Looking for Melco

melcophotoCue “Twilight Zone” theme music.

Imagine, if you will, a sleepy little village named Lucas, Ohio. A stranger comes into town, looking not for Lucas but a place called Melco. But Melco doesn’t exist. Except in the twilight zone.

Nee nee nee nee nee nee nee nee …

Weirder still, two strangers had stopped by a junk shop on the edge of Lucas earlier in the day — asking for directions to Melco. They haven’t been heard from since. At least not in Lucas.

Melco is a ghost town. The coal-burning power plant that gave rise to the company town east of Lucas became obsolete in the mid 1950s, except to scavengers and vandals. And apparently strangers who straggle into Lucas looking for it from time to time.

All but a few traces of the 70-acre town were obliterated in the 1960s. A sign posted on a closed road leading into Melco warns intruders that their every move is being recorded on camera. Even if they were to ignore the warning and proceed to the site, they wouldn’t find much.

At one time, imposing smoke stacks rose from the power plant. The company built 10 houses to accommodate workers — along with tennis courts and a swimming pool to occupy them and their families. By some accounts, there also was a hotel, stores and an office complex.

Melco wasn’t exactly a resort town — being in the shadow of belching smokestacks. It wasn’t a particularly safe place to work either. Newspapers routinely published accounts of deaths and injuries at the plant. But, in its heyday, Melco produced electricity for Mansfield, Ashland and Loudonville.

Melco was built in 1917 by New York business magnate Henry L. Doherty, who combined electric streetcar systems, gas light and electrical power generating companies to capitalize on demands created by the quickly evolving industrial revolution. Quickly evolving by those day’s standards.

Doherty built the plant at the confluence of Black Fork and Rocky Fork of the Mohican River because of the availability of water. (Not at Black Fork and Clear Fork, as one historian wrote. She might have been confused by a 1950 Mansfield News Journal article that misidentified Rocky Fork.)

In no time at all, the plant was operating at full capacity, but the rivers weren’t. A few years later, after Charles Mill Dam was built in the mid 1930s, the company requested that flow be adjusted to provide more water for the steam turbines. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, whose mission was to prevent flooding downstream, accommodated Melco by letting more water out of Charles Mill Lake on an experimental basis.

It seemed to be working out. But, when the Corps of Engineers asked the company to help pay for the extra service, Melco officials balked. Melco built a small dam downstream of Charles Mill Dam. The company also persuaded government officials to deepen and straighten the Black Fork channel all the way to Loudonville.

In a clear example of creeping corporate socialism, the government appropriated gobs of taxpayers’ money to accommodate private enterprise. Channelization work continued until after World War II. The down side, other than sticking taxpayers with the bill to grease the skids for a powerful utility, was that the natural flow of Black Fork was negatively affected.

Fortunately, the project fell from favor and was officially abandoned in the 1960s — before Black Fork was completely turned into an open sewer between Charles Mill Lake and Loudonville.

Equally as fortunate was a development in 1961. Richard Frye opened Ohio’s first canoe livery at the confluence of Clear Fork and Black Fork near Loudonville. (Not to be confused with the confluence of Rocky and Black forks near Lucas.) Without imposing a burden on taxpayers or the environment, Frye’s enterprise launched a sustainable industry that brought tourism to the Loudonville/Mohican area.

Frye’s venture ultimately brought thousands of strangers into town looking not for Melco, but for an inexpensive place to camp, canoe, hike and otherwise enjoy nature.

On that note, we’re not out of the twilight zone by any means. Other strangers wander into town from time to time with big ideas for re-industrializing the Mohican River Valley — often walking arm-in-arm with our elected officials. And you can bet they all have their hand in your back pocket.

Note — This account is part of a work in progress on ghost towns of the Mohican River.

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Baldfaced Truth

A baldfaced hornet emerges from a hole in a tree where we beached our canoes on Harness Lake.

A baldfaced hornet emerges from a hole in a tree where we beached our canoes on Harness Lake.

I have baldfaced hornets to thank for numerous WTF moments this summer.

While checking the pasture for monarch caterpillars, I came across a shredded nest with several baldfaced hornets crawling around it. This struck me as odd because, a few weeks earlier, I’d seen them nesting inside a tree in Algonquin Provincial Park in Canada.

So I Googled it.

I was relieved to learn that I hadn’t been hallucinating; baldfaced hornets do nest in trees and in paper nests — sometimes built on low-lying shrubs. The nests are sometimes predated by raccoons, foxes and skunks, which might have explained the shredded one in the pasture.

Baldfaced hornets in their paper nest.

Baldfaced hornets in their paper nest.

I also learned that, all in all, baldfaced hornets are beneficial. They’re pollinators and serve as food for birds, frogs and other insects. The thing I like most about them is that they kill and devour yellow jackets.  Having been stung by yellow jackets twice in the past three weeks, I’ve become a big fan of baldfaced hornets.

Another cool fact — sometimes they chew up and feed their young so many yellow jackets that their nests take on a yellow tint.

The downside of baldfaced hornets is that they can be just as nasty as yellow jackets if provoked. However, if the nest are located in places where they’re not in the way, that shouldn’t be a problem.

So I was delighted to see they had built a beautiful nest in a pine tree in the front yard, far away from human traffic. For the job they do eradicating yellow jackets, I’m tempted to climb up there and leave little mints under their pillows.

Pure and simple, this nest is a thing of beauty!

Pure and simple — this baldfaced hornet nest is a thing of beauty!

 

Canadian Odyssey – Gallery

Spiderweb illuminated by the sunset at Killbear Provincial Park

Spiderweb illuminated by a sunset at Killbear Provincial Park

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Sandcastles on the eastern shore at sunrise — Killbear Provincial Park on the Georgian Bay

Sandcastles on the eastern shore at sunrise — Killbear Provincial Park

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Sunrise at Shuswap on Lake Nipissing

Sunrise at Shuswap on Lake Nipissing

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Detail from barn sculpture on Highway 518 between Parry Sound and Huntsville

Detail from barn sculpture on Highway 518 between Parry Sound and Huntsville

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Plan the work and ... (A bench at our Kirkwood Lake Campsite in Algonquin Provincial Park

Plan the work and … (A bench at our Kirkwood Lake Campsite in Algonquin Provincial Park)

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Detail from the shoreline — our first Head Lake campsite

Detail from the shoreline — our first Head Lake campsite

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Toad on the portage path between Kirkwood and Phipps lakes

A toad guards the portage path between Kirkwood and Phipps lakes

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Ken insisted that I take photos of these boulders on Pardee Lake.

Ken insisted that I take photos of these boulders on Pardee Lake.

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Detail — waterfalls between Kenneth and Head lakes

Detail — waterfalls between Kenneth and Head lakes

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Bacteria ... algae ... these signs have become all too common on our lakes.

Bacteria … algae … these signs have become all too common on our lakes.

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Old truck parked outside a cottage on the east side of Pelee Island

Old truck parked outside a cottage on the east side of Pelee Island

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Phragmites taking over wetlands on Pelee Island

Phragmites taking over wetlands on Pelee Island

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Not sure what these were, but the expression on the one in the middle was priceless.

Not sure what these were, but the expression on the one in the middle was priceless.

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Visual pun. Hint: Yabba dabba doo!

Visual pun. Hint: Yabba dabba doo!

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Detail from old boat hull — north end of Pelee Island

Detail from old boat hull — north end of Pelee Island

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Old new boat

Old new boat

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Not sure what the significance was. This had been placed inside the boat hull along with painted rocks.

Not sure what the significance was. This had been placed inside the boat hull along with painted rocks.

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This charred piece of newspaper had been placed under the clay object in the previous photo.

This charred piece of newspaper had been placed under the clay object in the previous photo.

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Another detail from the boat hull

Another detail from the boat hull

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A memorial to cancer victims posted on the west side of Pelee Island

A memorial to cancer victims posted on the west side of Pelee Island

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These bras were draped from branches not far from the cancer victim memorial.

These bras were draped from branches not far from the cancer victim memorial.

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A sign explaining the significance of the stoneman sculpture on the west side of the island

A sign explaining the significance of the stoneman sculpture on the west side of the island

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Stoneman (and friend) at sunset

Stoneman (and friend) at sunset

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Calm or choppy — Lake Erie has a power that sends chills through you.

Calm or choppy — Lake Erie has a power that sends chills through you.

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Wild plum?

Wild plum?

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One of Pelee Island’s nature reserves

One of Pelee Island’s nature reserves

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Shorebird-turned-roadrunner — Playing chicken with the cars on the west side of the island.

Shorebird-turned-roadrunner — Playing chicken with the cars on the west side of the island.

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When playgrounds and children were made to last

When playgrounds and children were made to last

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ggggreendarnbety

Green darnerfly — Watch out kids, it’ll sew your eyelids shut!

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One more sunrise

One more sunrise

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Goodbye, Canada. See you next year.

Goodbye, Canada. See you next year.

 

Canadian Odyssey – Epilogue

The railing on the ferry from Pelee Island to Sandusky. This boat has seen better days.

The railing on the ferry from Pelee Island to Sandusky. This boat has seen better days.

A man at the next table said, “Anyone taking the ferry to the mainland this morning is in for a rough ride.”

Not what I wanted to hear, but I’ve been there. The last time I’d been to the Lake Erie islands, I kayaked in seven-foot waves, eventually taking a swim — and pulling the coaming off the cockpit getting out of my overturned boat. I don’t do Eskimo rolls. I do the scared white guy getting the hell out of there maneuver. In kayaking jargon, that’s known as a “wet exit.” They probably call it that because, at that point, you’re so terrified you’ve pissed yourself.

It was quite a ride. The waves looked to be in the five-foot range, and the ferry from Pelee Island to Sandusky was a tub compared to the mini luxury liner I’d taken three days earlier from the Canadian mainland to the island.

The Canoebaru — they pack your cars like sardines on the ferry to Sandusky.

The Canoebaru — they pack your cars like sardines.

But I didn’t mind. I’d been in Canada much of August and it would be good to come home. Unlike previous trips up there, I felt satiated, like I’d done all I wanted to do. I spent time fishing at Lake Nipissing with my father and brother, canoed and camped eight days in Algonquin Provincial Park and finally visited Pelee Island. I also ate at half the Tim Hortons in Ontario.

As the saying goes — It is good to be king; it’s even better to be retired.

The ferry ride was more thrilling than anything Cedar Point had to offer. And you didn’t have to wait in line.

The ferry ride was more thrilling than anything Cedar Point had to offer. And you didn’t have to wait in line. (This photo was taken inside the bay, where the lake was much calmer.)

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Back in the U.S. and anticipating the third-degree, anal probes and verbal abuse going through customs.

Back in the U.S. and anticipating the third-degree, anal probes and verbal abuse going through customs.