My Wheels – Chapter 8
1957 Austin Healey

Austin-Healey 100-6Why in the world would a couple of newly weds buy a ten year old British sports car in the middle of winter? I am, at present, as baffled as anyone though I apparently once knew the answer to that question. A month or so after our 1966 Boxing Day wedding, my bride and I purchased a 1957 Austin-Healey 100-6. The one pictured is a 1958 model but looks pretty much like our ’57. This was not a play car to park next to a dependable sedan. This was our only car.

The Renault‘s reliability had steadily decreased until I sold it to a friend who either rebuilt or replaced the engine and drove it for quite awhile. I almost bought a 1959 Plymouth an aunt had recently replaced and actually “test drove” the car for a few weeks before acquiring the Healey. Buying the Plymouth would have been the sensible thing to do. But we were 18 and 19, I was a full time student, she was just out of high school, and we had just gotten married. Why spoil it by doing something sensible?

The Healey lasted more than a year. It was a great summer car and an OK winter car. Climbing snow covered Cincinnati hills was not its strong suit but it got around as good as many other cars of the day and it was reasonably warm in slowish city driving. Things were a little different on the open road. It helped that it had a removable hard top. It was fiberglass and not heavily insulated but was infinitely better than the cloth top. But it was a true roadster with sliding Plexiglas side curtains rather than roll up windows. At highway speed on a cold day, the heater stayed on full blast trying to keep up with the air escaping through the side curtains.

That soft top I mentioned was on the car once while I owned it. Attaching it had much more in common with raising a tent than with raising a convertible top. The hard top came off in the spring and went on in the fall. In between, with the one exception to prove that erecting the canvas top was possible, we made do with a tonneau cover and, yes, we did get wet now and then.

It was called a 2+2 with a pair of padded depressions in a shelf behind the seats. I actually remember carrying someone in those “seats” for a short distance but the shelf was much better at holding a couple bags of groceries than a couple derrieres.

The 100-6 was produced for three years. In 1956 it replaced the four-cylinder 100 which immediately became known as the 100-4. The 100-6 had a 2.6 liter six-cylinder engine and a four-speed transmission with overdrive. In 1959, it was replaced with the 2.9 liter Austin-Healey 3000 which had a rather long run through 1967.

Cars are often remembered for the misadventures they were part of and here is a story that helps me remember the Healey. For reasons not quite remembered, there was no license bracket on the front for awhile. It had been damaged somehow and repairing it had slipped entirely off my schedule. We were driving home after a visit to my parents. On state route 49, near the town of Arcanum, we passed a state trooper headed the other direction. He turned around, turned on his lights, and pulled us over. There was no “serious” issue, like speeding, but there was no front license. After checking a few things, he gave me a written warning and went on his way.

A couple of weeks later, I was back in Darke County. The low slung Healey had suffered a few scrapes and bumps on its crankcase and had developed a minor leak. I arranged to meet a high school buddy who had a welder so we — actually he — could fix the leak. The repair was accomplished and I headed home. At just about the same spot as before, that same state trooper passed the Healey with the same license plate not there. When I saw his brake lights come on, I immediately turned off on a side road and, with a few quick turns on the narrow roads, made my getaway. Satisfied that my evasive maneuvers had worked, I was starting to slow when I saw it. The road ahead was unpaved. It had not been graded for awhile. A fairly tall gravel ridge stood in its center. Before I could stop, I was plowing that gravel. Then I was oiling it.

The gravel had ripped off the recently applied weld and the crankcase was leaking much worse than it ever had before. I lost a lot of oil by the time I made it back to the main road. At a little gas station and grocery store, I bought a five gallon can of used oil. I believe farmers sometimes used used oil in slow reving equipment so it was often available for sale. The leak was not quite as bad as I feared but I still lost close to another gallon getting back to the friend’s house. He had just been visiting from college and was already gone when I got there. His dad let me use the welder and I managed to plug the leak with one of the ugliest welding jobs ever. This was the first and last time anyone ever left me alone with a welder. Then I drove home and fixed the license bracket the very next day.

Although our car must have looked just like the one in the picture when new, when we had it the paint had lost its shine and there was rust. Not major visible rust but hidden and interior rust in floor pans and such. The car was never garaged while we had it and I suspect that was true of much of its life. The rust and mechanical malaise led to the Austin-Healey being replaced before the next summer rolled around.

My Wheels – Chapter 7 — 1961 Renault 4CV


Although this post is semi-random (I picked it from two possibilities) it appears during Cincinnati’s first snow event of the year (which is kinda why I picked it) and gives me an excuse to tell a semi-related story.

1959 Plymouth FuryThe 1959 Plymouth Fury at left is a dead ringer for the one I passed up to get the Austin-Healey. A rather spiffy ride, don’t you think? On one snowy night, my new wife and I were out with a friend in my borrowed car. The snow was not deep but the big Plymouth was not doing well on the slick streets. At one point, as we attempted to climb a slight incline, the friend and I got out to push while my wife took over driving. It did not take much to get the car moving but stopping to let us back in would have left the car stuck once again. Instead, my friend and I each grabbed a fin and “skied” alongside the Plymouth to the top of the hill.

Planes and Things

sam26000_extOn Friday, November 22, 2013, a friend and I visited the National Museum of the US Air Force near Dayton, Ohio. Among the many historic items on display is the Boeing VC-137C that carried John F Kennedy to and from Dallas, Texas. The two pictures below were taken of the same general area of the plane just a few hours shy of fifty years apart.

johnsonsisam26000_int

drgobs-2drgobs-1Another museum display recently in the news is associated with the Doolittle Raiders. A “Last Man Standing” pact had been established in which the last surviving Raider would drink a toast to all those who had gone before him.On the most recent anniversary of their 1942 bombing run over Toyko, the last four living Raiders decided not to wait but to have their final public reunion and drink their toast now. That toast took place at the museum on November 9 and can be seen here. Their eighty silver goblets, with the seventy-six belonging to diseased Raiders standing up side down, are displayed at the museum. My report on last year’s 70th reunion is here.

Half Century Gone

Kennedy official photoOn this day fifty years ago I was a high school junior. I do not even remember most of the day and some that I do remember is foggy and questionable. I remember some very small pieces all too well. I remember going to my chemistry class and taking a seat in the second or third row. It was the rightmost seat facing the teacher’s desk and the wall of blackboards. My memory is that the principal, Mr Pawlowski, entered before class actually started and gave us the news though it might have come from Mr Conrad, the instructor. In my memory, Mr Pawlowski quickly moved on to personally deliver his message in other classrooms so that every student heard the same version. It is logical and might indicate how important he thought the message — and its uniform delivery — was but I cannot be certain that my memory is accurate. The message was, of course, “The President has been shot.”

The remainder of the school day is blurred. I believe that no more classes were held and I have a vague memory that students who walked to school were allowed to leave. Maybe we all were. I’m fairly confident that I drove to school that day. I was sixteen with a car and a driver’s license. What else would I do? I do remember that by the time I left school, whenever and however that occurred, the message was no longer that the President had been shot; By then we knew that the President was dead.

The time between hearing that the President was shot and learning for certain that he was dead could not have been long. Other points of uncertainty were not so easily or quickly resolved. Who did it? Was the country under attack? Were we, in our tiny Ohio town far from both Dallas and D.C., safe? With the exception that New York replaced Dallas, those are the exact same questions I had on a September morning nearly thirty-eight years later. The world in which the terrorist attacks of 2001 took place was not, however, at all the same as the world of 1963.

The basement of the school building in which I heard the news had sealed containers of “rations” stacked along the walls. With their Civil Defense markings, they were visible reminders that this was a designated fallout shelter. The first anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis was not even a month in the past. I recall learning, only a couple of years before, a new prefix: mega. I didn’t need it to discuss megapixels, or megabaud, or even megabytes. I needed it to try to comprehend the power, in megatons of TNT, of hydrogen bombs being tested in the friggin’ atmosphere. The Cold War was not as nebulous as the War on Terror and I think it was somewhat scarier. Has there ever been a more accurate acronym than the one referring to Mutual Assured Destruction?

I do have some memories of the evening. A buddy and I went driving around because that’s what sixteen year old boys with cars did. The world was closed. Games and dances were canceled; Restaurants shut down. The buddy had a little battery powered tape recorder. This was well before cassettes or even 8-tracks. It used very small reels. It was pretty much a toy which we used to make Dickie Goodman style “break-in” recordings that were even worse than the ones Goodman did. That night, as we drove through the one city (1960 population 10,585) and some of the small towns in the county, we made comments and observations into the recorder. It is long gone, of course, but I’ve often thought of just how interesting it would be to listen to that tape today. It might offer a unique look at rural Ohio on the night of the assassination or it might just be filled with stuff like “Holy cow!. Even Frisch’s is closed.”

The weird uneasiness continued through the weekend as facts and rumors tumbled out. Lee Oswald was arrested. The shooting of a cop, J D Tippit, was somehow related but it was not at all clear how. Then Oswald was shot and things got even more confusing. I’ve convinced myself that I watched Jack Ruby gun down Oswald on live TV but the scene was shown so many times I can’t be sure. Two things helped; The eventual realization that the office of President of the United States had been transferred just like the rule book said and the fact that Walter Cronkite was in the newsroom. I think it a pretty safe bet that I’ll never trust any one the way I trusted Walter.

Ansonia High School 1964 yearbookPresident John F Kennedy was officially pronounced dead at 1:00 PM CST; The same time as the posting of this article. The scan at left is of an introductory page of my high school’s 1964 yearbook. I imagine something similar appeared in the yearbooks of thousands of schools across the country. I believe the picture is a closely cropped version, with the background removed, of the official one at the beginning of this article.

Book Review
Fallen Timbers 1794
John F Winkler

Fallen Timbers coverEveryone loves a winner and, in 1794, the United States Army finally became one. In his earlier work, Wabash 1791, Winkler tells of the new nation’s first military campaign and the disaster that resulted. Fallen Timbers 1794, describes the campaign that led to a victory at Fallen Timbers and ultimately to the Treaty of Greenville.

The 1791 Battle of the Wabash, more commonly known as St Clair’s Defeat, essentially destroyed the United States Army. In 1792, congress created a new one. To lead this new army, The Legion of the United States of America, President Washington chose Revolutionary War veteran Anthony Wayne. Wayne did things quite a bit differently than did St Clair. He made sure his troops were trained and equipped before setting out and he placed a series of defensible forts so as to protect his supply line. Perhaps more importantly, he understood the Indian methods of combat and devised tactics to counter them. Like St Clair, Wayne had difficulties with supplies and contractors but it seems that now it was not only greed and incompetence that fueled them but an actual conspiracy aimed at causing his failure.

As he did in Wabash 1791, Winkler sets the scene for the campaign by describing the “strategic situation” and with chapters on the opposing commanders, armies, and plans. In many respects, the world situation was still much like it was in 1791. The United States was only a few years older and only a tiny bit more stable. Britain’s support and encouragement of the natives may have actually increased and neither France not Spain had vanished from North America. In fact, French elements were very much at play, often for the worse, inside the young nation. Of course, there were also plenty of homegrown problems. That previously mentioned conspiracy was one of them and, in the westernmost reaches, open revolt was a real possibility. These were the days of the Whiskey Rebellion. Less than three weeks before the Battle of Fallen Timbers, a crowd of 7,000 threatened to march on Pittsburgh. It was less than two months after the battle that President Washington personally went into the field to put down the uprising.

Three dimensional maps, like those that helped in understanding the Battle of Wabash, do the same for the Battle of Fallen Timbers. Other maps, along with period portraits and modern photographs, help understand the people and places involved. Peter Dennis’ wonderful paintings, one of which is used for the cover, provide realistic visualizations of specific battle scenes.

Winkler’s book on the Battle of the Wabash had nowhere near the shortcomings of the battle it described but he did manage to improve on it a little with Fallen Timbers 1794. I resorted to the word “scholarly” in describing the front end of Wabash 1791. It was justified, I offered, because it presented a lot of information that made later portions of the book flow more smoothly. But in this latest book, I never did get the feeling of slogging through mounds of dry facts that I had before. I have no way to quantify this and it may be simply that less preliminary facts are required or that they are less dry or that I am better prepared. Any or all of those could be true but my gut feel is that Winkler has refined his language and maybe even the structure to produce something more easily read.

During the last few years, any time that the average person felt like devoting to history was spent, more than likely, on the Civil War sesquicentennial. I have absolutely no disagreement with that but still thought it nice that, here and there, the bicentennial of the War of 1812 got some attention. The territory in dispute in 1812 was not all that different than what was being fought over in 1791 and 1794. Some of the nations and even some of the individuals involved were the very same. To the War of 1812 and especially to the Battle of the Thames, the battles at Wabash and Fallen Timbers were “prequels”.

Fallen Timbers 1794: The US Army’s first victory, John F Winkler, Osprey Publishing, February 2013, paperback, 9.8 x 7.2 inches, 96 pages, ISBN 978-1780963754

Trip Peek #12
Trip #75
Madonnas and Signs

Foot Print Rock, National Road, OHThis picture is from my 2009 Madonnas and Signs road trip. This was a short trip organized for a small group of friends. On the first day, we drove from Richmond, Indiana, to Springfield, Ohio, on the National Road then to Lebanon, Ohio, primarily on US-68 and US-42. The “Madonnas” in the title refers to the Madonna of the Trail monuments in Richmond and Springfield. The “Signs” in the title comes from the American Sign Museum which we visited on the second day. Since I was acting as a guide and the places we stopped were familiar to me, my journal for the trip is fairly sparse. Other folks on the trip took a lot more pictures than I did.


Trip Pic 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 trip journal it is from.

Trip Pic Peek #11 — Trip #24 — East End of 62

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.

Ye Olde Flex-Master
A My Gear Extra

Flex-Master cameraI am not someone who delights in using old film cameras. I can appreciate that others do and I can appreciate the phenomenal engineering and manufacturing accomplishments embodied in high-end film cameras. But I like the convenience and economy of digital photography far too much to spend my own time and money on anything else — with one exception.

That exception is the camera at right. It’s certainly old and it uses film but it is about as far from high-end as you can get. The exact same camera was sold under a variety of names with prices around three or four dollars. An uncle won this one by investing a quarter in a punch-board in 1940. I never knew him. He went off to war and never came home. My Mom, his sister, ended up with the camera. I remember it being our family camera in the early 1950s.

Flex-Master cameraFlex-Master cameraThere’s not much to it. It’s called a pseudo-TLR. TLR stands for twin lens reflex which means one lens for the photo and an identical twin for the viewfinder. I’m not sure that what feeds the viewfinder on this camera can properly be called a lens at all. It does somehow produce a dim right-side-up but reversed left-to-right image on an upward facing screen. There’s no focus or aperture control and not exactly any shutter speed control. There is a shutter release and a little lever that selects “INST.” or “TIME”. The length of an “instant” isn’t specified but I’m guessing it’s somewhere between 1/50 and 1/100 second. As you’d expect, “TIME” holds the shutter open as long as the the release is held down. The back is held in place by a thumbscrew. Remove it to thread the paper backed film onto the relocated empty spool from the previous roll then close it up tight. Turn the knob on the side to move a frame number into first one then the other red window.

Picture from Flex-Master cameraPicture from Flex-Master cameraI believe both of these pictures were taken with the Flex-Master. The first one is known to be from the winter of 1950. The other is probably from the next spring. It’s one I frequently use as an “on the road” Facebook profile picture.

I said I appreciate folks who work with film cameras and I know some, too. One in particular, Jim Grey, lives close enough that I’ve passed a few junk classic cameras his way. Jim not only gets a lot of pleasure from his cameras, he gets some very nice pictures from them, too. I recently asked Jim about the Flex-Master and he told me where I could buy film for the camera and also where to get it developed. There aren’t many choices. It’s tough enough finding processing for film from a still-in-production Canon or Nikon let alone something out of a seventy-three year old punch-board prize. Nor is it cheap. With postage, two rolls of 127 black & white film came within pennies of twenty-eight dollars. Processing, with postage but without prints (you get jpgs), is $16.50 a roll.

Picture from Flex-Master cameraPicture from Flex-Master cameraOne of the first places I tried the camera was in front of the 1886 Hayesville Opera House after Cece Otto’s American Songline concert. I managed to totally botch two of the three pictures I took of Cece by doing double exposures (Now, there’s something you don’t hear of much in the digital world, Chauncey.) and the one that did kind of turn out has a building that looks like a reflection in a fun-house mirror. I’m guessing that the film wasn’t held flat but I don’t know why. The picture of the Roebling Bridge with Cincinnati in the background doesn’t seen so distorted so maybe the film got pulled tighter later in the roll… or something. Both pictures have a pair of vertical scratches that I think line up with rails molded into the camera back which I’m guessing are there to press the film flat. Matching scratches can be seen in some of the pictures taken with the camera in the ’50s. Just remember that “far from high-end” statement near the beginning  of this article. 

If the first roll had been a complete disaster, I’d have given the other one to a friendly Hoosier camera collector and saved my self $16.50 in processing. Since the disaster was less than complete, I’m going to take the “seventy-three year old punch-board prize” along on my upcoming ride in a fifty year old car on a one hundred year old highway and see what develops.


Picture from Flex-Master cameraDoyle Bankson, that camera winning uncle, is buried at Colleville-sur-Mer in France. His parents (my grandparents) placed his name between theirs on this tombstone in Ohio. Part of me felt really silly using the camera he won as a teenager to take a picture of a stone more than four-thousand miles from his grave. Part of me didn’t.


http://www.dennygibson.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/doyle.jpgThis article is being posted on Father’s Day. That’s somewhat, but not entirely, a coincidence. Dad took quite a few pictures with the Flex-Master. He was in some, too. Here’s a picture of Dad, my sister, and me that was taken with a twelve year old punch-board prize.

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.

Roadhouse Down

Twenty Mile House demolitionYes, this post is a bit unusual. It’s not a regularly scheduled Sunday post and, although it is a Wednesday, it’s not one of the reviews that are often posted on that day. Nor is it the “real-time” announcement of the start of a road trip. This post concerns the Tuesday destruction of the 191 year old Twenty Mile House that was also the subject of a post in early 2012.

Twenty Mile House demolitionTwenty Mile House demolitionThe first of the two pictures at left was actually taken Monday evening. In recent days, there had been reports from Friends of 20 Mile House that demolition was imminent. It was reported on Monday that fence was being erected around the building and I drove by at the end of the day fearing that the tear down had already started. It hadn’t. When I read of the arrival of men and equipment on Tuesday morning, I once again headed toward the old landmark expecting to see mayhem in progress. I arrived with the building still intact but it wouldn’t be for long. The picture at the top of the article was taken at 9:05.

Twenty Mile House demolitionTwenty Mile House demolitionThe demolition proceeded rapidly and, despite the unhappy circumstances, it was impossible not to admire the skill of the operator as he worked his machine through the building. The additions of various ages went down first and, even though I certainly knew better, I kept hoping that something would happen to spare the 1822 heart of the building.

Twenty Mile House demolitionTwenty Mile House demolitionTwenty Mile House demolitionThen, in what looked to be as much accidental as planned, a corner fell away when an attached piece of a newer section was removed. One end of the old stagecoach stop was open and my foolish hopes were gone when the workers broke for lunch.

Twenty Mile House demolitionTwenty Mile House demolitionTwenty Mile House demolitionNot long after the men returned, there was an almost ceremonial toppling of one of the old chimneys and destruction of the original section began in earnest.

Twenty Mile House demolitionTwenty Mile House demolitionA second excavator had been brought in and it played the role of buttress as the oldest parts were brought down. At last there was just one section of wall standing with enough height to warrant attention. It was quickly leveled with a simple shove from the second machine.

Twenty Mile House demolitionRoughly six hours had passed since the first blow; A one hour lunch and five hours of destruction. A little less than two hours were spent leveling the section that had stood for a little less than two centuries. A Big Mike’s Gas N Go is to replace the rubble and I’ve no doubt that it will be constructed with the same level of efficiency as that with which the rubble was created. No one I know has any intention of ever spending a cent there but those people weren’t enough to save the Twenty Mile House and they probably won’t be enough to even get Big Mike’s attention in any significant way. There are more than enough people who don’t know or don’t appreciate history to make Mike some money. Big Mike’s will likely be profitable. It will never be loved.

Sappy Ohio

Hueston Woods Maple Syrup FestivalI really goofed last week. I was in Greenville on Saturday but didn’t realize it was syrup making time at the Shawnee Prairie Preserve with demonstrations and a waffle! breakfast. It would have been perfect but, in my ignorance, I dawdled, ate breakfast in Dayton, and only reached town and learned of the event long after breakfast was finished and the whole shebang was pretty much over. I cast about for a way to make up for this missed opportunity and even briefly considered returning to Hinckley with the buzzards for one of the area’s big maple sugaring weekends as I did in 2011. But, in the end, I decided to stay closer to home and yesterday checked out the 47th Maple Syrup Festival at Hueston Woods.

sapo2Hueston Woods Maple Syrup FestivalI started out by standing in line for the very popular pancake breakfast at the park lodge. I realize that the breakfast isn’t all that photogenic but it sure tasted good. Pure maple syrup does that.

Hueston Woods Maple Syrup FestivalThen I headed over to the Pioneer Village area to stand in line for a “hay ride”. Trucks pulling trailers with seats made of straw bales carried people to the start of a short trail leading to the “sugar shack”. A guide would then lead the way down the trail while providing information about the area and the syrup making process. In chatting with some of the volunteers, I learned that a shortage of guides had resulted in a minor bottleneck. Even though our departure was delayed as long as practical and the ride to the trail was as slow as possible, we still reached the trail several minutes ahead of our guide.

Hueston Woods Maple Syrup FestivalHueston Woods Maple Syrup FestivalHueston Woods Maple Syrup FestivalThe wait was worth it. I feel extra bad about not learning our guide’s name because he sure was an extra good guide. He spoke, in a most entertaining way, about both the natural and human history of the area and he talked of the social as well as technical aspects of sugaring. He explained that, since the sap contains only a percent or two of sugar when it comes from the tree, it doesn’t taste very much like syrup. At the guide’s invitation, several young tour members personally verified this by licking fingers that had caught a few drops.

Hueston Woods Maple Syrup FestivalHueston Woods Maple Syrup FestivalThere was another line at the sugar shack but it wasn’t a long one. The original Hueston family shack burned in the 1980s but the current one looks much the same and is on the same foundation. Maple syrup must be about two-thirds sugar which means an awful lot of water has to be removed. This is accomplished by the wood fired evaporator  The fog makes it hard to see but the warmth is certainly welcome. After hearing an explanation of the evaporation process, there was one more short line for the shuttle back to the car at Pioneer Village. The well run free festival is a great fun and educational, too.


McGuffey MuseumMcGuffey MuseumNot far from Hueston Woods, the home of William Holmes McGuffey, the man behind the incredibly successful McGuffey Readers, is now a museum. It’s owned and operated by Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. McGuffey was part of the university faculty when he had the house built in 1833 then took on creating the first reader, published in 1836, as a way to augment his professor’s salary. The house is filled with wonderful period furnishings including several of McGuffey’s own pieces. Among these are the eight-sided rotating table and the tall desk behind it. I was accompanied as much as guided by a fellow named Steve who thoroughly answered every question I had. Like the festival, the McGuffey Museum is free and fun and educational.