My Wheels – Chapter 18
1971 Vega

vega1No. That’s not my Vega and that’s not me. It’s John DeLorean in the August 1970 issue of Motor Trend where he was singing the praises of Chevrolet’s new small car. The editors were singing right along with him and even adding some verses of their own. A month later, Car and Driver and Road & Track joined the choir. In February, Motor Trend named the Vega 2300 their 1971 “Car of the Year”. All this for a car that today has a reputation just slightly better than Yugo.

vaga2I could’t find any pictures of the dark green 1971 Kammback that I bought in the summer of 1974 so I took to the internet. I didn’t have much better luck there. This black & white photo of what is identified as a 1972 model is the best I could do. The shortage of photos surprised me but so too did the abundance of early praise. I can’t explain the absence of decent Kammback photos so maybe my surprise at that is justified. My surprise at the praise isn’t. In fact, what those magazines said about the car — great handling, sporty looks, comfortable ride — is exactly what I thought of it forty years ago. I was surprised only because I had forgotten.

Of course, I had ample reason to forget how much I and the world initially liked that car. The Vega was not kind to General Motors or to me. Several problems, including fragile axles, faulty carburetors, and premature rust, plagued the Vega but the biggie was the aluminum engine block. Oh, how well I know. Within six months of my buying the car, overheating became an issue. The problem was diagnosed as a cracked head and I replaced it. That helped for awhile but the overheating soon returned. I drove the car to New York where a friend was working and he rode back with me. Well, almost back. With a few miles yet to go, the cooling system erupted and brought things to a halt.

By then, the Vega engine story was starting to be pieced together. I don’t have a clear understanding of the situation but know that the aluminum block and iron cylinder head had their differences which led to leakage from the block’s water jacket. In my case, replacing the head gasket had probably cured things temporarily but the real problem was the block. The commonly accepted solution was to put steel sleeves in the aluminum cylinders. I bought a properly sleeved short block from Jasper and, using block & tackle and a friend’s shed, dropped it into the car.

I now had the ultimate Vega but it would not last. This time it was me and not the car that malfunctioned. As noted in the Opel and red Corvair reports, this was the time of my first divorce. As the recently divorced often do, I showed a pronounced lack of restraint at a Christmas party and headed to a friend’s house less sober than I should have. I lost control on a curve and tried unsuccessfully to climb a light pole. Police were soon on the scene. They did not question my sobriety a bit so alcohol may not have been a major factor even though I’ve little doubt that it contributed along with the late/early hour.  The Vega with its new steel-sleeved block and only slightly less new head was totaled.

It’s a Wanderful Life

iawlIt has been three decades since the slogan “Wander Indiana” came and went but I’m going to do just a tiny bit of that over Christmas. The first day, with plenty of that Indiana rain, has been posted.

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

 

Mo’ Bricks

brickmas01How big is Cincinnati? Big enough to simultaneously support two major LEGO exhibits. That’s how big. The Art of the Brick opened at the Cincinnati Museum Center on October 23. It runs through May 1. Down at Newport on the Levee, BRICKmas opened November 25. It runs through January 1. The Art of the Brick is the work of a single artist, Nathan Sawaya. BRICKmas is the work of lots of people coordinated by the Ohio Kentucky Indiana LEGO Users Group (OKILUG).

brickmas02I visited The Art of the Brick back in November and posted a blog entry here. I visited BRICKmas just over a week ago (Dec 12) with my daughter and grandson. Theoretically, BRICKmas could have been the subject of last week’s blog post but that slot was already filled with the Saint Anne’s Hill Christmas Tour. I considered doing a “bonus” post but decided to make it easy on myself and save BRICKmas for this week. Here is what I did eight days ago.

brickmas04brickmas03BRICKmas fills two separate areas. The first contains several large and complex displays. Each has a theme and some are reproductions of specific scenes or locations. Electric trains and other moving items add life.

brickmas05brickmas06brickmas07The folks who made the displays clearly had a lot of fun and a lot of imagination. I learned later that there is a Santa Claus figure in each display. We spotted a couple but didn’t know to look for them. There were also quite a few non-Santa figures in the displays that were equally out of place. Some were hidden. Others not. The pumpkin-headed horseman in the first picture to the left is actually in the area covered by the second picture in the preceding paragraph but he is hidden by a tree. The other two picture contain some rather incongruous figures in plain sight. There is some help in finding them here and here.

brickmas09brickmas08The Roebling Bridge model at the top of the article and both displays in the photos at right were in the second section. Here the individual items, like the full size heads, seemed larger, and the themed scenes, like the Sponge Bob Square Pants setting, seemed smaller. This section was more or less targeted at the younger attendees and this is where the play areas and do-it-yourself tables were. It was here that we noticed some kids with scavenger hunt type check lists. We were disappointed that we hadn’t received one but it was really too late to get overly concerned about it. Apparently the first thing we were supposed to find was the check list and we failed miserably.

brickmas10This picture was taken shortly after we arrived at the levee before visiting the BRICKmas displays. I’m going to pretend that it was at the end of the day as we’re about to head home. Even though Wesley’s drivers licence is a few years away, he’s pretty sure he could handle a little sleigh and a few reindeer.

Book Review
History of the Dixie Highway in Allen County, Ohio
Michael G. Buettner

hdhac_cvrI could have called this a pamphlet review. That’s technically what it is. Or, since one definition of pamphlet is “a small book”, I could have called this a small book review. I decided to leave the title be but, in line with the publication’s size, I’ll try to be brief and do a small small book review.

Michael Buettner is a past president of the Ohio Lincoln Highway League. He has written several articles on the Lincoln Highway and other historic roads. This pamphlet, which he wrote for the Allen County Historical Society, draws from his 2006 article In Search of…The Dixie Highway in Ohio but only slightly. In contains details, plus maps and photos, that do not appear in the earlier article. An increased level of detail comes rather natural when the focus is on a county rather than a state.

The first several pages provide some early Dixie Highway history as it relates to the full ten state system, to the state of Ohio, and to the route in Allen County. Instructions for two driving tours follow. Both originate in the county seat of Lima. The first goes north to the county line and the other goes south. Descriptions and photos of points of interest accompany the turn-by-turn instructions.

When the U.S. Numbered Highways came into being in 1926, Allen County’s share of the Dixie Highway was essentially absorbed by US 25. I-75 subsequently absorbed much of US 25 and replaced all of it. A series of maps helps describe this sequence.

History of the Dixie Highway in Allen County, Ohio, Michael G Buettner, Allen County Historical Society, November 2015, 8.5×5.5 inches, 40 pages, available for $6 at the Allen County Museum

The Brewery’s Neighborhood

sahdoc15_00Neighborhood taverns may not be as common as they once were but they are hardly extinct. Traditional beer towns like Cincinnati, Saint Louis, and Milwaukee have them and I’m sure they’re not alone. Once upon a time, some of the neighborhoods in those beer towns had a neighborhood brewery. A precious few do so today. One that does is the Saint Anne’s Hill Historic District in Dayton, Ohio. That’s the neighborhood brewery at right. It’s the Fifth Street Brewpub, the first co-op brewery in Ohio and the second in the nation. Today patrons come from near and far and even the owner/members are a widespread bunch but the founders who had the idea and made it happen are neighbors. They did it to save a little history and to put some more life back into their neighborhood. The rest of the Saint Anne’s Hill pictures are posted in sequence but this was taken at the end of the evening as I approached the brewpub for a little R&R after a guided walk around the neighborhood. There’s something of a “bonus” in the photo. The contraption at the very top is part of the rigging for the overhead wires that power Dayton’s electric trolley buses. Dayton is one of only five US cities operating electric trolley buses. The others are Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle.

sahdoc15_01Saint Anne’s Hill was hardly lifeless even before the brewpub opened in 2013. A downward slide that had started with the Great Depression and World War II was halted in the early 1970s as a modern sort of pioneer started restoring some of the elegant old houses in the area. A some point, residents began offering tours of homes decorated for Christmas to raise funds for community projects. The biennial tours continue to be offered in odd numbered years. They begin at this 1869 house which is now the High Street Art Gallery operated by the Dayton Society of Painters and Sculptors.

sahdoc15_02The area’s original heyday was in the early twentieth century and tour guides dress in the height of period fashion. That’s our tour guide, Jack, under the top-hat. There were eight homes on the tour and Jack told us about each one before we entered. In the picture we are learning about a house on High Street built by a family named Bennington in 1890.

sahdoc15_03sahdoc15_04sahdoc15_05The tour’s appeal comes from the wonderfully restored historic homes themselves as well as beautiful Christmas decorations both inside and out. Two, three, or more trees are a big part of each home’s charm which meant there were many great looking trees to chose from. The trees shown here were chosen largely because their photos came out OK and I won’t attempt to identify the houses they were in. In addition to the Bennington house this year’s tour included a 1902 house also on High Street, an 1886 house on McLain Street, 1900 and 1853 houses on LaBelle Street, and 1855 and 1865 houses on Detoit Street.

sahdoc15_06In addition to telling us about each home we entered, Jack provided information on several other houses as we passed. This house, on what is now Detoit Street, was built by Eugene Detoit in 1838. It is the oldest house in Saint Anne’s Hill and one of the oldest in Dayton.

sahdoc15_07sahdoc15_08sahdoc15_09Different homes participate in each year’s tour with one exception. The 1869 Bossler Mansion is always the final stop and that is where we were treated to some incredible bread pudding as were all the tour groups in previous years. The mansion’s thirty rooms were once divided into thirteen apartments. During tour weekend, the second floor holds a gift shop filled largely with items made by local craftsmen. The last photo is the view from the cupula atop the mansion.

This was the second time I’ve taken a tour of decorated historic homes. The first was in 2012 in Morristown on the National Road.


zns02zns01Saint Anne’s Hill is something over thirty crow miles from where I live. A holiday display that has been getting a lot of press is much closer. The World’s First Zombie Nativity Scene, which has been covered by the New York Times, CNN, and the BBC among others, is about a half dozen miles from my door. Most of the big time coverage was triggered by threats by the township to fine the owner up to $500 per day. Officials have always claimed that the threats were because of zoning violations and it seems they were even if that might not be what initially caught their attention. A day or two before I took these pictures on Friday, the display had been made smaller and a roof that extended upward a few feed removed. The township says it’s now good to stay.

Even though it was the threatened fines that brought the world wide attention, most reports focused on the “non-traditional” nature of the display. Fair and balanced Lou Dobbs called it an “obscenity” and said “I think if you’re going to mock a religion, I’m thinking they should have chosen the Islamic religion to see what would happen.” Lou and company notwithstanding, my sense is that defenders out number those who are upset and that, after two years of what some would call oppression, a new local Christmas tradition has been established.

Book Review
Fading Ads of Cincinnati
Ronny Salerno

faoc_cvrBuying local is a good thing and so is reading local. I was able to combine the two recently. November 30 was the official release date for a new book about Cincinnati and in the early evening its author made the book and his signature available at a downtown location that appears between its covers. The book was Fading Ads of Cincinnati, the author Ronny Salerno, and the location Igby’s Bar inside a building with a fading “TWINE PAPER” painted on its side. Those two dim words are typical of the fading ads that are the book’s subject.  How could I not?

Although this was my first time meeting Salerno, I knew the name. I first spotted it on some photographs in a small exhibit near downtown Cincinnati a few years back. I wasn’t clever enough to find his wonderful Queen City Discovery blog from that prompt but I did find it eventually and I’ve followed it for some time now. Salerno loves taking photographs and he’s really good at it. He especially loves taking pictures of old abandoned buildings with a story. A third love is also apparent in that blog: the city of Cincinnati. He brings all three loves to Fading Ads of Cincinnati.

The book is the latest in the Fading Ads of… series published by History Press. About the only reference to a publisher I’ve made in past reviews is an identification at the end. Saying a bit more seems appropriate here. Until last year, the USA’s History Press Inc. was part of the UK’s History Press Ltd. It was acquired by Arcadia Publishing in the middle of 2014. All of those entities deal with local and regional topics and often use something of a formula approach. Although it is not all they do, Arcadia is probably best known for their sepia-toned Images of America books. As hinted at by the title, these books are filled with images most of which are historical. The images are selected and described by local experts who typically also provide several pages of introductory text at the book’s beginning. More often than not, these experts are not just knowledgeable but have a personal attachment and attraction to the subject. Saying that most love what they write about would not be wrong. History Press publications tend to be wordier and, although historical images are sometimes used, include plenty of modern color photos. But, just like those Arcadia books, History Press books rely on local experts for their creation and, just like those Arcadia book writers, these experts are often in love with their subjects, too. Kind of sounds like Ronny Salerno, doesn’t it?

Salerno is a good match for the Fading Ads… series. Before reading the book it had actually occurred to me that he might have had every subject identified and many photographed long before he even took on the job. That wasn’t quite the case, however. He was naturally familiar with many of the area’s old signs but not all. He conferred with other “sign hunters” and got tips from friends but he also found his own senses sharpening as he strolled through both unfamiliar and familiar neighborhoods. The result is nearly one hundred new color photos of mostly — but not entirely — old stuff. There are also several historical photos from places like the Library of Congress.

faoc_int1The photos aren’t left to stand alone. Captions describe each of them, of course, and many get multiple paragraphs of attention. Salerno has been successful in digging up many of the signs’ histories with some of the best stories coming from signs identifying local or regional companies that are no longer with us. Names like Shillito’s and Brendamour’s will be recognized by many Cincinnatians and probably some others as well. Out-of-towners might not be familiar with local landmarks like Davis Furniture (“The Friendly Store”) or the Dennison Hotel (“105 Rooms – 60 baths”) but they are exactly what I and some other locals think of when we think of “fading ads” or the more common “ghost signs”.

faoc_int2Salerno brings up the phrase “ghost signs” in the introduction and says people often thought he was writing about the supernatural when he used the term. “Fading advertisements”, he says, doesn’t have that problem. Fair enough but it’s just possible that his position also has something to do with the book’s predetermined title. “Ghost sign” slips into the book a time or two and in the final chapter Salerno more or less acknowledges the validity of both. As for me, I’m comfortable and most familiar with the term “ghost signs” (and “ghost bridges” and “ghost towns”) so I’ll just continue to think of Fading Ads of Cincinnati as a book about ghost signs.

Geography has a lot to do with the book’s organization and the bulk of the photos are in three chapters titled “Downtown”, “Northern Kentucky”, and “The Neighborhoods”. Like any city of any size, Cincinnati has official and unofficial neighborhoods with their own identities. It’s southern boundary is defined by a river that also defines the border of Ohio. In some ways, the Kentucky communities on the south side of the river are quite different from those on the north but the ease with which a cluster of bridges usually allows interstate traffic makes them often seem like Cincinnati suburbs. The prominent “John R. Green Co” sign in Covington, Kentucky, fits in this book as comfortably as the “Little Kings” sign in Cincinnati’s West End.

I mentioned that not everything pictured in the book is old. One chapter in particular shows almost exclusively new unfaded and non-ghostly signs. The photos were taken at the Cincinnati Reds’ home field and include a shot of a huge sign announcing the 2015 All-Star Game which Cincinnati hosted. The “fading ads” connection is solid and arrow straight. Those stadium signs and many more around the area are the work of Holthaus Lackner Signs, a company headed by Kevin Holthaus. Kevin is the grandson of Gus Holthaus who started the company and whose signature appears on many signs in the area including several in Fading Ads of Cincinnati. The only old sign appearing in the “Signature Legacy” chapter is a remnant of a sign possibly painted by Kevin’s great-grandfather, Arnold Holthaus.

A link at the end of this article leads to the book on Amazon. An entry on Salerno’s blog identifies other online outlets and several area stores where it is also available. Another option is to catch the author at a local bar with a faded sign but you’ll have to be both patient and vigilant.

Fading Ads of Cincinnati, Ronny Salerno, The History Press, November 30 2015, 9 x 6 inches, 160 pages, ISBN 978-1467118729

Dancers and Prancers

lhp15_01The last time I was at a Lebanon, Ohio, horse parade was in 2011 and it was part of what I called a trifecta. On three consecutive weekends I attended horse parades in Greenville, Springfield, and Lebanon. This year Greenville held their 12th annual Hometown Holiday Horse Parade on November 21. I missed it. As happened in 2011, an open weekend separated the Greenville and Lebanon parades but I have found no evidence of Springfield filling it. The 2011 parade was their first and it may have been their last. Pictures in this post are from the 27th annual Lebanon Carriage Parade held yesterday, December 5.

lhp15_02lhp15_03Lebanon actually has two parades and a sizable street festival to go with them. The Red Hot Dancing Queens, who I’ve seen on a few other occasions, were part of the pre-parade entertainment. They are indeed red hot and seem to always have every bit of fun that the law allows.

lhp15_05lhp15_04Lebanon has both a daytime and nighttime parade. The nighttime parade, which was the one I attended in 2011, is harder to photograph but electric lights on the carriages and and horses do look cool. Obviously I attended the daytime parade this year and it’s just as obvious what is being celebrated.

lhp15_06lhp15_07lhp15_08I haven’t seen an official count but there must have been just about 100 entries. I recall seeing tags in the 90s with a few carriages behind them plus I spotted a pair of entries wearing A and B versions of the same number. There may have been more.

lhp15_11lhp15_10lhp15_09The posted photos show just a small fraction of the entries. There is absolutely nothing scientific about their selection. They are merely some that I like. Since I have no idea who any of these people are, I can’t really be accused of slighting anyone. Ignorance can be useful.

Book Review
Marking the Miles Along the National Road Through Ohio
Cyndie L. Gerken

mtmatnrto_cvrThat’s a pretty long book title. There’s a subtitle, too, which makes the whole thing Marking the Miles Along the National Road Through Ohio: A Survey of Old Stone Mile Markers on Ohio’s National Road. It’s long because it, just like the book it identifies, is accurate and precise. The book accurately and precisely locates the 175 mile markers originally set, as accurately and precisely as early nineteenth century technology and local politicians would allow, beside the Ohio portion of the very first federal highway. With all that accuracy and precision you might think this volume would be completely dry and boring but that’s not the case. Stories about the road, the countryside, and even the markers themselves lighten and soften things considerably. Color photos and maps make the book attractive.

Marking the Miles… opens with the full complement of preface, foreword, and introduction. The preface is written by Dean Ringle who, in addition to contributing much to this book, is a past president of the Ohio National Road Association (ONRA) and the current — and very active — chairman of its Mile Marker Committee. The foreword speaks of the book’s purpose and organization. The introduction is where, as wagon masters may have once said, the hoof meets the road.

The introduction is fifty pages long. It talks about mile markers in general, National Road markers in other states, and the Ohio markers as a group. It talks about differences in engraving styles and it points out some errors made when erasing a mistake might mean chiseling it out of the solid rock to create a clean surface. It provides a “where are they now” summary and discusses recent replacement programs. It tells of the incorporation of actual mile markers in a near future National Road exhibit at a Dayton Museum. And it covers much more in providing a solid background for looking at individual markers.

mtmatnrto_int1Seven of the ten Ohio counties through which the National Road passed are covered in individual chapters following the introduction. No markers were ever placed in the three westernmost counties on the route as federal funding ended near Springfield in Clark County. Each of these chapters begins with an overview of the county that includes a summary of how many original markers there were, how many remain at their original location, how many exist elsewhere, and how many are lost. Each marker is then addressed individually. With few exceptions there is at least one picture. If a given marker survives, a current photo is included and one or more historical photos are usually presented regardless of whether or not the marker is still around. Understandably, markings on many of the older stones are not exactly legible. Not to worry. Appendix B contains crisp drawings of the inscription of every marker. Markers can often be seen, accidentally perhaps, in old postcards and other photos and many of these appear in the book. Each marker’s history is given and stories about the marker or the area around it frequently add a little fun and background. Placed among the individual marker descriptions are sections of US Geological Survey 7.5 minute topographical maps showing the location of the markers three at a time. Other National Road related landmarks are often shown on the maps as well.

When the federal funding and mile marker placement stopped at Springfield, locally financed turnpikes filled the gap to the Indiana border. Known as the Dayton Cutoff, these turnpikes dipped south through Dayton and Eaton while the unimproved straight-line National Road languished. Mile markers on the eastern portion of the Cutoff mimicked those on the National Road to give the impression that the federal route went right through Dayton. Gerken includes a chapter on this and even provides location and other information about the markers.

Hard facts are without question the backbone of this book and numbers representing miles, dates, percentages and the like are plentiful. There are even several tables filled with numbers and bare facts which might justifiably be called dry. Some might also call them boring but not I. And not anyone else with a serious interest in the history of the National Road. At its most basic level, Marking the Miles… is a cataloging of every marker’s inscription, location, and fate. This is invaluable information not available anywhere else. Its usefulness to researchers is obvious but it is also of use to someone wondering about that old stone they drive by each day or the one they used to see near Granddad’s farm but which disappeared sometime in the past. Incidentally, some of those vanished markers are reappearing thanks to a grant program administered by that ONRA Mile Marker Committee I mentioned earlier.

mtmatnrto_int2Bringing all of this information together is clearly a major accomplishment but Gerken, a past ONRA president herself, says the information is only a portion of what she has collected on the National Road in Ohio. A well deserved breather follows wrapping up Marking the Miles Along the National Road Through Ohio. Nothing is currently scheduled or promised but the future could see a Gerken penned treatise on bridges or taverns or toll houses or something else. I certainly hope so. I like accuracy and precision and I also like anecdotes and insight. Marking the Miles… provides a pretty good mix.

Marking the Miles Along the National Road Through Ohio: A Survey of Old Stone Mile Markers on Ohio’s National Road, Cyndie L. Gerken, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, November 4, 2015, 11 x 8.5 inches, 338 pages, ISBN 978-1517317034