The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather


    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower


    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships


    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

2 years ago

Alabama’s Cook Museum of Natural Science educates and entertains all ages

(Cook Museum of Natural Science/Contributed)

Fifty years ago, it was a humble bug collection. Today, it’s a multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art, hands-on, fully immersive museum, with more than 62,000 square feet of space dedicated to the study of all aspects of nature.

This is the Cook Museum of Natural Science in Decatur, which opened in June after being closed for three years while the new location was being planned and built. The nonprofit museum allows visitors to learn about nature through a vast array of exhibits and interactive experiences, designed to captivate kids of all ages.

In the late 1960s, John Cook Sr. of Cook’s Pest Control started opening his private collection of insects – which until then had been used primarily for employee training – by appointment to various groups in north Alabama. The collection grew to include mounted wildlife, and the original museum opened in 1980 with additional displays of rocks, minerals, fossils and insects.


In more than 30 years of existence, what was the Cook’s Natural Science Museum welcomed more than 750,000 visitors. But the Cook family was at a crossroads about the future of the old museum after Cook died in 2009.

“The Cook family had the museum for so long that they did not want to close it, but they were not sure what to do,” marketing and public relations manager Mike Taylor said.

After extensive market research, in 2015 the decision was made to build a new museum. After closing the old museum in 2016, the Cook family began moving their collection into the new museum while acquiring additional artifacts.

The biggest challenge the new attraction faces is describing the number of new features to those familiar with the original Cook Museum. “It is hard to put the museum into words,” Taylor explained. “You have to come see it.”

All about nature

There are 11 themed galleries dedicated to the diverse habitats of Alabama, the Southeast and North America, including a life-size replica of a cave and a mesmerizing collection of rocks and minerals from different parts of the world.

North Alabama’s space industry is represented by a meteorite in the new museum. Visitors in the Rivers and Streams Gallery can learn about the whooping crane, common at nearby Wheeler Wildlife Refuge. The Arctic and Desert Gallery helps the visitor compare and contrast wildlife from those regions.

Cook’s original insect collection, along with hundreds of new species of insects, is available for viewing in the Wonderful World of Insects.

Giant aquariums hold different types of jellyfish and saltwater fish in the Oceans Gallery, while a large beehive stores as many as 60,000 Italian honey bees. There are even live baby alligators acquired from an alligator reservation in south Alabama, along with displays of other reptiles from North America.

Trained staff members, including an on-site veterinarian, are tasked with humanely treating the live animals. Once the animals outgrow their space in the museum, they are released back into appropriate habitats.

Keeping kids interested

The museum’s different hands-on exhibits, which include a virtual game that involves balancing the Earth’s atmospheric conditions and a station where you can digitally design a seashell, allow visitors various ways to discover the planet.

“We put a lot of thought and money into the different types of learning showcased in the different types of exhibits,” said Kara Long, manager of collections and gallery experience.

Children can burn off energy by peering inside a life-size beaver lodge, walking on a rope bridge above a replica of a Southeastern forest or crawling around an insect-themed playground.

To get students interested in nature, classrooms feature various programs to encourage careers in science, technology, engineering and math. “Using a child’s internal motivation to explore and learn, we can help them develop an early appreciation, sense of wonder, love and respect for the natural world that is so awe-inspiring,” Taylor said.

The museum will host field trips, birthday parties and sleepovers to encourage children and young students to visit the attraction. “There is already interest from across Alabama who want to take their students on a field trip to our museum,” Taylor said.

The museum is a community center for Decatur, with a cafe and meeting space for events, and a regional attraction for north Alabama and the Southeast.

“This museum is a rising tide for north Alabama,” president and board chairman Brian Cook said. “We see this museum as being a significant part of regionalism and are thankful for the many sponsors in north Alabama and beyond who made this museum possible.”

Cook is thankful his grandfather’s legacy lives on with the new museum.

“I recently asked my grandmother if she ever imagined that opening the doors to a few small school groups or Boy Scouts back in 1968 would lead to this,” Cook said. “She laughed and said, ‘No, I never saw this happening.’”

For more information, visit

(Courtesy of Alabama Living magazine)

3 years ago

50 Taters in Scottsboro offers casual, comfort-food dining

(Aaron Tanner/Alabama Living)

Among the restaurants in Scottsboro, 50 Taters stands out as a warm, inviting place to dine. The down-home appearance is evident throughout the property, from the rustic water tower and old pickup truck at the front of the place, to walls decorated with old movie posters, to the television that plays classic films from opening until closing time all day – except during Alabama and Auburn football games.


Owners David and Celisa Barclay had a goal of opening a restaurant that would make customers feel like they can take their time and dine in a friendly atmosphere. “Life is too busy,” David Barclay said. “This is a place where you felt at home 20 years ago.” The restaurant’s name comes from its signature dish, which is a 50-count potato stuffed with different types of meats.

Though David Barclay’s family is originally from Scottsboro, he spent most of his childhood in Detroit, where his father worked in the auto industry. After moving to Houston as an adult to start an office supply company, he came to Scottsboro to visit his grandmother in a nursing home. It was there he met his future wife, who happened to be his grandmother’s nursing aide.

He and Celisa married and moved to Houston. The newlyweds felt homesick for Alabama, so David sold his business and they moved to Scottsboro in 2004. The Barclays have owned and operated 50 Taters since 2009, after he learned to barbecue and then turned that passion into a way of making a living.

“I wanted to barbecue for fun, but it quickly became a business,” David said.

Growing with demand

After their first location opened in downtown Scottsboro in 2009, the restaurant exploded in popularity. The Barclays moved to a larger location in a busy shopping center off U.S. 72 in 2012. Customer demand outgrew the second location and they moved to an even larger building in March 2017. They opened a second 50 Taters in Rainsville in 2015.

The design for the current restaurant came about as construction went along. David likes old movies, while Celisa likes a country, rustic look; the couple decided to combine both interests.

“What is seen in the restaurant was not planned,” David said. Longtime customers had input, such as the design of a rock garden by the water tower that pays tribute to first responders and the military. “People will paint rocks and add them to our garden for someone who served,” Celisa said.

From spuds to ‘cue

Although barbecue plates and stuffed potatoes are the restaurant’s biggest sellers, other comfort food staples are on the menu, such as catfish, pot roast, chicken-fried chicken and steak. Also on the menu are large sandwiches, such as the Triple Bypass, which is a hoagie bun stuffed with smoked pork, brisket and sausage and topped with homemade sweet barbecue sauce.

The barbecue is smoked on site daily for 12 hours using hickory and pecan wood. The sweet red barbecue sauce and white sauce are the owners’ recipes. An indecisive diner can try the sampler platter, which features smoked pork, brisket, chicken, sausage, a pork shank, Texas toast and a side.

Daily specials are available for lunch and dinner, such as a meat and two vegetables deal for $6.99, which is popular enough that the restaurant often runs out in the middle of the afternoon. “Come early, because when it’s gone, it’s gone,” David said.

Options to satisfy one’s sweet tooth include sweet potato waffle fries with caramel sauce for a side dish, and various desserts, including hot fudge cake and peach cobbler. For early risers, 50 Taters serves breakfast on weekends, featuring traditional and unique breakfast entrees, including a country spin on eggs Benedict.

Locals enjoy coming back to 50 Taters, no doubt thanks to the affordable prices, consistency of the food and the low staff turnover. Some of the employees who worked at the original downtown location are still with the restaurant almost a decade later.

“Customers who return the next day or a year later will see most of the same staff,” David said. After starting out handling orders, the Barclays now handle the daily operations along with payroll and inventory, while the nearly two dozen staff members are responsible for getting the orders to customers.

The Barclays receive many compliments from people eating there for the first time who are amazed by the atmosphere and service. “We feel honored to hear people tell us where they are from and that they choose to eat with us,” David said. “It is one of our greatest rewards.”

This story originally appeared in Alabama Living.

50 Taters

1497 County Park Road
Scottsboro, AL 35769



11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday
11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday
7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday
7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)