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About This Website

 

 

Greetings!  My name is Del Leu, I'm the author of DelsJourney, and here's the story of my website:

 

It all began in Portland, Oregon in 2001.  That's when I started getting "itchy feet" after working as a mapping specialist with the same consulting firm for 10 years.  Many of my friends thought I was crazy, but precisely on my 10-year anniversary in 2001, I quit my comfortable job with those assuring paychecks and started living like a hobo as I began what was supposed to be an 18-month trip. 

 

 

Above: Busy (?) at work in Portland.

 

During my journey, I planned to take long road trips around my three favorite countries:  the United States, New Zealand, and Australia.  Well actually, I'd never been to New Zealand or Australia (in fact, I'd never been overseas before), but I'd always wanted to visit them.

 

I've always been interested in genealogy, so I decided that my trip around America would be a great opportunity to learn about my family's history first-hand.  It's one thing to read about an important place, but it's more satisfying to actually visit it and walk on the ground, breathe the air... and wipe the cow manure off your shoes.  Therefore, during my 2001 trip around America, I visited dozens of sites around the country with ties to my ancestors, some of whom were among the earliest settlers in this country.  In many ways, my trip around America evolved into a personal quest of understanding my family's heritage.

 

 

Above Updating my website one evening in Brisbane, Australia.  (April, 2002)

 

I also figured my trip would be a great opportunity to learn website design, so I started up this website before I took off.  On my journey, I brought along a laptop computer, a digital camera, and a thick "How-To" book on Microsoft FrontPage, figuring I'd learn how to design websites as I went.  During my travels, I posted stories and photos of the places I visited, from Bellingham to Boston, through the South Pacific and across the Outback using my sometimes-sarcastic wit and childish sense of humor.

 

Although I created this site mainly for my friends and relatives, I figured that anyone interested in traveling might find it interesting.  Sure enough, as I traveled around the U.S. and overseas, I started getting lots of e-mails from folks who'd stumbled across my website.  During my travels, I posted over 400 webpages and more than 2,000 photos on this site and if you print the whole thing out, it's about 600 pages long.  Yep, the website was a lot of work but it was also a lot of fun. 

 

After my road trips around the U.S., New Zealand and Oz, I thought about taking my website down but instead I kept updating it, because I figured that travelogues never go out of date.  I also figured that new readers would like to read about vitally important topics such as:

I'll keep posting information about my travels and other things on a periodic basis.  I've posted lots of stuff here to read, so feel free to peruse DelsJourney and I hope you like it.  And keep on traveling!

 

 

Here's a friendly "Howdy."  (21 seconds)

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Website Organization

I've divided my website into the following categories, listed on the left:

  • Latest News  My latest update.

  • My Travels  My travels around the U.S., New Zealand, and Australia from June 2001 to July 2002 and a little info on my previous roadtrips.

  • List of Stories  I've listed 125 travel stories, extracted from my updates.  This is the "ala carte" way of reading through my website. 

  • Close-Ups  More information about some of the topics I discuss.

  • Family History  Stories about my relatives, including maps, photos, and family trees.

  • Humor  I like to take pictures of humorous signs when I travel and I've posted over 75 funny photos here from the U.S., New Zealand, and Australia. 

 

Background Information

Along with the categories listed on the left, I've included some additional info about my website including:

  • Who Am I?   A thankfully-brief description of myself and my philosophy on traveling.

  • Site Map  A list of all the webpages in this site.

  • Music   I've posted appropriate music throughout my website, and this page has tips about playing the songs.  I've also posted a list of my 10 favorite albums and a song from each album.

  • Privacy   My policy on respecting the privacy of folks I've mentioned in this website.

  • My Biases and Preferences   To give you a better idea if you'll enjoy reading my website.

  • Why I'm Responsible for the Current Recession   A little economic humor.

  • My Thanks   A list of the kind folks whom I encountered during my travels and travails.

  • RAQ  (Rarely-Asked Questions)   In case you want to know even more about me (I pity you).

  • Site Statistics  Some stats about my website's traffic, in case you're really bored.

  • Contact Me  If you're wondering whether I really do exist, feel free to send me an e-mail.

 


 

In Search of My Heritage

As I mentioned above, one reason I decided to take this trip was to research my family's history.  I've always been interested in genealogy, and during my trip around America in 2001, I wanted to learn as much as I could about my ancestors by visiting the places where they lived, fought, and died.  I spent several months retracing my ancestors' footsteps and learning about their stories which, in turn, I'll pass on to my future generations (if I ever have any).  In fact, after a few months, my journey around America had largely turned into a personal quest to discover my family's heritage.  I've briefly described the more memorable events below.

 

 

 

The Bixby Bridge, California  (June 2001).  Back in 1982, I took a picture of this beautiful bridge on the Big Sur coast of California, not realizing the role that it had once played in my family's history.  Many years later, I found an old photo of this bridge taken in the 1930s and, from the caption, learned that my great-uncle, Henry Swang, had helped to build it (later, Henry also helped to build the Golden Gate Bridge).  It had been nearly 20 years since I had seen the Bixby Bridge, but I decided to visit it and pay my respects to Henry Swang.  I was pretty excited as I headed south on Highway 1, and finally I spotted the bridge up ahead.  I pulled over and spent a couple of hours here admiring Henry's work.

Henry's bridge

 

 

Corinth, Mississippi  (June 2001).  The bloody Battle of Shiloh was fought just a few miles from Corinth during the Civil War in 1862.  As I discovered a few years ago in some old family papers, my great-great-grandfather, Ransom Myers, fought with the Union Army here and spent several weeks in Corinth, so I decided to visit the town.  I ran into a local historian and fellow Civil War buff here named Tommy Lee, who was kind enough to give me an eight-hour tour of Corinth and the Shiloh battlefield.  Tommie's ancestors had served with the Confederate troops in Corinth, but it didn't matter to either of us that our ancestors may have fought against each other here 140 years earlier.

Tommie Lee

 

 

Greeneville, Tennessee  (July 2001).  A few months after leaving Corinth, Mississippi (see above), my great-great-grandfather, Ransom Myers, was shot in the left arm, which was later amputated.  After returning to Michigan briefly to recuperate, Ransom joined the Michigan cavalry in 1863 and became a courier, seeing fierce action throughout northeastern Tennessee until the end of the war.  In 1864, his unit helped capture the Confederate general, John Morgan, in Greeneville.  I spent an afternoon in Greeneville, visited the house where Morgan was captured, and got a great tour of the Greeneville Museum from the curator, John Hendricks.

Ransom Myers

 

 

Brooklyn, Connecticut  (July 2001).  One of my ancestors, a man named Israel Putnam, lived here in the 1700s and, for better or worse, supposedly killed "the last wolf in Connecticut" when he was a young man (I guess there was no SPCA back then).  Following dirt roads and a mile-long trail, I finally found "Israel's Wolf Den," which was actually just a cleft in the rocks.  Israel later became an American general during the Revolutionary War and fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and some historians claim that it was Israel who issued the famous command: "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes."

The Wolf Den

 

 

Coventry, Rhode Island  (July 2001).  Nathaniel Greene, another ancestor of mine from the 1700s, grew up here in a house called "The Homestead" and later became one of the most able and successful American generals during the Revolutionary War.  In fact, during the war, George Washington considered Greene to be his best general.  Greene had a modest upbringing, was a true self-made man, and throughout his life remained humble.  His childhood home is well off the beaten path and took me a while to find, but it was well worth it because I got a personal hour-long tour from a woman named Mary, a neighbor and the house's caretaker.

"Is Nathaniel home?"

 

 

Ipswich, Massachusetts  (July 2001).  Before my trip, I had spent many months in Oregon researching my family's genealogy via the Internet.  One town that kept popping up was Ipswich, Massachusetts, where one of my ancestors, a man named Humphrey Bradstreet, had landed in 1634, just a few years after the Pilgrims had settled in nearby Plymouth.  Therefore, I decided to stop in Ipswich.  There, with the help of a local librarian, I discovered the exact spot where Humphrey had landed from England on the ship "Elizabeth."  After taking this picture, I wanted to reconnect with my past, so I walked down to the dock and dipped my hand in the seawater.  It was a stirring moment.

The landing site

 

 

Rowley, Massachusetts  (July 2001).  Humphrey Bradstreet's son, Moses, moved to the nearby village of Rowley, one of the oldest communities in the U.S., and died there in 1690.  I had run across Moses' name several times on the Internet but knew very little about him.  With the help of Susan Hazen, Rowley's Town Clerk, I found the graveyard where Moses was buried and, after walking past rows of graves, found Moses' 1690 gravestone, barely readable after 300 years of weathering.  Standing by his old gravestone, I felt a true connection with Moses for the first time --  I even got goosebumps.  In fact, I still get goosebumps when I think about that moment.

Moses' gravestone

 

 

Lyons, New York  (August 2001).  While doing Internet research in Oregon, I discovered that I had relatives from Holland named Meijers who, in the 1600s, settled in the Dutch colony of New Netherlands, today known as New York state.  One of the Meijers' descendents, Solomon Myers, settled here in Lyons (think "Last of the Mohicans" for the era and location) and fought for the U.S. during the War of 1812.  I spent a few hours in Lyons and, with the help of Deborah, the Town Historian, found documents related to Solomon Myers.  Solomon's son was Ransom Myers (described above in Corinth, Mississippi), who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War and lost his left arm. 

Erie Canal at Lyons

 

 

Putnam, Ontario  (August 2001).  A story has been passed down in my family for many generations about Canadian ancestors named Putnam who crossed back and forth many times over the U.S./Canada border in the 1800s, for reasons now obscured by time.  Therefore, I decided to visit the small village of Putnam, Ontario, to see if there was any connection there with my family's history.  With the help of the friendly Putnam librarian, I discovered that the town's founder, a man named Putnam, had crossed back and forth over the Canadian border many times back in the 1800s to avoid capture during a rebellion which he had led in Canada.  I was excited to discover this, since it corroborated our family's story.  After reading this, I knew that one of my ancestors had, indeed, come from this small town, and I learned his fascinating story.

The helpful librarian in Putnam

 

 

Mayville Michigan  (August 2001).  After fighting in Corinth, Mississippi, during the Civil War, my one-armed great-great-grandfather, Ransom Myers, returned to his farm near Mayville, Michigan in 1865.  A few years later, his daughter, Minnie, eloped at age 16, much to Ransom's displeasure, and years later she bore a daughter who would become my grandmother.  After her husband died, the heart-broken Minnie and her daughter left Mayville around 1900 bound for Seattle.  With the help of the Mayville librarian, I found the farm that had been owned by Minnie's father, Ransom, along with Ransom's grave and that of his father, Solomon Myers, who was born in Lyons, New York.  After tracing Ransom's footsteps in Mississippi and Tennessee, I had now completed the circle.

The Myers plot in Mayville

 

 

Windom, Minnesota  (August 2001).  After researching my father's side of the family, which I've described in the stories above, I studied my mother's ancestors, who had all settled in the Midwest during the 1800s.  My first stop was in southwestern Minnesota where her ancestors, the Reinhards, had arrived from Germany in the 1870s and lived in a sod house.  This was just a few miles south of Walnut Grove, Laura Ingalls' home at this time, so my great-great-grandfather, Henry Reinhard, may have known Laura, because they were the same age.  I visited the farm that Henry's father homesteaded in the 1800s and found a barn that he built in 1893.  During my visit, two guys stopped by and I learned that I was related to one of them, my only known relative still in Minnesota.

Henry Reinhard's 1893 barn

 

 

Webster, South Dakota  (August 2001).  My mother had several ancestors who came from Norway in the 1800s.  She had once mentioned the town of Webster and, during my Internet research a few years ago, I discovered a possible ancestral connection.  Therefore, I decided to visit Webster -- and ended up spending two weeks there.  With the kind help of the Day County Recorder's Office staff, I learned a great deal about my great-great-grandparents, Ole and Birgit Svang, and found the place where they homesteaded in 1882.  Ole and Birgit arrived by covered wagon and lived in a sod house.  Years later, Birgit died of a possible suicide (common on the frontier) and the impoverished Ole was evicted from his land at age 83, after farming for 23 years.  I camped on their deserted homestead one night and tried to imagine how difficult their lives must have been.

Ole Svang's homestead

 

 

Bismarck, North Dakota  (September 2001).  In the fall of 2001, I stopped in Bismarck for what I thought would be a few days.  I ended up spending seven weeks there, researching my mother's history.  My mother, who died in 1999, had always told my father, myself, and my siblings that she had grown up in Bismarck in the 1930s, that her parents were well-off and that she didn't suffer from the Great Depression.  As I discovered, however, she had actually grown up in poverty in a farm north of Bismarck, then moved to Bismarck when she was a teenager.  From my research, I pieced together her family's story and learned that it was one of toil, stress, and despair.  Evidently, my mother didn't want to admit that she grew up in poverty, but the harsh conditions that she endured during the Great Depression only renewed my deep respect for her.

The farm where my mother grew up

 

 

Regan, North Dakota  (October 2001).  After my mother passed away, I found an old photo album that she had kept hidden for many decades, which had belonged to her mother, Helga Swang.  I don't remember my grandmother Helga, who died when I was young, and knew little about her.  From the photo album, though, I pieced her story together and learned that she had taught in a one-room school in North Dakota the 1920s.  The album also contained the only pictures I've ever seen of her mother, my great-grandmother, Anna Swang, who died in 1933 after a life of hard work.  By looking at the pictures and reading the captions, I came to know and appreciate the undaunted Helga and her good-humored mother, Anna, and, for the first time, felt a close kinship with both.

My grandmother & mother (center)

 

 

Wing, North Dakota  (October 2001).  The most amazing experience of my trip around the U.S. occurred in the smoky "Chat and Chew Cafe," in the tiny town of Wing, North Dakota.  Here, I introduced myself to an elderly woman and local historian named Hester Bailey.  Through our conversation, I learned that in 1921, amazingly enough, Hester had been my grandmother Helga's kindergarten pupil.  During the next two hours, Hester told me stories about my grandparents that I'd never heard, and the only stories about my great-grandparents that I've ever heard.  Hester even recognized herself in one of my grandmother Helga's photos, which Helga had taken in 1921.  Hester is 89 years old and we still keep in touch.  In fact, she recently sent me a large quilt, which she made for me.

Hester Bailey (left) & her friend, Alice

 

 

Dickinson, North Dakota  (October 2001).  In July of 1943, my father joined the U.S. Navy and was sent to Dickinson to attend Officer Training School (like in "An Officer and a Gentleman.")  During his second evening there, he went to a dance in Dickinson, sponsored by the U.S.O.  My mother, who had just graduated from high school in Bismarck, was in Dickinson that weekend visiting a girlfriend.  You guessed it -- my mother met my father that night at the dance, and the rest is history.  I stopped in Dickinson to visit the dance hall where my Mom met my Dad, but sadly discovered that it had been torn down the previous year.  Nevertheless, after visiting the college that my Dad attended, I visited the site where my parents met and where they had once danced to the music of Glenn Miller.

My parents in Dickinson (1943)

 

 

Skykomish, Washington  (October 2001).  On the last day of my drive around America, I stopped in the tiny logging town of Skykomish, set high in the Cascade Mountains about an hour east of Seattle.  Back during the Great Depression, my father moved here with his parents and his five older siblings.  They were a poor but happy family, reminding me years later in some ways of the television show, "The Waltons" (perhaps one reason I like that show).  For many years, my grandfather ran a grocery store in Skykomish.  These days, there isn't much left of Skykomish, but I stopped here and visited the high school where, back in 1940, my father had been a star basketball player.

Skykomish High

 

 

Edmonds, Washington  (November 2002).  In the fall of 2002, after visiting New Zealand and Australia, I was getting ready to return to my job in Portland, when my father became ill.  He was diagnosed with cancer, so I decided to stay with him at his house in Bellingham, Washington.  A few months later, he learned that he only had about a week left to live and he told me he wanted to see his older brother and best friend, Bill, one final time.  The next day, I drove my Dad to Edmonds, and he and Bill had a memorable visit.  During that visit, I videotaped an interview of them, during which Bill described his incredible experiences on the U.S.S. Neosho during World War II, which I've described elsewhere on this website.  My father died shortly afterwards and Bill died suddenly a few months later.  They were truly part of what many call "The Greatest Generation."

My father (left) and his older brother, Bill, during their final visit