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In early April, I spent three days in Cincinnati working in a booth at the Midwest Homeschool Convention. My room was on the 27th floor of the Millennium Hotel looking out over the western end of the city and the Ohio River.
I could see two railroad bridges, two highway bridges, a stretch of the river and a whole lot more. There were occasionally three moving trains in view at the same time and towboats regularly pushed barges up or downstream. A couple firetrucks raced by one night, and I saw several police cars. It was like having my own model train layout. I turned the couch in my room to face the window and spent all my awake time looking out through the filth on the glass.
I had Thursday morning free, so I went for a walk past Great American Ballpark where the Reds play, across the Ohio on the 1866 John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge into Covington, Kentucky.
I had gotten in very late the night before, so I texted Sally to let her know I was alive. I sent her this photo and informed her that this was what I was looking at.
A few minutes later she sent me a photo of the foot of our bed and told me that’s what she was looking at.
Back on the Ohio bank, I walked east through a series of parks for about a mile. The city is named for Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, the Roman warrior who gave up his position of power and returned to farming.
A nearby statue of a pig in Roman soldier’s armor lessened the impact somewhat.
A pole in the park marked the height of floods in Cincinnati history. A small ark on top of the pole added a nice touch.
The rest of my adventures, such as they were, can be found on my Red Chair blog.
We were planning on driving home from Arkansas on Monday. When the weather turned bad on the mountain, everything got moved up a day. But then we heard that a winter storm was due to hit central Illinois on Sunday afternoon and evening. We contemplated hanging around, but decided to go for it anyway.
The rain began as we left Conway and continued all morning. We stopped for lunch at Panera in Marion, Illinois and while we ate, the rain turned to snow. Back on the Interstate, the pavement was still clear and traffic was heavy as we headed north. Around Mt. Vernon, slush started building up along the center line, making lane changes a bit tricky. Then the snow picked up. Visibility decreased significantly. Driving got tricky.
It wasn’t just the roads. There were people in cars who were driving 35 or 40 mph while truckers were racing at 75 or 80 to beat the storm. When a car going 45 pulled out to pass a car going 35, traffic screeched to a halt, and in the near white-out conditions, it was dangerous.
I settled into the passing lane behind a semi that was behaving less recklessly than most. Things went fine for a time, but eventually he had to slam on his brakes. I hit mine hard and stopped in time, perhaps 15 feet away. But then I looked in my rear-view and saw another semi coming fast and not stopping. My first instinct was to pull into the right lane and I started that way, but there was an SUV there. I was stuck. I crept forward as far as I could, to within a foot or two of the semi in front of me. I was saying, “Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no.” The trucker behind me finally realized what was happening and locked his brakes. He skidded and shuttered to a stop in a cloud of black brake smoke about two feet from my rear bumper. We came that close to being a sandwich.
By the time Sal realized what was happening, it was over. I found a space in the right lane and settled in at a much slower pace. The semi that almost hit me barreled by at about 75 mph and that settled it.
We pulled off at the next exit, which happened to be Effingham. I felt like a wimp for not continuing, but we had a day to play with. We found a room in a Hampton Inn. When I was checking in, another guy came in and said he’d just been rear-ended by a truck. Everyone in his car was OK, but the car was totaled.
It was just 3:30 in the afternoon. None of the streets in Effingham had been plowed yet, and there was about five inches of wet snow everywhere.
At 5:30, we drove about a mile to Culver’s for supper. The roads had been plowed but were still slick and it was still snowing hard. We realized we were just a mile from the giant cross along the interstate. It was at the end of a one-lane dirt road. The parking lot wasn’t cleared, so I took a red chair photo from near the car. The cross was barely visible through the snow. There wasn’t room to turn around, so I backed up a quarter mile until I could turn in a Fed-Ex entrance.
Back at the hotel, Sal watched a couple episodes of Walking Dead while I watched Doctor Who on my iPad.
On Monday, we weren’t in a hurry. I borrowed a snow brush/scraper from the front desk and cleared at least four inches off my car. (I didn’t have my brush because it was March and I was heading to Arkansas and knew I wouldn’t need it.)
We left for home at 9:00, and for the first mile or so, the Interstate was clear. But then things got worse. The pavement was coated with three inches of hard, packed snow/ice. Where it was smooth, it could be dealt with easily as long as I didn’t make any quick turns or stops.
But there were many places where chunks had broken out and the surface was rough and it felt like driving across a plowed field. Fortunately, there wasn’t as much traffic as on the night before. Many drivers were crawling — one was going as slowly as 12 mph. The trucks were going slowly too, more slowly than I wanted to. On one stretch, there was a cleared space down the middle of the highway with rough surface on either side. A jerk trucker was driving at 30 mph right down the middle and wouldn’t let anybody by except other truckers. When I realized what was happening, I got right behind a truck and passed with it before the jerk had a chance to get over — which he did as soon as I got by.
I’ve had a lot of practice on ice and snow, and where conditions (and trucks) allowed it, I went close to 50 mph. But I’ve never seen anything like that and hope I don’t again.
It took us two hours to go 60 miles. We got off in Matoon for lunch at McDonald’s. The surface was clear just north of there and we had no more problems. There were still a lot of cars off the road from the night before. Between Effingham and Kankakee, a distance of about 150 miles, we saw at least one car per mile off the road. In one spot, five were off together. We finally got home around 3:00 with no damages but with an adventure to tell.
We camped, or at least we planned to camp, in Petit Jean State Park for six nights. Tim and Velvet were in their camper on the next site. Sal’s parents rented a house about half a mile away in a place called Tanyard Springs. Jonathan and Rae Lyn stayed in the house. Our plan was to eat at the house on the first night and around the campfire the rest of the time. Plans don’t always work out. It was a good thing we had the house to resort to.
It rained all Monday morning, but it cleared up in time for us to set up our tents. It was chillier than it had been in recent days, but not bad. We headed to the house for a lasagna supper. The house was right on the edge of the ridge, not more than 15 feet from the cliff overlooking Ada Valley, and a huge picture window faced the view. It made the house, which was otherwise odd, with strange narrow hallways and hundreds of cupboards.
We ate supper around the campfire on Tuesday night as planned, but that was it. We headed back to the house on Wednesday night for soup (I forget why). We also started taking our showers at the house on Wednesday because the bathhouse in the camp ground was disgusting. We played Hand and Foot after supper.
By suppertime on Thursday, it was snowing. Yep. Snowing. We spent the evening at the house again, then spent the night in the tent while outside it kept switching from rain to sleet to snow. Friday was overcast and damp and cold, and Saturday was supposed to be no better. We decided to move into the house all the way. I drove over to the campsite and took down everything in about 15 minutes by myself, just piling stuff into the car wherever I could make it fit. Back at the house, I spread the tent out in the sun room with the heater on full blast and dried it off in a couple hours. On Saturday morning, it was still overcast with rain off-and-on. We gave up. Nate and Karen headed home. We had to be out of the house by 11:00. Sal and I hung out around Tim’s camper for a couple hours then headed to Conway and spent the night with Sal’s parents.
The photo at the top of the post shows the view on Monday night. This next photo shows the view from noon Thursday until we left on Saturday. The fog never lifted.
Fort Defiance Park used to be an Illinois State Park, but Illinois didn’t want it and allowed it to become a dump. To anyone familiar with Illinois, this shouldn’t be a surprise. The same thing is happening to much of the state. The small town of Cairo now owns the park, and the residents maintain it as well as can be expected for a site that gets flooded frequently. The park is at the extreme southern tip of Illinois, sandwiched between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers — the two rivers join at the tip of the park.
When we stopped by for a brief visit, it was raining steadily and the wind was blowing strongly. The rivers were high and it looked like another couple inches would flood the loop road out to the point. Sally and Karen got out for quick looks and headed back to the warmth of the cars. Nate climbed the tower, an odd-shaped structure perhaps 50 yards from the confluence and took photos as I walked out to the very end of the state with the chair.
Surrounded by that much water that was so close to covering the land, with that wind and that rain, made me a bit anxious. I could barely see the shore of Kentucky on the left and Missouri on the right across the way. It felt a little bit dangerous. This was no weather for good cameras, so Nate shot a couple photos with his iPhone.
There was a flat area with engraved bricks just under the water by the log you can see in the above photos. I stuck the chair out there, with, as near as I could estimate, one leg in each river (there was no way to know for sure) and took this photo.
I would have liked to stay longer, but it was just miserable and we were getting hungry.
The final stop on our tour was another small shed.
Inside, there was a small clear space in the center of the room, but every other inch was packed with toys of every description. They filled shelves along the walls, hung from the ceiling and were stacked on top of one another. Three or four model trains and a Ferris wheel were in motion through the clutter. If the old Gulf station was sensory overload, this was sensory explosion.
Keith said this was only part of his collection. In response to my questions, he pointed out his oldest and favorite toys. It was his original ambition to create a much larger museum for this collection, but it hasn’t worked out that way.
I would have loved to have had a couple hours in there with a good camera (because of the rain, I took all these photos with my iPhone). We chatted with Keith for a couple minutes, gave him a generous donation for his tour and left not knowing for sure if we’d seen a train wreck or something unique and clever.
After leaving the old gas station, Keith took us on a tour of his Hillbilly Garden. As I understand it, the neighbors were upset that his yard was cluttered with junk and protested to the authorities. Somebody suggested that he arrange his junk and call it art. He painted some pictures on an old truck, nailed some stuff to trees and managed to get official approval as a tourist attraction.
Keith told us all this with a grin on his face that made me think he thought he was getting away with something. The paintings were primitive but pleasant. The rest of the garden was just silly. Each piece had a lame pun that went along with it, and we got to hear every one of them as the rain cane down harder and we got wetter.
This is Keith’s tribute to Cadillac Ranch.
Keith said his kids came home from church one Sunday and told him that a woman who lives across the street sang a song. Before she started, she announced that the devil had moved in across the way. In response, Keith put up this mirror facing her house.
Why “Enter as Tim”? Because that’s all they could spell with the letters.
There was much more of this sort of thing, but it all began to look and sound alike to me after awhile.
Our plan had been to tour Fort Massac on Sunday morning, but we’d had time to do that on Saturday afternoon. It was only an hour to Sikeston where we were eating lunch, so we had some time to kill. And it was raining. We sat in the parlor of Summers Riverview Mansion while Nate and I looked on our phones for something to do in Paducah. At almost the same moment, we both found a place called Apple Valley Hillbilly Garden & Toyland. It looked weird, but we like weird. We asked Henk if he knew anything about it, and he highly recommended it. I thought perhaps we should call in advance to see if they were open on a rainy March Sunday morning, but Henk said not to bother. “Just pull in. Somebody will come out and give you a tour.”
It wasn’t far — or it wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t missed the exit. When we arrived, we found this.
We parked and began wandering around the yard, but nobody came out of the house. It looked dark inside. It was just a few minutes past 10:00, when the sign said it opened. After getting about as wet and cold as I wanted to be, I tried the door of this little shed. It was opened, and a light was on inside, so I entered.
It was chaos, but amazing chaos. There were toys and signs and souvenirs and antiques all mixed together into total sensory overload. I figured I wasn’t supposed to be in there, so I started taking pictures as fast as I could before I got in trouble.
One of the displays behind the wire netting included a hand-written sign that read, “Hung out with Angelina Jolie 1986-1987 — Stuff touch by her …”
I looked it up — Angelina Jolie was 11 at the time.
I could have spent three days in there, reading old magazines and looking through scrapbooks and taking photos. But I figured I was pressing my luck, so I left. Nate, Karen and Sally had gotten their fill of wandering the grounds and we were standing near the cars. Nate walked behind another shed to photograph some turkeys and a dog started barking. A guy came out of the house in a black leather jacket and gray sweatpants and apologized for not realizing we were there. He offered us a tour and we accepted. Our first stop was the shed that I’d already been in.
His name is Keith Holt, and it turns out that there is some purpose to the chaos. The shed used to be a Gulf gas station run by Keith’s grandfather. At the same time, he operated a small diner that served fried chicken, a barber shop and an apple cider store. Bits and pieces of this history are mixed in with pieces from Keith’s 20 years in Hollywood as a puppeteer, comedian, some-time actor (he played a Romulan in an episode of Star Trek Next Generation) and model train craftsman. One of his purposes is to create a tribute to the tacky and odd roadside attractions that were found around America before the Interstates made travel dull, and that is the reason for the souvenirs. Keith talked very fast and gave us a great deal of information in a very short time.