THE GREAT TRAIN ADVENTURE – Part II

After a night of cramped quarters and constant movement aboard the AMTRAK Empire Builder, we arrived in East Glacier, Montana. From the train station, I saw the iconic Glacier Lodge only 200 yards away. As we walked up the stairs, we entered a beautiful lobby constructed over 100 years ago. It was made of giant logs and arched up for two stories. It was quite impressive. Then we found our room. IMG_1680

Like the rest of the hotel, the rooms were also built over 100 years ago. This is when I learned that the word “iconic” is an old Indian word that means “no modern conveniences.”

For starters, there was no elevator to get to the room, so we schlepped our luggage up the big log stairs to our room. When I entered the room, I scanned it and quickly noticed that someone had stolen the TV set. I called the front desk to report it, and they told me that none of the rooms had TVs. It must have been one heck of a heist.

It was unseasonably warm when we were there, with the highs in the 80’s. It was warm enough to turn on the air conditioning. Alas, that was stolen too! This time, when I called the front desk, I was told that the air conditioner was in the closet. I hung up and looked in the closet to find an electric fan. Ha, ha. There was also no mini-bar or room service, and water pipes hung from the ceiling, but at least the bed was bigger than the one on the train and the toilet was separate from the shower.

In the morning, we prepared for our pre-arranged tour and soon discovered that we would not be sight seeing that day because you couldn’t see any of the sights. A forest fire raging in the western park of the park was smoking up a storm and that smoke covered the rest of the park and much of the state. As we drove around, the tour guide pointed out where allIMG_1634 of the mountains would be if we could see them. He even showed us some alleged glaciers that we couldn’t see. For all I know, he was making it all up.

The next day we went for a walk, figuring that since smoke rises, we’d be closer to good air. Once again, ha, ha. The smoke could not be avoided and after three days of it I had not seen any sights and wound up with a three-pack-a-day habit. But we made some new friends and enjoyed our time talking to them. One couple was celebrating their 30th anniversary and flew to an airport near the lodge. From there, they were going to take their first train trip, on their anniversary, thinking they are going to have James Bond sex. Ha, ha. I hope they make it to 31.

On the last day of our smoked-filled adventure, we walked back to the train station and boarded The Empire Builder for the return to Chicago. It was quite refreshing this time because the entire train was a non-smoking area. At last, clean, recycled, air conditioned air.

Because of the smoke,we saw little wildlife in the park, but we saw a lot of it out the train window on the ride home. Cows and horses, of course, but we also saw a lake filled with beautiful white egrets. And we saw both deer and antelope and they appeared to be playing, just like in the song.

After another 30 hours of stopping at every Podunk train station on the route, we arrived back in Chicago, clutching the postcards we bought of what we would have seen had we been able to see it. Now it is on to the next adventure.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on THE GREAT TRAIN ADVENTURE – Part II

GO WEST YOUNG MAN…BY TRAIN

I have traveled a lot in my life and have used all types of conveyance. I have traveled by plane, car, truck, sail ship, cruise ship, bus, and motorcycle but have never ridden a train except to commute from my home to downtown Chicago. This year, my wife and I decided that it would be an adventure to travel across the country by train. I’ve watched all of the James Bond movies and he traveled by train, if it was good enough for James Bond it was good enough for Irvin, Dale Irvin.IMG_1689

We began our journey in Chicago and traveled on the route built by the Great Northern Railway to Glacier National Park in Montana. The track was laid in the early 1900’s and was very bumpy. Now that the line is operated by AMTRAK, a company with government funding, it’s even bumpier. The trip took 30 hours but seemed more like 30 days.

There are three classes of travel on AMTRAK. Coach travel provides you with a seat. It’s not quite as big as a first class airplane seat but it reclines and provides ample leg room. Unfortunately sitting in a seat of any kind for 30 hours is never fun. I traveled by Greyhound bus when I was in college and it was a literal and figurative, pain in my ass.

A step up from coach is the sleeper car where cubicles are furnished with two seats, facing each other. They fold down to form a single bed and a second bed drops down from above, creating an upper and lower berth just like you’ve seen in old black and white movies.

The upper berth is accessed by a ladder and getting into bed requires the agility of an olympic athlete. Also, sleeper passengers get to eat for free in the dining car. We met several people in the dining car who obviously rode the train for the free food. They’re the same folks who rate cruise ships by the midnight buffet. I don’t know how they both fit into a sleeper car but I’m guessingIMG_1615 there was a lot of pushing involved.

The third choice for travel is the roomette. This is an actual room the size of a large walk-in closet. It features a sofa that folds into a single bed and a smaller bed that drops down from above. The roomette also has a large picture window so that you can enjoy the scenery and your very own bathroom. The bathroom, in keeping with the Lilliputian scale of the rest of the room, is the approximate size of a phone booth. If you are too young to know what a phone booth is, watch an old Superman episode on cable tv.

The bathroom served as both a toilet and a shower. In fact, the easiest way to take a shower is to sit on the toilet, and if you are into time management, you can accomplish two functions at the same time. But the roomette looked like the kind of room that James Bond traveled in, so I figured it was perfect for us, and it would have been perfect, had we been anorexic little people.

Neither of us wanted to venture up the ladder to access the upper bed, which was equipped with military-style safety straps to hold you in place, so we both slept in the single bed. It was like being back at college but much less romantic. Between the size of the bed and the constant motion of the train, I don’t know how James Bond ever got jiggy with it.

Real trains don’t roll smoothly like the one I put under the tree at Christmas. They bounce around like a beach ball in a bidet, making it very difficult to stand up and walk. Walking down the hall from car to car, I became part of a human pin ball game. I bounced from side to side as I walked down the narrow hallway at one point, even fell into someone’s sleeper car. Fortunately they were not asleep at the time. If you find yourself on a bumpy train like this, I suggest you drink to the point that you stagger. Then you will wind up going down the hallway as straight as an arrow.

Stay tuned for part II, The Park

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on GO WEST YOUNG MAN…BY TRAIN

DALE & SPIKE’S SEARCH FOR ODDITIES – part 3; the end of the road

TO FOREVERTRON AND BEYOND

After thoroughly examining and getting nauseous from the House on the Rock, Spike and I set out for the metropolis of Baraboo, Wisconsin. We had hoped to see the circus that always summered in Baraboo, but the circus went out of business. They still have a museum there but I wanted to smell the real thing. After scratching “circus” from our list, we rode to the town of Sumpter, to experience the Forevertron.

It has been said that diamonds are forever. But if, instead of diamonds, you had a pile of

random metal junk and an acetylene torch, that, my friends is Forevertron. Forevertron is the brain child of Thomas Every, a.k.a Dr. Evermore. Every was an associate of Alex Jordan and instrumental in the development of his House on the Rock. He is a self-taught artist and sculptor with extraordinary vision. His work is hard to describe but a delight to behold. All you have to do is find it.IMG_1568

The Forevertron is not shown on most GPS systems because it is not on a street. To get to the park, you need to find an unmarked gravel road off of busy U.S. 12. Spike and I road past the park entrance several times before we abandoned the man code and asked for directions.

At the nearest gas station, we were told to “Go down the road a bit, and right near the place where Zippy Johnson hit a cow in the road, you’ll see a signpost. The sign is gone but that’s where you turn.” Amazingly, we found it.

Sculpture Park, home of Forevertron, is unique in many ways. It does not advertise; it’s not easy to find; and there is no charge to enter, but what we saw was amazing. Giant metal sculptures fill the park, all of them made out of scrap metal, welded together by Dr. Evermore. There are giant insects, an enormous telescope, and a flock of birds whose bodies were made of discarded musical instruments.IMG_1554

At the center of everything is the Forevertron. It is an enormous machine-like sculpture 50 feet tall and weighinf 300 tons. As a machine, it does absolutely nothing, but as art it’s amazing. It is comprised of many parts including lightning rods, 2 Edison dynamos from the 1880’s, and the decontamination chamber from Apollo 11. Take a look for yourself by Googling the Forevertron and looking at the pictures.

After spending two hours admiring the artwork of Dr. Evermore, we headed to Sparta, Wisconsin, home of the FAST company.

The FAST company is not the place where Minute Rice was developed, nor a place where you don’t eat anything. FAST stands for Fiberglass Animals, Shapes & Trademarks.

If you drive down the street and see a giant ice cream cone outside of a custard stand, chances are it came from FAST. They have produced fiberglass figures from bobble-heads to a 145 foot long Musky, currently located in Hayward, Wisconsin.

IMG_1578As we pulled up to the company, we saw a few fiberglass figures out front but the majority of the property was filled with what looked like more stuff for the Forevertron. As we got closer, we discovered that what lay before us are the molds used to make the giant sculptures. This was cool.

We wondered around the “fiberglass graveyard” and soon came upon the mold for Big Boy, the long forgotten spokesman for the best hamburger ever made. This made us hungry so we left to find the last oddity on this trip’s list,  a Wisconsin cheese shop that sells Velveta.

So ends this adventure, but the next one is just around the corner. Follow them all at daleirvin.com and subscribe to the Friday Funnies, for FREE. What a deal.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on DALE & SPIKE’S SEARCH FOR ODDITIES – part 3; the end of the road

DALE & SPIKE’S SEARCH FOR ODDITIES – part 2

Gassed up and ready to go, Spike and I opted to start day 2 of our motorcycle journey with a rousing 10 mile ride from the Don Q Inn to Spring Green, Wisconsin

Spring Green, Wisconsin is the home of two architectural wonders. Frank Lloyd Wright built his masterpiece, Taliesin here. The sprawling prairie style house adorned with beautiful decorations attracts tourists from around the world who marvel at its beauty. Alex Jordan built a house there too, and people marvel at its oddity.

Alex was an artist, and self-employed odd duck. On a visit to Spring Green, he saw a big rock and decided to climb atop it and have a picnic. Pretty soon, he was having picnics there all the time, and struck a deal with the owner of the land to lease the rock. He then started charging people to climb up his rock for a picnic and thought, “I should build a tourist trap here.”

Alex built a house on the rock. He built it by hand without the need for blueprints or building codes. The house was more of a gathering place for parties than it was a place to come home to, so Alex started to charge for tours. He filled the house with unusual Chinese pottery, artwork, and take-out menus. He collected a lot of weird stuff.

An intriguing part of the house is the Infinity Room. The Infinity Room is a glass enclosed wi09Infinityprojection from the house that struts out 200 feet with no apparent support. At the end, you can look straight down to the canyon floor. If you have vertigo, I would avoid this room.

As Alex continued to collect oddities, he found that the house was not big enough to hold them all. So he put up another building, and another one after that, and filled them all with, what my wife would call, “crap.”

One building featured collections of anything you could imagine. Guns, dolls, dolls with guns, pipes, bed pans, Zippo lighters, horse-drawn hearses, and enema implements.

He also built the world’s largest carousel featuring a hundred beautifully painted animals, but the stupid part of this display is that nobody can ride it. What the hell good is a carousel if you can’t ride it? It’s like having a goldfish that you can’t pet.

But the world’s biggest carousel was not enough for Alex, he then built the world’s biggest, two level, carousel…for dolls! This guy has more dolls than American Girl and built a carousel for them to ride on, but no merry go round for real people. Issues? Yeah, he had issues

The House is also loaded with musical machines. When you deposit a token the machines comes to life; animals start playing instruments, and music fills the air. It’s like Chuck E. Cheese without the bad pizza.

The Organ Room contained organs. Hearts, spleens, and kidneys, all on display. Ha, ha, IMG_1541ha, got you on that one. It was filled with pipe organs powered by a bellows the size of Vermont. The Phantom of the Opera was not there the day we visited, but around the corner was a mechanical fifty-piece full-size circus orchestra playing their instruments. And you thought clowns were creepy.

It is impossible to fully describe all of the junk Alex Jordan crammed in his house and warehouses but I think OCD might be a start. This man had a problem and it became a tourist attraction. Let this be a lesson to us all.

After wandering around the buildings for hours, Spike and I became overwhelmed and looked for a way out. The only door we could find would sound an alarm when opened, so we just ran through the crowd yelling, “The circus people are alive! The circus people are alive!” We were soon outside and on our way to the next attraction.

The House on the Rock is a “Don’t Miss” in my travel book, but be prepared with an escape plan. Next stop, the Forevertron.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on DALE & SPIKE’S SEARCH FOR ODDITIES – part 2

DALE & SPIKE’S SEARCH FOR ODDITIES part 1

Recently, my friend Spike and I figured that we could kill a few days by getting on our motorcycles and looking for odd stuff. We were in search of roadside oddities, the world’s largest anything, and places off the beaten path and on a path that has not been beaten enough. We figured that the best place to start our search was Wisconsin. Having been up north many times, we knew it was different but this time we were looking for the totally unusual. Perhaps we’d happen upon a resident who hates the Packers, or somebody who doesn’t like cheese. We found neither of those but we did discover the unusual.

Our adventure began by riding to Dodgeville, Wisconsin, home of the Don Q Inn. In my career, I have stayed in a lot of hotels. The best ones were rated with five stars. The Don Q Hotel deserves a rating of five joy buzzers. What a hoot.

IMG_1544For starters, parked right in front of the Don Q is a c-78 cargo plane from the Korean war. It’s huge and actually landed on an airstrip in front of the hotel in 1977. It has quite a history, including being in a car commercial featuring Farrah Fawcett, and she even autographed the fuselage. When I asked where her signature was, I was told that somebody painted over it. Thank goodness I had a marker with me and put it back where it belonged. I even spelled her last name correctly, Faucet.

When you walk into the Don Q Inn, the first sight you see is a very large round fireplace surrounded by a ring of old barber chairs. There’s also a couple of old dentist chairs if you want to relive childhood horror. Then, there are the guest rooms.

Don Q offers two kinds of rooms. Regular rooms are just that, regular rooms, clean, comfortable, and reasonable. They also offer “Fanta-Suites” which cost a little more but offer a variety of options. The Swingers Room” for instance, features a bed suspended from the ceiling by four chains. The igloo room looks just like an igloo, and the Flintstones would feel at home in the Cave Suite.

Due to an overbooking of regular rooms, I got upgraded to a Fanta-Suite. What luck. Spike got a regular room but I was assigned to the Blue Room which was very appropriately named. Everything in the room, the walls, the carpet, and the bed covering, was blue. Also, it made me quite blue that I was here alone.

The main feature of the Blue Room was the mirrors. There were large ones located over the bed, behind the bed, and to the side of the bed. If you were here with a partner, I imagine the multiple mirrors would provide you with a view you might not normally see. For me, they only served to bring out my multiple personalities. I would ask myself a question, then discuss it with the guy behind me, the guy to the side of me, and the hideous creature hovering over me.

The other oddity in the Blue Room is the bathtub. It is round, enormous, and made of IMG_1516copper. I discovered that the tub holds 300 gallons and was formally a cheese vat. There were no jets or fancy plumbing, just 300 gallons of water to which you could add the complimentary bubble bath. I did not use the tub because it was deep and I was alone. ‘Nuff said.

Don Q was a great place to stay and I would recommend it to anybody with a taste for the unusual, but it was only the tip of the oddity iceberg. Next stop, the House On The Rock.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on DALE & SPIKE’S SEARCH FOR ODDITIES part 1