Category: Roadside Stuff

Coalwood, West Virginia – Home of the Rocket Boys

Coalwood, West Virginia – Home of the Rocket Boys

Over the winter I read a book called The Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam. It is the memoir of a determined boy who grew up in the shadow of a coal mine tipple in Coalwood, West Virginia in the late 50’s – and would go on to become a NASA engineer. It is a testament to the power of a curious mind.

Having enjoyed the book greatly, it was a treat to be able to swing through Coalwood this past April. Riding through the town was like putting a face to a name. Sadly, what remains of what I’d read as a bustling anthill of activity surrounding the mine is merely shadows. It’s quite something to see how a remote town that relied on a single industry is decimated once that industry leaves.


A monument to the Rocket Boys along the wonderfully named Frog Level Road. Homer Hickam and the Rocket Boys are local heroes.

What remains in that old coal town is interesting to see. Especially when compared to historical photos and passages of the book that talk of the local goings-on.

Homer Hickam’s house still stands:

And as a motorcycle rider, you won’t be disappointed by the ride along Route 16 to Coalwood. It’s a lovely wiggler!

Did I Pass Along the Wandering Gene?

Did I Pass Along the Wandering Gene?

Last week, my daughter Chloe and I were sitting in the backyard melting away the day’s have-to-dos in the sunshine. Seemingly out of nowhere she said, “I wish I could just get in the car and drive and drive and drive.” I gently reminded her that she’s old enough to drive now. But, she dreamily replied that that wasn’t it. She just wanted to sit and look out the window.

The exchange caught me off guard though it isn’t the first time I’ve heard her say something like that. Maybe it was the setting, the delivery, the warm spring sun or maybe it was me. Maybe it was like listening to my inner voice come to life. My child spoke the unsaid words that I’ve felt thousands of times. Does she have the wandering gene?

On Saturday, Chloe hopped on the back of the Bonnie and we set off on a little excursion to see some “stuff.” But mostly, it was just be out and enjoy the day.

Our first stop was the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Garden in Springfield, Massachusetts. We walked around the small square looking at the bronze sculptures. She and I giggled as I embarrassingly sang the Cat in the Hat song. The lyrics were still fresh in my mind from when Chloe was just a wee girl.

I’m a gwunka in a bunka-kwunk in Eskimo.

Lunch brought us up the road to one of the many starred locations on my Google Maps app – Al’s Diner in Chicopee. Inside, a single waitress hustled around the place, as busy as a bee, filling coffee cups, taking orders, setting down plates of french fries, and confirming that yes, it was indeed a crocheted ham on the shelf.

After eating, we stood in the parking lot gearing up. I said, “One day these old places will be gone and you’ll look back and say I remember…” I’m not sure if I was saying it to her or to myself. It was just a string of words that needed to be said out loud.

I was surprised to hear Chloe say, “that would be terrible.” Most of the time I feel like dragging a kid around to see these dumb old things that I like is something akin to torture. Perhaps I’ve been wrong.

Often, I find myself hoping that I am not inadvertently “programming” her to like what I like. I’m sure some of it rubs off by osmosis and I can’t do anything about that. When it comes to kids it could go either way – I love/hate what my mom used to do.

Only time will suss it all out, I guess.

The Merci Boxcar of Welch, West Virginia

The Merci Boxcar of Welch, West Virginia

While my good riding buddy Joe and I were cruising around the greater Welch, WV area – as we pulled in to town I spotted the unmistakable sight of a Merci boxcar and quickly pulled in to the little park.

I recently learned about the Merci boxcars from the Team Strange Love and Merci Grand Tour that’s going on. Team Strange are the folks that hosted the Whispering Giants Grand Tour that I participated in a couple of years ago.

Something about the train car looks so sweet, so charming to me. It has a delicate, almost toy-like quality to it. Serendipitously stumbling across one of the 40-ish boxcars was a treat.

Over the years people have asked “how do you find this stuff?” And while I do go looking for certain things – others just seem to find me. Merci, universe!

The Welch, WV Merci boxcar:

The Merci Train was a train of 49 French railroad box cars filled with tens of thousands of gifts of gratitude from at least that many individual French citizens. They were showing their appreciation for the more than 700 American box cars of relief goods sent to them by (primarily) individual Americans in 1948. The Merci Train arrived in New York harbor on February 3rd, 1949 and each of the 48 American states at that time received one of the gift laden box cars. The 49th box car was shared by Washington D.C. and the Territory of Hawaii.

— MerciTrain.org

More about the Merci Train:

Random Odds and Ends from Kansas and Missouri

Random Odds and Ends from Kansas and Missouri

My route back home to Long Island from Catoosa, Oklahoma in October of 2016 bumbled along Route 66.

At the time I remember feeling like I was moving too fast, that I wasn’t taking enough time to linger. I don’t know why that happens but it does. You long for time away and then while you’re in the midst of it, you won’t slow down to savor it.

Looking through my limited selection of photos through Kansas and Missouri, hindsight tells me that I did it wrong. I hurried too much.

While traveling along ’66 in Illinois, I saw a vibrant blue Selz shoe wall ad in the town of Chenoa. While this one doesn’t quite compare aesthetically, it was still nice to see. This faded ad was in the town of Galena, Kansas.

Cars on the Route and the inspiration for Tow Mater.

I don’t know if I was delirious from dehydration or what, but the signs along the road for Uranus Fudge Factory cracked me up every time. To protect and serve Uranus.

Serendipity is a… Giant Rocking Chair?

Serendipity is a… Giant Rocking Chair?

“Babe! You’re never going to believe where I’m standing right now!”
“Where?”
“In front of the world’s largest rocking chair!”
“Why am I not surprised?”
“Actually, I ended up here completely by accident.”
“Of course you did.”

My husband Kenny’s sarcasm came through loud and clear, even in text. It’s one of those things you learn to interpret after you’ve been partnered for a while. But, for all his disbelief that I hadn’t sought out the giant rocker – it was true.

While bumbling along The National Road in Illinois, I saw a sign for the World’s Largest Wind Chimes. Look… when something like that is advertised on a road sign? You visit it. It could go one of two ways: A fantastic triumph of roadsidery -or- a letdown of epic proportions. Both scenarios could be a win.

When I pulled in to Casey, Illinois following the signs for the chimes I was treated to a fantastic display of roadside Americana. Not only were there giant wind chimes (which you can ring), but sweet holy moly, there was a giant rocking chair, a mailbox, a pencil, a metal cactus. Holy crap, this place was awesome!

Big things, small town.

Casey wasn’t on my radar to visit, I’d just been passing through. Perhaps the universe tugged me there.

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