Things don’t change much…

Five years ago I was meandering around Maine in January and stepped back in time.

It was damn cold, as Maine in January can be. I had wound my way up from Florida, hugging the Atlantic coastline. The occasion was my second granddaughter’s upcoming birth in Connecticut and I was to be on hand to look after the first granddaughter, Margeaux, because her parents would be understandably distracted.

I had made it all the way up to Bar Harbor (which is a fine place without all its summer visitors) and had turned inland to make a big circle to the north and west and head back to brother Rick’s house in New Hampshire on my way down to Hartford for the birth.

My route north from Bar Harbor took me up to the area in Maine where one runs out of major roads so I turned west at Dover-Foxcroft and followed a nice highway parallel to the Piscataquis River.

I needed gas when I got to Guilford and I was not looking forward to it. The car’s thermometer showed minus 3. Self-service gas is not fun in the winter.

This was my first cold-weather road trip since I was about 30 and I had quickly learned that a heavy winter coat was too bulky for lengthy driving. So I used just a hooded sweatshirt. I had a long scarf and stocking cap ready for when I had to get out.

When I pulled up to the pumps at the Shell Station at the intersection of Water Street and Blaine Avenue in Guilford, I zipped up the sweatshirt and started wrapping the scarf around my neck, getting prepared to face the cold.

Just then a middle-aged man appeared next to my car and looked at me expectantly.

I rolled the window down a bit.

“Fill ‘er up?” he asked.

“Sure,” I replied, fully expecting the Candid Camera folks to appear any minute.

I offered him my credit card, figuring he’d need it to get the pump going, like they do inuntitled copy New Jersey, the only other place I’d experienced full-service in decades. Then I noticed that there were no credit card slots on these pumps.

“Later,” he said, and proceeded to fill up the tank. He came back to my window and I handed over the card.  I half expected him to disappear with it down some dark alley, never to be seen again.


BN-EI168_KNUCKL_G_20140829165653He headed to the office. Soon he came back with a plastic clipboard and a pen. The clipboard had a slot that held my credit card and clipped to the board was one of those multi-page, carbon paper things from the good old days. The kind you put into a machine on top of the card and pulled a roller over to imprint the card info on the forms.

I signed it. He handed me my card and one of the copies.

As I drove away the Twilight Zone thoughts began. Tiny Guilford is, after all, an important setting for prolific science fiction writer Harry Turtledove’s Supervolcano Trilogy.

Had I driven into another dimension to get the tank filled up? I looked into the rear view mirror. Yes, the station was still there. If I come back tomorrow will I have the same experience?

I never did go back there on that trip. I was a hundred miles away from the place by evening and needed to keep heading toward Connecticut so I’d be there in time for the baby’s arrival. (As it turned out it was good that I kept moving. I stopped in Guilford on January 23 and granddaughter Simone made her appearance just two days later.)

But I did go back to Guilford last weekend, after a meeting in St. George with my colleagues on the Sierra Club Awards Committee.

And I found that gas station.

When I pulled up to the pump a young man came out of the office.

“Fill ‘er up, please,” I asked, and he did so. I handed him my card and off he went to the office.

But some things have changed.

It’s no longer a Shell outlet, for one thing.  It’s now a Gulf station.

And when the young man came back with my credit card he had one of those modern, cash-register-like receipts on the clipboard for me to sign, not one of the old fashioned carbon paper ones.

Now that’s progress!

Shell Station in 2013:Guilford, Maine

Gulf Station in 2018:IMG_3155c


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Saved by the moat

As a castle, it’s not all that much.

Hardly big for one thing, a mere 1,962 square feet, with two bedrooms and two and a half baths. IMG_2926c

Up on a remote hill, with a commanding view of surrounding forests?  Nope, just plunked down on a cleared, two-acre lot at a busy intersection within a stone’s throw of more conventional suburban ‘castles’ in Milton, Georgia, 30-some miles from downtown Atlanta.

But the moat!  That saves it.  The waterway connects to the swimming pool in the back yard and provides an excuse for a couple of nifty drawbridges connecting to garages.  Add a pool house that’s  a small replica of the main castle and what’s  not to like about that setup?

The granite and white marble castle was built in 1950 by Rudy and Ruth McLaughlin. Local lore has it that Rudy was a long-haul truck driver who told his wife he would build her a castle—and did!

Current information about Rudy and Ruth is sparse indeed, but I figure that if they’re still around they’re well into their 80s today.  The Ruth Elizabeth McLaughlin Revocable Trust owns the place, according to Fulton County, which appraises the structure and land at some $440,000.

Some accounts state that it’s not as small as it looks and that there’s lots of subterranean living space, but according the county records the place doesn’t have a basement.

It’s always been a private residence and never opened for tours, but that doesn’t stop folks from stopping by and taking photos.  The sight of it along busy Arnold Mill Road sure slowed me down for a bit.

Here are a few more photos I took of it, and some aerial views, from Google and Bing:

castle 6google earth 3google earthIMG_2297cIMG_2922cIMG_2931cIMG_2933c




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Generoso Pope would have loved this place

But Mr. Pope was long gone from this earth by the time Jim Bolen came up with the big ideas that have put Casey, Illinois, on the map.

Had they met I think they’d have gotten along really well.

Gene Pope turned a small, local New York publication into a massive supermarket tabloid called the National Enquirer.  In its heyday it sold more than 6 million copies a week.  He believed in doing things large.

In fact, he delighted every year in bringing to tiny Lantana, Florida, the World’s Largest5bcd3565ed16a075380cb3e810d39cc3 Decorated Christmas Tree (Guinness Book of World Records, 1979).

He started the tradition in 1971, the year the National Enquirer moved to Florida, and it continued until 1988.  The final tree was lit two months after his death. a 126-foot Douglas fir with 15,200 colored lights, 1,200 colored balls, 250 red bows and 180 candy canes and snowflakes.  It was topped with a 6-foot lighted silver star.

The tree, a huge model train set, hundreds of thousands of decorative lights and numerous animated displays around the grounds of the Enquirer office drew up to a million visitors every year.

About the time Mr. Pope’s life was coming to an end, Jim Bolin’s father, Ed, was establishing Bolin Enterprises Inc., in Casey (pronounced KAY-zee).  The company today is a major pipeline and tank maintenance firm with projects across nearly half the US.

Jim, co-owner of his family’s firm, had for years watched business after business close down and his hometown wither.  He decided to build something big, to attract visitors to the town and perhaps give it a boost. He decided on a huge wind chime, and modeled it after one hanging on his porch.IMG_4465c

Aided by the engineering and fabrication resources of his company, Bolin’s dream of the world’s biggest wind chime became reality two years later, in 2011.  It stands 55 feet high. The largest of its five 8-inch-wide chime pipes is 42 feet long.  A flat, 75-pound disc-shaped granite hammer can be swung by visitors to produce the sound.

Other certified World’s Largest projects followed quickly: rocking chair, knitting needles and crochet hook, mailbox, wooden shoes, golf tee, and pitchfork, all displayed in and around Casey.

Also scattered around town are numerous other big things, including an ear of corn, a bird cage, a pencil, a yard stick, a wooden coin, and a balsa wood plane.

Casey calls itself The Small Town with a Big Heart.  Small in a very nice way, as I found soon after I arrived.  Driving in I had noticed a sign that said “Camping,” so I checked it out. (I have found that many small towns run their own campgrounds, sometimes free, but always at a decent price.)

The signs took me to Fairview Park and a nice, shady grassy area with water and electric hookups.  I didn’t see an office so I went off sightseeing, figuring I’d see a policeman or someone eventually and find out how to book a campsite.

Right next to the wind chimes is a café called the Whitling Whimsy.  It turns out the place is run by Jim Bolin’s wife and daughter and uses his grandmother’s last name, Whitling.

I stopped in for lunch and asked the waitress about arranging for a campsite. Immediately, a fellow at the neighboring table spoke up:  “Just go pick a site and set up.  Larry lives across the street and he’ll see you and come over to collect the fee.”

And that’s precisely what happened.  That’s what small towns are all about. The campsite was $5.


One last note about the big things.  Bolin thoroughly enjoys seeing his creations draw folks to his hometown. “The stuff is cool,” he says. “But the thing is really the people, the visitors in town. That’s what makes my heart happy about what is going on.”

His attitude reminds me of watching Mr. Pope beaming at the crowds who flocked to his annual Christmas display.


Pope, from Paul book

Generoso Pope Jr. and the National Enquirer Christmas Tree (Photo from Deeds of My Fathers, by Paul David Pope)





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Little League Baseball and Grit

On a drive through Williamsport, Pennyslvania, I happened upon this statuary.


What’s that for?  It took a few seconds for the synapses to work and then the light came on.  Duh!  Williamsport is the home of Little League Baseball.  That connection’s been buried in my brain for decades and I hadn’t exercised it in a very long time.

Williamsport (town motto, “The will is in us”)  was founded around 1800 and has a population just under 30,000, down from a peak of 45,000 in 1950 .

In 1939, native son Carl Stotz was looking for a way to inject some adult supervision into IMG_3700cthe sandlot baseball games played by his nephews and their friends.  He wanted to eliminate the on-field bickering.   So he and the boys started experimenting with various playing field dimensions, the mother of his nephews sewed the bases and Carl himself carved home plate and the pitcher’s mound.

He also attracted sponsors and other parents and soon had three teams set up, the Lycoming Dairy, Lundy Lumber, and Jumbo Pretzel.  The first League game took place on June 6, 1939, with the Lumber defeating the Dairy  23-8.

Today, Little League is huge. Its umpteen divisions in various age groups for girls and boys, encompassing baseball, softball, and even T-ball, include nearly 2.6 million players divided geographically into eight regions in the U.S. alone and another eight covering over 80 countries around the world.

The main stadium for Little League Baseball’s World Series is named after Howard J. Lamade, which leads me nicely into the other interesting thing I found about Williamsport.

It’s the birthplace of Grit, which was a national weekly newspaper popular in rural areas for more than 100 years.  It carried the claim, “America’s Greatest Family Newspaper.”

It was founded in 1882 as the Saturday edition of the Williamsport Daily Sun and Banner, and its typesetter was a young German immigrant by the name of Dietrick Lamade.  He left that job in 1884 to work for the newly launched Times newspaper, but that venture soon failed.  At age 25 with two children and no job he teamed up with a couple of partners, bought the Times’ equipment and the Grit name and became a publisher.


With rapid expansion, a wagon of Remington typewriters was delivered to the Grit offices in 1892 (Wikimedia Commons)


By 1887 he had a weekly circulation of 20,000.  He targeted small towns and rural families with a thick package of general news, features, comic strips and serials.  By 1900 circulation was at 100,000 a week.


His editorial policy was clear: “Always keep Grit from being pessimistic. Avoid printing those things which distort the minds of readers or make them feel at odds with the world. Avoid showing the wrong side of things, or making people feel discontented. Do nothing that will encourage fear, worry, or temptation… Wherever possible, suggest peace and good will toward men. Give our readers courage and strength for their daily tasks. Put happy thoughts, cheer, and contentment into their hearts.”  (Huh?  Not too dissimilar from the philosophy of a certain tabloid titan I began work for in the late 1970s)

Sales were propelled by direct mail delivery and a national newsboy sales force (Those ads in the comic books about how you could make extra money delivering Grit were still running well into my childhood).  By 1932, it had a circulation of 425,000 in 48 states, and 83% of its circulation was in towns of fewer than 10,000 population.

At its peak in 1969, Grit sold 1.5 million copies a week.  It stayed in the family until 1981 and, after changing hands several times, it survives today as a small circulation bi-monthly magazine, part of the stable at Ogden Publications in Topeka, which also publishes American Life & Traditions, Farm Collector, Mother Earth News and Utne Reader.

Founder Dietrick Lamade died in 1938.  It was one of his sons, Howard J., who as a vice-president was the Grit tie to Little League Baseball, serving the fledgling organization as an executive.  The main stadium used for the league’s world series was built on land donated by the Lamade family, and it is named after Howard J.

MillionairesI will leave you with this one last bit about Williamsport.   It once had more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the world.    This is why the sports teams at Williamsport Area High School are known as the “Millionaires.”

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Bicycle repair, a forcibly-segregated college and Ralston-Purina’s checkerboard logo

I encountered this fancy bicycle repair station on a drive through Kentucky.  It’s one of IMG_3909cfour on or near the campus of tiny Berea College in the small town of the same name about 50 miles south of Lexington on I-75.

The device includes a bike hanger, tools, an air pump and a savvy smart phone link to repair instructions.  It’s manufactured by Dero, a Minneapolis-based producer of all sorts of bicycle racks, shelters, lockers, bikeway materials and other cycling-related items.

A pretty pricy avant-garde piece of equipment to find in a southern, middle-of-nowhere town I thought to myself.  I’d pulled off the highway to take a look at the town’s renowned Kentucky Artisan Center and I certainly hadn’t seen enough bicycle traffic to warrant such an installation.

A little research opened my eyes though.

Berea College, with enrollment just under 1,700, is a private, non-denominational Christian college. Its history is closely entwined with that of the town of Berea, population about 14,000, and its student transportation policies explain the presence of the high-tech bike repair stations.

A little history first.  In 1853,  Cassius Marcellus Clay, a wealthy Kentucky anti-slavery landowner (not the boxer, who came along later) offered John Gregg Fee, a noted abolitionist minister, 10 acres on the edge of the mountains if Fee would take up permanent residence there. Fee accepted and with the help of local supporters and other abolitionist ministers he established two churches and a one-room school  in a  settlement they named “Berea,” after the biblical town whose populace was open-minded and receptive to the gospel.

Berea’s first teachers were recruited from Oberlin College, an anti-slavery stronghold in Ohio.

Fee’s goal was to found a college “which would be to Kentucky what Oberlin is to Ohio, anti-slavery, anti-caste, anti-rum, anti-sin.”  The first articles of incorporation for Berea College were adopted in 1859. But that also was the year Fee and the Berea teachers were driven from Madison County by pro-slavery activists.

Fee spent the Civil War years raising funds for the school. In 1865, he and his followers returned to Kentucky and by 1869 Berea College was a reality.

It was the first college in the southern United Sates to be coeducational and racially integrated.  It charged no tuition; every admitted student got a four-year education in exchange for working at least 10 hours per week in campus jobs.

All was not smooth however.  A new state law in 1904 meant the end of desegregated education in Kentucky.  Berea College challenged the law all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, but lost.  It was forced to segregate, and in reaction helped fund  the Lincoln Institute in Louisville for black students.  When the state law was amended in 1950 to allow integration, Berea promptly returned to its original policies.

Today it enjoys a good national and international reputation and is one of only nine “work colleges” in the nation.  They are defined by the U.S. Department of Education as distinctive liberal arts colleges that promote the purposeful integration of work, learning, and service.

And where do the bicycle repair stations come in?  Here’s how:  Students are not allowed to have cars on campus without a special permit, and permits are rarely granted to first- or second-year students.

As noted in the student handbook: “College policy is to discourage unnecessary ownership and use of personal vehicles by students. It is also College policy to provide an educational and social situation in which the ownership and use of personal motor vehicles by students is not normally needed. Ecological and environmental effects, loss of open space, costs of parking, and increased traffic hazards associated with a large number of motor vehicles are also factors influencing the College’s policy of restricting student vehicles.”

The college offers sustainable transportation resources such as campus bike racks and carpool parking, a campus shuttle system to surrounding communities, and a student-led community bike program.  In addition, the college and Enterprise Car Rentals provide an on-campus car for student use and in partnership with Zimride, it offers a free ride sharing and carpooling service.

1200px-Lg_checker.svgNo, I have not forgotten the Ralston-Purina checkerboard logo.  Today that company is part of the Nestle conglomerate and the logo is used far less prominently than it was at its peak of popularity.  But it was once ubiquitous.  And remember the ‘Checkerboard Square’ address of the company back in the day?  I do.

The pattern became the logo in the late 1800s because of company founder William Danforth’s childhood memory of a family dressed in clothing made from a bolt of checkerboard cloth.

And why do I think that is relevant here?  William Danforth is an alum of Berea College.

More photos of the Dero Fixit below.  All photos by Ron Haines.



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House of Balls

It’s a catchy name for a museum/art gallery/workshop, but, on the surface anyway, there’s a pretty mundane explanation.

Allen Christian’s early artistic efforts centered on bowling balls as a medium, carving them, painting them, and otherwise having a bit of fun with them.


That, he says, gave rise to the name of what is today, a quarter century later, an eclectic collection of human and other figures made out of just about anything, and called the House of Balls.

But, fortunately for us bottom-feeders, there is also a scatological bent to the label.  It signifies, he says, “the idea that we all possess the creative impulse and owe ourselves the balls to express it.”

Yes, it takes some balls to do what he does.

Located in the West Bank area, just a short light rail or bike/walk trip across the massive spaghetti pile of I-35W’s on and off ramps from downtown Minneapolis, the place is instantly likeable, at least for me.  It’s in a former gas station, after all.  What’s not to like?

The outside, with its large displays and open-air gallery and work areas just across the chain link fence from the Cedar Riverside train station, is itself well worth a visit.


And that’s almost all I got to see of the place!

I had not paid any attention to its hours of operation (Saturday afternoons) and I IMG_4762chappened by on a Monday morning.  I called the phone number posted on the door and left a message.

I didn’t want to spend the day in Minneapolis waiting for a call back, so I headed north to Lake Itasca.  I wanted to revisit some of the places I had stopped at in 2003 when I paddled the Mississippi River.  Allen Christian called me back in the afternoon.  Turns out he has a real job on weekdays and wouldn’t be able to meet me at the museum for a tour until the weekend.

Bummer.  Even my loose traveling schedule wouldn’t allow me to spend the rest of the week near Minneapolis.

So we chatted a bit, trying to figure out a way to rendezvous and Allen came up with an incredibly generous solution.  He gave me the code to the keybox at the museum and told me to go there in the morning, let myself in and then call him so he could walk me through turning on the dozen or so light switches, some of them hidden in the artworks themselves, that would light up the rooms and operate the figures that were animated.

So I hustled back south to Minneapolis that evening and on Tuesday morning spent a couple hours poking about the place and taking photos.  Just getting all the lights turned on was a great adventure.

When I  finished my tour I retraced my steps and turned off all the lights, locked the place up again and called Allen to confirm I was leaving and to thank him for the hospitality.

My visit there included a pleasant phone encounter with a complete stranger who was kind enough to let me roam around his creations untethered for as long as I wished.  That and the fact that the photo below, which appears on the House of Balls facebook page, shows he is a fellow Carhenge visitor make him in my book a fast, albeit unmet, friend.

house of balls at carhengec

More photos are below.  I took a lot of them.  Hope you don’t get bored.  I didn’t.











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Honk like an Egyptian

I saw a couple of these hanging around my house a few years ago and I didn’t know what they were.  It was the first time I’d seen them.

I posted a photo and asked if any of my Facebook friends could ID them.  A friend from England piped up: “Egyptian Goose! Richmond Park London is full of them as well as Canadian Geese.”

That was four years ago.

I hadn’t seen one around since.

Until last month.

I spotted this family swimming past the house; two adults, presumably mom and dad, and three youngsters.IMG_1893c

Native to Africa south of the Sahara and the Nile Valley, they were domesticated by ancient Egyptians and were raised for food and extensively bred. Its popularity as an ornamental bird led to wide dispersion in western Europe, where escapees and  intentional releases have led to the establishment of wild populations.

The Florida Wildlife Commission webpage says they were first seen here in the 1960s, and adds,  “Species are present but not confirmed to be breeding. Population persists only with repeated introductions and/or escapes of individuals.”

I beg to differ.  According to the evidence paddling the waters behind my house, there’s some breeding going on.  I have a feeling it won’t be long before they become as ubiquitous here as those ugly and messy Muscovy ducks we seem to have everywhere.

At least the Muscovys are usually quiet. They generally murmur quietly to each other, but these geese emit a rapid fire staccato of honks that is pretty annoying.  Compared to the lazy occasional honk from a flock of Canadian geese overhead they sound like a frustrated road-rager caught in a traffic jam.  I found that out during a nice stretch of Florida winter in February when I left the windows open at night.  More effective than an alarm clock.

And the Muscovys are generally less aggressive.  Walk up to a family of Muscovys in a park and they’ll all come waddling over for a handout.  I doubt that would happen with Egyptians.  An unfortunate pelican who had the nerve to dive into the water for a fish about 30 yards from my little flock  the other day was attacked by one of the adults you see in my photo.  The goose actually batted the pelican back into the water as it struggled to take flight after catching the fish.

Good thing I probably won’t be around in 30 years when the Egyptians are as numerous as the Muscovys are now.  I wouldn’t dare step foot in a park and it’ll be too noisy to sleep.



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