Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sep 29 - Back in Beaver Dam

When I last updated this journal, we were in our last few days in the U.P. of Michigan... and that was more than a week ago (longer??). About time I get caught up.

Thursday the 20th of September, we took advantage of a hole in the clouds and escaped the U.P. while the gettin' was good. For much of the previous week this little corner of the country has been cold and wet... the result of a "ridge" over the eastern Pacific that was keeping the Northwest and Alaska warm, but was then diving southeast bringing all this unpleasantness to the northern Midwest. Weather satellite video was clearly showing this river of clouds and moisture. And we were there.

We woke to rain (of course) which reinforced my nagging fear that we may not be able to leave... even if we wanted to. You see, we're parked on grass here at the camp. The grass grows in dirt and most people know what happens when a lot of water is mixed with dirt. But the rain eased, and the dirt and grass supported the bus-house just enough as we backed, floated really, onto the more supportive driveway and road a good hundred feet away. At that point our escape was assured. Sorry for the ruts Dennis.

Our route was M-28 to M-95 to US-141 to US-41 to US-151. For the most part, and once we drove out of the rain, the drive was agreeable and the fall colors bordering on spectacular. The only time it really rained hard was when we stopped in Sagola Michigan for fuel. Figures. And while the station had separate truck pumps and a reasonable price for diesel (4.119), they did lack a canopy over the pumps... so I "got" a shower in the process.

Once we arrived in Beaver Dam we drove first to our favorite sani-dump station... at the famous Beaver Dam Sewage Treatment Plant. I wanted the tanks good and empty... and well-flushed... so I could replace the Valterra blade valves. After 5 years of full-time use, they were beginning to seep a bit... and when it comes to these valves, any seepage at all is unacceptable. Unfortunately, the sewage plant closes the gate at 3pm and we were aced out of a "dump for free" opportunity by a few minutes. The alternate was to drive to a local county campground where we had to pay $10 for the privilege, which we did.

The plan is to be here in Beaver Dam until the end of October. It's been 5 years since we've experienced a Midwest Fall. Both Dar and my favorite time of the year up here, we're hoping it's a good one.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sep 18 - Yooper Dooper Autumn

Outside temp was 35f this morning. Expecting 28f tomorrow morning... likely the first hard freeze of the progressively advancing Fall of 2012. Our trip around the sun on the lifeboat "Earth" steadily carries us toward Winter again.

As you'd expect, Fall color is really starting to "pop"... noticeably more during the past week. The forest on the hillside across the lake from our camp (the view from our picture-window/windshield) is providing the scenic images we've been longing for... and the main reason we're up here as late as we are this year.

Locals are busily getting ready for Winter. Wood sheds are fully stocked... piers and docks are pulled ashore... most boats are out of the water and readied for a 7 month sleep in drydock. It's the semi-annual change-over that true Yoopers seem to live for.

The original economic engine of the UP, and the reason so many people flocked to this area between the civil war and the 1930's boils down to three things: logging, mining, and fishing. For various reasons all three peaked years ago but the decline leveled off at a lower level of activity that still goes on today, and still provides employment for many Yoopers.

We've been thoroughly enjoying our visit to the UP this year. A few days ago we got out and explored the area around Iron Mountain Michigan, one of the larger mining areas of the region. We visited the Cornish Pump and Mining Museum and the WWII Glider and Military Museum and got a healthy infusion of information about both. The Glider story is particularly interesting.

In the early 1920's, Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company started acquiring large tracts of land in the UP. The consummate "vertical integrator", Henry wanted control of as many inputs to the process of building cars as he could get his hands on. In those days, the bodies of Model T cars were made up mostly of wood. His idea was to buy large tracts of forest land, establish saw mills, and build a large plant where the sawn wood would be converted to auto body parts. And that's exactly what he did... at one point employing over 7,000 people in the UP.

The plant was located near Iron Mountain, in Kingsford Michigan. It operated from the mid-1920s until after WWII, but the real "hey-day" was during the late 1920s... until the depression started to bite in the early 1930s. When WWII came along, Ford landed a contract with the government to build CG4A combat gliders for the Army. The wings and tail section of these big gliders was constructed of wood... something this plant knew something about and could certainly handle. So between 1942 and 1945, they built over 4,000 of 'em, and earned awards from the Army for the excellence of their efforts.

Besides being a vertical integrator, Ford's nature was to squeeze every possible bit of profit out of every aspect of the businesses he owned. Innovations were made to greatly minimize waste wood in the production of parts, and the waste wood material that remained was used to fuel furnaces and as input to a charcoal plant and a wood alcohol plant, also Ford owned and located right next to the parts plant. Driven by greed, he was recycling long before it became fashionable to be "green". The charcoal operation was sold in the early 1950s and, although they moved the operation to Kentucky, Kingsford Charcoal still is a recognized product and brand today.

Ford owned much more land around the plant than what was utilized for the plants he built. It's likely that Ford thought he'd be able to do the same thing with steel that he was doing with wood... own the entire process from top to bottom. While there had been large deposits of iron ore in the Iron Mountain area, it was mostly mined out by the time Ford started his UP operations. So when that plan didn't work out... and when the use of wood in car bodies came to an end in the 1950s (remember the last gasp of wood bodies... the "Woody"?), Ford closed it's UP operations and sold the plants. Eventually, they were bulldozed and today, virtually nothing remains.




Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sept 6 - Ya Hey Dere...

We're camped in the middle of Michigan's Upper Peninsula (Yooper-land) at Dar's brother's "camp", as Yoopers refer to what most other folks call a cabin. We've been here before and just love the solitude and peace that this remote location affords. It's very high on our list of favorite places to be.

This past Tuesday we departed Hidden Ridge RV "Resort" near K-zoo and headed north. Our route was US-131 through Grand Rapids to Cadillac, M-56 east to US-127 north to I-75 to the big bridge over the Mackinaw Straits of Lake Michigan/Lake Huron. Conditions were fine for travel and we moved right along. Originally intending to get some U.P. miles under our belt before stopping for the night, we decided 280 miles was enough for the day and dropped anchor at Straits State Park just north of the bridge in St. Ignace Michigan. We'd camped there in the past and liked the location and atmosphere of the place. But Michigan is proud of their State Parks and tacked $16 onto the $28 campsite fee (30/50 amp electric, remote water and sanidump), making it an expensive stop. Oh well, it was just for one night.

On a recommendation, we drove into St. Ignace and had dinner at The Galley, located right on the harbor. Dar tried sauteed whitefish livers (!!)... who knew whitefish even had livers?  My fare was a more pedestrian Fish & Chips. An enjoyable evening.

Rain was in the forecast for Wednesday... especially later in the day.  So we got an early start, moving by a few minutes after 8am. We made it a whole 8 miles in the first hour. A decision to stop at McDonald's for breakfast and the pull of a roadside park delayed things a little longer than planned. But soon the miles were adding up as the predicted rain held off long enough for us to get almost to Marquette before the deluge started. Finding refuge at a very nice roadside park along Lake Superior, we waited out the storm... probably a half hour or so.


Underway again,  we made it almost to our destination before the next band of showers hit. Same routine... found a refuge in a parking lot and waited out the worst of it... this time nearly an hour. We then unhooked the car and drove over to our destination to check out access... the ability to get the big old bus-house into this private camp. From an asphalt road there's a quarter-mile long one-lane gravel and dirt road into the property. Because it's used only by a handful of property owners, the "tunnel" of trees and brush can get low and narrow at times, giving us the choice of "brush-busting" our way in or walking the road, pole-trimmer in hand, and expanding the "tunnel" to minimize interference with nature... not to mention scrapes and scratches on the sides and top of the bus-house. Considering the weather we went for option one... just busting our way in. It really wasn't too bad... and no new noticeable scratches or scrapes on the paint.

Got set up... walked over and said "Hi" to good neighbors Bill and Nancy... made a simple dinner... and settled down to enjoy the evening. The rain and clouds gave way to blue skies and sun... lighting up the trees on the other side of the lake. It's amazing how much Fall color is evident already.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Sept 3 - It's Just Stuff

We're parked at Hidden Ridge RV "Resort" located about mid-way between Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids Michigan. The move here was made necessary by the Labor Day weekend crowd reserving every single site at Markin Glen County Park, our usual K-zoo stop (and where we were until this past Friday). We have a great spot here at Hidden Ridge, on a ridge overlooking a pond... but we're certainly paying for it. No free scenery here, that's for sure.

Dar's about finished going through our stuff in her Sister's basement. She has reduced the pile by a noticeable amount, but it's still a much larger pile than I was hoping for. It amazes me how so many things we haven't used, looked at, or thought about for 5 years, still have the power to exert a "pull" on us... to manipulate us into keeping it a while longer. I've always believed that everything we have, that we own, consumes some small amount of personal freedom-robbing energy. And this experience does nothing to change that belief. At least there is a plan, a multi-year plan, to move some of it to our kids in the Northwest, some of it to one of our future base-camps, and some of it to friends and family who'll give it a better home.

Today is Labor Day. We're planning to spend one last pleasant afternoon with Jack and Cher, our gracious hosts here in K-zoo, while we leave the highways to all those forced to race back to their normal lives. Tomorrow everything becomes calmer for RV fulltimers like us. We're planning to meander North, toward the Mackinac Bridge and into the land known as the Upper Peninsula, where we'll hang out for a couple weeks. By mid September Fall should be evident, dry technicolor trees, shorter days, overnight temps dropping into the 30s... it's what we're here to experience this year.