If the work is done and the day still young, a ride through the back roads in an antique truck is often in order. Since my work truck is only months short of being 50 years old, the antique factor is already built in. All that’s needed is some time, gasoline, curiosity and a camera.
Though intended for relaxation, these jaunts have actually rewarded me in business as well. By knowing my way through the counties of Clarke, Fauquier and Loudoun on the back roads, I’ve been able to shrink the distance of my mobile tractor repair route considerably. And, of course, scenery and unexpected curiosities keep popping up to keep us entertained.
A good ride is the eastern side of the Blue Ridge. Here the counties of Clarke, Fauquier and Warren meet somewhere in the network of gravel roads. Sometimes, you can tell which of these Virginia counties you are in by the color of the stone in the fences. Blue/white limestone is usually Frederick, Clarke or Southern Warren. Rounded field stone is common to Fauquier and Rappahannock. The virtual absence of stone fences probably has us in Northern Warren. If the stone is green or iron-rich brown that rings like a bell when struck with a hammer, then chances are pretty good that we’re in Loudoun.
I can’t decide whether to be disturbed or fascinated by my occasional finds along this maze of narrow, bucolic lanes. Appearing abruptly here and there are the reminders of the vast “secret” U.S. Government Mount Weather facility deep in the rock mass below. It’s where the top dogs of our government are supposed to hide in the event of a nuclear holocaust or other cataclysmic event.
There’s a similar facility in Loudoun County that stores all electronic financial data. This is to assure us that on the “Day After” we will still get our credit card statements. While this facility stores information, the Mount Weather facility gives tiny Clarke the distinction of being the only Virginia county indirectly mentioned in the Bible (Revelation 6:15-16). Anyway, we round a bend on the narrow mountain road, hoping that we don’t meet someone going in the other direction.
Appearing abruptly in this wooded setting is a small concrete slab enclosed by a chain-link fence with very serious looking U.S. Government KEEP OUT signs. The fence might enclose a diesel generator or perhaps something as simple as a ventilation duct.
Well, that helps set the scene for where we’re going. GSA or General Services Administration is a concept that I grew up with. The federal government has an extensive GSA facility in my hometown of Belle Meade, N.J. It sprawls over a considerable portion of the Garden State to border with the Doris Duke Estate at Somerville.
Like Mount Weather, this GSA depot has considerable provisions for security and mysterious little corners and outposts securely fenced with federal KEEP OUT signs. There are gigantic, aging steel tanks there storing who knows what. Trains come and go, loading and unloading at all hours of the day and night.
The GSA depot was a prisoner of war camp during World War II, housing mostly Italian prisoners. Some of these stayed after the war to be absorbed by the already wellestablished local Italian community. A few secured employment at the GSA depot.
I was informed by one of these goombas that the purpose of a large section of the depot was to store commodities acquired through diplomatic exchanges with other countries. Remember our lard for cigars trade with Cuba? Betcha those cigars are still in the GSA depot at Belle Meade. Generations of depot workers have moved sacks of Carlos Gresada coconut extract dated 1916. Apparently, it was also a great place to swipe pens. The surrounding community was never short of those black ball points marked “U.S. Government.”
If, while hunting, hiking or exploring one happened to encounter a GSA sign, with or without a fence, it was understood to mean, “Keep your butt the heck out of here, and it’s none of your cottonpickin’ business what we’re doing.” Fair enough.
During one of my old truck tours, I thought that I had discovered a vast, secret government facility in rural Frederick County, Va. The narrow gravel road stretched further and further into the hilly terrain. All along the road were NO TRESPASSING and KEEP OUT signs with the ominous letters G.S.A. boldly printed at the bottom.
Mmm. I thought, GSA — General Services Administration. These letters could indicate any manner of activity, but the basic idea is that the federal government is up to something here, which behooves one to leave rather than face dire consequences. At each bend, I half expected to meet a machine gun toting Marine.
My imagination kicked in with extra bite. It was rumored that advancements in Soviet weaponry had rendered Mount Weather obsolete. I’ll bet this is the location of the new government hidey-hole, dug secretly and silently in the night, the excavated dirt and rock stealthily removed on the nearby Winchester and Western Railroad.
I was getting a little agitated as I imagined a Bradley being dispatched in my honor from somewhere deeper in the mountains. Executing a nearly impossible asterisk turn in the narrow two-track, I cut my exploration short and headed for home.
I passed that road almost daily for years after discovering the GSA facility there. Though I watched for the type of activity and traffic that I had become familiar with from Belle Meade and Mount Weather, none was ever seen.
It pays to read the dictionary — in this line of work, it is a requirement. I was looking for the correct spelling of “Gryere,” a kind of Swiss cheese. My eyes naturally moved down the page to the familiar GSA — General Services Administration — don’t I know it. Below that was G.S.A., with full punctuation, the way it was printed on the signs along that narrow mountain road: Girl Scouts of America. I guess that I can stop looking for Blackhawks over Knob Road.
First published Jan. 13, 2016