My friend Phil

Punxsutawney Phil and I met, sort of,  nearly a year ago. We didn’t actually speak to each other.

It was a chilly and drizzly June day and well after hours when I rolled into Punxsutawney, PA, so we just had to be content with eyeing each other through the glass of his off-season home,  Phil’s Burrow.IMG_3746c

His burrow is inside the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club Headquarters in the library building.  His prognostication platform, Gobbler’s Knob, is on the outskirts of town.

As you all know, he appeared there just a few days ago for the 132nd time and saw his shadow.    Six more weeks of winter.  Sorry folks.IMG_3719c

And for you Doubting Thomas out there, Phil is 100 per cent accurate.  It says so right there on the sign.

The tradition was brought to town by German settlers.    In the old country a hedgehog did the honors, but here they used a groundhog.   The first official Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney was celebrated in 1886 and the event has grown, with worldwide media coverage and tens of thousands descending on the some 6,000 permanent residents for several days of festivities.  In most other parts of the world, Feb. 2 is still Candelmas, the traditional Christian holy day.

IMG_3716cOn the second Groundhog Day, 1887, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club declared the town to be the Weather Capital of the World, and announced that Phil’s full name is actually “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinary.”


About those predictions…Wikipedia sums it up best I think:  “The practices and lore of Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions are predicated on a light-hearted suspension of disbelief by those involved.”

Taking a quick look at the official website confirms his acolytes have their tongues firmly in cheeks:

Here are some answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the holiday:

–Yes! Punxsutawney Phil is the only true weather forecasting groundhog. The others are just impostors.
–How often is Phil’s prediction correct? 100% of the time, of course!
–How many “Phils” have there been over the years? There has only been one Punxsutawney Phil. He has been making predictions for over 131 years! A groundhog’s life span is normally 6 to 8 years. Phil receives a drink of a magical punch every summer during the Annual Groundhog Picnic, which gives him 7 more years of life.

Leave it to the government to poke holes in our fantasies.  Here’s the assessment by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, referring to a chart of Phil’s predictions:  “The table below gives a snapshot, by year since 1988, of whether Phil saw his shadow or not along with the corresponding monthly national average temperature departures for both February and March. The table shows no predictive skill for the groundhog.”

For those keeping track, Phil’s accuracy rate is 39 per cent, about the same as The Farmers’ Almanac and its rival, The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Phil has his imitators of course; a few of them get some regional or national press on Groundhog day and others are just local celebrities.  Other animals have also been pressed into duty.

The Phil folks aren’t worried though.  As webmaster Alan Freed puts it: “We’ll take ’em seriously just as soon as a major motion picture is created in their honor.”

(For the curious, Groundhog Day was mostly filmed in Woodstock, IL, not Punxutawney.)

Below are some views of Phil’s in-town home and his Groundhog Day stage, and an assortment of Punxutawney Phil statuary around town.  (Photos by Ron Haines)




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Calling your quat

This road trip had been brewing for nearly a year.  It was in March of 2017 when I happened upon Dade City, FL.  It was antiques day or something, and every store in the small downtown, anchored by a massive central courthouse building, was open and there were merchandising tables set up on all the sidewalks.

So I stopped, had breakfast and wandered around a bit.  And I noticed some signs for theIMG_0848c Kumquat Festival, an annual, one-day event held on the last Saturday in January.  I’d missed it, and resolved to put it on my 2018 calendar.

Why the kumquat festival?  It’s just a very funny word to me.  It always has been.  And I’ve never, knowingly anyway, eaten a kumquat.  Just made fun of them.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago, to the 21st Annual Kumquat Festival.  This was not just an hour or so jaunt for me.  Dade City’s about 200 miles from my house.  So I combined a leisurely drive up there with a paddle on Blue Cypress Lake and a lunch at the Desert Inn at Yeehaw Junction and BINGO! Road Trip!

800px-Kumquat-CrosssectionDade City is still in one of those increasingly disappearing pockets of Florida where the urban sprawl hasn’t taken things over completely yet.  It is far enough north of the Tampa-St. Pete conglomeration and far enough west of Orlando’s Mickey Mouse madness that you can actually reach the rural outskirts of town without traveling through ten miles of a four-lane highway lined with commercial enterprises.  But don’t drive very far, because the stop lights and malls are creeping closer all the time.

I think it’s the town’s proximity to these huge urban areas that keeps the Kumquat Festival going.  It’s not all about the fruit, that’s for sure.  It’s about the vendors–more than 400 of them–most with some very good quality arts and crafts to sell, that draw the crowd, an estimated 40,000 people.IMG_0843c

I wandered around the place from about 10:30 in the morning to about 3 in the afternoon and it was packed the whole time.  There was also live entertainment on the steps of the courthouse, an antique car show, food trucks, a kids’ bounce house section and, of course, the kumquat area.

I gravitated, as I usually do, to the vendors selling creative yard art.  I found some, allIMG_0909c with stuff produced by those who were selling them.  I bought a piece from Robyn Lynn, of Robyn’s Garden.  She and her husband, Robert, live in Vermont and do a Florida circuit with their wares in the winter.  The other notable artist I encountered was Andy Hamilton of Twisted Minds Rusty Metal in nearby Lutz, FL.  His work reminded me of Mike Prince, who I met at the Bell Tower Festival in Jefferson, Iowa, in 2015.

But, hey, this is about kumquats, not yard art.   The fruit was well represented at Kumquat Central, an area at the festival sponsored by Kumquat Growers Inc.   This, from its website:  “Called ‘the little gold gem of the citrus family,’ the kumquat has a thin, sweet peel and a zesty, somewhat tart center. The kumquat tastes best if it is gently rolled between the fingers before being eaten, as this releases the essential oils in the rind. Eat kumquats as you would eat grapes, with the peel.”



So there you have it.  This is a serious foodstuff.  Born in south Asia (some 12th century references exist), introduced in Europe in the mid-1800s and shortly thereafter in the US IMG_0863cin the form of the Nagami variety, the fruit grows densely on small trees with dark glossy green leaves and white flowers.  It is used in sauces, jams and jellies and other foods.   The growers’ display featured kumquat lobster and crab dip and kumquat sausage; a local restaurant offered kumquat pie, kumquat sangria and a kumquat-cranberry croissant, and a downtown bar had kumquat wine and beer on hand.  (Yes, all you Prime folks, you can buy kumquats on Amazon)

Did I like it?  Yes, but nothing to write home about.  Besides, to me the attraction is that it’s just a very funny word, that’s it.   George Carlin agreed with me.  He called them his funniest food. “I don’t even bring them home. I sit there laughing and they go to waste.”

In a disgraceful bid to flaunt the depth of my research, I must tell you that the phrase “my little kumquat” has appeared in no fewer than seven movies and that there has even been a poem written about them:

What? Kumquat?

Why me, you ask?

I ain’t no tangelo, got no class.

My line goes way back,

I’m one of a kind—original,

of the genus–citrus fruit.

Time to give my horn a toot.

By Ronald W. Hull

Not impressed yet?  How about this, from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: “According to the magazine, if you turned the runes on their heads they revealed a spell to make your enemy’s ears into kumquats.”

Saving the best for last, there is this from The Tonight Show, with the great Johnny Carson as Carnac:

ED McMAHON: Heaven has no brighter star than our next stellar guest, that omnipotentCarnac master of the east and former manicurist to Howard Hughes, Carnac the Magnificent…

Welcome once again, O Great Sage… I hold in my hand these envelopes. As a child of four can plainly see, these envelopes have been hermetically sealed. They’ve been kept in a #2 mayonnaise jar since noon today on Funk and Wagnell’s porch. No one knows the contents of these envelopes, but you, in your divine and mystical way, will ascertain the answers to these questions having never seen them before.

CARNAC: I must have absolute silence…

Q: What do you say when calling your quat?

A: Kumquat.

CARNAC: May a bag of Pop Rocks explode in your shorts.

Drum Roll Please



So what about Blue Cypress Lake and the Desert Inn, you ask?  Well, the high winds made paddling on the lake, even around the edges, unpleasant because of the high waves.  And Hurricane Irma has severely reduced the width and density of the band of cypress trees that makes the shoreline of the lake such a nice place to paddle.  And lunch at the Desert Inn?  Very nice as always, and this time accompanied by an elderly gentleman playing his acoustic guitar and singing country ballads in a deep mellow voice.  A pleasant Sunday afternoon treat.







Posted in Festivals, Road trip, Yard art | 2 Comments

Chain Chain Chain….

Outside of a few Sprint stores I have not seen much evidence of national or regional chain operations, franchise or otherwise, taking advantage of the availability of vacant gas stations.

The locations are valuable of course.  Lots of the old stations have been torn down over the years to create vacant, buildable land in prime locations, but I have seen very few occupying the existing structures.

So it was great to see these two on my way back from the Kumquat Festival in Dade City, Florida.

Both the Krispy Kreme and the Starbucks are in Lakeland.IMG_0882cIMG_0885cc

On this same trip, I found this delightful classic in a neighborhood in Dade City.  Yes, there used to be neighborhood gas stations.  This one’s being used as a residence.IMG_0819c

All photos by Ron Haines.  Go here to see my entire collection of recycled gas stations.

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Those creepy things again

I’ve written about these things before.  But that was when I saw them up north.  I don’t know why I’d never seen them in the south, or why it never occurred to me they would be down here.  I guess I’d never paid attention.

Well they are here in Florida.  Yes indeed.  I happened upon these magnificent bryozoan (Pectinatella magnifica), a family of small filter feeding invertebrates that live as colonies in aquatic habitats, while paddling the backwaters of the Loxahatchee River out at Riverbend Park in Jupiter.

They’re usually found under the surface, clinging to  tree limbs  that have fallen into the water.  In one of the photos below I used my paddle to pull the branch to which the colony was attached out of the water to grab a few shots.

And I must conclude by pointing out that while perusing the scientific papers in preparation for this blog post (I go all out for my readers), I found the following notation in a 2009 paper published in the Italian Journal of Zoology  entitled “First report about freshwater Bryozoa in Florida (Lake Apopka).”

You may not think it excuses my lack of knowledge of bryozoan in Florida, but I think it does.  Here the notation:

“Knowledge regarding bryozoan diversity and distribution in Florida is poor and it concerns exclusively the finding of Urnatella gracilis (Hull et al. 1980), whereas studies on bryozoan distribution in the northeastern USA are numerous.”

Enjoy the photos.



All photos by Ron Haines.


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Wide streets and Eskimo Pies

Lots of towns have some claim to fame. Usually it’s proclaimed on a sign or billboard on the way into town.

Onawa, IA, has two claims and uses banners on streetlamp poles to do the boasting.

The Eskimo Pie one caught my eye first. And soon after that I saw the Widest main street boast.

Widest Street


Onawa, Iowa (Photo by Ron Haines)

It turns out, however that width is in the eye of the beholder,  how you measure it, and who you’re rooting for. A small bit of research turns up five other towns in the U.S. making the same claim: Greenwood, SC; Keene, NH; Plains, KS; Newburgh, NY, and New Orleans (Canal Street).

Onawa’s main street—it’s actually called Iowa Avenue—was platted wide because at the time it was thought a railroad would be built through town. That never happened.

In the 1980s, in the midst of a bit of claiming and counter claiming on the part of some of the towns boasting of wide main streets, students from the Onawa School District tackled the measuring project

“One of the girls and her dad went down late at night and measured the street from storefront to storefront,” said Jo Petersen, a former school district coordinator, and came up with 157 feet.

Eskimo Pie

The Eskimo Pie claim is a bit more clear cut. In case you’ve forgotten your childhood, it’s a bar of ice cream covered in chocolate and wrapped in tin foil.

Now part of the Nestle stable of products, it was created in Onawa in 1920 by Christian


Christian Kent Nelson

Kent Nelson, a Danish immigrant who taught school and owned a candy store in town.

He says he was inspired to create it when a boy in his store was unable to decide whether to spend his money on ice cream or a chocolate bar.

Nelson, then 25, experimented and came up with a dipping machine so he could adhere melted chocolate to a bar of ice cream. He started marketing them as “I-Scream Bars.”

In 1921 he filed for a patent and partnered with a chocolate producer for mass production.  By 1922, through franchising and licensing the formula to other manufacturers, they were selling a million pies a day, obviously a lot of them to out-of-towners. (In the 1920s, Onawa had a population of about 2,500, only some 300 fewer than it has today.)

So, who’s the chocolate producer Nelson teamed up with? It was a fellow by the name of


Russell C. Stover

Russell C. Stover, an Omaha chemist, entrepreneur and candy company employee. It was he who devised the formula for the chocolate shell that hardens on exposure to cold and holds the ice cream contents within. Stover’s wife, Clara, is credited with coming up with the name Eskimo Pie.

And yes, after selling their share of the business to Nelson in 1924, Russell and Clara went on to form Russell Stover Candies.

Posted in Offbeat, Road trip | 1 Comment

Cool Springs Park

Only twice in my life have I been in a store so filed with every conceivable item that I couldn’t think of what I could ask for that they might not have.

Cool Springs Park in Rowlesburg, WV, was one of them.

The place is a combination restaurant, gas station, grocery store, pharmacy, gift shop,card produce and flower stand, souvenir emporium, fishing and hunting equipment outlet, hardware store, junk shop and mid-1900’s amusement park that’s been in business since 1929.

As one newspaper reporter put it, “Cool Springs Park is a mixture of lunch counter, general store and the attic of your crazy old uncle who never threw anything away.”

It was cold and drizzly the day I happened upon it, so I didn’t talk a walk around the grounds, but it looked like the kind of place a family could spend a few pleasant hours exploring in nice weather.   There’s plenty of old farm equipment and machinery, train cars, animals, ponds, toys and picnic tables to keep everyone entertained.

Inside was amazing, items packed on shelves filling every conceivable space and merchandise hanging on the walls all the way up to the high ceiling. I spent about an hour just wandering around.

Add in the buckwheat cakes and foot-long hot dogs that are available all day and you have all the elements of a relaxing, interesting pit stop.

Enjoy the photos.

By the way, the other spot I’ve encountered that had everything I could imagine in it was a jam-packed second-hand store that took up the first floor of a run-down, two-story building in a very small, block-long downtown somewhere.

I remember congratulating the proprietor on his collection of stuff and asking about the history of the place.

“I bought this building ten years ago when my wife told me I’d have to empty all my stuff out of our garage,”  he replied. “I moved everything over here.”

Cool Springs Park, Macomber, W. VA.

Cool Springs Park, Macomber, W. VA.

Cool Springs Park, Macomber, W. VA.Cool Springs Park, Macomber, W. VA.

Photos by Ron Haines

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Sometimes it’s very subtle….

I have this quirky little collection of pictures going on.  As I travel I  take photos of old gas stations that have been repurposed into some other business, or in some rare cases, into a residence.  I also photograph vacant ones if they have a bit of character.  And occasionally I photograph one that is simply slowly falling apart.

These things are usually not very hard to spot.  For the older style ones there’s usually an overhang that’s integral to the roofline of the building, such as the classic below in Brinkley, AR.  Located right in a residential area, it is used occasionally for the meetings of a civic group.  I think it would make a great little house.



Brinkley, Arkansas (Photo by Ron Haines)


Another huge clue to spotting old stations, of course, is the pump island.   And even if the pump island has been paved over there’s usually a rise or indentation in the pavement that tells you it was dug up, or covered over.

And even without an overhang or remnants of a pump island, it’s often pretty obvious, as in the case of the beauty below in Bloomfield, CT.  The large door frames usually give it away.


Bloomfield, CT. (Photo by Ron Haines)


So most of the time I can easily recognize the building’s original purpose, snap the photos and be on my way.  Sometimes, though, I have to check to be sure.

In the case of the one below, in Reedsburg, WI, I wasn’t sure.  But there was something about that A-shaped roofline in the front that reminded me of the classic old Phillips Petroleum stations, so I took the photo anyway and checked with the gallery owner by email later.  Yes, it used to be a gas station.



Reedsburg, WI. (Photo by Ron Haines)


I know I’ve missed some that were lacking the obvious signs, or, more accurately, had clues that were so subtle I was oblivious to them.  I came across a case of this a month or so ago.

There’s a pizza restaurant in Coventry, CT, that I have passed by a hundred or so times in the last few years, and indeed have eaten at once or twice,  but had never recognized as a former gas station.

The building’s been drastically changed over the years as it morphed from a gas station (Tomassi’s Texaco) to an appliance salesroom to a liquor store to an ice cream parlor and then to a pizza restaurant.  The structure as it is today lacks the clues that usually guide me and the pump islands were long ago landscaped over, but there was one thing about the place that had remained constant through the years.

How did I find out?  I don’t remember how I got there, but one day last month I was reading a history of old service stations in Coventry written by Bill Jobbagy and I came across these words:  “The present sign in front of Coventry Pizza was originally the Texaco sign.”

Yes, Coventry Pizza, a long stone’s throw from the two lake houses I rented in Coventry for a few years, used to be a gas station!  They stopped pumping gas there in the mid 1980s and the pump islands were landscaped over years ago, but the sign remained.

So here’s a photo of it with the sign, the oh so subtle sign.




Above is the Coventry Pizza sign today.  Below is  an actual Texaco sign at a restored station in Buckley, IL.  (Photos by Ron Haines)



Go here to see my entire collection of photos of recycled gas stations.


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