Western New York – May 2017 – Roadside America attractions

As with all trips one of the highlights is finding the offbeat things in an area, and our route to Buffalo was no different.

 

First stop – Barcelona, New York Lighthouse

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Silver Creek, New York – Valvo’s Candy – Dolly The Waitress

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Eden, New York – America’s only Kazoo factory

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Buffalo – Roswell Park Hospital Giant Buffalo Nickel

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Buffalo – Canalside – Shark Girl

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Erie, PA – May 2017 – An Erie Evening

A weekend trip for strange and unusual sites has landed us in Erie, Pennsylvania for a few hours on a Friday evening. It seems everywhere has something to offer to come up with interesting photographs.

Car Art

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Miss Liber-Frog in front of a school.

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Brig Niagara at the Maritime Museum

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Russian Church

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Tourist Boat in the Bay

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Commodore Perry Monument

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Harbor Front Housing

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Erie Land Lighthouse – Oldest on Lake Erie

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Vineyards outside of town – Lake Erie in the background

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Steubenville, OH – December 2016 – Giant Nutcrackers

Christmas eve found us making a quick trip to Steubenville to see a collection of giant themed nutcrackers. But first we made a few stops, starting in the small town of Dresden, where there is yet another giant basket. It was once the home of the Longaberger Basket company, before they moved to their even larger, 7 story basket in Newark.

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Later we made a stop in New Rumney, Ohio to visit the Ohio Historical Society tribute to the native son George Custer.

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As we reached Steubenville we found a nicely restored 1970s Sohio Gas Station, complete with memorabilia inside. Functioning today as just a garage, with the signs at the pumps pointing out ‘no gas  – just memories’; the garage was supposed to be closed that day but someone was working on a car and let us in to check it out.

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Finally we arrived at Fort Steuben to the nutcracker display. A local family, whom we met when we were there, designed and built all of them. With over 100 of them all featuring a famous character or person, it was a very impressive display.

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As you entered you came upon the Rat Pack, including Steubenville favorite son Dean Martin.

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The hundred characters lined both sides of the sidewalks leading to the old fort.

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As we were leaving Steubenville we came upon a sculpture honoring the steel workers, overlooking the valley with the mills still cranking out smoke.

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Our day to Steubenville turned out to be a really good day, with the nutcrackers easily being the highlight.

North Carolina Mountains – Late Fall 2016 Road Trip – Day 8

After breakfast at the Hampton Inn, we went to see the Durham Athletic Park, an old baseball stadium, built in 1926. This park is most famous from the movie Bull Durham.

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The park was originally called El Toro Park, built to support the small Carolina League crowds that arrived. When the movie came out the team became so popular they ended up building a new stadium on the south edge of downtown Durham, however this park remained as a college stadium.

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The new park, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, was built to reflect many characteristics of old-time parks and the historic downtown Durham architecture. A 32-foot-high wall stands in left field 305 feet from home plate, resembling Fenway Park’s Green Monster. The Blue Monster, as it’s called in Durham, contains a similar old-style manual scoreboard.

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The ballpark’s most distinctive feature is the Snorting Bull that stands tall above the Blue Monster. This Bull was modeled after the bull used in the 1988 film, Bull Durham. The 10,000-seat ballpark is tucked into a warehouse district similar to Camden Yards and the red-brick architecture compliments the view from the ball park diamond.

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Being in this ballpark brought back good memories of the times when we attended baseball games with our daughters twenty years ago. The new ballpark added features more similar to a major league team level with a grand concourse.

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On the drive to Winston-Salem, we saw political signs for Dan Forest running for the position of Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina. He used a catchy phrase from the movie Forest Gump “Run Forest Run” that worked perfectly for him since his last name is Forest. Voters must have remembered that phrase on Election Day by re-electing him for another term.

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On Sprague Street in Winston-Salem is a unique Shell gas station built in the shape of a clamshell and painted bright gold with red trim. This architecture gem was built the in the 1930’s by the Quality Oil Company, a Winston-based marketer of Shell Oil. The station, modeled on the brand logo of Royal Dutch-Shell Oil, was constructed of concrete stucco over a bent wood and wire framework. Two glass-top gas pumps painted in matching colors were placed in front of the shell.

Though the station fell into disrepair toward the end of the 20th century; a state historic society, Preservation North Carolina, stepped in and restored the highway icon in the late 1990s. According to the fliers for the station, it is likely that this landmark is the last clamshell gas station in the country. Today it’s used by the preservation organization as a regional office and info center about the station and other preservation projects.

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It is Veteran’s Day today, and true to life in the south this time of year the temperature has warmed from a frosty cold into a sunny sixty degrees. It was a good day to visit Stone Mountain Park in Roaring Gap, North Carolina. The centerpiece of the park is Stone Mountain, a dome of exposed granite that rises sharply over 600 feet above the surrounding terrain.

The mountain, which has an elevation of 2,305 feet above sea level, is known for its barren sides and distinctive brown-gray color, and can be seen for miles. Because the mountain is the best example of a monadnock in massive granite in North Carolina it was designated a National Natural Landmark. Monadnock is originally a Native American term for an isolated hill or a lone mountain that stands above the surrounding area. It is thought to derive from the Abenaki language, from either menonadenak (“smooth mountain”) or menadena (“isolated mountain”) but here monadnock is used to describe a mountain that rises from an area of relatively flat and lower terrain.

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There are more than 18 miles of trails in the park. We started on a trail from the upper lot that looped up to the top of the massive granite rock and then down to the opposite side. The trail led us up in elevation and down about one thousand steps completing more than five miles. The summit of the rock gave us a terrific view of colorful leaves of the trees, wild rhododendrons, and faded ridges in the distance.

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The smooth rock looked slick and solid but at points short trees seemed to grow straight from the rock without any soil. We sat for a bit to rest and enjoy the view while some young adults piloted a remote monster car over the rocky landscape and on the trail.  We climbed down nearly five hundred steps through the wooded side of the trail until we reached the meadow at the foot of the great stone. The barren face of the rock was clear to us from where we sat in the meadow.

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The trail directed us to a 200-foot waterfall that slid over the rock into a small creek. We nearly stepped on a small black snake as we trudged on the trail that took us up three hundred more steps to finish the trail. Our hike was completed in four hours with only brief stops and it felt great.

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Leaving the park, we hopped onto the Blue Ridge Parkway in the direction of Boone, North Carolina. It was slightly cloudy as we drove on the Parkway so that the Blue Ridge Mountains appeared dark and the ridge behind it seemed a faded smoky blue. Fog hovered low in some areas separating the colors of the field and the mountains for a really beautiful scene. As we rose in elevation closer to Boone, the trees were less colorful and began to drop their leaves.

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Boone, North Carolina is home to Appalachian State University and also the location of our hotel for the night, the Courtyard Marriott. We had a physical day and were hungry so we hurried across the street from our hotel to eat at the Stagecoach Steakhouse. Our table was surrounded by many military veterans who came to get their free dinner by courtesy of the restaurant owners honoring those who served our country. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel physically tired from our busy day.

Assateague and Chincoteague National Parks – Late Fall 2016 Road Trip – Day 4

One of my favorite movies was one from the 1980s called Diner, set in Baltimore, so it was only appropriate since we were in the area that we find one for breakfast. The Double TT Diner is an iconic old-time diner that looked similar to an airstream RV with shiny chrome. Back in the 1950’s, two business partners named Thomas and Tony opened the first Double T restaurant that was named after the two T’s in their first names.

The restaurant had a look of the 1950’s with rows of booths and a small jukebox placed at the end of each table but instead of 45 rpm records it had an updated version of compact discs that also seemed outdated now. Our omelets were tasty and filling then we moved on travelling east across the Bay Bridge.

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The Chesapeake Bay Bridge spans the Chesapeake Bay, connecting Maryland’s rural Eastern Shore region with the urban Western Shore. The original span opened in 1952 with a length of 4.3 miles, and was the world’s longest continuous over-water steel structure. The bridge is part of U.S. Route 50 which connects the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area with Ocean City, Maryland. The long four-lane split bridge is high above the bay giving us a view of the shimmering water in the morning with freighters chugging by.

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 Ocean City, Maryland is a summer resort destination but it was nearly a ghost town void of people when we arrived. This town brought back memories from a 1970s vacation for one of us, which resulted us in searching for the Santa Maria motel where her family stayed on our vacation forty-two years ago. Ironically we found the location, but it had been torn down and a new upscale Courtyard Hotel was in its place, by far the best looking place on the boardwalk.

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Later we continued our walk down the boardwalk and onto the beach, with a stiff breeze blowing up a lot of sand and created choppy water that crashed onto the beach. We spent a few more minutes on the empty boardwalk with all of the shops closed up for winter.

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Da Dum, Da Dum, Da Dum, — the creepy music from the movie Jaws which generates the fear and anticipation of a shark in the water delivered that feeling when we stopped to see a recreational camp called Frontier Land that celebrated the Wild West with sets of cowboys, Indians, and can-can girls.

The camp was closed the day of our visit but rested at the front of the establishment was a 31-foot shark prop from the movie Jaws. The plaster-cast shark sits in a parking lot, straining to devour a rowboat always just beyond its reach. It is unknown whether the shark is an actual prop from the movie Jaws since so many others claim the same fame. It just seems wrongly placed in Frontier Land next to a statue of a cowboy holding an ice cream cone unless it were renamed Weird Land.

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Stopping briefly at the Assateague National Park Visitor Center to renew our annual National Parks, we promptly continued across the Verrazano Bridge into the park that is well known for its wild horses and birds on the 37-mile barrier island along Maryland and Virginia. The “wild” horses on Assateague are actually feral animals, meaning that they are descendants of domestic animals that have reverted to a wild state. Local folklore describes the Assateague horses as survivors of a shipwreck off the Virginia coast.

The most plausible explanation is that they are the descendants of horses that were brought to barrier islands like Assateague in the late 17th century by mainland owners to avoid fencing laws and taxation of livestock.

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The horses are split into two main herds, one on the Virginia side and one on the Maryland side of Assateague. They are separated by a fence at the Virginia/Maryland State line. These herds have divided themselves into bands of two to twelve animals and each band occupies a home range. The National Park Service manages the Maryland herd. The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company owns and manages the Virginia herd, which is allowed to graze on Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, through a special use permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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The permit restricts the size of the herd to approximately 150 adult animals in order to protect the other natural resources of the wildlife refuge. It is the Virginia herd which is often referred to as the “Chincoteague” ponies. The feral horse population of Assateague Island is known as the Assateague horse in Maryland and the Chincoteague pony in Virginia. This distinction is based on the traditional definition of a horse or a pony as to whether the animal falls over or under 14.2 hands that is 58 inches. The equines on the island tend to be under 14.2, but have horse’s traits.  It is believed that their relatively small size is primarily due to environmental, rather than genetic conditions.

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Our arrival on the island soon allowed us to see the feral horses. As we drove toward the beach, we saw two horses grazing near the edge of the road. The areas beyond the road were sandy with spots of dense shrubs. Beyond the shrubs was a marsh of cord grass.

We hiked a trail to the beach and up a dune trying to spot more feral horses on this breezy day, coming upon horses corralled by a group of people who often brought their domestic horses to ride on the beach. They said that they sometimes encountered the feral horses when they rode.

A further walk up the beach a bit more without another human being around while watching the birds scamper at the water’s edge was delightful.

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Heading south to Chincoteague, we opted to do a driving tour first, where we had the opportunity to see more feral ponies. This time the ponies grazed in a marshy meadow under leafless trees. Two more pairs of ponies stood in the meadow.

We had planned to take a boat tour to see more ponies but decided against it due to the choppy water. Later when the winds calmed, we thought of the boat cruise again but would have to pay for a ghost rider as if there were three riders instead of two so that it would be worthwhile for the boat captain to sail.

Instead we continued our own tour stopping at different points to photograph a large variety of birds and some horses. We drove out to the end of the island where the marsh, the sand dunes, and the ocean met. It was exceptionally gusty but we saw gulls, herons, and other birds using the wind to their advantage. The birds just seem to float in the air without flapping their wings.

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Assateague Light is a 142-foot-tall lighthouse located on the southern end of Assateague Island off the coast of the Virginia Eastern Shore, a short one-quarter mile walk from the visitor center. The brick conical shaped lighthouse is at the top of a hill near the Coast Guard Station. The lighthouse is painted in alternate red and white horizontal stripes and built in 1867 to replace a much shorter lighthouse. This spot was a nice rest for us after our hike up the hill and a nice view also.

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We continued our drive of the Virginia Eastern Shore and noticed a number of contrails from jets above us. Seven separate vapor trails suspended above us against the blue sky. This continued as we drove on our way to Onancock. Not quite as good a name as a small town in Newfoundland, it was amusing enough to divert off the main road; it turned out to be a very quaint historic town.

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We landed at the Hampton Inn in Exmoor, Virginia for the night. There is not much in Exmoor so we had to drive back to the highway to get something to eat. We ate at El Maguey, where we had chorizo arroz and a chicken enchilada with rice. The Mexican restaurant was shabby looking but the food was good and the prices cheap.

Indiana – October 2016 – Weekend to the Dunes

Located in the Indiana Dunes town of Beverly Shores exist five 1933 World’s Fair houses, where once a year they have tours during an open house. I managed to get tickets to one of the Saturday afternoon tours, but to make the 300 mile trip interesting we made a number of stops.

We left early enough on Friday to make it to Knightstown, Indiana around 4:30 PM, in time to visit the Hoosier Gym. Built in 1922 it served the local high school until the 1960s, but is most famous for being the home gym of the Hickory team in the movie Hoosiers. Restored to it’s 1952 look, they have retained that look ever since.

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The great thing is the gym is a rec center and anyone can come in and shoot some hoops, which we did. The older gentleman who worked there gave us a brief tour, then tossed us a ball and said ‘have fun’. It was great, but also a reminder I haven’t shot a basketball in many years.

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We made our way to Indianapolis where we went directly to the State Fairgrounds where there is a 1939 arena, recently refurbished with the naming rights sold to Indiana Farmers Insurance. We were there for a minor league hockey game, the Indianapolis Fuel. The arena currently seats a little over 6000, with the seating bowl pitched fairly steep, offering good views throughout.

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The game against Cincinnati was competitive, with the teams competing in the ECHL, with quite a bit of checking.

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As with most minor league teams their events during breaks were amusing. First up was a couple of competitors shooting for a small opening in a board in front of the goal, which a young boy managed to do, thrilling the crowd. The other event was the chuck a puck, only this time they had a washer set up on the ice, which took a beating, even from the soft rubber pucks.

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We arrived at our hotel to find it packed with University of Iowa football fans, as they had a game the next day in nearby Lafayette against Purdue. Also staying in the hotel was a sports team from Transylvania, Kentucky, the Transylvania Pioneers. The following morning we had breakfast amongst the Iowa fans, as well as seeing them on the freeway as we were going past Lafayette as well.

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We had a few stops planned on the way to the dunes, the first being a train themed restaurant called the Whistle Stop in Monon, Indiana. The grounds outside had a number of restored train cars, as well as an old train depot. Inside they had a display of lanterns but wanted $10 to view a small room, so we passed.

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Next up was Kerstings Cycles outside the small Indiana town of Winemac. The elderly owner, Jim, had just arrived as we did. While he may move slowly he was passionate about his collection of more than 100 vintage motorcycles. He boasts there are no duplicates, and that he has everything from an Ariel to a Zundapp.

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He has the bikes grouped together, American bikes, German bikes, British bikes, and others. In addition in the back room he has a number of old cars, including an old Rolls Royce.

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Along with the bikes and cars, there is a large collection of posters, mannequins in motorcycle clothing and toys.

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Finally we arrived at Indiana Dunes State Park, which is next door to the Dunes National Lakehore. I am not sure why they don’t combine the parks, but you end up paying for the state park, and would pay a second time for the National Lakeshore, except we had our pass.

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Since we had a couple of hours to kill before our tour we went to the State Park and took a hike up and down the dunes until we reached the lakeshore. The dunes themselves are mostly covered in trees and underbrush, which surprised us as we were expecting giant open dunes like at Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan.

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Once at the shore you have a great view out over the greenish blue waters of Lake Michigan, but you also had the industrial view just to the west of the steel mills of Gary. The day was somewhat hazy so you could barely make out the Chicago skyline 30 miles away across the southwest corner of the lake.

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After we returned to our car we made our way to the National Lakeshore visitor center to sign in and catch the bus for our tour of the homes. Over 70 years of wind, sand, and surf have battered the five World’s Fair houses located along Lake Front Drive in Beverly Shores, but their uniqueness has weathered the elements. With the theme of a Century of Progress, the houses were built for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair to demonstrate modern architectural design, experimental materials, and new technologies such as central air conditioning and dishwashers.

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Four of the houses were brought to the dunes by barge in 1935 by real estate developer Robert Bartlett. The Cypress Log Cabin was dismantled at the fair and moved by truck. Bartlett hoped that the high profile houses would entice buyers to his new resort community of Beverly Shores. Today the houses are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The houses have been leased to the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana. Through this organization, private individuals or families have leased the homes for 30 years with the agreement they must rehabilitate them, normally at a costs over a million dollars.

The first home we went into was the Armco Ferro home, which is noted as the only one of the houses to meet the criteria set by the Fair Committee of building an affordable and mass producible home. This house was made out of Cleveland steel using corrugated steel panels for walls.

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Next door is the House of Tomorrow, which was designed with its own airplane hangar. It’s orgininal design had glass walls throughout, however this home is the only one still not refurbished. When we were there it was definitely a construction zone, and it appeared they have a long ways to go.

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The last home on the dune side of the street is the Cypress Log Cabin, sponsored by the Southern Cypress Manufacturers Association, to promote the use of cypress in construction. Today the harvesting of cypress trees is prohibited, so when the owners were doing their rehab work, they had to locate old cypress wood and reuse it on their project.

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Across the street is the Florida Tropical House. Designed for the southern Florida tropics, the house combines the indoors and outdoors into the living space. Large open terraces and a flamingo pink paint scheme stand out. The owners were home, and took great joy in describing their rehab effort, bringing it back to it’s original beauty. Situated on the lakefront the view both inside and out are fantastic.

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The final house was framed in steel and originally clad with an artificial stone called Rostone (Limestone, shale and alkali). Its Rostone exterior was billed as never needing repairs, but it only lasted until the 1950s. The exterior of this home was completed, but the interior was still being worked on by an eccentric old guy who chain smoked the entire time we were there.

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The highlight of this house was the Ferrari in the garage. Our tours done, with sunset coming, we made our way to Valparaiso where we spent the night.

The next morning was rainy and cool, and we had the long drive back to Columbus. The plans for this day were to hit some Roadside America sites along the way.

First up was a restored Mobil Gas Station in Plymouth, Indiana

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Next up – Mentone, Indiana and the worlds largest egg – or more appropriately a concrete model of an egg

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Continuing across Indiana we stopped in Huntington to see some college professors collection of outdoor toilets….

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Ossian, Indiana gave us a silo painted like a minion.

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Finally we stopped at the Allen County Museum in Lima Ohio, where they had a hearse collection, some beautiful wooden model houses, a locomotive, and a collection of items a doctor pulled out of peoples throats over the years.

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Also here was a mock up of the jail cell that John Dillinger spent time in.

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Of note is their collection of quartz and other stones and minerals.

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All in all a great weekend.

Pittsburgh- June 2016 – Weekend in the ‘Burgh

A quick weekend road trip to Pittsburgh was in store in late June, primarily to go to a Pittsburgh Pirates game. But first up was a stop at the University of Pittsburgh, specifically taking a self guided tour of the Cathedral of Learning. Built in the late 1920s, and finished in 1934, it is the tallest educational building in the Western hemisphere at 535 feet high, built in a gothic style.

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As you enter the building you come into the lobby, a massive 3 story high room. Around the perimeter of the first floor, and third floor are 30 Nationality Rooms designed by the various ethnic groups (mostly European) from throughout Pittsburgh.

When we arrived we immediately went to the 42nd floor, where we could look out small windows to the north, south and east, providing vistas across much of Pittsburgh, but unfortunately not a complete downtown view. Prior to the construction of Three Rivers Stadium on the north side in 1970 the Pirates played at Forbes Field, which was just to the south of the campus. A very famous photo shows fans watching the 1960 World Series from this vantage point.

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Returning back to the ground level we received a key from the attendant and wandered in and out of the various Nationality rooms for about an hour. Most of the rooms had a religious feel to them, but the furniture and artwork was very interesting, and dramatically different from room to room.

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We left Pitt to head downtown to park the car at our hotel, a Hilton Garden Inn near Market Square. Once downtown we found that numerous streets were closed or re-routed, or had changed course since I regularly drove them. Eventually we did make it to the hotel and into the garage. The Hilton Garden Inn had recently opened, and our room on the 10th floor had a decent view of the surrounding buildings.

We dropped the bags off and headed out on foot to find a couple of the Roadside America attractions previously missed. The one I really wanted to find most was the Lawrence Welk bubble making machine supposedly at the William Penn Hotel, a classic old hotel. The difference in the look and feel of the new, contemporary hotel we were staying and the William Penn were striking, but all we wanted was a bubble machine. After asking a couple of the workers we finally found a maintenance man who was familiar with it. He took us to an area that had a small museum of the hotel, and we look, and looked again, still not finding it. Finally I  went back upstairs where I found a display underneath a stairway that contained the famous bubble making machine.

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After a lengthy walk out to the Strip District and back down Penn Avenue through a jazz festival we headed to the game. A full house, beautiful weather and an exciting Pittsburgh Pirates game made for a great evening. The return trip the next day was uneventful with no interesting side trips.

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