Vacation 2009: Day 3 -- Columbus to Zanesville to Wheeling to Hustontown

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Day 3: July 25, 2009, Columbus, Ohio, to Hustontown, Pa., via I-70 and I-76, 320.9 mi., 6:41 en route.

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The third day of driving included a swing through historic Zanesville, Ohio, and across its unusual Y bridge and a stop at Wheeling, W. Va.'s Italian Festival on the Ohio River waterfront. Click the "read more" link to read all about it (and see some pictures, too).

We left Hawthorn Suites at 9:22, later than hoped, but it was the best start so far. A heavy downpour just as I was starting to carry luggage out to the car slowed me down a bit. The rain had slacked off again by the time we hit the road. Our route out of Columbus took us past the stadium of the Columbus Crew Major League Soccer team, the state fairgrounds, and a huge indoor waterpark called Fort Rapids attached to an old multistory hotel. (A Hilton judging by the address.)

We let the kids read or play DS for a while as the view wasn't much to look at until the terrain started to get hilly around Zanesville. I took the old road, US 40, into town. We spotted a circle of variously colored tall vases just before we came to the famous Y bridge. (We went to the middle of the bridge and took a right at the light.) Individual vases were scattered around town, intended to celebrate Zanesville's history as a center for pottery -- the "Clay Capital of the World."

Muskingum County Courthouse, Zanesville, OhioWe pulled over and took a moment to admire the Muskingum County Courthouse, a beautiful 1874 Italianate building with a central clock tower. As US 40 jogged at the eastern end of Main Street, our eyes were caught by the triple-domed St. Nicholas Catholic Church, built in 1898.

Because we hoped to get to my wife's aunt and uncle's house mid-afternoon, I didn't stay on the National Road but turned north back to I-70. After a brief stop for gasoline, we were back on the road and traveling through ever hillier country as we approached the Ohio River.

I was determined to spend a non-trivial amount of time in Wheeling, W. Va. To understand this, you need some background: When I was 13, our family took a driving trip to visit family in the New Jersey suburbs and to see Washington, D. C. We were tent camping en route, and we stayed in a KOA in Terre Haute, Ind. As it was Sunday, Dad insisted we go to church, and he found a Southern Baptist congregation off of Indianapolis' south loop. It was a very dry and dull service, unlike the lively preaching and singing to which we were accustomed, and some parents were allowing their child to eat potato chips in the pew across the aisle, which appalled us. To avoid the non-existent Sunday traffic in Columbus, our AAA Triptik took us around the northern loop. We didn't hit West Virginia until after sunset. I remember going through the Wheeling Tunnel on I-70, and then we stopped at a truck stop, which had an extensive souvenir stand, complete with state spoons and state thimbles.

From 1977 to 2009, that was all I had seen of West Virginia. We tried to fix that on this trip.

S3011558I had hoped to get off I-70 on the island and take the 160-year-old Wheeling Suspension Bridge into downtown, but I didn't realize I had to exit in Ohio to make that happen. It was just as well: The bridge was closed to traffic, as it turned out. We took the Main St. exit and admired Wheeling's downtown -- relatively unscathed by urban renewal and surface parking. There was a sign for an Italian festival on the riverfront, so we found a parking spot and headed that way.

Play fort, Wheeling, W. Va., riverfrontWheeling's riverfront appears to date to the late '70s or early '80s, contemporaneous with Tulsa's River Parks. There's an amphitheater, a grassy slope, walking paths, a boat dock (a sternwheeler was parked there), and a large and interesting play fort, where the kids had a chance to burn off some energy. While the kids played, I bought a half-dozen zeppoli, a treat I discovered on that 1977 trip, when my Uncle Mike took us to the St. Anthony's Festival in Little Italy. (Every culture seems to have its version of fried dough with sugar.)

S3011568Back at the car we passed out the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I'd made that morning, and we got ready to drive off. We took US 40 around the mountain and back to I-70 (catching a fleeting glimpse of a statue of a Mingo indian -- "The Mingo Indian, original inhabitant of this valley, extends greetings and peace to all wayfarers.").

I should take a moment at this point to call attention to one of the star travel accessories of this journey. When the kids eat in the car, wrappers, crumbs, half-eaten sandwiches often end up in the seat cushions or on the floor. Passing food back and forth is tricky and spill-prone. To distribute chips from a big bag or can, my wife has sometimes used small sandwich bags, but then the sandwich bags would end up on the floor with crumbs spilling out.

For this trip, my wife bought five stackable, plastic craft trays at Michael's. Each tray is about eight inches square, has a handle at the top, with three compartments about three inches deep. We used these for eating in the car. My wife could put sandwiches, potato chips, or Cheerios in a tray and pass it to the back seat via the middle seat. When someone was done eating, they could pass the wrapper and crumbs back up front in the tray for proper disposal. Except for one or two accidental spills by our three-year-old, very little meal debris wound up on the floor of the car.

Except for a brief stop at the Pennsylvania Welcome Center to get a map and reset the van's traction control system, we made the rest of the trip to Hustontown without a stop, despite occasional, sometimes heavy, rain. (One of the few ergonomic flaws of the Honda Odyssey is that the TCS switch and the cruise control switch are located next to each other to the left of the steering wheel, and the turn signal arm is positioned so that I can't easily see the markings on either switch, so it's very easy to disable TCS when you mean to enable cruise control.) We were impressed by the picturesque cities and towns of southwestern Pennsylvania along I-70, particularly where the highway crosses the Monongahela River at Belle Vernon. (The last time I passed this way was in 1977 in the dead of night, as Dad was in search of the non-KOA campground he'd booked, which turned out to be little more than a pasture with cinder-block bathrooms.)

The rain got worse, becoming a complete downpour as we neared our exit at Breezewood. We headed east on US 30 (Lincoln Highway) and had the fun of negotiating a steep downgrade in the rain. The downgrade was bad enough that they provided a turnout for trucks at the top of the slope (so that a truck could start down from a dead stop with no momentum) and a runaway truck ramp near the bottom. The weather began to clear as we headed north on PA 655 to Hustontown, a little crossroads village just north of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. (The proximity to the pike was the only reason I had decent mobile phone reception in such a small town.)

We reached Uncle Greg and Aunt Sharon's house at 4:03 p.m. in plenty of time to get ready for the evening's entertainment -- open stage night at the Volunteer Fire Department down the road. I unloaded the car, Aunt Sharon showed us to where we'd be staying (the big kid in the breezeway, the small two in the study, and my wife and me in the guest room), and our fiddler (the big kid) warmed up. After a quick supper of roll-your-own burritos, the fiddler and the piano player (the middle kid) headed with Uncle Greg to the VFD to sign up for a place on the program.

That deserves an entry of its own, along with an introduction to Hustontown and south central Pennsylvania.

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1 Comments

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

I loved driving through Wheeling WV a couple of years ago, I wished we could have stopped. We did get to do the bridge. Pretty cool. Love that eastern part of Ohio, and Pennsylvania is such a beautiful state. I think I have a longing to spend more time in WV too.

That's a pretty severe grade. Haven't seen one of those except in Cali.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 20, 2009 5:55 PM.

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