There are not many people who can say that they have performed with or opened shows for Fleetwood Mac, Janis Joplin [Read more…]
If you are in the Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle or Holden Beach area of Southeastern NC over the Fourth of July you are apt to see what looks like a Russian MIG screaming through the summer skies.
Don’t be alarmed its just our friend, Dean Belk of Raleigh, in his restored former Czech military jet plane. Belk owns a home at Ocean Isle Beach and every major summer holiday he makes a spectacular arrival in this eye (and ear) catching conveyance!
“The plane was brought into the country probably around 2003, 2004 and I acquired it about a year later” said Belk, “I completely took it down and built it back up with as much American parts as I could put in it.”
He spent a year and a half just rewiring the plane (it has over three miles of wiring in it!). In all it took over four and half years with over 5,000 man hours to restore and upgrade the plane to it’s current state.
While his 1980 L39 Albatross had been a Czech military plane it was during the time that Czechoslovakia was part of the Eastern Bloc under the control of the Soviet Union. “I probably have to get with a Russian guy that I know who could read the log books to tell me it’s full history of where it went. But I think it pretty much stayed in the European heater.”
In his spare time Belk attends airshows and takes a few lucky people for an exhilarating ride. “At low altitude top end is around 400 knots (about 460 miles per hour) and when I am doing acrobatic maneuvers I am generally in the 300 knot range as I enter a maneuver to have enough energy to complete the maneuver.”
Belk started flying as a 13 year old flying mostly Cessna 150s and ended up doing flight instruction to build up his hours in flight. Then he attended Clemson University flying for university while there..
Then after graduating he worked for a time as a charter pilot before flying for various airlines.
You can usually find Dean Belk and his restored Czech military jet at the Odell Williamson Municipal Airport at Ocean Isle Beach, NC over the Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day holidays (when he is not tearing through the skies overhead)!
Sometimes we find some of the most interesting places along the NC Coast when we aren’t even trying!
Dale Varnam’s 28-acre Fort Apache in Supply NC is one of those places that you stumble upon in wide eyed wonder that brings to mind the old saying that “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure”. He likes to call it a” Contemporary Art Museum”.
Driving down the old Stone Chimney Road heading towards Holden Beach, you will come upon an open toilet with a couple of legs legs protruding from it.
Even before you enter the premises through the front gate you will encounter stuffed dummies sitting in police cars while an enormous bus called the Crack Head Express warns passing drivers of the perils of drugs and to “stay off the rock.” Several cowboy-like figures hang from nooses.
This odd spectacle is just one part of a huge collection of random junk and artwork that comprise this 28 acre spread named Fort Apache. Much of the material comes from regional film and theater work.
Back in 1957, Varnam’s father, Olaf, started a junk yard and scrap metal repository just up the Lockwood’s Folly river from their family homestead of Varnamtown. Over the ensuing years it has metamorphosized into a stockpile of American memorabilia and oddities that are stuffed, hung, parked and placed in every available space.
Varnam can’t remember exactly why he named it Fort Apache, and it has drawn stares from people driving down Stone Chimney Road through Brunswick County for years.
“I guess I’d just call it art,” says 66-year-old Dale Varnam the owner of this odd roadside attraction.
Varnam collects the props from movie and theatrical sets, and puts them out for people to look at.
But Varnam said he also wants to make people think.
“Sometimes,” he said, “it’s hard to tell the dummies from the real people.”
Varnam’s past is also well-known in the area as he was caught up in a federal drug raid that made headlines in the 80’s known as “Operation White Tide” .
That part of his life started when Dale graduated Shallotte High School in 1971 and fell in love with money. He the found the best way to gain loads of it was trafficking in drugs.
He didn’t cared whether the cocaine he was unloading was pure or not as long as the money was.
“It was pure greed that I was addicted to,” said Varnam, now 65. “It was in 1972. I started dancing with the devil. I became addicted to money. I didn’t care about the drugs, or drinking. I just brought the drugs in for distribution. I never sold it retail to dealers on the street.”
In 1988, Varnam avoided prison time on three dozen cocaine trafficking charges after helping investigators indict 70 others in the wide-reaching sting.
Four years later, though, he was sentenced to 35 years after pleading guilty to several breaking and entering charges.
Varnam left prison in 2001, and became “saved and baptized,” and soon was dedicating himself to creating his unique version of a “theme park”.
Varnam and his cornucopia of the bizarre has been the location for a movie “Don’t Know Yet”, the subject of a documentary “Another Man’s Treasure”, and an episode after of the television series when back in 2011 The History Channel’s “American Pickers” spent a day indulging their curiosity.
“They called two days before they came to tell me they were coming,” Dale said.
The cast and crew of “American Pickers” arrived in Brunswick County and spent more than 10 hours digging on Dale’s property.
“So many people had told them they had seen my stuff and told them they needed to check it out,” Dale said.
In the summertime his business attracts a lot of attention from out of town and out-of-state guests who drop in to see what his displays are all about and to hunt treasures.
“They did their history on me,” Dale said. “They knew I like to help people out. I try to help so many people to keep them from going down a bad road. I’ve been down that road. There is the old Dale and the new Dale. If you dance with the devil some day you have to pay the piper.”
Dale said he did sell them some items but the thing they wanted most he wasn’t ready to part with.
“They loved my old cars,” he said. “They really wanted the cars from ‘The Godfather.’ I have all the papers and they knew what they were. But I held on to my cars. I did promise to contact them if I sold them.”
They bought a few signs, flight jackets and little cars. Dale said he was pretty sure they bought things that won’t air simply because there is so much to look at.
Dale said the guys were really down to earth and he enjoyed spending the day with them. “I was proud to have them,” Dale said. “And proud they were here with the new Dale instead of the old one.”
These Coastal NC beach prints of photos by Dwayne Schmidt are perfect for decorating a home at the beach!
From newborns to weddings to landscape photography.
Several of his pictures have been published in books and magazines.
Two years ago Dwayne and his work were featured on The Today Show, NBC Nightly News, Good Morning America, Fox News, CNN and in magazines and newspapers all over the world when a photo of his went “viral” on the internet.
Dwayne Schmidt’s photos of the barrier islands of NC are available as museum quality giclee prints in the Island Life NC Online Store!
The image held great poignancy with media around globe as it coincided with Memorial Day last year.
The story behind the image:
U.S. Marine Cpl. Caleb Earwood wanted to pray on his wedding with his bride Maggie before their ceremony but as everybody knows it’s bad luck for the groom to see the bride in her wedding dress before the ceremony.
So with the assistance of their family and wedding photographer Dwayne Schmidt, Caleb came down the stairs of the rental home where Maggie was getting ready for the service, and Maggie came out from the door on the ground floor.
With their eyes closed they both reached around to find each others hands. The couple joined hands around the corner so as not to break the tradition and see each other before reaching the altar.
“They hid me in a room and he stepped up on the stairwell and he stuck his hand out and I grabbed his hand,” Maggie Earwood told ABC News.
“As soon as their hands touched he started getting emotional,” Schmidt told ABC News.
“The whole room was full of emotion,” Schmidt said. “I tried not to cry and focus on what I was doing.”
The image shows the couple as they are turning away from each other, with their hands joined, as Caleb prays out loud and Maggie tries to hold back her tears. Caleb prayed for their marriage, asking that their union be strong enough to serve as an example for all young couples, Schmidt said.
“It broke me down,” Maggie Earwood said, “to know that we felt the same way about God. It just made me happy.”
“There were no dry eyes in the room,” she said.
Schmidt posted the photo to his Facebook page that night, meaning for it to be a sneak peek of his day’s work, but it quickly garnered more than 28,000 likes and went viral across the Internet. Dwayne Schmidt’s website had over 52,000 visits within 24 hours!
“So many people are emailing me,” Schmidt said, “saying thank you for sharing this. It’s what America is supposed to be about.”
The couple went on their honeymoon before returning to Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, where Caleb is based.