On Monday, I received the Spring issue of the Ohio National Road Association newsletter. It mentioned an imminent bus trip on the eastern part of the road. Interested, I dropped Byway Coordinator Louis Agresta a note. He called me on Tuesday morning to let me know that a seat or two remained. The trip had been conceived as an outing for some Licking County folks which is why it hadn't been publicized more broadly but it wasn't at all restricted. I thought it over for a second or two then made plans for getting up early Wednesday -- I said it was imminent -- to drive to Reynoldsburg for the bus trip.

On board the bus, a little goody bag waited on every seat. Among the items it contained was a blue folder which in turn contained a trip itinerary, a copy of the latest A Traveler's Guide to the Historic National Road in Ohio, and other items. That's ONRA president, Cyndie Gerken, introducing Traveler's Guide coauthor, and today's tour director, Doug Smith.

The bus headed east on I-70 with a mid-point rest area being the only stop. The return, with more stops and a slower pace, would be on the National Road and US-40. We entered West Virginia ever so slightly by crossing a channel of the Ohio River to Wheeling Island. I felt some embarrassment when we paused at this building showing the high water marks of every known river visit. I know I've driven by here numerous times but was ignorant of the marks. My admittedly flimsy excuse is that I'm always going the other direction.

There was no danger of flooding today but the sky was cloud filled and rain would arrive later. We did not actually cross the 1849 Wheeling Suspension Bridge but pulled into a riverside parking lot with a pretty good view. Before climbing off, Sylvia Miller filled us in on some of the local history with The Ballad of Fort Henry from her National Road, A Ride Through Time.

The Wheeling Suspension Bridge is unique and a personal favorite but I also like the 1828 Blaine Hill S Bridge a whole lot. No doubt part of the attraction is the century newer (1932) Arches of Memory that stands beside it. I grumbled to a few people about how that huge "Road Closed" sign ruins every direct photo of the bridge in hopes that enough grumbling could make it disappear. It seems entirely unnecessary to me.

Our lunch stop was at Mehlman's Cafeteria. I've eyed the restaurant many times but this was my first stop. Like any clever cafeteria, Mehlman's puts the deserts up front and I happily fell for it. There's a slice of pecan pie on my full tray in the third photo. By the time I finished the meatloaf and a tolerable amount of sides there was no room for the pie. It made a great "welcome home" snack at the end of the day. With spoons and harmonica, Sylvia and Doug teamed up on some after dinner music.

Bridges play a big role in today's trip or at least in my reporting of it. Stone bridges are, of course, major attractions on the National Road in eastern Ohio plus they are also often convenient stopping points. There were many places where the bus slowed or even stopped while Doug described some nearby feature but bridges were the places where exiting the bus was practical.

This is the Salt Fork Bridge; The only stone S-bridge in Ohio still open to traffic. We did not drive over it today as our bus clearly exceeded the weight limit but your typical family car can cross this picturesque bridge just like wagons and carriages started doing about a hundred and eighty years ago. The three generations of the "National Road" are easily seen from the bridge with both US-40 and I-70 passing just to the south of the original National Road.

The last picture is an example of photographic eavesdropping. I'm guilty as can be. The group on the bridge is clearly posing and, just as clearly, it's not for me. It's all for Kathryn.

We pulled over at Fox Run Bridge but moved on without leaving the bus. It was now actually raining and Doug apparently sensed a general lack of interest. He was correct in general but not entirely. There were a few expressions of disappointment and Teresa, our driver, quickly and skillfully, pulled into a lot to turn the bus around, drove back past the bridge to turn around again, then pulled back up beside the bridge. I frequently decide to turn back after passing something. I'm absolutely not a stranger to retracing the route to get a picture. I'm just not used to doing it in a bus.

Of course, once we stopped, many more than the one or two who requested it walked to the bridge. It's a natural pattern. Earlier, when asked who wanted a restroom stop, three or four raised their hands. At the stop, half the group stepped off the bus.

Here's another thing I've done many times but never in a bus: cross over the Zanesville Y-bridge. I was pleasantly surprised when the bus turned right in the middle of the river. I was surprised because US-40 goes left and I was pleased because 1) it allowed me to get a shot of the bridge marker through the rain splattered window and 2) Tom's Ice Cream Bowls lies in that direction. Doug had earlier mentioned having lunch at Tom's yesterday and the name had popped up a few other times during the day. At one point a half dozen or so passengers broke into a "We want Tom's" chant. Sure enough, we circled around and pulled up in front of the popular ice cream spot. I was among the happiest of passengers. I'm always impressed with the staff at Tom's but even more so today. Some establishments of this size would be flustered by the arrival of sixty or so unexpected guests. This crew simply handled it with their normal friendliness and uncommon efficiency.

On the left side of the second picture in this panel, a group of large decorated vases (which I've photographed before) can be seen. Before entering Zanesville, we had paused across from the National Road/Zane Grey Museum in the parking lot of Baker's Motel while Doug and others dispensed some knowledge about the area. Mary Ellen Weingartner talked about the vases which have auctioned (more than once) to benefit the community. Many local businesses, including Mary Ellen's Ohio Pottery, display the vases. Those at the bridge are probably available inventory. Another reason for the stop was to give out some door prizes in exchange for answering some not-all-that-tough questions. I really tried to not participate but found myself feeding part of an answer to the gal sitting in front of me. This was Charla Devine (Devine Farms) who claimed she already owned the associated prize and insisted I take it. I did put up some token resistance but the prize was a really cool Buckeye Stoneware National Road mile marker bank so I gave in rather easily.

I'm pretty familiar with the S-bridges in the area and have stopped multiple time at each of them. I was amazed at the number of straight stone bridges I had never seen before. Most were drive-bys but we did get up close and personal with this nice example near Gratiot. Doug described an old postcard with a picture of a boy sitting atop the arch of this bridge with the caption "The Old Swimming Hole, Gratiot, Ohio".

I had no idea that a bus full of old road enthusiasts was all that interesting but at least one Kirkersville resident climbed on the roof for a better look.

It was a fun trip and I learned plenty from Doug. Now I have to return in a car with some sunshine.

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