Posted by: bkivey | 14 October 2016

WAAAM 1930’s Rod Run

In which I talk about the last scheduled trip of the year.

Back in May I’d taken a day to run up to Hood River and see the sights. This was my first visit to the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum (WAAAM), and a life-altering experience it was. When we were at West Point the second tour we’d get to the City 4 – 5 times a year. Nearly every visit included a stop at the American Museum of Natural History. That’s how I feel at WAAAM.

Saturday 8 October was a date I’d had circled for a while because the museum was going to run some of its 1930’s aircraft and cars. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I wanted to see it.

It’s a 1 1/2 hr to 2 hr drive to Hood River depending on traffic. Pretty smooth sailing once you get to Troutdale. The drive in the Gorge never gets old.

There was a front coming in but Hood River was fairly clear. The museum opened at 0900, and the activities started at 1000.

Things perking up in the parking lot:


Pretty much what the museum looks like:


There were some new things. A 1923 Oldsmobile:


With oil can:


And some cool turn signals:


A 1923 mail plane:


The aircraft is beautifully finished. The owner flies it during the Summer and stores it in the Winter. A win for all concerned.

Activity in the hanger area:


The museum offers rides in vintage autos. They form a taxi line and you can pick whichever car you want. I chose to ride in a Model A rumble seat: something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid.

There is this sign:


My goodness! One might think there were vintage autos ravaging the countryside.

And riding:


The rumble seat was surprisingly comfortable. There was a steam tractor running around. No rides offered, but very cool to see one operating:


The steam is from the whistle. Watching those guys it looked like operating it was like steering a ship. The tractor is 1910 vintage, so not entirely in keeping with the theme of the day, but that thing looks like enough fun to run it every chance they get.

At the hanger door was a gorgeous wooden sailplane:


A British product and very much flyable. Superb craftsmanship.

The museum had some aircraft operating. They don’t offer rides on the airplanes, but it’s cool to see vintage aircraft operating. The museum hauled out an ‘L-bird’, which is the military variant of the Piper Cub. I watched the haul-out, and it was cool to see a museum piece taken outside to fly. Another aircraft was prepped, but the pilot couldn’t make it. A bi-plane was doing run-ups, which may not seem interesting, but the aircraft was near the end of its restoration, and this was the first time the engine had been mated to the airframe:



Hand-cranking a prop looks just as dangerous as it sounds, and is probably as dangerous as it looks. The engine did start. In a few weeks the airplane will be another operating addition to the collection.

I took the Restoration Hanger tour.


This is where the magic happens. And in the machine shop:


If it can’t be bought, it’s made. I learned that while the museum has some 300 autos and aircraft on display, and that all of them are operable, they may not be ‘ready for prime-time’ at the same time. The gentleman in the center of the photo is the Chief Aircraft Mechanic, and he noted that only about a dozen aircraft at a time are ‘current’. It may be that an airplane will wait ten years between flights as aircraft are cycled through the museum. The machines live, they just live on extended time-frames.

Afterwards wandered around a bit:


I was surprised to see an electric auto from 1932. The early hey-day of electrics was in the 1910’s, and by the standards of the day this look is dated. A nice interior, though:




That is steampunk luxury.

A visit to the restroom revealed:


It’s a blower, likely off an aircraft. I wondered if the museum planned on turning it into a hand-dryer.

Some items from the WW II area:


Organizations (schools, civic groups, etc.) would raise money to buy parts for Jeeps. As money was raised, the part would be cut-out and pasted on the Jeep.

It was a fun day. Got to see some vintage machinery operate, and talked to some interesting people. The museum has a few examples of horse-buggys, so I suggested that they be offered as rides. One member said that hadn’t come up. Maybe it should. Something to consider.

I feel guilty about exposing WAAAM. The museum charges what they need to cover costs, but it runs on love.

Things Around Portland

Looking down a ‘street’ in the West Hills:


A double rainbow in Hillsboro:



Posted by: bkivey | 4 October 2016

2016 Vacation: Observations and Conclusions

I had a good time. It was a successful vacation in that I got to do things I wanted to do in places I hadn’t been. There were a fair amount of moving parts that had to work smoothly, and they did. The only thing that could be considered a problem was I had to put some air in the tire of the car in Buffalo. That was it. Compared to last year, the fact there weren’t any problems was a vacation in itself.

This year was the HOMES tour and I got to all of the Great Lakes. I’ve wanted to see that part of the country for a long time, and very happy I got to do so.

A few things I noticed:

Western New York:

Lots of agriculture, mostly corn and apples.

Nice parks.

Very few Democratic candidate campaign materials. Nearly all the political signs were for the Republicans. I noticed the same thing in rural Michigan.

Lots of American flags. Also the same in Michigan.

Small towns full of very nice Victorian houses. I still wouldn’t want to have to heat them.

A surprising number of Confederate flags, which is to say, any at all. I saw a few in western New York and a couple in Michigan.


A lot of people paint Michigan with the Detroit/Ann Arbor brush, and I was just as guilty as anyone else. Like Washington and Oregon, the state’s largest urban area isn’t representative of the state. I was half-expecting the Detroit metro area to look like Kandahar after the Marines got through with it and running gun battles at night. While there are areas that lean toward that description, everywhere I was looked pretty normal.

The most baffling traffic sign I’ve seen in a while:


The signs are illuminated, so I wondered if I had to wait until the sign lit. For a few days I treated the signals like normal left turn signals because I couldn’t figure out what the ‘Left’ sign was for. I finally asked a police officer, and at first he didn’t think I knew how left turn signals worked. No, I get that, what’s the sign for? Apparently drivers in the State of Michigan require that left turn signals be signed. I asked the cop why a dedicated left turn lane and a left-facing green arrow weren’t enough. His response was ‘You’d be surprised’. Color me astounded. On reflection I can maybe see having lighted left-turn signs as an aid in low-visibility conditions.

When people found out I wasn’t a resident, they asked about my experience with the ‘Michigan Left’. Not a reference to a political view, the Michigan Left is a way to make a left turn from a divided highway. There are places to make u-turns close to intersections so to make a left turn you go to the next u-turn spot, turn left so you’re headed the opposite way, then make a right turn onto the road you originally wanted. This was easier for me to figure out than the New Jersey ‘jug handle’ which accomplishes the same thing.

Every highway worker in Michigan knows exactly what their life is worth:


These signs are at every highway construction site, of which there were many. Some, I assume older, signs raise the legal bar slightly by requiring a motorist to ‘maim/kill’ rather than merely ‘injure’. I flashed on a highway worker trying to get a life insurance policy: ‘Sorry, we can’t write you a half-million policy. The state says you’re only worth $7500.”

I was surprised at how low the tax burden is in the state. Michigan has income and sales taxes, but the bite is fairly small. The highest marginal income tax rate is lower than Oregon’s lowest. Sales tax is 6%, and state law prevents municipalities from adding their own sales taxes. I don’t believe there’s an intangibles tax. It may be that I’d have a lower tax burden in Michigan than I do in Oregon.

You Say It’s Your Birthday

On my birthday Google’s home page wished me Happy Birthday by name. That’s creepy.

Going through security at DTW a TSA agent wished me Happy Birthday. I live in a world where an oppressive Federal bureaucracy is friendlier than an internet search engine.

2016 probably ranks second after 2014 and ahead of 2012 of my favorite vacations. Like Star Trek movies, it seems the best times occur with even numbers. Maybe I’ll stay home next year.

Posted by: bkivey | 3 October 2016

2016 Vacation Pt. 7

Today was get-away day, and I’d booked a later flight so I’d have time to do something in Detroit. It turns out there are all kinds of things to do and see in the metro area, but I only had half a day. Before I took the trip several people insisted that I see the Henry Ford museum, and I’d chosen the hotel partly because it was between the museum and the airport.

The museum is located on Ford’s R & D campus in Dearborn, and appears to be Detroit’s version of Disneyland.


That’s the main entrance. The museum grounds have the museum, a reconstructed town, an assembly line, a railroad, and other things related to industry. Each area is an attraction unto itself, and exploring everything would probably take a really long day, or more likely several days. I most wanted to see the assembly line, but I only had time for one thing, so it was the museum. I noticed there were a lot of folks at work across the street for early Sunday morning.

Admission is $21 plus $6 for parking. I thought that was for everything, but that’s just the museum admission. Every attraction has its own admission charge. The museum offers a tour package at $75 per adult, and that’s a good deal if you add everything up. At $27 before I got in the door my expectations were high.

The museum’s theme is how the American Industrial Revolution from about 1820 on raised American living standards. The interior is one of the nicer I’ve seen in a museum, with chandeliers, high vaulted ceilings, and wide hallways.


The gallery entrance. There are about half-a-dozen galleries each specializing in some aspect of industry.

I started on the left and worked my way around. About the first thing you see is a disassembled Model T demonstrating the assembly line process:


The museum has a surprisingly large furniture collection, including a substantial section devoted to the Eames.


Also here is a stove collection. I liked the display that shows a family kitchen from four different time periods starting in the 1790’s and ending in the 1930’s. It drives home how the availability of mass produced consumer goods raised living standards.

I’d never seen a Stradivarius. The museum has two owned by Henry Ford. He reportedly referred to them as ‘fiddles’, which probably still has ol’ Antonio spinning in his grave.


The aviation gallery includes the Ford Trimotor flown by Admiral Byrd over the South Pole:


And lest one be inclined to complain about seating on airplanes, there’s a display showing the comparative sizes of airliner cabins from the 1920’s to today:


The overhead is the cabin template of a 747. A cross-country flight in the Trimotor era took about three times longer than it does today, in chairs that are much less comfortable. On the other hand, in-flight amenities were superior.

There’s a good selection of steam engines:


This is one of the smaller examples. Nothing says ‘Industrial Revolution’ like a stationary steam engine, and the museum has some truly massive ones on display, including one of nine that ran an automotive assembly line. None of them are operational, and I thought it would be pretty cool if the museum restored one to power the building.

There are other steam engines:


An ‘Allegheny’ locomotive from the 1940’s. A sign informs that this is the most photographed object in the museum. A train from the 1830’s is in the foreground, and the entire train is shorter than the later locomotive. Henry Ford wanted a Stephenson ‘Rocket’, one of the very first commercial locomotives, but none had survived. He found that the original builder was still in business, so he had them produce an exact replica. This brings up the question: because the machine was manufactured by the original builder from original plans, is it a reproduction or a new locomotive?


The first diesel-electric locomotive from 1926:


There are some cars:


A 1937 Cord. I’d never seen one prior to this year, and now I’ve seen two. I’m going to the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum this Saturday in Hood River for their Second Saturday run. This month’s theme is the 1930’s, so I expect I’ll get to see their Cord in action.


A 1931 Bugatti, reportedly one of six known to exist.

There’s a fair selection of ‘foreign’ cars including Chevy’s, Dodges, and VW’s. The museum has an Edsel and a 1981 Escort, but no Pinto. I suspect there will never be a Pinto under this roof. The Edsel may have been a marketing failure, but its design didn’t kill people. I’ve owned three Pinto’s, all station wagons, including a 1977 Cruisin’ Wagon.

One section has a display of Presidential limos, including the one Reagan was riding in when he was shot:


I was surprised to find that Presidential limos are used for years: I’d thought they were replaced annually. Teddy Roosevelt’s limo:


Roosevelt apparently wasn’t a fan of cars, and rode behind a horse until 1928.

There are displays of clocks, a section devoted to the Civil Rights movement, displays of consumer goods grouped by decade, and a Buckmister Fuller designed prefabricated house. The house is an aluminum dome with an interior that looks like an RV. None them were actually sold, and aside from ease of erection, it doesn’t look to be a very livable building.

Henry Ford’s very first engine. He ran this on his kitchen sink. His wife must have been a saint:


And an icon that everyone over a certain age will remember:


I cannot count the number of times we stayed at a Holiday Inn on family trips.

I stayed as late as I could and spent about five hours in the museum. That still felt a little rushed. I cannot imagine trying to see everything on the grounds in one day.

So time to bid adieu to Michigan, the Great Lakes, and my vacation. As we climbed out of Detroit Metropolitan, I realized that I still hadn’t seen downtown Detroit.



Posted by: bkivey | 2 October 2016

2016 Vacation Pt. 6

When I planned the trip I knew I’d have to have a base in northern Michigan. Sault Ste. Marie was in the running for a long time because there are locks, and the name is fun to say. The lock system is Great Lake shipping, and I thought it’d be fun to watch large ships walk up and down hills. Airfare to the town is a fortune even from Detroit, so I’d have to drive, but ultimately that was further than I wanted to drive from Detroit in one day, especially taking the back roads. Mackinaw City it was.

I was a little concerned about spending two nights in a town of population 800; what would there be to do? I could watch TV in the hotel room, and I don’t have TV at home so that would be OK. I like to socialize a bit when I go to new places, and I hoped there’d be one bar I liked.

No concerns there:


Mackinaw City has about 20 square blocks of tourist industry. I’d find out the town is built around people who do pretty much what I was doing: spending a few days up north. And not just in the Summer. Michigan has a robust winter tourist season. I did things in the outdoors in the Winter when we lived in the Northeast, because like the rain in the Northwest, if you don’t do it in the cold in the North, you don’t do it. Michigan culture seems to embrace the outdoor life just a little more than most places I’ve been. I haven’t been to Minnesota or Wisconsin, so I don’t know if this is how the Lakes country works, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Besides the usual ways to spend money, the city has a ferry to Mackinaw Island. I didn’t go, but my understanding is that cars are not allowed on the island. There are huge expanses of parking lot dedicated to the ferry, and they were mostly empty when I was there. The ‘tourist’ aspect of the town seems a bit subdued: probably because the town has to compete with interesting things to do and see.

One of those things is the decommissioned Coast Guard icebreaker USS Mackinaw:


This was cool and unexpected. I’d never seen an icebreaker, and you can tour this one. Whee!

Built during WW II and retired in ’06, when commissioned she was the most powerful icebreaker in the world. Built wider than the St. Lawrence locks at the time so she couldn’t escape, she spent her service keeping the seaways clear on the Great Lakes.

Tours are $11, and most of the ship is accessible. Although a military vessel, there aren’t any weapons emplacements, so there’s more room for people. One interesting addition are the conning towers on the bridge wings. From the pilot house the view forward is restricted by the spray shield. The conning towers were added so the crew could actually conn the ship.

The crew spaces are interesting, but I wanted to see the engine room. The ship is driven exactly like a modern locomotive with a diesel-electric drive. Six Fairbanks-Morse locomotive engines drive generators to power the electric motors driving two screws astern and one in the bow.


The engines use vertically-opposed pistons: something I hadn’t seen before. The yellow sign on each engine warns to wait 30 minutes after a crankcase explosion before opening the covers. I wondered how often that occurred to warrant a sign. Because the ship was built around the engines there’s no provision for removal. Toward the end of her service life replacement parts had to be fabricated.

There was a trim board in this engine room. The ship has ballast tanks all around where water can be transferred to shift weight to break ice. Most of the spaces have signs requiring ear protection. There were a few folks from the preservation society aboard and they said that between the engines and ice streaming down the side the ship could be a noisy place.

I was happy to spend some time aboard, but there were some other things I wanted to see. As might be expected of a strait, there are a number of lighthouses in the area.

McGulpin Light:


There are displays about shipwrecks in the area, as well as information on the first family to live here. There’s a short trail down to the lake, and on the way there are life-size cutouts of the family. It looks like a bunch of hippies in the grass. You can access the lens, but I didn’t so I don’t know if there’s a charge.

Old Mackinac Point Light:


There is a charge to see the interior. The lighthouse is located in a nice park and adjacent to the Fort Michilimackinac site and museum. There’s also a fee to enter the fort. The museum/gift shop is right under the approach to the Bridge, and there are plaques with information on politicians when the bridge opened and the five workers who died during construction.

After lunch at the Key Bar it was time to pick’em up and put’em down for the 4 1/2 hour trip back to Dearborn. I didn’t want to leave. I had a nice time during my all-too-brief visit up north. It was just as well I was leaving: in a couple of days I’d have been pricing property and snowmobiles.

This drive was all about getting from A to B, so I-75S all the way. 75 on the cruise and down the road. There are some hills in central Michigan, but mostly flat. Lots of woods. Started to pick up some traffic around Bay City, then more through Flint and into the Detroit metro area. I was looking for 8-Mile Road from Eminem fame, and saw the exit for it. Also 12 Mile, 10 Mile, 9 Mile, 7 Mile and 6 Mile roads. Apparently Detroit suffered a severe street name shortage.

Back to the hotel I’d stayed at previously. Went to a bar in a part of Dearborn that appears to have been redeveloped, and wished I’d gone somewhere else. I like a lager or an ale when I’m eating, and nearly all the local brews on tap were IPA’s. I settled for a national lager and had an OK meal. Note to restaurants: no normal human can eat a sandwich and a double-handful of fries. Reduce your portions! You’ll save money and your customers will be happier.

I was pretty happy. Outside the flight home tomorrow and the Ford museum, I’d done everything I’d wanted to do, and everything had gone smoothly. That qualifies as fun.



Posted by: bkivey | 30 September 2016

2016 Vacation Pt. 5.5

Tahquemenon Falls State Park is a highly popular park in the UP located about 6 country miles from the middle of nowhere. I was told that if I wanted to see Michigan natural beauty at its best I had to visit. I’d looked at the park as a destination prior to the trip, but I wasn’t sure if I’d have time. As it was the computer put me at the park at 1700, which would still leave enough daylight to do some things. A bit under two hours of driving through the rolling hills of this part of the UP got me there.

I knew I’d have to pay the out-of-state park fee of $9, but Michigan made an extra dollar because I didn’t have exact change and the gate booth was unmanned. State government agencies usually don’t accept plastic because of the attendant fees. I’m of the opinion state’s should rethink this. There’s information on the pay envelope about refunds and it was amusing to think about asking the state for my $1 back.

The entrance has a parking lot for the upper falls, a privately-run restaurant and gift shop, and an information center. The parking lot is the trailhead for several trails, and two short ones run to the river. There’s a walkway and boardwalk along the river cliff with a number of interpretative signs. There are also trashcans and a number of ashtrays. I thought this was good thinking on the part of Michigan DNR: people are going to smoke; may as well offer even the laziest smoker a place to put their butts.

Several signs give some history of logging in Michigan, and apparently a goodly amount of it took place on land the park now encompasses. There’s still some forest product industry in the state, but maybe not as much as you might expect. Of course, you can say the same thing about the Northwest. I noticed that much of the UP and northern Michigan are public land. I can’t say if Michigan has the same restrictions on logging as the Northwest, but back in the day a lot of timber came out of the North Woods.

The upper falls:


The river drains cedar swamps and the dissolved tannin turns the water brown. The foam is a result of soft water and organic material. During the spring run-off the falls can be the third-largest east of the Mississippi river by volume when some 50,000 gallons/second tumble the fifty feet to the river.

Looking down the river:


The lower falls are four miles distant and there’s a trail along the river. Other options are a privately-run shuttle service or driving. I opted for ‘C’ but before that I had to get something to eat. The restaurant is done in a sort of North Woods decor with lots of mounted animal heads. Considering it’s the only place to eat for literal miles, prices aren’t as bad as they could be. I’d seen signs for something called a ‘pastie’ all over the state, so I had the large one of those. If you stuff a calzone with a chicken pot pie, you’ll have a good approximation of this dish. Served with gravy, it’s filling, and would hit the spot after a day of winter outdoor activity.

A short drive or longer hike bring you to the lower falls. Rather than one large drop the lower falls are a series of stepped falls around an island.



Boats are available for rent to make the short trip to the island where trails give access to the falls. By the time I got here the concession was closed. The sign warns of rapids. As at the upper falls there’s a boardwalk with a number of interpretive signs.


One sign describes beavers and what to look for. I figured the sign would be placed in an area of beaver activity, but I didn’t see any indications. It is relaxing walking through the woods on a nice late summer day.

The park doesn’t have any one thing that’s really spectacular, but everything taken together makes for a nice place. There’s enough stuff to do where one could easily make a day or weekend here. As with most of the UP, the park isn’t remotely close to what might be considered a population center. I suspect that unless they live in the eastern UP or the tip of northern Michigan many people spend at least one night.

It was time to leave but I had a slight problem. There is zero cell phone service in the park, and I had no clue which way to go. I was told to go out of the parking lot and turn right, then drive 12 miles to Paradise. The road is MI 123, and it runs east until the small town of Paradise hard by Lake Superior. Another right at what I believe is the only stoplight in town, then south to I-75. There were signs for the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point about 12 miles north. I would have liked to have seen that, and it’s not as if I’ll randomly be in this part of the country. Maybe I’ll find a compelling reason to visit Sault Ste. Marie.


Posted by: bkivey | 29 September 2016

2016 Vacation Pt. 5

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down

‘Bout the big lake they call Gitche-Gumee


By the shore of Gitche Gumee,

By the shining Big-Sea-Water,


As the words of Lightfoot and Longfellow suggest, it was Lake Superior today. It was also my birthday; so something fun to do. The hotel offered an actual breakfast bar. Not the usual Continental breakfast; the food offered would power you through the day. The first order of business was to find I-75N. There’s a bridge here:


I’ve wanted to see the Mackinaw Bridge since I was a child. I was born after it was built but I had this fascination with a massive structure in the North Woods. Not disappointed. The toll is $4, and much griping from residents. If you look at the numbers, the increase looks a little suspect. The Bridge has some driving quirks. Speed is 40, which seems a little slow, and loaded trucks are limited to 20 while  maintaining a 500′ distance. I wondered about the structural soundness of the bridge. There’s at least one tow truck with a crane in a pocket.  There are no shoulders, so clearing traffic would be Priority 1.

I had a ticket for the 1200 sailing of the tour boat to the Pictured Rocks National Seashore out of Munising on the Superior coast and wanted to meet it. After shooting the bridge, I headed west on US 2 skirting Lake Michigan. Then north on MI 77 to catch MI 28 west to Munising. Until just outside Munising the terrain ranges from pretty flat to low hills. Lots of trees. As a child I’d read stories about the North Woods and noticed that I’d been living with forests in the Northwest where trees often top 120′. While heavily wooded, UP forests are populated with Eastern trees. 80′ trees look a little small.

Arrived in Munising and realized I’d left the ticket printout at the hotel. I had a sheet with the information, so wasn’t too worried. I apologized to the ticket agent by noting she probably saw this problem four times daily. She didn’t argue.

Munising harbor:


Nice weather after the front moved through. A bit of a breeze, and I didn’t need the sweater I’d brought.

Although a National Lakeshore, the tours are run by a private company. While in line to board three announcements were made regarding the sea conditions: 3 – 4 foot waves and choppy. The company offered a full refund to anyone opting out. No one did. Some people later would probably wish they had. I’ve never had motion sickness, so wasn’t concerned.

Our boat had a capacity of 345 and an announced attendance of 199. I took a seat on the lower deck. Munising harbor is well-protected by Grand Island sitting to the north. There were hundreds of seagulls sitting on the water and three bald eagles circling overhead. The transition from harbor to lake was as advertised. A 4′ chop with wind quartering over the bow in a 70′ boat with a relatively high center of gravity made for a lively ride. It was the type of  corkscrewing up-and-down motion that messes with your inner ear. A few folks were lining the stern rail but I don’t think anyone actually got sick. I was feeling a little queasy.

There is some scenery.

Castle Rock on the way out of the harbor:



Bridal Veil Falls. The fourth such-named falls I’ve seen. The story is that the falls were more robust until some beavers dammed the stream.


The rocks are colored by mineral leaching. The cliffs themselves are 500 million year-old sandstone capped with a younger layer of harder sandstone. More scenery:




Battleship Rock:




There are several places where recent erosion is evident. The cliffs don’t appear to slowly wear away, but to come down in big chunks. I’d venture the cliffs are significantly different now compared to the first sighting.

On the way back to port we stopped at a former lighthouse on Grand Isle. The building is in private hands who have preserved it:


The town of Munising:


I’d seen these signs, and figured all of the Lakes had their own ‘Circle Tour’. To circumnavigate Lake Superior would take at least a week with its 2900 miles of shoreline.


While researching the trip I’d come across Tahquamenon State Park (or as I call it: The park no one can pronounce). It was east of Munising and in the direction of Mackinaw City. It was now mid-afternoon and I wasn’t sure about time, but several people had recommended the park, so I set course.

Posted by: bkivey | 28 September 2016

2016 Vacation Pt. 4

Today was the trek north to my base for the next couple of days in Mackinaw City. It was also the day for Lake Huron, and to that end I planned to drive to Bay City and pick up US 23 for the drive around the mitten. Although not the fastest route, I was looking forward to seeing a part of the country new to me. It’s vacation: you’re supposed to dawdle a bit.

Once again pleasantly surprised by the tractable traffic out of the Detroit metro area, I set the cruise and headed north on I-75. I noticed that this part of Michigan is pretty darned flat. I suppose only to be expected from land that had glaciers sitting on it not so very long ago. Lots of farms, lots of woods.

Bay City sits at the foot of Saginaw Bay and has at least two pop culture claims to fame. Madonna is from here, and the 70’s band Bay City Rollers took their name from here. Madonna and her home town apparently aren’t on the best of terms: she’s publicly disparaged the town, which in turn refuses to acknowledge her. And a childhood supposition was smashed when I found the Bay City Rollers were not, in fact from Bay City. They were a Scottish band who’d thrown a dart a the map and Bay City struck lucky.

I wasn’t sure what to expect on the drive. Given that the road hugs the lake I expected some views. What I found was that every blessed soul in Michigan who can afford a lakefront vacation home has one. I believe they’re even given as wedding presents:

“Congratulations; here’s your vacation home.”


Or they stay at one of the many lodges. I knew Michigan was out-door oriented, and I expected some North Woods rusticity, but the scale was unexpected. It’s a pleasant drive, but lake views ain’t in it.

Along the way is the town of Oscoda and the nearby defunct B-52 base Wurtsmith Air Base. There’s an air museum there, and while I’m normally a sucker for aviation museums, I had a long way to go. I noticed that there were a few jumbo jets: 747’s and DC-10’s parked in the hanger area. I thought they were part of the display until I took a look and saw more airliners than any museum would have.


Apparently Wurtsmith and who knows how many other bases are now home to civilian aircraft ghost fleets.

I was hoping to see some of the many Great Lakes lighthouses, and the first one I came to that wasn’t in a state park was Presque Isle light:


This is a fair distance off the beaten track. The light here is the ‘new’ Presque Isle light; the old one is down the road and not accessible. It’s not on the lake, either. Lake Huron is just visible through a break in the trees.

Further down the road is 40 Mile light:


This lighthouse is right off US 23 and a bit of a museum. Displays include a shipwreck:


It’s actually about 200′ up the shore from the light. There’s a sign at the lighthouse explaining the wreck. On the road to the lighthouse is a one-room schoolhouse:


There are a number of hamlets along the roads in this part of the state, and every so often a larger town. This is Rogers City at 5 PM on a weekday:


And the obligatory annual car shot:


That’s the Honda Accent I flogged for over 1100 miles. Lake Huron behind. The rental car company was a bit different in that instead of assigning a car they told you to pick out a car on the row. No Ford Focus: damn! There was a Fusion, but I’d spent the last two days with a Fusion with a sketchy first gear. I asked the lot guy what he liked, and he pointed to the Accent. Nothing really outstanding about the car, but it did the job and was fairly comfortable. The driver’s seat is a bit hard on the backside after a couple of hours. Still, I felt a little uncomfortable driving a Honda in Detroit.

By the time I left 40 Mile light the front moving through made good on its promise. Rain and squalls to just outside Cheboygan. The approach from the south to Mackinaw City is a little squirely where two highways meet, but I found the hotel.

And so glad I was to find it. It had been a long day in the saddle, and all I wanted was food and rest. The hotel had an on-site laundry, and I had to take care of that. I asked the front desk about a good restaurant, and they recommended Audi’s. It is a good restaurant, but bring an appetite and a checkbook.

All right. Poised on the tip of the lower peninsula to explore the UP.

Posted by: bkivey | 24 September 2016

2016 Vacation Pt. 3

Wednesday was a travel day; so a bit of a wash. I was going from Buffalo to Detroit, or traveling the length of Lake Erie. Apparently there’s only one airline offering direct service, and they raised the price for the trip over $100 while I was booking the flight. So a quick, relatively inexpensive trip turned into something else. I ended up having to go to Detroit by way of Philadelphia. The trip price was reasonable, but the time required ballooned.

By this time lack of sleep was catching up, so I slept on the way out, woke up long enough to change planes, and slept on the way to Detroit. The captain of the PHL – DTW flight actually came into the cabin to encourage passengers to listen to the safety briefing. I always do, and review the safety cards, because as many times as you’ve heard them, it’s been shown that unless they practice, people under stress forget training. If my plane goes down and I survive, I want to know how to get off that thing as fast as possible.

I was surprised to find that the Detroit airport is about the same size as Buffalo. I’d expected an airport that served the heart of American automobile manufacturing to be somewhat larger. While taxiing to the terminal we passed a 747 on the way to takeoff. The Queen of the Skies is fast disappearing, and while I’ve been riding airplanes for decades, my lack of a 747 ride is a glaring hole in my traveler resume’. I was able to find that airlines operating the 747 out of Detroit all go to Asia, so if I want a ride, I may have to adjust my vacation plans.

A couple of items of interest in the airport:

The dryer in the bathroom where I’d just washed my face:


Old-school dryers had a nozzle you could point up. New school: not so much. There were no paper towels.

A phone card machine:


In the computer service industry, an ID10T code is a disparaging reference to clueless people. I wondered about this company’s choice of branding.

Some unusual clouds outside the airport:



The second photo gives a better idea of the wave-like nature of the clouds. It was striking.

By the time I got to the hotel in Dearborn it was after 4, so no time to really do anything, and frankly no ambition to do it. Took a nap, got some food, and had a look ahead to the next part of the trip.

Posted by: bkivey | 24 September 2016

2016 Vacation Pt. 2.5

One of the reasons I chose a downtown hotel was easy access to the waterfront. Like many waterfront cities, Buffalo has redeveloped the area into a park. Anchored on one end by a yacht basin, the park is an inviting place to stroll and is popular with residents. Buffalo calls its park Canalside because the Erie canal terminates here:



Directly behind me the canal empties into the Buffalo river, which in turn runs for a short distance from here to Lake Erie. The Buffalo river is a working river, and there are still a few grain elevators in the area. Apparently the modern grain elevator was invented in Buffalo.



Buffalo has a bike share program:


Immediately adjacent is the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park. I had no idea this existed, although it’s hard to miss.


Portland has a submarine. Buffalo has a submarine, too. And a cruiser, a destroyer, and a variety of other military hardware. Canada better think twice before invading Buffalo. Adult admission to the museum is $12. The first display floor is above the gift shop and includes Coast Guard, WWI and WW II artifacts, as well as a section on the War of 1812. Much of that war was fought in Lake Ontario/ Lake Erie area. Displays on that war are as ubiquitous in the region as Lewis & Clark displays in the Northwest.

The WW II gallery:


K-rations, in case you’ve never seen them. I hadn’t. Back in the day each ration came with five cigarettes. I can see where possibly dying of cancer in the next 30 years would pale in comparison to the more concrete possibility of dying in the next 30 minutes.


A model of a paddle-wheel training carrier used on the Lakes during the war. I’d never heard of this. The paddle wheel is directly above the sign.


There’s a WW II map of the Pacific captured from a Japanese soldier:


A couple of Asian gentleman were examining the map, and I asked them if they could read it. They said not really: they were Chinese.

Next to the museum building is another building housing a variety of military artifacts:


There’s a display yard next to the building with full-sized equipment:


The craft on the right was known as a ‘Weasel’, which I found amusing.

“What’d you do in the war, grandpa?”

“I ran a weasel.”

So that’s a pretty fair amount of stuff to see for $12, but there’s still three ships to tour. The ship tours are arranged so that you start at the stern of the destroyer, follow the yellow line all over the ship, come out at the stern of the cruiser, follow the tour, exit at the stern of the submarine, follow that tour, then exit to the quay. The ship tours are as complete as any I’ve seen, and the tour route takes you to all parts of the ships. It’s really well done. On the day there were former crew from the cruiser working on the ship, and it was interesting to talk to them. The ships are maintained entirely through volunteer labor, and as anyone who’s owned a boat can tell you, even basic maintenance is a job of work, much less expanding the public spaces. These aren’t 40′ pleasure boats.

Some recent deck work:


And some areas awaiting restoration:


There was a space that some folks have used as a wishing well:


I wondered about corrosion. The USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu specifically discourages tossing coins in the water for that reason.

The destroyer is pretty much preserved as it was on active duty, but the cruiser is much larger. Consequently several of spaces have been turned into mini-museums. There are spaces dedicated to the Marines, the Polish military, female soldiers, and more. Each of the museums on board is the work of a few volunteers with an interest in that area. The result is that for the price of admission, you’re getting a number of museums for the price of one. If there’s a better museum value extant, I don’t know it. Depending on whether you talk to former crew, it’s reasonable to expect to spend 4 – 6 hours. There’s a restaurant on the grounds, so you can tour for a bit, take a break, and resume. The museum closes at 5, but if you’re on a ship at closing, you can complete the tour of that ship.

There’s a lighthouse at the harbor entrance and  I wanted to get a shot at sunset. The lighthouse is located adjacent the Coast Guard station, and the freeway cutting across the waterfront makes getting to the spot neither obvious nor particularly easy. The sun went down a bit faster than anticipated, so I missed the sunset, but got the lighthouse:


Downtown Buffalo at dusk:


And the best-lighted grain elevator I’ve seen. The lights change color.


And that was it for my time in Buffalo.

I like Buffalo. In many ways Portland and Buffalo are alike. They have more lakes and snow; we have more volcanoes and rivers, but the development of the cities, the industrial base, and the city layouts are similar. One difference is that Buffalo embraces its industrial heritage, whereas Portland wants the money industry brings without, you know, the industry. I like Buffalo, but Portland has better weather. Advantage: Portland.







Posted by: bkivey | 22 September 2016

2016 Vacation Pt. 2

The plan today was to see Niagara Falls in the morning, then find something interesting to do in the afternoon. I have goals for vacation and may generally plan what I want to do, but outside of major goals I’m not wedded to an itinerary. It’s travel. Flexibility is helpful. The strategic goal this year is to see the Great Lakes: anything else is almost gravy. Slept a bit later than I would have liked, but 1) I’m on vacation, and 2) I’m on vacation. It usually takes about three days of vacation to make the switch from goal-orientation to enjoying the journey.

One of the joys of going places not Portland is driving in traffic not stopped. The only complication in the 20+ mile journey from Buffalo to Niagara Falls was dealing with my not-always-great phone GPS. My oldest sister isn’t a fan, but I’m too lazy to get a better one (How hard can it be?! Just download it!) The GPS is just good enough enough of the time to keep me mollified.

Along the way you pass the intake houses for the American side Falls power stations:


Because there aren’t any indicators that this is, in fact, an intake station; like big sucking pipes, I’ll have to take the New York Power Authorities word for it. I’d love to know what’s inside.

A bit further up the road:


This is in the town of Niagara Falls. There’s metered street parking adjacent, or there would be if the meters worked. The town of Niagara Falls uses computerized meters, and on the day me and another gentlemen watched the computer spin without result. We decided to park without paying. Scofflaws we are.

It was a pretty good hike across the bridge to the Falls. Along the way there are rest stops at the rapids above the Falls.

This is where the water falls, well, off a cliff.


The top of the American Falls.


That’s an observation tower in the middle. I was surprised that the Falls weren’t louder than they are. The rapids make more noise than than the falls themselves. I’m literally half deaf, but I’d thought metric tons of water falling nearly 200′ would be louder than it is.  Given the scale, the Falls are actually pretty quiet.

Views of the Falls.



I’ve been told by people who know that the view from the Canadian side is better, and if you look at the geometry, this appears to be true. I travel with my passport, but I didn’t bring it this day, so was confined to the American side. Niagara Falls is impressive. Also impressive is the view from the bottom of the falls. I elected not to do this, but others did:


As I told one person, if I wanted to get wet, I’d wait a few weeks at home for the rain. You can buy a package deal to tour the base of the Falls, take the Maid of the Mist tour, and do a few other things for I believe $45. It’s actually a good deal. Not so good a deal is the price of admission to the observation tower: the operators want nearly $20 to observe the falls. No thank you.

The area around the Falls has been made into a park, and it’s a nice place to spend time. There are a number of memorials, mostly dedicated to war dead.


The gazebo is surrounded by monuments, including a memorial to a Welsh hymn singing contest. The plaque is made of Welsh slate:


In the US Niagara Falls was once the honeymoon destination on the East Coast, and there’s still some evidence of that. For me, it was Tuesday.

Back to Buffalo, and looking for something to round out the last day in town. I found it.





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