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  • Chris B

Helping with Disaster Relief in Texas

Texas Disaster Relief Mission Trip

October 10 – 28, 20017

We left Tuesday morning around 9 am heading to Liberty, Texas. We camped at Harrison Bay State Park north of Chattanoga on Chicamonga Lake. We didn’t think about it being fall break. The campground was very crowded. If we had checked in much later, we might have not gotten a spot. It was nice to see all the kids having fun around the campground. We said it would have been nice to have Dustin with us. He enjoys camping, the water, and other kids.

We left early the next morning and took a short detour to Columbiana, Alabama to visit Rhonda's aunt, uncle, and cousin. We were going to park at her aunt’s house, but the electrical connection wouldn’t work, so we went over to her uncle’s and hooked up in his front yard. Her cousin had killed a rattlesnake in his horse pasture and his aunt was going to cook it the next day. We were sorry that we would not be around to taste it.

Left early Thursday morning, but not early enough to avoid some Birmingham traffic. Once we cleared that, we were making good time heading for McComb Mississippi to a state park for the night. A little before Meridian, Mississippi, we saw a sign and decided to stop and check out a 1870 historic General store. It was very interesting, even had a selection of women's shoes from the early 1950s, still in their boxes.

Just after getting back on the interstate, the check engine light came on and the oil pressure gauge said zero. I stopped and checked the oil. It was ok and the valves were not chattering so decided to risk driving slowly three mile to the next exit. There was a Loves Truck sign just before we saw the exit closed for construction sign. The workers took pity and waved us around the orange cones so we could get over to the truck stop..

Love's did not have a mechanic, but gave us the card for a towing service from Meridian, about 20 miles down the way. I called them, but did not have a wrecker immediately available and said they would call me back. I had to move out of the way, and parked right by the sign for a KOA which was1.5 miles down the road in front of Love's. I went in the Loves to see if the clerk could recommend a local mechanic to be towed to, but came back with a shade tree mechanic and his wife instead. We put our heads together and decided it was likely a faulty oil pressure sensor, so I called around in Meridian to find the part. The Auto Zone said they could have it by 3 o'clock, but later called back and said it would be the next day.

We mentioned taking the camper to the KOA but the couple (Robert and Sherri Colter) said they would lead us to a state park near by with camping for half the price. We called an Advance Auto store in Meridian and they had the part in stock. Robert said that would go get the part and come back and put it on. The part was 56 dollars and a new oil filter was about four, so I gave them 75 dollars for the parts, some gas, and their time.

I got concerned after they were gone about three hours. The store in Meridian was only about 15 miles away. I called the Advance Auto store and they informed me that no one had come in to get the part. I came to the conclusion that the Colters had taken me for the seventy-five dollars and was kicking myself for being too trusting or just stupid. The clerk in the store said her husband had a shop and that she would get him the part and he would have one of his mechanics come out and put it on for me.

A short time later, I was surprised when our helpers did come back. I called the lady back at Advance and canceled her offer for help and told her the couple had returned and was working to put the part on. It took Robert awhile to find where the sensor was located on the engine and only then after calling back to where he purchased it. He could not get the old part out because he had a limited amount of tools. He left again, and Chris talked to the parts place again. The first clerk was gone for the day, but the new voice on the phone offered to come out early Friday morning and put the part on.

When our first mechanic came back again with a borrowed tool and made the replacement. I again called Advance and thanked the salesperson for his willingness to help and told him I was good to go. At first the oil pressure gauge still registered zero, but after disconnecting the battery to reset the system it worked as it should.

We paid them for their time and work and shared our supper with them. We spent the night in a nice cheap state park thanks to them. We decided from our conversations at supper that they made some of their living by just helping out travelers on the interstate along with mechanic jobs here and there. There was another camper back at the truck stop who's license plate was Prays God -yes that spelling, and that pretty much covers it all.

On the southwest side of Meridian, we connected with I-59 and took it all the way down to I-12 which skirts north of Lake Pontchartrain and New Orleans. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana we connected with I-10 and headed directly west past Layfatte and Lake Charles. One point of interest was the Atchafalaga Basin Bridge. It mainly transverses the largest swamp and wetland in the US and is 18.2 miles long (the 3rd longest in the US). It would not be the place to be if there was a significant accident.

After driving all day, we arrived in Liberty and got started on our training from those that were leaving the next morning. It was hot; somewhere around 92 degrees. We parked in the large church parking lot across from the church. We had to run our generator all night to stay cool. We were told that there was an outlet in the lot to connect to, but when I checked it out, I found out it was dead. The next day the volunteers with a camper were leaving mid-morning, so we could get their spot with a place to hook up right behind the fellowship hall.

The City of Liberty dates back to 1831 when Mexican Land Commissioner José Francisco Madero arrived here to validate land titles and establish the new municipality named Villa de la Santísima Trinidad de la Libertad. The new town was located three miles south of the Atascosito Road and an early Spanish outpost of the same name. Although Anahuac military commander Juan Davis Bradburn attempted to dissolve the local government on December 10, 1831, the municipality survived. William Barret Travis, the commander of the Alamo, practiced law here. A post office was established in 1836. After the Texas Revolution, the residents changed the name to Liberty. Mexican army officers captured at the battle of San Jacinto were held prisoner on the plantation of Judge William Hardin. General Sam Houston practiced law in Liberty during the 1830s and 1840s and maintained homes nearby. Liberty became the county seat and was incorporated in 1837. The City initially took in what is now the City of Dayton, which was called West Liberty. A Methodist congregation was established here in 1840, followed by a Catholic church in 1853. The population numbered 200 in 1845. The City Cemetery, a Protestant burial ground, was marked off in 1848, followed by a Catholic cemetery soon thereafter. The town functioned as an important river port, taking an active role in the antebellum Trinity River steamboat trade. The City's Board of Trustees attracted the Houston & New Orleans Railroad during the 1850s, which extended its line through Liberty in 1858. The population at that time was approximately 650. The Civil War and Reconstruction served to reduce the population, which declined to 497 by 1880. Residents of West Liberty broke away in 1898. The sawmill industry flourished here in the final decade of the 19th and the early 20th centuries. The discovery of oil in the South Liberty field on January 1, 1925 brought on immense changes and population growth, which went from 865 in 1900 to 3,087 in 1940. The city is located today at the juncture of US Highway 90, which was completed in 1927, and State Highway 146. The population in 2010 was 8,397 with 526 businesses operating here. A German prisoner-of-war camp was established here on the grounds of Trinity Valley Exposition during World War II. The Geraldine D. Humphreys Cultural Center was completed in 1970 and houses the municipal library and a community theatre. The Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, a branch of the Texas State Archives, is located on Farm Road 1011 and houses records from ten Southeast Texas counties. It was built on a 100-acre tract donated to the State of Texas by the late Texas Governor Price Daniel, Sr. and was completed in 1977. The site also features the Jean and Price Daniel Home, built by Governor and Mrs. Daniel in 1984 based on the original design plans for the Texas Governor's Mansion in Austin. Three restored buildings are located nearby.

We soon got into a routine and enjoyed all the people we worked with. The couple we worked with at the base location are from Wisconsin and was to be here for two weeks also. Their names were Larry and Nancy Ecklor and they live in Coon Valley, just south of LaCrosse and near the Mississippi.

Our days were pretty routine, starting at 6 am with preparation of breakfast. After doing the breakfast dishes, Rhonda and I went about cleaning the six showers, four in the mobile unit and two in the fellowship hall that was being use by the disaster relief teams. The showers in the fellowship hall were in two of the three restrooms which was a part of our responsibility for cleaning. From mid-morning to mid-afternoon there was less to do, unless something unique or unexpected came up.

Around 4 o'clock, the two crews would return and laundry duty would begin. Rhonda would do about 30 loads each day; finishing after eight each night. She was using four washers and five dryers in the disaster relief laundry trailer.

The temperature began cooling down on Monday and the nights were very comfortable with the windows open. Unfortunately, there was a railroad about three blocks away and the locomotive had one fierce horn. It was a fairly busy line with three trains going by each night.

We rode our bikes around the downtown and the neighborhoods near the church. Being near the coast, the terrain was very flat. Thursday, we rode down to the recommended seafood restaurant down near the river for lunch. The place had formerly been a bait shop.

Saturday was transition day with two groups leaving and two coming in. On the transition day, we moved all the cots in the two sleeping areas and swept and mopped. We also pulled the mats out of the four rooms of the mobile shower unit and scrubbed them, along with mopping the floors.

It was a hot and muggy day, so I was glad to spend part of the afternoon watching college football on my tablet. The group from Manansas went back out to work on a house that only could be worked on the weekend, because the homeowner worked somewhere near Houston. When they returned, we all went out to the Riverside Seafood Restaurant.

A pair of new kitchen helpers had arrived, so we now could stay in bed another hour. After breakfast, we started a little cleaning before Sunday School and Worship service.

Shortly into our cleaning, a fierce rain storm come through, starting with a strong swirling wind. This put an end to the cleaning. We retreated to the camper to change for church. The attendance in the large sanctuary was sparse.

After lunch, we finished cleaning and took a break in the camper before going. out for a bike ride in the northwest part of town. The rain storm or front made the ride very comfortable. The flat streets and very light traffic added to the enjoyment of the ride.

Courthouse grounds downtown Liberty

A couple with the group from Minnesota were taking over our jobs. We planned to stay until Friday, but now were out of work. Rhonda and I spent Monday training our replacements and making plans to leave the next day.

Tuesday morning after breakfast, we finished hooking up the camper and headed north out of town rather than back east the way we had arrived. Our first destination was to be Shreveport, Louisana, where we would connect with I-20 and then go east. We did this just to see different country side and avoid the traffic around

The couple from Wisconsin (Larry and Nancy Ecklor) with whom we worked with whom we worked with in the kitchen also left since they were out of a job too. They decided to do some sightseeing as the were heading home. They headed south to Galveston.

After Shreveport, we drove on to Jackson, Mississippi. Using the GPS, Rhonda found some camping around Vicksburg after crossing the Mississippi River, but we decided to go on to Jackson. We found a listing for LeFleur Bluffs State Park in the city limits. It was on the northeast side of town and was adjacent to the museum of natural science and the Museum of Mississippi Agriculture. The campground was about three quarters full. With the senior discount, the fee was only fourteen dollars a night. Our campsite was across from the restroom/showers just the way we like it.

The next morning we took the hiking trail from the park along the Pearl River up to the natural science museum. We entered through the back door and began our tour of the exhibits in reverse. It was a nice museum, but not nearly as extensive as others we had visited. One creature in the fish tank really stood out. It was a most unusual fish called the paddle nose. It was so odd that it was almost creepy. I was native to the Mississippi and it tributes.

After returning to the camper, we had lunch. One of the staff at the museum told us about an agricultural exhibit across the road. Before leaving the park, we paid for another night, but had move to another site, because the one we were on had been reserved.

The exhibit site was set up like a small early to mid 20th century farm town. It was situated on about four acres. In front of the main building were several antique tractors and trucks. The town had a school, church, gas station, general store, blacksmith shop, cotton gin, a couple of residences, a display garden and a small jail. Most of the buildings had been moved there from other parts of the state.

In the gift shop and information center, we discovered that there was going to be a weekend festival with exhibitions going on through out the day. It would probably be much like the Mule Days event down in Denton, N. C. I'm sure it would have been enjoyable to see and experience.

After leaving the park, we drove downtown were a lot of government building around, but we did not find the downtown business or shopping area. We, then went by a Tractor Supply store before returning to the park to have the propane tank topped off. When I checked it, it felt like it was about three quarters empty and I discovered my estimate was right on when the tank was weighted and filled.

The next day we planned to stop to camp around Chattanoga. From Jackson, we stayed on I-20 all the way to Birmingham. Around lunch, it was time for a gas fill up, so we decided to pull of to the station and have lunch in the camper after gassing up. From Birmingham, we followed I-59 to I-24 at Chattanoga

Rhonda began searching with the GPS to find a campground as we approach the south side of the city. We usually bring our Camping World (Good Sam's) directory which give us a lot more information about the campgrounds. Things such as the rating, price range, and amenities. We got off at one exit where we saw a sign for camping, but after exiting, we could not find any other signs or directions. We returned to the interstate and allowed the GPS to direct us to a resort campground right off I-24, at US 41, named Raccoon Mountain. It had a lot of extras and was the kind of place you might would stay on vacation with family. It was a few dollars more than we would have like to have paid since we just want a quick over night stay.

The next day I discovered that I had been dragging my brake safety cable and it needed to be repaired. I stopped at a Ace Hardware before getting back on the interstate and bought a piece of small wire cable a couple of clamps and made the repair. We arrived home by the middle of the afternoon and began the task of unloading and unpacking.

It was a rewarding trip. We were blessed to have the opportunity to help others and had a safe and almost incident free trip.

Rodeo Parade on Main Street

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