DOWN THE ROAD with Dave Volk - 1



Cyclorama 300While in Atlanta I visit a Civil War Museum that has an exhibit called Cyclorama.   In addition to being an outstanding museum this Cyclorama is truly unique.    It is a huge 50 feet high, 400 feet long circular depiction of the Battle of Atlanta that you rotate around.   Kind of difficult to describe, however, the amazing thing to me was that it was created in 1886! 

 I leave my Georgia friends and head for Jacksonville, Fl.    I know I have mentioned it before but it bears repeating -- although these road trips can get long and tiresome at times one of the truly ‘upsides’ is the ability to stay in touch with good friends.

 Too often friends who do not live close to us get lost and we remember them only with an occasional Christmas card or a recollection as we fly over them.   I’m glad these trips provide me with a way to stay connected with lasting friends. 

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One of things I enjoy when with old friends is the pure, old-fashioned joy of “visiting” (as my parents used to call it).  It’s that comfort that comes from just talking to each other, just casual conversing.   This form of socializing seems to be in danger in this electronic age.   I won’t get into the whole ‘texting, cell phone, Facebook’ age we are living in, however, I did recently see something that seemed systemic of our current environment.   

An example:  I was out dining and saw five couples of young people who must have been going to the Winter Formal by the way they were dressed.    They had to be freshmen in high school as the boys all looked like they were scared silly and appeared to be in their father’s suits.   The girls on the other hand were beautiful and looked like they were ten years older than their dates.    Anyway, all five of the girls were either texting, talking on their cells or taking selfies. Quite the scene, and I would have taken a photo with my IPhone but I got a text I had answer. 


I make a detour off of Interstate 75 to visit my niece Aly who is finishing her degree at Jacksonville University.   She is studying glass blowing and is very talented.   However, because of tests and a big project she couldn’t get home for Christmas in Denver.  

Spanish-Fort 300
Spanish Fort
Castillo de San Marcos

We have an early Christmas dinner at a seafood restaurant.   I give her a card with money in it, which is what uncles give at Christmas; and she gives me a gorgeous blue glass vase, which she created and which is what creative, artistic nieces give at Christmas. 

The next day we go down to St. Augustine, a city I have never been to, and it turns out to be a real find.   The oldest city in America, it is a wealth of history, small shops, bars and restaurants and the Castillo de San Marcos -- a fort built by the Spanish in 1672 to protect the city that was founded in 1565.  It’s well preserved and managed with great history.  As I was buying tickets for my niece and I to enter the fort, the Park Service attendant noticed my Vietnam Veteran’s hat and asked me if I had a VA card.   When I show it to him he issues me a lifetime pass to all National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands.   A truly nice gesture.  


Sunset 300I leave Jacksonville early Sunday morning of the 22nd.    As is always the case the last leg of any journey is the longest.   But it is a beautiful day, traffic is light and I arrive in plenty of time to get unpacked and settled before the sun sets.   

As I mentioned in my first installment this was going to be only the second time in my life that I had spent Christmas away from the Midwest.   I knew it would be different and strange but did not realize how different and strange.    It is truly tough to get into the holiday spirit when it is sunny and 85.   Coming back from golfing I hear some carols on Christmas Eve and they could not have seemed more XMas Life 300out of place than if I would have heard them on the 4th of July.    I put up my small tree and watch the Christmas classics with my patio door open and a warm breeze blowing in from the Gulf.    Again, in my first blog I said I was in to trying new things and this Florida Christmas certainly lived up to that.  

The Christmas’ of my youth spent at 1408 N. Rowley in Mitchell, SD will always be special.  However, after I check the weather report from home and see that there is a wind chill factor of -35, I’m thinking maybe I can get used to my Florida winter holiday routine.  

People here are mostly from the Midwest and within minutes of visiting with them you know where they are from, what they did or do for a living, how many children they have and, most importantly, how incredible their grandchildren are.   I ran into this ‘grandkid’ phenomenon when I attended Mitchell Notre Dame’s All School reunion this past summer.   I would ask my former classmates how their children were and they would say fine, and then immediately say things like:   “But you ought to see my grandson play football, or my granddaughter play the French Horn or soccer, etc.”    It truly gives new meaning to the bumper sticker you see a lot down here:   “If I had known grandkids were this much fun I would have had them first.” 

Hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s and hope you have a happy and healthy 2014.    

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Chattanooga, but no Choo, Choo…

I make Paducah, KY in time for the Army-Navy game and proceed to watch my Black Knights of the Hudson lose for the 12th straight year to Navy.   As Chicago Cub fans have been saying for the past 110 years……’WAIT’LL NEXT YEAR.’

XmasLights 300It is Saturday night and decide to go out for a nice dinner.   Downtown Paducah is charming all dressed up in its Christmas finery.   You know you are no longer in South Dakota when you see a Santa greeting his little children at an outdoor gazebo.

DaveFriend 300I am supposed to be in Charlotte, NC with my friend Nina and husband Randy but weather changed that.   Instead tonight I end up in a great Italian restaurant in Puducah with a sweet hostesses named Nina.   Strange indeed.

Next day I am down the road to Nashville.   I cannot get the Bears game on the radio and finally stop at an Old Chicago restaurant.  As I am getting off Interstate 24 I see a sign:   ‘Ft. Campbell – Home of the 101st Airborne Division’.    This is my old division from Vietnam.   Turns out to be good Karma as Bears win.

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Almost 70 years ago the 101st was caught up in one of the biggest battles of WWII.   The Nazis had launched a surprise attack that would result in the Battle of the Bulge.

Soldier 164One of the key Allied positions was a Belgium town called Bastogne.   Here the 101st would grimly hang on during one of the worst winter in decades.

Over the years I have attended a number of 101st reunions and  have been saddened when I see how few WWII veterans are there today.   Back many years ago when I was State Treasurer the Division held its reunion in Sioux Falls and I had the honor of greeting them on behalf of the state and Governor Kniep.

Seated next to me was a Colonel, who played a role in that long ago battle.    At one point the German Field Marshall von Rundestedt sent a message to General McAuliffe, 101 commander.    The message in essence said that the Americans were hopelessly surrounded and outnumbered and they should surrender.

McAuliffee replied with perhaps the shortest answer in the history of warfare.   The reply was just one word:   “NUTS!!!”   The man who delivered that message was the Colonel seated next to me.    I asked him how von Rundestedt had taken this reply and the Colonel said:   “Not well, not well at all.”

My division would hang on to that frozen city and break the German offensive.   They were relieved on Christmas Day, 1944 by elements of Patton’s 3rd Army.

So, at this Christmas season here’s to the ‘Battling Bastards of Bastogne.

TENNESSEE:   THE VOLUNTEEER STATE                                        

Make Nashville and have two great days with dear friends, Harlan and Pat Mathews.   They are the epitome of Southern grace and hospitality.  

Tennessee 300

Tennessee’s motto “The Volunteer State” comes from its long history for military service.    Especially in the Mexican-American War when, President James K. Polk, a Tennessean, requested a 2,800 volunteer-soldier quota for Tennessee in the Mexican-American War in 1846.   Instead, 30,000 Tennesseans showed up to fight.

On Tuesday I leave for Atlanta, which is only 4 hours away and a short day on these trips.    I leave Nashville on a four-lane interstate-headed south.   Must add here that 4 lanes, in my opinion, are two lanes too many.    It is auto-chaos as little cars switch in and out of lanes like annoying gnats and while the speed limit says 70 I have a feeling if you actually drove 70 you would be driven off the road.   As in all such cases I go into a driving mode that involves putting the ‘Volk death grip’ on steering wheel and hoping for the best.

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Weather and countryside are beautiful especially the long climb up Monteagle.   Once at the top it is downhill, all the way to Chattanooga.    (Still haven’t seen the Choo-Choo).

Outside of some road construction that delays me about an hour I reach friends Skip and Margaret’s place by mid-afternoon.    Getting closer and closer to my beach at Longboat Key.

Want to add a postscript here.    I don’t know who invented GPS or who adapted them for automobiles but they deserve a Noble Prize for Engineering.   

My friends Skip and Margaret have moved since last year and getting to their new place involves at least 15 turns off the main highway.    As directionally challenged as I am I would quite frankly never have found it without GPS.    Quite frankly I would probably still be trying to figure out how to leave Columbia, Missouri without my handy GPS. 



Sunset 600
Cold Sunrise of Sioux City

Sioux Falls to Columbia, MO - 12/17/13

My “Little Brother” Drake has helped me load the car and I am off early on the 13th.   I smile when I write ‘Little Brother’.    He was little when we hooked-up 9 years ago through Big Brother Program but today is a strapping 16-year-old.   Whereas Drake has changed a lot since he was a 2nd grader, he remains a wonderful young man

As I launched out I knew I would be at the vagaries of the weather, however, I did not anticipate it changing things right from the start.    AAA trip lady has advised me against going east because of a storm brewing around Chicago and she suggests I head south towards Kansas City.

While I will miss some friends I can hopefully catch them on the way home.  However, I won’t miss the most boring stretch of road in the US……I-90 from Sioux Falls to Rochester.   I have complained about this road before so will spare you any additional attacks.

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Perhaps part of my dislike of things Minnesota involves not being a big fan of that state.   As a Chicago White Sox and Bear fan -- the Twins and Vikings have always been the bane of my existence.   I also always loudly cheered my buddy Janklow on when he would sally forth with his famous verbal battles with Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich.   My favorite line from Bill was:   “Do you know why South Dakota doesn’t have a professional baseball team?    Because then Minnesota would want one.”

However, as I head down the road I am listening to a book on tape about the Civil War, and I am reminded of the First Minnesota Infantry Regiment.    They were some of the first volunteers of the war and were made up of mostly of Scandanvian and German farm boys, most of whom had probably never seen a person of color let alone ever considered owning one to do their work.

However, 150 years ago this past July these boys of the prairie would go forward during the second day of the battle of Gettysburg and plug a breach that had been created in the Union lines.   They would pay dearly for their charge and sustained almost 82% casualties.  Yet, their bravery perhaps not only saved the day but perhaps the entire battle and, given the mood in the country at that time, perhaps the war itself.

FMV 169

So, although I will never be reconciled with the Twins, Vikings or that boring stretch of I-90, here’s to the brave lads of the First Minnesota Vounteers. 

Saturday is the Army – Navy football game that I usually watch religiously every year, however, this trip does not have the luxury or time to spend 4 hours in a bar watching football.    However, I will have it on the radio with my 101st Airborne hat on and cheering loudly for the Black Knights of the Hudson.   Navy has won the last 11 games…but hope springs eternal. 

I love the traditions of this game. The marching into the stadium of the Corp of Cadets and Navy Midshipmen, then after the game the two teams going as one to the Army and Navy sections to sing their respective school songs.   I am always a little moved by these rock hard football players, who could be in harm’s way very shortly, blubbering away as they sing their alma mater’s tributes.    I wish all of these dedicated young people a safe and successful military career, but come Saturday I wish for but one thing:    GO ARMY, BEAT NAVY!!!!! 


I am glad I followed AAA’s advice as I do miss snow but drive through torrential rain from Kansas City to Columbia, Mo,.    The rain is so hard I am reminded of the cow and flat rock analogy that you rural types will understand.    I nervously watch the temp gauge as it continues to drop close to freezing.    I roll into Columbia by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin as it is getting slushy upon my arrival.   I cover over almost 500 miles on this first day……..not a bad start all things considered. 

Hooters 400
Dave's Ornithology (Birds)
Study Break Place

Fortune shines as there is a Hooters right out the back door of my motel, so I dutifully head over for dinner.    You know you are tired when you go to a place like Hooters and only think about a cold beer, a bowl of soup and sleep.  (Okay, I’ll be honest, there were a few distractions encountered.)

The storm I am going to fight the next few days has been named Electra.   What a pretty sounding name, like it should belong to someone who dances at Frank’s Day in Dallas, SD during the opening weekend of pheasant season as opposed to a metrological issue for my desperate flight to Florida.

Today, roads permitting, it is on to Paducah, Ky, and then tomorrow Nashville, where I will realize my dream of becoming a country western sensation at the Grand Ole Oprey.    One day on the road and I am already delusional and punchy!  


Prelude - 12/6/13

With weather turning cold and an October blizzard that as already slammed into the Black Hills it is definitely time to start thinking about pointing my car south and heading for Florida.

As in past years -- I will drop you short missives as I travel down the road.   Again, I will mostly avoid large cities, when possible, and look for what is unique and special in smaller towns.    For example, had I not been raised in Mitchell, SD, I am sure the World’s Only Corn Palace would have lured me off I-90.  Corny as that may sound.   

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I am leaving earlier this season and right now plan to depart Friday, December 13th.   A more superstitious person might have some apprehension about leaving on a Friday the 13th, but not me.   Plus, I will have my four-leaf clover, rabbit’s foot and lucky horseshoe so…I should be OK.

VietnamDay 400
Camp Eagle, Vietnam – December 1970.

As I was planning this trip it struck me that this would only be the second time in my life that I have spent a Christmas away from the Midwest.   The other was a rain soaked, monsoon-depressing affair in Vietnam in 1970 with the 101st Airborne Division.    I remember us sitting around a small Charlie Brown tree in our hooch listening to carols on Armed Forces Radio.  To this day whenever I hear “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” it all comes back to me.

I usually spend the holidays with friends and I am fortunate to have friends in Florida that I will be with.   I know it will be strange to see Christmas lights on palm trees and Santa’s’ along the beach, but I am into trying new things and this will certainly be that.


In addition to going early, I am going to take a completely different route this year.   Weather permitting I am going to go straight east from South Dakota until I get close to Atlantic Ocean.   I’ll see friends along the way, which is always one of the pluses of these annual jaunts.   I’ll stop in on Charlie Smith, former Treasurer of Wisconsin, and his wife Bert in Madison, WI, and drop off the money I owe him from our past Bear – Packer bets.   I always pay him by check and make the check out to Bert as that practice drives ole Charlie crazy.   A WWII veteran, Charlie was wounded with the Marines at Okinawa.

Then, once I am close to the Atlantic, I will hang a right and head down to Charlotte, NC.   A wonderful young lady Nina and her husband Randy live there.   It is a state I have seldom visited and thought I would like to see.   Her husband is a good golfer and, weather permitting; I figure I can lighten his wallet with enough strokes.   He is a good guy and we Notre Dame fans have long since forgiven him for playing football at Nebraska.   

From there it will be down the Atlantic coast past Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA., and then over to Atlanta.  In essence it will be General William Tecumseh Sherman’s ‘March to the Sea’ in reverse.   

DaveMarchToSee 450
Dave says he just never knows what he will see on his 'march' to the South.

Towards the end of the Civil War, Sherman raised holy hell in these three states and cut a 40-mile swath through all of them.   While Georgia and North Carolina got it bad he saved his real wrath for South Carolina.   He supposedly said:   “The rebellion started here and by God here is where it will end”!

He burned any number of cities in SC including their capitol, Columbia.   It is said that to this day every family in SC has some horror story of what Sherman did to their ancestors.   Since he only went through 40 miles of the state it would seem that most of these family tales are more myth than fact, but a little exaggerating should never get in the way of good ancestral remembrances and grievances.    Old family stories should be like heirlooms, which are shined up from time to time.

We Volk’s even have a family story that has to do with why we never had any money.   My grandfather Frankie used to tell the story of his great grandmother, who was one of the many Germans who had migrated into the Black Sea area of Russia.  At some point Catherine the Great, the Tsarina of Russia, wanted the Germans out and they came to my distant relative and said that, for her many properties, they would give her all the gold that two oxen could pull, to which great, great, great grandmamma replied:   ‘alles oder nichts’…..”all or nothing.”   So they gave her nothing and kicked her out of Russia.   One bowed neck; stubborn German lady kept us Volk’s from living in the lap of luxury………Ah, we’d probably have blown it anyway.

After a little R&R with my Army buddy Skip and his wife Margaret in Atlanta, it is on to Interstate 75, that straight road down to Florida, Longboat Key and sunshine.   It is a long drive of about eight hours but I am sure the thought of standing on the beach with a cold rum and coke watching the sun drop into the Gulf of Mexico will keep me going.

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 Hope 2013 has been a good year for all of you and look forward to having you along as I head ‘Down the Road’.