Sumoflam Flashback – Adventures in Southwestern Ontario: Oxford County

Tobacco Barns in SW Ontario Canada
Tobacco Barns in SW Ontario Canada

In 2008 I spent about nine months working as a Japanese interpreter in Woodstock, Ontario at the new Toyota Plant that was being built there at the time.  Over the course of that nine months I had many opportunities to visit dozens of places in rural Ontario and made my way to Toronto and some if the larger towns in the area around Toronto.  I have posted a number of “Travel Journals” with extensive details about all of these visits on my Sumoflam Trip Journals site.

Southwestern Ontario in the Red
Southwestern Ontario in the Red

Southwestern Ontario is centered on the city of London. It extends north to south from the Bruce Peninsula on Lake Huron to the Lake Erie shoreline, and east to south-west roughly from Guelph to Windsor. Other significant towns and cities in the region are Brantford, Cambridge, Chatham, Goderich, Ingersoll, Kitchener, Owen Sound, Sarnia, St. Thomas, Stratford, Tillsonburg, Waterloo, Windsor, and Woodstock.

Snow Countess - large cow statue in Woodstock, Ontario
Snow Countess – large cow statue in Woodstock, Ontario

In this first edition of my “Adventures in Southwestern Ontario” series, I will take a brief trip around Oxford County, one of the fifteen counties/municipalities comprising Southwestern Ontario.  Oxford County has been a municipality (rather than a county) since 1991. It covers a little over 787 square miles and has a total population of just over 100,000 people.  It is almost in the center of the Southwestern Ontario region and is one of the land-locked counties.

A typical road in Oxford County
A typical road in Oxford County

Oxford County is predominantly agricultural with dairy being one of its industries (Thus the big statue of the Snow Countess above). Also in the area is a famous “sugar bush” where maple syrup is made.  Corn and tobacco are also crops in the area. While in Woodstock I became good friends with the Director of Tourism at the time.  She was gracious enough to provide me with plenty of ideas on where to visit, when to visit, etc.  I was also honored by inclusion of three of my writeups on their website.

Woodstock, Ontario water tower
Woodstock, Ontario water tower

I was fortunate enough to experience three seasons in Oxford…I arrived in the middle of a cold and snowy winter.  But, I enjoyed the spring and the flowers.  I also enjoyed the wonderful summer and even sometime into the fall.

Giant pile of snow in Woodstock - February 2008
Giant pile of snow in Woodstock – February 2008
Winter scene in rural Oxford County, Ontario
Winter scene in rural Oxford County, Ontario
Summer scene in rural Oxford County, Ontario
Summer scene in rural Oxford County, Ontario

Oxford County is chock full of history with some unique museums — including two National Historic Sites.  The Woodstock Museum is one of the National Historic Sites.  Located in the old town hall, the museum, though small, houses the 1879 Council Chambers, a number of historical artifacts from early settlers and even a rifle display.

Woodstock Museum - The Old Town Hall - Woodstock, Ontario
Woodstock Museum – The Old Town Hall – Woodstock, Ontario
1879 Council Chambers in old Town Hall (Woodstock Museum) - Woodstock, Ontario
1879 Council Chambers in old Town Hall (Woodstock Museum) – Woodstock, Ontario
Relics in Oxford Rifle Museum - Militia Uniforms and drums from early 1800s - Woodstock Museum
Relics in Oxford Rifle Museum – Militia Uniforms and drums from early 1800s – Woodstock Museum
Old Wagon Wheel in the Building a City Gallery of Woodstock Museum
Old Wagon Wheel in the Building a City Gallery of Woodstock Museum

The other National Historic site is the Tillsonburg Museum – the Annandale House, which I did not get a chance to visit (there are so many great places to visit in SW Ontario!!!).  But, I did get a chance to visit the smaller Beachville District Museum in the small community of Beachville, Ontario.  This small town has the unique status of claiming to be the home of the first ever recorded game of baseball in North America. According to the museum, the group of men who gathered in a Beachville pasture on June 4, 1838 to enjoy a friendly game of baseball had little idea that they were making history. Their match was the first recorded baseball game in North America. It occurred one year prior to the famous Cooperstown game.  The museum has a number of artifacts from this game and even has an annual game on the land outside the park, using the original 5 base configuration.

Welcome to Beachville, Ontario
Welcome to Beachville, Ontario
Beachville Museum - Beachville, Ontario
Beachville Museum – Beachville, Ontario
Beachville District Museum sign
Beachville District Museum sign
100 year anniversary jersey of Beachville baseball game
100 year anniversary jersey of Beachville baseball game
Old Chest Protector in Beachville Museum
Old Chest Protector in Beachville Museum
Old baseball and mitt in Beachville Museum
Old baseball and mitt in Beachville Museum

The Beachville Museum is also home of a number of agricultural implements and old vehicles.

Old Sign in Beachville Museum - Beachville, Ontario
Old Sign in Beachville Museum – Beachville, Ontario
Old farm implement at Beachville Museum
Old farm implement at Beachville Museum
Old fire truck in Beachville Museum
Old fire truck in Beachville Museum

Baseball was not the only game that got some fame in Oxford County.  The game of Crokinole celebrates its annual World Championships in Tavistock, a town in northern Oxford County.

Crokinole World Championships
Crokinole World Championships

What is Crokinole?  Basically, Crokinole is an action board game similar in various ways to marbles with elements of shuffleboard and curling reduced to table-top size. Players take turns shooting discs across the circular playing surface, trying to have their discs land in the higher-scoring regions of the board, while also attempting to knock away opposing discs.

Crokinole Board from World Championships in Tavistock, Ontario
Crokinole Board from World Championships in Tavistock, Ontario
Flicking the disk with a finger
Flicking the disk with a finger

The earliest known crokinole board was made by craftsman Eckhardt Wettlaufer in 1876 in Perth County, Ontario. Several other home-made boards of southwestern Ontario origin, and dating from the 1870s, have been discovered since the 1990s. It seems to have been patented on April 20, 1880, in New York City by Joshua K. Ingalls. In 2006, a documentary film called Crokinole was released. The world premiere occurred at the Princess Cinema in Waterloo, Ontario, in early 2006. The movie follows some of the competitors of the 2004 World Crokinole Championship as they prepare for the event.  Ironically, a former work associate of mine in the 2000s in Lexington was a participant in the championships and has been noted in books and the movie.

Crokinole Trophies
Crokinole Trophies

Tavistock is home to a number of Mennonite Churches and groups.  Indeed, Oxford County has a number of Mennonites and Amish in the area. Here are a few shots I have from my visits with them (some may be from neighboring counties)…

Mennonite father and daughter selling Maple Syrup
Mennonite father and daughter selling Maple Syrup
Mennonite Maple Syrup stand
Mennonite Maple Syrup stand
Amish cart in front of house in Oxford County, Ontario
Amish cart in front of house in Oxford County, Ontario
Amish folk shopping in Oxford County, Ontario
Amish folk shopping in Oxford County, Ontario
Amish buggy in modern neighborhood in Oxford County, Ontario
Amish buggy in modern neighborhood in Oxford County, Ontario
A Mennonite Buggy
Amish buggy and horse parked in a lot in Oxford COunty
Amish buggy and horse parked in a lot in Oxford County

On one trip south of Woodstock, I was on a dirt road and came across an amazing tulip farm.  Here are some shots…

Tulip farm in southern Oxford County, Ontario
Tulip farm in southern Oxford County, Ontario
Tulips in Oxford County, Ontario
Tulips in Oxford County, Ontario
Tulips and daffodils
Tulips and daffodils

Woodstock is also home to one of the more unique “Yard Art” menageries – The Cliff Bruce Windmill Hill.

Cliff Bruce Windmill Hill - Woodstock, Ontario
Cliff Bruce Windmill Hill – Woodstock, Ontario

The Bruces have amassed a quirky collection of windmills, whirl-a-gigs, railroad implements and more…all in their yard.  There are few places like this that I have run across over the years and miles (Hamtramck Disneyland in Detroit is another).

Cliff Bruce Windmill Hill "warning" sign
Cliff Bruce Windmill Hill “warning” sign
Scene from Cliff Bruce Windmill Hill in Woddstock, Ontario
Scene from Cliff Bruce Windmill Hill in Woddstock, Ontario
Cliff Bruce main entrance
Cliff Bruce main entrance
Clydesdales and a superhero whirlygig
The Bruce’s version of the Michelin man?
Whirlygig Maximus
Cats and more at Cliff Bruce Windmill Farm in Woodstock, Ontario
Cats and more at Cliff Bruce Windmill Farm in Woodstock, Ontario
Old Cowboy Statue at Cliff Bruce Windmill Hill
Old Cowboy Statue at Cliff Bruce Windmill Hill

In the form of entertainment, I had the opportunity on two occasions to visit the Walters Dinner Theatre in Bright, Ontario (Bright is also known for its Cheese Factory)

Walters Family Dinner Theatre – Bright, Ontario

The Walters Family offers a little taste of Branson in the back woods of Ontario. They have established a fun program…a country dinner buffet and then an hour and a half of live music, sometimes from some great guest musicians. From June to October they put on six shows a week through the end of October and then in December they put on a Christmas extravaganza. (You can see more of complete writeup here)

Bradley Walters – the Leader of the Band
The Walters Family putting on a show in 2008

It all started a number of years ago when father Garry had his three children Bradley, Kimberley and Darren form the Walters Trio. Soon Garry and his wife Shirley were learning drums and bass guitar and joined the kids in performances. As a family they have toured with the Osmonds and have performed with Lawrence Welk and other groups.

The best part is the wonderful buffet

The buffet line for Rolled Ribs (with sage stuffing), roast beef, cole slaw, potatoes and gravy, veggies and fresh baked bread. They even had creamed horseradish which I slathered on my rolled ribs…yum!

The Rolled Ribs

Perhaps one of the best things about the Woodstock area is internationally known Jakeman’s Maple Products, located in Beachville. I got to visit Jakeman’s on a number of occasions and love their fresh maple syrup.  Back in 2008 I even had a nice page about them (see here).

Jakeman's Maple Products - Beachville, Ontario
Jakeman’s Maple Products – Beachville, Ontario

Jakeman’s is owned by Bob and Mary Jakeman, who are fourth generation Maple Syrup farmers. As their history states in their brochure, Bob’s great grandfather George and his wife Betsy Anne Jakeman came from Oxfordshire, England to Oxford County in Ontario. They were taught the maple syrup making technique by local native Canadians. Back then they collected the sap and boiled it down in an iron kettle over an open wood fire until it was golden brown. The family business has grown throughout the years and now the Jakeman name is known all over Canada and throughout the world. They have over 1000 taps.

Mary and Bob Jakeman in 2008
Mary and Bob Jakeman in 2008

Their shop is housed in an old rustic building. Originally built in 1855, it used to be the Sweaburg General Store and post office in Sweaburg. In 1976 the Jakeman’s moved the entire building to its present location. Inside is a maple gift shop, a small museum and a pancake house (much different than a IHOP!!). My first thought as I entered was WOW, look at all of the different products made from maple syrup…cookies, candies, wine, snacks, etc. Of course, they had a great variety of 100% Maple Syrup, which is drawn from trees on site, boiled on site and bottled there as well. You can see a good variety of their products (and order them as well) at their website: www.themaplestore.com. Unbeknownst to me, their #1 Medium Maple syrup was named the best tasting in Canada among 8 national brands by the National Post newspaper in 2004.

Best Syrup in Canada
Best Syrup in Canada

Trees are “tapped” to get the syrup.  On one of my visits, Bob explained the process in detail.

Bob Jakeman explains the tapping process
Sugar Shanty where maple syrup is processed

Fact: It takes about 40 liters of Maple sap to make 1 liter of Maple Syrup.
Fact: They don’t start boiling it down until they get at least 500 liters of sap.
Fact: A tree is tapped once a year in a different place each year. The trees have scars from previous years.
Fact: The sugar bush is self-generating. They do not plant the trees. Rather, the trees seed the ground and grow.
Fact: The Jakeman’s Maple Bush has about 1000 trees that are tapped. They contract with many others in the area as well.

Pancake Breakfast at Jakeman’s

On Saturday and Sunday mornings in March every year Jakeman’s offers a pancake breakfast along with small tours of their facility. The pancake breakfast is a fundraiser for the local 4H Club and all of the members are there to make pancakes, take orders and serve. There is room in the Jakeman’s store for about 35 people.

Some of their products

On a final note, I would like to introduce the flower called a Trillium.  A white trillium serves as the emblem and official flower of the Ontario. It is also an official symbol of the Government of Ontario. One wonderful place to see an abundance of trillium in the spring is the Trillium Woods Provincial Park south of Woodstock.

A walking trail at Trillium Woods Provincial Park
A walking trail at Trillium Woods Provincial Park
Ontario's Provincial Flower - The Trillium
Ontario’s Provincial Flower – The Trillium

The Trillium only blooms for about two weeks in May and can be seen dotting some rural areas.  The Nature park is unique in its variety of trillium, not only the white ones, but some of the more colorful ones as well.

A Red Trillium - seemed very rare in the park
A Red Trillium – seemed very rare in the park
A Yellow Trillium
A Yellow Trillium
Beautiful White Trillium

So, head to Woodstock, learn some history, eat some maple syrup, listen to some great Branson entertainment, take a wlk through a flower garden and go learn the game of Crokinole!!  You’ll be glad you did!!

(1186)

Road Trip: Dallas to Lexington, KY via Branson, MO

Metals Horses in Durant, Oklahoma
Scrap Metal Horses by Doug Owen in Durant, Oklahoma

After being gone for nearly a month in Idaho and then a few days in Dallas for work in mid June (2013), I took the final leg of this adventure and a two day trip to return home to Lexington via Branson, Missouri, where my wife was visiting with her sister.  This would turn out to be another fun adventure as I traveled through Oklahoma and the Ozarks.  Following is the route I took for the trip.  I left in the afternoon and arrived about midnight in Branson.


View Larger Map – Dallas, TX to Branson, MO

I headed straight up US 75 to Denison and while there at least got a glimpse of the HUGE Eisenhower statue that can be seen off of the freeway.  I took a photo of it while driving by, so it is not as good as I would have hoped.

Eisenhower statue in Denison, TX - Burthplace of Dwight D. Eisenhower
Eisenhower statue in Denison, TX – Birthplace of Dwight D. Eisenhower

I continued north on US 75 until it turned into US 69 as I crossed into Oklahoma and made my way into Durant, Oklahoma. Durant is one of those unique small towns that brings me so much enjoyment in travel.

Bench in Durant, Oklahoma
Bench in Durant, Oklahoma

Durant is in the Choctaw Nation and is currently ranked as one of the fastest growing cities in the United States.  It is in a very nice area near lakes and rolling hills.  There are colorful horses dotting the town and some other surprises as well!!

Painted Horse in Durant, Oklahoma
Painted Horse in Durant, Oklahoma
A painted horse in Durant, Oklahoma
A painted horse in Durant, Oklahoma
A painted horse with Native American designs in Durant, Oklahoma
A painted horse with Native American designs in Durant, Oklahoma
Old Wall Advertisement in Durant, Oklahoma
Old Wall Advertisement in Durant, Oklahoma

Turns out that Durant, Oklahoma is also home to the “World’s Largest Peanut”, a title it shares with two other monuments in Texas and Ashburn, Georgia. This monument is for the peanut growers in Bryan County and I found it on the front lawn of Durant’s city hall.

World's Largest Peanut
World’s Largest Peanut
Sumoflam with Durant's Giant Peanut
Sumoflam with Durant’s Giant Peanut

Finally, on the way out of town I ran into these unique scrap metal horses in a park in Durant. These appear to be the handiwork of South Dakota “found metal sculptor” Doug Owen.

Scrap Metal Horses - Durant, Oklahoma
Scrap Metal Horses by Doug Owen – Durant, Oklahoma
Scrap metal horse - Durant, Oklahoma
Scrap metal horse by Doug Owen – Durant, Oklahoma

From Durant I headed north on US 69/75 through a number of small towns until I got to Atoka, Oklahoma.

US Routes 69/75 north of Durant, Oklahoma
US Routes 69/75 north of Durant, Oklahoma

Atoka, Oklahoma is a town of a little over 3000 people.  It was settled in the mid-1800s and was an important stop on the Butterfield Overland Stage Road.  The small town was considered the capital of the Choctaw Nation in the late 1800s and was named after Captain Atoka who led his people here during the “Trail of Tears” in the 1830s.

Large White Buffalo statue in Atoka, OK
Large White Buffalo statue in Atoka, OK

Due to my time constraints, I didn’t have a lot of time to stop along the road on this trip, but I did make my way past the beautiful Atoka Reservoir and into McAlester, Oklahoma.

US Route 69 north out of Atoka, Oklahoma
US Route 69 north out of Atoka, Oklahoma
US 69 heading towards Atoka Reservoir
US 69 heading towards Atoka Reservoir

Upon arrival in McAlester I got to see a throwback to the 1950s…at the Happy Days Hotel there are 50s themed rooms including the “Elvis Suite,” “I Love Lucy,” James Dean and Marilyn Monroe rooms at the hotel.

Happy Days Hotel and Angel's Diner - McAlester, OK
Happy Days Hotel and Angel’s Diner – McAlester, OK
Happy Days Hotel - McAlester, OK
Happy Days Hotel – McAlester, OK
Angel's Diner store front - McAlester, Oklahoma
Angel’s Diner store front – McAlester, Oklahoma

Angel’s Diner has the black and white checkerboard floors, diner seating and more.  I wish I would have had time to stop in…..but I had to continue on to Branson

Eufaula Lake, Oklahoma
OK Hwy 9 bridge across Eufaula Reservoir, Oklahoma

One of the more spectacular sights along the drive north on US 69 is the huge Eufaula Lake, with over 600 miles of shoreline, it is the largest lake in Oklahoma.   It was beautiful as I approached close to sunset.

Another shot of Lake Eufaula
Another shot of Lake Eufaula

Shortly after passing by the lake I arrived in Checotah, Oklahoma and then headed west on Interstate 40.  It was getting dark, so I zipped my way on to Branson, Missouri through Arkansas.  Sorry…too dark for photos…

Branson, Missouri water tower
Branson, Missouri water tower

The next morning my wife and I took two cars and drive back from Branson to Lexington, Kentucky.  We had to get back, so we didn’t have much time to see anything in Branson.  I did get a photo of a huge guitar sticking out of a building….

Grand Country Fun Spot - Big Guitar neck - Branson, Missouri
Grand Country Fun Spot – Big Guitar neck – Branson, Missouri

Our route from Branson to Lexington was not a direct route as I wanted to take my wife by Lambert’s Cafe in Sikeston, MO for lunch, as you will see later on.  Here is our nearly 600 mile route for Day 2:


View Larger Map – Branson, MO to Lexington, KY

The drive across southern Missouri is always nicer OFF of the freeways.  I had been on US 60 between Branson and Sikeston three or four times.  But, of course, there are always interesting things to see along the way.

US 65 North near Busiek State Forest south of Springfield, Missouri
US 65 North near Busiek State Forest south of Springfield, Missouri
Uncle Rooster's Restaurant near Seymour, Missouri on US 60 East
Uncle Rooster’s Restaurant near Seymour, Missouri on US 60 East

Gotta love a name like Uncle Rooster’s!!  They even have a giant rooster out front….

Uncle Rooster's Big Rooster on US 60 near Seymour, Missouri
Uncle Rooster’s Big Rooster (ROHO) on US 60 near Seymour, Missouri

From Seymour, the countryside becomes mainly farmland until about Mountain View and Cabool.  We saw thousands of rolled bales of hay and other nice rural scenery along the way.

Rolled hay bales on US 60 east of Seymour, Missouri
Rolled hay bales on US 60 east of Seymour, Missouri
Long Train Running along US 60 near Norwood, Missouri
Long Train Running along US 60 near Norwood, Missouri
US Route 60 west of Mountain Home, Missouri
US Route 60 west of Mountain View, Missouri
More bales of hay near Mountain Home, Missouri
More bales of hay near Mountain View, Missouri

We stopped in Mountain View, Missouri for a quick rest break and a drink.  While there, lo and behold, I saw some scrap metal horse sculptures that looked amazingly similar to the ones I had seen in Durant, Oklahoma the day before.  I believe they are the work of South Dakota artist Doug Owen.

Scrap Metal Horses in Missouri
Scrap Metal Horses by Doug Owen in Mountain View, Missouri

From Mountain View we proceeded eastward on US Route 60.  Here are a couple more scenes from the road:

US Route 60 east of Mountain View, Missouri
US Route 60 east of Mountain View, Missouri
Low flying plane near Dexter, Missouri (aerial spraying)
Low flying plane near Dexter, Missouri (aerial spraying)
Aerial Spray plane rounding a turn near Dexter, Missouri
Aerial Spray plane rounding a turn near Dexter, Missouri

Not soon after seeing the aerial acrobatics of the plane above, we made our way into Sikeston, Missouri.  Sikeston is at a major junction of US 60 from the west, Interstate 55 (N-S thru Sikeston) and Interstate 57 from the east.  But for me, the real highlight was being able to once again visit Lambert’s Cafe.  I had been to the one in Ozark, Missouri a number of years ago, but never to this one.

Sumoflam and wife at Lambert's Cafe - Home of Throwed Rolls
Sumoflam and wife at Lambert’s Cafe – Home of Throwed Rolls

Lambert’s is one of those places that buses full of tourists stop at, highway drivers stop and more.  All sorts of Kitsch with license plates everywhere, old photos and, most importantly – good food and LOTS of it.  But, perhaps the real drawing card is the “Throwed Rolls”, a tradition at these stops since the beginning.

The Throwed Rolls Guy - Lambert's Cafe, Sikeston, Missouri
The Throwed Rolls Guy – Lambert’s Cafe, Sikeston, Missouri
Throwing Roll's at Lamberts - this guy chucked them clear across the room
Throwing Roll’s at Lamberts – this guy chucked them clear across the room

To get a roll you must raise your hand and they throw it to you.  You miss and hits the floor….too bad!

Throwed Rolls soaked in Sorghum Molasses
Throwed Rolls soaked in Sorghum Molasses

Sometimes the roll throwers do miss.  We saw some up on the overhangs…

Oops - missed
Oops – missed

The unique thing about this place is the Family Style servings.  You order your food and a side and then they bring you a number of other sides – fried potatoes, fried okra, macaroni and tomatoes, black-eyed peas and more.  These are as much as you care to eat.

Bringing around the potatoes at Lambert's
Bringing around the potatoes at Lambert’s
More throwed rolls!!
More throwed rolls!!

The environment there is fun as well….

Flags hang in front of Lambert's Cafe
Flags hang in front of Lambert’s Cafe
Lambert's Cafe - Sikeston, Missouri - big place
Lambert’s Cafe – Sikeston, Missouri – big place
Walkway in Lambert's Cafe - Sikeston, Missouri
Walkway in Lambert’s Cafe – Sikeston, Missouri
The Original Roll Thrower
The Original Roll Thrower
Eagle at Lambert's
Eagle at Lambert’s
Big Metal Chicken on overhang at Lambert's
Big Metal Chicken on overhang at Lambert’s
Need a big cup? Plenty of souvenirs at Lambert's!!
Need a big cup? Plenty of souvenirs at Lambert’s!!

After a hefty lunch, we really wanted a nap, but we actually had to scoot onwards towards home.  Just a short zip up I-57 and we were in Cairo, Illinois where the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers meet for one of the biggest confluences in the country.  There are two big bridges to cross at this point.

Crossing the Mighty Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois
Crossing the Mighty Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois

One moment you are in Missouri, a few minutes later you go through Illinois and straight into Kentucky.

Welcome to Wickliffe, Kentucky - just after crossing over the second bridge
Welcome to Wickliffe, Kentucky – just after crossing over the second bridge
I love it when Kentucky welcomes me home with flowers
I love it when Kentucky welcomes me home with flowers after being gone for a month
Sign to Future City, Illinois...I guess it is not there yet??
Sign to Future City, Illinois…I guess it is not there yet?? Or have I come “Back to the Future?”

After driving the narrow KY Hwy 286 to Paducah, we were excited to get on the freeway, but, I got a taste of Dallas in rural Kentucky as we were stuck in non-moving freeway traffic for well over 30 minutes.

Stuck in traffic on I-24 east of Paducah - shades of Dallas....
Stuck in traffic on I-24 east of Paducah – shades of Dallas….

But, after it all cleared up, we were on I-69 breezing away and then eventually onto the Bluegrass Parkway.

Bluegrass Parkway near Bardstown, Kentucky
Bluegrass Parkway near Bardstown, Kentucky

And, finally, back home in Kentucky after being away and on the road for over 5500 miles, 33 days and driving through 15 different states during that time.

(2422)

Sumoflam Flashback: JFK the Twine Ball Man of Lake Nebagamon, WI

James Frank Kotera - JFK - The Twine Ball Man of Lake Nebagamon, WI
James Frank Kotera – JFK – The Twine Ball Man of Lake Nebagamon, WI

In this Flashback Edition of Less Beaten Paths, I take you back to August 2007 when I visited with James Frank Kotera in the town of Highlands, near Lake Nebagamon, Wisconsin.  Kotera, who just refers to himself as JFK — the most famous JFK — claims to have the world’s largest ball of twine and my son and I had to see it.  And trust me, it as an out of the way drive worth taking!! (Don’t miss the video below!!!)


View Larger Map – JFK, The Twine Ball Man -8009 S. Oakdale Rd., Lake Nebagamon, WI

Satellite shot of JFK's place. The big building on the left covers his 19,000 pound twineball
Satellite shot of JFK’s place. The big building on the left houses his 19,600 pound twineball

Exact directions: From Solon Springs, WI, go north on US 53 to Wisconsin Rd. L. Turn right on L and go all the way to Rd. P. Turn left on P and head north along the east end of the lake to E. Minnesuing Rd. Turn right and drive about 2.5 miles to S. Oakdale. On the right corner you will see a small house with a bunch of flamingos and ducks on sticks in the yard. This is the place.

For those travelers who are always looking for offbeat and interesting roadside attractions, big balls of twine have always been one of the sought after treasures.  The most famous twine balls include the one on Darwin, Minnesota (Weird Al Yankovic even has a song about it).  The Darwin ball is 12 feet in diameter and weighs about 17,400 pounds.  Then there is the Cawker City, Kansas twine ball which was a community effort.  It has a 40 foot circumference and weighs 14,687 pounds.  Finally, there is one in Branson, Missouri that is 13 feet tall and has a 41 foot circumference.  It weighs in at a measly 12,000 pounds.

JFK's Twine Ball - 19,600 pounds
JFK’s Twine Ball – 19,600 pounds

JFK started his twine ball in 1979, and by the time we got there in 2007 he claimed that his ball weighed 19,680 pounds.  He gave us his “business card” at the time which explains it all…

JFK Business Card - Side One
JFK Business Card – Side One
JFK Business Card - Side Two
JFK Business Card – Side Two

During our visit, JFK explained that with a famous name like JFK he needed to do something “famous” and had heard about other twine balls.  As an employee of the Sanitation Department for the Town of Highland (as he says anyway – The only Highland in Wisconsin is 5 hours south of him), he has collected twine and assembled this ball lovingly for over 30 years.  As he gets twine ready to put on the ball, he puts it in a bag and weighs it and then adds it to the twine ball.  He records each weigh in so he has “accurate” records.

JFK's Hand Written Sign about the twine ball
One of JFK’s Hand Written Sign about him and his twine ball

As to being the “Biggest in the World”, apparently the Guinness World book of Records noted in 1993 that the Branson ball was the biggest, but it is obviously the smallest of the four noted above.  I would venture to say that JFK’s is by far the largest.  In fact, it has been 6 years since I was there and I’ll bet it now exceeds 20,000 pounds!!

Sumoflam with JFK, "Mr. Twine Ball" and "Junior" - August 2007
Sumoflam with JFK, “Mr. Twine Ball” and “Junior” – August 2007

I was so enamored with JFK and his antics, his personality, etc., that I actually did a small “documentary” video about him and interviewed him.  See the video below…music by Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours.

Here are a couple of more photos we took while there….

JFK brings out "Junior", his 40 pound twine ball
JFK brings out “Junior”, his 40 pound twine ball
JFK has a Guest Book and Comment Book in this mailbox
JFK has a Guest Book and Comment Book in this mailbox
More JFK Signage
More JFK Signage

Ultimately, this is one of those “Ultimate Must See” offbeat tourist destinations.  There are many in this country, and this is one of the best.  Thanks as well to Roadside America for the initial introduction to JFK.

Roadside assistance provided by friends at……

(1935)