Going to California – San Francisco to Santa Rosa

WoodflockWoodflock – a relatively unknown destination for those unfamiliar with Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours. For the last six years Flamingoheads from California and other places have gathered in the Sycamore Grove campground along the Sacramento River near Red Bluff, CA to enjoy time schmoozing with Antsy and the band and each other through music, meditation, arts and crafts and food. Held every Memorial Day weekend, the campground turns into a flamingo haven.

Singing with Antsy McClain
Singing with Antsy McClain

I have traveled with Antsy McClain on a cruise to Mexico, I have accompanied him on Field Trips in Kentucky and Texas and have toured with him and the band in Washington, Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia and California, but I have never had the opportunity to attend the pinnacle of Flamingohead Fantasy trips…Woodflock. That is, until last week. And what a trip it was!

Flying on the plane to California
Flying on the plane to California

I departed on a non-stop flight to San Francisco from Cincinnati on Thursday. It was a nice four and a half hour flight with views of clouds until we got over the Rocky Mountains In Colorado and oh what a view. The snow covered peaks and the lakes…phenomenal. We went right over Mount Evans, where I have set foot in the past. How fun.

A view of the Colorado Rockies form the air.  Lovely!
A view of the Colorado Rockies form the air. Lovely!
Riding with Carla and her little dog...we were Enjoying the RIde!
Riding with Carla and her little dog…we were Enjoying the RIde!

I arrived in San Francisco at about 11:30 AM California time and was met there by my Flamingohead friend Carla, a sweet and bouncy young lady of 70. Carla had worked out a few plans for our day and our drive to Santa Rosa, where she lives.

Mural at the Golden Gate Park Visitor's Center
Mural at the Golden Gate Park Visitor’s Center
At Golden Gate Park Visitor's Center in San Francisco.  Nice murals
At Golden Gate Park Visitor’s Center in San Francisco. Nice murals

We left SFO and began our trip north to the city where we first visited Golden Gate Park to see the lovely mural in the visitor’s center, the beautiful flowers and a cool old Dutch windmill. The park is a beautiful inner city park with lots to see, but we had to move on to see some of the other sights. Here are a few scenes.

A portion of the Golden Gate Park mural
A portion of the Golden Gate Park mural
Another section of the mural at Golden Gate Park
Another section of the mural at Golden Gate Park
A vivid painting under a stairwell at Golden Gate Park
A vivid painting under a stairwell at Golden Gate Park
There were also a number of tile mosaics.  This one was at the entrance to the restrooms in Golden Gate Park visitor's center
There were also a number of tile mosaics. This one was at the entrance to the restrooms in Golden Gate Park visitor’s center

In 1901, John McLaren, together with Park Commissioners Adolph B. Spreckles and Reuben Lloyd, convinced the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission to build a windmill 300 yards from the ocean. This windmill could take advantage of the prevailing winds to pump water for the park’s irrigation system.   Completed in 1902 at a cost of $25,000, the North Windmill was designed by Alpheus Bull Jr., a prominent San Franciscan at the time.  Over the years it has had to go through various restorations, but the blades now function, though the pump has long been removed.

Dutch Windmill (North Windmill) in Golden Gate Park
Dutch Windmill (North Windmill) in Golden Gate Park (Photo by Carla Lockwood)
The North Windmill in Golden Gate Park
The North Windmill in Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park runs along the coast and so there are plenty of beach scenes and birds, etc.

A couple sits on the beach near Golden Gate Park
A couple sits on the beach near Golden Gate Park
A hawk or falcon watches the scene on the beach
A hawk or falcon watches the scene on the beach
A young seagull has his own perch on a light pole
A young seagull has his own perch on a light pole
Mel's Drive-in in San Francisco
Mel’s Drive-in in San Francisco

Our next stop was for lunch. What better place than an old fashioned diner. We stopped at the historic Mel’s Drive-in, a throwback to the 1950s both in style and cooking. Every table had a Rock-ola jukebox with 50s and 60s songs. Though working hard to change my diet, coming to this diner was risky…the meatloaf looked fabulous. But, I stuck with a large salad and a couple of rolls. No butter. Great diner atmosphere and what appeared to be great diner food.

Sumoflam at Mel's Drive-in in San Francisco
Sumoflam at Mel’s Drive-in in San Francisco

The original Mel’s Drive-in, built in the 1940s, was used for George Lucas’ classic film American Graffiti. There are now a few in the San Francisco area and even a couple, with the trademarked name and logo, at amusement parks.  Following is a brief portion of the history from their website:

Rockola Juke Boxes line the store and fill it with 50s and 60s music
Rock-ola Juke Boxes line the store and fill it with 50s and 60s music

Following is a brief portion of the history of Mel’s as taken from their website:

DSC_2290“Mel Weiss and Harold Dobbs started it all back in 1947 when they built their first car hop eatery, inspired by similar restaurants serving motorists in Los Angeles. With a staff of fourteen carhops covering a 30,000 square foot parking lot, they lured the hungry with a local radio personality broadcasting a live remote. As music reverberated through car radios in the drive-ups, the curb-stepping gals of 140 South Van Ness became a new paradigm for service.

DSC_2286At all hours of the day and night, crowds of patrons that fancied dining-in-your-car came early and often. It didn’t take long for the first unit to multiply into eleven! Six Mels became landmarks in the Bay Area with additional cluster achieving their own notoriety in Stockton and Sacramento. They reigned for almost twenty years, until a parade of franchised fast food outlets finally outpaced their service. As the new philosophy of “serve yourself” began to reprogram attitude about dining, Mel’s began its gradual decline.”

A Drive Down Lombard Street in San Francisco

After a good lunch and a break, we drove around town and made our way to Lombard St., the so called Crookedest Street in the World.  The one-way block on Russian Hill between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets has eight sharp turns that supposedly make it the crookedest street in the world. The design, first suggested by property owner Carl Henry and built in 1922, was intended to reduce the hill’s natural 27% grade, which was too steep for most vehicles.  The sign at the top recommends 5 mph. There were dozens of tourists at the top of the road, all along the crooked road and even dozens more when we got to the bottom. A fun little drive, as can be seen from the video above.

Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco
Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco

After our little brake infused jaunt down Lombard St., we then meandered around town over to Fisherman’s Wharf.  Following are a few scenes from along the way.

Giant whale mural on a building
Giant whale mural on a building
A look towards downtown San Francisco
A look towards downtown San Francisco
Another unique mural seen along the way
Another unique mural seen along the way
Colorful houses along the streets of San Francisco
Colorful houses along the streets of San Francisco
Another colorful neighborhood with unique fountain art
Another colorful neighborhood with unique fountain art
A gull and a crow converse on a light pole in San Francisco
A gull and a crow converse on a light pole in San Francisco
Bike Rickshaws in Fisherman's Wharf
Bike Rickshaws in Fisherman’s Wharf
A proud seagull
A proud seagull
A skeleton pirate guards the entrance to a shop in Fisherman's Wharf
A skeleton pirate guards the entrance to a shop in Fisherman’s Wharf
Buildings upon buildings in the Presidio District of San Francisco
Buildings upon buildings in the Presidio District of San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge as seen from the approach from San Fraancisco
Golden Gate Bridge as seen from the approach from San Fraancisco
On the north end of Golden Gate Bridge
On the north end of Golden Gate Bridge

From Fisherman’s Wharf we made our way to the Golden Gate Bridge. There was plenty of construction going on so traffic was slow going. But, once we got to the bridge the fog began to sneak in above the bridge…a beautiful sight. We crawled across the bridge, which was covered in foot traffic as well. Truly a major attraction.

San Francisco as seen from across the Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco as seen from across the Golden Gate Bridge
A paddle boarder in the bay with the city behind her
A paddle boarder in the bay with the city behind her

Once across the bridge we found the viewing area which offered not only a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge, but an expansive view of San Francisco, Alcatraz Island, Coit Tower and more. And the weather was perfect.

A gorgeous view of the expansive and historic Golden Gate Bridge
A gorgeous view of the expansive and historic Golden Gate Bridge
A panorama of the bridge and the city
A panorama of the bridge and the city
Shrouded in fog
Shrouded in fog

I was last in San Francisco in 2009 with Antsy McClain when he and the band performed at the Great American Music Hall (see video below). But we didn’t have time to stop and enjoy the bridge.  So it was an awesome opportunity.

A pelican in flight over the bay
A pelican in flight over the bay
Headed north on US 101
Headed north on US 101

After the bridge we made our way into Novato to join another Flamingohead sweetheart, Ione, who would be lending me her RV (nicknamed IRV) for the weekend in Red Bluff.  We had some great Chinese food at the China Palace and then joined together for a fun picture to memorialize the occasion.

Heading to Novato, CA on US 101
Heading to Novato, CA on US 101
After dinner photo with Ione and Carla at the China Palace in Novato.  The meal was excellent...the company was amazing!!
After dinner photo with Ione and Carla at the China Palace in Novato. The meal was excellent…the company was amazing!!

After dinner, Carla drove us up to her doublewide trailer in Santa Rosa, CA.  She Lives in Aluminum and is happy there in Lot #36 …see the video below if you don’t get it!! (Taken in 2009 at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco…video by Sumoflam)

A nice 2500 mile day!

Next post will cover Santa Rosa to Ukiah to Red Bluff! (51)

#TBT – Visiting Erie Canal, JELL-O Museum, Bethlehem, Nicholson Bridge

(Author’s note: This post is another in my Throwback Thursday series.  Taken from August 2008 on a visit to Bethlehem for the Music Festival to join Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours.  I also visited a number of other sites. At the time I was still working in Woodstock, Ontario)

August 1, 2008: Instead of heading back to Kentucky for the weekend, I had the opportunity to go to Bethlehem, PA and join
Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours for their two performances at the 2008 Bethlehem MusikFest.  I decided to make a weekend of it and visit more places along the way that I had yet to get to.  It would be a fun weekend indeed!!

I headed out early and headed southeast towards Buffalo.  My adventures for the first day would take me to the Erie Canal and the Jell-O Museum, among other places.  The map of the entire trip is below.

Woodstock to Lockport, LeRoy and Penn Yan, NY then to Bethlehem and back

My first “tourist stop” along the way was Lockport, New York.  Lockport derived its name from the locks that were built on the Erie Canal through here.  It is only about 20 miles east of Niagara Falls.  Like many towns in NW New York and SW Ontario, the town was initially settled by Quakers.  In the 1820s construction on the Erie Canal was well underway and part of the route would go through Lockport.  The locks were the idea of Nathan Roberts. A sixty foot drop existed at Lockport and a way had to be devised to raise and lower the packet boats to complete the journey to Buffalo. Roberts’s idea was a twin flight of locks with five locks each. In 1823, work began on the lock construction. These locks were crucial to
the completion of the canal.

(click on link above to learn more about the canal)
A portion of a large painting in the museum depicting the construction of the locks on the Erie Canal
Another portions of a large painting in the museum depicting the construction of the locks on the Erie Canal
Another depiction of the locks by Robert E. Hager
Another image of the Locks from 1839 by W.H. Bartlett

Today the town of Lockport welcomes many visitors who come to see the historic locks, which have since been improved upon considerably as technology has allowed.  When I got to Lockport I visited the Erie Locks & Canal Museum, where there was a small video about the building of the canal and locks in the area.  I then walked over to the locks.

A unique welcome sign: Welcome to Lockport, NY
The Lockport Museum
A couple of girls who acted as guides at Lockport
The Old City Hall and the entrance to the Lockport Cave

There are tours down and through the canal from here as well as a boat tour down in the Lockport Cave. Due to time and money constraints I chose not to take them.  But I would love to have the time to take a whole day here to see the sights and history.  Maybe someday…..

There are basically two locks in Lockport, as the sign above shows. The Erie Canal reached Lockport in 1824, but the locks were completed on Oct. 26, 1825.

The complex was built as two sets of five flights of locks (one east-bound, one west-bound) and was considered to be an engineering triumph.  These would help traverse the Niagara escarpment which dropped 60 feet in the Lockport area. Lots of early photos can be seen here.   Following are Some views of the locks in Lockport

Middleport Bridge over the Erie Canal

From Lockport, I headed east along the Erie Canal and made my way into Middleport, a quaint little town with an interesting restaurant and bridge.  The Original Basket Factory was begun around 1893 to make baskets for fruit farmers along the canal.  It later became a nice little restaurant.

Lovely wreath at the Original Basket Factory
The Original Basket Factory Restaurant
The Original Basket Factory Restaurant overlooks the Erie Canal

From Middleport I continued east to Medina, NY (pronounced Ma-DIE-nah as I later found out) on NY Highway 31.  Another nice little town along the Erie Canal, Medina is the home to the
Medina Railroad Museum (which I did not visit) and is also home to a very large sculpted apple along the Erie Canal.

The “Big Apple” of Medina, NY
Another view of Medina’s “Big Apple” overlooking the Erie Canal. The apple is dedicated to the W. NY Fruit Growers who have added to the economy of the area.
The apple was sculpted by Richard D. Bannister between Jan. 99 to Sept. 2000. It is in Lion’s Park.

I went further east of Medina on NY 31 to find the only place along the canal with a tunnel going under it.  Just down the road on the left was Culvert Rd.  Take a left and it takes you directly to the tunnel. Known as the Culvert Road tunnel (or something like that), it was the only one ever on the Erie Canal and has existed here since
Clinton’s Ditch, another name for the Erie Canal. The original road culvert, on a slightly different alignment, was removed about 1854-1855 as part of the Erie’s enlargement.  The contract for the Enlarged Erie road culvert is dated October 24, 1854 and lists Conway and Slater as the contractors. The 1854/1855 Enlarged Erie culvert was substantially rebuilt or replaced as part of the Nine Million Dollar Improvement of 1895. The contract for the new structure was given to Charles A. Gorman and is dated December 7, 1896. The current road culvert represents an attempt during the Barge Canal’s construction to preserve, if unknowingly, the historic significance of the structure. The facade of the south end was dismantled and the stones numbered. It was then reinstalled at a new location to allow for the wider Barge Canal channel.

The Culvert Road tunnel under the Erie Canal
This tunnel is in Ripley’s Believe It or Not as the sign indicates
Another view of the tunnel from the other side
This is a view of the Erie Canal just above the tunnel. The rail fence across the canal is the same one above the tunnel photograph above

After my drive along NY 31, I headed south on NY 98 towards Batavia and then east on NY 5 into the historical town of Le Roy, NY. My main objective in visiting Le Roy was the JELL-O Museum.  This delectable bouncy treat was first developed in Le Roy in 1897 by Pearle Wait.  He was working with some cough syrup and laxative tea and then added some gelatin.  His wife called it Jell-O. The recipe was bought by a man named Orator F. Woodward in Sept. 1899. There is a lot of history about Jell-O, but perhaps the one thing that many people my age think of is Bill Cosby.

The JELL-O Museum, in Le Roy, New York
The JELL-O Museum welcome sign
Jell-O Museum T-shirt
Who likes Jell-O?
Bill Cosby memorabilia at the JELL-O Museum
The Bill Cosby plaque on the “JELL-O Brick Road”
Most popular flavors – Strawberry is #1; San Francisco is largest consumer, though Salt Lake City is the largest consumer of Lime JELL-O
Jell-O molds of all varieties
What good is Jell-O without spoons? Dozens hang from the ceiling throughout the museum
A cow adorns the porch–with JELL-O on its forehead
A side view of the Jell-O cow

After Le Roy I headed east on I-90 to highway 14 South.  I then went south through Finger Lake country along Seneca Lake to Geneva, then on 14A to the small town of Penn Yan, which sits on the north end of Keuka Lake.  This is beautiful country.  Penn Yan is also home of Birkett Mills, known for its famous Buckwheat flour, but also known to have the largest griddle in the world.

The World Record Pancake Griddle. People walk by so you an get an idea of the griddle’s size.

I continued south to Corning, NY and then to Elmira and then eventually wended my way to Clarks Summit, PA (near Scranton), where I spent the night. Scranton is the home of then Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate (with Barrack Obama).  I spent the night in the Ramada Inn, which is right next to an extremely high bridge called the Freedom Bridge.  It towers 163 feet high above the town
and is 1627 feet long. At one time was known as the “Suicide Bridge” due to the more than 20 suicides that took place from the 1980s to the present.

The Freedom Bridge over Clark’s Summit, PA

August 2, 2008: I was off to Bethlehem this morning.  No plans to stop along the way, so I headed south on I-380 and then down US 209.  I got into Bethlehem around 10 AM and had a great time driving around the town while waiting for Antsy McClain and the band to arrive in town later in the afternoon.

Bethlehem is in Eastern Pennsylvania and is a city of about 72,000.  It was the home of Bethlehem Steel, which began in Bethlehem in  1857 but succumbed to bankruptcy in 2003.  At one time it was the second largest steel producer in the United States.  The buildings look rusty and the factory is like an old sore.  But, there is now  construction of a new casino on the site.

As I drove around the city I was taken by the cultural diversity.   There is a large Puerto Rican community, the beautiful old Lehigh University and the old steel mill.

The old Bethlehem Steel Mill – now defunct
Another view of the old Bethlehem Steel Mill
Some of the old buildings
Old gears dot the properties
Another old gear
Lots of these could be seen around the area
Large crane on the site of the new casino;
A divergence of new homes with the rusted steel plant in their backyards
A view of a Bethlehem neighborhood as seen from Lehigh University
Downtown Bethlehem, PA

I drove up and down the streets near the steel plant and imagined how this area must have thrived in the heyday of steel production.  Homes were tightly built in rows, with little or no yards.  Nowadays most of the neighborhoods I drove through appeared to be Puerto Rican.

Old steel mill worker homes in Bethlehem
More close-knot homes on a narrow street in Bethlehem, PA
One of Bethlehem’s small narrow streets
More old classic Bethlehem homes
A final look at Bethlehem housing

Lehigh University is a beautiful old campus and has some wonderful old buildings too.

Old rustic tower on the campus of Lehigh University
Strange art piece on the Lehigh University campus
An old classroom building on Lehigh University campus

I also drove around the outskirts of town and there was nice farmland and even some geese….

An old stone house on the outskirts of Bethlehem
An old farm house surrounded by corn fields just outside of Bethlehem
A lovely old rustic barn in the countryside near Bethlehem, PA
Geese relax in a small area of brush near a farm

Of course, the highlight of the visit to Bethlehem was the
MusikFest and most especially, the performance of the fabulous music group known as Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours!!  The Troubs were scheduled for two nights here.  They were just a small part of dozens of performances on a number of stages.  The first night we played at 9 PM on the Liederplatz Stage.

A flag made of at the entrance of the Bethlehem MusikFest
A performance tent at Bethlehem MusikFest in 2008
The famous Antsy McClain rocks the crowd at Bethlehem MusikFest in 2008, with Chris ‘Spoonz” Long on drums, Pauly Zarb on Keyboards and Brian Gavron on mandolin
Fans give Antsy a big Amen

The show was a blast and all had fun.  After the show we all crashed at the hotel.

August 3, 2008: This morning was a great time to sleep in, which I did.  The hotel was comfy, had a huge TV in the room and I just lounged until late in the morning.  Antsy and I then took a small ride around town and then back to the hotel to get ready for the second night’s show.  We played the larger Americaplatz stage at 7:30 PM and had a crowd of nearly 500 watching the show.

Antsy McClain performs on day 2 of the MusickFest. Pauly Zarb on keyboards in the background
Antsy and Adam having fun on stage
Australian talent Pauly Zarb tickles the ivories as Antsy looks on.

The band had a blast…

Antsy McClain
Pauly Zarb..the Australian multi-instrumental talent
Brian Gavron picks a mean mandolin
Chris “Spoonz” Long on the drums

And of course, Sumoflam was on hand to handle the Merch and answer questions.  He Married Up!!

Sumoflam working the tables at MusikFest 2008
The crowds line up for merch and Antsy sightings
Sumoflam gets on stage for “I Married Up.”
Sumoflam high fives fans
Sumoflam joins with mandolin player Brian Gavron to sing harmonies on “Field Trip”

But more than the band, the crowds had a blast (including a number of die-hard Flamingoheads from PA and NJ!!!):

Fans dance to Antsy McClain
Flamingoheads Unite!
The crowd gets into it!
Yes, Antsy signs shirts, especially “I Married Up” Shirts

August 4, 2008: Well, as with everything else, the good things eventually go away and are done.  The two days of fun with the Troubs were done and I had to be back on the road to Woodstock again.  I chose my route home carefully so I could see one spectacular sight on the way.  So, from Bethlehem I drove north on PA 33 then to I-80.  I then drove wet to I-380 and headed north towards Scranton and eventually back to Clark’s Summit.  I exited there and headed north on US 11 towards Factoryville, which took me north along the Lackawanna Trail into Nicholson, PA.  As I drove into town I was awestruck by the amazing sight in front me.  Towering high above the town was this humongous cement train bridge.  This is the Nicholson Bridge (actually the Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct which celebrates its 100th anniversary in Sept. 2015).  It is 2375 feet long, 240 feet tall and 34 feet wide.  Yes, 24 stories tall!!!!!  The bridge was built as part of the Clark’s Summit-Hallstead Cutoff, which was part of a project of the Lackawanna Railroad to revamp a winding and hilly system. This rerouting was built between Scranton, Pennsylvania and Binghamton, New York.  All thirteen piers were excavated to bedrock, which was up to 138 feet  below ground level. Almost half of the bulk of the bridge is underground. The bridge was built by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad and was designed by Abraham Burton Cohen. Construction on the bridge began in May 1912, and dedication took place on November 6, 1915.

Main street Nicholson, PA and the Nicholson Bridge
The Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct towers over the small town of Nicholson, PA

Considering the immensity of this bridge, it is amazing that it was built nearly 100 years ago.  A detailed history of the bridge is here.
Following are more pictures.  I drove all around the town to get these photos and found that the best place to get photos of the length of the bridge was at the cemetery, which is up on a hill overlooking the town.  This is by far one of the greatest places I have “discovered” on my trips thus far.

The Nicholson Bridge as seen from the old train depot building.
The bridge from a distance
Nicholson Brisge as seen from the cemetery
A view of the bridge and the Tunkhannock Creek valley
A view of the Nicholson Bridge from the cemetery
The Nicholson Bridge as seen from below. It is dizzying to look up at it.
A view of a train crossing over the bridge

After the magnificence of the viaduct, I then had to head north.  I went through a town called Hop Bottom and then on the way up to New Milford. Hop Bottom got its name from the hops that are  grown in the area.  New Milford had an interesting library…

Welcome to Hop Bottom, PA
Old Ghost Sign for the Great Bend, PA Post Office
The uniquely designed Pratt Library building in New Milford, PA

I also made my way through the Finger Lakes of New York.  Along the road north of Ithaca I saw a sign about Taughannock Falls. I knew nothing about this waterfall, but the viewpoint was just off the road, so I took a little jaunt to catch a peek.  The Falls have a drop of about 215 feet and is one of the highest waterfalls in the eastern U.S. It was an amazing sight, but unfortunately the light was not at the best angle for a good photo.

A view of the bridge at the base of Taughannock Falls in New York
Taughannock Falls in New York
Looking out at Taughannock Falls
Another view of Taughannock Falls in the shadows of late afternoon

Beautiful scenery, but no time to stop along the way…

A pink elephant near Owego, NY
Another view of the Owego, NY Pink Elephant
Corn fields and farms bedazzle in the Finger Lakes region of New York
A view of one of the Finger Lakes in New York
Finally, I ran into some wonderful sunflowers in the Finger Lakes region of New York

And finally, beautiful sunflowers

Some roadside guidance provided by……

 

(174)

#TBT – Going Through Hell to Get to Grand Rapids, MI

(Note: This is a Throwback Thursday post of a trip I made to Michigan from Woodstock, Ontario in May 2008.  Main reason for the trip was to see an Arena Football game, but I made a grad tour road trip of it, including a visit to Hell (MI)!)

by David “Sumoflam” Kravetz (on the “Blaze Bench”)

May 31, 2008: This weekend was yet another opportunity for me to go see my friend Aaron Boone play football.  The Utah Blaze will play in Grand Rapids, MI tomorrow and I decided I would drive there to see the game.  It is actually the closest of the three games that
I will be able to attend this season. (The others were Cleveland and Philadelphia).  In looking at the map and trying to determine the places I would be able to see along the way, I found that Hell, MI was kind of on the way.  As I noted in my trip to Cleveland to see the game there, I lost my vehicle in a bad accident and practically went through hell to get to Cleveland.  This time, I LITERALLY went through Hell to get to Grand Rapids.  For my route I also went through the oil country of Ontario on the way over and, as always, I spiced up the trip with an assortment of places to stop.  The map below tells the geographical story of this two day adventure.

From Woodstock through Hell (#9) to Grand Rapids and back again in two days

The game would be held on Sunday afternoon in Grand Rapids, so I left early Saturday morning.  A drive straight through to Grand Rapids is about 4 hours or so.  But, I took the long way (don’t I always??) so as to see more countryside and places of interest
(at least to some folks).

By 7:30 AM I was on the Canada 401 Hwy heading west to London, Ontario where I would hop on the Canada 402.  I took exit 82 and then headed via back roads through farmland towards Oil Springs, ON.

A Barn near Oil Springs, ON – love the old wagon in front of the barn
A barn with an Airstream near Oil Springs, ON. Gotta love Airstreams….

I eventually made my way down Gypsie Flats Road and as I neared the intersection of Gum Bed Line I could smell the petroleum in the air.  The first things I see are an odd variety of old and new oil wells and a number of metal sculptures depicting the early oil industry.  These fit nicely into my “scrap metal folk art” collection so I got a number of photos of these.  All of these were on the Fairbank Oil Properties, named after John Henry Fairbank, who started these fields in 1861. Apparently all of these metal sculptures were made by local metal-worker Murray Watson, who owns Watson’s Machine Shop in Oil Springs and each of the sculptures is supposedly based on a real person connected to the oil business in the area.

A Horse Drawn Oil Tanker
Close up of the Oil Tanker worker…all made form Scrap Metal
Scrap Metal Horse
Driving the horses
Climbing the ladder of an oil well
An Oil Tanker Teamster
Must be the “big shot”
Steam engine driver

I was also interested in the variety of oil wells in operation. The “black gold, Texas Tea…” was flowing freely from these contraptions.  They are noisy and indeed were pumping away:

Old fashioned oil pump in Oil Springs, Ontario
Another unique style of oil pump in Oil Springs, ON
A “jerker line” in Oil Springs

These are called “jerker lines”, a method used to pump oil to the surface from multiple wells using a shared steam engine (see the lines attached)  This method was invented by John Henry Fairbank

I finally got into the small town of Oil Springs, which touts itself as site of the first commercial oil well in North America (they were celebrating their 150th anniversary in 2008, which celebrated the discovery of oil in 1858).  Ironically, just a week earlier I drove through Oil City, PA and nearby Titusville, PA which has the same claim (they claim theirs was the birthplace of the Oil Industry in 1859).  In any case, the oil wars continue today as I am (actually aren’t we all?) battling with $4.00/gallon prices in the U.S. and $1.30/liter (abt. $4.92/gal) prices in Canada. 

An old oil well
Welcome to Oil Springs, site of the first commercial oil well in North America
A scene from the Oil Springs museum

Oil Springs is home to the Oil Museum of Canada.  Unfortunately, it was still early so they were not open.  But I got out and walked around the grounds, got a few photos and visited the site of the first oil well.  The story, in a nut shell: Charles Nelson Tripp,  his brother and businessmen from Hamilton and New York City came together to form the International Mining and Manufacturing Company for the purpose of producing asphalt from the Ontario gum beds situated in Enniskillen Township. This was the first oil company formed in North America. Its charter empowered the company to explore for asphalt beds and oil and salt springs, and to manufacture oils, naphtha paints, burning fluids, varnishes and related products. Then  a manufacturer of railway carriages at Hamilton bought Tripp’s land and oil rights. Tripp stayed on the payroll as landman. Williams formed the J.M.Williams Company. After unsuccessful attempts at commercial production from the gum beds Williams hand-dug and cribbed a well 49 feet deep. It did not reach bedrock but produced as much as 150 gallons per hour by hand pump. The oil was refined for illuminating oil and lubricants. Then, in 1858, with stagnant algae-ridden water almost everywhere and, looking for better drinking water, Williams dug a well a few yards down an incline from his asphalt plant. At a depth of 20 meters, the well struck free oil instead of water. In 1858 it became the first oil well in North America, remembered as Williams No. 1 at Oil Springs, Ontario. (This was a year before Edwin Drake drilled his famous wildcat
in Pennsylvania in 1859.)  — This info comes from Petrolia’s Website.

After visiting Oil Springs I drove north on Oil Heritage Road into Petrolia and then on to Wyoming.  I had planned to stop in Petrolia, but I still had a lot to see so I skipped Petrolia and it was early anyway so the museum and other sites would not be open anyway.  I got through Wyoming and was back on the 402 heading west towards Sarnia, into Point Edward and over the Blue Water Bridge.  I have crossed this bridge a number of times, but have yet to actually stop and decided not to this time as well.  There are some beautiful scenes of Lighthouse Park (in Port Huron, MI) and I think the park in Point Edward, ON would offer some nice shots of the lighthouse over the St. Clair River, which serves as the border between Canada and the U.S.  Maybe on my next trip…..

I made it through Flint, MI on I-69 and then headed south from there on US-23.  The scenery was grand as I drove by glimmering lakes and ponds and through nice wooded areas.  As I got closer to my next destination I could see that there were a number of recreation areas.  I turned west on 9 Mile Road heading towards Hamburg and then on M36 into Pinckney.  I got there just in time for some big festival in town.  It was already crowded by 10:30 AM.  I knew that I had to turn from Pinckney to had south to Hell. I finally saw my sign:

I thought it funny that you turn on Howell to go to Hell

The drive to Hell, Michigan is actually quite scenic.  You take D19 south to Patterson Lake Road and then turn right.  This is about a five mile drive.  Hell is actually located inside Pinckney Recreation Area near four or five lakes.  It is also considered a part of the town of Pinckney.  According to the official Hell Website, the town got its name as follows:  Hell was first settled in 1838 by George Reeves and his family. George had a wife and 7 daughters – no reason to call it Hell yet… George built a mill and a general store on the banks of a river that is now known as Hell Creek. The mill would grind the local farmers’ grain into flour; George also ran a whiskey still, so a lot of times the first 7-10 bushels of grain became moonshine.  In turn, horses would come home without riders, wagons without  drivers….someone would say to the wife, where is your husband?  She’d shrug her shoulders, throw up her arms and exclaim, Ahh, he’s gone to Hell!”  In 1841 when officials from the State of Michigan  came by, and asked George what he wanted to name his town, he replied, “Call it Hell for all I care, everyone else does.” So the official date of becoming Hell was October 13, 1841… (you can click here for the LONG history of Hell).

Welcome to Hell, MI

Well, arriving in Hell was not as exciting as I thought it would be.  There are only three businesses operating there (that I could see). The population is around 74 they say. As well, according to the Screams Ice Cream shop the locals are referred to as hellions,  hellbillies or wannabes.

Hell’s Mayor’s office
Hellish Flamingoes
The Ice Scream Store signage
Directions to other interesting places
That way to Hell
Dam Fine Food
Survivor of Hell
Been to Hell and Back mugs
Been to Hell and Back T-Shirt
Hell Froze Over (and it does annually!)
I asked if there was a restroom and they sent me to the back to use one of these. So, bear in mind that if you go to Hell you will have to use the PortaPotty – No restrooms in Hell…
…but there IS a Post Office in Hell!!! (Zip 48169)

Enough about Hell.  A fun place to say you have been through…so, now I have been to Hell and Back. Now, on to more places….  In my research of where to go I noticed that just south of Hell is another interesting town called Chelsea.  I just had to go there since my daughter is Chelsea and since it was so close.  I took a number of winding roads and finally made my way to M52 and went south into
Chelsea.

Heading to Chelsea, MI
Welcome to Chelsea, MI

I actually found two places to visit in Chelsea.  The first actually has an official Guinness World Record.  It is the Chelsea Teddy Bear
Company
.  Their record is for the world’s largest “Teddy Bear Mosaic”. They also have “Goliath”, the World’s Largest Stuffed Teddy Bear (over 10 feet tall!!) and then there is the 7′ tall “Happy” Grizzly Bear.  Naturally, I got Chelsea a T-Shirt that she can wear proudly!

Chelsea Teddy Bear Co.
Part of the World’s Largest Teddy Bear Mosaic – made from 360 teddy bears
Guinness World Record Certificate
Sign says it all
Goliath, the World’s Tallest Teddy Bear
Happy Grizzly Bear at Chelsea’s

Chelsea is also home to one of my wife Julianne’s favorite products for use around Thanksgiving and when she makes chili.  It is the home of the Chelsea Milling Company, known for their Jiffy Muffin Mix.


Chelsea also has some interesting folk art in the town square area

The Chelsea Town Hall Clock Tower

I was now back on the road going from Corn Meal Mix to Cream of Wheat as I headed south to I-94 out of Chelsea towards my next destination. Once on I-94 I was heading west to Exit 138 to US 127 north to the small town of Leslie, MI.  Here I would find one of those real obscurities.  As I mentioned Cream of Wheat, the story will be told first:

Cream of Wheat boxes through the years: early 1900s, 1940s, current (minus the Nabisco logo)

The boxes were hand-made and lettered, and emblazoned with the image of a black chef produced by Emery Mapes. The character was named Rastus, and the image was included on all boxes and advertisements and continues to be used today with only very slight changes. A stereotypical black icon was fairly common for U.S. commercial brands at the time of the cereal’s creation; for other examples, see Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben. It has long been thought that a black chef named Frank L. White was the model for the chef shown on the Cream of Wheat box. White, who died in 1938 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Leslie, Michigan claimed to be the
model for the Cream of Wheat box. In June 2007, a headstone was erected for Mr. White. The headstone contains his name and an etching taken from the man depicted on the Cream of Wheat box.

I made my way into town and then to Woodlawn Cemetery. There are two roads in, one paved and one dirt.  Take the dirt road under the Woodlawn Cemetery sign and take the fork to the right.  His is the first marker on ground on the right just off the road.

Frank L. White grave marker in Woodlawn Cemetery
Close up of Frank L. White picture engraved on the grave marker

Frank L. White: African American chef best known as the model featured on Cream of Wheat breakfast cereal boxes. White was born in Barbados in 1867 before immigrating to the U.S. in 1875 and
becoming a citizen in 1890. White lived much of his life in Leslie, Michigan, and was working as a master chef at a Chicago restaurant the time he was photographed for the cereal box in 1900. White died on February 15, 1938, and is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery. In June 2007, his grave, which was previously unmarked, received a headstone.

Now when you eat Cream of Wheat you can have this interesting story to tell.  (Please make mine lumpy!) He apparently never made a penny off of his image.

After paying homage to Mr. White, I continued north on US 27 to
just south of Lansing and then onto I-96 to head further west through Portland, Berlin and Boston, to Exit 43 where I would head north to Ada, MI.  Ada is home to one of 11 covered bridges in Western Michigan.  The Ada Covered Bridge spans the Thornapple River that runs through Ada.  It is 125 feet long and was originally built around 1867 using “Brown” trusses that were patented by Josiah Brown of Buffalo, NY in 1857. This particular bridge has had its troubles through the years and was eventually destroyed by fire.  The community, with help from nearby Amway Corporation, rebuilt the bridge in 1979.  This bridge is only for pedestrian use now.

Ada Covered Bridge
Entrance to Ada Covered Bridge in Ada, MI
Side view of the Ada Covered bridge

By the time I was done with the Ada Bridge, it was getting late.  I was just outside of Grand Rapids, so I checked into my hotel room at the Super 8 near the Gerald R. Ford Airport and then headed across town to meet Aaron Boone.  We met for dinner and then took a drive around Grand Rapids looking at some of the old churches as
well as a ride west towards Lake Michigan.  We made it to about 100 yards of the lake and didn’t know it and it was dark anyway.  It was a pleasant time talking about family, life, football, etc.

Hanging with Aaron Boone at Charley’s Crab in Grand Rapids, MI
The magnificent Basilica of St. Adelbert in Grand Rapids, MI
The Basilica was built in 1881
Extravagant and colorful stained glass on the Basilica of St. Adelbert in Grand Rapids, MI
One of many stained glass windows at the Basilica of St. Adelbert in Grand Rapids, MI
We saw this other church at sunset on the way to Holland, MI

June 1, 2008: Today was game day, but it was beautiful outside and so I decided to take a drive to see another of the covered bridges.  I had hoped to find it yesterday, but I got lost and it wasn’t signed very well.  This time I had specific directions and drove east on I-96 to the Lowell exit 52 and headed north through Lowell up Lincoln Lake Ave. to Fallasburg Park Dr., about 5 miles north of Lowell.  This is the site of the Fallasburg Covered Bridge. This bridge is a single span bridge also using Brown trusses.  It is 100 feet long and 14 feet tall and allows single lane traffic by car as it crosses the Flat River.  But, if you go faster than someone walking you will be “fined $5″ according to the sign on the bridge. When I got there I was awestruck by the beautiful setting.  On top of that, there was a man there fishing and the shot was too tempting.   Barry O. gave me permission to photograph him and use it on the web.

Barry O. enjoying his retirement fishing on the river near Fallasburg Bridge
A care drives through the Fallasburg Bridge
A side view of the Fallasburg Covered Bridge
Front view of the Fallasburg Covered Bridge near Lowell, MI

Crossing over the river on the bridge and then up the hill takes you into the historic village of Fallasburg.  There are some historical buildings.

Old Fallasburg School House
A rustic barn in Fallasburg park
Purple Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis Matronalis)
These purple and white Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis Matronalis) surrounded the barn and were very fragrant
Rustic barn with Dame’s Rocket flowers
View of Flat River as seen from the Fallasburg Covered Bridge

After a nice morning visit, it was time to head back to Grand Rapids to get the tickets and get excited about the ball game. The Utah Blaze really needed a win here to stay in contention for the playoffs.
First of all, I sat on the “Blaze Bench” in Hell for good luck (see photo at top of page).  I had yet to attend a game played by Aaron Boone as an Arena player that they had won.  I was 0 for 5.  So, I hoped my streak would be broken.  I had to go through Hell to get here!!

The game went well. The Blaze won 63-56 over the Grand Rapids Rampage though Boone’s Touchdown streak was held to 13 games in a row as he didn’t get one this game.  But, my streak was broken and better yet, the Blaze stayed in contention for the playoffs!  Following are a few photos I took at the game.   I had great seats right behind the Blaze bench.

Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, MI
Ready for some football!
Utah Blaze offense
Then Blaze Head Coach Danny White
Head Coach Danny White gives instructions to QB Joe Germaine

Coach Danny White attended Westwood H.S. in Mesa, the same as my wife. My mother-in-law was one of his high school teachers. Germaine is also from Mesa and led Ohio State to a Rose Bowl win.

Aaron Boone on the field
The Utah Blaze receivers in 2008
Aaron Boone getting ready to run a route
The Utah Blaze win!

After the game I saw Aaron off and headed home.  It was Sunday and I had to be back at work in the morning.  However, on the way home I had one more place to visit. I needed dinner, so I would stop at a planned place.  I discovered this one on roadsideamerica.com and thought it would fit my eclectic style.

Travelers Club International Restaurant and Tuba Museum in Okemos, MI
Travelers Club International Restaurant and Tuba Museum in Okemos, MI

Yes, the name conjures up all kinds of imaginations.  But, as with other strange and wonderful places I have visited in the past, I needed to add this to my collection. (Note: As of this writing in 2015, the restaurant is closed, but is trying to reestablish in Lansing, MI) The TCIR and Tuba Museum not only has an interesting interior, but the menu is also a variety of Asian, ethnic, Greek, and whatever else they could conjure up. I actually had a Greek salad and a Buffalo burger…yes, Buffalo…not in Montana, South Dakota or Colorado…but in some little small town in Michigan!

Buffalo burger at TCIR

The real charm of this place is the decor…with all kinds of tubas everywhere

Tuba decorations everywhere
Old tubas adorn the walls of the Tuba Museum
A sousaphone on the wall
Sousaphones on the ceiling
More tubas, sousaphone and other assorted horns
One of the staff members hams it up
This guy really looked the part at this eclectic eatery

It was spring and the flowers were in bloom and the fountains were running.

Iris and lilacs adorned the outside of the Tuba Museum
The famed Sousaphountain….one of a kind

It was a pleasant ending to a rather long weekend.  Eye candy, good food and wonderful fragrance.  The drive back to Woodstock was uneventful and went quickly. It was a great time.

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Enjoying the Ride on the Back Roads of America

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