Going through Hell to get to

Grand Rapids, MI

To Hell (MI) and back in a weekend

by David "Sumoflam" Kravetz (on the "Blaze Bench")


May 31, 2008: This weekend was yet another opportunity for me to go see my friend Aaron Boone play football.  The Utah Blaze will play in Grand Rapids, MI tomorrow and I decided I would drive there to see the game.  It is actually the closest of the three games that I will be able to attend this season. (The others were Cleveland and Philadelphia).  In looking at the map and trying to determine the places I would be able to see along the way, I found that Hell, MI was kind of on the way.  As I have noted in my trip to Cleveland to see the game there, I lost my vehicle in a bad accident and practically went through hell to get to Cleveland.  This time, I LITERALLY went through Hell to get to Grand Rapids.  For my route I also went through the oil country of Ontario on the way over and, as always, I spiced up the trip with an assortment of places to stop.  The map below tells the geographical story of this two day venture.


From Woodstock through Hell (#9) to Grand Rapids and back again in two days

The game would be held on Sunday afternoon in Grand Rapids, so I left early Saturday morning.  A drive straight through to Grand Rapids is about 4 hours or so.  But, I took the long way (don't I always??) so as to see more countryside and places of interest (at least to some folks).

By 7:30 AM I was on the 401 heading west to London where I would hop on the 402.  I took exit 82 and then headed via backroads through farmland towards Oil Springs, ON.


These were a couple of barns I liked along the way.  Of course, I just HAD to get the Airstream!

The other irony is the old wagon in front of the barn on the left


I eventually made my way down Gypsie Flats Road and as I neared the intersection of Gum Bed Line I could smell the petroleum in the air.  The first things I see are an odd variety of old and new oil wells and a number of metal sculptures depicting the early oil industry.  These fit nicely into my "folk art" collection so I got a number of photos of these.  All of these were on the Fairbank Oil Properties, named after John Henry Fairbank, who started these fields in 1861. Apparently all of these metal sculptures were made by local metal-worker Murray Watson, who owns Watson's Machine Shop in Oil Springs and each of the sculptures is supposedly based on a real person connected to the oil business in the area.


A horse-drawn oil container


More scenes of the nearly two dozen sculptures


I couldn't get into the property to look closer, but apparently Watson has signed all of these

(see more details and photos)


I was also interested in the variety of oil wells in operation. The "black gold, Texas Tea..." was flowing freely from these contraptions.  They are noisy and indeed were pumping away:


These are called "jerker lines", a method used to pump oil to the surface

from multiple wells using a shared steam engine (see the lines attached)

This method was invented by John Henry Fairbank


I finally got into the small town of Oil Springs, which touts itself as site of the first commercial oil well in North America (they are celebrating their 150th anniversary this year of the discovery of oil in 1858).  Ironically, just a week earlier I drove through Oil City and nearby Titusville, PA which has the same claim (they claim theirs was the birthplace of the Oil Industry in 1859).  In any case, the oil wars continue today as I am (actually aren't we all?) battling with $4.00/gallon prices in the U.S. and $1.30/liter (abt. $4.92/gal) prices in Canada. 


Scenes from the Oil Museum of Canada


Oil Springs is home to the Oil Museum of Canada.  Unfortunately, it was still early so they were not open.  But I got out and walked around the grounds, got a few photos and visited the site of the first oil well.  The story, in a nut shell:

In 1851 Charles Nelson Tripp of Woodstock, Ontario, joined with his brother and businessmen from Hamilton and New York City to form the International Mining and Manufacturing Company for the purpose of producing asphalt from the Ontario gum beds situated in Enniskillen Township. This was the first oil company formed in North America. Its charter empowered the company to explore for asphalt beds and oil and salt springs, and to manufacture oils, naphtha paints, burning fluids, varnishes and related products. Then, in 1856 James Miller Williams, a manufacturer of railway carriages at Hamilton, bought Tripp's land and oil rights. Tripp stayed on the payroll as landman. Williams formed the J.M.Williams Company. After unsuccessful attempts at commercial production from the gum beds Williams hand-dug and cribbed a well 49 feet deep. It did not reach bedrock but produced as much as 150 gallons per hour by hand pump. The oil was refined for illuminating oil and lubricants. Then, in 1858, with stagnant algae-ridden water almost everywhere and, looking for better drinking water, Williams dug a well a few yards down an incline from his asphalt plant. At a depth of 20 meters, the well struck free oil instead of water. In 1858 it became the first oil well in North America, remembered as Williams No. 1 at Oil Springs, Ontario. (This was a year before Edwin Drake drilled his famous wildcat in Pennsylvania in 1859.)  -- This info comes from Petrolia's Website.

After visiting Oil Springs I drove north on Oil Heritage Road into Petrolia and then on to Wyoming.  I had planned to stop in Petrolia, but I still had a lot to see so I skipped Petrolia and it was early anyway so the museum and other sites would not be open anyway.  I got through Wyoming and was back on the 402 heading west towards Sarnia, into Point Edward and over the Blue Water Bridge.  I have crossed this bridge a number of times, but have yet to actually stop and decided not to this time as well.  There are some beautiful scenes of Lighthouse Park (in Port Huron, MI) and I think the park in Point Edward, ON would offer some nice shots of the lighthouse over the St. Clair River, which serves as the border between Canada and the U.S.  Maybe on my next trip.....

I made it through Flint on I-69 and then headed south from there on US-23.  The scenery was grand as I drove by glimmering lakes and ponds, through nice wooded areas.  As I got closer to my next destination I could see that there were a number of recreation areas.  I turned west on 9 Mile Road heading towards Hamburg and then on M36 into Pinckney.  I got there just in time for some big festival in town.  It was already crowded by 10:30 AM.  I knew that I had to turn from Pinckney to had south to Hell.  I finally saw my sign:

I think it is funny that you turn on Howell to go to Hell


The drive to Hell, Michigan is actually quite scenic.  You take D19 south to Patterson Lake Road and then turn right.  This is about a five mile drive.  Hell is actually located inside Pinckney Recreation Area near four or five lakes.  It is also considered a part of the town of Pinckney.  According to the official Hell Website, the town got its name as follows:

Hell was first settled in 1838 by George Reeves and his family. George had a wife and 7 daughters – no reason to call it Hell yet… George built a mill and a general store on the banks of a river that is now known as Hell Creek...  The mill would grind the local farmers grain into flour; George also ran a whiskey still, so a lot of times the first 7-10 bushels of grain became moonshine.  In turn, horses would come home without riders, wagons without drivers….someone would say to the wife, where is your husband?  She’d shrug her shoulders, throw up her arms and exclaim, Ahh, he’s gone to Hell!”  In 1841 when the State of Michigan came by, and asked George what he wanted to name his town, he replied, “Call it Hell for all I care, everyone else does.” So the official date of becoming Hell was October 13, 1841... (you can click here for the LONG history of Hell)

Well, arriving in Hell was not as exciting as I thought it would be.  There are only three businesses operating there (that I could see). The population is around 74 they say. As well, according to the Screams Ice Cream shop the locals are referred to as hellions, hellbillies or wannabes.


Scenes from Hell: Country Store, Mayor for the Day sign and Hellish Flamingoes


Screams Ice Cream and Helloween Shop, the signs pointing to Hot Springs, Heaven, Hazard,

Nag's Head, Peculiar and Toombs...and of course, another sign to Hell.


The Dam Fine Food and Spirits is the other business.

At the I Scream store you can get a diploma from Damnation University (Dam U)


T-shirts galore: Survivor of Hell, Been to Hell and Back, Hell Froze Over (and it does annually!)

and then the "I've Been To Hell And Back" Mugs and bumper stickers


I asked if there was a restroom and they sent me to the back to use one of these.

Bear in mind that if you go to Hell you will have to use the PortaPotty - No restrooms in Hell...


...but there IS a Post Office in Hell!!! (Zip 48169)


Enough about Hell.  A fun place to say you have been through...so, now I have been to Hell and Back.  Now, on to more places....  In my research of where to go I noticed that just south of Hell is another interesting town called Chelsea.  I just had to go there since my daughter is Chelsea and since it was so close.  I took a number of winding roads and finally made my way to M52 and went south into Chelsea.



I actually found two places to visit in Chelsea.  The first actually has an official Guinness World Record.  It is the Chelsea Teddy Bear Company.  Their record is for the world's largest "Teddy Bear Mosaic".  They also have "Goliath", the World's Largest Stuffed Teddy Bear (over 10 feet tall!!) and then there is the 7' tall "Happy" Grizzly Bear.  Naturally, I got Chelsea a T-Shirt that she can wear proudly!




The largest Teddy Bear Mosaic with 360 teddy bears


Goliath, the World's Largest REAL Teddy Bear


The Happy Grizzly Bear


Chelsea is also home to one of my wife Julianne's favorite products for use around Thanksgiving and when she makes chili.  It is the home of the Chelsea Milling Company, known for their Jiffy Muffin Mix.


I'm already thinking about corn meal muffins...yum



Some interesting folk art in the park....and the Chelsea Clock Tower

I was now back on the road going from Corn Meal Mix to Cream of Wheat as I headed south to I-94 out of Chelsea towards my next destination.  Once on I-94 I was heading west to Exit 138 to US 127 north to the small town of Leslie, MI.  Here I would find one of those real obscurities.  As I mentioned Cream of Wheat, the story will be told first:

Cream of Wheat boxes through the years: early 1900s, 1940s, current (minus Nabisco logo)

The original boxes of Cream of Wheat were hand-made and lettered, and emblazoned with the image of a black chef produced by Emery Mapes. The character was named Rastus, and the image was included on all boxes and advertisements and continues to be used today with only very slight changes. A stereotypical black icon was fairly common for U.S. commercial brands at the time of the cereal's creation; for other examples, see Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben. It has long been thought that a black chef named Frank L. White was the model for the chef shown on the Cream of Wheat box. White, who died in 1938 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Leslie, Michigan claimed to be the model for the Cream of Wheat box. In June 2007, a headstone was erected for Mr. White. The headstone contains his name and an etching taken from the man depicted on the Cream of Wheat box.

I made my way into town and then to Woodlawn Cemetery.  There are two roads in, one paved and one dirt.  Take the dirt road under the Woodlawn Cemetery sign and take the fork to the right.  His is the first marker on ground on the right just off the road.


Frank L. White (ca. 1867 – February 15, 1938)

An African American chef best known as the model featured on Cream of Wheat breakfast cereal boxes.

White was born in Barbados in 1867 before immigrating to the U.S. in 1875 and becoming a citizen in 1890.

White lived much of his life in Leslie, Michigan, and was working as a master chef at a Chicago restaurant

at the time he was photographed for the cereal box in 1900.

White died on February 15, 1938, and is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery.

In June 2007, his grave, which was previously unmarked, received a headstone.

(see article)


Now when you eat Cream of Wheat you can have this interesting story to tell.  (Please make mine lumpy!) He apparently never made a penny off of his image.

After paying homage to Mr. White, I continued north on US 27 to just south of Lansing and then onto I-96 to head further west through Portland, Berlin and Boston, to Exit 43 where I would head north to Ada, MI.  Ada is home to one of 11 covered bridges in Western Michigan.  The Ada Covered Bridge spans the Thornapple River that runs through Ada.  It is 125 feet long and was originally built around 1867 using "Brown" trusses that were patented by Josiah Brown of Buffalo, NY in 1857.  This particular bridge has had its troubles through the years and was eventually destroyed by fire.  The community, with help from nearby Amway Corporation, rebuilt the bridge in 1979.  This bridge is only for pedestrian use now.

The Ada Covered Bridge in Ada, MI


By the time I was done with the Ada Bridge, it was getting late.  I was just outside of Grand Rapids, so I checked into my hotel room at the Super 8 near the Gerald R. Ford Airport and then headed across town to meet Aaron Boone.  We met for dinner and then took a drive around Grand Rapids looking at some of the old churches as well as a ride west towards Lake Michigan.  We made it to about 100 yards of the lake and didn't know it and it was dark anyway.  It was a pleasant time talking about family, life, football, etc.


Aaron and me at Charley's Crab on the banks of the Grand River



A couple of views of the magnificent Basilica of St. Adelbert in Grand Rapids, MI

Church was established in 1881


Some of the Stained Glass -- the caricatures appear to be dark-skinned


Driving west at sunset, Aaron Boone shot this from the car


June 1, 2008: Today was game day, but it was beautiful outside and so I decided to take a drive to see another of the covered bridges.  I had hoped to find it yesterday, but I got lost and it wasn't signed very well.  This time I had specific directions and drove east on I-96 to the Lowell exit 52 and headed north through Lowell up Lincoln Lake Ave. to Fallasburg Park Dr., about 5 miles north of Lowell.  This is the site of the Fallasburg Covered Bridge. This bridge is a single span bridge also using Brown trusses.  It is 100 feet long and 14 feet tall and allows single lane traffic by car as it crosses the Flat River.  But, if you go faster than someone walking you will be "fined $5" according to the sign on the bridge.  When I got there I was awestruck by the beautiful setting.  On top of that, there was a man there fishing and the shot was too tempting.   Barry O. gave me permission to photo him and use it on the web.


Barry O. enjoying his retirement


Various views of the Fallasburg Covered Bridge north of Lowell, MI


Crossing over the river on the bridge and then up the hill takes you into the historic village of Fallasburg.  There are some historical buildings.


The old Fallasburg Schoolhouse and a nice rustic looking barn


These purple and white Dame's Rocket (Hesperis Matronalis) surrounded the barn and were very fragrant

(Actually, I saw these same flowers all the way from Woodstock)



The barn with Dame's Rocket.  A view of the Flat River from the bridge.


It was time to head back to Grand Rapids to get the tickets and get excited about the ball game. The Utah Blaze really needed a win here to stay in contention for the playoffs.  First of all, I sat on the "Blaze Bench" in Hell for good luck (see photo at top of page).  I had yet to attend a game played by Aaron Boone as an Arena player that they had won.  I was 0 for 5.  So, I hoped my streak would be broken.  I had to go through Hell to get here!!


The game went well.  The Blaze won 63-56 over the Grand Rapids Rampage though Boone's Touchdown streak was held to 13 games in a row as he didn't get one this game.  But, my streak was broken and better yet, the Blaze stayed in contention for the playoffs!  Following are a few photos I took at the game.   I had great seats right behind the Blaze bench.



The Van Andel Arena, home of the Grand Rapids Rampage



Both offenses square off



Head Coach Danny White looks on and gives instructions to QB Joe Germaine

Coach White attended Westwood H.S. in Mesa, the same as my wife. 

My mother-in-law was one of his high school teachers. 

Joe Germaine is also from Mesa and led Ohio State to a Rose Bowl win.


Dwayne Missouri (DL), Rodney Filer (FB/LB), Steve Videtich (K)


Aaron Boone and the "Big Three" receiving corps


The Blaze Win!!


After the game I saw Aaron off and headed home.  It was Sunday and I had to be back at work in the morning.  However, on the way home I had one more place to visit.  I needed dinner, so I would stop at a planned place.  I discovered this one on roadsideamerica.com and thought it would fit my eclectic style.



The Traveler Club International Restaurant and Tuba Museum

Okemos, MI


Yes, the name conjures up all kinds of imaginations.  But, as with other strange and wonderful places I have visited in the past, I needed to add this to my collection.  The TCIR and Tuba Museum not only has an interesting interior, but the menu is also a variety of Asian, ethnic, Greek, and whatever else they could conjure up.  I actually had a Greek salad and a Buffalo burger...yes, Buffalo...not in Montana, South Dakota or Colorado...but in some little small town in Michigan!  (their specials)


My Buffalo burger at TCIR


The real charm of this place is the decor...tubas everywhere



Tubas, sousaphones, etc.



A couple of staff members working hard to serve us better


The real clincher...outside in the courtyard

A sousaphountain!! I found these irises surrounded by lilacs as well


It was a pleasant ending to a rather long weekend.  Eye candy, good food and wonderful fragrance.  The drive back to Woodstock was uneventful and went quickly.  It was a great time.


Some roadside guidance provided by......


Back to Adventures in Southern Ontario Page

 See more of Sumoflam's Trip Journals