Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes – Grecia, Costa Rica

Grecia (Spanish for “Greece”) is located in the province of Alajuela, Costa Rica and is home to Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes (Our Lady of Mercy), a church made entirely of pre-fabricated metal steel plates that have been painted a deep red.

The Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes (Church of Our Lady of Mercy) in Grecia, Costa Rica

The Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes (Church of Our Lady of Mercy) in Grecia, Costa Rica

Urban legends abound about the church and how it came to be built in Grecia. One such legend recounts how the church was donated for a foreign county and was supposed to be sent to Greece as a gift, but was erroneously shipped to Grecia. Another legend infers that the final destination was supposed to be Punta Arenas, Chile, but was unloaded by mistake in Puntarenas, Costa Rica where it was later transported to the city of Grecia and assembled.  However, the chances of it arriving in Puntarenas by mistake are quite slim, especially when you consider that when the materials arrived in Costa Rica between 1892-93, the Panama Canal hadn’t been built yet, which means that in order for it to have arrived in Puntarenas, it would have had to ship around Cape Horn, South America, an unneccesary and costly journey; the Port of Limón would have been a more logical choice for offloading.  Also, the railway between Puntarenas and San Jose wasn’t completed until 1910.

The real history of the Our Lady of Mercy church is no less glamorous than the urban legends.  Around 1840, the town of Grecia had a small adobe chapel with a thatched roof.  As the town grew, so did the need for a larger church.  Construction began on a new wooden church (at the site where the metal church sits today) in 1844 and was completed by the end of 1847.  A brick floor was installed in 1835 and the thatched roof was replaced with tejas (Spanish barrel tiles made from clay).  A few years later a tower was added.  In 1872, the church was severely damaged by fire and plans were made to convert the church to a masonry structure as it was believed to be indestructible by fire.  By 1888, the new structure was nearing completion when a devastating earthquake shook the town, damaging the towers and partially destroying the sanctuary.

Altar at Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes (Church of Our Lady of Mercy) in Grecia, Costa Rica

Altar at Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes (Church of Our Lady of Mercy) in Grecia, Costa Rica

In 1890 the locals sought the counsel of the second bishop of Costa Rica, Bishop Thiel, who suggested using “new technology” by building an earthquake proof church of metal.  In 1891, a contract was signed with Dresse Aux Ateliers de la Societe de Couvillet, a Belgian firm that specialized in metal structures.

The first pieces of metal arrived at the Port of Limón in 1892 on two cargo ships – the Rock Hampton of England and the Turquoise of France.  The materials were then transported via rail from the Port of Limón to Alajuela.  Upon arriving in Alajuela, the materials and supplies were transferred to ox carts and wagons to make the final 21 kilometer journey to Grecia.  Each trip took approximately one week and, at times, 7 yoke of oxen (14 oxen) were needed to pull the heavy loads across the rugged terrain.

With the exception of the windows and doors (these weren’t sent with the rest of the materials from Belgium), the church was completed in December of 1897.  Doors and window frames were ordered in 1911 from Clement Casa Constructtore in Ferro Prada, Milan, Italy.  Hand painted and blown glass windows were also acquired in Italy.


Stained glass from Italy and an 1886 German pipe organ in Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes (Church of Our Lady of Mercy) in Grecia, Costa Rica



Windows ordered from Italy to complete the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes (Church of Our Lady of Mercy) in Grecia, Costa Rica


Until the next adventure….



Elgin Schoolhouse (1922-1967)

The Elgin Schoolhouse, located in eastern Nevada, provided an education for several generations of school children in grades one through eight from 1922 through 1967.  It was built by Reuben Bradshaw, the son of James Bradshaw, whom homesteaded a ranch in 1880 at the lower end of Rainbow Canyon.  Until 1903, there weren’t a large numbers of children in the area until the Salt Lake, San Pedro, and Los Angeles Railroad was built through Rainbow Canyon.  Small communities then sprung up every five miles or so, wherever there was a “siding” – a stop for trains and passengers.  Some of the larger sidings were home to small depots were passengers could board or leave the train or get a hot meal.

Prior to the construction of the Elgin Schoolhouse, the closest school to the ranches in Rainbow Canyon, the nearest school was in Panaca, about 36 miles north of Elgin.  Since wagons were the only means of transportation, and the ranches were too far away from Panaca to transport the children for school each day, the children were home-schooled either at the individual ranches or neighboring ranches.  The “Bullionville” school district was established in 1890 about five miles below Kershaw Canyon, but this school was still too far away for wagons from the lower end of Rainbow Canyon.

The Elgin Schoolhouse

The Elgin Schoolhouse

In 1921, funds were available for a schoolhouse in Elgin, one of the larger sidings along the railroad.  James Bradsha donated seven acres of his ranch for the building and his son built the school.  An addition to the building was built two years later to provide a small apartment for the teacher to live in.

The schoolhouse was last used in 1967, when the last student reached the eighth grade.  By then, school buses had been picking up the students and transporting them to schools in Panaca and Caliente.

It became a State Historic Site in July 2005 and is part of the Nevada State Parks system.  Currently, the schoolhouse is closed to the public for an indeterminate period of time as of May 2008 due to the road being heavily damaged by flooding.  It is possible to drive the road to the school (though it is rough in spots and there is one small water crossing).


Until the next adventure….

Not Much Remains…Weatherby, Oregon

Located about nine miles southeast of Durkee, Oregon, lies the unincorporated community of Weatherby in Baker County. Other than a rest area for travelers traveling along Interstate 84, there’s not much left. In 1862, there was a post office named Express Ranch, a Wells Fargo stage station, a stop over for stagecoaches during the gold mining boom in the county. C.W. Durkee was the first postmaster (probably where the town of Durkee got it’s name).  The Sisley Toll Road (what, I now believe is the Sisley Creek Road) was built in 1863, from Weatherby to connect with the Old’s Ferry toll Road to the Snake River.  In 1879, the Express Ranch was moved 10 miles south on the Burnt River to the property of Andrew J. Weatherby, resulting in the change of name. The Oregon Railway and Navigation Company established a Weatherby station on it’s line to Huntington.

Today, not much remains of Weatherby, Oregon.  Though, if you travel up Sisley Creek Road a ways (there are still a few residences there), you will find what remains of the old Weatherby School.

All that remains of the old Weatherby School.

All that remains of the old Weatherby School.


Until the next adventure….

A Piece of History – the Ward Charcoal Ovens

Built in 1876 by itinerant Italian masons (carbonari), who specialized in the ovens and in operation between 1876 through 1879, the Ward Charcoal Ovens are located in the Egan Mountain Range south of Ely, Nevada in White Pine County. Measuring 30 feet in height and having a 27 foot diameter at the base, the beehive shaped ovens were built to reflect heat back toward the center of the oven thus reducing the amount of heat lost. There are three rows of vents in the 20 inch thick walls. The ovens produced the charcoal from locally harvested timber for use in the smelters in nearby Ward, using approximately 16,000 bushels of charcoal a day.

Making charcoal was a daunting task, taking 13 days, as each of the ovens held approximately 35 cords of wood (a single cord measures 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet). Wood was cut into lengths of five to six feet before being stacked vertically using the lower door. An open space was left in the center to act as a chimney. Next, a ramp was used to load through the upper door which resembles a window. After the wood was ignited, the metal door was cemented shut and the vents were used to adjust the air drafts to smother the fire enough to product charcoal. Workers, known as burners, measured the charcoaling process by the color of the smoke produced. Approximately 10 days later, the charcoaling process was complete and the air vents were closed off until the fire died down. Water was poured through the chimney to cool the charcoal before the charcoal was loaded into bushel size sacks of burlap, emptying the oven.

The Ward Charcoal Kilns in White Pine County, Nevada.

The Ward Charcoal Kilns in White Pine County, Nevada.

Charcoal ovens never seemed to be in operation for any significant length of time as rapid deforestation forced production to be moved elsewhere or the ore supplies at the local mines were exhausted, thus eliminating the need for charcoal.  Once their function as charcoal ovens ended, they served as shelters for stockmen and prospectors during stormy weather and had a reputation of being a hideout for stagecoach bandits. Today, the Ward Charcoal Ovens are a Nevada State Historic Park, providing visitors with recreational opportunities, including picnicking, camping, hiking, mountain biking and cross-county skiing and snowshoeing in the winter.


Until the next adventure….

Cherry Creek School – Cherry Creek, Nevada

Built in 1872, the Cherry Creek School is one of the two oldest standing schoolhouses in the State of Nevada. At one time, Cherry Creek was the largest town in White Pine County, and at the peak of its prosperity had an estimated population of 6,000 and there were 56 students in attendance.

The Cherry Creek School in Cherry Creek, Nevada.

The Cherry Creek School in Cherry Creek, Nevada.

In November of 1894, a dispute between Pat Green and Pat Dolan about the schools location turned violent when Dolan killed Green in a gunfight. In 1901, a kerosene lantern that had been inadvertently filled with gasoline exploded, burning several nearby buildings and nearly destroying the schoolhouse.

Classes were last held in the school in 1941 and the building was subsequently used as a post office until 1971. In 1994, the building was acquired by Walter Campbell in 1994 and was converted into a museum that is open by appointment.

In it’s  heyday, Cherry Creek was home to two clothing stores, five mercantile stores, and twenty-eight saloons.  Today, there are around 20 permanent residents in Cherry Creek.

Until the next adventure….

Klipsan Beach Life Saving Station #309

Stretching from Tillamook Bay on the Oregon Coast to Cape Scott Provincial Park on Vancouver Island, British Columbia lies an area that is known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific“. Along the Columbia Bar alone, more than 2000 vessels and 700 lives have been lost. Klipsan Beach Life Saving Station #309 is approximately 13 miles north of Cape Disappointment on the Columbia Bar. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Station #309 was originally named Ilwaco Beach and was one of several stations assigned to protect the vessels entering the “Graveyard of the Pacific”.

Started in 1891 on a volunteer basis, it was known as the Ilwaco Beach Station.  On November 3, 1891, the Strathblane ran aground near the station and the volunteer crew was unable to get their lines out to the ship resulting in the loss of seven lives.  As a result, the decision was made to permanently established the station on a full-time professional basis in 1891 and the first keeper, Richard Turk, was appointed on December 18, 1891.

One of the buildings at the Klipsan Beach Lifesaving Station

One of the buildings at the Klipsan Beach Lifesaving Station

During a time when surfmen rode horses to patrol the beaches, the station was equipped with a Dobbins type lifeboat and a McClelland surfboat, both of which were launched into the surf from either a horse drawn or a four-wheel hand carriage.  Various other rescue equipment the station was equipped with included the breeches buoy, Coston flares, and the Lyle gun.

The "Alice" was a French square-rigged ship that sunk on Jan 15, 1909 near Ocean Park.  The ship was overloaded with cement, which hardened when the ship sunk in shallow waters.

The “Alice” was a French square-rigged ship that sunk on Jan 15, 1909 near Ocean Park. The ship was overloaded with cement, which hardened when the ship sunk in shallow waters.

If needed, the station could also call upon the Ilwaco Railway and Navigation Company, a seaside railroad, to assist in moving rescue boats up and down the beach to get closer to a wreck before launching.  It also transported the crew of the station to wherever a vessel might be stranded along the line.  Special runs were made to bring onlookers to wreck sites and a weekly excursion was made to bring vacationers to watch lifeboat rescue drills at the station itself.  The Ilwaco Railway and Navigation Company was used in at least one rescue, when, on December 19, 1896, the German bark Potrimpos drifter ashore seven miles south of the life-saving station.  The horse drawn lifeboat was unable to get down the beach and the railroad was called upon to transport the lifeboat and crew to the scene of the wreck, where fourteen men were still on board.  Another train brought a life saving crew from the next south station, Cape Disappointment, but by the time they got there, the surfmen of Klipsan Beach #309 had launched their lifeboat and rescued the fourteen remaining crewmen.

The German iron barqe, "Potrimpos" ran aground on December 19, 1896.

The German iron barqe, “Potrimpos” ran aground on December 19, 1896.

Today, Klipsan Beach Life Saving Station #309 sits as a testament to the bravery and fortitude of the men who were stationed there.  It is privately owned and operated as a vacation rental.  If you want to learn more about the history that is on the shores of the Washington Coast, then I would definitely recommend a visit.

For more information on the United States Life-Saving Service please click here.


Until the next adventure…..

Machine Shop

While in Nevada, we had the opportunity to visit the Nevada Northern Railway (NNRY) in Ely.   Located in White Pine County, Ely was founded as a stagecoach station on the Pony Express and the Central Overland Route.  It became a mining boom town after copper was discovered in the area in 1906.  Like other mining towns, Ely suffered through the boom and bust cycles the plagued town in the west.  The NNRY is is a working railway that consists of the original locomotives, track and buildings that served the Central Nevada coppery mining region, connecting one of the largest copper mines in North America to the Transcontinental routes.  Visitors are given the opportunity to go on a tour of the facility including being allowed into the machine shop and the engine house.

Machine Shop

Machine Shop

The image above is actually 5 different images processed with Photomatix Pro software to give it a slight HDR effect, which helped to bring out the detail in the shadows and add some range to the highlights.  Because everything was quite grimy (it is a working machine shop after all), processing the image this way also helped to bring some depth to the layers of grime covering the table and the tools.

The machine shop and the adjacent engine house (photos from there will be in a later post) were built in 1908, before being altered in 1917 and again in 1941.  I have to admit, in a day where the focus seems to be on making things smaller, lighter and faster, it is quite refreshing to walk around in a facility that goes to great lengths to keep the trains running.

The nuts and bolts of the operation.

The nuts and bolts of the operation.

I loved this sign outside of the machine shop.

Politicians Prohibited

Politicians Positively Prohibited

The rail yards are listed as a National Historic Landmark of the United States and it has been said that the Nevada Northern Railway complex is the least altered and best preserved yard remaining from the steam railroad era.

I will be posting more images from both the machine shop and the engine house in my Flickr album for the railway.

Until the next adventure….

The Middle of Nowhere…

Driving south out of West Wendover, Nevada on our way to Great Basin National Park, we came across a tree that had been “decorated” with just about everything you could imagine.



There’s nothing else in the area, no buildings of any sort, not much else in the way of tall trees.  And yet, in this area of seemingly nothingness, there is life and the tree serves as a reminder that we are all traveling down a road to somewhere.  For some, it might be a vacation; for others, a start of a new life, but for all, the road leads us to something else, something new and exciting.


As far up as people could reach, there were hats, shirts and other discards of where they had once been.  Tucked into branches were notes of places they were headed.  Each item, be it a hiking boot or a beer can tied to the tree with a piece of surveyor’s tape told somebody’s story.  Empty cans of Red Bull spoke of someone’s attempt to stay awake on a long, lonely stretch of highway.  On the ground near the tree was a little piece of card stock that someone had lovingly inked with a pen in to a breathtaking geometric design:

Roadside Art

Roadside Art

On the back of the art piece, the artist had written:

“You have found an

artistic piece of 

human kindness


An artist by the name of Sue Williams had left the card on her trip through the area as part of a project entitled “Tangled Kindness”.

A small sampling of items left at the "Giving Tree"

A small sampling of items left at the “Giving Tree”


On this lonely stretch of highway, this tree serves as a reminder to all who pass, that life is not about getting to the destination first, but rather it’s about taking the time to really stop and see the beauty in everything that surrounds us; whether it be a grand vista on the horizon, or a tree that has been “decorated” by hundreds of other people that have passed by.  And that each of us have a story to tell, no matter how big or small the journey  we are taking.

Until the next adventure….



Caught in the Middle…

A cattle drive headed down the road.

Caught in the middle … of a cattle drive

On a recent seventeen day road trip to southern Utah, we turned off of Interstate 84 in eastern Oregon in search of a one room school that was east of Baker City a little ways.  As we turned on to a road that looked like it would take us near where we thought the school might be, we found ourselves caught behind a cattle drive.  Now I have to admit, living in western Washington I’ve seen my fair share of cows, but I never thought the day would come when I’d be behind a cattle drive as it was progressing up the road.  One of the cowboys was on a four-wheeler and motioned us to follow him as he proceeded to cut a path through the herd and we slowly started making our way through.  However, as the cows in front were getting out of the way of the cowboy, the cows behind the quad were closing in around all four sides of the car.  There we were, going about five miles an hour and trying not to hit a cow while trying to pick our way through.  The cows would get close and then veer out of the way again as if they were trying to determine just what we were.  It wasn’t too long before another cowboy, this time on horseback, took pity on us and opened up the path again allowing us to get through.  After thanking them both, we set out towards our destination:


Blue Mountain School

The Blue Mountain School is located in Baker County, Oregon, east of Baker City.  According to the sign on the building, it was in operation from 1915-1949.  It appears that it has been being used as a storage facility for a neighboring farm for quite some time, judging from the farm equipment sitting near it and the debris lying around it.  As of yet, I haven’t been able to find any other information on the school itself.


On a side note…

I’ve decided to change the format of this blog up a little bit.  For some reason, I never seem to have as much time as I would like to write it and by the time I get around to actually editing the photos for it and coming up with something to say, the adventure I’m writing about has been lost behind my newer and more recent adventures.  With that being said, my plan is to start writing shorter posts, albeit more frequently, with just an image or two from that particular part of the adventure.  Quite often, I visit more than one place a day when I’m on a road trip and by sharing a smaller portion of it at one time, I hope that this blog will be easier to read and inspire you to take some back roads on your own adventures…. you never know what you will find!


Until the next adventure….

Uniting a Country – the first Transcontinental Railroad

Prior to May 10, 1869, if you wanted to get from the East Coast to the West Coast, you had three options:  (1) the overland route, via stage coach, wagon or horseback which took four to six months; (2) the Panama route through the Panama canal which took about a month; (3) or the Cape Horn route around the Cape Horn of South America which took between six and eight months.  All of these options were expensive, slow and dangerous.  Isolated by plains and mountains; President Lincoln worried the Western States would secede as the South had done and he pushed hard for the railroad to unite the country, spread commerce and speed military transportation.

On July 1, 1862, the Pacific Railway Act was enacted to aid in the “construction of a railroad and telegraph line from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean;”  It authorized the Central Pacific to build east and the newly formed Union Pacific to build west.  Some important provisions of the Pacific Railway Act were that it gave 10 square miles of land to each company for each mile of track laid; set a deadline for the end of construction; allowed the President to choose the starting point and specified that the route would be the straightest way possible; designated that whichever company reached California’s border first was allowed to build on the other’s designated land (this is what caused the race); and set uniform construction standards.  It also specified that a multi-line telegraph would be built alongside the Railroad, making telegraph communication much faster.

On October 27, 1863, the first rail was laid; and, less than six years later, the golden spike was driven on May 10, 1869, at Promontory, Utah Territory, completing the first Transcontinental Railroad and aloowing people to travel cheaply, visit relatives, and see sights that are unique to the west.  Prior to the Railroad, a stagecoach ticket cost around $1000; whereas, a first class railroad ticket cost $150.

Replicas of the Jupiter and the No. 119 meet at the completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad at Golden Spike National Historic Park.

Replicas of the Jupiter and the No. 119 meet at the completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad at Golden Spike National Historic Park.

One of the interesting things I learned while visiting this park was that neither the Union Pacific train, Engine No 119 nor the Central Pacific train, Engine No 60 “Jupiter” were originally supposed to be at the golden spike ceremony.

Engine No 119 was stationed in Ogden, Utah, when the vice president of the Union Pacific Railroad, Thomas C Durant, telegraphed that he needed an engine.  He was on the “Durant Special” headed for the ceremony when a swollen river washed away some supports to the Devil’s Gate Bridge and his engineer refused to take the current engine across.  After nudging the lighter passenger cars across the bridge, Engine No 119 was sent from Ogden to take him and the people travelling with them the short distance to Promontory.  Built by Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works of Paterson, New Jersey in 1868, it was scrapped for $1000 in 1903.


Engine No. 119 was built by Rogers Locomotive and Machine Work of Paterson, New Jersey in 1868.

Like Engine 119, Central Pacific’s Jupiter (Engine No 60) also wasn’t supposed to be at the Golden Spike ceremony.  Leland Stanford, president of the Central Pacific Railroad was traveling aboard the Antelope which was following closely behind the Jupiter.  When the two trains passed through a cut where there was a logging camp, either the Jupiter didn’t display the proper flag to alert to another train following close behind or the workers didn’t notice the flag.  Consequently, as the Jupiter passed, workers rolled a large log down the mountain, striking the Antelope and damaging the engine.  After radioing ahead to hold the Jupiter at the next stop, Leland Stanford rode it into Promontory for the Golden Spike ceremony. Like the No 119, the Jupiter was also scrapped for $1000 in 1909.

Engine No 60, the Jupiter, was built by the Schenectady Locomotive Works of New York.

Engine No 60, the Jupiter, was built by the Schenectady Locomotive Works of New York.

in 1975, the National Park Service embarked on a project to reproduce the Union Pacific No 119 and the Central Pacific Jupiter as they appeared in 1869.  Over 700 detailed drawings were made by O’Connor Engineering Laboratories of Costa Mesa, California by looking at photos of the actual engines and researching similar engines built around the same time.  Once the trains were built, Disney artists painted the trains, and they were completed in 1979.  They were first put into operations on May 10, 110 years after the original Golden Spike ceremony.


Getting ready to run a demonstration on the Jupiter.

Until the next adventure…