2011 – Port Huron, MI

We were really sad to leave Port Huron yesterday morning. The hangover didn’t help. On our final night in the USA, we went out to eat at a restaurant that quite a few people had recommended; yes the food was great;

The wine was even better and a glass of wine was a huge balloon with around half a bottle of wine in it – and I had three – oh and a whiskey. Jan enjoyed a little Holy Grail! Then we popped in to The Brass Rail to say goodbye to Di, the very helpful barmaid. So that was another wine and another whiskey. So the fuzzy head, yesterday morning, made packing and getting on the road a bit of hard work. Jan never seems to suffer – then again, he sticks to beer. We met a really nice guy in the Brass Rail; I’m sorry I can’t remember his name or very much about our conversation, but I do have a photo

There’s something about Port Huron I really like; maybe it’s because it reminds me of Liverpool – the busy port life, the sailboats, good restaurants, the once grand, now shabby, houses built by wealthy ships masters. It’s also unusual in America to be able to walk wherever you want to go – no need for transport and a long ride for the smallest, commonest item you might need. In common with many towns we have visited, the economic recession is crippling businesses, but the town council/committee (or whatever they call them) are making brave efforts to bring tourists in. There’s a wonderful trolley bus that does a tour of all the historic and/or interesting places in the town – it costs just 10 cents to ride the bus. I did the trip (for the second time) on Friday; I was the only person on the bus but Sheralee (sorry if I spelled this wrong), the driver, still did the commentary and stopped and opened the door so I could take photos. I got off at the Bluewater Bridge, walked to the Fort Gratiot lighthouse and then she picked me up 2 hours later to do the rest of the tour

This was also the day for the ‘Floatdown’ an annual free-for-all consisting of using anything that floats to drift down the St Clair River. But the US Coastguard is desperately trying to stop the practice – but the stout-hearted Michigans will not be deterred.

 By the time we got there, only the stragglers were left.

Copied from ‘The Voice’ By Jeri Packer
Voice Staff Writer

The Port Huron Float Down had about 2,000 participants this year. The annual event starts at Lighthouse Beach in Port Huron with floaters heading eight miles down to Chrysler Beach in Marysville.

Out of the crowd, there were 650 assists, many involving rafters being pulled to the Canadian side of the St. Clair River, due to a westerly wind, said St. Clair County Marine Patrol Sgt. Don Berg.  Berg said they assisted about 40 people with mild hypothermia and three medical emergencies – one for a panic attack and another floater who thought they were having a heart attack. He didn’t know the third person’s situation, but he said he was glad to report there were no fatalities or serious injuries.

Many of the floaters did not wait for the 1 p.m. shotgun start, but left the beach at sporadic times, making it harder to keep track of the floaters

“They were all over the river,” Berg said. “Some started at 11, 12, different parts of the day, they were spread out. At 7 p.m. they were still in the water, but we called it a day.”

There were about 30 boats keeping watch. Many of these boats were officials with law enforcement agencies, local fire departments, U.S. Border Patrol, the Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Coast Guard. Berg and St. Clair County Sheriff Tim Donnellon were on personal watercraft.

“The taxpayers’ dollars at work,” Berg said.

The Coast Guard closed off the river north of the bridge from any traffic for part of the day to prevent any collisions with the rafters.

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Brian Hawkins said the main hindrance that day was the strong westerly wind.

“It blew them to Canada,” he said. “Once you get out on their border, you’re opening a different can of worms. Then you deal with Canadian customs.”

Many of the floaters were taken back to land for exhaustion, trying to fight the strong current from blowing them to the Canadian side, he said.

Berg recommended that rafters bring paddles or oars, to help keep them on the American side of the river.

Now I love the American people, but, not to fond of the government’s way of thinking; but note this…

By the way – just think about this sentence:

“It blew them to Canada,” he said. “Once you get out on their border, you’re opening a different can of worms. Then you deal with Canadian customs.”

Sorry my American friends, but the Canadians are mere children in border patrol, compared to…..

Revelers didn’t bat an eyelid but enjoyed lots of well-earned beer and a boogey to this band;

And they sang two of our fav songs – ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and ‘Mustang Sally’

There’s a wonderful Ice Museum in Port Huron too and the daughter of the man who established the Party Ice Company – one of the biggest businesses in the USA in times gone by – tells how her father started the company.

Harvesting Ice
In the nineteenth century, there were no refrigerators,
but there were ice boxes. In winter, people sawed and
harvested ice blocks from frozen lakes. They hauled
them to shore, cut them into smaller slabs and stored
them under sawdust and other insulating materials in
ice houses. During warm weather, they sold the
ice to people who had ice boxes in their kitchens,
to meat and grocery stores and to railroad
companies shipping food.

Ice production was the second largest industry in the USA at the turn of the century

The Knowlton’s Ice Museum, Port Huron, Michigan

The Will Sainte Clair Automobile Museum, Marysville, Michigan.

C Harold Wills worked closely with Henry Ford early in both men’s careers, beginning as Ford’s draughtsman in 1902. He is credited with the design of many engineering components of the Ford Model T. When the Ford company was established in 1903, Wills was chief designer, metallurgist and first employee; in fact, the Ford logo – still used today – was designed by Wills.

By 1919, Wills had become restless in his job. He desperately wanted to update the Model T, but Ford refused, so Wills decided to leave the company and, with his 1.5 million dollar severance pay, he announced that he would build a car in Marysville, along the banks of the St Clair River in Michigan.

In 1921, the CH Wills Co produced their first overhead cam, V8 model Wills St Clair. Wills autos were lightweight and strong thanks to the use of Molybdenum steel although, for a luxury car, the Wills was considered a bit small. Many different types of bodies were available including roadsters, touring and 5 & 7 passenger sedans.

On August 17th, 1921, C Harold Wills made a record run from Detroit to New York City – a distance of 689 miles – in 20 hours, 26 minutes. On June 5th 1922, 80 cars were assembled in a single day – another record.

(The above is taken from the museum’s brochure)

On display at the museum are TEN Wills St Clare Automobiles, the largest collection anywhere in the world; most are restored but some are in their original condition.

On this particular Sunday, there was an annual ‘Art In The Park’ festival and, included in the festivities was a vintage car exhibition. And what a beautiful collection of antique cars there was. Here’s some photos – but I’m saving the good ones for editing when I get home 🙂

 For obvious reasons, this is my favourite
 The actual museum

This beautiful Corvette was parked outside the diner next to our motel – I had to include it as this is a car I would love to own

Lansing, Michigan

Thursday morning and it was time to make our way back to Canada. We weren’t sure which route we were taking – whether to go straight to Port Huron and cross the bridge into Canada there – or if we should first head to Lansing and Larry of GT Motors to have the bike serviced.

We had just crossed the state line from Ohio and into Michigan and pulled into the Welcome Centre (so we could pick up a free map). Jan checked the bike and noticed there was a lot of oil splashes on the rear wheel; that decided the route for us. We phoned Larry and, bless him, he said he would wait at the workshop for us and check the bike right away. We arrived at about 4pm – and there was friend Brian (and his beautiful Moto Guzzi Mille) and Larry sitting waiting for us.

Brian got to work checking the bike out straight away. He cleaned the oil off using three cans of brake cleaner fluid, putting plenty around the engine too – he had a feeling the gasket had gone.

 Larry getting dirty
 MGMan joining in
 Brian’s beaut

Once all was clean, he got Jan to ride the bike for an hour – on his return, there were no new splashes. After a lot of thought and checking, he felt the oil had been blown back from the breather pipes because the oil level was too high. So he did an oil change, put in a new filter and changed both front and back brake pads. it was a thrill to see other Guzzis (and 2 Beemer’s) turning up to say hello; never seen this many MG’s in one place at the same time in America!

 Moto Guzzi Embassador

One of the BMW owners also has Guzzis – and this…. from Mandelo in Italy

 A Guzzi do-rag

Meanwhile, Larry showed me his new shop, just over the road. The books and manuals – old and new are amazing; all things Guzzi, but lots of other bike makes too. And he has four beautiful old bikes in there (well there are 6 bikes, but only four are in show condition at the moment).

 Guzziology – a fine science indeed (take heed Harley owners)

if there is a book, or manual you need – even one now out of print – I’m sure Larry will have it; not only Guzzis either

He lent me a book called Ace Times (Speed thrills and tea spills, a cafe and a culture) by a Brit called Mick Duckworth. What a well-researched book and filled with hundreds of photos from the heyday of the Ace Cafe. It is all about bikes, of course, but also the culture of biking in Britain. Superb.

On Jan’s ride around, following the cleaning, he had booked us into a motel for 2 nights. After the bike was sorted, we returned there. Oh. My. God. It was a dump. Suffice it to say, we slept fully clothed and didn’t bother showering the following day – and we sacrificed the $36 paid for a second night.

At last, daylight….

Instead, we had breakfast in a diner, with Larry and Brian, followed by another inspection of the bike, and then set off for Port Huron. Actually, the folk in that motel were very nice, if a little strange. The guy who looked after the rooms, a Native American with some Irish blood, couldn’t have been kinder. He gave us some cookies, baked by his ex-wife and two bottles of water for the trip.

I’d just like to mention something that happens quite a lot when you are on the road. We took a wrong turn after leaving the interstate to fill up. And met this lovely man, Rick. He had a very nice car – and a Norton Tea-shirt on. We chatted a while and, he, incredibly kindly, said we were welcome to stay at his home. Thank you so much Rick, gestures such as yours mean an awful lot to us.

So, full circle and we are back in Hamilton. Tomorrow we are going to arrange bike storage and sort out how to get back to Toronto on Saturday. That will be a real pain in the arse. We need to go on Saturday and sit in the airport all night because we have to check-in at 6am. We arrive at Heathrow at 9pm, then Jan has to head to see his parents, while I get an all-night National Express coach to see Caroline and my granddaughters in Cornwall. It’s going to be a long, long, 3 days.

The motel we are in has no wifi at the moment – someone stole the router (strange excuse). The nadger for the tv doesn’t work either – I guess someone stole the battery. Hamilton was under a tornado watch tonight and the whole evening has been a wondrous light show – never seen lightning like it.

Finally, I need to back pedal even further back – to Ohio.

Meeting Shadow, the black leopard (panther). Barb and I had gone to Toledo to pick something up and on the way back Barb decided to stop at a place she hadn’t been to for many years. Right on HW 20, just outside Toledo there’s a man called Kenny. He’s a police officer – and a collector of the most amazing things. He also fixes Harley Davidson bikes (but is an ace with all bikes, especially British makes). And he keeps wild animals. Two bears – a Kodiak and a grizzly – wolves, lions, tiger and leopards.

Barb parked off the main road and we climbed out of the pick-up. Kenny came out and, seeing my big camera around my neck, called out, ‘NO PHOTOS’. We walked over to him and I said, OK, but I didn’t want to leave my camera in the pick-up. Hearing my accent, his demeanor  changed immediately (I think he loves British bikes)  and explained that he is often harrassed by people coming along in a friendly manner, taking photos of the cages and animals – then using them to try and get him closed down.

He took us into his home – amazing. Each room is packed with wonderful collections (and 4 Amazon parrots). We spent about an hour in the house, then he said he would show us something we would never see anywhere else. But first of all we had to wait a moment. He went through the kitchen for a couple of minutes then came back and told us to follow him. Well! He had gone to gate off the compound where the black leopard (Shadow) and a huge tiger lived, so we could use ‘their’ stairway to a room above a barn. Now, this passage was about a foot wide and, hearts pounding, Barb and I leaned as far from the cage as we possibly could; we sort of slithered along the wall and almost ran up the stairs. The room was filled with boxing gloves hung from the ceiling – gloves from all the famous boxers and from all periods – some were no more than a padding to protect the knuckles.

Below is a few of the gloves Kenny has

He has a pair of gloves, in a glass case, covered with the autographs of the top heavyweights. There are weights up there too – really old dumbbells included. He has lots of the silk robes of boxers and coach too. Coming back down again, he went to the cage and Shadow stood on his hind legs to lick Kenny’s face. Kenny said we could put a flat hand to the cage – ‘But DON’T put your fingers through. Sure enough, Shadow licked us both on the hand. His paws were huge – no claws drawn, so I was able to stroke his paw. The tiger lay next to the wire too – but he really did look dangerous.Kenny has had all these animals from cubs and he has an amazing affinity with all of them. It was an unforgettable, very special experience that gave both Barb and me a massive high – so much so we got a bit drunk once back at the house. The photos didn’t come out very well because we were in a tight area – you can see the small passage on the photo with Barb which was actually very dark while the sun glowed full-on outside – and, I have to admit, I was quite nervous – especially when we saw the huge chunks of meat hanging just behind us!

2021 and looking back, I feel so sad for these beautiful creatures. I watched a documentary about another man who lives close to Kenny and, after the authorities told him his animals had to go – he freed them and terrified the whole town so the poor creatures had to be shot.

This article broke my heart https://abcnews.go.com/US/zanesville-animal-massacre-included-18-rare-bengal-tigers/story?id=14767017

 KENNY & SHADOW

Well, I hope I’ve more or less caught up; bound to have forgotten something so this will not be the final post. Advance apologies for typos, spelling mistakes and all that; bit awkward having no internet in our room.

I have to show the final mileage when we put the bike into the lock-up tomorrow..

Ahead is the return journey – that is promising to be a bit of an ordeal; all night in Toronto airport arriving in Heathrow airport late evening, followed by a long and tedious all night journey to the other side of the country – Cornwall. And my daughter, Caroline is away – up a mountain with no phone signal – until the following evening. In all, from checking out of the motel at 11am on Saturday, we’ll be on buses and planes until at least Monday morning, ugh. Sometimes, I really get tired of travel 😀

TTFN amigos