Posted in Articles

Lewis and Clark (virtual) Ride: The City of Jefferson

[This is part four in a series of articles documenting my virtual bike ride across America, following the route of the Lewis and Clark expedition. For previous posts, click here.]

Three weeks after beginning their journey westward, Lewis and Clark reached the site of modern-day Jefferson City. There were no white settlers in this area – just water, trees and rocks. In fact, the Corps of Discovery passed the last European settlement right after shoving off from St. Charles (read the first piece in the series for more).

Crossing the Missouri River, just north of Jefferson City. (Google Street View image)

For the rest of their 3,000-plus mile journey, the explorers were literally in Indian country. The area south of the Missouri River was Osage territory – or “Osarge” as Clark writes in his journals. While they frequently came across Indians along their route, the expedition never did make contact with the Osage.

While Clark typically stayed with the keelboat, Capt. Lewis would often go ashore and explore. It was in the Jefferson City area where they began to find species of plants and animals that were – at the time – completely new to science. For example, in addition to finding “many curious Plants & Srubs [sic],” the corps also caught several large rats in this area that had never before been described, possibly the eastern woodrat (Neotoma floridana).

After Lewis and Clark returned from mapping their way to the Pacific, the United States began carving states out of the Louisiana Territory. When Louisiana became the 18th state in 1812, the remaining area purchased from Napoleon became known as the Missouri Territory. Then in 1819 the Territory of Arkansaw (yes, spelled the way it sounds until a few years after its founding) split off.

Continue reading “Lewis and Clark (virtual) Ride: The City of Jefferson”

Posted in Articles

Lewis and Clark (Virtual) Ride: Biking the Rhineland

In this installment, I pedaled my way through the Rhineland, stopping short of Jefferson City. My route took me just north of Hermann, Mo., which is named after the German hero Hermann der Cherusker –  or Arminius as he was known to the Romans. In 9 A.D., Hermann commanded the coalition of Germanic tribes that annihilated three Roman legions (killing some 20,000 troops) in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest – one of the most decisive victories in military history.

Looking west from the Christopher S. Bond Bridge, just north of Hermann, Mo. (Google Street View image)

1,828 years later (and a couple decades after Louis and Clark paddled through) the German Settlement Society of Philadelphia found the region similar to the wine country around the Rhine River and established the settlement of Hermann, Missouri. Hence the nickname, the Rhineland.

Much of my ride so far has looked just like this: farmland to my left (south) with hills and trees to my right. While not breathtaking, Missouri scenery makes you appreciate little things, like the road, hills, and clouds coming together here. I am definitely looking forward to some city scenery when I roll through Jefferson City. (Google Street View image)

Private Joseph Whitehouse, recruited by Lewis from Capt. Daniel Bissell’s company of the First Infantry Regiment at Fort Kaskaskia, noted in his journal that the Gasconade River (which enters the Missouri River just west of Hermann) was 104 miles upriver from where the Corps of Discovery began their expedition. Over that distance, the Missouri river drops 115 feet between the Gasconade and the Mississippi Rivers – roughly a foot of drop per mile.

Continue reading “Lewis and Clark (Virtual) Ride: Biking the Rhineland”

Posted in Articles

Lewis and Clark Expedition packed a ton of guts

[Originally published at]

One thing to remember when you are studying history is that when we look at things that have happened, we view them from a perspective where we know not only the details, but also the end result. To the people that participated in the events, it’s a whole other story. If you really want to get the most out of history, put yourself in the shoes of the people who lived it and try to imagine what it must have been like without historic hindsight. A great example would be the Lewis and Clark Expedition: over 200 years later, we know how far they went, the route they took, and when they got back. Lewis and Clark didn’t know any of these things; only that they were headed west. They were on a journey of unknown distance, through unfriendly territory, with nothing other than what they could shoot and carry. And if they did manage to make it to the Pacific Ocean, they had to turn around and do it all over again.

With another war looming between France and Britain, Napoleon needed money to fund his army and sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States, which they had recently acquired from the Spanish. For just $15 million, President Thomas Jefferson had doubled the size of our country.

But Jefferson had his eyes set even further west; he wanted to find a route across the Louisiana Territory, through the Rocky Mountains – called the Stony Mountains in Jefferson’s era – and on to the Pacific Ocean. Knowing he will need a reliable team of disciplined professionals, he turns to the U.S. Army. Jefferson picks his personal secretary, Capt. Meriwether Lewis, to lead the expedition, and sends for experts to train Lewis in navigation, field medicine, zoology, and botany to give the 29-year-old Virginia native all the knowledge he will need to prevail in the wilderness.

Click the image to watch a clip of my appearance this week on CRTV’s Experience Matters, where I discussed the Lewis and Clark expedition

Continue reading “Lewis and Clark Expedition packed a ton of guts”

Posted in Articles

Lewis and Clark (Virtual) Ride: The Weinstrasse

The second leg of my virtual ride across the United States continues along a stretch of Highway 94 known as the Weinstrasse (German for “wine road”). To my left is the Missouri River and the scenery shifts from rolling, scenic hills through Missouri wine country to flat river bottomland. Today, the Charette Creek flows into the Missouri River across from Washington, Mo. – which was named after George Washington, who at the time was seven years into retirement from government service when the Corps of Discovery passed through the area. Back then, a Spanish log fort named San Juan del Misuri (St. John of the Missouri) occupied the site of what would become the settlement of Washington’s Landing when a ferry set up operation in 1814.

Captivating scenery on the “Weinstrasse” (German for Wine Road) near Aurora, Mo. (Bing Maps image)

In 1804, the Charette Creek emptied into the Missouri some seven miles upstream. When Lewis and Clark set up camp in this area on May 25, 1804, this was the site of a tiny French village named La Charette – the last white settlement the Corps of Discovery would meet on their trip west. Nearly two-and-a-half years later, the weary explorers were overjoyed when they reached La Charette, knowing they were almost to the finish line.

Continue reading “Lewis and Clark (Virtual) Ride: The Weinstrasse”

Posted in Articles

Lewis and Clark (Virtual) Ride: Daniel Boone’s old stomping grounds

[Note: This is part two of a multi-part series covering my (virtual) bike ride across America, following in the footsteps of the Lewis and Clark expedition. For part one, click here.]

Capt. William Clark, along with a crew of about 40 “robust (Young Backwoodsmen of Character) helthy hardy young men” (as Clark writes in his journal), left Camp Dubois on May 14, 1804 and reached St. Charles two days later. The Corps of Discovery spent the next six days in St. Charles while they waited for Capt. Meriwether Lewis to wrap up some last-minute expedition business in St. Louis.

A view upriver from the Veterans Memorial Bridge, spanning the Missouri River west of St. Charles, Mo. (Google Street View image)

In those days, Clark writes that St. Charles consisted of, “abot 450 Inhabetents principally frinch [French], those people appear pore and extreemly kind.”

Clark clearly had a way with words and his journal contains many occurrences of spelling the same thing multiple ways – sometimes even in the same paragraph. I believe “Sioux” is spelled around 27 different ways in his journal and I also seem to remember reading that Clark found it difficult to respect a man that only knew one way to spell a word.

Despite having only been on the river for two days, the crew had already reached the last town they would see for the next two years. So while they waited for Lewis, the men made the most of themselves by dancing and drinking, and their behavior caught up with them. Clark had to convene a court martial for three soldiers: William Warner, Hugh Hall, and John Collins, who stood accused of being absent without leave. Collins also was accused of disorderly conduct at a ball and then showing disrespect to Capt. Clark. Warner and Hall were both found guilty, but the punishment was dropped for their otherwise good conduct.

Collins wasn’t so lucky.

Clark writes that the “Prisnair [prisoner] is Guilty of all the charges alledged against him it being a breach of the rules & articles of War and do Sentence him to receive fifty lashes on his naked back.”

Fortunately it wasn’t all business for Clark: on the 20th he writes, “Seven Ladies visit me to day.” Well done, sir. But as for me and my virtual ride, there will be no balls, lashes, or visits from ladies. Just a stationary bike and some scenery on the screen.

On the 22nd, Lewis and Clark shoved off from St. Charles to three cheers from the “Inhabetents.” As I leave St. Charles, I have to leave the flat Missouri River Valley behind and make a 400 foot climb up Pitman Hill Road. I don’t know for sure that the road is really a 20-percent grade the whole way up, but Google Earth and my bike seem to think so. And with the settlement’s original name being “The Little Hills” (Les Petites Côtes), the irony was not lost on me.

Continue reading “Lewis and Clark (Virtual) Ride: Daniel Boone’s old stomping grounds”

Posted in Articles

Lewis and Clark (Virtual) Ride: Camp Dubois to St. Charles

In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson tasked Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and their Corps of Discovery to find “the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent.” On May 14, 1804, the explorers shoved off for their first leg of what would become one of the greatest stories in American history – a nearly 4,000-mile journey through the immense wilderness of the Louisiana Purchase to the Pacific Ocean and back. To learn more about their expedition and our nation’s history, I will be (virtually) following Lewis and Clark’s route – as closely as modern roads allow – on my PRO FORM Le Tour de France stationary bike. As I come across interesting locations and historic events, I will share them here.

My first leg starts out just north of what was (in Lewis and Clark’s day) the unincorporated settlement of St. Louis. At the time, St. Louis was a mere four decades old and also went by the name Pain Court, which was French for “without bread,” as the remote fur trading settlement’s lack of proximity to agriculture meant bread was often scarce. Just a few miles upstream, near modern-day Alton, Ill., the Corps of Discovery spent the winter of 1803-4 at Camp Dubois, which overlooked the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.

The original site of Dubois (then part of Indiana Territory) was lost to the migrating Mississippi riverbed, so I begin my virtual ride in modern-day Wood River, Illinois. On a rainy May 14, 214 years ago, a shot from the keelboat’s “swivel gun” marked the beginning of the journey as Lewis and his men shoved off from the riverbank. In two days they rendezvous with Capt. Lewis at St. Charles, who had been wrapping up last-minute business in St. Louis.

Headed west from Alton, Ill., crossing the Missouri state line. Rather than using poles, sails, paddles, and a donkey, I am using the Clark Bridge – named after William Clark – to cross the mighty Mississippi. (Google Street View image)

Continue reading “Lewis and Clark (Virtual) Ride: Camp Dubois to St. Charles”

Posted in Articles Military

Russian jets buzzing US planes is sign of Russia’s inferiority complex

On Tuesday, a Russian fighter engaged in yet another “unprofessional” intercept of a U.S. military plane in international airspace. The Su-27 Flanker reportedly flew within 20 feet of a Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance/patrol aircraft over the Baltic Sea.

The Department of Defense has given little information on the nine-minute encounter other than stating that interactions with foreign militaries are routine and that this event was considered “safe” but “unprofessional.” Military aircraft are free to operate in international airspace and will likely be met when operating near the border of another nation. But with a string of recent provocative and dangerous antics in the air, Russia looks like a nation that has developed an inferiority complex.

Pentagon officials state that the Russian Su-27 Flanker, seen here armed with AA-10 Alamo air-to-air missiles, flew within five feet of a Navy EP-3E Aries II aircraft operating in international airspace over the Black Sea on Jan. 29, 2018. (Source: U.S. Navy video)

On January 29, 2018 another Su-27 harassed a U.S. Navy EP-3 Orion reconnaissance plane in a similar event over the Black Sea. The U.S. 6th Fleet, which covers the European and African area, issued a statement declaring that the confrontation lasted for two hours and 40 minutes, with the Russian jet closing to “within five feet” from the American plane.

The fighter flew “directly through the EP-3’s flight path, causing the EP-3 to fly through the Su-27’s jet wash,” prompting the State Department to issue a press release voicing their “highest level of concern.”

Spokesperson Heather Nauert called on Russia to “cease these unsafe actions that increase the risk of miscalculation, danger to aircrew on both sides, and midair collisions.”

Why does Russia do it? It’s a dominance thing.

Continue reading “Russian jets buzzing US planes is sign of Russia’s inferiority complex”

Posted in Articles

Twenty life truths

By W. Thomas Smith Jr.

This morning as I was shaving, I began thinking about things I’ve learned to be true over my 58-plus years on this earth so far. They are truths that I know to be, not based on any particular degrees or specific levels of training, but on pure experience.

Here are 20 of these truths –

  1. A three-blade razor will always give you a closer shave than a two-blade or a one-blade. And a cheap razor will cut you.
  2. It is essential to the life of your car to regularly change the oil in it.
  3. The perfect elementary school (1960s-era) cinnamon roll no longer exists.
  4. At the primal level (I’m not talking about post-conditioning), men and women will react differently to immediate dangerous stimuli. Sorry, but it’s true.
  5. There are things in this world which can only be explained by the existence of evil and dark forces.
  6. All Marines with 0300-infantry MOS’s love to fight. I don’t, but I’m the exception.
  7. A broken bone will heal in time as will a broken heart.
  8. There is something inherently good about a person who sacrifices his or her time and money to go on a Christian mission trip (and no, I’ve never been on one.)
  9. A drop-dead-gorgeous woman will make a smart man lose his mind for a split second (and nobody will ever know). But she will make a stupid man lose his mind indefinitely.
  10. Everybody, at a minimum, needs a smile and a kind word.
  11. Nobody cooks as good as my mom. They may exist, but I’ve never met them.
  12. If a person talks bad about his friends to you, he’s probably talking bad about you to his friends.
  13. When alone and in the middle of nowhere, a .45 is always more reassuring than a 9mm.
  14. People will leave you in this life. Some will die. Some will walk away. Some will also betray you or otherwise let you down. God will never do any of those things.
  15. Holding a newborn baby heals and comforts the one holding it in ways impossible to describe.
  16. Elderly people are treasures.
  17. Christmas truly is “the most wonderful time of the year.”
  18. There is something spiritually uplifting about mowing the lawn. Preteens and teenage boys don’t understand this. We have to get some age on us before we begin to appreciate the spirituality in grass cutting.
  19. Miracles from God still happen.
  20. God’s Word is true.

Alright, back to work.

– Please visit W. Thomas Smith Jr. at

Posted in Articles Military History

In Light of Protests and Politics, Let Us Remember the NFL Veterans of World War II

[Originally published at]

On December 7, 1941, 27,000 Americans watched the Washington Redskins cruise to a 20-14 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles at Griffith Stadium. During the game, the loudspeakers announced that various government and military officials in attendance needed to report to work. Players and fans were blissfully unaware, for the moment, that Pearl Harbor had been attacked and the nation was now at war.

Nearly 1,000 athletes in the National Football League joined the ranks of 16 million Americans serving in the Armed Forces during World War II. The NFL was so depleted by the war that in order for the league to survive, teams merged or were scrapped altogether. But professional football continued. 21 players lost their lives, and many lost valuable playing time to the service. Below are some of their stories.

The crew of Waddy’s Wagon

After being named a consensus All-American as a right end for the University of Oklahoma, leading the Sooners to their first-ever bowl game in 1939, Walter R. “Waddy” Young is drafted by the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers. When war breaks out, Young leaves behind his professional career and enlisted in the Army Air Forces, ultimately becoming a bomber pilot. Young racked up 9,000 combat hours flying his B-24 “Liberator” in Europe.

Once the Nazis surrendered, Young transferred to the Pacific Theater and began flying the new B-29 “Superfortress” heavy bomber. After a raid on mainland Japan, a bomber in Waddy’s group was struck by a kamikaze fighter. Rather than leave the stricken crew to their fate, Waddy’s Wagon left formation and accompanied the damaged B-29 so they could relay the location to search and rescue crews where the bomber went down.

Waddy and his crew were never heard from again.


Before enlisting in the Army, James L. Mooney, Jr. was an All-American end and punter for Georgetown, playing five seasons in the NFL. Cpl. Mooney was killed by a German sniper in Sourdeval, France, just days before his fellow soldiers in the 28th “Keystone” Infantry Division triumphantly marched through the streets of Paris after liberating the French capital.


Continue reading “In Light of Protests and Politics, Let Us Remember the NFL Veterans of World War II”

Posted in Articles Economics

National debt by the numbers: Just how big is $20 trillion?

[Originally published at]

With our national debt passing the $20 trillion threshold this week, let’s look at some figures that will help us wrap our mind around this unfathomable amount of money.

To make 20 trillion one dollar bills, it would require commandeering every cotton field in the United States for 19 years (the dollar is actually 75 percent cotton) and 30 years for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to stamp out the notes. The price tag for printing this vast quantity of bills would cost taxpayers another $2 trillion.

Our mountain of 20 trillion George Washingtons would weigh in at a whopping 22 million tons, which just might actually be enough – with a hat tip to Congressman Hank Johnson – to tip over the island of Guam. Chicago’s 108-story Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, weighs about 222,500 tons, so it would take 99 such skyscrapers to equal the weight of our national debt. Guam would have an incredible skyline, which we could easily afford to build when you consider that, adjusting for inflation, $20 trillion would buy 21,000 Willis Towers.

To ship all that money across the Pacific, it would require 758,000 semi trucks and 75 trips with the world’s largest cargo ship. But where would we store it? The world’s largest building – by volume – is the 97-acre Boeing Factory in Everett, Wash., where the aircraft manufacturer assembles airliners like the 747 “Jumbo Jet.” If you were to neatly stack one-dollar bills – without pallets – in every available square inch of the monstrous facility, Boeing would still have to build a second factory to store the rest.

A stack of 20 trillion one dollar bills, if you could somehow keep Congress from snatching it, would reach an incredible 1,357,300 miles into space. Considering that the moon is only 238,855 miles away, you could place five stacks of one dollar bills between Earth and the moon and still have enough bills left to reach over halfway on a sixth stack.

A line of 20 trillion one dollar bills placed end to end would extend 2.3 trillion miles, which would go around the world 93 million times. If astronauts could place the bills in a line into space, it would take light nearly five months to travel that distance.

Continue reading “National debt by the numbers: Just how big is $20 trillion?”