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Sunday, September 30, 2012

On The Road Again - Heading for Michigan.

We departed for Michigan's Upper Peninsula this morning.  In our unique way, we made over a hundred miles before stopping for the night at Ironwood.

After stopping to view some leaves, we stopped in Cable, Wisconsin, for Lunch. Cable has a wonderful restaurant and coffee shop, open only for breakfast and lunch, called the Brick House.

They serve some fantastic dishes like my Tarragon Chicken Salad Sandwich and Linda's Raspberry Chicken Salad.  I added a cup of Turkey Wild Rice Soup that would make a hearty meal on its own.  Worth a stop any time you are close.

We picked up Leaf Tour number one out of Cable stopping at several points and winding past Garmish Inn, (another favorite lunch spot) and a very busy entrance to the North County National Scenic Trail before arriving in the vicinity of Drummond.

We followed U.S. 2 across the top of Wisconsin arriving at Ashland and this very large Northern Great Lakes Visitor Information Center.  It seems like a bit "over the top" for the area, but maybe in the summer months?  I notice that the website for it touts the fact that the center is staffed by 20 permanent and 13 seasonal, part time staff members.  Also that local groups successfully "lobbied the state and federal governments for nearly six years and obtained state and federal funds to build this Center."  I guess that means nobody had to pay for it.

Take the elevator or stairs to the top of the center and you do get a heck of a view of Lake Superior and Chequamegon Bay.  And as another symbol of the honesty of mid-westerners, there is a basket with high-quality binoculars sitting at the entrance to the observation deck. No chains, locks or cables on them.

Downstairs, an exhibit allows you push buttons that show the locations of lighthouses, shipwrecks, shipping routes, etc.  Here I try out the lighthouse button.
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An hour or so of pleasant driving along the Lake Superior shoreline  soon brought us to the adjacent border cities of Hurley(WI)/Ironwood(MI).  The gulls were singing, the rocks are round and, o yes, as they say in this area, it was "cooler by the lake."  By about ten degrees.
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Approaching Peak Fall Color in the Northland

Four days can make a big change in the fall color scheme.  The yellows are coming out now and some reds are fading.  These trees were scarcely noticeable on Tuesday afternoon but look now on Saturday.  This is between Hinckley. MN and Danbury, WI.

Farther East, between Danbury and Minong, these colors blossomed on Webb Lake.  Even the geese are admiring them.

And yet this nearby cluster of red that was a highlight on Tuesday is now faded from notice.  (The picture is from Tuesday.)

Our own maple tree on St Croix Flowage is at peak.

This stretch of South Shore Drive on the Eau Claire chain of lakes is a favorite of ours.  The view changes daily, so it's worth repeat visits.

Here are both sides of the road.
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And if you are in the area near Drummond, this Pigeon Lake loop north of county N near U.S. 63 can be amazing around October 1 of any year.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fall Color Is Here

While we were out looking for the Nebagamon twine ball, yesterday, we saw lots of patches of fall color developing in the Wisconsin north woods.  We were looking for the first signs of poplar turning bright yellow to go with the red and oranges of the maples.  Good fall color requires the reds and oranges to "hang on" for a while as the poplars start to turn.

We found nice samples of maples starting to turn, like this one near a canoe launch site on the Brule River, "River of Presidents."
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Along Wisconsin highway 27 there was a one very nice area close to peak color.

And the best examples of red leaves are always found as the sun gets low in the sky to light the leaves from the back as it was here along highway 77 between Minong and Danbury.

And if you are out leafing, be sure to catch a sunset on a lake.

If the rain and wind don't knock the early leaves down, next week should be outstanding.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The World's Largest Twine Ball

Ask any Minnesota resident where to find the world's largest twine ball, and they will surely direct you to Darwin, MN, about sixty miles due west of downtown Minneapolis.

I think I first heard of the Darwin ball back in 1962 when this picture ran on the wire services.

It was only eight feet in diameter at the time and only weighed in at about 4,000 pounds.  Francis A. Johnson was the owner and winder.  He was born in 1904 but didn't start winding until 1950, at age 46.  Little did I know that I would one day see the ball in person!

When Johnson died, he willed the twine ball to the city of Darwin and they have treated it well, building a gazebo and publicizing it.  Here are a couple of pictures I took back in 2005 when we visited it to show a visiting Swedish couple what Minnesotans do for entertainment during our cold winters.
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Recently, we discovered that there was another candidate for world's largest twine ball and that it was only sixteen miles away from our cabin in Northwest Wisconsin.  Yesterday, we headed up toward Lake Nebagamon to check it out.  Now, getting to this twine ball is not as easy as getting to the one in Darwin.  Basically, you go north on US 53 from Gordon, Wisconsin about 14 miles until you reach County L.  Then, three miles east on L to County P, two miles north on P to Minnesuing Road and another two miles East to Oakdale.

OK.  Where's the twine ball?  You are now at this intersection. The twine ball is in the shed with the green roof indicated by the arrow.

Take a look.

Now mathematicians who are reading this are immediately going to call, "foul!"  "That's not a ball.  It's an oblate spheroid."  Normal people, of course, are just going to say, "It looks like a giant M&M."

But let's consider the tale of the tape.  The Darwin ball is reported to weigh over 17,000 pounds.  But the Lake Nebagamon ball is currently at 20,300 pounds and is still growing.  The circumference of the Nebagamon ball exceeds the Darwin Ball.  The earth is also an oblate spheroid - where do we draw the line?  Consider also that this ball is colorful and weaved in a very distinctive pattern.

The owner/winder of the Nebagamon ball is James Frank Kotera, known locally simply as JFK.  Kotera started winding on April 3, 1979.  That year, by the way, is the year that Francis Johnson quit winding on his ball in Darwin.  Kotera actually started two balls on April 3, 1979.  Besides the large one, he started a second, very round ball, which he nicknamed, "Junior."  He stopped that one at 47 pounds in honor of his birth year, 1947, and it is available for a really good look.

JFK is the dump attendant for the township of Highland.  He is definitely a "numbers guy."  He proudly notes that he got 2,471 bags of trash into the Waste Management dumpster when it finally filled on July 8th of this year.  And how does he know that the big ball weighs 20,300 pounds?  He puts the twine into a bucket and weighs it before adding the twine to the ball.

If you want to try winding a championship ball yourself, start early.  Johnson put 29 years into his ball and JFK is already at 33 years of weaving.

For more information on large twine balls including ones in Kansas and Branson, check here, here, here and here.

To see Charles Kuralt's 1977 "On the Road" report on the Darwin ball, go here.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Visit to Welch, Minnesota

Right at the midpoint of the Cannon Valley Bicycle Trail, we came to Welch Minnesota.  I thought it would be a nice place to stop and visit, so I rode the 1/3 of a mile into town.
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As the sign suggests, Welch was a town that grew up around its feed mill,

I stopped in at the local restaurant and ice cream shop to visit.  I found an interesting town history with this photo on the cover.

The mill is long closed.  It now functions as a starting spot for tubing on the Cannon River.  I guess you could also say it is a milling museum with the equipment exhibited out front.

But look closely at the top of the mill in that first picture and you might spot the remnants of a Pillsbury's Best "barrel-head" logo.  It took me a while to realize that this must have been part of the Pillsbury Feed Ingredients Division.

A Pillsbury Feed Mill was the center of many a small town in the mid-west from the 1940's on.  This company history makes only a brief mention of the Feed Ingredients Division, run by Phil Lindau back in the 1970s and 80s.
The agriproducts group had long been run by Fred C. Pillsbury, Charles S. Pillsbury's brother, who developed cattle feeds from mill byproducts before the turn of the century. The division grew to become responsible for the collection, milling, storage, trading, and distribution of grain and feed ingredients. Pillsbury continued to provide about 10 percent of U.S. flour into the 1980s, and the division became one of the largest U.S. purchasers of grains and dry beans.
Ah, the stories that could be told based on just the last two words in that paragraph!  (Pillsbury bought 69 mill and bean processing facilities from the Wickes Furniture and Lumber company in 1982.   Ah, sweet memories!)

While Feed Ingredients might only have been a small part of Pillsbury, it was a big part of many towns.  Here are a couple of ads that ran in local papers back in the 1950's.  The first is from Atchison, Kansas, a major Pillsbury location.
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O yes!  I drifted off topic again, didn't I?  The ice cream shop.  It's the Trout Scream Cafe.

Lunch looked pretty good.  We may have to come back.  It's easy to locate, once you reach Welch.  You can find it right next to the Post Office and across the street from the mill.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Cannon Valley Bicycle Trail

Minnesota has several very nice paved bicycle trails.  I've blogged about the Munger Trail in the past.  Over the weekend, we headed south to the Cannon Valley Trail (map)that stretches twenty miles from Cannon Falls to Red Wing.

This trail differs from the Munger trail in many ways.  First, you will have to pay $4 to ride on the trail.  But the nice volunteers like Chloe, here, near Red Wing, will give you directions, have a pleasant conversation and wish you a nice day - so it's a pretty good deal.  A good place to start, though, is right in the middle at Welch.
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The biggest difference between this trail and the Munger is that this trail is not at all straight or level which makes it a much different experience.  The trail is almost two totally different riding experiences.  The western half, from Cannon Falls to Welch offers some excellent views of the Cannon River as it climbs to a decent height above the surrounding area.



The eastern half, from Welch to Red Wing takes you through more open space, especially as you approach Red Wing.

At this time of the year, either segment offers you Brown-Eyed Susans to brighten your day.


There are numerous bridges to ride across.
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There are farm fields and livestock grazing.

And much of the trail is through heavily wooded areas with an oak canopy to shade you from the summer sun.

The town of Welch lies right at the midpoint of the trail and deserves its own post.  We'll look at that tomorrow.