James A. Garfield National Historic Site

Hi again,

President James A. Garfield

President James Abram Garfield
20th President
Born: November 18, 1831
Inaugurated: March 4, 1881
Shot: July 2, 1881
Died: September 19, 1881 (age 49)
Time in Office: 200 days

I know what you’re thinking. C’mon Boris. The James A. Garfield NHS? Y-a-a-a-a-w-w-w-n. The same thought occurred to us when we visited recently. We needed a break on our annual pilgrimage to Pennsylvania and this sleepy little suburb east of Cleveland was in just the right place. Besides it had a National Passport Stamp and a couple of munzees and geocaches to boot. We figured we’d do our collecting, take a quick look around and be on our way in 30 minutes. We stayed several hours. It’s a very cool place and our 20th President was an interesting and admirable man.

Information about James Garfield often includes the phrase “self-made man” and he certainly was that. The youngest of five children, he was born in a log cabin and raised in abject poverty by his widowed mom, Eliza.  Despite the hard scrabble upbringing,  he became a highly educated and successful man. He was a college professor, ordained minister, lawyer and Civil War veteran all by the age of 30. He spoke several languages, could write in two languages simultaneously with both hands and was one of the most gifted orators of his day. So naturally, all of this led him to his real calling – politics. After two years as an Ohio State Senator, he set his sights on the United States Congress.

**Historical footnotes: Garfield was the last of seven Presidents to be born in a log cabin. He was the first left-handed President, the only ordained minister to serve in the office and the only candidate to be elected President straight from serving in the House of Representatives. Last but not least, he was the first President to have his mother attend his inauguration.**

James A. Garfield NHS

The house that’s there now bears no resemblance to the one that 14 year Congressman James A. Garfield bought in 1876. He had always wanted a farm to be near his constituents, raise his growing family and escape the heat and politics of mosquito-ridden Washington, DC during the lengthy legislative breaks. He found it in Mentor, Ohio not far from the shore of Lake Erie and less than 20 miles from his childhood cabin in Moreland Hills. Along with 158 acres of land came a ramshackle 1 1/2 story nine room white clapboard farmhouse built in 1831. Before long, crops, livestock, orchards and voters were being tended to and the house was getting renovated. This is the eastern side of it. The Garfield family always referred to it as the Mentor Farm. Since livestock roamed and grazed all the way up to the house, the press soon dubbed it “Lawnfield”.

Garfield had a new family, successful law practice and political ambitions when the Civil War broke out. Nevertheless, he was determined to do his part. He was a staunch abolitionist who openly advocated a scorched earth war against the Confederacy, whom he considered traitors. He could have taken a safe job far removed from the fighting and still checked the veteran’s block on his political resumé, but he didn’t. Despite having no military background, he wanted a combat command. Initially commissioned a Lieutenant Colonel in the Ohio militia, he was put in command of a brigade and sent to Eastern Kentucky, where the Confederates were recruiting and establishing a foothold. His orders were to clear them out.

On January 10, 1862, Garfield’s brigade attacked and defeated a larger rebel force at the Battle of Middle Creek near Prestonsburg, KY. It wasn’t a big battle but it was important for two reasons. One, it gave the Union a victory when they really needed one. Two, President Lincoln was profoundly grateful that his home state hadn’t been hijacked by the Confederates. Garfield’s star was rising and he became the youngest General in the Union Army. Fighting at Shiloh, Corinth and Chickamauga, he acquitted himself well in those actions, earning his second star as a Major General. For the rest of his life, he was referred to by everyone as General Garfield or simply “the General”.

 While on medical leave in the fall of 1862, he ran for Congress in his home district (Ohio 19th) and won easily. He returned to the fighting while also carrying out congressional duties.  After Chickamauga in September 1863, he resigned his commission at Lincoln’s behest and assumed his elected office. Despite his earlier rapport with President Lincoln, Garfield refused to support his re-election in 1864 because he thought Abe wasn’t being aggressive enough in the war.

Home of President Garfield.

The structure of the old house is built into the current one. The clapboard section with the small porch in the foreground is part of the original farmhouse. If you take the inside tour, the ranger will point out walls, doorways and stairwells that were also part of it. The house was under continuous renovation for years under the direction of Garfield’s wife Lucretia. It has a mix of styles, including Victorian, Tudor and Cape Cod, all of which can be seen in the picture above. It soon grew to 20 rooms housing their seven children and close relatives from both sides of the family. It also had running water and natural gas for heat, light and cooking. The water and gas came from wells on their property which can still be seen today, although they are no longer in use. After Garfield’s death, Lucretia added an ornate library with a room-sized steel vault on the third floor. It became the very first Presidential Library and is still there today.

Another term you’ll hear to describe Garfield is “dark horse” and he is that, too. It refers to his surprise nomination for President at the 1880 Republican Convention in Chicago. After 36 ballots, none of the listed candidates could corral enough votes. Garfield’s name was placed in nomination as a compromise and the other candidates released their voting blocs. He was nominated on the 37th ballot.

**Historical footnote: The 37 ballots at the 1880 Republican Convention is still a record for the party. The Democratic record is an unbelievable 103 ballots at the 1924 convention in New York that dragged out for three weeks. That nominee was John Davis, a prominent lawyer and diplomat. He lost to the Republican incumbent Calvin Coolidge.**

Front porch of the Garfield house

On this front porch at the southwest corner of the house, James Garfield changed the way Presidential candidates campaign for office. In prior Presidential elections dating back half a century or more,  a protocol had been observed that the candidates didn’t do much campaigning and didn’t talk about themselves. It was considered unseemly and undignified. They let their colleagues, friends and others speak for them. Garfield thought that was crazy, especially since he was a better speaker than anyone in his circle. On the other hand, he didn’t want to ruffle any feathers by turning conventional wisdom upside down. Thus was born “The Front Porch Campaign”. Instead of the candidate running around making speeches, the people came to him. People showed up at Lawnfield from all over the country to hear Garfield talk about the issues of the day and mingle with the crowd, which sometimes numbered in the thousands. Presidential campaigning (and governing) was up close and personal. Schedules were published in the paper. There were no body guards. No security whatsoever. It was perfectly acceptable for a person to walk up to a candidate – or even the President himself – anytime, anywhere and ask questions or air grievances.  Candidate Garfield liked to work the farm and often had people – total strangers – walk up to him in the fields and barns to talk politics. Garfield gave dozens of  front porch speeches in the summer and fall of 1880. Parts of them he did in German, since many of his supporters were German immigrants. He mingled with thousands of people. In the end, he was successful. Future Presidential candidates would use this model very effectively and eventually strike out on the campaign trail themselves.

**Historical footnote: Garfield also brought another innovation to campaigning. In a small shack behind the house that served as his campaign headquarters, he had a dedicated telegraph line installed and hired people to man it 24 hours a day. Dispatches came and went night and day as the Garfield campaign pioneered the use of communications media.**

His Democratic opponent was retired Union General Winfield Scott Hancock, the “Hero of Gettysburg”. Defying the odds, Garfield threw himself into campaigning and won by the narrowest of margins – about 1/10 of one percent. The self-made man, dark horse and master of Lawnfield was now the 20th President of the United States.

James Garfield at home

This picture of President-elect James Garfield was taken sometime before he left for his inauguration on March 4, 1881. He would never see Lawnfield again.

**Historical footnote: The Constitution originally mandated March 4 of the year following an election for the Presidential Inauguration. March 4 was chosen because that is the birthday of the Constitution – March 4, 1789. That changed in 1933. The 20th Amendment designated January 20 as Inauguration Day.**

Garfield became President in the early years of the “Gilded Age”, a time of unprecedented growth in America lasting from the 1870’s until the turn of the century. The issues he faced were right out of today’s headlines – corruption, labor unrest, immigration, civil rights and economic opportunity. It was the time of the “Robber Barons” – the Rockefellers and Carnegies, the Morgans and the Mellons. It was also the time of the big city political machines like Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall. Throw in labor unions, Indian wars and the first rumblings of prohibition and women’s suffrage and you have your work cut out for you.

His most immediate priority was stopping the onerous White House patronage system of staffing civil service jobs. In years gone by, people would line up outside the White House for an audience with the President seeking a job in the new government. Garfield believed that people should be hired for their abilities and fitness for the job. He immediately shut down the job line and sought the development of a merit based civil service selection system.

In that job line was a schizophrenic lawyer named Charles Guiteau. His family had him committed to a mental institution in 1875 but he had gotten loose at some point. Now he sought a career as a diplomat in the new administration as a reward for his campaign support. Guiteau hung around the White House and the State Department for weeks and even had a meeting with the President. Finally, in May, he was banished from both places and told never to return. The voices in his head told him to kill President Garfield. He bought a .44 caliber revolver and with the aid of the daily White House schedule published in the newspaper, began stalking the new President.

Garfield assassination

On July 2, 1881, President Garfield went to the Sixth Street Station of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad about ten blocks from the White House. His destination was a speech at his Alma Mater – Williams College in Massachusetts followed by some vacation time in New England. With him were two teenaged sons and Secretary of State James Blaine. Also at the station to see them off was Robert Todd Lincoln, the Secretary of War and the son of Abraham Lincoln. As usual, there was no security, even though Guiteau had announced his intentions for weeks through letters to cabinet officials, military officers and Republican Party leaders. When the President arrived in Blaine’s horse and buggy, Guiteau was waiting inside. As Garfield walked into the waiting area at 9:30 A.M., Guiteau stepped up close behind him and shot him twice at point blank range. The first bullet grazed Garfield’s right arm. The second entered the President’s back on the right side by the first lumbar vertebra, lodging near the pancreas. It missed the spinal cord and vital organs. Guiteau was immediately apprehended. He’d seen his last sunrise as a free man, but he wasn’t an assassin yet. The President was still alive.

**Historical footnote: Garfield was alive but he would not govern again. His governing tenure lasted 120 days although his official time in office is 200 days. The only President to serve a shorter time was William Henry Harrison, the 9th President. He died of pneumonia on April 4, 1841 after only 30 days in office.**

Garfield on his death bed

At his trial, Charles Guiteau admitted shooting Garfield but contended his doctors killed him. That’s also the historical hindsight concensus of the post-shooting care the President received. It was downright medieval and he suffered horribly. He lingered for 80 days while doctors poked and prodded with their fingers trying to find the bullet, which they never did. All they accomplished was to set off rampant systemic infection throughout his body. To cool his fever, he was moved to Elberon, NJ, a resort town on the coast. Garfield lost 80 pounds in 80 days as his doctors tried to feed him a concoction of raw eggs and whiskey to improve his constitution. Finally on September 19, 1881 – wasted away to almost nothing, wracked with fever and draining infection from every orifice in his body – President James Garfield died. He was 49. His wife Lucretia was at his side as she had been the whole time.

**Historical footnote: Despite this second assassination of a sitting President, there was no action taken to protect them. It would take the assassination of a third – William McKinley in 1901 – to get the federal government to deal with it. The task fell to the Secret Service, which was created to chase counterfeiters after the Civil War. The law creating the Secret Service was signed by Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865 – the day he was assassinated.**

President Chester A. Arthur

Upon Garfield’s death, his Vice-President Chester A. Arthur took office as the 21st President and finished out the term. He declined to run for a term of his own in 1884. Grover Cleveland, the Democratic Governor of New York, became the 22nd President that year.

Garfield assassin Charles Guiteau.

Charles Guiteau went to the gallows on June 30, 1882 – two days before the first anniversary of the shooting. He turned his trial into a circus, exhibiting bizarre, irrational behavior never seen before in such a high profile public venue. He was convinced until the end that he would be released and was planning a lecture tour.

Lucretia Garfield

Lucretia Garfield buried her husband at Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, then returned to private life at Lawnfield. Since there were no government pensions or support, benefactors set up a trust fund for her that totaled almost half a million dollars. This enabled her to live a quiet, comfortable life until her death in 1918 at the age of 85. She is buried with her husband.

The house remained in the Garfield family for another five decades. After Lucretia’s death, her brother Joseph lived in it until he died in 1934. During the years after her husband’s death, Lucretia began selling parts of the farm as the Cleveland metro area moved outward. When she died, the children continued. By the 1930’s, it was down to eight acres. The current site is five acres.

Main entry to the Garfield house.

In 1936, the Garfield children donated the house and all its furnishings to the Western Reserve Historical Society. In 1980, it became a National Historic Site and the Park Service took over. A 12 million dollar restoration project in the 1990’s restored the house to its turn of the century glory, which is what you see today. Over 80% of the furnishings in the house are the originals owned by the Garfields. It’s a magnificent work of art, style and architecture. This is the formal entryway into the house.

As we explore off the beaten path, we continually run into things that are interesting and educational beyond our expectations. The James A. Garfield National Historic Site is certainly one of those places. If you find yourself in the Cleveland area, take an hour or two and pay it a visit. It’s located at 8095 Mentor Ave, Mentor, OH 44060. Here’s the park web site.

Cheers …. Boris and Natasha

Capulin Volcano National Monument

Park entrance

The entrance to the park. Located 35 miles east of Raton, NM it is definitely off the beaten path. It’s not hard to get to. It’s just not on the way to anything. The GPS coordinates of the visitor center are N36.778739°, W103.980068°. (Click on the coordinates for an interactive Google map.) The really cool thing is that you can drive to the top and hike around the crater. The word “capulín” is Spanish for chokecherry, which grow in abundance here.

February 1943. Against the backdrop of a world at war, a monumental geological event is taking place in Mexico. In the small village of Paracutín about 200 miles west of Mexico City, a volcano is about to be born. A peasant farmer named Dionisio Pulido is working in his corn field. The ground has been rumbling for weeks and a six foot wide fissure has opened up in his field. At 4:00 PM on February 20 all Hell broke loose. Señor Pulido was there to see it – and lived to tell about it.

First came the hissing of superheated steam and sulphur fumes. Then ash and rocks. By nightfall, rooster tails of lava and red hot rocks were shooting over 1,000 feet into the air. Smoke and ash went much higher and fell as far away as Mexico City. Lightning from static electricity flashed through the dense black clouds. As the lava, rocks and dirt came back to earth, they started to form a cone shaped cylinder around the fissure. It grew with amazing speed. Within 24 hours, it was 150 feet high. Within a week, it was 500 feet and visible for miles.

Paracutín Volcano eruption

Filmed as it happened – the eruption of Paracutín. Date unknown but probably in the first months after the initial blast. The cone has grown substantially and is still going strong.

The violent eruptions continued unabated for several months. Then things quieted down. The Paracutín Volcano continued to erupt at irregular intervals for nine years. Then on February 25, 1952, it quit as suddenly as it had started. Its magma chamber was completely spent. When it died, it was 1,345 feet above Pulido’s old corn field. Its lava flow had destroyed 100 square miles, including two towns. Miraculously, no one was killed.

The Paracutín event was the one and only time in human history where a volcano was scientifically observed for its entire life cycle. Otherwise, it was far from unique. 60,000 years earlier, the exact same thing happened in present-day northeastern New Mexico near the of town of Capulin.

Capulin Volcano National Monument

From the National Park Service, an aerial overview of the 800 acre Capulin Volcano National Monument. Annotations added by yours truly.The highly symmetrical cinder cone rises almost 1,400 feet above the prairie, reaching an altitude of 8,182 feet above sea level. It was designated a National Monument by President Woodrow Wilson in April 1916 and gets about 50,000 visitors a year.

Sixty thousand years ago, the climate here was a colder, wetter Ice Age environment. Thick pines and junipers covered the land. Giant bison, camels and mammoths roamed, preyed upon by sabre tooth tigers. Man was still 50,000 years away. Millions of years before that, rivers of lava pooled underground creating a volatile and unstable region that covered 8,500 square miles in southeast Colorado and northeast New Mexico. Geologists now call it the Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field. Over the course of many millennia, there were hundreds – probably thousands – of Paracutín Volcanoes. Evidence of this activity is everywhere. The oldest ones are worn down to almost nothing, but Capulin is still young and in good shape.

Capulin crater view

This is a photo taken from the highest point on the crater rim. The crater is 1,500 feet wide and 400 feet deep. The rim parking area is towards the center of the image as is the trail down to the bottom of the crater. Down and back is ½ mile. The crater rim trail is about one mile long and has some steep climbs that get your attention with the 8,000+ feet of altitude. Clearly visible off in the distance are extinct cinder cone volcanoes as far as the eye can see. The ridges, cuts and mesas in between them are old lava flows. Capulin Volcano is in the center of the Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field and surrounded by these ancient geological sentries. The field is still considered geologically active, but the chances of another eruption anytime soon are very slim.

Capulin and all the other remnants in the Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field are a type of volcano called cinder cone or scoria volcanoes. They start as flat ground. Pressure from magma and ground shifting eventually causes a fissure, then an explosive eruption to relieve the pressure. Secondary vents open as the crater builds and lava flows. Cinder cone volcanoes are monogenetic . They erupt once, then go dead. The eruptions typically last only a few years. Along the way, they create their own mountain – just like at Paracutín. The mountains tend to be symmetrical because all the debris falls back around a single original fissure. Made up of small cinders, the cones are unstable in the early stages. Eventually, plant life takes root and stabilizes it. That’s where Capulin is now. Eventually, weather and erosion take their toll. In a million years or so, Capulin Volcano will be no more. But for now, it’s worth checking out.

Distant view of Capulin Volcano

These cinder peaks have been used as navigation landmarks for centuries. In our more recent past, both branches of the Santa Fe Trail came right through here. In fact, this is the best area for exploring the trail. Some of the original wagon ruts are still visible.

Capulin Volcano National Monument is the perfect Off the Beaten Path destination. In a one or two day road trip, you can explore Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site, the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, the Santa Fe Historical Trail, ghost towns, old railroad towns and more. If you like exploring along back roads with lots of history, geocaches, more cows than cars and the occasional bullet-ridden stop sign, you’ve come to the right place.

Capulin Volcano Visitor Center

If you like your volcano monuments quiet and austere, you’ll love Capulin. The Visitor Center has some displays, a small gift shop, restrooms (of course). No food, no camping but some great picnic areas and hiking trails. But let’s face it – the reason you come out here is to drive the two miles to the top of the volcano. It’s very cool. (BTW, you’re not allowed to walk it. No RV’s either.) For us, the park also had a couple of geocaches, munzees and NPS Passport stamps. So we got the off-the-beaten-path hat trick.

Much of what you see in the park is due to the efforts of one man – Homer Farr. A Kansas farm boy, he bought 160 acres of land just south of the cinder cone around 1910. For the next decade, he ran several successful businesses and promoted his little slice of heaven, which became the town of Capulin. He was the postmaster. The volcano became a national monument in 1916 and he became the superintendent in 1921. In 1925, he dug the first road to the crater summit using a horse and plow. It’s the same route used today. Superintendent Farr got the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) out to the monument in the 1930’s. They improved the road as well as building walls, trails and other infrastructure that are still in use. Homer Farr served as the superintendent at Capulin until 1955.

That’s all for now.

Cheers …. Boris and Natasha

Handgun Training at Front Sight, NV

Hi again,

The firing line

Ready on the firing line.

I recently finished the Four Day Defensive Handgun course at Front Sight, a training facility just outside of Pahrump, NV. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. I’ve had lots of handgun training, so that wasn’t the problem. To be honest, Front Sight has a reputation out in the online gun community as a second rate facility.  I got a chance to go with a certificate that cost me $100 as opposed to the full price of $2,000. So off I went to the Feb 13-16 class.

It was outstanding.  It exceeded my expectations across the board. The instruction was excellent. Everybody there was helpful and professional. We did a lot of shooting.  I learned a lot. The biggest lesson I took away from it is that I didn’t know as much about this stuff as I thought I did.

I’m not going to chronicle the day to day activities.  A Google search will bring up lots of detailed summaries and reviews.  Here’s a good one.   I read it several times and it was very helpful.  I did learn a few things that were not mentioned anywhere else, so here are some thoughts on the Front Sight experience.  I think they would also apply to just about any other training program.

The Training Environment

Range break area

The only shade on the range.

1. This is the desert and they train all year. In February, the lows were below freezing and the highs were very pleasant. The week after my class, it got cold and snowy. Summer temps routinely hit 100. The shooting ranges themselves are constructed with 12 foot earthen walls on three sides. There’s lots of sun, not much shade and little wind. The firing line can get really brutal no matter what time of year. Plan accordingly.

2. It’s very taxing, both physically and mentally. Forget about hitting the casinos or taking in a show at night. You’ll be too tired.

3. All that aside, you don’t have to be a young stud to do the class. We had 44 students with a real mix of people. About 1/3 were women. There were several families there with their teenagers. The guy next to me was in his 70’s. This was his 18th time taking the course over a ten year period. He just likes doing it and he’s good. I’m 61 and I did fine.

4. Get a hotel room in Pahrump, which is only about 20 minutes from Front Sight. The two main ones are the Saddle West Casino and the Best Western- Pahrump Station. Both offer Front Sight discounts and fill up every week, so book early.  If not, you’ll have to stay in Vegas, which is an hour or more away. Pahrump is an ugly town but the people are nice. The town has stores, restaurants, gas stations and amenities plus some casinos, so you’ll have everything you need. Front Sight hosts up to 1,000 students a week in various courses and it’s big business in Pahrump. The town is a little nervous about all these gun fighters running around, so the lower your profile, the better.

5. The pace is fast and the days are long. Plan on being there until 5 or 6 PM. It’s pretty much non-stop with the exception of the one hour lunch break. Snacking, hydrating and loading magazines are done on the fly between relays or during transitions. That said, if you get tired or just need a break, it’s OK to sit out a relay.

6. Take with you to the range everything you need for the day – drinks, sun screen, ammo, snacks, etc.  Your car will be nearby but you won’t have time to make trips back and forth.  I had a range bag and a cooler. They have water there in a big vat, but it’s not very cold and it runs out. Plain water has its limitations. Be sure to take some Gator-Ade or something for electrolytes. A 50/50 water and Gator-Ade mix is ideal. Orange juice is good too.   I used the Gator-Ade powder.  Saves weight and room. I took an insulated water bottle and carried it all the time.  You can’t have it on the firing line but it’s ok on the ready line.  You want to have immediate access to drinks and ammo all day.

7. In four days, you’re going to draw that weapon, work that slide, push those levers and buttons and load those magazines thousands of times. By the end of the course, your hands will be cut up and sore – especially the fingertips. Take some medical tape or tough band aids to wrap them with. At night, use some hand lotion to heal them up.

8.  I took some disposable vinyl medical gloves with me to lather on the sun screen.  It keeps your hands from getting all slick and oily. Your firearm will thank you.  When I first started doing it, people just stared at me.  By the end of the course, several others were doing it too.

9.  I ordered the box lunch every day. It’s quick, convenient and filling. They run about 12 bucks. You can pre-order when you get your course confirmation email or do it when you get there.

10. They have a well stocked pro-shop and armory on site but they are outrageously expensive. A MagLula 9mm speed loader that I got on Amazon for 20 bucks was $70 at the pro shop.

11. Watch your speed on the road to Front Sight. It’s a target rich environment for cops, especially on Day 1.

Bring enough gun

On the line

If your firearm has a glitch, this place will find it.

12. MUY IMPORTANTE: The fact that you are taking a shooting course with a concealed weapon does not allow you to carry off site. Do not carry concealed off the Front Sight facility unless you have a Nevada permit. CCW reciprocity in Nevada is a circus. They honor almost nobody else and it changes all the time. In the past, students have carried, been stopped by the cops and busted. That’s a Class C felony. On the other hand, open carry is legal. So you can strap on your gun and motor on down the road if you want. Just make sure you don’t accidentally cover it up. Front Sight rules say no loaded weapons or weapons handling in the common areas. My advice: Lock it up in the trunk and retrieve it at the range.

13. Even if you have a Nevada permit (which I do), stay out of North Las Vegas and Boulder City (which is just up the road from Hoover Dam). They don’t like concealed carry and you’re in for a big hassle if they find you packing. Yeah, it sucks, but what can you do? If you want to take a test case to the Supreme Court, be my guest.

14. Forget about revolvers. You can use them but the course is built around the semi-auto handgun. A lot of what they teach is transferable to any weapon. My carry weapon is a S&W 642 .38. I took it to the range after I got back and was able to successfully apply things I learned using my 9mm at Front Sight.

15. Don’t take a brand new gun to Front Sight. Run several hundred rounds through it before you start training. There were a surprising number of gun problems on the range. Front Sight has a gunsmith on site who can fix anything. If your gun has problems, the staff will run it up to him. He’ll fix it and notify the range when it’s ready, usually within an hour or so. Take a back up gun just in case. If you have other guns you want worked on, like new sights or a trigger job, take it with you and drop it off. This guy is very good.

16. I gained a real appreciation for the new generation of striker fired, DAO semi-auto handguns – Glock, Springfield and M&P. I used a 9MM S&W Shield. My backup was a Beretta Px4 sub-compact, a sweet shooting piece which I’ve had for over 10 years. I’m glad I didn’t have to use it. In fact, I might even sell it. The Shield ran circles around it. IMHO, semi-autos with external hammers, thumb safeties and de-cocking levers are almost obsolete. That includes some fine weapons like Sigs, Berettas, Rugers and 1911’s, all of which I have owned. I’ll never buy another one.

17. Speed and accuracy are what we’re looking for and the aforementioned relics come up short. The benchmark drill at Front Sight is to draw from the holster and fire two rounds center mass in less than two seconds. Having a double action first round makes it almost impossible. A guy on a nearby target had his new Sig Sauer out there and he had trouble all week. Plus, all those extra levers and edges make it harder to work the slide in the fast aggressive manner needed for clearing malfunctions and re-loading.

18. Then there’s the weapons that you carry cocked and locked, like 1911’s and Hi-Powers. True story: The last day of the class, we had a guy shoot himself in the leg while holstering his cocked and locked .45. Fortunately, it just barely grazed his outer thigh, giving him about a four inch racing stripe. It barely broke the skin. His wife was shooting next to him and she was a basket case. After the paramedics patched him up, they got in their RV and left. Still want to carry that hog leg in Condition 1?

19. This new generation of handguns minimizes or eliminates those problems. Next time I go to Front Sight, I’ll be shooting the M&P full size 9mm and the Shield will be the backup.

20. Take lots of magazines, especially if you’re shooting a single stack weapon. Front Sight says bring at least three. I’d say a minimum of six. I had eight and I was still busier than a one armed paper hanger all week.

21. I had my ammo in neat plastic cases and my Israeli MagLula speed loader ready to go. I ended up putting about 50 rounds in my pocket and refreshing my magazines the old fashioned way on the ready line. I’d load them up with the speed loader in the morning and after lunch. After that, there simply isn’t time to pluck the rounds one at a time out of the box and employ the speed loader. Some of the students had trap shooter bags full of loose ammo hanging from their belts. That worked well. I’ll be looking into one of those for next time.

22. Front Sight catches a lot of crap from the handgun community because they continue to emphasize the Weaver stance. Actually, it’s more of a modified Weaver or Chapman stance. According to the naysayers, the Weaver is obsolete. Everybody now uses the combat isosceles stance. I personally like the Chapman and that’s what I shoot. It just works for me. If you get to Front Sight and are Hell bent to shoot isosceles, they won’t say a word other than to suggest you keep an open mind and try their stance.

The Front Sight business model

Range HQ

This is it. This is main street of the Front Sight resort community.

Front Sight was started in 1997 by a California chiropractor named Ignatius Piazza, who still runs the place. He had big plans. His vision for Front Sight was a “shooting resort” with ranges, adventure training, martial arts, homes, condos, shops, restaurants, etc. To move forward with it, he sold memberships, which cost up to $25,000. These memberships entitled you to free classes, prime lots and amenities like a Front Sight hat and T-shirt. (Seriously. That’s two of the many benefits he touts.)

Twelve years ago, when I first divorced, I almost bought a Bronze membership for $5,000. I decided against it. For at least two years after, I was bombarded with e-mails and slick flyers about all the things that I was missing. They went on and on about all the great things that were happening at Front Sight.

Well, most of it was b—s—t. None of resort stuff and luxury amenities ever happened. I drove into Front Sight expecting a desert oasis. With the exception of the ranges and house trailers used for offices, there’s absolutely nothing there. They didn’t even have running water until about four years ago. Ignatius Piazza has been sued repeatedly yet continues to bang the drum for all the great things going on at Front Sight and is still selling memberships.

This is the angle that gets most of the bad comments in the handgun community. However, I found a clear separation between the business end and the training program. The ranges are modern and well maintained and the staff are all very professional. At no time did anybody try to give us the hard sell. In fact, it wasn’t mentioned at all.  Don’t let the business/marketing thing turn you away.

The going rate for a Front Sight course is $500 a day. That’s the same as other trainers like Gunsite and Thunder Ranch. I took the course for $100 with a Front Sight certificate. Here’s Front Sight’s dirty little secret – nobody pays full price for a course. Here’s why. When customers buy full price memberships, they get a bunch of course certificates and full fledged memberships to give away or sell. I got my certificate through a friend. Then I came back, started looking around for another one and found a guy on E-bay who was selling memberships. It sounded too good to be true.Take any course I want any time I want for the rest of my life. I emailed and called the guy trying to coax out of him what the catch is. There wasn’t one. It’s a full blown, honest-to-goodness Diamond level life membership with a retail value of $7,000. It cost me $250. I’ve got my membership card, diamond certificate, hat and T-shirt. These things are everywhere on the Internet. If I had spent the five grand for a membership, I would not be a happy camper. Never pay full price for a Front Sight course.

One has to wonder how long they can stay in business like this. There have been rumors and reports over the years that they were going under, but I saw no evidence of that. I went into this with my eyes open and figured even if they close tomorrow, I got a $2,000 course for $350. I think they’ll be around a while. They have a large course offering and lots of students.

I had a very successful week. My score on the skills test the last day put me in the top 3 shooters. Now that I’m snowbirding in Arizona, I plan to go back at least twice a year. In addition to the full size M&P on my wish list, I may have to buy a new rifle and shotgun for those courses.

This post turned out to be longer than I planned, but that’s usually the way it goes. Hope this helps. Maybe I’ll see you on the line some time.

Semper Fi …. Out here …. Boris

Britain’s Day of Infamy – December 10, 1941

Hi again,

Almost everybody recognizes the date December 7, 1941. The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on that day is known in the history books as the Day of Infamy, a phrase used by President Roosevelt during his address to Congress asking for a Declaration of War. What most people don’t know is that our staunchest ally, Great Britain, had its own day of infamy three days later.

As the Pearl Harbor raiders were recovering on board their carriers, an equally calamitous event was unfolding in the western pacific. The Japanese Imperial Army was landing in southern Thailand and northern Malaya, while sending bombers to strike the crown jewel of the British empire – Singapore.

The landings and bombings on the 8th kicked off a two month campaign that would end in the surrender of Singapore, the destruction of the city and the largest defeat in British military history. Despite the clear and present danger posed by the Japanese aggression, the people of Singapore didn’t take much notice. Singapore had a worldwide reputation as an island fortress that rivaled the Rock Of Gibraltar. They were convinced that their island city was impregnable and that the Japanese wouldn’t dare attack it. Besides, they had an ace up their sleeve. The Royal Navy was in town, led by the pride of the fleet – the HMS Prince of Wales.

The HMS Prince of Wales

The HMS Prince of Wales was Britain’s newest, fastest and most heavily armed warship. Packing 10 x 14 inch guns, she could also fill the sky with flak from her secondary batteries and put up thousands of rounds of anti-aircraft fire per minute. She entered service in May 1941 and had her baptism of fire one week later when she traded salvos with the Bismark. During that running fight, she absorbed four hits from German 15 inch rounds – including a direct hit on the bridge – and kept fighting. Three months later, she carried Prime Minister Winston Churchill across the Atlantic to Newfoundland. There, he hosted on board his first council of war with President Franklin Roosevelt. She was a personal favorite of Churchill’s and considered invulnerable. Somebody forgot to tell the Japanese.

The fleet had arrived on December 2, sent by Winston Churchill in response to Japanese provocations in the region. Their timely arrival was a coincidence, but considerably lessened the impact of events on the 8th. British leaders were confident that the task force would deter the Japanese from attacking or make short work of them if they did.

As the Japanese prepared to attack south on the 8th, Task Force Z, under the command of Admiral Tom Phillips, sortied out of Sembawang Naval Base in northeast Singapore.  It consisted of the HMS Prince of Wales, the HMS Repulse and four destroyers. Their mission was to find and destroy the Japanese invasion fleet. Comprising 28 troop carriers and two aging battleships, it was turning circles somewhere off the coast of Malaya.  The mission to blast enemy ships out of the water was a dream come true for a battleship skipper and promised to be easy pickings for the Royal Navy.

The HMS Repulse

The HMS Repulse was a WW1-era heavy cruiser that was completely re-fitted just before the war. A veteran of Atlantic surface actions in both wars, she was still a capable fighter. However, her construction would do her in. Cruisers built in her era were designed for speed and agility. To get that, armor protection and watertight integrity were sacrificed. During the attack, the Repulse dodged 19 torpedoes. The Japanese finally caught her by coming in from both sides at once. She sank six minutes after the first hit.

Singapore was thoroughly infiltrated with Japanese spies and they knew the moment the ships slipped the harbor. Soon, every air and naval unit in the region was hunting for them and the invasion fleet was withdrawn to Indo-China. The British task force was oblivious to these developments, had no hard intelligence and no air cover. Additionally, all their new electronics, such as radars and fire control systems, started failing in the salty humid air of the tropics as soon as they arrived. None of it had been fixed. They were sailing deaf, dumb and blind. Still, Task Force Z kept searching. Finally on December 10, they found the Japanese but not the ones they were looking for.

Artist depiction of the attack on the HMS Prince of Wales

An unknown Japanese artist’s depiction of the attack on the HMS Prince of Wales. A Mitsubishi G3M “Nell” bomber is dropping a Type-91 aerial torpedo. Japanese torpedoes were the best in the world and exceptionally lethal. The Type 91 was fast, accurate and packed a 500 pound warhead. The first torpedo hit on the ship was back by the propellers and would have been fatal all by itself. It tore out the port side propeller shaft from its sealed passage into the hull, creating a breach that couldn’t be stopped. The ship lost speed and power and developed an immediate list to aft and port. The Japanese continued to pour it on until it disappeared beneath the waves of the South China Sea. In all, it took four torpedo hits and at least two direct hits from 500 pound bombs.

Scout planes and a submarine found the task force early in the morning on the 10th about 50 miles out from the Malayan port city of Kuantan.  While they tracked the British ships, every Japanese aircraft between Malaya and Saigon scrambled and went after them. The air attacks began around 1100.  Over 90 aircraft took part.  There wasn’t enough time or fuel to coordinate strikes so groups attacked on arrival as soon as they found the targets.  The Repulse and the Prince of Wales both took multiple hits from torpedoes and bombs.  The Repulse sank at 1230. The Prince of Wales went a little after 1300. Admiral Phillips and almost 1,000 crew members went with them.  The destroyers were untouched and rescued hundreds out of the water despite the threat of lurking submarines and more air attacks. The Japanese lost three aircraft and their crews.

Escaping from a sinking HMS Prince of Wales

The destroyer HMS Express rescues survivors from the badly listing HMS Prince of Wales. The attack is still under way. When the battleship rolled over in her death dive, she almost took the Express with her. As she rolled, her bilge keel along the bottom of the ship came up under the Express and gave her a 40,000 ton wallop. Fortunately, the destroyer was able to ride it out. Unlike the Repulse, which sank in minutes, the Prince of Wales took almost two hours of constant pounding before she went under.

This was the first time in military history that major surface combatants were sunk in the open ocean by hostile aircraft alone. It was a harbinger of what lay ahead. The battles of Coral Sea and Midway were just around the corner and they would change naval warfare forever.  From now on, carriers and their aircraft would take the fight to the enemy with the ships 100 miles apart or more.  There would still be surface battles in the years to come, but the heyday of the battleship was over.

The sinking of two of England’s finest warships sent shock waves all the way to London. Churchill later wrote in his memoirs, “…in all the war, I never received a more direct shock.”   The losses left the Allies with no capital warships west of Hawaii.  The western Pacific was now a Japanese lake. It didn’t last long. Four months later, the Japanese navy was smashed at Midway and they spent the rest of the war on the defensive.

The wrecks of the HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales were found after the war, in 183 feet and 223 feet of water respectively.  They are about eight miles apart. The Repulse rests semi-upright with a sharp list to port.  The Prince of Wales is completely upside down with much of her superstructure buried in the mud. In 2007, her ship’s bell was removed by British divers to prevent it from being stolen.  It now sits in a maritime museum in Liverpool, England.  Both ships are Crown property however, they are legal to SCUBA dive on and there are dive shops that make the trip regularly.  The Repulse is the better target being much shallower and with a lot more to see.  Both are deep decompression dives and not for beginners.

If you like to explore underwater, Singapore and Malaysia offer some top notch SCUBA diving. There are a lot of wrecks in the surrounding area including the HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales. There are many others and dive shops make regular trips, with destinations for divers of all experience and ability levels. The South China Sea has excellent visibility most of the time and is warm as bath water in the shallower depths. If you’re a diver in Singapore, it’s worth checking out.

That’s all for now … Boris and Natasha

The Unbelievable Exploits of Captain Robert Stobo

This entry has a number of hyperlinks to web pages I’ve done on those battles. If you like history, be sure to check them out.

One of the fascinating things about studying history is discovering facts and people that had a material effect on the events of the day but have been lost to time. One of those people from the French and Indian War was Captain Robert Stobo, whose exploits could have been an epic adventure novel if they weren’t true. Pictures of Captain Stobo are nowhere to be found, although several books have been written about him.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1726, he migrated to Virginia to become a merchant like his father. As it turned out, he wasn’t crazy about a merchant’s life. His real call was the military. His family was friends with Governor Dinwiddie and Robert was commissioned a Captain in the Virginia militia. Shortly thereafter, he led an infantry company that reinforced George Washington at Fort Necessity, arriving just before the battle. When Washington surrendered to the French, he was required to provide them with two officers to hold as hostages to ensure the return of French prisoners taken weeks earlier at the skirmish at Jumonville Glen. Robert Stobo volunteered to be one of them.

Taken back to Fort Duquesne, Stobo was free to roam the grounds, since he was not a POW. He drank and played cards with the French and became fluent in the language, all the while gathering detailed information about the fort and its defenders. When the British refused to release the French prisoners, Stobo was sent to the French stronghold at Quebec. Before he left, he convinced a friendly Indian to deliver his intelligence to the British. He did and it ended up with General Braddock, who had it with him the day of his defeat at the Battle of the Monongahela. When the French ransacked what the British had left behind, they opened Braddock’s field trunk and found Stobo’s letters and diagrams of the fort. Stobo had signed them to prove their authenticity but in doing so, signed his own death warrant.

Stobo_Fort_Diagram

Captain Stobo’s diagram of Fort Duquesne. It was smuggled to General Braddock, then found by the French in his field trunk after his defeat. Stobo had also written several long letters about the French defenses and troops. These were found also.

Meanwhile, in Quebec, Stobo was doing his thing again. He had the run of the place and was allowed to mingle in the upper echelons of French-Canadian society. He was in the process of amassing a dossier on the French stronghold – right up to the point where they put him in chains and threw him in the dungeon as a spy. He was tried and convicted of espionage and sentenced to the gallows. The sentence was commuted to “long term confinement” by King Louis XV.

Stobo languished in Quebec’s dungeons for three years. He escaped twice only to be re-captured shortly after. Each time, his conditions became harsher. His third escape attempt was successful. On May 1, 1759, Stobo and seven others escaped from the dungeon and found a canoe on the riverbank. They canoed for days up into the treacherous Gulf of St Lawrence. There, they happened upon an anchored French schooner, which they hijacked at night, putting the crew off in the canoe. Along with a French captain and pilot, they sailed into the harbor at Louisburg, Nova Scotia 36 days and 700 miles after their escape.

StoboEscape3

Robert Stobo’s escape route May 1 to June 5, 1759. 36 days after their escape from the dungeons of the Quebec Citadel, Stobo and his party arrived in Louisburg, Nova Scotia. They sailed into the British port in a French schooner they had commandeered in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The British were preparing to lay seige to Quebec. Stobo provided valuable information to the British commander, General Wolfe, and wanted to get back into the fight. Wolfe said no and sent him back to Williamsburg, Virgina, where he got a hero’s welcome. The final Battle of Quebec came on September 13, 1759, after a three month siege. It lasted only 15 minutes on the Plains of Abraham, but both British General Wolfe and the French commander, General Montcalm, were killed.

By now, it was June 1759 and British General Wolfe was preparing to attack Quebec from his base in Halifax. Stobo gave his detailed intelligence to Wolfe, who used it to modify his plans and successfully take the French bastion. The capture of Quebec in September 1759 broke the back of the French forces in America. Less than a year later, in August 1760, they would lose Montreal and cease hostilities, although a formal peace treaty was still three years away.

Wolfe sent Stobo back to Williamsburg, VA. Arriving there over five years after he had originally left for Fort Necessity, he received a hero’s welcome, all his back pay and a commission in the British army. Stobo returned to the fighting. Commanding a company of British regulars, he saw extensive action in the Caribbean theater. He was seriously wounded while leading an attack on Morro Castle at the entrance to the harbor in Havana, Cuba. Occupation duty in America followed as the British strived to bring order to their new lands. He returned to England in 1768 intent on finishing his army career. However, he quickly became bored with peacetime garrison duty and disillusioned by army politics. A decade of fighting, captivity and depredation had taken their toll. He began to have health problems along with financial difficulties and started drinking heavily.

On June 19, 1770, 44 year old Robert Stobo blew his brains out.

The Palms aka Hoberg’s, Borrego Springs, CA

Movie stars, gangsters and us have something in common.

When Natasha and I retired and hit the road five years ago, we made it a point to seek out unique or interesting places away from tourist venues. Earlier this year, we struck gold in Borrego Springs, CA and a place called The Palms.

The main entrance

Opened in 1946, it was originally called Hoberg’s Desert Resort. In fact, the locals still call it Hoberg’s. Its location well off the beaten path in the Mojave Desert made it a perfect getaway for famous and notorious people in the 40’s and 50’s. Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Mickey Cohen all frequented here. Many of the guests flew in to the resort’s private air strip. Those heady days are long gone. Now its patrons are regular folks with nearby hiking, biking, motocross, golf, RV parks and geocaches galore along with a fair supply of munzees and letterboxes.

The resort is very laid back and unpretentious, with eight rooms and two pool-side casitas. It doesn’t even have phones. Cell phone coverage is pretty good and the resort has WiFi and DirecTV.

The front desk at The Palms

The original lodge building was destroyed by fire in 1958 and re-built in classic mid-50’s California modern style. Memorabilia covers the lobby walls and “rat pack” music plays in the background. They could have filmed scenes from The Godfather here. Along with the main lodge were 56 air conditioned bungalows scattered over the 17 acre compound. Those are all gone now except for a couple of ruins. The resort was abandoned in the 1970’s and fell into extreme disrepair. It was scheduled for demolition in 1993 when the current owners stepped in at the last minute and saved it. They restored everything and renamed it The Palms.

It sits on the edge of Anza-Borrego State Park and has unobstructed desert vistas in almost every direction. You can be as active as you want or not at all. The nearby mountains are full of desert bighorn sheep, which can often be seen on drives or hikes. In fact, the word “borrego” is Spanish for those bighorn sheep.

The Pool

The focal point of the resort is its magnificent Olympic-sized pool. For many years after it opened, this was one of the largest swimming pools in southern California. It also has a large hot tub/spa on the deck. At the far end of the pool, there are windows below the water line. There used to be an underground bar here where you could get a drink and watch the mermaids. It is now used for storage although you can still see through the windows. Also notice the desert skyline in the background. The pool is literally just steps from the lodge, which is just to the left of the pool.

The skies here are pitch black at night, so star gazing is a popular activity.

The Red Ocotillo

Another very popular activity – and the one that brought us here – is the food. There are two restaurants here. Inside is the more formal (and more expensive) Crazy Coyote. Outside, shown in this photo, is the Red Ocotillo. This is laid back, informal poolside dining at its best. People come for miles to eat here. After a hard day in the desert, it’s the perfect place to unwind and recover.

This was one of our best off the beaten path finds. It has it all – remoteness, history, uniqueness, geohides, a “coolness factor” and food. If you’d like to check it out, you’ll find them at 2220 Hoberg Rd, Borrego Springs, CA. Here’s a link to their web site. The GPS coordinates are N33.2692° W116.4008°. Click on the hyper-linked coordinates for a Google map.

NOTE TO READERS: Anza-Borrego State Park used to be a hot bed of geocaching. No more. In 2010, the state contacted geocaching (dot)com and directed them to deactivate/remove all physical geocaches in the park. Although they may show up in a search, they are no longer active. There are virtual caches and earth caches that are still available. This restriction was only placed on Anza Borrego Park. Do not despair, however. There are hundreds of geocaches in the 40 mile stretch between Borrego Springs and the Salton Sea, including several long strings of off-road/4×4 geocaches.

Cheers … Boris and Natasha

The Roadkill Cafe

Down in Alabama at the intersection of the Foley Beach Expressway and Alabama 98 in Baldwin County is a little town called Elberta.  About a half mile east of the intersection is a diner called the Roadkill Cafe.  Their motto is “You kill it, we grill it.” We were out geocaching in the vicinity one day and ran across it.  Well, with a name like that, how could we resist? 

The outside of the Roadkill Cafe.

The Roadkill Cafe
25076 State St
Elberta, AL 36530
(251) 986-5337
Hours: M-F 10:30 to 12:30
or there abouts
“You kill it, we grill it.”
Check out the mural on the right.

Y’all plug this into your GPS – 30.414339, -87.597030 – and click on the linked numbers for a Google map.

This is definitely a locals place.  Everybody who comes in and out seems to know everyone else. We were the only outsiders but were welcomed warmly.  Everybody was real nice.  The menu is on the chalkboard by the door and all the food is laid out buffet style, including salad and dessert.  For eight bucks, you get it all and as much as you want except your drinks.

This is real home-style Southern cooking.  I had chicken fried steak, red beans and rice and cornbread.  Natasha had fried chicken and mashed potatoes with lemon cake for dessert.  It was all good stuff.  We could have easily gone back for seconds and thirds but resisted the temptation.  Most of the people there did not.

This is the kind of fine dining we look for on our adventures.  There are over a dozen geocaches within a short drive so you can roadkill a couple of birds with one stone.  If you want to eat here, you’ll have to time it right. They are only open Monday – Friday from 10:30 AM to 12:30 PM although locals were streaming in after the closed sign went up.  Maybe they stay open until the food runs out.

Inside the Roadkill Cafe

Inside the Roadkill. Clean and simple. Menu on the chalkboard. Eight dollar buffet in the middle. This was taken about 10 minutes after closing. Before that, all the tables were full. There were still some locals wandering in after this was taken.

So forget your diet for a day and check out the Roadkill Cafe. Don’t pay no never mind to the Subway next door.

Y’all come soon….Boris and Natasha