Nancy and I live on twenty acres of beautiful western North Carolina property near Robbinsville. We moved to "The Roost" from south Florida after my retirement from the fire department in 1991.
We originally planned to live off the land and be self sufficient. That didn't last long. We did raise pigs, chickens, geese and had great gardens. Within a year Nancy was back at work as the Town of Santeetlah's town clerk.
We were always into computers. Nancy worked extensively in Minnesota on various computer systems and was hired by the City of West Palm Beach as an intern in 1989. She was assigned to work at the fire department on a new computer aided dispatch system. That is where we met.
At the FD in the 1980s I had drawn by hand a map of the entire city complete with hydrant locations. This map, consisting of some 30 pages, was carried on all fire apparatus to assist in finding streets and hydrants while en-route to an emergency. By the early 90s I was using the computer to create these maps. Little did I know how that would later be used in our own business.
Nancy spent a few years as town clerk and then went to work for a local attorney doing title work. At home we made one of our first web pages for friends who had just purchased the Snowbird Mountain Lodge. The first few years of this was riddled with crude attempts to create, upload and maintain several web sites. We stumbled through the infancy of the Internet.
After a few years of hectic work conditions at the law office Nancy saw an ad for an IT person at the local school system. She interviewed realizing that she did not have the background in this field other than our work at home with computers. Surprisingly she got the job. The first thing we did was head for a bookstore to buy Networking for Dummies.
It wasn't long before Nancy was an expert. She had her own office which was always packed with computers to fix and she led the county schools into the new era of computers, networking and Internet.
We began renting my parent's vacation house in the mid-90s. In 2000 we purchased another house and built a third rental house in 2005 all on adjoining properties.
In 2000 we made another dramatic move that would have a profound affect on our lives. Being a firefighter and seeing many people killed or maimed on motorcycles, I had never considered riding one. A good friend in Robbinsville began riding by our house on his motorcycle and honking the horn each trip. Then he'd tell us about his adventures the next time we met. It sounded like fun so I mentioned to Nancy that perhaps we should consider getting a motorcycle. Within minutes she was on the computer telling me to go buy a particular cycle that was for sale.
I called my friend and we took a trailer to Alabama, looked over the bike and brought it home. The 1998 Honda Shadow Spirit 1100 sat parked in the basement garage and became a static reminder of me having to learn to ride the beast. For two weeks I would stand and study this scary thing wondering why I had ever put myself in this position.
Finally one day Nancy took the dogs on their daily trail run and I started the motorcycle and tentatively rode it out our quarter mile gravel driveway. Turning onto the pavement I headed up the newly opened Cherohala Skyway knowing I would not encounter any traffic. I had one or two moments, but learned that I could do this. Within a month I was throwing sparks on a nearby road Nancy and I had always lovingly called the Tail of the Dragon.
I had loved this twisting mountain road since I first drove it in the family car in 1976 while on vacation at my parents summer home. In later years I returned in my 1978 Corvette. The locals called it simply Deals Gap like it showed on maps or in less affectionate terms "that damn crooked road to Tennessee".
After moving to North Carolina I used my computer skills with Adobe Illustrator to draw the Deals Gap road and name some of the corners. I titled the map Tail of the Dragon because to me the road was like a giant dragon flipping its tail one way and then the other.
So after learning to ride the motorcycle Nancy wanted one of her own. We bought her a Honda 750 cruiser which she rode for a few weeks before demanding a faster sport bike. She found a Suzuki SV650 and began leaving me in the dust. I rode it and felt the difference in handling from my big, bulky, slow cruiser. I bought a FZ 1 1100 which is known as a standard bike because the handle bars are higher for more comfortable riding, but handles almost as good as a sport bike.
Anyway, Nancy and I were suddenly into motorcycles big time. First thing is to get some patches, stickers and T-shirts. We went to the Honda Hoot in Asheville and were surprised at the lack of good T-shirts. We stopped at the Crossroads of Time store at Deals Gap and found the quality and design of their shirts poor. Nancy was particularly put-off by one that proclaimed "I'm Dragon Trash".
Back at home she suggested the we make a T-shirt and put my Tail of the Dragon map on the back. I was not particularly inclined to start such an endeavor which sounded like it might involve work, but Nancy just about always gets her way.
Nancy found an artist on the Internet who specialized in drawing dragons. Working with our specs he created the perfect piece of art that we were looking for. It was a surprise when we learned he was in Italy. The Internet at work!
We found an up and coming screen printing company Image 420 in Asheville. We presented our designs and ideas about promoting the road and they looked at us rather funny but made our shirts. We all look back at that first meeting and laugh today.
We created a website and added a few products. The first years were slow, but eventually the business began to grow. In 2005 Nancy quit her job at the school system to manage our own business. Her bosses thought she was nuts.
It has been a wild ride and the business is doing just fine. We have a small store on the North Carolina side of the Tail and a couple of employees. We ship our products worldwide from our on-line store. We try to keep it all manageable by just the two of us.
We've been through many stages .... we managed track days for a few years where riders can push their riding limits on closed road courses .... we've been through some twenty different motorcycles (now we are down to five in the garage) .... we've toured most of the south and some of the west .... we took up golf (now we do not have enough time for it) .... Nancy is an avid fitness enthusiast with her latest venture into cross fitness .... she has run many marathons, a number of ultras and half a dozen adventure races (crazy if you ask me). Now she is into bicycle riding. She has completed several century bicycle rides (100 miles) and has ridden the entire Blue Ridge Parkway (500 miles) in five days. She has done this on five different trips.
Over the years we've had some 20 dogs; currently 4 in the house. We still have a quarter acre garden each year and have returned to having chickens for our fresh egg supply (nothing like eggs from free range chickens).
Nancy has her own gym in the basement with more equipment than most professional gyms have. She works out everyday and sometimes twice. She rides her road bike in these mountains which is quite a feat in itself.
We also produce many of our products such as full color metal signs, custom street signs, custom hats, headbands and skull caps. About the only thing we go outside for are our T-shirts which are still screen printed by Image 420. Today they print a lot more of our stuff and don't think we are so crazy any more.
Nancy is a very healthy eater and has a professional live-in chef .... me. She is always bringing new recipes to my attention. She even has a sprout garden in the basement providing us fresh greens in the winter months.
We work hard and play hard ! Who knows what is next?
Ron is a retired West Palm Beach Florida firefighter who has a madness for genealogy. He has been tracing his roots for more than 30 years and publishes the Grantham Gazette with articles about Granthams in America. Ron, shown at his first fire, wrote the Centennial History of the West Palm Beach Fire Department which commemorated the FDs 100th anniversary in 1994.
CLICK HERE for the WPB Fire Department History.