All posts by Tom Dills

A More Reasonable Accommodation

This one would be quite enough, thank you!

Several of the commenters on my previous post mentioned the excessive-ness of the huge cottages on Lake Geneva.  Kathy & I did find a few that would be more reasonably sized, assuming you could afford the lot.  The top image is just the boat house for a larger mansion.  The A-frame would be just about right, I think.  Anyway, wanted to show what the folks on my side of the wealth curve would buy if we could! 😉

This would be the “stretch” home. Quite a stretch for anyone reading this blog!

How The “Other Half” Lives

Lakefront home belonging to the owners of the Mecum Auto Auction company

One of the highlights of our visit to Wisconsin was a cruise on Lake Geneva with our friends Jeff and Mary Pat.  The cruise featured a look at the numerous “summer cottages” that surround the lake.   They ain’t like any “cottages” I’ve ever seen, and would make a lot of the so-called “mansions” around Lake Norman look like guest houses.

Largest and arguably the ugliest home we saw on the lake!
Cottage built to look like a ship
An example of some of the “cottages” on Lake Geneva during our boat cruise
An example of some of the “cottages” on Lake Geneva during our boat cruise
An example of some of the “cottages” on Lake Geneva during our boat cruise
An example of some of the “cottages” on Lake Geneva during our boat cruise
An example of some of the “cottages” on Lake Geneva during our boat cruise
An example of some of the “cottages” on Lake Geneva during our boat cruise

I didn’t attempt to document them all, but I did take some photos of some of the most noteworthy ones.  It was a nice cruise, a pleasant afternoon with fun people.  Good weather and smooth sailing! 🙂

Boat cruise on Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Roadside Finds: Jasper, Indiana

Historic train depot in Jasper, Indiana

Our first overnight stop on the return home from Wisconsin took us to the town of Jasper, Indiana.  We chose Jasper primarily because it was just about the right distance for the day, but also because it looked like it had an interesting downtown area for us to check out.

Historic train depot in Jasper, Indiana
Historic train depot in Jasper, Indiana

I was initially attracted by the fact that Jasper has a train station, but we noted that the train station was an anchor for a new mixed-use development called River Centre.  A brand new Fairfield Inn sits along the Patoka River and is connected to the Jasper Riverwalk, a 4.5 mile multi-purpose trail that connects several businesses and restaurants, and winds through a scenic section along the river.

Fairfield Inn & Suites in Jasper, Indiana
Fairfield Inn & Suites in Jasper, Indiana
Fairfield Inn & Suites in Jasper, Indiana

Across the river from River Centre and connected by a very nice steel bridge is the historic Jasper City Mill.  The current mill building is a replica of a mill that was established on the site in 1817 and was in operation until 1933.  Among the customers of the mill is said to have been Thomas Lincoln and his son Abraham Lincoln, who bartered goods for corn meal in 1828.

Jasper City Mill in Jasper, Indiana
Jasper City Mill in Jasper, Indiana

We got into town late and left early, and it was a Sunday so not too many businesses were open.  But we got a good look at the town – enough to determine that it would be worth a re-visit.  It is “on the way” to a lot of places we hope to visit, so we will be sure to add Jasper to the itinerary on a future road trip!

Jasper City Mill in Jasper, Indiana

An Attempt at Night Photography

Comet NEOWISE viewed from Neck Road near Huntersville, North Carolina

If there is something you really want to do, don’t avoid doing it just because things you can’t control make it uncomfortable.  Go! (Me)

We had been waiting for a clear evening to try and see the Comet NEOWISE and finally got it on Sunday.  Unfortunately, our neighbors are afraid of the dark and we have way too many lights around to see the sky.  We had pre-scouted a place out in the country for just such an occasion, and ventured out there after dark on Sunday.

The comet was harder to spot than I thought it would be, but we finally did locate it with binoculars.  I tried to make a decent photograph of it, but between not being able to focus and using a too-long shutter speed for the focal length of my lens, I got mostly junk.  The in-focus shots are sharp but have long star trails, and the out of focus shots have blurry lines.

Most night photography how-tos suggest using a wide-angle lens, but I was using a longer lens because I knew that with a wide-angle lens the comet would be even less visible than it was with the telephoto.

The first shot was taken at 55mm for about 10 seconds, and even it has some blur.  The second one was taken at 200mm, but I made a rookie mistake by using a 12 second exposure when it should have been about 5 seconds or less.  Oh well, it was an interesting outing with or without photos and satisfied my desire to just see the comet.  My philosophy is that there are other people taking night photos far better than mine, so I don’t need to make my own, just look at theirs instead!

One of my sharper blurry shots of Comet NEOWISE

The Sessions Hotel in Bristol VA/TN

The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia

It’s not often we get to stay at a brand-new hotel.  It’s even more rare to be the very first people to stay in a hotel room.  But that was our experience at The Sessions Hotel in Bristol, VA.  The hotel had just opened a week or so before our visit, and a paper in our room asked for feedback since we were the first ones to occupy the room.  Cool!

The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia
The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia
The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia

When we were making our plans to return home from Wisconsin, Bristol was in the right location for our last night’s stay.  We had been to Bristol before, but had only stayed at the usual next-to-the-freeway chain hotels.  When I searched on hotels, one of the search results was ‘The Sessions Hotel, A Tribute Portfolio Hotel’ by Marriott in downtown Bristol.  The price was a little higher than the freeway-side options, and the location was shown as being right in the center of town.  Whenever possible we like to be “in town” so we can walk to dinner and shops instead of searching for a place to park.  So what the heck?

Bristol is a historic town situated on the VA/TN border.  In fact the VA/TN state line runs right through the middle of State Street, the main street through town.  Bristol’s primary claim to fame is as the Birthplace of Country Music, so named because of “The Sessions,” recording sessions that took place in Bristol in 1927.  These recording sessions launched the widespread appeal of musicians who, up until that time, had been known only locally in the areas where they performed.

Hallway outside our room #224 at The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia
Our room #224 at The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia
Key cards for our room #224 at The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia
Our room #224 at The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia
Our room #224 at The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia
Sitting area of our room #224 at The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia
Sitting area of our room #224 at The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia

According to the Marriott website, the Tribute Portfolio is a collection of boutique hotels designed to reflect the character of the city in which they are located, operated independently but under the Marriott umbrella.  Each hotel has its own theme, decor and vibe.

The hotel occupies three buildings that previously housed a mill and warehouse.  The public spaces and rooms were all designed around the theme of The Sessions.  Music-inspired artwork, furniture and accessories abounds in the public areas, and each room is uniquely decorated with the theme of a specific recording.

From the hotel website:

“Situated in the heart of the Birthplace Of Country Music, our boutique hotel is named after the 1927 Sessions made by Ralph Peer and a few others. Bristol’s energetic passion for country music is reflected throughout the hotel’s thoughtful décor with curated pieces and musical offerings. Experience a free-spirited environment in repurposed buildings where rustic meets contemporary. Rest comfortably in uniquely designed rooms and suites with exposed brick and modern furnishings. Indulge at Southern Craft restaurant, an upscale wood fired smokehouse, offering award winning barbecue, classic favorites and sides. Sip cocktails on the rooftop bar and lounge by the cozy fire pit overlooking the city of Bristol. Get pampered at the Vision Salon and Day spa with invigorating spa treatments and body rituals. Host a special event in our indoor or outdoor music venues with a music stage or attend one of the concerts at our Bristol, VA hotel.”

Shower in our room #224 at The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia
Bathroom in our room #224 at The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia
Bathtub in our room #224 at The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia
Our room #224 at The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia
Framed guitar picks in our room #224 at The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia
Our room #224 at The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia
Our room #224 at The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia
Do Not Disturb sign in our room #224 at The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia

Our room was Room 224, which was a Junior Suite.  The room was named after the tune “Tell Mother I Will Meet Her,” recorded by Ernest Stoneman.  The room number plaque outside the room had a replica of the record label, and in the room was a framed copy of the lyrics.  The “Do Not Disturb” sign was a wooden record with “Time For A Rest” imprinted on it.

Shadows at The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia
Shadows at The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia
Shadows at The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia

We didn’t explore the hotel much since we were only there overnight, but we certainly enjoyed our room.  We did not, for example, sample the rooftop bar, but we did have breakfast at the adjacent restaurant.  A lot of the amenities were still being finalized, as there were still painters touching up some of the rooms and hallways during our stay.  Our conversation with the manager indicated that there are plans for an outdoor music venue and other additions in the near future.

Overall the hotel was nicely done.  The decor and furnishings are of high quality, and the bathroom is the kind that makes you want to call a bathroom remodeler as soon as you get home!  The hotel is a couple of steps above the typical “chain” hotel, and just the kind of thing that Kathy & I look for when we’re looking to get away  but don’t want to drive too far.  Bristol isn’t exactly known as a foodie mecca, but we don’t consider ourselves foodies anyway.  There are plenty of unique, interesting and local places to eat – just the kind of place we look for.  Who could pass up a hotdog or two from a place called the Earnest Tube (as in the musician Ernest Tubbs) or a place called The Angry Italian?  We did pass them up this time, but would definitely put them on the agenda for another visit!

Southern Craft BBQ Restaurant in Bristol, Virginia next to The Sessions Hotel
Southern Craft BBQ Restaurant in Bristol, Virginia next to The Sessions Hotel
Southern Craft BBQ Restaurant in Bristol, Virginia next to The Sessions Hotel
Southern Craft BBQ Restaurant in Bristol, Virginia next to The Sessions Hotel
Light fixture at Southern Craft BBQ Restaurant in Bristol, Virginia next to The Sessions Hotel

Bristol and The Sessions Hotel is definitely on our short list of places to return to when we are looking for a few days away.  We hope they can start the live music back up soon.  It would be a great place to visit this fall when things cool down and the leaves heat up!

Earnhardt-Petty Mural at The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia
Birthplace of Country Music Mural in Bristol, Tennessee
The Earnest Tube restaurant in downtown Bristol TN/VA
Train station in Bristol, Virginia
Downtown Bristol TN/VA

Roadside Finds: Casey, Illinois

World’s Largest Teeter Totter in Casey, Illinois

“Big Things In A Small Town”  That is Casey’ Illinois’ claim to fame, and the reason we stopped off on our way home from Wisconsin.  Scattered around the downtown area of this town of about 3,000 located just off I-70 between St. Louis and Indianapolis.  Casey only has one traffic light, and most everything is walking distance from the center of town.

World’s Largest Yardstick in Casey, Illinois
World’s Largest Wind Chime in Casey, Illinois
World’s Largest Rocking Chair in Casey, Illinois
World’s Largest antlers in Casey, Illinois
World’s Largest Barber Pole in Casey, Illinois

Casey holds eight Guinness records, including giants such as largest wind chime, golf driver, knitting needles, giant chair, giant mailbox, wooden clogs, rulers and giant bird cage, constructed by businessman Jim Bolin.

World’s Largest Mailbox in Casey, Illinois
World’s Largest Mailbox in Casey, Illinois
World’s Largest Bird Cage in Casey, Illinois
The Largest Knitting Needles and Crochet Hook are located in this shop in Casey, Illinois. It was closed on the day of our visit but they are visible through the window.

We didn’t visit all of the attractions, and unfortunately didn’t try the ice cream 🙁 but we did do a pretty reasonable job of visiting the sights.

World’s Largest Wooden Shoes in Casey, Illinois
World’s Largest Truck Key in Casey, Illinois
World’s Largest Bent Nail Puzzle in Casey, Illinois
World’s Largest Pencil in Casey, Illinois
World’s Largest Spinning Top in Casey, Illinois
Worlds Largest Bookworm at the Kline Memorial Library in Casey, Illinois
World’s Largest Mouse Trap in Casey, Illinois

Roadside Finds: Dwight, Illinois

Ambler’s Texaco Gas Station on Historic Route 66, Dwight, Illinois

For our drive from Wisconsin back to Charlotte, we decided to stick completely to back roads.  Taking 2 1/2 days to make a drive that many would make in 1 is just the way we roll.  We encountered a number of interesting places along the way, some planned, many unexpected.

Ambler’s Texaco Gas Station on Historic Route 66, Dwight, Illinois
Ambler’s Texaco Gas Station on Historic Route 66, Dwight, Illinois
Ambler’s Texaco Gas Station on Historic Route 66, Dwight, Illinois
Ambler’s Texaco Gas Station on Historic Route 66, Dwight, Illinois

Case in point is our stop in Dwight, Illinois.  We were attracted to Dwight because of the old Texaco gas station that is associated with Route 66.  While at the gas station, I spoke with the docent there who encouraged me to visit some of the other landmarks in  town, including the historic railroad depot.  Never one to pass up a railroad depot unknowingly, we headed into town.

The Chicago & Alton Railroad designed Dwight in 1854 around a “depot ground” between two main streets. By 1891, the expanding town needed a new station. The railroad hired Henry Ives Cobb to design this Richardson Romanesque building. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
The Chicago & Alton Railroad designed Dwight in 1854 around a “depot ground” between two main streets. By 1891, the expanding town needed a new station. The railroad hired Henry Ives Cobb to design this Richardson Romanesque building. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
The Chicago & Alton Railroad designed Dwight in 1854 around a “depot ground” between two main streets. By 1891, the expanding town needed a new station. The railroad hired Henry Ives Cobb to design this Richardson Romanesque building. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

In addition to the depot, there is a bank building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and a building  that once housed an at-that-time famous treatment center for alcoholism.  We couldn’t find the windmill or the church immediately and decided to not take more time looking.

Built in 1905, the First National Bank on West Main in Dwight, IL was designed by world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Of the three banks he designed, it is the only one still in existence. Its simple yet dignified style rejected classical influences of the time.
William Fox Developmental Center in downtown Dwight, Illinois. The building originally housed The Keeley Institute, founded by Leslie Keeley in 1879, was the first to treat alcohol addiction as a disease rather than a vice. At its peak, 800 patients arrived here by train each week, and over 200 branches of the Institute were operating in the US and Europe. The famous “Keeley Cure,” reputedly gold chloride injections, we never accepted by the mainstream medical community.
Dwight, Illinois
Dwight, Illinois

Hangin’ In While Hangin’ Out

Cook Forest State Park in Pennsylvania

My grandfather, a wise man who taught me a lot, always said that we should never complain about birthdays or haircuts.  He didn’t have much hair, so birthdays were a big deal. 😉  My brother and I have carried on the birthday tradition, although we both have much more hair than he did. 🙂

To steal a statistic from Monte – today is my 22,647th day on this planet.

Cupola on a barn near Greenford, Ohio

Celebrating doesn’t have to be a big deal, and this year is no exception.  I’m looking forward to a quiet afternoon with family – as quiet as an afternoon with a 4 1/2 year old can be! – and a nice easy dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, takeout from our favorite Italian restaurant.  With wine!

Hops plants growing in a field near Greenford, Ohio

Kathy and I have been watching the developments in other parts of our country and can’t help but wonder what the outlook for travel will be over the next few months and longer.  We just had a nice road trip to visit a number of our closest friends and family members and are privileged to have our closest family right here in Charlotte with us.

Sunset over Lake Erie from Avon Lake, Ohio

We look forward to our next adventure, but in the meantime we are thankful to have family, friends and memories to carry us through.

Intersection on Historic Route 66, Dwight, Illinois

Mini Review: A Really Right L-Bracket

Really Right Stuff L-Bracket installed on the X-T4. Very clean lines and well-integrated with the design of the camera

I’ve been fans of Really Right Stuff (RRS) products since I purchased an L-bracket and clamp for my Mamiya 7 camera back in (approximately) 2002.  Paying my ‘RRS Tax’ has been an important part of each camera purchase since then.  The rare exception was with the brackets for my Fujifilm X-T1 and X-E2.  I bought very well-made brackets from a company in England which is (sadly) no longer in business.  I still have the bracket I purchased for the Mamiya, as it is a “universal” model and has fit every camera I have owned since.  Handy for those few weeks while I’ve waited for the “real” bracket to be available!

Really Right Stuff L-Bracket installed on the X-T4. Very clean lines and well-integrated with the design of the camera
Really Right Stuff L-Bracket installed on the X-T4. Very clean lines and well-integrated with the design of the camera

The biggest issue with Really Right Stuff products is that they are Really Really Expensive.  But like owning Craftsman tools or All-Clad cookware, you can’t go wrong buying the good stuff.  I currently own a RRS tripod with ballhead, and until recently had two ballheads.  I’ll never need to buy another tripod.  Unless I change my mind and decide I need a smaller one. 😉

Front angle view showing captive Allen Wrench – no more fumbling for the wrench!
Front angle view showing captive Allen Wrench – no more fumbling for the wrench!

When I placed the order for my X-T4, I also ordered an L-bracket from another manufacturer.  That bracket was supposed to cost about $65 less than the RRS version, and because it was also a quality brand, I figured I would save some money.  Because it is a brand-new camera, neither company had released their L-brackets at the time I got my camera.

Really Right Stuff L-Bracket installed on the X-T4. Works well with the swing-out screen with very little restriction in viewing options

I kept checking the Kirk and RRS websites for information on their delivery times.  Kirk’s website said that they didn’t expect to ship until late July.  As of the time of this post, the bracket is showing up on their website for ordering but is out of stock.  The photos on the Kirk website show a product that isn’t (in my opinion) as well designed and integrated with the camera as the RRS version. Plus it is $25 more than I originally expected, making it nearly as much as the RRS while not being nearly as nice.

One day I checked the websites and the RRS version was in stock and shipping.  I ordered one immediately and cancelled the order for the other one.  Of course it came 3 days after we left for our trip to Ohio, but it was waiting for me when I returned.

Sliding plate that allows for use of a USB cable, remote release, headphones or HDMI cable with the camera in the vertical position

The photos will show better than my words will, but the RRS product is exceptionally well designed.  The relatively recent addition of the magnets for mounting the Allen wrench is genius, and the sliding plate to accommodate accessories in a vertical configuration is a nice touch, much better than some kind of add-on adapter.

I haven’t had a chance to actually use the bracket in real life, but hope to be able to put it through its paces soon.  Of course as long as it works there won’t be a lot more to say!

Really Right Stuff L-Bracket before installation on the camera
Really Right Stuff L-Bracket before installation on the camera
Really Right Stuff L-Bracket before installation on the camera
Really Right Stuff L-Bracket before installation on the camera
Really Right Stuff L-Bracket before installation on the camera

Thoughts On Our Recent Travel Experience

Jimmy the Rooster at Mindy’s Cafe in Downtown Dover, Ohio

We’re back home after nearly two weeks of traveling, visiting family and friends in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, with a slow meander home through rural Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Virginia.  Several people asked us “how are things out in the world?”  We didn’t exactly see the world, but for the small part we did see I thought I would share a few thoughts for those who might be interested.

For us, we went to visit family and friends, and before we confirmed our plans we checked in with everyone we were planning to see to make sure they were comfortable with “outsiders.”  Everyone was OK with us coming (or too polite to say no!), so that solved our biggest concern.  Other than that, we found that generally being aware of the rules in each state and being prepared was relatively easy.

Jasper City Mill in Jasper, Indiana

Like it or not, masks are a reality and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future.  Just about every state these days has some kind of mask mandate, so being away is really no different than being at home.  The choices are (a) wear a mask, (b) don’t go to that place, or (c) go anyway and deal with whatever happens.  I didn’t see anyone turned away for not wearing a mask, despite some headlines I’ve read. Knowing that whether we decided to stay home or travel there wouldn’t be much difference, we decided it was worth it and would ultimately not be a big deal.

When we’re traveling on back roads, we rely on fast food restaurants and convenience stores for bathroom stops.  Probably the biggest challenge was knowing which fast food restaurants had their inside service and dining rooms open, and thus their restrooms.  But there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason, as each restaurant chain or franchisee is evidently on their own to decide.  So there would be places where McDonald’s would be open but Hardees or Burger King would be closed.  A few of the convenience stores said there were no restrooms, but I think they were just being grumpy.  Most of the gas stations and convenience stores were business as usual.  Along the interstate highways and turnpikes, all facilities were open, although many of the food vendors were not.

Shadows at The Sessions Hotel, Tribute Collection by Marriott in Bristol, Virginia

Our experience with restaurants was overall very good.  We found that the restaurants that offered good food and service before continued to do so.  Restaurants that struggled with service and quality before still struggled, assuming they were even open.  And the places that have always seemed to be dirty and indifferent were still that way.  We typically only stop at those places for their bathrooms anyway, so no biggie.  We made a point of being extra nice and generous with our tips, since the people who were working are still handicapped by capacity limits.

We stayed in chain motels with the exception of our stop in Wisconsin.  The hotel chains have stopped with their breakfast free-for-all, but all had coffee and some kind of pre-made grab-n-go food items.  Sometimes it was a paper sack with a granola bar, fruit and water, and sometimes it was pre-made and individually wrapped breakfast sandwiches, fruit, yogurt and pastries.  The hotel in Wisconsin had a full breakfast spread, which we enjoyed.  We don’t generally get excited about hotel breakfast bars anyway, so as long as we could stock up on coffee and tea we were OK.

Light fixture at Southern Craft BBQ Restaurant in Bristol, Virginia next to The Sessions Hotel

Traffic on the highways seemed to be typical summertime heavy.  There did seem to be a lot of trucks on the road, but also plenty of cars hauling sunburned kids and luggage, both inside and outside (kids on the inside!).  This is Orange Barrel Season everywhere, and there seems to be plenty of highway improvement money being spent.  It was interesting to see a lot of bridge repair work going on, as we frequently came across one-lane sections of road where bridges were being repaired or replaced.  For the most part, the freeway travel was congestion free, with the exception of Chicago, which I think has people that have been stuck in traffic since the 80s.  We went far around Chicago but still encountered a few backups, primarily due to construction.

Historic train depot in Jasper, Indiana

From Wisconsin to home we stayed completely on back roads, stopping in Jasper, IN and Bristol, VA.  It was slow going, but very relaxing.  We managed to see some interesting things along the way.  I’ll post some more about those highlights in the days to come.

What’s next?  We’d like to get out on the road again and get out West in August or September, but we need to keep an eye on what the various states are doing.  Right now, most of the New England states and the City of Chicago – and probably other places I’m not up to date on – are requiring mandatory quarantine of travelers from states that include North Carolina.  Other states are seeing surges in virus cases that may result in similar restrictions being imposed.  And we have no interest in airplanes or cruise ships any time soon.  So for now we’re going to bide our time, work on re-losing the few pounds we gained, and see what happens.  Possibly some day trips or short overnights within our state, possibly a return to the beach if we can do it reasonably.

Street light in Downtown Dover, Ohio

The world’s still out there and nature is still happening.  Soon it will be fall and then winter, and with any luck we’ll be back out there again soon!

Downtown Dover, Ohio