Another Texas Road Trip

We took Wee Jamie on another road trip, this last weekend. My daughter and I have decided that we should dedicate one day a week to “Not Doing Work Stuff” – and have an outing of at least half a day, doing something … something diverting. This long weekend demanded a whole day of ‘Not Doing Work Stuff.’ My daughter suggested a road trip to Fredericksburg, and I thought that we should check out the Museum of the Pacific War, as it has been at least five years since I visited it. It was indisputably the last war which we won, after all. The first time I went to the War Museum was maybe in 1995 – when it was all still contained in the old Nimitz Hotel on Main Street, and an annex down the road – IIRC, a side-less pole barn. (And Fredericksburg was still a sleepy little town with an attractive Main Street, with local-oriented business situated in profitable commercial real estate, where they tended to close shop and roll up the sidewalks at about 5 PM. Well, that has come to a screeching halt, I assure you.)

We took the back way, to Fredericksburg, after stopping at a local restaurant for a breakfast which turned out to be more substantial than expected – a local outlet for the Maple Biscuit Company. The fresh-squeeze orange juice was fantastic, and yes, I would know about all that, having grown up with orange trees in the back yard. The biscuits and sausage gravy were so generous and so good that we were resolved to split an order next time. (This was the last place I saw anyone wearing a mask, BTW. The staff were all masked-up.) The back way to Fredericksburg meant driving up 281 to Johnson City, passing memories all the way; Blanco, where we had done market events at the Old Courthouse, and where once we scored some amazing deals at an estate sale at an old house just off the highway. Johnson City, where we had a wonderfully fun three-day long market one year, for the lighting of the Courthouse, the weekend after Thanksgiving. (We had to stay two nights for that in a cabin at the Miller Creek RV resort, which meant that we barely broke even.)

Johnson City, when I first went through in the late 1990s, was sad and depressing in comparison to Fredericksburg. It seemed to be hanging on based on the relation to LBJ, the Johnson ranch and various residences where LBJ’s family had lived. Now it is the beginning of the Texas Wine Road and has a new lease on tourist life. Some years ago, I had suggested that the Hill Country had all the components save castles, villas, and quaint hilltop towns to become the New Provence, since they produce such Frenchified specialty items as lavender, wine, olive oil, goat milk cheeses … and wine. Oh my gosh, have they gone into producing wine. Someone has even built a castle! The usual maps of the Texas Wine Road usually include only the top twelve or fifteen of the biggest and most well-established of the wineries along 290 – or at least, those with the flashiest central building. As we discovered, just about every commercial or retail business along that road was posted as a winery, and even a couple of places, like Wildseed Farms, which initially specialized in some other commodity – like peaches or wildflower seeds – had added on a wine tasting room. If you started at the two wineries just outside Johnson City to the south and stopped at every single winery or tasting room and had a single glass … your liver would be screaming for mercy when you got to Stonewall, and you’d be on the list for a liver transplant once you got beyond Fredericksburg itself.

Yes, it looks as if every ambitious vintner wants a piece of the Hill country – and it appeared they were all doing a land office business, judging by the number of cars in the parking lots, even on a Sunday. As for the wineries and tasting rooms in Fredericksburg itself – the sidewalks and businesses were jammed; families, with children and dogs. If there is a recession in our future, it certainly wasn’t in sight in Fredericksburg; shoppers were out in force, and it looked as if all the restaurants and specialty shops were crowded with shoppers, whole families with small children, babies in strollers and dogs on a leash. However, I must regretfully admit that inflation is clearly out in force. My very favorite vintage from the Fredericksburg Winery – the Fredericksburg & Northern Red, is about ten dollars more a bottle then it was, when I first started buying it. A couple of years ago, someone who studies this kind of thing noted that the Hill Country was where Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino were thirty and forty years ago, as far as wine production went.

I wanted to see if the War Museum had ever managed to put all the relics of that war which they had in the archives on display. One of my favorite displays in the ‘liberated POW division’ was a pair of panties and a bra crocheted out of cotton string, made by one of the military nurses during her time of incarceration at the Santo Tomas internment camp. Alas, that still wasn’t an item on display, among several other clothing relics of civilian internment. When they first put up the main building for the museum, it was essentially a bare warehouse with some vehicles and aircraft parked in it, then a series of full-size dioramas, and then … well, more and more and more. It is now a tightly organized maze of displays, with arrows on the floors, and all kinds of interactive displays and videos. They have a whole B-24 on display to memorialize the Dolittle Raid, and an entire Japanese mini-sub (found adrift shortly after the raid) for the Pearl Harbor section. Models of ships, galore – I was interested to see one of the Lanakai, which had an amazing escape from the Philippines early in 1942. The Lanakai was an old sailing yacht with a diesel engine, which bounced around among various missions, owners, and nations, including being a movie prop ship, converted to military purposes as circumstances dictated. The escape of the ship and crew from the Philippines would make an amazing adventure movie – but never mind. I was glad to see that note was made of the fall of Singapore, since that features so heavily in my own last historical novel. There was not much mention made of campaigns in New Guinea and Malaya; of intense interest to Australians and Brits … but I guess there is only so much room in a museum like this, where the initial focus was on Admiral Chester Nimitz and the American campaigns.

It was so refreshing, all this crowded, happy normality – people having fun, crowding the shops and restaurants, spending money, enjoying themselves. Wee Jamie charmed everyone, and was incredibly well-behaved through the whole day, even if it was a considerable break from his routine. A woman standing next to me in the Fischer & Wieser outlet commented to her friend that she had never seen so many so many cute children and darling, friendly dogs in one single day. And I said, “Well, of course – we breed both in Texas!”

13 thoughts on “Another Texas Road Trip”

  1. The Doolittle raid was made by B 25s. The B 24 was far too large.

    On the Lanakai, that is the name of a catamaran yacht owned and raced by a good friend of mine. There used to be a multihull Transpac Race from LA to Oahu. He sailed in several of them.

  2. Sharp-eyed Doc K beat me to it. Doolittle flew B-25s, as did my father (though not off of a carrier and not in the Pacific.)

    Doolittle certainly commanded many B-24s (and B-17s) when he was sent to Europe.

    No complaints, otherwise ;-)

  3. I drove that way a couple of years ago – there is a nice German restaurant in Fredericksburg, and that area around Blanco – well, there is a loop comprised of a couple of highways that is supposed to be haunted, but alas, all I saw were cars.

    I think Johnson was a terrible President but found the LBJ Ranch interesting, particularly since I remember it being on international news.

    It was about 1600 and there were only about 5 of us on the grounds. The house was closed to the publics (or structural reasons) but wandering around I could just imagine Lady Bird at the back door beckoning us to have some iced tea.

  4. The Museum of the Pacific War is amazing. I think it has some of the best interpretive stuff of any museum I’ve ever visited. It’s engaging and informative even for someone like me who isn’t particularly well-versed in the history of that theater.

    Besides the wineries, there are a lot of craft breweries and distilleries in the area, just in case you don’t get snockered enough from the grapes. We particularly enjoy Pecan Street Brewing, just across from the courthouse in Johnson City.

  5. I haven’t done the San Antonio to Fredericksburg drive in nearly 30 years…San Antonio itself goes probably tens of miles or more further out than it did back then. I just don’t care for the sprawl…TX is great, Texans are great, but that sprawl and that heat…

  6. I’ve always thought that Texas was Tennessee’s best creation. What would TX be without Sam Houston and David (never ever Davey) Crockett from TN? J.K.–

    I’ve only ever been to Austin and San Antonio for short visits. Both cities seem to have plenty to do, but sprawl and heat as Brian says are deterrents. (We get heat aplenty here, and rain, . . . and trees.)

    I may be going to Kansas City in November, as escort for my wife’s attendance at “Outlander” cult rituals. I’ve never been to that part of the country and if we go we’ll drive.
    That WWI museum beckons.

  7. Cousin Eddie – you can easily spend two days at the WWI museum. My wife is the history fan, and we went in in the morning and came out late in the afternoon. Her first comment – “it’s this late already?”.

  8. I was on a quick road trip and had to see the WW2 Museum – and quite Frankly saw Fredericksburg in a different light after reading Sgt Mom’s Adelsverein trilogy – but you could easily spend 2 whole days there. My memorable things there? Ens George Gay’s flight jacket and the Japanese Midget Sub.

  9. Thanks, Frank. I may get our son to come along–my wife will be busy, and great museum experiences are best shared IMO.

    I still haven’t been to the WWII museum in N.O., either.

  10. I loved the Museum of the Pacific War when I visited in 2020. I did note to the staff that I thought Spraunce was not given his due in their discussions of American leadership in the Pacific.

  11. The New Guinea campaign was in MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific Command, with almost all battles on the island’s northern coast waged by U.S. forces. Not altogether British and Australian.

  12. Anyone been to the WWII museum in N’orleans? That one seems of interest, I’d think. Higgins boats were made there, and there were more of those than all the others combined, IIRC.

    I haven’t been there, did not know about it the last time I was there.

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