Somewhere there are Farmers Smiling – Day 117

Day 117 – July 26, 2003 – Saturday

Somewhere there are Farmers Smiling

Today did not turn out as planned! We had really looked forward to our visit to Mackinac Island. At 7 am, we awakened to heavy rain and reports for thunderstorms throughout the day and weekend. There are no cars allowed on Mackinac Island — only foot traffic and bicycles, so it isn’t a place to visit in the rain. Reluctantly, we packed our bags and headed out of town, knowing that we’ll return again someday, hopefully with better weather.

The beds at the Comfort Inn were terrible. Neither of us slept well; we got up with our backs hurting. This added insult to injury. We were so disappointed about Mackinac Island.

We saw Castle Rock in the rain and the Paul Bunyan and Babe sculptures there.

We’ve had VERY LITTLE rain on the trip. Only two rain-outs — today and the day I spent in Lexington, Kentucky. We hope the rain has some farmers smiling.

We drove across the Mackinac Bridge, and we decided to give Mackinac another try for fudge (since the area is known from having a million and one fudge shops, and the fudge we bought last night tasted like it had been around since 1887 when the shop originated). Eniko at the Fort Fudge Shop assured us that their fudge is made fresh every morning, so we bought some, and it was great! We enjoyed speaking with Eniko. She was born in Transylvania, now lives in Romania, and was in the US to work for the summer.

The drive on Highway 23 along the coast of Lake Huron was really boring. Nothing to see. Not very pretty. So, we decided we’d better photograph a lot of mailboxes as we might not see much else of interest. We saw some interesting ones. I hope the online traveler who emailed to ask us to take mailbox photos is checking the web site regularly, as we sure spent a lot of time on mailbox photography.

We saw the Forty Mile Lighthouse. It was built in 1896.

The Paul Bunyan made of car parts in Alpena was very nice. Much nicer than the painted cement ones we’ve seen everywhere else.

I was really pleased when Bozzie Jane spotted a sign advising that we were crossing the 45th Parallel — halfway between the Equator and the North Pole.

In Ossineke, we saw the life’s work of Paul Domke. Paul built approximately 30 dinosaur sculptures, and they are now on display in Dinosaur Gardens. Paul was also very religious, and a huge sculpture of Jesus holding the Earth is out front. Dinosaur Gardens was built in the 1930’s on a 40 acre tract of drained swampland. There are sculptures of dinosaurs, prehistoric birds, prehistoric mammals, and cavemen.

We had lunch at Connie’s Cafe in Ossineke. It was the only option in town. The bread was great, but the meat on our sandwiches was rubbery. Our waitress had the personality of a stick. The Raspberry Pie wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t even in the same league as the Raspberry Pie at Dutch Mother’s in Linden, Washington.

I repeatedly held doors open for people in Michigan — mainly women and children. I never had anyone say thank you or even acknowledge me.

There was supposed to be a statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe in Ossineke, but we drove up and down the road and never saw it. We saw the Paul Bunyan Kamp Ground, and I thought Paul might be hiding there, but nope. I finally decided it must be long gone. There was a sign at the city limits that said “the land of fun and sun.” We had no sun and not much fun.

We did find a Paul Bunyan in Oscoda later in the day.

Just outside the town of Black River, we saw a tree with some shows hanging from it. I stopped for a photo, because in Michigan, this is a major attraction.

Several towns down the road we came across the unique front yard of Gordon Clute. It seems Gordon has been creating cement sculptures of cartoon characters for some time, and close to 30 fill his front yard. Lots of folks were stopped taking photos, and we joined them. In his yard, Gordon has 29 sculptures ranging from Mickey Mouse to Winnie the Pooh to a farmer with a plow to Elmer Duck to a horse with an Indian chief. Gordon made them all himself, and they are just sitting in his front yard. There were signs that said “welcome to take pictures.” A lot of people were there. More people were there than at Dinosaur Land.

We decided to detour to see the Bavarian town of Frankenmuth. We saw a brochure about it at a Visitor Center, but we knew nothing about it. What a great surprise! Frankenmuth is a beautiful town with great restaurants and shops — all Bavarian themed. It was much bigger and nicer than the other themed towns we’ve seen.

The biggest attraction in Frankenmuth is Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. It defies description. It is the World’s Largest Christmas Store. The store fills a space about the size of two football fields. Massive. But there are also displays outside that cover acre after acre — Christmas decorations of all types. They also have a replica of the Silent Night Chapel. My Mother would have absolutely loved it. Anyone who really loves Christmas decorations should make a point to visit Bronner’s in Frankenmuth! See

We could have bought a ton of stuff at Bronner’s, but we limited ourselves to one cherry pie-shaped Christmas ornament. Monica helped us as we walked in; they provide maps to help you find your way around, and you really need the maps as Bronner’s is one department and display after another — and no dull, boring straight aisles anywhere.

Frankenmuth is also known for two restaurants that serve over two million guests annually. We went to the best — Zehnder’s. It’s a huge place that specializes in chicken dinners. We were still fairly full from a late lunch, so we opted for dessert. Our waitress, Renea, was certainly one of the most entertaining we have encountered. She was a hoot and a half. We learned all about her children. When she learned about our trip, she was pulling pie from four or five of the Zehnder restaurants and shops. We had a very unique Peach Pie that we both loved. It was made with a very firm peach that didn’t get mushy — couldn’t have been cooked for long (if at all). The peach slices were huge and obviously fresh, and it was really, really good. We also had excellent Blueberry Streusel and Cherry Streusel.

Renea introduced us to Martha Zehnder-Shelton, one of the Zehnder owners, and we really enjoyed meeting her and learning more about Zehnder’s and Frankenmuth. We learned that their busiest time of year is October (Octoberfest) and November – December (Christmas and a big snow festival). Zehnder’s is the second largest independent restaurant in the U.S., and America’s largest family restaurant. All-you-can-eat family-style chicken dinners are the most popular menu item. Zehnder’s serves about a million people a year, and guests consume 840,000 pounds of chicken; 628,000 pounds of cabbage; 110,000 pounds of vegetables, and 26,000 pounds of coffee. Zehnder’s originated in 1856 as the Exchange Hotel. The Zehnder family purchased the hotel in 1927, and the all-you-can-eat chicken dinners began in 1929.

I bought a Coke at a Mobil station on the way out of Frankenmuth, and it had that grass taste that I have run into several times on the trip.

Every motel room for miles around was taken as Frankenmuth is so popular, and we learned it was the 100th Anniversary Celebration for Buick in Flint, Michigan. We were EXTREMELY lucky to find one room available at a Marriott in Flint. The parking lot was filled with gorgeous classic Buicks!

Michigan has been a disappointing state — not much to see, not very pretty compared to the other states we’ve visited, and the people have not been as friendly here. Frankenmuth was a breath of fresh air.

The Daily Journal of Round America:

Each day, we collect our thoughts on a web page just like this. We drop in some of the photos from the day. Our goal with the Daily Journal is to write about the towns we visit, the sights we see, the people we meet, and the pie we eat. We write about where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going, but we also make observations about what we’ve seen and done as well as about life in general.

You can follow our travels from the Daily Journal section of this web site. Other pages of interest include the running report of “vital statistics” on the Trip Scorecard, our nominations for the Best & Worst of the trip, as well as a rating of the pie we eat. If you’d like to see information for a specific state or town, click here, and then click on the state of interest and the full itinerary is shown.


More Information on the Sights Visited Today:
Castle Rock — Mackinac Bridge — Paul Bunyan Made of Car Parts — 45th Parallel — Dinosaur Gardens — Gordon Clute’s Front Yard — Frankenmuth Michigan — Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland — Zehnder’s