Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Labor Day Weekend and Beyond


It's the first Saturday of every month from 6-9pm downtown Oshkosh. If you are in town this weekend take advantage of this opportunity to experience some fine art and visit with friends and possibly even a few polititians.


Be at South Park Monday afternoon for live music, brats, beer and more.


All day and into the night at the Sauk County Fairgrounds in Baraboo. The largest political gathering in Wisconsin...period! See you there Saturday September 9. Go here for details.



Back in the '70's (the 1970's, not the 1870's) I had the opportunity to fix many lawn mowers since I couldn't afford a new one. I learned early on that no matter what the brand name on the mower there were only two kinds of engines:

Briggs & Stratton


If my memory is correct Briggs and Stratton was Milwaukee based back then...that is before they moved production to Mexico.

Now I hear that Tecumseh is moving production from Wisconsin to Brazil.

Happy Labor Day!

Folks. It's time for action. See you at Fighting Bob Fest.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Dr. Evermor: The World's Largest Metal Sculpture

My last column mentioned Dr. Evermor's place south of Baraboo. He has a guest book and strongly urges everyone to sign it. He saw Oshkosh and had a story to tell.

Dr. Evermor told about dismantling the People's Brewery in Oshkosh some thirty years ago. He detailed some items he thought would be a good investment and came back and bid on them during the auction. In the process of bidding the job and doing the dismantling he acquired the main large beer vat from the brewery.

He told me that he donated the beer vat to his (then) friend who owned the "House on the Rock" near Spring Green. Their friendship deteriorated over the years but 'donated' was the word he used about a month ago. I suspect that 'donated' is a pleasantry for 'traded something of value' or another business term.

Dr. Evermor was very clear on one point: People's Brewery of Oshkosh at the time of it's demise was the only black-owned brewery in the United States.

In the days after meeting him my memory was piqued and a beer discussion over some beers came back to me. The discussion took place in the early 1990's shortly after I became a resident. Small craft breweries were new and beginning to sprout up everywhere and then the subject matter turned to all of the breweries that had closed over the years.

I knew nothing of People's Brewery and listened as three guys explained and argued about it. A black fellow (they continually used the n-word) who wore a suit and came from some big city had bought the brewery and that's when the slide began. Oshkosh folks refused to buy People's Beer because a black owned it. Even the brewery workers fooled around on the job due to their distaste of getting a paycheck signed by a n_____. I knew little of Oshkosh and was amazed at what I was hearing after living two decades where minorities were given respect. They told me that the brewery closed in a very short time and the n____ left town.

Thanks Dr. Evermor for bringing back those personal memories, and thanks to Dr Evermor you can see that Brew Vat when you visit House on The Rock.

I have mentioned the above story to several folks around Oshkosh to a uniform reaction: The same thing would probably happen to a black-owned brewery if the year was 2006.

This is a sad state of affairs folks.
For more on the People's Brewery please go here and here.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Wisconsin Budget Weekend

Summer will shortly turn into indian summer and that beautiful time of year: early fall. I recently put together a very inexpensive weekend travel idea for some friends and they suggested that I pass it on to everyone. I call it Gary's weekend on the cheap.


Cedar Hills Campground
Dunlap Hollow Road
About 5mi south of Sauk City,WI -off HY.78

Cedar Hills Campground, unique and eclectic, has to be my all time pick. Don't look for a website. It doesn't exist. Don't bother bringing plastic. You'll be laughed at. The checkbook? Maybe, but only in an emergency and after you've known the owner for three or four years. $16 bucks a night or $84 a week. Cash please. A week lasts 9-10 days if you're a good customer for ice and firewood. Firewood is $6, hardwood, and enough for a long fire for two nights.

The campground sits atop the highest hill in the area some 900ft above sea level and some 600ft above the nearby Wisconsin River. It winds for a mile and one-half with large sites capable of holding 4-5 tents and three vehicles. Each site is unique in that it works with the existing rocky terrain. There are open sites, wooded sites, secluded sites, multi-level sites, and even some sites with shelters. Many have bench swings which overlook the valley. The valley is gorgeous with few buildings, pretty farms, and an oak savannah. The view is magnificent from any site. Blue Mounds,WI, some thirty-five miles away is easily visible and gives a clue as to why it was named that. Site #5 and site #29A are two of the most popular and hardest to get sites. A large Cross, some 30ft high is around site #8 & 9. It is visible for miles and has been the setting for weddings over the years. There are no flush toilets anywhere in the campground. Restrooms are in two cement buildings and many porta-potties scattered around the campground. Owner Carl Goodwiler makes sure the restroom facilities are clean and sweet smelling. A central shower facility is also very clean.

It's a one mile drive from the campground office (farm house) to the start of the 1 and 1/2 mile campground. Be prepared to drop a gear or two in the steep parts. The first part of the grounds has electricity and water but I have always preferred the sites beyond that which have none of the amenities. The star gazing is always best without lights.

Owner Carl and his friend Betty are great hosts.


The hill has a name: Wisconsin Heights. The combined area high school also uses that name. The hill runs above four miles or so of Highway 78. The south end of the hill is Cedar Hills Campground. The rest of the hill is a state owned natural area. I will attempt to title it in a proper way: State of Wisconsin, Department of Natural Resources, Lower Wisconsin Riverway, Blackhawk Unit. The Blackhawk Unit is just one of 26 or27 units of the Lower Riverway and comprises 800 acres directly accessible from the campground. The unit is the site of a former equestrian academy, has Sauk Burial Mounds and is a sacred place for the Sauk. The most famous battle of the Blackhawk War occurred here on the night of July 21, 1832 when Sauk Warrior Blackhawk (note that he was not a chief) and 50-60 of his Braves held off 800 white soldiers while over a thousand Sauk women, children, elderly and sick managed to escape unscathed into and across the nearby Wisconsin River. People who study war consider this battle brilliant on Blackhawk's part. Of note: Blackhawk wrote an autobiography and it is available to read online. Go here. The Blackhawk Unit is free and open to the public for horseback riding, hiking and hunting. Deer hunters should be aware that this property is in the middle of the CWD area. As for myself I have CRS and can't remember.


For the person who has never been there, the trip would not be complete without visiting the bluff. It is essential to understand the Lower Riverway Project. It might be the boldest state project in the nation. The riverway has no dams from Prairie du Sac to the Mississipi River. Parcel by parcel land is acquired and returned to its natural state. Shacks are torn down, power poles are removed and the property is left to go to seed. The Ferry Bluff unit is an eagle preserve with no human activity allowed in the winter. During the summer visitors can walk the 800 steps up (20% incline) and be perched on a large tor with the river 200ft below. Bring the binoculars and camera. This view has been used in the past in state tourism ads but the location is never given. There are no restrooms and room for less than 10 vehicles. You will also notice no garbage containers. Like many of the other riverway units no glass is allowed and you MUST be able to produce a garbage container (plastic store bag). You can be fined upwards of $200 for each offense. The view is much the same as what the French Priests' Marquette and Joliet saw in 1673. It's like being in a time machine. The Wisconsin boy John Muir probably sat on that tor on his weekend hikes while attending the University of Wisconsin. (Muir of course later moved to California and started a little club: The Sierra Club.) Aldo Leopold's famous Shack where he wrote "A Sand County Almanac" is just a few miles downriver on the same side. Ferry Bluff was also a favorite place for the Midwest's most prolific writer of the last century: August Derleth.

Sitting atop Ferry Bluff is being on mother nature's altar viewing a vast natural cathedral. To some it is a revelation. In a word: unforgettable. It is just like Wisconsin Dells minus all human intervention!

Note that Ferry Bluff is Free. (You may be catching on to this. The operative word is free.)


Make the day special. Take your car for a boat ride! There has been a ferry of one sort or another at Merrimac,WI since the 1840's. It is on Hy113. You can approach from the north off Hy78 or from the south off Hy60. Merrimac is not far from the south end of Devils Lake State Park. Shut your car off, get out and walk around. You may even get splashed. The lifeboat on the old Colsac II was named the S.S. Minnow for many years (ala Gilligan's Island) but as fate would have it there was an accident when someone stepped on the gas instead of the brakes which resulted in deaths. No more S.S. Minnow. If the trip is too short, turn around and ride it again. There are snack shops on either side plus a roadside park on the south shore. You will see signs that say "Lake Wisconsin". That is a misnomer. It is the Wisconsin River which is extremely wide due to the back-up of water from the dam at Prairie du Sac. The ferry is of course FREE! By car, cycle, bicycle, or on foot.


This is another DNR Lower Wisconsin Riverway Unit. It is also called Mazo Beach. It is across the river from the Ferry Bluff Unit. Hunters, fishermen, birdwatchers, and skinny-dippers help the DNR administer the unit. All groups mentioned have been part of the scenery for as long as anyone can remember. In my lifetime I have heard it called Bare-Ass Beach, Bare-Bottom Beach, and now: Mazo Beach. It's almost a mile walk from the nearest parking lot and an island isolates it from river users since the main channel runs on the far side of the island. Former Gov. Lee Dreyfuss said Madison is 30miles surrounded by reality. Mazo Beach is the northwest corner of Dane County of which Madison is the county seat. The people that spend their summertime in this area refer to it as reality with the un-reality being anywhere but Dane County. Cedar Hills Campground is a short 4miles from the Mazo parking lot. Many choose to canoe to the beach. The Mazo Unit is of course free.


Camping on the Wisconsin River is totally FREE!!! There are however a few rules. The main one is: You can camp anywhere you wish EXCEPT you can't camp on shore! Camping is allowed on islands and sand bars. There are public put-ins and many canoe rentals. Blackhawk River Runs is on Hy'Y' south of Sauk City just upriver from the Mazo and Ferry Bluff units. All the liveries are good with one exception: Don't rent from Ruth Bender. The Benders complain about everything and I mean everything.


Dr. Evermor's place is a real trip. The worlds largest metal sculpture. Two story arachnids. A hundred piece orchestra. Everything is for sale. The Discovery Channel did a special on this place and he also has a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. I met him several weeks ago and am going to do a column on his Oshkosh connections. On Hy12 south of Baraboo, his place is across from the defunct huge Army Ammunition Plant. Free admission.


Wisconsin Trails Magazine calls it Wisconsin's best farm market. On Hy14 east of Spring Green it looks just like any other large farm market. This is the right time of the year to visit. They have a very large free petting zoo in back. Miniature Japanese Deer, pot bellied pigs, and much more. Also: Free horse drawn wagon rides AND camel rides on the weekends. All FREE! The produce is exceptional. You'll want to take some back to the campground. Wrap it in tinfoil and let it sizzle on the edge of the campfire.


Just a few miles from Peck's Farm Market you can immerse yourself in FLW's airy inside-outside feeling of oneness. The visitor center is a springboard to paid tours of nearby Taliesin, Wright's home. Tour the visitor center for free. Come back another time and take one of the paid tours.

There is so much more to do in that area of the state. I'll do another column on it someday. The area northwest and west of Madison is home to Purple Loosestrife and other pretty plants which you can learn more about here. Take photos but don't you dare bring the plants back home!