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Our July-August 2014 Indiana-Michigan-Ohio Trip


By Bob Soetebier


Weather-wise experience, we mostly only had a couple of sprinkles on the trip.  The exceptions included a brief shower while at Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village (we were the only people who were wise enough to carry umbrellas there!); a half-hour torrential downpour along I-70 in Ohio as we headed back toward Indiana; and, an hour of heavy fog on I-70 as we left Terre Haute, IN, heading west into Illinois.  (The bad storms -- more heavy rain and lightning -- finally caught up to us late in the evening when we arrive back home at the end of the trip.)

On our first day of the trip, we grudgingly paid an exorbitant $1.10 toll fee for a short 5-mile stretch of I-80 in Illinois just before entering Indiana.  But, that didn’t compare to the $4.80 mischarge (instead of the listed $1.70 on our toll ticket) we had to pay at another automated ticket toll farther along I-80/90 in Indiana.  That was because a car with an Indiana license plate immediately ahead of us bolted through the briefly upraised toll bar -- without paying his toll charge -- right behind the car in front of him.  The automated electronic toll then registered our car as a “4-axle” vehicle and upped our toll!

Despite the info on its own website -- and corroborating info in the most recent AAA tour guide book, the John Dillinger museum was no longer located at the Indiana Welcome Center along I-80/90 in Hammond, Indiana.  The museum is apparently scheduled to reopen in 2015 farther to the south in the Lake County Courthouse in Crowne Point, Indiana.

However, that disappointment was made for by the fact that when we arrived at the LaPorte, Indiana, Historical Society Museum, we lucked out getting a two-for-one admission due to a special one-day $5 per carload for a special one-day classic car show taking place on the outside.  That was in addition to the other classic cars on display within the museum…along with tons of other historical artifacts.

After we checked into the South Bend, Indiana, motel, we went over to a nearby game triplex emporium that had bowling, indoor Go-Karts and nine-hole, blacklight miniature golf.  We walked up to the pay kiosk where they told us it was a all-day/all-activity, one-price admission fee.  We said we just wanted to play one round of they gave it to us for free!

In South Bend, the 3-level Studebaker Museum was as spectacular as expected.  Since we had spent so much time that day walking along the extremely scenic downtown stretch of the St. Joseph River and then at the museum, we didn’t get to the huge Studebaker “Tippecanoe” mansion -- which now houses a gourmet restaurant -- until 2:00 pm.  Unfortunately, that was when they close until reopening again for dinner at 4:30.

However, that was later made up for by the fact that in-house restaurant at the Alan Hills (adjacent to Dearborn, MI) Best Western Greenfield Village was some of the best food we’ve ever had.  Their salads were particular fresh and tasty standouts.  We were really glad that we staying there for four nights and multiple meals.

After visiting the Dearborn museums, we hiked from there across the Rouge River to the Henry Ford’s massive stone Fair Lane mansion where we again got bit by the web bug.  Contrary to the info mansion’s website -- which said it was open for guided tours, it was “closed for renovations” until next year.  At least we got to walk the trails around the mansion…and we didn’t get bit by the two twin, foot-long Massasaaga rattlesnakes that were camped out at the foot of the steps of the mansions outdoor patio!

At Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village, in addition to walking a few miles around the place, we rode both their steam train and took a chauffeured ride in a Model-T Ford.   The driver told us the Model-T normally cruised a 10 mph, but could go up to 45 mph…and got 18 to 20 mpg.

At the Henry Ford Museum -- along with all the massive historic machinery, classic vehicles, presidential limos (including Kennedy’s), and a huge double-tandem Pennsylvania train engine -- I was nostalgically pleased to see that they had old VW center pop-top camper van identical to the one I used to own.  Back in the ‘70s, my wife and I did a lot of camping in that old VW van…plus occasionally having to physically push-start it (popping the clutch at 3 mph) since it only had a 6 volt battery like the regular VW ‘Bug’!

At the River Raisin War of 1812 site near Lake Erie in Michigan, the former history teacher docent was literally a clone of “Indiana Jones” -- Harrison Ford, the actor, as he looks today.  The kicker was that his name was Ron Jones!

Forty five miles farther south of the River Raisin site, we stopped at the Indiana state-run Fort Meigs War of 1812 site in Perrysburg, Ohio; which is just a few miles s.s.w. of Toledo, OhioIn addition to a great indoor museum, the fort -- which is "the largest wooden walled fortification in North America" -- has nine block houses along its wood-post barricades.  The large fort complex gave us the opportunity to stretch our legs for over a half hour along it's inner periphery trail.

At the U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes Home and Museum, our docent guide was a history Ph.D. candidate.  I was surprised when she audibly exclaimed “Wow!” when I mentioned that I was (according to my patriarchal grandmother) directly related to Pres. Harrison.  (It obviously was more of a big deal to her -- both the docent and my grandmother -- than it was/is to me.)

Since we got to the Indian Mill site too late for a tour, we decided to go on to Columbus, Ohio.  Before leaving there the next day, we stopped at the State Capitol; utilizing its underground parking.  The Capitol building’s doors open -- just in time! -- at 11:00 a.m. as some of the blackest clouds we’ve ever seen closed in on us….and poured!   While we were lucky to avoid the worst of the storm within the massive stone walls, our hoped-for guided-tour didn’t occur as the volunteer docent didn’t show up…so, we had to settle for a self-guided walk around inside the building.

We rolled into the Richmond, Indiana, Best Western with motel coupon booklet in hand….even though that motel wasn’t one of the discount coupons offered.  As usual, I used their nearby competitors’ discount coupons offers to negotiate down their price down…by $30/night.

After eating a dinner at a restaurant nearby to our motel in Richmond, we walked over to an in-sight outdoor miniature golf place where we played a 18-hole round.  When I showed the attendant our tied score cards, she let us play another round (free!) to break the tie.  My lone hole-in-one settled that score.

The next day in Richmond, after visiting Thistlewaite Falls we hiked the Whitewater Gorge Trail.  Along the way, we encountered a man and woman with a couple of German Shepherds that they had heel as we passed by…having the dogs sit upon a strategically placed park bench!  (I got a good photo of that unusual sight.)  About a 100-yard portion of the trail also takes you along a riverside sidewalk -- adjacent to the now-defunct old Starr Piano Company factory building complex -- that encases the historic Gennett Records Walk of Fame, which commemorates their many well-known recording artists from days gone by.

At the Wayne County History Museum in Richmond, I struck up a side conversation with one of its docents.  As it turned out, she had a Ph.D. in history and had just returned from a convention in St. Louis where she gave three lectures on women’s history.  I gave her a flyer for my website…and, the UFO section caught her attention.  That’s when she told us that her engineer husband, when he was 10 years old, had had a UFO sighting.   He was walking along the Pacific shoreline in Long Beach, California, with his mother when they heard a whirring sound directly above their heads.  They saw a “silver and gray UFO” which then “shot off in a blink of the eye.”

Our last day/night was spent at the Holiday Inn in Terre Haute, IN. We used a great-deal coupon for that stay, and even got free complimentary breakfast -- that was supposed to cost an extra $20 -- thrown in on the deal by the manager.  (Maybe our friendly demeanor -- along with an accounting of some of the must-see points of interest our trip to her -- was the key?)  We had planned to layover a day there, but the two-day-hence weather forecast convinced us to cut off a day…and, glad we did with the weather that just moved through here heading east.  Still, we had enough time left for a great afternoon of traversing their historic district, after visiting the Vigo County History Museum located there, too.  The museum had four female historian docents on staff…and, of course, all four were given flyers for my website, too.

[Here's a few extra general all-around trip tips.]:

Except when we know there might be a problem securing a motel room at the last minute on a trip (such as when we've checked an area's "events schedule" for things like high-attendance conventions, festivals, sports events, etc....all the sorts of things we generally try to avoid!; or, when were going to a UFO conference), we normally would not book/reserve a motel room in advance.  Another exception would be when our stay at a chosen location was an integral part of of a site we wished to visit.

Such was the case with our recent visit to The Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village.  After an online search, coupled with info from our AAA Tour Books, we were able to get a great package deal at the Allan Hills, Michigan Best Western Greenfield Village Inn...which was located within a couple of miles from The Henry Ford  museum/village, the Dearborn History Museum, and the Fair Lane (Henry Ford) mansion.  The package deal included tickets to the Ford museum & village and some comp. meals...along with free shuttle service to/from the Henry Ford m/v...but, we passed on the shuttle service so we wouldn't be constrained.

I've already (partly) mentioned how I negotiated the $30/night discount at the Best Western Classic Inn in Richmond, IN...with multiple discount coupons for competing motels in hand.  However, there are additional bargaining "tricks" I always employ to secure such discounts, too, that work most -- but, not all -- of the time.

Since we are AAA and AARP members, that's the first thing I mention -- in a friendly manner (with a smile on my face) --  when we approach a motel's check-in desk.  That, of course, serves to them "on notice" that we're hoping for (expecting) some sort of discount consideration for our overnight stay.  After that, I'll present the discount coupons for their competitors and ask what else they might be able to do to discourage us from moving onward.  More times than not that results in them either further lowering the price, or at the very least their offering some sort of free upgrade...such as King bed instead of the now standard Queen-bed room.

In addition, we already had a Best Western "Rewards" card -- that we first obtained years back -- which allows you build up "points" toward an eventual free overnight stay.  (We learned on this trip that the number needed points vary on the type of Best Western facility, though...from as low as 8,000 points to as high as 36,000 points.  A Best Western "Classic Inn" only needs 8,000 points...and we were just below that threshold on this trip.)  On this recent trip, we decided to mostly stay in Best Westerns to take advantage of their additional summer promotion: Stay at three different Best Westerns and get a later free night stay...for which we have now qualified.

On our first day of our trip, one of the reasons for our stop at the Indiana Welcome Center at Hammond, IN, was to pick up some of those current discount motel coupon booklets for Indiana.  I attempted to use one of the discount booklet coupons (which expressly prohibit using them for advance reservations) at the Best Western in South Bend, IN, but was foiled when they told use the allowed-for "discount coupon" rooms were not available due to "a baton twirling group" staying there that weekend.  However, since we were staying two nights, they did give us a discount on better King-bed room.

We actually did get to use one of those motel discount coupons for a one-night stay at a Columbus, IN, area Best Western where we got $20 off the rack rate.  Those coupon booklets discounts are usually limited to a one-night stay.  However, in the past, I have managed to get the motel manager to let us use them for more than one night (I usually pick up at least an duplicate booklet for that purpose) by noting that there are two of us and maybe they'd consider letting us each use separate coupons each night.  That doesn't always work, but it does most of the long as you're dealing directly with the motel manager.  Even if they won't accept a second coupon, they'll usually still cut you some sort of additional discount-rate deal for a second night's stay...(as was the case at the South Bend, IN.)

That's really the best key for getting a discount deal: Staying more than one night.  If you're just staying one night, the most they'll usually offer/honor is a AAA or AARP discount...which can still be 10% to 20% off.  The best deals can be made when you say you want to check in for two or more nights.