2012 Road Trip
I should preface this trip report by providing some background about the overall plan. In 2011, my brother, Dick Proctor, marked his 90th birthday. To celebrate, his family organized a reunion at Eastman Pond in Grantham, New Hampshire. Unfortunately, it coincided with my second cardiac ablation procedure in California so I was unable to attend. However, the reunion was so successful that a repeat was scheduled for this year, beginning on August 11.
As I began formulating my travel plans, it occurred to me that a month-long road trip would provide an opportunity to not only attend the reunion but also check off several items on my “to do” list that have been simmering in my mind for many years. The result was this, my grand “mother of all road trips,” encompassing nearly the whole month of August, told in “real time.”
August 2 • Sandpoint – Billings, Montana
I left Sandpoint this morning at 8:05 am, Pacific time, and arrived at the Hampton Inn at Billings exactly 8 hours later, at 5:05 pm, Mountain time, a distance of 520 miles.
If you’re checking the map more closely, you’ll see that I took the scenic route out of Sandpoint, on Route 200 along the beautiful Clark Fork River valley, intersecting US 93 down to I-90, then a straight shot to Billings. I-90 features a 75-mph speed limit, allowing me to make good time. Traffic was light most of the way; the only delays were construction around Hope, Idaho on 200 and a 15-mile stretch approaching Butte, Montana. I stopped for gas at Bozeman, although Billings was within reach on a single tank. My Camry took 11.3 gallons, realizing 31.3 miles per gallon, not bad considering there was some mountainous driving involved. The only glitch occurred about 10 miles before reaching Billings, when I was unable to avoid passing over a piece of tire tread that resulted in a flapping noise under the car. In checking I discovered that a flexible piece of the left real wheel well had been knocked loose. I could see that it needed to be pushed back in place and a screw reinserted but otherwise driving safety was not at issue.
Upon arrival at the hotel, I got through to the local Toyota dealer before the service department closed and was able to discuss the problem with a service rep. He said to come in tomorrow morning between 8:30 and 9 am and was fairly certain they could remedy the problem quickly. The dealer is only about 10 minutes from the hotel and hopefully I’ll be back on the road in short order. According my my trusty Garmin GPS, the drive to Bismarck, via I-90/I-94 should take exactly seven hours, so I have some leeway.
I was congratulating myself this morning for “sleeping in” an extra hour, until I realized that the bedside clock was on Mountain time and my brain was still on Pacific. I got to the dealer at 8:45 and was out just before 9:30. As suspected, the “fix” was just a matter of reattaching a clip and anchor screw. Kudos to Service Manager Tony and the folks at Lithia Toyota of Billings ; quick and friendly service, no charge.
Returning to I-94 wound up taking me on an unplanned tour of downtown Billings after the GPS kinda got ahead of me, but from there it was smooth sailing to Bismarck. I’d have snapped a few pictures at some of the scenic overlook points en route had it not been raining nearly the entire day. Including a lunch/fuel stop at Miles City, I arrived here in Bismarck at 4:30 pm, Central time. The last few blocks were the toughest, with the road all torn up.
The Hampton Inn here is adequate, but with the construction I don’t want to drive out looking for a place to have dinner, and the only eatery within walking distance is hOOters; I’ll make the sacrifice. P.S. It has stopped raining! Things get a bit more interesting tomorrow as I venture on to Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
August 4 • Bismark – Grand Rapids, Minnesota
This drive wasn’t all that exciting between Bismarck and Fargo, just more the same topography seen the day before. But from that point east, through the towns of Detroit Lakes, Park Rapids, Walker and Remer, “the land of 10,000 lakes” displayed its beauty, with heavily forested areas surrounding picturesque lakes. The two-lane roads (Routes 10, 34, 39 and 6) were busy in spots but traffic moved along with no delays. After leaving Bismarck in light rain, I enjoyed gradually improving weather throughout the day and moderate temperatures, topping out at 77°.
My good friends Jerry and Sharon Pearson live along a 600-acre lake in the charming town of Grand Rapids. Jerry and I were Chicago-based TWA DCSs in the early 1970s and have stayed in touch over the years.
The Pearsons claim this is truly Paradise, and their last home, although they’ve lived all over the country; I’ve visited them in Poway, California; Glidden, Wisconsin and both Loveland and Pagosa Springs, Colorado.
After our stint together at Chicago, Jerry, a furloughed TWA pilot, went through various jobs before returning to the cockpit, then taking early retirement.
I arrived at their home in mid-afternoon, early enough to tour the property and sit on their deck overlooking the lake, until salmon and fresh vegetables from their garden went on the grill for dinner.
We would have eaten outside had Mother Nature not decided to send a string of rain showers through the area, but the catching-up conversations continued well into the evening, followed by slide shows on our computers. It’s always wonderful to renew memories with best friends!
In the morning, Sharon whipped up a delicious breakfast and we continued to reminisce, prognosticate and predict, basically solving all the problems of the world. The three of us agreed that we live in interesting, albeit challenging times. With the car packed up again, I bid the Pearsons farewell around 10:30 and headed out for Wisconsin.
August 5 • Grand Rapids – Green Bay, Wisconsin
The long stretches from Sandpoint to Fargo that gave way to more picturesque scenery in Minnesota continued on this pleasant drive down to Green Bay, Wisconsin, simply a stopover en route to Manitowoc. Most of the trip was across lush farmland, where the main crop is corn; I probably saw enough of it to feed the entire country for a day.
Two-lane Route 2 took me out of Grand Rapids, passing through one of my namesake towns, Proctor, Minnesota, just before entering Duluth where traffic was busy passing through the city. From there, Routes 53 and 29 are 65-mph, four-lane highways, moving along around 70 mph; the only police car I saw was stopped behind a disabled vehicle along the roadside.
My relatively late departure from Grand Rapids put me into Green Bay around 5:15 pm, Central time. When booking my hotels for this trip, I found a a very good rate at a Hilton Garden Inn located on Lombardi Avenue, which happens to be adjacent to Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers.
I’ve always pictured the stadium as an old building, steeped with tradition and full of cheese heads; wrong! It is a very modern-looking, absolutely huge facility. I’m sure my great room rate would easily double were the Packers playing this weekend.
The hotel was quiet and I got a great night’s sleep, knowing that the drive down to Manitowoc is short and there would be no need to rise early and get on the road.
August 6 • Green Bay – Manitowoc – SS Badger Ferry to Ludington, Michigan
Happiness is short driving days interspersed within a month’s road travel; this was one of them, sort of a “catch-my-breath” day to sleep in, rearrange the contents in my car trunk and drive the short 40 miles from Green Bay to dockside at Manitowoc for a long-awaited journey across Lake Michigan by car ferry.
SS Badger is the last coal-fired ship in the United States. Built in 1952 to haul railroad and passenger cars across the lake, it was later converted to carry only cars and passengers. To read more about Badger, go to:
Cruising serenely at 18 miles per hour, this ship makes the 60-mile journey in 4 hours. The cost for me and the car was: $157.95, including tax, a reasonable alternative to the cost of gas and effort while slogging my way through traffic in Milwaukee, Chicago, Gary and other towns.
I got to the dock just as the ship was arriving from Ludington, around noon. Cars began streaming off almost immediately, along with campers and even semi-trailer trucks, which I was told pay $1500 for the crossing. It was interesting to watch how efficiently the unloading progresses. Young men and women drive the cars on and off the ship for safety and efficiency. Then a large semi filled with coal is backed into the vessel to replenish its fuel, while cars begin boarding. Passengers were invited aboard promptly at 1 pm and we left just a few minutes past the scheduled 2 pm departure time.
I grabbed some lunch in time to be on the top deck for our venture out into the lake and found everyone aboard friendly and fun to talk with. A couple next to me on the rail was from Tennessee, having just retired. There were lots of kids, including three cute young girls wearing “Camp Grandma” T-Shirts, along with their names on the breast pocket; Grandma herself was similarly adorned; wish I had grabbed a picture.
Although the temperatures hovered near 80° the wind was brisk on the open upper deck but the water was calm, with waves of less than 3 feet; light spray blew off the mini-whitecaps. For fun I checked my iPhone and was able to receive and send e-mail for the first 30 minutes or so, then the signal was lost, even though Manitowoc behind us remained in view for more than an hour.
There’s lots to do the the ship, with plenty of snack bar food and a lunch buffet, a full bar, bingo, movies and places to spread out. For those wishing to spend more money, private sleeping rooms are available, although they are more popular on the late-evening and overnight crossings. I explored most of the ship, then settled into a seat along the aft port side, shaded from the sun.
People watching was great; many passengers exercised by walking all the way around the ship exterior multiple times. I asked one man if he’d mind taking my picture. By chance, he was born and raised in Ludington and his father had been a captain on Badger’s sister ship, SS Spartan. We had a nice conversation and I learned a great deal about the ship and local area. More than an hour and a half before reaching Ludington we could see the sand dunes of Michigan off the port bow.
Gradually the city came into view and Badger glided past a light house, into the harbor. In order to disgorge its contents, the ship must be turned around and backed into the dock, a fun procedure to watch. It was completed precisely on schedule at 7 pm, having crossed into the Eastern time zone.
A number of cars were off the ship well ahead of passengers, but having gotten to Manitowoc early, I had to wait about 25 minutes for the Camry. Again, it was interesting to people watch and get into conversations with others doing the same. Even those who rode the ship on a regular basis couldn’t figure out how to position their cars in order to get them back quickly. No one seemed to be in much of a hurry though. I was struck by how friendly everyone was, including the ship’s crew.
By the time I pulled away from the dock, it was nearly 8 o’clock, so I picked up a light supper and headed for the only reasonably priced Ludington hotel I could find, even when booking it more than a month in advance. Hilton properties must have spoiled me; this local Days Inn is Spartan by comparison, with paper-thin walls, no luggage carts or elevator to assist in lugging items up to the second floor. The sign out front said “Welcome Bikers!” Fortunately, no one was revving up a Harley in the late evening or wee small hours of the morning, but I made a mental note to book earlier next time and bite the bullet on price if necessary.
December 2, 2015 update: My bucket list contains one more ride on Badger. Despite protests from various factions, the ship continues to sail. Here’s a recent story: The SS Badger is still kicking ash after 62 years
August 7 • Ludington – across the Mackinac Bridge – Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan
Today was another “bucket list” item to be fulfilled: a trip across the Mackinac Bridge, which bisects Lakes Michigan and Huron. Some time ago, I saw a History Channel special about this span, piquing my desire to see it in person, along with more of the state of Michigan. There’s interesting historical information about the bridge at: http://www.mackinacbridge.org/history-of-the-bridge-14/
Rather than the more direct routing along I-75, I elected to “mosey” (as my friend Tom Donahue would say) along US 31, through picturesque Manistee, Traverse City, Charlevoix and Bay View, intersecting I-75 just south of the Mackinac Bridge and continuing up to Sault Ste. Marie at the Canadian border.
This 250-mile routing allowed no speed records, taking a full 6 hours, albeit with numerous photo ops and a lunch stop. After retiring early last night in Ludington, I took the time this morning updating the website and didn’t get on the road until nearly 11 am, a second late-start day; I could get used to this. However, tomorrow will be more than 100 miles farther and an equally ambitious, rural routing, requiring an earlier get-up-and-go.
August 8 Sault Ste. Marie – Port Huron, Michigan
This was another of those “positioning” days, en route to Toronto. In retrospect, I could have made it there today, but I wanted to keep some fluff time in the schedule so decided to make another stop, at Port Huron.
Another reason to build in some time was the need to complete a 10,000-mile service check on the Camry. Rather than take Interstate highways all the way today, I opted for US 23, the first exit south of the Mackinac Bridge. This 2-lane, 55-mph road winds along the shore of Lake Huron, through several towns, the second of which is Cheboygan, where there happens to be a Toyota dealer.
After leaving Sault Ste Marie at 7:45 am, I pulled into Fernelius Toyota around 9:15, and was back on my way at 10 o’clock. It was cloudy most of the morning, but still a scenic drive through Rogers City, Alpena, Greenbush, Oscoda, Tawas City and Au Gres. All along the route are cabins, cottages and homes, truly a summer vacation paradise.
At Standish, I caught the short connecting road to I-75, which I had gotten off earlier, and headed down past Saginaw and Flint, then onto I-69 due east to Port Huron, arriving at 3:30. The Hampton Inn is convenient and comfortable, but lacks laundry facilities; I was hoping to get a load done here; oh well; I can stretch it to New Hampshire. Week One is in the books. It’s less than 200 miles to Toronto, my next stopover.
August 9 Port Huron – Toronto, Ontario CANADA
Cloudy skies the night before gave way to steady rain this morning in Port Huron, with temperatures in the 60s. My relatively short drive to the next stop allowed another lazy morning of catching up on e-mail and updating this site. I checked out at 11:30 am and hit the road. I-94 was just a few blocks away and led to the Blue Water Bridge into Canada, and a relatively straight shot to Toronto.
There was a short backup at the bridge toll booths, then about 15 minutes of waiting time clearing Canadian Customs. A pleasant young man at my entry lane thanked me for my passport and engaged in pleasant conversation while the computers ran a check. Where was I coming from? Where was I going in Canada and for how long? Did I have any gifts for the friends I would visit? Any firearms? The entire process took perhaps 3 or 4 minutes and I was on my way.
A Subway sandwich shop sign caught my eye only a few miles (kilometers) down the road and I stopped for lunch. From that point on, I weaved in and out of heavy truck traffic and nearly constant construction zones for three hours in steady, sometimes heavy rain, attaining an average speed of only 59 mph. I quickly learned that Canadians pretty much ignore the speed limit, so my time was spent in the right lane most of the way. With exit closures close to Toronto Airport, I missed a couple of turnoffs but my Garmin directed me safely to the Hampton Inn at the airport.
My old friend, Brian Dunn picked me up at the hotel at 5:30 for a perimeter tour around the airport and a stop at Aviation World, a large store filled with books, models, uniform accessories and models. Brian is a retired Air Canada employee and was editor of NAAN, North American Aviation News. He now maintains a great website on Toronto Airport aviation: http://www.yyznews.com/
After the airport tour, we gathered with several friends at The Keg, a local steakhouse, for an enjoyable meal and camaraderie. Many thanks to Brian for arranging this fun evening.
August 10 Toronto – Albany, New York
I won’t bore you with the a lot of needless detail about today’s drive. Basically, I left Toronto in the rain at 8:45 this morning and arrived here in Albany, New York, at around 5:15 this afternoon. I could have made it a lot quicker but for a couple of diversions.
Diversion No. 1: I spent 1 hour, 10 minutes sitting at the U.S. border while the Customs folks did their thing. This, at 10 o’clock in the morning; I can only imagine what rush hour must be like. The weather began clearing around Niagara Falls but still featured intermittent showers so I passed up on the opportunity for a photo op; you’ll have to settle for this picture of me with my mother, taken by Dad during our Summer 1953 vacation. Except for flying over the Falls at 31,000 feet on several occasions, I’ve not been back.
Despite a $12.20 toll, the New York Thruway is well maintained and had just a few brief construction areas with no lane reductions. I guess the tolls discourage most of the truckers; there were a few big rigs here and there, but nothing like what I saw yesterday. Service centers, with gas stations and restaurants, are conveniently located along the way. In short, it was a fairly easy drive.
Looking for Uncle Bill & Aunt Kay in Vernon, New York
My mother and father met in Buffalo, where their parents were residing at the time, and married there in 1931. Mom’s folks later moved to Syracuse and we visited various family members in the Buffalo-Syracuse area several times.
But perhaps my favorite memory of “Mohawk Country” was during the summer of 1955, when I spent two weeks with my Uncle Bill (Mom’s brother) and Aunt Kay Wood in Vernon, New York, about half-way between Syracuse and Utica. They never had children and loved entertaining their nephews, my brothers Bill, Bob and myself. Each of us visited them as youngsters, one at a time, of course. Bill and Kay ran a gas station behind the Vernon Downs racetrack. Known as “Woody’s Good Gulf,” it included living quarters behind the store front. Kay pumped gas while Bill toiled under the lube rack, servicing cars.
The station was open from early morning until 5 pm Monday through Saturday. I spent part of my time cleaning windshields as customers came in for gas, and pocketing tips, usually a dime and, on rare occasions, a quarter. It wasn’t all work, of course. I was introduced to and played with some of the local kids, swam in a nearby pond and had a great time.
Both hard workers, my aunt and uncle always headed over to the local American Legion post for a few beers after hours and before we returned home for supper. It was the first time I had ever been inside such an establishment, let alone sat on a bar stool with the big people, enjoying root beer in a frosted mug. In an adjacent room stood a pool table where the locals racked up the balls and conversed over a cold one or two.
I distinctly remember Uncle Bill suggesting that I might not want to mention my American Legion experience to Mom when I got home. Being quite a proper woman, she probably would not understand. Of course I promised to keep it our little secret, and did until many years later, when she said it was not surprising and we enjoyed a laugh together.
Speeding along the New York Thruway today, I saw a sign for Vernon and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make a nostalgic visit to this small town that I’d not been to in 57 years, hence Diversion No. 2. Turning off at Exit 33, I traveled the 4 miles into town.
Not surprisingly, I didn’t recognize a thing at first, and decided to start out at the racetrack. It was a bit startling to find a huge casino adjacent to the track, and the grandstands have obviously been rebuilt since the 1950s, probably more than once. From trotters, the track now features harness racing and the ponies were running today. Sadly, there was no physical evidence to point me to where Woody’s Good Gulf had once stood, so I started back towards the Thruway, pausing for gas in town.
There was a man filling his tank at the adjacent pump and we struck up a conversation after he commented about my Idaho license plates. I explained why I was there and when he turned out to be a local resident, I asked if there was still an American Legion post in town. Yes, right up the road, just beyond where I had turned earlier when heading for the track. Thank you! It didn’t take long to find the building.
Not being a Legion member, I entered cautiously yet was warmly greeted by the friendly bartender, a woman perhaps in her late 50s who pointed to one of the stools, “What’ll you have?” I told her I just had a question: How long has this building been the American Legion post? She answered straight away: “Since 1925;” Viola; I’d hit pay dirt! Two couples were sitting at the bar, not saying much, but they became interested when I told my story to the bartender, about my first time on a bar stool as a 13-year-old in this very place. As I described Uncle Bill and Aunt Kay, the older of the two men said he had heard of Woody’s Good Gulf but hadn’t moved to Vernon until 1970; by then Bill and Kay were retired and had sold the business. Looking around in that old building, it felt as if I were in a time warp. Behind me was the room I remembered, complete with a pool table. The horseshoe bar was the same, along with the friendly patrons.
I passed on the offer of a free drink, with thanks, shook hands all the way around, and walked out to my car with a smile on my face. For a moment, I considered asking if it would be okay to take a picture inside the bar but thought that might be stretching my welcome, and settled for an exterior shot.
Driving back out of Vernon, I wished Mom, Dad and my brothers Bill and Bob were still alive to share my little discovery. I know it would have given them smiles too.
Now safely ensconced in the Hampton Inn – Albany Airport, I’m ready for the drive tomorrow, via Whitehall, New York, then across Vermont and into New Hampshire.
August 11 Albany – Grantham, New Hampshire
I think the rain has taken to chasing me across the country in earnest, at least from Port Huron onwards. Today featured intermittent showers from the moment I left Albany. It was a much slower drive up those “blue highways” rather than Interstates through rural New York, then across the Green Mountains in Vermont, connecting with I-89 at White River Junction for a brief run down to the town of Grantham, New Hampshire and Eastman Pond, where brother Dick rented two condos for this family gathering.
On arrival around 3:30 pm, cars were unpacked and we settled in, the “older folks” (Dick, nephew Rick, Penny and her friend Rich) in one locale and the “younger set” (newly married grand nephew Sam and Viki, and grand niece Casey, Chad and my great grand nephew Oliver) in the second. The older folks went over for dinner with the younger set and a great time was had by all, despite heavy rain most of the evening, accompanied by occasional rumbles of thunder.
After staying up late it was easy to fall to sleep with the sound of rainfall and light breezes. Sunday is family day, and we’re about to go swimming amid some welcome sunshine!
August 13 Grantham – Newfound Lake, Bristol, New Hampshire
It was a great weekend with brother Dick and family at Eastman Pond, my first multiple-night stop on the trip and a chance to leave the car parked. Today I headed over to Newfound Lake at Bristol, New Hampshire, the beautiful spot where many summer vacations were taken when I lived in Connecticut.
The drive takes just under an hour, southbound briefly down I-89, then east across rural roads and and into the small town of Bristol. I arrived just after 3 pm and was greeted by my dear friend Lois Weiss, who more-or-less introduced me to Brownie’s Pine Grove Cottages 30-plus years ago.
Carroll “Brownie” Brown owned and operated this little “colony” of cabins, featuring weekend and full-season rentals along the southern shore of Newfound Lake. Lois (then O’Hara), her son John and daughter Susan spent much of their summers here and I began renting cottages for a week at a time. Later the property was converted to condos and Lois purchased one.
These fun getaways were greatly missed after I moved to Idaho, and this was a wonderful opportunity to come back, albeit for just a few days. Except for a brief visit in 2005, it is my first return to the lake in 22 years. The little kids that ran around on the beach back then are now grown, married and have kids of their own. I was immediately reminded of my own aging process when reacquainting with everyone and meeting the new “little kids.”
After reconnecting on the beach, taking a swim and gathering for dinner together, John O’Hara took us on a sunset boat ride, a perfect finish to my first day back at the lake.
My last day at the lake was another one of leisure and fun. “Rummikube,” a knock-off of Gin Rummy, is the game of choice this year, played on the beach between dips in the lake. For dinner, Lois, Bill and I decided on a summer menu at their cottage, featuring sausage on the grill, potato salad, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes along with corn on the cob. The Walker Farm is just a short drive away and known for its delicious vegetables. I stopped there and picked up the corn just as it was being brought in from the fields.
One more sunset and tomorrow it’s back on the road to Providence as I begin my south then westbound journey home. Cool nights (55°) and pleasant daytime temps (low 80s) will soon give way to more humidity and heavier traffic (sigh)….
Farewell, Newfound Lake, until 2014, when I’m planning a return, hopefully for a week or longer.
After two weeks heading east and culminating with a week in New Hampshire, it was time to slowly reverse course and begin the second half of my journey, south, then westbound back to Idaho.
August 17 Bristol, NH – Providence, Rhode Island
Bob works for UPS but is a big aviation enthusiast, especially when it comes to the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar, hence his nickname. We hadn’t seen each other in eight years and it was good catching up at the 99 Restaurant, right off I-495.
Two hours later I got back on the road, fighting fairly heavy traffic en route to Providence, my next stop. But being a Friday afternoon, the bumper-to-bumper variety was going in the opposite direction, and I didn’t get really bogged down until just before turning off the Interstate.
My long-time friend, Frank Lennon, was my boss at Pan Am and we last hooked up in England when I was on assignment with Saudia in 1977; a long time between visits, but we’ve kept in touch over the years.
Frank is an avid memorabilia collector. Just looking at his aviation and baseball collections took my breath away. Between that and catching up after so many years we accomplished a lot.
A seafood dinner seemed appropriate while in Rhode Island, enjoyed at a local restaurant near his home.
August 18 Providence – Danbury, Connecticut
Having lived in Bethel, Connecticut for 19 years (1974-1993), I was looking forward to my first return to the area in six years. Best friends Tom and Midge Brown live in nearby Danbury and offered to host a deck party so I could spent time with many other friends in the area, most of them TWA people I worked with.
The drive from Coventry, RI, where I had spent the night, was tedious, coping with heavy rain along Long Island Sound and extensive road construction; it took more than three hours to complete the 149-mile route. Tom and I ran a few errands before dinner, including a stop at the new LL Bean store located at the nearby Danbury Mall, and a visit to the historical train station so I could get a few pictures for my friend Bob Hall, another ex-TWAer who worked for the railroad earlier in his life, as did Tom.
Spareribs on the grill for dinner topped off an evening of catching up and reminiscing about our TWA careers and good times living in Connecticut, which I still miss, especially in the fall.
Thanks to Tom and Midge I was able to see and visit with many Connecticut friends on a gorgeous afternoon, with temperatures rising only into the 70s.
August 20 Danbury – Youngstown, Ohio
This was another of those en route days as I headed for The US Air Force Museum, getting within a few hours of that destination. And by the way, if anyone from the government tells you we need to spend more money on roads and bridges, I can assure everyone that a whole lot of road and bridge work is already in progress, much of it over the above route!
I took I-84 from Danbury west to I-81 South, where the construction zones began popping up, but nothing compared with the constant lane closures, bridge work and slowdowns along I-80 from just below Wilkes-Barre all the way to Youngstown. Mix in rain most of the way, some of it in the form of heavy downpours, and you have the makings of a drive that felt much longer that the actual 440 miles I covered. But if there had to be a rainy day, better to have it today than yesterday. Plus I made it, safe and sound, and was in the hotel before 5 pm.
Needless to say, there were no real photo opportunities, unless you’re into endless orange barrels and “Road Work Ahead” signs!
August 21 Youngstown – Dayton/US Air Force Museum
The National Museum of the United States Air Force is an American treasure, a must-see for anyone interested in our history, particularly as it relates to aviation. Located near Dayton at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, it is the largest and oldest military museum in the country.
I should have allocated at least one more day here in order to see everything in this amazing facility that draws more than 1 million visitors annually, but was still able to hit the highlights and see those areas that interest me most.
Compared with Monday’s drive, today was a breeze. Columnist Dave Barry once wrote that Ohio is actually an old Indian name that means “Land of the Yellow Barrel,” joking about the amount of road construction in the state. Well, the barrels are orange now, but unlike Pennsylvania, the Buckeye State seems to be much more driver-friendly, and has managed to minimize delays during rebuilding of its highways. There were only a few lane restrictions, from three to two lanes instead of two to one, and just two spots where the speed limit was reduced.
As a result of that and my early start from Youngstown, I got to Fairborn, Ohio in time to spend a major portion of the day at the Air Force Museum. The following pictures are only a taste of the vast aircraft inventory and displays.
August 22 Dayton – Brownsburg, Indiana
God bless Indiana: 70-mph speed limit on I-70! It was only 126 miles from Dayton to the home of Phil and Pam Brooks in Brownsburg, a suburb of Indianapolis. Phil and I have been airliner enthusiast friends since the 1980s, and this was my first Indiana visit since he and Pam married in 2007.
Phil and I had lunch at Rick’s Cafe Boatyard on the shore of Eagle Creek Park reservoir. The weather had warmed up but it was still pleasant to sit outside and begin catching up.
After lunch, we drove over to the home of Larry and Iris Trapp. Larry started his commercial aviation career flying DC-3s for Lake Central Airlines and retired on the Boeing 767 with US Airways. We had a great conversation and found in common some industry people, including a pilot who flew the for the Air Transport Command with my dad during World War II; it’s a small world.
Pam was home from work in time to prepare a delicious dinner, consumed on the screened porch at Chez Brooks; what an incredible cook she is! Cedar plank-grilled Salmon, broccoli salad and brown rice with all sorts of chopped ingredients.
Dessert was saved for later. We jumped in the car and drove back to Eagle Creek Park for a spirited hike along the shoreline and in the woods. A public jazz concert provided background music for our evening exercise.
August 23 Brownsburg – Culver – Plymouth, Indiana
In 1956 and 1957, I attended the Summer Naval School at Culver Military Academy, along the shore of Lake Maxinkuckee in Culver, Indiana. I guess Dad felt his boys should get a taste of military discipline at a relatively early age. Brothers Bill and Bob also attended, several years ahead of me.
My first session was greatly abbreviated. Two weeks after the 8-week session had begun, Mom and Dad received a call from the admissions office. I had been on the wait list for that summer and another attendee got sick and had to leave early, so I was slotted in for 6 weeks. Barely 10 days later I came down with appendicitis and wound up at Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago for emergency surgery. I will never forget the twice-daily penicillin shots in my backside, nor the cough that caused severe pain in my belly. I sneezed once and thought my gut had exploded. So much for my first Culver experience.
But in 1957, I did the “full Monty” and had a wonderful time, learning how to sail, tie square knots, wave semaphore flags, say ‘yes sir’ and salute my superiors. We marched to and from the mess hall, the chapel and classes, up and down the parade field and on the sidewalks.
On Thursday morning, after a light breakfast and saying farewell to Pam as she left for work, Phil and I departed in separate cars, with me heading up to Culver while Phil went to Eagle Creek Airport and pre-flighted his flying club’s Cessna 172. The plan was for Phil to relax at the hangar until I reached a certain point, at which time I would call him. Phil would then fly north and hopefully circle over me near Rochester, Indiana.
The plan was nearly thrown off when I discovered, to my horror, that I’d left my briefcase on the kitchen table back at Chez Brooks. Fortunately there was time to call Phil before he took off and he was kind enough to go back home and retrieve my satchel, which among other things includes my laptop computer.
We did manage a rendezvous on the road; what fun! Phil spotted me on Route 25 near Rochester, circled a couple of times and then flew up to a private grass strip near Culver, “DDT Field,” (Airport Code 3IN8) where he had received permission to land from owner Don Thompson, a retired Delta and later Southwest pilot.
My trusty Garmin GPS guided me right to Don’s home, where Phil had secured the airplane. Gleefully holding my briefcase, he jumped in the car and we drove the short distance to the military academy, stopping briefly at a root beer stand for lunch.
I had not visited Culver since 1961. While numerous buildings have been constructed since then, the campus remains basically the same, and memories came flowing back. I was struck by how beautiful the setting is, even though I knew that all along.
During our self-guided tour, we found the Argonne barracks where I lived. Now renamed Argonne Dormitory, the front door was open and in we went. Almost immediately, we were confronted by a woman, who commanded us to stop, then in a loud voice, announced, “Man on the floor!” Argonne was now a girl’s dorm! Culver went co-ed a few years after I left and I had no idea that my old quarters were now occupied by females.
The woman was actually quite cordial and told us that classes had begun two days earlier. If I knew my room number she might be able to let us see it, but I could not remember which one it was and thanked her.
We walked most of the campus before it was time to get Phil back to the airplane in order for him to be home for other planned activities. But on the way, we looked for, and found the small town of Hibbard, just a stone’s throw north of Culver. It was where the Nickel Plate Railroad brought me when I came down from Chicago to begin my 1957 session. Hibbard was just a flag stop and I vividly recall the train master waving his big flag when I left Culver 8 weeks later. We followed the train track along a county road until locating the crossing where the Nickel Plate used to stop. An added bonus: Hibbard happens to be my middle name.
After watching Phil take off, I drove back to Culver and took another walk around. The chapel was not open, but I did find the old infirmary when I spent one night waiting for Mom and Dad to come get me. The Naval Building is still there too. The top is shaped like the bridge of a ship, with platforms where we practiced our semaphore, signalling fellow midshipmen in sailboats on the lake.
The old Culver Inn is gone, along with a band shell along the lake, but everything else remains. The standard was three summers at the Naval School, however my family moved to California in 1957, while I was at Culver incidentally, and I was unable return the following year. But sitting on a bench overlooking the lake, I realized how fortunate I was to have had such an extraordinary experience as a teenager.
Later I drove up to Plymouth, about 20 minutes to the north, to spend the night and prepare for departure to the Central Time Zone on the following morning.
August 24 Plymouth – Fairdale – Rockford, Illinois
My father was born in 1890 at Willowdale, the family farm near Fairdale, Illinois, along the Kishwaukee River. Long after his parents were gone and while I lived in River Forest (a Chicago suburb) we used to attend family “Bluebell picnics” along the river each year, on the third Saturday in May.
A few distant cousins were still on the land, all considerably older than me. Over the years we lost touch with them, and Willowdale changed hands.
None of my immediate family members are buried there, but after 55 years I wanted to drive through the town again, just to see what it looked like. Until recently I didn’t know Fairdale, little more than a crossroads back then, was still in existence. It doesn’t appear on maps but in researching the name, I found that it remains an unincorporated town on Route 72, just off I-39 in the most western portion of DeKalb county.
So today was set aside for this nostalgic visit.
On the way, I stopped for lunch in Joliet, Illinois where my fellow aviation enthusiast pal Ben Valley and his friend Joan met me at a Chili’s restaurant. It was a good mid-way point, although US 30 was torn up from the Illinois state line to Joliet, resulting my my late arrival. I hadn’t seen Ben in three years and had never met Joan. Another chance to catch up with old friends.
From Joliet I completely avoided Chicago by taking I-80 west to I-39 north, then straight up to Exit 111, picking up Route 72. As I suspected, there isn’t much left in Fairdale, and I didn’t recognize anything, but found a couple of town signs; one read: Pop. 150.
Nevertheless, wandering around the few blocks, I couldn’t help but recall those Bluebell picnics when we rode horseback, jumped in the river and enjoyed our big “field trip” out in the countryside. Now this tiny town is quiet. Two young kids rode their bikes past me. One, a girl of perhaps 10 or 11, smiled and wiped her brow as if to say, “It sure is hot!” I glanced at the thermometer on my dashboard: 95° … hot indeed.
Returning to I-39 and heading to the hotel in Rockford, I passed over the Kishwaukee River and it occurred to me that the family farm was really “out of town” a bit. But I envisioned the days when Dad was a wee lad there, no doubt transported into Fairdale via horse and buggy at the turn of the century.
I’m glad I stopped by.
August 25 Rockford – St Mary, Missouri
I got an early start this morning, retracing yesterday’s route down I-39 for about an hour, then on to Granite City, just across the Mississippi River from St Louis, for a lunch visit with long-time TWA friends Dan and Diane McIntyre at their home. I first met Dan in 1964 while working the midnight shift at TWA in Los Angeles. He was commuting back and for between LAX and St Louis.
It didn’t take long for us to realize that we shared an interest in everything TWA, from its history to memorabilia. Over the years our paths crossed many times, although we never actually worked in the same department at the same time. Like me, the McIntyres are retired.
We had not seen each other in three years, so had a lot to talk about. In addition to following their children and grandchildren, Dan maintains a TWA museum of sorts in the basement of his home. If you’re ever in the area, I know he would open it up and give you the 50-cent tour.
Lunch was over too quickly and I needed to head for my next stop.
Crossing the Mississippi just south of St Louis (and avoiding the big city traffic), I picked up I-55 south to the small town of St Mary for an overnight visit with another long-time TWA friend, Mike Hagan and his wife Dotty. We met much later in my career, in the early 1970s as fellow Directors of Customer Service (DCSs) and lived near each other in Connecticut.
Coming from strong Midwestern stock, we shared common values from the beginning and I watched the Hagan children, Chris and Colleen, grow from small kids to nearly adolescence before they moved away. But we have kept in touch over the years and remain best friends, drawn even closer over the last couple of years as Dotty fought and conquered leukemia, which would probably have taken her life were she not in such good physical condition and full of fighting spirit. The Hagans have retired on the 200-acre family farm in St Mary, although they are actually closer to Perryville.
A disappointment has been not seeing Chris and Colleen, although I have talked to them on the phone and saw Chris 11 years ago. The last time Colleen and I crossed paths was when she was in high school, way too long. So imagine my surprise and delight when, about an hour after I arrived at the Hagan farm, she walked in the front door, having driven to see me from her home near Memphis. Wow!
In addition to a tour of the farm, we enjoyed one of Dotty’s terrific dinners and caught up on everything sitting out on their porch as the evening temperatures finally subsided from what had been a hot, humid day.
August 26 St Mary – Independence, Missouri
Everyone planned to get up early today, but on a lazy Sunday morning a few of us had to fight our way out of bed. After breakfast, it was time to get going. Colleen was on her way south while I ventured back up towards St Louis, picking up the bypass and joining I-70 for a straight shot across Missouri to Independence. A few showers came through but the area is still parched by all measurements. Large corn fields could be seen with dry, brown stalks that bore no harvest this season; it’s been a rough summer for farmers.
Somehow I had missed seeing the Truman Library over the years, despite spending a great deal of time in nearby Kansas City with TWA. So I took advantage of this trip to pay my respects to “Give ’em Hell” Harry and enjoyed a few hours at the library, time well spent. The displays were most interesting and well-designed.
After returning to the hotel, I hooked up with fellow TWA alum Joe Ballweg for dinner at the Hereford House next door. Joe is an active member of our TWA DCS Alumni Association ( http://twdcs.org/ ) and stayed with American Airlines after the demise of TWA; it was great catching up with him.
August 27 Independence – Kansas City – Lincoln, Nebraska
Recently relocated from a spot out by Mid-Continent Airport (MCI), the TWA Museum now occupies part of the same building that served as TWA’s corporate office. Known as the TWA Museum at 10 Richards Road , it is a treasure trove of the airline’s history. I visited it once in the old location but this was my first chance to see it at this setting, located on the edge of the old downtown Kansas City Airport (MKC), which has been renamed the Charles B Wheeler Airport.
The day started out as, well, one of those days. My GPS correctly led me to the partially closed Broadway Bridge in downtown K.C., but the signs were confusing, leading me to believe that, as they said, the bridge was CLOSED; wrong! The road leading to it still splits off to provide access to the airport. After trying to reset my GPS several times, I finally got to the museum, after nearly an hour’s delay.
But it was worth the distraction, as these pictures show. The company’s history is beautifully displayed, and includes many artifacts, such as a seat out of a Ford Tri-Motor.
I should add that I finally got to the museum thanks to June Kisker, who led me back via cell phone. June (then Kasprovich), was in the TWA in-flight service administration department and the flight attendant domicile manager at Kansas City. We’ve kept in touch over the years, but only crossed paths once since leaving TWA, briefly in 2004, so I was happy to hook up with her for lunch today. We talked for nearly two hours before I had to get back on the road and head for my next overnight stop, at Lincoln, Nebraska.
The good news/bad news about GPS is that it will take you on the most “direct” route, but sometimes this involves winding through a city instead to skirting around the heavy traffic sections. Such was the case in Lincoln, adding perhaps 25 minutes to the drive, but unlike the museum, I found my Hampton Inn on the first try.
I always request a quiet room in advance, on the top floor if possible. My request this time was partially fulfilled, putting me on the top floor, but on the side facing I-80, probably less than 150 feet from the highway. Instead of counting sheep, I counted semi-trailer trucks all night, jake brakes included. It was not a good night. Oh well, I’ve been pretty lucky up until now.
August 28 – 30 Lincoln – Casper, Wyoming – Bozeman, Montana – Sandpoint and home
I originally planned to briefly visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks on the last two days of this trip, but the gravitational pull of my own bed began tugging at me on the drive up to Lincoln from Kansas City and I decided to save those destinations for another day. In retrospect, the time I had allotted would have been insufficient to really enjoy those scenic wonders.
It’s nearly 1,400 miles from Lincoln to Sandpoint, requiring three days of travel. I re-booked hotel reservations and spent the first night at Casper, Wyoming, after the longest drive of the trip, 9 hours. But that got me to within 6 hours of Bozeman, Montana, then home on Thursday, a day ahead of the original schedule, with a stop at Coeur d’Alene to have the Camry serviced. Parker Toyota even provided a free and much-needed car wash.
Pulling into my garage at home, I reset the Camry’s trip odometer, which read 7297.6 miles.
I’m grateful for all my friends who put me up, fed me and allowed use of their washers and dryers, or were just able to meet up for lunch or dinner along the way. This was an incredible journey, filled with memories that will last a lifetime. Thank you so much!