6/17/2011 – Day 72 – AustIn, MN to Sioux Falls, ND – 223.1 Miles

I awoke early and made sure I was at the locksmith’s establishment shortly after 8:00.  I explained the situation to him, showed him Diana’s keys so he would know what type they were, and waited while he looked at the lock.  While I was speaking with his assistant the locksmith gently told me that one of the keys I had given him opened the galley.  We had a key all the time!

I was chagrined, but delighted that the situation had been resolved.  I made sure they made enough copies of all our keys so that we now have three sets, one for each of us, and a spare to keep in the car.  I could hardly wait to get back to the motel and tell Diana the good news! (Because I love saying it, I kept telling him that one of my keys looked like the right one.  Unfortunately, I’m so bad with keys that I had never been able to open that door with my old key.  Now I do it with authority, and it opens fine.)

Before we left town, which by the way is the home of Spam — the high school team is called the Packers), Diana stopped by a couple of thrift shops recommended by the motel manager.  She did make a couple of small purchases and had fun exploring the treasures.  She had also read an ad in the paper for an estate sale starting today in a town about 30 miles west of Austin.

We drove to the town of Albert Lea and into a nice neighborhood on a golf course.  The house looked nice and the contents were interesting, but unfortunately the street in front of the house was being prepared for paving and we had to leave in a rush.  Actually the quick exit might have saved us from getting carried away.

Later, we stopped in Blue Earth because we had read about a statue the town is famous for.  From blocks away we could see the bright green visage of the Jolly Green Giant smiling from above the surrounding trees.

We parked in front of this paean to frozen vegetables, sashayed through the gift shop, complete with “Ho, Ho, Ho” t-shirts and “Sprout” mugs, and stood at the feet looking up at the 55-foot-tall statue itself.  We were impressed.

We were also impressed with the strategically placed Dairy Queen nearby.  Who knows how high their profits are with all the people streaming in to see the giant!

We started west again, and before we knew it we had crossed into South Dakota.  We stopped at the visitor’s center to pick up a map of our next state before driving on to Sioux Falls where we will spend the night.  Tomorrow we’re heading for the Black Hills!  (W

Steve and his pal the Jolly Green Giant.

e might even camp.)


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6/16/2011 – Day 71 – Mauston, WI to Auston, MN – 188.3 Miles

Another overcast day greeted us, and the car was wet from overnight rain.  Diana and I shared an order of the amazingly delicious cinnamon French toast made by the little restaurant attached to our motel.  After we ate we drove to the Camp Inn facility to pick up our newly-improved teardrop.

We spent time with Mitch, the production manager and Cary, the co-founder of Camp Inn.  They showed us all the upgrades and demonstrated their proper operation.  They also pointed out the nice little refurbishments such as new weather seals around the doors and hatch, a shock-absorbing base for the propane tank and the new and really bright LED tail and brake lights.  They had washed the trailer clean of more than two months of traveling and used steel wool to brighten the chrome wheels and hubcaps.  They even marked our keys with special designations for each door.  All the changes pleased us greatly and we look forward to enjoying them.

We finally took our leave of the palace of teardrop perfection, hooked up the trailer and headed for I-90 and points west.  We did stop after a few miles at a Subway and shared a Veggie Delight sandwich.  In a surprisingly short period of time we crossed over the Mississippi and entered Minnesota.  We stopped on the west banks of the river and picked up a state map at the information center, then continued westward.

The landscape changed almost immediately as we climbed away from the Mississippi.  Fairly substantial hills, dare I say, “foothills,” presented themselves and within a few miles we reached more than 1,600 feet.  Then the hills smoothed out and we found ourselves driving through fields filled with freshly sprouting crops.  We also began to see three-bladed wind turbines popping up on the horizon.  One or two at first, then a half-dozen at a time, and suddenly 15, 25, 30 or more filling the air above the farms with  their whirling and twirling.  We used to think California had the edge when it came to wind-generated electricity, but other than Altamont Pass and the area around Palm Springs there’s nowhere in California with as many operating wind turbines.

We decided to stop in Austin, MN for the evening, and checked into our motel.  When I got out of the car and went to fetch some things from the trailer, I realized I didn’t have the keys.

Ever since we started this trip we have had only one key to the galley of the trailer.  It was on my key chain.  And now I could’t find it.  After much frantic searching it was clear that somewhere along the way between Necedah and Austin, I had lost my keys.  I tried calling the Subway and the information center, but no luck.

So we had a nice, new trailer, but no way to access the kitchen and all the new equipment.  I was down in the dumps, but Diana suggested I call a locksmith.  I found one and talked with him.  He said if I came by in the morning he could probably find the code for the lock and make new keys for us.

I went to sleep relieved with the probable solution to our problem, and thankful for my thoughtful traveling partner’s excellent help.

Josh, Mitch and Cary consult over our newly refurbished teardrop.

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6/15/2011 – Day 70 – Sheboygan, WI to Mauston, WI – 133.5 Miles

We allowed ourselves to sleep in this morning, in fact we almost missed the motel’s complementary breakfast which ended at 9:00.  However, we did manage to get to the breakfast room in time for coffee and essential nourishment.

We left after breakfast, and while Diana perused the contents of a nearby thrift shop, I gassed up the Subaru and stopped by the Wells Fargo bank to get some cash.

Our ATM card expired on June 12, so I went to the bank to acquire the money in the old-fashioned way — from the teller.  While I explained the situation to the teller, our conversation was overheard by the bank manager and he said they could provide me with a temporary debit card tied to my bank account.  Only some branches have this capability which was probably why I hadn’t been offered this alternative previously.  In minutes I not only had my cash, I had the means to use any ATM along the way to get cash.  Thanks Wells Fargo!

I picked up Diana and we started back toward Necedah.  Today’s trip wasn’t a race back to that town.  Instead, we decided to try stopping at any antique or thrift shop we encountered.  Diana felt that in smaller towns there may be different items available at these establishments, and so we gave it a try.

We had the greatest opportunity in a little town called Princeton (we were also in Harvard today as well — both in Wisconsin, of course).  Diana remembered that when we passed through the town earlier there were several antique shops along the road that called out to her.  I’ll let her tell you what she found. I must say that Wisconsin has the cleanest antique malls and shops I’ve seen. The shops also have more salt-glazed jugs than I’ve ever seen on Antique Roadshow!  Obviously I can only buy small, light things, so I left the pottery in place.  😦  Going out-of-town, always looking for ice cream and “washrooms,” we stopped at “All in Good Taste.”   The shop keeper was really warm and fun.  She stocks the shop with earth-friendly products and good ice-cream, too.  There were products from a company called ”Life is Good” that we imagine would appeal to our son and his wife.  Anyway, we liked the shop and the owner.  Steve promises to stop at lots of thrift shops on the way home.  And, by the way, we are going west. . . . 

I forgot to mention that while yesterday was beautiful, clear and mild, today was overcast, cool and stormy-looking.  As we left Sheboygan it started raining, and to varying degrees the rain continued throughout the day.

About two miles west of Princeton I saw a rock or something about that size on the centerline of the road ahead.  As I passed by I realized it was not a rock, but a snapping turtle making his way across the road.  I had seen turtles in the road twice before on this  trip, but Diana missed them both times.  She missed this one too, but wanted to see for herself, so I stopped and turned around as quickly as possible.  Fortunately traffic was light, and he was still engaged in his journey when we got back to him.  Actually I didn’t realize turtles could move that quickly.  I think he was actually performing less of a walk and more of a turtle sprint because he was covering ground pretty quickly.  I snapped a couple of pictures out the car window before turning around again to get out of the way of a large semi truck bearing down behind me.  Diana was delighted to finally see a turtle, and we were both relieved when he made it safely to the shoulder of the road and back into the grass beyond.  Maybe they should put up a, “Caution, Turtle Crossing,” sign there!

We continued our drive through the soggy countryside, spotting good-sized lakes quite regularly.  I’m beginning to think Wisconsin is the land of 10,000 lakes and not Minnesota.  We’ll have more empirical data when we drive though that state next.

We decided to stay in the same place we stayed before, about 15 miles south of Necedah.  And after an evening of PBS viewing, we turned in, tired, but again happy with the day’s experiences.

Why DOES a turtle cross the road?

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6/14/2011 – Day 69 – Sheboygan & Kohler, WI – 28.5 Miles

We were up with the chickens this morning, or at least it felt that way.  We were washed, dressed, breakfasted and out the door before 8:00 a.m..  Now, I know for those of you who are gainfully employed, that seems like no big thing.  But remember, we retired folk who have adjusted to a whole new paradigm and find early hours a shock.

Nevertheless, we did get to the Kohler Design Center well before tour time and soon had our ID badges and headsets.  We met our guide, Lowell, who worked for Kohler in the foundry for over 44 years before he retired.  He’s been a tour guide for the last 12, and is a spry 75 years old.  He warned us that we were going to cover a lot of ground on the tour, and he wasn’t kidding.

We donned safety glasses before entering the first factory building.  In all we visited three of the manufacturing facilities located here, including the clay/porcelain, iron foundry, and brass fabricating plants.

This tour really takes you into a working facility and we had to dodge forklift trucks and workers.  We also had to hug the walls and walk in narrow yellow-outlined paths to maintain our safety.  We saw clay moulded, fired and glazed.  We watched glowing, 2,800 degree molten iron poured from large containers into moulds and the resulting sinks, bathtubs and other industrial items (including Ford truck transmission parts and crankshafts) blasted, ground, measured, tested and in the case of the sinks and tubs, reheated to 1700 degrees.  They workers sift glass powder over them which turns the powder instantly into a durable, enamel finish.  Finally we watched brass tubing formed into graceful shapes  by super-high water pressure and even observed a skilled worker hand casting brass in mere seconds from liquid metal to recognizable fixtures.  Alas, there are no cameras allowed on the tour, so my descriptions must suffice.

All in all the three-hour tour was an amazing look at the incredibly complex process the Kohler Company uses to create the products we all use every day without thinking a thing about how they were made.  To us they are a normal and necessary part of life, but I don’t think I’ll ever take them for granted again.  If you are ever in Wisconsin, take the time to go on the tour, you won’t regret it!  Here’s the link:


After our tour (and its 2.5 miles and 5,280 steps!), Diana and I visited the American Club Hotel and enjoyed lunch at the Horse & Plow restaurant there.  Then we wandered around the village and shopped a little at the very upscale shopping center within the Kohler village.

The Kohler Design Center, Kohler, Wisconsin

Afterward we drove a few miles east and spent some time enjoying the shore of Lake Michigan.  As evening approached, we drove back to our motel through the historic old town portion of Shiboygen.

Another interesting, unusual, informative and tiring day.  I think we could get used to this!

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6/13/2011 – Day 68 – Necedah, WI to Kohler, WI – 162.6 Miles

OK, so actually we’re in Sheboygan, but I just liked the name of that town, and it’s only about two miles from here, so forgive my slight geographic fib please!

Back to the morning.  We drove over to Necedah and walked into the Camp Inn showroom.  We met both Craig & Cary, the two founders and masterminds of the company.  They introduced us to their shop manager who listened to our upgrade desires and then scanned our trailer to find out how it had handled six years on the road.

After covering all the normal wear and tear items to be refreshed, I had my heart set on getting the new and improved faucet for our kitchen sink (Yes, our teardrop has a kitchen sink, why wouldn’t it?).  I took a look at one of the new teardrops on the showroom floor and mentioned how great it would be to get not only the better faucet and pump, but also the larger fresh water and gray water holding tanks along with a special electronic gizmo which would let us check to see how much water we had onboard and how full the gray water tank was.  It turned out that the complete upgrade was possible!  Not only that, but they could do it for us in a day or two, in addition to all the other things we asked them to do!

We signed the papers, unloaded and stowed the contents of our kitchen (so they would have easy access to all the compartments), handed them the keys and promised we’d be back on Thursday.

Then with smiles on our faces we drove east toward Sheboygan through small towns, rolling hills, and lots of picture-perfect views of “America’s Dairyland.”  This really is beautiful country with classic glimpses of true agricultural nirvana on every side.

We checked into another motel (Hey, we don’t have a trailer right now!) and made reservations to take the three-hour Kohler Design Center “Industry In Action” factory tour tomorrow morning.  (You can measure our level of commitment by the fact that we must be at the factory by 8:15 tomorrow morning — an unheard-of hour for us!)

Gotta get some sleep now — we have a rendezvous with porcelain, cast-iron and stainless-steel!

Stopped in front of Lick A Dee Splitz for a parting scoop!

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6/12/2011 – Day 67 – Three Lakes, WI to Necedah, WI – 200.5 Miles

After a breakfast of pancakes drizzled with maple syrup made from the neighbor’s trees, we loaded up our belongings and got ready to leave.  Jim and Carol made our visit absolutely fantastic — they are great hosts and wonderful friends.  Their Wisconsin lakeside hideaway is truly a delightful spot, made even better by the kindness and generosity of our friends.  Thanks to them for giving us the VIP treatment! (For reasons we cannot divulge, we are unable to reveal additional details about their cabin other than to mention that some bunk beds appear to be available for guests . . ..)

Today we headed south toward the mothership of our teardrop trailer – Necedah, WI.  We are planning to leave the trailer there for a day or two so it can receive some factory upgrades.

The drive down was uneventful — at least until we reached the Camp Inn factory.  We had heard that they had a campground next to the site, and considered staying there.  Unfortunately, there was no one at the site.  We realized the campground hasn’t recovered from the winter and really isn’t ready for use yet.  We called one of the founders of the company who suggested another campground a few miles away, but the weather was threatening and we were tired, so we checked into a handy motel instead.

Tomorrow we’ll get to meet the owners and creators of Camp Inn Teardrops and see the place where and how our trailer was made.  We’re looking forward to it!

Diana, Jim & Carol in Wisconsin Water Wonderland

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6/11/2011 – Day 66 – Marquette, MI to Three Lakes, WI- 128.8 Miles

It rained overnight, but was just spitting as we left Marquette and headed south.  We have now ventured as far north as we will on this trip.

We drove through mostly forest with the occasional lake and/or river thrown in.  When we stopped at a gas station/convenience store for a pit stop, a group of gentlemen with boats were peering at our teardrop so we showed it to ‘em.  They were favorably impressed.  (I am beginning to believe that in this part of the world every pickup truck comes with a fishing boat attached.  Really!)

We talked to Jim Van Houten on the phone and he directed us to their church where we were just in time for potluck.  An old colleague of Diana’s, Ellsworth Moses was also there and we all had a good time talking.  Other visitors at the church included a couple from Monument Valley, AZ who took a close look at our trailer.  They were very interested because they felt it fit their needs perfectly.

After lunch we followed Jim and Carol back to their place in Three Lakes.  We had to travel down several twisty roads and through forests before we arrived at their lakefront property.  After relaxing for a while, we hopped in their boat for a tour through several of the lakes accessible from their location.

For those of you who know the name Sam Campbell, what we did next will be of special interest to you.  Sam, and his wife Ginny, wrote many books in the 1940‘s and 1950‘s all based on the cabin they lived in on an island in this area.  The books focused on their interaction with the wild animals they encountered and as a child I (Steve) loved the books, and even got to meet the author when I was about 10 years old.

Jim and Carol’s place is fairly close to that island, and our cruise included a lap around the island with opportunities to gaze upon the cabin and environs.

Then Jim landed the boat at a remote location and we started hiking along what the state of Wisconsin has dubbed the Sam Campbell trail.  We didn’t see any larger animals, but we did spot a nesting pair of Osprey flying around and landing on their nest.  The hike, the woods and the company were terrific.

We retraced our steps, jumped into the boat and while munching on cheese and crackers provided by Carol, we were treated to a tour of two Bald Eagle nests in the vicinity as well as a view of a private island once owned by the CEO of the Brinks Company.  First class dining and travel!

We returned to the Van Houten’s abode and chatted some more while Jim prepared a delightful dinner.  He is a many-talented individual, and we are benefiting from many of his talents.  (Carol & I went to get ice cream at Lick A Dee Splitz for ice cream to go with peach pie from a favorite bakery of theirs.  It was a delightful place.  I told them that compared to where I’ve been lately, Three Lakes is the middle of civilization.)

We were feeling pretty tired and realized that we have slipped back into Central time even though our bodies are still convinced we are in the Eastern time zone.  We took our leave and settled in for the night with full tummies and happy memories of a great day.

Sam Campbell's Island Cabin -- The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of!

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