#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.

(668)

Tell Your Story!