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In addition to reaching my 30th anniversary as editor of the Aurora Advocate in January, I hit the 10-year milestone of taking and writing about road trips to many places in Ohio, West Virginia and western Pennsylvania.
The trips started in 2007, when my Macedonia-Northfield-Sagamore Hills News Leader editor cohort Eric Marotta and I ventured to Harrison County, south of Cadiz, after I found out that the Silver Spade, the largest remaining coal stripping shovel in the nation, was to be dismantled.
Having seen the Silver Spade work as a teenager growing up one county away from Harrison, I was saddened to learn that the Harrison Coal and Reclamation Historical Park's efforts to preserve the monster machine had failed.
It appeared those efforts would be successful, but when a crew from the shovel's owner -- Consol Energy -- was trying to walk it out of its final pit so the land could be reclaimed, a catastrophic breakdown occurred in the roller drums on a crawler mechanism, making it impossible to move further.
The coal park had raised more than $700,000 to preserve the machine, but it would have cost Consol much more than that to reclaim around the immobile shovel, so it was scrapped. It was a huge blow to many coal park officials who had worked hard on preservation efforts.
I won't forget the day Eric and I viewed the doomed machine from a hill above the pit. It was a rainy, 50-degree day in mid-January. It was emotional for me to see the machine intact for the last time.
I returned to the pit four months later to see the machine's demolition in progress. The boom had been blown loose and the equipment house was being chopped to pieces with torches. It was gone two or three months after that.
At that time I decided I wanted to see as many historic/unusual places and things around Ohio as I could, and my series of road trips began. It continues to this day. I hope when I retire in a couple of years I'll be able to expand the distance of my travels.
I've seen many neat and spectacular places and things -- historic sites, mansions once owned by wealthy businessmen, quirky attractions, museums housing all kinds of things and quaint towns.
I've talked to dozens of ordinary, but interesting people on my trips, and many Advocate readers have asked me for information about and directions to certain places.
Just recently I received an email from a local resident who remembered reading about a buffet restaurant I wrote about along the Ohio River, but he couldn't recall its name or location and wanted some information.
I knew exactly what he was talking about -- Quinet's Court in New Martinsville, W.Va. -- one of the best buffet restaurants I've ever eaten at. I've been there twice.
I've been to so many neat places that it's hard to pick a favorite. One, though, would have to be Matchstick Jack's Memorial Museum in Monroe County (known as the Switzerland of Ohio because of its hills).
Just up Route 800 from Fly, Ohio -- one of the most unusual place names I've encountered -- the museum is in a private home. The now deceased Jack made all kinds of small objects out of matchsticks.
At the Kindleberger Stone House and Barn near Clarington in Monroe County, I was given a personal tour of the historic barn and then was treated to cookies and conversation in the owners' house. Now that's hospitality!
The Toy and Plastic Brick Museum in Bellaire is another unique place. It boasts a huge collection of objects and art made from Legos. It's in an abandoned elementary school.
After I wrote about the Bellaire attraction, I received a phone call from a local resident who told me her granddaughter loved Legos and would be thrilled to visit the museum. I gladly provided directions.
After I wrote about Aurora resident Mike DeMay and I visiting the grave of legendary baseball pitcher Cy Young in southern Tuscarawas County, I got an email from a woman who read the column online and said she lives on Cy's old farm just down the road.
She invited me to stop by if I ever returned to the area. Unfortunately, I haven't been back to Peoli, Ohio, although I do travel on I-77 near that area from time to time.
I was thrilled to visit David Adair's property at Four Mile Hill east of Cambridge about six years ago. He has four full-sized cabooses, and a small depot-like building housing smaller railroad memorabilia.
He has hundreds of oldtime railroad photos, and he invited me back to look through some of them, but again I haven't had the time to do that despite passing his place a few times in recent years.
One of the items he has is the wooden sign reading "New Philadelphia," which he retrieved when the old New Philly B&O depot was being torn down. Growing up in New Philly, I passed that depot many times.
So-called haunted places that I've visited are intriguing. Some of them are the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Moonville Tunnel in Vinton County, West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville and Lafayette Hotel in Marietta.
There are many places I've visited that I probably will never return to, but others that are fun to revisit.
The Ohio State Reformatory is one, as are the Wilds in Muskingum County, Dickens Victorian Village and the Guernsey County Courthouse Light Show in Cambridge, the city of Marietta, Roscoe Village in Coshocton, Tom's Ice Cream Bowl in Zanesville and the Athens Lunatic Asylum (now the Ridges at Ohio University).
Other favorite places of mine are the Newark Earthworks; mounds in Marietta, Moundsville and Athens; Merry-Go-Round Museum in Sandusky; Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and James A. Garfield mansions in Fremont and Mentor, respectively; Stan Hywet Hall in Akron; and Amish country in Holmes and Geauga counties.
Having grown up in Ohio's coal country, I love stopping at Miners Memorial Park in Morgan County when I get down that way. That's where the Big Muskie bucket is located. It swung on the world's largest dragline.
It was humbling to visit the sites of Ohio's two worst underground coal mine disasters. Eighty-two miners died in the Millfield disaster in 1930 in Athens County and 72 died in the Willow Grove disaster in 1940 near St. Clairsville.
The sites are isolated, and all that can be heard are birds chirping and nearby creeks babbling. Nothing remains at Willow Grove, while the power plant's smokestack is the only remnant at Millfield.
People still live in many houses in "company towns," which sprouted up near coal mines. Those small towns in Perry, Athens and Hocking counties are known as "the Little Cities of Black Diamonds," and I've been through several.
Home to about 1,500 people in the first two decades of the 20th century, San Toy in Perry County -- one of the "Little Cities" that I've explored -- is now a ghost town.
Sunday Creek Coal Co. once operated two large mines there. A small brick jail and dozens of basements and stone foundations remain, but no actual houses.
When I visit St. Clairsville in Belmont County, I try to find time to walk through the only tunnel on an Ohio rail trail. The 522-foot long structure was bored on the Adena branch of the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad in 1902.
Pioneer villages around Ohio are great places to see historic structures all in one place. Some that I've visited are Century Village in Burton, Ohio Village in Columbus, Sandstone Village in Amherst, Hale Farm & Village in Bath, Schoenbrunn Village in New Philadelphia, Lyme Village near Bellevue and Sylvania Historical Village.
The landscape is vastly different across Ohio. It varies from the eastern and southeastern hills to the pool-table-flat farms of the Northwest.
Although it wreaks havoc with a vehicle's brakes, I prefer driving in the hill country because it's more scenic. Flat land tends to get boring when you drive across it for long periods of time.
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