Ghost Musicians Please Nevada City Crowds

I’m not sure what sort of impression we’re trying to leave you guys with about Nevada City, but in my mind it was a lot of fun, even if a bit out of the way. Though there were some real tourist leeches in town, it’s a city hit hard by the exploding (combusting?) gas prices over the summer, and it really is a town well worth your visit… that is, if you can handle the haunted piano hall.

Seen here, Patrick peering deep into what may be a soul prison or an antique movie box.
Seen here, Patrick peering deep into what may be a soul prison or an antique movie box.

The lead picture is a pretty frightening one, if you take it out of context. Since it’s been a while since it was taken, and I haven’t seen it since then, “out of context” is the only way I know how to take it, and it’s freaking me out. If I didn’t know better, and I don’t, I’d swear my brother is getting his soul sucked out.

Forget the dangers of MTV, this slowly flipping, non-talky technology has a leg-up on any Viacom station they haven’t even started working towards… this is a stereoscopic pictureapparatus, and it makes no apologies for the hard-G images it flagrantly exposes to many tourists.

I say “many tourists” rather than “all tourists” because not just anybody can view this machine. It’s an elitist photofile box. If you don’t have a nickel (yes, literally, a nickel) you can’t enjoy the pictures that flip and flit by your little eyes.

But the picture boxes are only the middle island of the massive hall of mostly music. The hall is full of far more devices than that, and most of them are loud as heck, if not a bit musical in their dischordal antiharmony.

There’s some quiet ones, some cool ones, and then there’s the couple of mega-grand-daddies of the collection, and you simply have to hear the ruckus to believe it.

coin op music house
ABOVE: The stare of bewilderment is confusion, yes, but also, what was the thing I just said? Never mind, the other thing is confusion.

Nevada City has dozens of original, antique buildings, but in its music hall, it has as many vintage auto-play music machines, and some of them are really quite grand. I don’t mean “great” but you could argue that too, I mean “huge” and there’s no two ways about it.

Some are periodically out of order, though they do have a guy who comes in from counties away to keep them in running order (if not tuned), but on any day of the week you’re sure to find more odd, haunted, screamingly loud and impressive music machines.

You can find the music hall right on the main drag, about two doors down from the main entrance to Nevada City towards the Virginia City direction. Even if you don’t feel like sparing your allowance, you can sure as heck stand by while you watch someone else put theirs in. Music sounds the same either way it turns out, but I still prefer putting in my own nickle. I think it’s louder when I do that.

screaming loud player piano orchestra
ABOVE: Apparently ghosts like only one thing more than my shiny nickles, and it’s making extremely loud music on-demand, even if it does so horribly out of tune… oh ghosts, have you no taste at all?

 

Remlinger Halloween Farm Once Again Rocks the Season

As we do each year around this time, we head out to our favorite Halloween fun farm in the near’s to Seattle. We call it Remlinger Farms, but probably only because that’s what they call it too. The difference this year isn’t just that we’re a year bigger each, but that this time around it’s my turn to write the review de la festivities.

Eric Ode stuns the crowd as always at Remlinger Farms
Eric Ode stuns the crowd as always at Remlinger Farms

This year we had a good few days of anticipation, though it felt more like a month. Every day we asked how many more days we had to behave and hit our publication deadlines on time before we could go out there, and even though it started at 4 days, we kept getting told smaller numbers every day after that, which seemed suspicious by my counting.

Numbers are supposed to go up, not down. Only thing you count down to is a space mission, and we weren’t going to space. Something fishy there.

When the big day finally had the grace and kindness to come, we loaded up early, got some road food on the way, and arrived just in time for the big rush. It was a beautiful day and all our past years’ publicity had served well, because they were already parking cars with guys in vests by the time we made our fashionable entry. No rain, not too cool, no blustering wind; it was ideal all around.

But I was too ready to have my fun to notice any of that stuff.

Seattle Pony Rides for Halloween at Remlinger Farms
ABOVE: You may see it as a pony ride, but look closer and observe the thick fog, the low-hanging sun, and take my word it’s near to Halloween. Now you know it’s actually a haunted pony ride… the pony isn’t haunted, just the ride.

As we traditionally do, we started our morning off with pony rides. The lines stay short because they keep over a dozen scale-model horses in rotation at a time. Brendan rode Carrot, but my Philly’s name was Boysenberry or something like that. Couldn’t be bothered with formalities, I was too busy having fun.

From there we went over to the petting zoo, which had an awful lot of animals for a farm if you ask me. They had chickens, rabbits, goats, sheep, grown-ups, additional chickens & goats, and children too. I managed to get an advance on my chore allowance to get some bitty kibbles to feed them, and while the goats enjoyed it, the children I tried to feed it too didn’t seem very interested… pretty hair though.

petting zoo goats near Seattle
ABOVE: I never knew a handful of stuff that looks like particle board shavings could make me so many friends. Sure, critics might say my new friends are all goats, and that they only love me for my strange, fibrous goodies, but I can live with that.

Next I managed to command my entourage over to the boat rides, a literal perennial favorite. The boats seemed a bit smaller this year. One of my handlers suggested I might have grown during the past year, but that seems very unlikely.

I was three last year and I’m four this year; I hardly think I’ve grown any since then, not at this age. Size aside, they were still perfect fun, only better because I could ride the boat without fear, and that makes for better fun right there.

three boys in a tippy canoe
ABOVE: The boat ride is smaller than I remember, but just as fun… it’s shrinking, right? It’s not me, you know, like “growing” or something, is it? That would be wierd.

All along the way there are great distractions to keep you busy. Sometimes it’s funhouse mirrors or a prehistoric pickup truck (seriously, like from the 1930s era, I think) with a fort-sized pumpkin on the back, or any of the countless photo-op cutouts designed just to make you look cute to your parents’ camera.

turn in to a pumpkin at midnight at remlinger farms
ABOVE: If my carriage is already a pumpkin, what could it possibly turn in to at midnight?

Another distraction is the countless scarecrows, and they’re really cool, but I don’t think they’re scary. They come in every sort. Old people, little people, and even horse-shaped. Do horses scare crows normally or only if they’re made out of hay while drawing a carriage full of hay-folk?

The energy levels were waning (and not just because I left out an easy dozen attractions in order to keep this article under novella-length) when we headed over to the antique-style electric cars. I’m a big fan of driving, and I’ve tried to do it as many times as I can hop up front, turn on the headlights, leave them, and then play dumb when the car battery dies.

I’m a natural born driver through and through, and it’s always been unfair that I’ve got a dozen years to wait until I’m allowed to do it. These cars, what with their entirely automated driving features, non-functional steering wheels and stay-on-course-thanks-to-a-rail technology, I could finally realize my dream of helming a masterful craft of automotive prowess.

Antique car amusement park ride
ABOVE: For all the articles we’ve written about these guys, we’ve never fully covered the glory that is the antique electric cars. Kinda makes me wannt throw a go-cart motor in one and take it on the open road. Still have to figure out the whole “steering” thing, but I’m sure it will just come to me.

By this point we’d been playing non-stop for about 3-hours, and our moods were deteriorating. I say “our” moods, but really I mean my parents’ moods were deteriorating, and they were annoying me, so I let them have a bit of my temper. It wasn’t my fault, they just kept pushing my buttons.

Cut me some slack, I’m four!

So on the advice of our dear friend Bonnie, we headed over for a slice of pizza. They got a new pizza oven this year (and a new burger grill) and I have to say, the slices that thing puts out are unbeatable. They come in cheese or pepperoni, and the prices are better than you’ll find outside of any attraction, and the portions are too big to eat, even for my mom.

pizza time in a seattle suburb the very best stuff
ABOVE: The new-for-2008 pizza oven made for a fine lunch time snack, even if the slices were bigger than my head… which they were.

The pizza and root beer gave us a second wind (and again I mean my parents, because I was totally fine the whole time) so we headed over to catch the day’s last showing of the incomparable Eric Ode (see the picture up top, or just check him out online at www.EricOde.com). Say what you want about kid’s music, but it’s enough to rile up even reluctant children like me, and nobody does it better than Mr. Ode.

Even though we were pretty much spent at that point, at least according to some members of our party (who will remain nameless, even though they’re the only ones over 4-feet, and they’re my parents) we headed over to the punkin’ patch.

On a side note, I learned a lesser known factoid about punkins I’d like to share, and I don’t know if you know this, but it’s actually spelled “pumpkin,” even though it’s pronounced “punkin.” Just thought you’d like to know.

pumpkin patch near Seattle
ABOVE: The rapt love as only can be shared between a “me” and a “my pumpkin”. Oh Halloween, how did you ever get so orange?

We parked, grabbed a tractor-drawn hay ride, and went in search for Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin… we didn’t find him or the other him, but we did find exactly the right punkins to make up for our very best Halloween ever.

We’re a tad little (and impatient) still for the corn maze, but this year they’ve got a J.P. Patches corn maze, and it’s been reported as fun, huge and not so difficult that people get frustrated. It was about 4:00 and I’d been go-go since before 9:00, so I was in no shape to do much more than hop back in the car and fuss for five minutes.

It was strange though. I know the drive out there was longer than five minutes, but as soon as I got in the car, everything got hazy and quiet, and next thing I knew I was back at the house being taken out of my chair. It’s almost like I fell asleep and had to take a nap, but that’s crazy. I don’t do that any more… right?

Remlinger Farms is the oldest, biggest, and by far the best Halloween Farm in the state of Washington, and it’s located just a short drive from Seattle or Bellevue in rural Carnation, Washington. You can check them out online at www.RemlingerFarms.com for hours, rates and directions. And if you’re in the area anyhow, you should also check out the train museum in Snoqualmie, just an exit or two up I-90, because it’s also pretty awesome. I mean, I’m not an expert on much, but I do know awesome when I see it.

 

Seattle’s Halloween Train Chuggas Its Choo-Choo on Horizon

It’s that time of year once again. Of all the seasons in all the months, I reluctantly admit (to you only, not to my family) that Halloween is my favorite, and there’s no better way to enjoy it than with a clever costume, trick-or-treating amongst generous adults, and by riding the fun-tastic rails of the Halloween Train offered up by the Northwest Railway Museum in Snoqualmie, Washington.

The Northwest Railway Museum is all decorated and ready for Halloween, and we love it!
The Northwest Railway Museum is all decorated and ready for Halloween, and we love it!

Sure, they’ve got all kinds of fun every week of the year, but Halloween is one of those special times when they pull out all the stops… well, I mean, the train still stops in all the places it’s supposed to, but at Halloween time, when it does stop, you get to revel in the fun of the season.

They do a Santa Train that can’t be beat, Mother’s & Father’s day trains too, and they even host an annual event with Thomas the Tank Engine, but all those holidays are secondary to me when it comes to the fun of Halloween.

I still tell my parents that Christmas is my favorite, because I get presents for that one, but Halloween makes so much more fun for us.

This isn’t just a train ride, though. You’ll get to make crafts, watch them press fresh apple cider, enjoy a hot cup of it, and listen to the music of every kid’s favorite musician Eric Ode, the same guy we’ve bragged about seeing at Remlinger Farms. If you’ve never checked him out, you have to, he’s just the best. He’s got CDs and stuff you can buy if you’re too far away, but I recommend checking him out in person if you can.

The Snoqualmie Halloween train is just outside of Seattle along I-90 off exit 27, near the new casino they’re building, and just follow the signs for the Railway Museum. You’d better hurry thought, because it’s only going on Saturday and Sunday October 25th & 26th with train rides departing at noon, 1:30, 3:00 and 3:45 (Falls trip only). And don’t show up late, because this one is going to sell out, not to mention you have to get your tickets and enjoy the rest of the stuff going on.

Also, if you wear your costume, you get a $2 discount off the everyday low price. If you visit George’s Bakery in North Bend and show them your ticket, you’ll even get a free sugar cookie. I don’t know who negotiated that, but I’d like to say thanks in person (except that I’m shy and I don’t think I actually can.)

I probably shouldn’t say anything, but if you do go, you’re going to get a Halloween gift you can take home with you, and you can enjoy it all the rest of the Halloween season and beyond.

witches and leaves decorate the Halloween Train
ABOVE: You may see a witch and autumn leaves, but I prefer to take the longer view… I see people parking in front of the Northwest Railway Museum to join in the fun and ride the rails.

Northwest Railway Museum
ABOVE: If the actual fun is too much to endure, consider having the “other” fun available on-site. The Northwest Railway Museum hosts the Halloween Train, but they’ve also got acres of fun train exhibits you can check out just for free!

Seattle Train Conductor takes tourist tickets
ABOVE: “Tickets please!” The conductor comes around to punch your tickets and make sure you’re having fun during the train ride!
Snoqualmie Falls
ABOVE: This is the actual view of Snoqualmie Falls as seen from the historic train ride… and the top of Patrick’s head.

 

Fire Engine Tour Barely Ok, Still Novel

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I feel like I keep getting the worst assignments on the trip. Fine, fair enough, I’m the junior editor so I’ll write it up. Virginia City, Montana, is nothing but a tourist trap, and one that felt a pretty hard hit from the high gas costs this summer, what with being basically in the middle of nowhere. So this nowhere tour of nothing got hit hardest, and the real victim wasn’t the operator, who owns everything outright, but us poor tourists.

So far so good, but not much further or better.
So far so good, but not much further or better.

As a preschooler, I like all things novel, so seeing a fire truck was enough to get me worked up. Getting to climb up into the back of it was that much cooler still… from there the novelty was done, so I had to defer to my colleagues for the rest of the trip.

The older brothers were no help, since they got restless immediately. We’ve done tours of all kinds since we were very young, and the fact that the driver looked like a frontiersman wasn’t enough to engage us. The best tour drivers are the Ride The Ducks guys, regardless of what city they’re in. They lock in to you, make you call and respond, and make every passing block an adventure.

This poor old man failed to do that.

But again, I defer to my colleagues. Daddy saw a bunch of things he had questions about, but there was no time or opportunity to ask questions. Either he tells us what’s what, or it isn’t worth knowing… and the “facts” he was telling us struck our eldest party members as a bit dubious, but there was no place to question them.

After the tour we managed to hit up a historian in the coffee shop on Main Street. While I was elbow deep in a sticky bun, daddy asked what questions he could remember, only to learn that the fire truck driver is nothing of a historian (I guess that makes him a bad liar?) and that his “facts” are either so far handed-down that they’re totally detached from reality, of they’re wholly made up.

Firetruck tour in Virginia City
ABOVE: It looks and sounds fun from afar, but once aboart there’s little novelty to let wear thin.

So it wasn’t fun beyond the novelty of being in a fire truck, we didn’t learn anything, what we learned was likely wrong, and it was over just a handful of minutes after it started… that doesn’t make for a very good deal.

The stagecoach ride is far more novel, and the facts couldn’t possibly be any less real. If you really want history, hit the museum and get a walking tour pamphlet and go back to the curator with your questions. Not only will it save you about $80, but when you ask a question, a curator will tell you straight up if they know the answer or not, and offer you a guess if you’d like it.

There are many great tours in the world, and then there’s this guy… he has a fire truck. That’s enough to work for me, but I’m 4, and I didn’t have to pay for my tour… If I ever find out how many toys I could have got for my passage, it will probably blow my precious little mind.

firetruck tour of virginia nevada city
ABOVE: He never let us ask questions or even stop to ponder. He was just so determined to get back to headquarters and pick up more of us it was disappointing… and he’d never used the internet himself… not THAT is true frontier living!

 

Mineral Museum Good, Free Fun, Plus Gold I Guess

On our first run through Montana, we drove right past the Mineral Museum on the university campus in Butte (on purpose) to head for the World Museum of Mining. I can’t pretend that the World Museum of Mining isn’t plain fantastic (worthy of recommendation to friends and strangers alike) but we didn’t just miss the Mineral Museum, we really missed out, and we didn’t know so until we swung back through our second time. It’s pretty darn good.

If you like calcium or gold, these guys have it on display.
If you like calcium or gold, these guys have it on display.

It’s a free museum, so if you like paying for things, this might not be the place for you.

They’ve got a variety of minerals on display… doesn’t sound exciting, does it? Guess it depends what excites you. A better way to put it is that they have virtually every mineral on display. Salt might not be too amazing, but they’ve got at least a dozen items on display that look like fool’s gold.

And if you like gold, they’ve got the hugest nugget you’ve ever seen (unless you’ve been to Vegas, which I haven’t) on display. No security guards, no guns, and no weapons check; it’s just you, a huge gold nugget, and about 3-inches of security glass between you… that’s all.

Did you know some minerals glow under black light? It’s true, and there’s a little dark room off to the side where you can see it. You get to see they just look like regular rocks, then push the button and they come to life in vibrant, almost Smurfy colors.

Now I’m not the biggest fan of rocks, even interesting ones, so my attention span was strained to its limit (about 23-minutes) but I did have a good time, and so did my brothers and parents. There’s an actual seismologist who has his office off the main exhibit area, and he was even kind enough to answer the Daddy-Man’s probably preposterous questions about tremors, tsunamis and even hurricanes (kind of on accident, he swears.)

– If you’re an adult, you will find it interesting.

 

  • If you have older kids along, they’ll probably find it interesting.

  • If you have small kids in tow, they might get bored, but parking is as free as admission, and you can always leave, as we did once some younger brother Dominic’s (and I’ won’t name names) wore out and started slapping exhibits and running around like a crazy person off his meds.

 

The Mineral Museum is located in Butte, Montana at the top of the hill on the college campus. Once you enter the college there are signs pretty much everywhere pointing to it, but it’s on the edge of the south-facing cliff. There is a disabled accessible wheelchair in the adjacent building, as needed. It’s also well marked, so be on the lookout, and let us know what you think of the place if you don’t mind dropping us a line.

just one of the many tamperable exhibits in the mining museum in Butte Montana
ABOVE: Even if you’re more up for tv shows, this place has stuff for you to check out. We did, and we liked it. Of course there’s a button you push to start the video, so we pushed it a good two-hundred times in a row over the course of about three-minutes. Pretty annoying for other patrons, but it was fun for us.

 

Staggering Oxen Missoula Rivals Flagship Store Glory

We first visited Staggering Ox in Helena, where they have an unbelievable flagship eatery, complete with acres of kitsch, an art museum full of some of the least likely “art,” and a staff that just can’t be beat… they also have great food, but once you’re there, it hardly seems like the point. We loved the food, so we decided to focus on it more specifically this time around.

Staggering Ox in Missoula, Montana. Nice.
Staggering Ox in Missoula, Montana. Nice.

When we were in Missoula, we hit both of the locations there. They’re each a fraction as big as the Helena location, but we figure two halves is as good as a whole, and we weren’t there for the live music; we wanted dinner.

You’ll never believe it, but the food is exactly as good in the smaller locations as it is in the original location.

Isn’t that strange? You’d think because the place is half the size, that the portions would be half as big too, but they still dish up their trademark (seriously, they are trademarked) sandwiches with all the fixings you want, and any dipping sauce you’d like too.

Maybe it was the quiet, or maybe the self-serve fountain, but we discovered something new and potentially dangerous. They don’t just have fountain drinks, but also flavored syrups to add to your drinks. Sure, adults know what they want, and what they want is a predictable flavor and as kids we also know what we want, and we want more taste, more sugar, and more jumping around after we have it.

And they got it in four flavors, baby!

We ordered a bunch of things to eat on our two trips, each interesting and weirdly nice in different ways. We had the vertical taco, the naked fingers, the Meltdown™ and who knows what all else. It’s more of a lunch place than a dinner place, but you can fill yourself to the gills at any hour of the day for sure.

Staggering Ox has restaurants across Montana plus one in Spokane, Washington. For locations, hours and menus, check them out online at StaggeringOx.com.

Enjoying flavored drinks at the Staggering Ox
ABOVE: Flavored fountain drinks make for bubbles in cheeks, and this is only the joy we had before the food came.

Turkey Cheese thingys... yummers at the Ox
ABOVE: Cheddar smothered turkey ox fingers pictured here on the verge of hitting the spot.

 

Western Heritage Inn Actually Kinda Terrible

Montana was a trip like none other we’ve ever taken. The people and places we saw were so great that after almost three weeks in big sky country, we took a month back home, and just had to return for another three week. That doesn’t mean all of it was perfect though, and there were a few glaring exceptions… The Western Heritage Inn in Bozeman was one such bone in the smoked salmon fillet, and it deserves mention for it.

As if old juice isn`t hard enough to swallow, try it with a dead bear staring at you.
As if old juice isn`t hard enough to swallow, try it with a dead bear staring at you.

We’d been driving all evening when we saw big billboards that said it was a great place at a great value, but that turned out to be worse than a lie. We got in late, so our exhaustion limited our options. From pulling into the parking lot we could tell the neighborhood was as bad as you can find in Montana, but we were travel weary and ready to crash. Us kids were already sleeping, but badly, and the parents needed respite as well.

Daddy-man went in to find out the room rate and book it, only to find it was about double what was expected for what the property was. He mentioned the highway billboards, but no discount for that. He flashed the media badges (since we were in the state by invitation to write media reviews) and they gave him $10 off, which was no real discount.

They tried to say “it’s the best rate in town” but we’d stayed in Bozeman several times and knew that wasn’t true, and said as much. Then they tried saying they only have a few months to make their whole year of operating income… um, but the same is true for the whole state, so what makes these guys entitled to rip us off in ways their competitors don’t?

He said to them, “Ok, but you know I’m going to write this up as a review, right?”… and they said that was fine… so there we were, but it only got worse from there. The room only had 4 pillows for five people, and after 30-minutes of standing at the front counter (in the wee hours of the morning) we learned there were no more pillows to be had, and no alternatives.

You try sleeping without a pillow and tell me what kind of review you’ll give a hotel.

Worst on the pack-in was that our room was on the third floor and there isn’t an elevator. May not seem like a big deal in the afternoon, but after midnight with three sleeping kids and luggage to dress us in the morning, it can be a bit much to handle. Insult to injury, we had to unplug the tired old mini-fridge just so we could get peace enough to sleep.

When morning came we went down for breakfast, only to find it wasn’t even up to Super-8 standards, which is really the bottom of the breakfast barrel. They had fruit that wasn’t ripe, all the pastries were gone (if there even had been any) and when we left, we immediately went to get breakfast… wait, didn’t we just pay for breakfast?

Even at our discounted rate, the place was way too expensive. I’m sorry they have only a few months to make a years worth of income, but if we told our bosses we only had a few months to work, and that we wanted a whole year of pay, they’d tell us to pick up a winter job.

I’d say that maybe you shouldn’t live in the tundra, but your competitors all make a fine living without taking advantage of travelers, so really, what’s your excuse?

Sorry guys, but out of the 100+ reviews we’ve done in Montana, you have the dubious distinction of being one of the mere half-dozen that get a bad mark. We don’t like to run negative pieces, but the Western Heritage Inn is so bad we’d be failing in our duties if we didn’t report it as such.

In short, the place is terrible, extremely overpriced for what it is, and the victim of a culture of management complacency thirty years in the making and in dire need of updating.

The wifi didn’t work, the beds were extremely old, and the décor defies even the remotest stretch of modernity. Those can be acceptable standards if the rates are right, but they were still the 2nd highest we paid on any of our 40+ days in the state. Essentially you’re paying Marriot Courtyard rates for what’s basically a run-down roadside motel.

To their credit however, the rooms are spacious, the beds are kings, and the lobby is loaded with dead stuffed animals, some of them fairly well taxidermied. Even still, this place earns a golden zerbert from Perplexing Times. The state of Montana has so many honest, ethical, caring and compassionate businesses, and a tiny number of lying, abusive clowns like this.

Thanks for the poor night of sleep, the absence of pillows and breakfast, and the need to make us lug our stuff up and down three flights of stairs. It’s not “thanks for nothing” because we don’t mind nothing, but premium prices and horrible service make for an extremely poor experience… bad enough in fact we might just tell the world about it… now what makes me guess we’ll never hear boo from them?

Western Heritage Inn Bozeman Montana is Really Bad
ABOVE: See that tiny little counter underneath the stairs? That’s the whole breakfast bar for the entire 250-room motel… do you think it could possible satisfy half of the guests, let alone all of them?

 

Museum of the North Great Plains Preaches Fun from Farming

Of all the dozens of museums we saw in Montana, easily the most unassuming of all would be the Museum of the North Great Plains. It’s not a super catchy name, and it doesn’t tell you much about what it does. Parking out front, all you can see is that it looks like it used to be a warehouse or maybe a furniture store… once inside, however, you better be holding on to your socks, because they’re about to get knocked off.

Giant tractor, only distracted a bit by my brother standing in the way.
Giant tractor, only distracted a bit by my brother standing in the way.

The first exhibits you’ll see are cavernous areas of farming equipment, and I don’t mean that in any dull sense because it’s really quite exciting. They’ve got historic pieces of machinery in there, and it’s everything from the 5-millionth International Harvester to roll off the line to a random handyman farmer’s half-baked attempt to convert his Model-A to a tractor.

There are videos and temporary exhibits, but for those of us who have never seen a real, working farm, the amazing part to us is all of the heavy machinery. Have you ever been up close to a train’s grain car? My dad grew up across the street from the tracks, and even he had to pull the curator aside to ask if it was a real car, or an oversized replica… nope, that’s how big they really are.

I can’t well convey bigness in print, but I can tell you every member of our party, plus the dad of a grain man in the adjacent party my dad had the audacity to bother, were all in awe at the sheer size of it.

They don’t just have wheat combines you could take back outside today and use again, but every step between it and its oldest (ineffective) predecessor… and we’re still in the first big room… so let’s go outside, shall we?

Outside is a replica ye olde timey town called the Homesteader Village, set in about the 1920s. Many of the buildings are originals that were brought on-site through grants and gifts, including our favorites, the old bank and jail.

Prisoners today should have it so miserable, but then again, today’s cops should also be held to account for their crimes of selfishness, vindictiveness and complacent convenience… don’t worry about that though, many victims, witnesses and suspects have cameras and other recording devices, so they’ll burn soon enough for the injustices they’ve served.

Antique farm tractors
ABOVE: They have many interesting, well-preserved, antique farm tractors on display, once again, their glory only detracted by my younger brother standing in the way.

But that’s a topic for another time and place because we still aren’t done. There’s a whole, huge barn-sized garage full of super-ancient carriages. I’m talking about the sorts of actual, really expensive carriages that people actually rode in with horses and all that.

I could go on for days, but I’ll cut it off here. This was one of our last days in Montana and we were a bit rushed, but this is a really, really great museum and the admission charge was extremely low. The city of Fort Benton, the last city up the Missouri ships could ever go, has a very small population, but has been blessed with unbelievable earmarks in the past decade or so. They’ve got all kinds of things to entice wayward tourists, even though there really are quite few of them. We could get bitter about it, but better and more positive might be to just let it go and revel in the touristic delight.

These are good people, and they didn’t actually ask for all the federal funds that have made it such an amazing hub of conservation. Don’t fret the people who live and work there, but thank them for taking these jobs in places like this, because pork barrel benefits or not, they still earn nearly nothing, and are only there because they really love sharing their history with you.

The Museum of the Great Plains is located in Fort Benton, Montana, and you can find it from anywhere in town, in part because the town is so small and quiet, but also because there are giant buffalo hoof prints painted on the roads connecting all the museums in the city.

blacksmith museum exhibit
ABOVE: There are whole buildings stuffed with historically significant items. This place is a barn where a blacksmith might have once plied his trade, except without my brother standing right there next to him mooking up my picture.

 

Electric City Water Park Great for Soaking in Fun, Sun, Water

When we set out for the second time to spend a few weeks in Montana, we pledged to ourselves to hit all the big hotspots we missed the first time around. That means we’d hit Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Great Falls, Kalispell and even get up to Havre… but there are just so many things to see, it didn’t happen. From that whole list, the only place we got to was Great Falls, and it was well worth the trip.

More than just swimming, Electric City Park has all kinds of stuff for those who choose not to swim.
More than just swimming, Electric City Park has all kinds of stuff for those who choose not to swim.

By the time we got up to Great Falls, the summer months were waning faster than something else that goes away quickly… I don’t know, melting ice cream maybe? I’m not good with metaphors, metafives or any other number or meta things, so pardon my lack of literary cleverness…

Cut me some slack you guys, I’m five years old.

But we did get a chance to check out the Electric City Water Park, and although it goes without saying that it was fun for me, it was also fun for much bigger, harder to enthuse people as well.

This place has been around since the 1930s, but it’s changed a bit decade by decade, and it got pretty darn exciting about ten years ago when the voters passed a big bond issue to fund a massive reconstruction project.

animation of the greatest feature at Electric City water parkLEFT: Find a guy with proper skills and there’s little limit to what they can do on the Flow Rider. This guy was one of the lifeguards at the park, and thanks to us being journalists, we got his boss to literally force him to have fun showing his mad skillz.

They changed the old lap pool to a waveless one (with the gutters on the side to absorb wave energy), they added a few radical slides, they rebuilt the kiddy spray-pool area (my favorite, thank you,) and the installed the unthinkable… the three-in-one turbine engine pool.

Imagine you live in middle-o-nowhere up-state Montana, and you get one of the first Flow Rider pools in the United States… how cool are you now?

Most people have only seen this technology on commercials for Princess Cruise Lines, and it’s the same sort of super-premium feature, except without the expensive cabin fare to get aboard, and without 3,000 people standing in line in front of you.

This thing jets out tens of thousands of gallons per minute to create a safe, aggressive, fake wave for boarders to catch a wave. You can get crazy with the stunts on it too, if you have the skill… we managed to get a park staffer to give us a little show, and you can see an animation of it here, but the perpetually cresting wave is just the first of the three-part pool feature.

The second part is down the backside of the wave area. It’s a slide that has more water behind it than you can imagine, and it’s fast, furious and aggressive as well, but not scary or dangerous, just fast.

And from there the “Lazy River” gets to run around the higher features at a brisk, unstoppable pace. The jets from the primary fun-spot has so much energy behind it that it powers the whole area. The slide, the Lazy Rriver*, the Flow Rider, all of it.

Of course, if you stand in front of the wave area, you’re in the splash zone, and you’re going to get soaked… Found that one out the hard way… didn’t much care for it.

Because this is a civic park, the admission rates are below rock-bottom cheap, though the months of operation are seriously limited by the local climate. If you’re planning a trip to the area any time other than the dead of summer, check online or call to find out if they’ll even open before you’re visit. You can find them easily right downtown by the river, or just check any online source for better directions… get with me here people, you obviously have the internet.

* If you are looking for a truly lazy river to drift within, try the same named Lazy River at Currents Missoula, it’s just as lazy as the name proclaims.

fun in the kiddy pool at Electric City Great Falls Montana
ABOVE: If you doubt or wonder the fun, put it to bed like a dog-tired boy when you see this face of unrivaled glee.

 

School Pictures Ten Times Better, Half the Price

Around this time every year we get stuck with a whole new batch of buses we have to ride, things we’re supposed to learn, and friends we’re supposed to get all chummy with. Sounds bad maybe, but consider what the parents have to go through. They have to find a way to hook us up with a whole new batch of Back To School photos, and the people that come to schools are terrible when it comes to quality, pricing, and giving a darn about what they do. Now there’s a choice, and one we recommend very highly at that.

Just a snippy-shot of how easy the site is to use.
Just a snippy-shot of how easy the site is to use.

The time-tested company American Greetings PhotoWorks you get to take your own picture (everybody has a digital camera, or access to one these days, right?) so you can take a thousand if that’s what you need to get the right shot that’s just right to represent your rambunctious angel. You just upload it to their site, pick what you want to get, and you’re done. Just like that.

And the prices are downright reasonable. You know how you always say the at-school guys are ripping you off? These guys aren’t. They’re in the business of selling prints, not in the business of trapping and tricking parents who feel guilted into buying these collectable keepsakes.

So let’s do a little comparison price shopping, shall we?

This is the actual pricing from my school shown for Package C, which is 1 8×10, 2 5×7, and 9 wallets. The school offers this for $54… and I wish I was exaggerating. This is a picture they spent under a minute capturing, and the prints cost virtually nothing, so where do they get the right to charge such outlandish fees?

Conversely, you can get that (plus a bit extra) from American Greetings PhotoWorks for $12… is the difference starting to make sense? To put it another way, the biggest package we wanted from PhotoWorks cost less than the cheapest package the school photo people had to offer… how is that even possible?

The only thing we’re buying from the school picture people this year is the class photo. Even though they take one and sell it to 30-kids, it’s still $12.50 for the single picture. What kind of usury criminal abuse is this? That’s nonsense. It costs them nothing. What happens when parents have no food on the table, no gas in the tank, and no way of affording these outrageous costs for something so completely devoid of value to them?

This just in: The answer is, the kids lose out on something to remember their childhood by, and only because the photo company demands a 1,000% markup on goods, even though they’re rarely worth much at all, even in terms of sitting-quality.

Do yourself a favor and go with American Greetings PhotoWorks guys instead. If you’re skeptical, go with them in addition to your regular deal. I bet you that if you try them, you’ll use them for life, as we’ve committed to doing. As an added bonus, we’ve pledged to give away a $50 photo package to parents. All you have to do to enter our drawing or send us an email (use the button at the top of this page) explaining why you believe this is a good product, and why you’d like to try it, and agree to let us publish your entry (along with your first name only) when you win.

Easy interface to upload your school photos on PhotoWorks.com thanks to American Greetings
ABOVE: The interface is so easy to use even a parent can figure it out.