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Published: April 13th 2015
The RV Park About Noonish
Diamond Jacks Casino & Resort - Bossier City LA
I was somewhat leery when I learned my travel day would be April Fool’s Day and hoped no untoward “jokes” would be played on me. That Wednesday, April 1, 2015, found me awakening to a mild but overcast day – nothing threatening, but a layer of gray gloom obscured the blue skies. I took a brief time out during teardown to chat with a neighbor and got underway AFTER the morning rush hour since my trip north from South Main RV Park to Diamond Jacks Casino & Resort in Bossier City LA would take me northward through most of metro Houston. Irene, my GPS, directed me onto U.S. 59 until I reached Carthage TX. There I turned northeastward on U.S. 79 until I reached its intersection with I-20 near Greenwood LA. A short drive eastward on I-20 brought me to within a couple hundred yards of the RV park – just across the Red River from Shreveport. April Fool’s Day had produced no curve balls!
Thursday, April 2, 2015 found me heading north to the Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum
in Oil City LA. After all, “The Great Adventure” is about the communities and oil is an integral part of the Louisiana “community.” Natural
The RV Park About 6 PM The Same, Typical Day
Diamond Jacks Casino & Resort - Bossier City LA
gas was first discovered in Louisiana in 1823 by accident. Three water wells were drilled on the Prud'homme family's Oakland Plantation near Natchitoches LA. The gas, which burned, was not the water they were seeking so the wells were abandoned because nobody knew how to harness and utilize the flammable gas.
On January 10, 1901, Anthony F. Lucas hit the first "gusher" in the United States in the Spindletop Oil Field southeast of Beaumont TX. Lucas I (Roman numeral one) spewed crude oil 150 feet into the air and flowed at 100,000 barrels per day. Lucas’ success spawned significant interest in oil exploration along the Gulf coasts of Texas and Louisiana. The first discovery of Louisiana oil came in the southern part of the state in Evangeline LA – just east of Lake Charles LA. That September 21, 1901 discovery changed the occupational landscape of Louisiana – a man could make more money in a month in the oilfield than he could in a year as a farmer.
The final sentence of the previous paragraph is the theme of the Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum – how oil has changed life in Louisiana. The museum’s story opens
long before the discovery of oil in the area. The exhibits begin with the Caddo Indians who inhabited the Red River Valley about 700 A.D. to 1835 A.D. Interestingly, the Red River formed part of the US-Mexico border from the time of the Adams-Onís Treaty (1821) until the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848). (See my El Paso blog for more about the 100 year long US-Mexico border dispute.)
During the late 17th
and early 18th
centuries, numerous Frenchmen explored the area. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson created an 1805 southern counterpart to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but the endeavor was a dismal failure. In 1833, efforts began to clear a 180-mile long logjam that clogged the Red River from south of Shreveport northward into Arkansas. That effort was supervised by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Capt. Henry Shreve. Go figure! The “Shreve Town Company” was formed in 1836 and was renamed Shreveport in 1837. Shreve went on to revolutionize the steamboat industry, most notably his successful court challenge of Robert Fulton’s monopoly of steamboat traffic on the lower Mississippi River.
The arrival of the railroad further changed the occupational landscape of Louisiana. Post-Civil
Some Of The Tools Of the Trade
Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum - Oil City LA
War sharecroppers and businesses now had two means of getting their goods, primarily cotton and lumber, to market. Poverty was the norm in Louisiana, but that did not stop the people from creating a vibrant culture. Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly, was born and raised in nearby Mooringsport LA and is considered one of the most influential musical figures of the 20th
Century. The Louisiana Hayride
propelled notables like Elvis Presley and Hank Williams onto the American music scene.
And then came oil! The museum depicts the geological features which capture oil deposits, depicts the evolution of oil drilling and explains how seismometers assist modern “prospectors” in their quest to find these deposits – WITHOUT forgetting the people. Tent cities housed the rapid influx of workers. The museum outlines the problems inherent with these improvised camps – sanitation and vermin as well as loneliness and crime.
Concluding with an overview of offshore drilling techniques, the museum recognizes that, with the “head of the household” gone for days on end, the “woman of the house” was faced with raising the children, with making business decisions and with becoming a self-reliant individual. The Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum
These Boogers Are A Bit Unearthing
Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum - Oil City LA
is not a museum about oil and gas; but, rather, it is a museum about how oil and gas impacted a way of life. Oil and gas is not forgotten, but the focus is the people. The museum is small and recommended to those interested in the culture of Louisiana’s people.
On my return to Shreveport, I stopped by the Historic Caddo Lake Drawbridge
in Mooringsport LA. The bridge was built in 1914 to replace a ferry. The unique "Vertical-Lift" design allowed the entire center span to raise to allow tall oil equipment to pass through. In the summer of 1941, just prior to World War II, the United States Army held maneuvers in and around Mooringsport as a means of preparing the soldiers for war. During the maneuvers, Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and George S. Patton came to Mooringsport and led the Red and Blue armies in the "capture" of the bridge. They also bombed the bridge with sacks of flour.
In the mid 1940's, ownership of the bridge was transferred away from Caddo Parish to the Louisiana Department of Highways. Shortly after the transfer, the Department of Highways realized that there was no longer a need for the bridge
Nary A Good Spot To Get A Decent Photograph
Historic Caddo Lake Drawbridge - Mooringsport LA
to open so the concrete counterweights were removed from the bridge's tower and dropped into the lake. In the late 1970's, the flow of vehicular traffic was changed to one alternating lane due to the narrow width of the bridge. In 1989, funding for a new two-lane bridge (approximately fifty feet to the east of the old bridge) was approved. The project also called for the old bridge to be destroyed when the new one was completed.
A citizen's campaign was launched to save the bridge and to convert its use into a pedestrian walkway, civil engineering landmark, and tourist attraction. After two years of negotiations, the Department of Highways and the Federal Highway Administration agreed to use the funds appropriated for removing the structure to refurbish the bridge instead. This agreement was made with the stipulation that Caddo Parish agree to assume ownership and liability. On October 18, 1996, the Historic Caddo Lake Drawbridge was officially entered into the National Register of Historic Places.
My final stop of the day was at the McNeill Street Pumping Station Museum
in Shreveport. The water plant facilities, including its steam-driven pumps, were installed in 1887 as part of the construction of Shreveport’s first municipal
water system – only the second such municipal system in the entire state. Although the steam pumps were finally retired in 1980, portions of that original installation continued to operate until 1994. (Today, the operation of part of the equipment can be demonstrated due to its conversion from steam to compressed air.) The McNeill plant is typical of waterworks of the day that were once commonplace throughout the United States but which have long since disappeared. A lucky twist of circumstances has allowed McNeill to survive intact.
A former Curator of Heavy Machinery and Civil Engineering at the Smithsonian Institution visited McNeill in 1980 and commented that two of the Worthington pumps in McNeill may be the sole survivors of their type. McNeill is historically noteworthy in other areas of early water treatment technology as well. Water filtration was begun at McNeill in 1890 – when fewer than 10% of the nation’s water plants were providing filtered water. McNeill was even quicker to implement chlorine to disinfect the water when Shreveport bought one of the country’s first chlorinating machines in 1914 – only one year after the first use of liquid chlorine in 1913.
McNeill Street Pumping Station
is on the register of National Historic Sites and is also a National Historic Landmark. It has been recognized by a number of national organizations including the American Waterworks Association and the American Society of Civil Engineers. McNeill Street Pumping Station is an absolute must see – for the water treatment engineer! For the average tourist, not so much! I enjoy the unique, and the McNeill Street Pumping Station fills that bill. The docent was knowledgeable and interesting. Without his narrative, I would have given the landmark a ho-hum rating.
I believe I’ll blame Faye Dunaway for my first real fascination for the legend of Bonnie and Clyde
, but that’s my problem – a problem accorded many testosterone-laden nineteen-year-olds by sundry actresses over the years! Well, here I am – no longer a nineteen-year-old but still intrigued by the legend. I’m not sure why – ruthless, calculating, cold-blooded – none of the things I want to be, or do I? I’ll leave that for my mental health professional to ponder and tell y’all that I drove, first, to the Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Historic Site in Arcadia LA. Almost all the web sites providing directions to the site offer a verbose
narrative. FINALLY, I found a web site with 2015 era directions – 32.441217° N 93.092659° W!
Irene, my GPS, took me directly to the ambush site. Two roadside markers are present – one notes the event and the other recognizes the law enforcement officials that ended the criminal escapade. I guess just seeing the real deal after viewing so much film and so many photographs was something I needed to do. Bonnie Parker, quite a poet in her own right, predicted their demise in her poem, “The Trail’s End
I next drove into Gibsland LA and went to the Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum. I shared the GPS information with the museum owner. The museum is pretty much what one would expect – newspaper articles, photographs, cartoons and weapons removed from the trunk of the “death car.” The only real surprises were letters from Barrow’s father and Parker’s mother requesting the return of the weapons. Barrow points out that the guns were purchased legally (with stolen money???) and his son was never convicted by a court of law so the property should rightful belong to the family. For me, the entire experience was worth a midday drive through the northwest
Louisiana hinterland. For most others, probably not as much!
I returned to Shreveport to embark on the Spirit of the Red River Cruise. The cruise is nice but overpriced for the offing. The operator was cordial and informative – there just isn’t much to see and therefore to narrate about! He did the best he could with the hand he was dealt. There were two highlights for me. First, we passed under a bridge that pivoted (back in the day) 180 degrees to allow river traffic to pass. That view allowed me to see the mechanical features that operated the bridge. Second, I was able to see the McNeill Street Pumping Station from a different vantage point. Still, I will recommend the attraction only to those with time and money to squander.
Sunday and Monday, April 6th
, 2015 were both rainy “good-to-stay-home” days, Tuesday found me heading for the Spring Street Historical Museum
which is closed for renovation and the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum
– both in Shreveport. The latter is a part of Louisiana’s commendable state museum system – my third this week! The building was constructed in a circular fashion. I started on the outer perimeter which houses dioramas (with
accompanying placards) portraying Louisiana’s economic drivers – rice, beef, sugar cane, dairy, cotton, forage crops, sweet potatoes, swine, poultry, sheep, strawberries, citrus, timber (and paper pulp), rock salt, sulphur, and oil. The next set of dioramas has various mounts of a variety of Louisiana’s small game.
The inner ring of exhibits consists of historical artifacts, primarily documents, which were nice to see but were so far away that they were totally illegible. The next set of exhibits in the inner circuit displays models of the various types of water transportation used in Louisiana – flatboats to keelboats to steamers. Other exhibits highlight shrimping and Mardi Gras, and an annex holds Native American artifacts including a c. 1035 30’ 8” cypress dugout canoe that was discovered on the Red River in 1983. An interesting video documents its recovery. The Louisiana State Exhibit Museum helps the visitor understand what makes Louisianans who they are. For me, the museum was worthwhile but for many probably not as much.
I’ll be right up front on this one. After MapQuest did the math on a drive from Houston TX to Little Rock AR, Uncle Larry said, “I don’t think so!” Shreveport just happened
to be close to the midpoint on an as-the-crow-flies pathway, so I decided to stop. Shreveport, like El Paso TX, is not a destination city (unless you’re a gambler – the riverboats are very nice and I WON!), but it does make a great stop for a couple of nights when travelling I-20.
PS The man who was overseeing the renovations at the Spring Street Historical Museum turned me on to a great shot ‘n beer joint named Herby K's
that has been in business since 1938. They serve up an awesome shrimp poor boy they call “Our Famous Shrimp Buster.” If you think you’re entering an old warehouse district, you’re headed in the right direction!
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