Monday, September 26, 2022

The Yankee Air Museum


In the first post of this series that covers the 2022 family reunion trip I mentioned that during this trip I visited a few places outside my usual comfort zone, especially since The Wife and I are being very slow to come out of COVID mode. Add that on top of my normal aversion to peopled places, especially indoor peopled places, and this qualifies as one of those out-side-comfort-zone excursions.

But this was the last of those places for this trip (The excursions to Downtown Detroit and the museums in Port Huron being the others.) because it's Tuesday and tomorrow I'll be headed up to The Brother's place and from there on to the actual reunion camp-out.

And yes, we're still in Michigan, and no, I have no idea why this place is called the Yankee, and their web site did nothing to help explain the apparent geographical dislocation.

The museum is located at the Willow Run Airport where construction started on a factory in 1940 that started producing B-24 liberator bombers in 1941. By 1944 the plant was rolling out one completed bomber per hour and flight-crews were sleeping in cots as they waited for their particular plane to be rolled out onto the taxiway and fueled up.

The museum's original home was in one of the buildings that used to be part of this plant but that building burned down in 2004.

The current location is smaller but as is often the case, these small, under-sung museums can turn out to be unexpected gems.

But before I get to that, a little side-trip down our entry into the museum.

We were there early, in fact the first paying visitors to show up, and it seems that there had been a power-cut overnight that tangled up the ticket-office computers. Something that wasn't discovered until attempting to process our cards. While the woman was trying to get that sorted out another group came in behind us. Just as she seemed to be making progress and was running the first of our cards through the purchasing process she called over our heads, apologizing to the waiting group and informing them that if they had a smart-phone they could purchase tickets for $2 less on-line. (That's a 20% discount!)

Wait! What? Why weren't we given that option?? Maybe because the three of us Sister, Mom and me, looked too old to be smart-phone savvy?

Anyway, tickets paid for, we finally made it through the door.

Inside, where a crew of volunteers was waiting to give private guided tours to any that wanted, (we chose to go it on our own) is a healthy array of exhibits.

There's the expected airplanes of course,

but also a large dose of educational tools that, in addition to this full-scale cockpit for kids of all ages to crawl all over, includes a couple simple flight simulators, some interactive displays that explain fight-controls, and even some classrooms for school field trips.

But it wasn't all planes either.

See those footlockers stacked up behind the tail of 159212? Those have been donated by the men (most are stenciled with name and rank) that actually used them while in the service and are nicely displayed as if sitting on the dock waiting to be loaded onto a ship.

The glass cases just beyond the footlockers each contain a variety of personal items of various solders and support people. (Women weren't allowed to be actual solders at this time but that doesn't diminish their contribution. In fact it sometimes makes their contributions all the more remarkable.)

And those that 'kept the home fires burning' haven't been forgotten either,

 with a comprehensive display of a number of ration books

and stamps.

Another display

that I found personally interesting

was this one showing the evolution and details of K, C, and MRE rations.

My dad and uncle were K ration solders. (on the left)

I was a C ration solder (middle) still using that same little finger-killing can opener as my dad.

And today The Wife and I keep a stock of MRE's (right) both at home and in The Van.

Anyway, I won't try and give you the full museum experience here, that never works, (I know because I've tried in the past.) but maybe if you find yourself in the area - - -

(But be sure to buy your tickets on-line!!)

Monday, September 19, 2022

A Port Huron Montage

 It was Monday.

After a pretty full weekend it was probably a good idea to give Mom a rest-day before dragging her out again on Tuesday's planned excursion, after all she is working on her last year as an octogenarian and we don't want to damage her right before the upcoming reunion.

And, again, being a Monday, those that weren't unemployed retired had all gone back to work.

That left the one sister and me.

Not really wanting to sit there twiddling our thumbs, and armed with the knowledge that all the St. Clair county museums are entry-fee free this year due to a corporate donation,

we jumped in the car and headed for Port Huron, up there at the red arrow.

Working our way from north to south, our first stop was the Fort Gratiot Light House right there where Lake Huron bottlenecks down into the St. Clair river. Kind of an important place for the lake-freighters to know right where they are!

Parking was a little limited.

Not because of crowds, but because the annual Sandfest had just wrapped up the day before (Whew! That was lucky! - you know, that we missed it!)

and now crews were busting up the sculptures and loading all the sand back into the dump-trucks that would haul it back to where they stole it from while other crews were dismantling all the tents that had been set up for vendors.

This didn't leave a whole lot of room for casual visitors to park but we squeezed in anyway.

Not really wanting to get involved in any guided tours, the only way to get inside the handful of buildings on the site, we stayed outside, on our own and read through the various placards placed around the property.


From there we drove down the river less than a mile to the Thomas Edison Depot Museum

which is an actual RR depot still in it's original location though now it's right under the Blue Water Bridge which carries traffic across the river between Port Huron and Sarnia Ontario.

And it's not really his depot, but he did work out of this very depot riding trains to and from Detroit while selling newspapers, at one point even printing his own paper using a press he brought onto the train and hot news gathered from various telegraph operators along the way to get a jump on the competition.

Many people don't know that Thomas Edison, not exactly a happy looking kid in this photo, spent his boy-hood living in Port Huron and, as he was later in life, as a boy he was a real hustler. He even had a lab set up in the baggage car so he could continue his experiments and not waste his down-time on the train. Well - he had a lab in the baggage car until something went wrong one day and he nearly burned the car down - - - The conductor was not amused!

Next stop, again just down the river a little ways, was the Huron Lightship museum.

From around 1920 until she was retired, as the last operating lightship on the Great Lakes, in 1970 the Huron was anchored on a shoal about 5 miles north of the mouth of the St. Clair river to guide ships through the tricky waters.

Now her slab-sided huskiness is permanently "docked"

in sand beside the river

and acts as a museum for - well, herself.

It's a good thing we were there on a Monday because, while visitors have pretty much full access to the ship

it's a pretty tight fit in some places so the-more-the-merrier does not apply here!

They didn't screw things up by making any more alterations to the ship in order to accommodate visitors than absolutely necessary, for instance, access in and out of the lower decks is still by the rather steep ladderways you find in working ships (Going up or down, always face the ladder! Especially at sea where that damn ladder just won't hold still!) and head-knocking piping that is endemic in all working boats still abounds, but I felt they could have done a better job of labeling things and providing explanations.

Fortunately, because of my ship-building background, I was able to act as tour-guide for my sister - and a few other people that wandered within earshot then stayed.

In addition to the main propulsion engine there in the middle, there are also two additional engines to port and starboard, each running it's own generator to make sure the light stays lit, and two more engines next to those, each powering its own air-compressor to ensure the fog-horn could sound for three seconds out of every thirty seconds when needed.

I used to visit a lot of museums on my travels but I became even more isolationist as I grew into retirement and fell out of the habit, and that's a shame because I really enjoy learning and connecting with the past.

I think I need to work on getting back into the habit and start visiting museums again. Paradoxically, I'm more comfortable in museums of any size with a light smattering of people than I am in tiny museums where I'm the only one there - because that makes me feel like I'm also on display. Not a comfortable feeling for an introvert.

We finished up the day with a stroll along the Blue Water River Walk. (Yep, there's some crappy photos here because, having left my proper camera behind, I only had my phone.)

That big barrel-shaped thing hanging in the air is one of two counterweights used to assist in raising and lowering the tilting platform, just left and below the counterweight, to the deck-level of the ferry.

Along with some habitat restoration efforts the walk provides a little bit of history, such as this car-ferry dock used to transport railroad cars back and forth across the river, which is also the border,

and some artwork as well.

Not a bad way to end the day!

But there's more scheduled for tomorrow! (Damn! This being retired thing is hard work!)

Monday, September 12, 2022

Into the Belly of the Beast!

 This year I timed my arrival in Michigan for about a week ahead of the actual family reunion so that I would have time for some more relaxed, one-on-one non-reunion visiting with immediate family.

But mostly with Mom since she's clearly the most important person here!

OK, yes, she does sometimes read this blog so it's possible that I just might, maybe, be brown-nosing her just a bit here at the expense of my siblings to make up for all the crap I gave her growing up. On the other hand, maybe that's exactly the way I feel!?

Anyway - we, Mom and I, had dinner together a couple times, brunch together once, took a few walks together, and one day, along with one sister, (the one that retired just a couple months ago and is no longer constrained by work hours!) we went on a little excursion with shovels, clippers, gloves, and the Matriarch's lawn-chair to give Dad's peaceful hillside grave (As well as that of my Aunt and Uncle) a good sprucing up, and another day to visit a nearby military museum. (Several of us, some still here, some not, are ex military.)

But one day, with both sisters along this time so it must have been the weekend, the four of us, two sisters, Mom, and me, deliberately went into the very heart of downtown Detroit. The Belly of the Beast!

As you might imagine, this was not exactly my happy-place!

In fact, for the past 10, post-retirement years I've done a pretty good job of avoiding the mix-master chaos to be found in any large city but, well, shit stuff happens! 

Then again, truth is, it's reputation aside, our family has fairly close connections with this city.

One set of Grandparents immigrated here because the job prospects looked good. The other Grandfather was quite a prominent auto dealership owner in the area prior to the depression. My Uncle retired from Detroit Diesel. My other Uncle started as a press-inker and retired as Editor-in-Chief of a prominent auto news publication. My Aunt retired from the auto-adjacent Monroe Shocks. Myself, along with all my siblings and cousins grew up in areas around the city (back then we were out in the country but now everything from Monroe to Port Huron and Brighton to the river is all one big city-like mashup!) and a large percentage of them, and now their families, are still in the area.

The nearly 50 year old Renaissance Center (Ren Cen for short) in downtown Detroit

Oh, and Mom and Dad?

Mom earned her degree as an RN on a community-sponsored full-ride scholarship in an area college then worked in emergency rooms and later doctors offices in the area,

and in the course of a full career building some of the area's infrastructure and roads, in the mid 70's Dad supervised the crews that installed all the underground system support infrastructure, i.e. conduits for electrical and communications and piping for potable water, waste water, and storm water, for the Renaissance Center in the heart of Detroit's downtown. (about six blocks from where we were headed.)

Yep, that's him standing at the job-site in an article about the project published as the cover story in the May 1975 issue of Michigan Contractors and Builders magazine.

Even so, other than one trip in and one trip out of the Greyhound-station for a quick Christmas visit in the early 70's I've pretty much managed to avoid the down-town area for a whole lot-a decades!

Until today.

And yes, getting there required passing the boarded up and razed neighborhoods and huge abandoned factories with blindly jagged remnants where windows used to be that are the current media-driven image of the city for non-Detroiters.

So why the hell were we rocketing (well - rocketing might be a bit of an exaggeration given the limitations of traffic and construction zones.) into the midst of all this?

Why was I, a card-carrying nature-lover, hermit, and isolationist, (personal, not geo-political) barreling directly towards fumes, sirens, horns, cramped concrete canyons,

hordes of people, (This was all pre-lunch but the pedi-bars were doing a roaring, and I do mean roaring business since the patrons were making an inordinate amount of noise by screaming, shouting, cheering, and cat-calling!)

You have to blow it up to see, but the standard rate at this lot is $50!

and parking that chews up the better part of a $20 bill for a few hours even on a slow day?!


Well, we came because of this.

"This" is the first of it's kind in North America.

The Exchange, better known as the top-down building, is being built right on the border of Greektown and the central business district.

What makes it 'first of it's kind' isn't the 16 floors of high-end residential with some businesses on the ground, or the views across the river into Canada, or the fact that it's within a couple easy blocks of a People Mover station in both directions. All that is pretty common down here in the surprisingly revitalized downtown area.

What makes Exchange unique, at least for now, is the way it's being built.

You see that floor of clean white panels and shiny floor-to-ceiling glass wrapped around the base of the building and half-hidden behind the construction fencing?

Well it's completed now with all the plumbing and electrical already in place

and is about to be lifted up on cables in one piece and tucked up there near the top to become the 13th floor (The video in the news story linked below shows this very floor being lifted up just days after we were there.) then the crew will start all over again building the 12th floor down here on the ground.

Here is a link to a short news video about how this is being built (starts about 27 seconds into the 3:39 video)

Interesting for the engineer in me!

After a little close-up inspection of the building site, or as close as the fencing would allow, we wandered around the area for a little bit.

And yes, if it seems like there is a lot of other construction around here you're right.

Because of climate conditions it's a phenomenon of northern urban areas that there are two seasons, construction or winter.

If the roads aren't choked with construction zones they are choked with snow and ice!

 We could have climbed on the 3 mile People Mover loop running by a few feet overhead, which is fare-free through the end of August this year, and seen a little more of the downtown area, but we kept our feet on the ground instead and just prowled the few blocks around us.

But that was fine by me as The Belt is only a couple blocks away from the Exchange build-site.

This once forgotten little alley squeezed between typical downtown buildings in what once was the garment district has been turned into an open-air art gallery with restaurants and nightclubs jammed in along the sides for a little extra kick.

This little traffic-free zone was a nice place to just sit and chill for a little bit while the city roared on around us.  

(If you're wondering where the people are, this was Saturday morning and the Detroit Lions were holding an open practice at the Comercia Park stadium just a few blocks away. This apparently finished up just as we were leaving the area and that's when people started really swarming the area!)

one of the art pieces in The Belt

For a visit into the heart of a city this didn't turn out to be too bad at all.

A little bit of engineering.

A little bit of art.

A little bit of family time.

And I didn't have to do any of the driving!

Monday, September 5, 2022

Dang It !!

 Just when my legs were about back to their normal state, you know, breathtakingly beautiful,

this had to happen!

No, it's not Monkeypox. It's been diagnosed as Gramina Mententis Ilix Vomatoria Idicus.

For those that don't speak the dead, and partially made up, idioma I'll translate: "The idiot ran the zero-turn lawn-mower feet first into a stand of Youpon - with his glasses on and eyes wide open!"

And yes, it stings like hell, especially when soaping it up while the shower beats down on it!

At my current age-induced sluggish pace of healing it will be months before my legs are pretty again!

 Oh, and we're not even going to talk about the Micky-Mouse (I prefer bull but The Wife says Micky-Mouse) shaped divot in my head because it's taking me forever to learn to duck low enough (Thunk - Dang-it!) under the fallen tree that has been slowly settling down over one of my trails - - -