This is the motel that I found when I arrived last night - the Travel Inn on Market Street. The price was something quite cheap, if you were a member of some organisation or other. Not so if you weren't. So, we had an interesting round of haggling before I could negotiate what I considered to be a reasonable rate. I'm getting quite good at this.
It was owned by an Indian, again. And had a smell of damp. Again. But having said that, I can't remember exactly how much I paid, but my credit card statement said 41 Euros and 71 cents, that makes it about 38 dollars plus tax. I was quite happy with that.
Now, it must have been fate that had made me stop at a supermarket earlier in the day to buy some bread and a dozen cans of root beer. I was hungry by the time I'd sorted out my motel, and it was late. So the guy in reception recommended the "Golden Corral" a mile or so down the road. So off I set.
It was mainly carnivorous, but they had this enormous salad bar where you could help yourself. It was the best salad I'd ever seen! So I helped myself to a pile of all sorts of interesting things and made my way to the checkout.
"Aren't you going to have a main course with that?"
"No, I'm a vegan. The salad is just fine, if I can get some bread."
"Well, if it's just a salad you're having, you can't eat it in."
That's probably the most bizarre ruling I've ever heard, and no amount of discussion would make her change her mind either. It wasn't as if the place was full. Quite the reverse, in fact, and if it had been my restaurant, I'd have wanted as many people as possible sitting inside it to make the place look busy. But to no avail!
I was too tired to wander off anywhere else to look for food, and in any case this is North America so everywhere is probably closed. So I took my salad back to the motel, and ate it with my bread and root beer.
Next morning saw me up and about. And up and about with a purpose. I had two things to do in Wilmington, and neither could wait. Consequently, I was sitting in a traffic jam in the early morning rush hour, heading to one of the few bridges that crossed the river. And a traffic jam wasn't the only thing I stumbled across. Surfing the channels for a decent radio programme now that I had no CD, I came across a "religious" channel pouring out its bile and hatred against the Moslems. Now leaving aside the "love thine enemy" and "forgive those who trespass against us", the power of the venom that was pouring out of the radio made me wonder who is going to be next?
I've never met a fascist who has been content with his initial goal, and to keep the acolytes under control, you keep on having to find more and more people to hate, so that their hatred is actively channelled, rather than being passively stored up. So, will it be the Chinese? Will it be the blacks? Will it be the homosexuals? The kind of power that is wielded by these so-called Christians is scary. All of this made me recall the words of Martin Niemoller -
"First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak out for me."
Who is going to save the USA from itself? Certain parts of the USA are, quite frankly, becoming very unpleasant places to be. Everyone is in the grip of this mass hysteria and they have all lost the power to think. They cannot see how they are being manipulated.
I wonder what the neocons are making of the white-skinned terrorists planning to blow the UK to bits. They never seemed to bother too much when it was the American-funded IRA that was doing it. And what about Timothy McVeigh?
USS NORTH CAROLINA
So, this is one of the things that I had come all this way to see - the USS North Carolina, or BB-55. The "showboat" of the US Navy, her keel was laid down in 1937 in Brooklyn, New York and when she was completed in 1941, she was the first battleship to be commissioned for 18 years. And she is certainly big, displacing over 45,000 tons. That's some size for a military vessel.
Most of her working life was in the Pacific, fighting at Guadalcanal, the Solomons, New Guinea, the Phillipines and Okinawa to name but a few. Torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1943, she survived, and following a repair was put back into operation only to suffer at Okinawa that well-known American armed forces phenomenon - "friendly fire".
Mothballed in 1947, she was handed over to the state of North Carolina in 1961 to be preserved as a marine memorial.
So here she sits, in all her glory, or as much of her glory as the passage of time will permit. If you've read any of my earlier pages, you will see that I'm quite contemptuous of some aspects of American "preservation". Although, giving credit where credit is due, on other pages I have been quite impressed.
Now, I told you earlier on when we were on the Cape Fear ferry about how large the ships are that have sailed up here. And, as you can see, this is some ship! She did in fact sail up here to this dock, that was specially built for her to moor. As she is longer than the river is wide, as you can see in this aerial view, courtesy of MSN, having her turn into here was quite a feat of sailing and manoeuvring.
There's a collection of photos in the gallery that show some of this manoeuvring and, believe me, they are quite spectacular.
I can't remember the admission fee to visit the ship, but I do recall that for the limited time I had available, I reckoned that my money would be better spent elsewhere.
ON THE WATERFRONT
I did however take some time out to go for a walk around the dock where the "North Carolina" is holed up. It was quite picturesque. There's an excellent view across the river to the quayside at Wilmington, and an excellent view of a typical
This is (I believe) a boat called the Henrietta III which, despite its appearance, was built as recently as 1985. Apparently she was formerly a floating penny arcade in Illinois, but came to Wilmington in 2000 when she was converted into a floating restaurant, a role that she had previously played at some time in what seems to be a very chequered history
So leaving the Henrietta III, what you can't see in the photograph are the wharves that made Wilmington the major seaport and commerce centre upon which its prosperity was based
This is because all of them have been smashed up or demolished long ago, as you can see in these two photographs just here. You will just have to use your imagination to picture what this must have been like 100 or 150 years ago when Wilmington was a really thriving port with a huge amount of trade, and all of this was wharves and warehouses.
Towards the end of the Civil War, Wilmington was almost the only port available to the Confederacy. It was teeming with supplies being trans-shipped for the Weldon Railroad and the Confederate front line at Petersburg and the capital city at Richmond, as well to the rest of the south that was still in Confederate hands, thanks to the enormous railway network that focused on the city.
When the city fell to Union forces in early 1865, that ended the last hope of the Confederacy, and the city settled down into some sort of gradual decline, from which many people say it has never recovered.
For me, at least, it's something of a tragedy when all that there is left of a glorious heritage such as was Wilmington's is reduced to a pile of rubble and weeds.
As you can gather, I've had to cross the river to reach here (in fact I already crossed it to see the "North Carolina" - I've now simply crossed back). Unfortunately, there's no ferry this time, but just as interestingly, there's a superb example of a bridge. This particular one, the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, takes Highways 17, 74, 76 and 421 over the river, which it has been doing since 1967.
I'm looking downstream from this point, from which fact you may deduce that this is the reason the large ship is the other side of the bridge, but then you might ask yourself how come the "North Carolina" is at the upstream side. Closer examination of the bridge reveals that the central section, already at a height of 65 feet, may be raised as much as 135 feet in order to permit the passage of larger ships upstream. This makes it the highest of the 13143 bridges in North Carolina.
If you have nothing better to do, you can look at a real-time traffic camera showing traffic crossing the bridge. I tell you what - you aren't half getting your money's worth on my website!
Now, where I had stopped to take a photograph of the bridge, the road was paved with very nice paving blocks - much nicer that the ones we have over here in Belgium. - the typical Belgian pavé. Closer examination of them revealed that they were even more interesting, which you can see if you enlarge the image (which you can do by clicking on it).
You'll probably notice that they are all cast with the makers' names. I found this to be quite unusual and certainly had never noticed it anywhere else before. I've seen bricks and the like cast with the names, but not roadstones. If you think about it, any casting on any ordinary brick would wear away with the constant rubbing from traffic driving over it. The fact that these blocks have retained their casting marks means that they must have been cast out of one hellishly tough material.
I told you last night that there was a bus company, Wave Transit, that plies its trade around Wilmington. One string that it has to its bow is that it runs some kind of period tour bus service around the historic areas of the town.
Just as I was getting back into my car, one of these period buses rumbled past me, so I took a quick snap, like you do or, at any rate, like some of us do.
If you enlarge the image (by clicking on it, like you did before) you can see that it isn't really a period vehicle at all, but some kind of modern bus on a modern chassis and "adapted" to give it some kind of period look. Still, I suppose, you have to do something to keep the tourists happy even if a walk around the city would probably be far more healthy.
From here, it was a drive upstream alongside the river and into town.
I told you that all the old wharves and warehouses had been demolished. In one or two places they had built car parks, and I reckoned that from the top of one of them, I could take a really good shot across the river to the "North Carolina".
As you can see, I wasn't wrong. I was quite impressed with this photo and I was pleased that it came out so well. It's hard to believe that, wide as the river looks from here, the "North Carolina" is actually longer than that. It was certainly some feat of seamanship (or maybe I should say rivermanship) that got her to her berth.
WILMINGTON CITY CENTRE
First thing I saw was a new Chrysler 300. Now, as you know, I'm not into modern cars at all. I think they all look monotonous, depressing and dreary. So you may well be wondering why I'm taking a photo of this. The answer is simply that there are exceptions to every rule, and I certainly think that this car has something to offer. I think it looks tremendous!
Paul tells me that it's actually a rebodied Mercedes "E" class, and all the Mercedes mechanical parts will fit. Right, that settles it. Where can I buy one? And where can I get a Mercedes 300D engine from? But seriously, I can't ever see me owning a car like this, unless someone makes me some sort of offer that I can't refuse.
Just recently, Chrysler have started to manufacture some really interesting vehicles. The first car that broke the mould was the PT Cruiser, which resembles my father's old Ford Prefect from the late 1940s. If Chrysler ever decided to make a van out of one of those, I could be sorely tempted. It's comforting to see them keeping up the good work and doing something different with a saloon car. In fact, they are also doing nice things with vehicles other than saloon cars too, as I was to find out shortly
So what would you like to know about Wilmington?
The area was first settled by European settlers at the beginning of the 17th Century, but not very successfully. It wasn't until 1720 that Europeans managed to make a permanent foothold here, and the town was incorporated in 1739. It's named after Spencer Compton, the Earl of Wilmington, who was a favourite of George II when the latter was Prince of Wales, and who was promoted into high office in the English government upon George II's accession to the throne.
As an aside, it should be mentioned that Wilmington was a singularly incompetent minister who was promoted way beyond his capability, due no doubt to his previous role as Prince's favourite. And as would probably be appropriate for many a Royal favourite, he died without issue (that sort of issue, anyway) and his titles were thus extinguished.
As you would expect from a town on a deep navigable river with good shelter from the prevailing winds, a seaport quickly sprang up here. It was a major point of supply for the British military until the War of Independence.
Serving the local agricultural market lent it a great deal of wealth, and it became a major hub of the East coast railway system. The end of the Civil War led to the end of its prosperity but as most of the major action had taken place outside the town at the end of the war when the armies were clearly in a major state of fatigue, it was spared the destruction that befell many southern cities.
One of the darker epsiodes in its history occurred in 1898 when a group of well-organised whites staged a putsch and overthrew the Republican city government. What followed was a race riot in reverse, burning property owned by blacks and killing many people of colour. Segregation and disenfranchisement subsequently became the norm.
One asset of the town was still continuing to flourish, and that was the railway. The Atlantic Coast Line, which controlled all of the railways in Wilmington, built its headquarters here. Over 1000 people were employed, whether in the offices, the goods yards, the repair shops and the passenger services, but all of this changed overnight.
In 1960, the company announced that it was moving to Florida (I wonder why?). It moved all its equipment and its employees, and abandoned the town. Needless to say, the economy collapsed and some say it has never recovered. Of the 75,000 inhabitants of Wilmington, one fifth live below the poverty line.
You saw earlier on the size of ship that came up the river. Just imagine all the cargo that sails into the port. Now that the railway is no longer here, all of this cargo has to leave by road. You can imagine the strain that all the road infrastructure is under these days, and how much money the state is spending on repairing it. Just think of the benefits that the citizens could have gained if the state had spent the money on the railways. This is the trouble with privatising everything - people only look out for their corner and their profit, and no-one wants to see the big picture.
One good thing, for a certain section of the population that is, was that the town was spared the "modernisation" that cursed many American cities. You can see from the photos above that the town retains many of its traditional features, and there are many period houses still standing. It's slowly becoming a chic place to live, and there is currently even some talk about restoring the rail link to Raleigh.
You can always get some idea of the wealth (or otherwise) of a city by its public buildings. This photograph is the downtown Post Office - thanks to Chris Woodson of Fayetteville NC for writing to me to confirm it. It's certainly impressive and is certainly a good indication of the money that used to float around here at the time that the essential services of the town were being established.
This reminds me - I like to interact with my audience so if you have anything you'd like to tell me about Wilmington or anywhere else that I've visited on my travels, especially the non-touristy type of gossip that only the locals know, then please feel free to . I'm always keen to improve my own knowledge as well as improving yours.
A few other bits and pieces of interest are that Michael Jordan lived here as a child, as did Sugar Ray Leonard. Those of you as old as I am will recall that Leonard was a world champion welterweight boxer whose fight with Roberto Duran in June 1980 was one of the most memorable I have seen. The most memorable however, in fact involved Duran, in a bout with Esteban De Jesus in early 1978. But I digress.
I should also, seeing as it's currently the festive season as I am writing this, that Wilmington claims to be the home of the largest living Christmas tree in the world.
Now, I did mention to you a while back that there were two reasons why I'd come to Wilmington. The first was, of course, the USS North Carolina. The second, well I've briefly touched on this above - the railway, or, rather, the railway museum.
WILMINGTON RAILWAY MUSEUM
As you would expect from a major seaport with established commercial links to Europe, the town of Wilmington made an early acquaintance with the railway. The first line, to Raleigh, was mooted as early as 1835. By the time it was opened, in 1840, it had stretched as far as Weldon where it joined with the Petersburg and Weldon Railroad. This gave it a length of 161 miles, which at the time was the longest continuous railway line anywhere in the world.
An aggressive bout of railway building through the 19th Century saw Wilmington become a major hub of the East Coast railway system, and was the lifeline of much of the eastern Confederate states during the Civil War. In fact, the breaching of the Weldon Railroad at Globe Tavern on the 18th and 19th of August 1864 was a decisive moment in Grant's Overland Campaign and put the whole of Eastern Virginia at risk.
The end of the 19th Century and the early 20th Century saw a whole series of mergers and acquisitions along the eastern seaboard, from which the Atlantic Coast Line emerged victorious. Its headquarters were in Wilmington, and it was probably the major employer here.
In 1960, however all this changed as the company moved to sunnier climes. The entire railway system here was abandoned. Many of the buildings and much of the system were demolished or destroyed, and all the tracks were ripped up.
You can see in the photographs here just what it was that fate was in store for the former railway system here in the centre of town. These are the former tracks leading up to what used to be the company's freight depot. Today, they are just one huge car park. I think that's rather ironic.
But all is not quite lost. If you look at the photo just here, you'll notice on the left hand edge a real live steam locomotive. This is because now part of the freight depot has been transformed into a museum of the railway system here in Wilmington, and has many interesting exhibits.
After a journey around the maritime provinces of Canada 18 months ago when I didn't see a single steam locomotive of any description, it was quite a relief to see one here.
The locomotive, or engine that you see here is a 1910 Baldwin model. It spent most of its life pulling a passenger freight train from Wilmington to Fayetteville, and was taken out of service in the 1950s.
It has to be said that it is not in as bad condition as some of the so-called preserved locomotives I've seen on my travels in the United States. This makes quite a pleasant change. Nevertheless, I reckon the museum should still take a leaf out of the book of the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad and make some kind of effort to have their locomotives put back into something like a serviceable state. That would be what I call REAL preservation.
Here at the side of the locomotive is a railroad box car from the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad, and which contained an interesting exhibition of hobo life at the time of the Great Depression.
The machine that you see in red at the side of the boxcar and behind the engine is a lathe for turning locomotive wheels. As you doubtless know, use of the emergency brakes has a tendency to flatten the wheels - the sparks flying from the wheels are the bits of metal being ground off - and the flat spots make the engine bounce while it's in motion. This makes for an uncomfortable ride. To see what I mean, try rolling a British 50p coin with your hand and feel the bumps as it overrides the flat spots.
The museum was extremely interesting and had a good overall view of the railway and its history in this part of the States. I quite enjoyed my visit, and although I don't remember how much I paid, it was fair value. This is probably a good time to explain my principles when in places like this, in connection with the entrance fee for any attraction.
One thing I would have liked to have seen, and I'd willingly have paid more to see it, was more heavy machinery, such as more locomotives and the like. This is Wilmington, the former hub of the ACL. This should be a symbolic site for railfans, therefore I would have thought that the city, given its problems, would have made more of an effort to do something to bring in the tourists and their dollars.
So that was Wilmington. Quiet, sleepy, poor city without very much going for it. But not quite. One can't visit a city of this size without making the most essential visit of them all.
So many of my travels have included visits to Home Depot far too numerous to mention. There are no DIY centres on earth quite like Home Depot. My farm in the Auvergne is more-or-less totally wired with fittings from Home Depot, such is the value and quality, not to mention the range of the products from here. A visit to Home Depot at Wilmington was quite in order.
Before I quite left the city, I had another shock. At the side of the road was yet another old Mini, and this time up for sale. That's the second this trip, and the third I've seen in North America. Now a friend of mine, Mark Norris from Virginia Beach just up the road from here, had an old mini. He imported it himself from the UK. But all of these round here are surely more than coincidence. Anyway, old Minis notwithstanding, time I was moving on. Next stop was the Carolina coast.