Wednesday, October 26, 2011

America's Largest RV Show

America's Largest RV Show - and this is not a description or my name for this show, but the name given to it by the Pennsylvania RV Association. The show is run annually in Hershey, PA and it is actually considered to be the largest RV show in the country. I first heard about this show when we first started looking for an RV two years ago and I became active on the internet forums for RVs. The show was highly talked about and I very much wanted to go. Of course, without the RV, in our circumstances (read back to the beginning articles if you don't know why), we could not go to the show. Hershey is too far for a one day, there and back trip for us. Two shows past in the process of buying the Roadtrek, and with the 2011 show coming up, I wanted to go!

I have seen large industry shows on television and described in magazines. Shows like the Consumer Electronics Show, where new models are introduced, new products are presented for the first time to the public, and the excitement of people coming from all over with a common interest. This show was described as very much like that. In fact, it is like that in regard to most of the large RV manufacturers being represented and new models being shown for the first time. This was all very exciting.

As I mentioned in last week's article, the 2011 show almost did not happen - for everyone. Tropical Storm Lee ripped up the east coast and went through Pennsylvania, ripping up major roads and flooding towns. Main access roads in and around Hershey were not only flooded but some were damaged beyond quick repair. Watching the damage on television, huge sections of asphalt roadway buckled up and broke off leaving gaping holes across the lanes. The forums and the Facebook page for the show were full of speculation that there was no way that the area could recover in time to get the show set up and underway. The promoters, of course, remained positive, and continued to report that the show would be held. Alternate routes were found and reported and it was announced that the show would go on as planned.

RVers make reservations at campgrounds for this show months in advance. One of the largest campgrounds in the area close to the site of the arena that the show is held at was flooded by the storm. Many who had reservations now found themselves with none - and the other campgrounds local and in the surrounding areas were booked in advance. The show does have space for dry camping - camping in a parking lot without hook ups - but this was first come first serve. As the show was about to start, people were looking for campgrounds at a distance. When I had made my reservations a month in advance, I was given one of the last four sites in the campground in Lancaster which is about forty five minutes east of Hershey. Driving in the area this entire trip, we saw more RVs of all types on the road than we saw in the area during the height of the summer tourist season.

We drove from Lancaster using the recommended "storm" route to the show. When we got within about five miles of the show, the roads backed up to a stand still. We were online for the show. We slowly moved along and it took about thirty minutes for us to get to the entrance - which was rather confusing - as signage was there but not really there telling you your options. We ended up parking in a lot that served both Hershey Amusement park for overflow parking and the arena. The interesting thing is that Hershey Park parking has a fee - but the show parking was free. So we were asked where we were going - the park or the show. Had we said the park, we would have been charged to park in the same space. I wonder how may going to the park going through this same parking lot entrance realized that in time to say they were going to the show and not pay the parking fee for the amusement park. There was a bit of a walk to the show arena and admission was paid just outside the arena. Admission is for one day - but a multi-day ticket was available.

The show is broken up into two parts on the calendar. The first two days of the show are for "Industry Only" and the show hosts dealers and those in the RV industry to give them a first look at what the manufacturers are introducing. The last five days of the show are for the public. The show features acres and acres of RVs on display outside the Hershey arena. Inside the arena are products and gadgets, as well as campgrounds from all over showing what they have to offer. The Show has been featured on the Travel Channel each year - showing the highlights of the show. Seeing that and their feature of the top ten new products for RVs each year on the show, I was anticipating a lot to see, even for those who were not out shopping for an RV. And with so many people attending in their RVs, surely, there would be more than new RVs to tour... Well, maybe in past years, but I am sorry to say, after all of this buildup, that I was very disappointed in America's Largest RV Show 2011.

If you were there to look at RVs with the intent to purchase, either at the show or as an introduction to what is available, the show is wonderful. There is everything that you would hope to see. We walked in two other Class B RV manufacturers, one of which we did not even know about. We also went into huge Class A's, Class C's, and some trailers. We also got to spend time with one of the Roadtrek company representatives - which I will speak about later in this article.

I was there for the products - and the walk around the arena at ground level was lined with booths. The arena floor was full of booths, but there really was nothing to see. There were several vendors selling LED replacement lights for the fluorescent and halogen bulbs that are in the fixtures in the RV. This was interesting to see the assortment and how easy it is to replace what we have currently for LEDs that last longer and use less power from the 12 volt system. They were quite expensive for each bulb and some of our fixtures take two bulbs. There was a television cable company selling connectors for cable television connections and I did find something that I had not seen before - converters to make push on connectors from screw on connectors. We made our big purchase of the day there and bought two for a dollar each. Most of the arena floor was taken up by the Camping World stores and they had a number of their products for sale - at prices that were higher than the current sale prices in the catalog. A trip to Camping World would have been easier - and closer. One item at the outskirts of the Camping World display were the components for satellite TV in the RV. I went over the to man at the display and asked some basic questions - he had no answers as he had limited understanding himself of how it worked. So much for Camping World selling me a satellite antenna that day. Many of the booths were non-RV related. A house gutter company and a home bathroom contractor both wanted to do work on your non-mobile home. Where were the new and exciting products? I saw two - one was a pair of suction cups that hold open a supermarket plastic grocery bag that turns it into a garbage bag inside your RV. Interesting - I asked the inventor if the suction cups will stick to a wood cabinet door - his answer was a disappointed no. With all wood inside the Roadtrek (and I suspect most RVs) I am not sure where these hooks could hang in any RV. We moved on. There was another gentlemen selling a toilet cleaning device for an RV. It was not clear - even after listening to his sales pitch if this cleaned the black tank or it cleaned the toilet bowl. I suspect that it only cleaned the toilet bowl. We moved on. We did get to speak with the people from the Cherry Hill Campground which is the only campground near Washington, D.C. and they did answer some important to us questions that we had.

Food at the show is available both inside and outside the arena. There were long lines at each of the food vendor trucks outside. There was a wide variety of things at the trucks. Inside the arena snack stands were all open and the lines were not long. The variety was arena standards like hot dogs, sausages, burgers, and sandwiches, but the prices were not as outrageous as they could have been. My recommendation is to go inside and avoid the lines.

Outside of the arena at the edge of all of the new RVs there were some product manufacturer's booths. One was Onan-Cummings that makes the Roadtrek generator and the other was Winegard antennas who make satellite dish antennas for RVs. We went over to Winegard to see if they could explain what the guy at the Camping World display could not. I asked the Winegard rep how it worked and he did explain it all thoroughly - but he did so in such a condescending way that it was insulting and put us off from talking any further with him. We went over to the Onan booth and saw on display the generator that hangs below the Roadtrek. This was an opportunity to look at up close what we can only see by crawling under the Roadtrek. No one bothered us as I took off the access panel on the generator and looked inside - even opening up the oil fill to see the oil dip stick. This was actually time well spent, as we learned a lot seeing this up close, comfortably, and in the bright daylight.

We went over to the Roadtrek display. Roadtrek was represented by both the company and the dealer that we purchased our Roadtrek from in Pennsylvania. There were several RT reps there - and our plumb-dumb salesman was there from the dealer as well. He waved when he saw us. I waved back and did not acknowledge him further - lest I make a scene. One of the Roadtrek company people came over to us and I introduced myself and that I owned a new 2011 190 Popular. He asked about it and this was my opportunity to unload my list of issues to date and concern about the quality of the manufacturer of the Roadtrek. Coming face to face with him the day after we unexpectedly had to spend a day at the dealer service center to fix the toilet leak, was to his disadvantage - as I was polite but direct with my comments. And when I indicated that if they looked at the Roadtrek forums on the internet, he would see that my concerns were shared by others. His response was that the forums attract people who have something to complain about. Well, that is the wrong attitude to have from the company because many a sale can be lost by potential owners reading these concerns on these forums. Anyway, he was very nice to us and gave me his direct email to reach him with any problems that we have.

While I was with the Roadtrek rep I asked if they had on display the new spare tire brackets that are supposed to make the spare easier to bring down off the Roadtrek and to put back up again. The spare tire arrangement currently results in a very heavy unit that takes two people or one very strong person to take down and lift back up. Roadtrek has addressed this problem for 2012 by redesigning the tire bracket and adding a spring. It was demonstrated to me and then I tried it. It is still heavy - a little better, but not much. There is a third party add on that is reported to make this task much easier to take down and lift - so it looks like we will be looking to that option rather than the Roadtrek replacement. And I am sure that the third party option is a lot less expensive.

When we left, we both felt let down. Had we been looking to buy an RV we would have been thrilled and perhaps even going back again the next day. But the Travel Channel is going to have a hard time finding anything to show in regard to new products. We saw them filming as we walked around the RVs. I almost went over and asked...

If you are looking to buy an RV, definitely go. I do not plan on going again next year, and maybe not ever again. A trip to Camping World would have been a better choice to shop for our Roadtrek or any RV. I found others on the forums that felt that same way after the show. For us, America's Largest RV show was one of our RV largest disappointments.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Three Day Getaway...

Since we started shopping for the RV I have heard about the "Largest RV Show" in the U.S. that happens each year in Hershey, PA. This sounded so great but the irony of our situation was that to go to the show we had to have the RV that one would go to the show to look at and possibly purchase. So, in the two years of our RV shopping and deciding, the big, big RV show in Hershey would come and go.

When we got the Roadtrek, I decided that we would go to the next show in Hershey. I started planning this months ahead of time. When we returned from our summer trip I made the reservations at the campground to be sure that we would have a place to stay - as this show attracts RVers from across the country. When I made the reservations I was told that I was getting one of the last four spaces that the campground had for that week. But I had the reservations and we were going.

Of course, a couple of weeks before I realized that a meeting that I had to run was the night that we were leaving. I made arrangements for someone else to run the meeting and for the first time we missed a meeting. Well, after all it is the Hershey show... We were all set.

At the same time as the Hershey show there is also a Quilt Show near Philadelphia and this is a show that my wife and I have attended for years - there and back the same day. I planned this trip so that we would go to the quilt show on the day that we left home, stay that night at the campground and then go the next morning to the RV show. We would leave on Thursday and return home late Saturday after a day in Lancaster County. But you know about what happens to the best laid plans...

The days leading up to Thursday, a tropical storm had come up the coast and hit Pennsylvania very hard. Rivers rose and land flooded. Roads and highways were severely damaged. Hershey was one of the hardest hit areas. Parts of Lancaster were hit hard as well. Campgrounds in Hershey closed due to flooding. It looked like the Hershey show would be cancelled. Major roads leading to its location were flooded or damaged beyond quick repair. Eventually, the show announced that it would take place and gave alternate routes that had not been damaged to get to it.

Thursday was overcast and as we started out it looked like rain despite forecasts of drier weather. When we reached the quilt show it looked no better but the show was inside and the weather did not matter. The lot was crowded and the Roadtrek was not going to fit comfortably squeezed into one of the single spaces that we found as we drove through the parking lot. I drove around to the rear of the expo center to where several other RVs were parked and placed the Roadtrek in two spaces front to back. We walked around the large building to the entrance and enjoyed the show.

When we came out it still had not rained. We headed for one of the restaurants that we like to go to in the Lancaster area, had dinner and later went to the campground. We arrived at the campground late at night. We had told the campground (Old Mill Stream) that we were going to arrive after hours and there was no problem. Our space would be posted at the door. We arrived at the closed office and, as promised, there was the listing with our space number. It had rained at the campground that day. The ground that was not paved or gravel was muddy.

In my recent article about Old Mill Stream Campground I spoke about the "T" spaces. When I made the reservation, I was told that all that were left were "T" spaces and that was what I was assigned. I had a bit of apprehension, but when we arrived at the space we found that there was no one in the shared space and I was relieved to find that we would be able to get in and out with no problem at all. Knowing now where our space was, I drove out of the campground for one of our late night visits to Walmart to find a few things that we needed.

When we returned to the campground, I backed into the space only to discover that the hookups were on the opposite side. In the short time that we have been going to campgrounds, I thought that the hookups were always on the same side of the space - to the driver's side when backed in. The hookups on the "T" spaces alternate depending on what side of the row the space is on. In this space, it was necessary to pull head in so that the services were on the correct side. OK - I pulled out, turned around and pulled back in again. I got out and it seemed to me that the Roadtrek was leaning toward the driver's side. I pulled around the space looking for a spot that was level. I was not finding one but the van was not uncomfortably off so we left the "lego" blocks in the side compartment and just hooked up.

This was still mid-September but this night, it was getting cold. It had not been cold like this at home at night - at least not that we noticed. The temperatures were in the upper 40's to low 50's according to the local radio report. We decided that for the first time we would turn on the propane and use the hot water heater and the furnace.

To most, if not all RVers - other than us - using the propane is common. Both of us have never liked gas appliances (though we both grew up with them for a lot of our childhood). Up until that night the only time the propane had been on was the first night we owned the Roadtrek to make sure it worked. I turned on the propane at the back of the Roadtrek and went inside.

As we had been walking around in the mud outside while setting up we had tracked mud and rain into the Roadtrek. We got the inside set up for the night and I turned on the hot water heater and the furnace. The furnace works as it should but I had no real idea how to make sure that it was doing what it is supposed to do. The fan came on with no heat. Then it seemed like it was coming on but it wasn't. Nervous that there was something wrong, I decided to turn off the furnace and run the heat pump in the air conditioning unit instead. Trying to turn off the furnace the fan would not go off and until it did we had a bit of a nerve wracking time. Finally, the furnace was off. The hot water heater was on and nice hot water was coming out of the sink faucet. Still the floor was covered in mud, so I settled down in one of the front seats while Meryl cleaned the floor.

The floor was clean and dry. The TV was tuned to the cable channels from the RV park and we were ready to just finally relax. Or so I thought. I happened to look down at the bottom of my sneaker. There was water on it. It had been dry. "Where did this water come from?" I asked out loud. Meryl said that it must have come from outside but I knew that I had wiped off my shoes once the floor was cleaned. Then she noticed the water on the floor. "Didn't you just mop up all of the water that we tracked in here?" She had. Oh boy...

There was a puddle of water on the floor outside the bathroom door. We opened the door and more water poured out. There was water on the base that the toilet sits on. I opened the small cabinet below that and there was water inside there as well. It appeared that water had seeped out from under the bottom of the toilet and moved forward (in the direction that the RV was not level) and poured down below. We got paper towels and started to mop up.

My first thought was that the hot water had done something or made the heat that was on for the first time. We shut down the hot water heater and then shut down the water pump. The water seeping from the toilet slowed and then stopped. I sat on the floor in front of the toilet with paper towels drying up all of the water. My tension was increasing and I was angry. This was not shown in the sales brochure or the promotional video. So much for my trip to Hershey in the morning - and what were we going to do about water and a toilet? Just to see what would happen I had Meryl turn the water pump back on and the water started to seep out again from the toilet's edge at the base. "Turn it off!" and that was that. No water and no toilet. We would call first thing in the morning, the dealer service who is an hour and a half back east, and make sure we were seen and this was repaired.

It turned out that the space we were in was in a good location as one of the bathhouses was just diagonally across from us. We could wash and use the toilet until we went to bed. We made a few cold trips out that night. Inside, we took water that we had brought with us in the refrigerator and kept it out to warm up so that we would have water to wash with inside the RV.

There are nights that you just don't have to "go", but when you know you can't, eventually you are going to have to. I did not know what was wrong with the toilet. I did not know where the leak was originating. Waste water or incoming water? We decided that if during the night or when we got up in the morning, we had to go, we were not going outside, we would just go and hope for the best.

We spent an unrelaxed night and called the service center at 8:30 the next morning. They did not open until 9. At 9 they told us that they were booked solid for the day, but that we should come as soon as possible and they would fit us in. I had to stop at the campground office before we pulled out to pay for our stay. I paid for the two days hoping that we would be back that night with water and a working toilet.

We spent the entire Friday at the service center - walking around their shop and then over to the small shopping center down the road. We were there for five hours and the Roadtrek was not finished until 4 pm. They had removed the toilet, found a leak in the intake valve, replaced the toilet valve and reseated the toilet. Leak repaired. So much for the RV show that day.

We headed back to the Lancaster. It was really to late in the day to do anything, but Green Dragon Farmer's Market is open late. We went there to spend what was left of the rest of the day. There had been severe flooding at the market and there were signs of how high the water and the mud had risen. It was sad to see but business carried on as usual for most - though some just closed up without intention of opening up again due to the damage.

We decided that night that we would go to the Hershey show the next day - the day that we were heading home. When we got back to the campground, we leveled the Roadtrek with the "lego" blocks - just in case. I asked at the campground the next morning if there were any spaces open for the night - but no, they were booked. We headed out Saturday morning, after a nice dry night inside the Roadtrek with running water and a working toilet, for Hershey. We would drive home that night. Not ideal as Hershey is further west, but I was determined to get to that show.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Old Mill Stream Campground, Lancaster, PA

If you have been reading along, you know that we have been on several trips in the Roadtrek since we first got it in April. All together so far we have been in three campgrounds. One of those we have stayed in several times and that one is Old Mill Stream Campground in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We have had sites in various parts of the campground and I think we have sampled the full experience of being at this RV park/campground.

Mill Stream Campground is located off of Route 30 in the heart of the tourist area of Lancaster County - famous for the Pennsylvania Dutch that live in this area. This area has attracted visitors who want to get a glimpse at the day to day existence of a people who in this day and age do not have electricity in their homes, do not drive cars, do not have telephones, and get from one place to another in a horse and buggy - on the same roads that you drive you car or RV on. These are German people who came to America for religious freedom and live their every day lives with a strict interpretation of the Bible. That is why people come. Most visitors stay in hotels and motels, of which there are many. There are also a number of RV campgrounds. Old Mill Stream Campground is one of the most centrally located.

The campground is on the edge of the property of the Dutch Wonderland amusement park. This is a theme park for young children and it includes a small water park. It is owned by Hershey - you know, the makers of chocolate bars. The Mill Stream Campground is owned by Dutch Wonderland which means that it is also owned by Hershey. The campground is set into the back of the property. It is wooded property and there is a stream that runs along the back of the campground. By the way, fishing is permitted in the stream. If you look off to the rear of the campground property across the stream there are woods and an Amish farm. It is not unusual to see the Amishman who owns this farm out on his horse-drawn plow in the fields that are also visible from the campground. To one side of the campground toward the amusement park is a large fence and you do see some of the amusement park rides in the distance. Part of the stream behind the campground goes around the amusement park and the steamboat ride travels in the stream. (No steamboat whistles blow.)

There are both RV/Trailer sites and tent sites. The tent sites are along the stream. The RV/Trailer sites are gravel and offer 20 amp/30 amp/ 5o amp electrical service, water, sewer, and cable television on most sites. There are a few sites that are just electric and water only. Propane is available on site for purchase and for those in sites without a sewer hookup, there is a central dump station. There are three bathhouses/restrooms spread across the middle row of the campground making it convenient from just about everywhere in the campground. For the size of this campground this surprised me as we have been in a much larger campground in another state that had only one bathhouse. There are spaces that will accommodate all size RVs including Class As. Wifi is strong throughout the campground.

We chose this campground at first because of the cable TV hookup. For about the same per day price as some other campgrounds without cable hookup, it is nice to have 48 channels of clear television and not rely upon local digital broadcasts through the antenna. I know that many do feel that TV and camping do not mix - but for us, and for many, our RV is our traveling hotel room and we are traveling and not camping - and we want everything that we have at home. The provider service for TV here is Dish TV. The picture reception is good. The channel selection is good - not excellent, but good.

We have been in several sites here and they are "mostly" level. I say mostly because in a small RV like a Roadtrek, a space that may be level for a large RV, may mean that the smaller RV needs to move around the space a spot that is level. At one site we gave up looking and placed one "lego" block under each back wheel. Another night in that same space, we found the level spot. At another site, I could not find the spot and the site was off level side to side. Again, it only took one "lego" block under the driver's side front and rear wheels to get the Roadtrek level. It would be nice if the sites were dead on level, but on a gravel site level is going to vary with the shift of the gravel.

Sites are surrounded on three sides by grass and tall trees. If it rains, the grass does get muddy. There is a picnic table and a fire ring at each site. Sites are spaced evenly and you are not "too" close to your neighbor. The roads that go through the campground are adequately wide for all RVs.

There are two things that I read that people are concerned about at this campground. One is the closeness to the roller coaster in the amusement park. The other are the "T" spaces. We stayed in a space that was close to the roller coaster. In our Roadtrek, which is well insulated from noise, we did not hear the roller coaster inside the Roadtrek when it started in the morning at 10 AM. I did hear it when I went outside. It was not overwhelmingly loud - but I could hear it. If you are in a thin walled RV or travel trailer it is possible that you will hear it. If this concerns you, make your reservations early and request a space on the other side of the campground. The amusement park is not open late at night and your sleep will not be disturbed by the proximity to the rides. They do start at 10 AM.

Now, the "T" spaces... This is something to be concerned about and about half the campground is comprised of these unusual "T" spaces. A "T" space is actually two spaces for two RVs access by a short driveway in the middle. Each RV is parked front to back or back to front with the other. The side that the hook up is on varies by the side of the row the T space is on - so you may need to pull in or back in to get the correct side of your RV on the same side as the hook up. When I heard about these spaces and when I saw them, they concerned me too. One big problem is that people park their cars in the small drive that access both spaces. If there is a car parked there adn you need to pull your RV out - you are not going to be able to. We actually had to stay in one for a few days. There was no one in the other space opposite us so we had no problem being blocked in. What I did find disconcerting was that after I backed in and got ready to hook up, we found that the services were on the other side. This meant leaving the space, pulling head in and that meant that we had to back out each time we left. We were lucky that there was no one in the other space and had there been, that there was no one parked in the drive. There are some "T" spaces that are off both the road into the campground and the road along the row. If you have one of these spaces you can easily access your space from the entrance road and there is no problem at all. When I make reservations I ask for "Not a T space" just to be sure. If it is a busy weekend or a busy time of the year and you wait to make your reservations, you are going to end up in a "T" space as they fill last. I have read comments that there are fewer of these spaces now than there had been in the past. It would benefit this campground greatly to redo these spaces into regular, single back in spaces.

One more thing to mention about spaces. There is one drawback to the spaces near the stream in the summer - if it rains. After the rain, the mosquitoes come up and there is little that you can do to avoid them outside your RV unless you spray or use a repellant. They were not getting into the Roadtrek but when we had to do something outside - after a rain - it was a problem. This is all part of nature - and camping...

I like this campground very much. The people who work at this campground are exceptionally nice and very accommodating when they can be. There have been several glitches in our stays - not of their doing - and each time there really has been no problem at all. We we had reserved three two nights and this went into the day that the hurricane was supposed to hit back home and there was no problem that we were leaving early and no expectation for us to pay for that day. We had changed a reservation which somehow had been confused in their computer records and they expected us several days before our new arrival date. They called that day to make sure we were OK or if we were on the road. When we said that we had changed the reservation, there was no problem. So far everyone here has been very pleasant. Check in is simple and easy. The office is open until 8 pm or 9 pm depending on the season and if you cannot arrive before the office closes your space will be posted at the door. They will also post available spaces if there are any for those arriving late without reservations. The next morning you just go to the office and take care of business. This may be standard operating procedure at some campgrounds but not all.

The other thing that I like about this campground is that it is open all year. Many in this area close at the end of October. We travel in October and also December and it is great that we have this campground in this area to do that. If you have not figured this out by now, we travel in this area a lot. Not only do we visit here just to be here, but we also stop here heading south and then on the return back north. It is about halfway to Virginia for us.

There is a shop inside the building with the office that has RV supplies and equipment (and the prices are not bad) and there are some groceries and also PA Dutch souvenir items. You can also buy fishing tackle and bait here to fish in the stream. As mentioned, you can purchase propane just behind this building. There is a game room that is open all night. There are posted quiet hours and they are well adhered to. There is no swimming pool at Old Mill Stream Campground. There is a water park at the amusement park next door and if you purchase a ticket at the campground office for the amusement park in the mid to late afternoon on one day, admission for the next day is included. This is what the park suggests in lieu of a swimming pool. There is so much to do in this area during that day that it is hard to fit swimming in also, but I can understand families with kids wanting a swimming pool. There is a small playground on site for kids.

The bathhouses are kept very clean. We have seen them both in the morning and at night and the restroom facilities are clean and the showers are kept clean. As I said, there are three bathhouses spread across the length of the RV park. While the Roadtrek has its own facilities, you will read in the near future about a trip in which we were very happy to have one of these bathhouses close by.

Right now I have two trips planned that include this campground to finish out the year before it is too cold and freezing to take the Roadtrek out overnight. I recommend it. (Perhaps, I shouldn't so that there will always be a space there for me...)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Jamestown, Virginia - National Park Service Site

There were many things in the Williamsburg, Virginia area that we could have done in addition to going to Colonial Williamsburg. We did not have time for much more, but we did spend a day at National Park Service's Jamestown Island. This is the original site of the first English settlement in North America. No - the first was not Plymouth Rock.

In 1607, Jamestown was established as a business venture to make the Dutch East India Company very rich back in London. They thought that there was gold to be found. What they eventually discovered and made their wealth on was tobacco. This is where the story of Pocohontas comes from - and it is true. This is where the men starved the first winter and while many died, some resorted to cacannibalism to stay alive. The site is part of the National Park Service under the name Historic Jamestowne and it has been in operation for over a century. This site is not to be confused with Jamestown Festival Park which is an attraction not far away. Jamestown Festival Park is a living history recreation of Jamestown and none of it is original and it is not located on the actual island. It is a very nice and very interesting attraction, but if you want to see the "real" thing - you need to go to the NPS site on Jamestown Island.

For many, many years the site was presented primarily with the area called "New Towne", where the settlement matured into a bustling town. It was always presented that the site of the original settlement and fort had eroded into the James River which you are immediately at the edge of. The guides would always point out to the river and say that is where the fort must be and it is long gone. Then they would shrug and say, "We just don't know." As you toured the grounds they would also point out the Confederate Earthworks. These are dirt mounds built into a fort by the Confederates to defend against a Yankee attack from the river. I recall asking a guide, why has there not been archaeology done under the Confederate Earthworks to see if there is any remains of the original settlement's fort. She smiled and told me that the ground is still sacred to the South and it would be disrespectful to that history to disturb it. I always had a feeling that if they dug they would find the fort right there. I was just a kid. I told my parents and really no one else at the time. Later touring it with my wife, I told her about it too. It seems that I was not the only one that felt this way. Archaeologist, William Kelso, had this same idea. He was able to do something about it and in the early 1990's (this is that recent and it is still going on) exploratory digs were made under the Earthworks and guess what - I was right. They found the fort - all of it. The Jamestown Restoration Project run by the APVA with the National Park Service has been digging and finding remarkable things including skeletons that tell a great deal of a story of the past that has been unknown until now. What they have done on the site is place markers and log representative structures where parts of the fort and buildings were. They are still digging and still finding buildings and artifacts.

There is a museum building on the site that houses all of the artifacts to display them to visitors including two of the skeletons. The building in itself is unique as the where the building has been placed was the site of the First State House in North America. The foundations are there under the building but rather than cover this historic find up, they have built the building on cement piers above the ground and placed glass in some of the floor areas so that you can see what lies beneath. This happens to be the building that we were in when the hurricane hit - and this unique construction lent a part to our feeling like we were swaying back and forth as the earthquake shook.

National Park Service has rangers give tours of the grounds. There are guides stationed all around the fort site to explain what has been found, what is being found, and what they are hoping to find. What you will see takes a bit of imagination to appreciate. There are no buildings to walk through with the exception of the remains of a brick church that was built after the settlement became established. But if you watch the archaeologists dig, you may just see something taken out of the ground that has not been seen by human eye in more than 300 years.

I recommend going here and spend part of the day. After you see the real thing, go to Jamestown Festival Park and see what it looked like to the settlers. You will meet some along the way and there you can go aboard reconstructions of the three ships that brought the settlers from England in 1607. They also have a very good musuem.

Now, would you like to hear how Meryl caused the earthquake? Really... Ok, below you see a photo of a section of burials of original colonists that were found on these spots. Each died during the first year of the settlement. The remains were found by the archaeologists, studied and then put back where they were. Each grave is marked with a metal cross and you can see these in the photo -

it is the custom of people who are Jewish to place a rock on a grave stone just as others would leave flowers. As there are few flowers in the desert in the Middle East and plenty of rocks, this makes sense. As we walked past this burial area - and you can walk through if you wish - Meryl, who is Jewish, went over to look at the crosses and told me that she had an overwhelming need to place a rock on one of them. She told me that they looked so lonely and she needed to let them know that people still care. OK, I said, if you really need to then go ahead. And she picked up a small stone and placed it on the crossbar of one of the crosses. She paused for a moment and we walked on toward the museum which we wanted to visit. As we walked away from the crosses, I commented that the Church of England colonist beneath that cross must be spinning now with the Jewish rock on his/her grave marker. We laughed ... It was not too long after that, when we first entered the museum and started to look in the first display case that the earthquake hit. As I have described the building swayed and the lights hanging from the ceiling started to swing. After it stopped and we recovered from the experience, Meryl said to me, "Did I do that?". "Huh?", I said. "Well, you said that person must be spinning, maybe he really was upset by it." Well, maybe so because we walked past that cross a little while later and the rock was gone. So, if anyone asks, why did that earthquake in August 2011 happen in Virginia - well the answer is, "It's Meryl's fault."