One of the more interesting things I look for on roadtrips as I pass through small communities on back roads is yard art. Funky art and decorations in people’s yards, on their fences, on their houses. People have ingenuity. Some people have junk. But, as the saying goes, “One Man’s Junk is Another Man’s Treasure.”
For me, Yard Art is anything unique and unusual. It could be chain saw art – wood carvings made with chain saws. It could be art made from scrap metal. It could be, like the photo above, a hodge podge of signs, junk or other things. Following are some selections of yard art I have taken over the years. Don’t judge…some of these people love their “collections.” I just love my collection of photos of theirs… Enjoy the virtual ride.
There is a difference between quirky and offbeat in my mind. Quirky is typically off the chain and unexpected, or even downright weird. On the other hand, as noted in my O is for Offbeat post, the offbeat and odd things are typically recognizable.
Obviously, there is a fine line between what is quirky and what is offbeat. I think we all make those determinations ourselves. In this post, I will offer up a few Quirky things…those that I think are beyond offbeat and into the realm of quirky.
I’ll start off with a biggie…a giant obelisk made completely of bicycle parts. Why quirky? Because who would ever think of making a 65 foot tall statue totally out of bicycle parts?
The artwork, entitled “Cyclisk” was created in 2010 by Petaluma, California-based artists Mark Grieve and Ilana Spector and weighs about 10,000 pounds. It is made from roughly 340 recycled bicycles collected from local nonprofit community bike projects. It took nearly four months of welding to manufacture.
In fact, there are many “quirky” scrap metal art projects to be seen around this country. Some are small and others, like Cyclisk, are huge.
One such example at Melody Muffler in Walla Walla, WA. Owner Mike Hammond is a muffler repairman, a musician and a metal artist. I visited his shop back in 2007.
I first met Mark at a Trailer Park Troubadours concert the night before in Dayton, WA. After talking with him, we headed south to Walla Walla to check out his quirky art. What a load of fun that was!
Since then, over the past 10 years, I have run into other quirky metal art in diverse places. You never know what you’ll see on the back roads of America!
I could likely post a hundred more pieces of scrap metal art found around the country, but there are other quirky places to cover.
Perhaps one of the most unusual and quirky places I have ever been to is the Screaming Heads of Midlothian Castle in Burk’s Falls, Ontario, not too far from Algonquin National Park. This entire project was begun by school teacher and artist Peter Camani. He is a Secondary School teacher, but has also spent over 25 years constructing Monolith-like sculptures in the shape of giant heads, which are scattered throughout the property. A two-headed dragon sits atop the chimney of his Midlothian Castle and he has a version of the See/Say/Hear No Evils greet visitors.
There are more than 100 “screaming head” sculptures, each one at least 20 feet in height. According to Wikipedia, Camani says he “built his otherworldly creations as a warning about environmental degradation. With his paintings already hanging in such coveted places as the Vatican and Buckingham Palace, he decided to focus his energy on realizing a vision of significantly larger proportions.” See my original post HERE.
Of course, there are also quirky sculptures to be found all over the place, just like the metal ones. Here are a couple more I have come across.
Quirky is not only centered on art. There are many quirky places. I came across Boudreau’s Antiques on US Highway 2 near Odanah, WI that was covered with “stuff.” That alone was a drawing card for me to drop by…but alas, it was closed.
And they don’t have to be antique shops either. How about the quirkiest of all eateries in the US… Hillbilly Hot Dog in West Virginia?
And another of the quirky treasures of this country is the Hamtramck Disneyland in Hamtramck, MI, near Detroit
Along these same lines of quirkiness is a family yard in Woodstock, Ontario.
Then there are places that defy description. One such uber-quirky place is Tripp’s Mindfield Cemetery in Brownsville, TN.
One man’s life dedication to his parents draws people from all around to see this unique and absolutely quirky massive structure made of steel pipes and steel pieces and a large painted water tower that says “Mindfield Cemetery.” This large piece of art work is the work of one Billy Tripp, who, in 1989 began creating this monument to his parents.
This place must have taken 1000s of hours to build and it is an absolute maze of metal. I was fascinated.
And another place, in Meadville, PA has hundreds of pieces of art created from old repurposed roadsigns.
Signs & Flowers is a garden of 12 large flowers made of recycled road signs and landscaping at the PennDOT storage lot in Meadville. In the spring and summer of 2001, Allegheny College art students, under the direction of art professor Amara Geffen, designed and planted the “garden,” which has quickly become a popular attraction for local residents and tourists. In the summer of 2002 Geffen’s students continued the project by constructing a 200-foot sculptural fence Read Between the Signs on the PennDOT property along Hwy 322
I am assuming by now that you, the reader, has determined that there are some really over the top quirky places out there. Though Hillbilly Hot Dog takes the place for quirky eateries, a couple of burger joints in Washington and Texas take a close second and third.
The outside of Fat Smitty’s is quirky enough. But go inside and there are many more surprises….1000s of them hanging all over the place.
And in Cypress, TX there is the Shack Burger Resort, another over the top hall of quirky eating.
Head to Cincinnati for the quirkiest grocery store experience you may ever get. Jungle Jim’s is more than a grocery store, it’s a destination! There is over 200,000 square feet of shopping and 10s of 1000s of product choices from all over the world…. and the most unique restroom entrance in any store.
I guess I need to add the quirkiest 30 mile drive in the United States as the last piece. That would be the Enchanted Highway in North Dakota. Some humongously quirky pieces of art along a 30 mile stretch of road north of Regent, ND.
This is one of my all time favorite tourist destinations. Took me many years to finally get there, but I am glad I did. I have a great detailed post about this on my blog if you are interested. See it here.
By the way, Geese in Flight has been listed as the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world by the Guinness World Book of Records. This piece was erected in 2001 and weighs over 78 tons. The main structure is 154 feet wide and 110 feet tall. The largest goose has a wingspan of 30 feet. On a clear day this structure can be seen from nearly 5 miles away!
So much quirk and so little time and space. Time to take a breather and enjoy the ride…through quirkville.
(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)!)
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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).
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.
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
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 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
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:
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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
The real charm of this place is the decor…with all kinds of tubas everywhere
It was spring and the flowers were in bloom and the fountains were running.
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.