“Do you think I will fit in a go cart,” I asked the ticket seller at the go-cart track at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.
“I’m big and I fit,” he told me with a snake-oil salesman smile.
That’s all the assurance I needed to get behind the wheel of a go cart for the first time in 30 years. My only concern was getting in and out of the motorized machine. I do a lot of walking, but flexibility is not my strong point.
I wasn’t about to let my three nephews down, so I purchased tickets for the four of us and off we went.
After defying the law of gravity and somehow sliding into the seat, actually dropping, I strapped in as the go cart operator fired up the engine. I was ready to roll!
I had been challenging my nephews for several weeks, telling them to watch out as I was going to show them how it was done. By the second lap, I was feeling my oats again and had the pedal to the metal, but they had already lapped me and left me in their dust. All I needed was a dozen or so more laps and I’m sure I would have caught up!
After the races, we enjoyed a round of miniature golf. I was doing great and leading the entire round until the 18th and final hole when it took me seven strokes to maneuver around the obstacles and wrap up the game. I ended up losing by one stroke.
Driving go carts and playing miniature golf was lots of fun and part of a four-day mini vacation with family members to the lake area last month.
Outside of the Iowa State Fair and the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion, it had been more than two years since Debbie and I last visited the Lake of the Ozarks or enjoyed a vacation away from work and home. We both enjoy the lake area and have visited numerous times through the years. We wanted to take our three nephews there and share with them one of our favorite vacation spots.
The trip started out with visits to antique stores in Kirksville and Columbia, Mo. on the way to the lake. Other activities that we enjoyed included playing skee-ball (one of my favorites) at an arcade on the Bagnell Dam Strip and touring Ha Ha Tonka State Park, Natural Bridge and Spring areas. The highlight of the area is the ruins of a European-style castle that overlook the Niagara Arm of the Lake of the Ozarks.
According to information on area, the castle was the dream of prominent Kansas City businessman, Robert McClure Snyder, who at the turn of the century, learned about the area and ended up acquiring more than 5,000 acres with plans to build a castle retreat.
Snyder imported stone masons from Scotland and a European supervisor was hired to ensure authentic construction techniques. Kansas City architect, Adrian Van Brunt, designed the three-and-a-half story masterpiece. A central hallway rose the entire height of the building. In addition, a stone stable, an 80-foot-tall water tower and nine greenhouses were built on the estate. The stone and timber used in construction were taken from the immediate vicinity and hauled by mule team. Construction of the complex began in 1905.
But for Snyder, Ha Ha Tonka remained only a dream. In 1906, he was involved in a car accident on Independence Boulevard in Kansas City and was killed (he was one of the first automobile owners in the city). The interior of the castle remained unfinished until 1922 when Snyder's sons, Robert Jr., Leroy and Kenneth, completed the upper floors of the building.
The Snyder family then faced years of adversity in trying to keep Ha Ha Tonka in the family. They were forced to sell Snyder's natural gas supply business to Eastern interests. A long, legal battle against Union Electric (the company that built Bagnell Dam) ensued over the waters of the Lake of the Ozarks that were encroaching upon the natural spring-fed lake at the foot of Ha Ha Tonka cliff. They finally leased the mansion to Mrs. Ellis who operated it as a hotel.
In 1942, sparks from one of Ha Ha Tonka's many fireplaces ignited the roof and within hours the huge castle was gutted, as was the stable. What remained were the stark, devastated outside walls that still brood on the edge of the cliff. The State of Missouri purchased the estate in 1978 and opened it to the public as a State Park.
We also visited a Bagnell Dam lookout area and watched fisherman practicing their craft below the dam. Construction on the dam began in 1929, creating the Lake of the Ozarks.
We drove to Lebanon where we shopped, visited a third antique store, visited a Route 66 museum and went bowling. I also got to visit with a classmate and friend, Eric, from my college days at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He is a former newspaper editor and currently a school teacher at Lebanon High School.
I grilled hamburgers twice and cooked Uncle J.O. pancakes (Hungry Jack brand) on Sunday morning. We also visited several eateries in the lake area. And our trip was not complete without an intense game of Monopoly and a round of Uno and Phase 10 card games.
It was a fun trip and I hope we can go again in the near future. We would also like to take the boys to visit Hannibal, home of Mark Twain.
Have a great week and always remember that “Good Things are Happening,” every day and always.