My First Great Adventure Was In a Torrential Storm

I miss rain.

When I was seven, we lived on West Ansley in south San Antonio. Three Dennis families, lived side by side, with six acres among us. It was my last innocent summer in many ways.

In just a few months Blackie, my devoted Cocker Spaniel would be dead. Nineteen days later, I would see President John F. Kennedy. The next day he would be dead too.

From age eight on, all of my summers (with the ONLY exception being 2020) were filled working: gas stations, hauling junk (it’s called recycling now), mowing, hauling hay, roofing, foundation repairs, car lot, pest control, Monorail train driver, construction laborer, reporter, private investigator…).

But this summer of 1963, was a good one. One evening, channel 5 KENS television weatherman Bill Schomette told us it was going to rain the next day. I asked my parents if it rains, could “I go watch it in the shed?”

They agreed so before I went to bed that night, I prepared by making a peanut butter sandwich to take. After all, this would be my first solo journey away from home. Well, technically it was still home, but I had to trek a full acre of our back field to make it to the small horse shed.

I was so determined to be alone, I didn’t even want Blackie to join me.

Weatherman Shomette was brilliant. He was right on target. When we heard thunder and saw dark clouds rolling in from the southeast, Mom grabbed my trusty outer space lunchbox and placed a bag of Fritos corn chips and a Thermos full of cherry KoolAide next to my sandwich in it.

“If it starts raining real bad, you must stay in the shed” she said. “Wait it out. I don’t want you out and exposed if it starts lightning.”

I walked out the door–protected by my Bilbrey Lumber Company Little League baseball cap–carrying my lunchbox and wondering what “exposed” meant. It sounded scary.

It turned out I was a good 60 yards away from the shed when all hell broke loose. An explosive crack of lightning and rapid rain welcomed me to a real world definition of “exposed.”

I ran for my life as the storm turned to torrential. Thankfully, I was greeted with a lawn chair that I learned later my father set out for me earlier.

The experience was riveting. I imagined myself an astronaut, isolated and brave. The raindrops pounded the tin roof.

I made earplugs from some of the paper napkins my mother had in the lunch box. Somehow those paper plugs helped with the bravery, but soon the rain was so hard I could barely see 30 feet away. Certainly my house seemed to have disappeared. It seemed to me Blackie was in there safely tucked in and might as well just have been miles away.

I never cried. But I came close. The umbilical cord of safety had certainly been cut. I thought about what Dorothy Gale said in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.”

Then I remembered the Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion. Just like them, I had a brain, heart, and courage.

It was a good 45 minutes before the rain slowed enough for me to recognize the house again. Mom had turned the back patio light on. It appeared to be a beacon, a lighthouse like pirates–or sailors in search of Moby Dick–must have seen.

As the rain lightened, I enjoyed my space rations and most of my KoolAide. A gambit of emotions and thoughts prevailed. When the weather finally calmed down enough, I decided to leave my lunchbox safely in the lawn chair and journey back home.

What a journey that was. It became a trudging expedition of sludge and mud. I lost one tennis shoe in the thick oozing black slush. But I marched on.

Momma must have been watching as I fell a few times because she came out with an umbrella, turned on the waterhose and met me at the edge of the backyard. The grass never felt so good. But she made me strip down to my underwear while she hosed off me, my clothes and my one shoe.

Dorothy was right. There is no place like home. After a warm shower I spent most of the evening with Blackie by my side. When Dad came home from work, he rubbed the top of my head a few times and laughed as Mom told him about my brave feats.

I’ve been through many rain events, since then–hurricanes, floods, and more–but even now there is a soothing reminder that it is okay to experience those feelings of a seven year old.

Emotions are necessary to move forward. We must let whatever we’re feeling flow freely so we can make it to the sunshine of what comes next.

Sometimes, our emotions are more like a torrential downpour, flooding and overflowing within us, begging for a space to reside.

Today, I remember the sunshine of my mother’s laughter as the clouds rolled away, and know it will always return when the rains pour back again.

But what I learned most from that summer, and many seasons later, is that sometimes, sunshine is within us. Sometimes it is found in another person.

I love the premise that remembering the warmth in our loved ones can protect us from the storms ahead.

“For in this unbelieving world you will experience trouble and sorrows, but you must be courageous, for I have conquered the world!” John 16:33

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Hurricane Hanna Price Gouging Warning Alert

Following the severe weather and flooding in South Texas during Hurricane Hanna, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton today warned that state law prohibits price gouging in the wake of a declared disaster. Under state law, once the governor issues a declaration, vendors are prohibited from charging exorbitant prices for necessities such as drinking water, food, batteries, generators, towing, clothing, medical supplies, lodging, repair work and fuel during and after the crisis.

“Natural disasters can pull communities together. Unfortunately, they can also pull in unscrupulous individuals looking to scam vulnerable citizens,” said Attorney General Paxton. “As our communities work to rebuild and recover, my office will continue to aggressively prevent disaster scams and stands ready to prosecute any price-gouger who takes advantage of Texans.”

Price gouging is illegal, and a disaster declaration triggers stiffer penalties under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Governor Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for the counties of Aransas, Bee, Bexar, Brazoria, Brooks, Calhoun, Cameron, Dimmit, Duval, Fort Bend, Galveston, Goliad, Harris, Hidalgo, Jackson, Jim Hogg, Jim Wells, Kenedy, Kleberg, La Salle, Live Oak, Matagorda, McMullen, Nueces, Refugio, San Patricio, Starr, Victoria, Webb, Wharton, Willacy, and Zapata.

Texans in affected counties who believe they have encountered price gouging should call the Office of the Attorney General’s toll-free complaint line at (800) 621-0508 or file a complaint online at https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/consumer-protection/file-consumer-complaint

Noah Musical Gives Renewed Sense of Hope

Travel Log: July 2020. Our 22nd day.

Thanks to our parents, my favorite Biblical stories are likely the same as many others. I loved when my father would read about Noah’s Ark, David and Goliath, and Daniel in the Lions Den.

Before I was old enough to read, I recall drawing and coloring a picture of animals on Noah’s Ark in Vacation Bible School.

With cousins Patti, Carolyn, Gayle and Dennis Sanders, along with friends Sue and Johnny Standridge, we were proud to have our art work displayed in the South San Antonio church in the summer of 1961.

Cousins Jackie Dennis & Patti Sanders, 1961

I never really questioned the validity of the stories. Even when a 1974 socialogy professor at Southwest Texas State University tried his best to make fun of Christian students for believing, did I have doubts. I just walked out of the class and never returned. Dropped it (So did several others).

Many things about college broadened my ideologies and “expanded my horizons.” I even naively voted for Jimmy Carter, but only the first time. Even after interviewing the President at the Alamo a few days before the 1980 election, I didn’t vote to reelect him.

Photo of President Jimmy Carter taken by Jack Dennis after interview at Alamo.

Thankfully, I didn’t naively fall for most of the indoctrination attempts, even back in 70s. Even those I did were quickly dissolved when I became a parent and more productive taxpayer.

With a natural skepticism for politicians, lobbyists, liberal education agendas and society experimenters, I didn’t succumb…or doubt the story of Noah’s Ark. 

Sure, I had the common questions on how it was practically possible. Could the ark really fit that many animals? Could it float with that much weight? I’ve read many of the debates, theories and accounts on the subject.

Our recent visit to the Ark Encounter in Kentucky put many questions to rest, but opened up new ones: dinosaurs? animal waste? insects?

It was another serendipitous moment driving into Branson, Missouri two days later and seeing a “NOAH-The Musical” billboard sign of it playing at the Sight and Sound Theater there. We signed up for tickets.

Never in my dreams could I have imagined how this could be turned into a great play.

I’ve seen Broadway productions in New York of Phantom of the Opera, Jersey Boys, Wicked, and Mama Mia.

Living above the Majestic Theater in San Antonio, I saw (and wrote about many) practically every performance played there for five years. 

Let me tell you, dear friends, “NOAH-The Musical” is spectacular. It’s very informative and the “WOW” factor of the production is the best I’ve experienced anywhere.

The sets are incredible, and worth the price of seeing alone. The engineering, artistry, and time that went into creating them is truly astounding.

The fortunate aspect of the play is that the singing and acting talent is a must see complement to the total production. We were fortunate to have second row seats on the center aisle (front row empty for social distancing). The up-close perspective of the actors, emotion on their faces and the quirky little things that the animals do are fantastic. Many of the animals passed by us to enter the stage from a mechanical ramp at center stage. It’s like having our own personal experience, way beyond any theater. At one point, after intermission, the stage opens up on both sides to further captivate the audience. 

Dodie loved watching the live pigs, goats, sheep, donkey, horses, camels and dogs go by. There were also doves that flew overhead on several occasions.

From the moment you drive into the parking lot, Sight and Sound is impressive. The building is large with several shining domes and beautiful landscaping that includes a large statue of a lion and lamb.

The lobby is equally lovely with decor that brings you back to Biblical times. Besides the box office, there are concession stands that offer a small, but tasty assortment of reasonably priced foods.

Ushers are helpful and anticipatory. They offered booster seats for children, pushed wheelchairs, and checked for special needs.

It’s a state-of-the-art 2000-seat, 339,000 square foot theater and has become a favored destination of Branson audiences. The shows produced by Sight & Sound feature a professional cast of more than 50, elaborate sets towering up to 40 feet high, hundreds of costumes, and trained animals. Wonderful special effects permeate the shows and include set pieces that rise up through the stage floor, 3D video imaging, pyrotechnics and artistic lighting effects including lasers.

It feels like a cast of hundreds, and looks like it as well when the stage is full. There’s everything from singing to dancing to rhythmic gymnastics, live animals, animatronic elephants, penguins, giraffes and Galapagos turtles. It’s masterfully produced at four levels high, complete with animals, baskets, food storage, and everything so many other conceivable needs for the Ark’s voyage.

Noah, is on stage for almost the entire show, and is in most musical numbers, as well as racing throughout the Ark, up and down ladders, and makes the feat look simple. 

“NOAH’ is more than the story of an ark filled with animals. This is the epic tale of how one man faced a monumental decision that led to a seemingly impossible task and a world changed forever,” said Sight & Sound Chief Creative Officer Josh Enck. “It’s been nine years since audiences enjoyed ‘NOAH’ in Branson and 25 years since its debut performance. Now, a new generation of families can enjoy this story as they’ve never experienced it before.”

Noah is such an extraordinary story. It is truly one of hope and the faithfulness of God’s promises. We left the theater with a renewed sense of inspiration and hope.

Noah’s Ark in Kentucky

Yesterday, as we drove through a torrential rain on Highway 74 north of Lexington, Dodie proclaimed, “If this keep up we’re going to need an ark.”

She was right, again! So we visited an ark.

The Ark Encounter features a spectacular reconstruction museum of Noah’s ark, built to biblical specs. At over 1.5 football fields long and reaching higher than a four-story house, the Ark is one of the largest timber-frame structures in the world.

It’s enormous size – 165,000 square thousand feet -allowed for comfortable social distancing.

We explored three decks of cutting-edge exhibits telling the strict biblical account of Noah’s Ark.

Because of the post pandemic opening, we were able to take advantage of a special senior deal that included a free meal at Emzara’s Restaurant that was absolutely delicious.

Their normal buffet service was suspended and converted to allow visitors to go through a cafeteria-style line. We chose pot roast, black-eyed peas, country style red potatoes, and vegetable medley, with salad, roll and German chocolate cake. We rated it 9.5 out of 10, it was that good!

Admission included the ark and all exhibits, the beautiful grounds, the Ararat Ridge Zoo and petting zoo area. A children’s play area was temporarily closed until social distancing restrictions are lifted.

We elected not to pay extra to experience riding a camel, hunt for fossils, soar down thousands of feet of zip lines, or testing our skills on a ropes course.

Their ark matches the full-size Noah’s Ark, built according to the dimensions given in the Bible. Spanning 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high.

Noah’s Ark had the same storage capacity as about 450 standard semi-trailers. A standard livestock trailer holds about 250 sheep, so the Ark had the capacity to hold at least 120,000 sheep. 

It’s big enough that NASA could lay three space shuttles—nose to tail—on the Ark’s roof! 

Before the Great Flood.

The roof of Noah’s Ark was more than 50 feet from the ground—higher than a modern four-story house. That’s plenty of space for three extra-tall inner decks as the Bible describes.

Few wooden ships have ever come close to the size of Noah’s Ark. One possible challenger is the Chinese treasure ships of Zheng He in the 1400s. An older contender is the ancient Greek trireme Tessaronteres. The Ark is near the maximum size known to be possible for a wooden vessel.

Over 3.1 million board feet of timber were used in the construction of the Ark. A board foot is 12 inches by 12 inches by 1 inch. In board feet (laid end to end) there is enough timber in the Ark construction to go from Williamstown, Kentucky to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; or San Antonio, Texas to Little Rock, Arkansas; or Las Vegas, Nevada to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Animatronic Noah actually answers questions asked of him by visitors.

The Ark Encounter is the brainchild of Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis, an online and publishing ministry with a strict creationist interpretation of the Bible. It took up to 700 craftsmen and construction workers to erect the $120 million venue that opened in 2016. They employee up to 900 employees at a time depending on seasonal business.

Hall says that the Bible is a historical narrative and that “the whole gospel message is found in Genesis.” He believes that dinosaurs prowled the planet alongside humans and that the biblical flood created the Grand Canyon.

He teaches that Noah labored over seven decades to construct his vessel and was over 600 years old when the storm surged. 

As a science teacher in his native Australia, he’d “take students to museums and saw that all the museums were totally from an evolutionary perspective.”

He began researching the creationist view of science, and ultimately began lecturing on the subject and was invited to speak in America.

He gain much attention by beating television science star Bill Nye in two debates that some touted as a modern-day Scopes trial.

Ham says liberal universities, media and scholars have it wrong.

“Just because a majority believes in something doesn’t mean it’s right,” he said. “People love darkness rather than light. If a majority believes something, I’m naturally suspicious because of the sin nature of man.”

The Arc Encounter has several exhibit panels admitting they took “creative license” in developing backstories for Noah and his family. Noah’s daughters-in-law, unnamed in the Bible, are each assigned a different race to explain the varying physiognomy of the world’s inhabitants.

Dr. Andrew A. Snelling, a notable biblical geologist doesn’t expect to anyone to find Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat.

“Instead, it must have landed on another high mountain in the region at that time,” he wrote in 2017. The Bible “clearly says that the Ark landed on the ‘mountains of Ararat’ on the 150th day of the Flood (Genesis 8:4). By that stage, the waters had prevailed to cover the whole earth. The ocean waters did not retreat until after the Ark landed safely.”

“However, the volcano now called Mount Ararat did not grow until well after the ocean (Flood) waters had retreated,” he continued. “Furthermore, the lavas and ash layers of Mount Ararat date to the time of the post-Flood Ice Age. This is consistent with Mount Ararat being built after the Flood on top of a dry plateau. Mount Ararat is thus a post-Flood volcano, which continued to erupt, most recently less than 200 years ago.” 

It’s last eruption was 1840.

“Does this shake my faith in God’s Word as a reliable account of the historic global Flood cataclysm? Absolutely not!”

“The Bible clearly states the ‘mountains of’ Ararat, not ‘Mount Ararat’ itself,” he wrote. “So I’m even more confident in its trustworthiness, not less so. Also, we should not need remnants of Noah’s Ark to justify or bolster our faith.”

Ark Encounter is situated in beautiful Grant County in Williamstown, Kentucky, halfway between Cincinnati and Lexington and right off I-75.

Arc Encounter. July 7, 2020

There was much to see and read during our 4 1/2 hour visit. Some notable bits offered include:

“Adam was only Noah’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandpa. In fact, Adam, since he lived to be 930, almost lived long enough to meet Noah. Adam was alive when Noah’s father was born, so it’s possible that they knew each other.”

“Longevity ran in Noah’s genes! Methuselah, his grandfather, lived 969 years. He may have been one of the last people to die before the Flood.”

“The Bible does not mention Noah’s wife by name so we cannot know for certain, but this has not stopped people from speculating. The most common name given to her is Naamah, which is taken from Genesis 4:22. This guess is reflected in some ancient books outside of the Bible. Another popular name found in ancient writings is Emzara.”

Kentucky Rain, Bomb Bunker, Bates Motel


Seconds before we left West Virginia on IH64 to enter Kentucky today, it began to drizzle.

Why is that mentioned?

I can guess the first thing my friends Ray and Leland Hammonds think of when the subject of Kentucky is brought up is horse racing. Our parents and grandparents actually raced horses together for decades. (The Hammonds cousins continue to own race horses to this day).

Lydia Dennis, Shirley Hammonds, Annie Dennis, Jack L. Dennis Jr., Kenneth Hammonds, ?, Odell Dennis (jockey).

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind with Kentucky? Whiskey? Bourbon? Bluegrass? Fried chicken?

Being the Elvis Presley fan that I am, of course, my first thought as we entered the state with a drizzle, was his first 1970s hit “Kentucky Rain.” In fact, it was his 50th Gold Record.

Recorded at American Sound Studio, the hit was written by Eddie Rabbitt and Dick Heard. One of the backing musicians was pianist Ronnie Milsap.

Before he was recording hits such as “I Love a Rainy Night” and “Drivin’ My Life Away,” Rabbitt also penned Milsap’s “Pure Love.” 

Both were ecstatic about being associated with Elvis.

Elvis even hired Milsap to be the entertainment at his private New Years Eve Party.

“He was the voice of my generation,” Milsap explained. “I had a million questions to ask him, but he wanted to talk about that session of ‘Kentucky Rain,’ so we talked about that.”

Milsap asked Elvis if he’d like to sing at that party.

“No, I want to sit here with my friends and not have to worry about singing,” Elvis replied.

“Well, we know all your songs,” Milsap said.

But that was fine, Milsap reminisced, “He knew we did, but he didn’t want to get up and sing, and that was fine. It was his party.”

Kentucky Horse Park

So we drive in to Lexington and go northward towards The Kentucky Horse Park. It’s the only kind of it’s venue in the world. Set on 1,200 acres, it has four museums, show barns, the Show Jumping Hall of Fame and more.

Unfortunately the drizzle became a full fledged storm. A real Kentucky Rain!

Earlier I had thought about staying in The Greenbrier Resort, but room prices ranging from $250 to $25,000 (plus $250 for Mr. Beefy) quickly changed my mind.

The Greenbrier Resort

Baby Boomers may have heard of
“Project Greek Island.” It was the codename for a super secret, giant underground bunker under a portion of the Greenbrier.

During the Eisenhower and Kennedy era it was built to house all 535 members of Congress during an atomic bomb attack.

The Greenbrier has been welcoming guests from around the world since 1778. Construction began in 1958 on the 112,544-square-foot bunker, which was built 720 feet into the hillside under The Greenbrier’s West Virginia Wing. 

Once complete in 1961, the facility was maintained in a constant state of readiness by a small group of government employees working undercover as Forsythe Associates, a company hired by the resort for audio/visual support services.

It features a 25-ton blast door that opens with only 50 lbs. of pressure, decontamination chambers, 18 dormitories designed to accommodate over 1,100 people and a power plant with purification equipment and three 25,000-gallon water storage tanks.

Over the 30 years that it was an active facility, communications and other equipment were updated, keeping The Bunker at full-operation status. The location of the facility, critical to its effectiveness, remained a secret until 1992.

So, the Greenbrier was out of our price range and the storm forced us to drive about 20 mph on the 70 mph IH 75.

The storm was so intense, 18-wheelers and passenger cars were forced to pull over and wait it out. We finally reached the safety of where we’re staying tonight.

Although in the hard rain it looks so much like the Bates Motel from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho movie, we were just happy to be off the highway.

It’s actually turning out to be one of our favorite places to stay on the trip. The North Star Inn, in Corinth, Kentucky, is a very quaint and comfortable inn owned by Dawn and David Henson. They also have a nice cafe next door (check-in is there) that people say offers delicious home made plates. Unfortunately their hours and days are limited during the pandemic.

Kentucky rain keeps pouring down
And up ahead’s another town that I’ll go walking through
With the rain in my shoes (Rain in my shoes)
Searching for you
In the cold Kentucky rain
In the cold Kentucky rain

Clever Journeys: Severe Weather Camping Tips

How much wind would it take to blow you away?

Depending on what you weigh, the strongest sustained winds a large man might be able to withstand without getting blown away is near 70 mph. The maximum gust he could stand without getting blown away is roughly 95 mph.

Severe Weather Events

The following weather events are the most common while camping.  Knowing what to do can make you more educated in case of an emergency.  If you are camping in high-risk areas for hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, and flooding, be sure to have your alerts/radios activated during your stay.

Lightning

There are no reliable warning signs that lightning is going to strike.  If you are outdoors when a lightning storm occurs, your first thought should be to get to shelter to a building or inside your camper as quickly as possible.

If that is not feasible, the next thing to consider is crouching down close to the ground until the lightning passes. 

Make sure you are not the tallest thing around or close to a lone tree or tall object during a lightning storm. 

Generally it’s a good idea to unplug your power at a campground when a big storm is coming. If lightening hits the ground, even on the other side of the campground, it can cause a surge of power through the line into your RV and cause things to burn out. You are usually safe to run your built in generator.

The 30-30 Rule is an easy way to determine the threat of lightning in your area: 30 Seconds: Count the seconds between seeing lightning and hearing thunder. If this time is less than 30 seconds, lightning is a threat. Seek shelter immediately.

Over 60% of lightning fatalities happen when people biking, boating, hiking, camping or fishing.

Most lightning victims are close to safe shelter but don’t head towards it.

Lightening kills more people each year than Tornadoes and Hurricanes combined.

Tornadoes and High Winds

Tornado Watches are issued by the Storm Prediction Center for counties where tornadoes may occur. The watch area is typically large, covering numerous counties or even states. 

Tornado Warning: Take Action! A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar.

If a Tornado Warning is issued get below ground as quickly as possible.

Get to the nearest storm shelter or basement. If that is not available, try to find a small interior room on the lowest floor the closest sturdy building.

Be sure to leave vehicles as they can go airborne in a strong tornado.

If you are caught in the open during a tornado, lie flat on the ground or try to find a ditch or culvert and roll into a ball to protect your head and torso.

Avoid highway overpasses as a place of shelter, they become wind tunnels during a tornado.

There are several atmospheric warning signs that precipitate a tornado’s arrival:

A dark, often greenish, sky  

Wall clouds or an approaching cloud of debris  

Large hail often in the absence of rain  

Before a tornado strikes, the wind may die down and the air may become very still  

A loud roar similar to a freight train may be heard  

An approaching cloud of debris, even if a funnel is not visible

Despite great strides made in meteorology that help us understand and predict tornadoes, there are still many unknown variables. Advance warning and proper precautions are the only certainties.

Tornadoes can occur at any hour but usually strike during the late afternoon and early evening (3 to 9 p.m. although I had a friend who his lost his life to one at 10:30 a.m.). Most move from southwest to northeast but can move in any direction.

High winds knocked train off bridge in New Mexico, 2019.

They have an average speed of 30 mph, but speeds can vary from nearly stationary to 70 mph.

Normally a tornado will stay on the ground no more than 20 minutes, however, one tornado can touch the ground several times in different areas.

 Wind Advisory means that sustained winds of 30 mph for one hour and/or frequent gusts of at least 45 mph are occurring or expected within the next 36 hours. These winds make it difficult to drive high profile vehicles. 

Winds ranging from 55-63 mph are classed as storm winds, and often result in significant structural damage to RVs, buildings and structures. as well as uproot trees.

Thunderstorm winds of 60-75 mph can overturn unanchored mobile homes (many are unanchored), blow over moving tractor trailers, destroy the average sized shed, and rip some house roofs off. Even worse, these winds are capable of downing trees large enough to easily kill a person.

One study indicated the minimum overturning wind speeds needed to overturn an 18 foot travel trailer was 53 miles per hour (MPH) from a  perpendicular direction to the RV.

For a 29.5 foot motor home: 65 MPH.

For a 29,983 lb. semI-trailer: 73 MPH.

For a 16.4 Class B camper van: 101 MPH.

If you have time and can do it safely when heavy winds are imminent, point your rig in the direction the wind is coming from. This will greatly reduce the impact compared to if you are getting hit broadside.

Put slides and awnings in and stabilizing jacks down. 

Stay hitched up to your vehicle if possible, or hitch-up. Being attached to another large object could lessen impact some.

If motorhome has air bags release the air so that you have less bounce.
If possible and it looks more safe, park next to a wall or hillside to potentially lessen wind impact and even hail damage. (We recently parked to the exterior wall of a trash compactor at a Wendy’s during a sudden hailstorm. Because we were on the side away from the direction the hail was coming down at a strong angle, we had no damages).

It’s vital to move your rig if you are parked under trees. Branches and limbs often go through roofs and windows, causing severe damage or total devastation.

Bottom line: if possible seek quick and more reliable shelter (restrooms, caves, basements, etc.). Variousness in materials, type, weight and conditions will cause different results.

Don’t try to ride out any severe storm in a RV.Even if they may seem sturdy, they do not have a suitable foundation and can be blown over by strong winds or swept away in the event of flooding. Look for the nearest solid structure if a tornado or high winds are present.

Avoid driving in high winds. A motorhome or trailer in motion has far different aerodynamics and dangers than those stationary.

Flash Floods

A flash flood is a flood with a rapid onset, generally less than six hours. 

You may not know a rainstorm 6 miles away happens until the water rushes and fills reservoirs where you are. Be aware if you are camping in a low ground area that is subject to flooding before you camp there.

If you are in a flood zone and get a warning, get to high ground as soon as possible.

Be especially cautious at night when you are driving. Don’t cross flooded roads.  It only takes 18 – 24 inches of water to float an average vehicle. If you are surrounded by water that is not moving, abandon the vehicle and move to higher ground.

If there’s enough time and conditions are safe enough before a storm, drive away from the area.

Otherwise, store the RV in a secure facility as far away as possible from the predicted path of a storm.

If you must park your RV in an open area, make sure it’s on high ground and away from large trees.

Severe Thunderstorms

Know your weather terminology:

Watch: A Watch is when conditions are favorable to become a problem. Be on Alert! Have your weather radios available to receive warnings.

Warning: A Warning is when a weather event is occurring or is expected shortly. If one is issued, it is time to take action.

Severe Thunderstorm: This is a storm that produces one or more of the following: a wind greater than 58 mph, hail resulting in 1 inch or larger, or a tornado.

If one of these is forecasted you will want to seek a way to break camp and move out of the path of the storm or seek indoor shelter.

The Three A’s of Campground Weather Safety

Years ago, before the days of cell phones, I was tent camping at Garner State Park in Texas with friends and had no way of knowing danger was ahead.

Lightning, strong winds and heavy rain were our only notice in the middle of the night. Concerned of flash flooding from the Frio River, we bit the bullet, grabbed what we could and drove to higher ground.

Others weren’t so fortunate.  We lost a tent, blankets and lawn chairs. Some lost their lives.

Even today, because of that experience, I stay alert of weather conditions.

The Three A’s of Campground Weather Safety

Awareness

Check the forecast before you travel or set up camp.  Once you are in camping mode or vacation mind, you are planning for fun! But weather can change that quickly so know what the weather is going to be like over the next couple days so you can make good decisions about your activities and destinations.  Use a reliable weather information website like NOAA  or the National Weather Service.

If you are in an area that has cell service, then a weather app with emergency weather notification is a great thing to have set up.  They have a free and paid version.  The app will send you a notification when there are watches and warnings for the area you are in.  Be sure to have your app set up to notify you even if your other notifications are off and also have your location setting turned on.

Alertness

Have your weather radios set up to alert you when there is a threat.  There are different kinds of weather radio options. We have one we can crank if all the other options (solar, batteries, electrical outlet plugin) fail or are unavailable.

Having a radio that doubles as a walkie-talkie can be a good choice to make the most of small space storage.

Frio River near Garner State Park, Texas.

Have a weather contingency plan.  What will you do if the weather suddenly changes and you are in danger?  Everyone on your trip should have a job to do and know how to do it in case of an emergency evacuation.

In case of an emergency, how will you make contact with help?  What is cell service is lost? Using emergency radios can make the difference in campground weather safety.

Action

Have a plan on what to do if there is threatening weather that may put you in danger.

Know where you are – use a GPS to help identify your location in case you need it.

Know your evacuation plan:  If you need to evacuate where are you going?  Are you going to stick it out?

Use your weather radios to keep abreast of changes in weather in your area.

If advised to evacuate, do so immediately. “It may be too late the second time,” Texas Park & Wildlife Department officials said. “The first time we can get them out by land, the second time it will be by boat if we can get to them at all.”

🔼Don’t attempt to drive through flooded roads, even if the water looks shallow. “If you can’t see the road, don’t try it,” the Texas Park and Wildlife official said. “It’ll be a deadly mistake.”

🔼Watch out for downed power lines and do not go near them, even around residences.

🔼If you get a weather notification for an approaching storm of any kind, start to clean up your campsite and put things away that could potentially become airborne in a wind gust situation.  Your RV windows, motorcycles and your camping neighbors will love you for it.

A few things to remember:

Have flashlights ready in case of power outage and you don’t have RV house batteries.

Have a weather radio and/or weather app set to alert you when there is a weather event

Have activity appropriate apparel and shoes for your outings in case of unexpected weather.  Dress in layers to avoid discomfort in changes of temperatures.

Keep a positive attitude!  You can’t control the weather but you can wait out bad weather by planning to have games and activities to do when bad weather strikes.

If your plans have to change because of weather, be sure to have some alternate activities planned.  A stash of games and cards can turn a disappointment into another kind of fun!

Texas flood.

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Essential Camping Safety Tips for RVers and Motorcyclists

Camping is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and to ensure your trips are safe, here are tips uniquely for RVers and motorcyclists.

RVers and motorcyclists should plan out all escape routes and discuss them with (RV occupants) and fellow campers when traveling. Ensure everyone is informed of the survival plans.

Basic Camping Safety

🔼Keep watch on children! You are responsible for the safety of your children. Make sure you know where your kids are and what they are doing.

🔼Be aware of the natural surroundings. There may be plants with thorns or stickers.

🔼You are a visitor in wildlife’s home. Keep a safe distance from wild animals. Although they may look cute, they are wild and can carry diseases.

🔼Never feed the wildlife! Feeding wildlife can encourage bad behavior by animals and is against park regulations.

🔼Be careful with fire. Never leave a fire unattended and be sure your campfire is out when you break camp.

🔼Axes, knives and saws are useful tools, but be sure you know how to properly use them.

RV Safety Tips

🔼Have more than one fire extinguisher and insure everyone knows where they are and how to use them. Make sure they have the right amount of pressure according to the gauge. In fact, anytime you use an extinguisher, it should be recharged or replaced to avoid future problems.

🔼Watch where you park. Heat from underneath your RV can catch grass on fire.

🔼Never use any stove or cooking appliance for heating space. Smaller space means less ventilation and the greater the chance of a fire.

🔼Keep any combustible items like paper towels or dish cloths away from the stove and remain near the stove when cooking.

🔼Install and inspect smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors regularly. Test alarms every two-weeks to ensure they work properly. This is a fast and easy test that can save lives and property.

🔼A dragging brake line can cause friction. This can easily be ignited by dripping brake fluid. Make sure to check the pressure in your tires regularly and spot check at every stop.

🔼Always be aware of your surroundings.  Be aware of who is camping next to you, across from you and behind you. Pay attention to what is happening.  Know when the weather is changing and who is moving about around your RV.

🔼Always lock your camper when you leave it.  Even if you are just going to the laundry room or the bathhouse in the campground.

🔼Use window locks so your RV can’t be accessed by the sliding windows.

Motorcycle Safety Tips

🔼Pack safe. Keep the center of gravity of your bike in mind and make sure the heavy items are lower down.  below the COV of your bike. Even up the balance on each side of the bike – don’t put all the heavy stuff in one saddlebag! If traveling solo, pack your gear so it acts as a backrest to support your lower back.

🔼Make sure nothing is touching the exhausts. Use the most effective ratchet straps, bungees or cargo nets to secure the load and carry additional items on top for easy access.

🔼Pack light. Space is limited so be efficient and don’t fill up every available space. Seasoned motorcycle campers overwhelmingly pack light and trim luggage down to the minimum. You can always buy stuff along the way.

🔼 Pack efficiently. Determine what you really need, and pack accordingly. Pack your tent and sleeping bag last so they are first things you unpack at camp site, and make sure the things you’ll need on the ride – sunglasses, sunscreen, waterproofs and maps – are easily accessible.

🔼A tent. If tenting, use one with a waterproof floor or groundsheet and take metal stakes to fix it down and a driver. Pick the size of tent according to your needs – even if you are travelling solo, a two or even three-man tent will give you the space you need to hold your clothes and luggage as well as you, and won’t take up much more space than a one-man tent. Vestibules allow you to strip off wet rain gear and store wet luggage without getting the inside of your tent wet. Make sure you have a waterproof fly- sheet for wet nights. Try setting it up at home rather than working out how to set it up in the dark at your first camp site.

🔼Use a sleeping bag in a grade for  the range of temperatures you are likely to experience. Down insulation is more efficient and packs down smaller than synthetic fillings. Use compression bags to hold your sleeping bag, tent and pad to make the most effective use of space.

Orange County Choppers in New York salutes fire departmens and emergency responders across the nation (Photo: Jack Dennis)

🔼 Before you set off, make sure your bike is serviced and in good condition. A day or two before departure do a trial run of packing and riding your bike – ideally an overnight trip if you can. You’ll almost certainly over pack so it is a great opportunity to check and reassess what you are taking, and to ensure everything is efficiently packed and you know where it is and how to get at it. Of course, if someone with you is travelling by car, put the campsite equipment in there and only carry essentials – it also means you can take more stuff you will find useful, such as camp chairs, extra food or a cool box.

🔼When you are on your trip, don’t leave too late in the day to find a site – when you are tired, it’s easy to make bad decisions and leaving too late will increase your stress levels and make mistakes more likely to happen. When you’ve found the site, choose the best area – sheltered and flat, not sloping or rocky, and not low-lying so you avoid pooling water if it rains, or falling cold air if the temperature drops. Be friendly with other campers, and when you leave make sure you leave no trace you have been there – kill any fire you may have made, and pick up any trash and clear it away.

🔼Finally, when you are back home, make a post-trip evaluation of your packing – what did you not use, what did you not take that you needed – and make a note of it, so next trip you will be operating at maximum efficiency, leaving you free to enjoy the ride.

How Our Father’s Junk Saved People

A few years ago, when Johnny Jennings was just 86 years old, he gained a bit of positive notoriety when he donated some money to the local Georgia Baptist Home for Children.

It wasn’t a small chunk of change. The Ringold, Ga. resident was not wealthy.

Johnny Jennings at 86.

Mr. Jennings had been collecting junk and recycling since 1985. It started out as something for his son, Brent and him to do together. It was a way to bond and show his only child the value of working and earning money.

“We used to use it as time together,” Brent Jennings told ABC News in 2017. “We’d walk roads and pick up cans and sell it and take the money and put it in a savings account. When I bought my first house, I had enough from recycling to make my first down payment on my home.”

After Brent left home at age 20, his father continued to recycle. Mr. Jennings wore out three trucks and countless sets of tires in the process.

He began donating the proceeds to the Home for Children along the way. By 2016, Jennings donated just enough money to make his grand total donated $400,000.00!!!

Yes you read that right!!! Mr. Jennings, at age 86 donated $400,000 to the Georgia Baptist Home for Children over a time frame of 32 years!

An account of his Recycling Report that year (2016) revealed….

Paper Sold 401,280 lbs (201 tons)
Aluminum Cans 51,565 (cans)
Pennies collected 32,040

Total for 32 years
Total Paper Sold 9,810,063 lbs
Total Pennies $20,275.20 = 24 miles
Trees Saved 79,000

Mr. Jennings (right) presents another donation.

During each weekday residents would likely see Jennings driving around town picking up paper from local businesses and churches and taking it to the Chattanooga Recycle Center on Central Avenue.

From there he would head home and load the truck up again with recyclables that people have dropped off at his house. Jennings normally loaded his truck by himself. In 2020, his donations coupled with monies others have contributed due to his influence, are closing in on $1/2 million.

At 86, when the rest of the world found out he’d experienced two mini-strokes, neighbors began to pitch in and help with some of the lifting and loading.

The Christian ministry that provides care for troubled children and families has been a focus of Brent Jennings since he was a teenager.

Mr. and Mrs. Jennings (early family portrait)

“He went with a member of his church and when they got ready to leave, three little boys grabbed his legs and asked him if he would be their daddy,” Brent said of his father. “He said right there, ‘I’m going to do what I can as long as I can for the Georgia Baptist Children’s Homes.'”

Jennings, has been a trustee emeritus, delivering a check usually in the range of $10,000 to $15,000 to the charity every year at their annual board meeting. As long as his father is able, Brent Jennings drives his dad the three hours to the nearest campus.

“They’ve been a mom and dad to thousands of children through the children’s home,” said Brent. “My dad doesn’t see the $400,000. He sees the faces of those kids.”

My own father was a natural junker. I started out at age five, living on the Southside of San Antonio, accompanying him on his junk routes. (Years later, my sister Bobbi would join us. As I became busy with important things like Little League, sometimes she’d go solo with him.)

On his days off, Dad, or San Antonio Police Officer Walter “Corky” Dennis, would strike out early mornings on his route that included places like Precision Manufacturing, Walter Keller Battery Company and H-E-B Construction (Yes, of H-E-B Food/Drugs fame. Ironically, years later as Director of Facilities Management for them, I officed at that same location).

Our father, Walter ‘Corky’ Dennis managed my Little League baseball team in 1966 and 1967.

I learned to sort and separate different types of metals (copper, iron, tin, aluminum…) into 55 gallon drums on the back of his 21 foot “junk trailer.”

For years our goal was to strip as much copper wire, haul as much metal and gather as many used batteries as we could to get them to Newell Salvage, Monterrey Salvage, Ashley Salvage or other recycling centers before they closed each junk day.

I suppose, being born after the Great Depression and during the rationing days of World War II, junking was in Dad’s blood.

Once my Grandpa Jack L. Dennis announced to his grandkids he was going to start a fund for each of us. The deal was, for every penny, nickle, dime or even quarter we saved and put in the Rexall pill bottle with our individual name on it, he would match it.

Immediately, on the days Dad was at work and couldn’t junk, I’d hook up  my red wagon (modified with a ‘fence’ to maximize loads) to my banana seated bike. My mission: gather and sell as many soda (.03 cents each) and beer (.05 cents) bottles as I could.

Pulling that wagon on Commercial Avenue as far south as Gillette and north to S.W. Military Drive (including the motherlode areas of Six Mile Creek), I’d earn a good $4-$6 a day. It might have taken 2 or 3 loads to Paul Woodall’s beer joint on the corner of Hutchins and Commercial, but I’d get the job done. Every now and then, on especially hot days, Mr. Woodall would treat me to a cold Big Red in an ice cold frosted beer mug for good measure.

Well, eventually Grandpa Dennis had to put a halt to the grandkids savings accounts. He’d swear to me for years that he stopped after I’d “graduated from pill bottles to Foldger’s Coffee cans. Grandma said we couldn’t afford it anymore.”

Now Dad was always helping people out. In my preteen and early teenage years he owned a used car lot with another police officer, Sargeant Doyle Soden, on Commercial. I worked there washing cars, charging batteries, and repairs.

We’d spend a lot of time going to automobile and truck junk yards to salvage parts for not only his cars for sale, but many times to rebuild junk cars TO GIVE (yes, for free) to those in need.

Usually these were starter cars for teenagers that were in some kind of trouble, or maybe they were from a broken or abusive home. But on at least half a dozen cases he would give a car to some guy he may have arrested or found drunk and took him home instead of to jail. It didn’t matter if they were Mexican, Black or Anglo, I saw (and often helped) him get cars ready and give them away.

“If they’ll stay out of trouble, be good to their family and get a job, I’ll give them the title,” he said.

Being a policeman, Dad saw some of the worst in people, but he also didn’t mind helping anyone who was willing to help themselves.

During the later 1960s and early 70s, when there was floods from hurricanes or bad storms, Dad and I would take his wrecker and we’d actually go rescue people stranded in their cars or in trees. Usually it was along Six Mile Creek, but also around areas south if Espada Park.

He’d wade out with a rope attached to his waist, holding some rigging and the hook from the cable of the wench. Sometimes it would be pouring, but I’d wait for his signal. At the right time I’d turn the handle and the next thing I knew there’d either be a vehicle or a person attached with his rigging being wrenched toward me. It was an amazing thing for an 11 or 12 year old boy to see–and actually participate in.

At age 14, I sold my first car at C&D (Corky and Doyle) Auto Sales. It was a 1958 Edsel. When he came home from work that evening and found out, he was so proud. I earned $50 and it was more money than I had ever had in my wallet. Today that’s the equivalent of $368.54.

With that $50, money from selling bottles and buying stamps for a U.S. Savings Bond booklet in elementary school (Mom was Homeroom Mother and sold them each Wednesday, grades 2-6) and other odd jobs, I opened my first ever savings account with San Antonio Savings Association with a balance of $212.56 (worth $1561+ today).

On my 16th birthday, in 1971, after I blew out the candles and we cut the cake, I opened up a present–a small box, gift wrapped–and inside were car keys.

“Your car is outside waiting for you,” my Dad grinned.

It was a seven-year-old 1963 Chevrolet Impala, freshly painted green and gold, McCollum High Cowboys school colors. What a proud moment, but I worried how my parents could ever afford such a nice car for a present.

Years later, my mother told me how. When we would go junking and recycling over the years, Dad would keep some of the day’s earnings in a hidden spot. Together, with the proceeds he held from the profits of selling that Edsel a couple of years prior, he was able to buy and paint that Impala.

Today, my sister and I both have empathy and special feelings for those who recycle, reuse or repurpose anything.

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” Pablo Picasso… This is Mr. Jennings favorite quote and he sure lives by it.

Bug Out Bag List

Even before the global pandemic of 2020 we were prepared in the event evacuation was needed.

For many years I lead the Emergency Command Center for H-E-B Food/Drugs during various disasters throughout Texas.

This included strategic and tactical mitigation, preparation, and recovery operations for scores of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires, nearby hazmat incidents, etc.

In my family, we determined our Bug Out Bags would hold us for 72 hours each. Depending on ‘indicators’ (weather, how far out and hurricane landfall projections, civil unrest, forest fire assumptions…) we would stay in place unless there was potential for immediate danger. Bugging out is just to get to another location.


Bug out bag inventory

1. 2 Oversize garbage bag (Use for shelter or improvise sleeping bag packed with leaves)
2. Ziploc bags all sizes
3. 2 rain ponchos
4. Two packs of handwarmers
5. Collapsible water bottle
6. Water purification tablets
7. Water neutralizing tablets
8. Coffee filters for straining water
9. Notebook and pen
10. Duck tape
11. Combination whistle, compass,
12. Klenexes
13. Toilet paper
14. Rubber gloves
15. Spare reading glasses and glasses repair kit
16. Too mini bottles of alcohol (medicinal purposes only)
17. Wet wipes
18. Sunscreen
19. Parachute cord
20. Plastic forks and spoons
21. Beef and chicken bouillon cubes, sugar packs, salt and pepper
22.  hygiene kit includes: Soap, Germx, toothbrush and toothpaste, toothpicks, expanding towel/washcloth, Dental floss (can also be used as string to put up a shelter,etc)
23. Sewing kit
24. Light/fire starting kit: threeglow sticks, cigarette lighters and waterproof matches, tea light candle, medicine bottle filled with tender, fire starter
25. First aid kit: alcohol wipes, baking soda, Chapstick, superglue, Q-tips, safety pins, syringes, scalpel blades, Ibuprofen, Benadryl, Imodium, baggie with iodine, ammonia, sting relief ampules, various skin/ bug relief wipes, zipper bag filled with Band-Aids of all sizes, disposable gloves
26. Socks
27. Gardening type gloves
28. Pantiliners -can be used for bandaging
29. Carabiner
30. Fishing kit

If you’re looking at a week or more, you’re gonna also need more gear. Those are referred to as “inch kits” (inch being an abbreviation for I‘m Never Coming Home).