After departing from the the paradise that was Dandridge, TN, my next notable destination was to be Michigan. I’ll spend the better part of the summer in this state – two week on the east coast, followed by 6 weeks on the west coast. To get there from TN, I had planned two stopovers – one in Kentucky, and another in Ohio. Neither towns were of any particular significance other than they were about the right distance for my daily maximum drive, and the campgrounds were conveniently located next to the highway. My stays in each state were to be on the short side – three and six days respectively. Much to my surprise and certainly not due to any preplanning on my part, it turned out there was actually lots to see and do within the areas of these small towns. So, as the picture above of a retired ambulance being used as a tow vehicle suggests – who knew!
Visiting with Former Co-workers
From my KY and OH locations, I was fortunate to be in reasonable proximity to two former GDIT coworkers. From my RV homestead in Georgetown, KY, I travelled south to London to visit with my dear friend and co-worker Danielle. We had lunch together, but sadly, I completely neglected to get a picture with her (Sorry Danielle!). I first worked with Danielle during the summer of 2013, setting up two ObamaCare call centers in Utah. As time progressed, I had the pleasure of working with her on many projects and tasks related to IT support to the call center program. Sadly, GDIT has since divested all of their call center business, and Danielle now works for Maximus. I hope and trust she will continue to be successful with this new company. Great seeing you Danielle!
From my Wapakoneta, OH location, I was less than an hour north of Dayton, where a former GDIT co-worker resides. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, Christopher, his wife Cathy, and their adorable youngin Alix, drove up to the campground for a visit. We enjoyed the amenities of the campground such as the playground and the swimming pool, had a great salmon dinner on the grill, then wrapped things up with a campfire and some s’mores. It was great seeing Christopher again, and especially wonderful getting to meet his wife and daughter. Thanks for making the drive up and spending the day.
Lots of Tourist Attractions
The 7th largest town in the state, Georgetown, KY has upwards of 35,000 residents. Its greatest claim to fame is the Toyota plant that has been operating since its opening in 1988, building the Avalon, Camry, and Lexus vehicles. It is also reportedly the largest building in the US as measured by the number of covered acres by a single building – coming in at over 200 acres.
Anyway, not far north is Williamstown – home of the Ark Encounter. This 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, 51 feet high, biblically accurate representation of Noah’s Ark contains 3.3 million board feet of timber, and is the largest timber-frame structure in the world. It was Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis who would be the catalyst to get this estimated $150 million construction project underway. The ark was built to have three decks, lower deck for animals, middle deck for more animals as well as dioramas depicting what is believed to be everyday life on board including meal prep, a blacksmith shop, living quarters, etc. The top deck contains displays of beliefs of what happened inside and outside during the flood. It also provided best guess answers to things like how fresh water was gathered and distributed, and how liquid and solid waste was disposed of. It’s a new place having just recently opened in July of 2016, and is a very cool exhibit to walk through and experience what might have been life on the ark.
I also had the opportunity to visit McHargue’s Mill on the grounds of Levi Jackson State park. This mill is home to the largest collection of mill stones in the country. The walkway leading around the park and up to the mill house is lined with them. The working water-powered mill house was built in the late 1930s, and contains authentic inner workings for the period. They even sell a 2lb bag of fresh white corn meal made right there in the mill house. I of course took that opportunity, so now I need to find a good corn bread recipe!
While in OH, I stayed in the little podunk town of Wapakoneta. I’d never heard of this town before and with a population of less than 10,000, there’s not a lot going on here. However, I quickly learned that Neil Armstrong was born and raised in Wapakoneta, and a wonderful museum built in his honor is featured here. It has a wonderful collection of Armstrong memorabilia such as a space capsule and space suite from his Gemini mission, lots of history of his growing up in a small town to his becoming a world renowned astronaut, and even included a rock, estimated to be over 4 billion years old, that he gathered on his trip to the moon. Lots of preparation is underway for the 50th anniversary of his first moon walk to be celebrated later this month.
Also not far from Wapakoneta were two very important factories that I was able to tour. Unfortunately, neither allowed photography within their facilities, so I have no pictures of the actual goings on in the manufacturing process. In the small town of Ada, OH lies the Wilson Sporting Goods company. This little factory, sitting at the end of a residential street, produces 3000 footballs a day that are used exclusively in the NFL, NCAA, CFL, and many high schools. It takes the hides of 300 cows per day to meet their production needs. What I found most interesting was the lack of automation in their process. From the cutting of shapes out of the leather, to stamping the logo or custom marking on the outside, to sewing the pieces together, then steaming to soften and then turning the balls rightside out, inserting the air bladder, to the final step of installing the lacing – it’s all done by hand! I chatted with a woman who was in the lacing department, and she told me that she has been there for 42 years. I heard similar stories from many other employees – having been there 20, 30, or 40 or more years. They are very proud of what they make, and are extremely loyal to the company. In lieu of an hourly rate, they are economically rewarded for each piece they get through their process – thus piece work. I estimate the average age of their employee base is well into the 40s, and it makes me wonder what will happen 20 years from now when the bulk of them will be retired. I think they will either have to automate, or succumb to perhaps having their product made in china. That will be a sad day indeed.
Also not far from me was Jackson City, OH, the headquarters and manufacturing facility of Airstream. Being an RV enthusiast, this was a very exciting opportunity for me to tour this factory. Again, no photography was allowed, so no inside pictures. Much like the Wilson plant, the Airstream facility is proud to be predominately built by hand. There are no robots, no auto welders, and the like in this facility. The iconic aluminum body of the Airstream is riveted together one rivet at a time by hand. The plant was shutdown for the week for company wide holiday, but we were taken through each stage of the manufacturing process. They use jigs to assemble the main housing consisting of ribs and aluminum panels held together with rivets, then the floor is added, electrical and insulation is added followed by cabinets made and installed. It takes 2-3 days start to finish to build an Airstream trailer, and they produce 125 complete units per week. They are currently operating in a 250K square feet facility, with construction underway down the street for a new 750K building. This much needed additional space will allow them to expand their production and to reduce the customer order to delivery timeframe which now sits at around 5 months. I also got to see one of the last Airstream trailers owned by the famous Wally Byam, the company founder, known as the Stella Gold. This was a special treat to visit, and I was thrilled that it was so close by.
There were a couple of other really interesting places to visit while in OH. One was the Allen County Museum located in Lima, OH. There is a ton of history that exists in Lima, far too much to cover here. But, they were big in the railroad industry as Shay Locomotive, large player in the oil and gas industry, and military with their Army Tank plant producing the iconic M1 Abrams. This county museum, probably the best county museum I’ve seen, has representations of all this history and more. Of particular interest was a 100 year old mechanical diorama of Noahs Ark. I had the pleasure of chatting with a gentleman named Rick, a volunteer at the museum, and the project lead to get the Ark diorama functional again. Much of the inner workings had long since failed, and fortunately, Rick has a background in electrical engineering. After hundreds of hours of tinkering, he was able to bring it back to life. Truly a passion of his, and now future generations will be able to enjoy it.
The last of my area visits took me to New Bremen, OH, and the Bicycle Museum of America. Here was a wonderful collection of several hundred bikes, spanning a couple centuries. It’s oldest bike was an amazing 1816 Draisine – made entirely of wood. They also had lots of high rollers, military bikes, and even some very unique concept bikes. There were even a few that I recognized as perhaps having had in my youth. A really nice place for an afternoon visit.
I’m really enjoying chasing after some of the more obscure things to see around the country. I’ve made it my mission to help the online resource fill in incomplete entries with info and pictures. In fact, I was able to visit two really obscure sites for pictures (a large bull at a used car lot, and the statue of a fiddler at a country music venue), and submitted them for publishing. That brings me to almost a dozen that I’ve contributed. In Berea, KY, I visited several of the the Show of Hands artifacts – a dozen 6 ft fiberglass hands made during a 2003 public art project. In Lima, OH, I visited a couple of the Kewpee Hamburger joints – featuring a freakish naked doll baby as its mascot. Lastly, in Wapakoneta, OH, I checked out the Temple of Tolerance. What would appear to be an ordinary house on an ordinary street has an expansive back yard filled with hundreds of tons of rock and items made from rock such as millstones, urns, and foundation blocks, to form the temple and surrounding shrines. Built over an 18 year period and completed in 1999, its creator and curator Jim Bowsher wanted to create a space and retreat where all people could feel accepted. A very cool place in a very unsuspecting location.
The title of this blog says it all. I had absolutely no expectation that I’d have much to report in my 9-day passage through KY and OH. But alas, I could not have been more wrong. It certainly has given me pause and reinforced the notion that cool places to visit can be found everywhere – even in small town America. You just gotta go out and look for it. Thankfully, I’m living the dream and able to see and experience all that these small towns have to offer. How fortunate is that! Till next time, safe travels.