National Museum of the United States Air Force

Apr 21

I was at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, when news came from NASA about the locations sites chosen for the shuttle exhibits. When the cities were announced, and Dayton excluded, the disappointment in the air was palpable. From volunteers to veterans, the only talk heard was about this great snub, and how hard it was to believe this facility could be ignored. It’s hard to argue against them.

Kitty Hawk, North Carolina may be First in Flight, but Dayton, Ohio is in rightfully the Birthplace of Aviation. Only by necessity of wind and sand (for gentle flight, and soft crashes) did Dayton natives Orville and Wilbur Wright choose Kitty Hawk over their hometown. But it was in this town where they first envisioned taking to the skies, from inside the walls of their bicycle shop, marrying the ideas of balance and patience; the very things that would be needed for the first ever machine to lift off the ground in extended flight.

Huffman Prairie, where the Wright brothers perfected flight, is situated adjacent to the facilities. The Air Force Museum itself is on the Air Force base that is named after them. It is the world’s largest and oldest military aviation museum. Their collection boasts hundreds of aircraft and historical military memorabilia, spanning the years of the brother’s work, to the moon landing, and beyond. Among the collection for display: one of the first planes developed by the brothers; the Air Force One used by President Kennedy to fly to Dallas in November, 1963; and the Apollo 15 moon capsule. From flight’s humble beginnings to its ultimate triumphs, this museum is a comprehensive study of man’s journey in the sky, and into space.

One volunteer, clearly a veteran who had been at the museum since his retirement from service, could barely hold back his tears as he stuttered, trying to comprehend how this location, and its importance in history, could have been overlooked.

At over a million and a half visitors a year, he imagined that the shuttle would have increased interest by at least another million, and all this for a museum to which admission is absolutely free.

Over the course of two days, I spent 6 hours slowly making my way around the seemingly endless array of aircraft, missiles, and history. I still feel as though I did not see enough.

New York and Los Angeles may be more glamorous venues for tourists looking for a quick passing glance at a piece of aviation hardware. But Dayton, Ohio and its Air Force museum is the history behind that hardware. And still it is so much more. It is the culmination of man’s determination and will to succeed.

The Theft of the Wright Brothers Home and Bicycle Shop…

Apr 19

… by that coward Henry Ford.

Being beaten out by Kitty Hawk for the first ever flight is hard enough to take. But, compound that with the actions of industrialist Henry Ford (yeah, he just made cars. Cars don’t fly) and the good people of Dayton, Ohio might just want to give up.

You see, Ford started a museum in Dearborn, Michigan, (creatively called “The Henry Ford”) dedicated to the preservation of all things of historical significance; particularly those dealing with the Industrial Revolution. What does this mean in context to Dayton and the Wright Brothers? This.

Wright Brothers Bicycle Shop, Wright Brothers House, Henry Ford Museum

All That Remains

One morning in the early 1930s, Ford took both the house the Wright Brothers lived in, and their bicycle shop back with him to his Dearborn museum, leaving Dayton with only a half-replica of a bicycle shop that was closed long before the Wright Brothers started building airplanes.

Wright Brothers Bicycle Shop, National Park

Wright Bros Cycle Co: Sort of

The Ranger in charge of this site was quite sad and apologetic, as if somehow she could have gone back in time, using her special Ranger Powers (slightly different than Power Rangers), and stopped Ford in his tracks. I do absolutely believe that Rangers are magical, but only in the sense that they really do not get enough credit for how much they enhance the National Park experience for all of us.

So, is this site still worth the look? Of course. Old Ford may have the building, but Dayton’s still got the history.

Wright Makes Flight

Apr 19

Birds do it. Bees do it. Even scientific chimpanzees do it. And why? Because back in 1900, Orville and Wilbur Wright decided it was time somebody took to the skies. And those beautiful skies that were so inviting to them were right here in Dayton, Ohio.

Getting their start running a successful bicycle company, the brothers knew that many a man before them dreamed of a machine that could break the oppressive bonds of gravity; which Isaac Newton so thoughtlessly “discovered” nearly 400 years earlier. While the English were clearly content to rest on the laurels of discovering why we were bound to the Earth, American will and resolve made strides to break that bond. And in order to do it, Orville and Wilbur learned from their experience with bicycles what any of us who has learned to ride a bike can attest: balance, and patience, is key.

Sadly for Dayton, there is just not enough regular wind or sand. The Wright brothers chose Kitty Hawk, NC, as the place where they would conduct their experiments with flight. Regular ocean breezes, and plenty of sand for soft crashing was what Kitty Hawk had over Dayton. And, in 1903, the Brothers were successful in getting their Wright Flyer off the ground. The rest, as they say, is history.

Wright Brothers Museum

Wright Brothers Museum

To Dayton, it’s a bit more. The city is proud of its most famous citizens. A visit to the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park – free admission – proves that the lasting impression made by these two pioneers of flight is not only above us in the clouds, but also here, in their beginnings, when they were just two men with the same dream others had held for centuries before. But, with some innovation and patience, this dream became a reality.

First Airplane, Wright Flyer III, Dayton Historical Places, History of Flight

Huffman Field

It is here in Huffman Prairiewhere they perfected their (air)craft. Between 1904-1905, over 150 flights were conducted in this field. It is also where the Wright Flyer III, considered the world’s first practical airplane, was tested and perfected.

It is an awe-inspiring experience, to walk in a field where dreams literally took flight.

OHIO: This time, it’s Personal

Apr 18

I am very excited that I have finally made it to two cities which, up until this point, were just points on a map which I passed through to get to somewhere else. After exploring much of what Dayton and Cincinnati have to offer, I can safely assure anyone that just passing through not only does a great injustice to these fine cities, but it also does one to you personally. There is much to see and do, and you should no longer deprive yourself of any part of it. From The Birthplace of Flight to the one and only Cincinnati Chili, this is Operation Ohio.

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The Deadwood Ghost

Oct 31

Historic Deadwood, South Dakota was the destination, and the city’s reputation for murder and mayhem brings out the supernatural in everyone. The town, they say, is filled with ghosts; in the streets, in the buildings, and particularly, in the Bullock Hotel: the very hotel in which we were staying!

“Ooh, you’re staying in the most haunted room in the hotel,” the lady at the front desk told me, her voice quivering slightly with both awe and fear. “I won’t go in there. Ever.”  And I have to tell you, I believed her.  Everyone at the hotel seemed a bit, um, uneasy?  Spooky?  Odd.  That’s the word.  Like the Adams Family were odd.  And though I don’t believe in ghosts, I do believe in being scared, so I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be staying in Super Supernatural Room.

Rob and I decided we should take the hotel’s ghost tour, just to see what we might be up against that night. We were not disappointed.

The head of the tour was a guy who looked like real-life Deadwood legend Seth Bullock.  Back in the late 1800s, Bullock was the sheriff of the town, and the original owner of the hotel from 1895. You may know him best as the lead character in the HBO series “Deadwood” from a few years back.

On the ghost tour, we learned only one very important ghostly fact: in 1919, Seth Bullock died in room 211 of this hotel at 2:30am! Guess which room Rob and I were booked into for the night?

The tour concluded, I turned to our guide and told him in jest, “See you at 2:30.”  He laughed. Of course, I never saw him again.  But, I wasn’t the only occupant of room 211…

Later that night, Rob woke me up with some sort of crazy commotion.  It was around 2:45am.  Most of the lights in room 211 were on.  So was the TV.  I asked Rob confusedly what was going on?  He responded, “Nothing. I’ll tell you later.”  Too tired to think it was anything other than an insatiable desire to watch American television, I fell back into a blissful sleep.

When morning came, I prepared for Rob’s explanation.  Apparently, while I slept, at 2:28am, the door handle to the room began to jiggle.  There were loud bangs on the door, and, most of all, the door to the washroom, which I had left open, slowly, slowly began to close.

Rob asked me if I had left the washroom door open.  Indeed, I had.  I don’t like closed washroom doors at night just in case one needs to visit that room. I didn’t think it would be a ghost.

The two of us walked around the room, knocking on walls, making ‘boo’ noises, checking the washroom door to see if it was rigged.  My philosophical training has given me an acute sense of what it takes to rig a room for supernatural experience.  I sensed none!   There is no other explanation except that THE GHOST OF SETH BULLOCK WHO DIED IN THAT ROOM AT 2:30am CAME TO VISIT THE ROOM AGAIN AT THAT SAME TIME OVER 100 YEARS LATER AND TRIED TO GET INTO THE ROOM BY USING THE HANDLE! THEN, UPON DISCOVERING THAT THE DOOR WAS LOCKED, HE DECIDED TO KNOCK LOUDLY SINCE IT WAS LATE AND WE WERE PROBABLY SLEEPING!!!  WHEN WE DIDN’T ANSWER HE THOUGHT WE WERE RUDE, SO HE USED HIS SUPER GHOSTLY POWERS TO CLOSE THE WASHROOM DOOR: SLOWLY!

There are no other explanations for how someone from a hotel who wanted to perpetuate the myth that there were ghosts (because ghosts attract tourists) could jiggle the handle of a door from the outside and bang on it, with the vibrations enough for the washroom door, which is framed over an inch off the ground and therefore precariously open, to close.  Slowly.  However…

During the ghost tour in The Bullock Hotel in Deadwood, we were encouraged to take pictures, especially in the mirrors, as there were reports of faces (not your reflection kind of faces) and other abnormalities sighted in there.  Oh, we laughed and snapped away.  Then we looked at one of the pictures.

Is it the ghost of Seth Bullock?  Teddy Roosevelt?  Michael Jackson?  Am I looking at the Man in the Mirror?

Take Me Out to the Ball Park

Aug 31

As a fan of the Beautiful Game (that would be soccer), I am used to taking a lot of flack about how boring soccer really is.  My knee-jerk response is usually to insult baseball.  I’m still not convinced it should be called a sport, but I will readily admit to thoroughly enjoying it when watching it live, as I did at Miller Park, the home of Milwaukee Brewers.

It was the Dodgers in town that fine Wisconsin evening, and I was at full voice in support of the home side.  They may have been winning at one point, I’m not sure. I was distracted by the running of the sausages. A tradition since the early 1990s, 4 – presumably human beings – dressed as different types of sausage run around the outside of the field in a bid, much like all races, to see who wins. This event takes place at the bottom of the 6th inning at every home game. Predictably, I put my hypothetical money on the Italian. Predictably, the Italian did not win. However, each sausage imported him/her/itself with the dignity one would expect of such a delightfully entertaining tradition.

On this high, I felt much like Richie Cunningham must have when he left the beautiful city of Milwaukee to join the army: blessed to have been a part of it. They were indeed all Happy Days.

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Deke Slayton Memorial Bike & Space Museum

Aug 30

The only thing more exciting than learning more about one of the original astronauts, is stumbling upon a museum that is dedicated to one. In this case, it is of course, our good friend and previous post subject, Deke Slayton.  His hometown of Sparta, Wisconsin, hosts the museum that bears his name; and, for good measure, throws in the history of the bicycle, mankind’s other form of transportation that isn’t car or boat… or airplane.  Wisconsinites are not only good people, but efficient as well.

Though the museum was closed by the time we arrived, as luck would have it, one of the members of the Board of Directors – which had just concluded a meeting – noticed our out of country license plates.  He exuberantly made his way over to our car, directed us to park, and then insisted upon allowing us to tour the facilities.  As the rest of the Board was filtering out into the street, greeting us eagerly on their way, one woman agreed to stay behind and give us a personal tour.  Her first order of business: handing us a push-pin, and directing us to the map they had at the entrance, where all those who previously visited marked where they were from.  Approaching the map, we now fully understood their response to our arrival: we were the first Canadians to visit their museum.

The exhibits themselves were a treasure-trove of both the early history of Astronaut Slayton and NASA itself.  On display were photos of Slayton as a child, letters to him and from him,  and artwork made by and given to him by a Cosmonaut he had befriended on a joint space mission with the Soviet Union. Deke Slayton’s story did have a happy ending after all: He was finally given medical clearance and went aboard the Apollo Spacecraft in 1972.

Along our tour, we also learned our tour guide, a lovely woman named Joan, was a life-long Democrat who voted for McGovern, had a son attending school in the state capital Madison, knew Slayton’s sister-in-law (who was also a board member), and knew one other Canadian who was on her son’s baseball team (although he clearly was one of those lazy Canadians who never bothered to make it into the museum because we were there first!)

The original Mercury Seven space suit Deke Slayton wore was on display.  This was an impressive coup for the small-town museum, as it is only one of five original NASA suits remaining in the world. The Smithsonian has asked for it many times.  The answer is always no.

There was a moon rock, a scale which tells you what you weigh on the moon (I’m 20 pounds!* Sign me up for the next mission!), and Joan wanting to know if we had already made arrangement for accommodations because if not, she could help us. As the tour came to a close, we were handed postcards and other souvenirs of our visit. Our entrance fee was waived, but the experience would have been worth far more than the $3.00 usually required.  We made an appropriate donation instead.

This first encounter with the people of Wisconsin certainly left an indelible impression on us.  Not only would we enthusiastically recommend the museum to all who wished to broaden their knowledge of space (and bicycles), but Wisconsin is worth the trip just for the hospitality of the Wisconsinites themselves.

*Oh Mr. Obama. Why not continue exploration of the Moon?  Since matter weighs far less there, can’t we both satisfy our lust for discovery and exploration, while at the same time, eliminating our problem with obesity?  It’s this kind of connective thinking Obama’s administration needs.  I will be handing in my resume  – and strapping on my svelte space suit – post-haste.  Blasting off…

Deke Slayton

Aug 29

Deke Slayton was one of NASA’s original Mercury Seven Astronauts. The Mercury program(me) was designed to develop viable means for manned space travel. The ultimate goal? Landing on the Moon. We all know by now (or at least, we should know) that this goal* was achieved.  Yea!  Sadly for Deke Slayton, his goal was not realized.  The discovery of a heart murmur early on kept him grounded.

Not being one to feel sorry for himself for too long, Slayton went on to be an administrator at NASA, becoming Director of Flight Crew Operations.  He was the one responsible for choosing which astronauts were chosen for each of the proposed missions.  And, from reports, he was a hell of a nice guy.

Which leads me to my point: of course he was a nice guy!  He was from Wisconsin!

*The moon landing really happened.

Mark me as SPAM™!!!

Aug 28

What?  You don’t like Spam™?  What’s wrong with you?  Spam™ is the single greatest food-type item that has ever been created in the history of the world!  The world!!! Not convinced?  Then you have to – absolutely must – go to the Spam™ Museum in Austin, Minnesota! 

Spam™ is important enough to have a whole museum dedicated to its greatness: are you?  Well I haven’t been to yours but I have been to the one for Spam™ and let me tell you I am convinced about Spam™.  The All Good and All Giving Hormel company that is responsible for making Spam™ has its headquarters here in Austin, and the sweet smell of Spam™ begins to call out to you the moment you turn onto the street.  All streets should smell like Spam™!

Once inside the museum, you are greeting by two unbelievably friendly boosters of the product of Spam™. These two senior citizen cheerleaders for Spam™ bring you inside a wide, open corridor filled with images of Spam™ in cans (complete with an entire wall of 3500 cans of Spam™ called their Spam™ Wall).  You are welcomed with open arms, given a map of the museum, and invited to play one of the interactive Spam™ games just behind where you are now.  Wander and enjoy is the theme of the attraction. And how could we not enjoy this?!? (you too can play the interactive games on their website

As we made our way around this intoxicating celebration of squared, pink pig flesh in a can, we dressed as Spam™ factory workers and pretended to make Spam™ (Spam™ is actually cooked in its own can! Fascinating!!!)

A conveyor belt of cans of Spam™ revolves overhead as you play a mock game show designed to show-off your knowledge of Spam™, and also as you read the displays showing the history of Spam™.  Spam™.  They even have a TV set up which plays the Monty Python Spam™ skit on continual loop. There is so much Spam™ here, it’s akin to Disney World™, but about Spam™. And admission is free! Take that, Disney™!

At the end of the tour you are in the gift shop where you can buy Spam™ in different flavo(u)rs (like hickory smoked, garlic, cheese, and REAL BACON), and we did buy lots of Spam™ and bumper stickers and shot glasses and I almost bought a hoodie and…

It takes about 15 minutes of driving away from the Cult of Spam™ before you start to realize: what the hell are we going to do with all this Spam™? 

Deprogramming and re-assimilation into non-Spam™ society will be hard, but worth it. A few knocks to the head and a salad should just about do it.

Ho Ho Ho!!!

Aug 27

It’s not about Santa. Not everything is about Santa. Santa gets enough attention. He certainly doesn’t need mine; and in the middle of August, no less. Stick it, Santa. I’m talking about the other jolly Ho ho ho-er we all know and love. This one gives us nature’s gifts of peas and corn all year round. You all know who I’m talking about. He’s big, and green, and jolly and 55 feet tall in Blue Earth, Minnesota. Can’t figure it out? The Jolly Green Giant ring any bells?

First of all, Blue Earth? Awesome name for a town. Located off of Interstate 90 in Minnesota, Blue Earth was home to a canning plant for Green Giant peas and corn. In the 1970s, a local DJ used to interview visitors to the town, giving them the parting ‘gift’ of a can of peas or corn. What these visitors really wanted, however, was to see the Jolly Green Giant. If you really think about that, it’s kinda crazy. I mean, the Jolly Green Giant isn’t real. How did they expect to see him? But, like with all crazy ideas, someone stepped forward to make it happen. So, in 1978, the 55ft fibreglass statue was erected. The Jolly Green Giant had finally found a home. In Minnesota. Take that, Santa!!!