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 (www.allstays.com) 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!

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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 roadsideamerica.com.

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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