More cooking advice from the Breakfast Bitch

omelet

Pouring eggs from the chili can. Note the pan of chili set close to the coals to keep it warm. (Photo courtesy of Kevin & Theresa Clark.)

Previously published in a series of outdoors columns in the Ashland Times-Gazette and Loudonville Times-Shopper.

We eat better on canoe trips than we do at home. Being a morning person, breakfast has always been my specialty — chili omelets in particular.

Making elaborate omelets over a campfire can be a challenge, but it’s worth the effort.

Here’s how I do it.

For the chili, I start from scratch — Scratch together a few bucks and buy a can of Amy’s organic black bean chili. Not to be confused with Amy’s organic spicy chili, which has the consistency of sawdust and play sand. In a pinch, I buy Tony Packo’s world famous chili with beans! (The exclamation point is Tony Packo’s idea. Personally, I never get that excited about beans.)

As I was saying, I generally start with Amy’s, then I make it my own. I add onions, peppers, sausage, and — if I’m really feeling ambitious — sliced portabella mushrooms.

It’s easier to pre-cook the sausage at home. I brown patties, cut them up into small chunks, then cook thoroughly. Wrap them in foil and, while you’re cutting up your peppers, onions and mushrooms, warm the sausage by putting it well above the fire on your tripod grill.

Lightly sauté the onions, peppers and mushrooms in olive oil. If you’re one of those people who prefers overcooked, flaccid onions and peppers, stop reading this immediately. You are not worthy of my culinary masterpieces. Vegetables should be sautéed to the point that they retain some crispness. By the same token, never overcook portabellas. Sauté them just enough so they’re slightly darkened and moist inside. If you’re one of those people who likes leathery mushrooms — reread the second sentence of this paragraph.

Once the prep work is done, open the can of chili, scoop it into a small pot and mix in the sausage, onions, peppers and mushrooms. Warm the pan over medium heat by adjusting your tripod grill.

Clean out the chili can; you’ll use that to scramble your eggs.

Next, wait for your campmates to wake up. I discourage them from sleeping in by threatening to urinate on their tents.

Once your campmates are stirring, crack a couple of eggs into the can, You could use a wisp to stir the eggs, but that would be just one more thing to wash. Or forget to pack. I just break off a green twig, preferably with a forked end, and use that to stir the eggs.

Remove the chili from the tripod grill and set it close to the coals to keep it warm. Rotate occasionally to distribute the heat evenly.

Lower the grill because you want a hot fire to cook your eggs. Once the skillet is hot enough, coat it lightly with butter. Pour in the eggs and cook till firm. Take the skillet off the grill, flip the egg and spoon chili on half of it.

Now you’re ready to cheese it. Cheddar, of course.

It’s easier to grate the cheese at home or buy pre-grated cheese.

Sprinkle the cheese over the chili, then fold the other half of the egg over it. Cover the skillet with a paper plate, raise the grill and warm it up just enough to melt the cheese.

There you have it. Next time, I’ll divulge my secrets for serving up tomato and basil omelets on canoe trips with fresh basil! (The exclamation point is mine, because fresh basil on camping trips is worth getting excited over.)

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Look Through Any Window

Photos from my window series

Windows are the eyes of a structure — revealing secrets of those who dwell there. Or those who dwelt there.

Windows might not reveal anything outright, they certainly fuel the imagination. It’s always been that way for me.

Naturally, when I got into photography, windows became a tantalizing subject.

wogatton

While out shooting along Clear Fork of the Mohican River in February 2017, this window near Gatton Rocks caught my eye.

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Two years ago, I was staying with friends at Shaw’s Hotel in Lancaster, Ohio. I got up early in the morning, grabbed my camera and headed out into the street. Very few people were stirring, yet these two ambitious souls were hard at work.

wogreenschool

I once interviewed a woman who went to this one-room schoolhouse in Green Township, Ashland County, Ohio. When taking this shot in November 2016, I thought about her and all the other schoolchildren who surely looked longingly out that window — especially on nice spring days.

woboathse

One of my happy places, Shuswap on Lake Nipissing in Ontario, Canada. The main boathouse has been remodeled, but I always loved this old one. Taken in August 2016.

wocabin

While out on my morning rounds, looking for things to shoot, I came across this old cabin in, I believe, Knox County, Ohio. April 2017.

 

wolvillecat

In October 2016, I visited the Loudonville (Ohio) Street Fair early in the morning. That’s the best time to go to fairs as far as I’m concerned. I came across this little sourpuss in an upstairs window on Main Street.

wolakeforkhse

I’ve gone by this Holmes County farmhouse many times and always been intrigued. One morning in August 2016 I stopped to take a photo. I love the faded look — consistent with the mood here.

Pvillewindow

This Perrysville, Ohio, window speaks volumes — of a town that’s seen better days. On a positive note, good things are happening there and things are looking up. July 2017.

wobutler

I’m not particularly keen on digitally manipulated photos, but this one called for it. Butler, Ohio, October 2015.

womansfield

Facades. Downtown Mansfield, Ohio, October 2012.

wotoodikrd

Making my morning rounds in Holmes County, August 2016, found the stone foundation of a barn along a remote township road.

woforbidfruits

June 2011, Church window in Ashland, Ohio. Taken while I was working as a reporter for the Ashland Times-Gazette. My caption? Yum!

oldschool111withfill810

Shot last year through a cracked window of a restored one-room schoolhouse. Mohican Wilderness, Glenmont, Ohio.

High-resolution prints of these — and all my photos — are available through my photo blog and Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glazed and Diffused

Stepped out onto the deck this morning, camera in hand, looking for something interesting to shoot in the morning light. I was intrigued by this reflection of the deck and the house in a black ceramic planter.

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yellow

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perspective

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selfie

(Gratuitous Selfie)

 

 

Stir Crazy After All These Years

One good thing about getting your head out of your ass: The world looks so much better.

perrysvillelaunch

To me, canoeing is a way of life. I’ve been doing it for 36 years. When my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer last October, I put my life on hold. He became the center of my world and the center of my siblings’ world. Dad died on Pearl Harbor Day.

I didn’t realize it until mid January that my life had remained on hold. Part of the grieving process, most likely.

But it was more complicated than that. I allowed myself to become distracted, to idle away my time on the computer, drink more than I should and piddle around with this, that and the other.

Then I decided to pull my head out of my ass. I began staging for a winter canoe trip. It was a gradual process at first, packing one item a day — tent, sleeping bags (plural for winter trips), cookware, etc. Then came the point of no return. I borrowed a phrase from my father: “Do it like you meant it.” I spent an entire afternoon packing in earnest, getting to the point where I just needed to throw some food and water in the cooler and go.

It was just a matter of waiting for a window

Finally, on the weekend of the Jan. 22, that window opened. I loaded my canoe and shoved it onto an ice ledge on Black Fork of the Mohican River near Perrysville. The ice gave way under the loaded boat and dropped into the cold dark water. As the last three feet of the stern began to slide down what was left of the ice ledge, I jumped in, rode the canoe into the open water and headed downstream.

Mission accomplished. I had pulled my head out of my ass and gotten on with my life.

breakfastbitch

Making breakfast Saturday morning at my campsite near Loudonville.

 

Eaglearial

Two eagles engage in aerial combat near Spellacy. I saw more than a dozen bald eagles on this trip.

 

selfie

Poor man’s selfie. My Saturday campsite. Thanks to George and Amy Smith for their hospitality.

 

moon

A nearly full moon rises over a steep hillside Saturday night at my campsite at Smith’s Campgrounds & Cabins.

 

 

 

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.

Alex James — A living legacy

Often, when I hike through Mohican Memorial State Forest or the state park, I marvel at the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The trees they planted and the roads, trails and structures they built in the 1930s have stood the test of time. So has Alex James, one of the CCC workers who helped make Mohican what it is today.

In early August, I had the privilege of interviewing him — along with his son, Jeffrey L. James. Here is the article I wrote as a result of that interview. It was published in today’s Loudonville Times.

Post Script: I was saddened to learn that, on April 14, 2016, Alex James passed away.  He was a colorful man and a part of Mohican history.

Alex James

Alex James

COLUMBUS — Alex James lived in the Loudonville area just a short time during the 1930s, but his legacy lives on in Mohican Memorial State Forest and Mohican State Park. At the age of 97, the one-time Civilian Conservation Corps worker still radiates the spirit and attitude of a generation that made the most of difficult times and built a better world.

“I was 16 years old, youngest guy in the group,” James said of his CCC service.

James wasn’t old enough to sign up for the CCC. He lied about his age and was accepted. After going through basic training in Fort Knox, Kentucky, he was sent to Camp Mohican to help reclaim agricultural wasteland adjacent to the mature forest that remained on the steep slopes of Clear Fork Gorge. Ultimately, the entire area would become a state forest and state park and transform the area into a popular tourist destination.

During an interview last month, James described what Mohican looked like when he arrived in 1933.

“It was bare, like a baldheaded guy who has hair around on the sides,” he said, describing the combination of forested and deforested land.

James’ duties included control of harmful vegetation and organisms, planting pine seedlings, digging ditches and building roads.

He recalled that his Camp Mohican days were difficult — mainly because of a particularly brutal winter. The drafty barracks were heated with coal stoves located at the ends of rows of bunks. There were half-inch gaps between the floorboards.

“When the bugler came in and blew his horn, we’d hurry up and get our clothes and get to the warm stove where we could get dressed,” James said. “I woke up to get my shoes one morning and they were frozen to the floor.”

While on a road-clearing detail, James lost the feeling in his toes. He spent a month in the infirmary recovering from frostbite. In his autobiography, entitled “Ripples on a Stream,” James wrote: “I kind of enjoyed it, listening to a radio, perusing a Sears & Roebuck catalog to pick out things I would buy when I left the Three Cs and got a good job.”

In 1934, Camp Mohican closed temporarily. It would later reopen, manned by World War I veterans. James returned to Fort Hayes in Columbus, where he was born and raised. He was one of nine children of Macedonian immigrants who eked out a living and taught their children the value of thrift and hard work. In order to continue providing money for his family, he reenlisted in the CCC and worked at camps in Idaho and Yellowstone National Park.

James said that, during his stay at Camp Mohican, he didn’t get into town very often. In one letter he wrote that, while the townsfolk didn’t care for these strangers from the big city, they did like their money. CCC workers were paid $30 a month. All but $5 of that was sent home. James indicated that, during his CCC days out west, he got out more often and did partake of some light-hearted shenanigans with his buddies from the camps.

James also worked in Columbus restaurants and bars as a busboy and bartender. He continued to improve his lot in life, landing a job in 1941 in a defense plant building military aircraft.

In 1942, he received his draft notice and once again found himself in basic training at Fort Knox. In his autobiography, James said his CCC experience made that transition easier. He was classified as a non-combatant due to a childhood eye injury. But James — the guy who lied about his age to get into the CCC to earn money to help his family — wasn’t about to let that stop him. When the guys in his company shipped out for combat duty, James grabbed his duffel bag and climbed aboard the truck with them. His sergeant caught him and ordered him off the truck.

He was saddened when he learned that many of the guys in his outfit were killed in action by Rommel’s Panzer Division.

After being discharged from the Army, James returned to Columbus and worked for a while at the military supply depot, where his duties included guarding German prisoners of war. He dozed off one night while on guard duty. However, the German POWs realized they had it good there and were inclined to stay put.

“You couldn’t chase those guys out of that place,” he said.

James later worked at the Curtis-Wright aircraft factory. In 1948, he landed a job at Lustron, a manufacturer of prefabricated steel houses. James had high hopes that the low-maintenance, porcelain-enameled homes would fulfill the housing needs of post-war baby boomers. However, he was bitterly disappointed — heartbroken in his words — when the company failed and production halted in June 1950.

The experience inspired him to write a book, “An Employee’s Perspective of the Lustron Home: The Real Reason Why Lustron Failed!” The company reportedly failed because, by the time the prefabricated homes were in production, America’s housing stock had grown substantially, the houses took longer to build than advertised, they ultimately cost too much, and they didn’t meet local building codes. In his self-published book, James argues that the real reasons for Lustron’s downfall included political corruption, labor unions, special interest groups and selective building code enforcement. The book, published in 2003, is available through Amazon.com.

After a stint with the Defense Supply Center Columbus, James went to work for Westinghouse doing sheet metal work. He later worked at maintenance for the City of Columbus, retiring in 1980.

He and his wife of 69 years, Polly, live in Columbus. They have two adult children and two grandchildren.

He returned to the Loudonville area several years ago, but it was a different world than the one he knew in 1933. He didn’t recognize much of it.

“I made a trip down there and I stood near that church that was below our camp,” he said, possibly referring to the Memorial Forest Shrine on Ohio 97.

James has a gleam in his eye when he shares colorful stories of his CCC days and other parts of his eventful life. He sometimes chimes in with a few bars from songs he sang back then.

James explained the significance of the title of his autobiography.

“Our lives are like leaves in the stream,” he said. “We bump into one another. Some die of natural causes, some accidentally, and the stream takes us along the riverbed and some end up on the riverbank and wither. That’s my idea of how this life is. You’re given so much time on this earth. I think time means more than money.”

Alan James, second from the right in the back row, with CCC crew at what would become Mohican Memorial State Forest and Mohican State Park. (Photo courtesy Cleo Redd Fisher Museum in Loudonville)

Alex James, second from the right in the back row, with CCC crew at what would become Mohican Memorial State Forest and Mohican State Park. (Photo courtesy Cleo Redd Fisher Museum in Loudonville.)

Making history – and my day

They call them the greatest generation for a reason

Norma Snyder with the flag replica she made from scratch – now on display at the Cleo Redd Fisher museum in Loudonville.

Norma Snyder with the flag replica she made from scratch – now on display at the Cleo Redd Fisher museum in Loudonville.

I have to admit that my years with the Ashland Times-Gazette represented a coming of age. When I arrived there in 1997, I had no idea what to do. All I had going for me was raw writing talent and an instinct for tracking down stories. I also had one major handicap; I thought the world revolved around me.

It took a few years, but I gradually realized that journalism isn’t about journalists. It’s about the people we cover. It’s a sacred trust. It’s about capturing the essence of the people and their times – not just to let them know their lives counted for something, but to preserve those nuances for future generations.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing a member of what has been described as the greatest generation, the folks who carried us through the Great Depression and World War II. It was one of the most touching interviews I’ve ever done. I’ll let her story speak for itself.

This article appeared in the June 30 Loudonville Times.

LOUDONVILLE — During World War II, Norma Snyder helped make history at the Flxible plant. Seventy-one years later, she remade history — this time for the Cleo Redd Fisher Museum.

At the age of 17, Snyder worked at the plant, making airplane parts for the war effort. She was on hand in August 1944 when Flxible was honored with the Army-Navy “E” Award flag for outstanding production of war materials.

It was quite an honor for Flxible, which also produced gondolas for blimps and naval sonar components. During the war 85,660 companies produced war materials. Only five percent received “E” Awards. In 1945, Flxible received a renewal of the award for continued excellence. That allowed them to add a white star to the flag.

Somewhere along the line, the flag got lost. Snyder, a former Mohican Historical Society board member and longtime museum volunteer, remade history by sewing a full-size replica of the flag. She brought it in to the museum earlier this month and it’s now on display in the lobby.

Snyder is a quilter and has experience making large banners for her church, Zion Lutheran Church of Loudonville. So, museum curator Kenny Libben asked her in April to make a reproduction to replace the lost one.

She was reluctant at first.

“I’m 88 years old and I don’t take on new projects if I can help it,” she said. “I decided that, if I had experience with making banners at my church, it was something I could do. So I said would.”

It wasn’t easy. All she had for reference were photos of the original.

“It was a challenge to find supplies, the fabric and all the different things we needed,” Snyder said. “It wasn’t ordinary fabric, so I ended up going to four different towns to find what I needed. I went to Berlin in Holmes County, then Mansfield, Ashland, then I went to Columbus where I found the last of the things I needed.”

Her daughter, Connie Snyder McGowan, a retired art teacher living in Columbus, helped with the letters.

The shape of the flag, a design known as a swallowtail, also made the job challenging.

Working part-time, it took Snyder more than two months to gather the materials and make the eight-foot by four-foot flag.

Snyder had a special connection to the original flag. She was among the workers who helped earn it and among those who posed for a photo with the flag outside the plant in August 1944. The people in the photo probably represented only one shift. Snyder is hoping that the new flag will inspire others who worked there or posed for the photo to come together

“I’m hoping that, with the article, maybe people will contact Kenny (Libben) or me and we can gather whoever is left and get another photograph,” Snyder said. “I know of about five local people I could find, some of them older than myself. Time’s a-wasting.”

Snyder, whose maiden name was Stitzlein, was only 17 and still attending Loudonville High School when she started working at the plant. She worked during the summer before she graduated in 1944 and full-time afterward.

A lifetime Loudonville area resident, she attended Greentown School, a one-room schoolhouse that still stands on the property of a relative at County Road 775 and Ohio 95. The building was moved there from another location near County Road 775, commonly known as Honeycreek Road.

“When I was in fourth grade, they consolidated Loudonville Schools and then we rode the school bus,” Snyder said. “Before then we walked — uphill both ways. Actually, it was because it was hills.”

She went to work at Flxible because the company was doing war work.

“We were making the lower aft fuselage of a cargo plane,” Snyder said. “We had sheets of aluminum and you had framework and a jig it was on. I was not a riveter. I was one of those who drilled the holes for the riveters. They called the aluminum skin and we were the skin gang.”

Most the workers on her crew were women.

“There were some men, and a lot of young people like me,” she said.

Snyder was no stranger to hard work.

“I lived on a farm, so I was used to working,” she said. “It was kind of a novelty because, in those days, we didn’t have three or four cars. We had one car and it went to town maybe one day a week, or one night. So it was kind of an experience for me because I was kind of naïve. It was not bad, but it was interesting and we got paid — not much, but we got paid.”

Flxible was the lifeblood of the community back then. The company provided employment for area residents, often from the time they graduated high school until they retired. For many, it was a family affair.

“I had three sisters who worked in the office at that time and one of my brothers worked there for a short time before he went into the service,” Snyder said.

She continued to work at Flxible for a year or so until war production tapered off.

“I went to Minnich Beauty School in Mansfield and I was a beautician for awhile,” Snyder said. “Then I got married and started having children.”

She and her husband, Robert Snyder who passed away 18 years ago, had five children. Four live in the Columbus-Delaware area and one in Lexington in Richland County. The family has grown to 14 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

“So, we started something, didn’t we?” she said.

Snyder was the youngest of nine children. Three of them are still living. Her husband had nine siblings.

“There were six boys and four girls, and four of the boys in his family were in World War II and one was in the Korean War,” she said.

In 1951, her husband built a building and rented it out for a couple of years.

“Then we started having building supplies and had a construction company and I also worked in that business, Modern Home Supply and Loudonville Construction,” she said. “The store on State Route 3 is still in the family. My husband’s nephew has it now, Mark Snyder.”

The Snyders built many houses in the area.

She remains active with the historical society.

“I’ve been a member for many many years, but I don’t do as many physical things as I used to,” Snyder said.

She’s hoping more people will step up and help preserve the area’s history for future generations.

“We’d like to get young people in,” Snyder said. “As time goes on, you lose people or (older) people can’t do all that. That’s true in every group I belong to.”

Her effort to replace the lost Army-Navy “E” Award flag helped preserve a part of that history.

When Snyder stopped by the museum last week, curator Libben thanked her for all her hard work.

“It was a labor of love,” she responded.

Perhaps the same could be said for her efforts during the war years — and throughout her life.

But then, that’s how history is made. And preserved.

The Cleo Redd Fisher Museum and Mohican Historical Society can be contacted at (419) 994-4050 or by email at info@crfmuseum.com. The website can be accessed at http://www.crfmuseum.com/ and the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/CleoReddFisherMuseum?fref=ts.

Flxible employees gathered for a photo with their “E” Award flag in August 1944. Norma Snyder is the fourth person to the right of the flag in the front row.

Flxible employees gathered for a photo with their “E” Award flag in August 1944. Norma Snyder is the fourth person to the right of the flag in the front row.