Wednesday, 23 August 2006: Elizabeth, NJ to Painted Post, NY
We pulled out about 7:50 for the 250-mile run to Corning, NY. We had another gorgeous day for a ride: the temp was in the 70’s, the sun was high, and the scenery as we ran west from New Jersey into Pennsylvania and then north into New York was gorgeous. You don’t usually think of New York as having lovely countryside with steep hills, but it does!
We stopped for lunch in Binghamton at the Cracker Barrel, which did its usual good job. Mom and I had the chicken pot pie, while Terry had chicken and dumplings.
From Binghamton, we went on to Corning, and arrived at the Corning Museum of Glass at 15:00. Normally the museum closes at 17:00, but it was staying open today until 20:00, so there was no rush. We stayed for three hours, and still couldn’t see it all. Again, we recommend the audio tour. The museum takes you through the entire human history of glass, which the museum boasts is the first man-made substance. One of the joys of the museum is that you learn about all the various techniques of glassmaking, and you can compare glass from different times, styles, chemistries, and manufacturing techniques. Did you know that Victorian plate glass was blown into seven-foot-long cylinders, which were then cut in half or more pieces lengthwise, put back into a flat-bottomed furnace, and heated until the curving edges slumped down flat? The wavyness in the blown glass remained in the final flat sheets. The men who blew the cylinders for plate glass did their blowing on elevated platforms, to allow the glass cylinders to expand to their full seven foot length. Could you imagine the weight of a seven-foot long, one foot to eighteen inch wide glass cylinder, and the muscles (and lungs!) those glassblowers had to have? Wow! Glass could also be blown while being twirled to form a flat circular disc, and could then be tapped off the iron blowing rod as a flat, round piece, with just a circular scar in the center to mark where it had been connected to the blowing iron. Take a look at the next Victorian window you see and figure out which technique was used to produce it.
Another wonderful feature of the museum is the Hot Glass Show, in which a Corning glass artist creates a work while you watch, with an assistant narrating the process. They work on a stage with a glass furnace stoked with molten glass, and with an even hotter “glory hole” furnace where the blower constantly reheats the glass that he’s working. I guarantee you won’t get chilly watching this particular show! During the show we saw, they were making a bowl, which started as a fist-sized glob of molten glass that was rolled in colored crushed glass to add layers of color, reheated in the glory hole, spun and shaped, reinserted into the glass furnace to pick up more glass, and then put through the whole process again and again to add color and mass until the artist was satisfied with the size it would be. Then his assistant snagged and colored more fresh glass, which the artist dripped onto his work-in-progress in three evenly spaced lines of molten glass. Then they added another glob of glass to form the base, inserted an iron into that newly shaped glob, cracked the glass off the original blowing rod, and then used a cone-shaped piece of wood dipped in water to widen the hole at the top. They added another drip of molten glass to become a lip, heated it in the glory hole again, and then made magic: spinning the rod quickly with the glass pointing first sideways and then straight down made the glass just open up and flatten out into a disk, at which point it suddenly fluted and dipped, pulled into a wavy-edged pattern by the extra glass stripes that had been dripped down the sides! They tapped it off the iron into a pre-heated fork-shaped holder, used a hand torch to smooth away the scar from the iron rod, and then put the piece into another cooler oven to gradually cool down to room temperature over no less than 10 hours, since faster cooling would cause the glass to crack. What a show!!!
As if the show wasn’t neat enough on its own, the special feature ends with them raffling off to someone in the audience a finished piece of art glass made at a previous show. There’s no charge for the raffle ticket – attending the show (as many times in a day as you want!) is included in the museum admission price. And someone at each show walks away with a unique piece of Corning art glass! Alas, we didn’t win the lovely green vase that went at our show.
We ate at the museum’s Coffee Bar – a yogurt parfait with strawberries, blueberries, and a granola topping. Yummy! Then we took a stroll through the very dangerous Glass Market gift shop, where we successfully avoided buying anything.
If you ever come to Corning, plan on spending serious time here and learning a lot. (The earliest glass vessels were made by coating a clay mold with molten glass, letting it cool, and then chipping out the clay – did you know that? I didn’t!) (Rome was the first place to really mass produce glass: they built furnaces that would make 9-ton slabs of glass!) You can also make a reservation to participate in their “Walk-In Glass Workshop,” where you can get to make an ornament, a flower, a bottle, a mirror or picture frame or plate, or one of any number of things. Cool! Or rather, very hot – a glory hole runs at 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit!
Our hotel for the night was only a handful of miles west of Corning, in a little town called Painted Post. It had a nice pool but alas – no laundry. Terry checked, and found that our next hotel, in Amherst (near Buffalo) also lacks a guest laundry. There’s a Laundromat less than two miles away from the hotel, though, and since our run to Amherst is only 125 miles, we’ll have time to do laundry tomorrow. Terry did hand laundry so we’d each have fresh undies and socks, and we turned in.
Thursday, 24 August 2006: Painted Post, NY to Amherst, NY
We didn’t have a long way to travel today, but we decided to travel it a different way. We started out on highway, still through lovely countryside. Near Bath, NY, we added the sighting of an eagle’s nest, complete with eagle, to our list of biker trip wildlife. A bit further on, we decided to stop at a McDonald’s for a cappuccino, and that’s where our detour began. It turned out that the McDonald’s was several miles off the highway – something not apparent from the blue highway “Food at Exit” sign! – in Geneseo, NY. Geneseo is a college town, part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system, and the students were returning. The McDonald’s actually had a real cappuccino maker, not the usual machine. It was still fully automated, but it produced a far superior drink to what comes out of the typical McD machine. The price was a lot higher, too, but once we got over the sticker shock, the flavor was worth it. Hey – they’ve got to compete with Starbuck’s for those college student coffee dollars!
Since we were already well off the highway, we decided to stay with the back roads. Between having taken a gander at the map while at McD’s and running with the GPS still programmed for our ultimate destination for the day, we had a delightful ride. We learned how well and quickly the GPS could recalibrate as our location changed. If we chose to go a different way than the GPS directed, it would offer another option further along the route you were running. It was really cool! We spent a few lovely hours riding through countryside that reminded us very much of Wisconsin: cows, cornfields, neat farms, and even a cheese factory.
We reached Amherst later than we had intended – a bit after 13:00 – but we were well content. We were able to check into our Hampton Inn early, unloaded the bike, and found our way, via GPS, to the Taste of India, a restaurant with a delicious lunch buffet. After lunch, we came back to the hotel, sorted our laundry, and went to the coin laundromat in town. Mom and Terry sat outside in convenient chairs and read the newspaper, while I plugged in my iPod nano and listened to my tunes while babysitting the laundry. This was the nicest, cleanest, and best maintained laundromat I’ve ever seen, and when I met the guy who ran the place, I told him so. He invited me back any time, but I don’t think I’ll get there!
We came back to the hotel and festooned our room with damp undies and other non-dryer clothes items. Then it was time for a swim and a soak in the hot tub.
Friday, 25 August 2006: North Tonawonda and Lockport, NY
What a day! With rain in the forecast, we decided to save Niagara Falls for tomorrow and to do indoor things today, starting with the Herschell Carousel Factory Museum in North Tonawanda. We did indeed have our first rain of the trip, but it was minor, and despite the rain, we had a great time. We suited up in raingear for the half-hour run to North Tonawonda, and by the time we arrived, it wasn’t really raining any more. We were a bit early for the museum, so we stripped off our raingear, locked up the bike, and went for a little stroll around the neighborhood. We returned to our starting point just in time to see a man opening up the gate: perfection! On the way in, we walked right past the roundhouse that contains a 1916 carousel, and saw the horses going around. When you buy admission to the museum, you get a wooden token for a ride on the carousel. We saved that for last and I’m glad we did, because we rode with educated eyes.
Allan Herschell started things back in the 1870s with a company called Armitage Herschell. They built very simple horses mounted on rocker mechanisms, so the riders could rock forward and back as the ride went around. The “jumping” mechanism that let horses go up and down hadn’t been invented yet, but carousels were still considered dangerous adult entertainment! Once the up and down jumping mechanism was invented in the early 1900s, everything started becoming more complex, including the carving on the horses. Horses also started getting bigger, at least for the stationary carousels. Most carousels were traveling portable ones that could be taken apart, moved from town to town, and reassembled to take advantage of new customers in new places.
In the early 1900s, Herschell partnered with the Spillman brothers (and also married their sister!) to create the Herschell-Spillman company. In 1912, Herschell retired due to ill health, only to decide in 1915 that he wanted to get back into the business. He created the Allan Herschell Company, and Herschell-Spillman changed its name to Spillman Engineering, and the former partners became fierce competitors. Both Herschell and the Spillmans made other types of rides, especially “kiddie” rides like the Little Dipper roller coasters. I remember one of those from Muskego Beach!
The museum is in the building acquired by the Allan Herschell Company in 1915. On display are vintage horses and other animals; the woodmill shop, with equipment run by overhead drive belts; and the technology behind the Wurlitzer organ, made famous as the musical heart of most carousels.
The woodmill shop was educational. Exhibits on the equipment illustrate how wood was planed smooth and the planks glued together into carving boxes with hollow centers to reduce weight and decrease the chance of the wood cracking as moisture from the center gradually worked its way out. Patterns were traced on the wood blocks and the animal parts were cut out on bandsaws. Then the pieces went to the carvers for finishing. Apprentices were called “legmen” because they mostly carved legs, which were the simplest pieces. Journeymen did the bodies, and were expected to complete a horse body every two to four days. The master carvers worked on the horses’ heads and also came up with the designs for horses, other animals, chariots, and the so-called “rounder boards” that decorated the round framework of the carousel canopy. The museum hosts wood carving classes to encourage the preservation of the art.
Completed animals received three to five coats of white primer before any colors were painter. The horse bodies were painted first, then the saddles and tack. After all the paint dried, the horses got five to seven coats of varnish. No wonder they gleamed!
As the years passed, manufacturers turned to metal – principally aluminum – in order to make horses more cheaply by mass production, and more sturdy. The first pieces to be made from metal were legs, which were often broken by riders resting their feet on legs and hooves or were damaged when carousels were taken apart and moved. After a time, the horses’ heads began to be molded from metal as well, and for a period it was common to have metal legs and heads bolted onto wooden bodies. The former machine shop where metal parts were cast is now the home of the 1950 Kiddie Carousel, a scaled down machine with child-sized all-metal horses.
Herschell carved menagerie animals as well as horses, although the horses were always the most popular animals on carousels. Unique to Herschell was the frog. Other figures included the pig, kangaroo (ironically enough, the kangaroo was never designed to be a jumper, but always appeared as a stationary stander!), ostrich, running rooster, cat, dog, and sea monster. The dog typically followed the cat on the carousel, so that it would look as if the dog was chasing the cat! Zebras were also popular, and the funny thing about the zebra was that it was always carved without a saddle, but because people were nervous about riding an unsaddled beast, some operators painted saddles onto the zebras in order to encourage people to ride them! I rode on the Herschell-Spillman Noah’s Ark menagerie carousel in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park years ago, and still have very fond memories of that merry-go-round. And I rode the zebra with no saddle, thank you!
The roundhouse with its 1916 #1 Special three abreast carousel is really the heart of things at the museum. At any time, half the horses on the carousel – every other row – are “resting” and not to be ridden, and their jumper mechanisms are actually isolated and won’t function. They really intend to preserve this ride for posterity!
This was one of the first three carousels made at this specific factory, and it is unique among all the carousels I have ever seen. Talking with the operator, we learned why. After having seen all the museum displays showing the history of carousel carving styles, Terry and I had both noticed that the inner horses were of an older vintage than the bigger horses in the outer ring. Turns out that the carousel had been built for a man who already owned a Herschell-Armitage carousel of the Victorian kind that pre-dated the jumper technology. With more competition from fancier rides, the owner wanted to upgrade to a bigger, flashier carousel with the exciting new up-and-down jumper motion, but asked if he could re-use the 24 horses he already owned in order to keep the cost of the upgrade under control. Herschell agreed, so the original horses were modified, drilled for jumper poles, and mounted on the two inner circles of the new carousel. Bigger horses in the newer style formed the outer ring. You can clearly see the difference in the old horses, with their round noses, sweet expressions, glass eyes, horsehair tails, and upstanding ears, as compared with the ears-back, longer-nosed, more actively posed and wilder-looking new horses. The old horses were designed to look friendly to overcome the sense that carrousels were dangerous rides, while the new horses emphasized the elements of wildness that would overcome the 20th century perspective that carrousels were old-fashioned and staid!
The gift shop had gorgeous stuff, especially the models, but I’ve got my horses and managed to be a good girl, only buying one post card. I might still be bad someday at www.carrouselmuseum.org.
We went from the museum to the town of Lockport to take a cruise on the Erie Canal. That was cool! We had sandwiches at the Canalside Café, and then boarded the Lockview IV. The two-hour cruise doesn’t go very far, but it includes really neat stuff. You pass under what’s known as the “Upside-Down Railroad Bridge,” so named because all of it supporting ironwork is below the tracks, rather than above them. You pass under the widest bridge in the US, which actually has an intersection on it. Neatest of all, you go through two locks, numbers 34 and 35, which raise you 49 feet going upriver and lower you 49 feet going back down. This pair of locks can actually handle simultaneous traffic in both directions. Transiting both locks takes only ten minutes. In each lock, you can go up 25 feet in 5 minutes, and heading downstream, if no one is in the lower lock going up, you can drop 25 feet in 3.5 minutes! Wow! We did bigger locks in the Kiel Canal in Germany and in the Panama Canal, but Erie had a human scale and intimacy that made it easier to appreciate.
Perhaps the funniest bit of the canal transit were the two lift bridges. These are bridges normally very close to water level which go up like elevators, lifting the entire bridge structure up into the air, still in its horizontal configuration. If you’re tall and on the upper deck of the boat, you may have to duck going under those bridges. What makes them funny is that there is only one operator for both bridges, there not being a lot of traffic on the Erie Canal these days, since only pleasure boats use it. Boats on the canal call the operator on radio and alert him while they’re traveling. The operator will raise the first bridge, let the boat pass, lower the first bridge, and then leave the bridge house, run down the stairs, jump into his car, drive down to the second bridge, run up the stairs to the bridge house, raise the bridge, let the boat through, and then lower the bridge again. Whew! The poor guy does nothing but go back and forth and up and down all day. It’s probably a good thing that there’s no longer any commercial traffic on the canal.
Traveling the canal is also free these days. There used to be tolls on river traffic, but the tolls were finally discontinued in the 1990’s when the authority realized that it cost more to collect the tolls than the tolls were bringing in!
We learned a lot on this little cruise. The Erie Canal, at 363 miles in length, is still the longest man-made canal. It connects the Hudson River and the Atlantic Ocean, at sea level, with the Niagara River and the Great Lakes at 570 feet above sea level. The original shallow and narrow canal was dug by hand from 1817 into 1825. One stretch of it – the three-mile-long Rock Cut – was blasted out of solid stone with powder left over from the War of 1812. A towpath eight feet wide ran along both sides of the canal throughout its length. When the original canal, which was only four feet deep, was deepened and widened, the towpath along one side was eliminated. Part of the remaining towpath can still be seen, especially along the Rock Cut, but it’s entirely overgrown with brush and trees. Deepening the canal meant that powered craft could handle the draft, so barges no longer needed to be towed by animals. The cruise still plays music from the canal’s heyday, though, so people will long remember Sal the mule and will sing, “Low bridge / everybody down / low bridge / cause we’re coming to a town.”
Interesting factoid: the Erie Canal employs one canalwalker who does nothing but walk the canal, doing 12 miles every day, watching for any signs of erosion or impending problems with the banks. There are spillway areas along some of the canal’s length that provide an opportunity for the canal to overflow and drain without flooding any of the towns along its length.
We headed back to our hotel, still dry, and caught the hotel shuttle to the local Red Lobster for dinner. A yummy end to a full and satisfying day!
Saturday, 26 August 2006: Niagara Falls, NY and Ontario, Canada
Today was Niagara Falls day, from both the Canadian and US sides. We booked a six-hour tour with the Bedore Tours company. Our tour guide was German-born Asi, who was a stitch! She laughed that she met her future husband at Niagara, in days when she knew virtually no English: he said he was Rich, and she laughed that she thought she was set for life, until she realized that was his name, not his financial standing! We laughed a lot on this tour …
We drove into Niagara Falls early, since the tour didn’t start until 10:00. we took a walk from the Howard Johnson’s that was our pickup point over to Niagara Falls State Park, and went to see the American side of the Falls from the top. Wow! I took the one obligatory photo of Mom and Terry against the backdrop of the Falls. We walked back, and were the last folk picked up by our bus tour.
The tour took us back to Niagara Falls State Park, and we learned from Asi that it is the oldest state park in the US, and that the police force up here was the first formal US police force. Our first bus stop was the Three Sisters, three small islands right beside the rapids above the US side of the Falls. The Three Sisters are linked by small bridges to each other and to Goat Island. The views from the Sisters are spectacular. They were named for the three daughters of a man who crossed the ice dams temporarily linking the islands during a winter long ago. The islands are too small and too low lying to be inhabited, but they make for great photo opportunities of the rapids.
From the Three Sisters, we went on to the Cave of the Winds and our first Falls shower. The Cave of the Winds was behind Bridal Veil Falls, the smaller of the waterfalls on the US side. The cave itself no longer exists; it collapsed in the 1950’s. But although the cave behind the falls isn’t there any more, there is an elevator down to nearly the bottom of the Falls, and you walk wooden steps and decks – which are dismantled every Fall and rebuilt every Spring, because they wouldn’t survive the pressures of the Winter ice – right beside the base of Bridal Veil Falls. Before you go down, you’re issued cheap slide sandals, a bag for your shoes, and a plastic poncho, and you need them! Even having rolled up our jeans legs and donned our ponchos, we got soaked from the knees down, and the spray defeated our poncho hoods to douse our hair and Mom’s hat. And we didn’t even go up on the Hurricane Deck, which extends into the worst of the spray. The decks we were walking were sometimes under a couple of inches of swirling water for short stretches, depending on which way the wind was blowing. But it was squishy fun, and the power of the water thundering past was incredible, defeating any attempts at speech. Pictures can’t do it justice, but I tried. I was very glad that my camera was an all-weather digital, because anything less well sealed against the elements wouldn’t have produced even the photos I managed to get!
Mom, Terry, and I kept our sandals on, knowing that we would later be riding the Maid of the Mist, and that turned out to be a good move, since we got soaked there again!
Anyway, once we were back up the elevator from the Cave of the Winds, our tour took us across the Rainbow Bridge into Canada. The Customs check is a lot more involved than it used to be, and we were surprised at how many of the folk on our bus hadn’t realized that they needed a copy of their birth certificate or other proof of US citizenship. Because they were surrounded by the tour and circumscribed by the schedule, folk were allowed to enter, but not without admonishment on both sides of the border.
There are four bridges connecting the US and Canada in the area across the Niagara River, from Buffalo on up. The Rainbow Bridge was one example of the construction of all of them. Every one of the bridges has a rainbow-shaped central arch support under the roadway, a symbol representing both the rainbows that are almost always visible at the Falls, and the peace that exists between the US and Canada.
We saw the big dam that controls the water flow over the Falls and the diversion of water to the hydroelectric power generators in both countries. The water flow is agreed upon by treaty, with the requirement that neither country divert more than the other.
On the Canadian side, in the rapids above the Horseshoe Falls, a barge is stranded. It’s been there since 1918, when it ran afoul of the rapids with a cargo of booze. The two men who stayed with the barge when the rest of the crew abandoned it, realizing it was caught in the current and headed toward the Falls, stove holes in the hull so that it would ground on the rocks. The ploy worked: there it grounded, and there it stayed, right to this day. The men were rescued by a famous riverman from the Canadian side, who got a line out to the barge from the old (well, then current) power station on the nearest bank. The cargo of hootch was a write-off, though.
After a photo stop on the Canadian side of the Falls, right at the head of Horseshoe Falls, we went for lunch to the Fallsview Restaurant in the penthouse level of the Sheraton hotel. The Canadian side, unlike the US side, is commercial rather than government-owned (apart from the small Queen Victoria Park), so businesses run nearly up to the bank of the river, and some of the best views are commercially owned.
Lunch was a tasty buffet, and we could go out on the tiny 23rd floor balcony to take great scenic pictures of the Falls from the Canadian side. The views from Canada are the really dramatic ones, where you can see the entire set of Falls from top to bottom and from left to right. Wow!
After lunch, it was time for the Maid of the Mist cruise. The cruises are a family-run operation, and operate from both Canadian and US shores. The boats on the Canadian side are bigger, holding 600 people each. They have people-moving down to a science. Again, we were given rain ponchos. These fell all the way down to our ankles, but I can attest that they didn’t stay down there, not when the wind was blowing: I still wound up soaked from the knees down!
The boat first sidled up close to the American Falls, and I got good photos of the Falls and of the pathway we’d walked on the Cave of the Winds tour beside Bridal Veil Falls. Then came the real fun: pulling in close to the base of Horseshoe Falls, where the boat simply fought to hold station while we were all immersed in the pounding thunder of the water and the rainfall of the mist from the spume at the base of the Falls. Looking up, we could see the people who were lined up for the Canadian Adventure Behind the Falls, where people can walk into a chamber behind Horseshoe Falls and see the water falling past them.
It was surprising how long we stayed in the spume. The sheer power of the Falls was incredible, something you could feel in your bones. It went beyond sound to a tangible pressure, and simply overwhelmed you. Words fail.
I didn’t try to take photos in the spume, but had my camera out again as soon as we pulled free. I just kept on clicking, because it was unbelievable. I know that the photos just won’t do it justice, but I couldn’t resist trying, because it was all I had.
Our adventure over, we got dropped back off at the Howard Johnson’s, and then took the bike to church at Saint Gregory the Great, not far from our hotel. The parish must have been huge, judging from the size of the Church, the Ministry building, and the parking lot. The church itself was built in 1968, with a very modern altar. It had a separate little visitation chapel that was always open. The service was pleasant and the parishioners extremely friendly. We had to dodge the usual attempt to get us to present the gifts. The organist was good and people sang, which was fun. The celebrant, Father Mike, had marked us out – we were kind of obvious, wearing our Rushmore flag shirts – and paused in his recessional to tease Terry, who was on the aisle, that this three-in-a-row thing wasn’t accidental. We had fun.
Mom was feeling a little peckish, but observed that we could just do ice cream and that would be enough. We’d seen a Friendly’s in the vicinity of our hotel, so that was dinner.
From there, we headed back to the hotel to dry our things and get ready for tomorrow’s long scenic haul. Because the big Little League meet is happening where Terry had originally wanted to stop in Pennsylvania, we’re actually going to jog back up to our hotel in Painted Post, NY for the night.
Read Part Three