March, 2018 – Aliceville, Alabama

Located between Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Columbus, Mississippi, Pickensville COE campground is a large campground on the Tenn-Tom Waterway.  We stayed here last spring and enjoyed watching the barges travel on the waterway so much, we decided to come again for two weeks this time as we waited for spring to arrive.  It is a remote location along the state line and is therefore perfect for us.  They have some sites with sewer hookups, which is necessary if we are going to stay for more than a week, and we reserved a nice pull-through site near the river.  While it would be nice to have a better view of the barges, we are satisfied with this site and set up for a long stay.  This time of year in the south is known for the weather fronts that blow through every 3-4 days, often with severe weather along the front.  We arrived during one of these events on Monday with predictions for severe weather in the evening and overnight.  We therefore arrived early and except for a few sprinkles got set up with no problem.  We watched the weather as closely as we could, but all the severe weather stayed to the north and east.  In fact, we got very little rain out of it.  Even so the view out of the RV is a wooded swamp in this bottomland environment.

The first week in the campground was very relaxed as there is little to do in the region.  Kal drove over to Columbus during the week to do laundry and shopping while I cleaned the RV.  On Wednesday, I took advantage of the nice cool weather to drive to Lake Lowndes State Park near Columbus to play a round of disc golf.  Our financial advisor called me while I was on the course with the good news that it made sense to file immediately for Social Security so long as we are able to invest the money.  Sure makes sense to me!!  I enjoyed the disc golf course, even though most of the fairways are right along the road that leads down to the lake.  There were some interesting water hazards with the lake that I had to careful with and one hole I refused to play as it went right out to a very narrow point with the lake on three sides.  Just to big of a risk for me, so I skipped it.  It was a great way to spend the afternoon.

On Monday we got an early start and drove into Columbus to the Social Security office to file for our benefits.  After waiting 45 minutes for our number to be called, we were informed that they were short of personnel and they could not assist us without an appointment, the earliest being the middle of April.  Thankfully, they also had a computer set up to do the filing on line, so we opted for this approach.  We had started the process the day before on our computer, only to find out that they were going to have to mail us the forms for my signature and who knows when we would be able to get the forms from our Kal’s parents in Birmingham.  Obviously, their computer system was different as it required only an e-signature.  We got the filling form completed with no problem only to find out that I have to accepted into the system before Kal could file for spousal benefits.  By the end of the second week we are still waiting for my acceptance at which point they are suppose to call me to set up a phone interview for Kal.  Not sure how this is going to work, but we will be close enough to Columbus for the next two weeks to travel there if we need to.

On Wednesday we made a trip to Birmingham to visit Kal’s mom and family.  We spent about an hour with her mom showing her all the videos we had of her great-grandson.  She really enjoyed the videos, although I am not sure she understood who it was in the videos.  In any case, we had a nice visit and then drove to her parents home to spend some time with her dad.  He took us out to lunch, however, the weather was once again turning nasty and supposedly Pickens County was already under a flood warning.  Especially since the heavy rain was not suppose to hit until later in the evening, we are camped right on the Tombigbee River so we left with enough time to move our RV if we needed to before dark.  As it turned out, I have no idea what the flood warning was all about and the volunteers working at the campground assured us that it never flooded in the eight years they have been here.  So we spent the evening once again watching the weather as strong storm cells died out before they reached us.  In fact, we got no more than a sprinkle over night with the heaviest rain the next day.  Certainly not enough to cause any flooding.

Finally, during the rain on Thursday we decided to check out the nearby Aliceville Museum, located in downtown Aliceville.  Today the very small town of Aliceville has certainly seen better days with nearly the entire downtown area closed up.  However, during the second World War it was a booming town in western Alabama.  Aliceville was the location of the largest German POW camp in Alabama with 6000 prisoners.  I was not aware that there were 24 camps in the state, most of them small with enlisted men to assist local farms and industries.  There were 4 major camps located outside Aliceville, Opelika, and within Fort McClellan and Fort Rucker.  Of these, Aliceville was the largest and was the home for 6000 officer and NCO German soldiers from 1943-1945.  Originally the camp was made up with a mix of soldiers, however, there was not sufficient work opportunities for the enlisted men so they were traded for officers from other camps since according to the Geneva Convention officers and NCOs could not be forced to work.  Also according to the Geneva Convention, the POWs had to be fed the same as our own soldiers, so they actually lived better than the local populations who were having to deal with food rationing.  Although the soldiers were responsible for all the daily needs of the camp including cooking, cleaning, landscaping, building construction and repair, laundry, etc, there was still a lot of time to devote to sports, music, drama, and other activities.  According to a detailed listing of the evening entertainment everyone in the camp was likely involved at least a couple of times a week.  The museum houses a number examples of their art work including sculptures, paintings, and carvings.  We also enjoyed the stories from the resident historian about life in the camps.  The museum also houses one of the last surviving Coca-Cola bottling lines since the building was the “bottling plant” during the war until 1978.  The entire operation employed about 6 people to operate the line.  I got some great pictures of the bottling line to give a comparison to the beer bottling line Chris is running at Hi-Wire!!


On Saturday I talked Kal into driving the 45 minutes to Columbus for dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings.  While we were there we watched the only game left in the NCAA Final Four I was interested in seeing.  Although Loyola-Chicago gave Michigan a scare, Michigan managed to avoid the upset by scoring over 30 points in the final 5 minutes to win by over 10.  It was disappointing, but watching Michigan struggle most of the game was worth it.

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