I’m planning for three, maybe four road trips of significant length coming up over the next several months. All of them will involve significant County Counting components. While I’ve put a big dent into my quest to visit every county in the United States, the total still represents considerably less than half of those available. I’ve been pondering several strategies as I’ve examined places that will require significant effort. That led me to stare at a lot of county maps lately, examining them from a variety of perspectives. I don’t think I found anything earth shattering although I tucked a few observations away for future reference.
Georgia continued to confound me. How will I ever finish a state with so many tiny counties crammed within its borders? For sure, I will see every crevice and corner of Georgia by the time I finish. I examined a bunch of other states with tiny counties and I began to wonder which one had the smallest average county size. Being the precise person that I am, of course I created a spreadsheet to calculate and rank them. The smallest average county size belonged to… Rhode Island averaging 207 square miles per county (feel free to convert to square kilometres if you prefer). That hardly seemed a challenge though. Rhode Island only had 5 counties. Plus, I’ve already visited every one of them.
Second place, with an average county size of 297 square miles, went to Virginia. I’ve already finished that one too. That was a difficult feat — and I live there! However Virginia came up near the top only because it had those 38 insanely small Independent Cities. Take away those and Virginia would fall to #8 on the list. Next came Kentucky and New Jersey, and only then Georgia, followed by Tennessee. Every state in that grouping featured an average county square mileage somewhere in the 300’s. All of them will be difficult to finish except for New Jersey which had only 21 counties. Georgia had 159! Texas fell way down on the list with an average county size of 1,028 square miles. Even so it will be frustratingly difficult because of its immense size combined with a jaw-dropping 254 counties.
I figured larger western states with fewer counties would be an easier accomplishment. That might be true in general. However, Alaska might be the exception. If one considered its boroughs and each of the individual Census Areas of the Unorganized Borough (all considered "county equivalents" for these purposes) they would hit an average size of 19,677 square miles. Yet it would be difficult, time-consuming and expensive to visit them all. It would probably involve chartering private airplanes.
Population (2016 estimates)
Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. My Own Photo.
I didn’t stop there however, maybe because I was on a roll, although my next tangent had nothing to do with County Counting. The spreadsheet was already set up so it was pretty easy to add another column and replicate the study with populations. Just because. Why not?
South Dakota featured the fewest people per county on average, with only 13,113 residents each. North Dakota and Montana followed next in line, each with an average of fewer than 20,000 people per county. Alaska served as an interesting anomaly once again. I figured it would be lower on the list than #6. However it had a fairly sizable population even though nearly everyone lived in only two boroughs, Anchorage and adjoining Matanuska-Susitna. That skewed things. Rankings probably would have changed if I’d bothered to examine median rather than average. That would have entailed effort and I’m lazy so we’ll never know.
California fell at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. There, the average county population hit an astounding 676,724 residents. The average California county had a larger population than the entire states of Wyoming or Vermont! Crazy.
I found another oddity. Two very different states had nearly the same population and number of counties: Arizona and Massachusetts. That happened despite Arizona being nearly 15 times larger than Massachusetts. It served as a wonderful demonstration of larger western states with larger county sizes in contrast to smaller eastern states with smaller counties.
What if the District of Columbia ever became a state? DC would be composed of a single county of 61 square miles, and a population of 681,170 residents. That would make DC the state with the smallest average county size, by far. It would also be the state with the largest average county population. County counting would be really, really easy there too.
I travel into the District of Columbia nearly every day so I think I have that one covered.
An interesting conversation took place on Twitter recently between two regular Twelve Mile Circle readers, @CTMQ and @oxwof. They linked me in at the tail-end of their friendly discussion about two unusual and quite rare variations of Ten-pin bowling: Duckpins and Candlepins. They’d answered most of their questions by the time I arrived on the scene. I still had something to add about Duckpin bowling although it took me a few days to get back to them.
I had a vague recollection of playing Duckpins at a friend’s birthday party somewhere in the hazy past. I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old. Maybe I dreamed it. I’m not sure. It always seemed to be a "Maryland Thing." We Virginia folks didn’t like to cross the river into Maryland much except maybe to watch the Orioles play baseball a couple times a summer. I knew Duckpins existed although it always seemed so mysterious.
Duckpin bowling concentrated in the northeastern United States, in places like Maryland of course, and also in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. A few lanes existed as outliers here-and-there in other places as well. Nobody knew how Duckpins began with any degree of certainty. Some sources pegged Massachusetts as its birthplace, and others said Maryland, happening somewhere around 1900. Either way it retained a nostalgic popularity in its tiny enclaves. The sport even supported a governing body, the National Duckpin Bowling Congress.
I’m on the Case
I needed to try Duckpin bowling for myself. Most of the Maryland lanes clustered near Baltimore although a few straggled towards the District of Columbia border. One alley nearly penetrated the Beltway, only about a half-hour drive from my home. That fortunate placement convinced me to drag my wife and my younger son up to Silver Spring, Maryland (map) on a fine Saturday morning, to the White Oak Bowling Lanes. My older son decided he’d rather stay at home and sleep until noon like any other Saturday. His loss.
White Oak Lanes described itself as,
… Virtually Unchanged Since It Opened Way Back in 1959. There Are Still No Computers, All Scores Are Kept By Hand. If You Came Here As A Kid And Return As An Adult, It Will Feel Like You Never Left.
Check out the equipment! I think they were entirely serious about the 1959 reference. Nothing seemed to have been swapped-out or replaced in the last half-century. It made sense the more I thought about it. There couldn’t possibly be much of a market for new Duckpin bowling alley equipment anymore. They probably needed to improvise their own parts just to keep those ancient machines running. I noticed that they used an old doorbell ringer as a reset button. That was another interesting feature; nothing on these lanes happened automatically except for the ball return. Players had to get fresh pins after each frame by pressing the reset button. A little marker farther down to the left (along the rail by the balls) said "Deadwood." That cleared away any knocked-over pins remaining on the lane during a player’s turn. Players got up to three balls for each turn — not two — so the deadwood button got some use.
Giving it a Try
Then I rolled my first Duckpin ball in decades. The lane seemed normal. The balls, however, differed greatly from anything I’d ever experienced in Ten-pin bowling. They fit into the palm of my hand and they didn’t have any finger holes. Also they weighed a lot less, generally between 3 pounds 6 ounces (1.5 kg) to 3 pounds 12 ounces (1.7 kg). My son liked them a lot. He found them much easier to control. Actually we saw a lot of younger kids there, perhaps for the same reason. Duckpin bowling seemed well suited to their little arms and hands.
Those Tiny Pins
I didn’t have my good camera with me so I took photos with my outdated mobile phone with a lousy zoom. Nonetheless I think the photo gave an appreciation of the pin size. They were a lot smaller and more squat than traditional Ten-pin. Combining small balls with small pins created a devilishly difficult game. I threw a number of balls that would have been easy strikes or spares in Ten-pin that barely knocked anything over. Here, I could throw a ball directly into the middle of the pins and sometimes knock down only one or two of them. Duckpin balls carried significantly less force than Ten-pin balls and the pins didn’t bounce as much. It required much greater precision. That’s why players got three balls per turn, although it didn’t make much of difference for me because I lacked any skills.
Theoretically a player could score 300 points just like in Ten-pin. However, even after more than a century of continuous play, nobody has ever officially bowled a perfect Duckpin game. The highest score ever recorded remained at 279.
The duckpins.com website described an even more rare version called rubber band duckpins found basically only in Québec. A rubber band circled the pin so they bounced more, creating higher scores. I don’t think even that would have helped me.
Well, I lost, and I got robbed in the final frame of the second game too. I threw the ball perfectly and it knocked down only a single pin on my final try. Not that I’m bitter.
Keeping score was a little different because of the three balls per turn. Strikes and spares were recorded exactly like Ten-pin. Knocking down all remaining pins on the third turn just counted as ten though, with no bonus. It wasn’t like we had to worry about a lot of strikes and spares.
We’ll probably try it again someday. Actually now I want to try Candlepin bowling. It seems to overlap with Duckpins in parts of Massachusetts and Connecticut. I wondered if there was a place in New England were someone could find Candlepin, Duckpin and Ten-pin bowling all in the same town! That might be my quest the next time I go up there.
A random Twelve Mile Circle reader became an unwitting inspiration for this article simply because of where he or she lived. The little dot within Idaho on my Google Analytics dashboard mentioned State Line. That seemed too good to be true. I’ve done plenty of articles about border towns although I’d never noticed that one before. It sounded like a good excuse to peel things back a layer and take a closer look.
State Line didn’t cover much area and only 38 people lived there (map). It seemed an odd situation until I uncovered a bit of history in an old newspaper article. This creation sprang to life in 1947 and existed for a very specific reason. Quite simply, "the town was incorporated so it could sell liquor and have slot machines." End of story.
Those who incorporated the town leveraged the adjacent state border, just enough over the line to fall outside of the laws of Washington State. Residents of the region’s dominant city — Spokane, Washington — needed only a short drive to take advantage of the more liberal alcohol and gambling rules of Idaho. Apparently incorporated towns in Idaho had some legal leeway to provide these services so State Line filled that niche. The town didn’t have to worry about do-gooders interfering with its business either; it carefully corralled a sympathetic population. I’ve explored similar themes before, e.g., in Right Up to the Line.
A lot of separate sins packed into that tiny package, too. I drove down Seltice Way, the main road through State Line, vicariously using Google Street View. From the border heading into Idaho I noticed a smokeshop, a liquor store, several taverns including a biker bar, and a building with no windows advertising "Show Girls." I wonder what could possibly be going on inside there? This is a family-friendly website so I’ll leave it at that. I also found the residential area consisting of a small trailer park. Maybe the show girls lived there? If so then one of them visited 12MC and landed on the Thelma and Louise Route Map. Maybe someone was planning a weekend getaway?
Idaho didn’t contain the only town with that familiar name. Stateline existed in Nevada, too. I talked about that one briefly in the Loneliest Road in the USA and it appeared in reader comments from time-to-time as well. South Lake Tahoe, on the California side, seemed like the average ski resort town. A gondola led up to the slopes, part of the Heavenly Mountain Resort. Just down the street, however, marked Nevada. Five humongous casinos rose starkly from the pavement barely inches onto the Nevada side of the border. This grouping represented the same basic premise as its Idaho counterpart, bringing convenient "sinful" businesses closer to the masses.
A morbid geo-oddity of sorts existed in Stateline. The ski resort included trails on both sides of the border. Skiers crossed the state border on several of the runs. That was a worthwhile oddity by itself of course, although that wasn’t the morbid part. Something awful happened there in 1998. That’s when Sonny Bono, the lesser-known half of Sonny and Cher, slammed into a tree on the Orion slope (map). Bono died in Stateline on a border-crossing trail.
Stateline existed as one of thirteen townships in Sherman County, Kansas. The name went back historically to the 19th Century and simply represented its geographic placement next to Colorado. Stateline didn’t exist to entice people across the border and only 344 people lived there in the most recent Census. The township contained only one settlement of any size, Kanorado (map), the home of about half of Stateline’s residents. That still made it large enough to serve as Sherman County’s second largest town. My attention automatically focused on that spot because, as longtime readers know, I love a good portmanteau. The name combined and shortened Kansas and Colorado into Kanorado. It’s website noted that someone originally named it Lamborn. I preferred Kanorado. Excellent choice.
This one also existed in a bit of a geo-oddity. Only four counties recognized Kansas Mountain Time, including Sherman County. Of course that also included Stateline Township and the village of Kanorado. From my experience driving directly through there on Interstate 70 several years ago, I couldn’t determine why the area felt more aligned to Mountain Time. It seemed really remote, regardless. Either one should be fine. Nonetheless residents apparently felt otherwise and aligned chronologically with Colorado. Actually, as I thought about it more, Stateline should probably exist on the Colorado side instead. Colorado seemed to feature more sins than Kansas, particularly cannabis and perhaps alcohol too. The current Stateline alignment represented lost economic opportunities.
I found other State Lines and Statelines. For instance, check out State Line Pond in Connecticut. It also had its own website, believe it or not. From its description,
State Line Pond is an approximately 75 acre lake in Stafford Springs, Connecticut on the Massachusetts border at Monson, MA. The lake was formed when a stream running through a meadow was intentionally flooded approximately 150 years ago. For many years, the Stafford Ice House "harvested" ice by horse from the lake during the winter and delivered it to restaurants, homes and businesses as far away as Boston.
Even more obscure places existed in the form of State Line, Mississippi and State Line, Indiana. I couldn’t find much about either place other than their existence.