In these days of expressways it's easy to forget how hard it was to move around the country as it was expanding westward from the first 13 colonies. In the early 1900's a system of canals was dug to link navigable rivers and lakes together. We associate the Erie Canal with upstate New York, which is where the canal began. But if ships and goods were bound further inland the canal would pick up again in the Toledo area at the western end of Lake Erie and travel 250 miles to Cincinnati and the Ohio River. It was a huge undertaking digging the canal and the 95 locks as well as carving tow paths out of the forest along both sides. Typically the mules walked abut 3mph for 8 - 10 hours and travelers paid three cents a mile. The journey took six days.
A few small stretches of the canal in the Toledo area have been preserved as parks and the tow paths are wonderful places to ride a bike, jog or walk a dog. At the Providence Metropark we took a canal boat ride towed by mules and staffed by reenactors. They explained that the mules really did not have to work very hard because there was little current to deal with because of all the locks. At each lock the lines were taken off and they got a chance to rest while the crew opened and closed the gates. As we poked along I tried to imagine how long it would have taken to get to the I & M canal and Lockport near our home.
The journey included a stop at a grist/sawmill which ran from the water than came out of the canal and flowed downhill into the Maumee River below. Once the area was logged the miller switched from sawing wood to grinding the grain the farmers raised on the newly cleared lands. Both the mill and the canal boat were staffed by enthusiastic, well informed volunteers. We were impressed.
The route back to the campground took us past Tony Packo's Cafe, a restaurant made famous by Toledo native Jamie Farr who played Corporal Clinger on MASH. He mentioned this restaurant on the show every so often and it made it so popular a second restaurant was opened. Tony was Hungarian and Americanized his cooking so the chili, hotdogs and stuffed cabbage all had a Hungarian twist. Over the years everyone who was anyone stopped at Tony's and autographed hot dog buns which hang on the wall. Burt Reynolds stated this tradition, but after his bun deteriorated over time, Tony used styrofoam buns for the autographs and they are hanging all over loosely grouped by profession. Of course, the actors from MASH were well represented and it was fun to see Barbara Bush hanging next to Michael Dukakis. MASH has been off air for thirty years, but Tony's still attracts droves of locals and visitors. And the hot dog topped by goulash-y tasting ground meat was yummy.