The Drummer, the Private Eye, and Me (Rush Fans Take Note)

What follows is a true story, involving Neil Peart, Michael Mosbach, and Yr Fthfl Srvnt. As most of you probably know, Neil is the drummer and lyricist for the progressive rock band Rush, and many experts consider him to be the best living drummer in the world. Michael is a private investigator from Los Angeles. He is also head of security whenever Rush is on tour, since Neil considers him to be the best P.I. in the world. As for me, well, I’m just the luckiest guy in the world. But let’s begin at the beginning…

An Aston Martin at the Battle of Cedar Creek

So what is the best way to check out a newly acquired 2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage? In the immortal words of Otter from Animal House, “Road trip!” Accordingly, in early May I set off to do two of my most favorite things: go for an exciting drive, and look for historic, scenic, and otherwise-interesting places in the Mid-Atlantic area.

Everyone knows the Civil War battles of Gettysburg and Antietam, but not many know the significance of the Battle of Cedar Creek. Yet it was a critical point that almost produced a decisive victory for the South, which would have jeopardized the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln. Ultimately, it proved to be a major Union victory, sufficient to end the Confederacy’s potential to win the war.

A BMW Tour of Fall Colors (and Haunted Houses)

BMWs are great for spirited riding or driving—and if you use that ability to visit scenic and historically interesting places, then you have an unbeatable combination. With that goal in mind, I set off in late October to find out whether Pennsylvania or West Virginia had the best Fall Colors. Along the way, I encountered no small number of historical haunted houses, just in time for Halloween. My path first took me through Gettysburg.

Ports—Royal and Otherwise (Rappahannock River Ride)

Having often explored the Maryland side of the Potomac River, I thought I’d try the Virginia shore for a change. And for good measure, I decided to work in the Rappahannock River, since I knew little about it. The river was originally named by Native Americans, naturally, and is said to mean “the river that rises and falls” or, possibly, “river of quick, rising water.” The Rappahannock runs roughly 195 miles before emptying into the Chesapeake Bay.

A Z4 Tour of … the Last Potato House in Delaware??

Okay, if you have a fabulous BMW roadster with 215 horsepower, outstanding handling, and flowing lines, what would be its best use? That’s right, you travel in search of a Potato House! No, it’s not like a Pizza Hut, Waffle House, or even an International House o’ Pancakes. A Potato House is something altogether different. And, as best I can tell, there are only two or three remaining in the U.S. Given their questionable historical significance, naturally I had to try to locate one. 

Forts, Shrines, and Galaxy Girls

Scenic history is a wonderful thing, and my faithful BMW Z4 roadster can find it better than almost any other conveyance. But sometimes, history gets moved around. On this trip into Pennsylvania, a number of rather large, unwieldy historic structures were found in the “wrong” places. Fortunately, Yr Fthfl Srvnt is not easily befuddled. Despite what everyone says…

A Z4 Tour of Coal Country and the Occasional Fall Colors

On October 14, I set off to see what I could find in the way of Fall Colors. My route started in Harrisburg, PA and followed a large, clockwise, circular path to the north. As usual, I was also in search of scenery, history, truth, beauty, and driving pleasure—and the faithful BMW Z4 3.0i has never failed to deliver on all of the above.

A Z4 Tour of Haunted Houses—and the Devil’s Own Mercedes

Halloween reminded me of a recent trip through parts of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. There were plenty of good haunted houses, some with open doors as if to invite the unwary inside. And then there was the eerie black Mercedes Benz SLK that showed up, challenging me, daring me to chase it through the night, only to disappear in the fog.

Other than that, it was a normal BMW jaunt through the countryside.

A Z4 Tour of Maryland Relics

Well, yes—I suppose I do qualify as a “Maryland Relic” myself… 😮 But that’s not the point of this report. This is about a BMW trip through some lesser-known parts of Maryland and the numerous old places that are rapidly disappearing. And a few that are still thriving.

New England Part IV: Historic Toad Hall (& More)

Okay, so Toad Hall wasn’t really all that historic. It was merely fascinating, for sports car afficionados such as me (and many of you). The rest of the trip was historic, with sites involving John Adams, Daniel Webster, Plymouth Rock, Myles Standish, General Tom Thumb, and a ghost named Penelope.

History, Scenery, and Wonderful Roads—Virginia & West Virginia at Their Best

Let’s face it: Some tours are better than others. This one was spectacular, from start to finish, and it had everything: Historical sites, exceptional scenery, and winding, climbing, and diving roads throughout, with smooth surfaces and minimal traffic. In fact, it would have been perfect but for the fact that Churchville had run out of their famous apple butter. But I’m quibbling already…

Before There Were Interstates

For Christmas, the Intrepid Buzz gave me a box of very old maps of the Mid-Atlantic area. The idea was to use them to plan some routes using the older, original roads in the area. As it turned out, this was a pretty good idea. One of the maps, in particular, was a 1956 National Geographic map entitled “Round About the Nation’s Capital (with Descriptive Notes),” and it proved to be a treasure trove.

The Battle of Kabletown and Other Lurid West Virginia Stories

On a cold, bright, day-after-Christmas, I fired up the trusty Z4 roadster and headed, once again, for that awe-inspiring state of West Virginia. My hopes were high that I would find Rippon, Capon Bridge, Blue Beach, Paw Paw, and all the places I’d planned, and a whole lot more. And in the process, I got to exercise the BMW on a great collection of interesting roads.

The Mystery of the One-Room Schoolhouse

Yeah, I know—it sounds like a Hardy Boys book. But the Blackberry one-room schoolhouse was definitely an enigma. I never did find it, and yet I saw it over and over again. Moreover, I ended up driving around a pre-war dirt oval racetrack—strictly by accident, I’m sure…

A Z4 Tour of Maryland Mansions, Abandoned and Not

With a stress fracture in my left foot and strict orders to stay off of it as much as possible, I decided to limit this BMW Z4 tour to just half a day. Carroll County (Maryland) was calling me, and I thought I would see how many mansions I could find in what is practically my own back yard. Despite the abbreviated time, this tour was far more fun than usual.

A Z4 Ride to Virginville and the Scariest Place Ever

Yes, I thought that would get your attention. And I’m not kidding—this trip led me to Virginville, Pennsylvania and to the “Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic,” as it was originally known. For some reason, there was a serious shortage of residents in Virginville—and no one at all at Pennhurst…

Almost Heaven, West Virginia

As I forced my long-suffering BMW Z4 up a narrow, steep, rutted, rocky dirt path, around switchback corners and with the tops of trees visible next to the guardrail-less road, I wondered how Frankye and her husband Howard had ever managed to tow a motorboat up this mountain in the 1950s with the family sedan. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Sometimes They Come Back To Life…

My 2006 BMW Z4 can find abandoned houses, lost churches, forgotten forts, and other remnants of cast-off civilization practically all by itself. And the Mid-Atlantic region is the place to look. But once in a rare while, one of these decaying places is brought back to life. On this trip through Pennsylvania, I was lucky to stumble across several such revitalizations—not to mention signs of Christopher Columbus himself.

Interested? Read on!

Unexpectations: An Off-the-Beaten-Path Z4 Tour of West Virginia and Virginia

On any tour of back roads and rural areas, you will encounter the unexpected. The ratio of unexpected-to-expected goes up considerably when you enter West Virginia, and that’s a big part of the fun. Moreover, rural Virginia can hold its own in this regard, too. In addition to a multitude of historical and scenic sites, my WV-VA trip offered some of the best driving/riding roads I’ve been on in a long time.

Johnstown, PA: May 31, 1889

On May 31, 1889, a major rainstorm caused significant flooding in downtown Johnstown, Pennsylvania—and, at 3:10 PM, the earthen South Fork Dam at Lake Conemaugh gave way, allowing 5 billion gallons of water to come crashing 14 miles down the mountain, destroying the city altogether. At least 2,209 people lost their lives, making it the worst flood disaster in U.S. history. I returned to Johnstown for further historic exploration—but, unlike my first visit, I didn’t see Chelsea Clinton this time.

Remnants of the Way We Were

By bike or by car, interstate highways are fast, efficient, safe—and boring. Fortunately, virtually all the pre-interstate roads are still out there, providing scenic, historic, sometimes challenging, and always interesting paths into the past, in the process depicting what life in the U.S. used to be like.

My goal for this Easter Monday trip was to find the very northeast corner of Maryland, where Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware all join in a three-quarter scale replica of the famous “Four Corners” of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Along the way, I observed that the countryside is positively littered with reminders and remnants of how life used to be.

Ports—Royal and Otherwise (Rappahannock River Ride)

Having often explored the Maryland side of the Potomac River, I thought I’d try the Virginia shore for a change. And for good measure, I decided to work in the Rappahannock River, since I knew little about it. The river was originally named by Native Americans, naturally, and is said to mean “the river that rises and falls” or, possibly, “river of quick, rising water.” The Rappahannock runs roughly 195 miles before emptying into the Chesapeake Bay.