Taking the last train to Clarksville…..

…..Indiana, that is.  Yes we are heading north.  No, we are not quitting Amazon.  I have held off posting a blog for awhile, as Amazon made an unexpected offer to the Camperforce team here in Campbellsville, KY.

Original Offer

About 2 weeks ago, all 400 plus Camperforce associates (what Amazon calls their workcampers, separate from the hundreds of seasonal/temporary employees they hire as well) here received an e-mail with an offer to help out the Amazon facility in Jeffersonville, Indiana.  It is located about 90 miles north of Campbellsville right across the bridge from Louisville.  The facility opened in 2012 and it is one of only a few centers that specialize in apparel.  The facility has been overwhelmed with orders, and needs more people to help out during peak season.  They have been transferring a lot of clothing (socks, underwear, shirts, jackets) to our facility to help fulfill orders.  We have seen more than our fair share of “ugly sweaters” which are apparently quite popular…not sure why!

They needed 100 campers to join their team during peak, in Picking and Packing only.  The offer stated everyone would be on the same shift, with the same benefits we currently receive (full paid campsite and end of season completion bonus).  The difference was a higher hourly pay ($10.75 vs. $10.00 per hour) and an additional bonus of $500.00 per person, after taxes.

The “campground” they chose was the Kentucky Expo Center in Louisville, which is basically a parking lot with hook-ups.  It is located about 17 miles from the new Amazon facility.

We talked about it, weighed the pros and cons, but decided an additional $1000.00 in our pocket was not enough of an incentive to move for 4 weeks especially with the extra cost in daily gas and a long commute.  Because we work the weekend shift, we already receive an additional 60 cents per hour, so we would only be making 15 cents more in Indiana, and we would have to file income taxes in two states.  We like it here in Campbellsville, and this year has been going very well for us.

In addition, having to drive through road construction and rush hour every day was a big turn off for us. We have enjoyed walking to work and since we arrived seven weeks ago we have not needed to add any extra diesel fuel.

Revised Offer

About 2 days after the original offer, Amazon amended their offer to include other campgrounds in the area (that were still open, as some had shut their water off for winter).  In addition, they would provide a shuttle bus to and from the Expo Center, so people did not have to drive.  This new offer was enough incentive for 31 people to sign up.  Most of those folks cited wanting to see what it was like at a new facility as their main incentive to go.

The Sparkly Carrot

Since they only had 31 folks signed up, Amazon upped the ante again.  This time they increased the bonus to $1,000.00 per person, if nineteen more people would sign up.  Now they wanted 50 total (so it was the same original budgeted pool of bonus money).  They would gross up the bonus so you would net the $1,000.00, after taxes.  Next thing you know, everyone seemed to be jumping on board.  Between the addition of campgrounds in Indiana only 5 – 8 miles away (and not having to cross the I-65 bridge every day during rush hour and road construction), and the increased bonus, we decided to put our names on the list as well.

We were also intrigued by working in a new facility, that was specifically designed and built for the Amazon apparel division.  And, since we would only be there for 4 weeks, we figured it was time to throw caution to the wind again.  After all, that is what this lifestyle is all about.  We called one of the campgrounds, and told the owner we signed up, but have not received official word if we were selected.  She told us to call back.  Later that day we noticed on the Amazon Camperforce Facebook account, that many people were signing up at the various campgrounds.  So we called back, only to find all the campgrounds booked already (except the Expo Center).  We did not want to stay there, so we figured “oh well, it was not meant to be.”

Several days later, Amazon decided to take 100 Camperforce associates, and keep the increased bonus of $1,000.00 per person.  And we were one of those chosen, although we still had no campsite.  So we had to wait, and wait, until people who did not make the list, started cancelling their reservations.  Then Amazon announced that 90% of the positions would be in Picking, and the remaining in Packing.  A lot of people dropped out after that, because they did not want to go into Picking, even though Amazon made it clear this was going to happen.  So finally, after a week of trying to get a campsite, we did get a call back that enough people had cancelled their reservations, that they could provide a spot for us at a campground about 8 miles from the facility. The KOA campground we will be staying at is in Clarksville, IN.

What’s Next?

We just finished a 5 day/50 hour week (overtime, yea!) and will spend the next 3 days resting, cleaning and getting our stuff put away.  I checked the Walmart, Target and Kroger apps, and we will have all that and more, right near us in Clarksville.

Saturday will be our final day of work here in Campbellsville.  Sunday we will hitch up the truck to the 5th wheel, and join the caravan of others heading north.  We start work on Tuesday, with a half day of orientation. Then our regular workdays will be Wednesday thru Saturday, with Sunday as our mandatory overtime day.  They have been working overtime for over 12 weeks at that facility, so I am sure the workers will be happy to have some more help.

Last night we had a final dinner together with two couples that we met last year.  Tom and Ellen, along with Ruth Ann were all working with us in Picking.  They took us under their wing and helped us “newbies” learn the ropes.  Ruth Ann’s husband Jack was doing his rotation last year in the IT department.  This year, Ruth Ann and Jack are on a different shift and a different department, and Tom and Ellen are also on a different shift, so we don’t get to see them as much.  Tom and Ellen will also be headed north, so we will be working with them.  We had a nice last supper at Brother’s Restaurant in Campbellsville.

Tom, Jack, Ruth Ann, me, Dan and Ellen

Tom, Jack, Ruth Ann, me, Dan and Ellen

Sorry this turned out to be so long!  It has been a crazy couple of weeks, but stay tuned for more on our new adventure.

Quote for the day:  “Change is not merely necessary to life, it is life.” – Alvin Toffler

Amazon – just walking in circles

We are just over the halfway point in our jobs at Amazon.  Which means Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner!  After several weeks of picking Halloween costumes and decorations, the merchandise has switched to all things turkey related.  Tablecloths, roasting pans, turkey injectors and basting brushes seem to be the popular seasonal items now.  I like it when the holidays follow the calendar.

image

Of course, we are still picking the usual items.  IPhone 6 accessories have been very popular, more so than any other brand of cell phone combined.  The ‘Call of Duty’ video game was released this week, and we picked hundreds of those.  Disney ‘Frozen’ toys are very popular, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and Monster dolls continue to be very popular as well.

Overtime has already started for the Inbound shifts (receiving and stowing).  For workcampers, it is mandatory to do 50 hours, and voluntary if you want the 60 hours.  Outbound (picking and packing) is not expected to see any overtime until after Thanksgiving.  This is how the schedule went last year as well.  A few new folks in picking were a little concerned about not getting any overtime, but once they understood we cannot pick what is not on the shelves, they seemed to understand.  And most people wait until December to start their shopping.  That’s when we will be doing the 60 hours (my mind is willing, but my body is still cringing!!).  By Tuesday night (which is our ‘Friday’), we are pretty tired and usually fall asleep watching television around 8pm!  Yes, this RV life can be very glamorous!

The 12th and final group of workcampers will be starting November 11th.  They have also started hiring the seasonal temporary employees as well.  They offer both full-time and weekends only shifts.  We will see a lot of the temp workers in the picking department.  At the end of each shift, we do have to pass through metal detectors.  It usually takes a couple of minutes to get through, but the lines will start to get a lot longer now.  Amazon does provide anyone that wants a clear plastic fanny pack or purse, which does make it easier to go through the lines.

 

For anyone with pets

Makena’s dog food was starting to get precariously low, so we started looking online for retailers that sell her Innova brand of dog food.  The closest store was 44 miles away (one way).  Amazon is pretty pricey for dog and cat food (although they sell a lot of it), so we decided to try out Chewy.com.  We have no affiliation with the website, so if you click on the link, we don’t get any money or anything.  But we are posting this because of our very positive experience with them.  Not only did they have very competitive prices, but free shipping on orders over $49.00.

We placed an order on Wednesday, and about 2 minutes after we submitted it, we received a call from a pleasant customer service rep confirming our shipping address, since our billing address is SD and our shipping address is KY.   About 3 hours later we received an e-mail stating our order was processed and ready for shipping, and they provided the UPS tracking number.  This morning (Friday), I was out walking Makena and saw the UPS man delivering our package to the campground office.  Everything was well packed.  Our package totaled 38 pounds, so we were very pleased we did not have to pay for shipping.  And Makena has a few toys for Christmas (oops, I guess I am one of those that buys Christmas presents before December!!).  The super fast shipping makes it great for any RV’er.

Quote for the day:  “In the world of internet customer service, it’s important to remember your customer is only one mouse click away.” – Doug Warner

 

 

Amazon – has it been 4 weeks already??!!

Wow, we can’t believe we have just finished our fourth week at Amazon.  What a difference a year makes!

Last year, our first at Amazon, was so frustrating at the beginning.  The physical part of walking all day was not so much a problem.  But the confusion of learning where everything was in the building, as well as the mind-numbing tedious nature to our jobs made for a difficult first month.  This year was truly a ‘piece of cake’!

The two hardest parts of Picking is learning the buildings, as you will be all over the place, and you must do so in a very timely manner.  The second part is just accepting the fact that Picking is a very, very boring job.  You will spend most of the day talking to yourself, as that is who you will be working with!  Breaks and lunch are the only time you really have to talk with anyone, other than a quick ‘hi’ when you are passing people in the building.

You can prepare for the physical nature of the job, but the mental part was truly an adjustment.  This year, knowing full well what we were getting into, made for a much easier transition.  You have to give yourself 4 weeks to not only condition your body, but your mind as well.  Most of the folks who quit, usually do so before their fourth week.  But if you can stick it out, you will meet a lot of nice people, learn about good/bad places to work, and get in shape as well.

Heartland Campground

This year we decided to stay at the campground that is technically across the street from Amazon in Campbellsville, KY, Heartland Campground.  Most people here refer to it as the ‘rockpile’, as it is really nothing more than a gravel parking lot, with white paint outlining your site.  But it has 50 amp, water and sewer, and Amazon pays 100% of the cost.  Although the Green River State Park where we stayed last year is beautiful, we decided to save time and gas money by walking to work.  The parking lot at Amazon gets very congested after Thanksgiving, and we spent a lot of time waiting in long lines.

Heartland Camground

Heartland Campground

If you look closely at the right center of the picture, you can see Amazon.  Not exactly ‘across the street’.  From our door to Amazon, it takes us 8 minutes to walk (a little quicker on those 45 degree mornings!)

Amazon in the distance

Amazon in the distance

Here is a zoomed in photograph of Amazon from the roof of our fifth wheel.

Amazon

Amazon

This campground has space for 100 RV’s, of all sizes and shapes.  We opted for the farthest row from Amazon, as it overlooks some green space.  We chose our spot so Makena would be looking into trees, and not other people. It also is a good area to walk Makena and play some football (it’s always about the pets, you know!)

view out back window

view out back window

Amazon Updates

This week we attended the ‘all hands on deck’ meeting for the month of October.  It is the last all staff meeting for the year.  The first thing the general manager emphasized, was that this facility was not going to close.  Last month, it was announced the center in Coffeysville, Kansas will be closing in February.  (this is one of four sites they hire workcampers at).  All the employees at that location can transfer to any facility of their choosing.  Apparently since that announcement, the rumors were flying that this location would be next.  The GM emphasized they have just signed a new long-term lease here, and they were making many improvements to the facility, including the repaving of the parking lot, which has already begun.  That seemed to make a lot of people happy.

They also talked about the projections for peak season, as well as overtime.  It looks like we will be able to get the same amount of overtime as last year, for outbound (picking and packing).  Inbound (stowing and receiving), will have even more overtime opportunities.  They will be hiring another 1500 people for the peak season, so the building will be getting pretty full, as it was last year.

The employees celebrating their 15 years at this location were also announced to the group.  The GM said this location has the most employees with the longest tenure at Amazon.  In  addition to receiving an additional grant of $2000.00 in stock options, they received a $100 Visa gift card, and a nice jacket.  One of the gals wore an orange shirt with the words “15 years of hard time” on the back!  That got a laugh out of the group.  She said in 4 years she will be ‘paroled’!

The GM also talked about the bonus for the regular employees for October.  Apparently, every month that you have perfect attendance at Amazon, you get a 4% bonus.  During the months of October thru December, it is doubled.  And if the facility meets their production goal, there is a 6% bonus for the employees.  The GM said they are on track to meeting the production bonus, which means the employees with perfect attendance will receive a bonus of 14% for the month, based on their base pay.  That made a lot of people happy.

We haven’t been doing too much on our days off.  Just resting and getting caught up on some things we neglected this summer.

Quote for the day:  “All things are difficult, before they are easy.” – Thomas Fuller

 

 

 

Amazon, our 12 week fitness program

 

We started our fall work camping job, at Amazon, in Campbellsville, KY on September 30.  This is our 2nd year at Amazon (you can search through our September – December 2013 blogs if you want to read more on our first year, or on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail).  This year they changed the first week format a little, as we started on a Tuesday, with orientation and safety school.  We worked 5 hour shifts Wednesday thru Friday, in your assigned department. Saturday was an off day for everyone that started that week.  Week two you go to your regular work days, but only 5 hour shifts again, for “work hardening”.

We are group number 6 (they start a new group each week, until November 14th) and had about 35 people in our group, only 3 of us assigned to first shift picking.  Here is a  photo of our group:

Group #6

Group #6

We asked for, and received, the same shift/department as last year.  “A” shift, which is Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, from 6:30am – 5:00pm, with a 30 minute lunch break.  We will be Pickers again.

A little history about Amazon and Campbellsville, KY

The warehouse, or Fulfillment Facility as Amazon calls the building, is one of the 5 oldest facilities.  It was originally a Fruit of the Loom factory, and when they relocated to another country, it caused massive unemployment in this small community.  Amazon bought the facility in 1999, and just celebrated 15 years in this location.  Many of the employees that started with them, are still here.

And if you think back to 1999, how many of you were ordering items from Amazon?  They were mostly selling books back then, and now they sell just about everything.  As Amazon has grown, they have used all the space in this building, which makes for some challenges when picking items.  Things do not go in alphabetical or numeric order, like they would in a newer facility.  And even this year, they have added even more shelves in some areas.

Work camper positions at Amazon

Amazon divides up their positions into Inbound and Outbound areas. Inbound is Receiving and Stowing, outbound is Picking and Packing.  There is also ICQA, which is the quality control department. There are other jobs in these areas that they may transfer you to when needed.  Dan and I both did ICQA a few days last year (very hard on the knees), and Dan was in transship in the mornings a few times, which he enjoyed.  I was in gift wrap for one afternoon, which was horrible!  Amazon has very high standards for how a package should be wrapped, and no matter how hard I tried, my packages looked rumpled.   No matter where you are, the jobs are physical.  They run two shifts, 10 hours each.

In simple terms, Receiving unloads trucks and puts the merchandise on carts.  Stowers take the carts of merchandise and put it on the shelves.  There is no pattern to where the items go.

Pickers have a cart and a scanner, and go pick the items off the shelf, put them in a tote, and on to a conveyor belt.  The totes go to the various Packing departments, where they are sorted, boxed up, and sent on to be loaded on to the trucks.  Everything is bar-coded, and no customer information is ever displayed.

When you interview with Amazon, they make no secret of how strenuous the positions are.  Many  workcampers have said this is the hardest job they have ever done.  We both agree with that, and add that Picking is also the most boring job we have ever had.  But here we are for our 2nd year!  Why?

As the title of our blog implies, this is our 12 week fitness program.  Last year Dan lost 28 pounds and I lost 8 pounds, in 12 weeks, even with greatly increasing the amount of food we consumed.  Some people pay to join a gym, we have Amazon pay us to walk, and walk, and walk.

We enjoy Picking because you are left on your own to work.  It’s just you and your scanner (which we occasionally yell at!).  On average, you can walk about 10 miles plus a day in Picking.  There are 4 floors (Pick mods) in three buildings so you will be walking up and down the stairs as well.  Items are in bins, and your scanner will tell you where to go, what item is needed, and the quantity.  Some days you will spend an hour or two in the same area (pick mod), and other times you will be moving all over between the buildings.

All workcampers have to meet production standards.  They expect the workcampers to perform at 85% of what the regular full time employees do.  In Picking, this means if an employee should be picking 100 items per hour, we need to be picking 85 items.  All workcampers are expected to be at 100% for quality.  If a customer orders a red, medium shirt, you need to pick a red, medium shirt.  If you don’t, your scanner will beep at you.  Quality is very important, as every customer service is very important to Amazon.

 

Quote of the day:  “There’ll always be serendipity involved in discovery.” – Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon.com)

Having a “blast” and Sturgis too!

We have spent the past week listening to the roar of motorcycles, all over the Black Hills.  The 74th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is in full swing this week, and we have enjoyed meeting riders from around the world who are visiting Crazy Horse during their stay.  We also decided to take a few hours on our day off and visit the city of Sturgis.  They say attendance is down this year, estimating 200,000 – 450,000 riders are attending this years rally.  Since 2015 will be the 75th anniversary of the rally, they believe many riders are waiting until next year to attend.  And if you are planning on bringing your family to the Black Hills next summer, you may want to avoid the first two weeks in August, as they are expecting one million riders next year!

During the week of the Sturgis Rally, Crazy Horse had several additional blasts on the mountain for our guests.  You can view the blast from Monday, August 4th, by clicking HERE.  The video clip will show just how small 750 tons of granite is, compared to the overall size of the mountain.  We had thousands of visitors attending the blast on Monday.  I work in the Indian Room gift shop, which sells items such as jewelry, pottery, paintings, and craft items hand-made by Native Americans.  This week our visitors have been mostly male, and I have really come to appreciate how quick and efficient men are as shoppers!

I had one male guest try on one ring, and he said “I’ll take it”.  I was explaining to him that women usually need to look through all the ring trays, then ask their family/friends what they think.  It can take 15-30 minutes for women to shop for a ring.  He laughed, turned to his friend and asked “Does this ring make me look fat?!!!”

We also had a visit last week from our good friends Mike and Sue, whom we have known since college.  Their daughter Jordan had a cheerleading camp on the Eastern side of the state, so they ventured west for a few days.  It was a lot of fun catching up with them. Hopefully we can see them more often on our travels!  Go Jackrabbits!

Sue, Dan and Mike

Sue, Dan and Mike

I did have another unusual visitor this week.  It is not everyday that a couple comes in with their pet parrot, “Miss Bubba”!

image

Many of the “hard-core” bikers, are busy shopping for gifts for their grandchildren!  It has really been a fun week of work.  A lot of our visitors have commented that they never heard about our place, and were so thankful they stopped by.  They were also thankful that Crazy Horse didn’t raise their prices like many of the other attractions have done during the rally.  It is only $5.00 per rider, and many have been so overwhelmed during their visit, that they have made additional donations to the foundation.

I have told many of the riders the best thing they can do is tell others about Crazy Horse Memorial, because about 25-30% of the people who come to the ticket booth, refuse to pay and turn around.  They don’t want to pay for something they can see from the road, or something that is “not finished”.  They don’t understand all that there is to see and do, and think they are getting ripped off by having to pay.  Trust me, you will get your money’s worth.  So many people are so thankful for the memorial.

But enough about work, on to the fun and craziness at Sturgis!  We drove up scenic Highway 385, which goes into Deadwood, and then on to Sturgis.  It is about an hour drive taking this route, and we passed thousands of motorcyclists on the way.  It was a blast seeing so many riders on the road.

 

Hwy 385

Hwy 385

on the way to Sturgis

on the way to Sturgis

 

This wayside was a popular stop-off for the riders.

gotta go!

gotta go!

Downtown Sturgis had bikes lined up for blocks and blocks.

downtown Sturgis

downtown Sturgis

blocks full of bikes

blocks full of bikes

These were some of our favorites.

DSC01323 (1) DSC01318 (1) DSC01317 (1) DSC01311 (1) DSC01309 (1) DSC01301 (1)

very patriotic

very patriotic

 

This one can sure hold a lot of stuff!

Motorcycle RV?

Motorcycle RV?

Always travel with your pets!

Shilo

Shilo

There were many food vendors, selling all kinds of food (this is for you Mary Y!!!)

yummy!

yummy!

 

We also took some time to visit the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum, but since this blog is already long and full of photos, I will do a separate post on that.  Sturgis has a reputation for “anything goes”, and even though we were only there a few hours, during the afternoon, we did manage to see a few “unique” fashion accessories, as well as interesting apparel choices (note:  these are a little more “R” rated photos, so proceed at your own risk!)

not the food pasties

not the food pasties

supporting Breast Cancer!

supporting Breast Cancer!

Full body tattoos is very popular:

IMG_20140807_131212_546-1 IMG_20140807_140424_924 (1) Many bikers wear chaps when they are riding, and there are certainly many looks with the chaps:

DSC01326 (1) IMG_20140807_141352_625-1

We had a great time visiting Sturgis during the rally.  We pray that all the riders have safe travels home.

Quote for the day:  “You do not need a therapist if you own a motorcycle, any kind of motorcycle!” – Dan Aykryod

 

 

 

 

A year of reflection

 “To never take that first leap is the biggest failure many of us make”

It was one year ago today that I left my job as a CT Technologist at a Level One Trauma Center. Working at a hospital helps to really put life in perspective.  Many people have plans to do things when they retire, but sadly, not everyone lives to see that day.  This was one of the reasons we decided to throw caution to the wind, and live our dream now.

I have spent the morning pondering all the changes we have made in the last year, and trying to come up with a list of things we would have done differently.

  • Instead of getting both cell phones through Verizon, we would have had one from Verizon, and one from AT&T.  That way we would have better coverage and internet options.  We will probably make that change next year when our contract is up with Verizon.

Other than the cell phone, we would not have done anything else differently.  Then I started to come up with a list of things that I don’t like about our new lifestyle.

  • Going to a new person/place every time I get a haircut is the only thing that I really do not like.  As Dan has told me a few times, “Don’t worry, your hair will grow back”!

We have been asked many times over the past year if we had any regrets, and we have none.  We have met so many wonderful people in the past year, and have seen and experienced many wonderful things.  It is hard to believe that only one year has passed since I stopped working a regular job, and started working seasonal work-camping jobs.

The “perks” of work camping:

Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse Memorial

Taking time to relax and play is also important:

IMG_2516

Learning new skills:

learning pottery

learning pottery

hmm, a potential workamping job?

hmm, a potential workamping job?

 

learning to Poi dance

learning to Poi dance

 

For several years, I have been following a number of blogs related to the RV lifestyle, and it has been fun getting to meet many of the wonderful folks who have been so helpful in sharing their experiences.   Our fellow Crazy Horse co-workers, Phil and Rudee of Workin RVers, and Steve and Joan of FOSJ,  fellow Amazon co-workers Karen and Al of Wish Upon an RV Star, Chris and Cherie of Technomadia, whom we met in Cedar Key, Florida.  Someday we hope to meet up with Nick and Terry of The Gypsy Journal, as well as Howard and Linda of RV-Dreams.  All of these great folks have the same thing in common, they are earning a living on the road, and enjoying their life to the fullest.

We have also learned to take time to watch the sunset..

Cedar Key Sunset

Cedar Key Sunset

and appreciate it when you are around for the next day’s sunrise…

IMG_20140315_193022_993

 

Quote for the Day:  “Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.” – Robin Sharma

 

 

 

 

 

A foggy visit with friends

My friend Angie and her co-worker Brenda took an extended weekend to drive from Wisconsin to the Black Hills to see Mt. Rushmore, and participate in the 10K Crazy Horse Volksmarch. This was a ‘bucket list’ item for Brenda. They arrived on Friday, June 6, about the same time the fog rolled in for the weekend!

We headed off to “see” Mount Rushmore National Park, in Keystone. Admission to the park is free, but there is an $11.00 fee for a parking pass, which is good for the entire year. Dan and I plan on returning to the park, and I will have a more detailed blog on Mount Rushmore at a later date.

When we arrived it was misty and a thick blanket of fog covered up the Black Hills. The entrance to the park takes you through the Avenue of Flags, which has a flag for every state, in alphabetical order. On a clear day, you can see the Presidents in the background.

Avenue of the Flags

Avenue of the Flags

 

The viewing deck provided this lovely view!

 

where are they?

where are they?

The fog in the Black Hills comes and goes, so we decided to check out the small museum and watch a short film on the making of Mount Rushmore, while waiting to see if the fog would lighten up.

cell phones off, please

cell phones off, please

 

And as luck would have it, the fog lifted enough to see George, Tom, Teddie and Abe!

 

hi guys

hi guys

After that, we went back to Hill City and had a nice dinner at the famous Alpine Inn, which offers two choices for dinner: a 6 ounce bacon wrapped tenderloin or a 9 ounce one.

On Saturday, Brenda, Angie and I met up at Crazy Horse to participate in the annual Volksmarch, which is held annually the first full weekend of June. Crazy Horse also hosts another Volksmarch in late September, during the annual Buffalo round-up at Custer State Park. The Black Hills Volkssport Association organizes the event. The walk is a 10K (6.2 miles) that goes through the woods around Crazy Horse, up to the top of the arm, and then back down with the finish line at the Visitors Center.

 

let the fun begin

let the fun begin

The terrain in some spots was a bit challenging, but even with the fog, the scenery was nice.

 

rocky terrain

rocky terrain

many hills to climb

many hills to climb

let's go girls

let’s go girls

The AT&T cellular “tree” was mixed in to the woods. (Now if Verizon would just put a branch on this, we could get service out here!)

AT&T's tree

AT&T’s tree

 

After an hour of walking, we got our first glimpse of the mountain.

 

first glimpse

first glimpse

A short while later, we were making it around to the back of the mountain.

 

around the corner

around the corner

The top is finally near!

 

almost there

almost there

Congratulations Angie and Brenda!! Another check mark on the bucket list!! And the fog cleared for a few minutes at the top…..

 

congrats Angie & Brenda

congrats Angie & Brenda

 

….but soon returned!

 

the fog is back

the fog is back

We began our descent to the bottom, going past the tunnel under the arm.

 

tunnel under the arm

tunnel under the arm

And on to the finish line!!

 

10K complete!!

10K complete!!

If you are interested in seeing more photos of the view from the top of Crazy Horse, please check out our prior blog post from our orientation day when we took a van ride to the top (click here).

After we finished, I headed back to the camper, as Dan and I had to work from 2pm to close, and Angie and Brenda continued exploring the Black Hills. It was a short, but very enjoyable visit with Angie and Brenda. By late Sunday afternoon, the fog finally lifted, but they had already began the drive back to Wisconsin.

 

Quote for the day: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” – Vivian Green

A little history of Crazy Horse Memorial

Kachina

Kachina

As promised in my last blog, I would provide some history on Crazy Horse Memorial, where we will be working this summer.   Korczak Ziolkowski was born in Boston, and resided in Connecticut. In 1939 he came out to the Black Hills to work as an assistant to Gutzon Borglum, who was in charge of carving Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Korczak was fired from the job, and the letter from Borglum is on display at Crazy Horse Memorial.

Korczak went back home and worked on a sculpture, Paderewski: Study of an Immortal, which won first prize for sculpture at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear invited Korczak to carve Crazy Horse Memorial, and wrote “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, also.” Korczak did meet with the Chiefs in 1940, and began studying Crazy Horse and the Native American culture.

There is a photo of Korczak meeting with Chief Standing Bear in the museum.

Korczak and the Chief

Korczak and the Chief

From 1943 – 1945, Korczak volunteered for service in WWII, and accepted the Indians invitation after the war ended. He used his own money to purchase the land in the Black Hills and he starts building a log home on the property in 1947. He had several volunteers helping, among them Ruth Ross, who came from his home state of Connecticut.

June 3, 1948 the first blast occurred on the mountain. Korczak promised the memorial would be a non-profit project, and he would never take a salary or government funding. This is a photograph of what the mountain looked like in 1948.

1948 before 1st blast

1948 before 1st blast

And some photos over the years:

By 1982, the tunnel is visible, the top of the mountain was blasted off for the arm, and the right side of the mountain was blasted off, as they are beginning to go down the mountain to block out the head of the horse.

1982

1982

By 1993, work had switched to focus on the head of Crazy Horse, which is partially completed.  The tunnel under the arm now goes through to the other side.

1993

1993

By 2005, the face was complete, and a substantial portion of the right side of the mountain has been removed, as they continue going deeper to carve out the head.

2005

2005

This is a photo how it looks today:

May 15, 2014 view

May 15, 2014 view

Korczak worked alone on the mountain for several years, and suffered multiple injuries and several heart attacks over the years. He married Ruth in 1950, and they had 10 children. Korczak passed away in 1982 at the age of 74. His wife took charge of all activities at the memorial. In 1987 the focus shifted from carving the horse’s head, to the face of Crazy Horse, at the direction of Ruth.

In 1998, the face was completed, in time for the 50th anniversary of the first blast on the mountain. Due to some substantial donations in recent years, work has accelerated and continues on the head of the horse and the hand of the outstretched arm. They have been blasting down the mountain, and are around 340 feet down, to block out the head. It may, at times, look like nothing is being done, but there are photos in the visitor’s area that show the progress over the years, and it is quite dramatic. Since the memorial is carved in the round (3-dimensional), some of the work is not visible from the viewing deck, as it is on the back side of the mountain.

There is so much history involved in the memorial, and I simply cannot do justice to the story in this short blog. Both of us have talked to many visitors over the last several days of work that were amazed at the story behind the memorial, how big the place is, and how difficult a task it is to blast and carve out a mountain into Crazy Horse. If you want to learn more, please visit their website at Crazyhorsememorial.org

WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO DO?

When you arrive at the memorial, we recommend you visit the excellent movie playing in the theatres that documents the history of the memorial. Then you can browse through The Indian Museum of North America and look at many Native American exhibits. There are two gift shops, one displaying items all hand crafted by Native American Indians, and the other with your standard souvenirs. The memorial has made a special effort to try to purchase items made in the United States, whenever possible.

museum

museum

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Here are two of our co-workers, hard at work in the gift shop!

 

Ruth and Rudee

Ruth and Rudee

lot's of t-shirts

lot’s of t-shirts

The original 1:34th scale model made by Korczak is on display on the large viewing deck, and is a popular spot for photos.

1/34th scale model

1/34th scale model

There is a covered porch area that has a scale model of what the entire complex will look like in the future, along with a large bin of rocks that have come from the mountain blasting’s. The rocks are free (donations accepted), and reminded me of Lucy’s rock collection in the movie “The Long, Long Trailer.” You can then enter into part of the original log home of the Ziolkowski’s, which has many antique items on display. There is also a two-story Native American Educational and Cultural Center and Korczak’s artist studio.

Mrs. Ziolkowski is a huge sports fan, and has many sports memorabilia on display, including a size 24 shoe from Shaquille O’Neal.  They also made a tracing of the shoe on the ground, and I put my foot in the outline for comparison.

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There is also the Laughing Waters restaurant and snack bar, which has an extensive menu, including gluten-free and vegetarian selections. In the summer, they have various Native American artists perform concerts and dances on the viewing deck. And thanks to a generous donation from the Ray and Joan Kroc Foundation, (founder of McDonalds), they have a very popular nightly laser light show on the mountain. We are looking forward to seeing that when it starts up at the end of this month.

Quote for the day: “When the legends die, the dreams end. When the dreams end, there is no more greatness.” – Korczak Ziolkowski

 

Orientation day at Crazy Horse

Wednesday, May 14 was “back to work” day!! We were both excited to start our new adventure for the summer, and it will be nice to have money coming “in”, instead of always going “out”. The first day is just orientation, filling out tax forms (only Federal since South Dakota has no state income tax), along with going over the basic rules that you have with any job.

Dan’s mom always took a ‘first day of school’ photo, so I thought I should get a ‘first day of work’ photo to continue the tradition!

Back to work!

Back to work!

 

We watched an excellent film on the history of Crazy Horse in one of the 2 theatre’s in the Visitor’s Center of the Memorial. If you ever come to Crazy Horse, we highly recommend viewing the movie as the first thing to do in the complex. It goes over the history of the Memorial, and has interviews with the sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski (pronounced ‘jewel-cuf-ski’), who passed away in 1982, as well as his wife Ruth.

Then we took a tour of the many buildings in the complex, and then headed back to our meeting room for more orientation. We had an excellent complimentary lunch in the Laughing Waters Restaurant, followed by the highlight of the day, a van tour to the top of the monument.

I plan on a separate post about the history of Crazy Horse, as well as what is all available to see and do on-site. There simply is too much to cover in one post.

A FEW FACTS ABOUT THE MONUMENT

The first blast on the mountain was June 3, 1948, with 10 tons removed. When completed, the memorial will be 563 feet high, and 641 feet long in the round. The face of Crazy Horse is 87 feet, 6 inches. In perspective, the heads on Mt. Rushmore are 60 feet tall.

Korczak refused to take any money from the state and federal government. This policy remains in effect today, and the family has turned down several grants from the government. He did not want the memorial to remain unfinished, like Mt. Rushmore, after they accepted money from the government. The original plan for Mt. Rushmore were for more complete profiles, at a height of 285 feet. Another difference between the two, is Mt. Rushmore was carved on a mountain and Crazy Horse is blasting a mountain into a monument.

The memorial is supported entirely through admission fees, gift shop sales and private donations.

THE RIDE TO THE TOP

Our orientation group was able to take a van tour to the top of the memorial. For the general public, there are two ways you can get to the top. Twice a year, they have a Volksmarch, where the public is invited to walk to the top for a small donation of $3.00.   It is 6.2 miles (10K) round trip. The other way to the top is with a private van tour, which costs $120.00, with $100.00 going as a tax-deductible donation to the non-profit foundation.

The roads are all crushed gravel, made from the rock blasted off the mountain. There is a ‘graveyard’ of old equipment, that they use for parts to repair current machinery.

The graveyard

The graveyard

There are deer and mountain goats that live up in the hills around the memorial. We saw some deer, along with this little critter. It is called a Marmot, which is similar to a woodchuck. The animals don’t seem to be bothered by the regular blasts.

Marmot

Marmot

They are working on the hand, and the nose of the horse. This view of the outline of the hand is not visible to the general public, as it is on the back side of the monument.

working on the hand

working on the hand

This picture is directly on top of the hand, and shows the red lines where they will be blasting out for the hand.

markings for future blast

markings for future blast

The face of Crazy Horse.

standing on arm

standing on arm

We had to wear hard hats, as they were working below.

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This is an old shark tank which was donated to the memorial. When they are blasting on top, the workers will stay inside this to avoid getting struck by flying debris.

sharks?!

sharks?!

The view from the top….spectacular!

view from the top

view from the top

To put the size of the memorial in perspective, this is the view from our campground…

 

view from our campground

view from our campground

And this is the view of our campground from the top of Crazy Horse.

 

CG from Crazy Horse

CG from Crazy Horse

This is the view of the visitors complex.

Visitors Complex

Visitors Complex

 

The rock formation below is where Korczak is buried, as well as his daughter Ann, who passed away in 2011.

burial site

burial site

 

We did make time at the end of the day to stop back into the restaurant to sample Kuchen, the state dessert of South Dakota, as well as some Indian Flat Bread. Both were delicious.

SD State Dessert!

SD State Dessert!

Indian Flat Bread

Indian Flat Bread

Dan commented that it was the best 1st day orientation that he has been a part of!

Quote for the Day:  “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Confucius

Initial impressions of the Black Hills

After 2 long days of driving (to stay ahead of the Winter Storm Watch), we arrived at Heritage Campground in Custer, SD in very heavy fog. Phil came over and welcomed us and we caught up on things since we last saw them at Amazon. Late Wednesday night it began snowing, and we were thankful we did not have to drive in the snow with the fifth wheel.

Heritage Village CG

Heritage Village CG

view from CG

view from CG

We can see Crazy Horse from the campground, even on a winter morning.

 

Crazy Horse from CG

Crazy Horse from CG

view from CG

view from CG

Makena and I were up early Thursday, taking pictures of the area from our campground, as well as scraping off a few snow-covered vehicles in the campground (I missed doing that all winter!). It was a beautiful and peaceful morning, and we are very happy we decided to come to the Black Hills for the summer. We have made a long ‘to do’ list of the area’s attractions that we plan on accomplishing this summer.

First, a little facts about our new ‘home’ state of South Dakota (remember, one should never stop learning!!). The population of the state is 814,180. Pierre (pronounced “peer”) is the capital, and the nickname is The Mount Rushmore State. The highest point is Harney Peak. At 7,242 feet it is the highest point east of the Rockies. The state dessert is Kuchen, a coffee cake. South Dakota is home to the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota. There are nine tribes from these three dialect, representing about 62,000 Native Americans.

We are in the area referred to as the Black Hills, as it encompasses 1.2 million acres of the Black Hills National Forest. The hills are primarily Ponderosa pines, and the valleys have Black Hills spruce. Many visitors to the area inquire about the orange trees in the forest, and those are the ones killed off by the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic. The population in the Black Hills area is around 250,000, with Rapid City being the ‘big city’ at 69,200 people.

Custer State Park, at 71,000 acres is also nearby, and is home to over 1300 bison, as well as elk, mountain goats, burros and pronghorn. It has lots of fishing, hiking, biking, canoe/kayaking and horseback riding available.

Thursday night we went out for dinner with Phil and Rudee, at a nice restaurant in Hill City, about 9 miles away. They drove us around the area, past Mt Rushmore (never gets old seeing that), and to check out the rock formations on the back side of the monument (since this is a PG blog, I probably should leave out those photos, but Dan put them on Makena’s Facebook page!!!). We stopped in for a brief tour at Crazy Horse, and met some wonderful co-workers. They really have a large complex with many interesting things to see and do. I will have much more on Crazy Horse after we start our jobs there.

Friday, once the snow started melting, we ventured out into the city of Custer, which is about 4 miles away, and checked out the area and did some grocery shopping at the local market. They will have a farmers market in town on Saturdays, starting in June, so we hope to check that out. Friday night we went out for a fish fry near Hill City, with two other couples that we will be working with, Dick and Cheryl, and Phil and Sandra. Phil and Sandra have been full-timing for 13 years!

Saturday we took a drive on 16A, which goes thru Custer State Park, and up to Iron Mountain Road, which is a very scenic 17 mile road, with 14 switchbacks, 3 tunnels and past the 4 Presidents. We basically had the road to ourselves, which made for a pleasant drive. We were able to stop and take pictures in the tunnels which is something that won’t happen once tourist season is in full bloom.

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Custer is famous for their buffalo, but we only saw two on this drive.

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There are several lakes in the park.

ready for fishing!

ready for fishing!

After leaving Custer State Park, you enter right into the National Forest.  On 16A, when you see the first park sign, that is when you get your first glimpse at Mt. Rushmore, from a distance.

Custer, SD

Custer, SD

Mt Rushmore is just above the hood of the truck.

Mt Rushmore in the distance

Mt Rushmore in the distance

Here is a closer view.

1st glimpse of Mt Rushmore

1st glimpse of Mt Rushmore

Black Hills

Black Hills

Black Hills & Presidents

Black Hills & Presidents

scenic views

scenic views

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are also some fun tunnels to go through, with two of them giving a view of Mount Rushmore.

 

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No problem with this tunnel

No problem with this tunnel

tunnel with a view

tunnel with a view

 

coming thru with Presidents in view

coming thru with Presidents in view

There is an overview/stop off where you can see Harney Peak in the distance.  They have several hiking trails to the top.  We are pondering the 6 mile round trip hike. ( I think it would be easy to do if we had a scanner and a cart to push and pretended we were at Amazon!)

 

Harney Peak

Harney Peak

Iron Mountain Road (16A) is a must-do drive, but don’t bring your RV!

Not an RV friendly road!

Not an RV friendly road!

 

After 16A, we turned West on Hwy 244, which goes right past Mt. Rushmore, so we took some more “drive-by” photos.

Mt Rushmore from Hwy 244

Mt Rushmore from Hwy 244

There is a turn-out down from the monument, where you can get a profile view of George Washington.

profile view

profile view

The scenery here is breathtaking and we look forward to exploring many parts of this majestic area. We would like to travel on the Needles Highway (Hwy 87), but there is one tunnel that has a width of 8’4”, and we did a rough measurement of our dually pickup, and we think it is 8’7”. So we will hold off on that drive for now!

Sunday was a cold, blustery day with constant winds around 25mph. So it was a perfect day to do laundry, and go through the many tourist brochures we had picked up. In the afternoon we visited with Steve and Joan and had a wonderful time getting to know them as well.

Monday we checked out the library in Custer, which not only has free wi-fi, but seems to be the social hub of the community, based on how chatty the librarians were with the patrons. It had the ambiance of a coffee shop, but no food or beverages allowed!

We took Makena on a long walk along the George S Mickelson Trail, and picked up annual passes at the visitors center in Custer. All user fees support the trail. The trail follows the old Deadwood to Edgemont Burlington Northern rail line, which was abandoned in 1983. The trail was originally called the Black Hills Burlington Northern Heritage Trail, but was renamed in 1993 after the death of Governor Mickelson, who supported the trail and dedicated the first 6 miles of it in 1991. All 108 miles of the trail were completed by 1998.

Tomorrow (Wednesday May 14) we have our orientation at Crazy Horse, and will find out what our schedule will be for the summer. We look forward to a fun summer getting to know our co-workers more, as well as visiting the many attractions in the area.

Quote for the Day:  “Once a year, go someplace you have never been before.” – Dalai Lama