This day started a short diversion from the recent Yooperific experience, as we headed south into Wisconsin (and back into the Central Time Zone). Richard has been requested to make a presentation to the chief highway engineers of all the state DOTs regarding the task force on US Bicycle Routes that he is chairing for AASHTO. Our first stop after some cruising a couple hours down 2-lane US 45 was at J&P Liquidators in Antigo (the other big Antigo liquidator warehouse, of course!) for more tools, parts, and useful junk, and then a very scenic drive on Wisconsin state route 47 through the land of the Menominee took us eastward past Keshena and its interesting polylingual street signs.
We showed up in Shawano at lunchtime, and pulled up along Main Street in front of the big red roof of the Farm Inn restaurant. We sat down among the agricultural accouterments and ordered up platefuls of down-home food, followed by a big slice of toffee cream pie (yum!).
After we shoved off from Shawano, we stayed on high-speed highways to hasten our hauling into the bottom part of the state. We looped around Green Bay and the not-so-frozen-today tundra of Lambeau Field, and then south along I-43 past the Wisconcscows happily grazing in the green fields. One stop to test the plumbing in Kohler, and soon we were into the busy maze of Milwaukee highways, exiting out of the construction and into downtown, then left, left, left, and left again, and we coaxed the mighty Truckasaurus into the parking garage next to the classic facade of the Hilton hotel.
Wacky fun out Wisconsin way
When we saw that the escalator from the skywalk between the Hilton and the Midwest Airlines Center had a button saying "PUSH TO PLAY POLKA!", we knew it was going to be an interesting Milwaukee day.
Richard congregated with the fifty states' chief engineers, agency directors, and a whole bunch of vendors and consultants at the AASHTO Annual Meeting amid the spires of the high-rises of downtown Milwaukee. Richard was 49% of a very successful presentation on the status of the US Bicycle Routes task force that he chairs, co-presented by the talented Ginny Sullivan of Adventure Cycling Association (she got 51% of the show because she's darn good at putting together excellent Powerpoint presentations). The state highway engineers seemed receptive to the US Bike Routes concept, but there's still a lot of little details that need to be worked out before the system will be fully underway. The lunch break was spent looking at all the sponsor displays downstairs, with a real live polka band playing for our entertainment (no button-pushing necessary). During a break in the action, Richard wandered outside and found that there was a mini-museum of old-time traffic control devices plopped down outside the center as a sort of mini-art project. You definitely don't see the likes of these old-school signals, illuminated safety bumpers and police boxes anymore, and it's great that Milwaukee thinks enough of their heritage to memorialize a few of these extinct signs & signals.
Meanwhile, Suzanne and Duncan were also out and about checking into all the things fermenting in this dynamic metropolis. The first task was to locate some Wisconsin moo-venirs for the folks back home, but the shops we remembered from our visit 10 years ago (in our first-ever Big Trip) had moved on, and so more exploring was needed. Suz & Dunc ended up along the bustling downtown riverfront, where they watched the tugboats chug back and forth and the bridges go up and down. More fun included duckie statues along the riverwalk, walls with big happy flashing fish, and a restful spell at Pere Marquette Park, as the squirrels scampered for Dunkie's amusement. Frozen custard during the return stroll topped off an excellent afternoon, and then back to the hotel for regrouping.
After a bit of family time in the room at the Hilton (nice place, but the bathroom is a bit... experienced), Richard went out just after 7 to forage for dinner for the clan. Unfortunately, the food court at the Grand Avenue shops adjourned right at 7, and so he had to wander farther afield for family nourishment. He ended up finding good eats in unlikely places, and we went to bed full and happy and ready for more travel excitement.
We all woke up at oh-dark-thirty to get ready for a busy travel day, and (surprisingly) we were out of the Hilton and on the highway before sunup. The first rays of the morning sun reflected off Lake Michigan as we rolled north on Interstate 43 (where's those darn sunglasses?), and we cruised nonstop through the occasionally-foggy countryside past the contended cows up to Green Bay, where we stopped most briefly for breakfast and $2.93 fuel. North of the Land of Packers, the roads got narrower and the towns more numerous, and we adjusted to the changed driving conditions while carefully watching the clock - would we make it to our destination on time?
It was tempting to stop for a while to peruse the parade in Pembine, but we were focused on other targets and destinations. We turned onto county roads near Florence and Aurora to avoid the bustle of Iron Mountain, and we took in the fall foliage while signs and posters welcomed home the local National Guard contingent from service overseas. Then back into Michigan and a brief stop at the Ben Franklin in Crystal Falls, its 35+ year old chrome and plastic signage still proudly facing the main street traffic. Within, we found a true classic variety store, with crafts, housewares, toys, sundries, and everything else for modern living. It's a pity we didn't have time to fully appreciate this generally good general store, but it was nice to at least pay a brief visit.
But this wasn't our destination for the day, and even the pumpkin-studded fall festival also in Crystal Falls couldn't distract us from our goal. We zipped west on US 2, took the old forest road up to Kenton, then west on M-28 thru Trout Creek and past the house (hey! the trailer's still there!) and on to our real destination for the day - with 10 minutes to spare.
The small town of Ewen was once notable as a Yooper lumbering center, and until recently was the site of the "World's Largest Replica Load of Logs" commemorating the original load dumped at the 1893 World's Fair. Ewen was also the site of Suzanne's high school escapades, where she spent her days cruising with her friends, marching in parades and at football games, and even studying once in a while (hence her status as salutatorian - but she's not boastful about that or anything ;)
And once a year Ewen throws its big Log Jamboree to celebrate the town's cellulosic heritage and to provide an excuse to have a rootin' tootin' woodin' good time. This was indeed our destination for the day, and although we missed the parade and other preliminary activities, we did make it there in time for another Log Jamboree tradition - heaping servings of tasty lumberjack stew. We filled ourselves with multiple helpings of this homestyle cuisine, and the apple pie afterwards made it just that much better.
After all that meaty potatoey carroty goodness, we waddled outside to see what else was doin' at Jamboree time. Duncan thoroughly enjoyed ricocheting and caroming off the puffy walls of the bouncy house, and then a skedaddle on the back of a cooperative equine gave Dunc some ponymanship experience that suits his family legacy as an Arizona native and the grandson of a cattleman. The day culminated in a a show of loggerman legerdemain, and the sawdust and wood chips flew (ouch!) as a pair of talented treecutters showed off feats of sawing skill in a chop-chop manner, and they're good at it - just "axe" them! After the poles were climbed and the limbs were liquidated, the treesome twosome put on a display of log-rolling legwork that seemed to focus more on the less-than-sportsmanlike aspects of this spinning sport (all in fun, we think?) - we just hope that one leg-straddling splat didn't cause any permanent damage.
"Wooden" you know that after the show was done and the other booths and activities wrapped up that it was time to mosey on back to Trout Creek. We took one side trip along old highway 28 to enjoy a bit more late afternoon relaxation as we cruised by the cows and the pines, and then back to the little house after a long and fun day - and as if on cue, the rain showed up again to usher us into the evening's rest.
Wood-grain fun at the Ewen Log Jamboree
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Latest Historical Revisionism 07 October 2007Scripting: Richard C. Moeur