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.

A Full Day of PT
(Public Transportation)

afdopt01On Tuesday, I climbed aboard a Cincinnati city bus for probably the first time, other than some event specific shuttles, since 1970. Prior to taking a job in South Lebanon near the end of 1970, I worked downtown and often rode the bus from Pleasant Ridge and, before that, Clifton. I don’t believe bus service extended much beyond Pleasant Ridge in 1970. Probably Kenwood. Possibly Montgomery. Now buses run all the way to Kings Island, just a couple miles short of that South Lebanon job, but they don’t run often. Their purpose is to connect people with jobs so there is a flurry at the start of the work day and another at the end. Little in between and even less on weekends. I’ve long thought of heading downtown on a bus but the sparse schedule put me off. Boarding a bus in the morning essentially means being gone for the rest of the day. That’s not really a problem, of course. It happens often. Committing to it in advance and knowing that there will be no car a shortish walk away is somewhat different, however.

afdopt02afdopt03I decided to go for the first run of the day. The route starts about a block from my home and, as can be seen in the up top photo, the bus arrived and I was on board — alone — a little before the 6:07 departure. There are two other pickup points, both a little to the north, before the bus hits the southbound expressway for downtown. Four passengers were added at the first one and sixteen at the second. The second was at Kings Island where I tryed to take a picture of the distant sign in the dark. Once on I-71, everyone, except the driver and a lady knitting, had their eyes on their phone or an e-reader.

afdopt05afdopt04Total ride time was almost exactly one hour and I arrived downtown just a few minutes past 7:00. I spent a little time on Fountain Square which is in minor disarray as the skating rink is put in place for the winter. The moon, just two days past full, plays the part of a halo for the fountain. It has been drained of water but still looks good and will look even better before the day ends.

afdopt06afdopt07I boarded the day’s second form of public transport next to Fountain Square. When I rode the Cincinnati Bell Connector during its inaugural weekend, it was always full. Today, it carried just one passenger when I boarded at Fountain Square. It was a handicapped lady and I got to watch her drive her electric scooter directly from the car to the platform when she exited a few stops before I did. Pretty slick.

afdopt10afdopt09afdopt08I had thought to have breakfast at the recently reopened (after a fire) Tucker’s but discovered that they are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. I substituted the even older (1936 vs. 1946) Dunlap Cafe. It’s just a block away from the northernmost streetcar stop at Rhinegeist Brewery. Besides good and cheap eats, the Dunlap has an impressive beer can collection that includes several from Olde Frothingslosh. In the past, I hadn’t paid much attention to the little park across the street but the benches caught my eye today. I’m guessing that nearby residents are responsible for the tiles.

afdopt11afdopt12I will be traveling on November 8 so, for the second time in my life, I won’t be physically going to the polls on election day. I figured out which streetcar stop was closest to the Board of Elections location and set off on the next train to drop off my absentee ballot. A small-world moment occurred along the way. At an intermediate stop, friend, blogger (Queen City Discovery), and author (Fading Ads of Cincinnati) Ronny Salerno stepped aboard and we got to chat until he stepped off one stop before mine. At the ballot drop box, a lady in front of me posed for a selfie with her ballot in hand and the box as background then offered to take my picture dropping the envelope. I thanked her for the offer but opted for just a shot of my hand and ballot.

afdopt14afdopt13There is also something of a coincidence involved here. After dropping off my ballot, I walked back toward the center of town with no real destination in mind. I reached this park, Cincinnati’s oldest, by chance and the coincidence is that I recently read a blog post about the man who donated it to the city. Until a few years ago, I sort of assumed this was Garfield Park because of the statue of our twentieth president. It’s real name is Piatt Park. I’m sure that reading Cincinnati’s Richest Man Died In Debtor’s Prison a week or so ago has a lot to do with my taking and posting these pictures.  A statue of our ninth president, William Henry Harrison, stands at the other end of the park. Combined, the two presidents honored here served less than eight months. Harrison 32 days, Garfield 200 days.

afdopt15afdopt16Fire on the fountain. Apparently if you need to clean something big and bronze, a torch and a brush is the way to go. The workmen told me that the 145 year old Tyler Davidson Fountain (a.k.a. The Genius of Water) gets this treatment twice each year. Good ventilation, I suspect, is also important.

afdopt19afdopt18afdopt17On impulse, I ducked into the Carew Tower and rode the elevator to the observation deck for a different view of the torch & brush guys. When I was last here, in November of 2014, the ice rink was in place and in use. Today workers were still assembling it. 84.51° is both the name and longitude of the marketing company that was spun off from became a subsidiary of (see first comment below) grocery giant Kroger last year. The third picture is of the mid-demolition Pogue’s Garage which, by coincidence, I recently read about in an article whose author, by coincidence, I ran into earlier in the day.

afdopt20afdopt21afdopt22Visiting the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center was something I’d tentatively planned to do and walking down to it from the Carew Tower worked into my day quite nicely. One reason for wanting to visit today was the center’s participation in the current Foto Focus Cincinnati. I very much enjoyed the Foto Focus exhibits but took no pictures of them. The river beyond the center’s Eternal Flame was once the boundary between slavery and freedom. Construction of the suspension bridge that crosses it was interrupted by the Civil War. The third pictures shows one of the displays reminding visitors that forms of slavery still exist in the world today.

afdopt25afdopt24afdopt23The day’s third flavor of mass transit picked me up just outside the Freedom Center. Operated by the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky, the Southbank Shuttle connects Newport and Covington, Kentucky, with Cincinnati’s riverfront. I rode it to near the Beer Sellar on Newport’s Riverboat Row but found it not yet open. I ended up sipping a beer on Hooters’ deck.

afdopt26afdopt27There are several new Cincinnati restaurants I’ve yet to try and today it was The Eagle‘s turn. The Southbank Shuttle took me to Fountain Square and the Cincinnati Bell Connector took be to within a couple blocks of The Eagle. It’s a place known for its fried chicken and it did not disappoint. It was accompanied by “spicy hot honey” that reminded me of how, just a few blocks away, The Genius of Water was being cleaned. I’m an admitted wimp and I know that what I thought fiery others would think just right or even mild but it was not for me. Properly warned, I sampled the honey with small drizzles on a couple of bites then put it aside and enjoyed the chicken and the spicy — but not spicy hot — cheese grits.

afdopt28Had I walked directly to to the streetcar station after eating, I could have boarded almost immediately. Instead, I watched a train stop and continue as I strolled through Washington Park. I strolled on and caught the next one after only a few minutes. Time to the next car is normally displayed at each station but that wasn’t the case at this particular station at this particular time. The wait was around ten minutes. At my three previous boardings, displayed times had been 8, 6, and 12 minutes. The first ride of the day was the only time I entered a nearly empty car. The others were maybe a third to half full. I snapped the photo, showing that my ride home was four minutes away, about a dozen minutes after I arrived at the stop near Fountain Square. The ride back to a block from my home would cost $4.25. I’d used a free ride pass (received when I signed up for Cincy EZRide) for the ride into town. EZRide supports the purchase and use of Metro Bus and Cincinnati Bell Connector tickets from both Apple and Android smart phones. I purchased and activated my $2 all day Connector pass with it although I was never called on to show the pass. Each Southbank Shuttle ride costs $1. Even without an introductory free ride I can go from my home near Kings Island to the northern bits of Over the Rhine to Riverboat Row on the south side of the Ohio River and back home again for $12.50 ($4.25+$2+$1+$1+$4.25). The last route 71 bus leaves the Fountain Square area at 5:30 so it won’t work for a normal time dinner or an evening event but it’s a very sensible way to spend a day in the big city.

A Tale of Two “Cities”

Cozad, NECozaddale OhioI live a little over eight miles from Cozaddale, Ohio, and have driven through it numerous times. The most recent was June 9 when I took the first picture at right. I live a little over eight hundred miles from Cozad, Nebraska, and have driven through it exactly twice. The most recent was Friday when I took the second picture at right. As you might suspect from the names, there is more to connect these two towns than my visits. Both were named for, or more accurately by, the same man.

John Jackson Cozad was born in 1830 near Allensville, Ohio, but he didn’t stick around long. He ran away at the age of twelve and before long found his way onto riverboats plying the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. He also found his way into a successful career as a faro dealer. I’ve found no indication that his success came from anything other than a carefully developed ability to read the faces of opponents, but I did find a claim that this ability led to him being barred from riverboats and other gambling operations.

Although he never completely gave up cards, Cozad moved into real estate speculation/development around 1870. He laid out an eight street village on land he owned along the Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad and formed a building association. Things began well enough and a few buildings were completed in this place he called Cozaddale before some “trouble” (of which I’ve found no details) brought about the end of the association and Cozad’s development of his first town.

Horace Greeley may or may not have said “go west, young man” a few years earlier but John J Cozad probably didn’t need any such encouragement anyway. Nebraska had become a state in 1867 and, apparently while still postmaster of Cozaddale, Cozad went to look it over in 1872. The way railroad section boss John Cusack tells the story, he was checking track on a handcar headed west when he spotted Cozad, in top hat and tails, walking east. The Ohioan had been on a westbound train when he spotted a 100th meridian sign and left the train at the next stop. Inspired by the sign, Cozad developed an almost instant vision for a town that he described to Cusack. After hitching a ride on the handcar, Cozad returned to Ohio, bought 40,000 acres of Nebraska, then came back with about thirty others to build a namesake town at the 100th meridian.

Cozad, the town, grew and Cozad, the man, became a “hay tycoon”. As a big time farmer in cattle country, Cozad, the man, had his share of conflicts with ranchers. One such conflict was with an Alfred Pearson. Some reports say Pearson pulled a knife and some reports say Cozad thought Pearson reached for a knife. All reports say that Cozad pulled a gun and fired. Pearson died of his wounds a couple of months later and Cozad the man left Cozad the town almost immediately. Teresa Cozad, John’s wife, stayed around long enough to dispose of the family’s holdings then, with their two sons, she too vamoosed.

To most people, the Cozad clan seemed to have simply disappeared then, in the 1950s, a descendant revealed some of the missing bits of the story. Using the name Richard Henry Lee, John Cozad opened a place called Lee’s Pier on the boardwalk of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Son Johnny posed as a brother-in-law using the name Frank Southern and son Robert posed as a nephew or foster son named Robert Henry. Perhaps not surprisingly, Richard Lee managed to stir up things in Atlantic City, too. In a conflict with the city over selling his property, Lee/Cozad built a barricade across the boardwalk that earned his place the name “Fort Lee”. He eventually lost but it took the state legislature to beat him.

John J Cozad by Robert HenriJohn A. Cozad, a.k.a. Frank Southern, eventually went back to his real first name and became, as Dr. John Southern, a well respected physician in Philadelphia. Robert Henry Cozad retained a slightly modified version of his Atlantic City alias and went on to great fame as an artist. His childhood home in the second town his dad founded is now the Robert Henri Museum. At left is a portrait that Robert Henri painted of his father, John J. Cozad, in 1903.


This is obviously one of those pre-written pieces but, unlike most of the My Gear and My Wheels sorts of things, this one is tied ever so slightly to real-time. I suppose it was sometime after I drove through Cozad, Nebraska, in 2009 that I discovered the connection between there and Cozaddale, Ohio. When I realized that I would be passing through Cozad again this year, I thought it might be cute to get a picture of the Cozaddale limits sign and do something with it in my journal entry when I again reached Cozad. I did a couple of searches hoping to find something interesting to say and the wild stories just kept tumbling out of the internet. It was soon apparent that it would take much more than a journal panel to do the John Cozad story anything near justice. Knowing I would be using several canned entries during the Lincoln Highway drive, I decided that this, with a single new picture, would be one of them. It was primarily constructed with information from here, here, and here. Those three sources don’t agree on everything and there are other, slightly different, versions out there, too. That certainly doesn’t surprise me. I’ve a feeling that John J himself couldn’t get his life story completely right even if he was trying to be entirely honest and I also have a feeling that being entirely honest wouldn’t come easy to him.

Lincoln Highway Association
Centennial Tour

lhh100On June 30, two groups of cars will converge on Kearney, Nebraska, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Lincoln Highway Association on July 1. I will be part of the one coming from the east. The launch from Times Square is still two days away on Saturday but I left home Wednesday in order to make it in time. The groups will follow, as close as practical, the original Lincoln Highway route and, if all goes well, I will continue west on the route following the celebration and conference in Kearney.

The journal for the trip is here. This will be the only blog entry related to the trip and will serve to hold any and all comments.

American Songline in Hayesville

Cece Otto - AmericanSonglineThis is another short Lincoln Highway related trip that begins with music. Actually, it’s all about music. The reason for the trip is this afternoon’s Cece Otto American Songline concert in Hayesville, Ohio, and it started yesterday with a Carey Murdock concert in Van Wert. The journal for the trip is here. This will be the only blog entry related to the trip and will serve to hold any and all comments.

2013 OLHL Meeting

olhlpillarIt didn’t start off exactly as planned but it did start and I’m on my way to the 2013 Ohio Lincoln Highway League meeting in Mifflin. The journal for the trip, which started in Columbus and will include a stop at Grant’s boyhood home in Georgetown, is here. This will be the only blog entry related to this trip and will serve to hold any and all comments.


Nashville Film FestivalI just drove to Nashville to see a movie. There’s actually a film festival going on and I’ll see at least a couple of movies but there is one in particular that brought me here. It’s a documentary named FOLK that focuses on three musicians including singer/songwriter Dirk Hamilton who I’ve long admired. This is its premier showing. The journal for the trip, which will include a little Dixie Highway on the way home, is here. This will be the only blog entry related to this trip and will serve to hold any and all comments.


Christmas Escape Repeat

Delta Queen, Christmas Day 2010That’s the steamship Delta Queen pictured to the right. The picture was taken on December 25, 2010 when Chattanooga got its first Christmas Day snow fall in 41 years. I don’t expect to see scenes like that again though I am returning to the Queen for Christmas 2012. Once the holiday is past, I’ll be driving a little Dixie Highway and spending a little time in Atlanta, Georgia. I’m now on the way and spent last night in LaFollette, Tennessee. The short journal for that first day’s drive is here with the overview of the trip here. As usual, daily journals will be posted as the trip progresses. If you would like to be notified of each day’s posting, look into the available mailing list or RSS feed. This will be the only blog entry related to this trip and will serve to hold any and all comments.

Lincoln Highway Centennial Kickoff

Das Deutsche Haus - IndianapolisThe Lincoln Highway Association was incorporated in Michigan in July of 1913 but the meeting that got things rolling was held in September of 1912 in Indianapolis, Indiana. It was held in the building pictured to the right which was then called Das Deutshe Haus and now known as the Athenaeum. I am now off to a recreation of that meeting in that same building as part of the Indiana LHA centennial kickoff. There will be bus tours before and after the recreation plus I’ve got to get there and back.

The journal for the trip is here.

This blog entry exists as a place for comments on the trip.