Heartland, Part 4 (Beyond Covered)

On June 18, 2017 · 2 Comments

I couldn’t seem to shake my ever-growing fascination with bridges during my recent Heartland excursion. It started a few years ago, specifically with covered bridges, and expanded to various other styles for some unknown reason. I wouldn’t put this particular fascination at the same level as my county counting or my brewery obsessions although it always seemed to lurk in the background. By that, it meant I probably wouldn’t travel too far out of the way to see a bridge. I didn’t feel any special need to map any of my individual visits either. Nonetheless, certain particularly peculiar bridges might merit a minor detour. A few made the grade this time around too.

Dromedary – Bactrian – Mottville


Mottville Bridge

As an example, an obsolete bridge over the St. Joseph River at Mottville, Michigan might seem like an unlikely place of pilgrimage. However I stopped there anyway. Last summer I couldn’t get to Cass and St. Joseph Counties on my Michigan trip and it left an ugly empty doughnut hole on my map. Little Mottville sat practically astride the two as did its lovely camelback bridge, just on the St. Joseph side. I left my car at a little park at the edge of the bridge and strolled into Cass. This became an extremely rare "walk only" county capture (photo). That’s right, I crossed into Cass on foot! I’ve done that only one time previously, maybe twice, as I noted a couple of years ago.

I was there in Mottville, the bridge was there too, and I figured I might as well look around (map).

Mottville’s camelback bridge actually demonstrated genuine historical significance and architectural grace. The website HistoricBridges.org practically gushed about it being the "longest example of a curved chord through girder bridge" and "the maximum potential of the bridge type." The town also showed abundant pride in its engineering marvel.

Michigan served as the epicenter of the camelback style during the 1920’s. The state even took it a step further by increasing the prevailing standard 60-foot spans to 90-foot spans. The bridge at Mottville was truly unique because it included three spans, extending to 270 feet (82 metres), perhaps the only remaining example of this type. That significance led to its preservation even after it needed to be replaced. It also led to the creation of the little park where I left my car to visit Cass County on foot. They built a new bridge a few feet away.


East LaPorte Street Footbridge


East LaPorte Footbridge

As hard as I looked and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t find a lot of interesting things in north-eastern Indiana. Farms sprouted out there after settlers chased away the remaining Native Americans. Then nobody did anything and nothing else happened, or so it seemed. I apologize for making it sound boring because, in fact, I enjoyed the scenery. Nonetheless I found little to captivate a geo-geek who enjoyed oddball attractions.

Our route departed Fort Wayne on U.S. Route 30, heading diagonally northwest towards the bottom of Lake Michigan. That took us through Plymouth. Rather than bypass it, I noticed I could drive into town and visit an old footbridge (map). Granted, it didn’t offer much of significance beyond the local community although it fell along our path and it seemed like a nice place to stretch our legs. That’s how we found ourselves on the dead-end of E. LaPorte Street at a rickety bridge only six feet (two metres) wide. I hoped to sneak in-and-out quickly, unnoticed, and of course the nearest neighbors happened to be working in their yard. They looked at me with weird stares. I deserved it because after all I was walking under, around, and over this not particularly spectacular iron-and-wood bridge taking a bunch of photos like I’d discovered El Dorado.

The footbridge crossed the Yellow River, connecting Plymouth’s commercial district to a residential area. It seemed superfluous today although it probably mattered more in 1898 when automobiles barely existed. HistoricBridges.org liked this one too. As the site said, "This extremely rare and highly unusual bridge is the only one of its kind in Indiana." Then it went into excruciating detail describing its unique features.


Red Covered Bridge


Red Covered Bridge

Then I returned to my more traditional interest in covered bridges. Two examples crossed above Big Bureau Creek in close proximity to Princeton, Illinois. The first one took an appropriately descriptive name, the Red Covered Bridge (map). It included an amusing sign above the entryway, an obvious nod to tourists.

Five dollar fine for driving more than twelve horses, mules or cattle at one time or for leading any beast faster than a walk on or across the bridge.

It reminded me of a similar sign I saw on the Cornish-Windsor Bridge between New Hampshire and Vermont a few years ago. That one seemed to be a bargain by comparison. It levied a fine of only two dollars and it applied solely to horses.

The Red Covered Bridge dated to 1863. It was once formed part of the old Galena Trail coach road. One would hardly know that today. Newer roads turned this into a sleepy stretch in the middle of nowhere long ago. That made it great for visiting, though. I could walk right across it and not worry about getting squished. Still, I paid attention because an actual road ran through it.


Captain Swift Covered Bridge


Captain Swift Bridge

The second covered bridge didn’t have the same pedigree. I’m pretty sure few would consider a bridge built in 2006 to be "historical." Still, I didn’t need to drive out of my way to see the Captain Swift bridge so I stopped for a few moments (map). It looked old because its design included a lot of traditional features. However, it conformed to modern traffic and safety codes. The deck carried two lanes of vehicles just like any other 21st Century bridge, the only difference being its wooden cover.

I found an article that offered a simple explanation. Tourism. The earlier Captain Swift bridge — not covered — was "simply rusting away." Local officials thought a modern covered bridge might pay for itself. It would attract visitors who would then spend money in town. It worked for me. I bought gas in Princeton on the return trip to the Interstate after I visited the bridge. Bureau County could chalk me up as a success, albeit a sample size of one.

This wasn’t the only time a pit stop played a role in my trip. I captured a county that way too. Illinois’ Kendall County fell just a few feet north of Interstate 80. I noticed I could take an easy exit and drive just across the county line to a gas station, and return to the highway without minimal effort (map). These things really did figure into my driving calculations.

Oh, and I found Captain Swift. Apparently he really was an actual seafarer. Eventually he left the sea and wandered into the Midwest to became an early pioneer in Princeton, Illinois.


Articles in the Heartland Series:

  1. Why, oh Why?
  2. How Not to See a City
  3. Foiled by Memorial Day
  4. Beyond Covered
  5. Not Just Farmland
  6. Americana

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Heartland, Part 3 (Foiled by Memorial Day)

On June 15, 2017 · 0 Comments

I figured I’d have to give this article a sneaky title or nobody would read it. Once again I decided to focus a portion of my journey on local breweries and brewpubs found along our route. These posts tend to underperform as some of the least popular items on Twelve Mile Circle. I know that because I review the access logs. Unfortunately this activity also tends to be one of my favorites. It’s my website so I write about what I enjoy. Feel free to come back in a few days if this doesn’t interest you. I won’t take it personally. There will be plenty of geographic goodies as the rest of the series unfolds.


Three Floyds Cases
It will have to do.

Now, back to the title. How could Memorial Day possibly mess things up? After all, it existed for such a noble purpose, to remember those who gave their lives during military service to the country. Lots of businesses closed for the holiday as a sign of respect.

I’d been planning to visit 3 Floyds Brewing for several years. It was one of those iconic names in brewing circles, a place of beery pilgrimage, renowned for its craftsmanship as well as for its famous Dark Lord Day. Finally my path brought me within striking distance of Munster, Indiana and the famous brewery. On Memorial Day. The only day that fit into our schedule. Of course it was closed. Our stop at a nearby liquor store so we could load up with a couple of cases of 3 Floyds’ signature beers to take back home served as a sorry substitute. I’ll make it back to Munster again someday, mark my words.


My 400th Brewery


Father John's Brewing Company

Longtime 12MC readers already knew many of my idiosyncrasies. Not only did I like breweries, I liked counting things. Naturally I’ve recorded all of my brewery visits both with a list and on a map. I’d been approaching my 400th visit for awhile and I finally crossed the threshold at the first brewery we visited during the trip. That honor went to Father John’s Brewing in Bryan, Ohio (map). I enjoyed the setting, in the basement of a former Methodist church built in 1895. We also glanced into the sanctuary on the main level. It looked pretty much like a typical church although with pews removed and a bandstand installed.

Bryan seemed like an unlikely destination, tucked away in the northwestern corner of Ohio. The first race in the series place there on a Sunday morning so that’s how we found ourselves in a decommissioned church on Saturday evening. However, Bryan did have a couple of tenuous claims to fame. Spangler Candy, known for its Dum Dums lollipops, ran a factory in town. Dum Dums brought back childhood memories of Halloween trick-or-treating. We didn’t take the factory tour because they closed on the weekend, though. I started to sense a theme.

Remember Etch A Sketch? Those came from Bryan too, as a reader who followed the 12MC Twitter account informed me. The Ohio Art company started making them in Bryan in 1960. However they sold their Etch a Sketch brand in 2016 to focus on their metal lithography business.


LaOtto Brewing


LaOtto Brewing Company

Many of our adventures offered at least one unexpected brewery surprise. LaOtto Brewing in LaOtto, Indiana (map) served that purpose on the Heartland trip. The town of LaOtto didn’t have much, just a few quiet blocks along Old State Road 3, bypassed to the east by a highway heading towards Fort Wayne. We’d been driving all day collecting previously unvisited Indiana counties and it seemed like a good time to stop for a break. Craftbeer.com said we could find a brewery in LaOtto so we pulled over. It turned out to be a nice place with a friendly, informative staff. We also got a suggestion to visit Shoreline Brewery in Michigan City, Indiana to try their Big Bella Heavy Scotch Ale. I’d already planned to visit Michigan City the next day so fate looked like it might work out for us for once.

I never uncovered the etymology of the town’s name so that remained a mystery. Apparently a local Lutheran minister suggested LaOtto in 1875 because nobody liked the previous name, Simonsville. Was it a biblical reference? I don’t know.


Shoreline Brewery


Shoreline Brewery

I wanted to visit the lighthouses in Michigan City, and I’ll talk about those in a future article. Shoreline Brewery sat practically within walking distance of both of them. Memorial Day didn’t stop Shoreline from opening, as I noted for the record, not that I’m bitter or anything. No, not me. I know, I need to put things in perspective and get over it.

We found our Big Bella Heavy Scotch Ale offered for sale in take-home bomber bottles. The brewers aged each batch in bourbon barrels for a year prior to bottling it. They also offered several vintages. I’ve maintained a cellaring program in my home for quite awhile so I thought this would be a fine addition to my collection. We asked about the years available and they listed bottles going all the way back to 2010. There wasn’t any price difference between vintages either. That was a no–brainer. Someone already aged it for me? Of course I went for the 2010. It will be fine some winter evening a few months from now.


And the Rest

We collected a total of eight breweries and brewpubs during this trip. I’m sure I could come up with stories about the remaining five although I’ve run out of space so I’ll simply list them here.

  • Mad Anthony Brewing; Ft. Wayne, Indiana
  • Byway Brewing; Hammond, Indiana
  • Tangled Roots Brewing / Lone Buffalo Restaurant; Ottawa, Illinois
  • Green Tree Brewery; Le Claire, Iowa
  • The Brew Kettle; Strongsville, Ohio

I’d call that another successful tasting adventure.


Articles in the Heartland Series:

  1. Why, oh Why?
  2. How Not to See a City
  3. Foiled by Memorial Day
  4. Beyond Covered
  5. Not Just Farmland
  6. Americana

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Heartland, Part 1 (Why, oh Why?)

On June 8, 2017 · 2 Comments

Here we go again! I just finished a drive through the Midwest, all the way out to Iowa and back, and returned on Saturday. We didn’t stay anywhere for very long and kept moving most of the time. We also stayed in different hotels seven of the eight nights, and covered about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometres) all told. Readers who enjoy Twelve Mile Circle’s road trip adventures will like the next several articles. The rest of you may want to return in a couple of weeks instead.

The Route and the Count


Route Into the Heartland
The Route. New Counties in Dark Blue

A simple map might be the easiest way to describe my trip. It seemed like a fairly straightforward route although I threw in a few twists to increase county counting opportunities. Light blue counties represented those I’d visited before. Readers with discerning eyes probably figured out the rationale of those earlier visits already. Major interstate highways ran through them, specifically the Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana turnpikes. My new captures, those marked in dark blue, represented efforts to shave off the next level of counties towards the south as well as fill in a couple of troublesome doughnut holes.

The revised tally reached 1,416 counties as I finished the trip. I also broke the 45% barrier of United States counties visited. I’m not sure if the results encouraged or depressed me though. I started doing a little math. My 1,000th county visit happened in June 2009 during a trip along the Great River Road. That’s when I crossed the border into Crawford County, Wisconsin. I should finish in about 35 years if I keep going at that pace. It’s doable although I’ll be really old when I’m done. I think I need to speed it up. Nonetheless, I managed to pick up 26 new counties on this trip and I’m proud of my effort.


There for the Races


Heartland Marathon Series - Day 4

New county captures served as a nice side benefit although they weren’t the primary purpose of my drive. Once again, the trip involved a Mainly Marathons event, this time the Heartland Series. We’ve done several of these before as I’ve recounted in previous 12MC articles (i.e., Dust Bowl, Riverboat, Center of the Nation, New England). This time things went a little differently. We participated in only four of the seven races because my runner didn’t need the other three states on a quest to finish a race in all 50. That’s how we found ourselves in Bryan, Ohio; Portage, Indiana; Fulton, Illinois; and Clinton, Iowa. We skipped the Michigan race and headed into Indiana to capture more counties instead, and later went home after the Iowa race, missing events in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

I did things a little differently too. In the past I’d often been happy to stand on the sidelines while my runner finished a half-marathon each day. Most people selected the full marathon option and a few hearty soles selected the ultra-marathon. That made me feel downright lazy so I started doing some of the 5k’s. I did that again during most of the Heartland series. However, I also got talked into running a half-marathon for the Illinois race. I did pretty good for an old guy and I finished my first ever half-marathon at 1:53:29.

Now, however, I knew I could do better because I used all of the excuses. I’d never run that distance before, I had tired legs from races over several previous days, the course included a lot of hills, the wind blew pretty hard, and so on. Is this how addictions begin? I may try the occasional half-marathon in the future although I don’t have any plans to go overboard with the seven races in seven states in seven days thing.


Experiencing Nowhere



The drive didn’t follow a straight line all of the time. I also deviated for specific geo-oddities. For example I got to experience the Highway to Nowhere in person. I stumbled across a reference to it several years ago and featured it in a 12MC article. Feel free to check that one out if you want to learn how a town with fewer than 800 residents got its own interstate highway to its doorstep. The map showed it clearly; Interstate 180 appeared as an L-shaped spur south of Interstate 80 in central Illinois. Supposedly fewer than 2,000 vehicles per day used this highway. I drove its full length of course.

On my side of the road, along the entire distance, I saw only one car and one truck. The car passed me, doing something considerably faster than the posted 70 miles per hour.


A Tripoint Too

I also wanted to go a little out of my way for a state tripoint. It would be such a tragedy to drive within a few miles of such a spot and fail to reach it. So we deviated down a gravel road for this important oddity and stopped there for a few moments. It seemed only fitting to stand upon the singular spot where Indiana, Michigan and Ohio all joined together (map). Tripointers called the marker INMIOH in the naming shorthand they liked to use.

Although where might it be, exactly?


INMIOH Tripoint

There seemed to be some controversy on the Intertubes. Did it fall within the middle of the road or off to the side a few feet farther east? Adherents seemed to take sides. I decided to go with Jack Parsell’s Tri State Corners in the United States. I’ve used that source plenty of times before and it generally seemed to be the most accurate. It stated that surveyors in 1999 placed a commemorative metal plate within a small crypt about a foot below the road surface, covered by a protective steel cover. Dutifully, I put my foot up to the cover to touch all three states simultaneously.


INMIOH Tripoint

Then, to hedge my bets, I also found the broken stone marker on the downward-sloping eastern embankment. Some people said that this spot actually marked INMIOH. However Parsell and others claimed that it was merely a witness post. Before something cut it down to a nub it once said something like, hey the tripoint is in the middle of the road. Anyway that’s what the old-timers said. I found those explanation more convincing than the counterarguments. That didn’t stop my from taking a picture of it anyway "just in case."

This seemed to be one of the lamer tripoint I’ve seen during my wanderings. I’ve hiked to other tripoints in much more obscure locations that put this one to shame. Sure, it fell within the middle of the road although someone should make a nice roundabout there with a better marker as its centerpiece.


Articles in the Heartland Series:

  1. Why, oh Why?
  2. How Not to See a City
  3. Foiled by Memorial Day
  4. Beyond Covered
  5. Not Just Farmland
  6. Americana

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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