Visiting the Air and Military Museum of the Ozarks in Springfield, Missouri

It’s easier to remember the name of the Air and Military Museum of the Ozarks once you realize the acronym is AMMO. It didn’t help that the Web site calls it Ozark’s Air & Military Museum. But I figured it out, and I know what to call it, and I even know how to find it.

The Air and Military Museum of the Ozarks

The museum occupies several store fronts in a strip mall on the north side of Kearney Street in Springfield between Glenstone and Highway 65. Its unassuming exterior belies the size of the interior, as the building is quite deep and it has a garage on the back that we’ll get to in a moment.

It costs something like $5 for adults and $3 for children, which makes it an affordable destination for a couple of hours and certainly less expensive than more tourist-flavored attractions. For the most part, AMMO is self-funding and volunteer-run, so you can throw a couple more bucks in the box. I did.

The main thrust of the museum is collections of souvenirs and artifacts donated from private collections. As with many of the smaller museums, a large number of items are crammed into a small space, so you really have to linger to see it all. The organization features displays of uniforms for each branch of service:

Uniforms in AMMO

Uniforms in AMMO

Other exhibits include dioramas, weapons, tools and basic kit for different soldiers in different eras, and whatnot.

But enough about that.

As I mentioned, there’s a garage at the back, and within the garage, the museum has a number of military vehicles, including a couple of jeeps:


And an AH-1S Cobra helicopter:

Cobra helicopter at AMMO

Now, in most museums, you can look, but you’re not supposed to touch. But at AMMO, visitors, especially children, are encouraged to climb into the drivers’ seats or cockpits to see what it’s like. And, frankly, given the size of that Cobra gunner’s seat, I’m not sure how adults could have fit in them.

The museum has a couple of other hands-on experiences, and the garage has a number of other piece of equipment to view up close, including a jet fighter trainer and some ambulance show pieces.

At any rate, it’s a couple bucks for an hour or more’s worth of education and entertainment, so it’s well worth a visit. Also, since it’s lesser known, it’s probably not going to be overcrowded and jostly.

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Visiting Smallin Civil War Cave near Ozark, Missouri

The Smallin Civil War Cave is a commercial cave located just north of Branson just off of County Highway NN. It’s sort of accessible from US 60 between Springfield and Branson, but you do have to wind down a county highway and through some other streets to get there. I headed down there one Friday morning to beat the crowds, and I found the little complex easily enough–at every turn, there’s a sign indicating which way to go to the cave (but you’d better remember where you turned, since there are no signs on the way out to guide you back to NN–but it’s not that hard).

The complex has ample parking for cars, buses, and RVs. Most of them weren’t in use at a little after 10am on a Friday morning. I spoke to Mrs. Bright, the owner of the complex, and she said the caves are the most busy on Friday afternoons and Monday mornings, when visitors to and from Branson visit on the way to Branson or on the way home.

Smallin Cave Entrance

The Visitor Center is the staging point for the cave tours. Outside, it offers a free crawl box for children who’ve been cooped up in automobiles for a couple of hours and who will not have the chance to go off-roading during the guided tour of the caves:

Smallin Cave crawl box

The crawl box is relatively new construction and is very sturdy, which doesn’t diminish the excitement for the children but comforts the minds of the parents. My boys went through the box several times and could have probably spent the whole morning there.

A mining sluice also stands outside the Visitor Center; you can buy bags of sand and gems inside to recreate the experience of panning for treasures, although the Smallin Cave itself does not have panning or mining history (except for the native Americans who mined chirt in the cave).

Listen to me talking about Smallin Cave authoritatively based on one guided tour. Why, I’m almost as good as a tour guide already.

The Visitor Center offers a wide variety of geological and Civil War themed items, and as I mentioned, it’s the staging area for the guided tours. The guided tours last about an hour and cost $15.95 for adults and $8.95 for children, so the cost of visiting definitely runs to Tourist on the scale. They also offer a “wild” tour which means you go off the concrete path for two hours, climbing through the cave like a real spelunker. Additionally, they offer other events that involve sitting around a campfire, eating, and hearing Civil War stories. We went with the guided tour.

Just outside, an Indian marker tree points to the cave location:

Smallin Cave Indian Marker tree

Native Americans used to bend saplings to make them grow in this fashion to point toward trails or important land features. Like the cave entrance.

The tour actually includes three caves. The first cave, which I believe the guide called Fielding Cave, is a smaller cave on the property:

Smallin Cave Fielding Cave

This cave was the home* to a couple of large bears throughout the ages as well as serving as a camp site for prehistoric people who might have mined chirt there and cooked dinner there. They probably did not live there as the same time as the bears. The tour guide also pointed out that they are working with Missouri State University to archeologicate some artifacts from the cave.

Fielding Cave is just a quick stop to whet your appetite. An opening act, if you will.

Disappointment Cave is just a quick point-out:

Smallin Cave Disappointment Cave

They call it Disappointment Cave because it’s only twelve feet deep and it takes as long to climb to it as it does to explore it.

Smallin Cave has a varied history*. In the 1960s, the first commercial owner ran it as a tourist destination and installed some of the amenities enjoyed by visitors today, including the concrete walkway that ensures that visitors won’t get their feet wet on the tour. This proprietor apparently liked to play up the tenuous connection to the Civil War by loading the property down with memorabilia. After he passed away, his heirs did not claim the property, and it was sold for taxes. A church organization bought it and used it as a camp site for some youth ministry. Its dedication plaque remains on the wall:

Smallin Cave Camp Sonrise plaque

The church eventually stopped using the cave as a campsite, and it remained fallow until the new owners took it over a couple years back. But as we approached the cave and the entrance chamber, I could understand why this served as a gathering place in many centuries. Aside from the fact that the cave was comfortably cool on a hot summer day (startlingly so, I noticed as we emerged), the end of the canyon and cave mouth make a natural amphitheatre.

At any rate, the tour includes a quick stop on a platform designed for a good picture (available at the gift shop after your tour) that frames you against the cave entrance:

Smallin Cave entrance from inside the cave

As you can see, the concrete path has good railings on it, so you don’t have to fear falling into the nameless depths of some cave pool that’s really only a couple of feet deep.

The tour guide will point out the normal features of caves, including soda straws, stalagmites, stalactites, and other features such as curtains:

Smallin Cave curtains

If you’re into serious spelunking, of course this isn’t the tour for you. But if you’ve never been in a cave before or if you’re way amateur into visiting caves, it’s a good introduction and very interesting. And safe.

Along the way, you might see some of the animals that live in the cave, including bats:

Smallin Cave bat

If you’re lucky, you might spot any number of salamanders, crayfish, frogs, and whatnot that call the cave home. We did.

The main entrance to the cave is large (claimed to be the largest in the world, and it’s certainly the largest in this particular canyon), but there does come a point where the path narrows and curves and you cannot see the outside. This, my friends, is the Claustrophobia Point:

Smallin Cave Claustrophobia Point

I got over it, though.

The tour ends a couple hundred yards into the cave, past Claustrophobia Point, but the cave goes on beyond that:

Smallin Cave end of walkway

A wild tour takes you further. The guide says that the cave system has yet to be completely explored, as the deepest parts yet explored take about five hours to reach*.

The return trip is much quicker along the walkway, but the guide pointed out a number of fossils in the ceiling of the cave, including the newly discovered shark tooth, and a new stalagmite forming on the walkway (slowly).

When we emerged, as I mentioned, it was a bright and hot day outside.

Smallin Cave entrance from inside

Because of the drought this year, the cave was dry. Much of the time, the cave has running water and that emerges into the canyon. Water runs over the rimstone dams and from the ceiling in some places, as I judge from pictures on the cave’s Web site. I’m interested in returning when I can see these features, but I’m glad to have gone when the water was down so I could hear the guide better without the roaring of the water.

Overall, I enjoyed the visit and learned a lot. I won’t say it awakened a great love of actual spelunking in me, since I still prefer to have an emergency exit I can elbow and claw my way to in the event of an emergency, but the experience is akin to visiting a museum: it encapsulates a field of study into something I can access and determine what knowledge, if any, to pursue.

That said, I do have to reiterate this is a commercial operation. The owners were recently profiled in the Springfield Business Journal. The existence of this company and others of its ilk rather flies in the modern governmental wisdom that only government entities or nonprofits can steward these natural resources effectively or educate people to their beauty, structure, and history. It’s untrue.

Also, a note if you’re thinking of going: You can find coupons for 10% off the admission on the Web site and in various tourist brochures and information packets. Don’t forget to use one, like I did.

* Many of the facts related here were originally related by the tour guide, and they might be based on rumor or have been presented for entertainment. Ask a tour guide, and he or she will admit it. Kevin Bright has written a book about caves in the Ozarks, and in a chapter on commercial operations, he explains that this is so and that it’s an entertainment business more than an academic endeavor. So view the tour guide, any tour guide actually, more as a storyteller than as an authoritative and definitive source of anything.

Also note that this whole account is based on my memory of what a tour guide said. That’s a double whammy. It’s what a tour guide said that’s posted on the Internet. That’s a double negative of sorts.

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Book Report: A Century of Enterprise: St. Louis 1894-1994 by Rockwell Gray (1994)

Book coverThis book represents another picture book I inherited from my aunt, and if the used price on Amazon is any guide, it might have been her biggest eBay score. But she lacked a certain follow through on the whole online auction thing. So I’ve got it now, and I thumbed through it, looking at the historical photos of business in St. Louis and reading the flattering paragraphs accompanying the photos. The book was, as a matter of fact, underwritten by one of the enterprises whose start is depicted in the book. Of course that company and all others in St. Louis are praised. Lavishly.

So the book provides interesting photographs, and some trivia and insights, including:

  • The smile was invented in 1948.
  • It’s a wonder turn of the century families were so large considering how ugly the women were.
  • The years since 1994 have been harsh for St. Louis business, since most of the grand corporations lauded in the book–Edison Brothers, May Company, McDonnell Douglas, Pet, Inc., Sherwood Medical, and so on have been bought out or have otherwise left the area.
  • Those who have the juice now in the city of St. Louis have always had the juice in St. Louis.

Still, an enjoyable experience, once again a short one since it was mostly photos, and something I’ll share with the more historical members of my family. And, dear readers, if you offer me what they’re asking for it on Amazon, I’ll share it with you, too.

Book mentioned in this report:

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Vistas of the Recently Urban: Rogersville

You might ask yourself, “Is Rogersville an actual urban area?” Well, the US Census Bureau says that an urban cluster–whose residents are part of the 80% of Americans who live in an urban area–contains 2,500 residents. Rogersville seems unsure of itself.

The city limits sign on westbound Highway 60 doesn’t offer an opinion:

Rogerville city limit sign

The city limits sign on southbound county highway B says no:

Rogerville city limit sign, population 1508

1508 is the population from 2000, though.

The city limit on Westbound Business Loop 60 says yes:

Rogerville city limit sign, population 3073

I think this population is closer to the mark. Rogersville is a growing community. Not so much because it’s Rogersville or because it offers a lot of good employment opportunities, although there are a number of industrial shops and other employers along US 60.

No, Rogersville is growing because it’s not too far outside of the city limits of Springfield. Many of the new residents are moving into suburban subdivision developments and driving into Springfield for work and probably entertainment.

Rogersville is an old railroad town along the Frisco line, the same as Aurora. As such, it has the obligatory caboose in the old part of town:

Rogerville caboose

The old part of town is really only a couple of small city blocks. Note that Rogersville does not have nose-in parking. It hardly has any parking in the old part of town, and the streets are very narrow. There’s not much in town; just a branch of the Webster County library and an eatery on Clinton street (which was closed when we visited early on a Saturday morning):

Clinton street in old Rogerville

One block south, Front street has the administrative offices for the Logan-Rogersville school district, a CPA, and a storefront whose signage I didn’t see or make out. It might not even be a storefront:

Front Street in Rogersville

As with Aurora, the city grew from that foothold on the train tracks southward toward the US highway and its business loop.

On the business loop, you can find a gas station that has been closed for quite some time:

An abandoned gas station

Sadly, one found a lot of small businesses and storefronts closed north of US 60 in the city of Rogersville, and I couldn’t find a restaurant that was open in which to eat lunch. We settled for a McDonalds on US 60.

The local residents have a number of banks, pharmacies, and other amenities. The grocery store is an Apple Market:

The Apple Market in Rogersville

It doesn’t look to be part of a chain, so if it’s an independent grocery, yay on that.

Driving around the town, I definitely got the sense that Rogersville is a transitional place. It was a small railroad stopping town (in the area described by John E. Hult in Growing Up in the Ozarks), but it didn’t have the advantage to grow on its own as Aurora did with its mining industry. Instead, it stayed pretty much the same until recently, when the new subdivisions moved in and the residents who moved in were just people who lived in Rogersville, not people from Rogersville. For example, the city brochure for Rogersville on the city Web site emphasizes that Rogersville is part of the Springfield metropolitan area.

An example our St. Louis-area readers might understand is the difference between Maryland Heights and Webster Groves. The former is a place to live with a city government, and the latter is a community.

Maybe I’m wrong. We didn’t get out and walk around the city environs as there are no sidewalks nor places to go really. We visited a couple of yard sales in the new subdivisions, and the pickings there were the detritus of younger families, outgrown clothes and whatnot.

It’s not a destination town given these factors. Maybe it could be if some smaller artisanal sorts of businesses moved into the copious amounts of available space, but that would require enough traffic to justify it. And so far there’s not enough to apparently sustain the formerly existing businesses there. Perhaps when they get a couple thousand more residents in subdivisions.

Is it urban? Not in any urban sense. It’s suburban surrounded by expanses of open land connected to an urban area by a US Highway. If Springfield grows out that way, perhaps it will grow into a seamless urban area.

This is the smallest of the urban enclaves I have visited. I might have to dial down my expectations of them as I go. I mean, when I get around to Murry, what will I have to say? At least the page load time will be quicker since it will only contain a single photo.

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A Photojournalism Study of Urban Aurora

As we previously mentioned, the United State Census Bureau has declared 81% of Americans live in urban areas, and the Census Bureau considers for statistical inflation purposes any town greater than 2,500 to be “urban.”

So we recently sent a photojournalist, or at least some guy with a digital camera (not a smartphone–that’s what separates the photojournalist wannabes from mere consumers) to urban Aurora, Missouri, to document life in this hardcore urban enclave of Aurora, Missouri.

Warning: Viewer discretion is advised. Continue reading “A Photojournalism Study of Urban Aurora”

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Gritty Urban Scenes from Southwest Missouri

The sensational Census story proclaims Census: 8 of 10 Americans now urbanites:

Move over, New York City. Nine of the 10 most densely populated areas in the U.S. are out West, and eight out of 10 Americans are now urbanites, a U.S. Census Bureau report released Monday shows.

However, like the recently trumpeted “Chocolate leads to weight loss” study that’s gotten a lot of brief mentions by radio personalities in between their shallow playlists and brief Internet mentions, looking behind the headlines will reveal something that pretty much contradicts the headline.

In the chocolate study, it was the fact that everyone in the study was exercising 3.6 times a week (more than I do, certainly).

In the Census Bureau study, it’s the definition of urban:

The census data identifies two types of urban areas: “urbanized areas” of 50,000 or more people and “urban clusters” of at least 2,500 and less than 50,000 people. There are 486 urbanized areas and 3,087 urban clusters nationwide.[Emphasis added.]

You know what we call an urban area of 2,500 people in the real world? A small town.

But going by the Census Bureau’s definition, ladies and gentlemen, here is the gritty urban world of Republic, Missouri. Continue reading “Gritty Urban Scenes from Southwest Missouri”

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Best UK Restaurant Is In Springfield

The Telegraph, a British newspaper, named Farmers Gastropub Best Restaurant in its annual list of British expat locations worldwide.

Described by its nominator as “a little piece of Britain in the heart of America”, this welcoming gastropub was highly commended in our last competition and this year managed to scoop the prize for top restaurant. We imagine its 26 draught beers will be flowing freely to celebrate.

The restaurant’s Web site is here, and the local story in the Springfield News-Leader is here.

I’ve eaten there, although I only had a light salad and not something more British. I didn’t notice it was particularly themed, but it did have the World Cup playing on all of its televisions, so there you go. Now that it’s acclaimed, I might sneak down there from time to time to feel Kiplingesque.

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