July 25 & 26, 2017
Not much to report about our travel day to Ft. Custer State Recreation Area in Michigan. Happily, it was an uneventful drive, we set up camp in a decent spot (site #16) with lots of shade, and settled in a bit before we went to the National Association Breweriana Advertising (NABA) Convention hotel, the downtown Radisson Kalamazoo, so we could register and let folks know we had arrived.
A bit about the camping: deep, thick undergrowth all around well-forested spaces arranged in the shape of a “pair of kidneys.” Lots of poison ivy and oak everywhere (no hammock-hanging here, I can tell you!). There is no water at the sites, but potable water at the dump station, so we pulled in there at the get-go to fill our fresh water tank, as usual, using our own filter to do so.
The bath house is very near our site, and it is elderly and frankly, not all that tidy. There’s a playground behind it, and sometimes the kids use the facilities as an aspect of their hide-and-seek games. But the good news is that the showers are individual, across the hall from the restroom facilities, and there is a family restroom/shower for parents with young kids to use.
Another strange downside is that one must buy a $35 non-resident recreational pass just to get in and out of Michigan’s RAs. It is good for a year, but I think there will be few MI recreational areas we’re going to visit over the next 12 months. But just so one’s aware of the need, it won’t be such a surprise.
Back at the NABA Convention (the Radisson is about a half-hour drive from Ft. Custer SRA, although it’s only about 15 miles — one must leave “our” town of Augusta and thread through Galesburg and Comstock before winding one’s way into the downtown area, with significant construction and lots of traffic lights). We found our way to the registration/hospitality room on the 9th floor — again, rather strange because one needs to have a card-key to get to the 9th floor. Those of us registered but not staying at the hotel have to get a special pass from the front desk just so the elevator will go up there. Once we got there, however, the Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale was on tap and the folks were friendly and it was good to see a few peeps and catch up a bit.
Shortly thereafter, Jack and I went to Bell’s Eccentric Cafe in downtown for dinner and had good sandwiches and excellent onion rings. A half-hour later, we were back at Roomba and without much ado headed to bed.
The first “real” day of Convention activities is often a long one for me. Jack stayed at camp while I drive in to catch the bus for the day’s tour, starting at 9 and finishing (with luck) at 4:30. Our first stop was the Bell’s production brewery out in the Comstock Commercial Park (back toward camp!). Our group of about 45 broke into 3 sub-groups and each sub-group had a guide. It was an excellent tour and the facility was so much more than just an industrial-style factory buiding (as so many breweries tend to be). I won’t go into too many details but Larry Bell started brewing beer and educating his public about “real” beer flavor and nuance back in 1985. By 1989, he was kicking the market in the Kalamazoo area, and some folks credit him and his mainly British-style ales etc. with having a major influence on the start-up of what we now know as the craft beer industry. Our guide told us that by 1989 there were a total of 280-some breweries in the US, including the multi-nationals. Today there are something like 5500 breweries in the US, so Larry Bell was brewing excellent beer and making a business of it decades before 5,220-ish breweries even got into business. And he was teaching a whole lot of folks that beer could be better than what Budweiser, Miller, Coors, and Pabst were offering.
Anyway — from there we went to lunch early at the Bell’s Eccentric Cafe, where we had our own room, food, servers, and our bus ticket bought us each one beer from the taps.
From there, we went to the Gilmore Car Museum, about 15 miles out of town. Certainly, antique cars are not my big thing, but the 90-acre campus full of barns full of vehicles and their history is quite amazing. Attached to but not directly associated with the car museum is the Michigan Miniatures Museum, where I saw many teensy-weensy rooms, houses, stores, crofts, etc etc etc. It was an amazing glimpse into the artistry and perfection of craftspeople who reproduce (or invent) scale replicas of things, people, and spaces (there even was a Waterford crystal setting — either a “home” or a “museum”). It’s difficult to tell from some of these photos, but the scales ranged from one inch = one foot to one-quarter inch = one foot. With everything to scale.
There was one fun bit at the car museum, that included a 1939 Packard coupe hitched to (and supposedly towing) a 1937-39 Conestoga Covered Wagon camping trailer. Pretty cool stuff.
Kalamazoo was also home to the Checker car and car parts company. That is in the past tense because it was only during the most recent Recession (2008-ish) when the company went out of business, even though it’s been ages and ages since it made its famous Checker Cabs. The 1923 company survived post-WWI recession, the Great Depression, the failure of its partner business (E.L. Cord conglomerate) in 1937, the WWII economy and post-WWII. But the thing that destroyed the car-manufacturing part of the business was crash testing mandated by the federal government in the 1970s. After 59 years, the last Checker rolled off the line in 1982. The company continued until 2008-ish by selling car parts.
As for the Gilmore Car Museum, it was started in the 1960s when Donald S. Gilmore began collecting vintage cars, including a 1927 Ford Model T, and 1913 Rolls-Royce, and a 1920 Pierce-Arrow, all of which he restored himself. He then acquired 90 acres in SW MI in the small town of Hickory Corners. His wife encouraged him to showcase his collection, so they created a nonprofit foundation and opened the museum to the public on Sunday July 31, 1966. Today, it’s the largest auto museum in North America, with 6 onsite partner museums (like the miniatures place I visited) and the auto collection features 400 vehicles.
Next our bus tour went to a member’s home to see his collection of breweriana, and our host and hostess were gracious and generous. More beer and nibbles were enjoyed by all before we headed back to the Radisson.
We were about 15 minutes behind our hoped-for time, so I had too little time to get back to camp for a shower. So I got back to camp to pick up Jack and we about-faced to get to the “big event” of the Convention, from my perspective anyway, which is the famous Brewmaster’s Dinner. At this event, different styles of beer are paired with different courses of the meal, and sometimes the recipes for the meal are augmented with beer. It is always a very relaxed and fun event, and this one was no exception, even featuring a starter course of cheeses and roasted vegetables that came before the salad. Even though we got there late and had to catch up on the starter course, we sat with some great fellow members and had a wonderful time. Saw additional friends from past Conventions there, and stayed long past when the bus crew was breaking down the tables.
We’re finally getting the hang of getting in and out of Kazoo, and back to our abode without the map software in the car.
By the way, while I was bus touring, Jack hopped on his bike and explored the camp/recreation area. He found few multi-use or bike trails in the RA, but tootled around the paved roads and some of the almost-good-for-bikes (that weren’t mountain bikes) trails, and got 15 miles on the odometer. He reported seeing a large raptor of some sort, either an immature bald eagle or an osprey.