Saturday, January 10, 2004
Another front blew in last night. This one dropped the high temperature to the lower 60s and the low for tonight is forecast for 40. Shorts and T shirts have been traded in on jeans and long sleeves. I hope that you are feeling sorry for us.
We ate lunch at Pogies in Okeechobee. It is a local restaurant only open for breakfast and lunch. They cater to the early morning fishing crowd then offer a lunch special. We enjoyed Pogies enough to recommend it. The restaurant is named for one of the colorful early inhabitants of Okeechobee. Ole Pogie was a tough brawler in the early 1920s that changed his ways and became county sheriff.
From Okeechobee, we drove west about 8-miles on State Road 70 to the Kissimmee River. We had heard rumors about an interesting neighborhood bordering the river. The neighborhood was as "interesting" as the gossip. River Oaks is a community along the Kissimmee River that features a grass runway for private aircraft. Houses are located on both sides of the runway, none of the houses are palatial estates but all are nice. The unique thing is that each house has a hanger for their private aircraft. Some of the "riff-raff" just anchor airplanes in their yard, how gosh! The more interesting of these fancy places have hangers constructed with motifs that match the residence. We were impressed; nice houses on the river with fancy yachts at their private dock and an architecturally matching hanger for their private aircraft on the other side then a community runway to boot. The only thing missing was a control tower.
The RV-Park sponsored a steak dinner with a live 50s band in the recreation hall tonight. The steaks were great and the three piece band was good. We danced the night away. These old folks (70s) danced every dance. Does it get any better?
Sunday, January 11, 2004
We are still in the firm grip of that cold front, lows in the 40s with high a high of 70. The gators have hibernated. It was another jeans and long shirt day.
We went to church today at the rec-room in the RV-Park. There were around 50 of the park residents in attendance.
Joyce conferred with one of the gentlemen we saw at church who had been so informative yesterday. He was the one that told us we needed to "mark our places" so that we would have a good spot for the 50s band, dance & steak supper. Joyce got him to confide in us the best place to eat after church. He did us proud. His recommendation was "Old Habits Restaurant" located about 3-miles east of the US 444 intersection on U.S. 98. It is a "sure-enough" red neck place with standing room only. They are only open at night and for Sunday lunch. They have a limited menu served "family-style" and all you can eat. The limited menu on Sunday is all you can eat catfish fingers for $5.95 and fried chicken for $4.95. Both come with the same fixins; coleslaw, mashed potatoes, rolls and green beans. Family-style refers to the waitress delivering bowls of food to your table. Patrons around the table serve their plate from the bowls of piping hot food. The place is packed with snowbirds and locals. When things get crowded, as they were today, different parties may be seated at the same table. That was happening all around us. We enjoyed the conversations from nearby tables as each took their turn telling where they were from and which RV-Park they were staying in. Everyone is from somewhere other than Okeechobee, everyone has been coming to Okeechobee for years and years, everyone loves the park they are in, everyone has the most wonderful friends in the park, everyone is catching their limit of speckled perch (crappie), I could go on but you get the drift. Everyone is so chilled and pleasant, they are so eager to find out information about other people. If only the rest of society could chill out we wouldn't need "terror-alerts". Oh well---------that is just a dream.
The Old Habits Restaurant is one of those places you need to do when you are in the Okeechobee area. It is situated on the north side of U.S. 98 a few miles east of Okeechobee very near a flea market. It is in a non-descript building with a dirt parking lot. Old Habits isn't a 5-star restaurant by any stretch of the imagination, but it does offer dirt cheap, good food in a "down-home good-old-boy" atmosphere. Just look for the full parking lot, it is a dead give away.
We spent time watching an osprey perched on top of a pole devouring a 12" largemouth bass. We actually spotted the osprey just after he caught the fish. He spent several hours eating the fish. Birds like herons, pelicans, cormorants and anhingas swallow large fish head first & whole. Not ospreys. Ospreys savor their meal one small bite at a time. That is why it was taking so long. We didn't watch the osprey for the whole time. He just happened to be dining on a pole that was located in a spot we drove by several times.
While riding around this afternoon we met a man working in his yard. He gave us a tour of his yard. He was growing papayas and picked three for Joyce. He had tomato bushes with many tomatoes in evidence. He had kumquats, mangos, avocado, orange and grapefruit trees. He did not share his grapefruit.
Monday, January 12, 2004
The cold front is abating. The lows last night were probably in the low 50s however, as soon as the sun came up the temperatures started heading toward the 80s. By noon we need an air conditioner in the Saturn. When we returned home around 2:00 PM everyone in the park was in shorts and T shirts.
Livestock Market/Auction in Okeechobee, Florida
We went to the Monday/Tuesday cattle auction in Okeechobee this morning. You already know that it does not take much to amuse us. This cattle auction was a bit different than the goat and exotic animal auctions we watched in Texas. We could not see the activity going on in the stock yard. That would have been exciting but it was not to be. On the auction floor they were auctioning one cow at the time. Most of the cattle being auctioned while we were there were young cattle but a few were old dairy cows that had gone dry. Young healthy cattle were selling for .85 cents to $1.35. Old dairy cows went for .35 cents.
It got warm enough for the gators to come out of the parks ponds to sun. We went for a stroll to see the 10' gator that the woman was so hyper about the other night. Folks at the office say he has been around for years and likes to feed behind the cleaning tables in the park. I suppose he makes an efficient garbage disposal. The old time snowbirds regard him as the parks main attraction while the new snowbirds warn everyone entering the park not to walk at night.
Sign outside a 7th Day "Baptist" church in Okeechobee, Florida
Mother had been amused by the name of a church each time we passed it. Today I stopped and photographed it for my collection. I have decided to make a section on my web site of "unique" signs. I am not sure what I am going to call that collection - possibly just SIGNS around America. Anyway, the name of the church was the Christian 7th Day Baptist Church. That combination perplexed us. While I was photographing the sign a lady came out of the church to find out what we were doing. She explained to us that it was a Baptist Church that had services on Saturday. It was as simple as that.
Sign along US-98 south of Okeechobee, Florida
On one of our drives around Lake Okeechobee I saw classic sign advertising: Rabbits, Coons, Produce, Cat-Fish, Chicks & Gator. I could not help but wondering about the "chicks" in that list. I also wondered if the coons & rabbits were alive. What was I thinking?
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
The weather has returned to normal with clear sky and temps in the 80s. It was warm enough for the gators to return to the bank and sun themselves.
We got up early because we had an appointment to tour one of the large Okeechobee dairy farms this morning. Fourteen miles north of Okeechobee is one of the famous Larsen Dairy Barns. We met Jose an affable veterinarian from Columbia. He was the man running the dairy operation at this barn. Jose was a man bubbling over with personality. His operation consisted of 8-heards of milk cows with a minimum of 260 head in each herd. To save you from doing the math that is over 2,000 dairy cows. The cows are milked twice daily. Morning milking started at 6:00 AM and was not completed until after 2:00 PM. The afternoon milking starts at 4:00 PM and isn't finished until around mid-night.
The milking process is an amazing thing to watch. When the herd arrives for milking the cows are washed with automatic washing machines before entering the milking area. Once in the milking room each teat is dipped/sloshed in an iodine solution. Then each individual teat (a cow has 4) is wiped off with a clean cotton towel the size of a large wash cloth. One fresh towel per-cow is used in this process. That means that they go through in excess of 4,000 of those towels every day. Once the milking machine is connected it takes about 6-minutes to complete the milking job.
Larsen Dairy Tour out of Okeechobee, Florida
The men working the milking machines are moving around like a peg-leg man in an ass-kicking contest. His job is a never ending cycle of super activity. Twenty cows arrive at his station. He has to take the iodine applicator and apply the iodine solution to each of the 4-teats on his 20-cows. Then he grabs an armful of clean cloths and start wiping the iodine off each of those teats on his 20 cows. Then he begins the process of attaching a suction device to each teat (remember 20 cows with 4-teats each). After all the suction devices are attached the worker has to inspect each cow to assure that the milk is flowing properly. He makes adjustments where connections need to be modified. And finally as each milking machine stops sucking milk the worker removes the device from each teat. All this takes less than 15-minutes then new cows are arriving at the station. Fast paced action is an understatement.
The yellow thing in his hand is the container full of iodine that he was applying to each of the teats.
Milk truck leaving a dairy in Okeechobee, Florida
Milk comes from cows at around 90-degrees. That fresh 90-degree milk is immediately pumped into a chiller where the temperature is reduced to 36-degrees. The time it takes for the fresh milk from the cow to be cooled is less than 5-minutes. Within hours this chilled fresh milk is transported to Miami in super insulated 18-wheel tanker trucks. A processing plant in Miami does the pasteurization of this fresh milk.
From the milking barn we toured the hospital. Cows receiving medication cannot be used to provide milk for human consumption. Cows in the hospital still produce milk and have to be milked. Their milk is used to feed the herd of young cows. Remember that newborns are removed from their mother within days of birth so the milk new borns receive is from the hospital cows.
Next we went to ICU where cows about to give birth were under watch.
Then we toured one of the barns housing several of the herds. Here we watched as a worker artificially inseminated one of the cows. There are no bulls on this dairy. Every cow is artificially impregnated. Totally amazing is all I can say. Bull seaman is kept in a liquid nitrogen container. It took less than a minute for the worker to remove the frozen seamen and place it in a flexible tube syringe. Once identifying a cow in the proper phase of her reproductive cycle the worker donned a rubber glove that reached all the way to his shoulder then placed the end of that tube in the proper place (way up there) then squeezed the syringe delivering seaman to the optimum place to fertilize eggs.
Larsen Dairy Tour out of Okeechobee, Florida
When the cows started eating workers flip a switch and those steel bars move and lock the cows into that position. Then workers can inspect each cow "from behind". Those determined to be in the proper cycle for breeding are artificially inseminated while held in this manner. We were here when the men came riding along in a golf cart behind these cows and found one to be in need of inseminating. This method holds the entire herd in place and still for the twice daily inspection. The cows are released as quickly as possible.
Finally, we toured the area where feed was stored and mixed. Two-thousand plus cows consume a LOT of feed. Remember these milk cows are NOT feeding in a pasture. All their food is provided to them. That means that 18-wheel trucks are continually delivering feed to the dairy. Feed consisted of alfalfa hay from Idaho, cotton seeds from Georgia, corn silage from farms in Florida, hay from the dairies own nearby irrigated fields, citrus pulp from Florida, soybean meal from the spot market and a variety of minerals like phosphate and calcium plus molasses. A calculated measure of those feeds was placed in a large trailer with a front end loader. The large trailer had an auger that mixed the ingredients as they were added. A tractor pulled this trailer to each barn where a special hopper dispensed the feed mixture into troughs stretching the entire length of each barn.
Many workers were busy doing a wide variety of jobs. Each knew what their job was and was busily performing it. The entire operation was running like a well oiled machine. This was one of the best tours that we have encountered.
This afternoon we went on an airboat ride. It was billed as an hour long eco-nature airboat ride. We got to see many large alligators, a variety of birds and plants and finally were treated to an on-the-edge, hair-raising wild ride. The wild-ride finale was probably the best part of the airboat ride. I really do not know how to describe a 40mph ride through cattails, water plants, open water, narrow canals and heaven only knows what else. Exciting and noisy is the best way to describe the ride.
Florida, La Belle
Wednesday, January 14, 2004
We moved the motorhome this morning. Our objective was to find an RV-Park near Ft Myers on Florida's west coast. It would have been nice to find a park in Ft Myers proper but that was highly unlikely so we were scouting out places 20-miles east of Ft Myers.
We have friends spending the winter in Alva a small town 15-miles west of Ft Myers on State Road 80 and want to spend some time with them. The park our friends are working in is truly expensive so it was eliminated. The first park on our list to check was Grandma's Grove three miles west of La Belle did not have any full hookup spots available but did have overflow spots with 15 amps and water with a central dump for $16 per-night. We though about it and decided to jump into the overflow site and scout out other parks in the car.
Grandma's Grove is a nice park with a decided advantage. They are situated in a citrus grove with grapefruit, oranges and tangelos. The neat thing is they allow RV'ers staying with them to pick as many as they want. Mother was really excited about getting to pick all the fruit she wanted.
After checking into the park we headed to lunch at Flora & Ella's a La Belle landmark. Flora & Ella's has been featured in Southern Living several times. Flora & Ella's was established in 1933 by two sisters. One of their daughter-in-laws now owns and runs the restaurant. We chose the restaurant because the parking lot was full to overflowing. That is the best clue available to guarantee a good place to eat. This was no exception.
Once inside we knew we had stumbled onto something special. Their specialty is fresh homemade pies but they also offer some unique entrees. We were conservative in our orders but may venture out next time. As we exited the restaurant we stopped to read some of the history and admire the Southern Living articles prominently displayed.
From La Belle we drove east on state road 80 to Clewiston a small town on the southwestern shore of Lake Okeechobee. Clewiston was put on the map by bass fisherman Roland Martin who had a marina, motel & campground on the shores of Lake Okeechobee. Many can remember Roland Martin's fishing show on Saturday and Sunday afternoon TV shows. It appears that the marina, motel & campground now belong to Roland Martin's wife. There must have been a nasty divorce.
Clewiston is also home to a big sugar cane refinery operated by US Sugar. We were in town when the whistle blew to change shifts. From the looks of traffic exiting the refinery they are Clewiston's major employer.
Back at Grandma's Grove RV-Park we took bags into the groves in search of free citrus. We were not disappointed. There was a variety of oranges and tangelos to choose from. We wanted to make some fresh juice from the sweetest oranges. It was difficult to determine which variety was the sweetest. We chose two varieties and filled our bags.
Back at the motorhome we washed the oranges and ran them through our electric juicer. The fresh juice is unusually sweet.
Until next time remember how good life is.
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Until next time remember how good life is.