Last Update: 2 January 2024
2 January 2024:
Our 2023 Christmas Letter in PDF format is now ready for reading or download.
16 December 2022:
Our 2022 Christmas Letter in PDF format is now ready for reading or download.
16 December 2021:
Our 2021 Christmas Letter in PDF format is now ready for reading or download.
Links to Christmas letters from years past are available here.
16 December 2018: An article in The Recorder about the Valley Conservation Council naming me their 2018 Conservator of the Year may be of interest to some people. This came as a result of deeding my farm to VCC for preservation and for use in environmental education.
The above photo is from the July 1988 PSOC Reunion. If you would like to save the full-res version of this photo, right-click on it and select "Save Image As" or whatever similar language your browser offers. Photo by Chris Blue, scanned from the original Kodacolor 35mm negative. The full-size image is 22.7" x 11.4" including a one-inch white border.
This great celebration was held just before Char and I got married and while we were in the process of leaving State College to move to Virginia. It came as I was starting my 25th year with the Penn State Outing Club Canoe Division, at first as a novice paddler, then as a trip leader and officer in the club, and for the final dozen years or so as Adviser to the club and coach for quite a few up-and-coming slalom racers. This was an exciting time in my life. I am glad to have found this photo languishing in my files and now to have the ability to share it with others.
18 December 2015: Changing this paragraph from future tense to past tense — There was a Memorial Service and Celebration of Life for Char on 25 April 2015, not here at our farm in Mustoe as advertised, but at the Bolar Rutitan Club seven miles south, due to inclement weather. There was music and food and conversation and camaraderie. We had some historic photos posted and a display of some of her craft projects but not nearly as many as we had in the cabin. Over 100 friends and family from all over the country attended, some from as far away as Orcas Island, Washington. Family and some friends returned to the cabin after the main event and partying continued into the night. It was a fun and fitting sendoff for my lovely lady.
I will write more about this and other events and continue to update Char’s Page as time permits. Meanwhile, please look at my 2015 Christmas Letter in PDF format, which is now ready for reading or download.
One thing that did not make it into my annual letter was two trips to the Roanoke area to watch the return of N&W class J locomotive 611. The engine was rebuilt in Spencer, NC, and ran from there to Roanoke on 30 May. I caught it on the Old-97 grade south of Lynchburg and again ascending Blue Ridge on its way into Roanoke. It ran on several trips during June that I did not get to see but I was back in Roanoke on 3-5 July, when it ran from Roanoke to Lynchburg and return each morning and from Roanoke to Walton and return each afternoon. The morning runs took it over Blue Ridge and the afternoon runs featured the famous Christiansburg Grade and Montgomery Tunnel.
I met up with my college friend, Bill Gordon, and his son, Will. We went to the same sites most of the time. We opted to set up at one site for each run rather than chasing to try to get multiple sites at the risk of not getting there in time or, perhaps, getting a speeding ticket. This lower-stress method gave us four opportunities each day — going and coming, morning and afternoon. There are not many sites that allow one to get good pictures and sound without interference from cars and people. We managed to find two obscure sites with no one around and several others that allowed good scenes with a little cooperation among rail fans. I stayed at Will’s place at Surber, VA, on Friday night and with Kathy and Jeff in Roanoke on Saturday night. It was a great weekend.
6 February 2015: It is with great sadness that I must say that my good and dear Charolette died on 19 December 2014 after an extended battle with cancer. I will never be able to remove her name from the page title, above. I have started a new page to tell Char’s Story, which will be under construction for some time. The basics are there now, including links to her obit and other documents that were previously listed here.
23 December 2013: Well, so much for posting stories “more or less as they happen.” I have not posted anything since March until today. Our 2013 Christmas Letter in PDF format is ready for reading or download. I have begun work on our News Page for 2013 and will be adding to it over the next few weeks . . . . Well, that was the plan but events caught up with good intentions. I made only one update, in February. Maybe, eventually, the Under Construction sign will be gone. The News Page provides a more detailed look at everything in our Christmas letter and more, including lots of photos.
Links to Christmas letters from years past.
The house renovation project that has taken center stage for several years is finally completed, not that we won’t find more to do as time goes by. It has resulted in a new bathroom, laundry room, kitchen, dining room, and pantry, as well upgraded electrical service, insulation, a solar hot-water system, and radiant heat in the floor of the new part of the house. Most recently we have regraded the front lawn and repaired and painted the exterior of the house. The photo at right shows off its new coat of paint in October 2010. The solar collectors for our hot-water system are visible on the roof.
Following are links to the various project pages:
Our News Summary for 2012 tells of our various projects around the place, a couple of caving trips, the great wind storm (derecho), and a railfan trip, plus pix of the usual array of flora and fauna that we see on a daily basis.
Our news summary for 2011 has lots of photos and tales of all of our activities [1.4 MB]. We bought a new tract of land, hosted a family reunion, built more fence (as usual), remodeled Char’s bathroom, repainted the cabin and hosted a group of high-school biology students on a field trip. The biggest news of the year was the wedding of daughter Kathy to Jeff Smith in October.
Our news summary for 2010 has even more photos than last year so it is 1.34 MB. That will take a few minutes with a dial-up connection. Fortunately, not too many folks still rely on dial-up. Char went to Washington to visit her sisters on Orcas Island. We made several shorter trips, built more fence, finished a complete repainting of the house, wrecked one car and bought a new one. John got into a new caving project and Char resumed violin lessons.
Our news summary for 2009 has more and larger photos than in previous years. [620 kB] It is still a reasonable download, even for dial-up users. Char traveled by train to Minnesota to visit daughter Stephanie and attend the high-school commencement of our youngest grandson. I did very little caving this year. We built fence, painted most of the house, and bought a new car.
Our news summary for 2008 is somewhat smaller than recent years [125 kB] despite major happenings. I did a lot of caving early in the year, then spent most of the rest of it remodeling our kitchen. We got our solar collectors up and running, Kathy bought a house, and Char had another stroke, more serious than the first one, which put her in the hospital and rehab for sic weeks.
Our news summary for 2007 has lots of photos of our year’s events. [240 kB] Cleo died and we became great-grandparents. We began remodeling our house and bought a new tractor. John went on quite a few caving trips while Char spent most of her time battling the after-effects of her stroke. Much more.
Our news summary for 2006 has lots of pix. [190 kB] Clarence died, a granddaughter married, Char had a stroke, and Cleo got sick — plus all of the usual farm chores, musical events, and caving ventures.
In 2005-06 we added a large porch, nearly surrounding the cabin. This page tells more than anyone would want to know about this project. [About 500 kB]
News from 2005 includes Char’s big trip, a fence building project, starting construction of the new porch at the cabin, cutting firewood and playing music, and ends with the sale of our business.
Char began playing with the Allegheny Highlands Orchestra in Covington in 2005. She took some time off from this due to her strokes but participated again in the fall of 2009.
Char made a cross-country trip in May–June 2005 to visit relatives in Kansas, Washington, and Minnesota. Click on the small photo at left to open a photo-diary of her trip. [375 kB]
News from 2004 includes our new tractor shed, fence building, land and road improvements, Char’s musical endeavors, and the national Christmas tree.
One of our annual projects is maple syrup making, or “sugaring off” as it is called locally. This page takes you through the process from tapping the tree to bottling the syrup. Recently updated for 2007 with the addtion of a few new photos. [310 kB]
Click on the small photo of Rudy at left to open a photo gallery of our cats. [460 kB]
Most of our friends know that I have been a rail fan for many years and that I have thousands of photos of trains. I have a page with a gallery of train pix, which is now entirely of a trip in March 2002 on the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley just west of here. I will add more to this page when I have some time. There are a few pix of Nickel Plate 765 near Williamson, WV, in our 2012 News Page.
Even before I was a rail fan I was a caver. My Caving Page presently has some historical photos of Butler Cave in Bath County, VA, a trip report for Sinnett Cave, a spring 2007 digging project seeking new caves, and detailed reports on the Water Sinks Subway, a large cave discovered in October 2007. It is owned by Phil and Charlotte Lucas but I was involved in some of its exploration and mapping, which was pretty much completed by the spring of 2008.
In 2010 we worked on a new cave called the Wishing Well, only a half mile from Water Sinks. It involved lots and lots of digging to get in but it now is approaching five miles of surveyed passage. I’ve been on several of these trips. A report has been written for each trip, accompanied by many of Phil Lucas’s fine photos. Phil has written a book describing the discovery and exploration of Wishing Well, Water Sinks, Helictite and other caves on and around his property in southern Highland County.
The map at right shows the extent of the Wishing Well Cave in relation to surface features as it was known on 12 December 2010. The entrance is right in the owner’s front yard! The entrance pit is lined with a large steel pipe. Access is via a 50-foot ladder climb. The section between the entrance and the first major junction on the map is tight and very tough going. From there it opens up a bit and some of the passages are quite large. We pretty well wrapped up the exploration and mapping by mid-summer 2011, at which point the total length was 4.87 miles. There are very few leads left, all of which are difficult and not very promising. Still, there is known to be an air connection to nearby Helictite Cave. Explored passages in the two caves are separated by about 300 feet horizontally and 60 feet vertically at the closest point. As of December 2012 there is an active digging project in Helectite with the goal of making a connection and possibly getting into unknown passages in the gap between the two caves.
Our annual Christmas letters provide a capsule of events year by year.
2023 Christmas Letter in PDF format. [560 kB]
2022 Christmas Letter in PDF format. [560 kB]
2021 Christmas Letter in PDF format. [686 kB]
2020 Christmas Letter in PDF format. [538 kB]
2019 Christmas Letter in PDF format. [373 kB]
2018 Christmas Letter in PDF format. [323 kB]
2017 Christmas Letter in PDF format. [412 kB]
2016 Christmas Letter in PDF format. [190 kB]
2015 Christmas Letter in PDF format. [247 kB]
2014 Christmas Letter in PDF format. [152 kB]
2013 Christmas Letter in PDF format. [135 kB]
2012 Christmas Letter in PDF format. [440 kB]
2011 Christmas Letter in PDF format. [670 kB]
2010 Christmas Letter in PDF format. [450 kB]
2009 Christmas Letter in PDF format. [250 kB]
2008 Christmas Letter in PDF format. [200 kB]
2007 Christmas Letter in PDF format. [136 kB]
2006 Christmas Letter in PDF format. [47 kB]
We did not send a letter in 2005 due to moving the business.
2004 Christmas Letter in PDF format. [155 kB]
2003 Christmas Letter in PDF format. [174 kB]
2002 Christmas Letter in PDF format. [198 kB]
2001 Christmas Letter in PDF format. [153 kB]
2000 Christmas Letter in html format. [36 kB]
1999 Christmas Letter in html format. [58 kB]
Several people have asked about our Conservation Easement so we are posting it here for anyone interested. Such easements are an excellent way to protect one’s property from development beyond one’s lifetime and granting an easement provides some immediate tax advantages. Studies are now underway on the rare botanical communities in our wetlands. The subject of another eventual update!
My mother, Mary Heath Sweet, died on 15 July 2003. Please see her web page for her obituary and information about her memorial service as well as photo galleries and other material. She had been in declining health for some time so her passing was expected; however, it came more suddenly than expected due to a fall, which resulted in a broken hip. The hip was repaired but at her age and condition she was unable to make a recovery and died quietly in her sleep three days after being transferred from the hospital to a nursing home.
Road concerns have been pushed to the back burner by the threat of industrial wind development, but we remain concerned about unnecessary and environmentally unsound road projects scarring our landscape. The major issue is US 250, our main artery, but there have been some egregious projects on our secondary roads, shown here in 2002.
One of our best friends in Highland County died in October 2001. For those who knew David Allen I have prepared a rather extensive biography.
In early February 2001 Char went to Anacortes, WA, to be with her sister, Thelma Kallam, to help out as Thelma’s husband, Ralph, passed on from incurable cancer. She arrived just in time, as Ralph died only two days later. She stayed for a couple more weeks to help Thelma prepare to move to Orcas Island to live with her other sister, June. Obituary for Ralph Kallam. Other events from the winter of 2001.
We hosted a family gathering, or mini-reunion, in July 2000. Char celebrated by breaking her leg.
In 1999 we reconstructed our dilapidated little cabin. It turned into quite a project but it was finished by mid-2000 except for some porches, which have since been completed. We continue to be very pleased with the result. If you come to visit you will get to experience it first hand. [~400 kB]
Reconstruction of the dam was our major project for 1998. This is the story of a project that did not turn out exactly as we had hoped but it seems finally to have come to a happy ending. [~280 kB]
It occurs to me that perhaps some of our friends may not know exactly where we live. The map at right highlights Highland County. We are very close to the WV border, in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains at 2400 feet elevation. Highland has the lowest population and second highest elevation of any county east of the Mississippi River. The closest city is 50 miles away over four mountains. During the summer of 2000 we watched TV reports of triple-digit temperatures and drought in the plains. Here we had lots of rain and the high temperature in 2000 was 85°. For a closer look go to Google Maps. You can also see a closeup view of our local topo map. On this view we are right in the middle of the map. To see a wider area, select the 1:250k series and 1:1,000,000 scale, click “Update Map” and you will see most of Highland County, with us still right in the middle.
J R S
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