The Harley-Davidson Museum-Industry and pop culture.

America’s longest running motorcycle company needs little promotion, as its logo and bikes are Iconic.  Yet, a museum exhibiting a menagerie of bikes it has produced,  its many business ventures, popular sporting events and its place in pop culture makes even the passive fan want to ‘saddle up’ and follow the open road.  At least, that’s how I felt when I left.  In this place, I couldn’t pick just one artifact, or point of interest for that matter, and say, “Yes,that was my favorite.”  It’s hip and cool, plus there is a enough bikes and memorabilia to make your head spin.  I’m talking of the Harley-Davidson Museum located near downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

I’ve blogged about a few specialty museum’s related to one industry or another.  However, I’ve never blogged about a place centered around one specific company.  I mean, c’mon, really,  how self-serving is that?   To top it off, the admission was the highest I’ve paid for entrance into any museum I’ve blogged about.  Before you stop reading in disgust, let me just say, this motor shrine left me with the most profound high I’ve felt leaving a facility.

I meander through the doors, impressed by a vast open room that is bordered with black lacquered walls-one lone bike stands at the opposite end.  As I make my way through this refreshing lobby, being a break from traffic on congested city streets, I find the ticket counter and pay a friendly attendant.  She directs me towards a rudimentary, unpainted,  steel grated staircase that I climb to a mostly empty,  glass-paneled hall.

As I wander through the hall, nonchalantly glimpsing a few trophy cases, I stumble upon another attendant who collects my ticket.  I walk in and discover the humblest of specimens, leading off a procession of chronologically ordered vintage motorcycles, as they are centered in a sleek and elegant passage.  I inspect some along with their respective placards, when I  notice Serial Model Number One, cased in glass in an exhibit room behind me.

Serial Model Number One appears as modest as many of the motorcycles leading off the seemingly endless line of bikes. Yet, this piece is a topic for debate. It is claimed to be the oldest Harley Davidson remaining,  However, the engine is like no other Harley of its time and the frame is not original to the bike.  Still, it’s pretty cool.

I now survey the rest of this exhibit area and the adjoining chambers, as this area has the feel of an antiquated museum.  There is a rare collection of bikes, as the many early business endeavor’s and early uses of the company’s motorcycles are highlighted here.  In this place, I’m exposed to trikes for towing automobiles, sidecars for delivering mail and army model prototypes that never saw the  assembly line.  This wide array of vehicles, along with steady government contracts, provided Harley-Davidson stability and growth in the early years.

I find a darkened early motor sports exhibit, which is just as interesting, on the other side of the continuous train of early 20th century bikes.  There are features such as the motordrome,  a large and dangerous banked wood track that mimicked the velodrome used for bicycle racing. Other exhibits include long distance races and hill climbers, all very popular, now largely forgotten novelties.  The company was quick to sponsor talented participants, realizing this was a great promotional tool.In 1933,  a dark time for the company and the country in general, the prices of motorcycles were declining.  As a result, Harley-Davidson could not afford to make technological advancements to their bikes.  From that came the decision to, instead,  focus on the aesthetics of the bike, which actually tripled their sales.  One huge point of interest was the gas tank, which has remained a focal point on cycles to this day.

As I follow the hall lined with gas tanks I find an elevator leading to this room.  An archive, if you will, of motorcycles and memorabilia. 

I now head down stairs, but before I leave the top floor, I have to mention that there is also an exhibit featuring some of the more prolific engines of the past.  I don’t linger here long because I’m really not much of a gearhead.  However, the progression through the ages is quite remarkable.

When I reach the lower floor, I’m amazed.  The parade of bikes continues along the opposite wall, this time featuring the latter half of the 20th century to modern day, as a large exhibit on Harley’s place in pop culture is front and center.  This includes the history of outlaw biker gangs, a bike used in the Marvel Studios movie ‘Captain America’, and a meticulously replicated chopper from ‘Easy Rider’.

Around the corner, as there are exhibits of lesser known ventures such as a failed attempt at the snowmobile market during the 70’s and a successful golf cart line, I discover this bike.

This stands as a haunting testament that, even as early advertisements claimed motorcycle’s were a way to conquer mother nature, the elements still have the upper hand.  This motorcycle was inside a large trailer box when the tsunami that devastated Northeast Japan, in 2011, washed it out to sea.  Over a year later, it was discovered on a remote Canadian Island.  Mr. Yokoyama, the bike’s owner, lost mostly everything, including family members, due to that event.  He has donated the Bike to the Museum as memorial to those who not only lost their possessions, but their lives, on that dreadful day.

I double back, checking the long train of bikes.  From70’s racing bikes  to V-rods, the line showcases the last half of the twentieth century and beyond.  This bottom half of the museum is chuck full of bikes, from dirt bikes to Buels.  It’s hard to take in everything.

At the end, as I realize I must call it a day, I am excited and satisfied. There are so many remarkable bikes, leather jackets, racing shirts and posters I don’t know if there is a way I could remember all of them.  On the grounds, there is also a gift shop filled with great Harley memorabilia and a hip restaurant.  See the museum and experience the bikes and culture that made Harley-Davidson legendary.

History Museum at the Castle-Mystery and lore

The tale and secrets of an enigmatic icon are exposed in the confines of  a historic masonic temple, sure to have secrets of its own.  Sound cool?  How about an exhibit that focuses on the horrors and injustices of the Insane asylums of the late 19th and early 20th centuries? I know,  rather grim.  None of these, however, showcase the museum’s most inquired about piece.  The place is called the History Museum at the Castle and is located in the downtown portion of Appleton Wisconsin.

We had a six-hour window in which we could do whatever pleased our eager brains.  I made the suggestion of visiting Appleton, as it’s a quick scamper south.  That was agreed upon rather quickly, however, besides a few run of the mill attractions, I was pretty much clueless about the town.  Turns out, Appleton has a plethora of genuine Midwest city appeal, although its claims to fame maybe a shade darker than most.

I referred to My Trip Advisor app, thumbing through the ‘things to do’ feature, and discovered a museum that definitely sparked interest.  Located in a historic landmark, the History Museum at the Castle was said to feature Appleton’s most famous resident. The drive could have been three hours, I would have went.

As I enter, I must be wearing a delighted smile.  I feel like I’ve walked into a scene in a Dan Brown novel, spying a masonic symbol above an antique fire-place.  The stone gilded building exemplifies everything I’ve read about the order, being on the National Register of Historic Places.  There are the stained glass windows, the arched doorways, the antique lighting fixtures, winding staircases and creaking wood floors that inspire thrilling juvenile thoughts of what conspiracy theories might surround the place, I rarely take one seriously.

As I’m sure some would say the building was a shroud for secrets, the temporary exhibit on the main floor featured places where many people entered and disappeared from society forever.  That’s a  horrifying thought.  Yet, many endured such a circumstance.

The Insane Asylums of the late 19th and early 20th centuries housed many people for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes, the condition wasn’t really psychological, like epilepsy.  These patients endured experimental techniques such as electro-shock therapy and the use of  highly addictive drugs. Often sterilized, these patients were believed to have traits that would be passed to their offspring.  Not to mention,  straight jackets were frequently used and these asylums were over crowded.

Among exhibits that testify to these accepted forms of torture, I feel my heart sink as I marvel at hand crafted master pieces.  They were constructed by patients locked away from the rest of the world, a talented mind unable to reap the benefits of his labor.

We leave the main floor and follow a winding staircase toward the basement,  as a giant machine from the Appleton Wireworks Company greets us at the bottom.  Here, the exhibits are quite random, showcasing everything from a fully furnished antique bathroom to a gravity fed gas pump looming over a Ford Model T.   There is also a timeline, highlighting significant events in the area’s past.

After a while of perusing the disjointed exhibits I stumble on a black spot that cursed the town of Appleton.  A resident of Appleton, not the one I’ve alluded to in my intro, was the leader of a dark time in political history.  Senator Joe McCarthy’s bronze bust is cased in glass and on display here, personally I’m rather glad it is.

In most Museums I’ve come across, the positive is highlighted while the negative is a side note.  Not in this place.  The leader of the ‘Red Scare’, a witch hunt where many people were accused of being communists who had infiltrated the state department, gave birth to the term McCarthyism.  This bust is an important reminder how political fervor can create injustice. McCarthy was censured for his actions in 1954, he died shortly after in 1957 at age 48.  This piece gets a lot of attention, being the most inquired about artifact in the museum.

I suppose I’ve kept those not familiar with Northeast Wisconsin in suspense long enough.  So, who is Appleton’s Iconic resident?  The escape artist and illusionist Harry Houdini.  The showman seemed to have a supernatural mystique about him, even Houdini’s death on Halloween night sparks a bit of drama.

Houdini is part of the American vernacular.  I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “he pulled a Houdini”, and other statements to that effect. The magician claimed to be born in Appleton, as he lived in the city until he was thirteen.  However, records indicate he was actually born in Budapest Hungary as Ehrich Weisz.   Even so, he was raised in the town and will forever be linked to Appleton.

Houdini was actually quite a character, while confounding many who witnessed his death-defying feats.  He was friends with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which makes sense, as Doyle’s fictional character Sherlock Holmes professed that behind every great mystery a logical explanation lied.  Houdini’s secrets included, hiding tools in his hair, rectum, and sometimes swallowing and later vomiting the tool when needed.

Houdini published a magazine that revealed the elements of his tricks, this exhibit reveals some of Houdini’s secrets.  While the rest of the museum is artifacts and placards, this portion of the museum is very interactive.  You can perform some of Houdini’s stunts and tricks, as there are explanations on how to accomplish the feats.  For instance, escaping a straight jacket.

There is paraphernalia that Houdini used in his shows included here.  Props, tools, and restraints are all showcased in this colorful and informative section of the museum.  This was the main reason for driving here, as the temple itself falls a close second.  I love the fact that this is the last exhibit because it is definitely the most entertaining.

The price of admission was $8 and I spent about an hour and a half inside the museum.  The insane asylum exhibit is temporary but lasts until next year.  I did not mention, yet it is a great move and shows social conscience, that there is a exhibit on the homeless in the local area.  Go see the Museum, I think you’ll be glad you did.

Wisconsin Historical Museum-A museum in mad town

When Wisconsin was introduced as the thirtieth state in 1848, there was little in the territory besides a forested wilderness.  Since then, much has changed.  As a testimony to some of that change, plus an area dedicated to the inhabitants that have lived in the region a considerable time before statehood, the Wisconsin Historical Museum in Madison tells the tale of America’s Dairy Land.

What can I say?  I like museums, and when I discovered one standing in the shadow of the State Capitol Building, well, lets just say it was an easy sell.  That being said, I really don’t like navigating the streets of downtown Madison, especially when I’m relying on Siri to find my destination.  However, I arrived safely and was able to relax and examine the exhibits with no stress.

I think the first thing that strikes me, as I enter the building, is how mundane the first floor appears.  I feel my heart drop as I survey a practically empty room, having journeyed all the way to Madison to find nothing but pictures hanging in a vacant space.  As the attendant behind the counter gives me an overview of the Museum,  my disappointment is, most likely, evident.

I’ll explain-it does get better.  The first floor is an exhibit showcasing Wisconsin’s recreational past times.  I believe the only artifact, if you can call it that, is a soft ball uniform.  Besides that, I briefly glance at pictures of hunting and fishing expeditions, as I’m quite disinterested.

I sigh as I enter the elevator and leave the first floor, anticipating much more of the same on the next three levels, at least the entrance fee was only a modest donation.  However, the next floor gradually quenches my thirst for artifacts, not all at once, kind of like a well thought out symphony with the quietest of strings reaching your eardrums, winding its way to a crescendo.

The exhibit starts with meager arrowheads and copper tools, pointing towards the ancient nomadic woodland people. However, as I wander further, there are more elaborate and interesting artifacts.  The floor tells the tale of the Native Americans indigenous to Wisconsin through tools, clothing, musical instruments, weapons and recreated shelters.

Now I’m happy.

Yet, I’m happier when I reach the third floor.  As the elevator opens, I stand face to face with the creature that has bestowed the national Identity of Wisconsin on my native land.  Well, I think he’s just a piece of plastic, but you understand what is meant.  Of course, Wisconsin is not the leader in dairy production anymore, although we hold the title in cranberry bogs.

The third floor is a treat, with details on anything having to do with commerce in the state.  From fur trading to Harley Davidson, this floor features literally any significant home-grown enterprise that, at one time or another, helped residents earn a living.  The artifacts are diverse, I find a lumberjack’s axe, yet, a Nash Automobile(a company that became AMC, eventually bought out by Chrysler) reside on the same floor.

What I love, as I look over a placard, is the story of how Wisconsin became America’s Dairy Land.  The conditions of the region were believed to be Ideal for such an enterprise, Although  many a cash cropper weren’t gung-ho about the Idea.  After all, it was a seven-day a week job with strictly set hours, you can’t simply bypass a milking.  Trust me, as I periodically farmed as a child, that was never an option.

I leave the third floor and head towards the final level, by now, as my head is swimming with Wisconsin borne companies, I forgot what the attendant told me the theme was on the final floor.  My memory is quickly jostled as I spy some football jerseys, political posters, and state fair exhibits.

This floor is probably the most diverse, as it exhibits interesting bits in the realm of politics and entertainment.  There is a lot of information on the Progressive Party, as it once made a bid for the White House.   There is also a State Fair feature, which I find interesting, and a classic interior of a tavern, as a recording of a dated radio show  fills the background.

This is a lot of fun.  I read about state and county fairs, learning of their role both socially and developmentally, as farmers shared methods and information with one another at these events.  It is amazing how most of these, developed in the early years of the state, have survived and evolved.

The progressive party,  of which there is plenty of information and posters highlighting the subject, is another huge topic on this level,   It made a push for the White House during the 1924 campaign, trying to bring about government ownership of the railroads and electric utilities.  Wisconsin Senator Robert M. Lafollete ran on the party ticket and recieved 16.6% of the popular vote in the 1924 election.  You may not agree with the political theory, yet, the fact that he garnered a huge chunk of the vote makes it impressive.

I often wonder why we are stuck with a two-party system.  If a new party rises to power, the one it supplants collapses and disappears from the political landscape.  Call me idealistic, but with 200 million different points of view, it seems hard to believe two parties can represent the entire lot of eligible voters.  I know, that was kind of political.  It’s relevant as I view the Capitol building from a giant window.

I leave feeling enlightened.  I learned new things and reaffirmed my knowledge on other subjects.  I came accross some artifacts that I never realized existed.  Case in point, a native american courting flute used by young men to court women, chicks dug musicians even back then.  Also, although I knew Wisconsin is the national leader, I had no idea 60% of the nations cranberry production happens right here.

If you are in Madison and want to be entertained or learn some interesting facts, I highly recommend this place.  It would be great addition to a tour of the capitol building, as it is literally a stone’s throw away.  There is no price for admission just a voluntary donation for the fee.

Sturgeon Bay- Historic Shipbuilding town.

Different from any other tourist location on the Door Peninsula, Sturgeon Bay is the only city in the county, boasting a population of around 9,000.  Also, the town leans on many blue-collar jobs, most notably that of Bay Shipbuilding, which has been in business for almost one hundred years, albeit under different titles.  As a matter of fact, in its past, Sturgeon Bay has been home to  a lot of shipbuilding, from Yachts, worth twenty times more money than I’ll make in my lifetime, to navy gunboats and minesweepers.  Tourism is a relatively young beast in the city’s economic repertoire, but it is definitely a huge part of the town.

I decided a long time ago that I would blog about Sturgeon Bay, yet, it is tough to pull off, not crazy tough, but difficult.  After all, I’ve worked in this city, my father was employed by Bay Ship and my grandfather was a foreman at Peterson Builders(A naval boat building contractor),  blogging from a traveler’s perspective is tricky for those reasons.  Still, there are resorts, being nonexistent in the Sturgeon Bay I knew as a child, museums and shops all geared toward luring tourism dollars into the city.

I drive into town and enjoy the view I always anticipate, as I turn the corner driving down Green Bay Rd(which turns into Madison Ave).  A fairly historic street stretches towards the canal, as the old bridge and barges stand proudly in the background.  I imagine any visitor introduced to this unique setting  would be thrilled by a vista that screams historic shipbuilding town.

Sturgeon bay was once two cities, on one side of the canal was Sawyer and the other, of course, was Sturgeon Bay.  I can only assume that is why there seem to be two different ‘main street’ portions.  There are the small collection of old buildings that line Madison Ave, but the longer and more prominent stretch lies on Third Avenue, across the bridge.

The first thing that I do, as I have mentioned that Sturgeon Bay was a shipbuilding town, is check out the Door County Maritime Museum.  If you have read any of my previous blogs, you might have stumbled across my piece on the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, a museum in Manitowoc Wisconsin.  While the museum here is nice, the exhibits are nowhere near the ones in Manitowoc.  That being said, there is still a lot of cool features that gain my interest.

The first floor has an antique hard-hat diving suit, which looks like an astronaut’s gear tailored with metal and cloth. Of course, there is an exhibit chronicling the Shipbuilding past of Sturgeon Bay.  Unfortunately, there really are not many artifacts to accompany the great information displayed.   Information is everywhere, classic nuts and bolts are harder to come by these days.

The Second floor features ship telegraphs, an instrument used to send instructions from the captain on the bridge to the engine room. Also, a cool lighthouse exhibit  gives info on Door County’s many lighthouses.  I was fairly surprised to count twelve that were listed, I haven’t toured a single one.  Lastly, and disappointingly, they have a tug boat tour that, on this day, was not available.

I exit the museum and trek along the buildings of Madison Ave.  It’s a curious conglomeration, as I spend a few minutes in an antique store that reminds me more of a thrift shop.  I cruise up the hill and then turn back, making my way to the Old Bridge, passing the Bridge Port Resort and the impressive structure of Sonny’s Pizza as I cross the Canal.

There are two bridges in town.  There is the  younger Oregon street bridge, maybe a decade old or so, I’m not really sure as to the age.  More interestingly there is this bridge, a historic relic that, when the new bridge was being constructed, was in danger of being torn down.  In desperate need of repair, many of the community came together and organized fund-raisers, including a music festival that is held in the city to this day to save this fun little testament of time, which has stood since 1931.  I have to say, it is a great decision, as it fits in with the historic downtown buildings of third avenue.

Third avenue stretches for several blocks, having many points of interest.  There are shops that carry Door County T-shirts, a local hardware store, taverns, restaurants, the Third Avenue Play House and even a Younkers.  Basically, the ‘Main Street’ of Sturgeon Bay is alive with commerce.

They close this street once a year, during september,  for a festival known as Harvest Fest.  Vendors and Bands would be scattered along the street, as at one end of the road a giant classic car show would display everything from 64  1/2 Mustangs to 1990 Ferrari Testarosas.  Of course, this is not the week and third avenue appears as any historic small town ‘main street’ would.

As I stroll to the end of Third Avenue, I come across Center Pointe Marina.  There are  multiple Marinas in Sturgeon Bay, some of the boats docked at these stations are ridiculously stately.  Sturgeon Bay would be a great stop on a Great lakes tour, as the city is split by a canal that connects Green Bay and Lake Michigan.

The canal itself, built between the years of 1872 and 1882, is an interesting bit of history.  It shaved the distance for the ships sailing west into Green Bay, saving them from sailing through a harrowing corridor known as Death’s Door,  a treacherous stretch of water that aptly gave the peninsula its name (Door County)  For it’s time, the feat of digging this 7 mile canal  is very impressive considering the technological limitations of the era.  Today, the corridor still serves a vital role in Sturgeon Bay’s economy.

During the summer, there are boat tours, carriage rides and many other fun attractions in Sturgeon Bay’s historic downtown.  I think the canal, along with the yachts, tugs, Coast Guard ships, and freighters, set it apart from many other cities.  I also have to mention that there are well manicured city parks set in this down town.    Like I said, this place is different from the other tourist towns in Door County,  yet, still great for sightseeing and relaxing.

Fish Creek- My family Meets in the classic Door County setting

The northern part of the Door peninsula is littered with small towns that owe their existence to tourism.  All have their unique features, yet,  remain close to the same.  One of my favorites, the one I romp about today, along with my sisters’ families and my parents, is the quintessential vacation town graced with everything from great food and shops to picturesque nature trails and beaches.  I speak of the bay side town of Fish Creek, blessed with all I mentioned and some of the premier attractions in the county.

I received an unexpected text from my sister Laurie, as her life revolves around raising four children in the suburbs of Minneapolis, saying they were taking advantage of a four-day school recess and journeying home to Door County.  I say home because my entire childhood was spent in the southern part of the county.  Her plans were to travel to the northern portion, the tourist laden portion, and enjoy the sights like any other out-of- town traveler.

Normally, after labor day, Fish Creek and the rest of Door County’s tourist towns, whether on the lake or the bay, are dormant.  Driving through said towns in the offseason causes a lonely yearning for summer.  However, the peninsula plays host to a team run called the Fall 50 this weekend, an event my Sister Shannon is participating in, and if you add the colors of fall, the towns are booming again.

I meet everyone at a spot known as Wild Tomato, a venue specialized in fire baked pizza enjoyed in an outdoor setting.  My sisters risk a rather different pizza with purple cauliflower and feta cheese, as I stick to basics and choose my own toppings. It may be October, but the weather was in the low 70’s, making sitting outdoors and tasting delicious thin crust pizza something to rival any fine dining.  Although the restaraunt is limited in size, the rustic appeal and friendly staff make the taste bud gratifying pizza the exclamation point.  Of course, having seven children in the party sways the decision on what we will eat.  Pizza is a winner anytime, anywhere.                                                                                    img_0766

After lunch, we head toward the third largest state park in Wisconsin, which is literally right across the highway, Peninsula State Park.  The park showcases everything Door County has to offer, from limestone bluffs to the scenic shoreline of Green Bay.  We park at the beach and the crew enjoys a short walk to the boat landing, as the kids pass the time skipping rocks.

From the landing, we can see Islands and peer into the clear water, glimpsing the rocks at the bottom.  Small cairns are built on a piece of driftwood, and the trees meld in an array of colors on a distant shoreline.  It is a great place for reflection, catching up and just enjoying the day.

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After some time, we split up due to a nephew’s prior engagement.  Shannon takes most of the kids, all except three-year old lille, back towards the south.  My parents decide to return home also, leaving myself, my sister, her husband  and lille stranded deep inside the park with no vehicle.  I do enjoy a long hike.

We follow a bike trail, whether walking on the paved passage is allowed or not, known as Sunset Trail.  The autumn colors, leaf matted forest floors, steep bluffs, outdoor theatre and, of all things, a cemetery leave us charmed and amused.

Peninsula State Park is the second oldest state park in Wisconsin, established after Interstate Park in 1909.  As I mentioned, it is also the third largest, having 3,776 acres worth of terrain to bike, hike and camp on.  It has been a draw for tourists for more than a century.   Honestly, there is no doubt in my mind why it has been a favorite for so long.

Today, as we stroll this enchanting trail, we encounter many cyclists and the glimpse of the fluffy tail of a deer.  The park, considering it is time for fall colors, attracts many to enjoy the beauty of its forests and shoreline.  I am right along with everyone else, simply content.

Finally, we reach the entrance of the park and return to town.  As we do, I pass an old employer, a rental shop I worked at  for a few months during the end of a summer, known as Edge of Park.  They benefit from the tourists who fancy a bike ride through the park but, naturally, left their bikes at home.

Fish Creek is built along Highway 42 between the popular towns of Egg Harbor and Ephraim.  Although the town had its modest roots sewn by fisherman and loggers, by the year 1900 tourism became the area’s primary purpose.  It has been known as a tourist town ever since.

There is constant Traffic today and I enjoy the trees that line the streets and the marigolds, among some weeds, between the town walk and the street curb.  The shops, bed and breakfasts, taverns and restaurant’s stretch for some distance.

Our last stop is simply for relaxing and photo taking outside Julie’s café.  I’ve seen these big chairs before but never have been photographed in one.  Laurie is the smart one, as I squint directly into the sun.

Off to my left, We discover the most comfortable Adirondack chairs ever, hard to believe they were made of wood.  It is Timely that they are  placed conveniently as we leave the park, after such a long hike.

We spend sometime just chilling, as I don’t want leave the comfy grasp of my well contoured chair.  However, all good times must eventually end, as this day concludes with me wearing a perma-smile all the way south to Green Bay.

If you have ever thought of Door County as a destination, I seriously suggest any of the spots I’ve mentioned.  There was so much more to see in this one little town, we could return another day and have a new and different experience.  However, I’m happy with the memories made today.

Minocqua- North Woods island haven

 

Fall is here!  The temps are gradually  falling and the tree tops appear brighter, as their leaves transform the forests into colorful murals.  So, again, I long for a drive to witness nature’s artistry from a rolling state highway.  My destination, this time, is in the North Woods of Wisconsin, a summer vacation town known as Minocqua.

I wake up early, early for me at least, as it is 7:30 am and I’m raring to go.  I’ve heard of Minocqua for years, as individuals familiar with the area would brag about the place, proclaiming it better than Door County.  So, I’m excited, as I do love the little towns in the northern portion of my native Door County, as do many from Illinois.  Minocqua, however, lies in the north central portion of the state, so I’m in a for a drive.

It strikes me, as I make my way from Wausau on my final leg of the trip, venturing into sparsely  populated areas graced with an endless forest, sometimes it is a rather dismal oddity that sparks nostalgia.  I think this pulling into a gas station, as I’m in dire need of a restroom.  The atmosphere of the building’s musty old interior, with a mounted deer head adorning dingy walls accompanied by worn flooring , sparks the reminiscing of hunting and fishing trips in the North Woods with my father.  I recall establishments like this when we would stop for gas or have breakfast in towns to the east of here.   I’m delighted and would not change a single thing.

I leave the station and my fond memories behind, and set my course on 51 towards the north.  When I arrive in Minocqua, I’m struck by how ordinary the town seems as I drive along the highway, besides the beautiful lake that envelopes the town.

If Minocqua is to be compared with Door County I would compare it to Stourgen Bay. however,  its less than half the size of the shipbuilding/tourist town.  There seems to be all matter of hotels and shops along this busy stretch of road.  Unlike Sturgeon Bay, tourist businesses lean towards a rustic appeal, like a gift shop with Paul Bunyan in its name.

I find the Downtown portion of Minocqua and I’m not dissapointed.  It’s very quaint as the architecture of many of the buildings are of Austrian or German themes.  I find a resteraunt named Otto’s House of Beer and Brat’s, being lured by the appeal of the building and the promise of such concessions.  However, call me cheap, I discover the price for a Bratwurst is $10.50, add a beer and, yeah, beyond my budget.

I leave the rustic atmosphere of Otto’s and find myself strolling the walks along with many other tourists.  Apparently I’m not the only one treking to the northwoods for a little fall color, as the streets are lined with parked cars and are busy.  The day is gorgeous, around 62 degrees, and I’m, quite frankly, charmed by this small down town setting.

There are many shops and restaraunts to choose from here.  The highlight is a unique shopping mall filled with gift shops, known as the Gaslight Square Shops.  I look around, but that is all.  With lamps lighting a fairly dark corridor constructed to look like nineteenth century buildings and pumpkins set along the walk, accompanied with Frank Sinatra crooning a ballad, the atmosphere is great but the shops definitely target women.

I follow the road out of the downtown section and cross a bridge,  spying some people fishing.  I imagine, with lakes practically encompassing the town, water activities play a huge roll in the summer tourism business.  Minocqua, in essence, is an Island, surrounded by Minocqua lake, a man made land bridge fuses the town to the mainland.   I reach the edge of town and turn back.

I’m amused by other businesses set by the lake on my return walk through the very small down town.  There is the Minocqua brewery and a small park and pavilion in close proximity to one another, hosting summer events here would definitely be a hit.  In town,  there is sportswear stores and clothing shops along with themed restaurants in this fun little village.

I reach my car and decide to drive further north on 51.  As I do, I find all matter of business strung along the highway for quite some distance, as always, lakes loom in the background.  I turn around and head back towards Minocqua, being determined to find a small backroad to enjoy some fall color.img_0728

My mission is fulfilled as I find a small jaunt right off the highway known as Northern Road.  I follow the hills and curves of this dead end drive.  It is fairly narrow and there really is no shoulder to the road, but I’m comfortable driving slow and taking in the landscape.   Along the way I find resorts such as Knotty Pines and, waiting at the end of the path, Nitchke’s Northern resort.  Finally, a small trek into a woodland, quenches my hunger for picturesque fall scenery I can only imagine this town in the peak summer months, there appears to be much to do.  From camping to shopping and fishing to watching water ski shows the appeal of this North Woods getaway is definitely enticing.

Would I say it is better than Door County?  Minocqua has lakes, wooded area and shops.  Door County also has these, plus limestone bluffs and a bay and lake for serious sailing and sport fishing.   So, I’m going to have to say its not better but its secluded spot makes it alluring, being pasted smack dab in the lake country.  I regard it as being just as nice and if you’re bored with spots in Door County, this may be the change of pace you’re looking for.  It’s definitely similar in many respects, but the geography and setting make it a different shade of getaway colour.

The National Railroad Museum: Tales of travelers past

img_0674When someone mentions the word train, two very different images pop into my head.  First, there are the trains I’ve learned about from my history classes, those bold engines venturing freshly laid track with a load of optimistic passengers setting across the disappearing frontier.  Of course, secondly, I see the slow lumbering freight trains that become obstacles and delays during my travels along city and country roads.  The national railroad museum, although not quite being what I expected, encompassed both.

I was in the midst of a six-day stretch at work, yet, I wanted to keep to my goal of writing about one destination a week, tough duty.  I’ve heard great things about the National Railroad Museum and it is literally about a ten minute drive from my house.  Consequently, those were the merits that earned it the topic for this weeks blog.

So, waking up around quarter of eleven in the morning, as I had to work at 2 in the afternoon,  I threw on some clothes and headed towards the West side of Green Bay.  I admit, when I drove through the entrance, I was surprised.  I anticipated a theme in the courtyard and parking lot that spoke to the nature of railroads, I’m not sure why.  However, it was quaint and could have been the entrance to any local business, except for what appeared to be an unattended guard shack poised between the exit and entrance.

When I entered, the lobby was of a quintessential museum tone, a fairly sizeable expanse housing some modest but interesting exhibits which were cased in glass.  I made my way to the gift shop, where I was greeted by Susan.  She collected my ten dollars and urged me to the theatre to watch a film, which already began.  The film was a classically narrated piece on the museum’s prized Exhibit, the Union Pacific steam engine known as ‘Big Boy’, said to be the world’s largest steam engine.

After the show, I proceeded to an interesting exhibit I had not anticipated.  China from different modes of transport  were cased in glass and on display.  It is there to depict the passenger experience, an interesting bit of history.  However, amidst the china, some from the airship Hindenburg, I regarded a novel dining car menu the peak of the collection.

It is now that it hits me, as I  glance over a placard that explains that the U.S.  passenger trains’ last year of profit was 1946,  the second world war seemed to mark the change of the economic and technological landscape of America, and passenger trains were victims of that change.  Dwight D. Eisenhower steered our country down a new path as he initiated the interstate-highway system.  The freedom of the automobile and advances in aircraft made the rough riding railcar a thing of the past.

The next feature, the Baur Drumhead Gallery, which exhibits lighted signs designed for the rear of passenger trains, continues the tale of the passenger experience.  The signs displayed must have once drawn attention and esteem from many envious onlookers, as they spied the trains passing through their towns.

I leave the drumhead  exhibit behind and enter the Lefenstey Center, home of the main attractions.  There are some very interesting exhibits here, and no two are alike. As I investigate the fully enclosed pavilion, I am delighted and stimulated by these fully restored relics of travel.

I must admit, although the ‘Big Boy’ is massive, enticing me to have my picture taken next to such an imposing vehicle, the other exhibits hold my interest longer.  Sure, the size of the ‘Big Boy’ draws attention, being 16 feet high, 11 feet wide, 85 feet long and weighing, get this, an astounding 1,250,000 pounds, but I’m drawn to the passenger trains and cars.

The Irony that lies in the museum, having invested much effort in highlighting the history of passenger trains, is that it exhibits Dwight D. Eisenhower’s command train, named for the very man who led to the industry’s demise.  This train, a military passenger vehicle, served him as general while he commanded the U.S. armed forces during WWII.

As I peruse the exhibits, the most interesting engine I find, at least the one that leaves me pondering,  is the GG1 electric locomotive.  The max speed was listed at 100 mph and they were in service from 1935 until 1983.    I didn’t know anyone had an inkling as to what ‘going green’ meant in 1935,(ha ha)  yet, the electric train was invented far earlier, 1879 to be exact.  They were also used as freight trains, purchased by  the Pennsylvania Railroad and designed by GE they survived many change of hands till the NJ transit scrapped them, 16 survive in museums.

Of course my favorite exhibit is the Pullman passenger car.  Everything about the car screams antique from the gaudy shade of green on the walls to the slack fold out beds.  I’m recollecting movies I’ve enjoyed from Bond to Sherlock Holmes, as before now, passenger trains seemed to  only exist on a screen- I’m not from a foreign country or a big city.  Today, I’m walking through a train car where men, like myself, traveled with their families for whatever purpose they deemed fit.

Along with the exhibit of the Pullman passenger car follows the story of the Pullman Porter.  Mostly all porters, known uniformly as George, were African-Americans.  Their plight for proper treatment formed the first U.S. minority labor union, instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement.

There is more here, as I wander through box cars and passenger cars alike.  It is a tribute to American ingenuity.  These were once the seeds and the blood pumping through the arteries of the Industrial Revolution.  Carrying freight to and from factories and bringing settlers to booming towns, trains were the vehicle that helped the U.S develop from a Civil War torn country to a recognized industrial power.

As I leave the Lenfestey Center,  I find a small silver passenger train, left Idle today.  If I was here on the weekend this train would bolster the passenger car experience, as it would carry passengers over the Museum grounds on a short oval track.

The last museum exhibition area is the McCormick pavilion.  It is huge and there are a ton of  different railcar and Engines available for viewing.  From the General Motor’s Aerotrain Prototype to caboose.  Yet, its gloomy, being poorly lit, and the exhibits appear scuffed and worn from weather, as the Pavilion is exposed to the elements. I’m actually disappointed.

As I leave, I realize that what I imagined this place would resemble and what actually was featured were different.  I expected rail signs and tools for laying track to be housed here.  However the only ties I found were those on tracks in the McCormick pavilion and what  lie on the perimeter of the museum grounds.

Instead, besides the enormous freight hauler aptly named ‘Big Boy’, the Museum highlighted the Passenger train experience.  That is a plus, because it is the most romantic portion of the history of the railroad,  even if the Box car’s did remind me of the transients that illegally  hitched rides in the early portion of the twentieth century.  My imagination saw life at a different angle today, picturing life without our modern cars and road systems.

Trains are a vital part of America’s past, check it out!

The price of admission is $10 for and adult, $12 if you care to ride the train, Seniors recieve a dollor off for both fees.  Children are admitted for $7.50 for the museum and $9.50 with the train ride added.  If they are under the age of two admission is free.  The museum is open 9-5 monday through saturday, sunday is 11-5.  January through march the museum is closed on mondays