Biggest Ball of String

Our road trip adventures, quirky roadside attractions, generally in the United States or Canada (and with occasional travel off the mainland into Hawaii, Alaska, Caribbean and Europe – so far)

A Slingshot Trip

Taking a break from my blog about Hawaii, the Big Island, Kona conclusion – onlyMichigan because I’ve run out of time for now, and because I’m going to be without wi-fi for … who-knows-how-long – I am diverting temporarily to our upcoming trip.

We are “sling-shotting” to Michigan to visit friends (Richard, Shannan, Evan & Jack), and, for the most part, travelling a road we’ve already gone AND I’ve already talked about in my blog at some point.

Which is good, because we don’t have time to stop anywhere, so I won’t be pouty that I can’t stop to see the Roadside Attractions.

AirstreamThe plan is – get to Michigan as quickly as possible, by the most direct route, according to Google Maps. (The most direct route is approximately 3,000 kms/close to 1900 miles.)

The “adventure” part of it is that I’ve decided that, rather than hotel-ing, we are going to bring the Airstream, so that we have our own “home away from home” while visiting Richard and Shannan. Since it’s off-season, most campgrounds are already closed, so we plan to stay at Rest Areas, parking lots of places like Wal-mart, and truck stops.

We’ve never done that before (rest-stops, truck-stops and parking lots.) Makes me nervous. And, a little excited. Normally, I have the route carefully planned, campgrounds or hotels booked well in advance. A book with confirmation numbers, addresses, and phone numbers.

This time, I have a “hope for the best” mentality and a website ( which lists every truck stop (including which have showers, restaurants and lounges), rest stops (including whether they are East/West or North/South bound), and parking lot that allows overnight stays, for every interstate in the United States.

Here’s what we’ll be passing:

1) We will be going through Medicine Hat, Alberta, which is home of the World’s Largest TeePee. This I haven’t seen AND we will be stopping for pictures.

2) Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, home of the World’s Largest Moose, and a townWorld's Largest Moose which actually has a few things I do want to do that I missed last time (the Al Capone tour and the Underground Tunnel tours), but we don’t have time. I will eventually be back there for those tours.

3) Dog River/Rouleau, Saskatchewan, filming location of “Corner Gas”.

3) Weyburn, Saskatchewan, home of what could be the World’s Tallest Wheat. (Same link as #3, Dog River)

The World's Largest Buffalo4) Minot, North Dakota, whose motto is “Why-not Minot”….

5) Jamestown, North Dakota, home of the World’s Largest Buffalo AND albino buffalos. (Same link as #3, Dog River) I might try to stop there for a better picture of the Albino Buffalo, actually.. Which reminds me. I should bring the big camera….

6) Fargo, North Dakota, home of the Infamous Wood Chipper, and the Fargo Walk of Fame.

7) A Continental Divide, not THE Continental Divide.Alexandria's Runestone

8) Alexandria’s Runestone. (I did say if we were ever there again, expecting we never would be, I’d stop and see the real one in the museum, instead of the replica… but that won’t be this trip…)

Skimming passed Minneapolis and St. Paul (tons more I need to see there, too, but I didn’t even get that all done last time I was there, and I was there for … 2 days, not 3 minutes…or probably an hour? that it’ll take us to “skim passed”?

Once we get to Wisconsin, though, we will be on a part of the highway we haven’t been before.

Here’s what I’ll be missing (maybe):

1) In or around Eau Claire: Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum, a Ship-shaped CarPaul Bunyan Wash, and a Transmission Man.

2) At Mauston, the Kwik Trip sign is apparently a hanging semi-truck… Might be able to see that from the road if I’m looking!

3) Wisconsin Dells – now the home of the Russian MIR Space Station… hmmmm… maybe we can stop on the way back… Looks like there’s also an Upside-down Whitehouse, Storybook Gardens (more research required to see if this still exists), a Muffler Man that looks alot like Burt Reynolds, Paul Bunyan restaurants (might need to stop there), and the World’s Possible Largest Flamingo….

4) DeForest – home of Sissy the Cow and Ehlenbach’s Cheese Chalet. … Actually, now that I know there’s an all-things-cheese place, might need to stop there for sure. (I mean – at some point, we have to stop at a Cheese Tourist thing – it IS, after all, Wisconsin!)

5) A bunch of sites in Madison, including Otis Redding’s Plane Crash site…

6) An Apple Water Tower at Edgerton.

7) Janesville – Bessie the Cow (apparently in a Fruitopia commercial?) and a 2-story outhouse,

SPAM Museumm8) Beloit – A Giant Bulldog and a Giant Hormel Can…

Speaking of Hormel – last time we were here, we visited the SPAM Museum, (SPAM being a Hormel product). This time, I am in search of La Victoria Chunky Jalapeno Hot Sauce – apparently this is the best hot sauce on the planet – if anyone knows where to find it… Originally, we found it at a little store in Sandpoint, ID (future blog topic), but can’t find it again. I did email to MegaMex Foods (which is “a joint venture between…Hormel Foods and Herdez del Fuerte“) and they are searching. (It IS available on-line, if I can’t find it any other place.)

ENTER Illinois. Still on a “fresh road”.

Oh too bad. I’m out of time.  See you later!

Thank you to our wonderful friends for house-sitting for us, too! Mwah!


The Shanty (Diners Drive ins and Dives)

Well, it finally came to our last morning with Richard, Shannan, and the boys..  😦  We wanted to just spend the time visiting, but instead, of course, we had to pack up the trailers, get everything organized, get the puppies and kids settled in their respectable vehicles…

Oh, AND, we had to clean up after a pesky raccoon from the night before! (Which, I kinda was excited about, having never been a victim of a raccoon’s mischief before, and Daisy & Coco (the puppies, if you are reading for the first time) were REALLY excited about it!!) (We thought we’d taken care of all of the food items, but apparently we’d missed a plate…)
RaccoonCoco Raccoon hunting

By the time we had time to sit around and visit…we had nothing to sit on…

But, Shannan and Richard had one final surprise for us.  We were instructed to follow them down the highway, towards Chicago – no questions asked.

Well! It was a GREAT surprise (PLUS, it lengthened our visit by another hour or so) – you probably have guessed what it was, based on my blog title…Shanty

They found a restaurant featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, from the Food Network – The Shanty, in Wadsworth, Illinois.

We arrived just before lunchtime, and were seated right away.  There were a few other people there, but it certainly wasn’t crowded.  And, we had the personal attention of the servers…which is good, because we felt like visiting with them.

First, of course, we ordered.  I don’t remember exactly what I had for an entree, but it was a yummy burger of some sort.  I think maybe we all had burgers, actually.  hamburgerCheeseburger

I DO know exactly what we had for appetizers, though!  I had the Whiskey Shrimp (the menu describes: “Four fresh jumbo shrimp flamed in our signature Jack Daniels cream sauce served over garlic toast points with sautéed vegetables”).  MMmmmmmmm.. We also had Alligator Tail, which I’m sure was yummy, too, but the shrimp was really my favorite!  We must’ve gotten a few orders, too, because I don’t remember sharing.
alligatorWhiskey Shrimp

While we waited for our food, we had a nice talk with the server – about:

    • the impact of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on the business and the design of the building – (Since The Shanty episode aired on The Food Network, the Shanty had to double the size of their eating area, and change their kitchen around – I think they had to expand the kitchen and add more cooking area, but I don’t exactly remember those details…)
  • Reclaimedthe wood covering the walls – (in the main eating area, the wood is all “reclaimed” wood, so weathered and multi colored – reclaimed barnwood from local farms – I love that look!)
  • Olive Oil – (the owners of The Shanty,
    the Kallianis family, have their own olive oil, imported from their own grove in Sparta, Greece.  It’s called “The Lonely Olive Tree”, so named because in 1910, the grove was destroyed by frost – all except the one lonely tree… Parts of that tree were used to replant the grove.) (There’s a nice article about that at

Of course, we had to take home a bottle of this very special olive oil!Oil

Unfortunately, we did eventually have to leave, and after a tearful “see-you-soon” in the parking lot, we were back on the highway, heading towards St. Louis, Missouri.

Sunday – Springfield, Illinois and the tomb of Abraham Lincoln.

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“If life gives you limes, make margaritas” ~ Jimmy Buffett (Off to the Jelly Belly Factory)

Still at Jellystone, one of the days, Shannan and I decided to take a mini day-road-trip.  The ultimate destination? Well! Keep in mind, we were travelling with 2 little boys.  We didn’t tell anyone, but we headed out for the Jelly Belly Factory, which includes a train ride through the factory (warehouse).Lake Michigan

It was around 105 degrees Farenheit, and we needed air conditioning – the kids were up to a road trip, so we headed south, with Lake Michigan to our East.

We went right through Racine, Wisconsin, to Kenosha.  Does Racine sound familiar? You can watch “A League of Their Own” and see why that matters! (, It was kind of ironic, because we’d been around so many baseball movies sites and themes, this was just an extra bonus!  (No pictures – just happy thought that we were there!)

killer margarita signOn our way, we saw from afar a sign that said “Warning! Killer Margaritas!”  Well! mix together extreme heat and vacation mode, and no particular destination (well, particular destination with no deadline – as long as we got there before it closed) with “margarita” equals “pulling over for lunch!”  (extrKiller margaritaeme heat+vacation+no deadline=killer margarita)

Not ONLY did La Fogata have  DELICIOUS Mexican food  (which, by the way, is sadly lacking in Calgary*, and generally abundant in the States, and is an off-and-on topic throughout this particular trip),  which was ALSO very picturesque (Mexican food rarely looks as delicious in pictures as it tastes in real life), BUT they also have “Killer-ritas”! (THIS, according to the menu,  is a 22 oz margarita, with a Corona or Dos Equis inverted and inserted).  GREAT STOP!  (
yummy food

yummy food 2fried ice cream
MUCH later, we continued along to…drum roll… the Jelly Belly Factory! (

Oh, were the boys (ALL of them) EVER excited!! The adult boys were trying to be all “cool” about it, but they were pretty excited to get into their factory hats! (OK, me too!)

FamBecause it’s a factory, you have to wear a hat, and because they are constantly creating fascinating and delicious new tastes, there’s no pictures allowed once the tour starts… but, I did find the tour very interesting!

Did you know that Ronald Reagan was a lover of Jelly Bellys? not only were there Blueberry Jelly Belly’s created for his presidential inauguration in 1981, BUT during his presidency, Jelly Bellys were served in the Oval Office AND (this is my favorite part), on Air Force One, there’s a special Jelly Belly holder that was designed so that the Jelly Bellys wouldn’t spill! He’s quoted as saying ““You can tell a lot about a fellow’s character by the way he eats jelly beans.”  I bet that’s true – one at a time, by the handful… I just don’t know how to translate the message…JB sign 2

(Apparently, there’s a portrait of Ronald, in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, made of 10,000 Jelly Bellys…)


After the highly informative train tour, we were greeted with a sample bag of Jelly Bellys, which I LOVE! and dropped off at the gift shop.

There is a sample bar in there of every flavor they’ve ever invented. They have everything!! and there are some yummy flavors! YUMMY! My all-time favorite is Buttered Popcorn, and then there’s the classics (cinnamon, very cherry, and watermelon), there’s the “icky” flavors..  (They can be found (on line) in the “BeanBoozled” section.) They include: Canned Dog Food, Pencil Shavings, Barf, Vomit, Baby Wipes, Booger, and the list goes on…
Icky JB

Now, on the tour, they specifically tell us that they spend aLOT of time making certain that their flavors are accurate… and I canNOT even imagine how they test those things with the icky flavors, but… I believed them when they said they prided themselves on accurate taste matches…

SO! When we got to go for samples… Peter decided to try – yeah – uh huh DOG FOOD!! FIVE HOURS LATER, he was still complaining about the taste of dog food!!! Nobody else could tease him tho – Shannan tried “Baby Wipes”!!  I’m serious!!

I, on the other had, believed the tour guide when they explained that their flavor names matched their actual tastes – and chose (and here’s where the theme of the blog comes in) MARGARITA!!! WHY would I choose “Vomit” when I could have “Margarita” and “Kiwi”!!ceiling

YAY ME! Everyone else had icky flavors stuck in their palates, and I got Margarita! woooooo hoooooo!

However, my experience was far less funny than theirs.  The 10 year old boy, after trying “Booger” flavor, confessed to his mother that he had to “spit it out” cuz he “thought it would taste better than it did!”  (SO FUNNY, and SO GROSS all at once!!) Oh goodness – makes me laugh even still.

The rest of the day was spent back at Jellystone Park… Wednesday, we are heading off towards St. Louis, and Rich & Shannan and crew go back towards Michigan…

*(I did just hear, today, of a Mexican restaurant in Calgary, called Paloma, that is getting great reviews! I’m excited! Will be trying that out as soon as possible.)


Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park (Caledonia, Wisconsin – Milwaukee area)

Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park was the midpoint of our trip – our turn around point, but for the little boys, it was the highlight! andHeat index for them, the grand climax, since they went home to Michigan after.

The heat was UNbearable – crazy hot! Heat advisories in effect – apparently, this particular road trip was through a record-breaking heatwave. Yay, us.

Thanks to that, we didn’t get to do some of the things I wanted to do in Milwaukee – first and foremost – skipping down Knapp Street, chanting “one two three four five six seven eight! Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!'”

I had convinced Shannan to dress up as Laverne (as if she needed “convincing”) but Peter and Richard absolutely refused to dress up like Lenny and Squiggy.
(  In the end, it didn’t matter, since temperatures were between 102 and 103 degrees Fahrenheit (38.9 and 39.4 degrees Celsius)!

Jellystone ParkGood thing we had a few days at Jellystone Park – which had Cindy’s Ice cream Shoppe, Yogi Bear’s Water Zone, mini golf and outdoor movie theater.  (Also, we had air conditioning in our Airstream AND a mist-er outside.)Water park

The Park is great – at check-in, you receive a security pass and the gate is locked so nobody else can come in.  This is really good, considering there are children EVERYWHERE! Everywhere! But with enough activities, by the time they get to the “residential” area, they are exhausted, quiet, and ready for their naps!

Boo  Boo's pondAnd, it’s a campground that adults can find things to do – Peter even spent an evening fishing at Boo Boo’s pond.Booboos pond

who doesn’t
Yogi Bear and Boo Boo?

Next,  we are going on a tour around the area to some of the local  (and air conditioned) sites.

Yogi and Boo Boo

See you Sunday!

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Chocolate, Cheese and Trucks in Trees

Remember when I mentioned the little Swiss Miss lady in the field? (last blog – October 31). Well! the reason that wasn’t odd (apparently) is because we were in Swiss Colony territory.Wisconsin farm

AND, as you know, the Swiss are famous for (in amongst other important things like…the Alps…and… being a neutral country) CHEESE AND CHOCOLATE!!! Mmmmm yep!!Swiss Colony

“Kid in a Candy Shop” on the Food Network, in his episode “Bake, Batter, and Roll” encouraged a trip to the Swiss Colony Market in Monroe, WI.  Not that we needed alot of convincing – Cheese & Chocolate!  And, how perfect was it, then, that we were driving right passed!

The adult boys weren’t that excited about it (we didn’t even tell the children), but had to stop anyway to … I forget what… refuel, I think… and right there, from the gas station, Shannan and I spotted the Swiss Colony Market and went “window shopping”.

Swiss ColonyYes, we were just like kids in a candy shop.  I wished I had’ve made a list of everything we got, but I remember we did get a variety of cheeses, a variety of meats (like pepperoni type), honey (I’ve been saving the honey), some special mustard… and, of course, chocolates!!

OH! and petit fours! Mmmmmm Petit Fours! Shannan bought a bag (which she shared-thank you, Shannan! If any of you have ever had them, you’ll understand what a wonderful thing that was – such a great friend!) and they were so delicious, I can still taste them….you can order on-line…maybe I’ll have to do that.  (We also bought some smaller beautiful little gift boxes of Petit Fours, to give out when we got home-and most of them even made it…)

Eventually, we noticed that the boys were all parked outside in the parking lot, waiting “patiently”, so we finalized our shopping choices, took one last look around the store, just to make sure, and (unwillingly) left the store.

Back on the road, about 45 miles east of Monroe, on Hwy 81, is a Truck in a Tree, near Clinton WI.Truck in Tree (  Yes.  A Truck in a Tree.   Alice in Wonderland said it best when she said: “Curiouser and curiouser!”  Truck in Tree

Very interesting. A must-see “roadside attraction” that needs to be on “the biggest ball of string” road trip.  The owner of the truck and tree has a site, so you can read about his inspiration!

Wednesday, we’re visiting Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park.

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The Toy Train Barn, Argyle Wisconsin

THE Toy Train Barn

I mentioned The Toy Train Barn in my introduction (September 9, 2012).  I’ve been waiting to write about it ever since I started the blog.  It was the first thing I researched after I started planning the actual Big Ball of String Tour.  I found it on

Now that it’s time to write about it, I’m a little at a loss at what exactly to say.

I mean – the place pretty much speaks for itself.  Well, not exactly – you HAVE to meet Buck and Jan, the owners, and their very pleasant and friendly dog – because THEY have stories!

But, we didn’t know that when we decided to go there. We just went because – IT’S A TOY TRAIN BARN!! Who wouldn’t want to go!?   I convinced everyone else to go by using the “we are on a roadside-attraction-biggest-ball-of-string” trip, and we have no time schedule, but really – we were travelling with 2 little boys and 4 children-at-heart who all wanted to see the “choo choo trains”.

That being said…we got lost on the way. We took the wrong road (thank you, Jennifer, the GPS voice, who decided that the shortest distance in miles was the shortest distance in time.) To be fair, she couldn’t possibly have known that THAT particular road had a speed limit of 20 mph, and hay wagons occupied the road.  (NOT just hay-moving vehicles, but also horse drawn wagons!)

We had 2 hours to get there, and after the back road (worth it if you have time) route, finally made it to the turn off.  At that point, we re-evaluated. We have 15 minutes to get to the Toy Train Barn before it closed and 10 miles (according to Jennifer and Google maps) of Another scenedriving – and NOT on a Freeway.

In a tearful-arms crossed-foot stamping-pouting “discussion” (me vs. the other adults), I said, “We have to have to have to have to go! We’ve come this far! We HAVE TO GO! This is the entire reason we came this way!” we decided to make a run for it.

We took that turn off, and I was so anxious to make it to the Toy Train Barn before it closed, I completely was unprepared to take a picture of little Swiss Miss that we passed, out in the field, in her big “Little House on the  Prairie” blue dress, and wearing her milk maid bonnet!  And, not in costume! just out in the field!!  (She goes on my “pictures I’ve missed but committed indelibly to my memory” list.)

We pulled in to the Toy Train Barn driveway, and it was quiet.  I could see the two husbands make eye contact, which involved eye-rolling.  I resisted reacting, and went to the Barn door.  It was dark.  It was closed. I knocked anyway.

THEN! the door opened and out came Buck! the owner, and my hero of the day! I quickly spewed out my story about getting lost, the bumpy roads, the hay wagon. He said, “Well! we can’t have you coming this far and not let you in! Come in! everyone come in!”

YAY! The second Jack (the youngest of us – I think he was 3) came in, he was shrieking – so excited! and he wasn’t alone! you should see all there is to see!

There are so many little worlds of trains, and all different scales, too!  Buck has it set up to run the whole thing with a touch of a button.  (The face of what used to be Jan’s microwave – that’s what happens when she goes to town and doesn’t leave her stuff under lock and key).Train scene

I forget everything they’ve done, but what I do remember is that Jan’s chicken rotisserie mechanism is now flying the airplane in circles around one of the train scenes, and the springs from her toaster are now bouncing little figurines of children on pogo-sticks.  She also mentioned that she only buys towels that have bright colors and stripes because her green towels became “grass” and the blue is covering … something.. I want to say “mountain tops”.

Buck’s a genius. Every single thing works.  Even the little house on “fire” has a little fire engine spraying water into it, while the train circles around.

Jan is brilliant too – she is responsible for the little tiny figures – the people, the boxes of fruit, etc., that she has sculpted to scale. I told her she was a genius, too, and she said that she’s “supportive”.

Buck & JanYou’ll LOVE The Toy Train Barn, but you’ll love it even more when you get to visit with Buck and Jan.

We arrived late, and we stayed late.  We overstayed our welcome, but Buck and Jan never let on.  The nicest people ever.

Don’t miss this! You must go!  It was a real highlight, for sure.

(Sunday, we’ll be enroute to Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park.)


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