Thursday, July 29, 2010

Western New York

We left the RV park and almost immediately left Ohio and crossed the Pennsylvania state line.  We continued on I-90 until I-86 which runs east and west just a few miles north of the New York/Pennsylvania border.  I-90 becomes a toll road and that means we can't afford it.  We drove east just a few miles and crossed into New York state where we encountered some of the worst interstate we have ever been on.  It continued past Chautauqua Lake (which is beautiful) where the construction began.  The construction ended just before we got off in Randolph and headed north on small, western New York roads through absolutely gorgeous hills and valleys.  This really is some of the most beautiful country in America during these few summer months.

As we got off the Interstate in Randolph we immediately realized that a tornado had just hit.  We later learned that it happened that weekend (we were there Tuesday) but that no one was killed.  There was a lot of damage to trees, houses and businesses.

We wound our way through towns that I remembered from 50 years ago until we arrived at our campground about eight miles north of Arcade.  After setting up camp I called Dale and he drove down to see us.  We had dinner together and a great time talking.  He did not leave until 9 which was quite late since he had about a 45 minute drive to get home and  try to get a little sleep before getting up at 4:30 for work.

Wednesday we drove the truck to Niagara Falls in the morning.  We had some excitement on the way.  As you approach Niagara Falls on I-190 from Buffalo you cross two large toll bridges, and at the base of the second bridge is the turnoff for the American Falls visitor area.  It is an off ramp that makes a 270 degree right turn that sends you back under the road you are exiting at the end of the bridge.  Just before the off ramp are two signs.  One says No Commercial Vehicles, and the second is a photo of a truck with the red circle and line through it.  There was no sign indicating any height restrictions so we took the ramp since we are not commercial and  technically a motorhome, not a truck  We do this all the time and have never had any issues with places like this.  If there was a height limit ahead, the actual limit was always posted in time for you take an alternate route.  Not here!

As we came out of the off ramp turn and started to merge onto the expressway under the road we had just exited there is a big yellow sign that stated the bridge just ahead of us was only 12 feet.   My truck is 13 feet tall.  There was no place to go.  We had to back all the way up the 270 degrees of off ramp.  Of course it was only one lane wide and there was lots of traffic.  Dianna got out and directed traffic while I slowly made my way out of there.  I can't believe they don't have lots of problems there.  Many motorhomes are taller than 12 feet and there were no signs indicating they should not use the route.

After finding our way to a parking area near the falls we did the tourist thing.  We  rode the Maid of the Mist boat past the American Falls and into the maelstrom below the Canadian Falls.  They provided thin plastic rain gear but it did little to keep us all from getting soaked.  After seeing the falls we walked to the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch, then headed back to Buffalo.  We followed the truck route but once again came upon a sign that said the clearance ahead was only 12' 6", and this was on the truck route!  There were no signs indicating where taller trucks should go, so Mr. GPS got a pretty good workout as we explored some of the horrible roads in parts of Niagara Falls that few tourists ever see.  In all our travels in the truck over the past 5 plus years we have never experienced anything like this.  Our truck is no bigger than many motorhomes, and most cities are smart enough to place appropriate signs in appropriate places if height is going to be a problem ahead.

We finally made it back onto I-190 and drove to Dale's house.  He lives with Jennifer, her husband and three kids in an older part of town near the Peace Bridge.  We really like looking at the architecture of the older places.  Jennifer fixed dinner for us and we all had a good time getting to know the kids and Jen's husband.  Dom rode skate boards with Vinnie and Dale and I spent most of the time sitting on the front porch as we sashayed down memory lane.

Today we drove to Franklinville and then over to Rawson where we took pictures of the farm, the Rawson Church, and the grave markers of Grandpa, Grandma, Gertrude, Curtis and Joyce.  We also took a picture of Otie Smith's marker.  I have never seen a more appropriate gravestone.  It has a photo of him from when he was probably in his 30's along with a carved image of a Farmall tractor.

While we were at the cemetery Richard Schaffer stopped by.  He figured we must be Laffertys since he saw us taking pictures of the farm and then at the cemetery.  He now owns all of the farm except for 14 acres where the house itself is located.  We chatted for a few minutes and decided we had probably played together when we were kids.

We then drove through Cuba where we bought cheese, drove by the Briggs house on Orchard Street and our house on Hill Street, then over the hill past West Clarksville where Aunt Ruth lived, and on to Obi where we stopped at the West Genessee Cemetery to visit Dad's grave along with G and G Briggs and all the Friar clan.

Then, after a stop for lunch at the Cuba McDonalds (I know!!!), we drove to Corning where we met Michele Widener (Greg's daughter who is going to USC) who drove down from Rochester to tour the Glass Museum and Glass Works with us.  It has changed a lot since the last time I was there and is much larger.  It took longer than we expected,  so after calling Dale we decided it was just going to be too late to get together with his clan this evening.  Karen was driving up from Pittsburgh and would not be there until after 6 PM, and we would not get there until nearly 8, so we decided that it made more sense to just get together tomorrow instead.  We plan to spend the whole day with Karen and Jen's family.  We don't know exactly what we will do yet, but if you tune in later you will probably find out.

I'll put pictures on the gallery as soon as I find some time.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Lower Michigan

The RV park where we stayed Wed night was on a golf course.  It was really pretty and inexpensive, but hardly anyone was there.  We played horseshoes and a golf ball toss game, then turned in for the night.

Our trip down through Michigan on Thursday was uneventful except for all the construction.  We are finding that it is everywhere.  Many of the roads are in terrible condition so the work is certainly needed, and the weather conditions require that most work be done during the summer months, but it seems like every road we are on either needs to be repaired or is being repaired.

We set up camp at the Wayne County Fairgrounds in Belleville, MI.  It is a suburb southwest of Detroit and has the closest RV park available to the Ford Museum.  The weather was fine on Thursday but it was obvious that they had received a lot of rain.  The forecast was for more and it started in the evening.  We had serious thunderstorms and torrential rain most of the night and on Friday.  It was bad enough that we decide to just stay put and not try to go anywhere. 

Saturday morning we woke to flooded fairgrounds but the weather was only partly cloudy, so we went to the Ford Museum in Dearborn.  All three of us really enjoyed it.  It was much more interesting than we expected.  Of course there were cars, cars and more cars, but there was also much more.  My favorite part was the section with all the power equipment from the early days of the industrial revolution.  Some of it was huge.  The biggest piece of equipment was the actual steam powered electric generator that provided power for Ford’s first assembly plant.  Even Dom and Dianna were impressed.

We also spent a good deal of time in the aircraft exhibits, looking at early RV’s, presidential limousines (including the one JFK was killed in), assembly line exhibits (including one where Dom helped assemble a Model T), early farm equipment (including a New Holland hay baler with the bench seat on the side exactly like the one Dale and I rode on when we were kids) and much more.  It was more than I expected it to be and I would recommend it to anyone.

We originally planned to leave Sunday to move further east but it rained all night Saturday again.  We awoke to an even more flooded fairground.  I did not feel like standing in two inches of water to hook up the trailer so we decided to stay another night.  The forecast for Monday was for clear skies.  Staying put gave us an opportunity to do some route and schedule planning.  We normally don’t do that too far in advance, but the next couple weeks are going to be hectic so some planning is in order.

There are a couple things that we are experiencing here in the east that we are not accustomed to.  First is the lack of RV parks, and particularly the kind we normally stay in.  Most of the places here are more what we describe as campgrounds or resorts.  They cater mostly to families and are designed as destinations where a family can spend an entire weekend or vacation.  They try to provide all kinds of things for people to do instead of just a place to park for the night.  They often do not have good interior roads and site design, or electrical and septic infrastructure for modern RV’s.  And most of all, they tend to be very expensive compared to what we are able to find in the south and west.

The other thing we are dealing with here is toll roads.  There are very few of them out west and in the south, and they are easy to avoid if you want to.  In the east it is not so easy.  If we were driving a car it might not be a big deal but most toll roads and bridges charge based on the number of axles.  We have 5 axles, the same as an 18 wheeler.  If we had been in a car the toll for the Mackinaw Bridge would have been $4.00 instead of the $22.50 we had to pay.  I checked the cost of the Ohio Turnpike, New York Thruway and the Massachusetts Turnpike,  all of which would be the easiest routes.  The costs mean that we will need to avoid all of them.  For example, just to use the New York Thruway from Rochester to the Massachusetts state line would cost us about $70 in tolls.  That’s a trip of about 250 miles.

Given the cost of tolls we have set our GPS to avoid toll roads.  As a result we finally left the Detroit area yesterday morning and headed east on US highways as we left Michigan and headed into Ohio.  Although we had to slow down through all the towns along the way, most of the larger places had bypasses around them so it wasn’t too bad.  When we got to the Cleveland area we were able to join I-90 for the rest of the run to Conneaut, OH where we spent the night. Today we will drive to Western NY where we plan to visit Dale’s family and see some sights for a few days.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Sault means rapids or little falls in French, and Sault Sainte Marie is the rapids on the Saint Mary's River.  And of course you know that the Saint Mary's River connects Lake Superior and Lake Huron, right?  The last tidbit of information is that the word Sault is pronounced "Soo" as in Sue, and that is the actual, official name of the locks on the river.  Now it all makes sense!

We continued our trek eastward from Ishpeming and arrived in Sault Sainte Marie, MI after driving across the UP (Upper Penninsula) of Michigan through beautiful, green forests.  The locals say that the only industries in the UP are prisons and tourists.  It is a sportsman's paradise and very lightly populated.  We set up camp in an RV park about one mile below the Soo locks, on the St. Mary's River where we had a closeup view of the freighters entering and leaving the locks on their way up and down the lake.  Just a few hundred yards across the river is the city of Sault Sainte Maire, Ontario, Canada which is over four times the size of the American city with the same name.

We had a nasty storm blow through during the evening so our only adventure was a walk south along the river for about 3/4 of a mile.  Tuesday morning we began our touristy activities by taking a boat tour.  The tour took us through the locks to the Superior side where we also cruised by a huge steel plant on the Canadian side.  There are two locks on the American side and two on the Canadian, but the Canadian ones are being replaced by one larger one, so all traffic has to use the American side now.  We passed a freighter headed down the lake that was exiting the locks as we went in.  It was being restocked by a supply ship while underway.  As we exited the locks on the way back we passed another freighter, the Mesabi Miner, just preparing to enter upstream.  The Mesabi Miner was the same ship we had watched pass under the lift bridge leaving Duluth just a few days earlier.  It had made its delivery and was on its way back north for another load.

If you are interested in the history of the locks you can Google it, but the quick version is that the rapids prevented ships from venturing between Lake Huron and Lake Superior until the locks were built in 1855.  They have been rebuilt several times as ships have grown in size.    The locks raise or lower boats 21 feet.   Traffic was heaviest during WWII, and has actually declined in recent years as ships have gotten larger and since we have stopped shipping so much grain to Russia.  There is an average of one ship through the locks every one and a half hours.

After our boat tour we went to a drive-in burger place that we were told was great.  We have to agree.  The cheeseburgers were at least half a pound and only $4.  The fries and onion rings were $2 each and more than two people could eat.  Later in the afternoon we visited a museum in the old Weather Service building where we learned that President Grant signed the authorization for the National Weather Service because so many sailors were dying in storms on the Great Lakes (and elsewhere) that they were not aware of.  We also visited some of the obligatory tourist traps along main street so Dom could add to his collection of key chains, and made a Wal-Mart run.  We watched Avatar again on Blu-Ray before turning in for the night.

Today we crossed over the Mackinaw Bridge that connects the UP with the rest of Michigan.  It is one of the engineering wonders of the world at about 5 miles long.  As we crossed, Lake Michigan was on our right and Lake Huron was on our left.  We immediately exited the interstate and followed the Lake Huron shoreline south as far as Alpena where we turned inland a few miles to our RV park.  It was another beautiful drive.

Pictures of the last couple days will be on the gallery soon.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

On to the Great Lakes

The weather did indeed turn very nasty so we spent another day in Minneapolis.  It rained most of the day so the only thing we did other than hunker down, was to return to the Mall of America and play a game of miniature golf.

Thursday we headed north on I-35 toward Duluth.  Almost immediately we came across a sign that said any vehicles over 10 tons had to exit the highway and take a detour.  The detour ran us through downtown St. Paul and cost over an hour of time.  Not fun.  Then about 30 miles north of Minneapolis, on some of the worst maintained interstate we have ever seen,  the driver of an 18 wheeler that passed us did not notice the traffic slowing ahead until almost too late.  He locked up all wheels and began to jack knife, but somehow regained control at the last second.  That was more excitement than we wanted.

We continued north until about 20 miles south of Duluth where there was another detour for all vehicles over 9 tons.  This again ran us way out of our way to our destination.  We ended up entering Duluth from the northwest instead of the south.  It turns out they have a major construction project underway in Duluth and most lanes are very narrow, with many off and on ramps closed.  It was not the most relaxing travel day.

We arrived at one of the most interesting places we have ever stayed.  The spit of land that forms Duluth/Superior harbor has many marinas.  One of those allows RV parking during the summer where they store boats during the winter.  Our spot backed up to the lake.  In fact, I could not walk behind the trailer without falling off the pier into the lake.  It was almost like being in a houseboat.

We toured the maritime museum and watched the famous lift bridge in operation as a huge freighter left Duluth for somewhere east on the Great Lakes.  Except for a lot of walking, it was an interesting afternoon.

Friday we drove about 100 miles east along the south shore of Lake Superior to the town of Washburn, Wisconsin where we set up camp in a city park overlooking the lake.  We spent two nights there, just relaxing, hiking and doing a little geocaching.  We did visit the North Woods Visitor Center located about 7 miles south of our campground.  There were many good displays and lots of information about  the area.

Yesterday we continued our trek east along the southern shore of Lake Superior.  We stopped for the night in Ishpeming, Michigan.   We did laundry, swam in the pool, soaked in the hot tub, ate sundaes at McDonalds, and Nana and Dom went to a movie at the nearby theaters.

Today we plan to move to Sault Sainte Marie for a couple nights.  We have a reservation at a campground right on the river, just below the locks.  We will tell you all about it soon.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Visiting Amana and a Big Shopping Mall

After setting up at the Amana Colonies RV park on Friday we took care of some chores, including a trip to Wal-Mart Cedar Rapids on the scooter.  Saturday was our day to play tourist and explore Amana Colonies.

Amana colonies was begun about 1860 by a religious sect from Germany.  The actual name of the religious movement is "The Community of True Inspiration."  They believe that certain of their early leaders had "inspirations" that were given to them by God.  Those inspirations were collected in a book that they consider sacred.  They broke away from the Lutheran Church in the early 1700's and moved to America in the early 1800's to escape persecution.  They originally settled near Buffalo, NY but soon outgrew their land there and eventually purchased land in Iowa about 1850 to relocate there.

When they moved to the US, they adopted a communal way of life although they had not lived in that manner in Germany.  In addition to trying to more closely follow their understanding of how early Christians lived, it just worked better as a method of pooling resources and establishing a community.  They were quite successful with the communal lifestyle for many years, but by the early 1930's it fell apart.  This was due to many causes but mostly to the fact that younger generations no longer wanted to live the cloistered, communal lifestyle and they wanted a higher education than the 8th grade.  The commune was changed to a corporation and individuals were given stock in the company.  That corporation was the Amana company which soon began manufacturing appliances.

The Amana Colonies consists of 7 villages spread over about a 20 mile area that are still in existence and lived in.  Only about 350 of the residents are still members of the original church.  Most people who live there are not, but the communities have been retained in remarkable condition.

We toured the 7 villages and stopped at museums and shops in most.  We visited a communal kitchen, a communal farm, one of the original stores and transportation centers, as well as just wandering around and looking at the well kept communities.  We ended the day in the largest of the villages, Amana, which is now pretty much a tourist destination.  It has all the obligatory shops and restaurants where you can buy stuff you don't need and overpriced food.  We did take advantage of the food.  It was of course, German and home style, but actually pretty good.

Sunday we moved north toward Minneapolis and spent the night at an RV park about half way.  Then Monday we moved to a regional park just 5 miles south of Minneapolis Airport.  From the campground you would never know you are right next to a major metro area.  The place is very secluded and pretty.

Dom arrived from Dallas about noon yesterday and we picked him up at the airport.  Our first stop was the Mall of America, located between us and the airport.  It is advertised as the biggest mall in the world, but who knows how "biggest" is measured.  We were expecting something similar to the Edmondton Mall that we visited in Canada about three years ago, but this really did not live up to expectations.  It is just a very large mall.  It is built in a rectangular shape, with three levels of shops, multiple food courts and restaurants, an amusement park in the center, miniature golf course, movie theaters and aquarium.  But, at least 90 percent of the stores are just the same stores that can be seen at every mall in America.  I think every chain store in the country is represented.   Even the food courts have the same vendors that you see everywhere.  Maybe that's why they call it the Mall of America.  It looks just like every other mall in the country.

The amusement park had typical carnival rides and nothing really unique.  The prices were astronomical so we passed.  We just couldn't justify spending almost $30 per person for rides that were a scaled down version of what you might see at Six Flags or Magic Mountain.   After visiting Edmonton Mall and being really amazed at all the things there, Mall of America was a disappointment.

We returned to the campground where we picked wild blackberries and raspberries that Nana combined with strawberries to make a delicious pie.  After dinner we watched some TV, played some games and called it a night.

The plan for today was to head north toward Duluth, but the weather forecast looks very stormy, including possible tornadoes.  We may just stay here another day and wait for the storms to move through.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Hoover, Jacks, Trucks and Amana

I see I need to update this more often.  With the short note I put on the Datastorm map each time we move I forget to update the blog with more detailed information.  We stayed at that small RV park in ND until Tuesday morning when we called the HWH plant in Moscow, Iowa to see if we could get the leveling jacks on our trailer repaired.  They have been slow to retract for a couple years now and have been getting worse lately.  They had an appointment available for 7 AM Friday morning so we headed down that way.  We spent the first night at a Cabela's parking lot just north of Minneapolis, then the next night at a nice RV resort in the small town of Oelwein, IA.  They had over 4 inches of rain during the morning but by the time we got there in the afternoon it had quit.  There was a lot of evidence of flooding everywhere.  It sure has been wet, hot and humid.

Yesterday we drove south toward Moscow and stopped at West Branch, Iowa where the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and birthplace are located.  It was a very interesting place and we enjoyed learning about him.  He was a pretty amazing man who accomplished much before and after his presidency but will always be linked with the Great Depression.  I suspect that he is like most presidents in that they all get the blame or credit for things they had nothing to do with.  That's just the nature of the beast and the way politics works.

There are 12 Presidential Libraries in the country and I have now been to 7 of them.  Dianna has been to 6 since she was not with me when I went to the JFK library in Boston a few years ago.  We may hit a few more on this trip.

We arrived at the HWH factory about 4 PM where they have electric hookups available for  people who are having work done the following day.  Our appointment was for 7 AM so we had to get up at 6, which is way before our normal get'n up time!  They replaced a bad solenoid and the front return springs in less than two hours.  It cost less than we had feared so we were pleased.

We then drove east another 15 miles on I-80 to the Iowa I-80 Truck Stop, the largest truck stop in the world.  Yesterday and today is their annual Truck Jamboree and there were all kinds of going's on.  We had breakfast in the dining room and wandered through some of the exhibits.  It was interesting.

We then drove 50 miles west to the Amana Colonies.  We plan to stay here for a couple days so will update everyone about what we learn after we have had a chance to check it out.  Stay tuned.

Monday, July 5, 2010

On to North Dakota

After the excitement in Red Lodge we continued our trip east.  We went to Billings, MT where we spent just one night in an RV park so we could do laundry, etc.  The next day we moved south to the Bighorn National Recreation Area.  It is an area centered on Bighorn Canyon which is now mostly filled with a lake.  We were at the northern end which gets very few visitors.  With our Senior Access Pass the camping was free.  We stayed two days and on the second day rode the scooter to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.  We went to the talks, toured the museum and hiked and rode through the area.  It was very interesting.  I find it particularly interesting how we continuously reinterpret history in light of current sensibilities and attitudes.

We then moved back to Billings for a couple days.  I needed to get the clutch on the truck adjusted and Dianna wanted to do some more genealogy research there.  She did find some more information about her family and was able to get a copy of her grandparents marriage license.

We then moved to Miles City, MT where Dianna knew her relatives had once lived and discovered that her Great Grandfather, the one from Red Lodge, had died there.  We obtained a copy of his death certificate  but were not able to find his grave in the cemetery since there is no map or record of exactly where he was interred.  We found his obituary on microfilm of the local newspaper and learned that his mother was still living when he died, and that she had moved to Ventura, CA to live with a daughter.  That finally filled in some major blanks.

With all the genealogy locations in Montana researched, we headed for Minot, ND where we had arranged for our mail to be sent.  We spent the night in an RV park due to the high heat, around 95.  I'm afraid hookups are going to be the norm from now on.  It's just too hot.  Our original plan was to stay through the holiday weekend at the State Fairgrounds in Minot, but discovered that they were closed for the month of July so they could get ready for the upcoming fair.   We usually like to find an out of the way place before long weekends start, and hunker down while all the families take over campgrounds.

Unfortunately, with the fair grounds being closed we had to make new plans.  We found a small, out of the way RV park near Jamestown, ND and moved there to hide out.  Our satellite internet connection is very poor near the Canadian border in this area, so moving a little south helped us get a better signal as well.  We are there now and plan to leave tomorrow for points east.

That's about it.  We will be picking Dom up in Minneapolis on the 13th.  Between now and then we will either explore northern Minnesota or make a quick dash down to Moscow, IA to have some repairs done to our leveling jacks.  They are worn and need to be rebuilt after eight years of continuous use.  We'll let you know.

PS:  If anyone is not receiving e-mail updates whenever we move, and would like to, let me know and I will add you to the list.  It is a feature of our satellite internet system.  It will send you a link to a map showing our location along with a short note whenever we move.