Travelogue: Part II – The Character of Small Towns

On my recent 2400 mile road trip on mainly “roads less traveled”, I was struck by the character of many small and medium sized towns I drove through along the way.

Clearly there are towns that are largely boarded up, with barely a pulse and a main street that maybe has a gas station/convenience store, but not much else.  Some of these towns have clearly given up and exist only in name with no effort given to even maintain the buildings.  This is a common story that has been written about extensively over the last couple of decades.  There is, however, another category of small towns that are struggling but still maintaining a sense of pride, community and patriotism.  The towns in this category had stuff going on – signs announcing 4th of July fireworks put on by the volunteer fire department at the local park, community dinner announcements at the well-maintained church on main street, and antique stores that likely sell legitimate antiques and draw customers from surrounding towns.  What I noticed in many of these towns was patriotism.  Driving through a few days before the 4th of July many had flags proudly displayed on every light in town.  These were not worn-out, run-down flags, but crisp new looking flags, even if the town was not.

There is another category of towns, sometimes small, some medium sized where there is clearly a vibrancy going on and often due to one or two successful businesses in the area.  One such town that was notable on my road trip was Eaton, Ohio.  This is a town of about 8500 in western Ohio.  I am not sure if 8500 counts as small or medium, I am going to say medium because when I was growing up outside a town of 792 in western Wisconsin, I considered a good sized town (medium) any town that had a Dairy Queen.  Eaton has a Dairy Queen!  The very noticeable successful business in town is the Henny Penny Company.  World HQ for Henny Penny is in Eaton, Ohio and I would guess it is one of the largest employers in town with an employee count of 600.  This company makes industrial restaurant equipment and sells their products in over 100 countries around the world.  Eaton’s main street is active, energized, and well-maintained and I am not sure how big a role Henny Penny plays in this, but I am sure it is significant in many ways.  Just one or two successful businesses can really make a difference in the character and vibrancy of small towns in America.


A Boomer In Transition


The Great De-Clutter!

Yes, there still will be a part II, but in the last two weeks we moved 6 blocks.  That may not sound like much, but I figure we got rid of at least nine tons of stuff.  Why do I say  nine tons, well, the large roll-off dumpster we had in our driveway for the first increment of The Great De-Clutter weighed in at 3.1 tons of contents.  You see they weigh it and you get charged by anything over one ton.  Why you would get a large driveway-filling dumpster and be limited to one ton makes no sense to me, but we will just add that to the list.

The second increment of The Great De-Clutter resulted in at least 20, yes 20, pickup loads of stuff to Goodwill.  Granted, I do not have a big pickup and I am kind of sensitive about that, but still, that must have been at least another ton.

The third increment of The Great De-Clutter involved the Got Junk truck.  They are very customer-friendly and like to get up close and personal with the junk themselves.  You get billed by how much of the truck you use, and on this increment we used half-a-truck.  Likely another ton.

The fourth increment of The Great De-Clutter involved selling a bunch of stuff on Craigslist.  BTW, the next time you are thinking of buying something new, think twice, or just walk away, as you will probably only get about 4 percent of what you paid for it (or in some states about half of your sales tax when you sell it).  Another ton.

The fifth increment of The Great De-Clutter was pure panic.  Three more pickup loads to Goodwill, one load to Half-Price Books where they give you about one half of one percent of what you paid for the books, two pickup loads to Bridging, and the second coming of the Got Junk truck.  This time according to the customer friendly people at Got Junk we would need 5/8’s of a truck-load and then it turned out to be three-fourths.  I cannot tell the difference between 5/8’s of a truck vs three-fourths, but I guess when you get up close and personal with junk all the time, it is easy to tell.  I am guessing here – another two tons!

Only in America, do we accumulate so much junk!  No wonder I am tired from all that moving stuff that at one point in our lives we felt we needed – guess not!

Our new house is great!  It is actually about 400 square feet bigger than our old one and we better not accumulate another nine tons of stuff we do not need again!  Oh, and our backyard is the U of M agricultural fields, very cool, and I spend a lot of time literally going back to my roots wandering those fields.


A De-Cluttered Boomer In Transition

Travelogue – Part I

On my 1200 mile road trip to Virginia across highway’s, county roads, and a few interstates, the most memorable was West Virginia.  I did not realize the scenic beauty of West Virginia,  and even though most of my trip through the state was in the pouring rain, the views were stunning.  With the mountains, forests, rivers, and interesting architecture (especially the bridges), I would have to say it rivals Colorado for scenic beauty.



I took the highway through the mountains of West Virginia rather than the interstate.  To call it a highway is an insult to highways everywhere as I am sure I averaged less than 30 mph across the 80 mile stretch through the most mountainous areas.  The hard left and hard right switchback driving which was posted at 20 mph made me realize why driving instructors used to tell students to use both hands on the steering wheel in the 10 and 2 o’clock positions.  No pinky finger driving on this road!  In Minnesota when roads are posted with 20 mph yellow warning signs, it means you are usually safe to take them a little faster than that.   In the mountains of West Virginia, 20 mph warning signs means 10 mph, except for the locals who take it at 50 mph in pickup trucks with bald tires.  But hey, they have to beat the other locals to the fresh road kill.  It did surprise me that I saw no fresh road kill on this entire stretch of road, even though I saw at least a dozen signs warning of various critter crossings.  After about 30 miles of this driving, not more than 100 feet from the road was a thriving business called “Wreck-A-Mended” that I hoped I would not need.

After I finally came down off the mountains, I came to a small town and the first thing I saw was the Golden Arches.   I don’t often think “mana from heaven” when I see the Golden Arches, but I did that day.  I was bone tired after that drive and even the one-eyed lady who ran the cash register could not diminish the pure joy of the Golden Arches.

And yes, some people still do live in shacks in West Virginia.  I saw many of them driving through the mountains that day in the state with the tag line “Wild and Wonderful.”   Very fitting!


A Boomer In Transition

Travelogue, Part III

You might be wondering, did I miss Part I and II?  No, I am starting at the end and working my way back in my three part series of my first solo 24oo mile road trip, ever.

I just got back this afternoon after leaving on this journey 8 days ago.  The mission:  get to Charlottesville, Virginia and grade exams for a week.  I was really looking forward to this trip for several reasons.  One of them is simply, I cannot remember the last time I could just throw some clothes in the car and take off on a long trip.  On airplane trips, you have to find the right size bag and then somehow get all the clothes you will need into the bag, essentially trash compacting it in.  I actually packed three bags of clothes for this trip, take that Delta!

When planning this road trip, I mapped out the longest of the suggested options and took that one.  I called it “the road slowly traveled” as I did about half the outbound trip on highways and county roads rather than the interstates.  This allowed me to drive through many small towns in Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia.  I saw the largest frying pan in Iowa and real throwback mountain men in West Virginia, the later I will write about in Part I.  On the way back, I took the “road usually traveled”, but tacked on about 20 extra miles to stay overnight at Purdue where I attended to receive my masters degree 34 years ago.


The picture above is the “grad student dorm” I lived in during my time at Purdue.  I spent about 1.5 hours walking around campus and found it to be a highly reflective time.  Since I just retired 6 months ago, I thought about what I was thinking when I was at Purdue 34 years ago.  I realized that I had no idea what I would do, where I would live, who I would marry, what my kids would be like, and what would happen in the life that followed and it was kind of a weird feeling,  I walked around campus in a daze trying to connect the present with my thoughts of over three decades ago as a I retraced some steps from that time.

I had no earth shattering revelations from my walkabout, but I did have a good feeling about my time here and the steps that led to where I am at today.  And those thoughts survived the 550 miles from Purdue to Roseville, of which at least 400 miles was under road construction.  Who says America is not rebuilding infrastructure!


A Reflective Boomer In Transition