The rest of the story...

Here's where I tell you all the stuff that wouldn't fit in a 2-minute TV story.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Of Bees, Houses and Other Stuff

You don’t often meet people like Jeff and Sandy Jenner. They do things big and they do them well. And as far as I could tell in the small amount of time I spent on their spread in Franklin County, they enjoy every minute of it.

We went there to do a story on bee keeping. I’ve seen the newsroom do dozens of bee stories over the years, but I’ve never done one myself. I figured if I dug around a little, a unique angle would present itself.

I’d say I had half a dozen in the first five minutes.

For a while, I considered not even talking about bees. Jeff and Sandy showed us the mirror garden – it looks the same from both sides of the road. Then came the fabulous Victorian home with an R-50 insulation rating thanks to the concrete walls and two Rapunzel worthy turrets. Of course Jeff designed and built it all himself. Sandy is a master gardener; so all the greenery is hers. And the “gingerbread” trim on this home? Sandy cuts it by hand in her wood shop. Oops, almost forgot. Slate roof – Jeff installed it himself.

See where this is going?

Of course, there would be no bees if Sandy hadn’t planted an entire orchard. It flowered beautifully, but if you watched the story, you know that it produced no fruit. Why – because there was no pollination.

Enter the bees.

Jeff starts raising bees. Gets really good at it. Knows what every bee is thinking every minute of its life from before it is born to the time it dies. He knows how to make hives make queens and queens make new hives.

That’s what we did the story on.

Let’s just say that if ever there is a slow news day, I’ve got a few stories in reserve.

Did I mention Jeff is a master scuba diver?

I neglected to ask Jeff if it was ok to publish his phone number. If you would like to contact him, please e-mail me at and I'll put you in touch with Jeff.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Big Tanks and Small Battlefields

Although I’ve reported news in Virginia since 1984, and have literally been to every corner of the Commonwealth, I had to do a double take when a friend told me there was a Tank Museum in Danville. Not just a tank museum, but the “largest privately owned artillery and tank museum in the world,” according to the owner, William Gasser. Somehow I had missed this one.

So imagine my amazement when we pulled up to do a story on a small section of the museum, which according to Gasser, and I have no reason to doubt him on this – is “the largest indoor radio controlled tank battlefield in the world.”

Not only is there a miniature European village in which toy tanks battle, but it takes several minutes to walk there from the entrance of this massive museum (330,000 Square feet or 3 times as big as the average Sam's Club). As you walk by, you pass an amazing array of actual battle tanks, uniforms of every kind, and items of artillery I don’t dare name, because I would almost certainly over-generalize and call a Gatling gun a machine gun or vice versa. And besides, I was there to do a story on the radio controlled battlefield, which has it’s own detailed peculiarities.

The mini-tank battles, which take place on said battlefield, pull players in from all over the country. Owners start out with kits, but by the time they are firing infrared bullets at one another in what amounts to a very large and sophisticated sand box filled with clay, a flowing river and model houses, they’ve dumped about $1,000 into each vehicle.

The model tanks take a bit of practice to drive. Learning to turn, raise and lower the turret is another skill and then there are all the military tactics. "Flanking is a big one,” William’s son, Daniel and museum employee told me. He also pointed out that breakdowns happen in RC battles just as they did in Europe in 1944. “These are tanks that are just like a real bulldozer. They destroy themselves while running. They throw tracks, wheels fall off, and transmissions go out. It’s pretty cool when it happens cause you can still battle, but you’re a pillbox,” he told me during our interview.

Bottom line is that the entire facility is an accomplishment in itself. William, and his wife and two sons run the place, having moved here from Long Island to take advantage of the available space. Now, they’ve amassed an arsenal’s worth of militaria, and they need visitors to survive. Not exactly easy in a struggling Southside economy, and a place that isn’t on the way to anywhere most tourists are headed. (Tour buses won't come because there's not second attraction," William told me.)

I wish them all the luck in the world. If you have any interest in things military, they expect thousands of visitors for their Extravaganza on April 30 and May 1. More information is on their website.