site. Would you buy a specialist vehicle from a company that can't even spell its own address correctly? Whatever happened to quality control?
If Cushman's do ever get around to fixing the typo and spelling "Georgia" correctly, and I'll gladly rewrite the above couple of sentences.
Having said that however, I worked on contract for 9 months for The Conference Board Europe, the European arm of a multinational American company supplying research to business and industry, and they insisted on spelling "Belgium" as "Bellgium" on the research questionnaires they sent out. After telling them three times, and they refused to change it each time, I left. Would you buy any research from this company? I have my pride.
There is even worse to come, by the way. This is the website of my bank, the Royal Bank of Scotland. They are the guardians of a considerable amount of my cash, and they too are incapable of spelling their address correctly. You know, it's totally shameful, all of this. But there again, why should I complain? Their incompetence regularly nets me "offers in settlement".
You probably recognise the cab and chassis style of the truck. I'm not too well up on these Japanese mini-truck type of things, but that square badge-holder in the centre of the chromium strip between the headlights looks amost exactly Honda-sized to me.
But on with the plot. As I said before, Roanoke Island plays a vital role in American history, for it was the site of the first colony of English settlers in North America. And they settled about 100 metres from the spot where I am standing. Their second attempt to colonise here - the one to which they brought their women and children - is famously referred to as the "Lost Colony" and I speak about this at great length elsewhere, if you would care to make a little visit.
I won't bore you by repeating it, save to say that I have some interesting theories as a result of some research I have undertaken on the subject. Good old Open University. They taught me nothing on this subject, but taught me much of the technique of constructive researching, as well as given me access to their amazing digital library. My years as a distance-student have been extremely well-spent.
They also taught me the power of observation, and in particular to notice the "not-so-obvious". It is no surprise therefore that my juvenile attention was drawn to this particular notice, and especially the seventh line of the entry under the heading "tobacco". It made me wonder whether some poor innocent soul had not noticed the significance of ye olde englishe writing, or whether this was done deliberately by someone working here with a mind more juvenile than my own.
Another interesting fact is that the island was a point to which runaway slaves flocked during the Civil War.
1952 FORD F2
You recall that I said earlier that Roanoke Island was also the home of several old and interesting vehicles, and how it was too wet to stop to take a proper look? Well, by now the rain had subsided, if not stopped. I reckoned it was time to take a look at the old and interesting vehicles.
Thus, as is my wont, I stopped at the first house, on the corner of the street, where there was this delightful early 1950s pickup truck that had caught my eye. And true to form, there was the lady of the house out gardening around it.
Putting on my best smile and my nicest European accent, I asked the lady "Do you mind if I take a picture of your old truck?"
And true to form she replied "no, not at all. Go right ahead."
So take a couple of photographs of it I did.
In the meantime the lady, by the name of Sharon, went to fetch her husband Bob, and I spent a very pleasant half an hour or so in their company talking mostly about their truck but also about a great deal of other subjects too. Once I get started, it's rather hard to get me to stop, as you've probably worked out by now if you've read very much of my site.
Bob gave me a brief run-down of his truck although, as he was the first to admit, he couldn't really say too much about it. Apparently it's an F2 Ford dating from 1952, and fitted with a flathead V8 petrol engine. According to the tags, it was last on the road in 1987.
How he came by it was quite an interesting story. An acquaintance of his was engaged to redevelop some old buildings and when it came to demolish them, he found this truck inside. Rather than flatten it along with the buildings, he asked around if anyone could move it out of the way. This is where Bob came into the picture, and he moved it right out of the way, as you can see.
He told me he's not sure about what his plans are for the truck for the future, and he may well be open to discussion about it. Unfortunately I'm ruled out of the equation because firstly it's not a diesel and my wood-gas plant isn't up and running, and secondly it isn't a flat bed. If it's the kind of thing that floats your boat, then and I'll get in touch with him. If on the other hand you have an interesting flatbed diesel for sale, then you can do the same.
Now despite what many people think, I like Americans. Any dispute I have with the USA is about the USA mentality, and that's nothing to do with the people, who are for the most part victims of their education and upbringing. Having worked with Americans for a number of years, I can say without fear of contradiction that they are by and large the most friendly people on the planet, and extremely sociable with it. As, indeed, are Bob and Sharon.
AND THERE'S MORE ...
So after talking to them for a while, Bob and Sharon took me to see what was some kind of secret treasure trove not too far away from where they live.
Now, you might think that all of this is nothing but a load of old tat, but to me, this is a veritable treasure trove. It is, by all accounts, all that remains of a Chevrolet van dating from the 1930s, just lying here abandoned in the undergrowth.
You can see how much of a passing resemblance it bears to a British E93A or A40 van from the late 1940s and early 1950s, which demonstrates just how far behind British vehicle design was in those days.
You have to admit (well, I did, anyway) that this is truly magnificent. Fancy finding something like this lying around in the undergrowth.
Unfortunately there's not an awful lot of anything that could be saved for a future project - something that rather disappointed me. I could quite easily have been tempted to have stuck this van into my suitcase and shipped it back to Europe. A Ford Transit diesel engine would have fitted quite nicely in here.
In this photograph you can see some extremely interesting remains. At first glance they don't look particularly exciting, and it wasn't until I was able to give them a very close inspection that I realised just exactly what there was here.
What there seems to be are the rear end of a chassis, an axle and a hub, all from a very early Buick. That is to say that the hub has "Buick" cast into it. Even more interestingly, if you look very closely you can actually see the remains of the wooden-spoked wheels. So just what date would you put on all of this? I'm sure that this would have to be from before the 1920s.
It was rather a shame that there was no indication of any maker's name on any of the remains here in this particular photo on the right. Yes, quite disappointing. Neither was there any kind of indication of any age of whatever was here.
It was however quite exciting for anyone such as me to go rooting around all of this little lot loooking for clues. All over this plot of land there were piles and piles stuff such as this. I could quite easily have spent a week here, let alone half an hour.
Just look at this object here. This is a home-made engine crane made out of all kinds of bits and pieces that were obviously just lying about round here. It was really intriguing trying to guess which bit belonged to what old car. I don't know anything at all about the guy who made all it, but here is surely a man after my own heart, that's all I can say.
God knows what that was off and how long it had been there but that was what made it all so interesting. The houses all around here didn't look that old to me, so all that stuff must have been brought there later, unless there had been something even more interesting on the site previously. I was really in some kind of paradise here.
All of this apart, here nevertheless is the answer to another kind of puzzle. On other pages I talk about the Wilderness battlefield. And if you want a clue to what the Wilderness probably looked like in 1864, then here is probably the answer.
The Wilderness battlefield was fought on what had once been prime forest land that had been cleared for use as charcoal for iron smelting. When the iron ore was exhausted, the cleared land was left to run to seed. This plot of land was also formerly native American forest that had been cleared for cultivation and the like. It too has been left to go to seed and is slowly reverting back to its natural state.
After a long and pleasant chat during which Bob, Sharon and I put the world to rights, it was (unfortunately) time to leave. I had a great deal of things to do, and I was running short on time.
But as you can see, I didn't go very far. Probably only 100 metres or so in fact, because not too far away is this rather magnificent beastie - in fact a Chevy Bel Air from probably the early 1960s, slowly festering away to itself in a tangle of undergrowth.
I couldn't get up close to it to have a good poke around and take some more-respectable photographs, for the reason that it was on someone else's private property and there was no-one around to ask. And in these heightened days of paranoia currently sweeping the USA, I could see my destiny as being in an orange jump-suit in Guantanamo Bay if one of the neighbours had become itchy (such is the present sad state of that once-proud "Land of the Free").
Like I've said before on so many occasions, how can anyone possibly live in such a state of fear when there is nothing to be afraid of except whatever the press and their politicians have manufactured for themselves? We Brits were being blown to pieces all through the seventies and eighties "on money that was being sent from over on this side of the Atlantic, let it be said" and we were never in fear like this. They've not even had one respectable bomb from a terrorist yet, and the Americans are scared to death. However would they have managed living in Manchester, or Guildford, or Birmingham, or Brighton, let alone anywhere in Northern Ireland?
After all of this, it was back to the end of the road and turn left onto the highway that was going to take me off Roanoke Island and back over the Washington Baum bridge across Roanoke Sound onto the Outer Banks. Again, an absolutely magnificent "Outer Island" bridge. According to North Carolina State's Highways Department it's a two-lane blacktop of 2.5 miles in length. But don't take this website as anything definitive - it seems to be confusing the Washington Baum bridge with the William B Ulmstead bridge.
Most research I have done tells me that this bridge dates from 1928, but it certainly doesn't look like it at all. It looks far too modern for that. If it were that old, it would have been the mother of all the Outer Banks bridges. Some more research, and I came across Ralph Whitehead Associates Inc., Consulting Engineers who claim to have won a design award in connection with a bridge called the "Washington Baum Bridge" over from Roanoke Island to the Outer Banks in 1991. Now, that's more like it. I've mailed Whitehead's for some definitive information. If they won an award for it, then surely they must know for which bridge they won it.
Once more, there's nowhere to stop to take a photo just where there is such a really good view. Not, of course, that this is ever likely to stop me whenever circumstances permit, as you can see from the shot just here on the left. I can't help thinking what on earth the authorities would make of this mode of proceedings if ever I were to be picked up on a roadside camera? This means of course that you could ever do this kind of thing in the UK where there are roadside cameras every couple of hundred metres and where the average citizen is filmed over 200 times each day.
But there are certain points where, no matter what, you need to take a photograph, regardless of the circumstances. And one of those circumstances presented itself a couple of hundred yards further down the highway.
Now, you can picture the scene. Young boy invites young girl back to his pad. The wine flows like water. And after an hour or so, what we get from the aforementioned young boy is "would you like to come upstairs and see my whalebone tackle?" It certainly makes a nice change from "would you like to come upstairs and see my etchings?", doesn't it? I just wish I could have thought of chat-up lines like that when I was in a position to have taken advantage of any likely results. Not like now where I wouldn't see that sort of action even if someone were to lend me a telescope.
This is the problem when you start to age. By the time you have the money and the experience to really start to enjoy life, you no longer have the stamina. The last time I found myself in any sort of position to comment on things like this, I found that it took me all night to do what I used to be able to do all night.
Two other things happen to you as you get older. Firstly, your memory goes. I can't remember what the second thing is.
Once across the bridge and back at Whalebone (for that is indeed the name of the town just around here) it was a right turn and back onto the Historic Albemarle Highway.