Headed to Florida

We had decided to take our time going to Florida this time and see some things we have never seen. The best part of going fulltime rv’ing is that you are usually not in a hurray to go anywhere, so you have time to stop and see things and places that you have only heard of.

The one place we had never been to was Mt. Rushmore.

We looked up campgrounds in the area and decided to go to Custer State Park, in Custer, SD. It is the oldest and largest state park in SD. We arrived in Custer and decided to stay in Blue Bell campground. The park was beautiful with large pine trees everywhere.

We got up the next morning and headed to Mt Rushmore, about 20 minutes away from the state park. We arrived and it was totally amazing. There were some workers hanging from ropes in front of the monument. We were told they were just cleaning them. The story of how these were made was amazing. This is a story that the NPS tells about the monument.

October 4, 1927 – October 31, 1941

Mount Rushmore is a project of colossal proportion, colossal ambition and colossal achievement. It involved the efforts of nearly 400 men and women. The duties involved varied greatly from the call boy to drillers to the blacksmith to the housekeepers. Some of the workers at Mount Rushmore were interviewed, and were asked, “What is it you do here?” One of the workers responded and said, “I run a jackhammer.” Another worker responded to the same question, ” I earn $8.00 a day.” However, a third worker said, “I am helping to create a memorial.” The third worker had an idea of what they were trying to accomplish.

The workers had to endure conditions that varied from blazing hot to bitter cold and windy. Each day they climbed 700 stairs to the top of the mountain to punch-in on the time clock. Then 3/8 inch thick steel cables lowered them over the front of the 500 foot face of the mountain in a “bosun chair”. Some of the workers admitted being uneasy with heights, but during the Depression, any job was a good job.

The work was exciting, but dangerous. 90% of the mountain was carved using dynamite . The powdermen would cut and set charges of dynamite of specific sizes to remove precise amounts of rock.

Before the dynamite charges could be set off, the workers would have to be cleared from the mountain. Workers in the winch house on top of the mountain would hand crank the winches to raise and lower the drillers. If they went too fast, the drillers in their bosun chairs would be dragged up on their faces. To keep this from happening, young men and boys were hired as call boys. Call boys sat at the edge of the mountain and shout messages back and forth assuring safety. During the 14 years of construction not one fatality occurred.

Dynamite was used until only three to six inches of rock was left to remove to get to the final carving surface. At this point, the drillers and assistant carvers would drill holes into the granite very close together. This was called honeycombing. The closely drilled holes would weaken the granite so it could be removed often by hand.

Visitors to the site were very interested in the honeycombed granite and would often ask, “How can I get a piece of rock like that?” The hoist operator would usually respond, “Oh, I can’t give that away. I’m holding onto it for a buddy of mine that works up on the mountain.” The visitor would respond, “I’ll pay, I’ll give you $2.00 for it.” The hoist operator’s reply was, “Nope, nope, I’d really catch it if I gave away my buddy’s piece of granite.” If the visitors were very determined to get a piece of that granite, they would make another offer. “I’ll give you $6.00 for that piece of honeycomb granite.” The hoist operator would pretend to pause and think about it… then he would say, “Alright for $6.00 I’m willing to take the heat.” The hoist operator would give the visitors the piece of honeycombed granite and take their $6.00. The visitor would leave very pleased with their rare and hard won souvenir. The hoist operator would wait until he was sure the visitors were gone and he would get on the phone to the top of the mountain and say, “Boys send down another one!” Another piece of honeycombed granite was sent down, ready for the next visitor looking for a special souvenir from Mount Rushmore.

After the honeycombing, the workers smoothed the surface of the faces with a hand facer or bumper tool. In this final step, the bumper tool would even up the granite, creating a surface as smooth as a sidewalk.

From 1927 to 1941 the 400 workers at Mount Rushmore were doing more than operating a jackhammer, they were doing more than earning $8.00 a day, they were building a Memorial that people from across the nation and around the world would come to see for generations.”

We walked the trail that takes you up below the monument. It is overwhelming to learn that this was made by people using dynamite and then finishing it with jackhammers. We left the monument and just wanted to drive around the area. We noticed that on another mountain near there was a lot of work going on. We stopped and ask some people what that was and it turns out they were carving another monument into a mountain. This one was going to be the Indian Chief Crazy Horse.  Just the head is larger than all of the Mt Rushmore heads put together. The monument will be 641 feet long by 563 feet high when finished. This monument was started in 1948 and has no date to be finished. Work continues each day and this is all being done with donations and money taken in by the visitor center there. No government money involved.

  The first picture is what the monument looks like from a distance, the second picture is a closer view of the face and the 3rd picture is what the monument will look like when it is finished. The people in the picture are the sculptor(Polish sculptor) Korczak Ziolkowski with his 10 kids and his wife. Although he died in 1982 his dying wish was for his wife Ruth, now 86, and their 10 children to finish the sculpture. Ruth is president and CEO of the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, and seven of the children are working on it to this day.

After checking out the area we were riding thru Custer park and we came upon a cattle guard gate going into the park. Standing at the gate were some donkey’s, or later we found out they were burros. As we approached the gate we stopped as we did not know what they would do and we did not want to hit them. The burros approached the truck window and as it got close it leaned in the window and looked around. We had some candy mints and gave each burro one of them. They took them and ate them then backed up and just looked at us. We drove on and they just stood at the gate like guards waiting for the next vehicle.  We ask in the park about the burros and we were told they are called the begging burros of Custer state park. They stand at the gate and wait for people to stop and give them anything to eat.

We found a brochure that the campground we were staying at had an old fashioned hay ride and chuck wagon cookout that you could take back into the back country area of the park. After you rode the wagon train back in, they had campfires set up and served dinner just like back in the old days. On the wagon we had an older gentleman that told us stories about the old west as we rode along in the wagon. Everyone set around the campfire and listened to stories and ate the dinner they had prepared.  They also played music and sang old west songs. Then they had all of us stand up as they played what they called the Chicken Dance, then taught us how to do the chicken dance. The first time in my life I had heard of it and then doing it. Lots of crazy fun.

The next day we left Custer and headed up to Spearfish, SD. We had seen a brochure about the Passion Play. We had heard about it at some time or another and thought we would like to see it. We camped at a campground next to the place the passion play was performed. The passion play was done in Spearfish, SD in the summer and then the performers traveled the world performing it in the winter. It had been seen by over 11 million people when it finally closed and quit performing in 2008, after 70 years of performing daily. We got tickets and saw the show that night. It was a fantastic show, and so realistic that many time during the show you  would be in tears.    

The next morning we got up and headed down the road. We would go back to Kentucky to visit family and then head on to Florida for the winter. We had talked to the people at Glacier and we were told that we could come back next year if we wanted to to do the Campground Host job again. We immediately said yes and we were told that next year we would be going to a different campground called Fish Creek. Apgar campground was close to Lake McDonald with a road separating them, but, Fish Creek was directly on the water. It is a beautiful campground, our personal favorite in Glacier. We were really excited to be going to it and couldn’t wait for the spring to get here. But, we still had the winter ahead of us and we planned on being in Florida to not be in any cold weather.

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