Scouting Kentucky’s Green River, Tourist Traps, Backroads and Other Diversions – Part 6
Coming back to Ohio from Mammoth Cave I opted to take the backroads. “Spurnpiking” I call it.
I didn’t coin the term. Or its root word “Spurnpike.” I recall first hearing it from my friend William Breitbart. I liked the word because it described my attitude about travel. Interstate highways are sterile and boring.
Driving backroads takes a lot of patience. And time. I inherited patience from my father. I’m retired now, so I have plenty of time.
Had I taken interstate highways all the way home — more than 360 miles worth — I would have missed one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever seen, the ruins of a restaurant built inside a cave.
It wasn’t a natural cave. Not all of it, anyway. It had been blasted into the side of a steep bluff along U.S. 68 by a demolition expert known as “Tunnel” Smith. According to an account written by Bryon Cranford, Col. George M. Chinn Jr. hired Smith to do it. Chinn, a large and colorful character, decided to build a gas station and restaurant there. It was called Chinn’s Cave House.
According to Cranford, customers marveled at how Chinn could afford to sell his sandwiches so cheaply. Apparently, he was supplementing his income with slot machines in the back.
Chinn did get arrested for operating games of chance. He beat the rap by proving that — the way the machines were rigged — there was no chance involved.
Chinn also made his mark as an inventor or automatic weaponry, earning high praise from none other than astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn.
While he was serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, Chinn’s higher-ups called on his slot machine expertise on one occasion. According to Cranford, the officers couldn’t figure out why their slot machines at the service clubs weren’t making money. Chinn recommended that they change the personnel in charge of emptying the machines at night.
Chinn died in 1978. He was only in his 50s, but left a legacy that will live on for generations.