Category Archives: Texana

Hell in the Pacific


Readers of Jim’s Bike Blog may have noticed that I have dedicated a page to my Uncle Ray.

Uncle Ray

Uncle Ray

An unexpected bequest from Ray, who died at age 87 on Dec. 1, 2007, helped finance my 2009 bicycle ride across the United States.
Ray, who was my godfather, and his two younger brothers, Larry and Harold (“Hally”), were Marines who fought in the Pacific War at such places as Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima and Saipan.
Uncle Larry

Uncle Larry

That is what prompted this blog post.
Last weekend, my wife and I visited for the first time the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.
Uncle Hally

Uncle Hally

The museum is there because Fredericksburg, in the Texas Hill Country, was the hometown of Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, who ran the Pacific War.
Statue of Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz at the National Museum of the Pacific War

Statue of Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz at the National Museum of the Pacific War

I was particularly interested in any information or displays on the Marines’ island-hopping campaign in the war against Japan, especially the Battle of Tarawa, one of the hellholes where Ray fought.


Tarawa, an atoll in the Gilbert Islands, was important because it had an airstrip that the Allies needed to launch bombing missions against the Japanese.
Tarawa was so heavily defended that Japanese Adm. Keiji Shibasaki boasted: “It will take 1 million men 100 years to conquer Tarawa.”
But Marines of the 2nd Marine Division took the atoll in four days of hellish fighting, Nov. 20-23, 1943. Here is a video of the museum’s summary of the battle.

Exhibit on Tarawa landing, National Museum of the Pacific War, Fredericksburg, Texas

Exhibit on Tarawa landing, National Museum of the Pacific War, Fredericksburg, Texas

We also visited the museum’s gift shop, where I found a book called Tarawa: The story of a battle, a reprint of an account published in 1944 by Robert Sherrod, a Time-Life correspondent who went into Tarawa with the first wave of Marines, as did Uncle Ray.
%22Tarawa - The story of a battle,%22 by Robert Sherrod, 1944Among the photographs in the book was one that was shot the evening before D-Day on the deck of a transport ship. It pictures Marines kneeling on the deck as a Roman Catholic chaplain says Mass. There, among his fellow Marines, is Uncle Ray. I wonder what thoughts were racing through his head at that time, a half a world away from South St. Louis where he came of age.
"Battle-clad Marines kneel in prayer before the Tarawa landing," from the book "Tarawa - The story of a battle," by Robert Sherrod, first published in 1944

“Battle-clad Marines kneel in prayer before the Tarawa landing,” from the book “Tarawa – The story of a battle,” by Robert Sherrod, first published in 1944

The outdoor part of the museum complex features a Memorial Wall, limestone walls embedded with metal plaques commemorating individuals, units and ships that took part in the Pacific War.
The plaques are made possible mostly by family members who wish to honor the service of their relatives.
In my mind’s eye, I see a plaque with images of my three uncles and a headline that says something like: “The fighting Sieve brothers of South St. Louis.”
It seems that I have a project in my future.

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Rambling around the LBJ Ranch


Who knew that Luci Baines Johnson was a bicyclist?
I didn’t.
But there she was on Saturday,
the younger daughter of the late President Lyndon B. Johnson, leading a bicycle tour of the sprawling LBJ Ranch near Johnson City in the Texas Hill Country.

Luci Baines Johnson in her biking gear

Luci Baines Johnson in her biking gear

Sporting a black Giro helmet, sunglasses and a red-white-and-blue jersey for the LBJ 100 bike ride, Luci Baines hosted a group of cyclists who had taken part in the seventh annual LBJ ride earlier in the day.
A group of bike-riding friends and neighbors from Fort Worth and a brother-in-law-from San Antonio traveled to the Hill Country to do the ride.
Some rode the 62-mile route, some the 42-mile route (including me), and others rode 30 miles or 10 miles.
Standing in front of Air Force One-Half after the LBJ 100 bike ride

Standing in front of Air Force One-Half after the LBJ 100 bike ride

The routes included lots of hills – it is the Hill Country, after all – a brisk northerly wind and some spectacular vistas of Central Texas, which is bursting into springtime verdancy.
Bull Session: Two bulls have a tête-à-tête at the LBJ Ranch near Johnson City, Texas

Bull Session: Two bulls have a tête-à-tête at the LBJ Ranch near Johnson City, Texas


But the highlight of the day for cyclists who stayed around after the ride, which began and ended on the airstrip of the LBJ Ranch, was the tour of the spread by Luci Baines.
The tour began with a look at a Lockheed JetStar aircraft, a mini version of Air Force One that LBJ called “Air Force One-Half.” The plane was used to ferry President Johnson from Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin when he came to the Texas White House at the ranch.
Nose-on view of Air Force One-Half, the Lockheed JetStar that Lyndon Johnson used to take him from Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin to the LBJ Ranch when he was president

Nose-on view of Air Force One-Half, the Lockheed JetStar that Lyndon Johnson used to take him from Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin to the LBJ Ranch when he was president


The tour ended with a visit to the Johnson Family Cemetery in a stand of ancient live oak trees where LBJ is buried under a granite headstone that says simply:
Lyndon Baines Johnson
August 27, 1908
January 22, 1973
36th President
of the
United States of America

In between, the stories poured out of Luci Baines — about her childhood and teen years at the ranch and in the White House in Washington; about the dark-green Corvette Stingray given to her in 1965 on her 18th birthday and taken back a couple years later in favor of a safer sedan when Luci was a pregnant young wife; about LBJ’s nickname of Mr. Jellybean when, in retirement, Johnson often visited a Head Start school in nearby Stonewall with pockets full of jellybeans for the kids in a program he had started as president.

The Johnsons and Luci's 1965 Corvette Stingray

The Johnsons and Luci’s 1965 Corvette Stingray


But the most poignant stories revolved around Johnson’s sudden elevation to the presidency upon the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
That morning, preparations were underway at the ranch for a huge barbecue to welcome JFK after his visit to Dallas. Dessert was to be a pecan pie baked by Mary Davis, a longtime cook at the ranch.
Just as the pie came out of the oven, the Secret Service brought word that Kennedy had been shot, and shortly later that he had died.
As the staff and Secret Service agents huddled in the kitchen in shock and grief, Mary Davis sobbed: “What are we going to do with the pie?”
That pie, Luci Baines told the cyclists, became for her a symbol of a distressed nation. How would Americans go back to everyday life after their dreams and hopes, inspired by a youthful, vital president, were shattered by an assassin in Dallas?
The LBJ 100 ride, by the way, is one of the main sources of funds for the upkeep of the LBJ Ranch, which Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson bequeathed to the people of the United States. It is now the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, run by the National Park Service.
Luci Baines Johnson leads a bike tour of the LBJ Ranch accompanied by National Park Service rangers

Luci Baines Johnson leads a bike tour of the LBJ Ranch accompanied by National Park Service rangers


The eighth annual LBJ 100 ride and tour of the LBJ Ranch is scheduled for March 28, 2015.
It’s not too early to make hotel reservations in Fredericksburg, the nearest town of any size to the ranch. Many of the cyclists who rode on Saturday have already booked rooms for next year and found that several motels are booked solid that weekend.

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Bikes and jazz at the Plaza


Every vibrant city needs a public gathering space – a plaza, piazza, town square – a place to celebrate civic accomplishments, welcome visiting dignitaries, bring in a new year, or simply hang out on a nice day.
My hometown, Fort Worth, now has such a place: the Sundance Square Plaza.
And, with hardly any hyperbole, I will say that it is magnificent.
A quarter-century in the making, including 18 months of construction, the plaza opened Friday with a weekend of events and entertainment in the heart of downtown.

Erik Hansen, the leaping Danish Viking, and the Sunday morning neighborhood bike group in Sundance Square Plaza, Nov. 3, 2013

Erik Hansen, the leaping Danish Viking, and the Sunday morning neighborhood bike group in Sundance Square Plaza, Nov. 3, 2013

On Sunday, our neighborhood bike group included a stop at the Sundance Square Plaza during our weekly ride. We took some photos, lolled about in the fine autumn weather and listened to music by the Gloria D’Arezzo & Friends Jazz Band.
The one-acre space, anchored by two new buildings at the eastern and western ends of the plaza, sits astride Main Street.
It is bordered by Third and Fourth streets on the north and south and Commerce and Houston streets on the east and west, respectively.
The plaza features a 216-jet fountain that is illuminated at night and four 32-foot retractable umbrellas that resemble giant blossoms.
Check out the time-lapse video of the plaza’s construction by friend Brian Luenser, who lives in a condo in The Tower, a skyscraper overlooking Sundance Square.

Or the report by the local NBC station, KXAS/Channel 5, on the opening of the plaza.

http://www.nbcdfw.com/entertainment/the-scene/Sundance-Square-Plaza-Opens-in-Fort-Worth-230232381.html

Kathy McReynolds, Missy Gale, Kathy Hansen and Kelly Pinto with the Chisholm Trail Mural in the background, Sundance Square Plaza, Nov. 3, 2013

Kathy McReynolds, Missy Gale, Kathy Hansen and Kelly Pinto with the Chisholm Trail Mural in the background, Sundance Square Plaza, Nov. 3, 2013

Phil Love strikes a heroic pose with the Chisholm Trail Mural in the background, Nov. 3, 2013

Phil Love strikes a heroic pose with the Chisholm Trail Mural in the background, Nov. 3, 2013

Mark Gale, in his London Harlequins jersey, points out to Erik Hansen a feature of the new Sundance Square Plaza, Nov. 3, 2013

Mark Gale, in his London Harlequins jersey, points out to Erik Hansen a feature of the new Sundance Square Plaza, Nov. 3, 2013

Sundance Square takes its name from Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, aka the Sundance Kid, seated at far left in this painting of an iconic photograph taken of the Wild Bunch gang in Fort Worth in November 1900.

Sundance Square takes its name from Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, aka the Sundance Kid, seated at far left in this painting of an iconic photograph taken of the Wild Bunch gang in Fort Worth in November 1900.

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The Armstrong lie


I confess that I was one who wanted to believe in Lance Armstrong.
Here was a guy who nearly died
in 1996 of testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain. But he came back to win the Tour de France, arguably the world’s toughest sporting event, seven consecutive times between 1999 and 2005.

Lane Armstrong

Lane Armstrong

It was a compelling story.
It captured not only the cycling world but millions of people around the world who didn’t care a whit about professional bicycling. They were just rooting for a guy who beat the Big C and rose to the pinnacle of his sport.
We all know now that it turned out to be an audacious con. Armstrong proved to be a doper and a liar.
“He had lied to me, straight to my face, all throughout 2009,” says Alex Gibney, maker of a new film called, appropriately, The Armstrong Lie.
“The gift that he has is his gift as a story teller,” Gibney says of Armstrong in a trailer for the documentary.

Added one observer quoted in the documentary: “Such a huge number of people wanted to believe that they hated anyone who didn’t believe.”
I didn’t hate those who didn’t believe. But I accepted without sufficient skepticism Armstrong’s lies. And, as an editorial board member of a large newspaper, I wrote several glowing editorials about his seemingly inexorable march to seven Tour de France victories. I now feel that I was betrayed.
Gibney’s film opens Nov. 8 in limited release in New York and Los Angeles.
I can’t wait to see it.
I’m still pissed off.

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The eyes of Texas are upon you


Mamas, tell your babies don’t mess with Texas.
Don’t let ‘em throw cans from them old pickup trucks.
Don’t let ‘em throw bottles and papers and such.
Mamas, tell all your babies don’t mess with Texas.
Keep your trash off the roads; she’s a fine yellow rose.
Treat Texas like someone you love.

– Willie Nelson, “Don’t Mess With Texas”

I sometimes wondered as I rode across Texas in the autumn of 2009 on a cross-country bicycle trip what the non-Americans in our party might think of the ubiquitous anti-litter signs “Don’t Mess With Texas.”
Would that stark commandment instill fear in the hearts of the gentler souls among us – my riding companions from the Netherlands and England?
Don't mess with TexasHow exactly, they might have thought, does one mess with Texas? What’s the penalty for messing with Texas? This state, after all, leads the nation in executions. What degree of messing with Texas would earn a one-way trip to the death chamber at Huntsville?
And does the slogan have a broader meaning, aimed at Washington bureaucrats or anybody else who might suggest that all is not sunflowers and bluebonnets in Gov. Rick Perry’s Lone Star State.
We did our best not to mess with Texas during our 1,000-mile slog across the state from El Paso to Austin to the Sabine River.
The bloke from Britain, once it was explained that the “Don’t Mess With Texas” signs were part of an anti-litter campaign that began nearly three decades ago, found the slogan jolly amusing.
Somewhere along the way, he acquired a “Don’t Mess With Texas” sticker, which he affixed to his bike frame for the rest of the ride to the Atlantic Coast.

Lately, a new sign has been popping up along the state’s highways: “The eyes of Texas are upon you.”
It features a menacing-looking man in a cowboy hat, looking like a stylized Texas Ranger wearing either a black mask or reflective aviator shades, depending on the viewer’s perception of the image.
It urges cellphone users to “please call 911 to report criminal activities or emergencies.”
The eyes of Texas are upon youI like the word please on the sign.
And the state is getting out the word that anybody who messes with the “Don’t Mess With Texas” slogan — i.e., infringing on the federally registered trademark on the phrase, owned by the Texas Department of Transportation since 1985 – will face legal action.
“Since 2000,” said a Sept. 14 story in The New York Times, “Texas transportation officials have contacted more than 100 companies, organizations and individuals about the unauthorized use of the phrase, often in the form of strongly worded cease-and-desist letters that tell violators to stop using the slogan or obtain licensing for it for a fee.”
So the next time a swaggering drunk makes a threatening move and growls “Don’t mess with Texas,” step back slowly and say in a calm, measured voice: “Cease and desist, please. The eyes of Texas are upon you.”

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Dissolute behavior on a bike


“The bicycle riders drank much wine, and were burned and browned by the sun. They did not take the race seriously except among themselves.”
– Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises, 1926

This is getting to be a habit. And it has to stop.
The past three weekends
have involved bicycling and the support of local enterprises that produce adult beverages.

Deep Ellum Brewing Co., Dallas

Deep Ellum Brewing Co., Dallas

This dissolute behavior began on Saturday, Aug. 17, when I and a couple of neighbors on Fort Worth’s near south side met some other cyclists at a nearby bakery and rode to a relatively new microbrewery, Martin House, to sample its wares.
The drill at Martin House Brewing Co., as at other microbreweries I’ve visited, is $10 for a glass with the brewery’s logo and three pours of whatever is on tap.
It’s not a good idea, however, to drink the full complement and then get back onto a bike, especially when the temperature is hovering around 100 degrees. So says my wife.
The next weekend included a family wedding in Fort Worth on Aug. 24. Part of the program of festivities that day was a tour of Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co., where the bridegroom works, on the near south side.
At the rehearsal dinner the night before, I had met a young urban planner from the groom’s side of the family who had come from Milwaukee to attend the wedding.
Copper pot still, Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co., Fort Worth, 2013

Copper pot still, Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co., Fort Worth, 2013

He happened to be a cyclist and wondered about the possibility of a bike ride the next morning. Easily arranged, I said. I picked him up at his downtown hotel, brought him to our house, put him on one of my touring bikes, and off we went on an 18-mile ramble around Fort Worth, which ended at the Firestone & Robertson Distillery.
Firestone & Robertson currently produces a blend of whiskeys gathered from throughout the United States and marketed with the brand name TX.
The distillery is also making its own bourbon, aging in barrels on racks in a gallery above the distillery’s ground floor. The first batches of bourbon will have to mellow for another 18 months or so before bottling and distribution.
We, of course, got to sample the blended whiskey already on the market. Very, very nice! But perhaps not good preparation for the wedding and the open-bar reception that evening.
Barrels of aging bourbon at Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co., Fort Worth

Barrels of aging bourbon at Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co., Fort Worth

The third, and latest, sampling of locally made adult beverages was on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend in Dallas.
Some Dallas-area cyclists whom a neighbor and I had met during our visit to the Martin House Brewery had invited us to come to Dallas to take in a coffee shop and a couple of microbreweries.
So we rode the Trinity Railway Express to Dallas, along with our bikes, hooked up in downtown Dallas with our new cycling friends and set off, first to the artsy Oak Cliff neighborhood in south Dallas for some coffee at Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters, a local hangout.
A barista makes a latte at Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters, Dallas

A barista makes a latte at Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters, Dallas

Fortified with strong java, we set out to sample another type of brew at the Deep Ellum Brewing Co., just north of downtown Dallas, and then onto the Community Beer Co., a short ride from Victory Station at the American Airlines Center, where we caught the train back to Fort Worth.
It was an altogether pleasing bit of urban cycling, although Dallas is not yet as bike-friendly as Fort Worth. Dallas has a very good mass transit system and Fort Worth an excellent network of bike trails, a bike-sharing program and designated bike lanes on city streets.
It’s too bad that the two cities, about 30 miles apart, cannot have both in equal measure.
Thus ended the cycle of dissolute weekends. It won’t happen again this weekend. I promise. I’m getting too old for this stuff.

Art exhibit at Community Beer Co., Dallas

Art exhibit at Community Beer Co., Dallas

My bike on the bridge between Oak Cliff and downtown Dallas, 2013

My bike on the bridge between Oak Cliff and downtown Dallas, 2013

Fellow cyclists Jeff Sailer, center, and Scott Nishimura, right,  at Oak Cliff Coffee roasters

Fellow cyclists Jeff Sailer, center, and Scott Nishimura, right, at Oak Cliff Coffee roasters

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Le Tour de Fort Worth


One of the cool new fixtures of a Fort Worth summer is the Tour de Fort Worth, a daily series of bicycle rides led by the city’s bike-riding mayor, Betsy Price, to coincide with the Tour de France.
Tour de Fort Worth logoOn Sunday, as Briton Chris Froome was heading for Paris and a victory lap on the Champs Elysees as the winner of the 100th edition of the Tour de France, about 150 cyclists were tooling through Fort Worth’s west side neighborhoods and along the Trinity Trails in the finale of the third annual Tour de Fort Worth.

With Mayor Betsy Price at Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, July 13, 2013

With Mayor Betsy Price at Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, July 13

Mayor Price, an avid cyclist for a quarter-century, had for years been marking the Tour de France by riding daily with her husband, Tom, during the three weeks of le Tour.
In 2011, as mayor-elect, Price invited local cyclists to ride along with her and the event was dubbed the Tour de Fort Worth.
“The Tour de Fort Worth is Mayor Betsy Price’s celebration of the Tour de France that gives seasoned cyclists a chance to experience different parts of the city from the best seat around — a bicycle seat,” said the city’s website.
The finale of this year’s Tour de Fort Worth began and ended at Central Market, where all participants got a free mimosa and fruit crepe.
I rode on several days during all three Tours de Fort Worth, including four times this year.
The highlight for me was a fast-paced ride at the 1,805-acre Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base on the city’s west side.
Riding in the Tour de Fort Worth. Photo by Steve Reisman

Riding in the Tour de Fort Worth. Photo by Steve Reisman

Most of that ride was along the flight line, past lines of military aircraft, and along the 1,200-foot runway, which is long enough to handle the largest military lanes and a Boeing 747 with a Space Shuttle piggy-backed to its fuselage.
The Space Shuttle Endeavor stopped at the base Dec. 11, 2008, as it was being ferried atop a 747 from Edwards Air Force Base in California back to the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
Nearly 200 riders registered for this year’s Tour de Fort Worth and logged a total of 11,000 miles. Many other cyclists, slackers like me, rode in the rides without registering or logging miles. So the total collective mileage was probably considerably higher.
Group shot of Tour de Fort Worth riders at Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, July 13

Group shot of Tour de Fort Worth riders at Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, July 13

Riding in Sunday's finale of the Tour de Fort Worth

Riding in Sunday’s finale of the Tour de Fort Worth

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