OCRACOKE ISLAND - MORE SIGHTSEEING
So, now working almost entirely from memory following the accident that I just told you about, I started to retrace my steps. But no matter. I've been interrupted in my work by much greater things than just the lack of a cassette tape - this is nothing but a minor irritation.
Now, isn't this more like it? I should say so. A Chevrolet pick-up truck, dating from the late 1940s I reckon.
In fact, Charles from Sparkleen Enterprises reckons that it's "probably a late 1949 or a 1950 judging from the location of the fuel cap on the cab, the 3000 series plate on the drivers side, the cowl vent on the drivers side, the turn down instead of pushbutton exterior door handles (later 1951) and lack of vent windows (1951.)"
It would almost certainly find its way back across the Atlantic if I had anything to say on the matter. I'd have a Transit 2.5NA diesel in this without any further delay, that's for sure. It would be great fun for down on the farm.
Chevrolet is part of General Motors, as is Vauxhall of the United Kingdom. Vauxhall Motors manufactured commercial vehicles under the "Bedford" insignia, and if you know your Bedford trucks, you will recognise the styling influences.
All these old vehicles dotted around all over the place is the kind of thing that makes visiting the USA so worthwhile, at least it is for me. I was having an enormous amount of fun here on Ocracoke Island, wasn't I?
Now, for some reason, this truck is attracting a great deal of attention, and this photo even features on Wikipedia. I'm not sure why. Although I can recognise an interesting American truck when I see one, I'm not that au fait with them to be able to tell you any more about it than I have already.
But it certainly seems that I have stumbled across something interesting and unusual, and I'd like to know more about it now. So, for all you hundreds (yes, hundreds) of peope who visit my site to see this truck, please to tell me why.
From the Chevy I walked back along Nubbins Ridge Road up to the main street. I had heard that there was a lighthouse here at Ocracoke, and if you've followed my previous journey to North America as well as some of these pages, you'll know that I have a thing about lighthouses. Here I am with a couple of hours to spare and a lighthouse in the vicinity. Do you think I'm really likely to miss out?
So you may remember as we came into Ockracoke, there was this shop that had a whole host of bicycles for hire? Well, here is one that someone has hired, parked up at the side of the street. What caught my eye about it was the unusual place to carry a water bottle. This is what the French call "System D".
Mind you, you can tell that we are not in the UK. How long do you think that this water bottle would last at the side of the road in the UK before it went missing? Even if the local pond life didn't have any use for the water, they'd steal it all the same. Theft, even just for the sake of it, is pretty much a way of life in the UK these days.
Petty, vicious, vindicive, gratuitous.
But I've talked about this elsewhere. In the USA there is much more respect in general for people and their property. In fact as I was typing this, I recalled the words of Gerry Rafferty
"Everybody seems to have a good time,"
"Nobody goes stepping out of line,"
"Everyone's agreed that everything will turn out fine"
That pretty much sums up the rural USA that I have encountered.
So, following the musical interlude, time to attack the lighthouse.
First thing you notice is that it looks tilted, like Wybunbury Church. There's a reason for that - it is tilted. But having said that, for a monument nearly 200 years old, it's in good shape. It was actually built in 1823 by someone called Noah Porter, for the princely sum of $11360 plus $50 for the land, and it is the southernmost lighthouse on the Outer Banks. It's the oldest lighthouse still operating in North Carolina (and second-oldest in the United States), and also the shortest at 75 feet. So forget the Cape Hatteras lighthouse and its 50-mile beam. You're lucky if you can see this one 14 miles out to sea.
Still, it's better than the one that it replaced. That one, just to the south of here on Shell Castle Island and dating from 1794, was only 55 feet tall and made of wood. Its rather ignominious end in 1818, burning down after being struck by lightning, wasn't therefore much of a surprise. During the period between the two lighthouses, there was a lightship at the entrance to the inlet. Ocracoke Inlet was an important waterway back in those days. If you wanted to travel to the cities on the mainland, such as New Bern, you had to pass through the Inlet here. And with the dangerous currents and shifting sands, you needed to be in the right place. To give you some idea, in the period between the opening of the first lighthouse in 1794 and its demise in 1818, the sands had shifted almost a mile.
This is another lighthouse the possession of which was contested by the north and south in the Civil War. When the Confederates withdrew, they sabotaged the light by removing the lens, just as they did at Cape Hatteras, although the Union forces were able to repair it. In 1868, when the lighthouse was finally restored, it received a first coat of whitewash, its now-famous trademark.
There are some steel stairs inside the lighthouse that take you up to the top, and to the lens, and also presumably to a good view of the harbour and of Ocracoke Inlet. Unfortunately, the stairs are out of bounds and it's not possible to climb them. These are comparatively modern, and if you look carefully at the photograph on the left here, you can make out on the internal walls of the lighthouse the outline of the original stairs.
But we aren't the only ones who don't have to go up the lighthouse. The whale oil has been replaced by electricity. So to turn on the bean, you just flick a switch. Consequently, there's no lighthouse keeper these days, it's now unmanned. Well, sort of.
Since 1988 the state and the National Parks Service have co-operated in an effort to preserve it, and there's a park ranger on hand to talk about the light.
The ranger was extremely friendly too, and I took the opportunity to have quite a long chat. When he learnt of my interest in history and geography, he gave me the address of the National Parks Service so I could write in and offer my services as a volunteer guard.
In fact, I did write in, and they eventually did reply, but only to tell me that they had no-one who could spare the time to train volunteers. That was a real disappointment. I could really fancy myself as a tourist guide around some attractions in the USA. Not for nothing did I spend over 15 years in the tourist industry as a holiday coach tour driver. As you've probably noticed from my website, I'm not sure what training I might need that I couldn't arrange for myself.
YET MORE OLD CARS
From the lighthouse, I walked back around the inner harbour towards the main road, with the intention of having a quick look in at a couple of shops. But it goes without saying that I can't go too far without being distracted. You've probably worked that out for yourself by now.
Never mind this old Toyota here and its ghastly colour - just take a look at the A-frame on the front. And then take a look at this really impressive winch that's on the bumper (fender) behind the A-frame. Now, couldn't I just have hours of endless fun with this little toy? The thought of having a winch like that kept me amused for awhile. For all of about 30 seconds, in fact, until the next distraction.
Yes - isn't this even better? Just a little further along the street from the Toyota is someone who has an impeccable taste in motor vehicles, as you can see from the photograph here on the left. Not only is there a nice set of Mercs, especially the W123 estate in the foreground, they all happen to be diesel-powered too.
Now speaking as someone who actually owns a diesel W123, I can thoroughly recommend the Mercs, especially if they are running on biodiesel, as mine does (whenever it gets to stretch its legs). It's hard to imagine that over here in Europe, at one time everyone had a W123 Merc. Now, over 20 years since they stopped making them, they are becoming scarce. The estates are even rarer, and I look back in anguish at the time in 1996 when I was involved in a complicated trade with a series of vehicles that would have left a Merc 300D estate - and a W123 at that - in my possession. It fell through, unfortunately. What would I give to have a W123 diesel estate now?
BACK TO THE FERRY
On that point, I returned to the main street and went for a wander around. Normally, I would have gone for a wander around the shops but I didn't here at Ocracoke, for the simple reason that there weren't any - or at least, none that would have been of any interest to me.
Well, that's not really true. There were a couple of souvenier shops, from one of which I bought myself a really good-quality heavy-duty short-sleeved T-shirt with pocket, and something about Ocracoke Island on the front. It must have been a good price for me to have parted with my dosh, that's for sure, and there's no dispute about the quality either.
That's what I like about the USA. The prices are quite reaonable at the lower end of the scale, yet the quality is vastly superior to anything Europe has to offer. I have this beautiful bright blue sweater that I wear constantly. Everyone admires it, yet I bought this in New York in 1997 - 9 years ago - and I certainly didn't pay anything special for it. That tells you just what kind of quality it is. In fact, most of the clothes and most of the articles I've bought in the USA have kept going long after their European counterpart has given up the ghost.
There's certainly a lot to be said for this idea of going to the USA with a large empty suitcase, planty of money, and nothing but the clothes you are standing up in. I'm trying really hard to think of when was the last time I did any serious clothes shopping in Europe.
But I digress. By now, I out of the shop, T-shirt an' all, and I took a quick pic back up the road in the direction from which I had just come. It was on the left hand side of the road roughly where the white pick-up is that I took this photograph. Then I reckoned I was going to wander back to the ferry. Not that the ferry was in danger of leaving any time soon, but I'd run out of things to do.
In all fairness to Ocracoke Island, I have to say that there are many nice places to see and many nice things to do. It's just that I worked for over 15 years in the tourist industry and thus I have a rather ... er ... jaundiced view of tourists and tourism. I've taken bus loads of tourists to tourist sites all over the world, and left them to it while I've sat on my bus drinking coffee, or wandered off to photograph an old car in the car park. The problem isn't with the venues, the problem is with me.
I had a nice brisk walk back to the car park by the ferry, where, once again, something unusual caught my eye. Well, a couple of things, actually, but first things first. You remember earlier this morning I'd pointed out some fishing tackle stored upright on someone's bumper (or fender) - well, that was small beer compared to what we have here in this photo.
It seems that fishing is some kind of national sport round here, if people have to go to thse lengths to make sure that have all the right equipment with them. Alternatively, it could be that they don't know how to assemble their own fishing tackle. Someone in the shop has to do it for them when they buy it, and they never ever dismantle it themselves.
Now Couldn't I Just Do This?
The other thing that caught my eye here on the car park was this set up. Now, I have to say that in my youth, I'd done some crazy things involving motor cars - especially on the towing front, but I don't think that I've ever done anything like this before. Words actually fail me about this set-up, and if you know me, you'll realise that words failing me is a rare event indeed.
This guy is certainly a hero, and anyone doing things like this has to be worth knowing, so I went over to talk to him.
It seems that he does the "towing in" off the Outer Banks, and often takes cars over to the mainland to the scrapyard. What puzzled me is how the authorities would let him move cars like this, but he didn't seem too concerned. "It's only a short way to the yard once I get off the ferry".
He told me that he passes the time on the voyage by taking off anything that might be worth selling, and (presumably) selling them on . Sounds like a good idea to me. I mentioned in passing that I had a Subaru 4x4 all wheel drive and that I'd damaged a door on it. "Help yourself to one off of there" was his comment. And believe me, if there was an economical way of shipping it over to Europe, I would have done too!
I was intrigued, as I am sure that you are, by how the Subaru was attached to the other car, so I had have a look. And I'm glad I did, because the kind of tow-hitch that you can see in the photograph would never ever pass any kind of European regulation. If you know what the other car is, by the way, or you want to chat, then . I love to interact with my audience.
All of this reminds me of Daniel Gooch in the 1870s discussing the early mode of operating the railway system. In his diary, the first locomotive superintendant of the Great Western Railway discussed the short cuts they used and the risks they ran to get the trains to run on time, and added "What would be said of such a mode of proceeding now"?.
One thing is clear to me. While this method of moving cars is ... er ... extreme, it underlines the "nanny state" syndrome in which Europe is living. People like James Watt who invented the steam engine in his kitchen, Christopher Cockerell who invented the hovercraft in his back yard. All these people are totally eccentric, yet it is engineering that they and thousands of others like them pioneered that put the "Great" in Britain. All these kinds of eccentricity are thoroughly outlawed on the older side of the Atlantic these days, and now they complain about how Europe is falling behind the USA and the new developing countries.
You've probably gathered that I'm quite an eccentric type of person, and the amount of criticism to which I'm subjected, due to my rather "individual" lifestyle here in Europe is phenomenal. If this guy can't foresee any kind of problem in doing things like pulling a rig like this on the public highway, then tell me. "When can I come to live over here?" And what do I have to do to get here?. I could have a massive input into the United States of America.
So where did this leave me? Ahh, yes, going for the ferry. Still a good hour or so before we depart, so I fetched myself another coffee, and actually read the course book for my University studies - first time I'd done that this holiday. Isn't that a change? And after a while at this, we were called up to the vessel, and loaded on. That was that. The end of Ocracoke Island, the end of the Outer Banks. Next stop was Swan Quarter and the mainland