Greenfield Village

Mill stream

Mill stream

Some posts are mostly containers for photos and this is one. Greenfield Village in Dearborn MI, if you don’t already know, is a place that Henry Ford founded to collect historical buildings and, more generally, to capture the serenity of 19th century America. You will find the actual bike shop of the Wright brothers, the home of Noah Webster, the actual early laboratories of Thomas Edison and recreations of the first Ford Motor Company factory and the childhood home of Washington Carver. You will find barbershop quartets strolling the streets, public spaces in which you can practice hoop-rolling and other turn-of-the-century games, or see working farms that use 19th century equipment and practices.

I first visited Greenfield Village in 1957 and had fond memories. Now, 60 years later, I just had to return. It is still a great place to spend a few hours. Much more relaxing (and educational) than Disney World.

The Henry Ford Museum, adjacent to Greenfield Village, also looks very interesting. But I have never been so I can’t recommend it.  If I ever get back to MI I will take a look.

Mill

Mill

Noah Webster's study

Noah Webster’s study

Wright bike shop

Wright bike shop

Koi pond

Koi pond

Train ride

Train ride

Serenity

Serenity

Barbershop quartet

Barbershop quartet

Robert Frost home

Robert Frost home

Roundhouse

Roundhouse

Black-eyed susans and Model T

Black-eyed susans and Model T

Village green

Village green

Carousel

Carousel

Playground

Playground

Glassblower

Glassblower

STW1 Hop 5: Streetsboro OH to New Hudson MI

STW1 Hop 5

STW1 Hop 5

216 miles via I-480 (south of Cleveland), OH 176, I-90, OH 2, I-280 (east of Toledo), I-75, I-275 (west of Detroit) and I-96. Cumulative tow miles: 1003. Truck miles: 303. Cumulative truck miles: 1576.

This was a relatively easy hop, aided by flat, mostly divided highway. Door-to-door travel time was just under 4 hours, which is an average of over 50 mph. Pretty good. Even the roads near Cleveland, Toledo and Detroit were relatively free-flowing. There was one accident west of Detroit that delayed us for about 10 minutes but otherwise it was uneventful. And the day was beautiful – mid-80s and sunny.

The swimming area

The swimming area

What positive things can I say about Woodside Lake Park in Streetsboro OH, our home for two nights? Two things come to mind: the owner was a peach and the swimming pond/lake was great. Kids had a wonderful time in the pond and it was one of the few campground swimming venues that we have seen that had a lifeguard. They seem to provide a variety of other kids activities as well. We were there for “Halloween in August” which featured trick-or-treating and hayrides.

Halloween hayride

Halloween hayride

Now the bad. The roads in the campground – and the road approaching the campground – were atrocious. I worried that the rig would shake itself apart just getting into and out of the site. The park had a lot of seasonal residents and many of the rigs were very old and unsightly. Strangely, very few seemed to be occupied, even on the weekend. There was no cable and no over-the-air reception so we spent two days watching Downton Abbey and movies on DVD. We didn’t need the restrooms, which was fortunate because in our area of the campground there were only outhouses – a first in our travels. Worst of all was the water, which was arguably the worst we have seen anywhere. It was only marginally drinkable. After our first cups of coffee we used bottled water. Even the toilets got a green stain from this “fresh” water. Yuck. We won’t be back.

But staying in Streetsboro gave us another state on our travel map – our 33rd.

Outhouse

Outhouse

#33 - Ohio

#33 – Ohio

Niagara Falls

Overview of the falls

Overview of the falls

I first saw Niagara Falls in 1957 when I was 8 years old. It was a rare family vacation outside of Wisconsin and I really appreciated seeing them in real life rather than in a book. My father was not the most adventurous guy, so our activities at the falls consisted of walking along the promenade, taking home movies and, at night, watching the light show. No Maid of the Mist, no Cave of the Winds, no tram ride over the whirlpool.

Since 1957 I have been back three or four times, but have never done any of those things. Until now. Jett and I did the Maid of the Mist trip. It is just a 20-minute boat ride, but it provides a unique view of the falls from below. I would say it was well worth the $18 ticket price. It is an experience that won’t soon be forgotten.

Got some good photos, too. And one of me in my poncho, just to prove that I was really there.

Me on Maid of the Mist

Me on Maid of the Mist

Rainbow Bridge

Rainbow Bridge

Jett

Jett too

Canadian Falls

Canadian Falls

American Falls

American Falls

STW1 Hop 4: Grand Island NY to Streetsboro OH

STW1 Hop 4

STW1 Hop 4

236 miles via I-190 (north of Buffalo), NY 5, I-90, I-271 (west of Cleveland) and I-480 (west of Cleveland). Cumulative tow miles: 787. Truck miles: 340. Cumulative truck miles: 1273.

This was supposed to be an easy hop – one almost entirely on interstate highways. But I opted to travel almost 30 miles on NY 5 out of Buffalo instead of I-90. This route had the advantage of being both shorter and cheaper while being only a few minutes longer. And it avoided downtown Buffalo. I dutifully checked for low bridges at least 4 times. Clear. But when we got onto NY 5 the GPS – which is set to avoid low bridges – tried to re-route us at least 25 times in 25 miles. It was amusing at first, but then I began to wonder why it was being so insistent. I learned the reason about 3 miles short of where NY 5 was to join up with I-90: a low bridge (12′ 9″) stood in our way. Because I had grown wary, I saw the bridge – and the warning sign – in time to turn away. But we had to backtrack nearly 10 miles, creating both a fuel problem and extending the trip by 30 minutes. When we got to a rest area in Ohio I, for the second hop in a row, used the emergency fuel supply.

That didn’t turn out very well, either. The can slipped, the top popped off and about a quart of diesel spilled on the pavement. And my clothes. I traveled the last 40 miles smelling like a refinery.

For the record: I did not miss the low bridge in my route planning; it just wasn’t included in the database of low clearances that I use. That is a first – the database has never been wrong before. That shakes my confidence in my route-planning process. I may have to spend more time going over the entire route using Google Earth, to visually scan for railroad bridges. It is always railroad bridges.

Diesel spill

Diesel spill

That wasn’t the end of the misadventures. When we got to our destination the campground had us booked for 1 night rather than the 2 that has always been in my itinerary. Their mistake, I believe. They were able to find a site, but it was a back-in rather than a pull-through. But an easy back-in, so no big deal.

Our home in Grand Island (just north of Buffalo and near Niagara Falls) for 3 nights was the Niagara Falls / Grand Island KOA. This was a very large, very nice park with lots of facilities and activities for children. And it was located adjacent to an amusement park (“Fantasy Land”), so the park was swarming with children. But at least there weren’t any late night parties.

This campground was very clean, very well managed. But very expensive. I paid extra for the “premium patio” site, which gave me an upscale table and chairs and a concrete pad. Nice, but we really didn’t use it. A waste of money. Despite the good things about this campground there is simply no way that it was worth what they were charging. I think others agreed as the park was never more than half full, even after all the Friday night arrivals. We would stay here again, I guess, but no premium patio next time.

Ready to depart

Ready to depart

Dog park

Dog park

Swimming pool/activity center

Swimming pool/activity center

Boldt Castle

When I planned our stay in the Thousand Islands it was due to some very old, very vague fond memories of a camping trip to the area. I can’t even remember now when I was there; I just recall being struck by the serenity and beauty of the area.

So my plan for our day in Clayton was pretty vague, being best expressed as “see the Thousand Islands.” The staff at the campground office suggested a 2-hour boat trip and that seemed like a good idea. But Jett, who was suffering from what was possibly a scratched cornea, didn’t want a long boat ride in the open air and bright sun. So I looked for something that would require only a short boat ride and found it in a tour of Boldt Castle. Only a 10-ninute boat ride each way and a turn-of-the-century “castle” to view. Sounded like our kind of fun.

It was a beautiful day for anything we wanted to do – low 70’s, puffy clouds, bright sunshine. The castle looked great, inside and out. I got some very nice photos.

Alster Tower

Alster Tower

This castle/mansion is different than others I have toured, such as the Biltmore Estate or the Newport mansions. This home was never completed, never lived in. It was built as a summer home for George Boldt and his family, but after 4 years of construction his wife died suddenly and he immediately terminated construction. He never returned to the island. It was left to rot for over 70 years until it was gifted to the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority who decided to restore it as a tourist attraction. The original intent was simply to restore it to the state it was in when construction was abandoned, but after achieving that goal – and because it was so popular as an attraction – they decided to continue with the restoration with a long-term goal of completing construction. It continues to be a work in progress. Most of the lower two floors have been restored, but 4 more stories remain in an unfinished and deteriorated state. It will be years before construction is completed – if ever.

But what exists is pretty spectacular. Because the finish carpentry is modern and the house has never been inhabited, it has a “new house” feel, with turn-of-the-century architecture and details. It is pretty unique. And fascinating.

And if you catch it on a nice day, like we did, it is supremely photogenic. The house is surrounded by beautifully manicured grounds with two interesting outbuildings – a small castle-like building which was a power plant for the mansion and a medieval tower that was built as a party venue and children’s playground. The tower was completed before work on the main building began and includes some interesting features, including a basement with two bowling alleys (now being restored).

It was a lovely day and a real treat. An unexpected pleasure.

Welcome arch

Welcome arch

Bowling alleys (in progress)

Bowling alleys (in progress)

House and grounds

House and grounds

The central staircase

The central staircase

George's bedroom

George’s bedroom

Kitchen

Kitchen

Jett and me with the silver

Jett and me with the silver

STW1 Hop 3: Clayton NY to Grand Island NY

STW1 Hop 3

STW1 Hop 3

238 miles via NY 12, I-81, NY 104, NY 390, I-490 (west of Rochester), I-90, I-290 (around Buffalo) and I-190. Cumulative tow miles: 551. Truck miles: 270. Cumulative truck miles: 933.

This was the longest – both in terms of distance and time (almost 5 hours) – of any hop we have made in the past year. At 238 miles it pushed the limit of how far we can travel on a single tank. We probably could have made it, but rather than stress out we made a fuel stop at a service plaza on I-90 (the NY State Thruway). I thought this would be the easiest way to get a partial tank, but it turned out to be not so easy becasue the single diesel pump on the truck side of the plaza was out of service. I guess not many trucks fuel up at these service areas. We decided that, rather than snake our way over to the car pumps, we would use our 5-gallon emergency supply. That was only the second time we have used the emergency supply.

The route would have been even longer if we had taken the fastest route – I-81 to I-90. More expensive, too, as the New York State Thurway is pretty pricey. I avoid tollways when towing because I am never sure what the charges will be, but opted for a compromise this time – about 50 miles of toll road out of 238 total. About half was on expressway. Most of the rest was on NY 104, which mostly wasn’t bad – a little up-and-down but not many sharp curves. We did, however, run into a nasty stretch of construction just west of Oswego which included 4 separate one-lane sections with flagmen. Very ugly. Jett hated it, but so did I.

At the final toll plaza I couldn’t get over to the “E-ZPass Only” lane, so had to go through a manned booth. I thought I might be asked to pay extra for the RV that I was towing, but the attendant just cheerfully waved me through. It was comforting to know that I wasn’t cheating the State of New York.

The view from near our site

The view from near our site

Our home in Clayton was the Merry Knoll Campground. It was pretty basic – ordinary swimming pool, a minimal bathhouse, a laundry with 2 washers and 2 dryers. Our site was in an open field which ran down to the St Lawrence River. Scenic, but not so scenic as our previous site at Arrowhead. It was a steep walk down to the water, but once there a broader vista was the reward.

Not a great place, but perfectly fine for two nights.

Approaching sunset on the St Lawrence

Approaching sunset on the St Lawrence

STW1 Hop 2: Glenville NY to Clayton NY

STW1 Hop 2

STW1 Hop 2

168 miles via NY 5, NY 67, NY 29, NY 28 and NY 12. Cumulative tow miles: 313. Truck miles: 518. Cumulative truck miles: 663.

Jett hated this hop. It was entirely on local roads, most of them with a lot of up-and-down and sharp curves. Every time the GPS said “winding road ahead” she moaned. If all hops were like this one she would just stop traveling.

The route itself was very scenic, if you could get by the nausea. The first 10 miles were along the Mohawk River and we passed through many towns which, while not prosperous, were decrepitly beautiful. One Victorian was twisted and collapsing – it looked like a strong breeze would push it over. But we couldn’t stop for a photo – it was a 2-lane road with not much shoulder.

Thankfully, the second half of the trip was flatter, with mostly 4-lane roads. I also assured her that the next two hops would be mostly on interstates.

View from our campsite

View from our campsite

Our home in Clayton NY was the Arrowhead Marina and RV Park. I chose this campground primarily for its location – it was relatively close to Watervliet where I was planning on doing some genealogical research. I didn’t have high hopes for the campground, especially since it billed itself as a marina first and a campground second. I thought it would be cramped. Not so. The site was spacious, with lots of privacy. The park was arranged in a series of loops, with expansive wooded park land separating them. This park may have had the highest ratio of open space to site space of any campground we have seen. And the view of the Mohawk River from our window… spectacular. Arguably the most beautiful view we have ever had from a campsite.

The Mohawk River is simply beautiful and serene. It is like a real-life “attitude adjustment” painting. The river just screams for someone with a palette of pastels to sit and paint. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Obviously, we liked this place way more than we expected to.

The campground itself doesn’t have much in the way of facilities other than the marina. A nice dog park, public restrooms and showers with a small attached laundry, a tiny playground. Picnic tables scattered about. That’s it. No tennis courts, no shuffleboard. Most surprisingly, no swimming pool. There are some busy railroad tracks nearby, but the noise did not annoy us. It was also pretty far from just about any kind of shopping or entertainment. Still, we liked it and would come back again.

Our site

Our site

Dog park

Dog park

Serenity

Serenity

Sunlight through the trees

Sunlight through the trees

Dining near Worcester

The clan at J&J

The clan at J&J

Yeah, we are in NY now, but I wanted to mention some of the places we ate at – both sit-down and takeout – while we were in Oakham. Because we had two exceptionally good meals and one exceptionally bad meal. I want to tell you about the great meals so that you will patronize those establishments. And I want to warn you away from the exceptionally bad place.

Let’s start with the bad. We did takeout from Northeast Pizza in Barre MA. I had a fish and chips dinner. Jett ordered chicken fingers. Both were terrible. The fish was one flat piece of overcooked whitefish, with a side of soggy frozen French fries. The chicken fingers were overcooked to the point of being burnt. Inedible. Jett tried to feed them to the dog but he walked away. Don’t ever waste your money on a meal at this place.

The good meals: dinner at the Castle Restaurant in Leicester and breakfast at J & J Family Restaurant in Barre. In both cases we had family with us, so this is not just our opinions; everyone who ate at both places raved about the food.

The breakfast meal was the simpler of the two. Everyone had some variation of eggs and/or pancakes, with coffee or tea. Jett opined that the pancakes were the “best ever.” My 2-2-2 breakfast (two egss, two slices of bacon and two pancakes) was exceptionally good, though possibly not the best ever. And the coffee was praised by everyone. Jett takes her coffee very seriously and she usually can’t finish her coffee when we go out. She had 3 cups at J & J. And the total tab for a breakfast for 8 was $72. Very reasonable.

The real surprise, though, was dinner at the Castle. I wasn’t expecting much. The building is old and looks the way a castle would look if was built as a ranch. Tacky on the outside while the inside is disorganized and screams “we stopped caring years ago.” But they haven’t stopped caring about the food. I ordered a haddock special as part of a 3-course dinner for $23. The fish was flaky, fresh and delicately seasoned and was accompanied by a very nice wild rice. Jett had a filet of beef which she said was “perfect.” I ordered chowder for an appetizer and a strawberry rhubarb pie for dessert. The chowder was very good. The pie was also very good, but unbalanced – too much strawberry and not enough rhubarb. But, overall, it was one of the finest meals we have had all year. And the service was superb.

It was sad to see how few people were in the dining room on a Saturday night. This is a place that deserves respect. I think Gordon Ramsay could do wonders with this restaurant because it is already top-notch in both the cuisine and the service. All he would have to do is organize the dining room and figure out a way to market it.

Castle haddock

Castle haddock

Sis-in-law Kim goofing off

Sis-in-law Kim goofing off

Spare tire

The spare tire on the truck is a form of insurance: you hope you will never need it, but just knowing it is there eases some worries. But, unlike insurance, you also have to make sure it is in shape to be used. This is a lesson that is usually learned the hard way, by getting a flat and discovering that the spare is flat, too. I guess I should be glad that I didn’t have to learn my lesson the hard way.

Here is the story: just before leaving Worcester I bought two new tires. I did this because the tire guy told me that my spare was “original equipment”, meaning that it was 13 years old. Spare tires that old are not to be trusted, so I told the tire guy to use the undamaged right front tire as a spare and discard the old (and never used) spare tire. It was raining that day, so when I got the truck back I confirmed that there were new tires on the front and that the spare was back in place. Fine.

Until two days later – a day before we were to leave MA – I looked in the bed of the truck and found the tire that was supposed to be the spare sitting there. Angry, I called the tire place. Oh, yeah, they weren’t able to get the old spare off, so they just put the extra tire in the bed of the truck. You don’t think you should have mentioned that little detail to me? Yes, sir, we should have mentioned that. Then they offered to refund the $2 disposal fee for the spare tire that they didn’t junk.

Thanks, guys.

After getting over the anger, I realized that I may have been driving for 5 years with a spare tire that was possibly bad and in any case was unusable because the cable mechanism holding it under the truck was frozen. We had traveled over 50,000 miles in a truck with no usable spare.

So the first thing I did when I got to Glenville NY was to schedule a trip to Randy’s Tire and Service Center, a small tire shop not far from the RV park. I told them that the highest priority was to get the spare mounted, even if he couldn’t get it back up under the truck. No problem, he said.

True to his word he had the old spare down (he had to cut the cable) and the good spare mounted on the rim within an hour. He said he could get the part and fix the cable mechanism the next day.

Once again true to his word, he had the part replaced and the spare back under the truck in another hour the next day. He then showed me how to use the spare (something that I suppose I could have learned from the manual, but it was nice getting a demo). He even showed me where the tools were hidden in the truck.

So I now have a usable spare and know how to use it. I should have checked into this long ago. But I am grateful that I didn’t have to learn this lesson the hard way.

As angry as I was with the MA tire place, I was equally happy with Randy. So if you need tire work near Schenectady, you know who to see. Randy.

STW1 Hop 1: Oakham MA to Glenville NY

STW1 Hop 1

STW1 Hop 1

145 miles via MA 148, MA 67, MA 19, US 20, I-90, I-890 (near Schenectady) and NY 5. Cumulative tow miles: 145. Truck miles: 145. Cumulative truck miles: 145.

The hard part of this route was the 30-plus miles on local roads before we got to I-90. The roads were fine, but this was August in New England, which meant that every road was undergoing repair. There was even about a quarter-mile of one-lane road on MA 19. Once we got to I-90 the rest of the trip was a breeze. We used the transponder for the entire trip, going through the E-ZPass lanes everywhere. Time will tell whether the tollway authorities had a problem with that.

The lake

The lake

We were sad to leave Massachusetts. We had a very fine couple of months with family and friends. But we weren’t too sad to leave Pine Acres Family Campground, our home for the past 2 weeks. It is a fine place, but probably not the best place for us. The things that make the campground exceptional – the kid activities, the swimming pool, the lake, the ice cream shop, the boat rentals – were things we used very little or not at all. It is a great place for families with younger children. Not nearly as great for us.

The one thing that defines Pine Acres: kids on bikes. Hundreds of them. Everywhere. They ride around the campground during all daylight hours, some going very fast, others still using training wheels. Drivers do a good job of sharing the road with them, but after two weeks it was a relief to get back on the open road. There is a BMX track for the more adventurous bicyclists, but it is a poor second to Normandy Farms’.

We loved our site. It wasn’t exactly level, which created some stability problems for us, but it was tolerable. The site had a wide expanse of green area on the right and woods on the left. Our only neighbors were a seasonal family below us to the left and occasional transient campers behind us. It was very private with plenty of parking space.

Our biggest problem with the place was their visitor policy: $10 per person and $5 per car for a visit, regardless of how long. Jett’s sisters came by to play some cards and it cost us $25 to host them for two hours. Ouch! By comparison, the visitor policy for the current campground is $1 per person.

Boat rentals

Boat rentals

Inlet

Inlet

Packing up

Packing up