Brooklyn, NY – May 2018 – Coney Island Lunch

Since we were in the area and I have never been there, we stopped by Coney Island for lunch at Nathans!

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After our nutritious and delicious lunch we took a walk on the boardwalk.

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Even though it was a beautiful summer day (the day after Memorial Day) the place was empty for 1 PM.

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They even have a palm tree on the beach (which is actually a misting palm tree)

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Having seen photos of Coney Island my entire life it was cool to see it in person, with the tall apartment buildings in the background.

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The pier appears to have been recently refurbished.

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We continued down the boardwalk past the various rides, shops and restaurants

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Ending up at the iconic Coney Island subway station.

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Toledo- October 2015 – Great Lakes Museum & Tony Packos

Among the stranger events I found online while researching the road trips was coffin racing in Elmore, Ohio, but more on that later. It did spur us to head to northwest Ohio for the Saturday before Halloween. Our first stop was in Fremont, at the Rutherford B Hayes Presidential Center. A far cry better than his birthplace in Delaware, Ohio, which is now the infamous BP Gas Station, the Presidential Center in Fremont has his primary adulthood home and grounds, as well as a museum.

I had no desire to see the museum, and we were early anyway, so we toured the grounds and the exterior of the house. Called Spiegel Grove, the 25-acre estate is the setting for the 31-room mansion, along with a mile of paved trails. The gates on the drives into the estate were removed from the White House in Washington in 1928 and donated to the Hayes Presidential Center.

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President and Mrs. Hayes are buried within the grounds of Spiegel Grove. A granite tombstone, made from granite quarried from the Hayes homestead in Dummerstown, Vermont, marks their burial site. The President’s son Webb C. Hayes, a Medal of Honor recipient, is buried next to his parents. Outside of the fenced off tombs for the President, there are stones commemorating the burial places of favorite animals and pets, including Old Whitey, a Civil War horse.

Leaving Fremont, we arrived in Toledo about an hour later taking the little used, but nice 4 lane US 20 across the flat lands, the highway having been long replaced by the Ohio Turnpike. Roads like this always seem to provide a time capsule of the country from the 1940s and 1950s as there are always remnants of the road when it was the main route.

The National Museum of the Great Lakes in Toledo was our destination. Located on the Maumee River just downstream from downtown Toledo, the museum opened in 2014, replacing a much smaller one that the Great Lakes Historical Society ran in Vermillion.

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The museum contains many artifacts documenting life of the lakes over the years including lamps, navigation tools, anchor links, bells, lighthouse lights, and a life preserver from the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Docked outside is the 617′ long ore boat, the James Schoonmaker. Built in 1911 with a capacity of 12,200 tons she is one of the few ships on the Great Lakes that have twin steering wheels. Taken out of service in 1980, she sat unused for years before the city of Toledo starting using her as a museum, before being restore recently and moved to the Great Lake Museum. On the day we were there they were celebrating Halloween by having volunteers handing out candy at strategic locations throughout the ship, so we were accompanied by  a number of kids running about in costume.

The entire ship is open to explore; the engine room has been restored to pristine condition. It was however a bit ‘eerie’ dropping into the massive, mostly dark cargo holds



The ship offers excellent views of both downtown Toledo and the Toledo Skyway Bridge, with towers 400′ high and a vertical clearance of 130′ this cable stayed bridge was completed in 2007; an impressive structure.

Just up the street from the museum is Tony Packos Cafe, a very famous eatery started in a Hungarian neighborhood of Toledo2015 10 24 49 Toledo OH Great Lakes Museum.jpg. It was made famous because a Toledo native actor, Jamie Farr, starred in the TV show M*A*S*H, and mentioned it in a number of episodes. It’s more current claim to fame is the collection of autographed hot dog buns from celebrities, starting with Burt Reynolds in the early 1970s. Now they sign foam hot dog buns, since the real things tend to fall apart after time, and there appear to be ‘hundreds’ of them adorning the walls.

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The famous Hungarian Hot Dog is really more similar to a kielbasa, much larger than a traditional hot dog. I thought it was pretty good, but in reality the hot dog buns on the walls are the attraction.

After lunch we moved on the Elmore, a very small town. As we arrived we noted there was very little activity, but the ladies in the small visitor center in the old train depot assured us it was the day for the coffin races. We hung around for about an hour, and by that time 5 or 6 ‘coffins’ showed up for judging. We then learned the actual races wouldn’t be until nighttime so we cut our loses and headed home. While a couple of people came dressed for the occasion, and the coffins themselves were unique, just too few and too long of a wait to make it worthwhile.

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Nelsonville – October 2015 – Hocking Valley Scenic Railroad

Another coolish October Saturday found us headed to the Hocking Hills. Our first stop was Ash Cave for an hour long hike up and down the cliffs and gorges. Having stretched our legs we headed to Nelsonville for the main event, a ride on the Hocking Valley Scenic Railroad.

This restored railroad starts out in Nelsonville, a quirky run down town that attracts a number of tourists for the railroad, and a Rocky’s Boot Company store (think lots of camo). The area has it’s fair share of trailers and rusty cars in yards, and an acquaintance had said why would I want to go ride a train that goes past yards with junk and laundry hanging in yards. Set with those low expectations we boarded the train.

We sat in an open air car despite the temperature being in the 50s. Leaving northbound the train slowely made it’s way up the valley, past the aforementioned houses, but also through woods, past some industrial ruins, across the Hocking River and eventually past a wood mill with a huge pile of timber. The conductor gave some interesting facts along the way.

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The return trip went faster as we passed the station and continued south until we arrived at Robbins Crossing at Hocking College, containing a number of restored buildings. Most of the buildings had people providing demonstrations, including cooking, a loom, and a couple of young guys from the college with some local snakes. Also here was a nice small statue dedicated to the Star Brick Company.

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After a brief return trip to Nelsonville we debarked the train with a positive experience. Later we walked across to the middle of town where there was supposed to be a rib burn off, but it apparently was closing down so we scrambled to find some leftovers from the one booth still open.

Still hungry, and looking to hit one of the Roadside America sights, we made the 15 mile drive into Athens and stopped at O’Betty’s, a very small restaurant in a college town that specializes in hot dogs, and has a ‘hot dog’ collection on the walls. The collection was cool, the dog’s were hot, and good, and we headed home happy with our day.

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Huntington, WV – July 2015 – Hot Dog Batman!

The following weekend found us in Huntington, West Virginia on a Saturday morning for the 11th annual West Virginia Hot Dog Festival. This is a charity event benefiting Huntington’s Children’s Hospital, and featured a 10K Run, entertainment from local artists throughout the day, Hot Dog Eating Contest, and Root Beer Chugging Contests. The best events however were the Pooch Parade, Dog Costume Contest, and especially Dachshund Dash.

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Huntington had once been a center of locomotive construction, and their history is much celebrated throughout the city. Much like the cows in Chicago, guitars in Cleveland, and Brutus the Buckeyes in Columbus, Huntington has a number of decorated fiberglass locomotives throughout the downtown area.

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The most impressive one was dedicated in the memory of the Marshall University football team that died in a plane crash in the 1970.

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There was also a custom car show being held during the festival, the highlight being a Batmobile, complete with Batman and his female companion in bat shoes

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Eventually thought I got the first of the two things I was there for, a hot dog. My first came from a local legend, Stewarts, which earned me a photo with Stewie the Hot Dog.

After a really cool Pooch Parade, which featured about 100 dogs of all breeds it was time for the main event, the Dachshund Dash. They had 10 heats of 8 dogs each, followed by the championship. These little dogs can really move when motivated, and they are an absolute hoot to watch race.

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But you can only have so much fun, so we headed south to continue our day. Our route took us along the Big Sandy River, eventually leading us to the Tug Fork, running along the border between West Virginia and Kentucky. Coal built this area, and they celebrate it with the Coal House in Williamson, WV is a unique building built of coal. In 1933 the coal was quarried as blocks and dressed as stone using 65 tons of coal from the nearby Winifrede Seam, then varnished for weather-resistance. Located adjacent to the Mingo County Courthouse, it houses the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce.

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Just south of Williamson is the infamous town of Matewan This towns has two claims to fame, neither particularly endearing. First, it is the center of the Hatfield–McCoy feud involved two families, the Hatfield’s of West Virginia, led by Devil Anse Hatfield, while the McCoys of Kentucky were under the leadership of Randolph McCoy. The feud has entered the American folklore as the most infamous bitterly feuding rival parties.

The area plays it up to the fullest, driving the tourist trade. While we were in Matewan we were walking along the flood wall heading for the very nice restored train station/museum when I asked an elderly man for directions. He gladly gave them to us, then proceeded to proudly less us he was a Hatfield.

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Matewan’s second notoriety comes from the days when local co-workers were trying to unionize to improve their horrid working conditions. In 1920 local miners who were supporting the union were being kicked out of their company owned housing by the mine owners, by hiring private detectives.

When the detectives arrived, Matewan chief of police Sid Hatfield intervened on behalf of the evicted families. After carrying out several evictions, the detectives ate dinner at the Urias Hotel then walked to the depot to catch the five o’clock train back to Bluefield, Virginia. They were intercepted by Hatfield, who claimed to have arrest warrants from the county sheriff. Detective Albert Felts produced a warrant for Hatfield’s arrest. The detectives didn’t know they had been surrounded by armed miners, who watched intently from windows and doorways along Mate Street and, while Felts, Hatfield, and Testerman, faced off, a shot rang out. The ensuing gun battle left 7 detectives and 4 townspeople dead

In 1987 a movie about the incident, called Matewan, was released to critical acclaim, making the small town even more famous. A small museum memorializes the battle, and the plight of the workers. All in all the small town of Matewan does a nice job of telling their history.

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As we reached Beckley we stopped at Tamarac, a tourist destination featuring the best of West Virginia, located above the Beckley service area of the West Virginia Turnpike. It features a red peaked roof and landscaped grounds that draw over 500,000 visitors annually. This large arts and crafts facility is run as an economic development project of the West Virginia Parkways Authority and sells West Virginia craft products, such as wood, glass, textiles, pottery, metal, jewelry, as well as specialty food items, fine art, and West Virginia books and recordings. There are five resident artisan studios and most weekends from Spring through Fall there are also craft demonstrations, including the day we were there.

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After watching a fabric craftsman, we went to the other side of the building where they house the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame. With our long day coming to an end, we finished with that traditional West Virginia food, an Outback Steakhouse.