Sunday, May 11, 2008

Stockport, Big Muskie and a New Fav

Once a month several riders from the church get together for a group ride. This month’s destination was Stockport, Ohio.

The group consisted of about 15 riders and 8 passengers with riding experiences from under a year to close to 25 years. The journey took us through Zanesville, Roseville, Crooksville, and Malta. We rode through wide spots like Zeno and Cabinville and stopped to pay our respects to a south east Ohio icon in Reinersville.

We traveled state routes almost exclusively, each of them with interesting vistas if not challenging twists and turns:
SR 83
SR 93
SR 669
SR 376
SR 266
and, my new personal favorite road, SR 284.

The Stockport Mill

Our first destination of note was Stockport, Ohio.

Stockport at one time used to be a happening place. Situated on the Muskingum River, a narrow bridge provides river crossing about 100 feet upstream from the Stockport Dam, one of many dams and locks used to control water level on the Muskingum River, whose primary use at one time was commerce, trade, and transportation.

Since 1842, there have been 3 mills built at this location, the current structure in place since 1903, the grinding of wheat grain and the production of flour being its intended purpose from the very first. In addition to its flour production, for twenty years starting 1908, the mill was granted a contract to provide electricity to the village of Stockport for its street lights.

Nowadays the mill structure houses The Stockport Mill Inn and Restaurant. No flour is produced here any longer but after several years of neglect and several more of restoration, the turbines in the basement turn once more and produce electricity to power the businesses under its roof.

Big Muskie

After leaving Stockport, we traveled a circuitous route north, over highways that, at one time bisected open strip mines that produced coal for much of Ohio’s electrical power plants.

A dinosaur of a machine that last saw work in 1991 was Big Muskie, one of the worlds largest dragline shovels. Having been both a part of, and the tool used to reshape the countryside for over 40 years it was disassembled and sold for scrap in 1997, with only the shovel remaining at a roadside cutout which we visited.

Big Muskie would remove the 100 to 150 feet of soil and aggregate that covered rich deposits of bituminous coal, allowing the smaller more nimble earth movers to recover the resource.

All of the area’s former strip mines are in the distant past and the mega sized electric companies that owned the land like to point to this area as a success story of their version of terra-forming. The views are nice, but nothing like the originals of 50 or 100 years ago, I’m told.

A New Favorite Road

About 10 miles north is where we hooked up with SR 284, my new favorite road. The surface is well maintained and smooth with wide curves and plunging descents and ascents. Much of the route is tree lined but the sections that follow the ridge line are open and you can see much of the surrounding county.

Call Me Sparks

Signs like these are posted every mile or so and it was soon after we stopped at the Big Muskie bucket that I was given a nickname: Sparks. It seems that whenever Teresa and I ride curvy roads, more than once I tend to scrape my floor boards.

Lee, a friendly soul and veteran rider (he's holding the miniature poodle) swore he was going to bolt on some magnesium flints to my floor boards so I could provide a light show to go along with the sound I was making. I smile and mention something about habits of my old race circuit days which caused them to laugh even more, since they know I’ve never spent a minute on a track.

Sweet Rewards

The last leg of the return trip found some of our group needing to depart early and we waved goodbye to them when we returned to Zanesville. For those who decided to linger, desert was in order at Tom’s Ice Cream Bowl.

Tom’s has been around as long as I can remember selling it own quality ice cream concoctions and chocolates as well as nuts, with servers and cashiers wearing white shirts and pants sporting trim black bow ties.

And Tom’s is always busy. It’s one of those places that serve a sundae in a bowl sitting on a saucer because they always put too much sweet goodness – ice cream, sauce, whipped cream, nuts, whatever – in the bowl.

The contents of the bowl finds it way down the sides, a delicious mess for those with a sweet tooth or more accurately a sweet fang. A two dip sundae probably equates to well over a quart and easily accommodates two patrons.

Soon after eating too much and being a bit anxious to hurry home before the drowsiness of overeating kicked in, we departed Tom’s and said “Goodbye” to rest of the group. Teresa and I had spent about 5 hours on the road, including stops for everything you could imagine except a breakdown; a total of about 225 miles of some of the best geography in the state.

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