A Pretty Fair Week

gdcf15_01Once upon a time, all of Ohio’s county fairs preceded the state fair but not anymore. In fact, only 29 of the 88 opened their gates before those of the biggie in Columbus this year. When I attended the state fair a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I make it to the fair in my original home county from time to time. This year I made it to The Great Darke County Fair on Monday which is, among other things, Senior Citizens Day. It’s a day when folks over 60 or under 12 and ministers of any age get in free. Yes, I am cheap.

gdcf15_02gdcf15_03Darke County is the Horseshoe Pitching Capital of the World so finding a tournament in progress wasn’t much of a surprise. Some of these guys can throw more consecutive ringers than I can take consecutive steps without tripping.

gdcf15_05gdcf15_04It’s another sort of competition that is at the heart of all fairs and I got to see just a little of the Junior Fair Dairy Show. I believe the fellow in the second picture placed third and he couldn’t have been happier.

gdcf15_06gdcf15_07gdcf15_08I hate to knock the Ohio State Fair but the only “amazing creatures” I saw there were “The World’s Smallest Woman” and “Snake Girl”. The Great Darke County Fair has a whole menagerie plus a giant horse. Of course, the midway also had plenty of games, rides, and food. The pictured food stand certainly isn’t the flashiest or exotic. I’m including it for personal reasons. I have a real weakness for ice cream made the old-fashioned way in a mixer cranked by an old hit-or-miss engine. Doubly so on an apple dumpling.

gdcf15_11gdcf15_10gdcf15_09When I saw that this was the day of the High School Marching Band Spectacular, I decided to hang around to see the band from my old school. I got there just a little late and missed one band. It took me awhile but I eventually figured out that the band I had missed was my old school, Ansonia. I still enjoyed the show.

gdcf15_12gdcf15_13Even though I get back to the fair every few years, it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen a dark Darke County Fair. I probably should have stayed around to ride to the top of that Ferris wheel but it was getting chilly and I was ready to head home.

gets15_03gets15_02gets15_01I visited fair grounds again on Thursday but it wasn’t for a fair. It was for the Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Association‘s 50th Antique Engine & Tractor Show on the Jay County Fair Grounds in Portland, Indiana. Terry, a long time friend who collects Wheel Horses, has exhibited at the show for many years. Dale, another long time friend, lives reasonably close and has attended the show on several occasions. This was my first time but I knew I’d be in good hands. I arrived a few minutes ahead of Dale which gave me a chance to snap a few pictures of Terry (on left in third picture) and his tractors. The Massey-Ferguson and Simplicities in the foreground belong to Terry’s brother, Joe.

gets15_04gets15_05gets15_06As expected, there was no shortage of gas engines including plenty of the hit and miss variety. A sizable percentage were not running and probably couldn’t without considerable effort while others were hard at work doing things like making (or at least pretending to make) ice cream. Some were running but were just relaxing and blowing smoke rings. One display prompted me to attempt a rare video to show one solution to the aggravation of having an engine that works and a console TV that doesn’t.

gets15_09gets15_08gets15_07I would quickly discover that the show contained about as many things that I had not anticipated as those that I had. Maybe I should have expected this display of unusual Crosley vehicles, Terry had shown me a photo of the motorcycle from a previous year’s show, but I didn’t. Some, like the motorcycle, are factory prototypes while others, such as the first open-wheeled Crosley-powered racer I’ve ever seen, were aftermarket customs.

gets15_10gets15_11gets15_12This would have been completely unexpected if I hadn’t heard the announcer mention it over the PA. As soon as I heard the phrase “spark plug collector” I knew it was a hobby as natural — and as endless — as postcard collecting. I was thinking only of the multitude of brands and sizes but soon discovered that there were variations I had never dreamed of. Some early designs had an opening which allowed cylinders to be primed with fuel. Others had two connectors to support both coil and magneto ignitions. There were a variety of multi-piece designs that could be used to fashion quick disconnect plugs so that fouled electrodes could be changed during racing pit stops. Besides being surprised but the many wild plug designs, I was somewhat surprised that Terry and Dale (in the first photo) were almost as unfamiliar with them as I was — but I didn’t let it show.

gets15_13We all learned something here, too. At first I thought it was showing different types of fencing like some barbed wire displays I have seen. Then I thought it might be showing different methods of splicing pieces of wire. The truth was so much better. These are variations of Check Row Planter Wires which were first patented more than 160 years ago. The wires were stretched across a field and carefully placed “buttons” would trigger the dropping of seeds from a sled pulled along their length. A slightly more readable copy of the explanatory placard is here.

gets15_14gets15_15Almost everyone knows about Gibson guitars, greeting cards, wines, appliances, and other items but I doubt many know about Gibson tractors. I didn’t. Produced between 1946 and 1952, internet searches indicate that the tractors were made in Colorado although the company was based in Seattle, Washington. This was an at least rare, if not unique, instance where one 1947 model Gibson took a photograph of another.

lsd_tshrOh, and one more thing. In between the cows and the tractors, I went to a concert at The Southgate House Revival. Tuesday marked my second time seeing Lake Street Dive. As part of his introduction, WNKU’s Ken Haynes asked how many had also attended their only other area appearance and a number of hands, including mine, went up. “Well,” he said. “They’re two years better.” He was off a little on the calculation (That show was March 4, 2014.) but right on regarding the better and they were fantastic the first time around.

Book Review
An American Songline
Cecelia Otto

aas_cvrCece’s a singer… and a traveler and now a writer. Cece (I know the book cover says Cecelia but few actually call her that.) has been singing since childhood. As an adult, she has spent a goodly amount of time singing professionally as a classically trained mezzo-contralto and there was travel, both in and out of the US, involved. Then, just as the career should have been accelerating, a stumbling economy resulted in it instead being sort of paused. Cece used the time to attend workshops and other activities to help in focusing her future. One workshop involved identifying, in a short amount of time, “…five projects you see yourself doing…” and one item on her hurriedly produced list was “singing travelogue”. No one, including Cece, was quite sure what that meant but it sounded intriguing and, before long, she was on her way to defining a real world project that included a coast-to-coast concert tour, a CD, and this book.

The word “songline” was already part of her vocabulary. Songlines, or dream-tracks, are paths across Australia that indigenous people navigate, and have navigated for centuries, by the singing of songs.The songs are a mix of geography, mythology, and history and that sounds a lot like a “singing travelogue”. Cece chose the Lincoln Highway as the path for her “singing travelogue”. She traveled it during its centennial in 2013 with performances along its entire length. Unlike the Australian songlines, there isn’t really a song or even a set of songs that will guide travelers along the Lincoln Highway but Cece compiled a repertoire of tunes that mention the highway or were performed along it during its 1913-1928 heyday. Some new original Lincoln Highway related songs appeared in her concerts, too.

At one level, the book is a travelogue of that 2013 trip from New York City to San Francisco. Multiple outings are spread over six months. There are descriptions and photos of the same roadside attractions and interesting people and places that folks on vacation might encounter because, when possible, Cece is a tourist enjoying the sights. But sightseeing is definitely secondary. The purpose of the trip is the series of concerts and getting to each of them and being healthy when she gets there is her primary focus. Therefore, the book is also — perhaps mostly — a behind the scenes story of a do-it-yourself solo concert tour. Of course, getting to and performing concerts involves interesting people and places, too.

The book’s organization basically follows the road with states that the Lincoln Highway passes through providing most chapter names. Two notable exceptions are “Loss Along the Lincoln Highway”, which talks about events and thoughts that have absolutely nothing to do with geography, and “Love Along the Lincoln Highway”, in which Cece’s husband, Dan, shares his thoughts on the project that separated the recently wed couple for extended periods. The “singing travelogue” concept is brought to the printed page by beginning each chapter with the description of one of the songs from the tour.

An American Songline has plenty of dates and places and people but it also has emotions. Not only does Cece describe towns and venues, she shares the feeling of singing in those venues when she hasn’t seen her husband in a month and she talks about performing when the recent death of a friend is on her mind and after being surprised by a familiar but unexpected face in the audience. Being behind the scenes sometimes gets personal.

As a sort of “full disclosure”, I’ll mention that I first met Cece at the 2011 Lincoln Highway Association Conference when An American Songline was still a dream. I saw her perform at the concert in Hayseville, Ohio, as well as at other LHA events including the centennial in Kearney, Nebraska. Like Cece, I headed west from Kearney and, although I did not attend the advertised concert, spotted her name in lights along the way. I took some pictures but have never had an opportunity to use them… until now.


An American Songline website.

An American Songline: A Musical Journey Along the Lincoln Highway, Cecelia Otto, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, June 11, 2015, paperback, 8 x 5.2 inches, 318 pages, ISBN 978-1514317822

My Wheels – Chapter 17
1965 Corvair

65corvair1We had apparently become accustomed to being a two car family at this point so, when the blue Nova became a non-runner, I went shopping for another beater. I bought a 1965 Corvair in Kentucky. It didn’t look as ragged as the one at right (which might actually be a ’66) but it probably was. It was a full-on stripper with 3 on-the-floor, bare rubber floor mats, and no perceivable options other than an AM radio and even that might have been standard.

65corvair265corvair3It had begun life as a poor white Chevy and that was still the color of the top. The bottom had been painted fire engine red. It was a decent repaint and still pretty shiny. It was sort of a blend of these two cars minus the fancy wheel covers and all that chrome. It really didn’t look too bad from the proper distance. Up close, something of a reverse freckled look became noticeable. A few chips had appeared in the red part so that bits of the white part showed through. It was a mild case of reverse measles that gave the car “personality”. Yeah. That’s what it was. Personality.

The fun began before I even had it registered. In order to transfer the title of an out of state car, it has to be physically inspected. The inspection has nothing to do with the condition of the car. Someone with the proper authority has to verify that the title matches the car. At that time, and maybe still, most car dealers had one or more properly authorized people on staff. The seller allowed me to take the car with his plate on it (I may have eventually mailed or taken it back) and I drove the car to a dealer. A properly authorized person looked it over and denied the transfer. The car’s VIN, which was inside the engine compartment, did not match the VIN on the paper Kentucky title. It was easy to see why but knowing didn’t help.

The proper VIN had a ’13’ in it. At some point in the past, probably because of grease and crud on the number, it had been written down as a ‘B’. It was definitely a “we’ll laugh about this later” situation. We both knew that the car and the paper belonged together and that the paper was wrong but the inspector was not authorized to fix it. All he could do was say yea or nay and he wasn’t about to say yea.

I tried another dealer without success and came within one county of returning the car. The error, I eventually learned, had occurred two transfers back. As long as the car stayed in Kentucky, no physical inspection was required and the error was simply propagated forward. I bought the car from a guy in Campbell County who had bought it from a guy in Kenton County. Or maybe it was the other way around. In any case both counties were close and once I got the right one, it was fairly easy to get a corrected title issued.

We were once again a two car family but not for long. The two cars, the ’69 Opel and ’65 Corvair, held up just fine. It was the family that fell apart. When my wife and I divorced, we sold the house and split the trivial amount of money that resulted. About the only things I wanted from the house were my clothes and some LPs (“No way you’re getting that copy of Hard Day’s Night I bought in high school!”). There wasn’t much property to divide and the division went pretty smoothly. She got the Opel and I got the Corvair. I also got the canoe. Because these three things are titled in Ohio, they had to be listed in the divorce decree and titles transferred. The first line of the decree was something like “Dennis L Gibson will have as his sole possessions the canoe and the Corvair.” I believe the intent was to establish that I was the sole owner of these two opulent vehicles but it read as if they were the only things I owned which was, Beatles albums aside, pretty much the truth.

The end of my time with the Corvair was at least somewhat interesting. It naturally continued its decline but served me reasonably well for many more months. When the starter went out I decided it was time to move on. But not immediately. My credit rating at that point was the opposite of good and it took a couple weeks to arrange a purchase. During those weeks, the Corvair did its job. I was living in a trailer park with enough of a slope to the driveway to get it started in the morning. The far side of the parking lot where I worked had an even better slope for getting it going at the end of the day. When I needed to stop somewhere else, such as at the grocery, I just left it running. No one was going to risk an auto theft charge for that measly car.

Music Review
If It’s Got Wheels
Carey Murdock

iigw_cvrThe title song is the opener and I’ll admit I found myself wondering if that was a good thing. “If It’s Got Wheels”, the song, is a V8-powered rocker that heads straight for the horizon like something Springsteen or the Eagles might drive. But then what? Did Murdock pick this tune to lead off and supply the name for his latest album because that’s all there is? The quickly apparent answer is a very loud NO. If It’s Got Wheels, the album, is filled with powerful songs performed by a collection of talented musicians.

On my first listen, I found myself truly paying attention to those musicians as things kept right on rocking into the second track. I’ve seen Carey a few times. Always solo and always acoustic. I’ve heard other recordings with a band but, in hindsight, it seems I must have thought of the others only as accompanists for Murdock’s distinctive vocals. As “Go On and Leave Me” played, I heard Nigel Lawrence’s keyboard work and Mark Sieister’s saxophone as important and integrated parts of the song and I started to realize just how much Lawrence and guitarist Steven Bryant had contributed to the opening cut. Drums and bass, John Henry and Warren Brown respectively, had also been important and solid and masterful. I don’t know if this is officially the Carey Murdock Band but whatever the group is called, it’s a good one.

Two tracks into the album, I was enjoying Murdock’s writing and singing just as I expected but I was also enjoying and appreciating all the other players on the album, too. Despite the name, the next tune, “Don’t Want to Slow It Down”, slows it down but continues to show off the backing musicians Everyone is present, in a subdued sort of way, from the beginning but it’s Henry who initially carries things with a slow snare only cadence. Before the song is over, the whole group is wailing and Henry’s full kit is in on the action. For the moment, this is my favorite song on the album and the drum work is certainly one of the reasons but so, too, are lyrics, vocals, and the band’s performance

I was loving this full team “wall of sound” approach but I was also concerned that it might have become a necessary part of Murdock’s music. Track four, “Messy Love”, straightened me out. With an acoustic guitar and his harmonica, Carey delivers this one all by himself. It reminded me that a good song can be performed in a variety of ways and will remain a good song. These are good songs and Murdock does what many musicians do not and includes a booklet with lyrics and other details for each of them..

With one exception, the full band appears on the remaining tracks. One of those, however, is missing Murdock. It’s a one minute instrumental called “Interlude” that lets everybody showboat a little and which just might be used as a break song. I can almost hear “Short pause for the cause. Don’t be rash with your cash. We’ll be back in a flash” but, when it ends, there’s Murdock singing the opening line of “Never Like This Before”. Murdock’s voice has been compared to Springsteen’s and that’s not a bad reference point. However, I’ve also heard him do a pretty fair job crooning Frank Sinatra tunes and there’s a gravely end of his range that’s more like the older Tom Waits. For this song, Carey uses his Tom Waits voice.

The full band exception I mentioned is the last song on the album, “In This Together”. The only instrumentation is Murdoc’s acoustic guitar with Steven Bryant supplying both bass and drums. The song was co-written with former Taylor Swift fiddler and backup vocalist Caitlin Evanson and she joins Carey in singing it here. Murdock’s voice touches on the gravely Waits-ish sound in a few places. Evanson’s decidedly does not. It’s a beautiful way to end the album.


Cardboard on the Ohio

cbr2015-01The weather was perfect for yesterday’s Cardboard Boat Regatta in New Richmond, Ohio. I missed the actual start of the first heat but I did see its conclusion and plenty of the racing that followed. Lego Joe was a crowd favorite. It is kind of hard to believe but both the water-skiing Joe and his wave runner style tow vehicle are both made of cardboard.

cbr2015-02cbr2015-03Unfortunately, Joe’s maneuverability was not a match for his good looks. He never really reached race speed as what I’m guessing was a small leak in his skis led to an early finish. Joe began to plow into the water then eventually tipped over. The increased drag slowed the rig even more and it appeared as if the tow vehicle started to take on water which make it even slower and less stable. When the driver eventually fell off of the increasingly wobbly craft, I think he was ready for a rest.

cbr2015-06cbr2015-05cbr2015-04Of course, Lego Joe was not the only beautiful but not quite race-worthy craft in the field. The submarine did eventually reach the finish line under power from its two man crew. The raft, piloted by a young girl also made it but it took a while and required some assistance from a friend or family member. The shoe had directional difficulties and, after an excursion into the line of spectator boats (that may or may not have included soliciting a cold adult beverage) pulled ashore near the course mid-point.

cbr2015-07cbr2015-08If this ten member crew wasn’t a record, it had to be close. It’s certainly the most people I’ve ever seen in a cardboard boat. It took quite a while to get everyone into  the boat and ready to paddle but disembarking went a lot quicker.

cbr2015-11cbr2015-10cbr2015-09Here are shots of one of the entrants before, during, and after the race. Some boats return to compete year after year. Others make just one glorious appearance. I’m thinking this one might be in the latter category.

fbl1fbl2fbl3I finished the day at the Festival by the Lake in Alexandria, Kentucky. The draw for me was SIMO, who I last saw close to a year ago at the Southgate House Revival. This is a high energy and high volume act and, at least for me, the great outdoors suited this better than the smallish upstairs room at tSGHR. I also think a bass player change helped. Wonderful stuff.

A Pretty Fair Day

osf01The day in the title was Friday and the fair was the Ohio State Fair in Columbus.The day was, just as the title claims, quite pretty and so, in its own way, was the fair. I can’t really recall the last time I was here but it’s been a long time. Not years but decades. More than two. Less than five. Why that is, I can’t say. I attend the Great Darke County Fair every year or two and I’ve frequently thought about attending the state fair but never got around to doing it. My Friday visit was rather spontaneous. I was aware that the fair was in session but had no plans to attend until I woke up and realized just how wonderful the day’s weather was going to be. It did not take me long to decide that it would be the perfect day to end my long absence.

osf02osf03osf04I parked next to the fairgrounds at the Ohio History Center. For the most part, its lots become paid parking for fair goers but is still free to members. $5 for everybody else. That put my entry to the fair right at the north end of the double wide midway.

osf07osf06osf05The midway is mostly rides and games of “skill” but there are also plenty of intriguing foods to be tasted and exotic sights to be seen.

osf08osf09osf10The first livestock building I entered was the horse stable. It was empty. However, speakers in the area were broadcasting reports of some sort of horse competition which I learned was taking place in a nearby arena. The event was for draft horses. Each two horse team was driven through a series of maneuvers that included measured stops at points where bales of straw were loaded or unloaded. The fellow in the third picture was the eventual winner.

osf13osf12osf11I snapped some candid shots in the dairy cattle barn but some of the gals were getting professional photos taken in an onsite studio.

osf14osf15A cow made of butter first appeared at the Ohio State Fair in 1903. A calf was added in the 1920s and the pair became fair regulars. Since the 1960s, they’ve been joined by a variety of “guest stars” with Ohio connections. This year the Ohio State University’s football team, winners of the first ever national championship playoffs, gets the honor. There’s coach Meyer, the championship trophy, and Brutus Buckeye, the team’s mascot.

osf18osf17osf16I reached the beef cattle area in time to see some of the junior competition. The second picture shows a judge talking to an exhibitor. A judge spoke personally and at some length with every one of these kids, who I believe the announcer said were in their early teens. Whirling rides, flashing lights, and fast talking barkers are sure-fire impression makers and slithering ladies and deep-fried silliness are also important parts of what makes the experience memorable. But, with the possible exception of the guy and his horses a few panels back, nothing says “fair” to me louder than these three photos.

Backyard History

gade01That’s George Ade’s backyard in the picture at right. Ade was a columnist, author, and playwright who was quite popular and successful as the nineteenth century wound down and the twentieth took its place. Prior to a few weeks ago, I didn’t know even that much about him. In fact, if I had ever heard his name before, I had forgotten it. I became aware of George Ade and his Indiana backyard while learning about my own “backyard”.

gade02gade03The source of my learning was and is a series of videos from History in Your Own Backyard which I’ll have more on once I’m explained the Ade connection. Each video ends with the catch phrase “Travel slowly, stop often” which, along with a longer quote that appears on screen to start each video, is attributed to George Ade. The quotes made me want to learn more about the man and at some point in my reading I realized I would be passing near his home on an imminent road trip. I did that last week and got these pictures of both the back and front yards of the place he called Hazelden Farm.

gade04Hazelden Farm is just outside of Brook, Indiana. Ade, who died in 1944, is buried a few miles south of there in Fairlawn Cemetery near Kentland. His writing has been compared to Mark Twain’s and the two humorists apparently knew each other and are said to have admired each other’s work. That, and the “Travel slowly, stop often” quote, is enough to generate some serious interest from me. So far, I’ve read just a little of Ade’s Fables in Slang but I will certainly be reading more. One place to learn more about George Ade is here.

hiyobhomeNow I’m ready to talk about History in Your Own Backyard. The project is the brainchild of Scenic Road Rallies owner Satolli Glassmeyer. It’s a rather simple concept. Each video tells the story of one historic structure in the tri-state (Indiana-Ohio-Kentucky) area. They serve to preserve the story and make it available through the project’s website and YouTube channel. That lets people like me learn about easily overlooked history that really is in our own backyards.

But the videos have an additional purpose and it shows in how they are made. The topics are well researched. The recording and editing are top notch and professional looking. The on screen interviewers and commentators are not quite so polished. They are amateurs who live in the area. Some are high school students getting a taste of and a little experience in working in front of a camera. More importantly, however, they gain a sense of ownership over both the production and its subject. Some of their friends and family probably do too. That is intentional and valuable.

Don’t get me wrong. These are not awkward camera shy klutzes stumbling over every word. They simply lack the poise and polish that experience brings. There could even be a future Barbara Walters or Larry King among them but, if so, they have a ways to go. Their sincerity, however, is never in doubt and that, along with some real enthusiasm, easily makes up for a little missing polish..

The project got started a little more than a year ago and the YouTube channel currently lists over a hundred videos. Some are of active businesses in historic building that include interviews with current owners. Others might have only a commentator in an empty building or on a deserted bridge. Some even use old photographs with Ken Burns style voice-over. The following promotional video, which looks to gain new viewers, participants, and subjects, explains things better than I can.

You don’t have to live in my neighborhood to enjoy the History in Your Own Backyard videos. A general interest in history and preservation will suffice. But, if you do live in the neighborhood, they will probably tell you something you didn’t know or had forgotten and almost certainly give you some ideas for that next drive around your “backyard”.