Fittingly, after leaving Escanaba behind Monday morning, the next stop on my itinerary was the Hoegh Pet Casket Company in Gladstone, Michigan. The folks at Hoegh have been manufacturing pet caskets in their warehouse situated in a beautiful corner of Michigan's upper peninsula since 1966.
As soon as I walked in the front door, I was greeted warmly by the receptionist who quickly summoned owner Randy Carlson to give me a personal tour of the facility. I was amazed from the very beginning by Randy's willingness to take time out of his day and lead me around to each area of the factory, explaining with the perfect amount of detail how the caskets were produced. It was the factory tour of my dreams! My favorite part was seeing the large vacuum forming machines used to shape sheets of high density polymers into exterior shells. Hoegh also provides cremation and monument services for the pet burial industry in addition to making caskets in sizes to accommodate every previously-living thing from a finch to a pony. Below, Randy shows off a lid that is in the process of being lined with fabric.
One of the things that surprised me was the popularity of camouflage as a surface and interior option. It made me realize I don't understand camouflage as a statement at all. Not that I don't approve of it, I just don't understand it. Maybe because I grew up in a part of the country where I've always pretty much associated camo with hunting and killing animals, although its popularity seems to be much more widespread these days. It seemed ironic to me that something I associate with killing animals should be so popular with people who seek to honor their pets.
The show room at the end of the tour was filled with product samples, both caskets and monuments. My favorite was the creamy white casket embossed with an elegant fern pattern and I liked it well enough that I would be perfectly happy if it ended up being my final resting place. Randy told me that they in fact sold quite a number of caskets for human remains and it made perfect sense to me. It's crazy what most people end up spending on a fancy box to bury in the dirt. These caskets were everything they needed to be, and no more and no less.
I loved my tour of Hoegh. The employees were all really personable and happy. Randy was a peach of a human being and that he would offer visitors such a personal and professional tour without being maudlin or over the top is really admirable.
After leaving Gladsone, I did a long stretch of driving to reach Sault Ste. Marie (pronounced SOO Saint Marie), Michigan where I'd lodge overnight so I could get up and cross the border into Canada Tuesday morning. Sault Ste. Marie marked the halfway point in my trip and the beginning of my excursion into Canada.
My room for the night was at a wonderful old motor court motel that sat directly across from the Soo locks with a view of Canada just across the water. The door of each room featured a plywood cutout of a different long ship, complete with hand painted vessel name - very quaint! The international automobile bridge that connects the two Sault Ste. Marie's (one in the US and one in Ontario) is extremely close and visible in the back ground of the photo below (and above).
The Soo Locks are also extremely close to the Long Ships, in fact directly across the street. There are actually four parallel locks which allow the passage of ships between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes and an average of 10,000 ships a year pass through the locks, even though they remained closed during the winter months when the thoroughfare becomes impassable because of ice. The locks are so massive that's it's sort of hard to wrap your head around them - very cool.
After admiring the expansive hugeness of it all, I headed to an old local tavern called the Antlers for dinner. The Antlers' claim to restaurant fame are the hundreds and hundreds of taxidermy specimens that cover each and every wall, rafter, nook and cranny. I guess Monday was dead animal day - I just hadn't grasped the theme until I was surrounded by thousands of glassy eyes. Grrrr!
AND I discovered a new species in the cryptozoology realm, the fur bearing trout!
On my way back into town after dinner, a massive red brick building sitting astride St. Mary's River riveted my attention. I drove around the perimeter looking for a place to stop and get a closer look and finally discovered a tiny parking lot surrounded by a high fence topped with barbed wire. What it turned out that I was viewing was a hydroelectric plant constructed between 1898 and 1902 which is still in operation. The building is almost a 1/4 mile long and houses 72 turbines that utilize blades much like a fan (lowered into the water) to generate electricity. In doing research, I found that the entire plant is run with a team of 12 people which as you might guess makes it look a lot like an abandoned building from the exterior.
When I got closer to the end of the building, I could see several enormous turbines humming happily away. The canal that was excavated to sluice the water through the hydroelectric gear is called the Edison Sault (or Soo as they say) Canal, although Edison did not actually play any role in designing the facility.
I really enjoyed the industrial majesty I discovered in Soo - something I hadn't counted on getting to see. It made for a fond farewell to America and a fine jumping off point for the quiet green byways of Canada.