Travel Tales

Travel Takes #2:

By Barb van der Veen

Have you ever started to drive somewhere but weren’t exactly where your car was going to take you?  Well, that’s basically what Harm and I experienced today.  We had left my high school friend’s, Gale and her husband, Mark, Gagnier in International Falls, Minnesota.  Where the heck is that, you ask?  Well, if you went to almost the most westerly part of Ontario, on the US border, there are two towns across the river from each other.  Fort Frances is on the Ontario side and International Falls is on the Minnesota side.  If it wasn’t for the border, they would have been one town.  In fact, they share many services – if you want to see a movie, you go to International Falls;  Canadian Tire (of course), Fort Frances.

Anyway, on our way down from International Falls, we arranged to visit Bud Turner and Bobbie Mistretta in Barnum, MN just south of Duluth.  You’ll remember them – they have that beautiful baby blue Pacer that has been competing in the American Cup class for the last number of years.  Harm and I now understand the challenges they’ve faced to winning that award, only to lose by (one year) a ¼ point!  Bud babies their Pacer, cleaning and improving it every chance he gets.  He takes very seriously the comments he receives every year from the judging sheets.  However, he and Bobbie actually drive their car, unlike the trailer queens that are unloaded often just before being judged.  And the first hurdle they have to get through is the mile long gravel road from their home to the first main road.  From there, they have to deal with whatever Mother Nature throws at them on their way to the Nationals.  We had a great visit, complete with lunch, and headed down the long straight highways to Madison, Wisconsin where we stayed the night.

We had originally hoped to visit a John Deere collection (yup – you heard right – not an AMC collection) in Appleton, Wisconsin.  Unfortunately, they were away for the weekend so we looked at each other and, when I reminded Harm about this You Tube video we’d seen on this mega dairy farm in Indiana, we googled it.  This “farm” was south of Chicago so off we went Sunday morning.  We braved the Chicago roads which are perpetually under construction and, within 4 hours, we were in the parking lot of Fair Oaks Farm.  This is like no other farm we or anyone else has been at!  The farm the public sees is pristine!  You’re not walking through muck (aka cow shit), smelling barn yard smells or sneezing from the dusty hay!  This part of the farm is the educational/self-promoting farm that is open (for a price) to the public. 

To give you an idea of the massive size, here goes:

  • ·       19,000 acres and growing!  According to one of the hands in the birthing barn, they actually have 26,000 acres with more being acquired all the time.
  • ·       30,000 cows
  • ·       Pigs (we didn’t get the figures on these, but have to be a large number0
  • ·       Main educational buildings on 200 acres that has information on dairy/pig farming where you can hop on one of four tour buses that drive you around one of the actual working farms (more about that in a second)
  • ·       Restaurant and pub
  • ·       Gift shop
  • ·       Amazing play areas for kids of all ages (great place to take the grandkids)
  • ·       Birthing Barn with two glassed in pens (with stadium style seating for approximately 200 people) where a few cows a day give birth.
  • ·       The bus tour took us to see the daily operation of this huge farm co-operative.  We saw approximately 3,500 cows under one roof.  They are milked three times a day, a 24-hour a day operation on a gigantic carousel which holds 72 cows at a time.  Each cow has learned to step onto the carousel (it only takes a few times for them to become comfortable) where they are washed, inspected (to ensure no infections which will taint the milk) and hooked up to the automatic milking machines.  Within 8 – 10 minutes, milking has been completed, their teats are treated to prevent infection and keep them soft (ladies – we can appreciate that!!), and they back out and head back to the barn.  These barns have fans which run at 7 miles per hour and water systems that send a fine spray on top of the cows to keep them cool.  This one barn ships 40,000 gallons of milk EVERY DAY!
  • ·       We didn’t see the pig tour as we’re pretty sure they weren’t going to show the whole process for pigs (birth to dinner table)!!
  • ·       One of the most impressive aspects was their processing of the excrement in giant processors to produce methane which provides ALL the energy needs for their farms.  Whatever they don’t use, gets sold back on the grid.  They also use gas they create to fuel their highway trucks (40 in the fleet).

We spent four hours there and came away being totally impressed at the marketing coup this co-operative has pulled off!  Every aspect of this operation is controlled for quality and efficiency, while making massive amounts of money (I’m sure).  If ever you’re in upper Indiana, we highly recommend dropping by. 

On leaving Fair Oaks Farms, we escaped the interstates (we were driving my Ford Escape – cute eh?) and drove Indiana 14 east towards Fort Wayne.  After about an hour, we headed north on Highway 15 to Warsaw.  I was looking out my window (Harm was having fun driving those country roads) and what did I see but a grave yard of John Deere tractors!  “Hey, slow down!  I need to take a picture!”   Harm looked over and he almost put me through the windshield!  OMG – that’s McGrew!  They sell hard to find antique parts and tractors!  As you may know, Harm and I have a few John Deere tractors and he has always gotten a chubby for a 1954 60 tractor (the year he was born) that we could use on our new farm.  Did I mention we already have a few tractors, two of which can be used to run the baling equipment, snow blower, etc.?  You’d think that would be enough (especially when we also have three garden tractors), but this latest exposure has increased his desire to buy another one!  HELP!!

Once I got him back into the car, kicking and screaming, we headed for home.  I put blinders on him for the rest of the trip so he didn’t spend our boys’ inheritance while we still need it!

Travel Tales #1:  You Just Never Know

By Barb van der Veen

For those more “senior” members, you may remember this series called “Travel Tales”.  Harm and I started this many years ago so we could share some of our experiences while on our way to club/car functions.  Now that we’re both officially retired (and temporarily homeless), we’ve been on the road a bit more.

When our son, Hendrik, ordered a replacement engine for his John Deere garden tractor, he had two choices – either ship it directly to Canada at an incredibly high cost or send it to his cousin’s home near Lockport, New York (free shipping) and then have it picked up.  As both our boys lovingly refer to us as “homeless and unemployed”, we offered to drive down on July 17th to pick it up.  We needed to take my nephew and his fiancé out for dinner anyway to thank them for receiving the order of a 1931 Model A gas tank some years ago (yes – we were far overdue for this).  Once we got over the border around 11:00 a.m., we took our time and ended up buying some garden tractor tires for ourselves (saved at least $80 by picking them up there).  After dinner that evening, they took us to a small town nearby for a cruise night.  This little town blocks their main street each Thursday evening so car lovers can wander the few blocks to see some very interesting vehicles.  There were a number that caught our attention, but these vehicles stood out for their uniqueness and quality.  There were two Brockway highway trucks!  What, you ask, is a Brockway?  Good question as we had never seen one before.  Apparently, they were around from 1912 until 1977 when, largely due to a wildcat strike, the company closed its doors.  We all agreed that this 1935 Chevrolet 1 ½ ton truck was the most incredible example of a non-restored, original vehicle we had ever seen!  It was originally used to haul feed to farmers and was never used in the snow.  The gentleman we talked to had been only its second owner and he confirmed he would never restore it.  Cool eh?

The next day, we did some more shopping at Gander Mountain (similar but not as big as Bass Pro and Cabela’s) before we headed off to the Niagara Falls State Park.  Now – being proud Canadians – we had always thought we had the best view of the falls so we weren’t prepared for how spectacular it was.  The next time you’re looking for a day trip to the States, give this a look.  Wear your comfortable walking shoes as there’s a lot of walking, but it’s well worth it.  We were virtually within 5 feet of the falls’ edge at some points, with the roar of the water rushing by in our ears.  Parking was only $10 and, although you could pay to go on the Maid of the Mist or the Observation Deck, you didn’t need to spend anything extra (suggest you bring your own drinks as refreshments were VERY expensive).  After a couple of hours, we crossed back over the Peace Bridge, paid the duty on our purchases and were home in time for cocktail hour to our RV within 3 hours!

Our next big trip will be to the AMO Annual Convention in Charleston, South Carolina on July 26th so stay tuned for further articles on that trip (we’ll also be visiting Washington, DC on our way back).