Book Review
Vigilante Days and Ways
Nathaniel P. Langford

This book was first published in 1890. The link at the end of this article points to a version published barely a month ago. Despite it being well over a century old, some think it worth reading and someone considers it worth republishing. Why others consider the 127 year old writing worth reading I cannot say but I know why I enjoyed it. It’s filled with stories I’ve watched unfold on TV or in a movie theater or read as fiction. Those tales of frightened town folk, evil bullies, crooked sheriffs, and cowardly henchmen that thrilled me in my younger days were all legitimate. The basis of many plots played out in the numerous TV westerns of the 1950s and ’60s can be recognized in the real world events that Langford documents. This book is filled with characters very much like the assorted outlaws encountered by the horse riding heroes of my youth. Men similar to some of those heroes are also present although they don’t stand out quite as clearly. Few real world heroes wear a pair of pearl handled revolvers and a white hat.

The edition I read was published in 1996 by American & World Geographic Publishing. The front cover is pictured above. On the back in an excerpt from the introduction that Dave Walter wrote. He speaks of the “flowery, often melodramatic Victorian prose”. He calls for it to “be relished rather than disdained”. I agree but I have seen reviews that call it distracting so it’s clear that the “relish” is in the eye of the beholder. To me it adds yet another layer of authenticity to the first person accounts. I guess I just plain enjoy reading about villains who “vociferated” in a land that “swelled gradually into a circumference of heaven-kissing mountains”.

By definition a vigilante is without legal authority. Today, in most of the world and certainly in the USA, that is universally and entirely a bad thing. That was not quite the case in the Montana Territory of the 1860s and 1870s. Yes, US laws technically applied but enforcement was at best sparse and often non-existent. This was especially true in the instant “cities” that sprang up around gold and silver discoveries and those “cities” attracted plenty of men ready to do their prospecting with a gun rather than a pick and shovel. So, even if you want to call all vigilantism a bad thing, there can be no argument about it being the lesser of two evils when the other is rampant robbery and murder. Langford was a vigilante and is undoubtedly a key participant in many of the events he documents although he never identifies himself. He doesn’t, in fact, identify many of the vigilantes and it seems likely that the only names mentioned belonged to men no longer living at the time of writing.

Yes, it’s an old book filled with archaic Victorian prose and characters that you might think of as stereotypes. But its stories were recent history when written and those characters weren’t stereotypes but prototypes. If names like Alan Ladd, Randolf Scott, and Glenn Ford bring back pleasant memories, you just might like this book.

Vigilante Days and Ways, Nathaniel P. Langford, Independently published (January 20, 2017), 9 x 6 inches, 411 pages, ISBN 978-1520424460

Trip Peek #51
Trip #18
Big E, DC, and the Cardinal

This picture is from my 2004 Big E, DC, and the Cardinal trip. The trip appears in my top ten “Decent” list and it certainly deserves to be there. The Big E in the title is the USS Enterprise, the world’s first nuclear powered aircraft carrier. My youngest son was serving aboard the huge carrier at the time and I was privileged to be part of a three day Tiger Cruise as she moved from Florida to her home port at Newport News, Virginia. With no military experience of my own, those few days sleeping and eating with my son’s crew mates was quite educational even though it was a spruced-up danger-free family-style version of life at sea. All airplanes were removed from the carrier before we civilians came on board but a few returned to provide landing and take-off demonstrations. The photo shows a S-3B Viking being launched.

After a couple of days in Newport News with my son and his family, I took a train to Washington, DC, and checked out a few museums and monuments. The Amtrak train that runs between Chicago and New York City is named the Cardinal. It provides Cincinnati’s only passenger rail connection and it carried me home at the end of the trip.


Trip Peeks are short articles published when my world is too busy or too boring for a current events piece to be completed in time for the Sunday posting. In addition to a photo thumbnail from a completed road trip, each Peek includes a brief description of that photo plus links to the full sized photo and the associated trip journal.

My Apps — Chapter 10
Garmin BaseCamp

It looks like Garmin BaseCamp first appeared in 2008. I don’t recall when I first downloaded it but I do recall that it sucked. I use Garmin hardware and Garmin software is required to communicate with it. BaseCamp was the intended replacement for their MapSource program and, while I was hardly a fan of MapSource, at least it didn’t crash or hangup too often. Early BaseCamp did both somewhat regularly and its user interface was no more intuitive to me than MapSource’s. I put off switching as long as I could but the day came when I was forced to replace a program I didn’t like at all with one I disliked even more.

We’ve come a long way, BaseCamp and I. It has added some features that I suspect were initially put there to distract me from the frequent blowups and it quit blowing up as much. For my part, I’ve become more familiar with the interface and more tolerant of its oddities. I’m fairly comfortable with the arrangement of lists and folders that once mystified me and I’ve even plotted a few short trips entirely within BaseCamp. In fact, I’m pretty much ready to concede that my preference for creating routes in DeLorme’s Street Atlas now comes mostly from familiarity and not from any real superiority. BaseCamp’s ability to geotag photos using recorded tracks is quite convenient and the display of geotagged photos is very usable although I remain irritated by thumbnails hiding map details like town and road names.

Of course, personal preferences and peeves will soon be meaningless. Garmin acquired DeLorme in 2016 and Street Atlas development has already ceased. The 2015 edition is the final one and it is no longer available from DeLorme although a downloadable version is currently still available from Amazon. Necessity is the mother of many things but I am glad that it didn’t become necessary to rely on BaseCamp much earlier. BaseCamp has grown into a capable product and the necessity of becoming more familiar with it will eventually be a good thing. Other good things could come from the acquisition if DeLorme developers move to Garmin and bring some of those things I like with them. I’m not counting on it but it could happen.

My Apps – Chapter 9 — DeLorme Street Atlas

French Toast and Battle Ax Plug

Carl Graham Fisher, the primary mover and shaker behind the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and both the Lincoln and Dixie Highways, had lots of stories. One in particular is popular among road fans and was originally told by Fisher to partially explain his interest in improving roads and their marking. I’ve heard and read multiple versions of the story and am totally unequipped to distinguish embellishments from additional accurate details. So here’s a version of the story which I believe to be true at its core and possibly in some of the details, too.

Fisher and some friends had taken a day trip from Indianapolis and were returning in the dark and rain. They came to a point where three roads joined together but none of them could remember which they used earlier in the day. After some inconclusive discussion, they noticed a sign which they thought might indicate which road led back home. It was mounted high on a pole and unreadable in the dark and wet. It was somehow determined that Fisher would climb the pole to read the sign. Some say he climbed the pole once and had to return to the ground for matches. Some say that the first few matches sputtered or were doused by the rain. Some say that it was his very last match that provided a glimpse of the sign’s message. All versions agree on what that message was. Hoping for the name of a town or other landmark, all he saw was “Chew Battle Ax Plug”.

Prior to Tuesday, that funny and revealing story supplied 100% of my knowledge of Battle Ax Plug. On Tuesday I was on my way to Greenville, Ohio, and had left home with enough time in the schedule to try out a new restaurant on the way. I jogged off of my normal path to reach the town of Arcanum. It is a small town in the county I grew up in but I don’t remember much about it and doubt I ever knew all that much. I’d heard good things about the restaurant’s food but knew almost nothing about it beyond that. It was quite a happy surprise to see the big Battle Ax sign that heads this article on the side of the building housing the restaurant. I’ve since learned a little more about the brand.

Battle Ax Plug was the very definition of a “loss leader”. Between 1895 and 1898, US tobacco companies were embroiled in the “Plug Wars”. Another aptly named combatant was the Scalp Knife brand from Liggett  and Meyers. The American Tobacco Company lost about a million dollars a year with their Battle Ax brand but emerged from the wars with approximately 90% market share. The fading slogan on the sign’s ax head is “A GREAT BIG PIECE FOR 10 CTS.” Those were, back in the day, fighting words.

The building behind the sign has its own story and it’s a great one. Built by John Smith in 1851, it housed the family store until 1985. At its closing it was the longest operating family owned business in Ohio. It began as a typical general store offering an assortment of dry goods but eventually meat, produce, and other grocery items were added as were men’s and women’s clothing.

Yes, I certainly got distracted but I did eventually make it to breakfast. One of the places where I’d heard good things about Old Arcana was Ohio Magazine which named their French Toast the best in the state. The magazine quotes co-owner Leslie Handshoe-Suter calling the toast “decadent” and it certainly is. The full name is Bourbon Praline French Toast. Following the meal — and some really good coffee — I chatted with chef and co-owner Jeff Besecker about the menu, the business, and the building. Jeff pointed out the building’s owner, Angie, sitting at one on the tables and I also chatted with her and a table mate who had worked in the store that once filled the entire building. Angie operates Smith’s Merchants which shares the building with the restaurant.

When I first saw the round windows in the Smith Building, they made me think of the round openings I had seen in electric train power stations. When I later learned that the electric powered Dayton & Union interurban once occupied the gravel path in the left half of this picture I’d have almost certainly grasped the power station theory even tighter if I didn’t already know that it wasn’t at all possible. Before I even spoke with Jeff, I’d learned from my waitress that the windows were original from the 1850s and from Jeff and Angie I learned that the building was in constant use as a store during the interurban’s coming and going in the early twentieth century. Headquarters for the Arcanum Historical Society is just out of frame to the left of that last picture. It’s open on some Saturday mornings so I think I’ll come back, learn some more about this town I grew up near, and try another item from that inviting breakfast menu.

Trip Peek #50
Trip #28
Wigwams and Dixie

This picture is from my 2007 Wiqwams and Dixie trip. The trip was the result of a discussion in the then quite active American Road Magazine e-group and included folks from Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Using Cave City’s Wigwam Village #2 as home base, we traveled sections of both the Dixie Highway and the Jackson Highway in Kentucky. The picture shows the shiny nose of Pat Bremer’s Corvair coupe peeking from behind a not so shiny sign.


Trip Peeks are short articles published when my world is too busy or too boring for a current events piece to be completed in time for the Sunday posting. In addition to a photo thumbnail from a completed road trip, each Peek includes a brief description of that photo plus links to the full sized photo and the associated trip journal.

Vikings: Beyond the Legend

After a couple of aborted attempts, I finally made it to the Vikings: Beyond the Legend exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center. A multi-year rehabilitation of Union Terminal, the Museum Center’s home, has begun and has closed all museum areas except for the Children’s Museum, the space used for traveling exhibits such as this, and the ticket and information counter seen at right. The counter is actually the front part of the large ticket and information facility in the center of the terminal’s large rotunda. A portion of the rotunda has been enclosed to provide the pictured entrance area. That impressive rotunda with its huge murals is just on the other side of those walls. The Children’s Museum and the traveling exhibit space are both on the lower level which is what allows them to remain open. A window has been installed along the path to the lower level which allows visitors to peek into some of the emptied and stripped museum space awaiting attention.

The exhibit of more than 500 artifacts opened in November and will remain through April. It is the largest collection of Viking artifacts to ever visit North America and Cincinnati is its first stop. It also has the distinction of being the largest exhibit, in terms of physical size, to appear at the Cincinnati Museum Center. For most, the word Viking conjures up an image of a large rough looking fellow with a huge ax or sword who is constantly pillaging and burning with a little time off to guzzle mead. As the subtitle “Beyond the Legend” implies, the exhibit is intended to give attendees a somewhat more rounded view. That intention is reinforced with the advertising slogan “The horns are fake. The beards are real.”

Vikings were not a race or even a nation. In fact, they didn’t use the word to identify themselves but to identify something they did. To go viking meant to go on an adventure. Sometimes they did go viking in order to pillage and burn but often it was to trade or explore. The exhibit includes plenty of items from their peaceful farms and villages and there are many examples of fine craftsmanship and artistry. Of course not all of items found in the Viking’s Scandinavian homelands were made there. Many were obtained through trading or raiding.

Apparently raiding still forms a major portion of my personal Viking image. I looked over reproductions of clothing and was actually quite impressed by the many examples of artistic metal work but when I got home and looked at the pictures I’d taken, I found mostly weapons or heavy tools. It’s possible that they were just the most photogenic but it seems at least as likely that they simply fit my preconceived notion of the Viking world.

But perhaps even more than the beards and swords, my concept of Vikings is fueled by the visual of a sleek longship floating gracefully through a fjord. The Vikings: Beyond the Legend exhibit includes four ships. A glimpse of the 21 foot long Karl, a reconstruction, can be seen at the left side of the dim photo marking this article’s second paragraph. The first picture here is of part of a ghost ship defined by metal rivets suspended where they would have held the long ago rotted planks of a hull in place. The second is of the 26 foot Krampmacken. In the 1980s, this reconstructed merchant ship sailed from the island of Gotland to Istanbul. The last picture shows the reason this is physically the largest exhibit mounted by the Cincinnati Museum Center. At 122 feet long, the Roskilde 6 is the longest Viking ship ever discovered. The ship is outlined by a modern skeleton that holds approximately 25% of the thousand year old hull in place. This is the first time it has been displayed outside of Europe.

These are reproductions of three of the more than 3,200 rune stones have been found throughout Scandnavia. Scholars consider the Viking Age to be bounded by their destruction of the abbey at Lindisfarne in 783 CE and their defeat at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. During that time Christianity made major progress in replacing the worship of a collection of gods headed by Odin. While the rune stones were typically erected to commemorate some significant event, many include Christian components and some think they may have at least partially been advertisements for the newer religion.

Road Crew Redo

It was just about a year ago that I set out for what was supposed to be a Nashville musical triple play. After a night in Louisville, I would head to “Music City” for a night at the Bluebird Cafe, a night at the Grand Ole Opry, and a night listening to road fan favorites The Road Crew. Major snowfall kept me from the Opry and totally wiped out the Road Crew performance. I did catch three talented musicians at the Bluebird. The story of that trip is here.

I’m trying again. When snow kept me from the Opry I was told I could apply the price of the ticket to another anytime during the next year. When I learned that the Crew would be performing this Saturday, I called the Opry and managed to beat the one year expiration date by a day. Not surprisingly, prices have gone up so that I had to cough up an additional six bucks but I’m set for the Opry on Friday and the Road Crew on Saturday. Two Thursday night shows at the Bluebird were sold out.

The journal for the trip is here. This entry is to let blog subscribers know of the trip and to provide a place for comments.

Trip Peek #49
Trip #126
Stone Pony Picnic

This picture is from my 2015 Stone Pony Picnic outing to see Willie Nile in Asbury Park, New Jersey. The trip name comes from the fact that the performance took place at the legendary Stone Pony and the picture at right proves it. Although this was the fifth time I’d seen Willie, it was the first time I’d seen him with all members of his current band in place. Killer! The Nile show was on the second night of the six day trip and I bracketed it with a stop near Philadelphia to see a guitarist I’ve been listening to for years and a return to the Stony Pony for a tribute to the man who is responsible for a whole lot of its legend. So that took care of half of the trip and I filled out the remainder with a gay pride parade, a stop on E Street, a visit to a pretzel factory, and nitro powered beverages at a pair of breweries just 140 miles apart on the same “street” (US-50).


Trip Peeks are short articles published when my world is too busy or too boring for a current events piece to be completed in time for the Sunday posting. In addition to a photo thumbnail from a completed road trip, each Peek includes a brief description of that photo plus links to the full sized photo and the associated trip journal.

My Wheels – Chapter 23
1972 BMW R75

For once I didn’t have to snag a picture from the internet to show what my vehicle looked like. Plus, unlike the previous My Wheels chapter, there’s no need for paid models to spice things up. The photo at right shows my future ex-wife riding my future ex-motorcycle.

I hadn’t been exactly eager to sell the Chevelle and I was less than comfortable with a truck being my only transportation. My ears perked up when I heard that a neighbor’s brother was selling his motorcycle. In some corner of my mind I’d always wanted a BMW. I started to make that seem more generic by saying I’d always wanted a touring bike but the truth is that a BMW is the touring bike I had in mind. I remember seeing my first Beemer when, as a high school junior or senior, I stepped outside the school as a shiny black one rolled past. I recall its windshield and teardrop saddlebags. The slightly futuristic looking bags might have been part of the attraction but I believe what impressed me the most was how purposeful it looked. That bike was made to go places. It may have been the first vehicle that produced the phrase “road trip” in my mind. I took one test ride on the proffered three-toned motorcycle then bought it.

The motorcycle itself was blue. The after market faring and saddlebags were white and the trunk was black. With all that luggage space and the “made to go places” thinking of the previous paragraph, you might reasonably expect me to spend the next summer touring the country on two wheels. If that’s what you expect you will be disappointed. I did and I was.

I had a nearly new van that functioned as a camper which made it a natural choice for overnight trips. It was also a good people hauler and was a popular vehicle for group outings. That left the BMW with only solo journey duty and, since I was heavily involved with the lady in the photo, there weren’t many of those of any length. I crossed the river into Kentucky several times and made it to Indiana once or twice but the BMW spent almost all of its time in Ohio where I often did take the long — sometimes really long — way home from work.

I laid it down once. I was off to visit a friend living on a gravel road. I moved slow in the ruts that previous travelers had made. It was dry and those ruts had been pretty much cleared of gravel. I let my speed creep up. By the time a gravel ridge did appear, I’d let it creep too much. I shoved the bike away from me as it went down. In my mind’s eye, it rose high in the air while spinning over and over waiting for me to slide under it and be crushed. In reality it was probably never more than a foot off of the ground and flipped exactly one and a half times. It was enough to snap off the windshield and leave scratches on both bike and rider. My scratches healed and the bike’s weren’t bad enough to worry about. A new windshield was purchased.

I also got one ticket. A small group of friends were spending the weekend at one of the group’s family cottage near Indian Lake. I was taking one of the wives on a tour when flashing lights appeared behind us. I stopped and was told I had failed to stop at a stop sign. I really believed that all forward motion had ceased for a second and the officer seemed to agree. “But your feet didn’t touch the ground”, he said. We weren’t far from the cottage so my rider simply walked back while I followed the officer to the unmanned station which he unlocked. I was able to pay the fine which means it couldn’t have been more than $25 or so. As he wrote out a receipt, I commented that if they stopped every motorcyclist whose feet didn’t touch the ground they were probably making a lot of money. He looked up with a smile that stopped just short of a grin and said, “We do alright.”

The last story is about a malfunction. The clutch cable broke on the way to visit a friend in Cincinnati. I don’t recall whether it snapped as I pulled up to the light or started to pull away and I don’t recall whether it was panicked braking or a panicked key removal that killed the engine. Whatever the specifics, I found myself without a clutch at the bottom of the last hill to my friend’s house.

Shifting a moving motorcycle is no big deal and neither is getting it into neutral for a stop. Getting a motorcycle moving without a clutch is significantly more difficult. One way is to start the engine then get things rolling enough to slip into some gear. It’s rather easy going down hill, kind of tricky on level ground, and essentially impossible going up hill. I had my choice of the latter two. There was an empty parking lot about a half block way where I could get the bike started and ride it abound in circles. The reason for the circles was to time my arrival at the the light with it being green. I failed at least once but made it on the second or third attempt.

There were a few more malfunctions and probably a minor adventure or two but nothing big. As I recall, there were some electrical issues with the bike when I changed residences. I left it in a storage area at the apartment complex I was moving from and other things in my life kept its retrieval a low priority. It eventually just disappeared.

Trip Peek #48 Trip #117 Wonderland Way

This picture is from my 2014 Wonderland Way trip. It was springtime, I had a new-to-me convertible, and I has just learned of a named auto trail that began nearby. From downtown Cincinnati I headed west along the river into Indiana. The first of two nights on the road was spent in Corydon, Indiana’s original capital, where I got to watch the arrival of the Run to the Wall motorcycle caravan. The second day brought more river scenery and a stop at the prehistoric Angles Mounds. My route home from the Wonderland Way’s western end in Mount Vernon, Illinois, was mostly expressway but l still got in a little sight seeing. The featured photo is of Wilson’s General Store & Cafe, outside of Evansville, Indiana, where I had dinner on the second night.


Trip Peeks are short articles published when my world is too busy or too boring for a current events piece to be completed in time for the Sunday posting. In addition to a photo thumbnail from a completed road trip, each Peek includes a brief description of that photo plus links to the full sized photo and the associated trip journal.