April Fools’! (and apparently there are a lot of fools out there)

This last Tuesday was April 1st also known as April Fools’ day.  I was at work at station 22 in the morning waiting for my partner to show up who happened to be a new hire I had not met before coming from another station.  As we were standing in the bay talking, in walked this young guy carrying a firefighter helmet that was beyond destroyed.  The young man carrying it had a look of death on his face.  These guys are on probation for a year and can get in serious trouble or terminated at will so his concern was understandable.  The reality is he isn’t losing his job over a destroyed helmet.  It will just come out of his pay and he will get the nickname of “Flat top” out of it.

It turns out that the helmet blew out of the back of his truck and got caught under the car behind him grinding the top of it off.  He said that he tried everything to get the old woman to stop her car, but she refused.  He could hear the grinding and see sparks flying.  Eventually the helmet wore away enough that it flipped out the back of the car where he could go retrieve it.  That little event is cause for concern.  If he could hear it then that driver ignored her car shuddering and grinding and continued on while someone tried to warn her of something wrong with her car.  Wow!

So anyhow he walked into the bay with this:SAMSUNG

I have never seen damage like this to a helmet before.  That is impressive to say the least.  We all snapped some pictures of it and were talking about it when our driver/engineer made the comment that it looked like one of our local medical helicopter rotors sliced it off (company name withheld for reasons I will explain in a little while).  Bing! That  gave me an April Fools’ idea.  I posted pictures of the helmet on facebook with the caption along the lines of  “Don’t forget to duck while loading patients into the (name withheld) helicopter.”  I got the predictable comments of “That must be some headache” to a coworker who immediately posted “It is odd that all these close calls happen on 4/1”.

I also posted these pictures just to stir the pot a little more:

The new guy modeling his newly modified helmet

The new guy modeling his newly modified helmet


Then just to make sure nobody could say this wasn’t our department or that it was photoshopped, I posted a picture of our very own Andy posing with the helmet.


Then it went viral.  Everybody wanted to know if the firefighter was ok. What happened to the helicopter involved?  I saw that the photo got shared in other departments here in West Central Florida and even got shared as far away as New York and Ohio.  I got phone calls, text messages, and Facebook Pm’s asking if the story was real.  Once I told the inquirers the real story they laughed realizing that they had been pranked.

What I never expected was that the photo and phone calls would get to the CEO of (name withheld) medical helicopter company.  They were not as amused with my April Fools’ joke.  When the company I used to make my story sound real denied being involved people started calling other medical helicopter transport companies in the state.  This April Fools’ joke got around.  I can only imagine the CEO’s reaction when all of a sudden his phone got lit up with people asking about the firefighter one of his helicopters killed.

Then my Chief got a phone call.  At home.   I need to say, I have a good Chief.  He stood up for me without even having to talk to me first.  I was accused of slandering the company. Talk about no sense of humor.  In the short time while he was on the phone with the company representative they received four phone calls inquiring about the firefighter whose helmet had been sliced in half by the helicopter rotor and this was late in the evening.  I got a phone call asking me to take the post down.

Chief then got on Facebook thinking everything had died down… only to find that our logistics officer had done the same thing taking his own pictures totally unrelated to me and not knowing I had played the same prank!

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Who finds a hundred year old barge in the middle of the woods?

My wife has been hiking Croom Tract of Withlacoochee State Forest for a very long time.  She knows many of the out of the way places that most people don’t go.  She likes to take her morning runs with the dogs deep in the forest where she won’t be bothered by people.  Fifteen years ago she was running through the old mining pits and found a structure that she thought was interesting.  She took me back a few months later.  The problem was the few months in between consisted of torrential rains that flooded the mine covering the structure she found under water.

We make trips there on occasion and keep an eye on water levels.  The droughts from fifteen years ago have not returned and the water levels have never receded enough to see much more of the structure… until now.

Christa and I took fellow adventurer Joe Dunn and his wife Sunny back to see the location and it just happened the water levels exposed more of the structure.  The remains were exposed enough that we think we have figured out what that structure is.

It has always been an enigma.  Why would a structure be built sixty feet or more below the ground level in the bottom of a mine?  If it floods now it surely flooded one hundred years ago.  The answer came when Joe researched some of the phosphate mining practices.  The phosphate mines took advantage of the flooding and used drag lines and dredges mounted on barges.  The structure has every indication that it is in fact a dredge barge.  We intend to do some more investigation before the summer rains come and it disappears again.

The following four pictures Christa took years ago when the mine pit was dry.

DSCN0436 IMG00037-20101230-1120 IMG00038-20101230-1121 IMG00315-20110321-0949

This black and white photo is an archive photo of the Buttgenbach mine which is now the Croom Motorcycle Park.  It shows a dredge on a barge which shows that this type of equipment was operated in the area.  This site is only a few miles south of where Christa found the structure in the other photos.

Hard rock phosphate mine, Buttgenbach & Company, Croom.  Flor...

This photo is of the Buttgenbach Mine which is currently the Croom Motorcycle Park. It shows a dredge barge in operation a few miles south of where Christa found the remains of what we believe to be another dredge.



The remains partially exposed above the water


The assumption is that these large slats of metal supported the beams that would have in turn supported the dredge bucket rigging.


This bent bar may have anchored the thick wires that would have counter balanced the dredge bucket. Christa remembers there being another one on the near side at one time.

Posted in Hiking and Exploring | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

A few videos from the Everglades trip

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Coming soon

I know I have been behind on posting.  I have found two turpentine camps recently and will be posting those photos and videos.  Along with another fellow explorer we found a cabin out in the woods.  My wife and I have located an old railroad line and I will post some photos of that.  My wife and I also found what we strongly believe to be a temple mound, I will probably talk about it, but won’t divulge its location.  I have found an old prison site with just a few buildings left. There is some interesting history there so that will be a post.  I also visited Yulee Sugar Mill.  I recently took a ride with a couple from West Palm Beach so that may be a ride report.  This weekend I am going on a 700 mile motorcycle trip to the Everglades so there should be a good ride report out of that.  Man, I am way behind on posting here.  I promise to catch up soon.

Some future places I intend to explore are a crane at the bottom of a mine that flooded.  I intend to dive that and get some photos.  I found an abandoned primate sanctuary.  There is a creepy old feed plant that I want to get access to.  I also am working on getting access to private property to explore a homestead and mill.

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The Lost Girl

I stopped at a friend’s home to pick up a part for my motorcycle I had left there.  While talking to her, she asked me if I had time to go visit a cemetery. There was something she wanted to show me she was sure I would find fascinating.  On the way over in our conversation she mentioned the phrase, “my lost girl”.  When we arrived she took me to the middle of the cemetery where she told me there was a tombstone in the middle of the cedar tree we were standing in front of.  I immediately began looking inside the hole on the side of the tree.  I started to remove some sticks and dug out some loose bark and dirt.  My friend stood back and smiled.  That wasn’t where it was.

DSC_1033What you see in the above photo is a black and white picture my friend took when she was in college almost 30 years ago in 1980. We set her photo next to the tree for comparison.  In the original photograph, the tree had obscured the girl’s last name and the dates.  Today all that is visible is the upper edge of the stone.  The cedar tree has grown around the entire marker.  In just a few more years only my friend’s memory and her photograph will be the only proof that a grave is here.

My friend has long considered this her secret discovery.  I am honored that she chose to share it with me.  She gave me permission to post this on the blog, but I am going to refrain from giving the location.

Posted in Hiking and Exploring | 2 Comments


A friend of mine called me up to ask a huge favor of me.  He had shoulder surgery and hasn’t been able to ride his Harley motorcycle in a while and won’t be able to for a few more months.  He asked me to ride his bike around to run the old gas out of it and keep things running.  Since I’m just such a nice guy I agreed.  I know it is a huge sacrifice on my part, but I’m just that kind of person.

What I neglected to do was tell my wife the truth.  Instead, I told her I was buying a new motorcycle this weekend.  I figured since I was showing up this weekend with a new motorcycle, why not have a little fun with it?  All week I have been telling her about the new bike I was getting.  At first she thought I was pulling her leg, but then she began to realize that I was in fact coming home with a motorcycle.  As she started asking some specific questions that I couldn’t answer I made things up on the spot.  It worked.


This is a 2006 Harley Davidson 1200 Sportster with low miles still looking brand new.

I’ve never been a Harley guy.  They just don’t suit my style of riding.  I like the dual sport motorcycle world with the ability to go off road and get dirty.  My wife is keenly aware of this little fact.  Apparently this week she and her best friend have been having girl talk about me having a mid-life crisis.  She got upset, but nowhere near as much as I thought she would.

I came home with the bike as promised and then convinced her to go for a long ride with me on my “new” bike.  I took her out to dinner and then let her know I had pranked her.  All in all things went quite well.  I had told her I was coming home with an expensive new Harley.  I did not discuss this purchase with her ahead of time whatsoever.  I told her I was just going to buy it, then I came home with it, which is totally out of character for me.  She handled it fairly well chalking it up to a mid-life crisis.  This has some interesting implications.  There is a Triumph Tiger Explorer I have had my eye on down at the dealership…

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Old State Road 50 Bridge

Old State Road 50 Bridge

Last year I found a really cool lost bridge in Richloam that turned out to be Old State Road 50.  Today I went out looking for another one I had heard about that was supposed to be nearby.  I followed the directions I was given and realized I had been there before.  I had been backpacking that section with my buddy Andy a few hours before the State of Florida Division of Forestry fire bombed us.  That is a story for another time though.  I have also been there four wheeling in my Range Rover.  I found where the bridge was supposed to have been, but there was no bridge.  It is just a river crossing where jacked up 4×4 trucks go to play now.  The road name is the only thing left designating that there was once a bridge there.  The road is named Pole Bridge Road.

That was disappointing, but since I was in the woods I was going to explore.  Last week Andy and I canoed, or better phrased, dragged a canoe down the Little Withlacoochee River

Believe it or not, I crossed this one on the DR.

Believe it or not, I crossed this one on the DR.

down river from U.S. 301 because there wasn’t enough water.  Ironically, there was too much water up river for me to explore all the trails by dual sport.  I will push my luck a little more when I have someone with me, but getting a stuck bike out of deep mud alone is quite the chore that I do not want to do again.  I learned my lesson.

The Little Withlacoochee River is formed by the watershed of the Richloam State Forest.  The land is swamp land.  Sometimes the trail disappears under shallow water and sometimes the trail becomes the river and there is no longer a trail.  The trick is determining when water can be crossed and when it can’t.  Today, I was conservative in my exploits.

DSC_1865I know the area was logged out at one time, but there is still a considerable amount of old growth cypress trees that have huge girth and tower over the canopy.  There were many times I got deep into the swamp and then out of caution stopped the bike and went deeper on foot following the tufts of high ground that would support me but not the bike.  It is amazing how quickly I could get enveloped by the deep swamp.  No sounds of people.  No sounds of traffic.  I could hear the splash of something big just out of sight.  I could hear the swoosh of a heron taking off in flight.  The sun was barely visible through the thick tree canopy and reflected green off of the plant life of the swamp.  I find that places like this are where I am most at peace.  There is a stillness that exists here where I can find my thoughts, where I can let the stress of life go.

DSC_1867 DSC_1869

Then I saw things I wanted to photograph.  I saw the ripple of the creek over the rocks and the solitude of the scene.  I raised the viewfinder to my eye and pressed the shutter release.  Nothing happened.  NO CARD INSERTED displayed across the camera screen.  In my rush to get out I left my 32 GB memory card still in my computer.  I had my 8 GB, but that was full.  There I was in the woods trying to determine which photos were not worth keeping based on the small screen on the back of the camera.  I hope I made the right decisions.

I caught a few photos while I was out there today, just not as many as I wanted to.  I had an owl swoop down in front of me DSC_1849and fly ten feet in front for about fifty feet or so and then arc up to a tree branch.  I stopped just past him and we watched each other for a while.  I frantically erased photos to catch a few shots of him before he flew away.

I took another trail that dead ended into the swamp except for a thin trail that was just narrow enough to walk.  So I did.  What I didn’t do was stay quiet enough.  I spooked up three huge deer, but I was not quick enough with the camera.



Many trails dead end into impassable waterways.  I am still amazed at where the DR can take me.  It will never win any races.  It will never win any beauty contests, but it is a dependable and capable machine.


DSC_1870  A friend of mine has sent me some pictures of some more lost bridges in Richloam and Green Swamp so I have my assignment in the near future to go find them.

In the meantime, keep the rubber side down.  It works better that way.


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