Sunday, July 31, 2011

(Editor's Note:  Friday we concluded a series of stories from southern Ohio that were done as the result of a visit with my lady Sue Brooks' sister Patsy over the 4th of July weekend.  Patsy lives on the family homestead in Perry County.

Tuesday, we will launch another series of stories from that same general area; this series from a square dancing weekend in Jackson, OH we enjoyed over the weekend of July 15th..

Meanwhile, we continued our roaming around the state on Thursday, July 21st with a visit to the nautical museum in Vermilion and the Edison birthplace in Milan. 

Today's blog features that latest adventure.  Tuesday's blog will launch from Chillicothe and conclude in mid-August--with a little silliness.  We hope you enjoy staying tuned.)

Sue Brooks and grand daughter Mackenna Curtis-Collins enjoy the wheelhouse of the Great Lakes freighter CANOPUS which was built in 1905.  After the freighter's retirement the bow of the ship was added to the structure of Vermilion's Inland Seas Maritime Museum in 1968 and remains a favorite of visitors.  From the pilothouse, visitors enjoy a view like that of a freighter leaving port and heading north into Lake Erie.


The museum of the Great Lakes Historical Society has been located in a donated home (later purchased) at the North end of Vermilion's Main St., since 1953.

That will be ending when the museum moves to Toledo in 2012.

It's new location will be along the Maumee River in what was formerly known as Portside; a much heralded cluster of trendy retail shops that opened there in 1984...and closed in 1990.

The Vermilion facility already is showing signs of departure as some displays are being readied for the move.

I was particularly disappointed on this Vermilion visit when a life ring was the only artifact I could find concerning the sinking of the 639 foot ore boat Carl D. Bradley in November 1958 in northern Lake Michigan--shortly after my assignment to the Charlevoix, MI coast guard station where search and rescue coordination was centered.

The Bradley lost 33 of its 35 man crew.  I hope it finds more prominent mention in the museum's new location. 

We then stopped by the birthplace of Thomas A. Edison in Milan, OH.  While Sue and Mackenna toured that facility, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the nearby Milan Historical Museum, a six-building, mostly reconstructed campus between the town square and Edison's birthplace.

These buildings contain a general store, a blacksmith shop with carriage shed, a memorial building with artifacts from a prominent Milan family, the 1846 home of the doctor who attended Edison's birth, a doll and toy house and The Sayles House--a delightfully refurnished home from 1843.

A thorough visit to these two facilities can occupy half a day and is very much worth the cost of their individual admissions.

The Newton Arts Building, attached to the campus, was built in 1971 and houses the exquisite artifacts of Bert P. Newton of Milan who made his fortune in petroleum sales and traveled the world extensively in that role.  The building is dedicated to his wife Edna Roe Newton.

Vermilion Nautical Museum
Edison's Birthplace
Milan Historical Museum

Friday, July 29, 2011


Shawnee, Ohio is one of those "cities" but today most people do not know that.

The town is located deep in the hills of southeast Ohio's Appalachian area, in the Wayne National Forest of southern Perry Co., and its remains look like prosperity has been long gone.

Like its neighbors it bustled with significant and sudden population growth during the period between 1870 and 1920 when the railroad came to the area and brought thousands of people in a rush to extract coal, oil, clay and iron ore.  But, as coal production and consumption declined so did the town--and most of the neighboring towns for miles around.

The phrase "Black Diamonds" refers to the riches coal mining once represented.

Today, the village's downtown appears like the dusty remains of an old movie set. 

There is a trendy gift shop open in the downtown (above) and a furniture store which spans several of the old buildings but I never did find its entrance. 

We met a craftsman who was finishing some drywall in a storefront that appeared almost ready for new occupants.  But, he hadn't heard of anyone that was interested.

He described the renovation costs of this building as exceeding the value of the entire downtown--in his opinion.

We met the fellow from New Jersey whose ancestors were noteworthy denizens of the town's history and he was about to embark on a building renovation project of his own.  But, he hadn't started on his second floor apartment just yet in the property he had inherited. 

He was wandering the downtown area promoting a festival being planned for later in the summer.  We were his only apparent customers until another car pulled into the curb from the wrong direction and joined our conversation.

That car's disregard of customary traffic law wasn't of any consequence.  There wasn't any traffic...

...except as shown in the bottom photo.  We joked about the small tractor being the county's towing service.

We also joked about the building in the background and speculated about its ability to remain upright much longer.

Our mirthful demeanor was not at the expense of the local folks.  They joked with us.  And they dreamed.

They looked at the nearby Hocking Hills and its deserved reputation as a tourist mecca.  They look at their town's buildings and see opportunity.

There is even going to be a coal miner statue erected in a little park between two vacant downtown buildings in the coming festival.

Perhaps one of the two vacant downtown theaters will come alive once more.

I hope to go back one day and see their dreams coming true.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


As I stood in New Straitsville that day and pondered its history, Tennessee Ernie's song lyrics from Sixteen Tons, "...I owe my soul to the company store," ricocheted through my memory.

The town was founded in the early 1870s by the local coal mining company as a place for its employees and families to live while grandfathers, fathers and often sons worked the mines.

Houses were plopped everywhere on the steep hillsides. They were nothing more than shanties and mine wages were low. Workers had little choice but to buy their food and supplies from the overpriced company stores.

Constant poverty kept the miners at their trade. They had little opportunity for education higher than grade school.

The Hocking Valley Railroad came along about two years later and the town grew rapidly over the following ten years to a population of some 4,000 residents.

But, there is a breaking point for everyone and labor organizing meetings were held early in the town's history. Those meetings needed a place to secretly accommodate a large number of men close to town.

The perfect place was Robinson's Cave and meetings were held there for years until 1884 when miners, fed up with working conditions and a cut in wages, went on strike, filled coal cars with wood, soaked them with kerosene, set them afire and pushed them into the mines.

The fire caught deep in the mine and is said to be still burning.  It is believed it has burned nearly two hundred square miles in the mine's coal seams.

That ended coal mining activity around the town.

But, this growing labor dispute led to the Ohio Miners Amalgamated Association which by 1890 joined the newly established United Mine Workers of America; thus giving New Straitsville legitimate claim to being a source of national mine labor organization.

Lady friend Sue Brooks and sister Patsy Love (left in the top photo) study some history boards of Robinson's Cave shown behind them in a natural amphitheater on the south edge of New Straitsville. The bronze lettering is from a historical marker at the site.

The sisters, both born in a nearby town, are shown in the smaller photo, descending from the cave's amphitheater, a view miners would have had as they worked on the earliest history of organized labor in the mining industry (without the concrete steps, of course).

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Today's Standard of Excellence is

Friday I received a "Thank You" sized envelope in the mail from MedCentral Hospice.

The envelope was empty.

The check I wrote to them nearly a month ago still is outstanding.

I called their number at the hospital to check on my check.

The operator transferred my call to "...someone who could help me."

I got a recording.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Big Muskie was once the world's largest earth moving machine, roaming the hills of southeastern Ohio and munching strip mine overburden at the rate of 39 million pounds per hour.

The only part that remains of this behemoth is its 220 cubic yard bucket now resting in a memorial park in Morgan County.  That's lady friend Sue Brooks (above) dwarfed by the bucket which was once swung by a boom with a length of 310 feet.

It could take a bite of the Earth the equivalent of 12 automobile garages in cubic size.

During its working life from 1969 to 1991 it moved over 483 million tons of rock and soil on 60,000 acres of what is now known as American Electrical Power ReCreation Land.

It was the world's biggest excavating machine, a Bucyrus-Erie dragline, and the only one ever built.  It cost 45 million dollars.

It weighed 27 million pounds and was staffed by a seven member crew.  It was one and a half times longer than a football field and as wide as an eight-lane highway.

It's boom could lift a load the equivalent of 33 stories.

It ultimately was sidlined by more efficient mining methods and ever-tightening environmental regulations.  It was dismantled in 1999 and all components but the bucket were scrapped.

The bucket resides at Miner's Memorial Park on SR 78, eleven miles northeast of McConnelsville,. OH where Sue Brooks and sister Patsy Love are enjoying the park's scenic overlook in the Appalachian foothills of Morgan County,

Thursday, July 21, 2011

SUE BROOKS and sister PATSY LOVE (left) are pondering the visitor's center at American Electric Power's Miners' Memorial Park in Morgan County, OH.    The main attraction at this roadside park is the bucket from Big Muskie the world's largest drag line that operated nearby until 1991.  The machine was electric powered and used enough voltage to power 27,500 homes.  Stop by Saturday and Fogeyisms will tell you more.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Next by Michael Crichton

Have you ever seen a half dozen mice scurrying through a complex maze at the same time.  That's how I viewed the portrayal of characters in this Crichton, five year old novel.  It's a science-fictionesq peek at folks fiddling with genetics in the never ending chase for big bucks.  It features a nearly human orangutan who turns out to be a very clever and helpful critter in the story line along with an extremely articulate parrot.  In the end Crichton treats readers with an informed group of Author's Notes which will leave you nodding your silent agreement.  It also includes a comprehensive bibliography for scholarly inclined readers.

The late doctor Crichton received his MD from Harvard Medical School.  He taught courses in anthropology at Cambridge, England and as a visiting writer at MIT.  13 of his books have been made into films; the most popular of which is likely Jurassic Park.  He died in 2008.

I Am Hutterite by Mary-Ann Kirkby

This is Mary-Ann's story of her family leaving the Hutterite religious community and having to adapt to "modern" ways of the time.  She had never then heard of rock-and-roll or Walt Disney or ridden a bike or tasted macaroni and cheese.  She tells of her struggles of fitting-in with her new classmates with humor and raw honesty.  Her colony of Hutterites were in southern Manitoba Canada.  The sect is Brethren-like in origin and trace their history, like Mennonites and Amish, to the Anabaptist movement during the Reformation.

Mysterious Island by Jules Verne

Outstanding read, of course.  Five fellows escape Civil War-ravaged Richmond, VA in a stolen hot-air balloon and ride hurricane-like conditions to a crash landing on an uncharted, South Pacific Island.  They are stranded there four years and, with the help of their companion with a scientific background, achieve outstanding success in domesticating their wilderness.  Remember his Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea?  This one is an equally marvelous read.  Don't know why it took me this long to find it.

Seal Team Six by Howard E. Wasdin

A stunning peek at the training, often horrific experiences and ultimately, life as a civilian SEAL veteran.  The book brought home our indirect experience with with a passage involving SEAL Medal of Honor recipient Tom Norris whose brother we met at the SEAL Museum in Florida last winter.  The book was published before the SEAL's recent elimination of Osama Bin Laden so it is in no way capitalizing on that event.  It's a very quick and poignant read.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

at the Warren Rupp Observatory

Folks stood in line for a stunning peek at the waxing moon Saturday night through the observatory's amateur operated, 31" reflecting telescope--one of the world's largest.  "Waxing" means growing toward full intensity.

The open truss tube is 18 feet long, the scope and mount weigh 7,500 pounds and operate under an electrically controlled, 30 foot dome.

Add all of that to being located high on the ridge of Hidden Hollow Camp under the dark skies of Possum Run Road and you have a terrific, star-gazing facility.

To achieve their view, visitors in groups of three were hoisted ten to 12 feet above the floor on an electric operated lifting platform. 

As the lift approached the viewer's eye level the height was adjusted to accommodate each viewer; many of whom were treated to the astronomy sight of a lifetime.

The scope and eyepiece combination were so powerful only a small portion of the moon's surface filled the eyepiece.

Guests gasped as mountain ranges slid gently into view or they took a visual journey around one of the moon's countless craters.  The moon that night was in its gibbous (bulging on both sides) stage, about 75% full.

There was mild, visual shimmer due to the heat of the day escaping through the Earth's atmosphere but that was mostly offset by the sun's angular painting of the moon's surface, rendering textures in sharp contrast.

It was hard to imagine you were examining a celestial surface some 250,000 miles away.

While the big telescope was dazzling visitors a large array of smaller, portable scopes was in operation on the paved viewing platform beside the domed observatory.  With many of these instruments, visitors were treated to a startling view of the planet Saturn--always a very pleasant, mind jarring celestial experience when the viewer ponders the fact, that most visually spectacular of the planets is some 800 million miles away, give or take a few, of course.

Some scopes were electronically tracking their targets so the view remained centered in the eyepiece regardless of orbital efforts to the contrary.  Others were connected to monitors where many folks at a time could enjoy the scope's view.

The observatory is operated by the Richland Astronomical Society and holds free, public viewing nights the first Saturday of each month from March to November.

Do your self a favor and visit next month.  By 10 p.m., our galactic neighbor Andromeda will be climbing into the Eastern sky.  The big telescope is powerful enough to resolve details in that galaxy--which is about 2.5 million light years away.

Be prepared for a mind bending experience.  The light from Andromeda that reaches your eye that evening left there 2.5 million years ago.

Stated another way, that's how far you will be looking back in time.
That is my adopted grand daughter Mackenna Curtis-Collins in the above photo adjusting the eyepiece focus while standing on the lift high above the 31" telescope's domed floor.  The gibbous moon appears just above (but a quarter of a million miles away) from the the scope's eyepiece.

Click here for the observatory's web page.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Son Brian slings a spinner bait at elusive Charles Mill Lake, Largemouth Bass as the sun prepares for bedtime.

Tuesday evening was one of those impromptu events with which life rewards us. 

With a yummy hot dog and munchie supper aboard their newly acquired pontoon boat and wife Kate at the helm, we slid easily here and there around the south end of the lake, tickling the water with a variety of artificial lures.

We fished some and boated some and fished some more; stopping near an inviting island for a quiet supper on the mirror smooth impoundment.

Ultimately neither of us did any damage whatsoever to the lake's population of bass.

Then, the season's dwindling squadrons of lightning bugs twinkled in the gathering darkness as we gentled our way back toward the mooring.

I was reminded of the ageless truism, "A bad day fishing is better than a good day most anyplace else."

Yup, life is good.


Kingwood Center's summer music program kicked off Friday evening with nearly 150 folks enjoying a free concert by the American Federation of Musicians Local 159 concert band--shown above posing for their annual group photo.

The hour-plus program featured soloist Adena Williams and was conducted by Steve Taylor.  The programs will continue through later in the summer.  Click (here) for Kingwood's event schedule.

In good weather performances are done in the courtyard just north of the greenhouses--a short and barrier free walk from the parking area.  Bring your lawn chairs and enjoy a very pleasant evening. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

In the Mohican State Forest
the hard way

We started back the trail to Big Lyons Falls in the forest but aborted that plan when we met some folks who were returning from the falls and reported just a trickle of water flow; not enough for the picture I had planned.

So, when we reached the place on the trail along the branch of the Mohican river where the trail makes a left turn and heads up the ridge toward Big Lyons we continued straight along the river on an unmarked and slightly used trail.

I speculated this might lead to the outlet stream from Little Lyons; not knowing anything of the forest geography we might encounter.

We beat our way through the weeds, being very watchful for poison ivy, crossed a little stream I guessed might be the outflow from Big Lyons and continued through the weeds soon encountering another outlet stream.

By then we were within sight of the Pleasant Hill Lake dam so I was fairly confident this stream would lead to Little Lyons Falls and we began to ascend its trickling flow.  That's Sue (above) carefully making her way up the stream bed.

Our effort was rewarded with a view of the rock outcropping I could visualize as being part of the Little Lyons formation although I had certainly never seen it from this direction.  That's Sue above as we began to climb into fall's chasm, navigating her way over huge slump blocks of Black Hand Sandstone rock from the Mississippian Geologic Period of about 350 million years ago.

We also began to hear youthful voices of folks cavorting below the falls somewhere just ahead of us.  As we navigated around the slump blocks my line of sight disappeared into the darkness under the fallen, room-sized boulders. We slowly descended toward the playful noise mingling with the sound of falling water.

Our newly discovered young friends were from Bellevue, OH and camping in the nearby park.  Their noisy escapades were an exuberant reenactment of a Harry Potter story which ceased when they became aware of our presence, then continued for the photo above.

They had arrived at Little Lyons by the more conventional and heavily used trail from Big Lyons Falls and were surprised to learn we had arrived by trekking up the little stream from the river.  They were polite enough to avoid noticing that such a feat could be accomplished by folks of the geriatric set.

That's Sue (above) slithering cautiously up the slot we had descended to the base of the falls.  We then were confronted with the choice of exerting our way back down the stream bed to the river for our return, or...

...ascending the sheer rock face of the formation via the handy system of roots being used by the youngsters (above) as they simply returned to the higher trail the way they had come down.

So did we.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

then, yet another one

Dontcha' just love it when your plans fail, then, the alternative turns out even better.

Such was the case for Sue and I one recent day when we sat out to hike to Big Lyon's Falls in the Mohican State Park then decided to explore a trail I had never seen before.

That's Sue in the above photo making our way up a trail mostly via a little cascading stream.

Please stop by Saturday and we will tell you about our latest adventure.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Today’s standard of excellence is mediocrity.

And, today's award for incompetence goes to the US Postal Service.  

A package I have been expecting from Alabama appeared in the USPS system June 28th and I was alerted by email "Electronic Shipping Info Received"; whatever that means.

Then silence--and obviously no package.

Counting Wednesday the 29th and Thursday the 30th of June as well as the 1st, 2nd and 5th of July as work days, that's five of them that have gone by.

Today I launched a search for my label / receipt number and discovered my package was processed through a sort facility in Warrendale, PA on the 3rd and it arrived in Orrville, OH on the 5th., where it was recognized as "Missent".

I wish I knew who to call.  I would have the Orrville postal joint simply hold my package in "will call" and I would go get it.

And, this is their "Priority Mail" service.

I shudder to think what may happen next.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Our 4th of July celebration was launched Friday evening with Ashland's very popular Balloonfest and it's featured attraction of glowing balloons.  We concluded our weekend in and around Perry County, OH; lady-friend Sue Brooks' birthplace on the northern rim of Appalachia in southeastern Ohio.

Along with Sue's sister Patsy we enjoyed great amusement when the folks in the wagon train below were described as a version of Appalachian Mass Transit when they trundled by us under threatening skies somewhere in the bottom of Morgan County.

Sometime later we will get around to sharing some stories of our adventure by taking a peek at Shawnee, OH, a crumbling coal mining town that dreams of its own renaissance, and a visit to Robinson's Cave which describes itself as the birthplace of the United Mine Workers.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Saturday, July 2, 2011

at the vintage Wyncoop Aerodrome, Mt. Vernon

The 52nd annual Waco Fly-In Reunion was held, as it has been for more than 20 years, at the Wyncoop Aerodrome; a terrific and ageless landing field with grass runways just south of town.

The field was in world-class trim as it celebrated the visit of these classic airplanes manufactured in Troy, OH in variations from 1920 to 1947.  While pilots and visitors alike savored a dose of aviation nostalgia, an ageless fuel truck rattled and trundled up and down the lines of parked aircraft providing on-the- spot service to thirsty airplanes.

Some military style spit and polish was on hand in the form of Civil Air Patrol personnel who provided precise and careful ground control of these flying machines as they taxied gently to their parking areas.

Pilots wiggle their planes from side to side while moving on the ground because they cannot see over the elevated nose of their planes.

By 1927, 40 percent of small aircraft sold in the US were WACOs.  The sticker price then ranged around $2,500.  Their most successful cabin design, a four-seat UIC, was powered by a 210 horsepower radial engine.  It was introduced in 1933.  The model roaring airborne above is an open cockpit design--a "two holer" as their pilots like to quip.

A pair of the closed cabin designs are being carefully attended by a pair of young ladies as a squadron of these ageless airplanes strutted their stuff in the manner of an era of aviation long past.

Today, airplane travelers often arrive at their airports through an enclosed, multi-level parking lot where they are whisked via an assortment of elevators and escalators to the check-in area where they are often treated to the embarrassing procedures of security.  Then, they wander down a concrete and steel corridor and finally board their departing flight through a metal tunnel hardly ever even seeing the machine that is about to speed them to their destination on a track so far above the Earth the ground is hardly ever visible.

Lots of good stuff has been lost in what we like to call "progress".