This is update #13 as we cover Fred and Sidonia St. Germaine's trip along The Great Loop in their Nimbus 405 Coupe. Links to the other updates are below.
The crew of Last Item have been exploring the west coast of Lake Michigan since leaving Charlevoix, which seems like a long time ago. Cruising is like that. Even on a well documented trip like the Great Loop, where you know what is around every corner, everything is still new from place to place and it is easy to lose track of details, such as where we were when such-and-such happened, or when we last caught up with our friends on their boat.
Wonderful evening meals that become memorable events become blurred in the overall memory of the trip, which is the primary reason why a journal of some kind is so important. There is just no way anyone can remember the places and experiences in any order, and it is quite easy to confuse even the most significant of experiences, local cuisine, and sights.
Thankfully, Sidonia and Fred are capturing their trip in these journal notes that will serve to refresh their memories in the future when they think back on this grand adventure. It also reminds me how somewhat pointless some Loop trips become, traveling so quickly that it is all a blur. Who really cares about who did the fastest Loop, with no specific memories of the trip whatsoever? If that is your idea of a fun way to spend a year of your life, and thousands of gallons of fuel, have at it. I prefer doing it the way Sidonia and Fred are savoring the massive adventure. And I am pretty sure from my conversations with AGLCA director, Kim Russo, we concur on that sentiment.
With the continued closure of the lock system south of Chicago, as we discussed last time, there is a backup of Loopers on the south portion of Lake Michigan, all waiting for the green light to proceed on the next section of the trip in Chicago.
For these and other reasons, the crew of Last Item decided to spend at least a week in Kenosha, Wisconsin. They even rented a car during that time so they could experience all the area has to offer.
As it turns out, the extent of that is considerable, much more than most tourists can imagine.
Kenosha is the fourth largest city in Wisconsin, with a population of 100,000 people. Today it is a bedroom community between Milwaukee and Chicago and considered part of the Chicago metropolitan area.
Kenosha was settled in the 1830s and was once a significant Midwest hub of manufacturing. Beginning in 1902 and continuing through the late 1980s, the city manufactured automobile brands that today are all but unheard of: Jeffrey, LaFayette, Rambler, AMC, and Nash. These companies were some of the pioneers of the automotive industry. In fact, Rambler introduced the steering wheel in 1903, to replace the tiller that was standard at that time.
Today, Kenosha is home for Snap-On Inc., a premier tool manufacturer, as well as Jockey International, manufacturer of clothing known around the world.
“On August 21, we left Port Washington with hopes that the weather forecast was correct, one to two-foot seas with northwest winds. The forecast wasn’t too far off, the seas were mostly two footers but at least we were going with them. We slowed down to 21 knots to make the 50-mile ride more enjoyable.
“When we reached Kenosha, and Southport Marina, we fueled up, but were disappointed that their current fuel price was $5.99/gal, more than we have paid for quite some time. I suppose we shouldn’t complain too much, though, after paying up to $7.00/gal only a couple of months ago.
“We had good fish and chips at Ashling on the Lough, an Irish pub near the marina. Since we will be here for at least a week, we were in no hurry to sightsee. Instead, we washed bugs off the boat and took naps.
“It was almost noon the next day before we picked up our rental car. So, after lunch, we drove around the south end of town through lovely, old neighborhoods. We didn’t want to get too far away from the boat, as we expected a call from the service technician we scheduled to do an oil change on the boat.
“Southport Marina is a great facility. It is large, over 350 slips, has a workout room, a pool and hot tub, a fountain playground for children, and very nice, recently updated bathrooms and laundry facilities. It is surrounded by a nice walkway and park and is only a couple of blocks from downtown.
“Just outside the gate to our dock is a stainless-steel guitar sculpture, a memorial to Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and J.P. (The Big Bopper) Richardson. They stopped here with other musicians for the Winter Dance Party Tour of 1959, just ten days before the fateful plane crash that took their lives.
“We finally have a complete dinghy again, almost two months since our mishap in the Thousand Islands. The seat we ordered from West Marine arrived in Sturgeon Bay the day after we left. The store forwarded the seat to this marina in Kenosha.
“The next morning, Tuesday, August 23, was another beautiful day in Wisconsin. We certainly can’t complain about the weather, and we even look forward to an occasional rainy day.
“We decided to take two of our accordion window blinds to a repair shop in Milwaukee to have them restrung. Ozzie seems to relish chewing on the strings and has gone through two of them already.
“While we were there, we went to the Milwaukee Art Museum. Looking at paintings isn’t one of our favorite things to do, but we at least wanted to see the beautiful museum building. Its design, by architect Santiago Calatrava, is truly amazing.
“Once we were there, however, we decided to go in and take a quick look around. We ended up spending over two hours looking at the exhibits. The only art museum I have enjoyed as much at this museum is the Met in New York City. There is so much more to see than just paintings! We both thoroughly enjoyed nearly every exhibit, and, I must say, even the paintings.
“For dinner, a friend recommended Hob Nob, which is between Racine and Kenosha. It is a supper club that has been in business since 1954. It is right on the lakefront, and it was perfect for a beautiful evening and a good dinner.”
Another of the attractions of the Kenosha area are the dedicated parks and pristine shores along Lake Michigan. The city has over 8 miles of shoreline, and there are 74 municipal parks in Kenosha, totaling over 780 acres.
In addition, there are almost 40 golf courses in and within 20 miles of Kenosha, including public, municipal, and private courses. The area’s oldest is the Kenosha Country Club, which opened in 1898.
“Knowing we like to play golf, a Wisconsin friend recommended The Brute Golf Course at Grand Geneva. It is about an hour’s drive east from Kenosha and considered one of the best golf courses in the state, located near Lake Geneva. The drive took us through miles of farmland planted in corn. Our friend had neglected to tell us that The Brute is one of the more challenging layouts in the Midwest, has lots of water hazards and no fewer than 68 very large bunkers. In its favor, however, it is a very pretty course and had three resident sandhill cranes casually feeding next to us on one of the tees.
“The forecast for Thursday, August 25, called for rain off and on, so we thought this would be a good day for an inside tour somewhere. We made the short drive to Racine and headed for the marina area, where we were sure to find a nice restaurant for lunch.
“Then we decided to take the tour of the S.C. Johnson Company (makers of Johnson’s Wax, Pledge, Off, Glade and so many more products that are mainstays of American life). We purchased our tour tickets beneath the Golden Rondelle, the theater which the company built for the 1964–65 New York World’s Fair.”
According to the Johnson archives, the corporate headquarters is the last remaining corporate work done by Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1936, HF Johnson (third generation of the founding family) contracted with Wright to develop innovative buildings that reflect the future vision of the family’s corporate legacy. The Administration Building, opened in 1939, is still considered one of the top 25 buildings of the 20th century.
Neither the research tower nor the admin building is part of the Johnson operation today but are historical landmarks that reflect the forward-thinking vision of the family enterprise.
“Wright not only designed the buildings but also the interior space, fixtures, and furniture. He had some very innovative ideas…some of which were very practical and some of which were not. An example is his three-legged chair for the office workers. It was cool looking and comfortable but if the worker leaned to one side or the other, the chair tipped over. Wright said the workers would just have to get used to them.
“Sam Johnson had Wright come to the building, sit in one of the chairs, and then asked him to pick up a pencil that Johnson purposely dropped. When Wright leaned over to get the pencil, he tipped over in his chair. Though he did not want to make the design change, he finally added a fourth leg.”
Fortaleza Hall houses a replica of the famous Sikorsky S-38 amphibious plane that took HF Johnson and his team on a 15,000-mile round trip to Brazil in search of a reliable and sustainable source of carnauba wax. The amazing trip was retraced years later by his son, Sam Johnson. A replica of the original plane is on display at the Fortaleza Hall on the SC Johnson campus.
“The next morning was spent having our oil changed. It was 10:30 before the mechanic arrived, only three hours late, and it was noon before he finished. That took care of any sightseeing plans for the day, so we rode our bikes over to the Boat House Pub & Eatery for a relaxed lunch.
“Our boat neighbors here are Pam & Chuck on ‘Tic Tac.’ They are interested in our travels and invited us to dinner to learn more about our experiences. They also invited another boating couple, Louie & Vanessa on ‘Patron’ who are getting ready to start The Loop. We shared boat stories and much more and had a very enjoyable evening at a nearby sushi restaurant.”
With the decision to not closely follow a schedule, and with the expected continued closure of the lock system farther south, the break in Kenosha was a fantastic opportunity for Sidonia and Fred to continue exploring the area with the benefit of a rental car, which took them far beyond the range of their e-bikes or local transportation.
As they continued to home base in Southport Marina for the remainder of their break from travel, I will let Sidonia continue sharing their experiences over the next few days, their last days on Lake Michigan.
“We drove to Hinchley’s Dairy Farm, located between Cambridge and Deerfield, an hour and a half away. We took a different route to the farm and back, but both took us through miles and miles of farmland. As far as we could tell, it is either all field corn or all soybeans.
“The Hinchley farm is a working farm run by a couple and their daughter, with occasional outside help. We were amazed that three people could handle such a huge farm. In addition to the dairy, they have 2300 acres of corn, used for feed and ethanol, and soybean. The separate barns house milk cows, heifers, pregnant cows, and calves.
“The tour took over two hours and was very educational. We had no idea how scientific farms have become. With the addition of four robot-controlled milking machines, they have increased processing dramatically and now milk 240 cows. When the cows feel the pressure in their udders, they walk over to the robot. First, the robot washes and sterilizes the udders and then the attachments find each of the four teats by laser. It only takes a day or two to train the cows to use the robot. They get at least 2800 gallons of milk every day. Wow!
“We donned large plastic overshoes that came almost to our knees before entering the milking barn. Some of the cows, used to these tours, stuck their big wet noses out, asking for a nose rub. Their food sits along the sides of the central pathway so they can reach it whenever they want. There is a robot that runs down each side of the path pushing the strewn feed back within reach of the cows.
At the end of the tour, we were each able to take turns milking a cow. There were so much more interesting things we learned it would take many pages to write about it all.
“Sunday, August 28, was a chore day. We cleaned the boat, shopped for groceries, and did laundry. While we were busy, getting things done, there was a late afternoon/evening thunderstorm and we forgot to close the hatch over our bed. Luckily, it was open just a crack. Only when it was time to get into bed did we discover the big damp spot in the middle of the bed. Fred moved to one of the guest beds and I used my hair dryer to get the bed dry enough to climb into.
“On the AGLCA forum the next morning, a boater asked why most people go down the Michigan side of Lake Michigan. I don’t know why they choose that side because we have enjoyed every minute of our time in Wisconsin. Every town has had something to offer, and all have good marinas.
“Later, we drove back up to Milwaukee to pick up our repaired window blinds. While there, we visited the Pabst Mansion of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer fame. Frederick Pabst immigrated from Germany at age 14, worked as a cabin boy on a Great Lakes steamship, became a captain at age 21, and later purchased half interest in his father-in-law’s small brewery.
“Pabst’s mansion is not as massive or castle-like as Boldt Castle or the Biltmore, but it is very grand and beautiful. It was built in less than two years, with up to 195 workers there each day. The ornately carved wood throughout the mansion and the furniture were all done by the Matthews Brothers, a Milwaukee company, and much of it in a style reminiscent of the grand buildings in Pabst’s native Germany.”
(Below: Some of the furniture found in Pabst Mansion.)
The couple had the inspiration to drive down to Chicago by car, to check it out and get a sense of the big city before they arrived on their Nimbus cruiser. This eliminated dealing with over-booked marinas or trying to visit places that were simply too far to walk from a marina.
“It was a sunny day the next morning, so we decided to drive to Chicago. This was the first time either of us had ever been there. The drive took about an hour and a half from the marina, as traffic slowed us down near the city. Once within the city limits, however, the traffic was surprisingly light.
“We parked in the Radisson Hotel garage and walked over to the river to take a boat tour. We also took the First Lady Architectural Tour which had been recommended. The docent, a Chicago native, was very knowledgeable and did an excellent job imparting information about the various old and new buildings. We both agreed that Chicago has some of the prettiest and most interesting buildings that we’ve seen in our country. Our tour started at noon and lasted an hour and a half. By the time it ended, there wasn’t enough time to do any more tours.”
For the next couple of days, the couple got the boat ready to continue south, get the rest of the laundry done, and finish up their exploration of the Kenosha area before they had to return the rental car. They also had time to play yet one more golf course, the Petrifying Springs Golf Course, about a twenty-minute drive away but still in Kenosha. It was a nice course without the hazards of the Brute, and they marveled at the large multi-use park named for the mineral deposits which resemble petrified plant material.
On Thursday morning, the first day of September, they heard the announcement that the Brandon Lock would reopen sooner than originally scheduled. After checking available weather forecasts, it looked like Saturday would be a good day to travel to Chicago. Sidonia said that most of the marinas in this area (and Chicago) handle slip reservations using the app Dockwa. She finds it works well enough, although there is a definite lag before it will confirm reservations. That makes the process less than ideal, and often means it is a bit of a gamble trying to make online reservations.
But things were falling into place, and it would soon be time to continue their Loop.
“In the evening, we got together with our boat neighbors and three other couples. One of the couples had already done the loop once and were on their second time around. They have a small tug, which they trailer to various locations to do sections of the loop rather than one continuous trip. The other couples are still in the planning stage.
“We had happy hour on ‘Last Item’ and then brought in pizzas to eat on the balcony of one of the marina’s lounges. It’s always great fun getting together with other boaters, passing information, and swapping stories.
“On Friday, September 2, we checked our email first thing to see if we had a confirmation for moorage in Chicago. We were happy to see that Belmont Harbor had space for us. There are so many Loopers waiting to continue through the river system that it isn’t a sure thing to get moorage in Chicago.
“All this time we’ve been in Kenosha, and we hadn’t yet been to the Civil War Museum, which is just a few blocks from the marina. Today was the day. The focus of the museum is on the more than one million soldiers, as well as the people from the upper midwest states, that took part in the war. The building is large, and it is very easy to get lost in the huge exhibit gallery called ‘The Fiery Trial.’ There are many dioramas with life-size mannikins that speak as you walk by, which is startling the first couple of times. There is also the Veterans’ Memorial Gallery which honors veterans from the Revolutionary War through to present day.
“This impressive museum is one we would have expected to see in a much larger city than in Kenosha. Yet it is another surprise from visiting such a rich city of history, tradition, and diverse activities.
“After leaving the museum, we drove to Enterprise and returned our rental car. It now was official that we are leaving Kenosha. We have been here twelve days, the longest we’ve stayed in one place since beginning our Great Loop.”
See you next time.
Here are links to the LAST ITEM's previous Great Loop updates:
Update #1: Let's Go On The Great Loop!
Update #2: "Last Item" Begins The Great Loop
Update #3: Up The Hudson To Waterford
Update #4: Last Item Heads To Rome
Update #5: Big Water Ahead As LAST ITEM Heads to Oswego
Update #6: A Taste Of The Thousand Islands
Update #7: Into The Trent-Severn Waterway
Update #8: Deeper Into The Trent-Severn
Update #9: Georgian Bay
Update #10: The North Channel
Update #11: Into Lake Michigan
Update #12: Gunkholing Down The Wisconsin Coast
Update #13: This Post
Update #14: Into Illinois
Update #15: Exploring The Heartland